2013: My Books

Unless I do some pretty quick reading over the next two days, I think I’m able to compile a complete list of the books I’ve read over the last year!  I’ve managed to extend my record of 38 books last year to 41!  I’ve also increasingly branched into reading non-fiction, largely around historical or political topics though also some science as well, but I’m making sure to keep up the fiction as well.  Like last year, I’ve compiled the books into two lists: in order by date read and my enjoyment of them.  I’m beginning to wonder whether it might be better to have two separate lists for the fiction and non-fiction, as it’s so difficult to compare the two forms.  I’ll bear that in mind for 2014.  For now, here they are:

Order Read

  1. Twilight (2005) – Stephenie Meyer
  2. New Moon (2006) – Stephenie Meyer
  3. Eclipse (2007) – Stephenie Meyer
  4. The Battle for the Arab Spring: Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Making of a New Era (2012) – Liu Noueihed and Alex Warren
  5. Breaking Dawn (2008) – Stephenie Meyer
  6. American Gods (2001) – Neil Gaiman
  7. Brave New World [re-read] (1932) – Aldous Huxley
  8. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (2011) – Owen Jones
  9. Cloud Atlas (2004) – David Mitchell
  10. The Bridge (1986) – Iain Banks
  11. Teach Yourself Islam (2003) – Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
  12. Heart of Darkness (1902) – Joseph Conrad
  13. Death on a Longship – Marsali Taylor (2012)
  14. The Great Powers 1814 – 1914 (1992) – Eric Wilmot
  15. Romeo and Juliet (1597) – William Shakespeare
  16. Doctor Who: The Witch Hunters (1998) – Steve Lyons
  17. The Thief of Time (2000) – John Boyne
  18. Gaia: A New Look At Life on Earth (1979) – James Lovelock
  19. Fight Club (1996) – Chuck Palahniuk
  20. Battle Royale (2000-2005) – Koushun Takami
  21. Hamlet (1603) – William Shakespeare
  22. Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) – George Orwell
  23. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) – Mark Haddon
  24. Consider Phlebas (1987) – Iain Banks
  25. Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky (2009) – Bertrand M. Patenaude
  26. Paradise Lost (1667) – John Milton
  27. The Great Gatsby (1925) – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  28. The Turn of the Screw (1898) – Henry James
  29. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) – Muriel Spark
  30. Oliver Cromwell (1991) – Barry Coward
  31. The Decline of the English Murder and other Essays (1965) – George Orwell
  32. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) – James Hogg
  33. Waiting For Godot (1953) – Samuel Beckett
  34. Cloud 9 (1979) – Caryl Churchill
  35. The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) – Oscar Wilde
  36. Richard III (1592) – William Shakespeare
  37. Ishi’s Brain: In Search of the Last “Wild” Indian (2004) – Orin Starn
  38. Pride and Prejudice (1813) – Jane Austen
  39. The Wasp Factory (1984) – Iain Banks
  40. The Casual Vacancy (2012) [re-read] – J. K. Rowling
  41. Road to Referendum (2013) – Iain Macwhirter

Order of Enjoyment

  1. Cloud Atlas (2004) – David Mitchell
  2. Brave New World [re-read] (1932) – Aldous Huxley
  3. The Bridge (1986) – Iain Banks
  4. The Casual Vacancy (2012) [re-read] – J. K. Rowling
  5. Road to Referendum (2013) – Iain Macwhirter
  6. The Great Powers 1814 – 1914 (1992) – Eric Wilmot
  7. The Great Gatsby (1925) – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. Consider Phlebas (1987) – Iain Banks
  9. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) – James Hogg
  10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) – Mark Haddon
  11. Pride and Prejudice (1813) – Jane Austen
  12. Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) – George Orwell
  13. Death on a Longship – Marsali Taylor (2012)
  14. Doctor Who: The Witch Hunters (1998) – Steve Lyons
  15. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) – Muriel Spark
  16. The Battle for the Arab Spring: Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Making of a New Era (2012) – Liu Noueihed and Alex Warren
  17. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (2011) – Owen Jones
  18. Waiting For Godot (1953) – Samuel Beckett
  19. Gaia: A New Look At Life on Earth (1979) – James Lovelock
  20. The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) – Oscar Wilde
  21. The Wasp Factory (1984) – Iain Banks
  22. Ishi’s Brain: In Search of the Last “Wild” Indian (2004) – Orin Starn
  23. The Decline of the English Murder and other Essays (1965) – George Orwell
  24. Battle Royale (2000-2005) – Koushun Takami
  25. Cloud 9 (1979) – Caryl Churchill
  26. Oliver Cromwell (1991) – Barry Coward
  27. Hamlet (1603) – William Shakespeare
  28. Richard III (1592) – William Shakespeare
  29. Teach Yourself Islam (2003) – Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
  30. Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky (2009) – Bertrand M. Patenaude
  31. American Gods (2001) – Neil Gaiman
  32. Paradise Lost (1667) – John Milton
  33. Heart of Darkness (1902) – Joseph Conrad
  34. The Turn of the Screw (1898) – Henry James
  35. Romeo and Juliet (1597) – William Shakespeare
  36. Twilight (2005) – Stephenie Meyer
  37. The Thief of Time (2000) – John Boyne
  38. Breaking Dawn (2008) – Stephenie Meyer
  39. New Moon (2006) – Stephenie Meyer
  40. Eclipse (2007) – Stephenie Meyer
  41. Fight Club (1996) – Chuck Palahniuk
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The White Paper for Independence

