Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Price of a Drink

I like a drink as much as the next person. I like the fact that Scotland has its own distinctive drinks that are part of our story as a nation. What I don’t like is our drinks culture which is literally killing some our fellow citizens. It is that dark side of our alcohol culture that needs to be changed. But this is not about someone else changing. It’s about all of us.

The Church and Society Council is offering its contribution by supporting the use of “price mechanisms” which is a fancy phrase for putting up the price of some drinks to help reduce the damage alcohol makes to our society. We want every congregation to write to those who make the stuff to encourage them to agree to this change.

It might look odd for people to write to producers to get them to put up the price but it's the right thing to do. Perhaps we will have to pay a wee bit more for our favourite tipple but if that helps reduce the pain brought about by alcohol abuse, it's  a small price to pay.

Monday, 7 December 2009

P45 for Banking Fraternity

I continue to remain shocked by the astonishing attitude of the banking fraternity over bonuses. To those who say “we'll resign if we don’t get our bonuses” I would say ok, here’s your P45, we don’t need your greed here. The Church of Scotland has been a strong supporter of the living wage campaign which argues that, in Scotland, the absolute minimum required for survival is £7 per hour. Achieving that for the poorest of workers in our country is far more important than protecting million pound bonuses for those who just don’t get what’s happening here on planet earth.

The Nativity Play

If ever there was evidence that some folk didn't get it it's the news
that parents are paying up to £150 for their child's nativity outfit.
The nativity story is about poverty, exclusion, struggle and hope and nothing to do with wealth, status and self importance. If these
parents want their children to grow up feeling good about themselves they should teach them the importance of loving their enemy not their outfits.

Nativity Play picture by Matt Adams.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A Manifesto for Mike Russell?

I see that Fiona Hyslop has been given her P45 as Education Secretary
I have no axe to grind about Ms Hyslop. In fact she often sounded like she knew about the issues of education. Her problem was delivery. If I was Mike Russell (the new Education secretary), I’d be focusing on three things:

• Getting jobs for the thousands of already qualified and trainee teachers out there who are champing at the bit to get into classrooms
• Getting real cash into schools to make sure teachers can get the time and training to deliver Curriculum for Excellence
• Promising to find the cash for new buildings

And I’d resist the temptation of bringing about even more change when what is needed is stability for children and those who teach them.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Serving Scotland Better

As Jim Murphy, Secretary of State for Scotland, has announced the Government's plans to take forward most of the recommendations in the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution, with a forthcoming White Paper; and the Scottish Government look set to release a White Paper with their plans for a potential referendum on Scottish independence, I look to the politicians making decisions on Scotland's constitutional future.
These White Papers will reignite discussions which have been ever-present recently in the wake of the National Conversation and the Calman Commission, stirring up passionately held views on all sides of the debate.

It is crucial that all debates on how we are governed should be underpinned by three principles:
• Debates about the future of Scotland should include as many people as possible, and constitutional discussions should not exclude the most marginal in society.
• Debates should be rooted in the values we want from our society.
• Any constitutional changes proposed should be primarily about how we better tackle poverty, especially child poverty, and promote social justice.

The Kirk is committed to engaging with all sides of the debate in the coming months and years.I only hope that politicians engage as fully as possible with the communities they represent in determining Scotland's future.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

I am ashamed to live in a country that locks up children.

Friends in Cranhill have been hugely distressed at the detention of Florence and Precious (10) Mhango, first in Dungavel and then Yarls Wood near London, and now there is the anxiety of waiting to find out if they will get to return to Glasgow or not. After more than six years here Precious is a Scot in language and culture, if not by right. I am not a fan of the current fast track asylum system, however at least it works faster than this decision. I am ashamed to live in a country that locks up children. I’m told that following her previous detention two or three months ago Precious went from having been a bright cheerful and chatty child to being almost mute. We need to stop this now.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Looking for friends amongst our enemies

I am in Aviemore with around 240 other Church of Scotland members along with folk from other churches listening to some of the most experienced thinkers and practitioners in the area of conflict resolution and mediation from both sides of the Atlantic, people like Ken Cloke, John Sturrock and Dave Brubaker.
We might be portrayed by some as a church divided. The truth is there is a huge amount of work going on to equip the membership and the leadership to work creatively on how we live with our differences.

In and out of the church, there is a great need to work on how to ensure that respect for one another as human beings is at the centre of how we relate and make decisions. In the end that is much more important than stories that only focus on polarising and dividing in a simplistic way.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

United we stand

Sorry about the lack of posts recently. I've been away in Germany for two weeks at an event about poverty and renewal.

