Thursday 17 December 2015
Syrian refugees raised their voices in the Scottish Parliament today and got a fast reply from the First Minister. Within a couple of hours of two speakers requesting to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to discuss issues they were concerned about, she said she’d be willing to hear them early in the new year.
More than 52 asylum seekers, refugees and local supporters of the group Uniting Nations in Scotland (UNIS), travelled from Glasgow to the presentation arranged by MSP Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin).
UNIS is a charity organisation working closely with Police Scotland, BEMIS the ethnic minorities umbrella body, the British Red Cross, Findlay Memorial Church, Crossing Borders, Maryhill Integration Network, the International Women’s Group and the Inner Circle Men’s Group.
Two of the UNIS members gave speeches in the Scottish Parliament committee room. Feras Alzoubi – a father of three, who came with his family through the United Nations Vulnerable Person Relocation Scheme and Marwa Daher a 16 year old youth member of UNIS who arrived under the same scheme. Both praised the UK Government and the UN for helping them to be brought to safety. They also thanked the Scottish Government and local authorities for their warm welcome and the help they’d received from UNIS. But each touched on issues they felt needed more attention.
Said school girl Marwa Daher in excellent English: ‘We didn’t choose to leave Syria. But we had to. Danger had become our shadow.’ She was unable to attend school in Syria because of the war which claimed the life of her 15-year-old brother. She said she was quite happy in school in Scotland. But added: ‘I wish even more could be done for people like us to support us in our education. We still feel confused about the education system and other issues.’ She then asked to meet the First Minister to ‘share our experiences in order to resolve them and to make them better for the other children who are coming to the country.’
Electing to speak in Arabic, Feras Alzoubi said he was ‘re-born’ on the day he came to Glasgow.
After he and his family were left for dead in their home after hours of shooting, he escaped. ‘But my mother and brothers, unfortunately, are not protected by the UN Vulnerable Persons Scheme. They were left behind.’ He asked, therefore, for parents and other family members to be offered protection under the UN Scheme.
He was traumatised by his experience of being shot at and by the subsequent journey but – four months after arriving in Scotland – he is still waiting to see a consultant about his bullet wound injuries.
He added: ‘We know now that our children have a future here and we will contribute to building the economy of Scotland, but we ask the Scottish Government to recognise we Syrian refugees are people with a lot of experience and many skills. A programme to help us get into our previous types of work would be useful.’
Both speakers mentioned how helpful it had been to attend UNIS events to learn about Scottish culture, share their own culture and be informed by Police Scotland about the law in Scotland as they were anxious to stay on the right side of it.
UNIS leader and founder Mrs Ahlam Souidi launched a booklet ‘Celebrating Together’ containing the stories of many of the refugees who had been involved with UNIS and photographs of the social events held in conjunction with Police Scotland and other partners.
On her ‘to do’ list for the organisation are: setting up a Women’s Group which will address various issues including domestic violence; establishing training so that Syrian skills can be used effectively in Scotland; setting up a youth group.
Chief Inspector Alastair Muir of Police Scotland said there were many success stories to celebrate while police worked with asylum seekers and refugees. ‘But it takes time to integrate and then to trust,’ he said. ‘Police here don’t operate in the way police in other countries do. We don’t ‘do’ guns, for a start. We like to stress that New Scots are protected here. But it takes time to build relationships and for our message to get across that Police here will not tolerate intolerance – whether race, religion or domestic violence.’
The event at the Scottish Parliament was ably chaired by Mohamed Souidi who came to the UK at the age of one and speaks fluent Arabic, English and French. It was drawn to a close by Mr Alzoubi’s six year old son, Hamza, singing a Syrian song.
The amazing Celtic Connections 2016 programme was announced today (Tuesday 20 October) by Artistic Director, Donald Shaw.
From Thursday 14 to Sunday 31 January, at least 2,500 musicians from around the world will gather in Glasgow for 18 days of concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, workshops, free events, late night sessions and a host of special one-off musical collaborations.
