Friday, 26 December 2014

The 10 marks of militant secularism

This is quite a good wee fun test...

1. All religion is relative, Westboro Baptists and Al-Qaeda are equal to the CofE or your local Parish Vicar: Do you think Satanists and Pagans should get there own Schools as long as Catholics are allowed them? Do you see ISIS committing a crime on the news and immediately find yourself attacking the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope for being "In a way, just as bad, if you think about it?"

2.  We know what's best for everyone else's kids, even more than parents: Do you think that parents teaching their own kids, their own faith is a form of oppression against children?

3. Legalism, legalism, legalism and all power to The State: The ONLY way to ever change society is through legislation, never through example or persuasion because you can't make people who disagree with you do what you want by any other means. Does the idea of groups of different faith and secular communities living differently alongside each other in one society appeal to you?

4. We speak for others and are always offended on others behalf: Do you think Christians celebrating Easter and Christmas is offensive to Muslims and Jews despite the fact that neither Muslims and Jews are ever offended by these holidays? Are you outraged on behalf of Gay Christians without ever bothering to speak to any individual Gay Christians and understand the complexities of their relationship with the Church?

5. We can't be Militant Secularists, we don't carry guns or advocate terrorism or violence: Do you have an understanding of the idea that fascism doesn't start with terror, that's where it ends? It begins in the coffee houses and dining rooms of the chattering classes. Do you have no concerns that the Government now creates and funds pressure groups to campaign for legislation it would like to implement? See numbers 2. and 3. above

6. Anti-Catholicism is an acceptable prejudice, but we're nothing like those nasty Orangemen: Catholics are the worst, sound familiar? Do you think anti-Catholicism is ok provided it's coming from Middle Class liberals?

7. Christians are all UKIP voting bigots: When you meet someone, do you judge them depending on what faith they hold, based on your own prejudice? Do you ever see someone on the news doing something bad then endeavour to establish what religion they are and then point it out to everyone you meet, even when faith is not a factor in the actual crime, misdemeanour or offense?

8. I refuse to accept that the Country's entire culture and history is rooted in Christianity: Are you offended when someone says "God bless", or "you are in my prayers", and if you could, you'd ban such expressions?

9. I've read bad things in the Bible that are bad, therefore Christians are bad: Do you often attribute beliefs to people that they don't hold? Do you ever quote Scripture at Christians without checking the context or to see if their denomination is entirely biblical based? Do you fancy yourself as a bit of an expert in theology, science, genetics and pretty much any topic you care to speak about?

10. There can't be a God, because bad things happen: Do you talk about religion ALL the time, is your life just one big negative affirmation, deep down, do you actually believe in God but are angry with him over something from your younger years?

Monday, 22 December 2014

Old Boers, Bitter Enders, Jim Murphy and New Labour

This is my second post about the Boer War, you can read my previous post about Scotland, Ireland and German Boers like Paul Kruger and Stephanus Schoeman here...

I often wonder, if the young Jim Murphy read much about the history of the Boers when he and his parents moved to Apartheid South Africa for a better life. He would have done well to, because the Boer War has much to teach us about modern politics in Scotland.
For example, New Labour in Scotland seems to be increasingly offended and almost angered by the fact that they won the Indy Ref yet Nationalists are still lobbying hard for Independence.  The logic seems to be that the Yes movement should have just gone away and accepted the result. To be fair, many yes voters  have indeed given up the ghost and accept that Scotland will remain under British Rule. Yet, we too have our bitter enders just as there were the bitter enders among the Boers in South Africa who refused to stop fighting after South Africa had been brought under British Rule after the Boer War.

Then there's Jan Smuts who served as a Boer General during the Boer War, yet after the British victory he became the South Africa Prime Minister under British Rule twice between 1919 and 1948, he was also a British General during the First World War and then appointed Field Marshal during the Second World War. During his time as Prime Minister, Smuts had to struggle against an on going rebellion from "bittereinders" (bitter enders) who refused to give up the fight, as well as opposition from his Anti-British, National Party, political opponent J.B.M. Hertzog (Whose later reforms while Prime Minister improved conditions for working-class whites) and the "Old Boers" who never fully accepted British rule.

