Because observers and commentators on your concerns use the word and it becomes a way of separating you from the punters and nudging you into that dodgy (but strangely comfortable) margin. Because it becomes a way of describing a particular quasi – profession with its own treasured set of skills and paraphernalia which become more important than the heart of it. Because it sets a barrier between those who, apparently, act and those who, apparently, don’t. Because it makes folk wonder whether you ever get home from that activism, whether you are an activist when you pee or watch the starlings gather in the bare winter trees.

To Quake or not to Quake

October 6, 2017

It’s Quaker day or week or something. I have no intention of becoming a Quaker and will say something about that in a minute. Yet I do hang out with Quakers and go to the meetings, though hardly with regularity.

I really like the meetings, mainly because it is an hour of silence (mostly) and because the company is good and shares a vague intention to point the boat in a half-decent direction. One of the reasons I love the silence is my own religious history, of which I might say, in the beginning was the Word but that was nothing to the torrent of words which followed. I also admire the ponderous but careful process for reaching common decisions and I like what I have heard about how the business meetings are meant to be managed –  though I will continue to avoid getting any direct evidence. Almost all of the time the meetings and the company of those who Quake is thoroughly inclusive. You are there and that’s all that matters.

So why freeload by getting the benefits and dodging the work?  I know that even the simplest of arrangements need work, care and attention, to pay the venue bills, to manage the property, if any, to handle the communications. One reason is that I do my whack of that stuff in other places and as George McDonald said “The altar may be built in one place so that the fire may fall in another.”

There is a deeper reluctance which is based on some of the Quaker terminology. I try not to get too hung up about that and most of the time I can get along with a bit of smart internal translation and the venerable principle of Mr. Badger – “It amuses you, Ratty, and it does me no harm.” I can manage a decent translation of  “that which is of God within you .”. However “worship”, as in Meeting for Worship, is a bit tricky to get down. Being told that all it means is “service” does not help. For one thing the ordinary and everyday meaning of the word is the adulation of a superior being, human or otherwise. And even “service” is dodgy, since as used in the Christian Bible it means the work of a slave with all the connotations of a stratified cosmos. I don’t want to make a fuss about it (Mr. Badger again) but I dislike enough for it to be a bar against seeking membership. And I wouldn’t want to be identified as a non-theist Quaker, which to me conveys about as much information as saying that someone is a Quaker who does not support Forres Mechanics FC.

Actually, I don’t want to be identified at all. Yes, I attend meetings but please don’t give me that spooky upper case in Attender. And I will continue to attend because these are tiny niggles that in the face of the wonderful acceptance don’t amount to a hill of beans.

 

In the middle of all the scary stuff there is an extraordinary and hopeful bit of news which is being largely ignored. The UN voted on the 27th October last year to begin negotiations for a global ban on nuclear weapons – a decision supported by 133 nations with only 38 opposed and 16 abstensions. The negotiations will take place in March and June this year in New York.

The story has been cooking for a long time. There was the 2010 statement by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent to the effect that the consequences of a nuclear exchange would be so catastrophic that they would be unable to respond. Then there were the three inter-governmental conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons convened between 2012 and 2014. There were the meetings of the UN Open-Ended Working Group on disarmemant held earlier last year, open to all states but boycotted by the UK.

Both the US and the UK have spoken out stridently against the treaty but their behaviour in the background is clear evidence that they know it will be effective. In a leaked letter sent just before the October vote the US urged NATO states to vote against, on the grounds that if the treaty were to go ahead, their nuclear weapon activity would be seriously hampered by restrictions on the transport of weapons and weapon materials. They warned that their ability to maintain the nuclear umbrella, under which their non-nuclear NATO allies are deemed to shelter, would be under threat. The US and the UK are aware that a treaty which is not signed up to by a minority of states can still be hugely effective in practical and moral ways, as is the case with the bans on chemical weaponry and landmines.

The relevance for the UK, as one of the nine nuclear-armed states, is huge. Defenders of the UK’s nuclear weapon posture will always trot out the mantra that disarmament will only be achieved through multilateral negotiations. And here is a multilateral initiative with which they will have nothing to do. We have always known that for many, if not most Trident supporters, the claim to favour a multilateral route is merely a way of punting the issue in to the long grass.

In the middle of all this Scotland’s position is unique. Having voted against the treaty negotiations the UK is unlikely to take part in the negotiations. Yet we are solidly behind the abolition of Trident and all nuclear weapons. Our view will not be formally represented at the negotiations. We are also the only significant and reletaively autonomous part of a nuclear-armed state which opposes that state’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Since Trident has nowhere to go if it is barred from the Clyde an independent Scotland can effectively disarm the UK. Years ago the US anti-nuke stalwart Bill Bixsell told us that Scotland was the key to global nuclear disarmament. This is better understood in the wider world than it is in Scotland.

