Outlaw King Review

Culture is the celebration of diversity. Let us therefore not deny our origin, but instead celebrate ours as a cultural mosaic; not a tower of Babel, but a power of Babel.
Ali A. Mazrui, Cultural Forces in World Politics

It’s extremely easy to be cynical about Outlaw King if you’re not interested in Scottish History. Legend has it that its entire existence owes itself to Netflix’s desire to have a Netflix original film show up in searches for “Braveheart” on their programming. Alternatively, it is part of Netflix’s ongoing war against the traditional film industry, which casts many professional film reviewers’ takes on the film in a rather unflattering light.

I trust neither film critics nor Rotten Tomatoes at the best of times, but it’s telling audiences seem to like Outlaw King more than the professional film crickets.

So…

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Heroes of Gourock: Catherine Mary Barr

There are many ways to commemorate the Armistice which marked the end of the Great War a hundred years ago today. I chose a single individual from my own home town who played a role in one of the most heartbreaking, and remarkable, stories of that time.

This is the story of Catherine Mary Barr.

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Mental Wealth

There were two amendments at the Autumn 2018 SNP Conference which I felt moved to speak on:

11. Whole-school approach to mental health provision
Conference acknowledges that 2018 is the Year of Young People and that in partnership with the third sector, the Scottish Government has tasked a group of 22 young people with gathering evidence and offering solutions on how young people’s mental health services in Scotland can be improved.

Conference acknowledges the challenges in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and welcomes the new CAMHS Taskforce, backed with £5 million of investment, to reshape and improve services and ensure that young people have access to support when they need it.

Conference affirms that investment in prevention is crucial if we are to tackle the root causes of mental ill health and notes with concern the Mental Health Foundation’s research that 33% of young people aged 18 to 24 in Scotland have experienced suicidal feelings because of stressful situations while 24% have self-harmed.

Conference believes that teachers need the right training and support to explore emotional wellbeing in schools to help prevent mental ill health from developing and escalating into crisis. Conference therefore backs the Mental Health Foundation’s campaign to create a “whole-school approach” to mental wellbeing by supporting mental health training for all teachers and support staff.

YOUNG SCOTS FOR INDEPENDENCE
JOSH MENNIE, ELECTED MEMBER OF
NEC
GRAHAM CAMPBELL, ELECTED
MEMBER OF NATIONAL COUNCIL

20. Adverse Childhood Experiences

Conference notes that across Scotland there are still many children who are growing up with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), a term that covers abuse, physical and emotional neglect and household adversity, the effects of which can cause chronic stress responses and have a lasting impact on children as they grow into adults.

Conference notes research which suggests that generally, but not specifically, instances of ACEs rise with the level of deprivation that a child is living in while understanding that there are no published studies to date of the prevalence specifically of ACEs among the general population of Scotland.

Conference notes what it sees as the benefits of early intervention and addressing ACEs and considers that such an approach has a positive impact on the person as well as society as a whole.

Conference further notes the view that, in order to mitigate against these experiences, a greater understanding must be achieved among policy makers and that focus should lie on prevention, resilience and enquiry and calls upon the Scottish Government to commission an ACE specific study of the Scottish population to determine how many people are affected and what steps can be taken for prevention and healing of ACEs.

GAIL ROSS MSP
RONA MACKAY MSP

I rarely consider speaking at conference, or at all, unless I feel confident in that I have anything relevant to impart and the experience necessary to justify my contribution. This was one of those occasions. I was not called to speak at either motion due to the great number of cards in support – a testament to the necessity and support for the two topics.

Seeing as it’s World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d cobble together the thoughts I had into a post.

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The Case For Banning Books

Banning books is a terrible thing, so I thought. I’m the sort of guy who still gets upset about the Library of Alexandria, the Maya Codices, and Scotland’s own National Records, so you can imagine how I feel about symbolic desecration of cultural heritage. Even though Ray Bradbury wasn’t thinking of censorship when he wrote Farenheit 451, the power of his narrative made it incredibly applicable – especially since the practise of burning literature still goes on, and many books are still prohibited on the basis that they might be dangerous, especially to those with suggestible minds.

Book banning & burning is a fixture of dystopian literature. After all, if people read subversive books, they may think subversive thoughts. They may find inspiration, even hope, within pages that whichever oppressive regime wants to redact from humanity’s collective consciousness.