I will tell you about soon but today I was with Scotland United on the streets of Glasgow to protest against an effort by right wing agitators to make their presence felt in the city. A great turn out by trade unions, faith groups, students and politicians - a broad coalition which was good to be part of. If we could turn that passion on the fight to end poverty in Scotland anything might happen. The highlight of the day was a small dog that marched bearing a placard on its back that said “Mongrels for racial diversity”. Humour is a great weapon in the fight for an inclusive society – and Glasgow has it in abundance. However the narrowness by which the BNP lost its deposit in Thursday’s by-election should remind us all that the threat from that quarter has to be taken seriously. All faith communities should be in the front line on this issue. A threat to one of us – in this case the Central Mosque – is a threat to all of us.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Where does child poverty sit in our priorities?

I am in the Ruhr area of Germany for a consultation on child poverty, as part of an international consulting group with people from Brazil, Argentina, USA, Indonesia, the Philippines, Rumania, Hungary, Holland and Italy. Here we have the church in an affluent part of the world exposing its work to an extraordinary group of people including some from very difficult contexts. It is a great privilege to be here, and to be reminded that we in Scotland are connected to the rest of the world both in creativity and in facing up to real problems in our society. For us there is no option but to put the ending of child poverty at the top of our list of priorities. Currently, though, we are falling behind the targets we have set. Have a look at some of the statistics.

Photograph by RM London.

CreditsPhotograph by RM London

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Plight of Asylum seekers

I read today about changes to the asylum system. Asylum seekers who want to claim “in-country asylum” will need to travel to Croydon to do so, instead of having the option of Liverpool or Glasgow as before. This is another scandalous attack on very vulnerable folk. The mark of any society is how it treats the stranger, especially the destitute. The BNP may think that anyone who claims asylum is at it but the truth is that the vast majority are escaping violence and persecution. Sadly, we seem to want to continue that persecution rather than alleviate it.

The photograph was taken by Gareth harper.

Do the poor pay for the rich?

I was unimpressed to see that HBOS have chosen to hammer ordinary customers with a radically increased overdraft fee. Is this once again the poor folk paying for the mistakes of the rich folk? Why is it always the little guy that gets hammered when the powerful screw up? No matter how they spin it, this is the 1000’s of ordinary customers paying through the nose for the excesses of a few who still don’t seem to worry about how what they do affects others.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Fault Lines of Race and Religion

I have spent time this week with a group of people of all faiths and none, planning a rally on Glasgow Green on 14th Nov. to celebrate our common humanity in the face of forces that seek to divide us along fault lines of race and religion. The rally sets out to show those who harbour racist or bigoted views about whom we have heard a great deal recently, just how well all of us in Scotland can belong together, not simply tolerating one another but enjoying the diversity of insight and experience, culture and our common humanity. It is a positive approach to a negative situation, trying to search for love in time where hate seems to be winning the day.

Monday, 19 October 2009

No to Racial Bigotry

I spend most of this morning at a press conference for Scotland United against Terrorism; a grouping of trade unionists, political parties, anti-racist organisations, and faith groups. We intend to hold a rally to celebrate multicultural Scotland on Saturday 14th November in Glasgow Green. This is to challenge the anti-Muslim protest planned by racist bigots, including the Scottish Defence League and English Defence League (EDL) in Glasgow city centre on the same day. I want to love my enemy but sometimes love means saying no, that’s unacceptable, it is wrong and you must stop doing it. Anti Muslim protests are one such occasion.

Photograph taken by Gareth Harper.

Banking culture

I was angry when I heard about the moves by Lloyds Banking Group to undermine the integrity of the Lloyds TSB foundation. The Lloyds TSB foundation was never about the money. They created real relationships with those they funded. They supported those involved in projects so that money given was better spent. Most importantly they understood that in the fragile places where much of their money went, the change hoped for and the change achieved was not always the same thing, but that was not a sign of failure. It is however, a sign of failure by those at the heart of banking to fail to change their culture as they promised.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The faces hidden in the numbers

Today statistics show that unemployment has continued to rise. There are now close to a million people claiming jobseeker's allowance. Wide-spread unemployment is one of the ugly faces of an economic crisis. The danger is that we forget that behind every statistic there is a person and a home. This is the real story of the credit crunch. Forget green shoots of financial recovery; until these numbers representing real human stories start going down,  we will remain in a desert which all of us have helped to create.

Photograph taken by Le Haricot.

Making poverty history

This coming Saturday all over the world people, concerned about poverty will mark the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (World Poverty Day).  This year, the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,  the focus will be the hardships faced by children and their families. My small contribution will be to write to Gordon Brown reminding him that making poverty history is the central moral challenge of our generation. It’s linked to climate change. It’s linked to the credit crunch. It is linked to who we are as human beings. Are we willing to make sacrifices for people who we will never know but whose suffering is now echoing through the global village? This is a job for us all. If we get it right, we will all benefit.

