Why I lost my sense of Scottish politics

I was asked by plenty of people why I stopped blogging on Scotland, and in particular Scotland’s political turmoils. Maybe the night before extraordinary General Elections in Great Britain is the best point of time to answer this question. There are three reasons of relevance. First of all, I didn’t feel entitled any longer. Funnily, it was never a “Nat” who pointed to the fact that neither do I live in Scotland nor do I have Scottish ancestry, it was Unionists and Brexiteers who told me “it” was none of my business. The same people who assumed I were showing a nearness to Scottish nationalism, what’s utterly illogical. Anyhow, I didn’t fancy tilting at windmills, so I kept my thoughts private for quite a while.

Second, it got harder to investigate in a journalistic sense what’s fact and what’s propaganda. The public exposition has changed a lot since indyref in 2014. No matter what topic, there always seem to be two contradicting truths (is there even a pluralistic form of truth?) linked to it. Sure, things can be seen from different perspectives, but whether it’s education or women’s rights, health care or security: one side pushes forward, the other side demonises. And stupidly even the sources of information impact the reception meanwhile. To be precise (with fictive examples): When the BBC analyses health care spendings, it’s “look, I told you, we have it good” on the one side and “fxxk media bias, they whitewash the numbers anyway” on the other side. When The National analyses how official statements on Scottish oil reserves can differ remarkably before and after elections, it’s “damn, I knew they lie to us” on the one side and “they are SNP barkers and totally biased anyway” on the other side. “Bias” is what’s used as a knockout argument from both sides equally and therefore one of the most popular words on social media these days as it seems. Although for me, as a journalist, it’s clear: If I can track the sources and if the writer considered opposing positions and asked all the intruding questions, it’s a neutral point of view and reliable, no matter what’s written on the name label of the paper or broadcaster. We cannot chose what’s true due to our beliefs, we have to elicit truth by looking at the facts and the sources. This, regrettably, has become quite a challenge when observing Scottish events while living in Germany.

Third, my understanding has a tough time with reactions and decisions (not only) in Scotland. Don’t get me wrong, I do know how politics work, I do understand coherences and causal effects, I see essential overlaps of politics and economics. Ideals, cultural as well as social ones, such as equal rights and opportunities, poverty reduction etc., are noble aims, and I, for one, do believe in them, too. But a country needs money to implement aims like these, and money depends on a vital economic system which flourishes and grows, so it would be rather naive to exclude capitalistic attempts. So yes, I can understand why the Tories, being the British party with the best visible economic direction, sail in a tailwind during times of insecurities of different types. What I do not understand is how a PM can propose a vote of confidence – and that’s the bottom line of what is going to happen tomorrow with the new GE – but miss to offer a transparent programme. What is the definition of „mainstream“, talking of the „mainstream government for mainstream Britain“ statement placed in Halifax? What if the „if“ in „if we get Brexit right, we can use this moment…“ turns out to be a „but all the others don’t want to play by our rules“? These are just two wee examples of many, I’ve read the manifesto here, maybe you should do the same, and I ask you to tell me if you find what I did not find: concrete plans, arguments and facts instead of future visions, beautiful words and ifs. So without taking sides, I personally don’t understand the Why when I read there’s no real alternative to a conservative majority, as I don’t think that a party can rest on the sad fact the other parties provide even less substance and even more nonsense. So I don’t understand the arguments for “strategic votes” or “resistance votes” which aren’t worth the term “argument”, ergo I don’t understand the going ons any more.

But I’m going to have my eyes and my attention in Britain and especially Scotland tomorrow. Maybe the outcome and what the country makes of it help me to get over these three obstacles, and maybe I’m more motivated hereafter to rant on about my favourite topic: Scotland.


