Cock and Bull Stories

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 7 November 2013)
 
Exploding the myths behind male circumcision.

The circumcision of boys has been with us for thousands of years and carried out by various cultures. Nobody knows exactly why it started. Some have suggested that it was to prevent masturbation. Others claim that given most cultures carrying out circumcision live in near desert conditions, the practice started to prevent sand becoming trapped under the foreskin. This may explain the current prevailing belief that circumcision is more hygienic. There is one thing for sure however, the practice began as a bronze age religious ritual, most commonly associated with Judaism.

Circumcision of infants takes place generally two to eight days after birth. In the procedure the foreskin is pulled right back to expose the glans (head of the penis). The ‘excess’ foreskin is then clipped off. The wound is then cleaned surgically, although in some orthodox Jewish sects, the Mohel, who carries out the circumcision, will actually suck the penis to clean the wound. Infant circumcision takes about 10 minutes to complete, whereas an adult circumcision can take up to one hour. The wound heals in seven to ten days.

Whilst it is widely faith based around the world, in the United States of America circumcision of boys became a standard medical practice, with the result that even today around 75% of American males are circumcised. There have been a number of reasons given for the practice of male circumcision, which I hope here to roundly destroy.

1. Circumcision is more hygienic.

Not only is this a myth, quite the opposite in fact applies. Urine is sterile, and whenever an uncircumcised male urinates, the foreskin spreads it across the glans. This carries out a self-cleaning function, which is one of the main reasons we evolved with a foreskin in the first place. Certainly, children – of both sexes – need constant care to keep their genitals clean, but that does not require removing part of them. Consider that the folds of the vagina carry out the same self-cleaning function in females. Only a maniac however would consider cutting away part of the labia in baby girls.

2. Circumcision decreases risk of urinary tract infection (UTI).

UTI can be extremely painful and there is one school of thought that women, who are far more prone to it than men, have their sons circumcised due to misguided teachings on it’s prevalence.

In 1998 the UK medical journal, The Lancet, published that for every circumcision which prevented a UTI, 194 did not. One of the studies cited in circumcision reducing UTIs is that of boys born in US Army hospitals between 1980-1985 by Dr Simon Wiswell, who is something of a champion of circumcision;

“The records of 136,086 boys born in US Army hospitals from 1980 to 1985 were reviewed for indexed complications related to circumcision status during the first month of life. For 100,157 circumcised boys, there were 193 complications (0.19%). These included 62 local infections, eight cases of bacteremia, 83 incidences of hemorrhage (31 requiring ligature and three requiring transfusion), 25 instances of surgical trauma, and 20 urinary tract infections. There were no deaths or reported losses of the glans or entire penis. By contrast, the complications in the 35,929 uncircumcised infants were all related to urinary tract infections. Of the 88 boys with such infections (0.24%), 32 had concomitant bacteremia, three had meningitis, two had renal failure, and two died. The frequencies of urinary tract infection (P less than .0001) and bacteremia (P less than .0002) were significantly higher in the uncircumcised boys.” (Wiswell TE, Geschke DW, June 1989)

First of all, notice the discrepancy in numbers. He compares 100,157 circumcised boys to 35,929 uncircumcised. This is playing with figures. Yet if you look closer, you will find that if circumcising the 35,929 boys would have reduced the incidence from 0.244% to 0.02% (7 boys), then number need to treat is 35,929/(88-7) = 444 circumcisions – to prevent just one UTI. Or put it another way; 445 boys have to have their cocks cut to save the discomfort of just one – which can be easily treated with antibiotics.

Note also that according to Dr Wiswell’s own figures, local infections, haemorrhage and surgical trauma {how serious?} were infinitely higher in the circumcised boys.

Another statistic wheeled out is often that of Parkland Hospital in Texas in 1982, which stated that “95% of the (male) infants (with UTI) were uncircumcised.” Not at all really surprising when you consider the other fact that the proponents of circumcision miss out when quoting this; that at that time there were NO circumcised babies in Parkland Hospital.

One damning report concludes that circumcision may actually cause UTI. Doubly damning as it comes from the Jewish state of Israel;

“162 neonates (108 males, 54 females) were hospitalized with UTI. Mean age at admission was significantly lower in males (27.5 vs 37.7 days, p=0.0002). The incidence of UTI in males peaked at 2-4 weeks of age, i.e. the period immediately following circumcision. In females, the incidence tended to rise with age. Accordingly, male predominance disappeared at 7 weeks and the male-to-female ratio reversed. In the second part of the study, 111 males (?T1 month old) were included: 48 post-UTI and 63 as a control group. While evaluating the impact of circumcision technique, we found that UTI occurred in 6 of the 24 infants circumcised by a physician (25%), and in 42 of the 87 infants (48%) circumcised by a religious authority; the calculated odds ratio for contracting UTI was 2.8 (95% CI: 1-9.4).

Conclusion; There was a higher preponderance of UTI among male neonates. Its incidence peaked during the early post-circumcision period, as opposed to the age-related rise in females. UTI seems to occur more frequently after traditional circumcision than after physician performed circumcision. We speculate that changes in the hemostasis technique or shortening the duration of the shaft wrapping might decrease the rate of infection after Jewish ritual circumcision.” (Dario Prais, Rachel Shoov-Furman and Jacob Amir, Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, 2008)

3. Circumcision reduces the risk of Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI).

This myth is based upon a study by the English doctor Jonathan Hutchinson who in 1854 published a table showing the prevalence of VD among Jews and Non-Jews:

Hutchinson used this table to claim that circumcision was a contributory factor to preventing the spread of Gonorrhoea and Syphilis, which he claimed was due to circumcision renedered “the delicate mucous membrane of the glans hard and skin-like” His findings were however deeply flawed. They were for a start a backlash against promiscuity, which was actually highly prevalent in the 19th century, particularly in London where he carried out his studies. He was also a typical example of the sexually uptight and reserved English Victorian professional classes, who frowned upon the very idea of sex ever being pleasurable (except Queen Victoria, with her army of kids, obviously had no problem with it), and sought to decrease that pleasure wherever possible.

The report also does not take consideration of cultural differences. The fact was that Jewish men were far less likely to be promiscuous than gentiles, hence the apparent discrepancy in figures. To put this in a more modern light, consider the explosion of HIV/AIDS among the gay community in the early 1980s, many of whom were extremely promiscuous, compared to that of heterosexuals. The high incidence of HIV/AIDs among gays then led to it being considered a homosexual disease and labelled the “gay plague”. Exactly the same misguided preconceptions were used in the 1980s as Hutchinson published in 1854.

If anything else was needed to destroy Hutchinson’s claims, it came directly from the British Empire, at it’s height at the time. Wherever the British went in the world and interacted with tribal peoples, incidences of venereal diseases skyrocketed. This includes among African men, a great many of whom were in fact circumcised.

In Circumcision in the United States; Prevalence, Prophylactic Effects, and Sexual Practice (1997), Dr E O Laumann, et al, no significant differences in STD rates between circumcised and intact men, except for one STD: 25.1/1000 (26/1033) circumcised men reported having suffered from the commonest STD, chlamydia, while no intact men (out of 353) did so. He concluded, “…we have discovered that circumcision provides no discernible prophylactic benefit and may in fact increase the likelihood of STD contraction…”

Indeed, the high prevalence of chlamydia among circumcised men suggests that it may in fact contribute to the spread of STIs.

In “Risk factors for penile cancer: results of a population-based case-control study in Los Angeles County (United States)” (2001), H F Tsen, et al, similarly found, “We found no evidence that uncircumcised men are particularly susceptible to clinical infections with sexually transmitted diseases, such as HPV or herpes. Circumcised cases in our study were more likely than uncircumcised cases to report a history of genital warts (20.5% vs 8.2%); and among controls there was little difference in the history of warts by circumcision status (5.9% vs 6.3%). These findings are consistent with those of Aynaud et al who observed similar proportions of HPV-associated lesions in circumcised and uncircumcised men.”

