Saturday, 13 September 2014


Caledonia is the Latin name given by the Romans to today's Scotland north of their province of Britannia, beyond the frontier of Empire. The name is probably from a P-Celtic source. Today It is a romantic or poetic name for Scotland, similar to Hibernia for Ireland and Britannia for Britain south of Hadrian's Wall.
This essay was written for the ImagiNation Festival in Glasgow by Fintan O'Toole.

What does it mean to be a free country? No one is naive enough to believe that it means acquiring the capacity to do whatever you want. For governments, of big countries or small ones, room to manoeuvre is scarce. An independent Scotland would face the same limits on its freedom of action as it does now. The power of oligarchies and markets and inequalities to restrict democratic choice would not disappear. Freedom does not arrive just because you declare it. And if it ever does arrive, it is complicated, constrained and contested. Scots, coming late to the business of national independence, also come to it with few illusions. Too much has happened to too many dreams of national liberation for any sensible citizen to believe in a great moment of transformation after which everything will be simpler, purer, better.

But national freedom isn’t meaningless either. Room to manoeuvre can be expanded. Democratic spaces can be opened up. The terms of the struggle between public and private interests can be renegotiated. Citizens can become more confident of their power to insist on decency and dignity. A place can be defined as a society and a culture as well as an economy. And the greater the constraints, the more naked the power of unaccountable elites, the more vital it is that whatever collective freedom remains is grasped.

Like everything else, though, even this qualified freedom has a price. Some of that price is literal – the financial losses that have to be set against financial gains. But there’s another kind of reckoning to be done, one that is more abstract but perhaps in the long term more important. National freedom isn’t another word for nothing left to lose. It’s another word for no one left to blame – no one, that is, except yourself. If you make your own choices, you become responsible for their consequences.

This is, especially for small nations that have long been part of a larger imperial whole, a severe loss. There’s a deep and abiding satisfaction in imagining how wonderful you would be if only those foreign bastards would let you. Being free means having to live with the dawning realisation that you might not be so wonderful after all. Freedom in this sense is not an illusion – it’s an act of deliberate disillusion.

Them and Us

What has to be broken free of is not just the big bad Them. It is also the warm, fuzzy Us of the nationalist imagination — the Us that is nicer, holier, more caring.

What a free country quickly discovers is that the better Us of its imagination is not already there, fully formed, just waiting to blossom in the sun of liberation. It has to be created and in order to create it you have to genuinely decide you want it.

WB Yeats described this kind of freedom very well in the early years of the Irish Free State in the mid-1920s. He and his artistic collaborators were under attack for daring to put on stage ugly images of an Irish reality. Yeats drew attention to a crucial distinction between national pride and national vanity: “The moment a nation reaches intellectual maturity, it becomes exceedingly proud and ceases to be vain and when it becomes exceedingly proud it does not disguise its faults.”

What Yeats meant is that before a nation becomes free, it has to wallow in national vanity, creating an idealised picture of a special place and of a people with a unique destiny. When it acquires freedom, it has to replace this vanity with a national pride that consists in having the self-confidence to tell the truth about yourself. Nationalism is a form of myth-making; independence demands a lot of myth-breaking. It has to replace the distorting mirror of fantasy with the sharp reflection of a real self.

This kind of national pride is hard work. You have to decide what are the things your nation should be proud of and how it is going to achieve them in reality. In Scotland’s case, this might mean moving away from claiming a special culture of egalitarianism and towards an honest appraisal of the huge structural inequalities that call that comforting self-image into question. It might mean, as Gerry Hassan has argued so cogently inCaledonian Dreaming, abandoning the notion of Scotland as a wonderfully democratic society and getting to grips with the realities of social division and exclusion.

Without this hard work, political independence lacks its necessary foundation of psychological independence. The country remains in thrall to a mythic version of itself.

It is much easier to send an external government packing than it is to cut yourself off from the cosy and comforting self-image that dependent cultures create for themselves. But when you’re on your own, those self-images cease to be warm and fuzzy and turn toxic. This is largely what happened to Ireland. It gradually disengaged from London rule. But it has struggled to disengage from the exaggerated notions of Irish specialness that were built up through that conflict.

Delusional exaggerations

National vanity continued to hold sway: Ireland didn’t have to deal with its deeply problematic realities because it was uniquely blessed. It was holier, happier, more cultured, more Gaelic, more spiritual, than anywhere else.

In more recent times, this archaic sense of a unique destiny was replaced with another set of equally delusional exaggerations: Ireland as the richest, most successful, most globalised economy in the world, where banks would grow forever and property bubbles would inflate to infinity. These delusions can be seen as compensation for centuries of repression, but they have made it hard for Ireland to deal with its own, humdrum, nonexceptional realities in everything from poverty and mass emigration to the victimisation of children and women.

Scotland’s situation at the point of potential independence is infinitely better than Ireland’s was in the 1920s. It does not risk the violence that stained Ireland’s sense of its better self. However divisive the referendum campaign has been, it will not lead to the kind of traumatic civil war whose legacy deformed Irish politics for decades.

Whatever happens, Scotland will not suffer the consequences of partition which, in Ireland’s case, meant that ideals of a pluralist democracy were lost in the creation of two mutually exclusive sectarian states. And Scotland has, as Ireland did not have at independence, the context of a European Union, which, for all its faults, gives small nations a set of international institutions within which they can make themselves heard.

