Wednesday, 30 April 2014

RIP Bob Hoskins

Very saddened and more than a little shocked to learn of the death of the great Bob Hoskins. I knew he was suffering from Parkinson's disease and had retired from the acting world, but I hadn't expected him to go so soon.

As a child, I associated him first and foremost with WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, but as an adult I got a chance to appreciate the real diversity of his body of work. I'd be hard pressed to choose a favourite role of his, given the sheer number of movies in which he starred, but he was always one of those actors who was such a class act that, even when he was appearing in something that was complete nonsense, he always succeeded in raising the bar a few notches.

Case in point: for sheer insanity (plus the fact that it was shot in my home town), I'll always have a bit of a soft spot for DANNY THE DOG (a.k.a. UNLEASHED), a martial arts action film shot in Glasgow and starring Jet Li, Kerry Condon and Morgan Freeman. That's a combination of elements you don't see every day, but it somehow it made perfect sense for Bob Hoskins to be at the heart of all the insanity, hamming it up as only he could in the role of  the film's main villain: a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered Cockney gangster.

Rest in peace, Bob.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Rearranging the deckchairs

I spent much of the afternoon rearranging my bookshelves in an attempt to free up some space. Result: no extra space, but at least the books are all in different places now.

Well hello, Kristen Bell

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Empty seats and empty heads

I wasn't planning on posting two independence-related pieces one after the other (I want this blog to have SOME variety, after all, and I don't want to give the impression that this is the only issue I'm interested in), but I saw this side by side comparison on Facebook a few moments ago, and it perfectly illustrated what I was saying about the lack of active support for the anti-independence campaign, and more broadly the union as a whole, even if it isn't currently translating into a majority for Yes in the polls at the moment.

The same venue in Stirling was used on two consecutive days, with the Yes campaign holding an event on the 14th April and the No campaign holding one on the 15th:

(Image originally posted on YES to an Independent Scotland)

That's actually an immeasurably WORSE turn-out than your average Scottish Conservative Party conference, and that takes some doing!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Project Aspiration

I had a bit of a shock yesterday. I saw someone wearing a "Better Together" badge.

I was so surprised it took me a moment to recover. I'd known that such badges existed, of course, and by the same virtue I'd known that there must be people who wore them, but in stark contrast to the many, many "Yes" badge-wearers I've seen (myself included), I'd never once, until yesterday, seen someone in the flesh actually wearing the emblem of Project Fear (as they accurately but unwisely once dubbed themselves in a piece of internal correspondence).

(And no, the wearer wasn't Alistair Darling... though given that, prior to yesterday, I'd only ever seen these badges when sported by Labour, Tory and Lib Dem politicians in TV interviews, I haven't discounted the possibility that the person in question had some connection to one of the unionist parties.)

As some of my readers (all two of them) may know, there is a referendum taking place in Scotland this September to determine the country's constitutional future -- part of the UK or an independent nation. I've been a committed independence supporter for the past three years, having previously been quite indifferent about the whole affair, but pushed into the Yes camp by a series of realisations which I'll write about in another post at some point. Given the much higher visibility of Yes supporters and activists compared to their Project Fear counterparts, it sometimes strikes me as baffling that No still commands a lead in the polls (albeit a lead that is steadily diminishing and, at the current rate, should be wiped out some time in July).

And yet, I think when it comes down to it, the reason for this is that people in Scotland are, on the whole, just not that enthused about the UK. The most recent census revealed that a sizeable majority of the country's citizens regard their identity as exclusively Scottish (as opposed to Scottish and British, or exclusively British). Outside of an Orange Lodge meeting or Rangers game, you're unlikely to see union flags flying proudly. (It's telling that, on the day of the royal wedding in 2011, when the news showed towns and villages the length and breadth of England festooned with bunting and Union Jacks, I happened to find myself on a bus that took me from one side of Glasgow to the other, and the only union flag I saw was in the window of a single pub.) I suspect that, by and large, Scots have no great attachment to the union, and that in the majority of cases, those intending to vote No do so out of fear of the unknown (a fear that has been exacerbated by the daily barrage of scaremongering from the mainstream media, led by the mendacious BBC). Take away the fear, and I suspect that most would happily vote to dissolve the UK.

