Poem on John Hume’s 82nd birthday

John Hume has dementia, and cannot remember what he achieved in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. We should not allow the world to not remember.

I had the privilege of meeting him when he delivered the Glasgow Fabians Lecture in the late 1980s. (I also bought him a drink. Or maybe two)

This poem is about him and Seamus Heaney.

The St. Columb’s Old Boys Club.

John said let us spill not our blood, but our sweat together,
His father taught him on St Patrick’s night you can’t eat a flag
Seamus made poetry’s redress with words as harsh as weather
And gave it a glorious shake in the Good Old Rattle Bag
And John left off with a whiskey from the priesthood way
To give his people cross-border credit in unions where it was due
Seamus put poet’s pen to Ulster paper to grapple and to play
With lines to define like the Bann and Foyle and make the world anew –
So bordered, confessional lives need be not blessing nor curse
The craft and sweat of labour that those obdurate men could give
Bring blessings in themselves to save them and us from worse
Making room to argue out loud together as well as love and live
John, Seamus, from two-name city, an island, people, province of divide
From a school that made peace and poetry equally Nobel prized.

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Herald letter: Sturgeon and her Salmond shambles.

(Part in italics cut by the Herald.)

IN the present chaos that is British politics, Nicola Sturgeon could have easily stood out.

Although she has limited ability and zero imagination, all she had to do was to show competence, and she would have had a good Brexit war by default.

Her role was to remember her lines and not bump into the Bute House furniture.

However, that was before the Salmond case and the blunders and appalling judgment which she and those closest to her have displayed in this sorry and shambolic affair.

If the SNP was not controlled by the First Minister and her husband, Peter Murrell in a manner reminiscent of the Honeckers and the Ceaucescus, her party would call for – and would deserve to have– her head.

But the whole world will know from now on: never again can Ms Sturgeon pretend to be the only grown-up in the room and get away with it.

Peter A Russell

Love Thy Neighbour (part 2.)

THE various responses (Letters, December 19) to the aside in my earlier letter on loving thy neighbour (December 18) had prompted me to write a very lengthy reply: it included references to Father Christmas, Arthur C. Clarke and my mother, as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall and my beliefs as a liberal atheist.

However, my old pal Alastair Galloway (Letters, December 20) has enabled me to cut through all that verbiage with his reference to the Holy Scripture that is Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland – the Book of GERS, if you like (located in the New Testament between Revelation and the Acts of Nicola Sturgeon.)

To be serious, that GERS shows Scotland in deficit to the rest of UK is only of secondary importance. I would support the principle of redistribution if the flow was the other way: that Scottish revenues were shared and pooled with the less well-off parts of Tyneside, with the valleys of Wales, and the chronically depressed parts of Belfast, for example. In the same way, one of the reasons I voted for Remain in the Brexit referendum was because the UK is a net contributor to EU funding according to our means as a larger member state, providing much needed investment to lagging areas, especially in the newer member states.

For Mr Galloway and his fellow Nationalists, GERS and what it represents is a barrier to independence. To others (like myself) it is an indicator of the successful partnership between regions and nations in the UK. That is the difference: some of us see such sharing and pooling as a success and a strength and a Good Thing in their own right, while Nationalists see them as weakness and failure.

Nationalism seeks differences, barriers and walls,while social democracy seeks to dissolve them by concentrating on what we have in common and how we can support our neighbour.

Merry Christmas everyone, and a Happy New Year (when it comes). Let us all try to live better together in 2019.

Peter A Russell,

Herald letter: Labour and Independence – Love They Neighbour.

YOUR correspondents (Letters, December 11 & 17) debate why and why not the Scottish Labour Party should change its policy so as to support Scottish independence. There are several very good reasons, which really should be obvious.

The first is that the Labour Party believes that “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”. In other words, its philosophy is one of mutual support and co-operation, and indeed of loving our neighbour as ourselves. For my part, I cannot see how any Christian can simultaneously support that commandment and Scottish independence. (No doubt I will be enlightened by those who believe that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland are not our neighbours.)

In practical terms, this philosophy means that Labour supports the continued redistribution of UK resources, currently running from London and the southeast to parts of the country where revenues are lower and/or services are more expensive. As the Scottish Government tells us, Scotland is now consistently a beneficiary of this system. It would be illogical for Scottish Labour to turn its back on this major source of funding for public services and jobs in Scotland.