Yesterday the Scottish government published their highly-awaited White Paper for Independence, which basically sets out to answer all questions which could reasonably expect answering about the process of moving Scotland to becoming an independent country between September 2014 and March 2016, as well as kind of acting as a manifesto for what the SNP would like to achieve if they were elected to lead an independent Scottish parliament.

I’ve read bits and pieces of it on the downloaded ebook though I’ve been too busy to take a proper look through.  I’ve ordered a physical copy from the Scottish government (I think they’re giving them out for free!) so I’ll try to go through it more in-depth later.  It’s a 670 page document, totaling about 170,000 words, therefore I’d be surprised if anyone has yet managed to make a thorough analysis of it.  I quite like MSP Joan McAlpine’s comment that the sheer length of the White Paper makes the American Declaration of Independence look like a ‘post-it note‘.

Nevertheless, from various summaries I’ve checked out online the main points of interest to me appear to be:

  • A guarantee that there’d be no border controls between England and Scotland.  Despite what some unionists would tell you, this has been painfully obvious for years. If an independent Scotland required passport checks to get into England it would more or less be the only land border in Europe to require such controls.
  • As well as membership of NATO, an independent Scotland would have an army comprised of 15,000 soldiers with 5,000 in reserve.  This would actually be a much larger share of Scotland’s population than the British army currently represents of the UK population.  While I’m not sure I personally agree with having such a large army, Scotland certainly wouldn’t be open to invasion from, I don’t know, Russia – or whoever our current enemy supposedly is.
  • We’d keep the pound sterling.  I won’t pretend to understand the economics behind this, and this is one point in the White Paper I’m not utterly convinced by.  Apparently Scotland would continue to control a portion of the Bank of England, thereby giving us influence over inflation rates and such things… ?  I appreciate this is the SNP trying to avoid the issue of requiring currency exchanges to travel between Scotland and England but I’m not convinced it makes the most economic sense.  But even so, it’s important to remember this is only what the SNP would do.  In all likelihood an independent Scotland would elect a Labour government, or whatever the equivalent of Labour would be at that point, which may have much different ideas on which currency Scotland should have.
  • All residents of Scotland will automatically become Scottish citizens, while joint citizenship with the UK will be possible.  UK passports will continue to be valid until their expiration.
  • Scotland would remain a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.  Not my preference but I imagine the Scottish people would have much more say over this arrangement in the future if independent than part of the UK.
  • Scotland would develop it’s own Scottish Broadcasting Service (SBS), which would be funded by the Scottish portion of license fees which would otherwise go to the BBC.  I think the BBC could still be accessed in Scotland, while likewise the SBS could be accessed in the rest of the UK.  They’ve also said the SBS and the BBC would frequently collaborate; for instance, the SBS would participate in the annual Comic Relief appeal.
  • A guarantee that the minimum wage would rise with inflation with, I assume, the insurance that wages wouldn’t be allowed to fall in real terms.  There’s also a reference into looking at a Scottish living wage.
  • The Royal Mail would be renationalised in an independent Scotland.
  • The ‘Bedroom Tax’ would be abolished.
  • It’s stated that Scotland should be able to participate as an individual nation in the Olympic and Paralympic games.
  • Pensions are guaranteed to rise either by inflation, wages or 2.5%, depending upon which is highest.
  • Tuition fees would continue to be free, while a ‘Common Research Zone’ would exist across the UK so that Scottish and UK universities can continue to benefit from their important academic links.
  • A commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid with the aspiration to eventually increase this to 1%.
  • A Scottish Asylum Agency would be established with the aim of creating a much more humane approach to applications for asylum than currently exists as UK policy.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most excitingly, a pledge to safeguard the environment could actually be written into an independent Scotland’s constitution.

