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Envious Eyes 

On the morning after Catalonia declares her independence from Spain I declare my support for independent state of Catalonia and Catalan people in taking this step and as I do so part of me is wishing it was Scotland. It is for that reason I have written this poem and titled it Envious Eyes I hope you enjoy the read. Envious Eyes 

As a new nation declares its right to exist 

I look on with envious eyes 

proud of Catalonia as it takes its first steps 

yet this Glasgweigan wishes it was Scotland 

and is certain it will be in our time 

for the moment however I am proud of our comrades

as they move forward to a better day

having decided that their story could no longer be told in Spanish

it had to be authentically Catalonian 

meanwhile Madrid attempts to bring in draconian laws

to stop the tide of history 

losing any sense of dignity it may have had

as Franco’s heirs live on at least in their minds 

and those who want to bring Dickensian times to Scotland

in the name of a United Kingdom 

which is the one of the most unequal  socieies in the democratic world 

where the poor go hungry so the rich can be fed 

and disabled people are being  financially bled

and are told by some unelected lord

they aren’t even worth the minimum wage 

as Catalonia takes centre stage 

I recall how bravely they fought

feel ashamed of pro union Scots 

so gullible they sing of saving a  monarch

who will out live many of them 

and are too deluded to see 

that short term gain comes with a long term loss

and I will shed no tears when it arrives at their door 

they will have only themselves to blame

as they worship false gods dressed in ermine

whose true uniform is sackcloath and ashes

so as Catalonia prepares for the first day of a new future 

I look with optimism of a Scotland free from class ridden snobbery

where poverty and inequality will be things of the past 

and dreams and ambitions realised 

so as I say Viva Catalonia I must admit 

though I look at you proudly

I do so with envious eyes 

 © Gayle Smith 2017

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Eclipsed

As many of you will know this is National Poetry Day and this year the theme for the event is freedom. Like all the themes chosen to celebrate this day it can be interpreted in any number of ways but inspite of mywell documented support for both the Scottish National Party and the cause of independence , if you have come here looking for a braveheart claymore wielding poem in support of my party or cause your going to very disappointed.  I’ve written plenty of those poems in the past and will do so again when the occasion demands. This however, is neither the time nor the place for it. Instead i have chosen to look at the top in a more petsonal capacity by addressing those hard won freedoms that should be the hallmark of any civilised society and the danger to them from the Conservative goverment and The Great Repeal Bill which would give UK Prime Minister Theresa May the powers of a medievil monarch. This is the most dangerous piece of legislation brought before any parliament since the German parliament passed the Enabling Act in 1933 which paved the way for Hitler’s reign of terror. I’ve given it the title Eclipsed as i genuinely fear for our rights if this passes into law. I hope you enjoy the read 

Eclipsed
Freedom 

For this Glasgweigan 

means being able to assemble 

with my friends at a place of my choice 

raise my voice in demonstrations 

or poetry nights

fight for the rights of others

as well as myself 

I’ve never been the selfish type 

some kinds of freedoms are greatly overhyped 

like that to offend others

in the name of free speech 

freedom means having within my reach

the chance to make the most of my skills and abilities

walk the streets with dignity 

unafraid to be who i am 

whilst respecting others 

even when we may disagree on certain issues

it is not a woolly concept

supported only by guardian reading 

bleeding heart liberals 

and must be availble to all citizens 

not just those who can afford 

to send their children to the right schools  

it is imposing only rules considered reasonable and necessary 

for society to function properly 

but in all honesty 

not everyone is as free 

as should be the case in a civilised country 

I recognise freedom can have an ugly side 

if allowed to go unchecked

to me it’s all about respect 

we can’t afford to neglect our hard won rights 

or the sun will go down on them 

and as we sleep through the darkest hour of night

we will wake up to find them eclipsed 

 © Gayle Smith 2017 

Diet Of Kindness 

With all the madness of Brexit and and an ever growing culture of individualism and the me first society, people are increasingly putting their own needs ahead of the common good. In this poem i take a look at what local, national, and global society could be like if we could move to from the cult of personality politics to a kinder way of communicating with and responding to the needs of others. Ive given it the title Diet Of Kindness i hope you enjoy the read .

