Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Plight of Asylum seekers

I read today about changes to the asylum system. Asylum seekers who want to claim “in-country asylum” will need to travel to Croydon to do so, instead of having the option of Liverpool or Glasgow as before. This is another scandalous attack on very vulnerable folk. The mark of any society is how it treats the stranger, especially the destitute. The BNP may think that anyone who claims asylum is at it but the truth is that the vast majority are escaping violence and persecution. Sadly, we seem to want to continue that persecution rather than alleviate it.

The photograph was taken by Gareth harper.

Do the poor pay for the rich?

I was unimpressed to see that HBOS have chosen to hammer ordinary customers with a radically increased overdraft fee. Is this once again the poor folk paying for the mistakes of the rich folk? Why is it always the little guy that gets hammered when the powerful screw up? No matter how they spin it, this is the 1000’s of ordinary customers paying through the nose for the excesses of a few who still don’t seem to worry about how what they do affects others.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Fault Lines of Race and Religion

I have spent time this week with a group of people of all faiths and none, planning a rally on Glasgow Green on 14th Nov. to celebrate our common humanity in the face of forces that seek to divide us along fault lines of race and religion. The rally sets out to show those who harbour racist or bigoted views about whom we have heard a great deal recently, just how well all of us in Scotland can belong together, not simply tolerating one another but enjoying the diversity of insight and experience, culture and our common humanity. It is a positive approach to a negative situation, trying to search for love in time where hate seems to be winning the day.

Monday, 19 October 2009

No to Racial Bigotry

I spend most of this morning at a press conference for Scotland United against Terrorism; a grouping of trade unionists, political parties, anti-racist organisations, and faith groups. We intend to hold a rally to celebrate multicultural Scotland on Saturday 14th November in Glasgow Green. This is to challenge the anti-Muslim protest planned by racist bigots, including the Scottish Defence League and English Defence League (EDL) in Glasgow city centre on the same day. I want to love my enemy but sometimes love means saying no, that’s unacceptable, it is wrong and you must stop doing it. Anti Muslim protests are one such occasion.

Photograph taken by Gareth Harper.

Banking culture

I was angry when I heard about the moves by Lloyds Banking Group to undermine the integrity of the Lloyds TSB foundation. The Lloyds TSB foundation was never about the money. They created real relationships with those they funded. They supported those involved in projects so that money given was better spent. Most importantly they understood that in the fragile places where much of their money went, the change hoped for and the change achieved was not always the same thing, but that was not a sign of failure. It is however, a sign of failure by those at the heart of banking to fail to change their culture as they promised.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The faces hidden in the numbers

Today statistics show that unemployment has continued to rise. There are now close to a million people claiming jobseeker's allowance. Wide-spread unemployment is one of the ugly faces of an economic crisis. The danger is that we forget that behind every statistic there is a person and a home. This is the real story of the credit crunch. Forget green shoots of financial recovery; until these numbers representing real human stories start going down,  we will remain in a desert which all of us have helped to create.

Photograph taken by Le Haricot.

Making poverty history

This coming Saturday all over the world people, concerned about poverty will mark the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (World Poverty Day).  This year, the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,  the focus will be the hardships faced by children and their families. My small contribution will be to write to Gordon Brown reminding him that making poverty history is the central moral challenge of our generation. It’s linked to climate change. It’s linked to the credit crunch. It is linked to who we are as human beings. Are we willing to make sacrifices for people who we will never know but whose suffering is now echoing through the global village? This is a job for us all. If we get it right, we will all benefit.

Photograph taken by The Last Paladin.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Return to Sender

If I was an MP I’d be getting someone else to open my mail today. The letter to MPs from independent auditor Sir Thomas Legg  may well be the last nail in several more political careers.  It's right and proper that MPs should pay what they owe and no-one can claim Sir Thomas is anything but independent as he’s even pulled up the man who appointed him, Gordon Brown. My worry however, is not the reaction of MPs, but of those watching for the opening of those envelopes. I worry that these letters will have an unintended consequence – like picking a scab that needs now to be left alone to heal. We need a new political era. We need a new untainted political generation. But if every time we do something to help clean up we feed the idea that all of politics, not just politicians, is corrupt, we do ourselves a disservice, one that we may struggle to recover from for a very long time.