Goodbye Named Persons, hello self-control

So at long last the UK Supreme Court has blocked the Named Person scheme suggested by SNP. That is what I’ve expected and personally hoped for, due to many arguments against it. I do agree in the basic idea that children, being the weakest part of society, need to be protected from unhealthy surroundings, may it be in their parental home, their school class or their virtual space. Some parts of the discussion I followed suggested that parents can be the worst threat to children and their wellbeing. I don’t think it’s that easy. As soon as children reach school age, they spend a huge part of their days at school. As soon as they get a mobile device, they spend another huge part of their days online. Threats and risks are everywhere, and bullying classmates can possibly destroy more than a depressive mother, depends on the situation really. I do agree that all children everywhere and not only in Scotland should be motivated to speak their minds towards neutral thirds when they suffer from worries, anxiety, anger or whatever they cannot deal with on their own. Easily available contact points where they can go to would be a good idea. But children, even of younger ages, should be considered self-thinking and feeling human beings, not objects to get patronised. They should be allowed to deliberately choose the people they want to put trust in. If they are their parents: perfect!

Of course, there are cases when helpless infants get abused by their drug consuming parents, for example. But every healthy person on earth would report them to the police as soon as they get their finger on it, why waiting for a routine control by a named person and passing responsibility to others? Maybe reasonable means of monitoring endangered children should be amplified: a mandatory frequence of doctor’s visits, for example, frequent questioning of parents who are known on the record for issues such as drug abuse, violence, paedophilia etc.

Btw, did you know that due to the Protection of Children Act 1978 where parts of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 still based on, the possession of (see the easy to understand Sentencing on Wikipedia) „material solely for own use“ of level-1-pseudo-photographs of children „depicting erotic posing with no sexual activity“ only leads to a fine or conditional discharge? Paedophilia isn’t the topic here, and I don’t feel entitled to judge people who are doubtlessly ill and need the help of a therapist. We do agree though that people who get turned on by material like this most probably have paedophiliac tendencies, right? But if I understand the valid law correctly, the same people get away with a fine and are not forced to do a therapy. Therefore they can live on as usual and raise a family, including own children. These children would be in an increased danger of possibly getting abused. Strangers who poke their nose into everything wouldn’t necessarily help with that. A stricter law and obligatory therapies for people with addictions, behavioural anomalies and problematic sexual preferences however would help. No matter if the risk is at home, at school or in the internet (where named persons wouldn’t be of any use). The aim should not be controlling the parents and patronising the child, the aim should be helping adults who might become a danger for children avoiding exactly that.

The Named Person scheme would have given too much power to randoms and would indeed have been a privacy infringement. This is a no-go in a democratic society and could lead to a surveillance state. That kind of control proved itself an expedient to the advantage of totalitarian dictators in the past. Control is the opposite of freedom. So I welcome the Supreme Court’s decision. But freedom must not open doors for people who haven’t learnt to seize control of their own demons. Everyone has the right to live a healthy, violence and abuse free life from the moment of their birth to the second of their death. It’s the state’s task to ensure that. Control actually is a key word here, but it should be about self-control of people who got out of control.

Look out where your attention flows

In the recent days, I’ve often read lines like „I’m scared of looking at what’s trending on Twitter as it’s mostly about new attacks“ or „this feeling of fear when you see a city trending and you know immediately something bad has happened“. It’s not a Scottish phenomenon as such, but I felt like this blog is the right place to talk about it. This very morning I checked Twitter as usual, and a strange hashtag was the top trend in several countries. It was about a girl I had never heard of. She turned out to be a YouTube-blogger. One of many. Many many. Thousands. And her subject isn’t special as well: beauty, fashion, blabla. Yesterday, she already had lots of subscribers what might be owed to her pretty face, less to the content, but I’m not here to judge. She’s successful as a blogger without a doubt. Today though, the whole wide world knows her, and she’s in the news in her home country England just like in Germany, Spain, Italy and even in the far East. So what has happened?

