WILL THERE BE AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND OR NOT?
By Stephen Wilson
(Moscow, Russia) - Scots are set to go the electoral booths to vote on one crucial issue; 'Do you want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom or become an independent nation?' This coming election may well represent a watershed in Scottish as well as British history. It could spell the end of 'great Britain ' leading to England losing a lot of territory, soldiers enlisted in her army and a loss of international prestige. Instead of being hailed as'Great Britain', she would be 'Little England'!
The Economist put it succinctly ''If Scotland votes for Independence, what remains of Britain will be shaken. It will also be humiliated'. In an editorial dated 19 November, 2013, they anxiously warn that 'The Most straightforward way Britain could shrivel is through Scotland voting to leaving the United Kingdom next September. At a stroke, the kingdom would become one-third smaller. Its influence in the world would be greatly reduced. A country that cannot hold itself together is scarcely in a position to lecture others on how to manage their affairs'. The same journal oddly describes Britain as one country' which is as absurd as calling the former Soviet Union 'a country'. (the arrogance of this leader statement is astounding. It presumes Britain is one nation instead of several and also takes it for granted that Britain retains the right to lecture other countries how to manage their affairs.)
You would have thought that the history of the British Empire disqualified them. It certainly is embarrassing for British diplomats to attempt to curb conflict in Ukraine when their own United kingdom is set to implode this September.)
Just a few months ago most opinion polls suggested the pro-unionists were set to win with only between 30-35% of Scots claiming they will vote for independence. However,more recent opinion polls demonstrate a more ambigiously complex and changeable situation where 50% are for Independence, but 50% are against. Anything might just happen! Newly franchised young voters (16 year olds can vote in Scots elections for the first time,) the undecided and the ill-thought out policies of a largely hated government in the south might make it a near run thing. As Marina Koroleva, a specialist in Scottish culture put it 'Scotland is at a major crossroads in her history. The referendum will represent a watershed. For the first time in centuries the Scots will have a right to choose whether to become an independent nation. Even if Scots vote against Independence at least Scots will have been given a chance to decide.'
WHY ARE MANY SCOTS DISILLUSIONED WITH THE UNION?
Why should some Scots want to break loose from England? After all, despite the act of Union, it still retains some symbols of independence. It was granted a new Scottish Parliament in 1999 which has some powers invested in it. It retains its own currency, church and education system! In contrast to England, Scots have the right to free education and free medical care. Scots students still don't pay fees at Universities so only 3 % of Scottish 18 year old applicants are searching for places at Universities beyond Scotland.
England has failed to impose its draconian austerity programme on Scotland for fear of provoking yet more burning resentment against the Government.Scotland even retains a distinct legal system from England!
The Scottish reality is more complex. Scotland has always had a tense, turbulent and troubled relationship with England. For centuries, England attempted to take over Scotland and Scots armies constantly raided England for spite or plunder. The act of Union in 1707 was overwhelming opposed by the majority of Scots and it led to many riots as well as adding ammunition to the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745 which aimed to break up the union. However, after a few decades, Scotland, along with England, began to enjoy some prosperity and the newly established British empire offered career opportunities for unemployed soldiers, doctors, farmers, civil
servants and officials. The Scots started to become the most enthusiastic Unionists and in the 1950's 55% of Scots still voted for the union. During the 1940's.50' and 1960's, Scots nationalists were treated as an almost anchronism.
They were on the political fringe. They tended to be oddballs, cranks and dreamers. This all abruptly changed in the early 1970's. The loss of the British empire,a world economic crisis and a new confrontational politics which had no room for consensus politics deeply marginalised society. With the rise of unpopular policies by the extreme government of Margaret Thatcher (known as the hammer of the Scots), burning and bitter resentment grew and grew. Understanding how tense the situation was, a newly elected labour government granted Scotland a new parliament. However,it was too late! The damage had been done! Scotland had been devastated by years of imposed austerity and was a deindustrialised nation with many ghost towns. Many industries which could have been saved or at least radically transformed had been closed down. Unexpectedly, the fortunes of the Scottish national party won most of the elections to the Scottish parliament. In deed, the present prime-minister of the Scottish Parliament is a nationalist who managed to persuade both parliaments to allow a referendum to decide whether Scots should be independent.
