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By Chris Whatley, University of Dundee and Lesley Riddoch, Strathclyde University

Scotland’s spiritual leaders have been making their presence felt in the independence debate lately. The Church of Scotland is to hold a reconciliation service the Sunday after a vote to help bring the country back together.

Earlier this week its General Assembly housed an independence debate between shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander and leading theologian Doug Gay. Not to be outdone, the Free Church has also been getting in on the act. We asked our panel what religion could bring to the debate.


Lesley Riddoch

Lesley Riddoch

Lesley Riddoch, PhD student at Strathclyde University, broadcaster and journalist

The Church of Scotland did a pretty extensive exercise around the country with their congregations a few months ago, holding discussions about the referendum. I would give them a big up for that because very few organisations have taken it upon themselves to have such a widespread and grassroots discussion.

I don’t mind that they haven’t taken a position on the referendum. It means they are in a better position to be honest brokers after it. It’s such a close race that you’ll inevitably offend people if you do.

Coming from Northern Ireland, I see this question of a presbyterian Scottish psyche in a different light to many people. Nothing in Scotland could be as underpinned by religious difference. I have never really thought that Scotland was as religious as many people seem to think.

We are what we are. We are reserved to some degree. We are fairly tediously law-abiding people who have a great faith in fairness working things out in the end. It’s why people waited for land reform that never came. The Scottish people are both patient and continually disappointed.

I don’t mind the projection of a rather dour, restrained image – it’s partly true. But I take exception to the flip side. There’s a Jekyll and Hyde idea that has been around for a very long time. On the one hand you get the sophisticated, civilised Adam Smith or Sir Walter Scott types, while on the other there’s the wild-eyed hairy Highlanders who can’t control themselves.

This is my problem with the church’s discussion of reconciliation four months before the vote. It plays to this idea of a darker side to the Scots – if you scratch us, the calm veneer will drop and everything will fall out – unless a man of the cloth is there to pick up the pieces. That image has been exaggerated and fabricated by all sorts of forces, many of them from outside our borders.

Reconciliation as a concept makes me think of Northern Ireland or Soweto. Surely we can all agree that nothing in the independence debate is that fatally fractious. The only thing that is polarised is the question in the referendum, and even that had three until quite recently.

I’d prefer the church talked about facilitation. If we could use that word, I do think it has a role to play in keeping the ball rolling after the vote. Unbelievable amounts of energy have been released by the referendum – don’t we want to encourage them to do more?

Prof Chris Whatley

Prof Chris Whatley

Chris Whatley, Professor of Scottish History, University of Dundee

The keystone in the union arch at the very outset was the Protestant succession. In 1706 Queen Anne and her ministers wanted the Scots to agree to the Protestant succession that had been agreed in Westminster in 1701. The union was forged at the time of the so-called Counter-Reformation of the Catholic church, aided and abetted by Louis XIV of France, which had led to a paranoia of a Catholic resurgence in Protestant Britain.

In spite of this, the Church of Scotland was initially nervous about going into the union because it feared being dominated by the Church of England. For this reason, the agreement comprised two acts, one of which was for securing the Church of Scotland within the union.

There were always Scots on the extreme edges of presbyterianism who saw the union as sinful because the Church of England was Anglican, which included bishops and all the other vestiges of Catholicism. But mainstream presbyterians accepted the union and saw it as being about securing Protestantism until up until about the 1950s.

At that point, you start to see the demise of Christianity in terms of church membership. With that decline, the value of the union in securing people’s religious beliefs became less important. This is one of the reasons the union is now much more vulnerable than at any time since 1740.

For centuries there has been a sense of Scottish distinctiveness and identity. Much of it was concealed during the high watermark of unionism in the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century. But the tide of unionism has ebbed and we are now left with the rocks of Scottish national feeling.

It’s interesting that the Church of Scotland is not taking a position on independence. Fifty years ago they would probably have been strongly supporting the union, but I sense there is now a variety of views within the church. Instead their big concern is what happens after the vote, which I share. This vote mustn’t lead to ugly divisions within Scottish society. The church is rightly calling for calm and reason and forgiveness and healing.

As for the Scottish national character, presbyterian caution certainly led to the two acts of union. We also know that many Scots prayed to God for guidance about whether the union would be a good thing. Saying that, there were others who were cautiously opposed to the union, such as the Jacobites, who were mainly Episcopalian, so you can’t pin it to presbyterianism.

Wherever it comes from, my sense is that there’s a strong element of caution, of canniness, in the Scottish character, which you are seeing in the present debate. My reading is that there’s still a sizeable proportion of the population, the don’t knows, who remain to be convinced about independence. They are the archetypally cautious Scots looking for more security with currency, VAT, pensions, business and so on.