There is also the claim that circumcision reduces the chances of contracting HIV. In fact, Michael Garrenne of the Pasteur Institute wrote in Male Circumcision and HIV Control in Africa (2006);

“If all men are circumcised, then prevalence among women will be lower, and men will have lower risk of being exposed and infected. However, several natural experiments do not confirm this argument. For instance, Tanzania has some 110 ethnic groups, some groups using universal male circumcision, others not circumcising. After controlling for urbanization, there was no difference in male HIV prevalence between the two groups: in urban areas, HIV seroprevalence was 9.5% in circumcised groups and 9.7% in uncircumcised groups, and conversely, 4.6% and 5.2%, respectively, in rural areas—none of the differences being significant. In South Africa, the KwaZulu-Natal province, where few are circumcised, has a higher HIV seroprevalence than other provinces, reaching 37% among antenatal clinic attendants in 2003. But, in the Eastern Cape, where circumcision is the rule, the dynamics of the epidemic are almost the same, simply lagging a few years behind, increasing from 4.5% in 1994 to 27% in 2003. Finally, it was argued that the large epidemic in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and surrounding areas in the late 1980s was largely due to the lack of male circumcision of the local ethnic groups. This, however, did not impede the rapid increase in HIV infection among migrant workers from Burkina Faso and Mali living in Abidjan, who were circumcised.

For highly exposed men, such as men living in southern Africa, the choice is either using condoms consistently, with extremely low risk of becoming infected, or being circumcised, with relatively high risk of becoming infected. This is quite similar to women’s choice to either use a highly efficacious contraceptive method or use a folk method. Some women make the second choice for religious reasons, with the obvious consequences. Is there a rationale for promoting the idea of circumcision when better choices are available? Regular condom use was found to be protective at the individual level and also effective for stopping HIV epidemics, as in Thailand.

Concluding that “male circumcision should be regarded as an important public health intervention for preventing the spread of HIV” appears overstated. Even though large-scale male circumcision could avert a number of HIV infections, theoretical calculations and empirical evidence show that it is unlikely to have a major public health impact, apart from the fact that achieving universal male circumcision is likely to be more difficult than universal vaccination coverage or universal contraceptive use.”

Even the UK AIDS charity, The Terence Higgins Trust, takes a skeptical view of the alleged benefits of circumcision in preventing HIV infection;

“Research suggesting circumcision protects against HIV transmission has not been carried out over a particularly long time. It may be that circumcision only delays infection and cannot prevent it. Also, very many ‘cut’ men become HIV positive and some nations that routinely circumcise such as the USA and Ethiopia have high rates of HIV infection. Mathematical modelling has shown that if circumcised men increase their number of partners any protective effect disappears and HIV incidence rises. There is also the question of the effect on sexual behaviour and condom use if circumcised men believe they cannot get or pass on HIV.

One study showed that circumcision has much less protective value with higher viral load and showed circumcision after puberty failed to protect (this may have indicated that Muslims in the study, circumcised very young, exhibited other factors that explained their lower infection rate). In addition, the practice has been shown to have no or only limited effect in protecting against STIs, a major co-factor in the spread of HIV, especially in the developing world. (Richard Scholey, Programme Development Officer, The Terence Higgins Trust)

4. Circumcision reduces risk of penile cancer and incidence of cervical cancer in women.

Penile cancer:

One of the rarest incidence of cancer in the world, but terrifying nonetheless. There is however absolutely no evidence to suggest that circumcision is in any way effective in preventing penile cancer. It should also be stressed that penile cancer most commonly occurs in extremely elderly men. Male breast cancer actually has a higher incidence than penile cancer. Should we then carry out mastectomies upon men, just in case. For that matter in 1999 there were 7400 cases of testicular cancer in the USA, resulting in 300 deaths, compared to 1400 cases of penile and other genital cancers, resulting in 200 deaths. Yet nobody would seriously suggest that we castrate all men and boys to prevent the much more prevalent testicular cancer.

And contrary to the claim, circumcision may actually cause penile cancer. R M Seyam of the Department of Urology, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, reported in 2006;

“Of 22 patients 18 underwent ritual circumcision with extensive scar development. Median age at diagnosis was 62.4 years. The penile lesion was dorsal and proximally located in 15 patients. Median delay before diagnosis was 12 months. Clinically 14 patients had stage T1-T2 disease, with 13 having no lymph node involvement and none with distant metastasis, 8 patients had stage T3-T4 disease. A total of 15 patients were treated surgically with total penectomy or conservative local excision, inguinal lymph node dissection and subsequent penile reconstruction. Pathological staging in 15 patients revealed 10 patients with stage T1 and in 8 patients with lymph node dissection none had nodal metastasis. Histopathological classification was 20 squamous cell carcinoma, 1 sarcoma and 1 verrucous carcinoma. Six patients refused surgery and 1 was referred for palliation. Median followup was 14.5 months and median survival was 14.5 months. The 3-year survival was 42% for stage T1-T2 and 13% for T3-T4 (p = 0.0052). Median survival for the surgical group was 34 months whereas for nonsurgical group was 3 months (p = 0.0016). Recurrence-free survival in the surgical group was 50%.

Conclusion: Penile carcinoma in circumcised men is a distinct disease commonly following nonclassic vigorous circumcision. Delayed diagnosis and deferring surgical treatment are associated with increased mortality.”

Cervical cancer:

There is a claim that one of the main causes of cervical cancer is sexual contact with men with dirty penises. Whilst we must keep an open mind to this, let me say right here that there is no proven causal link between the two.

The claim has widely been based on the 1954 claims of Ernest Wynder, that cervical cancer was caused by a build up of smegma around the base of the glans of the penis. However, he later found that the women he’d asked had no idea whether their husbands were circumcised or not, suggesting that his claims were in fact completely baseless. A subsequent study of Jewish women compared with Gentile women found that when gentile women with circumcised husbands were compared to gentile women with intact husbands, the supposed correlation vanished.

Elizabeth Stern MD, in Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association stated in 1962,

“Since the recommendation had been made that circumcision should be used as a preventative measure against cancer of the cervix, we sought further confirmation of this hypothesis. An almost ideal population was that of the well women attending a cancer detection facility, where the population was split almost equally between women whose husbands were circumcised and those whose husbands were not. The discovery rate for cancer of the cervix among non-Jewish women whose marital partners were circumcised was no different from the rate among non-Jewish women with noncircumcised husbands. Further, the use of a sheath contraceptive by the marital partner, which has an effect equivalent to circumcision in that the cervix is protected from contact with the smegma, was found not to be associated with rate differences for cancer of the cervix.”

More recently Joseph Menczer MD, writing in none other than The Israeli Medical Association Journal (2008), stated,

“…the higher rate of intercourse with uncircumcised males in the cases may be a reflection of the liberal sexual habits in this group and not of the circumcision status of their partners. It should also be mentioned that the incidence of cervical cancer among Israeli Jewish female immigrants from the former Soviet Union, some of whom are married to uncircumcised men, is not different to that in the general population. Although the dispute over the association of circumcision and cervical cancer in various populations is still ongoing, there seems to be no hard evidence that circumcision prevents its occurrence in Jewish women, and it is no longer considered to play a protective role.”

Again, therefore, just as with venereal disease, the low prevalence of cervical cancer among Jewish women may be down to religious and cultural factors, rather than circumcision.

But just a word here guys, no woman wants or deserves to have a dirty penis inside her. If you are going to have sex, be decent and wash your smelly, cheesy dick.

5. Circumcision prevents balanitis (inflammation of the glans) and balanoposthitis (inflammation of the glans and foreskin).

I’ve had balanitis, and it is bloody sore. My dick swelled to three times it’s normal size. I asked my doctor if he had anything to take away the pain but leave the swelling.

Want to know what the commonest causes of balanitis and balanoposthitis are? Continued exposure of the glans and reaction to washing with too much soap (see my point above about the glans being self-cleaning). Therefore, far from circumcision preventing balanitis, it is far more likely to cause it. Plus both balanitis and balanoposthitis are as easily treated with modern antibiotics as any other infection.

Of course there are those who claim that circumcision is a preventative measure to completely avoid balanoposthitis altogether. The best argument I ever had about this is consider a man who cuts his arm off after it is crushed under a rock; did he need to remove his arm before the accident to prevent that happening? Similarly we can receive injuries or infections to our ears, noses, eyelids, and other portruding parts of the body, but we do not remove them purely to prevent what might happen.

6. Circumcision prevents phimosis (the inability to retract the foreskin) and paraphimosis (the inability to return the foreskin to its original location).

This one beggars belief and has me lost for words. If a child has phimosis, then the last thing you want to do is pull the foreskin right back. My own foreskin did not fully retract until I was six years old and even then it was painful in the extreme when I did pull it back the first time. This suggests that I personally had phimosis, which was never diagnosed nor treated, yet I have suffered no ill effects in later life.

There are of cases of phimosis where the foreskin will not retract at all, and this can cause pain, particularly when urinating. However, in these cases the condition can be easily treated by non-surgical means ranging from simply bathing the penis to a course of manipulating the penis (in other words, masturbation) coupled with a course of antibiotics.