In spite of being excluded from the formal negotiation sessions our influence will be felt in New York. Civil society representatives from Scotland will join the others from across the globe who will be in New York making their influence felt. It is that global civil society pressure that has taken the process thus far. A number of our politicians will also be there, hopefully making themselves visible and articulate.

There is also work to be done in spreading this story at home and in giving practical backing to those Scots who will travel to the negotiations. As usual Scrap Trident (scraptrident.org) and Scottish CND (banthebomb.org) will give you the pointers and for the background a key resource is ICAN (nuclearban.org).

David Mackenzie

When the UN voted on the 27th October this year to begin negotiations for a global ban on nuclear weapons the story was covered by only two conventional media (CM) outlets in the UK, the Dundee Courier and the Guardian, and the latter’s piece was only about Australian reaction. In Scotland new media outlets Bella Caledonia and Common Space came to the rescue.

It’s hard to find any creditable defence for the omission. The story has been cooking for a long time. There was the 2010 statement by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent to the effect that the consequences of a nuclear exchange would be so catastrophic that they would be unable to respond. Then there were the three inter-governmental conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons convened between 2012 and 2014. There were the meetings of the UN Open-Ended Working Group earlier this year, open to all states but boycotted by the UK.

Further, the interest and relevance for the UK, as one of the nine nuclear-armed states, is huge. Defenders of the UK’s nucear weapon posture will always trot out the mantra that disarmament will only be achieved through multilateral negotiations. Yet here is a multilateral initiative with which they will have nothing to do. This gem of a contradiction has so far failed to whet any CM appetites.

It is also instructive to note where the Guardian and the Dundee Courier sourced the story. The Guardian got it from the online Australian version while the Dundee Courier picked up a press release from Australian ICAN to the Associated Press. This, in spite of the fact that a number of well-known international civil society organisations had made press releases available to the big wires, like AP and the PA. An active and coherent conspiracy to keep the UK in information quarantine is far fetched. What is more likely is the generally low awareness in CM foreign desks of global issues beyond the catastrophic, the weird and what matches UK national interest. There have also been indications that some desks are operating an informal quota system over stories that reflect badly on the UK. Whatever the reason, CM editorial judgment seems well behind the curve on world matters. If your ears don’t perk up when the whole of Africa (with one exception) votes to start negotiations on a global ban on nuclear weapons then you need the de-waxing syringe. If you don’t spot right in front of you the frenzy of the western nuclear-armed states when faced with an over-whelming global determination to go for the treaty then you should head for SpecSavers.

We can still hope that they will wake up but in the meantime we maybe have to depend on, extend and improve the new media as well as spreading this hopeful tale of the upcoming ban around our social circles.

“Wherever I hang me knickers, that’s my home.” Grace Nichols

There’s the artificiality of the Scotland concept – some lines on a map, a definition in some obscure statute, littler kingdoms amalgamated under the violence of a strong ruler, a bulky string bag around a crop of languages, and so on. And me finding the most intense sense of being at home at night in a tea forest near Sylhet, with warm mud between my toes and huge throbbing stars above.

And the whole nation/state formula so worn and so absurdly ill-suited for an age of the world when we have to come together or come seriously apart. The generosity, the perhaps excessive generosity, of people in the Middle East when they say we know it’s not you it’s your government, your state – their recognition of the difference between people and nations.

My interest in a Yes in 2014 is instrumental. It’s the chance to unshackle an arbitrary section of the state I currently live in from its poisonous and ever more concentrated sauce of war-making, inequality and human babyhood. But absolutely no point in going through the business of adding yet another state in order to cook the same sauce out of Nato and flat-earth economics.

This why the lead-up to the vote is so crucial. Deals done in advance of independence on an old sauce recipe undermine the instrumental rationale for independence, since patterns set at that stage will be almost as hard to unravel as the toxic UK patterns are at present. I say “almost” and wonder whether having a parliament just down the road will make a critical difference to that.

Of course, after that very-much-at-home sensation in Bangladesh I was very glad to get back on the plane to my own patch, my routines, my commitments. Love is, after all, a matter of the will, a commitment to care.  Which is why we need to pitch into the conversations about what this place ought to be like. I don’t care for this place because it is good but this place could be good because we care. 

“Coming cannily…

January 1, 2013

“Coming cannily out of his buckie . “

Stars are like the boat’s engines.

On top there’s only the faint hum

of the churning power, while

 

all we know is our shift forward,

with lights and two slices of water,

a cliff-side rail, the life of decks.

 

But if it’s someone awake, a quiver

ties it  together, the lights to the dynamo,

the dancing passage of your steps

 

to the rich astronomical soup. Atoms

sparkle in mind and gait and finger,

they give the eyes a skyward tilt

 

to catch the seaway and the sense

of long belonging, making the passage

common, the wake a constellation.