Photograph taken by The Last Paladin.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Return to Sender

If I was an MP I’d be getting someone else to open my mail today. The letter to MPs from independent auditor Sir Thomas Legg  may well be the last nail in several more political careers.  It's right and proper that MPs should pay what they owe and no-one can claim Sir Thomas is anything but independent as he’s even pulled up the man who appointed him, Gordon Brown. My worry however, is not the reaction of MPs, but of those watching for the opening of those envelopes. I worry that these letters will have an unintended consequence – like picking a scab that needs now to be left alone to heal. We need a new political era. We need a new untainted political generation. But if every time we do something to help clean up we feed the idea that all of politics, not just politicians, is corrupt, we do ourselves a disservice, one that we may struggle to recover from for a very long time.

Money. money. money

I spent most of Friday in Edinburgh at the first of three conferences being run by the Church and Society Council entitled “What is our international economy for?”We are running these in preparation for a report going to the Kirk’s 2010 General Assembly which will call for a wide ranging commission into the fundamentals of our economy; asking things like “what is our economy for?” or perhaps, as was suggested on Friday; "who is it for?" It’s all very well to talk about “spivs” and greedy bankers destroying the economy but the blame game doesn’t help us as a society get to a new place with our economy. Everyone takes part in the economy in some way. So the economy should be shaped to meet their needs. I remain unconvinced that most people are only motivated by money and that the needs of others don’t matter. Our economy should tell that story too.

Photography by Roby(c).

Friday, 9 October 2009

An even greener dear green place

I love the idea that my home city of Glasgow, the “dear green place”, is going to get a little greener.  That’s not a theological statement but an environmental one.  Apparently every school in Glasgow is going to get an allotment so pupils can grow their own food and learn about healthy eating first hand.  But it’s even more important than that. There was a time when “dig for victory” was a statement of defiance against a human enemy.  These days the problem is not a warring nation but a warming world. And every little helps.  We need carrot crunching as well as carbon counting to help save our planet and I am proud that my city is leading the way.

Photograph of allotment fox was taken by Marj Joly

Who benefits from benefits...?

The competition between the main political parties to prove they will create the biggest reduction in the amount we as a nation spend on welfare benefits ( see here and here ) is both tragic and damaging. It's tragic because it at least implies that we are in a financial crisis because of the actions of the poorest; that somehow their need is costing us too much when it was the greed, (or the inappropriate risk taking with other folks' money), of some very rich people that means we are in hock as a nation right up to our necks.  And it’s damaging because it marginalises people who are already on the edge.  A nation is defined by how it treats those in need.  This political war of words and testosterone is not about our national budget. It is about our national soul. And that’s bad news for all of us when the debate is so acrimonious and the protagonists are both in the wrong.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Teacher numbers are a serious miscalculation

I heard about a vacancy for a primary school teaching post in North Lanarkshire that attracted five hundred and six applications. Five hundred and six - for one job! Yet record numbers of students are still being recruited to follow them, even though  there are currently a thousand less teachers employed in Scotland than in 2007.
Today's teachers have the opportunity to make a huge difference - maybe especially to the lives of disadvantaged children in Scotland - but they can't do it if they don't have a job. This debate is not just a matter of statistics or numbers - it's about changing the world by getting these well trained and committed teachers together with the children who need to be inspired.

Jesus said 'the last will be first' and set the bar as to how we treat what he called 'the little ones'. What he didn't do was fight about how many go here or can't go there! He just knew that good teaching changes lives. The trouble is that chance for that change to happen is being restricted and unless that changes we will all be poorer.

Photograph taken by Anirudh Koul

Trident reductions are not good news really

The announcement by Gordon Brown that he wants to reduce the number of trident subs is sadly not all it seems. It may be a sign that we are heading in the right direction for nuclear disarmament but  it is little more than a baby step. This reduction won’t mean fewer warheads, only that we won’t have so many out at sea. That’s a bit like saying “I’m on a diet – I don’t have any less cake, I just keep it in the cupboard for longer.” In May the Church of Scotland said at its General Assembly that nuclear weapons were “inherently evil”. They remain so no matter which cupboard they are in.

Photograph taken by Gerald Simmons.

The Credit Crunch still bites deep

It   is good news that Alistair Darling has persuaded the big 5 banks to curb bonuses but my question is why did he need to persuade them? Do these guys not get the message that for us as customers to have confidence in them we need to know that they are not simply motivated by greed. There is something fundamentally flawed in a system that says that those who get paid more need more to be motivated whilst those who are paid less can compete by agreeing to work for lower wages. This remains an issue of justice.

Photograph by Andres Rueda.