Diet Of Kindness 

As evening approaches i am aware 

it will soon be time to dine

but i think not of food 

though a fish supper is appealing

it is not a meal i want right now

rather a change in the way we treat others and ourselves

this will be beneficial to the emotional health

of our communities and nations 

we should seek inspiration from volunteers not millionaires

we need to change what we aspire to be 

this is not about food

 it is about the common good of the human race 

too often we are told to know our place 

and accept this order without questioning those who served it up

or asking them why they didn’t put respect on the menu

from Hitler to Stalin from Franco to Caucescu 

we have been taken to the fast food  politics

of instant gratification

only to hunger for commodities  dished out on our individual platters

by the tabloid press and 24 hour  television

to limit our ambitions 

to what they believe is right for them 

as half the world starves to death 

and the other half craves what they can’t posses

are we too blind to see the answer that lies before us 

humanity is not about building borders barriers or walls

pride will always come before you fall from a very great height 

as evening comes i am aware 

it will soon be time to dine 

but it’s not food i have on my mind 

it is change in the way we live

it’s about taking less and giving more 

talking to the outcasts 

those until now you have chosen to ignore 

it’s about changing who and what we aspire to be 

setting ourselves free from authoritarian chains

it’s raising our voices in anger when we  see others being demonised and labelled 

it’s about accepting people

 be they LGBT , disabled or from different religious groups 

it’s a recipe not for the stomach but  the mind 

and replacing individualist self indulgence 

with a diet of kindness served up with compassion and humanity 

© Gayle Smith 2017

The Cultural Manifesto Of A  Man Who Speaks For Fairness ( A Review Of Freedom By Matt Panesh)

In the comfort of the cinema room in my favourite Edinburgh bar on a busy festival Friday I did something I’ve been doing for the last eight years and I allowed myself to be entertained by the cheeky chappie of the Edinburgh fringe Matt Panesh. Matt aka Monkey Poet is always on my must see list and this year’s show was no different. In fact the fact  that Matt made it known that this would be his last full run after nine successive years of entertaining the crowds at the fringe eight of them at the Banshee Labyrinth often with two full snows made it if anything all the more important to see a man who over the years has become a valued member of my fringe family. 

For this year’s show Matt (pictured below) departed from his usual monkey poet style ramblings I’ve come to know and enjoy and instead was just Matt Panesh. However I should perhaps explain that there is no such thing as just Matt Panesh. Trust me, this guy is a consummate performer and an excellent storyteller who knows how to engage his audience right from the get go. 

Picture (Matt Panesh on stage in the Cinema Room of The Banshee Labyrinth)

The topic for this show entitled Freedom, was the fringe and what the idea of fringe theatre means to him .  In his opening line which marked the start of an hour of top quality entertainment Matt reminded us that the Edinburgh festival wás celebrating its 70th birthday this year as it was born from the rubble of the Second World War when the people of Britain and Europe needed something to cheer them up after the horrors of the most brutal conflict in human history in which 60 million people died. Matt however had a reason to be grateful for the war as his Polish and Russian grandparents who  met in an Austrian refugee camp and married in Italy and had to cross the alpes twice before eventually settling in Britain  would never have got together otherwise. It is due to the story I’ve just related that Matt has never told told his grandmother it’s a long way to the shops. 

Having given the audience an insight in to his own background Matt then went to inform us of the reason that the festival came to Edinburgh rather any other British or European city. The reasoning was simple Edinburgh wás the only one which hadn’t been blown to bits by the ravages of war and so the biggest arts festival wás born.