In addition to these enemies, Smuts also struggled against the rise of South African Trade Unionism, Socialists, Miners Strikes and even a General Strike. Smuts also sent the troops in several times and arrested and deported Union leaders. It's also worth noting that the great "Folk Hero" Koos Delarey led these military attack on striking workers and Trade Unionists. What happened next is kind of  similar to what we are seeing happening in Scotland right now. The Old Boers, the anti-British faction and the Bitter enders who were all deeply conservative, rural and staunchly Christian and whose ONLY goal was to win independence for South Africa and free the Union of South Africa from British rule, suddenly found themselves sharing a common cause with Socialists and Trade Unionists.

The Trade Unions, the South African Labour Party, and the Old Boers all criticized Smuts. In Smuts' own words he admitted that...  "A smashing blow had to be struck at syndicalism in South Africa. I gave that blow." It was this forceful attack on trade unionism that forged the Old Boers, the unions, and the South African Labour Party together, as a united front against what they saw as treason and tyranny.

In the same way, Scottish Labour continues to haemorrhage Leftists and Trade Unionists while the SNP continues to gain them. Murphy's staunch British Unionism is essentially forging together the cause of Scottish Independence and Trade Unionism. Just as Smuts forged South African Independence and Trade Unionism together almost 100 years earlier. Indeed, the union Unite are even now considering their future affiliation to Labour now that the party have elected Jim Murphy as its new leader.  This is because Neil Findlay was backed by 9 out of 11 trade unions affiliated to Labour while Jim Murphy on the other hand has publicly attacked the Trade Unions. Unions will now find it very difficult to back Murphy, who is after all a true Blairite.

Yet, it remains to be seen if the SNP has the ability to capitalize on this shift and become the broad, mass party of the Scottish people that Labour once was and should still be. This type of broad movement or mass party is often created through very different voices coming together in a common cause.  It seems that Labour are choosing to reject the cure offered to them by Maurice Glasman via his Blue Labour concept. Maurice seeks to restore the party to its original form, when it was a party of  trade unionists, social democrats, Christians, social conservatives, non-conformists, Labour Zionists, pacifists, anarchists, socialists and so on. The idea is that this move would have restored the party to it's working class roots through democratic engagement with various diverse community groups such as Churches which would then allow the Labour Party to the party to reinvigorate its relationships with various communities across the nation through the concept of the "Common Good" and the three pillars of "family, faith, and flag.  But it seems that this idea is just too conservative for New Labour. 

However, judging by some of the junk I read in the Sunday Pravda-Herald, the SNP may also be unable to construct a new alternative to statist and market based forms of socialism.  The wider Yes Movement has the power to put the role of self-organised groups and interests into our political and economic organisations.  The Yes movement has the ability to pick up the remnants of an older Labour Movement Tradition which put far more emphasis on Christianity, Catholic Social Thought and disestablished radical Protestantism such as political Methodism.  These were a big aspect in the rise of the Labour Movement and could also be applied to new politics in Scotland,

Yet, I am unconvinced that SNP can find a common good between immigrants and locals, workers and bosses, religious and secular. The SNP currently remains deeply statist, deeply centralist and increasingly linked to (and lobbied by) a growing number of liberals linked to the party and the Yes movement. For example, the Sunday Pravda Herald has become a weekly mouthpiece for the awful Scottish Secular Society who are overtly anti-religious, yet also increasingly pro-independence. If these ultra-secular, anti-clerical and hardline liberal elements within the Yes movement gain more influence within the SNP then they too will fail to become a broad Church, mass party. It might be best for both the SNP and The Greens (Who are also cosying up to the SSS) as well as other pro-Indy Yes groups, to distance themselves from highly divisive groups like the Scottish Secular Society, especially since the SSS actually lose every single petition they raise and every campaign they fight. Not sure if this has anything to do with their militancy and aggressive tone?  
Another example of the SNP supporters and other Indy campaigners shift towards secular liberalism is their severing of links to a vaguely Boer related people: The Flemish. Indeed, the only Boer like ethnic group of people supporting Scottish Independence at the moment are those in the Flemish Movement from Flanders.  Most Flemish Nationalists are in the moderate wing of the Flemish Movement and many have links to Trade Unions. However, not all those within the Flemish Movement are either left wing or Liberal. They are comprise of parties who are also social conservatives, traditionalists, monarchists, far right or even Christians Democrats. During the Indy Ref the support of the Flemish Movement towards Scottish Independence was used by Better Together to link the SNP to the European Far Right parties such as Vlaams Belang and the Nationalist Students Union. This in turn has led to many Yessers and SNP supporters to distance themselves from the Flanders Movement. Basque and Catalonia flags still seem ok but not Flemish ones.
Another interesting Boer parallel with Scots seems to be efforts by some in South Africa to reinvented or reappraise the role of Boer identity in the creation of Apartheid. There seems to be a trend among some political circles to point out that the Boer culture of the Free State was originally distinct from the wider Afrikaner culture which arose from the Cape Colony, a culture which came to absorb and dominate the Boer identity. The theory is that the true Boer folk were far less inclined towards colonialism since they themselves had been a victims of oppression and were refugees from Europe. The idea seems to be that they were not seeking to oppress or enslave the indigenous peoples of Southern Africa but rather sought a kind of isolationist society akin to the Amish in North America. This concept then partially exonerates the Boers from the Apartheid system which later developed in South Africa. Instead, Apartheid is seen as an extension of Afrikaner and British colonialism.

