SNP Spring Conference 2019

 

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I first joined the Scottish National Party back in early 2016 (as the Brexit rhetoric was ramping up towards the referendum, and it became increasingly clear that the SNP was one of the few parties ready to reject the scapegoating of immigration for the damages of Tory austerity). However, I’ve never been a party-politically engaged member. No branch meetings or anything of that sort – I’ve always been a lone-wolf, sometimes to my detriment, often against my best instincts of wanting to do more. Unfortunately, it’s a case of allowing stupid social anxiety to get in the way of the stuff I want to do, although I’m working on that.

However, with this year’s Spring Conference taking place in my home turf of Edinburgh, and my political engagement at its most energetic, it proved itself to be a great opportunity to take a step outside my comfort zone and see for myself how these things work. And so I did.

The highlights

Now, I don’t want to bore with you all the details, so I’ll try to be succinct.

The greatest pleasure of it all was meeting so many familiar names that I only knew from social media. And boy, did I realise the power of this medium – I was so overwhelmed with people popping up wanting to say hi, full of complimentary words about my social media antics or my blog. Some people brought up my first ever article for this blog, my love letter to Scotland, or even some of my non-political ramblings that resonated with them. Seriously, it was just lovely to be stopped every once in a while by someone starting a phrase with “Mr. Saraband, I just want to say hi…” (still feeling very pretentious about being addressed by a pseudonym, but hey).

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Me (left), my fiancĂŠ Roger (centre), and Steven Campell (right) – also, that’s Ian Blackford behind us

A big shout out to the lovely Steven Campell, recently elected Vice-Convener of YSI Lothian, who was an absolute star during the karaoke party on Saturday night (excellently hosted by the MP Hannah Bardell) and made sure I met loads of the people involved. On top of it all, I had one of our front-bench MSPs actually tapping me on my shoulder because he wanted to say he loved my tweets (I screamed inside, whilst trying to remain very cool), and had the honour of witnessing a rendition of “Sunshine on Leith” by the one and only, Mr. Ian Blackford MP.

Witnessing the motions being put before Conference was also an obvious highlight, particularly the discussion around the Growth Commission. Even with fundamental disagreements between some of the participants, it was delightful to see debate conducted with mutual respect (notable exception for the guy who threw a tantrum on the second day, because he was the only person in the room against a Citizens’ Assembly, misreading the atmosphere to such a degree that he thought it wise to denigrate Joanna Cherry, who had minutes before rightfully received a standing ovation. It was a pleasure to boo him).

Needless to say, though, that Nicola Sturgeon’s speech was the perfect finale. Some stuff in there that I wasn’t expecting, like further help with a deposit for first-time buyers, which is much welcome. The reiteration that every Scot, new and old, should know that Scotland is our home and that we don’t need to leave, ever. The declaration of state of ecological emergency was interesting, but I’m curious to see how that’s followed up with some practical action before I say much more about it. And it was, of course, a joyful political punching session for both Tories and Labour, with Nicola delivering some much needed uppercuts to the empty rhetoric of the two biggest parties at Westminster.

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FM Nicola Sturgeon’s closing speech

On top of it all, I heard an overwhelming amount of inclusive speeches, the contribution to Scottish society by European citizens like myself was regularly celebrated, and almost everyone seemed to be absolutely buzzing at the prospect of our second, and finally successful, Indyref. The two fringe events I attended – one on EU Citizens’ rights, where I intervened at the Q&A, and another on Euthanasia – compounded the experience of a phenomenal event. There was also none of the gender debate hysteria that seems to engulf social media – everyone I spoke to about this, including women with perfectly valid questions, was perfectly reasonable and humane when talking about Trans issues. I’m so glad that extremism around this question is much less prevalent in real people, rather than the often two-dimensional characters of social media that peddle profoundly ignorant rhetoric against one group or another.

The lows – what lows?

The coffee was terrible. Seriously, that’s my biggest complaint about the whole event. I even mentioned it to one of the lovely venue workers’ on the second day, who nodded to me apologetically and simply whispered “We know.”

Of course, I was also really excited to put in a card on the motion for a Citizens’ Assembly, as I wanted to speak for it whilst making a passionate case that it should represent all sections of Scottish society, including immigrants. Alas, it’s always frustrating to not have a chance to say something you think it’s important, but others ended up conveying similar sentiments and I will look forward to other opportunities to make that case. Nonetheless, a big thank you goes out to the SNP European Parliamentary candidate, Christian Allard, who was the one who came up to me on the first day and convinced me that I should put in a speaking card, going through the trouble of explaining how it was done to a complete newbie like myself. A charming gentleman who will represent Scotland, and its values of openness and European solidarity, with utmost excellence, when he gets elected next month.

Finally, after getting a reply from Nicola Sturgeon on Friday, that resulted in my most popular tweet ever, I’m sad to say that I wasn’t able to get a picture with her. My mother would certainly have appreciated it – but we will have to wait for another opportunity.