From what I hear, the majority of the White Paper’s content is incredibly dull, laying out facts and figures of no interest to all but the most motivated bureaucrat.  This is the purpose of the White Paper – it’s aimed at showing the Scottish people that there is a detailed plan for independence beyond the nationalist promises of bagpipes* and flags.  There will be critics of the White Paper, and rightfully so – the referendum next September will be a momentous decision and the vote should not be lightly decided – but I hope this will allow the debate to move onto a level playing-field.  The Yes campaign have proved beyond measure that they have a positive vision for Scotland’s future; this is something Better Together sorely lack.  Though they carry the current polling advantage, I don’t believe it’s enough to advocate the status quo while miserably griping at every aspiration the Yes Campaign advocates.  Negative campaigning can only go so far.  So if the publication of the White Paper does anything, I hope it can push the discourse of the debate in a more constructive direction.

*I wouldn’t complain at making the playing of bagpipes a requirement for all public buildings but I accept I might be alone on that one…

Related links:

First Anniversary

There are two pretty big anniversaries covered today, both from a year ago.  The first, which is probably of most relevance to readers, is that this blog is now a year old!  365 days, 220 posts, 10,548 views and 107 followers; it’s not famous yet by any means but has gone much further than I ever expected.  The blog is continuing to go through an unfortunate slump in activity as I continue to get to grips with university (my timekeeping seriously lacks something to be desired) yet I still seem to be getting views.  Views don’t equate to quality, of course, but it’s humbling to think people are even looking at the blog on a daily basis.

views

Although posts may be less frequent, I hope to return to posting about topics which interest me and engage further with the world community of bloggers.  Posts I currently have in mind include ‘What is Anthropology?’ based on my less than favourable impression of this bizarre subject, a look at the ages of world leaders, a fresher’s perspective on career prospects, a review of 2013 at New Year and intensive coverage of voting events ranging from by-elections, the European Parliament elections in May and the exciting Scottish independence referendum in September.  It’s a big year – watch this space!

The other anniversary marks a year of vegetarianism.  Despite the stray gelatine and one unfortunate incident where I tucked into half a chicken pie before thinking, “this doesn’t taste much like soya…” it’s been a remarkable success!  I charted my progress here and here, but even then I never expected to last so long.  “I could stop tomorrow,” I wrote back in December, while in January I admitted “I still believe I’ll eat meat again one day.”  The latter remains entirely possible, of course, although I find it difficult to imagine how it would occur.

So here’s to another productive, meat-free year!  I’ll see you next November 18th.

A Political Day in Edinburgh

Sorry, this is going to be another one of those cobbled together ‘recounted a somewhat interesting day I had’ blog posts.  I promise I’ll try to get a more coherent program of output sometime soon, but for the moment my life’s still rather hectic (university’s utterly mad!).

The first round of excitement was a protest outside the Scottish Parliament I decided to attend, organised by the University of Edinburgh Amnesty International society.  I wasn’t involved in the planning but I gather it had also been put together in less than a week which, given the result, was very impressive indeed!   We were protesting against human rights abuses in Sri Lanka by the government of President Rajapaksa, specifically aimed at convincing David Cameron to raise the issue during an upcoming Commonwealth meeting hosted in Sri Lanka.  This was my first proper protest and I wasn’t disappointed.  We set out a fake beach for people dressed as Cameron and Rajapaksa to lay upon, wearing scarves (this is a Scottish beach), while the rest of held banners and shouted exciting protest chants.  The Amnesty Facebook page has a picture of the event here! (I’m the one in the bright yellow jacket who happens to be blinking at the moment of capture).

Then, even more excitingly, we were joined by some MSPs.  My political hero Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, came out and had some pictures taken with us.  Fellow Green Alison Johnstone was also there, along with Scottish National Party MSP Marco Biagi and Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson.  It was thrilling to see so much support from within the political establishment; we weren’t shouting at a deaf parliament.

So that was all very fun indeed – if ‘fun’ is the right way to refer to a protest – well, it was fun!  My second political event of the day was a debate on Scottish independence hosted by the university.  Speaking in favour of independence was MSP Marco Biagi, whose schedule today appeared to be as busy as mine, and University of Edinburgh rector Peter McColl, representing the Green Party.  Speaking against the motion was a Labour-Conservative partnership, something becoming increasingly common in Scotland, featuring Labour MP Sheila Gilmore* and Conservative MSP Gavin Brown.  Not much new was raised I didn’t know previously, aside from the startling fact that Spain has suggested it would veto an independent Scotland’s membership into the EU purely to quell Catalonian aspirations.  Considering this behaviour, I have every sympathy for Catalonian secessionists.

