Scotland’s Secret Shame

More people in Scotland die by suicide than in car accidents.

Just spend a minute with that.

Four times as many people – men and women just like you and me, our families, our friends – take their own lives than die in road accidents. Two people a day. Imagine if two people in Scotland were shot every day. There would be public hysteria! Voices calling for a stop to these pointless deaths. A government inquiry.

This is 2012. We have come on leaps and bounds in treating cancer in all its forms; people can live for decades with HIV. We have seen significant public health campaigns on smoking, drinking, exercise, diet. So why, in 2012, does despair and sadness and hopelessness pervade our society so completely that we are losing two people a day to suicide? And why aren’t we talking about it?

I think part of it is the Scottish character. That Calvinist work ethic – things are only worthwhile if they’re hard – and our inclination to view any display of emotion (unless we’re in drink) as a weakness. We take pride in suffering, bearing our burden, putting up with it, accepting our lot. And then there’s our physical environment. It is dark here, dark and cold. When it’s not dark, it is grey. It rains, frequently, the wind howls and we lean into it, not noticing how much it is wearing us down.

I have lived with depression for many years now. Half my life. From my next birthday, more than half. I was 17 the first time I walked into a doctor’s surgery and tried to explain that I just couldn’t cope. Everything was black. I couldn’t see a future, I couldn’t see tomorrow. So I was pilled up and ‘counselled’ by a well intentioned but untrained GP. And since then, it has been in and out. Psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors. I have tried CBT, NLP, the talking cure. Four different anti-depressants. And I am, without doubt, one of the lucky ones. Because I can talk about it.

My depression has been a difficult road for me and my family – but they have never shied away from it. They are willing to suggest to me it might be time to go back to the doc, back to the medication, back to the talking. They know that it is an illness; it isn’t them. Because that, I think, is one of the things that stops people talking. How can you tell the people you love, who love you, that you despair? That you aren’t looking forward to anything? That all the time there is just the sadness, the weight, the darkness and it doesn’t matter that you know they love you, the darkness doesn’t care.

So if you know someone like me – and I am almost certain you will – please let them talk. Talking is the start of making it normal and we need to make it normal, right across our country. Naming the darkness helps. Articulating what feels overwhelming helps. If it has a name, if you can see it, it is a real thing, a separate thing. It isn’t just you.

The other thing you can do is support Samh’s Two Too Many campaign

Spread the word. Talk about it. Mental health is just… health. We don’t shy away from sharing our aching backs, headaches, man flu. Let’s not shy away from this.



Filed under Personal, Political

The Joy of The Proclaimers

Purveyors of Scotland’s unofficial national anthem and fellow Fifers, I am a proud fan of Craig and Charlie Reid – this is why…

A Proclaimers album can lift your spirits, break your heart, make you laugh and stimulate your mind, all within an hour or so. And that’s without considering the music: folk / country / blues / rock’n’roll to set your toes tapping and hands clapping.

Last Thursday, I saw them in Edinburgh: a homecoming gig in their 25th year of being on the road. For the crowd in the Playhouse, it was part gig, part party, part paying homage to the men who’ve been with them through it all – the hard times, the good times, the births and deaths and marriages, the Edinburgh derby games and the ends of too many nights out to count. If you want to understand Scotland, you could do worse than get to a gig yourself. This is the music that explains us to ourselves. Not the skirl of the pipes or the gaelic laments of RunRig; not the Glasgow art scene rock or the Edinburgh guys with guitars (though there’s another post here recommending great new Scottish music to you!)

The Proclaimers are the band you hear at the end of the wedding / 21st / 40th / school prom. The crowd singing along with them includes teenagers, pensioners and everyone in between. The call and response in I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) rings out at football and rugby. They are the only band to get two songs onto Scotland’s Greatest Album, decided by public and critical opinion combined.