In 1707, the financial terms of the union were settled before the vote in the Scottish parliament. Now we are in a situation where we have the option of independence but we don’t have the detail. That’s why the canny Scots are saying they want greater certainty about the future.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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In just a few days time, the people of the European Union will go to the polls to select their new MEPs. Having just returned from a trip to the Irish Republic, it’s very clear that attitudes there are very different from those in Scotland. In Dublin for example, the streetlamps are festooned with posters with pictures of the various candidates and their assorted parties. Come back to Edinburgh and, by contrast, you would hardly think an election was actually taking place.

Euro Election Posters in Dublin

Euro Election Posters in Dublin

Even allowing for the economic turmoil of the past few years, the Irish have embraced the EU in a way which the peoples of Great Britain have not. Nonetheless, there were many posters which appear to be indicating that enough was enough when it came to economic austerity. That appears to be a common enough attitude across many of the member countries. Euroscepticism appears to have been growing, something borne out by the latest YouGov survey.

That survey confirms a trend lately been building up a head of steam for some considerable time. People across the European Union have been becoming increasingly distrustful of the established political parties and individual politicians in particular. It’s perhaps a surprise that the swing away from the establishment – and indeed support for Europe – looks as though it has been even stronger in France than it has been in parts of this country. Support for the National Front there has grown even more strongly than support for UKIP in England.

Swing to Eurosceptics Source: YouGov

Swing to Eurosceptics
Source: YouGov

The poll did not look at Scotland separately. In recent days, the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, has posted that his party will do much better north of the border than anyone had predicted – even taking one of the seats on offer. Few of the pundits agree with him. But there is some concern that the turnout in Scotland may be very low – the focus of so many people and parties is much more on what will happen in September rather than in May.

However what happens in Brussels and Strasbourg is important in determining our future. The evidence from the YouGov survey is that the next European Parliament could well have a very different make up to anything we’ve seen before, with many more politicians being elected from minority parties. However, the analyst to study the results of the survey feel confident that there isn’t a surging tide of nationalism or of anti-EU feeling. Rather, votes for minority parties are being interpreted much more as protests against their politicians at home.

Speaking to people in Dublin, there does appear to be a growing sense of optimism about the future. They can see changes taking place around them – the amount of construction is a good indicator both of economic activity and of confidence. There is no evidence that people there now want to leave the European Union. Few were willing to admit that they would vote for a Eurosceptic party – but several suggested that this year’s result could be closer than anyone would previously have imagined.

Rare medieval letters relating to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce are to be exhibited together for the first time. The exhibition entitled ‘Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown’ will open at Stirling Castle next month and brings together two unique manuscripts which provide a fascinating insight into the different paths taken by these two leaders in securing the Scottish crown.

Wallace Letter  Copyright of the National Archives

Wallace Letter
Copyright of the National Archives

On display will be a 700-year-old letter from King Philip IV of France to his agents in Rome commanding them to ask Pope Boniface VIII to support Wallace. Written in November 1300, the letter was discovered in the Tower of London in the 1830’s and is currently on loan to the National Records of Scotland from The National Archives in London. In 2011 a panel of experts concluded that it was likely to have been in Wallace’s possession, although how and why remain unclear.

The Wallace letter will appear alongside a letter to King Philip IV of France. Dating from 1309 it was written by Scottish barons attending the first parliament following Robert the Bruce’s seizure of the throne in 1306. Their declaration of support for Bruce as the rightful king of Scots marked an important moment in the recognition of his crown. The document is preserved in the National Records of Scotland.

Bruce letter  Copyright of the National Records of Scotland

Bruce letter
Copyright of the National Records of Scotland

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop said that the bringing together of these documents for the first time would “provide a fascinating insight into one of the most turbulent periods in Scotland’s history. This is a fantastic opportunity for visitors to view these rare and special documents which provide a tantalising glimpse into the lives and legacy of two of Scotland’s most famous historical figures.”

Tim Ellis, Keeper of the Records of Scotland and Chief Executive of the National Records of Scotland, added that the “death of Alexander III in 1286 triggered a dynastic scramble that came to a head in 1306, when Robert the Bruce seized the Scottish throne. This exhibition brings together for the first time two archival treasures connected to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, and adds to our understanding of this fascinating period of Scottish history. We’re delighted to be holding the exhibition which has been made possible through support from Historic Scotland and The National Archives.”

The ‘Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown’ exhibition will form part of a series of events at Stirling Castle which will tell the story of the events leading up to the Battle of Bannockburn, which marks its 700th anniversary this year. This will include a living history event ‘The Road to Bannockburn’ and an exhibition of paintings by renowned artist Iona Leishman.

