Thursday, 26 May 2011

Does God want more than Devo Max?

In the wake of SNP’s apparently miraculous majority in the Holyrood election, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland  has acknowledged that God works in mysterious ways and instructed its officers to investigate the consequences of  independence for the Kirk.
The inquiry was outlined yesterday by the Rev Dr Douglas Gay, the commissioner whose proposal was endorsed in Edinburgh.  It will report to a future assembly, spelling  out the constitutional challenge of full independence, and providing a road-map for the church’s new role.
Politicians and economists may fret about the consequences of Scotland going it alone, but, said Dr Gay, the church had equal cause for concerns about the future.   The Bible is its foundation, but the Act of Union and the Articles Declaratory are its biggest  buttresses, helping to enshrine  its  unique position in national life.
To make matters worse for those who dislike radical change, Dr Gay, an SNP member,  was inclined to believe the Lord does not favour “Devo-Max (a few more peers for the Scottish Parliament), but  more inclined to confederalism (equal powers for equal nations). If He does, the constitutional implications for the Church of Scotland are immense.
“A confederal solution  would recognise  that an independent Scotland should be in structured relationships with other states,” said Dr Gay,   “The Union of the Crowns would carry on.  The Queen would send her annual  letter to the General Assembly, but it might no longer say  that ‘I pledge to uphold the Presbyterian nature of Scotland’, because that belongs to the Treaty of Union, and not to the Union of the Crowns.”
The Kirk’s standing as a national institution would be undermined in other ways  by a  new constitutional settlement. In the 1707, at the time of the union,  Presbyterianism was a truly national religion, its values invading every corner of Scottish life.  That had changed completely, said  Dr Gay, a lecturer in practical theology at Glasgow University. 
 “Scottish society was remade in the 19th century by large scale immigration from Ireland,” he said. “If you only characterise Scotland as Presbyterian  you also miss out the other religious traditions. The future has to be one in which we are all recognised.
“The Kirk is described as  ‘a’ National Church not ‘the’ national church in the Articles Declaratory. That is a very important distinction. Whatever the recognition of the Church of Scotland within a future constitutional settlement, it can’t be one of  privilege.”
Dr Gay’s approach requires substantial shifting of the Kirk’s mental furniture.  Much of its ceremonial is tied up in its status, acknowledged by Queen, through the Lord High Commissioner, who passes her letter into general assembly as  its opening ceremony.  “These are interesting moments, they  disclose something  about the relationship between church and state,” said Dr Gay.
On issues such as the morality of nuclear weapons,  the Church position already coincides with SNP policy, opposing the Trident base at Faslane.   This could prove significant in building support for independence,  said Dr Gay.
 “If the Kirk continues to suggest that the favoured option is to get rid of nuclear weapons, and there is one party in Scotland offering people a means to do that, it is clearly going to have an effect on the climate of opinion in Scotland, and patterns of political support,” he said.
The Church been in the vanguard of political debate about Scotland’s future. Home Rule, championed by the Labour Party in the 1940s, became a cornerstone of Kirk discussion from 1947.  In the 1980s, the General Assembly became a proving ground for the devolutionary ideas that flowered in the 1990s.  For many in the Kirk, it was fitting that when the Scottish Parliament first met, it did so in the Assembly Hall.   
Dr Gay conceded however, that many Church members harboured a deep-rooted hostility to nationalism, dating back to the struggles against fascism in the 1930s and 1940s.  
“ This is a theological and ethical suspicion of nationalism; for some people it is a very toxic word and idea,” he said. “Any theological consideration of it has to address those very toxic things. The Church will make a great contribution to this debate.  Instinctively we are continually guided to respect  each other, by love thy neighbour – these are the key ethical that lie behind our stance on political issues.”  
Ian Galloway, the convenor of the Church and Society Council said it was essential that the Kirk addressed in its deliberations the possibility of independence.
“The worst thing for the church would be to be unprepared for constitutional change,” he said. “Whatever the outcome, we have to work through the implications.”  

Friday, 20 May 2011

Andy Goram: bowled over by cricket

The Scotsman, 15 May 1999

I suppose being told to stop my cricket was a small price to pay for playing football for Rangers for seven years. But it would be great to be playing now, to be part of the Scotland team for this World Cup.

It's a while since I had my last game for Scotland against Sussex at Myreside. It was 1991, I'd just signed at Ibrox. The gaffer, Walter Smith, let me have it as a farewell, by mutual agreement if you like, but it wasn't always as easy as that.