The ancient Greeks referred to phimosis as lipodermus; insufficient foreskin. It seems to me that if there is insufficient foreskin then circumcision of what is there can only be harmful, and indeed it has been found to cause phimosis in 2.9% of babies.

Similarly paraphimosis is the extremely rare condition where the foreskin becomes trapped behind the glans and will not return to the normal position. It can happen in boys and men with a short foreskin and a broad glans. This can result in a build-up of fluid in the bunched up foreskin. The usual treatment for this is to manipulate the glans and pull the glans forward, in much the same way that one would work a tight ring off a finger. Another trick is to simply put granulated sugar on the glans, which will draw the fluid out by osmosis, thereby allowing the foreskin to release. In extreme cases medical attention may need to be sought, where a doctor may draw off the fluid with a needle, cut the foreskin, or use the “Dundee Technique” of pricking the prepuce about 20 times to allow the fluid to reduce slowly. After any of these techniques, a doctor may try to scare the patient into seeking a circumcision, including scare stories that their penis may drop off. However, if the foreskin has been cut to reduce fluid, that may be enough to prevent it happening again.

Incidentally, paraphimosis is most commonly caused by surgical procedure, such as having a catheter fitted and the foreskin not brought forward again.

7. Other factors to consider.

The glans and the foreskin are the most sensitive parts of male genitalia. They perform, to a lesser extent, the same function as the clitoris and it’s hood in women; to give pleasure during sex. When a man is circumcised, not only has he lost the sensitivity of the foreskin, the glans will harden and become like outward skin, thereby further reducing sensitivity.

Circumcisions can and do go wrong. There have been a great many deaths through botched circumcisions, complications and infections, as many as 100 per annum in the USA. Meanwhile South Africa has encountered a particular problem with haemophilia killing children who are circumcised. Since 2000, thirteen infants in New York City alone, undergoing the orthodox Jewish rite of metzitzah b’peh, in which the Mohel sucks the blood from the wound, have contracted herpes simplex virus type 1, of which two have died. This is not an anti-Semitic urban myth, it is a well documented fact.

Even in surgical circumcision, there is no guarantee of safety. Infants undergoing the procedure have died under anesthetic, while others have been left brain damaged.

Circumcision can lead to many medical complications in later life which may need constant attention. They can also lead to psychological problems which can range from resentment of the parents to suicide.

There are some parents who circumcise their son “because it looks better”. That is a matter of personal taste, and it is a procedure these parents carry out on their sons without their consent. They are not to know if his future partners prefer a circumcised penis or not, which let’s face it, is an extremely shallow attitude. A word to such parents – stop trying to live your lives through your children, and stop enforcing your small-mindedness upon them.

A transwoman friend of mine makes another point I was previously unaware of:

“A much lesser known down side of circumcision, is it significantly reduces the amount of skin available to line the vagina in Transsexual Surgery. So parents making this decision for a child are also making that child’s life harder than necessary (and being transsexual is hard enough!) should they turn out to have GID/GDS and need vaginoplasty to alleviate that condition.”

Conclusions:

Male circumcision is a wholly unnecessary surgical procedure with absolutely no proven medical benefits. Many leading paediatricians and other child experts already take this view and their numbers are swelling daily, with even Israeli medical experts maintaining that it has no benefits.

It is a procedure carried out on children which they are incapable of consenting to. A group of children’s ombudsmen from Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Greenland met recently in Norway an concluded that male circumcision conflicts with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which states, “Children should have the right to express their own views and be protected from traditional rituals which may be harmful to their health.”

Male Homo Sapiens evolved with the foreskin, because it fulfills many functions. By carrying out circumcision, parents and surgeons remove that functionality without the consent of the child, possibly leading to future physcial and mental health problems.

It is a dangerous procedure which can cause complications, infections, and ultimately death. Even when successful, it leaves the circumcised male open to the dangers of infection and other urinal/genital complaints.

In the final instance it is a superstitious religious rite from antiquity which is no more than the pointless and unnecessary mutilation of a necessary part of the male human body.

And it is no good Jews, Muslims, and other faiths who practice male circumcision trying to claim special pleading for their faith. There are a great many religious rituals we know longer tolerate upon humane grounds. Chief among those is female genital mutilation which is no more than barbarity. Whilst by no means attempting to compare the two, whilst we as educated and compassionate human beings in the 21st century do not accept the mutilation of little girls on religious grounds, neither should we tolerate it for little boys.

It is time to consign this barbaric bronze age ritual to the historic dustbin where it belongs, once and for all.

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Red or White with your War?

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 5 November 2013)
 
Why not have both?

It is that time of year again when Remembrance Poppies are on sale in the streets, and everyone is asked to buy and wear one, and to always remember those who gave their lives that we may live in peace and freedom – before we forget them for another year.

In the aftermath of World War I, men who had returned from the front faced unemployment and homelessness. A great many of course were invalided for life through either physical disability or mental trauma caused by what they had witnessed in the pure insanity of the trenches. One officer, Major John McCrae, had observed how the first thing to start growing on the battlefield at Ypres was poppies, which inspired him to write the poem “In Flanders Fields”.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

(Major John Macrae, 1915)

Due to this poem one French war widow, Madame Anna Guérin, started selling red silk poppies on the streets of London. She and another widow were encountered by Field Marshall Earl Haig, who saw how the poppy could be used to support destitute and disabled veterans. He set up his first poppy factory at Richmond in 1922. Lady Haig opened her poppy factory in the Niddrie district of Edinburgh in 1926. This separate Scottish poppy fund was set up to solely benefit Scottish veterans. The Officer’s Association north and south of the border operated the two distinct funds, until the Royal British Legion took over the southern charity. The Officer’s Association continued to operate the Scottish fund until 1954, when a new standalone charity, the Earl Haig Fund Scotland took over the charity. This was renamed Poppyscotland in 2006.

I used to have something of a problem with wearing a poppy. My grandfather lived through both world wars. He was a man who considered Haig to be a butcher and a hypocrite, and would never wear a poppy which he claimed was “a glorification of war”. These were sentiments I broadly agreed with – and to an extent I still do to this day.

There are supporters of Irish republicanism who refuse to wear a poppy on political grounds due to British Army involvement in Northern Ireland. I have read and heard of people referring to the Royal British Legion as an organisation with “fascist supporters” and one commentator writing “the money from their collection tins goes to line the pockets of the Bloody Sunday murderers”. Firstly, whilst certain actions of the Royal British Legion may indeed be questionable, it does provide vital services for ex-servicemen; secondly, those commentators, who are in Scotland, must be unaware that the Royal British Legion have no place in the Poppyscotland operations; thirdly, I think it both disingenuous and not a little sad to generalise all armed services personnel with a few who were undoubtedly guilty of murder. But then, those who write these things have the freedom to do so – a freedom bought dear by the lives of others.

It is also not lost on me that those who decry the poppy because of illegal actions carried out by the military in Northern Ireland also tend to be the same who hero-worship republican paramilitaries who carried out campaigns against “soft targets”; euphemistic speech for civilians. If the shooting dead of civilians by the army in Northern Ireland was an atrocity, so it must equally be an atrocity to plant bombs in pubs and shopping centres which are deliberately intended to kill civilians. No republicans, you can’t have it both ways.

Then there are those who have no respect for the military and claim that all those in uniforms are no more than hired killers. These are the ones who call the military murderers and “baby killers”. Such people, pretending to be pacifists, sicken me. Yes, children and other civilians get killed in armed conflict. But what then of the huge humanitarian efforts that the military all too often carry out? How many lives have airdrops of food into areas ravaged with famine actually saved? How many items has a mere military presence by UN peacekeeping forces been enough to prevent further killings of civilians? These things would never have been possible without help from the military, and the keyboard warriors decrying the armed forces would do well to remember that. And it is not always overseas.

There are also those in Scotland who decry the Scottish regiments on the basis that most of them were formed in the wake of the Jacobite rebellions to put down insurrection in the Scottish Highlands. That is a fact, without a doubt. However, that was then and this is now. I frankly don’t see any armed insurrection in the Highlands, nor would I wish to. As to the Scottish Regiments, most are now long gone and the remainder have all been grouped into the Royal Regiment of Scotland. And why then are Scots joining up? Many indeed because they seek a life in the military and the discipline and prospects it offers, and then there are some poor buggers who go for it as they cannot get a job elsewhere. Events of 200 plus years ago certainly do not factor in the minds of those in Scotland joining the army today. Yet that did not stop one foolish woman I once knew banging on about those events in relation to today’s military. She did so from her home in Kirriemuir, and I replied that I did not here her complaining when the Royal Regiment of Scotland sandbagged a local river in her area and evacuated elderly residents whose homes had become flooded.