Dr Lorna Ewan  Historic Scotland

Dr Lorna Ewan
Historic Scotland

Lorna Ewan, Head of Visitor Experience for Historic Scotland, who operate Stirling Castle, pointed out that the castle had “played a key role in the events leading up to Bannockburn. The siege of the castle was the catalyst for Edward II to send a 17,000 strong army to Scotland who met Bruce’s men at Bannockburn so it provides a fitting location to tell the story to visitors.

Over the weekend of the 24th and 25th May, the Road to Bannockburn living history event will explore the events that led to this decisive clash. Visitors can find out about the tactics and weapons of the armies and join our forensic team in discovering more about the injuries sustained by the soldiers.

“Meanwhile Iona Leishman’s exhibition of paintings will provide a poignant overview of the realities of war. Together with the Wallace and Bruce exhibition they will provide visitors with an insight into one of the most famous periods in Scotland’s history.”

The ‘Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown’, exhibition which is part of the Year of Homecoming programme, will open at Stirling Castle on 3rd May and will run until 1st June.

By Michael Emerson, The Centre for European Policy Studies

Events in Ukraine mark not only the start of a momentous shift in the region, but serve to chart the disturbing erosion of Britain’s global clout. If only the UK government would take its lead from the approach taken by its embassy in the heart of Kiev.

Foreign Secretary William Hague began his term in office by issuing instructions to his entire diplomatic core to resist by all legal means any attempts to increase the “actorness” of the EU in foreign and security policy. This led to a year of obscure diplomatic blockages, where common positions by the EU in various international forums could not be adopted, because the UK in a minority of one was contesting the legal basis for EU representatives to speak on behalf of the EU and its member states. At one point no less than 100 common positions were held up. That particular episode was brought to a close by the adoption of an agreement stating the obvious by the council of foreign ministers in October 2011.

While this must go down as one of the most boring and non-substantive wastes of diplomatic time in the history of Europe, it was not without serious reputational consequences for the UK.

The UK, with its privileged seat as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, has been now for decades sitting on its reputation as one of the “big three” of EU foreign policy, alongside France and Germany – although the latter still lacks status at the UN Security Council.

This reputation has been wasting away, and the episode I’ve mentioned is just one reason why. Further evidence of it surfaced during recent weeks in Ukraine in two ways.

Out of the picture

Institutionally, the Ukraine crisis was tackled with the aid of mediation by three EU foreign ministers, from France, Germany and Poland, co-signing the agreement that preceded the end of the Yanukovych regime. This was a new “big three” in action on behalf of the EU. Why was the UK not there, since in the past it would automatically have been invited in these informal self-selection process to be part of the leading action? Answer: some combination of Poland’s successful diplomatic activism by foreign minister Radoslav Sikorsky, and the UK having vacated its seat through persistenly wanting to minimise the “actorness” of the EU.

On a substantive point, what does Ukraine want? In the most profound sense Ukraine wants Europe. As one citizen on the Euromaidan put it last week, “we do not want to go to Europe, we want Europe here”. Ukraine as a society does not “want” the UK, or France, or Germany individually. And of course these countries are seen to be part of Europe. But where should the action come from? It is absolutely clear that Ukraine is not strategically interested in any specifically UK action, unless it forms part of EU action. There is no sense in any distinctly UK bilateral policy of political significance there.

Curiously, while the top-level speeches and attitudes of the Conservative Party ministers of the Coalition government have been vacating the UK’s effective seat on the international stage, the competent staff work of the Foreign Office has been doing some excellent things, including in Ukraine. An example is a low-cost project to map out how an enhanced EU communications strategy in Ukraine could be designed. This has turned out to be an excellent piece of professionalism, in which the UK embassy in Kyiv has been doing an impeccable job of acting itself with and on behalf of the EU.

But back now to the big picture for the UK in the world. The UK needs now to decide pretty fast on its strategic orientation for its European and foreign policy. The Ukraine episode is a warning. The UK’s perceived position on the world stage is on the slide. Let’s relate this more broadly to the UK’s standing in the world at large, for example its permanent seat in the UN Security Council, the jewel in the crown of the Foreign office. This may be tactically secure through the veto powers of permanent members. But the process whereby the rest of the world considers the UK’s position to be an increasing anomaly is ongoing. As US president Barack Obama has said with clarity, the UK as a vigorous part of a strong EU is what the US wants; the UK as a seceding or semi-detached, minimalist member state is not of interest.

Michael Emerson was previously EU ambassador to Moscow. CEPS is a politically and financially independent research institute.

The Conversation

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Scotland – overburdened by iconography

by Charlie Laidlaw

Companies stand or fall on the authenticity of their brands, with brand value an integral element in corporate and marketing strategy – the same is true of countries.