Matt then gave us his unique take on how he started doing fringes and he started in not in Edinburgh but in Canada, and Canadian fringes are a wee bit different to Scottish or UK festivals. You see in Canada the fringes aren’t held in big cities like Toronto, Ottawa, or Montreal, but in small towns  like Winnipeg where the culture comes to visit for two weeks a year and then disappears again for the rest of the year. It was during this time of doing festivals in Canada and the USA Matt began to realise the benefits of having what the locals would call an exotic accent but also saw for himself the benefits of what culture can do for the economy of particular geographic locations. 

As an established regular performer  on the Edinburgh scene Matt spoke with passion on what we have come to know as the free fringe which celebrated its 22nd birthday and without which he and countless other performers couldn’t afford to bring their shows to be part of the festival. Gradually Matt became more involved with the free fringe and along with Fay Roberts programs the spoken word section of it. This as he told us is rewarding but not without potential hazards but as he rightly says it saves performers a fortune as they get the venues for free and any money they make from public donations is their own and with all the premises for the free fringe given free by local Edinburgh businesses it brings a host of performers to the city who would not otherwise be able to attend the event.

In being so directly involved with the free fringe Matt has seen for himself the benefits that it can bring to the area in terms of both tourism and finance and is therefore a staunch supporter of this kind of festival and the platform it can provide for the creative arts. Having relocated from Manchester to the coastal town of Morecambe after last year’s fringe Matt found that opportunities for potential nights out were a wee bit limited as the place he now called home didn’t have any spoken word venue and there wasn’t a single comedy club anywhere in the town. However,  those of you who know Matt will also know he is if nothing else a man brimming with ideas and after thinking about this cultural dilemma he faced he started sounding out local venues and businesses about the idea of a fringe festival in Morecambe. After an initially cautious reaction Matt told us how he won them round to the idea by persuading them of the economic advantages both for the town and the wider geographic area. 

Initially this year’s  Morecambe fringe which started tonight will be a weekend affair with it expanding to a week  long event next year. Being the cheeky and persuasive  chappie I know he  can be , it came as no surprise to me that  he even managed to convince Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn,( on whom by  his own admission he has an enormous man crush) of the merits of his brainchild which he says will be run on a small scale version of the Edinburgh model. 

At the end of a journey through time, culture, and history Matt said he  might as well finish with a poem and asked the audience which poem he should do. Knowing his work better than most people in attendance I suggested Understanding, which Matt said he has since retitled How To Be Patriotic Without Sounding  Like A White Supremasist in response to the rise of far right parties like The BNP and UKIP. This uplifting poem sets out Matt’s vision of a Britain for everyone and more than any other poem sums up the cultural manifesto of a man who speaks for fairness  

Till next time.

Gayle X

After The Votes Were Counted The Result Was A Night Of Mixed Emotions

This will not be an easy post to write nor indeed should it be. As I look back on the events of last Thursday evening it is I hope with a cool head that I review the results of the UK General Election and in particular what it means for the politics of Scotland. 

Having won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in the election of  2015 it is I think fair to say that for the SNP this was always going to be a difficult night and I say that openly and with a Scottish National Party card in my purse. The fact this was a snap election called by Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May to get a mandate for her hard Brexit strategy seemed to wrong foot my party who just didn’t seem prepared for it or the fight it was going to bring. After all the only elections we were supposed to be fighting this year were of the local council variety. 

Talking of the council elections these should have given the SNP a warning of just how dirty  all the unionist parties were prepared to fight. The fact that there were all sorts of tactical voting arrangements in place to defeat SNP candidates should have sent a flashing amber light straight to SNP headquarters and the fact that it didn’t seem to do this is something I find very alarming indeed. All through the council election campaign all three leaders of the pro UK parties were talking of nothing else but the threat of  a second divisive independence referendum and a willing press and media allowed them the space to do so. 

