Soapbox Tuesday #2 – The best laid schemes

First up let me deal with the elephant in the room. No, not my reflection in the mirror but the near five month gap between Soapbox Tuesday #1 and today. Turns out I’m a lazy fucker. Who knew?

To be fair to myself – it happens occasionally – I got sick with yet another chest/lung infection and to paraphrase the great Rabbie Burns the best-laid schemes o’ Mike an’ men gang aft, aft, aft agley.

You can find more of what I’ve been up to over in The Ultimate Worrier section but it’s my intention to write more again here as well as work on my first, properly thought out novel. There have been plenty of other starts but they’ve all been flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants shite so they don’t count. And so to more shite – politics.

We had an election in New Zealand just a few weeks ago and we still don’t know who’s going to form the new Government. This is because we have an MMP system where we cast two votes – one for a traditional first past the post electorate-based candidate and the other for a party. This leads to tactical voting, votes being split and, in this case, a delay in knowing who ‘won’.

And this is actually a good thing. In general. It means smaller parties get representation in Parliament and means when neither of the big parties – Labour or National – get a clear majority they have to negotiate with the minor parties to govern.

Unfortunately the downside this time around is that the power of balance is with Winston Peters, a 72-year-old man who is just a wee bit racist. Racist in a ‘those bloody foreigners coming over here, stealing our jobs and houses and looking funny’ kind of way. Yay. So concessions will be made by both National and Labour in an attempt to woo Winston and his votes and we await Thursday’s decision day to find out who will be our next Prime Minister and just how much concessions have been allowed.

Now not all of Winston’s policies are racist. Or bad. Unfortunately they don’t tend to be talked about so much because… well, New Zealand itself is just a bit racist. Compared to other countries – I’m looking at you, Australia – relations between the indigenous people of Aotearoa and the colonists are better than they were, but there’s still a widely held belief that Māori should somehow shut up and just be thankful to all those people who stole their land, killed them in massive numbers and kept them subservient for many years.

Casual racism is everywhere you look and it doesn’t help that it makes it nigh impossible to have conversations around immigration – conversations that need to be held with questions that need to be asked. But maybe not the ones you think.

Generally those conversations start with something along the likes of ‘why do we let so many people in to New Zealand?’ – and that’s a perfect example of the wrong question.

It’s really not that easy to migrate to New Zealand (I did it and it was costly and took a decent amount of time) and we let people do so because, overwhelmingly, migration is a net positive for our economy. Migrants put far more into New Zealand than they ever take out.

So what questions need to be asked? Here are the ones that I believe need to form a core part of any discussion about immigration:

  1. Why have successive governments, of both political sides, allowed New Zealand’s infrastructure to lag so far behind, knowing that immigration would be needed to grow the economy?
  2. Why have neither of the major parties done anything substantial to combat the near-exponential growth in housing prices, which means owning a home in metropolitan areas where the jobs are is now a near impossibility for new generations?
  3. Why is there no Capital Gains Tax on investment properties and why are their massive tax breaks available to those who already own a home to buy more, pushing first time buyers out of the market?
  4. Why is public transport so woefully underfunded compared to roading?

And those are just off the top of my head.

See, the issue isn’t about the people coming into the country, it’s about those in charge doing fuck all because the majority of them have multiple houses and are doing just fine. Because it’s politically unacceptable to do anything that might be for the greater good. Because they’re cowards.

I voted for change in this election – and I hope a Labour-led Goverment with the Greens and NZ First supporting will be able to help those less fortunate in society, to deal with some of the issues that stop New Zealand being the paradise that those looking in from afar tend to see.

But I know, deep in my heart, they won’t. Because when they can point the finger at people who are trying to create a better life for themselves and their families no-one is ever going to blame them for NZ’s governmental failings.

Soapbox Tuesday #1 – Just fucking stop it

I’ve been a political geek for a long time now – certainly back to my early high school days in the late 1980s. As with most people my parents’ political persuasion played a part in where I put myself on the political spectrum – but I quickly found my own path. My first event was a hustings for the Moray electorate during the 1992 UK election campaign. I was there to cheer on Margaret Ewing, wearing my SNP badge – and probably thinking about how clever I was. I asked a question – about higher education if my memory serves – and from there I was hooked.