Scotland's 'brand' draws heavily on its history

Scotland’s ‘brand’ draws heavily on its history

This is a pertinent observation ahead of Scotland’s independence referendum later this year. If Scotland does vote to go it alone, it is the value of the country’s brand that will sustain it – driving everything from inward tourism to international investment.

Of course, defining a national brand and its value to the economy is virtually impossible, as perceptions vary enormously. The Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index,which ranks countries against a number of criteria, offers some insight.

We are, of course, hotwired to think in shorthand. For example, think of Italy, and what do you associate it with? Pizza? Ferrari? Do you have a positive view on Italian manufacturing quality? Would you buy an Italian product against a competitor product from, say, France?

Think Italy - Think Ferrari

Think Italy – Think Ferrari

In some instances, the national brand guessing game is easy. Germany, for example, despite being on the losing end of two world wars, has achieved an international reputation for engineering excellence that has made it the economic powerhouse of Europe.

In that sense, Germany has reinvented itself. So too, Japan. “Made in Japan” once meant cheap and second-rate. Now, the Japanese automobile and electronic industries straddle the world, and stand for excellence and reliability.

Scotland too has reinvented itself, most obviously by Sir Walter Scott who organised King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822. It represented nothing less than a national brand makeover, making all things tartan chic and fashionable. Later, Queen Victoria put the heroic back into the Highlands.

A national brand make-over in the 1820s

A national brand make-over
in the 1820s

In some ways, for such a small country, Scotland is overburdened by iconography: from tartan to whisky, from lochs to glens, shortbread to haggis, bagpipes to the Loch Ness Monster, golf to kilts…the list goes on.

National symbols are important because they sustain economic activity. For example, Scotland’s tourism industry employs some 200,000 people and visitors spend almost £11 billion a year – with many of those visitors coming from other parts of the UK. Will they still come if Scotland becomes independent?

The tourism and hospitality industry seems split on that one, despite the Scottish government promising to cut VAT for the sector and reduce airport tax.

Whisky is another icon, an industry that employs 10,000 people and, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, exports in excess of £4 billion. But food and drink extends well beyond the water of life. Scotland is also home to about 25% of the UK’s beef cattle, and we catch over 50% of the nation’s fish. Our salmon rivers are world-famous, supporting rural and remote communities.

Scotland invented retail banking

Scotland invented retail banking

Or financial services, another national icon, with Scotland also credited with “inventing” retail banking. Yet if Scotland achieves independence, banks would have over 1,000% of Scotland’s GDP. When Iceland’s banks went bust, their assets were some 880% of GDP. Is that brand strength, or brand risk? Westminster politicians obviously think so, having blocked Scotland from entering into a UK Poundland after independence. Does Scotland therefore revert to its own currency? Or, longer term, think about the Euro?

(Incidentally, it was Sir Isaac Newton, then Master of the Mint at the Tower of London, who brought Scots coinage into line with the rest of Britain following the Act of Union).

Oil and Gas A diminishing asset?

Oil and Gas
A diminishing asset?

The financial case for independence is based, at least initially, on two iconic industries – North Sea oil and the financial sector. The SNP hopes to secure some 90% of tax from oil and gas, albeit a diminishing source of revenue, and a healthy slice of income from the country’s financial sector. (That’s leaving to one side the issue of Scotland’s share of national debt).

That means that Scotland the Brand will be dependent on a diminishing asset under its waters, and a sector that (post-crash) the country can’t necessarily rely on to deliver a safe return. Let’s not forget that, against Scottish tax revenues of some £60 billion annually, the cost of the bank bailouts was some £500 billion in loans and guarantees.

Scottish Government Committed to renewable energy

Scottish Government
Committed to renewable energy

It’s why the SNP government is keen to develop renewables as a new icon of Scottish industry, despite some ambivalent figures – for example, that offshore wind investment halved to £29 million last year. Biggest blow was a decision by Scottish Power to drop plans for the £5.4 billion Argyll Array windfarm.

Scotland has other strengths, particularly its track record of invention: from penicillin to the postage stamp, from TV to the telephone, the steam engine to logarithms…that list also goes on and on, to modern advances in gaming to Dolly the Sheep. If Scotland the Brand stands for anything, it must also be about education, innovation and invention. Medical and scientific research may become brand icons of the new Scotland.

Festivals - all part of the brand

Festivals – all part of the brand

However, in this year of decision, Scotland the Brand will also step onto an international sporting stage, helping the country to redefine itself (again) as a country of beautiful cityscapes and wilderness. The Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup couldn’t have come at a better time for the pro-independence lobby.