It is my  opinion that the SNP were far too civilised on this issue and we should have went for the throat in a much more assertive manner with all of our pro union opponents and we should have went for Ruth Davidson in particular far harder than  we did and not let her get away with her outrageous and disgraceful behaviour against our democratically elected First Minister.  Ever since last year’s Scottish election Davidson has been acting as if she had won that election, and not the SNP. This should have been held up to ridicule and Davidson should have been forced to defend her Conservative policies rather than get away Brit free with  her one issue campaign on defending  her precious union. 

Now whilst this may be perceived as bias by those concerned I am more concerned  about our apparent lack of fight in meeting this ridiculous claim head on and forcing the unionists on to the back foot.  This must be at least to some extent responsible for our loses on Thursday night as more than any other  party SNP voters need to be inspired by a campaign that motivates them to vote and to me at least that didn’t happen this time 

The matter of tactical voting wasn’t taken anywhere near as seriously as it should have been by the SNP and it  wasn’t just unionists who were  doing it. There were in my opinion three groups of yes voters who exercised their own version of independence and  anyone who says this didn’t happen is denying reality. These groups were left leaning yes voters who voted Labour for Jeremy Corbyn and his vision of a fairer society, Yexit voters in rural areas especially but not exclusively in the North of Scotland , this was a group of voters who voted yes for independence in 2014 but voted to leave the European Union, and the stay at home voters who will always vote SNP when they go out to vote  but who if they feel the party has let them down or are not doing enough in key areas and have not been engaged by the manifesto or contacted by local activists  may exercise their democratic right to withhold their vote and there is no doubt that all three of these factors played against the party on this occasion.

 This however, could have been migitgated at local level if we had been a bit bolder in holding the unionist parties feet to the fire and challenging them on the authenticity and indeed sincerity of their views. For example we should have sought to make much more of the internal Labour Party fued between Jeremy Corbyn and his Scottish party leader Kezia Dugdale and highlighted the fact that far from being  Corbynistas the vast majority of the Scottish candidates had more in common with Kez than they did with Jez. 

Whilst I’m not sure it would have prevented any of our loses to Labour with the possible exception of Glasgow North East, I do believe that such tactics might have firmed up our majorities in a significant number of the seats we managed to hold thus making it easier to defend them at the next election. Instead of that it may well be the case though I hope it isn’t, that we have to go in to that election with the kind of fire fighting strategy aimed at avoiding a whole swathe of loses to Labour in what used to be their heartland seats.  It is my opinion that should this be the case the SNP will be looking at a return of between 18 -23 seats maximum and on a really bad night we could go down as low as 8-12. However if as I think we should, we take a more assertive line against our opponents I see no reason why we can’t win between 44-48 seats at the  next election. 

I believe we have to go down this road as I think there are dangers in playing too nice. Let’s face it we campaigned as the nice party in this election and it didn’t work and to be honest I don’t see it working in  future .  You can call me alarmist if you like, but I prefer realistic. You see I learned from the best my like lecturer in electoral behaviour Malcolm Dickson who did the System Three polls for the Herald and our resident professor who at that time gave guest lectures which I always made sure to attend. I am of course talking about the voice of elections in Scotland John Curtice who I’m sure would be happy to see one of his former students exercising such caution in their forecasting 

If  my caution is justified and born of out of both experience and I hope reason, my party’s caution was to some extent dictated by the fact that this was a Westminster election and the fact that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn produced by their recent standards a radical manifesto which captured the imagination of voters throughout the UK and had I not been a member of the SNP and been so emotionally committed to my party and our ultimate aim of independence I could easily have been one of the yes voters who could have loaned my vote to Labour Party to get Jeremy Corbyn elected as Prime Minister.

