From the Griffin’s Nest: Op-Ed on Post Referendum Possibilities

I was pleased to return last Friday to the pages of the Griffin newspaper, which, under the leadership of new Editor-in-Chief Jourdon LaBarber, has only grown in stature as a new power player in Western New York media.

News Editor Kevin Daley (full disclosure: a close friend of mine and fellow member of the Schuyler Colfax Thinking Club) reached out to me earlier last week to talk about running straight coverage of the Scottish Independence referendum.  Timing precluded this – the Griffin’s print deadline was just after midnight EST, and the referendum results were announced a few hours after that, about 6:30 UTC.  But, I managed to contribute an op-ed about the waning of the cynical Scotland (typified so brilliantly in Trainspotting) and the nascence of a new, politically engaged, hopeful, and forward-thinking populace, encompassing both the independence and the unionist vote.

Scots voted to stay in the union, of course, but my thesis didn’t depend on the outcome.  Almost a week later, I still hold that, while Americans have bankrupted “Hope” and “Change,” warped the words beyond recognition, Scotland has an opportunity to deliver on both camps’ promises, and work together to align policy, in a constituent nation of the United Kingdom only growing in its powers, with the values they share.

The University has (rightly) reigned in my regular posting, but you can count on further coverage as Scotland moves past the vote, and toward policy change and new powers.

From the op-ed:

Six years ago Barack Obama campaigned on a promise of Change (“I’ll be anything but”) and a platform of Hope  (“I promise”).  Today, if you’ll permit the simplification, one side of the country sneers at him and the other looks away in bitterness; the rest of us give up and play Sudoku; Hope and Change are like worried pennies worn faceless and worthless in our pockets from anxious thumbing.  I don’t blame Obama – sometimes it feels that we’re just too big, to spread-out, like a cold universe, to care or to do anything.

And that’s why living in Scotland has been so refreshing.  There’s anxiousness, of course, buckets of it; and there’s bitterness and hyperbole and tensions are strained.  But put down the newspapers, click Alex Salmond’s face off the telly, and look around: you see that there are two things tying Yes and No together: a common hot bloodstream of Hope, and a shared belief in the possibility of Change.

Each path has its challenges; each path has its burdens, each choice its share of pain.  But no matter what happens this morning, Scotland will be a different country – tomorrow, next week, next year.  There will be 5 million hands reaching out to shape it.  The Scots believe that now – they will believe it tomorrow, next week, next year.  Perhaps that’s a truth tonic enough to wake this world from its disbelief and its stupor.


Edinburgh’s Beans: A Quick Guide to Coffee Shops in the Uni District

Edinburgh boasts an embarrassment of riches for lovers of single malts and coffee beans alike – the city is crowded with pubs and coffee shops, two or three to a block.  If you’re moving to Edinburgh for the long term, ignore this article: it’s better to stumble and discover these places for yourself.  But if you’re here for a few days and you’ve already made your pilgrimage to the Elephant House, I might be able to help.  These are some of my favorite caffeinated haunts, starting within easy walking distance of the University.  (Expect posts on other neighborhoods, like Marchmont, The Royal Mile, and Newington, to come.)

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Some Thoughts from a Scottish Unionist

My friend, the Las Vegas political player and former Griffin editor-in-chief Ken Kraft, recently sent me a succinct, restrained, and fairly convincing article on “Why Scottish independence is a bad idea.”  In it, Amanda Taub (from what I gather, some kind of quasi-Scot, linked by bonds of family, education, and gastronomy) breaks uncertainties about Scottish into two categories: those that would cause trouble during the process of separation, and those that would hit Scotland after the separation.

Taub touches on one issue that hasn’t gotten much press lately, but which comes up in just about every referendum conversation I’ve had at the University of Edinburgh: research funding.

Scottish universities are worried that they wouldn’t be able to obtain research funding from their current sources and that their best scholars would leave.

I.E. all the anxious little one-year Masters students like myself and my friends from the UK, who could shortly become “international students.”

This, of course, is bundled up with a bevy of other financial challenges:

The Royal Bank of Scotland says that it would relocate its headquarters to London in the event of a “yes” vote on independence. (No word yet on whether it would change its name to the Royal Bank of We Sure Are Grateful for that Bailout.) The green energy sector says that investment in wind power could stagnate for years due to uncertainty over the future of the current subsidy scheme. … It’s unclear how much of the UK’s national debt Scotland would be saddled with, or whether independence would lead to costly litigation over the North Sea oil fields. It’s true that all of those things might work out in Scotland’s favor — but then again, they might not.

Then there are there are the challenges that would arise after independence.  As I’ve mentioned before, the issue of an independent Scotland’s currency is such a glaringly overlooked question mark that it ought to overshadow even the recent controversy surrounding the NHS.