But it’s the future that will better define Scotland the Brand: how the country’s universities engage internationally; how Scotland diversifies from oil and financial services; how Scotland can find niche industries to build worldwide reputation; how it attracts inward investment; and how it promotes its festivals, cities and landscapes.

Scotland may or may not vote for independence. But the debate has done one great thing for Scotland: it has raised awareness internationally in Scotland the Brand, a marketing opportunity that the country should grasp with both hands.

Charlie Laidlaw is a director of David Gray PR and a partner in Laidlaw Westmacott.

Good looking male cyclists more likely to win?
(Picture: Wikipedia)

Saturday
The abuse aimed at Celtic manager Neil Lennon at Tynecastle was everything that is bad about Scottish society let alone Scottish football.

Neil Lennon (Creative commons)

Neil Lennon
(Creative commons)

But how quickly did some attempt to turn this incident into an anti-Irish, racist or sectarian attack? Probably the same people who believe that every act or crime committed within a footballing environment has to be categorised under one of those headings.

I’m sorry, but football does attract it’s share of eejits, idiots, numpties, bampots and wee neds, their actions dictated not by hate, racism or sectarianism, but because they are eejits, idiots, numpties, bampots and wee neds. And usually drunk with it. If only the same time had been spent legislating against them …

Sunday
Scotland kick-off their Six Nations campaign in Dublin, and kept pace with the Irish until just before half-time. Well, it was good while it lasted …

MetLife Stadium 2A bit like the contest at the MetLife Stadium in New York where the Seattle Seahawks crushed Denver Broncos 43-8 to take Super Bowl XLVIII. In a game dominated by stats, perhaps the numbers that resonated most with Scots viewing this TV spectacular was that each 30 second advert during the match cost $4m to air. Or put another way, three adverts is the equivalent of the SPFL’s current TV deal, give or take a few quid.

Of course, this isn’t a true comparison or measurement as the adverts during the Super Bowl come from sponsors. Something the SPFL don’t have to deal with …

Monday
Perhaps it wasn’t expected with his side sitting level on points with Falkirk at the top of the SPFL Championship, but John Brown quits as Dundee boss, confirmed in one of those standard issue press releases.

“Dundee FC and manager John Brown have today announced they are to part company by mutual agreement,” added their statement. Mutual agreement yes. I do wish someone would measure how much mutual respect there was between both sides when someone loses their job. Now, that would be worth releasing …

Michael Laudrup

Michael Laudrup

Tuesday
In Wales, Swansea admit they have “parted company” with manager Michael Laudrup, the Dane leaving the club with immediate effect following a decision that chairman Huw Jenkins said was “taken reluctantly”. Last season, Laudrup won the League Cup and this season, knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup. But one win in 10 Premier League matches left the Swans facing the prospect of a relegation battle.

Maybe Laudrup’s star has falling a bit. Maybe Swansea are just finding their true level. And maybe, some clubs should just realise how good they have had it at times …

Wednesday
And findings published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters reveal that good looking male cyclists are more likely to finish first in a bike race than less good looking guys. Scientists came up with these findings after asking men and women to rate the attractiveness of 80 professional elite cyclists who finished the 2012 Tour de France. The study took the form of an online survey, each one containing the photos of 40 of the cyclists in a random order, so confirming a relationship between attractiveness and performance.

I am delighted to say then that my love for Chris Hoy is entirely scientifically based. I’m sure he is equally delighted by that fact …

Caley Thistle LogoThursday
League Cup finalists Inverness Caley Thistle suspend their youth team defender Joe Gorman after he posts a sectarian comment on Twitter. Gorman had viewed Ross Kemp’s ‘Extreme World’ programme on Sky One, which visited Belfast and Londonderry. He then posted a comment stating: “Ross Kemp in Belfast talking about the troubles … wouldn’t you love to open up on all them orange men.”

Just how unlucky was Gorman that folk not only read his comment, but also took screen grabs. And now the polis and Vincent Lunny at the SFA are taking an interest. At least he hasn’t claimed that he was set up, or that his account was hacked, yet …

Friday
Talking of hacking, Eric Djemba-Djemba’s Wikipedia page suffered a bit of rewriting. Remarkable how it remained untouched and unscathed, until he arrived in Paisley. It’s occasionally difficult on Wiki to work out what is fact and what is fiction, but it reliably informed me yesterday that the former Manchester United player and now St Mirren new boy had been educated at Eton.

I’m sure someone will ask him about that at his first post-match presser …

A ‘concerted effort’ needed to end ‘the shame of food hunger’ – Dave Myers
Picture Credit: Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for Oxfam UK

A global food database prepared by Oxfam shows that people in the UK have among the highest and most volatile food prices in Western Europe. The Good Enough to Eat index, the first of its kind, compares data from 125 countries to create a global snapshot of the different challenges people face in getting the food they need to eat.

