Wednesday, August 9, 2017

HERE'S A BLINDINGLY BRIGHT GLIMPSE OF WHAT AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND IS GOING TO LOOK LIKE

I gather there has been an outbreak of bickering amongst 'Yes' supporters over the last little while. I can't say I have followed any of it. I suppose it is inevitable but it's still a serious pain in the neck. At times I we get so obsessed with just how God awful our Westminster rulers are, we tend to forget the bigger picture. Oh my God, will we be able to manage on our own! It really is completely ridiculous when you stop for a second to think about the thing properly.

Obviously, we will be able to manage on our own. Think about a few of the countries who have taken their baby steps into independence over the last few years. Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia. They are not exactly massive countries blessed with oil fields and millions of acres of corn. And yet they have all managed to find their feet pretty confidently as far as I can tell.

We have so much more going for us than any other small country who has become independent in the last fifty years. It is so blindingly obvious I always find it hard to believe anyone can think otherwise. I guess this is what you get after 300 years of misinformation, brainwashing and lies.

So what has brought all this on? Two days at the Edinburgh Festival has brought this on. If there is any event on planet Earth capable of holding a candle to the Edinburgh Fringe, then I am yet to hear about it, let alone be a part of it.

Sure there are 3500 acts and God alone knows how many visitors, but the star of the show is the same every year.

The city itself.

Independence will mean Edinburgh will almost automatically win the prize for being the most drop dead gorgeous capital city on planet earth every year. I've been to more than my share of capitals and thus far nowhere has come close. Prague is great in the centre, but the outskirts are as grim as hell. Same with Budapest. Certainly the same with Paris and London. Washington, Moscow and Berlin are as bland as a Tesco own brand cheddar cheese sandwich. In fact, the only capital cities I have ever visited which manage to come close are Rome and Athens, both of which have way too many people and a whole bunch of pollution.

Think about it. Has any newly independent country in all history ever had such an oven ready capital city to move into? Answers on a postcard. But bugger that. The answer is no. End of story.

The streets under all those mighty buildings of the Enlightenment become more cosmopolitan with every passing year. As the white half of a mixed race couple, I have a highly trained eye for this kind of thing. Over the last two days  I lost count of how many white grandparents I clocked out and about with their brown grand kids. The tiny grandmother with her hulking six foot four grandson carrying all the bags. The beaming white granddad pushing a buggy loaded up with brown twins. We were only a hundred miles or so north of the Brexit heartlands, but it felt like half a world. Of course, there were bagpipes and tartan and Harris Tweed everywhere you looked, but the tourist kitsch was nothing more than a minor sideshow.

The main event was all about young and old and black and white and straight and gay all getting along without an eyelid being batted. The city was hosting tens of thousands of visitors and yet there was barely a copper in sight. If such an event as the Fringe was hosted by London, Paris or New York, they would have tanks on the streets and helicopter gunships in the sky.

When exactly was it when Scotland became Scandinavian? Who knows? But this is what we are now. Edinburgh feels much more like Oslo or Stockholm than London. It just looks a whole lot better and the pubs are a bloody sight cheaper.

A few things really smacked me in the face over the last couple of days.

First up, anyone who ever visits the Fringe cannot fail to be impressed by the its sheer efficiency. It runs on rails. Shows are never late, seats are never double booked. It is hard to see the Germans or Japanese making a better job of it. If we can run the biggest festival of its kind in the world as smoothly as this, who can say we can't run our own country every bit as well.

Next up. The fastest growing industry in the world right now is Tourism – by a country mile. One in eleven of the global workforce is now employed by the tourist sector. In 1989, before the Berlin Wall came down, 25 million people a year took a trip outside of their own country for leisure. Last year the figure was more than a billion for the first time. That's right. A forty fold increase. This is what happens when people in China and India and a whole bunch of other fast developing countries suddenly have the wherewithal to take a holiday. And guess what? Scotland is high on their wish list of places to go.

Half an hour's worth of people watching from a pavement cafe during the Festival is more than enough to see we Scots are actually pretty good at the whole being bloody good hosts thing. The more the rest of the world cottons on to the fact that we have become such an open, non-racist, non-xenophobic place, the more tourists will start to beat a path to our door.

I have plenty of first-hand experience of lots of countries where things are not exactly comfortable for anyone who isn't chalky white. Most of Eastern Europe has pretty well become a no go area. France, Italy and Spain are getting that way. Only Germany is wall to wall comfortable. Well, think about this for a moment. Most of the money in the world is flowing East to Asia. All of a sudden China and India have a middle class of over a billion. These are the tourists of the 21st Century and each and every one of them is yellow or brown. When they take a holiday, they will want to visit places which are cool with people who are yellow or brown.