One major issue which divides Scotland from England is how they approach education. According to George Davies, who wrote a book called 'The Democratic intellect', the Scots believe education should be free and accessible to everyone and that the aim of education is not only to instill knowledge in people but make them better citizens who serve the common good. The best way a person can exercise sober judgement is to have a general knowledge in all areas of life. So for the first years at university a student would learn knowledge from all areas of life. For example, a lawyer has to not only Scottish law but international law and he should know something about linguistics, history and philosophy. In fact, all students had to undergo a course in moral philosophy irrespective of whether they studied philosophy or chemistry. In contrast to this generalist approach, the English favoured 'a culture of the experts' where a student would learn in his own specific area. For centuries, the British state has been attempting to impose their model of education on the Scots and have partially succeeded. This has left a lingering resentment against England.
A Scottish philosopher called Alistair Macintyre claimed that 'the ghost of the Democratic intellect continues to haunt Scottish universities.'He might have added the ghost continues to rattle England.
However,the more recent policies of austerity from the present coalition government have angered the Scots. Yesterday I spoke to some Scots who had been visiting Moscow. I asked one Scot who was working for an international project called 'Struileag' which attempted to unite the dispersed culture of the overseas Scots. I asked Ian, a lively and friendly middle-aged Scot, whether he thought Scots would break away. He told me 'I used to think, no they won't. Nobody would take the S.N.P. seriously. I once wrote them off as 'Tartan Tories'. A lot of people saw their leader Alex Salmond as slimy and swarmy. Now I think things have changed. Alex Salmond status has increased to such an extent he is looked on as almost a king in Scotland. Now some of the recent opinion polls suggests both sides are equal and the vote could go anywhere. '
I further asked 'How could this be the case? 'The last opinion polls I read of kept maintaining only a third of Scots would vote for independence! ' Ian retorted. 'There is a new situation. For the first time 16 year olds have the right to vote. Those young people tend to be more supportive of independence. The Scottish nationalists have been successfully targeting those new voters by reassuring them of keeping a free education system. Their campaign is more dynamic and energetic.
If you contrast this with the Unionist campaign of sending in old councillors who don't know how to communicate with young people then you can see the Nationalists are going to pick up votes. Then there are the idiotic policies which are being implemented by the government such as the 'bedroom' tax. This tax is hated by Scots. If you want to add a new room to your house or apartment you must pay a tax. This tax has hit a lot of poor and disabled people.' Ian and his colleague, Naomi Harvey, could scarcely conceal their anger. They lambasted the tax as did my mother. Ian told me 'the policies being dreamed up by the new government are highly amateurish and badly thought out. People who have no background, in say housing, are just dreaming up strange schemes and ministers are being shuffled from one post to another without any clear idea about what they are doing.'
I had previously spoken to my young brother, Peter Wilson who told me, ' I don't know how I will vote. I have not decided yet. I can see both sides. We don't do things as quickly as they do in Ukraine! When I speak to some people in the bar, I no longer bring up the subject of a referendum. One man told me, 'If you are going to vote 'yes' for independence then I am no longer going to drink with you'. It is the undecided voter who just might make a tremendous difference.
The Catalonians were intent on holding a referendum on independence but were told by a stiffly intransigent Spanish government that they would not recognise any voting as legitimate.They forbade an election. The British government have not and are reassured that most Scots won't break away. They are alarmingly complacent. Nevertheless, the 'yes vote for independence ' doesn't show any signs of waning!
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Saying Good Bye to a Little, Smiling Friend
By Jim Vail
March 10, 2013
Some things are not supposed to happen in this world.
The Sandy Hook massacre was not supposed to happen. A gun man shooting and killing twenty little first graders last December should not have happened.
The Beslan school massacre in Russia where 186 children were killed in 2004 was not supposed to happen.
And little fourth graders are not supposed to attend a wake to see their dear friend and classmate laid out in a casket, who will no longer play, read, joke around or grow up.
