Archive for category Holyrood

Punching a black dog in the face (metaphorically)

Another in the sequence of personal guest posts from Malcolm Harvey, one of the founders of this blog. Many people in similar circumstances have found his openness helpful, and I’m most grateful to him for continuing to write about it. Also, even if actual black dogs aren’t always as cute as the one below, please don’t punch them.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 16.59.39At the end of October, I wrote this piece about my diagnosis of depression.  Five weeks later, I wrote a follow-up, a note of progress and developments.  Five months on from that, I’m writing another update.  There are several reasons for this.

That first piece contains the line:

I have depression and I’m dealing with it.

While this was and is an accurate and admirable sentiment, I do wonder if it might have been more accurate with the addition of the word “badly” at the end of the sentence.  Because here’s the thing: recognising depression for what it is is hard: fixing it, well that’s a whole other challenge, and one I’m probably not doing as well as I could be at.

Let me back up a bit.  After I wrote that last piece in December, I resolved to change a few things.  From 1 January, I made contact with one of my friends every day – usually via an email – which got me talking a bit more, socialising, and let me get back in touch with lots of people I hadn’t spoken to in years.  This coincided with what appeared to be progress:  I was having “down” time, but it was less frequent, I was (generally!) more pleasant company (I think) and I thought I was getting better.

I managed to keep that going until the end of March (and I still have a backlog of emails to reply to…) but then work got busy (there was an election on, dontcha know?!) and I had some conference papers to write, and just ran out of time to do these kinds of things.  As a result, I haven’t written any of these emails since then.

Since the beginning of April, I’ve pretty much been in a crater.  Lots more down time, low moods, no energy, irritability… in short, pretty much everything that was the case prior to my first GP appointment was back.  The medication seemed to have stopped working and I’d regressed significantly.  I got frustrated (and continue to be frustrated) by it which really doesn’t help improve the situation.

So back to the GP, a change of medication (which, I’m just starting this week: expecting side-effects, but I’m happy to persevere, because whatever the side-effects, they are better than snapping at everyone constantly) and enrolment on an online CBT course.  On the latter, I’ve done two of the eight sessions thus far, and while I understand the rationale and logic, and I’ve tried to do the activities set, it feels a lot like a waste of time.  Sure, I’m learning more about depression – though I’ve read plenty around it – but the methods it is teaching don’t really seem likely to work for me.  I understand them, but I can’t tell my brain not to think a particular way.

Writing this on a “good” day seems a bit counter-productive: I should really use the good days to do other things.  But if I left this to a bad day to write, I wouldn’t write it, and I think writing is helpful.  If nothing else, it helps me clarify some of the thoughts I’m having about depression.  I said the last time that I wasn’t just writing for myself, that I wanted others to read it and to recognise some of the symptoms within themselves, and to do something about them.  While that’s still true (really: don’t suffer in silence) I have to be honest: this is a much more selfish piece.  I’m writing this one for myself, to try to identify more of the issues I’m experiencing and to think through better mechanisms for coping.  In some senses, it doesn’t matter to me if this one gets read as much – though if you’re reading it, and recognise some of these things in yourself, do get in touch.  Talking helps.

I should try to end on a positive note (at least, I think that’s part of the CBT talking).  Once again, those around me have been fantastically supportive: family, friends, work colleagues, casual acquaintances who got in touch after reading the earlier posts.  I’ve grateful for that support, and I’ll resolve once again to get in touch with people more often.

Finally: this video about depression is really very good, and helps to provide more of an understanding as to how you see things when the black dog is in town.

Latest Holyrood poll

The latest monthly Record/Survation poll (formerly in partnership with this blog) is out, and it’s a corker. As per previous polling posts here, the vote share is the change on last month, and the seat change is since 2011.  And as usual, the ‘kippers would win some seats, but the Scotland Votes model doesn’t include them. I’ll run this again with a better predictor when I can fish it out.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 48 (-2) 65 (+12) 39 (±0) 2 (-14) 67 (-2) 51.9
Labour 28 (+2) 5 (-10) 22 (-1) 22 (±0) 27 (-10) 20.9
Conservative 13 (+1) 1 (-2) 12 (-2) 13 (+1) 14 (-1) 10.9
Liberal Democrats 5 (-1) 2 (±0) 7 (-1) 4 (+1) 6 (+1) 4.7
Scottish Greens - 0 (±0) 13 (+3) 15 (+13) 15 (+13) 11.6
UKIP - 0 (±0) 7 (+1) 0 (±0) 0 (±0) 0
Others 7 (+1) 0 (±0) 2.1 (+1.2) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

There’s two substantial changes here, and two only. First – Labour would see their worst ever Holyrood result by some margin, reduced to barely a fifth of the Parliament. Second – this is the best poll I’ve ever seen for the Greens. We’d be up from 2 to a massive 15 seats, and would be narrowly the third largest party. Bear in mind the UKIP caveat, which would probably hit Labour hardest but would also chip one or two off the Greens and Tories.

Astonishing.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 21.39.03

10 pictures that will make you realise how amazing Edinburgh is.

cars

Someone’s day started badly this morning. Outside my flat on the street was the footprint of a trainer in dog shite, the thinnest of a progression from the corner where the offending pile sat.