I am well versed in Scots history myself, I am a diehard Scots nationalist and it is true I feel no love for the British state, and seek to remove my country from it. Which may lead many to ask why I wear a poppy in the first place. My father was a member of the Young Communist League during the Second World War. Had the Nazis won, if my father was lucky he would have got a bullet though the brain. Had he been unlucky, he would have been shipped off to one of Hitler’s death camps. Either way I not only would never have been born, I would never even have been conceived in the first place. I therefore feel that I owe everyone who did their bit and those who gave their lives in WWII a debt that can never be repaid, a debt which includes my very life itself. And given the strong leftist feeling in the UK at the time, which gave a Labour government with a socialist agenda a landslide victory in 1945, I highly suspect I am not alone in owing that debt. I doubt many alive today would ever had been conceived had the Nazis been successful.

I certainly see no contradiction to wearing a poppy and being a Scots nationalist. And if there are any who think there is, it may interest to them to know that the 2013 Poppyscotland appeal was launched by Craig and Charlie Reid; The Proclaimers, both of whom are not only extremely outspoken supporters of Scots independence, but equally vocal opponents of the British establishment and the monarchy.

I therefore have no problem with wearing a poppy to show my respect; for I truly do have respect. What I object to is the coercion, bullying, imperialism, jingoism, pomp and ceremony and the utter hypocrisy surrounding the poppy and Remembrance Day in general.

There is definitely a stigma attached to wearing the poppy. It is as if you don’t wear one you are immediately classed as a traitor somehow. It has become the “done thing” to wear a poppy, and woe betide anyone who refuses to buy or wear one. I well recall buying one once and my mother upon seeing it saying “Well at least one member of the family has got one.” as if it were seeking public approval. As I do not court public approval, nor have I ever done so, I told my mother straight that I do not wear a poppy because of worry about what the neighbours might say. To hell with the neighbours. If they likewise wear the poppy because it is the done thing, then they too have lost sight of the meaning behind it. Alternatively one gets the argument that people gave their lives to win freedom for us. Indeed they did, including the freedom whether or not to buy and wear a poppy. When people are coerced and downright bullied into wearing a poppy then that sacrifice becomes meaningless and vain.

One thing which particularly angers me about the poppy and Remembrance Day is politicians abusing both, merely to improve their own public image. It disgusts me that there are politicians who try to outdo others by buying the biggest poppy possible, to show how much they ‘care’. Bullshit. It is to do with their public persona, and they know that all to well. I have seen politicians with absurdly large poppies covering almost their entire chest. Given a choice between someone like that and another politician wearing the normal little poppy, I know whom I am going to trust more.

The particularly galls me when it is politicians in government wearing huge poppies, and making sanctimonious speeches about the sacrifice of the fallen and how we must remember them. Yet these same politicians rely upon organisations such as the Royal British Legion, Poppyscotland, and veterans homes to do the job they should be doing; ensuring the welfare of serving and former military personnel and their families. In 1918 David Lloyd George’s government promised “homes fit for heroes” and singularly failed to deliver upon that, just as no UK government, of any political colour, has ever delivered upon that since.

Yet every October the same politicians come out with their soundbites about “sacrifice” and “remembering”, while at the same time they only remember serving personnel by carrying out defence cutbacks which leave forces vulnerable without the proper resources and even laying them off, sometimes while they are overseas on active service. Veterans meanwhile get their thanks and remembrance for their services by having their benefits continually cut. Due to the recent imposition of the Under Occupancy Charge (aka Bedroom Tax) for social housing, there are now many veterans in arrears and others who have even been served with eviction notices. I am also reminded of one veteran in the north of England who lost a leg in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He was given a prosthetic leg and a specially adapted car to help him get around. He was told that he would never walk any real distance again, but being a career soldier and a man of sheer grit and determination, he managed to teach himself to walk up to 500 metres. His thanks for that was to have his car taken away from him.

The UK currently has one of the most right-wing Conservative governments we have ever experienced. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has talked of the upcoming 100 year anniversaries of the First World War with “celebrations”. We should never ‘celebrate’ any war, let alone one which was four years of insane butchery, which achieved nothing but which ended with 37 million dead, countless millions invalided, and which sent many insane with the carnage they witnessed. At the same time this government is carrying out some of the most swingeing defence cutbacks ever, which will see a great many military personnel, and those in support jobs, made unemployed, as well as embarking on some of the most stringent public spending cuts which will take benefits away from a great many veterans and their families.

So it is that politicians sicken me wearing poppies, all too often the largest possible, talking about sacrifice, respect and remembering once a year, when they actively do not recognise the sacrifice military personnel gave for their country (more than the politicians ever did), they disrespect veterans and only remember them when it comes to robbing them of every penny they possibly can.

At the same time as wearing the Poppyscotland poppy, I wear a white poppy alongside it. The Peace Pledge Union white poppy first appeared on Armistice Day (Remembrance Day after World War II) 1933, when they were created by the Co-operative Women’s Guild, not as any insult to the fallen, but rather as a statement against all war. The Guild had in fact previously approached the Haig Fund asking them to put “No more war.” at the centre of their poppies which they refused to do, so the white poppy was created to fill that gap.

There are those who claim that the white poppy is a political statement. In a way it is, but that is directed at governments rather than at the forces, whether they be current or former serving personnel. Instead, it stands as a statement to the following;

“For all those who have died in war. For all who have died because resources which could have saved them were spent on war instead. For all who shall continue to die until we learn to live together in peace.”

I feel this is an important point here. True pacifists like myself are not anti-military, and neither is the white poppy. Those of us who believe in ending war no more wish to see military personnel being killed than we do civilians. Across western Europe there is barely a town or village which does not have a war memorial as a testament to the fact that there has been too much killing already. I have absolutely no wish to see soldiers, sailors and air personnel from opposing countries killing and being killed by others they have never met because governments have let their arguments get out of control. Far from being a statement against the military, therefore, the white poppy actively states that the wearer respects and supports the military, whom they have no wish to see die.

And therein lies the rub with the whole argument about war; if we wish to end it, we shall never do so by listening to uncaring governments making glib soundbites about never remembering the fallen, then forgetting veterans for another year. When we have jingoistic, aggressive governments trying to show off their balls on the world stage, they cannot solve the problem of armed conflict for the simple reason they ARE the problem. They are the ones who start the wars, it is the poor buggers in uniform who go and do their fighting for them.

This was not lost on many of those who served in two world wars – and afterwards. The war poets of World War I were certainly under no illusion about the “glory” of war which first Henry Asquith then David Lloyd George spoke. Certainly Wilfred Owen was not when he wrote Dulce Et Decorum Est;

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.
Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod.
All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!-
An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea,
I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

(Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori; it is a sweet and beautiful thing to die for one’s country)

Even a man whom those on the political right love for his patriotic verse, Rudyard Kipling, was far from fooled when he wrote “If someone asks you why we died, say because our fathers lied.” But then neither was Harry Patch (1898-2009), the last veteran of World War I, who described war as “legalised mass murder, nothing more”, and who famously stated,

“Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves.”

Any Guy will do, so long as we get a conviction

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 5 November 2013)
Were the Gunpowder Plot conspirators framed?

It is a historical fact that on the evening of 4 November 1605, one Guido Fawkes was caught in the cellars underneath the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London, setting the fuses on 36 barrels of gunpowder. Looking into the background of the infamous Gunpowder Plot however left some serious questions.

The decision of Henry VIII, King of England 1509-1547, to split the Church of England from the Church of Rome established Protestantism as the state religion in England. Roman Catholic churches, chapels, monasteries and nunneries had been closed down and ransacked, and Roman Catholics generally had been persecuted and killed. The reign of Mary I, Queen of England 1556-1558, saw a reverse of this in which the Roman Catholic monarch and her followers set about Protestants with such ferocity that she is known to this day as “Bloody Mary”. When she was succeeded by her Protestant sister Elizabeth in 1558 however, persecution of Roman Catholics continued apace.

In Scotland the Reformation had seen Protestantism take hold even more fervently than in England. While the Church of England had Bishops, the firebrand Presbyterians of the Reformation saw any intervention between man and God as “of the Devil”. In only around ten years time Scotland went from being known as “The Pope’s special daughter” to the most Protestant country in Christendom. When the Reformation began, Mary, Queen of Scots 1542-1567, was still in France, where she had married Dauphin Francis and had for a short time enjoyed being Queen of France. Scotland at this time was being ruled over by Mary’s fanatically Roman Catholic mother, Marie de Guise; a woman who once boasted after beating the Protestant forces in battle “My God is stronger than John Knox’s God). Her death in 1560 saw power in Scotland pass to the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, whose persecution of Roman Catholics was to equal that of England. It was to this Protestant Scotland Mary returned in 1562, immediately causing turmoil which was to see her forced to abdicate, flee to England, and eventually to be executed on the orders of the English parliament.