Obviously: nothing. That girl posted a video, someone found her behaviour suspicious in the meaning of: assumed she was acting as if she was scared and in danger. It’s hard to track how exactly a world wide panic emerged from this, but supposedly this person who thought she was in danger didn’t call the police – that’s what people are meant to do if someone is in danger and there’s no traceable way to help them directly, isn’t it? -, but created a hashtag beginning with the key word „save“ followed by the name. So actually, whoever observed whatever ceded the responsibility to others. And thousands followed. Conspiracy theories followed as well. The range is (the tag is still trending, believe it or not) from „she took drugs“ or rather „she was forced to take drugs“ and „she was abused by her bf, and he took her accounts over“ to – no joke! – „she was kidnapped by ISIS and will be in the centre of an attack in London today“. Sorry: What?

I mean, I don’t want to bring this whole situation into ridicule: It’s a possible scenario that a video-blogger attracts dangerous „fans“ and could be searched for, found and threatened in one way or another, it’s even a possible scenario that someone pleas for help using the internet if there’s no other way to get in touch with people. And it’s good and right that people who notice suspicious behaviour react on it. But not by creating a hashtag and obsessing about becoming an „online detective“ by „solving“ a „strange case“ and develop conspiracy theories further and further. The only healthy reaction would be to either get there and make sure she’s fine (addressed to friends/family) or inform people who can make sure she’s fine on a professional basis, usually the police (addressed to strangers). Someone obviously was healthy enough to react like that as the British Mirror  reported that the police have visited the girl and found her safe and sound. For me, the case should have been closed with the police statement. Not for the blogger and her growing fan base though. The day went on with a live stream where she claimed again and again she’s fine, and people replying again and again that they don’t believe it. And goes on with more conspiracy theories.

As I said, that particular case is solved from my view. But the situation is not. And this crazy viral panic teaches us some things about the internet and social media we surprisingly weren’t aware of yet as it seems.

  1. Showing off in the internet and becoming a public person in one way or another is not harmless. Everyone, and young people in the first place, should first think and then post. It’s not really a big difference if you post beauty advice or saucy content, you are making you available to all people around the world with an internet access, including dangerous criminals. This is not a game. I don’t consider a bunch of follows and likes important enough to put my privacy and life in danger. If you agree, don’t chase after attention but use the possibilities of the internet with reason and responsibility. Attention can be an ego boost, but also a danger. What brings us to
  2. It’s one thing to keep yourself informed about what’s going on, it’s another thing to fall for everything you see and allow yourself to be dragged into becoming part of it without putting into question whether or not the source is reliable and the information is complete. Now, I’m a journo, and fully educated journos tend to ask and ask again before they pin something down. That’s probably „too much“ for the common crowd, but a bit of it prevents everyone from getting taken in by pranks and hoaxes. So: Checking on spectacular hashtags is okay, immediately and unreflectecly having an opinion and posting it (and, by that, forwarding false or incomplete information to spread) is not. And
  3. There’s a risk about attention, and especially too much attention. What brings us back to the beginning and the constant bad news of the past few days. People do bad things to get attention, they murder innocent people, they attack places and festivals and churches. In order to get attention. Attention for their aims. Attention is also a fundament for fear. No one is scared of things they don’t notice. Attention, seen from a psychological view (behaviourism), is also an intensifier. It acts as a positive reward and encourages people to go on with what they do and even increase the intensity. It’s hard to ignore news about terrorism etc., of course, and we should not. But the question is how we can talk about it and find solutions without giving the aggressors attention. Group dynamics on social media are sometimes indeed a strong reinforcement for unhealthy deeds and ideas. People who have a different belief system and consider the Western World to be full of dregs who are not entitled to be alive, let alone to have an opinion, don’t notice all the well-intentioned comments and think „oh, they close ranks, they pray for each other, how impressive“, they only see that they get attention and that they spread panic and distract people from their normal lifes. And this is what they want. Loyality and helpfulness are essential building bricks of a civilised society, yes, but we need to find a way to live them instead of expressing them excessively on social media which virtually helps anyone really. Neither a girl if she’d had been really kidnapped nor the victims of violent attacks.

So the lesson I have learnt from today: No support for attention seekers of all kinds, instead we need a healthy communication about how to use the internet for growing togetherness not ego on the one hand, and how to grow stronger against people who don’t want us to live our lives on the other hand.