  “Displaying the courage of her SNP convictions, Colinton”  by   Ninian Reid   is licensed under  CC BY 2.0   

“Displaying the courage of her SNP convictions, Colinton”  by Ninian Reid   is licensed under CC BY 2.0  

My time in student politics, as Depute President and then President of the University of Abertay Dundee Students’ Association was the highlight of my political career. It coincided with a place on the National Union of Students (Scotland) executive committee, an eye-opening experience that I remember fondly even now.

Some of the people I worked with went on to become elected politicians in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments – but I could see the writing on the wall from early on and knew it wasn’t for me. For a start I was just too bloody opinionated. And I just couldn’t maintain – or wasn’t willing to commit to – party lines. I found my niche, as someone who could work with all sides and come up with a workable compromise. I’m still very proud of the work my fellow independents and I did to break the Labour domination of the elected positions at NUS Scotland, however briefly. But most of all it was fun.

Age hasn’t changed me, of course. I’m still the same and proud of it. It certainly doesn’t make me better than anyone else, and I wouldn’t claim thus. It does make me less blinded than a decent portion of society, particularly in Scotland. And that’s where it gets really interesting – because I’m something of a Pavlovian political prole.

From my earliest days I’ve been a Rangers fan and that doesn’t sit well with my political beliefs for a lot of people. They were my first love after Tina from Blue Peter and Rentaghost – and have lasted longer than both. I had a season ticket for a few years and even now, 17903.84kms from Glasgow, I still get up in the early hours of the morning to cheer them on. They’re as part of my identity as swearing and XXXL t-shirts. Rangers also comes from my parents – in this case my dad’s side of the family who were Ulster/Scots protestants. But none of that mattered to me. They were my heroes and I didn’t believe in any god – and I certainly was no fan of the assumed unionist politics of the 45,000 who packed Ibrox every week. I once stood outside in the snow rather than watch Rangers being beaten 5-1 by Aberdeen in the mid-80s – that’s how bloody minded I was. Okay, I still am.

It wasn’t until I was a bit older than I realised it was naive of me to think I could separate the two. You can’t, no matter how hard you try and no matter what your stated beliefs are. And that’s because Scottish society is, ultimately, divided. Religion, politics, football, favourite Beechgrove Garden presenter – it doesn’t matter where you draw the line you’ll get division. And it gets even more complicated than that – there’s an old joke that says if three Rangers fans were marooned on a desert island there would be four Rangers Supporters Clubs before the end of the month.

And there’s a kernel of truth in that – because we (as a society) allow our differences to define us rather than focussing on what unites us.

I’m still a paid up member of the Scottish National Party (SNP) because I strongly believe that an independent Scotland in Europe would give Scottish businesses the best hopes of success and allow a Scottish government to prioritise the welfare and care of all our people over tax breaks for the most wealthy in society. That’s a political position and, of course, that’s up for anyone to shoot down, disagree with or argue against. But try having that debate between politial parties, football fans or just between a handful of people in a pub and it all goes to shit.

In the last few months I’ve been called both a cybernat and a yoon – both descriptions used to try and play the man and not the ball (as if there wasn’t enough sport references in here already), unsubtle attempts to belittle an opponent.

I’ve been told I can’t be truly left wing, republican and a supporter of independence if I’m willing to publicly support Rangers. I’ve been dismissed because I tried to call out a prominent SNP supporter for repugnant statements on the Hillsborough disaster and his deliberate misgendering of Chelsea Manning. I’ve been told that ‘the other side do it too’.

And I can’t be a Rangers fan if I support the SNP. Check out any political posting on FollowFollow.com and, as Billy Connolly once said, I’m as welcome as a fart in a space suit. (And by mentioning Billy Connolly I’ve now proved to those same Rangers fans I can’t possibly be a Rangers fan because Billy supports Celtic. That’s how it works.) And I’ve been told that ‘the other side do it too’. Sounds familiar, right?