Mary gave birth to a son, named James, in Edinburgh Castle in 1566. When she was forced to abdicate in 1567, part of the agreement she was forced to sign was to give her baby son up to the Lords of the Congregation, that he may be raised a Protestant. James of course was king from his mother’s abdication but regents ran the country in his stead, while carrying out his education and preparation as Scotland’s future Protestant monarch.

Mary’s grandmother had been Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, and Elizabeth Tudor never married or left issue to succeed her on the English throne. So it was that when Elizabeth died in 1603, the only viable claimant to the throne was James VIII, King of Scots, who by this time was 37 years old. Having gained the kingdom his mother tried so hard to claim, James immediately headed south for London. “I am the husband, and the Kingdom is my wife,” James announced, “I hope therefore that no man would think me so bigamous to have two suitors.” So it was that James announced that his two kingdoms would henceforth be known as “Great Britain”. “We hate it.” said the Scots. “We hate it too.” said the English.

Among all this there was continued and even fiercer persecution of Roman Catholics. It was out of this and the background of the monarchy that the Gunpowder Plot was hatched.

The Plot

The alleged idea behind the plot was a reverse of what had been done with James; the conspirators intended to kill the king, seize his daughter Elizabeth, have her invested as Queen and brought up as a Roman Catholic to insure a future Catholic monarchy in England. “I shall blow the king back to Scotland.” Fawkes allegedly boasted.

Guido Fawkes and thirteen co-conspirators hired rooms in the Westminster area in the run up to the opening of parliament in 1605. The others were as follows;

Robert and Thomas Wintour,
Thomas Percy,
Christopher and John Wright,
Francis Tresham,
Everard Digby,
Ambrose Rookwood,
Thomas Bates,
Robert Keyes,
Hugh Owen,
John Grant, man who is said to have organised the whole plot
Robert Catesby

Having apparently smuggled no fewer than 36 barrels of gunpowder into the cellars of the Houses of Parliament, these men left Guido Fawkes, apparently the explosives expert, to set the fuse in the evening of 5 November 1605. A routine patrol of two guards, who had been ordered to do a last minute check, stumbled upon Fawkes attempting to do so.

Fawkes was arrested and tortured into a confession. Sir William Wade, Lieutenant of the Tower, was ordered to give whatever means at his disposal to torture a confession out of Fawkes. These orders came directly from King James VI & I himself. Under this torture, Fawkes not only confessed to his conspiracy but apparently named all of those who conspired with him. Arrests were issued for all concerned, some who tried to flee and were killed where they stood, while the others were captured. Guido Fawkes and the surviving conspirators were found guilty and hanged for treason in January 1606.

The consequences

James VI & I was a highly paranoid man, particularly in matters of religion. He had been brought up to believe that there were Roman Catholics against him and out to either dethrone or kill him at every turn. There could be no better way therefore to convince James to curtail of all of those whose faith differed from that of not only Protestantism in general, but the Church of England (of which the king was of course the head), than to convince him of a Roman Catholic plot to kill him?

Behind all this was the Justice Minister Robert Cecil, who was not merely happy with James expelling priests, he wanted Roman Catholics eradicated from England altogether, as he perceived them as a constant threat to both the monarchy and the state. So it was that there was one of the most severe crackdowns upon Roman Catholicism that England ever saw. There was in fact a crackdown upon anyone who was not Protestant in general or Church of England in particular (it is worth remembering that when Henry VIII split the Church of England from Rome, he did so in full belief that he was a king ordained by God; a belief which James VI & I fervently shared). With Roman Catholics being set upon and killed, often even without trial but rather by mob rule, on a daily basis, the king ruled that every parish should set a fire every 5 November to celebrate his deliverance from the conspirators. In the earliest days the effigy on the top of these bonfires were not a “Guy” – or image of Guido Fawkes – but rather of the Pope.

Conspiracy?

It was not even legal to own gunpowder in England in the 17th century. The government had a monopoly on gunpoder and private ownership of such was considered a treasonable offence in itself. Apologists point out that there was a black market in gunpowder and indeed this is true. Is it highly likely, however, that conspirators would have been able to get their hands on such a huge amount without being detected? Cecil, whose duty it was to protect the House of Commons, would have had spies out and would surely have been made aware of these actions. Indeed, it is entirely possible that if the conspirators got their hands on such vast quantities of gunpowder, they could not have possibly got it on the black market without government help.

Similarly, Cecil, who had a number of spies out watching Roman Catholics, could hardly have not been aware of a number of single men moving into rooms around Westminster. Apologists claim that the conspirators used false names. This is true. But whatever their faith, Cecil would have been made aware of them. It is also a fact that among these men there were a number of noblemen who would have been easily recognised in Westminster, not least Thomas Percy, heir to the Earldom of Northumberland and one of the highest nobles in the UK. To believe that Cecil and his spies would not have recognised noblemen, whom Cecil knew on a personal basis, is a complete nonsense.

Percy and Robert Catesby fled London and were shot dead in the back by a soldier, who was later to receive an unprecedented pension of 2/- per annum; a vast sum for a solider in 1605.

Probably one of the most damning pieces of evidence pointing to a government conspiracy is that of the Mounteagle Letter. Lord Mounteagle was a cousin of Francis Tresham, one of the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot. On 26 October 1605 an unidentified messenger gave him a letter which he read aloud by Mounteagle’s serveent In the message he warned Mounteagle not to attend the opening of Parliament on 5th November 1605, for parliament would receive a terrible blow and those who carried this out would not be seen.

As a loyal Lord and servant, Mounteagle immediately carried this information to Robert Cecil. This news reached Cecil on the evening of 4 November 1605, the very same evening that Guido Fawkes, under the name of John Johnston, was discovered setting the fuses on 36 barrels of gunpowder – which had previously gone unnoticed in the Palace of Westminster.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that there was a Roman Catholic plot against James VI & I, as evidenced by the very presence of Fawkes in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament in the first place.

It is claimed that the barrels of gunpowder were floated up the Thames and entered into the Houses of Parliament over several evenings. Even then, in the run up to the State opening of Parliament, to be attended by the king and queen, to imagine that anyone like Robert Cecil, who saw anti-monarchist, Roman Catholic plots at every turn, would not have parliament secured is stretching credulity to the limit.

Similarly, Cecil’s spies, many of whom had been inherited from the huge spy network of Queen Elizabeth I, would have been well aware of several unmarried men suddenly moving into lodgings around Westminster. As I have said before, many of these mens were nobles who would have been well known to Cecil and his spies, no matter what names they used.

All in all the Gunpowder Plot on the face of it seems a plot doomed to fail from the beginning – a plot which could have only have gone ahead with any modicum of success with government collusion.

Every chain has it’s weakest link. In the number of nobles involved in the Gunpowder Plot, the most minor of them was Guido Fawkes, the most lowly of those among the conspirators. It is no mistake then that it was Fawkes who became the fall guy, the patsy, for a conspiracy which set religious rights back decades. He was indeed the Lee Harvey Oswald of 1605.

I do not for one moment imagine that this blog will stop anyone from commemorating Bonfire Night on 5 November. I do hope however it will give many deeper insight into what is essentially a pro-monarchist and deliberately bigoted, anti-Roman Catholic celebration.

Sleep well Scotland – London is in control!

Michty me! We’ll a’ be murderit in oor beds by the Communists!

When you are a supporter of an independent Scotland, you get used to the daily dose of scaremongering stories from unionists. Some are bizarre, some are laughable, some are just plain daft – and some are blatant and outright lies. Enter stage left Home Secretary Theresa May.

On a visit to Edinburgh during which she launched a UK government paper on counter-terrorism issues, the Home Secretary claimed that Scotland was a major terrorist target and that leaving the union would leave an independent Scotland vulnerable to terrorist attack. Claiming Scotland would automatically lose automatic access to UK intelligence (contradiction in terms?), Ms May claimed threats from organised crime gangs, cyber-criminals and global terrorism “are best confronted with Scotland inside the UK”. She continued, “I don’t think it is possible to guarantee that the threat would diminish with a separate Scotland. I don’t think it is possible to guarantee that the threat would diminish with a separate Scotland. But what
would change would be the scale of capability that
Scotland would have access to.”