The voting was very interesting, however.  The initial audience vote turned out to be –

Yes: 17 votes (21.25%)
No: 30 votes (37.5%)
Undecided: 33 votes (41.25%).

Compared to national polls the Yes/No divide was very similar but there were far many more undecided votes than I expected.  Glad most people went into it with an open mind.  Even more interesting was to be the post-debate results:

Yes: 36 votes** (42%)
No: 37 votes (45%)
Undecided: 9 votes (11%)

I certainly didn’t expect the Yes vote to make such progress, which was very interesting.  Of course it’s worth remembering that the room had a significant number of international students in it, who I’d presume would tend to be more positive towards independence (internationalism was a central theme of the debate; I was particularly impressed by Peter McColl’s “I’m not a nationalist; I’m an internationalist” speech).

So, yeah.  I really enjoyed my engagement with politics today and, in a bit of a post-political high, decided to stop putting off something I’ve been considering for a while and finally joined a political party – the Scottish Greens.  I share so many views and aims with the party that it makes sense.

To many more exciting days like this!

*It’s probably a bit unfair to lump Sheila Gilmore together with the Tories, as she seems one of the more principled members of the Labour Party and earned my respect through the debate.
**I somehow got it into my head that the Yes/No final result had been 46/47, but this would have added about 20 people to the audience so I’m assuming I just misheard.  The No result definitely only had a lead of one vote, either way.

The BBC’s Impartiality (Rant)

It pains me to write this, as a long supporter of the BBC and defender against claims of impartiality – generally when it states a fact a certain group disagrees with – but I’m becoming more and more unable to take this position.

My latest reason why: this morning I sought out the Scottish First Minister’s Questions to watch on BBC Iplayer, just as something to have on while my hair dries, but couldn’t find it.  Okay, I thought, perhaps there hasn’t been any recently – I think parliament might be on some October break right now.  So I decided to go for another one.  Salmond accused of being ‘Simply Dishonest’ about oil fund looked like a relevant, perhaps entertaining clip, so I put that on.  Then Tricia Marwick, the Presiding Officer, appeared and said, “thank you, we now move to First Minister’s Questions…”

So basically, the BBC has covered up the First Minister’s Questions and entirely slanted it against Alex Salmond over one question.  I find this to be absolutely appalling.  After Prime Minister’s Questions down in Westminster, does the BBC call the recording “David Cameron attacked over cost of living crisis?” or “Cameron accused of unnecessary badger slaughter?”  No, of course not, it’s simply Prime Minister’s Questions each and every time.

Despite the fact I’m slightly biased in favour of the Scottish Parliament over Westminster, I really don’t think this can be considered a rant against the BBC simply because I disagree with facts.  Can anyone defend this?  It’s becoming more and more common with the independence debate; I recall they interviewed Blair McDougal after the SNP’s recent party conference, giving him virtually more airtime than the conference itself.  Do they interview the Yes Scotland campaign each time one of the pro-union party has a conference – or, really, has any noteworthy story in general?  I highly doubt it.

Please, BBC, I want to like you, but you really do need to start living up to your reputation of impartiality.  This isn’t my first issue with the BBC – the amount of coverage they gave UKIP earlier this year was ridiculous.  I don’t want this blog to become a mouthpiece of the independence movement but if this impartiality in the British and Scottish media continues I’ll feel compelled to say something, if only to even out the playing field.

A Brush with Nationalism

flying flag

As I mark two weeks of living in Edinburgh I finally have something to  post!  I’m planning to write a summary of my ever-growing experiences at some point, but as I walked through the bustling crowd of today’s independence march I knew this post would have to take priority.  Also, I apologise for the quality of the pictures – I only had my phone with me and I later realised that I left my USB connector back at Shetland, so I had to take second photos with my other camera.  Not the most efficient method…

activityI was only able to briefly witness the initial gathering before the march to Calton Hill, which seems to have become a focal point for Scottish nationalism, as I was due to attend an ‘activism training day’ (I love Edinburgh).  Even so, with the march in a semi-formed state, this was still the most significant political event I have ever witnessed.  Flags were waved, some in frantic excitement, others rippling gently in the wind; whistles blew all round, often by children too young to understand the politics but clearly enjoying the carnival atmosphere; and bagpipes filled the air.  I once wrote about a fictional demonstration – which is, admittedly, a completely different context to here – and I’m glad I at least got the tone right.  Such joy, hope; visions and dreams were palpable through the crowd.  Whether these are justified is a different matter, yet almost didn’t seem important at that moment.  This march created an idyllic vision; cold reality can come later.