Energy of euphoria

These advantages give Scottish independence, by historical standards, a remarkably fair wind. If it happens, it will also create its own energy of euphoria. But fair winds and moments of ecstasy don’t last long in a harsh environment of long-term global instabilities. Patriotism is a rocket fuel that can get you out of the orbit of an old order but it burns up quickly and leaves you dependent on much more complex and subtle systems of guidance to get you through the lonely expanses of historic space. Those guidance systems will have to be calibrated to Scotland as it is and the world as it is, not to any nostalgic belief that the conditions of an idealised older Britain can simply be recreated in 21st-century circumstances.

For an outsider like me, this is what is most interesting about the possibility of Scottish independence. It is not that Scotland might become a new state but that it might become a new kind of state. For independence to be meaningful, Scotland would have to start with an acknowledgement that many of the things to which it appeals – the power of government, the legitimacy of democratic institutions, the equality of citizens – are in crisis. They cannot be assumed – they have to be radically reinvented. A new Scotland is as good a place as any to start that work. To begin it, Scotland needs to own not just its country but its own reality.

Fintan O’Toole is Literary Editor of The Irish Times. 

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Friday, 12 September 2014


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Opinion polls From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Potential for inaccuracy[edit]

Polls based on samples of populations are subject to sampling error which reflects the effects of chance and uncertainty in the sampling process. The uncertainty is often expressed as a margin of error. The margin of error is usually defined as the radius of a confidence interval for a particular statistic from a survey. One example is the percent of people who prefer product A versus product B. When a single, global margin of error is reported for a survey, it refers to the maximum margin of error for all reported percentages using the full sample from the survey. If the statistic is a percentage, this maximum margin of error can be calculated as the radius of the confidence interval for a reported percentage of 50%. Others suggest that a poll with a random sample of 1,000 people has margin of sampling error of 3% for the estimated percentage of the whole population.
A 3% margin of error means that if the same procedure is used a large number of times, 95% of the time the true population average will be within the 95% confidence interval of the sample estimate plus or minus 3%. The margin of error can be reduced by using a larger sample, however if a pollster wishes to reduce the margin of error to 1% they would need a sample of around 10,000 people.[6] In practice, pollsters need to balance the cost of a large sample against the reduction in sampling error and a sample size of around 500–1,000 is a typical compromise for political polls. (Note that to get complete responses it may be necessary to include thousands of additional participators.)[7]
Another way to reduce the margin of error is to rely on poll averages. This makes the assumption that the procedure is similar enough between many different polls and uses the sample size of each poll to create a polling average.[8] An example of a polling average can be found here: 2008 Presidential Election polling average. Another source of error stems from faulty demographic models by pollsters who weigh their samples by particular variables such as party identification in an election. For example, if you assume that the breakdown of the US population by party identification has not changed since the previous presidential election, you may underestimate a victory or a defeat of a particular party candidate that saw a surge or decline in its party registration relative to the previous presidential election cycle.
Over time, a number of theories and mechanisms have been offered to explain erroneous polling results. Some of these reflect errors on the part of the pollsters; many of them are statistical in nature. Others blame the respondents for not giving candid answers (e.g., theBradley effect, the Shy Tory Factor); these can be more controversial.

Nonresponse bias[edit]

Since some people do not answer calls from strangers, or refuse to answer the poll, poll samples may not be representative samples from a population due to a non-response bias. Because of this selection bias, the characteristics of those who agree to be interviewed may be markedly different from those who decline. That is, the actual sample is a biased version of the universe the pollster wants to analyze. In these cases, bias introduces new errors, one way or the other, that are in addition to errors caused by sample size. Error due to bias does not become smaller with larger sample sizes, because taking a larger sample size simply repeats the same mistake on a larger scale. If the people who refuse to answer, or are never reached, have the same characteristics as the people who do answer, then the final results should be unbiased. If the people who do not answer have different opinions then there is bias in the results. In terms of election polls, studies suggest that bias effects are small, but each polling firm has its own techniques for adjusting weights to minimize selection bias.[9]

Response bias[edit]

Survey results may be affected by response bias, where the answers given by respondents do not reflect their true beliefs. This may be deliberately engineered by unscrupulous pollsters in order to generate a certain result or please their clients, but more often is a result of the detailed wording or ordering of questions (see below). Respondents may deliberately try to manipulate the outcome of a poll by e.g. advocating a more extreme position than they actually hold in order to boost their side of the argument or give rapid and ill-considered answers in order to hasten the end of their questioning. Respondents may also feel under social pressure not to give an unpopular answer. For example, respondents might be unwilling to admit to unpopular attitudes like racism or sexism, and thus polls might not reflect the true incidence of these attitudes in the population. In American political parlance, this phenomenon is often referred to as the Bradley effect. If the results of surveys are widely publicized this effect may be magnified - a phenomenon commonly referred to as the spiral of silence.

Wording of questions[edit]

It is well established that the wording of the questions, the order in which they are asked and the number and form of alternative answers offered can influence results of polls. For instance, the public is more likely to indicate support for a person who is described by the operator as one of the "leading candidates". This support itself overrides subtle bias for one candidate, as does lumping some candidates in an "other" category or vice versa. Thus comparisons between polls often boil down to the wording of the question. On some issues, question wording can result in quite pronounced differences between surveys.[10][11][12]This can also, however, be a result of legitimately conflicted feelings or evolving attitudes, rather than a poorly constructed survey.[13]
A common technique to control for this bias is to rotate the order in which questions are asked. Many pollsters also split-sample. This involves having two different versions of a question, with each version presented to half the respondents.
The most effective controls, used by attitude researchers, are:
  • asking enough questions to allow all aspects of an issue to be covered and to control effects due to the form of the question (such as positive or negative wording), the adequacy of the number being established quantitatively with psychometric measures such as reliability coefficients, and
  • analyzing the results with psychometric techniques which synthesize the answers into a few reliable scores and detect ineffective questions.
These controls are not widely used in the polling industry.[why?]