But what about when it’s those oppressive regimes who are getting their inspiration from them?

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Some Countries That I Used To Know

The modern international system is built, in part, on two ideas that turned out to be in tension: Borders are sacrosanct and people determine their own political status.

The former was meant to put an end to war by discouraging invasion or separatist rebellion. The latter was meant to protect citizens from dictators or occupiers. But when a subset of a population decides to break off, those two principles collide.

This has opened a vacuum in the international system when it comes to declaring independence. Neither norms nor the law are particularly clear on how or when it’s permissible.

Max Fisher and Amanda Taub for The New York Times

One of the more perplexing arguments against independence movements is the notion of stability, that we simply can’t be doing with all this map-altering border-scribbling changes for no good reason. After all, the nations we know today have persisted for decade, even centuries: why fix what isn’t broken? Such comments are usually cast with the unspoken belief that secession is inherently bad – it’s a “problem,” a “threat to the European Order,” “economically costly,” and “incredibly dangerous to the stability of nations.” It’s more of the same story, of states protecting their power and privilege in fear of the people making decisions that might jeopardise those things.

Perhaps if the appearance of newly-independent states was a rare thing, they would have a point. But in the last 30 years or so, just as many nations have gained their independence, formed and broken unions, redrawn their borders, and even disappeared entirely. Maps had to be redrawn; globes of the world replaced; dictionaries and encyclopedias and gazetteers republished.

Today is my 34th birthday. As an experiment, I thought I’d have a look at Europe from 1984 to the present day, with images taken from a popular video that’s been doing the rounds. No doubt it will be very basic, & one’s definition of international recognition or even of “nation” will vary, but I think it’s an interesting exercise.

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The Country on the Edge of Forever

If you map it, it will come?

“My stories try to seduce the reader by disguising themselves as sensational entertainment, but are propaganda for democratic welfare-state Socialism and an independent Scottish parliament.”
Alasdair Gray

How many stories have you heard where the Axis won the Second World War?

Even before the war was over, stories of the Thousand Year Reich were published: Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night, written in 1937, started the trend which has almost become a subgenre in itself. Some of the foremost science fiction authors of the age, such as Isaac Asimov, David Brin, Fritz Leiber, & Norman Spinrad, wrote tales on this theme; some books, like Robert Harris’ Fatherland, were adapted to film; one of Star Trek’s most celebrated episodes (written by Harlan Ellison) featured this as a poignant dilemma. This has lasted into the new millennium: Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle was adapted into a hit series, as was Len Deighton’s SS-GB. It is understandable for so much fiction to revolve around this supermassive gravity well in our planetary history given the way the conflict shaped so much of humanity’s consciousness decades later.

What if we go to a Point of Divergence further back in time: what if the Confederacy won the American Civil War? Again, there are dozens of books on that subject, a mockumentary, and a recently-announced television series from the showrunners behind A Game of Thrones. Naturally, it’s more an American phenomenon, but it remains the deadliest war in United States history, and all the more bitter for its internecine nature.

How about further than even that – what if the Roman Empire never fell? Going on the alternative history database Uchronia, searching for “Roman”  yields 116 results (& another 77 for “Rome”) – that means 116 books, essays, or stories involving the Roman Empire or Ancient Rome. What if Elizabeth of England failed/was killed & the Spanish Armada triumphed?  Searching for “English” or “England” yields 94/129 results; “British” or “Britain” 189 /153 results.

What about Scotland?

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What Ships Are Built For

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
John Augustus Shedd (1859 – 1928)

Picture a boat in a harbour. Let’s call her the Scotia. She can be any kind of boat you like: a proud Birlinn, a swift Sgoth Niseach, a stout Gabbart, a bonny Clyde Puffer, a dainty Fifie. The boat is old and well-travelled, though she has not been on a voyage for a very long time. Yet she still floats; her hull is solid and sturdy; the deck and gunwales clear and well-maintained; cargo manifest up-to-date, even her paint still vibrant. Like the Ship of Theseus, she has been built and rebuilt countless times, yet retains the shape and spirit since she was launched. She boasts a dedicated, enthusiastic crew, of many talents and experiences, ready for any and all challenges. People the world over look to this boat as a truly exemplary craft – one that passenger, crewman, and officer alike would be honoured to board & serve.

Now imagine that boat never leaves its harbour.

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