Scotland's cricket team before a 2014 match against England. Photo: Ian MacNicol/AFP/Getty Images
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“Ah dinnae like cricket, man. Ah love it”: in search of Scotland's willow

Caledonian Asians and itinerant Englishmen (myself included) complement a healthy population of diehard Scots who continue to support the national game.

My two Scots boys are a great credit to my Scots grandfather. In the 1920s, he wooed my English grandmother with raw herring, porridge and whisky on Eilean nan Ròn, a now uninhabited island off the northern coast of Scotland. My half-Scottish mother was delighted with the SNP’s showing in the recent elections and occasionally I wear the Mackay tartan of my grandfather’s clan. I live in Glasgow but I’m English. I am also addicted to cricket.

Before coming here in 1996, I was worried that I would be bereft of the game. Cricket is not widely appreciated in Scotland. However, in 2005, captivated by the wonderful Ashes series, my elder son, Tom, then aged five, started to play and his brother, Angus, soon followed. Cricket is now perhaps a bigger part of my life than it ever was.

Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland, set in New York after the 9/11 attacks, is about a Dutch banker seeking a sense of society among a group of Asian, Caribbean and other outsiders who comprise a cricket-playing underworld. In Scotland, too, the cricketing fraternity is rather eclectic. Several times a week, we’ll drive anywhere in the radius of 30 miles or so that encompasses the Western District Cricket Union. Caledonian Asians and itinerant Englishmen (myself included) complement a healthy population of diehard Scots who continue to support and play Scotland’s national game – as Richard “Siggy” Young describes it in the recent book As the Willow Vanishes.

Young traces the origins of cricket’s decline north of the border to the rise of Glasgow as an urban centre in the 1870s, when the city’s extensive parkland gave way to housing. Clubs had flourished in the mid-Victorian period. Association football arrived to provide winter recreation for the nation’s cricketers but, needing less space and being more resilient to the weather, it soon took off. The world’s first international football match, a goalless draw between Scotland and England, was played at the West of Scotland Cricket Club’s ground in Partick in 1872. Even Hampden Park was initially a cricket pitch.

Cricket remained popular for much of the first part of the 20th century. Douglas Jardine, England’s “bodyline” captain who captured the Ashes in Australia in the 1930s, was born to Scottish parents; the great Tony Greig’s father was also Scottish. Greig was preceded as England captain by Mike Denness, another west-of-Scotlander, in the 1970s.

On a Friday evening, it is wonderful to be here in Scotland and still reminisce with other cricket enthusiasts about great Test matches of the past. I can sit with people who will laugh spontaneously on hearing that, say, reviled umpire Shakoor Rana had invited Mike Gatting to stay at his house whenever he liked.

The sepia-tinged photos in the clubhouses, too, show the ghosts of Scotland’s cricketing past walking the meadows of its history. I know of few views more attractive than that across the West of Scotland Cricket Club’s ground to Partick Burgh Hall, or the quaint, whitewash-walled splendour of Greenock’s ground at Glenpark. Gordon Greenidge, a star of the West Indian teams that dominated world cricket, played at Glenpark for a couple of seasons in the early 1990s. It was my friend Kenny Godsman, a former club captain at Greenock and a member of the board of Cricket Scotland, who told me that. And it was again Kenny who once proclaimed, “Ah dinnae like cricket, man. Ah love it.” 

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns the future?

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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