The Scottish independence movement has made clear that it wants to keep using the pound, which would mean that Scotland would be at the mercy of the UK’s monetary policy. Even setting aside the lessons of the Eurozone’s recent history on whether it’s a good idea for small countries to rely on a currency union they don’t control (it’s not) this is an astonishing plan in the context of the broader arguments for independence. If the pro-independence crowd thinks that the UK is screwing Scotland now, why would it be a good idea for the UK to have control over Scotland’s currency, but no democratic accountability or responsibility for its economy at all whatsoever?

The second option would be for Scotland to join the euro — as Vox’s Matt Yglesias points out, that may turn out to be mandatory if Scotland joins the EU — but joining the Eurozone would risk even more severe problems, because the Eurozone has already proven itself to be an economic calamity.

And of course, let us not neglect to mention that “the UK’s major political parties have all pledged to grant Scotland greater control over its own affairs if it stays in the UK.”

These aren’t new ideas, and for the record, I’m not endorsing the Better Together campaign, the Orange Order, or Westminster’s Labour government.  The article also steers clear of the identity question – and understandably, as touching on it would have muddied the otherwise crystalline waters of a lucid piece of writing.

Taub has written one of the most concise summations of the unionist arguments currently available on the web; with the vote less than 24 hours away, you might want to read it.

New Poetry: In Slipstream Issue #34

I first read the magazine ‘Slipstream‘ when I discovered it in the Canisius College library during my first year as an undergraduate creative writing major.  I found about five back issues in our lit mag section – they were a little weird, with a penchant for dark and strange photography; but what most stood out on my first read-through was that the pieces the editors selected – and have been selecting since 1980 – challenged without being inaccessible.  They were funny and sharp and surprised you with empathy.  They were a little bit run-down, in a good, gritty, familiar kind of way (something explained later, when I discovered that the magazine came out of Niagara Falls, NY).

When I saw that one of my professors and mentors at Canisius, the writer, poet, and painter Eric Gansworth, had published in the magazine several times over the past decade (his poem “Histamine” was featured in Issue #26, and his poem “Holding the Shell to My Ear” was nominated for a Pushcart after appearing the in the 2006 issue), I decided to submit.  (I didn’t have any reason to think they’d take me – it was just that the connection, however tenuous made of the shade-like editors figures more human, people who might actually respond.)

Rob Borgatti, Livio Farallo, and Dan Sicoli published my first poem, “A Red Light,” in Issue #33, in the summer of 2013, and in so doing I joined a canon of Slipstream authors like Charles Bukowski and Sherman Alexie.  Living in Buffalo, NY, at the time, I hadn’t had many opportunities to attend launch parties, but the trip to Niagara Falls for the Issue #33 launch that September was a quick, 20-minute drive.  At that launch, I actually read the poem they would end up publishing this year, in Issue #34 – “On First Hearing ‘Brown Sugar’ by the Rolling Stones.”

I’ll miss the launch this year – the trip is a few thousand miles too far – and I haven’t yet held a hard copy of the issue.  It’s always a fun event, if you’re in the Western New York area and fancy some wine, cheese, and verse.  If not, you can still pick up the magazine – it’s available now via PayPal; 96 pages of poetry for $10.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

Edinburgh Turns Orange (And Purple, and a Little Bit Red-White-and-Blue)

Conservative “Orangemen” marchers add one more voice to the referendum debate

Half a block north of the west entrance of the Meadows park in Edinburgh, Scotland, three neon-vested parking officers sit at a table cluttered with radios and handheld printers, staring down into their smartphones.  Students and city workers come here, a small shop called Snax, for a few minutes of hot-roll and haggis bliss before a long working day – although for the parking officers, this day will be longer than any in recent memory, because today, Saturday the 13th of September, five days before the country votes for either independence or unity, 15,000 members of the East Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, along with friends from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, have gathered in Edinburgh to show their pride – for the Saltire and the Union Jack.

At twenty minutes to 11 on Saturday morning, 26 buses from all over Great Britain have queued at the Meadows’ entrance, to park closer to the walk’s endpoint on Regent Road below Calton Hill.  They’ve emptied out pipers, drummers, banner-boys and accordionists from 110 lodge bands of the Loyal Orange Institution in Scotland and several thousand sympathetic spectators, all clad in military regalia, orange sashes, dress blues or dandified two-piece Union Jack suits.  Several women wander the park in Queen Elizabeth-style bonnets, carrying homemade crowns on top of shrink-wrapped Bibles.  A man on the bandstand intones patriotic and religious soundbytes, and recites Psalm 118, accidentally eschewing the Anglican King James translation for the New International Version: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  In less than half an hour, the 15,000-person crowd will proceed through Edinburgh’s busiest streets, past its most venerable institutions, to finish just past the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, in the most vocal demonstration in support of the union to date.

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