About that war on drugs…

From the Times (behind a paywall):

“At nearly 22 [drug-related] deaths per 100,000 people, Scotland’s death toll has overtaken the United States and is now three times the UK average.”

According to the article:

“A deadly cocktail of opioids and “street valium” is driving drug deaths in Scotland, which now has the highest mortality rate in the developed world.”

Scotland, you have a problem.


As the Herald puts it:

It’s No go: a record 84.6% turnout sees Scotland reject independence by 55%-45%

I hope the Scottish people can come together, and work together, for the benefit of all. And I also hope that amazing turnout translates into something (or some things) positive in the political arena. If more are involved, perhaps the quality of the argument, the representation, and the decision making will improve. Yes, I know. It’s another dream.

Be careful what you wish for

[Crossposted from the Jerusalem Post, here.]

It was June 1973. As part of the school English syllabus, I and my fellow Eastwood High School pupils had been dragged along to the Citizens Theater in Glasgow, forced to see the play, The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black, Black Oil.

John McGrath’s groundbreaking musical and political drama sent shockwaves in all directions. One of those waves must have hit me, because that was the only explanation. I didn’t like the theater. I especially didn’t like musicals. They were all boring. So why had I been glued to my seat? Why had I laughed along with the crowd at the political jokes – that in truth, I probably did not understand? Why did I feel – yes, really feel – something special in the air?

I left that performance, giddy with the after effects of the play. However, I do remember, on the pavement outside the theater, greedily grabbing and devouring the literature that savvy members of the then tiny Scottish National Party were handing out.

That was my introduction to the SNP. That was the start of my belief in the idea of an independent Scotland. Then it was a dream. Recently, that dream has turned into a nightmare.

Let me explain.

I made Aliyah from Glasgow in the summer of 2009. I still have family, friends, and acquaintances in the Jewish community there, and have made visits for smachot, and to recharge my Irn Bru* taste buds. Inevitably, the topic of the referendum has surfaced in polite conversation.

Generally, my impression is that most members of the community are opposed to Scottish independence; there are some pockets of SNP support, but they are in a minority.

If you had asked me six months ago about the effects of an independent Scotland on the Jewish community, I would have (perhaps naively) answered that I would not have expected any material change. Things would continue, as they have for other small diaspora communities, with people largely free to follow their religion without interference or harassment.

However, then came the recent Gaza war.

Part of that war was fought out in the arena of social media. There, many of the pro-independence groups lined up, resolutely and completely, with the Palestinians. They were not all Hamas supporters, but there was little sympathy or understanding for the position of Israel and its citizens.

That’s being polite.

A less restrained version of events would be that the conflict unleashed a veritable online tsunami of bigotry, hate, and defamation towards, Israel, the idea of a Jewish state, and Jews. It was as if the poison had been bubbling away, hidden below the surface, waiting for the right moment to be pumped into the world outside.

Incidentally, I ventured into that sewer a few times and asked how a people struggling for their own state of independence – the Scots – could deny the right of the Jewish people to the same. The replies were full of delusional, incoherent, hate, and personal insults. It’s worth noting that it was clear many of the haters were ignorant about the most basic facts concerning Israel.

My memories of Scotland and the Scottish people did not include such vicious hatred. Sure, I had witnessed and experienced instances of out and out anti-Semitism. However, they were far from commonplace. And all the time I lived in Scotland, I never felt threatened or at risk.

But it appears the last Gaza conflict has sparked a real change.

For example, for as long as I can remember, on most weekends pro-Palestinian campaigners used to have a token presence – a table and chairs and tatty leaflets available for distribution – outside the Argyle Street, Glasgow branch of Marks and Spencers. But few noticed, they were mostly ignored, and I don’t recall any trouble.

Recently however, the Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement has surfaced for real. In Glasgow and Edinburgh it has launched what appear to be picket like activities, brimming with intimidation and bullying behavior, directed at stalls in shopping centers selling Israeli products, and their potential customers.

As another example, take the enforced cancellation of performances at the Edinburgh Festival by the Jerusalem-based Incubator Theater, after Palestinian agitators held intimidating public protests. With their safety at risk, it was no surprise the Ben Gurion University student dancers withdrew from the Festival.

As yet another example, take the decision of some Scottish Local Authorities to fly the Palestinian flag in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Despite some cogent representations from the Jewish community and other parties, noting the divisiveness of such action, the authorities could not be persuaded otherwise. No authority was willing to fly the Israeli flag.