Why might that be? Let’s take Letter to America as a starting point. Catchy from first listen with a classic Proclaimers sing-a-long chorus, as a piece of music it resonates. But it is set apart by the lyrics: an account of the Scottish diaspora and plea to the departed from those left behind, expressed in the direct, brutal phrases of real Scots (think Tom Leonard not Burns.) ‘Help us kick the life back / to a dying mutual friend’ indeed. The song mourns the loss of Scottish industry while celebrating the Scottish character. Clever, no?

The politics of Scotland take centre stage in many Proclaimers’ songs. Cap in Hand, their fluent argument for independence. Throw the R Away, angry with the dilution of our tongue. Though I don’t agree with their politics, the songs still stand up as incisive social and political commentary. And you can’t say that for Justin Bieber…

But for me the song of songs is Sunshine on Leith.

Here is a very Scottish love song. No histrionics. No overblown promises or declarations. No pretence that the singer didn’t exist before meeting the object of the song. This is ordinary. ‘My heart was broken’ because I’m a grown up with a life and a past. ‘My tears are drying’ because I loved before and that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. ‘While I’m worth / My room on this earth’ because this life is temporary and I want to spend it loving you. ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you’ because what more important can be said? Anyway. They do it more justice than I ever could:

You can find out if the Reids are coming your way here: The Proclaimers Official website

And if they’re not, maybe the Proclaimers musical ‘Sunshine on Leith’ will be. Or you could just sing a long yourself, knowing Scotland is singing with you! Altogether now:

When I wake up…

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Inspired less by the day – though if it’s meaningful for you, I send you best wishes for a happy one – and more by fellow bloggers, here’s a wee list of what I’m thankful for:

Craig. Not just because he’s taking me to see The Proclaimers tonight. Not just because it’s prime defend me from spiders season. Because he is everything to me and my favourite and I love him and he’s made me not scared anymore.

My mum and dad. They fucking rock. I love hanging out with them. They’re clever, funny, brilliant, loving people who brought me up a socialist, a feminist, a campaigner, a citizen, not a consumer-sheep-coward.

My sister, her husband, my nieces and my nephew. My sister kicks ass. She is a sergeant now and impossibly glamorous for a woman who never has time to sit down. It’s an honour to be part of their family.

My soon to be in-laws. Landed right on my feet with them… Warm, welcoming and great company.

My friends. Even though I’m far away from a lot of them, they bring so much colour and joy to my life. I hope I return some of it.

My job. It’s challenging, interesting, I work with great people who care passionately about what they do. And it’s a permanent job with a pension making me lucky indeed.

My home. We were lucky to find it and now it’s our sanctuary and citadel. With amazing charity shop furniture!

I live in Scotland where we have peace and democratic government.

I had an excellent education and contribute to the economy so other people can have one too.

I’m still learning now and there are few more exciting things.

I have the benefit of the NHS. Currently microwaving me with a smile three times a week; previously making a lot of people I love and don’t want to be without better.

I can write critically about the government if I like and no one will come for me in the night.

I can vote.

I have enough to eat, I have heat and light, I have warm clothes and shoes that keep out the rain.

I am free to travel and explore the world.

I’m pretty fucking lucky overall. Thank you Thanksgiving for giving me pause…

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The secret of selfishness…

Is simple really. It’s not a bad thing! Or at least not all bad.

I’ve recently completed a brilliant personal development programme called Hurdles Happen. I’ve learned to identify how I sabotage myself; how I can stay in integrity in challenging situatons; how to start things even if… and how to stop the inevitable hurdles I’ll face derailing me completely. It has been a challenging and worthwhile learning journey; it was work I knew I needed to do – personally chosen personal development. But the biggest piece of learning has been the unexpected bit: I can and should embrace being selfish.

If you’re anything like me – and I’m under no illusions about being an exceptional case! – you’ll never have heard selfish positively. For me, selfish is you’re not sharing with your sister/friends/classmates; you’re so selfish choosing what you want to do; I can’t believe how selfish you are (you have not said/done what I want you to!)


