Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Poles in Scotland could swing independence vote

A wave of new arrivals from Eastern Europe could play a decisive role in the fate of the 300-year union between England and Scotland, pushing Alex Salmond over the winning line in the Scottish independence referendum.

For campaigners like Ania Lewandowska, a 29-year-old who works for Alyn Smith, the SNP MEP, these are exciting times. She has no doubt that many “new Scots” will vote yes in September’s ballot.

“They know that change can be for the better,” said Ms Lewandowska, “but also they are not afraid of it. Of course, some are still undecided, but that’s true of any sector of Scottish society. But in my mind most Poles will decide Yes.”

About 55,000 Polish-born people were living in Scotland at the time of the 2011 census, an 18-fold increase since EU enlargement in 2004. By the time of the referendum it is possible the population will have almost doubled again, though because many younger immigrants work in the hotel trade, the total is hard to assess.

Maciej Wiczynski, a passionate SNP supporter has pooled information from local authorities and found 30,000 Poles on the electoral register, though he has still to receive data from Edinburgh, home to Scotland’s largest single Polish community. With these kinds of numbers, the immigrant vote could be decisive.

Mr Wiczynski, a health worker, arrived in Scotland four years ago. At first he says he was sceptical about independence, but “engaged and did my own research,” emerging a passionate Yes supporter. “Money is not the issue,” he said. “It is more to do with social justice. Westminster is not working for the people of Scotland. We are more centre left.”

Tomek Borkowy, 61, agreed. An actor and well-known Edinburgh Fringe promoter, he has been in Britain since 1982 when he fled martial law in his own country. For the last 25 years he has lived in Scotland, sufficient time to come to a view on the political situation.

He drew parallels with 19th century when parts of Poland were incorporated into Austria-Hungary. It was “quite like Scotland and England,” said Mr Borkowy, “we had a lot of freedoms, but still it was not our own country.”

He went on: ”There is a very nice English saying: ‘small is beautiful’. Recently I needed to speak to someone in the Scottish Government. I asked to see John Swinney. In a month’s time, I was having lunch with Cabinet Secretary for Finance. Me, a foreigner, living in Edinburgh.

“Would that have happened if I had approached George Osborne? Absolutely not. Small is beautiful, small is better government. This is now my country. I will vote for independence and I believe most Poles will. This is a no-brainer.”

In Edinburgh. there are plenty of opportunities to test opinion. Michal Uarwat, one of the half of the team behind the Polish sandwich shop at Holyrood, puts his thumbs up for a Yes Vote. His business partner, Piotr Balcer, is a sceptic: “Heart says yes, head says no,” he said.

In Leith, Pawel Nuckowski, 41, took a different approach. This filmaker has lived in Edinburgh for 18 months with his wife and son. Inclined to the Yes cause, he is unlikely to vote. “How would Poles feel if British people moved in and decided on the future of my country?” he said.

In his shop on Leith Walk, surround by Polish hams and pickles, Marcin Wilkolaski took a dim view of the Yes campaign, even though “Tak” – a Yes Leaflet – is available from a community newsstand in the corner.

“Scotland and England have been together for centuries and there has been no war between them – that is very profitable for everyone,” said Mr Wilkolaski. “There are no boundaries in Europe now either. There’s been a huge recession for years, but no fighting. Countries are cooperating. It is better that way.”

Mr Wilkolaski may be in a minority. Such data as exists indicates that Scottish residents born outside the UK are almost twice as likely to vote for independence compared to residents who were born elsewhere in Britain.

Even now, the community remains too small to register in many pollsters’ surveys. The numbers involved, and the transitory nature of a substantial part of the population, make some inclined to dismiss the notion that Pole could influence the result of September’s referendum.

John Curtice, Professor Politics at the University of Strathclyde noted that only 8 per cent of the country’s population was born outside the UK and Ireland. He said: “EU citizens are less likely to be on the register, partly its motivational, partly it’s circumstantial. How much they engage in politics is debatable.”