Record numbers of Scots have turned to food banks

Record numbers of Scots have turned to food banks

The index is released at a time when Scotland has seen a five-fold increase in the number of people using foodbanks in the past year. More than 20,000 Scots sought emergency assistance with food in the six months to September 2013.

Globally, one in eight people go hungry despite there being enough to feed everyone. The new index highlights how both the distribution of food and prices are important factors. It brings together data on whether people have enough to eat, can afford to eat, the quality of food and the health outcomes of people’s diet.

Overall, the index reveals the Netherlands, followed by France and Switzerland in joint second, are the best places for people to eat, while Chad is the worst followed by Angola and Ethiopia.

Scotland - an expensive place to find good food

Scotland – an expensive place to find good food

Hairy Biker chef Dave Myers has just returned from Cambodia, which is positioned 89th overall, where he visited Oxfam’s projects to help boost food security. He said it was “terrible to think that so many people go hungry in a world that produces more than enough. I have seen how Oxfam is bringing simple solutions to Cambodia to help farmers double rice production and make more from what they grow. All of this can change lives for good but a concerted global effort is needed if we are to end the shame of hunger which is clearly affecting people everywhere, even in the UK.”

The UK is among the worst performers in Western Europe on whether citizens can afford to eat, sharing 20th position with Cyprus, and with only Austrians and Icelanders faring worse. At a time of austerity, and with more than half a million people using food banks across the UK, the index reveals how people here face higher prices for food compared to other goods than almost everyone in Western Europe. Only Austrians and Italians face the same level of pressure while Cypriots have to pay more. The UK also ranked in the bottom half of all OECD countries on food price volatility.

Jamie Livingstone 'Shocking Indictment' of the UK

Jamie Livingstone
‘Shocking Indictment’ of the UK

This record on food prices means that the UK’s combined score puts it in 13th position. Instead, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland are joined by Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Austria, Australia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Italy and Ireland in the top 12. All enjoy top marks for their lack of malnutrition and undernourishment and for access to safe water, while other measures, including obesity, have also lowered their final results.

At the bottom of the table, one in three children are underweight in Chad, where food is relatively more expensive than anywhere else, apart from Guinea and Gambia. Chad shares fourth worst position on the quality of food consumed.

Jamie Livingstone, Acting Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “This index lays bare some of the challenges that people face in getting the food they need, regardless of where they come from. It reveals how the world is failing to ensure that everyone is able to eat healthily, despite there being enough food to go around.

“The UK’s failure to make the top table is a shocking indictment for the world’s sixth richest country. With a record number of people turning to food banks, including tens of thousands here in Scotland, the government must carry out an urgent inquiry into how welfare changes and cuts are exacerbating food poverty and deepening inequality.”

Danny McCafferty

Danny McCafferty

Oxfam has a relationship with the West Dunbartonshire Community Foodshare, through the Clydebank Independent Resource Centre (CIRC). Danny McCafferty, Chair of CIRC, pointed out that more and more people were “having to use resources like the Community Foodshare. Part of the reason is welfare reforms and benefit cutbacks. But the big problem is that there is an increasing number of people, whether they are in work or not, who are now on the margin of being able to afford basics like food.”

Oxfam is working worldwide to provide long-term solutions that will help people grow enough food to eat and make a living. In Chad, for example, Oxfam is helping farmers grow and diversify more crops, providing veterinary training to help ensure cattle are stronger, and helping to build more food storage so that people are better prepared for drought conditions.

The Good Enough to Eat index follows the launch of Oxfam’s new fundraising campaign Lift Lives for Good, which aims to show how simple solutions on the ground can bring lasting change to individuals and then their communities and beyond. The campaign is calling for action on two major challenges that can exacerbate food poverty: inequality and climate change.

Oxfam is calling for action in the UK to address growing inequality and the underlying challenges that people are increasingly facing such as unemployment, low wages and rising food and fuel prices. It wants an urgent government inquiry into the affect welfare changes and cuts are having.

Globally, Oxfam is campaigning for urgent action on climate change which presents a significant threat to food security, as well as investment in small-holder agriculture and infrastructure to boost crop production, prevent waste and improve access to markets.

The Independence Debate is a hot topic – but not always in the way you’d expect!

It’s perhaps no surprise that the independence question has been on many people’s lips this week. What’s been more surprising has been the way that the White Paper has not necessarily been the main focus of attention. Instead, it has been a mixture of three issues – the seeming failure of the ‘No’ camp to understand how this campaign should be fought; the intervention of the Spanish Prime Minister; and the sad demise of Scotland’s ‘quality’ newspapers just when they’re needed most.