It won't take them so very long to learn which places to give a wide berth to. And there's no point beating about the bush here, the lands of good old Brexit Central are not about to be high on anyone's list. American tourism has completely tanked since Trump was elected. Well, Gee. Who woulda figured? You fan the flames of racist nastiness and lo and behold lots of black, yellow and brown people start to vote with their feet.

So I will say it again. Tourism is the fastest growing global industry and places who don't do xenophobia and racism are about to hit the jackpot. And guess what? We're one of those places. We are all set to cash in on the 'Becoming Scandinavian' dividend.

OK. One last thing. It hit me for the first time yesterday and this for me is a really, really big thing. A massive thing.

All over the world, the creeping forces of repression are taking an ever tighter hold. China, India, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Egypt, even the United States. Journalists and authors and singers and playwrights are being locked up in ever growing numbers for saying things their government doesn't want them to say: things their government won't allow them to say. We are quietly entering a new era of the four in the morning heavy knock at the door.

Come with us.

NOW!

Whack.

House clearance KGB style.

All of this probably means the Fringe is now the greatest celebration of free speech to be found anywhere. You can say what you like at the Fringe. You can take the piss out of Gods and Governments alike. You are free to offend. To be controversial. To get under the skin. There is no Government subsidy to be used to ban anyone. To muzzle anyone. To de-list anyone. It hit me just how completely appropriate it is for the city which once hosted the Enlightenment should now offer a home to the greatest celebration of free speech in a world where so many millions are being slowly muzzled.

This is something we should shout from the rooftops about. But we don't of course. Which is ridiculous. Fair enough, 300 years of being on the battered end of an abusive relationship doesn't exactly prepare anyone for being good at shouting stuff from the rooftops, but we're going to have to get over it. It's high time we learned how to blow our own trumpet.

Over the next few days, I am going to bend the ears of my two local MSP's. I'll name them. Why the hell not? Joan McAlpine and Emma Harper. I think they must both already be pissed off with me droning on about how Scotland should jump onto the front foot and start making a bit of noise in the world. The rules of our wonderful Union mean only the public school boys of Her Majesty's Foreign and Commonwealth Office are allowed to talk to foreigners and do the whole diplomacy thing. The grown up stuff. It is deemed to be far too complicated for simple unwashed plebs like us.

Well, screw that.

So here's an idea. Google tells me there are 196 independent countries in the world at this moment in time. Here's what I think we should do. We should get in touch with them all and make them an offer. They can go to whichever University is number one in their country and identify five students to send to the Edinburgh Festival for a week.

At our expense.

A thousand in all. We will box off a thousand rooms in the University and create a version of the Olympic village. And we won't micro manage them. We will simply open the door and say on you go guys, there are 3500 acts out there. Check out as many as you want. This pass gives you access to all areas. Go have the time of your lives. We're not about to push any party line down your throats. Make your own minds up. You see, this is what free speech looks like in the flesh. And it is a pretty good look.

In ten or twenty years time, many of these visitors will have grown into being their country's decision makers. We'll be independent by then and able to reap dividends from the soft spot they will have developed for the country which showed them what free speech looked like.

I guess it would cost us about half a million a year. Buttons really. In twenty years time, we could have 20,000 of these guys out there in every corner of the world. And many will have become our very own friends in high places, well disposed to the new kid on the block who goes by the name of Scotland.

The new kid on the block who knows how to open up the doors and show people a good time be they white, black, yellow or brown.

It really is high time we started to find a way to stop cowering in London's bitter shadow and chucked off the shackles. Once we wake up to the facts of what we have to offer, we will start to boom. Very few places have what we have to sell. It is high time we learned how to sell it.

13 comments:

  1. Powerful observations, Mark. Cracking idea about sponsoring students to come to the fringe.

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  2. In my other home-town – Olomouc, 5th city of the Czech Republic – there are about 200 Malaysians, for some historic reason that I still haven’t discovered. They are normal citizens of the town, and last time the seasonal Flora agricultural and gardening festival was held, organized a big stand and display with their national embassy. The Prima Ballerina of the main theatre’s ballet corps is Japanese, and her longer-established male counterpart (over whom one of my lady neighbours enthuses as a ‘beautiful man’) is an African-American. One striker for the town football team, recently blessed with promotion to the national Premiership, is Congolese. People associate Czechia (and other countries of central and eastern Europe) with very bad treatment of the Romani (Gypsy) minority, but here they seem to occupy all walks of life, essentially identifiable merely as Indian-looking people speaking Czech. And none of the racism you attribute to this part of the world seems to be getting worse; I’m pretty sure it’s getting better.