All such cases and others adversely affect the lives of Jews in Scotland. They create an atmosphere in which people are fearful of identifying as being Jewish or as having connections to Israel.

And that’s before independence.

This sea change in the political arena in Scotland has ended my belief in the idea of an independent Scotland. I no longer see it as something to strive for. Quite the opposite.
Much as it pains me, I fear for the welfare of the Jewish community in an independent Scotland.

I expect those in political power to make all the right noises about protecting minorities, and respecting opposing opinions.

But at the same time, I would expect certain actions to follow independence.

For example, during the Gaza conflict, the Scottish External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf made an offer to treat wounded Gazans. Personally, it looked to me like political posturing rather than any serious attempt to do some good. After independence, there would surely be more of the same, but probably going beyond gesture politics.

Perhaps it’s not unrealistic to expect the establishment of a PLO office in Scotland, to be greeted with continuing exchanges of fraternal greetings and joint condemnation of Israel.

For sure, the country’s foreign policy – laughably touted as being ‘ethical’ – will be hostile to Israel.

And I would expect BDS to be adopted as official government policy.

The referendum has succeeded in getting more people more involved in the political process than has been the case for a while. If there is independence, I expect some of that involvement to be used by anti-Israel interest groups outside the mainstream, to campaign for positions which are even more radical and anti-Israel. (Might an independent Scotland end up, unwillingly, mimicking Venezuela?)

I am hoping that outright acts of anti-Semitism will continue to be rare and isolated. But I fear that independence will bring about a drip-drip effect of measures that will increase the discomfort of the Jewish community.

I should say that the Jewish community has not been taking things lying down. There have been a number of grass roots and communal initiatives that have impressed me with their fervor and energy. They are fighting a much better resourced and numerous enemy. But they are putting up a good fight.

Unfortunately, while I hope I am proven wrong, the future does not look good. The bottom line is that, eventually, I expect the community – or those parts that are able – to get up and leave. It would be a sad ending for a community that has enriched Scotland with substantial contributions in the arts, sciences, medicine, the law, commerce, and elsewhere. But the realization of my dream of an independent Scotland, one that started with the swish of the curtain going up on The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black, Black Oil, may ironically also signal the curtain coming down on the Jewish community in Scotland. Now that would be a nightmare.

[*Note: Irn Bru is a bestselling Scottish soft drink, often described as “Scotland’s other national drink” (after Scotch whisky). It is not readily available in Israel.]

Scotland’s day of destiny

Today’s referendum on Scottish independence is a day that has been a long time coming, and may take a lot longer to forget. Ever since the 1979 referendum, when the establishment lied about North Sea oil deposits, and added an extra hurdle of a minimum percentage of the electorate voting, to fend off even devolution, the clock has been ticking towards a real and final showdown. In other words, a full and free vote on independence was inevitable.

And the ‘full’ part is particularly notable. This referendum has energized the electorate. Everyone is talking about it. Good or bad, everyone feels involved with something at risk. My concern is that part of the interest is driven by a young electorate too ready to spout slogans, high on emotion, with little regard for facts, facts, or facts. Some of the manifestations of this have looked like football supporters, cheering on their team to victory, with all the bad connotations associated with that hostile environment. Think Rangers v Celtic, without the restraint.

If the vote is ‘No’, those who lose out are likely to harbor a grudge for a while. Because this is probably a once in a generation opportunity. And if the vote is ‘Yes’ those who lose out may not hang around to find out if a wing and a prayer are sufficient capital for a new country.

Whichever way the vote goes, expect recriminations, analysis, and ongoing political fallout. Fascinating – but only if you are watching from the sidelines.

Right now, all I am going to do is offer my prayers that whatever happens, it turns out to be for the best for the people of Scotland. Every single one of them.

Even in Israel

The Scottish referendum has arrived in the news here. From today’s Israel HaYom:


The main headline says:

“A historic week for Scotland”

And underneath that:

“Four days to a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, surveys show that the result will be in suspense until the end. Businesses operating in Scotland: if you separate from the British, we will leave the country and costs will rise.”

At the bottom right of the page, the smaller headline says:

“Survey: Scottish men are for independence; women against.”

As to the rest of the text, you are on your own!

Some of the Scots (or Brits) resident in the UK may find a foreign perspective on the referendum interesting, if only to see how the story is covered. There was a poor opinion piece in Times of Israel (here). And back in May, Haaretz featured the Scottish Herald story that the first person to register as an official campaigner in the referendum, is a Holocaust denier (here). But not much else.