A year or so earlier, when I was at Hibs, the cricket team were due to play against the Australians in Glasgow. The manager, Alex Miller, pulled me aside and told me he didn't want me to play in case I got injured and he made it crystal clear I'd get fined if I did turn out.

But this was just one of those things. A lot of English county players would never get the chance to play against Australia, who were the world champions. I thought about it and I realised I would never get the opportunity again, so I decided to take the consequences.

It was some occasion. Both sides were taken to a dinner the night before the match at the City Chambers and we got on like a house of fire. None of the Australians could understand how I could be fined for playing for my country, and Merv Hughes, the big fast bowler, really stood out as someone who was sympathetic.

Next day, when I came into bat, Merv was bowling. I thought he would be the same nice guy from the night before and he certainly wouldn't give me a bouncer first ball. But, sure enough, I got forward early, he dropped one short and he nearly took my head off.

When I looked up, he was standing right in front of me. "You should have stuck to fucking football, mate" he snarled. "You're probably right, big man," I thought. Then I got down the other end as quick as I could, and shouldered arms to the spinner Tim May just to get out of there.

We got beaten, but it was a great experience. Back at Hibs, I knew I was going to get fined but that didn't compare with playing cricket against probably the best team in the world.

The thing is, I love the game. It's not as good a livelihood, but I prefer to play cricket rather than football because it's one-on-one, him against me.

Of course, you need the lads around to help you, but it's the one team sport where you can be in total control. If you're batting you can take control of the bowling, and you don't need much help. Whereas in football you need help all the time. I can't control a game from the goal.

I got into cricket when I was about 12 years old, playing for the juniors at East Lancs Paper Mill in Radcliffe. I joined because my auntie was the scorer. After that, I played for four or five clubs in the Saddleworth League on the Manchester side of the Pennines.

It's a hard league, one of the toughest. They're wonderful family clubs, just a bunch of lads that enjoy a game of cricket at the weekend. Even the clubhouse was an institution of its own, its all drinks and talking about the game.

In Scotland, it's not snobby, but a little bit more upmarket. Down there they're all cotton villages with their mills, they're boys with hard upbringings, so it was always pretty fierce - that was a big difference down there.

But it had its own atmosphere. Look at these World Cup games coming up, they'll be great days out. There's no fighting, there's no bad blood, or anything like that. You can go and have a couple of beers and just enjoy the day, especially if it's sunny.

It was the same at clubs like Austerlands or Moorside in the Saddleworth League. It was a different atmosphere altogether and it was a release for me, coming out of the football and just going to enjoy myself.

I was a very natural type of player, with an eye for the ball. I probably didn't have the best technique in the world, but I'd always score runs. I was one of the lucky ones. I just loved batting and bowling and if I was left idle, I wasn't too pleased.

Later on it became more of a hobby, but when I was a kid and I was made captain of Lancashire schoolboys, I thought: "I fancy this as a job." But the first team all drove sponsored Ladas at the time, that was the drawback. I didn't fancy that, so instead I ended up playing football at Oldham - where they gave me a bus pass.

I won my first Scotland football cap while I was at Oldham, in 1986, but it didn't occur to me that I might play cricket for the national side. When I moved up to join Hibs I joined Penicuik and then Kelso and I was just delighted to get in the district team, in the South side.

Then I got a phone call. I was in Dumfries, and I'd just got a hundred and a couple of wickets and a voice said: "You've been picked for Scotland." A letter followed saying I would get my debut at Headingley in the NatWest trophy. There I was, born and brought up in Lancashire to hate Yorkshiremen and making my debut for Scotland at Headingley - I thought it was a wind up. In the end we lost, but playing there was very special.

Of course, I won't be playing this time, but I'll be going to a Scotland game at Durham during the World Cup.

What'll happen is we'll probably lose against Bangladesh and beat the rest. But I'd love to be there. In my time we'd rely on Clive Rice or Omar Henry, but now there's no-one who is really standing out, apart from the boy from Yorkshire, Gavin Hamilton. It's going to have to be a massive team effort.

But I won't support England if we lose either - I've never been one for supporting England at cricket. That was all down to my dad, who was born on Easter Road. We were close and because he was Scottish he didn't want England to do well at cricket, so I took his lead that way. In the end, I've become more of a West Indies fan.

Once I went to see them at Old Trafford against England and watched Viv Richards get a big century. He walloped Bob Willis all over the park and the harder Willis tried, the worse it got. Richards just murdered him.