Stars of world, folk and roots music, who will perform on 26 stages at venues across the city, include Rickie Lee Jones, The Chieftains, Lau, The Unthanks, Béla Fleck, Moving Hearts, Robert Plant, Lucinda Williams, Admiral Fallow, Toumani Diabaté, Karine Polwart, Boys of the Lough, and Larry Carlton.
Artists from Inner Mongolia to Armagh, Senegal to Italy, and Brittany to the Outer Hebrides and Southern Manitoba are scheduled to perform at this hotbed of musical talent from cultures and countries from across the globe.
The Opening Concert will celebrate 50 years of the Traditional Music & Song Association of Scotland with musical director Siobhan Miller at the helm.
Family ties will be highlighted by The Wainwright Sisters, and They Might be Giants performing a special matinee performance for children.
Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and John Grant are among the stars of New Americana who will take to the stage during the festival.
Pilgrimage will be explored through a series of performances, including the reimagining of Joni Mitchell’s 1976 album Hejira – which explores themes of the constant journey we are all on in life – by James Robertson. While Drift is inspired by the true story of Betty Mouat, a crofter from Shetland, who spent eight days drifting alone in the North Sea.
Matthew Welch’s Blarvuster, the Aidan O’Rourke Trio and Soumik Datta & Bernhard Schimpelsberger: Circle of Sound, are among those who will step into the spotlight at a new venue the Drygate Brewery. This represents a new strand for Celtic Connections called – The Shape of Folk to Come – which looks at future music developments.
A series of major anniversaries will be marked. Le Grand Anniversaire, celebrates Aly Bain at 70. He’ll be joined by his long standing cohort Phil Cunningham to celebrate 30 years of performing together.
Bwani Junction will be performing Graceland, 30 years after Paul Simon’s classic album was released. Four of the original members of the recording will be performing on this very special occasion.
A series of concerts – In the Tradition – will celebrate piping and Gaelic music. The Auld Alliance between Scotland and France will feature in Showcase Scotland as the festival celebrates France as the partner country for 2016 and the 10th anniversary of the twinning of Glasgow and Marseille.
Showcase Scotland is delegate based and hosted in the city of Glasgow over four days during Celtic Connections. Musical directors and programmers of leading festivals and venues from around the world attend the event where around 60 songwriters, bands and musicians are showcased. A Trade Fair is held to provide an additional platform for promoters to meet with artists and their representatives to discuss booking possibilities.
At the core of the festival is the award winning Education Programme, which sees thousands of children attend free morning concerts, experiencing live music from Scotland and further afield. Up to 11,400 children will take part in Celtic Connections Education Programme for schools which includes five free morning concerts.
In addition there will be more than 60 public workshops for all ages and abilities from dawn until dusk over each of the three weekends. Highlights include the Ukulele School hosted by Finlay Allison and The Fiddle Village hosted by Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra also make a welcome return.
The final day of Celtic Connections – Sunday 31 January – includes a show at the Old Fruitmarket in aid of the Bert Jansch Foundation, whose charitable aim is to support the next generation of acoustic musicians. Robert Plant, Bernard Butler, Archie Fisher, and Jacqui McShee will perform in Bert Inspired: A Concert for Bert Jansch.
Donald Shaw, Artistic Director of Celtic Connections, said: “Celtic Connections is rooted in a love of traditional, folk and world music. Since our earliest days the passion, the skill, and the excitement that you find at a live concert at Celtic Connections has inspired us to put together the programme each year. For 2016, we are bringing superstars and cult heroes, new talent, and artists who were legends long before the first Celtic Connections was staged.
“We have a lot of amazing concerts to pack into 18 days, so join us when Celtic Connections returns next January.”
Councillor Archie Graham, Chair of Glasgow Life, said: “Glasgow is a welcoming city which is proud of its heritage and embraces diversity. Each January we host a festival which in many ways mirrors our home city. The expertise and skill that drives Celtic Connections also shines through in an education programme that benefits thousands of children across Glasgow and Scotland. Invaluable opportunities enrich lives and offer chances to learn, to enjoy and to be part of the always unique, always brilliant musical happening which is Celtic Connections.”
Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager for Music, Creative Scotland, said: “Celtic Connections is one of the world’s great music festivals and to have established such a global presence in a comparatively short time underlines its place as one of Scotland’s creative treasures.”
The remains of the six tower blocks on Red Road which were blown down on Sunday are now attracting tourists. Nicknamed – the Leaning Towers of Petershill – the two fragments of buildings still standing with ten or more floors intact, are being widely photographed.
Dr Helen Murray and her friend Catriona Fraser came from Aberdeen specially to see the mounds of rubble. From Glasgow originally, Helen said: ‘You knew you were home when you saw the Red Road flats on the horizon. My mother has asked me to bring her here to see the site even although she’s never been on this side of the city.’
The two friends have toured the country taking fun shots of different places and people – including tennis star Andy Murray.
Local residents in the Red Road exclusion area were – mostly – back to normal. Said Margaret Finlay, a family support worker at the Tron St Mary Church of Scotland on Red Road: ‘It was back to work on Monday. There wasn’t a lot of inconvenience.’ The Church’s community allotments had been covered with black tarpaulins to protect the vegetables and other plants from the dust. And the Sunday service had been held in Springburn Church along with that congregation.
Bonnybroom Nursery which was possibly the closest building to the demolition site, was open on Monday as usual. Glasgow City Council was asked by the head teacher to put out a tweet to that effect.
The senior citizens’ Alive and Kicking building on Red Road and the Family Centre next door were all still being cleaned up today (Thursday 15 October) before expecting to re-open soon.
Contractor Safedem is using high-reach machinery to dismantle 123 Petershill Drive. The work will involve weakening the steel frame enough to enable it to be brought down to ground level under controlled conditions. A safe exclusion zone within the site has been set up so that parts of the structure can be dismantled safely. The exclusion zone also includes a buffer zone for debris.
A GHA spokesman said: ‘Although two of the blocks did not fall exactly as predicted on Sunday, all blocks are now at a height that the demolition can be completed as planned. The contractor is now dismantling the remaining floors of the blocks. This work will be carried out under strict health and safety conditions and with minimum disruption to residents.’
While reports from various residents alluded to burst water pipes, broken locks, washing machines stopping working, no one spoken to had actually experienced any back lash from the major blow-down on Sunday.
The six blocks were built in the late 1960s. Designed by architect Sam Bunton, they cost £6 million. The cost of demolition has not been revealed by Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) which is part of the Wheatley Group and owns the iconic properties.
There was confusion tonight about the safety of residents in the area around the Red Road flats demolition site and whether or not they would be able to return home.
A BBC television broadcast said an emergency inspection was being carried out after two of the six tower blocks failed to come down completely. The remaining unsafe structures had to be examined and consideration was being given to having them ‘pushed over’ on Monday.
This unexpected setback cast doubts on whether local residents could return to their homes on Sunday. The television report said they should consult the GHA website. But that website did not give any information on what to do.
A GHA spokesman said: ‘The original plan for today’s demolition was that 10 floors of the blocks would remain for dismantling, post blowdown, by machine. However, this did not go completely to plan. Over the next few days the contractors, Safedem, will carry out a review to determine the best way of now completing the demolition.
“Residents began moving back into their homes shortly after 6pm, just over an hour later than originally planned.
“We sincerely apologise to everyone involved for this delay and any additional inconvenience caused.’
Later the GHA spokesman added: ‘Exclusion zone has been lifted, everyone is getting back into their homes tonight.’
All six of the infamous Red Road high flats were ‘blown down’ today but remnants of two of them remained after the explosion. Hours after the event, no one at Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) was able to comment on whether this was intended or not. Nor did the social landlord – part of the Wheatley Group – release the normal details of how much explosive was used, how many tonnes of rubble would be created etc.
One insider, however, said that the steel structure of the building was such that four times the normal amount of explosive would have been used and the two bits of building remaining standing would have been ‘not expected.’
And by early evening it was understood that hundreds of people were being advised to ‘look at the GHA website’ to see where they might spend the night if they were unable to return to their homes because of the unsafe, remaining structures.
An emergency inspection was believed to be underway as this story
is being written.