But if it is a Yes vote, and by a narrow margin, David Cameron will only have himself to blame, said Mr Borkowy. The prime minister should have been prepared to offer ‘Devo Max’, additional powers to the Scottish Parliament.
“What did Westminter do? Decided not to offer more powers. They must be kicking themselves. The stupidity, the lack of forward thinking at Westminster is something we can do without.”

Like Mr Wiczynski, Mr Borkowy easily identified with “we” Scots. “We should escape,” he said. “We have the possibilities now, an historic chance to change everything.”

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Kiss for the groom as gay marriage is legalised

Things get a bit confusing, apparently, if you are one half of a gay couple whose symbolic wedding was as public as it could be, right outside the Scottish Parliament.
Inside, a few hours earlier, MSP had passed the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill by 105 votes to 18.
This was one of the “great historic days” said Alex Neil, the Health Secretary, “because of the message it sends out about the new Scotland we are creating: live and let live.”
For Larry Lamont, 80, Mr Slater’s partner, the historic day had been a long time coming. The brutal discrimination and abuse he had suffered as a young man only stopped when he “had the wisdom to marry” his wife in 1965.
“My life was transformed, the trouble suddenly all stopped,” said Mr Lamont, an Aberdonian. “I had a happy marriage. I’m sure my wife must have known [about my sexuality] though it was never mentioned. But I think she strongly suspected the vicar who married us.
Sadly, said Mr Lamont, his wife had died of cancer after 21 years. He didn’t rush out and take control of his life, but continued working as a psychiatric nurse. The truth about his sexuality eventually dawned in 1991, when he watched the BBC film adaptation of David Leavitt’s The Lost Language of Cranes. It told the story of a married father who is secretly gay.
“I thought, ‘Dear God, I am that very man,’” recalled Mr Lamont, dressed for yesterday’s ceremony in a Lamont tartan kilt. “I knew what he was going through: he was gay, trying to live out his life in a married world. I thought: ‘I must do something about this. I can’t just waste the rest of my life waiting on the grave.’”
He rang a helpline in Newcastle, close to where he was living. “I said to the young girl who answered: ‘I’ve always had gay feelings, but I’m 60-odd.’ She said, ‘O, you’ve years to go yet’ and sent me a copy of Gay Times. There was an advert for old gays looking for company. I sent a cheque off and the cuts came back a month later but I couldn’t find anybody. Another ad came up, so I sent another 15 quid. That was how I met Jerry.”
The two moved in together in 1994. Marriage was important, said Mr Slater, 73. “Equality is the main thing, something we have been denied all our lives. Larry has had to live from times when homosexuality was illegal. Now equality is in kissing distance and it’s fantastic.”
Outside the parliament, the crowd slowly dispersed, and the handful of protesters from United Christian Witness against Same-Sex Marriage began to pack their placards into the boot of an estate car. “Be sure your sin will find you out,” read one banner; “Where will you spend endless eternity?” inquired another. “In heaven or hell?”
The Equal Marriage legislation reflected neither majority opinion in Scotland, insisted Donald John Morrison, from Inverness, nor the message of the Bible.
“The first time they discussed this in Parliament was on 20 November — to us that was Black Tuesday. Within three weeks a helicopter fell out of the sky in Glasgow. At this moment there are floods and winds that are causing havoc. These are God’s judgement on our land and on our nation.”
Just 50 yards further on, Sister Ann Tici of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence could find no words of encouragement for Mr Morrison. “We have equal marriage but many more things need to happen — polyamorous marriage for one,” said Sister Tici, whose white make-up almost concealed his beard. “There needs to be a helluva a lot more rights. When we have finished with this country and the countries round about we will spread out across the world until every single person can wake up and not feel threatened or unequal in their society. We are all essentially human.”
A rainbow burst out over the Parliament building. There was no plague of frogs.