"I have no idea if an independent Scotland can do all that I want it to, but I have to take that risk". Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

“I hate bagpipes, I hate kilts, but I've changed my vote from No to Yes”

Kev Sherry, of Glaswegian indie outfit Attic Lights, explains why he's changed from No to Yes on the Scottish independence question. 

I despise nationalism. I despise patriotism. I hate bagpipes, I hate kilts and tartan and I hate the cringe inducing shouts of “wha’s like us” in bars across the nation at closing time on drunken Saturday nights. I love the other countries we share this little island with. I am not what you could ever call a patriot or a nationalist and I would call myself European long before I’d ever call myself Scottish. I believe in cultural and ethnic integration. I believe in a world where nationalities blur into one another rather than divide on tribal lines. I have been, until fairly recently, a staunch ‘No’ voter. However, all things considered, I now feel I am left with no choice but to vote Yes in the forthcoming referendum.

There are economists on both sides of the argument saying wildly different things. I’m not an economist, and neither are the majority of people who seem to have decided to believe one side of the economic argument because it suits their inherent prejudices (as I did until recently.) This is not a decision the lay person can make based on just economics. It has to be about more than that.

We have the unique opportunity to build something better than the status quo – a status quo that is destroying the fabric of our society, that more than ever in living memory, supports the rich and powerful at the expense of the weak and the poor (regardless, I think it is fair to say, of whatever Westminster party is in power.) To ignore the possibility of changing this, to not at least consider taking that risk of independence, is at best shameful and at worst a disgrace to future generations.

How does anything happen in human history? How do we make the great leaps forward? We take risks. We place our hope in new, heretical ideas. If Albert Einstein had accepted the status quo of physics we could be living in a vastly different world. The same goes for Jesus Christ and Mohammed and Socrates and Galileo. New ideas that are heretical to the established order are fundamental to human progress.

I am not interested in Alex Salmond as a man or the SNP as a party. I don’t care about keeping the pound and I accept that, should the country vote Yes, Scotland might initially struggle economically – as any country would while trying to find its feet. That is not the point. This is bigger than you and me. This is about the future.

This is about more than you and your own wallet and your own ideas of culture and history. This is about more than whether you will have enough money to take the family to Mallorca next summer or to buy a new flatscreen TV. It’s about more than the “shared traditions” you were brought up to believe in.

It is about refusing to accept the pernicious lie that, “we are all in this together.” It’s about making the decision to redefine that phrase. In an independent Scotland, the wealthy and the powerful who comprise the British establishment will no longer get to define what “we” “this” and “together” mean anymore.

I have no idea if an independent Scotland can do all that I want it to, but I have to take that risk. The only other option is the status quo with its interchangeable political parties and neoliberal selfishness – an oligarchy in all but name. As a nation that consistently votes to the left, we can be sure that the policies of the main UK parties will not hold as much sway in Scotland as they do now.

Independence offers us a chance to make a change, to take a leap of faith, to show our brothers and sisters in England and the world beyond that there is a better way of living and treating people.

I urge you not to play it safe and I urge you to think about more than your own pockets. I urge you to see something better in the people around you. I urge you to vote Yes.

This article was originally published on kevsherry.wordpress.com. Read the original hereKev Sherry is a Scottish indie musician who plays in the Glaswegian band Attic Lights. He tweets @KevSherry1

GETTY
Show Hide image

The wildfire victims of forestry neglect - and the trees that saved them

Events in Portugal show how present mismanagement of the natural world reaches far beyond climate change, while also leaving communities more vulnerable to its effects.

When guesthouse owner Liedewij Schieving first heard about the wildfire in nearby Pedrogado Grande, she wasn’t overly concerned. “We always have fires here,” she explains at her home deep in the central Portugese forest.

It was only later that night, eating outside with her 11 guests, that the fear set in: “The wind was starting to smell and the sunset looked weird and dark.” By early the next morning the vast wall of flames had breached their remote valley. “I’ve never been in a war,” Liedewij says, still shaken, “but it was how I imagine war to sound.”

Soaring to temperatures of over 800 centigrade - high enough to melt windscreens and sink tyres into tarmac - the inferno eventually burned over 30,000 hectares of forest. By the time it was quelled, 64 adults and children had lost their lives, some dying trapped in their cars as they tried to escape down an unsafe road. “The biggest tragedy of human life we have known in years,” is how the country’s Prime Minister responded to the news on 18 June.