I have a lot more I could say. For a political junkie like myself, a passionate believer in Scottish independence and in building a fairer society that is big enough for everyone, I was the happiest fish in the sea. I’m filled with hope and optimism, and, above all, a desperate desire to grab my coat and start doing the work on the ground needed to get a Yes result as big as we can. I will also be looking at participating in my local SNP & YES groups due to the encouragement of some of the folks at Conference.

And, Aberdeen, get ready – because I don’t think I can miss the October Conference now.

The first step towards IndyRef2

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Since the morning of the Brexit result, I’ve been feart of two things above all others: to imagine my life in a post-Brexit United Kingdom, as an immigrant, and to conceive of the idea that Scotland would never see itself unfettered from the asphyxiating grip of this Union. Since June 2016, I’ve had very few uplifting moments that did anything to assuage these two overwhelming fears.

Today, however, was the day that changed.

Building Independence, one block at a time

Brexit has brought a lot of flamboyance to these islands’ politics. It has ushered in an era of cheap rhetoric, malignant scapegoating of minorities, and the worst cutthroat politics imaginable, perhaps second only to something seen on Game of Thrones.

Nicola Sturgeon’s statement to the Scottish Parliament, today, was entirely different. In a calm, measured, and well-reasoned way, the First Minister and leader of the SNP presented a series of successive steps that will be taken in order to set the ground for a new referendum on Scottish independence. She outlined the sovereignty of the Scottish people, and emphasised their right to choose a better future than what the current status quo is delivering.

The first meaty announcement was that of setting up a Citizens’ Assembly, a body that can help reach consensus across society on dividing issues. The second, was the announcement that primary legislation will now be moving forward to ensure a second independence referendum, to take place between now and 2021, so that such legislation is in place by the time the Scottish Government negotiates a Section 30 order with the UK Government.

A lot of people in the Indy movement are taking issue with the latter part, rightly pointing out that sovereignty on this issue already lies with the Scottish people, and therefore our Holyrood Parliament, thus excluding any need “to ask permission” for IndyRef2.

In many regards, I would agree with the sentiment of this. But I think the SNP’s leadership is going for a politically astute plan that plays well in the eyes of the international community. We certainly don’t want things to reach a point like Catalonia, where local and central governments are severely at odds, and peaceful democrats are facing imprisonment. By acting in this way, Nicola Sturgeon is also showing the Scottish electorate that she is trying to reach a consensus on every step of the way, so no one can’t say she hasn’t tried.

She has also forced the Unionist parties to come up with better alternatives to independence, or to defend the current Brexit status quo, both of them nearly impossible tasks. At best, they will come up with b-rate plans that fail to deliver the full benefits of independence – at worst, they will fall on their own federalist/status quo swords. I can only imagine the myriad of ways in which Tories, Labour and Lib Dems will leave me absolutely scunnered by their arguments, but then again, I’ve come to expect very little else from them since I first moved to Scotland.

Independence isn’t guaranteed – there’s much work to do

Although Brexit Britain looks like a nightmarish scenario to most reasonable people, the facts remain that no significant shift has yet happened towards Scottish independence. There’s much work to be done on the ground, and rather than a firing gun, today’s announcement feels like a nod from the SNP to the grassroots movement, a way of saying “get ready folks – start planning”.

As I said at the beginning, today has been the first time I’ve felt truly hopeful about Scotland’s future since the 2016 Brexit result. It is a small, fleeting light, but at least I can see something now, something I can look forward to. That has been enough to ignite my energy and ensure that I will do everything I can to help Nicola Sturgeon succeed, to see that Scotland normalises its status as an independent nation, as it was for most of her history.

The future has been politically bleak, but I’m an optimist, and I can finally see something that looks braw.

We can’t let division win

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Painting with the Arabic word for love, “Al-Hubb”, written in calligraphy. 23x31cm, oil on canvas. ŠSaraband

Twitter can be mental. I love it. I guess most of you who use it also share this love/hate relationship with it, because we all know we’ve made some wonderful connections, but also seen a lot of crap. I guess that social media has all the problems of our modern society but they become amplified with the added layer of echo chambers, and the inability to provide some much needed nuance around complicated issues, a difficult thing to do with a 280-character limit (can’t believe we survived the 140-character era).

Today, in one of Twitter’s typical abilities to catch us unaware, a bitter little straight man popped up on my timeline, taking issue with the fact that I describe myself as a feminist on my Twitter bio (and, indeed, in life), and also support the Trans community as part of the LGBTQ+ family. The man assumed I was some radical activist wanting to erode women’s rights, which I’m not, and I absolutely don’t want to. So a discussion ensued, he ended up admitting that he had jumped in too quickly (although offering a backhanded apology, so fuck him), but I was left shaking because the whole thing caught me by surprise. Admittedly, I deal very badly with people making false assumptions about me, I have to work on that.