Selfishness – and self interest – are for bad people, particularly bad girls. Because selfishness is understood as being diametrically opposed to many of the feminine qualities we should have – gentleness, kindness, generosity, compassion, warmth, the good old maternal instinct.

This is a big misunderstanding.

I’m not encouraging you to ignore your family, let down your friends, exclude your lover and generally behave like an ass. Because there is a difference between being selfish and being an ass, though many people have confused the two.

I am encouraging you to look again at those examples:

  • You’re not sharing – why should you always share? Why shouldn’t you be the person to enjoy the fruits of your own labour? Why can’t you keep something just for you, something you love, something you need?
  • You’re choosing what you want to do – and again, why not? Why do you always have to put what you want last? Just because you’re a wife / girlfriend / sister / mother / carer, why should you always defer to the choices of others?
  • You’ve not said or done what I wanted – and this, my friends, is what so many of those accusations you’ve heard mean. They mean I want you to do as I say, not as I do. I want to control you. I want you to exist for me. Well I don’t. I exist for me. I may choose to grant other people priority and power in my life but that is my choice. And if I choose not to prioritise you at this point in time (or ever) then that is not me being selfish. It’s you.

This has been really empowering for me. Reflecting on times I have heard the accusation and what the circumstances were; realising how often I’d made myself unhappy or made choices I didn’t want to make to avoid the accusation. Moving forward, I am going to embrace selfishness. I’m also embracing ‘no.’ And ‘I want to.’ Because when hurdles happen, only I can jump them.


Filed under Personal

The stained glass ceiling

I’ll start with thanks to the Twitter wag who suggested the stained glass ceiling should’ve been the headline this morning… That or ‘What the frock?’ Both lend the decision of the Church of England to reject female bishops the ridiculousness it deserves.

I’ll also declare my interests up front: I’m an athiest and a feminist so my reaction might be deemed predictable. But I want to reflect on this in a quiet, considered way, not just damn the Church as reactionary misogynist wankers who have lost touch with their flock and are making their beloved institution an irrelevant laughing stock.

I have friends, people I respect and admire, who are active members of the Church of England. They are appalled by this decision. The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is gravely disappointed as is his replacement, Justin Welby, and my favourite of the CofE leaders, John Sentamu. There is a lot of explaining to do they say. Where might the explanation start?

A good point is the House of Laity. This is where the great no came from. Not from the Houses of Bishops and Clergy, the people who already do the job and know what it means, what it demands. They met the two thirds requirement. It came from the lay members. So when Dr Williams warns the CofE of the danger of seeming wilfully out of step with society, he’s actually addressing the ‘society part’ of the church. Where has this disconnection come from? It is no longer the priests who are troublesome…

I posit that church – not just the CofE but all churches – has become a refuge for the social conservatives. The little Englanders. Here is an institution worthy of upholding: it won’t, can’t, be changed on a whim by public opinion or a government in thrall to special interest groups. It has a long history and tradition that reflects what they want to see, what comforts them. A patriarchal structure. Rules. Commandments. Women in their place.

These are the people appalled by the idea of a bishop with a vagina. The people who argue that a yes would be pandering to modern society. That’s modern society in the way the Daily Mail might use the term. Pejorative, implying a multitude of horrors: the society that promotes homosexuality to children, pays for immigrants to live in palaces, hasn’t told the EU where to go, calls Christmas Winterval… Them. The ones who clamour for the right to shoot burglars, jail drug addicts for life and bring back hanging.

What puzzles me is the disconnect between those people and the people who run the church they say they’re saving. The clergy are preaching tolerance, equality, peaceful change, social justice, acting morally and living the tenets expressed in the Bible. So why aren’t they heard? While we’re at it, what about Jesus being heard? I don’t believe but I have read and reflected on what is attributed to him – and it is love, forgiveness, kindness, commonality.

The vote is, as many have said today, sad for all of us. But it is saddest for the CofE and the many men and women who choose to contribute to society through its auspices. There is anger now, the suggestion of parliamentary action followed by legal redress. That may happen. But what must happen, up and down England, is a discussion ‘in house’ about institution which has become weighed down by rules and arcane laws and is not free to behave in accordance with what it preaches.