Money. money. money

I spent most of Friday in Edinburgh at the first of three conferences being run by the Church and Society Council entitled “What is our international economy for?”We are running these in preparation for a report going to the Kirk’s 2010 General Assembly which will call for a wide ranging commission into the fundamentals of our economy; asking things like “what is our economy for?” or perhaps, as was suggested on Friday; "who is it for?" It’s all very well to talk about “spivs” and greedy bankers destroying the economy but the blame game doesn’t help us as a society get to a new place with our economy. Everyone takes part in the economy in some way. So the economy should be shaped to meet their needs. I remain unconvinced that most people are only motivated by money and that the needs of others don’t matter. Our economy should tell that story too.

Photography by Roby(c).

Friday, 9 October 2009

An even greener dear green place

I love the idea that my home city of Glasgow, the “dear green place”, is going to get a little greener.  That’s not a theological statement but an environmental one.  Apparently every school in Glasgow is going to get an allotment so pupils can grow their own food and learn about healthy eating first hand.  But it’s even more important than that. There was a time when “dig for victory” was a statement of defiance against a human enemy.  These days the problem is not a warring nation but a warming world. And every little helps.  We need carrot crunching as well as carbon counting to help save our planet and I am proud that my city is leading the way.

Photograph of allotment fox was taken by Marj Joly

Who benefits from benefits...?

The competition between the main political parties to prove they will create the biggest reduction in the amount we as a nation spend on welfare benefits ( see here and here ) is both tragic and damaging. It's tragic because it at least implies that we are in a financial crisis because of the actions of the poorest; that somehow their need is costing us too much when it was the greed, (or the inappropriate risk taking with other folks' money), of some very rich people that means we are in hock as a nation right up to our necks.  And it’s damaging because it marginalises people who are already on the edge.  A nation is defined by how it treats those in need.  This political war of words and testosterone is not about our national budget. It is about our national soul. And that’s bad news for all of us when the debate is so acrimonious and the protagonists are both in the wrong.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Teacher numbers are a serious miscalculation

I heard about a vacancy for a primary school teaching post in North Lanarkshire that attracted five hundred and six applications. Five hundred and six - for one job! Yet record numbers of students are still being recruited to follow them, even though  there are currently a thousand less teachers employed in Scotland than in 2007.
Today's teachers have the opportunity to make a huge difference - maybe especially to the lives of disadvantaged children in Scotland - but they can't do it if they don't have a job. This debate is not just a matter of statistics or numbers - it's about changing the world by getting these well trained and committed teachers together with the children who need to be inspired.

Jesus said 'the last will be first' and set the bar as to how we treat what he called 'the little ones'. What he didn't do was fight about how many go here or can't go there! He just knew that good teaching changes lives. The trouble is that chance for that change to happen is being restricted and unless that changes we will all be poorer.

Photograph taken by Anirudh Koul

Trident reductions are not good news really

The announcement by Gordon Brown that he wants to reduce the number of trident subs is sadly not all it seems. It may be a sign that we are heading in the right direction for nuclear disarmament but  it is little more than a baby step. This reduction won’t mean fewer warheads, only that we won’t have so many out at sea. That’s a bit like saying “I’m on a diet – I don’t have any less cake, I just keep it in the cupboard for longer.” In May the Church of Scotland said at its General Assembly that nuclear weapons were “inherently evil”. They remain so no matter which cupboard they are in.

Photograph taken by Gerald Simmons.

The Credit Crunch still bites deep

It   is good news that Alistair Darling has persuaded the big 5 banks to curb bonuses but my question is why did he need to persuade them? Do these guys not get the message that for us as customers to have confidence in them we need to know that they are not simply motivated by greed. There is something fundamentally flawed in a system that says that those who get paid more need more to be motivated whilst those who are paid less can compete by agreeing to work for lower wages. This remains an issue of justice.

Photograph by Andres Rueda.