Alistair Darling Too cerebral to lead the 'No' campaign?

Alistair Darling
Too cerebral to lead the ‘No’ campaign?

Depending on which opinion poll you look at, the ‘No’ vote is currently ahead. But there’s a widespread view that the result of next year’s referendum will be extremely close. The reason for that has to do with the huge number of undecided voters at this stage. It would seem therefore that there’s all to play for. But when you listen to some of the regular academic commentators, they point to the last Scottish election when there was a similar number of ‘don’t knows’ in the days before the poll. Most went on to vote SNP.

Some of the many who are watching and waiting think the ‘No’ campaign is in danger of losing the argument because they’re too focused on fact – economic fact in particular. And part of the problem is that it’s led by a former Chancellor of the Exchequer. There’s no doubt that Alistair Darling is a highly intelligent, very articulate man. But his comments tend to concentrate on what he knows – the economic impact of separation.

But for many people, the final decision about where to put their cross on referendum day will be based on emotion rather than economics. It will depend on how you ‘feel’ – Scottish or British! The ‘Yes’ campaign understand this all too well. Their messages are designed to appeal to the heart rather than (or perhaps as well as) the head. It uses history, heritage and culture as defining features of what makes us ‘Scottish’.

The British Raj  Much the same arguments were used there against claims for independence

The British Raj
Much the same arguments were used there against claims for independence

A British Asian business woman mentioned this recently with reference to the history of India. In the closing years of the Raj, the colonial government used the same economic arguments to try to persuade the people of the sub-continent about the folly of their desire for independence. So the supporters of freedom from the Empire changed tack and focused on the importance of Indian culture and heritage and why it made sense to go it alone. We all know who won THAT argument.

Until the proponents of the ‘No’ campaign here understand that their emphasis on the ‘facts’ and the risk to our economic future isn’t cutting much ice with the ‘don’t knows’, they’ll continue to lose the argument. If they want to win, they need to find an emotional reason to bind the union together and that’s a harder thing to pull off.

It’s almost certain that the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, knew exactly what he was doing when he made his comments about an independent Scotland. However, his words were probably more aimed at a domestic audience than Holyrood. With nationalists in both Catalonia and the Basque country both contemplating leaving Spain, he certainly had THEM in mind when he made his claim that Scotland would NOT automatically be a member of the EU.

Mariano Rajoy Speaking about Scotland with Catalonia in mind?

Mariano Rajoy
Speaking about Scotland with Catalonia in mind?

“I would like that the consequences of that secession be presented with realism to Scots” he said after a summit in France. “Citizens have the right to be well informed and particularly when it’s about taking decisions like this one. I respect all the decisions taken by the British, but I know for sure that a region that would separate from a member state of the European Union would remain outside the European Union and that should be known by the Scots and the rest of the European citizens”.

That prompted discussion as well. Would Madrid veto an independent Scotland from joining the European Union (at least in the short term) in order to frighten off the nationalists at home? Would some of the other members think the same? Italy has its own separatist movement in the north of the country. There’s even a small nationalist community in Bavaria as reported here in recent weeks.

Speaking on BBC Scotland, the Finance Secretary, John Swinney, reiterated the Scottish Government’s position that Scotland was already part of the European Union by virtue of its membership as part of the UK. All it would take for Scotland to be accepted as an independent state would be an amendment to The Treaty on European Union, although this would have to be approved by all member states.

“We are members of the European Union,” he explained. “Once Scotland votes for independence – a Yes vote in September 2014 – we remain still within the European Union and the day of independence doesn’t happen until 2016. So we are doing this from within the European Union as part of our membership.”

Both The Scotsman and the Herald have been hit by falling circulation

Both The Scotsman and the Herald have been hit by falling circulation

Finally, there’s growing concern over what’s happening to Scotland’s ‘quality’ newspapers – the Herald and The Scotsman. Both have seen their circulation fall dramatically. People are reporting difficulty in finding copies of either title in major news agents in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, they’ll hold considerable sway over the political establishment which may not quite have realised how far these venerable newspapers have fallen.

It should be in everyone’s interests to have the widest possible public debate on Scotland’s future over the next 11 months. But for a paper like The Scotsman to respond by further cutting back – the Saturday magazine is likely to disappear in the New Year – that debate may well have to take place elsewhere.