The other key reasons for my party’s caution was the fact that having won an unrealistically high number of seats it was always going to be a night when the unionist voters would indulge themselves in a wee bit of tactical voting to get rid of some of our most talented and high profile MP’s whilst the media predicted the end of the road for our Westminster leader Angus Robertson who lost his Moray seat to the Conservatives, Callum Kerr and Richard Arkless who were the victims of a Conservative clean sweep in the Border constituencies Kirsteen Oswald whose East Renfrewshire seat once the safest Tory seat in Scotland returned to its natural home for the first time since the days of Alan Stewart, Stuart Donaldson in Kincardine And West Aberdeenshire and Pete Wishart who ironically enough fulfilled my  prediction and held on in Perth and North Perthshire. They didn’t pick up on others which were definitely on my vulnerable list such as Angus , Stirling, Ochil And South Perthshire,  and potentially Alex Salmond’s Gordon constituency  though I thought this was likely to be a Liberal Democrat gain rather than a Tory one.  

I have to say that the more the campaign went the more concerned I became for the SNP candidates who were fighting a difficult election on an agenda over which they had little control. At the beginning of the campaign I rather optimistically predicted that the Conservatives would get no more  than six seats and may even be lucky to get that. It is however fair to say that as the campaign progressed I began to see the direction of travel and it wasn’t travelling in our direction and even as a lifetime optimist I started to think the scale of our loses could be and in all probability would be far heavier than I first thought. Indeed on the morning of the election I forecast to a friend that my prediction for my party was between 38-44 seats, a far cry from the 48-52 seats most of my friends and even some sections of the press believed we would win. 

All things consideredthis  election was not a good one for the SNP or at least not on the surface , but if I take a closer look at it from a more personal perspective I think it could be discribed as a night of mixed emotions for me and my party. Yes we lost some serious big hitters from our ranks but  make no mistake we are a party with plenty of talent in our ranks and I hope that honourable members such as Alison Thewliss,  Chris Stephens,  Joanna Cherry , Lisa Cameron,  Mhairi Black ,  Stephen  Gethins , Stewart MacDonald , Tommy Sheppard and others will be given the chance to shine in this parliament and by doing so demonstrate the wealth of highly skilled representatives we have at our disposal.  
It is I think fair to say  that despite our  loses most of which were inevitable for a party in the mid term of a third term Scottish Government, and in an election when UK politics has been more polarised  than at any time since the 1980’s the SNP still won the Scottish part of this election. I believe to do this in the face of an unprecedented and vicious press and media onslaught represents a truly remarkable achievement from which we should take quiet satisfaction. You see by removing what they see as our most talented MP’s the Conservatives may actually have accidentally strengthened our hand as with no Angus or Alex to cast in the role of the bogeyman it will be so much harder for them cast us as a two man team now than was previously the case. 

Looking back on the  events of the night I have to say that after the votes were counted it was a night of mixed emotions.  From a personal  perspective I had as good an election as was going to be possible given the circumstances as  I watched with pride the return of several of my closest  political allies to serve as their constituency  MPs and my reputation for fairness and accuracy   as a political  pundit was vindicated by my early morning election day prediction being uncomfortably close to the truth 

Meanwhile with regards to the gains  made by the pro UK parties I will await with interest the verdict on the new Labour and Tory intake and how many of them will actually be up to the job. I suggest that it may not be quite as many as they think and once they have to talk on  issues other than their obsessive hatred of the SNP and independence they may  be found out for what they are and the SNP stand  best  placed to benefit from such a scenario.

 At the beginning of this campaign all the unionist leaders in Scotland said they wanted to send Nicola Sturgeon a message, and to a certain extent they got their wish. It is my opinion however, that sometimes people should be careful what they wish for as they may actually get it and find to their horror that it might  not be as good as they think.  