The same night, Oldham were playing Liverpool in a friendly so I had to dash off after the West Indies innings. Of course, I crashed on the motorway and ended up getting escorted to the ground. Manager Joe Royle spotted me coming in with a police escort and I could see him thinking: "What the hell's he been up to this time?" But we beat Liverpool 1-0 and I did well.

Think of it: we beat Liverpool and earlier Richards had been just unbelievable. That's one of the most memorable days of my life. He smacked one of those balls from Willis right out of the ground and I swear it's still going up.

*  I ghost-wrote this article for Andy Goram.  

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Forest to play in Olympics shock

Funny old game, art. Deep in a dark coniferous plantation, a mile or so from Selkirk in the Scottish Borders, a stand of hundreds of Sitka spruce has been cleared to make way for a massive, arboreal football pitch

This is Forest Pitch, Scotland’s sole public art commission for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It is the work-in-progress of Craig Coulthard, 30, musician, midfielder, prize-winning painter, and now conceptual artist.

Mr Coulthard’s notion is to clear a space in a commercial forest, level it, plant the pitch, and finally play two games of football, one each for men and women, in fixtures timed to take place just ahead of the opening of next year’s Olympic Games.

The aim is to address “fundamental issues in contemporary Scotland”, including national identity and ecology.

To these ends, the teams playing in the forest will be formed from a diverse group of players, chosen from immigrants, domiciled in Scotland who have taken up British citizenship since 2000. Mr Coulthard said the work would demonstrate the country had been “immeasurably enriched” by immigration over the centuries and would show sport as “powerful agent of social cohesion”.

As soon as the games have been played, native species such as ash and oak will be planted out along the markings of the pitch, and also positioned to signify players’ formations commonly associated with the game. The turf will no longer be cut. Slowly Forest Pitch will revert to nature, replacing the ugly, non-native Christmas trees that sterilised the environment, with indigenous and biodiverse broad-leafed woodland.

These noble aims are seasoned by the artist’s obvious love of the game. As a child, Mr Coulthard regularly played football in a forest near Dusseldorf, close to the RAF base where his father was stationed.

There’s something mysterious about playing football in a forest,” said Mr Coulthard. “It’s eerily quiet, and there’s a watching audience of trees."

Later, as a teenager, he played for St Andrews Colts against Rangers Boys, at Cathkin Park, the dilapidated former home of Third Lanark, the Scottish league side bankrupted in the 1960s.

"There were trees growing through the terraces,” recalled Mr Coulthard. “I was playing in goal in those days, and I found the trees very distracting. We lost heavily.”

More recently still, after his bad eyesight began letting him down, he converted from goalie to midfield. By that time, as a student he was playing for Edinburgh College of Art FC. As well his ball skills, he proved an accomplished painter, winning the Sir Robin Philipson Memorial Medal.

This foray into conceptual art was inspired by the sight of Borders forests from the air, when he took flights to Edinburgh from London, and the notion came to him of cutting out a bright green space in the dark canopy of the plantations.

He put forward the idea to the Artist Taking the Lead competition, for the London 2012 Festival, and won, beating a host of better known artist to win his £460,000 commission, funded by the Arts Council of England and Creative Scotland.

Mr Coulthard’s immediate aim now is to recruit professional football coaches to train up his four teams of new British citizens, for the game.

So what will he say to the players when they turn to him and say: “We don’t mind playing football, but why on Earth play the game in the forest?"

"I’ll say, ‘Why not?”

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

You can still be sexy and you can still rock

Scotsman, 7 August, 2002

In Los Angeles, Nancy Sinatra is listening as an extract from her latest concert review is read to her. "She's a fireball of white go-go boots, golden treasures, golden tresses and feisty attitude..."

"Oh my goodness," she exclaims in mock surprise. "I wish I'd kept that article for my resume."

Not that you'd need a CV at 62, when you are about to embark on a pocket-sized European tour, which concludes with Sinatra's date at T on the Fringe. "Nobody who's excited about me coming is half as excited as I am," she breathes, "I can't wait, I'm so thrilled."

Age, plainly, has not wearied her, though ageism does. Few walks of life are harder on older women than the music industry, and Sinatra, whose reputation as a singer was established 40 years ago, has a constant battle to maintain her credentials as a serious performer.