To me, this sounds very like the Scots who often seek to exonerate the Scottish Highlanders and Scots-Irish who settled in the Appalachian mountains and their descendants from having any major role in Slavery or the Confederacy. It sounds very similar to the idea that these Scots in the Appalachian mountains were poor farmers with no slaves.  The claim is that it would have been unacceptable for these independent freedom loving Scots to accept that the new lands opening up in the American west should be denied to independent poor farmers, but instead be bought up by rich slave owners who would buy up the best land and work it with slaves, forcing the white farmers onto marginal lands.

Unfortunately, I don't know enough about the complex historical reality of either of these claims about Scots in America or the early Boers in South Africa. Perhaps someone could enlighten me? 


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Working Class Gourockians: Forgotten and trapped between Ashton and Greenock Westenders

Geographically, culturally and historically, there are two parts to Gourock. Traditionally, Gourock proper or Gourock Bay (which covers the area from Shore Street to Cardwell Road) and the newer Ashton area over on West Bay.

Working class people tended to live over on the Shore Street, Cardwell Road, east end of the town while the Middle Classes and the wealthy Glasgow merchants built their summer houses further along Cloch Road. Kempock street was the middle ground between these two worlds. This is why the Gamble Halls are situated in the older, east part of town, the building was given as a library and baths for the improvement of working people through recreation and reading.

The above picture is from the 1950's. It's the workers at Adams Boat Yard in Gourock which includes my Great Granda Hermann, my Granda Robey, my great uncles Bert, Hermann, Harry, Bernhardt (Benny) and Jimmy who all worked in Adams Yard as shipwrights. They all lived along Shore Street and also just up above Shore Street on McCallum Cres. Hermann was the Foreman and Jimmy was Union shop steward, after work they used to meet in the back room of the Albert Bar and my Granda also worked in Monteiths Bar at night. Unusually, my Great Granda Hermann Ahlfeld has two gravestones in Gourock Cemetery, one from his family and one from his co-workers at Adams Yard. 

Other working men who lived around the east end of the town worked in places like the Gasworks and the Quarry. They drank in the various other pubs which still remain in this part of the town today, pubs such as the Victoria Bar, the Darroch etc... Later, many Gourock men (And women) also worked in the Torpedo Factory which was built at the Battery Park (despite bitter objections from the wealthy west enders in Greenock) which is why the Factory Social Club remains in Gourock today.
Later, many of these workers moved up to Midton. For example, my Dad was born and raised on Shore street but later moved up to Midton (to a house with an inside toilet). Midton was started in 1944 and consisted of 11 pre-fabricated houses (pre-fabs) Later Midton expanded to include the Council estate which which was built in the 1950's.

Sadly, the problems faced by Working Class people in Gourock were often ignored because many of Gourock's traders, business owners and Middle Classes were often more vocal and had more influence than our elected members. Over the decades, this resulted in a disconnect between Working Class Gourockians and various Labour controlled Councils in the 70's and 80's. I'm really not sure how much has changed almost 60 years later. Gourock is often still hostage to a small but vocal business class and often still dismissed as a town of snobs and rich people.