Claims require evidence, and I would like to know just upon what evidence Theresa May bases her claims. For as far as I can see, the role of London-based security services has been anything but effective north of the border. Where was this great wealth of intelligence before PanAm 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in 1988? Where was the security before the attempted bombing of Glasgow Airport in 2007? On both occasions MI5 and MI6 singularly failed to prevent terrorism, and failed Scotland to boot.

Astoundingly, the Glasgow Airport bombing is mentioned in the government report, despite the appalling failure of Whitehall to prevent it happening – or the fact that they were completely unaware of a pro-Al Queda terrorist cell in Scotland at all. The report also mentions that Scots were among those caught up in Amenas gas plant attack in Algeria in January of 2013. The latter not only smacks of desperation, it is positively clutching at straws.

Neither is there any evidence that Scotland is a serious terrorist target. In all the years of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, one letter bomb once went off in a Glasgow sorting office – and that, bound for London, detonated prematurely. Irish paramilitaries instead tended to attack cities in England, mostly London.

In 2005 the G8 summit of world leaders took place at the prestigious Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. As any such event would be an obvious terrorist target, extra police from English forces, including London’s Metropolitan Police, were brought north of the border and sworn in as Scots officers. One may think then that international terrorists would have attempted at least something in Scotland. Indeed they did not. Instead on 7 July 2005 a pro-Al Queda group carried out bombings on London buses and the London Underground, when the English capital for once had let her guard down.

Terrorists are simply not interested in Scotland. It would benefit them little or nothing to attack us. Even despite having the UK’s nuclear deterrent (which has never deterred anyone) in our waters, there has never, not once, been a terrorist attack upon the Royal Navy submarine base at Faslane. The only arrests there have ever been of unarmed and nonviolent peace protestors – whom the UK government describes as “terrorists”.

And apart from anything else, Scots Law is already devolved, as it always has been. Theresa May’s words therefore were little short of a slur upon Scotland’s finest. The Justice Secretary of the devolved Scottish Parliament, Kenny McAskill MSP was absolutely correct in his reply to the Home Secretary; “These claims are wrong – not least because Scotland is already an independent jurisdiction when it comes to policing and justice issues, and current cross-border cooperation shows how well that can work to combat terrorism and other threats.”

He was also never more correct when he described the cross border – and international – efforts which are already in place to protect us all “An independent Scotland will have first rate security arrangements to counter any threats we may face. And we will continue to work in very close collaboration with the rest of the UK and international partners on security and intelligence matters, which is in everyone’s interests.”

Perhaps the Home Secretary has never heard of Interpol. Perhaps she has never heard of intelligence sharing, which happens not only at the European level, but between the UK and the USA. What exactly is Theresa May saying here? That Whitehall would throw a strop at an independent Scotland and refuse to share intelligence with us? If an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK were both members of the EU, I am not even sure of the legality of that. And in the unlikely event that Scotland were targeted, would the Home Secretary refuse to release information which may prevent an attack and ultimately save lives? Only someone with no moral compass whatsoever would ever do such a terrible thing.

But then, the Home Secretary did also say that an independent Scotland may pose a terrorist threat to the remainder UK, and therein lies the rub. Given that London is and always shall be the major terrorist target in these isles, that is what this report and Theresa May’s words are about. They have little to do with potentially saving Scots lives, but more than plenty I suspect to do with the tub-thumping, jingoistic, insular, little Englander views of the Home Secretary and her London-centric Conservative views.

30,000 Scots Cannot Be Wrong

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 22 September 2013)
 
The March and Rally for Independence, 2013.

On 22 September 2013 I attended the March and Rally for Independence from the High Street to the top of Calton Hill in Edinburgh. The 2012 march and rally had been estimated by organisers to be 10,000 strong. Amazingly, the 2013 event was estimated at 30,000 – three times higher.

I can fully believe this. The organisers had said to organise on the High Street and I wondered what part of the High Street. I should not have worried. The protestors took up the whole of the High Street from Edinburgh’s Tron Kirk – and the lower part of the Lawnmarket as well, with a great many spilling out into Parliament Square around St Giles Kirk and the Mercat Cross. We could hardly move, penned into one of the oldest streets which made up the original city.

The march through the city, down North Bridge, along Waterloo Place and up to the summit of Calton Hill (328 feet above sea level) was great. There were a great many supporters on the pavements and in premises who could not join us physically but nonetheless were taking pics and showing their support.

There were a number of great speakers, a few of whom I consider personal heroes. These included independent MSP Margo Macdonald, former Labour and independent MSP Dennis Canavan, Yes Scotland Chief Executive Blair Jenkins, Founder of Labour for Independence Allan Grogan, SNP Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon (ahh, be still foolish heart), Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie, Colin Fox of the Scottish Socialist Party, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh from the Scottish Asian Women’s Association, Aamer Anwar – Human Rights Lawyer and Campaigner, and of course First Minister Alex Salmond MSP. There was also great comedy from comperes Elaine C Smith and Hardeep Singh Kohli, great music and a wonderful poem from Allan Bissett.

The point was continually made throughout the day that a Yes vote in 2014 is not a vote for the SNP nor their leader First Minister Alex Salmond MSP. Due to this, Elaine C Smith introduced the Chief Executive of Yes Scotland, Blair Jenkins, as “the boss”. And that is when it struck me, much as many of us respect Blair and Alex, neither of them are boss. The truth of the matter is that WE are the bosses – each and every one of us. WE, the people, are the ones who will be voting in the Independence referendum in 2014. It is WE who will decide Scotland’s future.

One of the speakers at the rally stated that the vote for independence will be the largest decision the people of Scotland will take in over 300 years. They are wrong in that estimation. The simple fact is that the Independence Referendum will be the largest decision the Scottish people have ever taken in history. In 1707 it was a mere 110 short-sighted, greedy and self seeking Scots lords and merchants who voted for the Treaty of Union which put us in this mess in this first place. True universal suffrage was not to come to the UK until as recently as 1918. This means that for 211 years after the Treaty of Union, the vast majority of the populace – on both sides of the border – had no vote and no say in government.

The Treaty of Union was meant in principle to be an equal partnership of two nations under one crown and parliament. Yet because of sheer weight of numbers, that partnership never has never been equal, and nor can it ever be. England has a population of approximately 50 million; ten times the 5 million population of Scotland. The vast majority of the English population live in London and the south east of England, and it is thus they whose votes decide which government is formed at Westminster. The result of this is that Scotland, not once, has ever got a Westminster government they asked for. The sheer weight of numbers of the English electorate means that Scots votes are meaningless at the Westminster level, and we are thus effectively disenfranchised. This of course results in Westminster legislature being implemented in Scotland was neither asked for, nor welcomed. In the 1980s it was the wholly unjust Community Charge (aka the Poll Tax), visited on Scotland a year before England (illegal under the terms of the Treaty of Union), today it is the insidious and notorious Single Occupancy Charge (aka the Bedroom Tax). Anyone who supports that state of affairs should think black burning shame of themselves and I frankly do not know how they can sleep at night.

It is precisely this state of affairs which has led to complacency among Scottish voters. And when they see that no matter how they vote, they get measures visited upon them they never voted for, who can really blame them for being complacent? In Scotland voting in a Westminster election is like banging your head on a brick wall. It is hardly surprising then if so many tend to look upon politicians of all colours as being all the same. Yet it is that selfsame complacency which remains one of the biggest obstacles we in the independence movement face.

And this is not at all helped by the pro-unionist media, who go out of their way to demonise Alex Salmond and the SNP, and then claim that a Yes vote in 2014 would be a vote for a Scottish SNP government under some sort of “President Alex”. The media know very well that Yes Scotland is a broad kirk, made up of people from many parties, and others – myself included – from none. Yet they continue to suggest and manipulate stories to make it appear that the Independence Referendum is a wholly SNP initiative, ran by a First Minister whom they portray as a power-crazed despot.

Although the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election, in which the SNP swept the board (in a voting system which was meant to make a majority government impossible), shows that things are changing, another aspect of this complacency are those uninformed voters who vote Labour because “Ma dad voted Labour, ma mum voted labour, ma grandad voted Labour, ma dug votes Labour, ma budgie votes Labour…” etc (not true anyway – maist budgies are Tories). These people vote Labour out of habit rather than out of informed decision, and as long as they tow the party line, then most are likely to vote No in 2014. Thankfully, however, even this appears to be changing. Allan Grogan, founder of Labour for Independence gave one of the finest and most impassioned speeches at the rally, and it pleases me that that particular movement is growing apace. Deputy Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, when not making false allegations against Labour for Independence, describes them as an irrelevance. Aye? So if they are so irrelevant, why make such a big deal about them? Why even mention them? The fact is that grass roots Scottish Labour members are taking their party back and that has the unionist, London-based party bosses running scared – and they know it.