Coverage bias[edit]

Another source of error is the use of samples that are not representative of the population as a consequence of the methodology used, as was the experience of the Literary Digestin 1936. For example, telephone sampling has a built-in error because in many times and places, those with telephones have generally been richer than those without.
In some places many people have only mobile telephones. Because pollsters cannot call mobile phones (it is unlawful in the United States to make unsolicited calls to phones where the phone's owner may be charged simply for taking a call), these individuals are typically excluded from polling samples. There is concern that, if the subset of the population without cell phones differs markedly from the rest of the population, these differences can skew the results of the poll. Polling organizations have developed many weighting techniques to help overcome these deficiencies, with varying degrees of success. Studies of mobile phone users by the Pew Research Center in the US, in 2007, concluded that "cell-only respondents are different from landline respondents in important ways, (but) they were neither numerous enough nor different enough on the questions we examined to produce a significant change in overall general population survey estimates when included with the landline samples and weighted according to US Census parameters on basic demographic characteristics."[14]
This issue was first identified in 2004,[15] but came to prominence only during the 2008 US presidential election.[16] In previous elections, the proportion of the general population using cell phones was small, but as this proportion has increased, there is concern that polling only landlines is no longer representative of the general population. In 2003, only 2.9% of households were wireless (cellphones only), compared to 12.8% in 2006.[17] This results in "coverage error". Many polling organisations select their sample by dialling random telephone numbers; however, in 2008, there was a clear tendency for polls which included mobile phones in their samples to show a much larger lead for Obama, than polls that did not.[18][19]
The potential sources of bias are:[20]
  1. Some households use cellphones only and have no landline. This tends to include minorities and younger voters; and occurs more frequently in metropolitan areas. Men are more likely to be cellphone-only compared to women.
  2. Some people may not be contactable by landline from Monday to Friday and may be contactable only by cellphone.
  3. Some people use their landlines only to access the Internet, and answer calls only to their cellphones.
Some polling companies have attempted to get around that problem by including a "cellphone supplement". There are a number of problems with including cellphones in a telephone poll:
  1. It is difficult to get co-operation from cellphone users, because in many parts of the US, users are charged for both outgoing and incoming calls. That means that pollsters have had to offer financial compensation to gain co-operation.
  2. US federal law prohibits the use of automated dialling devices to call cellphones (Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991). Numbers therefore have to be dialled by hand, which is more time-consuming and expensive for pollsters.
An oft-quoted example of opinion polls succumbing to errors occurred during the UK General Election of 1992. Despite the polling organizations using different methodologies, virtually all the polls taken before the vote, and to a lesser extent, exit polls taken on voting day, showed a lead for the opposition Labour party, but the actual vote gave a clear victory to the ruling Conservative party.
In their deliberations after this embarrassment the pollsters advanced several ideas to account for their errors, including:
Late swing 
Voters who changed their minds shortly before voting tended to favour the Conservatives, so the error was not as great as it first appeared.
Nonresponse bias 
Conservative voters were less likely to participate in surveys than in the past and were thus under-represented.
The Shy Tory Factor 
The Conservatives had suffered a sustained period of unpopularity as a result of economic difficulties and a series of minor scandals, leading to a spiral of silence in which some Conservative supporters were reluctant to disclose their sincere intentions to pollsters.
The relative importance of these factors was, and remains, a matter of controversy, but since then the polling organizations have adjusted their methodologies and have achieved more accurate results in subsequent election campaigns.[citation needed]


A widely publicized failure of opinion polling to date in the United States was the prediction that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry S. Truman in the 1948 US presidential election. Major polling organizations, including Gallup and Roper, indicated a landslide victory for Dewey.
In the United Kingdom, most polls failed to predict the Conservative election victories of1970 and 1992, and Labour's victory in 1974. However, their figures at other elections have been generally accurate.


Effect on voters[edit]

By providing information about voting intentions, opinion polls can sometimes influence the behavior of electors, and in his book The Broken CompassPeter Hitchens asserts that opinion polls are actually a device for influencing public opinion.[21] The various theories about how this happens can be split into two groups: bandwagon/underdog effects, and strategic ("tactical") voting.
bandwagon effect occurs when the poll prompts voters to back the candidate shown to be winning in the poll. The idea that voters are susceptible to such effects is old, stemming at least from 1884; William Safire reported that the term was first used in a political cartoon in the magazine Puck in that year.[22] It has also remained persistent in spite of a lack of empirical corroboration until the late 20th century. George Gallup spent much effort in vain trying to discredit this theory in his time by presenting empirical research. A recent meta-study of scientific research on this topic indicates that from the 1980s onward the Bandwagon effect is found more often by researchers.[23]
The opposite of the bandwagon effect is the underdog effect. It is often mentioned in the media. This occurs when people vote, out of sympathy, for the party perceived to be "losing" the elections. There is less empirical evidence for the existence of this effect than there is for the existence of the bandwagon effect.[23]
The second category of theories on how polls directly affect voting is called strategic ortactical voting. This theory is based on the idea that voters view the act of voting as a means of selecting a government. Thus they will sometimes not choose the candidate they prefer on ground of ideology or sympathy, but another, less-preferred, candidate from strategic considerations. An example can be found in the United Kingdom general election, 1997. As he was then a Cabinet Minister, Michael Portillo's constituency of Enfield Southgate was believed to be a safe seat but opinion polls showed the Labour candidateStephen Twigg steadily gaining support, which may have prompted undecided voters or supporters of other parties to support Twigg in order to remove Portillo. Another example is the boomerang effect where the likely supporters of the candidate shown to be winning feel that chances are slim and that their vote is not required, thus allowing another candidate to win.
In addition, Mark Pickup in Cameron Anderson and Laura Stephenson's "Voting Behaviour in Canada" outlines three additional "behavioural" responses that voters may exhibit when faced with polling data.
The first is known as a "cue taking" effect which holds that poll data is used as a "proxy" for information about the candidates or parties. Cue taking is "based on the psychological phenomenon of using heuristics to simplify a complex decision" (243).[24]
The second, first described by Petty and Cacioppo (1996) is known as "cognitive response" theory. This theory asserts that a voter's response to a poll may not line with their initial conception of the electoral reality. In response, the voter is likely to generate a "mental list" in which they create reasons for a party's loss or gain in the polls. This can reinforce or change their opinion of the candidate and thus affect voting behaviour.
Third, the final possibility is a "behavioural response" which is similar to a cognitive response. The only salient difference is that a voter will go and seek new information to form their "mental list," thus becoming more informed of the election. This may then affect voting behaviour.
These effects indicate how opinion polls can directly affect political choices of the electorate. But directly or indirectly, other effects can be surveyed and analyzed on all political parties. The form of media framing and party ideology shifts must also be taken under consideration. Opinion polling in some instances is a measure of cognitive bias, which is variably considered and handled appropriately in its various applications.