Local people in their hundreds stood at various vantage points for hours to wait for the massive implosion. They were well pleased. Cheers and a round of applause accompanied the massive cloud of dust which followed the collapse of the blocks. The dust spread over a very wide area.
Said trainee photographer Joe Graham: ‘That was quick!’ as he scrolled through his images.
Local resident Joan Flanagan said: ‘That was magic. I like big bangs and love to see things being destructed like that.’
Bobby Burns, also a local resident said: ‘That’s bitter sweet to see. It is one chapter of life closed now. But I suppose it opens a new one of re-generation for the area.’ He said he’d lived in two different tower blocks and commented: ‘They’ve both gone now. They were blown down too.’
The huge operation to clear the surrounding area of people began early on Sunday morning. ‘Two thousand five hundred people had to be moved,’ said one GHA official spokesman. ‘That takes time.’
Some resistance was expected from one householder – Tina Suffredini who chairs the local residents’ association. But when the time came, the GHA’s ‘plan B’ to have Sheriff Officers physically remove the lady from her property, was not required and she left her home of her own accord.
MSP Patricia Ferguson, who spent 11 years of her early girlhood in one of the Red Road flats said: ‘These needed to come down. I hope the new developments will bring job opportunities and community facilities and the GHA is consulting with local people to do that.’
A video and a detailed account of what he saw during the 51 day war in Gaza in 2014, kept Max Blumenthal’s capacity audience totally attentive in the Renfield Church Centre on Monday 3 August 2015.
Quietly and calmly, this American journalist who is Jewish, showed how Palestinian youths were used as ‘human shields’ by Israeli military who fired guns over their shoulders forcing them to watch as their neighbours were shot dead. Or Max’s interview with a young man who showed the reporter where he used to keep his chickens and pointing out the knife he used for his chickens had been used to murder a man in that space which had blood splattered over the walls. Or the gruesome spot in a room with a baby’s cot where a man had been killed. Or the account of a family ordered out of their home by Israeli military who were asked: ‘Do any of you speak Hebrew?’ When the 70-year-old patriach said: ‘Yes’ he was shot.
Said Max: ‘I tried to make sure each person give their own testimony so that their story was not told in my voice but in their own.’
He explained that 20% of the houses had been destroyed and 100,000 people made homeless. More than 2000 Gazanians were killed as well as 66 Israeli soldiers.
‘More than 7000 155mm howitzer shells fell on civilians in a 24 hour period totally destroying that area,’ he said. ‘The Jewish Star of David was etched on furniture in some houses occupied by the Israeli forces. This made that religious symbol an object of hate and apartheid.’
‘I consider Gaza was the world’s biggest crime scene. There were so many cases of summary execution. Israeli leaders did not conceal what they were doing. One actually said: ‘the people of Gaza need to be brought down to size.’ ‘said Max Blumenthal.
As was expected, the journalist was questioned extensively after his presentation by a knowledgeable audience.
A campaign to establish the facts around the death of Sheku Bayoh who died in police custody in Kirkcaldy on Sunday 3 May 2015 is growing. More than 100 people from a variety of campaigning organisations highlighted the need for clarity, truth and Police Scotland accountability at a conference in Glasgow on Saturday 25 July 2015.
Organised by the Justice for Sheku Bayoh Campaign and Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), others supporting the day were the Ethnic Minority Civic Congress (EMCC), Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and the STUC Black Workers’ Committee.
They aim to work together on the central issues of Sheku’s death in police custody to obtain justice not only in his case but in others across the UK.
Sheku, a British Gas employee and a black man, was surrounded by police who claimed they had received reports of a man carrying a knife. They used batons, CS spray, handcuffs and leg restraints. Aged 31 and father of two, Sheku, was dead on arrival at the local Victoria Hospital. He had no history of violence.
Born in Sierra Leone and brought up in London before moving to Kirkcaldy when he was 17, Sheku has lived and worked in the town since then.