Two months later, the Pedrogado fire has proved the precusor to another summer of extreme weather events. Across southern and central Europe recent weeks have seen high winds and low humidity whip up wildfires everywhere from Spain to Serbia. At time of writing, 2,000 people in Portugal are trapped in the town of Mação as flames and smoke block their exit. In France, fires recently forced over 20,000 people from their homes and campervans.

Climate change is an unmistakable culprit. A Carbon Brief analysis of 140 studies from around the world found that 63 per cent of extreme weather events are linked to human-caused warming - making them either more likely or more severe.

Yet as countries assess the damage, evidence of humanity’s wider mismanagement of nature is also becoming harder to ignore. In Portugal, the excessive planting of eucalytpus trees is taking some of the blame for recent events. The species is the timber of choice for the country’s powerful paper industry, covering both industry-owned plantations and hundreds of tiny private smallholdings who sell it on. But it also happens to be highly flammable: think Grenfell cladding but spread over nearly a million hectares of land.

Liedewij’s story is evidence of this. Where dense eucalyptus forest once hid her home in dappled shade, the hillside is now charred and bare. “It was terrible,” she says of the moment she opened the gates for the farm animals before fleeing the valley, “we thought we were leaving them behind to grill”. Except that, as in all good disaster films, Liedewij’s goats didn’t burn - and nor did her picturesque house. Instead, fire-retardant willow trees by a nearby stream held the flames naturally at bay. On returning the next morning, she even found the hens laying eggs.

Liedewij Schieving outside her B&B at Quinta da Fonte - the bare hills behind the house show just how close the fire came.

Seen from above, her remote farmstead is now a tiny island of green amid a sea of black. She still panics at the smell from the woodfired heating, but support has poured in from friends both in Portugal and her native Holland, and she soon plans to fully re-open Quinta da Fonte B&B. Many guesthouses in nearby villages have already got back up and running.

Others among her neighbours, however, are not so lucky. Over 10,000 separate fires have destroyed 141,000 hectares of land in Portugal this year alone, with the annual cost of wildfire losses estimated to reach around €200m. A situation that risks further perpetuating the cycle of poverty and neglect that also played their part in the tragedy.

According to Domingos Patacho from the environmental NGO Quercus, the forest has become more hazardous as many of central Portugal's thousands of smallscale landholders leave their land untended to seek better wages elsewhere. Meanwhile, those who remain are often financially dependent on the income from the eucalyptus. They could choose to plant less flammable and water-hungry species, such as native corks or oaks, Patacho explains, but these can take twice as long to mature and provide a return.

The result is rising tension between the Portugese paper industry and the central government. After the June fire, the parliament pledged to push ahead with plans to limit the monoculture plantations. But the country’s Association of the Paper industry has previously warned that any ban on new plantations could hurt exports and jobs.

The reality is that both sides of the eucalyptus spread - both industry-owned and private - need improved regulation. But in a country only recently released from EU imposed austerity measures, debates over how enforcement could be financed are particularly tense. Not least since many areas do not even have an up to date land register, Patacho expplains.

At ESAC, an agrarian research base in central Portugal, professor Antonio Ferreira believes the time is now ripe for discussion between politicians, citizens and researchers about the future of forest land-use as a whole. The country needs to encourage people “to re-introduce native species, which will diversify the landscape and economic activity in those areas,” he says.

And the impulse is far from limited to Portugal. “We need to look at all the social aspects to get the full picture as well as the scientific side of forest management,” says WWF’s Jabier Ruiz of Europe’s wider wildfire problems. One route out of the woods may be greater EU policy support for those living in marginalised, rural areas, he adds.

What is clear is that as the continent warms, the need to improve the balance between social, environmental and commercial interests becomes ever more crucial. And while politicians debate, work at Liedewij’s home is already underway. Over the next few weeks, a group of her eco-minded friends, builders and topographers will help her re-build and re-landscape her farm. From digging terraces to stop landslides, to preventing the eucalyptus from re-emerging too close to the roads, their aim is to regrow a forest that works for all: a slow-burn project perhaps, but a bright one.

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