Can you imagine the grief of a family and friends who see their little 10-year-old son, their little brother or their little classmate say good bye to this world?
You cannot. We can try, but we cannot.
The great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn said it best - 'A warm man does not know how a cold man feels.'
When we heard about the Sandy Hook massacre, our lives continued. We watched, we discussed, and maybe we cried. But we were not the family and friends where it happened, who truly suffered.
When a tragedy strikes, you cannot be in that person's shoes, no matter how hard you try.
And then it hits you hard.
I can't imagine anything more horrible to happen in my life.
Anothony Arroyo was a little student at Columbus Elementary School who was always smiling, joking around and having fun. He was a cute little guy who my son Leo was friends and classmates with beginning in kindergarten.
But two years ago while in the second grade he was diagnosed with brain cancer.
A little child diagnosed with brain cancer? I couldn't believe it, and I didn't want to think about it. And my life went on.
It went on, of course, with the hope in the back of my mind he would overcome it. He would treat it and beat it.
And then my son comes home with the news that little Anthony died last weekend at the precious age of 10.
The cancer prevented him from attending school. He was home schooled, and fighting the cancer with chemotherapy. So he had a shaved head and gained weight from the drugs.
Leo told me Anthony visited their school one year ago for the Christmas assembly.
Little Anthony taught Leo how to play the game Battleship. I remember running all over town looking for the game to buy for Christmas. I had no idea why he wanted it.
Little Anthony taught one classmate how to tell time after his friend taught him.
Little Anthony loved to joke around. He introduce Leo to Family Guy.
Little Anthony was always smiling, and jumping and playing.
That was before he had brain cancer.
His best friend Eric would drop by Columbus weekly, Leo said, to update his former classmates on how Anthony was doing. When he hadn't dropped by for a few weeks recently, Leo knew something was wrong.
And then the news came.
You are not supposed to see little school children attend a wake to see their fellow classmate laid out in a casket.
I haven't been the same since.
Now I cry, and try to go on, knowing a little child who was once so alive, that shared his life with my son, is suddenly gone.
I cannot explain it. I am in those shoes. I feel it.
They say 2,000 children die each year from brain tumors in the United States.
So the likelihood that a child will die from brain cancer is about as unlikely as dying in a terrorist attack.
But it happened, again. Only this time, it happened to me.
I knew this little boy through my son.
Rest In Peace - little Anthony Arroyo. May your memory never be forgotten by those around you.
You were too young.
Anthony Arroyo, 2003 - 2013!
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Unlikely Allies Uniting to Fight School Changes
By MOTOKO RICH
PhotoCynthia Kirkpatrick, a first-grade teacher in Nashville. Credit Joe Buglewicz for The New York Times
SMYRNA, Tenn. — She is a fan of MSNBC, supports abortion rights and increased government spending in schools, and believes unions should have the right to strike. He watches Fox News, opposes abortion and is a fiscal conservative who voted three years ago to strip teachers unions of collective bargaining rights.
Yet Emily Mitchell, a wiry, 4-foot-9-inch Democrat and first-grade teacher at David Youree Elementary School here, sees State Representative Rick Womick, a 6-foot-2-inch conservative Republican, as an important ally. Their common cause: battling new high-stakes standardized tests and some other hot-button policies in public education.
“I always viewed him as the enemy, the guy that would never see our side,” said Ms. Mitchell, who is president of the Rutherford County chapter of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. But after she met Mr. Womick at a church function in February of last year, she said, “I realized that even though he’s polar opposite politically from what I believe in, we both agreed on a lot of things on education.”
With tensions running high over issues surrounding academic benchmarks, standardized testing and performance evaluations for educators, unlikely coalitions of teachers, lawmakers and parents from the left and right are increasingly banding together to push back against what they see as onerous changes in education policy. Some have Tea Party Republicans and teachers unions on the same side.
In Oklahoma, teachers unions gave strong support to a bill, sponsored by Republicans, that would overturn a law requiring third graders to be held back simply on the basis of the results of one standardized test. (Last week, that coalition helped the Legislature overturn Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto.)