Which seems like a good time to highlight Alex Salmond's speech on Saturday at the SNP party conference in Aberdeen (the last one before the referendum):

It wasn't the best speech he's ever given (his 2013 conference speech remains, in my view, his strongest since the referendum campaign began), but it was suitably rousing, combining aspiration with pragmatism, along with a little bit of humour at the No campaign's expense ("They are the most miserable, negative, depressing and thoroughly boring campaign in political history"). A lot of it was clearly designed to woo female voters (who remain markedly more sceptical about independence than men -- if as many women as men planned to vote Yes, we'd be home and dry), promoting Shona Robison and Angela Constance to the Cabinet and pledging that all future Cabinets would be comprised of a minimum of 40% women (which I must admit I have mixed feelings about -- I've never been a fan of quotas). There was a plea to Labour supporters to get on board too, though, they being the other demographic that will be crucial to secure a Yes vote. He claimed that "Independence will be good for Scottish Labour" and give it "a chance to return to core values" -- values like a commitment to social security, free education and the NHS, which the SNP has stepped in to defend as Labour has abandoned them. As one commentator put it, it's the only party political conference I can think of where the party leader asked his political opponents to get on board on the promise that it would provide him with a better standard of opposition.

But then it wasn't exactly an ordinary party political conference. It was about something much bigger: a movement that is not just about Alex Salmond or the SNP. It's about a massive grass roots movement growing bigger every day, incredibly politically, socially and culturally diverse but all coalescing around the same fundamental question: "Does it have to be like this?" I sense that energy around me every day. People who have no interest in politics are becoming engaged and asking questions about our constitutional future. It's Project Aspiration versus Project Fear, and I know which side I'd rather be on.

And that energy will not simply fade away once the dust has settled. Whatever the outcome in September, that energy must continue to be harnessed to push for social progress. One thing's for sure: things will never be the same again.

Friday, 4 April 2014

RIP Margo MacDonald

I'm very sad to learn that Margo MacDonald, independent MSP for Lothian, has died today, aged 70.

Long committed to the cause of Scottish Independence, her first major political victory was winning the Glasgow Govan seat in a 1973 by-election for the SNP. She became deputy leader of the party from 1974 to 1979, and was subsequently elected to represent the Lothians as an MSP in the first Scottish Parliament election of 1999. She later stood as an independent MSP in the 2003 Scottish Parliament elections, leading to her expulsion from the party. She went on to be re-elected as an independent in the 2007 and 2011 elections.

She lived with Parkinson's Disease for the better part of two decades and was a strong advocate for assisted suicide, protecting the rights of sex workers and the homeless, and justice for Palestine, among other important causes. She stood up passionately for the issues she believed in, even if this meant going "off-message" and putting her at odds with her party. She was also an extremely entertaining public speaker and provided a very human face to a profession that often appears to consist exclusively of identikit career politicians.

She will be sorely missed, and it's a crying shame that she so narrowly missed out on the opportunity to cast her vote for the cause she fought for throughout her political career.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Now here's a movie I'd like to see...

(Originally posted on Reasons for an Independent Scotland)

What my workplace currently feels like

Significant changes are currently under way in my place of work, changing employees' venues, shift patterns and working hours. I've yet to speak to a single person who's actually happy with what they've been given. The above YouTube video might well be a documentary on the way these changes are being implemented.

EDITED TO ADD: I should probably add, as a child this part of the film always used to bore me slightly. Now, as an adult, I think it's by far the funniest part.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Petition mission: Changes to the Video Recordings Act

In recent years, the UK-based "boutique" DVD and Blu-ray labels like Arrow Video, Second Sight and Masters of Cinema have enjoyed something of a golden era, putting out interesting titles passed over by the major labels and loading them chock full of informative bonus features. That they are able to do this is at least in part because, at present, it is unnecessary to have bonus materials certified by the British Board of Film Censors, provided they don't contain content that would take the age rating above that of the film itself (e.g. someone saying "fuck" in a documentary accompanying a U-rated film).

The Conservatives (who else!) have decided to amend the Video Recording Act (which, let us never forget, they initially foisted on us back in 1984) in order to require that any bonus features including content that would net anything above a Universal rating be classified by the BBFC. The effect on small independent labels would be disastrous: the BBFC charges by the minute, so the likely result is that they would simply consider it no longer cost-effective to include bonus content like documentaries, deleted scenes and the like, which often amount to several hours' worth of material per disc. These labels often struggle to make ends meet as it is. They're in the business because they love these films rather than because there's loads of money to be made in releasing them. Their job is hard enough as it is without forcing them to pay hand over fist for the privilege of giving their customers more bang for their buck.

Read film critic James Oliver's open letter to Culture Secretary Maria Miller here and then please consider signing the petition here. Let's ignore for a moment my belief that bodies like the BBFC deserve to be consigned to the trash can of history full stop -- if we can't get rid of the existing legislation entirely, the least we can do is fight to make sure it isn't made WORSE.