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  3. Hi Yohnitzl. I am truly delighted to hear this. I have visited your country three times - twice before the Wall came down. I have hugely fond memories of workers bars selling the best lager I have ever drunk at pence per litre in the alleys off a snow covered Wenceslas Square. Sadly the last time I was in Prague with Carol who is black we had a few uncomfortable moments, though nothing like what we experienced in Lithuania and parts of Poland. This added to watching the likes of Victor Urban on the news has maybe made me more prejudiced than I should be. Thanks so much for your feedback. Mark

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  4. I know what you mean Mark. I grew up in New Zealand. Watched it go from forelock tugging butter and lamb provider to the Mother Country to an essentially semi-non aligned, steadfastly nuclear free, LBTQ friendly fully Independent nation.

    We cut the Law Lords as our court of last resort by minting a Supreme Court with the Australians and one or two Pacific Island Countries.

    The UK entering the EEC and then the Nuclear Free designation and L'Affair Rainbow as the French call it opened eyes to Realpolitiks.

    NZ is VERY proud of being a founder member of the UN and takes that seriously. We keep getting elected to the Security Council by our friends in the world. Our latest stint we helped that critical censure of Israel go through without a US veto for once.

    I can see the country of my birth being that sort of country too. We can join Ukraine in being the two countries who have given up Nuclear Weapons and ratify the UN ban on them, helping it become law.

    We can make friends in the world instead of suspicious people we desperate want to forget about when we invaded them. We need to be upfront about our role, we can sing Freedom Come a' Ye like we mean it.

    I'm quite sure Ireland and New Zealand will be first in the queue to offer iScotland help in the international sphere and see what we can help them with.

    I know what it can be. It is palpable here in Scotland. I can almost touch it, yet not. It is before me when I chap a door for RIC. I have used NZ on the doorsteps a number of times.

    NZ gets its share of tourists and problems with them but the fast majority have a wonderful time same as they do in Scotland. NZ would kill for Scotland's oil wealth and a shindig like the Edinburgh Festival.

    You are right Scotland could be a lucky small Scandinavian country.

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    1. As another one with strong NZ connections (both here, raised there, finished off back here so far) I very much echo what you say. Spending time outside of the UK as a child has certainly ensured that I don't have half the hangups that many Scots still have (& hopefully i missed out on acquiring the hangups the kiwis have too!).

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  5. I love your passion Mark. That is exactly what is needed. We need to be passionate and confident about Scotland taking charge of its own affairs.

    You have described what we should all realise about this country; that we always had and have what it takes to be a functioning, self-disciplined and outward looking society.

    Many people leave Scotland, but, do so with heavy hearts. Mostly, they cannot see their country and future prosper (although maybe some do actually leave for better weather!) and give up hope that WM will ever work for the benefit of most citizens or allow Scotland to develop according to its resources and resourcefulness.

    Edinburgh always buzzes at this time with such a variety of humanity milling around and that is fabulous. It's like a huge, good-humoured jamboree. Such camaraderie and goodwill is evident in other towns and cities too where tolerant people who are comfortable with the differences and accepting of other cultures surely outnumber those of a meaner disposition.

    We need to promote ourselves more, far more. I like your idea about bringing young folks from around the world here - that, or something similar is worth developing.

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  6. Great idea! My husband is one of those ambassadors that you are writing about. He came to the Fringe from California in 1986 and 1987. He promoted Scotland in the USA for the next 30 years. He is now a new Scot and loves living here and continues to promote Scotland. He has been responsible for encouraging hundreds of kilted tourists from all over the world to visit Scotland including Dumfries - our shared Doonhamer land.

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  7. 197, including Kosovo (pedantic, I know).

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  8. Great idea, Mark, to sponsor 196 x 5 students! I would just add, to make sure you get a good cross-section, insist that each university student body votes democratically to choose the lucky five. Otherwise you'll get 5 princelings & Ministers' sons. The "Scotland Vote" will become the highlight of each student year!

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  9. Mark very uplifting post I wish some of our Scots cringers could feel the positivity emanating from your heartfelt words , as you say all they have to do is look around them and THINK , but instead they listen to the craven lies spouted by the MSM particularly the beeb and stv. Your idea re the students is masterful we would then have untold numbers of foreign ambassadors

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