Effect on politicians[edit]

Starting in the 1980s, tracking polls and related technologies began having a notable impact on U.S. political leaders.[25] According to Douglas Bailey, a Republican who had helped run Gerald Ford's 1976 presidential campaign, "It's no longer necessary for a political candidate to guess what an audience thinks. He can [find out] with a nightly tracking poll. So it's no longer likely that political leaders are going to lead. Instead, they're going to follow."[25]


Some jurisdictions over the world restrict the publication of the results of opinion polls, especially during the period around an election, in order to prevent the possibly erroneous results from affecting voters' decisions. For instance, in Canada, it is prohibited to publish the results of opinion surveys that would identify specific political parties or candidates in the final three days before a poll closes.[26]
However, most western democratic nations don't support the entire prohibition of the publication of pre-election opinion polls; most of them have no regulation and some only prohibit it in the final days or hours until the relevant poll closes.[27] A survey by Canada's Royal Commission on Electoral Reform reported that the prohibition period of publication of the survey results largely differed in different countries. Out of the 20 countries examined, 3 prohibit the publication during the entire period of campaigns, while others prohibit it for a shorter term such as the polling period or the final 48 hours before a poll closes.[26] In India, Election commission has prohibited it before 48 hours. Recently, a there was some echo regarding complete ban on opinion polls whereas some political parties supported and opposed it. Even many civil society organizations and activists were divided on this issue. Famous activist and Psephologist Yogendra Yadav argued its importance, on the other hand, another article was written by Ravi Nitesh, founder of Mission Bhartiyam regarding itsdisadvantages and loopholes.


Oil and Gas Intelligence Research conducted among the political elite and military establishment in London, indicates, that privately, it has been decided to blockade Scotland's oil in the North Sea, in the event of a Scottish Independence referendum yes result, while publicly the City of London's main political parties are currently ganging up and bullying Scotland, to remain under UK control, by threatening a currency war in the event of a Scottish Independence yes result, according to SNP's deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The threats are reminiscent of previous British threats, to other oil producing countries in the Middle east and the Gulf, before going to war there.

The Guardian Newspaper has disclosed, that George Osborne, 
Danny Alexander and Ed Balls are threatening the Scottish people, that an independent Scotland, could not keep the pound in the event of a Yes vote, it will not be accepted by the political elite in London as well control of Scottish oil in the North Sea.

The SNP say these threats and bullying tactics will not work. "It will backfire spectacularly on the no campaign, they are treating people like fools. Scottish people are not fools or cowards. People can see the sense of the position we are putting forward for Scotland and the rest of the UK. They know this is a rather cack-handed panicky campaign maneouvre. I am not going to be bullied out of the right position for Scotland and for the rest of the UK."

The SNP's spokesperson Sturgeon made the statement, after the Guardian reported London's main political parties, were threatening the Scottish people, that the remainder of the UK would refuse to form a currency union with Scotland if voters vote yes for independence.The Guardian said that Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, will deliver similar threats in the run up to the vote

Sturgeon dismissed the joint London position as a bluff, when she said that a currency union, would be in the interests of an independent Scotland and the rest of of the UK as it also ensure Scotland would assume its share of the UK's liabilities and debts, after independence. Sturgeon also told the BBC: "The Westminster establishment is trying to gang up on Scotland because they see it in the polls that they are losing the argument.

"This would be an absurd position for any Westminster government to be in. It would cost their own businesses hundreds of millions of pounds in transaction costs, it would blow a massive hole in their balance of payments, it would leave them having to pick up the entirety of UK debt.This is a position that makes no sense, it is a tactical position for the purpose to stir up fear and uncertainty. Let's see it for what it is, call it for what it is."

Asked if an independent Scotland would refuse to accept its share of the debt in the event of a rejection of a currency union by London, Sturgeon said: "The debt belongs legally to the Treasury. They confirmed that point last month. You can't default on debt that is not legally ours. But we have always said, and I will say again here very openly, I that Scotland should meet a fair share of the costs of servicing that debt. But assets and liabilities go hand in hand.

"We have got a London government here, that appears to be putting forward this notion, that Scotland's deal in the union is to shoulder all of the debt but have none of the assets. The position of the government in London is that they will reportedly articulate Scotland's position after a yes vote. It begs the question: why would anyone want to stay part of a union where we are bullied and treated with such contempt?"