Filed under Political

When is red tape not red tape?

Or to ask another question: why is David Cameron puzzled by the suggestion the Conservatives are still the ‘nasty party’?

Anyone who heard him today knows the answer. In another speech to business, Cameron announced his intention to slash and burn the red tape that burdens us, holding us back from restarting our economy and making Britain great. A typical Tory policy: pro business, pro enterprise, pro competition, anti bureaucracy and big government. Damn these public servant penpushers damning us to death by form in triplicate! It’s elf’n’safety gone mad etc etc

But. But. When is red tape not red tape? When it’s equalities policy.

David Cameron wants to free people up by removing equalities impact assessments. I know there’s a practical question here (the assessments were replaced by the powers of the Equalities Act so what does he want rid of?) but I’m after the principle…

Only a truly nasty party would seek to remove hard fought protections for those in our society who have suffered discrimination and harm. Only a truly nasty party would interpret duties to take into consideration the needs of diverse ethnic groups, the differently abled, those on the edges of society as red tape. Only a truly nasty party would jeopardise the vulnerable for the interests of the rich few.

This latest announcement comes as no surprise. It follows on from the systematic destruction of the welfare state and the NHS. And what else should we expect? The playing fields of Eton are even, and inaccessible to those of us outside the gates.

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The unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar

Pregnancy shouldn’t kill you. Not here, not now. Earlier this autumn a man jumped from the edge of space with a parachute and landed safely. We have eradicated diseases that used to kill millions. So why, just last month, did a 31 year old woman die in a hospital in Ireland for want of a safe, well-established medical procedure?

Savita Halappanavar was a 31 year old dentist. She was married; she was pregnant. At 17 weeks, she miscarried. She was admitted to hospital where she was told the staff could detect a foetal heartbeat so there was nothing they could – or would – do. They left her bleeding, in pain, for three days until staff couldn’t detect a heartbeat anymore. But by that time, the septicaemia that would kill her had taken hold. It was too late for Savita. It had always been too late for the foetus.

The law in Ireland bans abortion in almost every circumstance ‘except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct to the health) of the mother.’ Why the risk to Savita’s life wasn’t recognised we do not yet know. But, quite rightly, her unnecessary and tragic death has prompted calls on the Irish government to change the law now. The law as it stands has been shown to be a failure, a fatal failure. It is a national disgrace.

I know that the intention of the law – the intention of pro-life campaigners everywhere – is to protect life. But I do not believe that banning or even restricting access to abortion is any way to achieve this. Because life means more, much more, than a beating heart.

Savita Halappanavar had a life. I assume that her miscarriage was a great sadness to her and her husband; they were a young married couple at the stage of life where starting a family is a common desire. There is no suggestion the pregnancy was unwanted. Savita and her husband had had to accept that their dream was not now, not yet – but the medical staff wouldn’t. This wasn’t abortion on demand: this was a medical intervention to manage a tragic situation and allow the grieving mother to physically recover safely. Whose life did the refusal protect?

Pro-life campaigners, like those who will be vocal tonight in Ireland, cite women who want abortion ‘on demand.’ Who are they talking about? No woman ever has an abortion lightly. No woman could. Yes, there are all sorts of reasons for abortion: health, timing, circumstances. And they vary and some may seem, to the outsider, flip and ill considered. But that is to the outsider. No one of us can know the heart, the soul, the life of another.

Women need access to safe, supervised abortion because women are human. And the men who have co-created the situation are human. And humans can be stupid and make mistakes and be reckless and be wrong. None of those are reasons to insist a child is born. Because what sort of life will they have, the children that shouldn’t have been? What about the abuse – mental, emotional, physical – that they might grow up with? The knowledge that they were not wanted? The damage wrought on these individuals, communities, society would be immense. Dictating their life would not be protecting it.




Filed under Political