greensI was also struck by the vast variety of groups coalescing into this unlikely alliance.  I was most excited to see the Scottish Green Party who had a section in the crowd, though I was too shy to say hello.  In addition I came across the Scottish National Party, the ‘Radical Independence’ group, the Socialist Worker newspaper, the Scottish Socialist Party and even a ‘Christians for socialists independence group’.  Some single-issue organisations were there too, including anti-Trident pressure groups.  I think I even saw some Catalan flags, perhaps as a bid for pan-European solidarity.  Yes, a quick Google search tells me this was the Estelada, a flag used by Catalan nationalists.  I wonder if Saltires have even flown in Barcelona, then?

policeWhat is most impressive about my experience of the march is how peaceful and ordered it was.  This feels that it should go without saying, yet my studies of history indicate time and time again this isn’t the case.  For a movement so at odds with the interests of the ruling elite to be granted such freedom must be virtually unprecedented in the majority of human history.  There was a notable police presence* but even this seemed relatively relaxed, their prime concern being to prevent overcrowding.  There wasn’t even a hint of violent tension, which again would have been unimaginable for most comparable political movements in history.

I continue to be impressed by the optimistic vision advocated by the pro-independence cause.  Whether there’s reason to be optimistic is up for debate, but I can’t imagine anywhere near a similar atmosphere at a unionist march (do these even occur?).  I wouldn’t say this brief brush has changed my view of the debate but it has made it seem all the more real and, certainly, all the more exciting.  I am thrilled to be spending the next year here at a time of such debate and political activity.

speaker

“What do we want?”
“INDEPENDENCE!”
“When do we want it?”
“NOW!”

lonely jack

A lonely union flag despairs.

Related articles:

*I’m aware of section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008, which brings into doubt the legality of photographing police officers.  Since I’m neither directly or indirectly helping terrorists by the publication of these photographs I know I’m acting perfectly within the law, but it’s unfortunate we must worry about such things in the first place.

The Referendum is Unpredictable

Yesterday, Yougov published a poll which put the ‘No’ vote at 59% and the ‘Yes’ vote at 29%.  This gave the No vote a lead of 30% – as far as I’m aware, the highest lead it’s ever had since the campaigns began.  So is this a sign of Scotland increasingly rejecting independence.  Should Alex Salmond be worried?  Well, it appears not.  Today, Panelbase published a poll which, for the first time in two years, actually showed the Yes vote ahead at 44% with the No vote at 43%.  It’s worth bearing in mind that this poll was commissioned by the SNP* but it doesn’t appear to be biased any particular way**.  This is only a lead of 1% and could easily be an outlier, but there’s no way a difference of 31% between polls can merely be statistical.  I’m not suggesting either poll is biased; I think the referendum is just that hard to predict.

I’m still not convinced that the Yes campaign will achieve a shock rise in the polls in time for September 2014, but this poll has shown that the referendum isn’t entirely a foregone conclusion nonetheless.  In some ways, the proportion of people who vote ‘Yes’ might be just as significant as an actual Yes victory.  If 30% or less were to vote Yes to independence, it would be easy for Westminster to consider it supported by a minority, but if the result were to be much closer it would certainly be a worry for whoever’s Prime Minister.  If 46% of Scots want to leave the country, that could easily tilt over 50% in the coming years if he or she is not careful.

Perhaps a close vote may inspire Labour, the party most likely to gain power at Westminster in 2015, to repeat their actions of 1997 and grant more powers to the Scottish parliament in an attempt to reduce support for independence.  On one hand, these potential future Labour ministers might believe that this clearly didn’t work last time, yet they might also point to the fact that the Scottish people have consistently shown in polls that we would prefer full fiscal autonomy to independence.

Well, this is going into too many what-ifs.  The point I’m trying to make is that I think that the referendum is too unpredictable for either campaign to be assured of a victory.  If we can accept this, perhaps both campaigns can move on from their ugly scare-tactics and foul-play, and maybe even respect the other’s viewpoints.  Then we can begin a fair debate on the real issues.

*No doubt this will overwhelmingly discredit the poll for those people who seem to think Alex Salmond and the SNP are fascist wannabes, but for those of us who prefer to take a more balanced look at Scottish politics this shouldn’t necessarily be an issue.

**Since posting, that article has been updated with a potential explanation for the result.  Two questions were asked beforehand which, it’s claimed, could have boosted those voting ‘Yes’ in the survey.  While surveys ought to be as simple as possible and I agree this could be a reason for the unusual result, I personally struggle to understand how structuring this survey in such a way would convince people to vote differently.  Are people’s views when taking a survey really that subject to change?  Nevertheless, considering the wide range of results we’ve seen in other polls, I believe my point still stands.

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