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Thursday, 11 September 2014


Alistair first got involved in folk music way back in the mid-sixties, following what seems to be a surprisingly common entry route - "Yeah, I was Glasgow's pimpliest Bob Dylan clone !" - but he went along to folk clubs and was exposed to traditional Scottish music. Having been "accustomed" to the likes of Andy Stewart and Kenneth McKellar, the real sounds of his homeland came as a surprise, hearing traditional Scottish ballads, the strange cadence, and the modality of the tunes he was "gob-smacked". By the age of fifteen he was visiting The Attic Folk Club in Paisley and taking a strong interest in the music, but just a year later he was to become a reluctant emigrant to New Zealand travelling with his parents on an assisted passage. However despite not being eager to go, he was able to break straight into the folk circuit - it was very welcoming to what it regarded as the genuine article, and here was a Scottish kid singing traditional Scottish ballads.

After two years in New Zealand he was a seasoned performer, and when ex-Glaswegian Gordon MacIntyre came from Australia to tour, Alistair was a support act. At the end of the week Gordon said that there was a thriving folk scene in Australia and that Alistair should go over there, so he did! Gordon introduced him to the right people and soon Alistair was established, and played around the folk circuit for a few years before drifting into other forms of music. It was the time of peace, love, and flower power, and he went on the hippy trail for about ten years, before coming back to traditional music via punk!

Alastair had already started writing his own stuff in the seventies, travelling around with a guitar, playing round campfires, jamming with other musicians, and needing to expand a limited repertoire of songs, but it wasn't until he was playing with Roaring Jack that he began to write seriously. The Jacks were an electric folk punk band, "We screamed our way through traditional folk ballads with great gusto, whilst the audience had a scrum at the front of the stage, but that got me back into folk music again." He neglects to mention the stage-diving from the top of the speaker stacks, but the band was popular, even getting invited to folk festivals. They were usually put in a tent a long way off from everybody else and their audience was mostly punks - but they wouldn't have been there otherwise, so the festival organisers were happy to have the Jacks because they brought along an audience.

The band did two albums and an EP, plus an awful lot of touring, but Alistair was quietly(-ish) gaining a reputation as a songwriter of some note. "People more from the mainstream of folk began to do my songs - in a less frenetic style than the Jacks, and a few people recorded them." Alistair also started doing more solo work, playing acoustic, rather than electric guitar, and eventually recorded his first solo album "Dance of the Underclass" in 1991. This album included twelve of his own songs, including "He Fades Away" and "The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away", plus a rousing version of the "Internationale"! Roaring Jack eventually split up after some six years together, but by this time Hulett was well on his way and had a second solo album, recorded with temporary band The Hooligans, issued in 1994 and titled "In the Back Streets of Paradise".

The strength of his songwriting is obvious on hearing the material, but besides the very accurate and precise observation which underpins the lyrics from this fine wordsmith, there is also a common thread of a deeply felt political and social awareness. It was June Tabor's recording of "He Fades Away", on "Against The Stream" in 1994, that first made me aware of Alistair's writing. "I love the way June sings it! It was weird really, but when I wrote it, especially when that middle eight section was coming to me, I was thinking of her music as I was writing that chord progression. I didn't know her or anything but after I recorded it I asked my record label to send her a copy, but it didn't ever reach her". Happily, by the strange forces of serendipity, June was given a tape to play in the car whilst travelling between gigs in the US, and there it was. The song tells of a man dying from asbestosis, contracted whilst working in the Wittenoom blue asbestos mine in Western Australia, and is one of two songs written by Alistair about the horrors of the mines, the other being "Blue Murder".

"A lot of the people that worked in the asbestos mines came from fairly remote parts of Europe, coming over on government assisted passages. They had to sign up to stay and work for two years in the mines, and they weren't aware of what they were getting themselves into. It was a hell-hole, and highly toxic too, but if they left before the two years were up, they were tracked down by the Western Australia police and forcibly returned to the mines. It was almost like indentured labour." Both songs contain extremely moving and powerful imagery, demonstrating the skill, and the passion of the writer. They were originally written as part of a project to produce a play based on "Blue Murder" - a book about the mines by Ben Hills. The project never reached completion due to circumstances surrounding the Free Tim Anderson campaign where Alistair was actively involved in clearing the name of left-wing activist Tim Anderson. "He was accused of a particularly horrendous crime - planting explosives outside the Hilton Hotel, where a summit meeting of the Commonwealth heads of state was taking place. Two bin-men and a policeman had been killed and Tim was being framed as the culprit. He was completely innocent, as was later proved, but Ben Hills wrote an article for the Sydney Morning Herald defaming Tim, and I felt I couldn't continue to work with Ben after that".

It isn't possible to talk about Alistair without being aware of his social and political stance, and his standpoint is made quite clear by his singing, his writing, and the introductions to his songs. "I see myself as a Socialist in the Marxist tradition - I believe that the way forward in society is for the producers to take control of the means of production - for the Working Class to take political and economic power". These beliefs lend a great deal to both his own songs and his choice of other material. His version of "The Weaver and the Factory Maid" is quite a revelation, putting it into the context of hand-loom weavers (who had been at the pinnacle of their society) being driven into abject poverty by the advent of the steam shuttle, which mechanised the weaving process and almost at a stroke totally devalued the skill, the craft of the hand-loom weavers. "Their response was to band together in the night and go and smash the looms, out of sheer desperation". The Luddites, as they were known, failed, and progress inevitably overtook them, but between the skilled weavers and the relatively unskilled factory hands there was a major conflict, and a marriage between the two was almost unthinkable. "At the end of the song the weaver is saying to his father that if a young man is going to find a partner it will be in the factory, that is where everyone is going, it's inevitable. When you understand the social context, it's really a formidable song."