Till next time 

Gayle X

Dissenting Voices 

On day 29 of NaPoWriMo my penultimate poem of this year’s collection deals with the authoritarian politics of the increasingly right wing British Conservative Party whose Prime Minister, Theresa May has recently  boasted about crushing dissenting voices in the United Kingdom. This is something which I find very alarming indeed as I happen to believe that debate is an essential part of the political process in any civilised democratic society. It is with my democratic values in mind that I have written this poem and given it the title Dissenting Voices. I hope you find it a challenging and thought provoking read. 
Dissenting Voices
When someone talks of dissent

rather than debate 

the spectre of hate speech 

appears like a dark shadow 

on the clouds of an early morning 

this is a stark warning 

of darker days to come 

the slow beginning of the demonsation of others

the creeping use of ghostly figures 

used to represent a past which was never glorious 

but in which we will be told we were happy 

because our country was victorious over our enemies

in this language of blame  

prejudice rears its ugly head 

time and time again

so instead of making progress 

on the journey to equality 

or helping working families find routes out of poverty 

we will collectively be known as the silent majority 

who thought it best to stay silent 

in the face of hostility from authority 

and generations to come will ask the question 

why did our ancestors not fight 

for the yesterdays that were our grandparents tomorrow’s 

they will speak with sorrow and shame 

when they see the causality list of rights 

we sacrificed at the temple of self interest 

because we thought it was the best thing to do 

to secure our future regardless of who we hurt

disabled people were trampled into the dirt 

as were those with different gender identities , sexualities , or races 

this is what happens 

when someone talks of dissent rather than debate 

couched in that language

is the place where hate begins

where fear and ignorance wins over hope 

and the road to a better tomorrow lies decimated

 before the fight for it has even begun 

yet some would want us to walk that path 

of selfishness and loathing 

ignoring the fact we have been here before

when a wolf wrapped himself in the clothes of a sheep 

so no-one could see the swastikas hidden underneath 

and a beaten people danced when they were told 

falling in to line behind the master 

there were no dissenting voices in the Reich 

© Gayle Smith 2017 

 

Jewel Of The Clyde 

On day 11 of NaPoWriMo my topic of choice is culture as I look back to 1990 when Glasgow was European City Of Culture and look at the legacy this has left us. I’ve given it the title Jewel Of The Clyde. I hope you enjoy the read.  

Jewel Of The Clyde 
I remember it well 

  1990 

when Glasgow was cultural capital of Europe 

and we were told by our so called betters 

we were the Jewel of the Clyde 

this marketing slogan for the middle classes 

never sat well with ordinary lassies like me 

well not at the time 

though we eventually got used to it 

maybe even liked it 

we never got excited at the prospect the big ticket events 

not when the prices were at least a month’s rent 

we weren’t in to Pavarotti or Sinatra 

but a bit of Love and Money went down fine 

there were lines to be drawn 

between the Scotia Bar and the Tron 

my dad said 

though  I must admit I felt at home 

in both 

well one had ambience the other had heart 

less than a mile apart they symbolised the contrast 

between new and old Glasgow

the geography of conflict 

between socialism and gentrification 

where culture wars real and imagined 

began to be fought 

1990 showed the haves and have nots 

were warring tribes on the hunt  for new recruits 

aspiration and tradition the badges of honour 

claimed by opposing sides 

you could have one but not the other 

in the world according to my mother 

I wanted both and believed I could have them 

I was never wedded to the idea of class as identity 

my view that it was a bigger social construct than nation 

sat well with my radical dad 

but not my socially conservative mum 

who heard distant drums

 as a symbol of her white Protestant Britishness 

the togetherness unionists still bang on about 

even though its days are numbered 

2014 saw generational cultures colide 

but the Jewel of the Clyde voted yes 

to independence

and did it for MacLean and Jimmy Reid 

greed  has never been our way 

the big ticket events have their place 

but if 1990 showed us anything 

it was that our communities 

are what make us strong 

there were lots Glasgowing On 

to give us a sense of belonging 

and a sentimental longing for yesterday 

but times moved on 

and we found our voice

telling stories with authenticity and dignity 

 in plays in community halls 

and poetry nights in bars 

the ordinary people were the stars 

of the Glasgow show 

the roots we planted have grown 

we have flourished beyond recognition 

aspiration and tradition have married 

and the Jewel of the Clyde 

 is the voice they gave to their children. 

 © Gayle Smith 2017