In New Jersey, a bill that would slow down the introduction of the Common Core education standards and the use of test scores in teacher evaluations passed the Assembly Education Committee with rare unanimous support. And in New York, grass-roots opposition on the left and the right to testing and the Common Core, a set of national reading and math standards for elementary, middle and high school students that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, led legislators to delay the consequences of standardized tests for students last month.
“The major narrative right now for people working in American politics and public policy is hyper partisanship,” said Patrick McGuinn, an associate professor of political science at Drew University. With education, he said, “the coalitions are much more complicated.”
During the most recent legislative session in Tennessee, conservative Republicans, including Mr. Womick, joined the teachers union in supporting a bill to delay the administration of a standardized test aligned to the Common Core. Conservative lawmakers also sponsored a bill, co-written by the teachers union, that overturned a State Board of Education policy tying decisions about teacher licenses to student test scores.
“We don’t look at the abortion issues or Fox News,” Mr. Womick said on a recent visit to David Youree Elementary, where he greeted Ms. Mitchell with a hug. “All we’re looking at is education in Tennessee.”
Of course, not everyone is opposed to the recent changes. Despite the populist furor, support for the Common Core, for example, has largely held up among educators and legislators.
These unlikely partnerships in opposition mirror alliances that formed to introduce the contentious policies in the first place. Centrist Democrats — including those in the Obama administration — lined up with moderate Republicans and business leaders to promote the new standards, teacher evaluations and updated standardized tests.
As in any marriage of opposites, fissures could emerge after the initial passion fades.
“I think it’s an uneasy coalition,” Mary Holden, a high school English teacher in Nashville, said of the new allies from the right. “I think their endgame is different. I mean great, they don’t want Common Core, but what else do they want?”
While conservatives support teachers unions in their efforts to slow down the linkage of testing and performance reviews, policy makers and advocates on the right tend to push for the expansion of charter schools and taxpayer vouchers for private schools, measures that teacher groups regard more warily.
Even in areas of overlap, motives differ. Critics on the left are most concerned about the high stakes attached to the Common Core and the affiliated standardized tests, while opponents on the right do not want national standards at all. They argue that the Obama administration’s support of the Common Core or similar standards has led to a de facto federal edict.
And where lawmakers on the right in several states have sought to repeal adoption of the Common Core altogether — as the Indiana legislature did in April — teachers unions generally have stopped short of supporting such measures.
Nevertheless, odd alliances have been fueled by what experts describe as an unprecedented amount of policy change jammed into a short time period.
As governor in Tennessee in 2010, Philip Bredesen, a Democrat, shepherded the state’s adoption of the Common Core and new teacher evaluations to qualify for a $500 million federal grant from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. His successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, who supports the programs, said the current resistance was an inevitable response to rapid change.
“I think that all of us would say that this isn’t something that you decide to take at a very moderate pace,” Mr. Haslam said.
When Tennessee applied for the Race to the Top grant, the teachers union signed on in support of the Common Core and committed teachers to the new evaluations and tests.
Some teachers said they had reservations from the start. “We’re not going to look at what’s inside the Trojan horse,” said Lucianna Sanson, an English teacher at Franklin County High School in Winchester, Tenn. “We’re just going to look at the horse and say how pretty it is. My first instinct was that this was going to be bad, and the more I learned about it, the worse it got.”
The unexpected alliances appeal to teachers and parents, at least in part, because many felt shut out of the process and were looking for partners.
Over the past three years, Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s commissioner of education, pursued other policies that worried teachers, including tightening tenure eligibility and reducing the number of potential raises in the salary schedule, which had traditionally awarded raises for advanced degrees and years of service.
“There was this piling on with this series of punitive policies that were effectively designed to punish teachers,” said Will Pinkston, who was an aide to Mr. Bredesen when he was governor and is now a member of the Nashville school board.
In an interview in Nashville, Mr. Huffman said the changes had brought results, pointing to a rise in Tennessee student scores on federal tests. Of the opposition to new policies, he said, “To me that’s more part of the national union leadership effort to avoid accountability at all costs.”
Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association, called Mr. Huffman’s comments insulting.