However, don't get the impression that a Hulett gig is all politics, far from it, he doesn't only sing about his political beliefs, he presents an interesting and well balanced set, but like several folk luminaries before him, he is politicised. "I'm not alone in this; a lot of singers on the folk scene in the sixties were card carrying Communist Party members - Bert Lloyd was; so was Hamish Henderson, and Ewan MacColl." And MacColl was an early influence on his music, with one of his current repertoire being "Chylde Owlett", using the Lydian mode, and learned from the singing of MacColl. "He was a huge influence. A lot of people have influenced me, but he would be at the top of the list."

Twenty-odd years in Australia fostered in Hulett a taste for the "old" Australia, and its politics - and in his song "The Siege Of Union Street" there is a case of direct action from the times of the depression. "Somebody gave me a pamphlet and said that I might like to read it 'cos it was about the street I was living in at the time! I read it and it amazed me. There had been a struggle to prevent the eviction of a war widow and her children, and over a thousand people had fought in the streets for three days against the police and the landlords, and managed in the process to ultimately get the law changed." Alastair was given a copy of a taped conversation with a man by the name of Jim Monroe who had been a founder member of the Unemployed Workers Union, the organisation which had waged the Union Street campaign. "One of the things he said was about the solidarity amongst the people fighting to prevent this unjust eviction - they were grand old days on the barricade! - and I knew that that was the angle I wanted to write from. After that, the song just wrote itself."
Another aspect of Australia's past was the violent and bloody oppression which characterised the last two hundred years history of the continent: "The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away" tells of the brutality shown to the original settlers, the transportees, and also to the indigenous Aboriginal people:

"You caused the poor blacks to suffer the same
Imprisoned on missions or hunted for game
Blood stained the soil of Australia."

This song was the catalyst which brought together Alistair Hulett and Dave Swarbrick. "Dave had moved to live in Australia, in the Blue Mountains, and whilst on tour he was staying with a fella called Rob Bartlett, a fine English singer and guitarist living in Adelaide, who played him 'The Swaggies' on my CD 'Dance of the Underclass' and he liked it." Alistair was already working on a new album, which he had intended to ask Swarb to play on, but then he got a 'phone call saying Dave had heard the CD and would like to work with Alistair. "So we call that our song!" After hearing the demos for the new album Dave said that rather than play on it for a session fee, he would prefer it to be a collaboration. "We recorded 'Saturday Johnny and Jimmy the Rat' and we had such a good time playing together that we toured Australia with it. Personal circumstances then meant that both of us were returning to the UK at the same time, and so the collaboration continued." That was in 1996 and Alistair, on his return, went to live in Herefordshire where a strange coincidence led to him meeting June Tabor, due to them both using the same health food shop. "The shop owner mentioned to June, another customer, that a folk singer had arrived from Australia and told her my name. She didn't know that I was living there, only about twelve miles from her place, but I got a 'phone call and went over for dinner one night. She's lovely!"

"Saturday Johnny..." was released in the UK and Swarb and Alistair toured extensively, doing clubs and festivals to wide acclaim. Several reviewers admitted not knowing Alistair's name, and going to the gigs purely on the strength of Swarb, but all came away raving about the duo, and Hulett's songwriting. The comparisons with the Swarbrick/Carthy pairing were bound to be made, and not without validity. "If he (Swarbrick) was to play with any guitar player, especially one who plays finger style as I do, then it's an obvious comparison to make. I have to say that I'm quite in awe of Martin's guitar playing - not only his playing, his whole artistry. He is definitely the business as far as I'm concerned."

But whilst Alistair readily admits to being influenced by Carthy, there is something more to it; that distinctive percussive style so difficult to define but immediately recognisable. "We use the same tuning, he (Carthy) passed that on to me. With it you can play in lots of different keys, with an obviously modal tuning. I like that modal sound. I was previously using DADGAD, C modal, and G modal, and it meant either re-tuning 6 or 7 times during a set, or carting 3 or 4 guitars around. But Martin's actually devised a way of tuning that is as versatile as standard tuning, but where you can still get that modal sound. It's a tricky one - you've got to commit to it! You can't really go back into normal tuning again without so altering the tension of the neck that the entire guitar goes out of tune! The tuning means that strings are tuned down from standard and a fairly heavy gauge of string is required. It's really 'sloppy', but I like that. Some of the strings are so slack that you get a lot of vibrato, and they also become quite 'rattley', but I like the sound of the string hitting off the fret - I like to yank at the strings a bit!" His playing is deceptive - understated, camouflaging his skill, but allowing him when paired with Swarbrick to produce a sound which is much fuller than would be expected from just the two instruments.

After their successful tour they both returned to other work with Alistair taking up solo work and Swarb working with other people, but they also continued to develop material together and their second CD, "The Cold Grey Light of Dawn" was released in 1998, again to great critical acclaim. "The Siege of Union Street", the bleak "Chylde Owlett", and "The Swaggies..." are to be found here, plus some other very powerful pieces of writing. The album also has a song written in Australia, but recalling the Glasgow he'd left behind him; "Among Proddy Dogs and Papes" is no nostalgia trip, instead it concerns itself with the sectarian violence which was endemic in the city at that time. "It has been a real joy to return and find the sectarian animosity and the violence so greatly reduced." Other changes in the city have also been welcomed by Alistair. "I'd always thought that the buildings were made out of black stone, but they've been cleaned, and everywhere now is this beautiful blonde and red sandstone - I didn't even know it was there!"