It’s bizarre, insidious and, honestly, I’m sick of it. Another independence referendum in Scotland is bound to fail because not enough people will be willing to actually engage in the arguments and make a decision based on them. What do independent economists tell us is most likely to happen? Why are we so unwilling to give up the pound for the euro? Why do we believe it when we’re told we’re not big enough to go it alone when there are other, smaller, more successful countries than us with less resources open to them? No, people will blindly support one side of the other because they’re protestant, catholic, Rangers supporters, Celtic supporters, misognynists, racists… the list could go on and on.

My anger and angst over this has been prolonged due to the despicable Brexit campaign last year (the very definition of a factless argument, way more so than the Scottish independence referendum campaign) and the hastily-called UK election in early June. It’s time that our political leaders – both on this side of the world and in Scotland – did something about it. Because they have to be the ones who make the first steps. It’s their angry rhetoric that helps drive people to embrace the division. Disagree, and debate but do so while keeping what binds us at the forefront. And this applies to politicians of all sides – no-one can claim the moral high ground here.

And the same is true for those who are willing to dismiss someone’s entire being solely on the basis of sport, religion or favoured name for a morning roll (everyone knows it’s a buttery). I embrace Celtic fans who support independence even though I don’t like their football team because to do so would be idiotic. I embrace Rangers fans who don’t want independence for the same reason.

This, of course, does not apply to people for whom hatred is their raison d’être. We see this reflected today in the racism and xenophobia of the right in the USA, UKIP and even in the likes of the dog-whistle politics of Winston Peters in New Zealand. That needs to be called out at every single opportunity and not be allowed to be ignored by the likes of Labour, both here and it the UK, because politically it’s an acceptable move.

I wrote earlier that I was naive – and from everything I’ve written here you’ll see that I still am. Because I don’t think there’s a political or societal will to do what I believe is right for most people. There’s too much money and too much of our identity bound in it for people to take a step back.

And, ultimately, we’re all going to suffer for it.

Forceful creation

I have one of those weird relationships with time – I crave more of it do all the things I want to do, yet when given the opportunity I’ll almost certainly waste it by doing nothing for hours on end.

 Less of this, more of writing

Less of this, more of writing

Yesterday, for example, I could have written for this website, worked on one of the many novels I’ve started, done some more work on my memoir, talked to old friends, sold some stuff on Trade Me… you get the point, the list is nearly endless. So what did I do, I hear you ask?

Of course I sat and streamed the entire Season 2 of Masters of None on Netflix. Now you’ll have to wait until Wednesday to find out what I thought about that but it got me thinking – if I leave things to my own lazy self then I’ll never achieve anything. It’s time to put this out there in the hope by going public I’ll shame myself into writing more. And losing weight, but that’s another story!

So starting today I’m instituting a daily blog – some days will be just a couple of words, others will be thousands, but I’m committing to putting my virtual pen to this virtual paper and doing what I desperately want to do but haven’t managed yet.

You can break down what I write about into a few general categories:

  • Music
  • Wrestling
  • Politics
  • Reading/Writing
  • Sport
  • TV & Movies
  • General life

Handily there are seven things on that list and seven days in a week. Okay, that might not be entirely by luck – and by including ‘life’ as one then I can pretty much write about anything. But fuck me, give me a break. The intent is there!

While I try and come up with better labels for the content I hereby declare the following days of the week exist as part of You Had To Be There.

  • Musical Monday – for my thoughts on music old and new (but almost certainly always old)
  • Soapbox Tuesday – ramblings from my left-wing, liberal perspective
  • Watching on Wednesday – this will be a little like my old Couch Potato blog on Stuff.co.nz
  • Grappling with Thursday – for all my wrestling reckons
  • Fictional Friday – books, some of my writing or just recommendations to read Chris Brookmyre? Who knows!
  • Saturday Sport – with significantly less breasts than the UK newspaper of a similar title
  • Sunday Life – whatever doesn’t fit anywhere else. Probably.

So there, dear reader, I have committed to you to give you something to ignore, skim over, ridicule or to not your head with every day until such time as I realise this was a terrible idea. So probably the end of this week.