To prove her enduring appeal, her most extraordinary stunt came seven years ago when she posed nude for Playboy magazine, a decision she has never regretted. It was strictly a commercial matter, she reckons, which gave her $250,000 worth of free publicity on the eve of a comeback tour. And anyway, the pictures did nothing to compromise her feminism. "I've always believed in fighting for equal rights for women," she says. "With the Playboy thing I'd say that sexuality and feminism are not mutually exclusive. If all feminists were asexual we'd be in big trouble, the race would die. That's absurd."

She's also quick to point out that the feminist contrarian, Camille Paglia, also had her picture taken for Playboy. She was "a really amazing lady", whom Sinatra met at the launch party for the magazine issue, along with the much younger "Playmate of the Month", another "sweet girl".

The personnel at that gathering rather proves her belief that you can feel comfortable with your body at any age of your life. She thought about a facelift six months ago, she says, but then thought again - "Why should I? Maybe I'll feel differently in six months' time."

She goes on: "I didn't feel particularly beautiful in my twenties anyway. We all have to live through different ages, and people have got to accept themselves for themselves."

Sinatra's reputation was established in the 1960s, with a sweet voice and a tough, sexy look, the record industry's equivalent of Diana Rigg's Emma Peel in The Avengers. As if to confirm the feisty image she even sang the theme for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. These were great times, and she enjoyed a string of 22 hits in the US, the most famous being These Boots Are Made for Walkin', her duet with Lee Hazlewood, which took her to No1 on both sides of the Atlantic. She has plans to tour with Hazlewood next year.

At the height of her fame there were seven feature films too, including roles opposite Peter Fonda in the biker film The Wild Angels ("Their credo is violence. Their God is hate" reads the movie poster), with her father, Frank, in the spy film Tony Rome, and alongside Elvis Presley in Speedway.

Together, these three were "the greatest men I ever met", and clips featuring each of them are incorporated in footage which will form part of her set at the Liquid Rooms. It is a sequence of images which her American fans adore - and which Sinatra is anxious the Edinburgh crowd should see.

Two of her heroes - Presley and her father - are dead, as is her much-loved second husband Hugh Lambert, who succumbed to cancer in 1985. There is no "significant other" in Sinatra's life now, and her sense of loneliness is almost palpable. On the telephone there's a languorous, almost mournful quality about her voice, not simply explained by the fact that it's early morning in LA.

This is the other, deeply humane side of Sinatra. She pours it out almost every day on her personal and family websites, connecting with her fans all over the world. She has developed a kind of mutual support network sustained over the ether and the messages from these faceless friends are driving her to keep on touring. "The influence comes from the internet," she says unequivocally. "My fans are out there and they are writing to me, saying: 'When are you coming here? Please come sing for us.' That's a big part of it. I play shows to reach people. Perhaps this is my way of giving something back."

Then suddenly she appears to change tack: "I feel so useless. But we do the best we can, do what we can to ease the pain. We started a thing on the family website which is called a circle of prayer."

Her most recent personal contribution to the Sinatra family website is typical of many (she has posted over 1,300 messages in the last year). It is headlined: "The Greenwells need help. Does anyone live near them? Please rally round and pray for these dear people."

But as well as prayer, she uses her internet connection to "Keep the Flame" burning, and answer any perceived smears of the family name, which persist despite the biography of her father which she updated after his death. The attacks on Frank's supposed mafia connections - he was caricatured in the film The Godfather - don't hurt her any more, she says, but the manner of their telling can get under her skin.

"I get irritated with liars, it's hard to laugh it all off. People who don't say 'allegedly' or just report rumours as fact," she says. "It perpetuates all the garbage. But I've cleaned most of that up, in my book. I spoke to Mario Puzo [the author of The Godfather], who gave me the quotes; it's all cleaned up out there. Anyone who's reporting it now is full of baloney."

In other ways her father's legacy lingers, impacting on the way she is perceived. She says without rancour: "I sometimes feel my epitaph will be 'Daughter of Frank Sinatra; she sang These Boots Are Were Made for Walkin". Frank's influence is plainly there in another way. Performing, she reckons, is in her DNA. Her new album California Girl will be out in the UK soon, and in the meantime, she'll be striking another blow for the sisterhood with her live show.

She's back on her main theme now. Women, whatever their age, should not be ignored simply because of their gender. "Look at Mick Jagger," she says. "He's out there kicking ass, and working hard, and enjoying life and bringing his music to his fans. It's important that young women can see that older women can do the same thing, that you don't have to just roll over and die as soon as you become a senior citizen.

"You can still be sexy and you can still rock and it takes people like me to do it."