Complacency apart the only other obstacle we face are those who are wary or unsure about independence. I do not even bother with the diehard unionists, who as far as I can see are just as short-sighted, greedy and self-seeking as the gentry who got us into this mess in the first place. Unlike some, I do not troll the pages of Better Together and other unionists. They are not only not worth debating, they are beyond contempt in my estimation. I am more willing to listen to the worries and concerns of those who are unsure, or have been tripped up by unionist lies and scaremongering, than I am to ever listen the fantastic and farcical rantings of a “cowart few” through their mouthpiece, the mainstream media.

And make no mistake, the media are openly biased against the independence camp and that too presents a formidable obstacle to getting our message across. 30,000 attended the rally and the BBC, among others, farcically reported that as a mere 8000. Anyone who imagines that you can fill up the summit of Calton Hill frankly needs their head examined. I used to steward anti-nuclear marches in the 1980s and I am quite happy with the organiser’s estimate of the rally at 30,000 as an accurate one. But then, I am an activist who was actually there at the time and not some drunken hack phoning in his copy from the pub. So it is that why the media may present an obstacle, just like complacency and unionist lies and scaremongering, it is by no means an unsurmountable one.

I have no doubt that there were many more who could not attend the rally but would happily have done so. On the bus going into the centre of Edinburgh for the rally, the driver said he wished he could be there with us as I got on and said “Alba gu bràth.” (Scotland forever) as I was getting off. Similarly, the great number of people photographing, watching and cheering the marchers on told it’s own story. If we only listen to people’s worries and concerns, cut through the lies with truth and honestly, allay fears with logic and reality, then we will have the people firmly on our side.

If there is one thing I take away from the 2013 March and Rally for Independence, it is that every one of the speakers was driven by two common factors – compassion and a belief in a better future. The same compassion and the same belief in a better future shared by myself and each and every one of the 30,000 people who attended. There were some people took their kids to the rally and as the crowd joined in singing “Is There for Honest Poverty”, holding back the tears, it was then it hit me – it is not me I am voting Yes for, not for party principles, not for a “Braveheart mentality” or a “Hoochter Teuchtar Bonnie Prince Shortbried Tin” romanticism – but for them; the children. Yes, independence is a massive step – and it is one we should take for Scotland’s children and their future.

A friend posted a pic on Facebook of First Minister Alex Salmond holding a baby; a bonny wee boy named Charlie. On 18 September 2014, that’s who I’ll be voting Yes for; not for Alex – but for Charlie, for his generation, and for all the generations which follow, that they may live in a better Scotland than we or our forebears ever have.

Same-Sex Marriage – the End of Civilisation?

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 7 September 2013)
 
Some of the dafter arguments against marriage equality.

The Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Bill, which will make provision for same-sex marriage is currently going through the evidence session in the devolved Scottish Parliament.

This has given the chance for both proponents and opponents of the Bill to give their arguments to the Parliament, and this has produced a series of frankly laughable claims. The European gay news service, Pink News, has reported 12 of the most
bizarre arguments against same-sex marriage.

I thought it would be fun therefore to go through them one by one and show just how easily such nonsense can be disregarded.

1. John Deighan, of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland argues “We already have equal marriage. All people have the right to marriage.” Indeed they do not.

Just because we have the right to equal cisgender, heterosexual marriage does not make for a fair and equal society. At one time mixed race and interfaith marriages were illegal, and people made exactly the same arguments about “equality” then.

2. Dr Salah Beltagui, Muslim Council of Scotland: “What scares people are the things that will happen under the bill that are not expected. The bill gives a list of people whose relationships are too close for them to marry. For us, that list includes same-sex couples. It will be dangerous for society if we keep changing the list to exclude relationships that we currently recognise as making it not possible for people to marry. As people have said, that could lead to incest and other dangerous relations.”

The Bill has no such list of people whose relationships are too close to marry. The “list” of what we recognise as marriage has already changed. One would have thought that a Muslim woman who is not in a polygamous marriage, sharing her husband with other wives, would have realised that. The Bill clearly states those who cannot marry as their relationships would be incestuous.

3. John Deighan: “We cannot have laws saying that people who sell bracelets can call them watches if they do not tell the time.”

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth… John Deighan here of course is taking a swipe at homosexuals and claiming that because they cannot procreate, then their marriage cannot be valid. This again is the Roman Catholic church accusing the LGBT community of “redefining” marriage. Except there is no Biblical definition of marriage. Added to which if the RC Church believes that marriage must have a sexual dynamic and is for procreation, then they should stand by their own principles and stop marrying asexual people, people who cannot have children due to physical disability, elderly couples and couples who simply do not wish to have children. They currently have no problems marrying any of the above.

4. John Deighan on RC schools participation in LGBT History Month: “The whole aim of the month is to try to change people’s understanding of people who are homosexual and propose them as role models. We would not want to be doing that.”

The whole purpose of LGBT History Month is indeed to change people’s understanding – to educate the public to make them aware that the LGBT are human beings, just like the rest of society, who make an equal contribution to society, how some make a greater contribution than others, how they have rights like the rest of society, and how many can indeed make excellent role models – particularly for LGBT children who may otherwise be confused and depressed about their own sexuality and gender identity.

5. John Deighan comparing LGBT History Month literature to offensive propaganda and pornography: “If someone came in with literature for the BNP and a printer thought that the literature was racist and they did not want to print it, I think that they would be perfectly entitled to say no. Similarly, if someone came in with pornography and the printer felt that pornography was detrimental to the rights of women, they would be entitled not to print it. If they were asked to print publicity material for LGBT history month, but they thought that that twist on history was wrong and they did not want to participate in that deception, I think that they would be entitled to say that.”

The very reason that such material is considered offensive is that it attacks vulnerable minorities, of which the LGBT community is one. Far right groups such as the British National Party (BNP) to which Mr Deighan refers are equally against the LGBT community as they are against non-whites and non-Christians. Before mixed-race marriage was allowed there were plenty thought that their “twist on history” was wrong and their was plenty of propaganda printed against that. Even to this day there are plenty decry Black History Month. Would Mr Deighan stand by their views? Material for schools for LGBT History Month is not nor can it ever be of a pornographic nature. I have no doubt that Mr Deighan considers even the word “homosexual” to be pornographic, but that is not how it is in law.

I frankly am disappointed at Mr Deighan for these arguments. It was only around over 100 years ago that Roman Catholics were treated as an underclass in Scotland and suffered similar discrimination and persecution which the LGBT community suffer today. Even today, I am sure he is very well aware of the sectarianism and anti-Catholic bigotry which is still a poison in Scottish society. It seems to me that he should consider that before likewise participating in bigotry against the LGBT community.

6. Dr Beltagui claims that allowing same-sex marriage will mean changing every document in history: “It is the principle—changing the whole history of marriage—that is worrying us. The bill talks about changing the text of Scots law and so on to accommodate the change that the bill will make. Are we going to do that for all the documents in history that faith groups or nations have?”

The Bill is indeed the greatest change of marriage law in Scots history. That is not changing the entire history of marriage, but about opening the rights of marriage up to those whom it was previously denied to. This will indeed mean changing the text of many statutes in Scots Law but it is nonsense to claim that we need to change all documents. The Bill is not about making history – not changing it.

7. John Deighan compares SSM to incest: “A brother and a sister were demanding that they be allowed to marry. If we set up a principle that marriage is only about love, we need to ask what principle then says that such relationships are not permitted.”

The brother and sister Mr Deighan refers to were in an incestuous relationship in Germany. They are attempting to claim that disallowing them to marry is an infringement upon their human rights. That case is certain to fail. There is no nation on the face of the planet allows incestuous marriage for very good reasons. Besides, what happens in Germany has no bearing upon the law in Scotland and, as I previously stated, the Bill outlays very clearly close relations who are not allowed to marry.

8. Dr Beltagui claims SSM confuses matters by redefining marriage: “If we start changing the definition of marriage from what we know and what we know about who is coming from which line and who is not, there will be confusion and we will not know exactly where we stop and where we start.”

To echo what I said earlier, many societies all over the world have constantly “redefined” marriage. Whether it be allowing or denying polygamous marriage, restrictions on close relations, or even something as simple as raising or lowering the age of consent. There is no real “definition” of marriage – certainly not in either the Qur’an or the Bible – with the result that what we know it is right now can only ever be temporary. Societies have no confusion in changing the above and the same will equally apply to same-sex marriage.