His family’s lawyer, human rights champion Aamer Anwar, opened the conference with a detailed account of the events before and after Sheku’s death. He said there had been 11 deaths in police custody in Scotland in 2013 – more than double the number recorded in England. ‘Police officers are not above the law,’ said the lawyer. ‘It is a disgrace that it took 32 days before the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) got statements from the officers involved. If PIRC is not to be seen as a toothless body, it must be capable of exposing the truth.’ He also said that Sheku’s family had been given five different account by Police Scotland of the events leading to Sheku’s death. He concluded that the family were not prepared to wait years to find out who was responsible for the man’s death.
Richard Haley, Chair of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) said: ‘We still don’t know the full facts. But it is beyond reasonable doubt that the police response is unacceptable. Police Scotland has a responsibility to us, the people of Scotland and so does the Scottish Government.’ He also said: ‘Race is the missing word. I believe racism in the police is institutionalised and has to be confronted. Far too many people die in police custody.’
Ade Johnson, brother-in-law of Sheku posed the question: ‘Who polices the police? Who are the police accountable to?’ He said the family were still waiting for apologies for the way they were treated after Sheku’s death and they needed details of what exactly happened in the last minutes of his life. ‘How hard is it to tell the truth?’ he asked. ‘It is very hard for PIRC to tell police officers to tell the truth. Will we still be asking these questions ten years from now when Sheku’s sons will be old enough to ask these questions? Every time a police officer passes, we ask those questions. We know it will be a long time before we hear the truth. But we are prepared.’
Sheku’s sister, Kadijata Johnson told the conference: ‘Police told us lies. We are still waiting for the truth. We want justice. All of us in Scotland should get justice.’
The other major speaker in the conference morning session was Deborah Coles, co-Director of Inquest. The organisation supports families whose relatives have died in all forms of detention. Its core principles are Truth, Accountability and Justice. Inquest was in touch with Sheku’s family within two days of his death and was the first organisation to offer support, for which the family thanked Inquest publicly.
Said Deborah Coles: ‘When I first read about Sheku’s death, I recognised that he was being demonised in an attempt to distract from the actions of the police.’ Any family has limited resources against a body like the police, so it is a struggle.’
She emphasised that in law, international and UK law, there is a ‘right to life.’ She said: ‘Where a person dies in the hands of the state, this death cannot be treated lightly. It must be treated under the law as the human right to life.’
She added that a disproportionate number of those who died in custody were black or from the ethnic minority communities and said that almost 1000 people had died in police custody in recent times in England and Wales. ‘There has never been a successful prosecution,’ she commented.
‘We have to ask questions of the state – why has there been no action by the state in these circumstances?’
She also underlined the need to remember those people whose cases were not high profile who had died, and the resulting impact, emotional and physical on their loved ones. ‘Sheku’s family are at the beginning of a long journey. I am deeply concerned about this case and implore the Scottish Government and the Crown Office to set up a public inquiry.’
Happy people, happy souls and happy feet – that’s a smidgen of what the 2015 Merchant City Festival aims to provide starting on Saturday July 25 until Sunday August 2.
The photograph by Ian Watson shows Councillor Gordon Matheson with brothers Lewis (7), Evan (4) and Finn Leggate (4) dressed as penguins promoting the film “Happy Feet”, which will be shown during The Merchant City Festival in that quarter of Glasgow.
There will be outdoor performances, live music, fashion and design, comedy, dance, family events, film, visual arts, markets and outstanding produce and dishes as part of Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink – something for everyone.
It will showcase ‘Fragile’ an amazing new work by Motionhouse, Conflux, The Merchant City Festival and Gulbenkian, University of Kent which will have performers interacting with three JCBs on Saturday the 25and Sunday the 26 of July.
Councillor Gordon Matheson, Leader of Glasgow City Council and Chair of the Merchant City Festival Committee said: ‘Where else can you find dancing JCB’s, the finest food and drink, street entertainment, music and laughter as part of hundreds of live events and performances? The Merchant City Festival is showcasing everything Glasgow has to offer as welcoming and generous hosts over the next nine days and is unmissable for local people and visitors alike.’