Nancy Sinatra plays the Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh on 12 August, as part of T on the Fringe.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Now's the hour: with the SNP when they won

Kirk Torrance, the SNP’s new-media strategist, is standing over his PC, his constant companion for the past 18 months. Suddenly he points down the packed boardroom towards a giant television screen on the wall. “It’s coming now!” he shouts.

The tickertape running at the bottom of the screen tells the story. After a recount, the SNP have won Kirkcaldy, the 65th seat that guarantees a majority in the Scottish Parliament. Before the television has even cut to the voice of the returning officer, the room is in uproar.

Everyone is on his feet. Many, like Kevin Pringle, Alex Salmond’s special adviser, are staring at the screen, smiling, clapping their hands and shaking their heads in joy and disbelief. People are falling into each other’s arms, hugging and kissing. Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy leader, has cupped her face in her hands and is on the verge of tears.

The impossible has happened. An electoral system that was purposedesigned to deny the SNP power has been overridden. Beyond their wildest dreams, the SNP, in Mr Salmond’s words, has become the national party of Scotland. His party workers are on cloud nine.

“Look,” says Peter Murrell, Ms Sturgeon’s husband and the party’s chief executive. “The sun’s come out.” And it is true. The clouds of a dreich Edinburgh afternoon have parted. A Scottish summer has begun that feels every bit as vibrant to these party workers as the Arab Spring felt in Egypt.

Pic by James GlossopRead more in  The Times.  But scroll down for two more tales from the Scottish election

Out and about with half-hangit Iain

Had he been alert to bad omens, Iain Gray might have noticed as he arrived in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket yesterday that things were looking bleak.

This was to be the Scottish Labour leader’s final walkabout in the capital and he had chosen to begin it, more or less, by the Last Drop Tavern, a bar sardonically named in honour of those hanged on Edinburgh’s gibbet. And Mr Gray was standing a matter of yards from the former site of the scaffold itself.

Perhaps, at the end of a spectacularly disastrous campaign, it was fitting that he should turn up at a giant symbol of impending doom. The enemies of the People’s Party have hardly had to break into a sweat to rubbish Labour’s efforts to launch a credible assault on power.

What began weeks ago with Mr Gray’s unedifying retreat into a sandwich shop near Glasgow Central has flowered into endless toe-curling embarrassments for the Labour leader. Add the barbs thrown into the policy debate, by senior policemen, prison governers and doctors and his fate seemed sealed long before this latest press call.

Such disasters have apparently gone unnoticed in Scottish Labour’s HQ. Instead, to support their leader for this final day on the stump, his press office had issued a breakdown of his “short campaign”. In the past 43 days, we are told, Mr Gray has met more than one million people and shaken (according to statistics supplied by the relevant commissar) 8,600 hands. To sustain himself through this difficult ordeal, he has consumed 18kg of fruit, and eaten 86 sandwiches, including one from Subway (sources insist this was later regurgitated).

He ate no fruit in the Grassmarket, nor was any thrown at him. But like many a condemned man brought kicking and screaming to this spot Mr Gray revealed he had not slept the previous night. Not, apparently, because he felt any sense of doom, but because he was in the midst of a final 40-hour push for votes, criss-crossing Scotland and meeting the night workers who keep the country’s life blood pumping while the rest sleep soundly.

“That is what we are doing at the end of the campaign as we did at the beginning,” he said. “Through the night I visited a bakery, a couple of distribution centres, a lot of people working doing jobs that matter to everyone else. I think it is right to acknowledge them.”

It’s also probably helpful to hold these daft publicity calls under cover of darkness, because Mr Gray walked off, past Maggie Dickson’s bar (named after “Half-Hangit Maggie”, who survived the gallows) and through gaggles of bemused tourists, with scarcely a voter in sight.

Then, fatefully, he turned briskly left, walking past the largest joke shop in Edinburgh, whose signboard delivered a message of its own: “A ha ha ha”. The cameras clicked around the Labour leader, to record one last humiliation.

Short of leading his followers up to Hooters strip joint, his press call could hardly have been worse.

Finally, he was asked the question: did he have any regrets about this terrible campaign?

“You carry out post mortems after you get the result,” Mr Gray said.

But you just walked past a joke shop, in full view of the cameras. How does that happen? “Post mortems come afterwards, OK?”

All this talk of post mortems. Perhaps, after all, this walkabout by half-hangit Iain had been planned.

* Photo by James Glossop