9. John Deighan about “badges”: “We do not change the whole of society because people might feel upset that their relationship is not being given a particular badge by the state. It is not about badges.”

I couldn’t agree more John – “We don’t need no stinking badges!” Yet right now society puts badges on the LGBT community to castigate them and deny them the same rights afforded to cisgender heterosexual people. And actually we do change history because minorities suffer state injustice. We have done constantly. Were that not true then there would be no equal rights for non-whites, women, or Roman Catholics for that matter.

10. Dr Beltagui claims SSM will lead to group sex: “The bill makes marriage acceptable between two men or two women, but it uses the definition of adultery only between a man and a woman. That means that someone can have relations with someone of the same sex outside a same-sex marriage, including in a threesome, a foursome.”

Becuause of course no-one ever cheats on their partner in heterosexual marriage, do they? And as for threesomes, foursomes, and even more, I hate to inform Dr Beltagui but some married heterosexual people participate in group sex, including where both partners in a marriage are involved with others.

Where the problem lies is with the definition of adultery which is based upon consummation. In an enlightened age where heterosexual/cisgender asexuals and others who cannot have sex may nonetheless marry – and that marriage is recognised in law – there is indeed a need to change the law and scrap consummation as the basis for adultery.

11. John Deighan believes changes in equality law make it necessary for a man to be a woman: “The trajectory of the past 10 years has been to try to replace equality with sameness in thinking that a man has to be a woman. That is where we have gone wrong.”

Give me strength. No John, the trajectory has been to give men and women a level playing field. Equality law seeks that and that alone. No man can ever think like a woman – and vice versa. Mr Deighan’s statement – which smacks of someone who seems to think women should be kept at home, barefoot and pregnant – is frankly sexist and it is thinking like this which continues to prevent women from achieving their full potential in society. It is also completely irrelevant to the same-sex marriage debate.

12. Dr Beltagui likens SSM to abortion: “The case of marriage is exactly like abortion. It is an issue on which people will differ. We accept that abortion is a controversial issue, and marriage is at the same level, or perhaps an even higher level. Abortion involves one person with an unborn baby, but the issue of marriage involves the whole of society.”

If Dr Beltagui admits that abortion “involves one person with an unborn baby” then I fail to see how she can claim it is a “controversial issue”, or why even throw the dreaded “A” word into the SSM debate at all. After all, what she is saying that if it involves one person, then it is none of society’s business. We can all argue that. However, there is one thing for sure, and this is the bottom line on marriage equality and the very reason why I support it. Marriage is about two people in love making a commitment to each other. When two people do love each other, then sexuality and gender are an irrelevance to that love. If they choose to make a lifelong commitment to each other, then that is their business and theirs alone and does not involve the whole of society in any way, shape, or form. Any couple who marry have absolutely no impact upon society or the lives of anyone else. That applies today with heterosexual/cisgender marriage; the same will apply to equal marriage in the future.

Link to the original story in Pink News:
http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/09/06/the-top-12-strangest-arguments-against-equal-marriage-from-scotlands-first-day-of-committee-stage/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Pinknews+%28Pink+News%29

There was a Soldier, a Scottish Soldier…?

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 26 August 2013)
 
UK Armed Forces are politically neutral. Those who control them abuse that position.

Every year the UK has an Armed Forces Day. It is one day in the year in which a chosen place hosts the event so that the public can come out and show their support for the men and women of the British armed forces, both serving and veterans, at a parade and other events. Just as the armed forces officially take a neutral stance in politics, Armed Forces Day has never been a political event. It was started as Veteran’s Day by the Labour government in 2006 (the name changed in 2009 to raise awareness about serving members of forces) and has been respected as a national non-political event every year since by both Labour and Conservative governments.

All that is set to change in 2014.

The UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond has chosen the Scottish city of Stirling for Armed Forces Day 2014, and by his own words is clearly manipulating the day as a political event. The event will take place only a few weeks before the referendum on Scottish independence, and Mr Hammond stated it would help underline the strength of the union. He stated “They remind us in a very graphic way that we are stronger together. Britain, the United Kingdom and Scotland benefit from the scale and the power and the capability of our armed forces.”

Were this not enough, I took the trouble to look up the date of next year’s Armed Forces Day. It will take place on Saturday, 28 June 2014. Exactly the same day the Bannockburn 700 Event starts – also in Stirling. That is the same event at which the National Trust for Scotland have banned political banners and stalls.

The political inference of having Armed Forces Day on exactly the same day in the selfsame city is all too clear. To have UK armed forces on procession in Stirling at the start of Bannockburn 700 is but one more reminder of our oppression under the yoke of Westminster. And I have absolutely no doubt that this has been done equally as deliberately as the Conservative government cynically manipulating Armed Forces Day for their own unionist ends.

Consider also this scenario. At these events many people, including children, are handed out Union Flags to wave. If any of these people are going on to Bannockburn 700, will they be asked to hide their union flags or have them taken off them? If not, then if just one Union Flag is visible at Bannockburn 700, that shall be a making a political statement, to which ever Scots Nat should call foul.

I personally do not attend Armed Forces Day, because I do see it as partially political. It is no disparagement to the men and women of our armed forces, who do a job I would not do even if I could do it, which I freely admit I could not. I have always been of the opinion however that any country which hero-worships it’s military is a country dangerously close to fascism. It stirs up jingoism and national fervour of the worst kind, and is a favourite hanging-on event for the extreme right. Consider that just recently the far-right Scottish (mostly English) Defence League (SDL) held a march in Edinburgh “in support of our troops” (I’m pretty sure most troops would want absolutely nothing to do with the SDL). Also as a pacifist, I see it as an obscene glorification of war.

And of course, if you don’t support Armed Forces Day, you are immediately condemned as a “traitor”. A traitor to whom exactly? I am completely opposed to the British state and am campaigning for an independent Scotland. Why then should I celebrate a symbol of my own oppression? If I or any other Scots Nat does not take part in Armed Forces Day that no more makes us traitors than Sir William Wallace was guilty of treason. Therefore to have this event in Stirling, in my country, on the same day Bannockburn 700 starts, and which is cynically being used to gain No votes in the independence referendum I see as an affront to all which is decent.

I do not decry any individual member of the armed forces, for whom I have the utmost of respect. Rather I decry the politicians who are manipulating and abusing them for their own political ends. Phillip Hammond and the Conservative government who have taken this decision have acted in a manner which is completely devoid of honour, and for that they should think black burning shame of themselves.

As regards Phillip Hammond’s statement of “Britain, the United Kingdom and Scotland benefit from the scale and the power and the capability of our armed forces”, that rings completely hollow in the face of the government’s defence cuts, which are hitting Scotland hardest. One of the scare stories of the unionists is that an independent Scotland would see massive job cuts in defence, which no doubt will be pedalled out again at Armed Forces Day 2014. Except that between 2007-2010 defence reviews saw personnel slashed by 27.9% in Scotland, the highest proportion in the whole of the UK. Since 2000 there has been a 35 per cent drop in Scotland, compared with 20 per cent across the UK as a whole. We have seen base after base after base closed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under both Labour and Conservative governments, and both serving personnel and support services decimated. Indeed, when it comes to keeping jobs in Scotland the MoD has an abysmal track record. And don’t expect that to change any time soon. The next round of cuts, also announced by Phillip Hammond, will see 7 out of 38 Army and Navy Reserve Centres to be closed in Scotland; 18%, more than twice Scotland’s population share. Meanwhile, out of the latest round of cuts, reducing armed forces personnel by a further 4500, it is feared that Scottish forces will make up a large proportion of these.

Equally this present government, like every government since 1918, can hang it’s head in shame as regards veterans. At the end of the First World War, David Lloyd George promised “homes fit for heroes”. No government then or since has ever delivered upon that. Instead we have veterans struggling to make ends meet, having benefits taken off them as ATOS declares them fit for work and being evicted through the government’s insidious Bedroom Tax. Meanwhile Conservative Prime Minister has announced that he intends to make August 2014 the start of four years of “celebrating” the insanity which was was the First World War.

Scrape the veneer away and you soon see the truth. Before the Battle of Quebec in 1759, General Wolfe rode up to the Seaforth Highlanders, the only Scots regiment there, and told them “We’ll send you in first. If you fall, it is no great loss.” 254 years later little or nothing has changed. Scots forces, some of whom are poor sods who joined up because they could not get a job, are still used as cannon fodder for Whitehall’s bloody adventurism, for which they get no thanks in the end.

Were that not enough, on 28 June 2014 they will be used as pawns in a game of dirty politics by an unspeakable government who have absolutely no conscience or moral compass.