Sadly, what I noticed was that during the last Gaza war, many of the pro independence sites featured a harsh one-sided anti-Israel stance. Even more sadly, many of these places featured the most vile material you could imagine. In short, the full range of bigotry against Israel and the Jews was on display. And it inspired the previously silent BDS crew into action against Dead Sea Products stalls in Glasgow and Edinburgh shopping malls.

What next?

Mob rule in Scotland

Sad news from Scotland (via the Scotsman):

AN ISRAELI arts company has been forced to axe its entire run of performances at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe after facing an angry protest before its first show in the city.

Underbelly, the London promoter which had booked Incubator Theatre into one of its main venues, said it had been reluctantly forced to pull the plug based on police advice.

However, it has vowed to find the company – which is part-funded by the Israeli state – another venue, despite threats from campaigners to continue to disrupt its “hip hop opera” wherever it is staged.

More than 50 leading cultural figures in Scotland have called for the company’s shows to be boycotted, although the stance has been criticised by culture secretary Fiona Hyslop.

More than 150 protesters turned up outside Edinburgh University’s Reid Hall before the first preview of Incubator’s production got under way.

Talks were held later with the theatre company, the police and university officials.

A statement from Underbelly said although the first preview performance had gone ahead, the logistics of policing and stewarding the protest and the impact on both Underbelly shows and those in other venues made it impossible for the show to continue.

The statement added: “All tickets for forthcoming performances in the Reid Hall will be refunded. When an alternative venue is found, customers will be able to book tickets for that show separately.”

Announcing the cancellation of the shows at the venue’s gala launch, Underbelly director Charlie Wood said the attempts to stop the company performing were “plain wrong” and went against the entire ethos of the Fringe.

He added: “The protest caused huge disruption to shows we had here and at the Gilded Balloon. If they continued to protest in this area every day for four hours, the festival simply will not happen.”

Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland said: “It was a practical decision based on the whole picture and the disruption to all the other shows that are here.”

John Stalker of Incubator added: “Everybody who supports the right of artists to have their work presented believes the show should carry on. I had friends there who felt very threatened by the protest. Today was a sad day for Edinburgh.”

Albie O’Neill, spokesman for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which was behind the protest, said: “The level of support from the public has been overwhelming and reflects the strength of feeling against this Israeli state-funded theatre company and revulsion over what is happening in Gaza.”

Peaceful protest? Doesn’t sound like it, does it?

Perusing the comments below the line gives you a flavor of the hatred and bigotry being directed towards Israel. There are one or two swimming against the tide of the baying crowd, but largely it is poison on parade.

Random thoughts:

  • Are the “50 leading cultural figures in Scotland” proud of what they helped achieve? See freedom of speech? Nah, we don’t want any of that.
  • The numbers involved – 150 protesters – are not big. So, despite the big bash Israel campaign, it’s not exactly indicative of mass consent. But 150 was enough. I wonder if the locals have worked out some of the implications of this?
  • The state sponsorship label is a handy peg upon which to hang some hatred. The group does get some money from the state, but they are scarcely apologists for the government. And I wonder how many of the other international groups get state support of some sort or another. I’m sure all their governments are squeaky clean and there are no double standards being exercised.
  • I won’t be buying any Edinburgh rock ever again.

It’s all gone

Which two of the world’s oil producing countries, are the only ones without a savings fund – money put aside for a rainy day – as of today?

According to this Herald report, the two short sighted states are:

  • Iraq
  • The UK.

Doesn’t look good, does it? If you read the article, you’ll get some context.

Note the following extract from the Herald piece:

“In 1974, McCrone [former government economist Professor Gavin McCrone] wrote a now-famous report for ministers predicting Scotland would become “as rich as Switzerland” if it controlled North Sea oil – a prediction that was kept from voters.”

But Scotland doesn’t (and didn’t) control North Sea oil. No wonder politicians have a poor reputation.

Argyll Forest Park

Beautiful scenery from Scotland. From Max Smith:

The First in a series of short films, providing viewers with a window into natural habitats found in the UK through the use of cinematography.

The film was shot in September 2013 in Argyll forest park. All footage was shot in raw on the 50D and 5D mkii – thanks to the magic lantern hack.

Footage was debayered using AE to Prores 444, edited in PrPro & exported. Audio is a mixture of foley sound and audio recorded in camera.

Music: This Will Destroy You – Killed The Lord, Left For The New World

Camera: Max Smith, Michael Hodges
Editing: Max Smith
Sound: Max Smith
Assistant: Jasper Broadhurst

[From Max Smith TV, as first seen at Little Green Footballs]