The second CD led to another tour together in 1998, but by this time Alistair's reputation in the UK had grown, and people had picked up on the first tour and the solo work as well. Additionally, 1998 saw Hulett at the Isle of Bute, "Bute Experience!" with the debut performance of "Red Clydeside" a presentation in word and song of a chapter of his home city's history. "Around the time of the start of the First World War, Glasgow was the home of the dispossessed - the Irish and the Clansmen." This led to a very politically aware, and politically active, population, which resulted in a rent strike in 1915 led by a Govan housewife, and which forced the British government to legislate against wartime rent increases. "The Rent Strike was the first upheaval in a working class revolt that came to be known as Red Clydeside. Its leader was a man called John MacLean who would address meetings of workers outside the factory gates and exhort them to be true to their class not their country, and not go to war." This was obviously unpopular with the government of the day and twice MacLean was imprisoned, but twice he was released due to the level of public pressure. "When he was released the second time he was very weak and unwell, he had suffered terribly during his imprisonment, but on his release he was taken to speak at what was possibly the largest political meeting ever assembled in this country."

Alistair had been working on this project with Swarbrick with the intention of bringing out a CD. "All the songs are written , we've even got the track order for the CD, and we were due to go into the studio to record it before Dave's illness." Ah yes, the period spent in hospital which resulted in a glowing, albeit thankfully premature, obituary in the Telegraph, to which Swarbrick responded with a statement that he'd "died in Coventry before!" But how is he now? "He was very ill, but although he's lost quite a lot of muscle tone, he's getting stronger day by day and he's playing again now." Besides the delay on the recording of the new CD there were other rather more pressing implications. "We had a thirty date tour booked, and then Dave fell ill. I'd just taken out a mortgage and I wasn't looking forward to seeing the bank manager. So, I went to Roy Bailey and said that I needed a big favour!" Roy, who had recorded "He Fades Away" in 1994, obliged, and eventually went out on half the dates, with the two of them essentially doing a song-swap. "Roy would do a song, then I'd follow with one which was somehow related to it, and so on - but we both kept the option of changing the subject without notice!" For the rest of the gigs Alistair was partnered by ace squeezer John Kirkpatrick. "I spoke to Martin (Carthy) about the other gigs, and he suggested John." Despite the two pairings being quite different both came up with a successful and interesting format, helping Alistair expand his audience base - and pay the mortgage!

Alistair Hulett is a singer of intensity, integrity, and conviction, but although much of his writing is hard edged social and political commentary which challenges any hint of passivity in his audience, he doesn't let the ideology overpower the imaginative lyricism of his writing. He combines rich vocal tonality, deceptively understated guitar style, and articulate, incisive introductions in a relaxed presentation. He is a singer and writer of stature, and Australia's loss is most definitely our gain.

by Mel Howley, From The Living Tradition magazine

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

SCOTLAND'S Working Class Heroes


Can ye no hush your weepin'
all the wee lambs are sleepin'
Birdies are nestlin' nestlin' together 
Dream Angus is hirplin' oer the heather
Dreams to sell, fine dreams to sell 
Angus is here wi' dreams to sell
Hush ye my baby and sleep without fear
Dream Angus has brought you a dream my dear.
List' to the curlew cryin'
Faintly the echos dyin' 
Even the birdies and the beasties are sleepin'
But my bonny bairn is weepin' weepin' 
Dreams to sell, fine dreams to sell 
Angus is here wi' dreams to sell
Hush ye my baby and sleep without fear
Dream Angus has brought you a dream my dear

(Stephan Coyle)
James ConnollyJames Connolly was born in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh of Irish parents in 1868. He was pioneer of the socialist and labour movement in Scotland before leaving for Ireland in 1896 where he took up a full time post with the Irish Socialist Republican Party, whose 100th anniversary is this year. This party sought to unite the twin strands of Irish Republicanism and Socialism into a single revolutionary force. Connolly later formed the Irish Citizen's Army during the Dublin lockout of 1913 to defend the dockworkers from the police and scabs. Connolly played a prominent part in the Rising and held the post of Commander in Chief of the Republican forces. He was badly wounded in the Rising and was executed by the British at Kilmainham Jail on May 12 whilst strapped to a chair.

Labour MP'S stood up and cheered in the House at the news of his death. The British left of the day condemned him for going to Ireland at all, including the Imperialist Social democrat leader Hyndman who believed in Socialism within the British Empire.

 Charles Carrigan

Charles Carrigan was born of Irish parents in the (then) industrial town of Denny, Stirlingshire in 1882. Modest by nature he possessed a keen intellect and worked as a tailor. From an early age he developed a love of all things Irish and was an enthusiastic Gaelic Leaguer.When Sinn Fein was founded in 1905, members of the IRB formed a branch in Glasgow soon afterwords, named the Eire Og Craobh. Charles Carrigan was it's first chairman. The branch was very active and organised Gaelic classes as well as holding lectures on Irish history and the contemporary political situation. Carrigan's wide reading knowledge of their hardships endured by the working classes of Clydeside, many of whom were Irish immigrants, developed in him a strong social conscience. In 1906 the future Minister of Housing in the First Labour Government, John Weatley, founded the small but influential Catholic Socialist Society. It aimed to reconcile practising Roman Catholics with the tents of socialism. Carrigan and fellow IRB member, Thomas O'Baun enrolled. As well as serving on the organising committee and presiding at meetings, Carrigan was much in demand as a lecturer. It was hardly surprising then, that when Arthur Griffith sided with the management during the Dublin Lock Out, the Glasgow Sinn Feiners felt compelled to denounce his actions.