Discover more at www.merchantcityfestival.com or see Facebook /MerchantCityFestival or Twitter @merchcityfest
A quarter of all dogs still have to be microchipped before this becomes compulsory in April 2016 say Scottish vets.
A British Veterinary Association (BVA) survey reveals that owners need to get the message and take action before the law changes.
Now The Pets ‘n’ Vets Family, a network of locally-owned veterinary practices with surgeries around Glasgow and surrounding areas, is urging dog owners to chip their canine companions before the new law comes into force.
Ross Allan, a partner in The Pets‘n’Vets Family, said: ‘Permanent identification of dogs through microchipping has many benefits. It can help reunite strays with their owners, help tackle puppy farming and encourage responsible ownership. In pedigree dogs, chips facilitate the reporting and reduction of hereditary health problems.’
He added: ‘Microchipping is quick, painless, reliable and inexpensive and is to be welcomed. But with an estimated quarter of all dogs in Scotland not yet microchipped, there remain too many dog owners still fishing for chips with time running out before they will be compelled by law to do so.’
The Pets’n’Vets Family has been named a finalist in the Glasgow’s Favourite Business category of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce’s Business Awards. The collection of veterinary practices is a small and friendly partnership run by local vets accredited by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons with a good reputation going back 40 or more years. To find your nearest practice visit: www.petsnvets.org
Scottish efforts to highlight the illegality and horror of Israeli action against Palestine are having effect around the world. But more can be done. That was the message from a meeting of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign tonight (Thursday 9 July 2015) in Glasgow.
West Dunbartonshire Councillor, Jim Bollan of Alexandria, said flying the Palestinian flag from the Council buildings last year had people ‘queuing round the block’ to take photographs. The Council’s unanimous decision to do that highlighted the suffering of the people of Gaza who were under bombardment from Israel at the time. ‘People got involved, posted it on facebook and social media and showed there can be no peace in Palestine without justice,’ said Councillor Bollan. ‘West Dunbartonshire was the mouse that roared. There was a crazy reaction around the world.’
Former air transport engineer in Gaza, Waseem Abuaglain, said the Palestinian flag being flown on the West Dunbartonshire council building was well received by people in Gaza. ‘When I talked to family and friends there, they were happy because it showed that people outside care. That is a really important message.’
Both speakers emphasised the need for the world to know about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Said Councillor Bolland: ‘More than 520,000 families have been displaced, 20,000 homes destroyed and 244 schools damaged by Israeli attacks. The slaughter continues but both the United States and the UK say nothing. The West stands back and allows this to happen.’
Said Waseem Abuaglain who ‘restarted life’ in Scotland: ‘Electricity is now only available for six hours a day – it was eight. Supplies of everything are only a fraction of what is needed because of the restriction on lorry coming in.’
He said that a three minute warning can be given for a rocket attack but it takes more than that time for people to get out of some of the buildings and get out of the area being attacked. He instanced a family home of five storeys which was flattened. ‘That is only one of thousands of houses destroyed. The people cannot ‘move on’ with their lives. They can only continue to live on top of the rubble for there is no place to go. Gaza is a time bomb, now,’ he said.
He also detailed how the airport – where he once worked – has been destroyed by Israeli attacks. ‘This was a civilian airport with commercial flights from many countries. Not only is it destroyed now, the farms round about it are also destroyed. Israeli bulldozers dug up the runway which cost $60 million.’ He commented that Israeli fears of ‘security’ at the airport were unfounded because the Israelis themselves controlled the security.
Glasgow City Council’s Nice surveillance system which is used in the city centre, was developed by Israel in Gaza and includes the most advanced face recognition techniques. ‘It is a disgrace that it is being piloted in Glasgow,’ said Councillor Bolland. ‘This needs to be challenged.’
Dr Karen Bett who is treasurer of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and who chaired the meeting in Renfield St Stephen’s chapel, said: ‘Scotland by its actions shows that we can change things. We show that Palestine matters.’
The Campaign believes that concerted actions and international pressure including boycott, divestment and sanctions could result in justice and peace in Palestine in the same way such efforts brought an end to apartheid in South Africa.
More information: www.scottishpsc.org.uk a