Secondly, in no time in my 41 years of membership of the Labour Party, 33 of them in Scotland, have I ever known anyone in any branch or affiliate bring forward a resolution that it should support independence. If these have occurred anywhere, they have obviously been defeated. Even in the 2014 referendum campaign when a “Labour For Indy” group popped up, it was found to be a handful of nobodies, whose main publicity photo comprised SNP activists pretending to be Labour members. Just why should Labour change its policies if its membership does not want it?

Peter A Russell

Herald letter: TV Brexit debate.

WE hear today (November 29) that we are going to be treated to the pointless spectacle of a televised debate on Brexit, and that it will not on this occasion be moderated by Andrew Neil. This is a shame, but hardly surprising as neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn would relish being taken apart by Mr Neil’s forensic analytical skills.

In his absence, I have another suggestion: Mr Jack Dee, currently to be found chairing another major programme, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It is of course called I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, which would qualify the two politicians in question admirably on this occasion. (They could even include Nicola Sturgeon on the same principle.)

Peter A Russell

Herald letter: angry again…

I SUPPOSE it is flattering that such lengthy responses (Letters, October 30) have been generated by my quite reasonable observation (Letters, October 27) that if people are unhappy with the effects of government policy – in this case regarding families and poverty – they should blame the Tory Government at Westminster for the reserved issues and the SNP at Holyrood for the devolved ones.

However, there a few observations which I would like to make about the responses of Messrs GR Weir and Alasdair Galloway.

Mr Weir takes the opportunity to lay the blame for all of the problems of Ayrshire and (it seems) the entire industrial decline of the area on the Labour Party. If this was indeed the case, it would be expected that the voters of Ayrshire would have punished Labour much earlier than actually happened: the miners’ strike was in 1984-85, but according to Mr Weir, the voters waited 30 years (until 2015) to notice. And when they did so, they elected as their MSP Jeane Freeman – who had been at the heart of Labour policy making before turning her coat. (For what it is worth, I blame the decline of Labour in Scotland on a catastrophic failure in its politics surrounding the 2014 independence referendum, rather than its local and UK polices.)

Mr Galloway is even more fanciful: he suggests that the Yes vote in the 2014 referendum would have banished poverty from Scotland forever.

Here is some news to him from the real world. A Yes vote would have meant Scotland leaving the EU as well as the UK in March 2016 (evidence: the letter from Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission to the Scottish Parliament of March 2014); there would have been no currency union with the remainder UK (evidence: repeated statements of UK Government); Scotland’s revenues would not have benefited from oil at the fictional price of $113 per barrel (evidence: today’s price $76); and Scottish public services would be worse off by an annual sum of more than £10 billion redistributed from the rest of the UK (evidence: the SNP Scottish Government’s GERS publications). All of these factors would have had a disastrous effect on the economy, and made poverty in Scotland both much more acute and much more widespread.

In contrast, Mr Galloway (and Mr Weir and the rest of the SNP and its dupes) offer the fairy dust of independence, underpinned by wishful thinking and best-case scenarios. We have had to put up with too much magical thinking from the the Nationalists, and it is time that they were brought to account for their failings at Holyrood as much as the Tories at Westminster.

Peter A Russell

Herald letter. In Some Anger.

YOUR front page article on starving Scots families raiding bins for food (“Starving families raid skips at night for food”, The Herald, October 26) will shock every decent-thinking person, and will make them long for the days of the Labour governments, when millions of children were taken out of poverty by policies that included the introduction of Working Families Tax Credits and the National Minimum Wage.

Now, however, we have a Tory UK Government which appears determined to make the poor, including families, suffer for its own incompetence and prejudices. At the same time, we have an SNP Scottish Government which has extensive powers under Part 3 of the Scotland Act 2016 to top- up existing welfare benefits, and to create new ones, but which fails to do so.

That the SNP refuses to act stands in contrast to the way in which, before 1996, Labour-run regional councils did all that they could to counter the effects of the then Tory governments. We can only imagine what they would have done with the current powers of Holyrood, but they would certainly not have sat on their hands. The Tories are literally driving the poor to eating out of bins, and the SNP are sitting by idly, sometimes complaining, but watching it happen all the same. A plague on both their cold-hearted houses.

Peter A Russell