Carrigan and other prominent IRB members left for Ireland in order to evade conscription which was introduced in January 1916. When there they made preparations for the impending Rising. During the fighting Carrigan was positioned at the GPO with other members of the Scottish Division. Despite putting up a brave fight, the constant British bombardment was taking it's toll. Incendiary shells set the Republican Headquarters on fire and their evacuation became necessary. It was during the second evacuation on the 28th that Charles Carrigan was cut down by a hail of bullets with the O'Rahilly by his side. They were killed in Moore Street near the burning GPO. Bya sad coincidence it was Carrigan's 34th birthday. Charles Carrigan's name takes pride of place on a monument in St. Paul's Cemetery, Glasnevin, beneath which he is buried along with 15 other heroes of Easter Week.

Iain MacKenzie KennedyIain MacKenzie Kennedy was a Scottish Republican who is believed to have hailed from the Lochaber district on Inverness-shire. In 1916 he went to Ireland in a quest for the Irish language and later the West Cork Brigade of the IRA. He was killed by Free State forces at Passage West on August 8 1922. He and two Republican comrades put up an unequal fight against 64 Free Staters, killing 12, and wounding 15. The following is an extract from his obituary which appeared in the 'Fenian'.

"We well remember Iain MacKenzie Kennedy in Killarney during the 'trouble', but before it had reached its Black and Tan zenith. A fine strapping handsome boy, he was attired always in a kilt and the tartan of his clan. He was fiercely anti-English. He had thrown away much in Scotland and came to Ireland accompanied by his very charming mother rather than fight for the English. He went about quite openly although the town was full of British military. One day two swaggering officers armed fully, passed him in the street and made some sneering remark about his cowardice in not "joining up". He reached out and grabbed one in either hand, banged their two heads together, and threw the dazed up the street. He was intensely Gaelic and clan proud". Iain MacKenzie Kennedy is buried in the Republican plot in Cork City and his name takes prided of place on the Republican Monument in Macroom.

The Irish in Scotland It is right and proper that we the faithful Republicans of Glasgow recall the significant contribution that was made by the contingent of Glasgow Republicans who travelled to Dublin to play a full part in that epoch making event. The highest ranks of the Irish Republican Brotherhood were informed on January 1916 that the Rising was planned. This resulted in an upsurge in explosive gathering raids and smuggling operations on the part of that organisation. The Finna also transported large amounts of explosives, detonators fuse wire and other materials useful in bombmaking. After being stored in safe houses in Scotland the material would be taken by young Finna boys to Ireland. The route most commonly used was that between Ardrossan and Belfast. Some of the smuggled explosives which mainly came from Lanarkshire coalfields, would be distributed amongst sympathisers in Belfast, but the bulk would be transported to Dublin.

Not alone did Scotland provide some of the arms used in the Easter Rising, but some of the participants. Immediately the discussion to stage a Rising was known to the IRB in Scotland, those who possessed specialist knowledge of explosives left for Ireland. They joined up with some of their comrades, who were stationed in a camp at the Kimmage home of Count Plunkett and were known as the Scottish Division of the Kimmage Garrison. Their task along with Republican contingents from London and Liverpool, was to prepare the armoury for the Rising. The majority of Irish Volunteers in Scotland were only informed of the plans for the Rising about a week in advance. About 50 Irish Volunteers from Glasgow took part in the event and were joined by an enthusiastic band of women from Cumann nam Bann. The latter did sterling work in nursing the Republican casualties during the subsequent fighting. Many of them were schoolteachers who had learned how to shoot in a Glasgow rifle range. The first military action of the overseas contigents occurred before the Rising itself when they successfully fought off a would be police raiding party, killing a squad detective. Most of the Scotish Division were deployed in garrisons on the perimeter of the GPO and elsewhere.

Six of the men who had come from 'a land beyond the sea' never returned. Glasgow Cumann nam Bann and Citizen Army member Margaret Skinneder, was badly wounded on the Wednesday, whilst taking part in a house situated behind the Russell Hotel on the Green. It was thougt to be occupied, by the British, who had to dislodged before more aggressive action could be taken, but a sniper in the house opposite opened fire killing 17 year old Fred Ryan and hitting Margaret Skinneder three times.Fortunately she made a full recovery and wrote her book, 'Doing my bit for Ireland', which was published the following year. Following the military failure of the Rising the one hundred or so members of the British contingents, together with two thousand other internees and deportees, many of whom had been totally uninvolved in the Rising, were conveyed in cattle boats to Britain. Members of the Scottish Division, including it's leader Joesph Robinson, were dispersed in such prisons as Reading jail, Balinnie and Perth, before being interned together in Frongoch Camp in North Wales. This place was to become in effect the 'University of Irish Republicanism'.With the release of the Republican prisoners in December, 1916 the IRB in Glasgow was able to regroup and resume its previous activities of raiding for arms and transporting the material to Ireland.

A scottish Brigade of Oglaigh Nah Eireann was established in early 1919 out of the Irish Volunteers and by the High Water mark of the Anglo-Irish War in 1921, it could boast a membership of 2,500 with 33 affiliated companies across Scotland. Everywher there was a significant Irish presence, a branch of the Sinn Fein existed. The largest one was in Greenock with a membership of 1000, with 600 each for Paisley and Dumbarton. Clearly the Irish in Scotland were very staunch and according to one Prominent Republican. source, the support from Scotland in terms of munitions and financial aid during the Tan War outstripped that of any other country including the USA.
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