SACCADE – Winners both in Scotland and Internationally

Two start-up companies, SACCADE Diagnostics from the University of Aberdeen and UXCam from University College, London, have picked up awards for Best Open Innovation Business and Best Open Innovation Business Idea respectively. They beat off teams of national and international entrepreneurs from five European countries in the final of Converge Challenge Open Innovation held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

SACCADE logoSACCADE’s technology is a pioneering eye movement test which helps identify specific disease states. UXCam allows user-experience designers (UX designers) to capture data in real time to add to scenarios in the real world. Both have been awarded four-figure cash prizes by triumphing in an intense final against six other start-up businesses from the continent.

“Today, there is an incredibly strong entrepreneurial spirit among students and staff, which is apparent in the innovative and commercially minded business ideas that are showcased through Open Innovation across Europe,” said Olga Kozlova, director of Converge Challenge. “What is so important is that Open Innovation allows organisations to think way beyond the parameters of their own – often limited – internal resources. If they are looking to develop new products, services and create other new revenue streams, they don’t need to be impinged in any way. They can have access to a myriad of other practical solutions which helps them gain a fresh outlook on the way forward.”

Royal Society of Edinburgh

Royal Society of Edinburgh

Cllr Frank Ross, Convener of Economy Committee, City of Edinburgh Council, a key supporter of the Open Innovation competition said that the event “provides an exciting opportunity to hear young entrepreneurs from several regions of Europe. To have them competing in Edinburgh for the best Open Innovation idea and business awards is inspiring. We are delighted to be lead partner in the Open Innovation Project. As we have made clear in our Strategy for Jobs, we must nurture entrepreneurial talent and this event is an exemplar project which complements the incubators projects already set up in the City.“

Converge Challenge Open Innovation is a trans-national initiative for university participants and was born from a need to stimulate the collaborative process on a pan-European knowledge – share, innovation and ideas from a broad range of external sources. It is carried out in partnership with local governments, universities, business support services, and other public bodies to deliver programme of activities across the UK, France, Germany, Ireland and Belgium.

The nominating organisations for this year’s event included University College London, Laval Technopole, France; VOKA, Flanders’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Belgium; Somerset City Council, University of Kassel, Germany ; National College of Ireland, Dublin and the Converge Challenge.

The business ideas were equally diverse, including a company addressing a novel and pioneering way of advertising on Facebook, another commercialising a pioneering eye movement test which helps identify specific disease states and a software solution that processes 3D sensor data for stereoscopic Kinect sensors. In both categories, companies were judged on were judged on Innovation Level, Stage of Development, Market Opportunity and Use of Open Innovation.

Craiglockhart – where Sassoon met Owen in 1917

We’re entering the second week of this year’s History Festival. What makes this event special is the way in which it blends expert knowledge with trips to the places where history was made, the way in which it takes history out of the classroom and into bookshops and tearooms, galleries and theatres.

Siegfried Sassoon  by George Charles Beresford (1915) (Picture: Public Domain)

Siegfried Sassoon
by George Charles Beresford (1915)
(Picture: Public Domain)

Tomorrow for instance (Tuesday the 19th), there’s a special event to celebrates the war poets of Craiglockhart. Now part of Edinburgh Napier University. the campus started life in 1880 as a Hydropathic establishment where the wealthy could take fashionable water treatments. However, it took on a completely different role during the First World War when it was turned into a hospital for officers suffering from shell-shock (what we’d now call PTSD). And in the summer of 1917, the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen met there. The University has a small special collection of material covering the history of Craiglockhart and Catherine Walker, its curator, will host a guided visit and talk about the many interesting characters who have had links with the place over the years.

On Wednesday, you can travel back in time to experience the classrooms of the Victorian era. The Victorian Schoolroom is located in Leith Walk Primary School and when ‘pupils’ can go through an hour long lesson using Victorian-style slates and slate pencils, old fashioned pens and ink from ink wells. The events are led by experienced, volunteer role-play teachers – corporal punishment however is NOT on today’s menu!

Billy Kay - speaking on both nationalism and wine!

Billy Kay – speaking on both nationalism and wine!

The historian Billy Kay is leading two discussions on his favourite topics – Scottish nationalism and wine! Earlier this year, he produced and presented a series for BBC Radio Scotland on the history of Scottish nationalism. ‘The Cause’ ranged from the identity forged in the Wars of Independence, through the radicalism of the 19th century, to the dramatic transformation of the SNP from a small, marginalised “sect” to a dynamic political machine capable of winning two elections and a referendum.

Much longer ago, Billy wrote a fascinating book on what he genuinely believes should really be regarded as “Scotland’s other drink” – Claret! Though made in Bordeaux from grapes not girders, claret once linked Scotland with France, so closely that it was known as the “Bloodstream of the Auld Alliance.” Billy looks at the fascinating history of the Scots involvement with not just claret but also other great wines of the world. Both events will be held at the Adam House Theatre in Chambers Street.