Whilst still reeling from that exchange (I took screenshots of it all before blocking him, by the way), I decided to do a wee spontaneous vlog on Twitter about my views on the subjects of male feminism, self-id laws, and the need for compassion in a debate that is becoming a mud-flinging mess on all sides. You can watch it here:

Keep in mind that it is a two-minutes long, unscripted video, so of course there’s a lot more to be said. It does not offer solutions to the questions around self-ID and women’s rights: to be frank, as a gay man perfectly at home in the body I was born with, it’s not my place to offer those solutions. I should listen to what women have to say, and how we can protect the Trans community without infringing on anyone else’s rights.

I will always stand by my sisters fighting for the right to be protected from male violence, and I will always fight for the right of my Trans friends to live dignified lives. These two things shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Don’t let the patriarchy divide & conquer us, when we should be fighting it together.

Diversity is not about saying that we’re all the same. We aren’t. Trans people are unique, as are women, gay men, straight men, etc., and there’s uniqueness within every single one of those groups as well. Diversity is about acknowledging that those differences exist, but respect them, and ensure that we are all able to live dignified lives. I know I owe the rights I enjoy today, as a gay man, to both the Trans community that has always fought for me, but also to my Lesbian and Straight sisters, who fought for the LGBTQ+ community at large. Let’s bring that compassion back, and keep the slurs and the dogmas out of the debate, for everyone’s sake.

Oh, and cheerio to anyone saying I’m not, or can’t be a feminist. I can feel the heel of the patriarchy on my neck, every day of my life as a gay man. I know the challenges I face are different from those of my sisters, and I know I still benefit from white male privilege every day of my life. But we are in this together, in a movement with women at the front.

I’ll not let any straight man dictate if I’m a feminist or not. The approval I need has been given to me in the knowing look of my female friends, and they will let me know when I step on the wrong foot, as we all occasionally do, because we’re all human – that’s the point.

Brexit: a lobster allegory

theresa lobster

Picture the following: Theresa May, a chef with no previous cooking experience, has been tasked with humanely disposing of a lobster, before boiling it to perfection, in order to present her gourmand voters with the perfect Brexit feast.

Now, being humane doesn’t come naturally to Theresa, so she tries to kill the lobster with a wooden spoon, ignoring the perfectly sharpened set of knives that could have delivered a quick kill. Fuck that, murmurs Theresa, as she bashes the poor lobster repeatedly, whilst daydreaming about the days where running through fields of wheat was spine-tinglingly exciting. After a while, so convinced of her brilliance that she fails to notice the lobster is still alive, she just chucks the numbed creature into the cooking pot.

However, rather than having the water boiling and at the ready, Theresa May thinks she should, once again, ignore everyone else’s better judgement and go for a very, very slow cook, leaving the flame at minimum heat. The lobster, at this point, is just trying to perform harakiri – or seppuku for the pedants among you – with its own claws, rather than suffering through this existential purgatory at the hands of an incompetent fool, but its claws are tightly shut with an elastic band. The creature is stuck in a red, white and blue pot, not quite cooking because the water is not boiling, but certain that, with enough time, it will die of exhaustion.

As all of this goes on, and Theresa leaves the kitchen for a bit, a few parliamentarian chefs come in and start playing with the pot. Some turn up the flame to the max, while others rapidly pull the pot away. They all laugh and throw witty jibes at each other, before the chef speaker patronisingly asks them all to behave, before he too has a bit of fun with the pot and the poor lobster. The creature looks up in hope, but is met only with eyes exuding sadistic glee.

Theresa pops back into the kitchen and the other chefs clear their throats, complimenting her excellent skills before leaving – they take the sharpened knives with them and look knowingly at each other. Theresa looks into the pot, and is surprised that the lobster is still quite lively. So she leaves everything exactly as it is, because, why change something that isn’t working, right? Instead, she gazes at the wooden spoon in her hand, daydreaming once more. This time, she’s imagining a blue-clad fairy appearing and turning her into wood, just like the spoon, because she’s exhausted of unsuccessfully pretending to be human. A reverse Pinocchio, that’s Theresa May’s greatest wish.

Of course, if you think Theresa’s lobster is bad, imagine how would a lobster alla Gove taste. Or, heaven forbid, lobster with Boris on the side, served with a Rees-Mogg reduction. No, Theresa May, masterful cognoscente of all thinks democratic, and agent of the people’s supposed and outdated wishes, will make sure that we all eat her disgustingly cooked lobster. It’s her buffet or no one else’s – just the tyrannical seasoning that British democracy has been asking for.

Hours go by before sheer exhaustion finally claims the lobster’s life, but not without it having one last epiphany. I’m fucked, the lobster thinks. But not as fucked as those who are about to eat me. Theresa May rings a bell, tells that Brexit is ready to be served, and evaporates out of existence, her satanic purpose fulfilled: a country’s population sacrificed to keep the Conservative Party… conserved.