As the footprints fade on the way up Leith Walk they are replaced by discarded receipts and an empty packet of Pannini football cards thrown on the ground by someone who had ripped open their purchase from one of the newsagents on the east side. The partially revamped street is flanked by jeeps and Mercedes in the customer parking outside the shops, whilst the road surface is starting to come apart again under the weight of the traffic. The landmark investment hailed by the Government and the Labour-led council is running slowly, the promised bike lanes are nowhere to be seen and people scrum on the corners waiting to cross the road.

Further up still the window of Harburn Hobbies has a model train display of the highlands and the classier cafes and tiny restaurants of Haddington Place seem at odds with the Greggs packets and bins littering the street. The maps show the top of Leith Walk as being a well organised roundabout, but in fact it is a loosely segregated square fed by four different roads. In other places such a huge expanse in a city centre might be a public square, but in Edinburgh people are shepherded in to pens to cross the road as cars take the  corners at forty.

Further up the hill the situation is identical. Crossing the street can take five minutes depending on which of the four main roads pouring into the area has priority. You can smell the fumes hanging in the air in rush hour and Leith Street, the main route for people crossing to the Bridges or Princes Street, does not even have a complete pavement up one side. Instead it is easier to cut through the big John Lewis, where small men in ill-fitting grey suits wait for people to buy the Nespresso machines they stand watch over. Sometimes, when the air is bad, the ventilation system of the St James’ centre pulls in the smell of diesel fumes from the street outside. The world heritage site most people struggle through every day looks blackened and cracked in the November grey.

North Bridge offers a prime view of Arthur’s Seat overlapping with the Crags like the layers of a theatre set before it dives into the canyon between the Scotsman hotel and the equally ornate Pizza Express. In the stair entrance next to one of the tartan and whisky tourist shops a figure lies in a foetal squat, his unconscious face hidden by a hoody. Beyond Hunter Square another Scotland shop pumps out bagpipe hits as people cluster around the bus stop and cyclists nervously eye the taxis on their tail. The regeneration project of an Ibis hotel, Sainsbury’s and Costa Coffee have already been tagged.

On the far side of Old College a group of first year students wearing 2014 leavers hoodies from English private schools look uneasily at the Gaelic scrawled on the walls and pavement. ‘Our language’ it says. Ironically, Edinburgh has just finished covering its entire campus in tokenistic Gaelic signage for the purposes of overseas students. It is one of the few places in Edinburgh where you really can see the language in public view. For Edinburgh though, the dismal urbanism is a bigger issue than what language you complain about the dog shite in.

Labour’s Green hunt has been done before, and failed.

Hi, we're the new neighbours. We brought tapenade.

Hi, we’re the new neighbours. We brought tapenade.

The most read article in the sidebar of the Swedish socialist newspaper Flamman is ‘Are the Greens a bourgeois party’. The short answer is no, but the eagerness with which Sweden’s socialists are apparently clicking on the piece in question time and time again suggest they are no closer to accepting the young upstart in the red crowd.

Across an ocean and much further south, the Labour party in Brighton are clicking too, looking for their own smoking gun. Somewhere, they believe, is proof that Green politic is a charade. In the simple language where left means red and red means Labour, green is  a colour to be suspicious of as much as yellow or blue. The target of their ire is Caroline Lucas, a popular and principled local MP in a seat that Labour feel should be theirs.

Labour are expending increasingly large resources countering what the Greens themselves have characterised as the ‘green surge’, typified by the clenched green fist adopted by those members of the party with a well-thumbed copy of Das Kapital in their schooldesk. Lessons from Sweden and elsewhere though show that Labour would be better off saving their money for UKIP.

In the mid 1990s, the Swedish Green Party began to change the balance of power in parliament so that Social Democrat governments were forced to rely on Green votes to govern effectively. From 1998 to 2006 the Social Democrats operated a system of confidence and supply in key areas, though not always happily.  Similarly in 1998 the German Social Democrats were able to win a full majority with the help of The Greens/Alliance 90, causing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to say that they had begun a ‘Project Red-Green’, permanently positioning The Greens as the natural coalition partner for federal government if the maths allowed. Previous to these cooperation agreements there had been some fairly intense anti-Green activity in both countries, focusing largely on how the ecologically minded upstarts were little better than middle class do-gooders and economic illiterates.

In both countries, the Green parties have continued to grow and an understanding of the relative strengths of each group and mutual interest has developed. In Sweden the Greens entered government as a full coalition partner for the first time this year, albeit in a minority administration. The real lesson to be taken is that nowhere in Europe has a Green party grown and been successfully stamped out by the existing left and centre-left parties. They may not wear the red ties and grey suits of the People’s Party, but if Labour are interested in more than being the biggest party in opposition their war on the Greens looks very short-sighted indeed.

Faraway, so close!

In Weiter Ferne, so what?

In Weiter Ferne, so what?

25 years ago the Berlin Wall came down. The most physical symbol of the division between East and West was pulled apart by the people that feared it. The spectre of a border dividing what was supposed to be whole lives long in the memory and lingered uncomfortably in the background of the independence referendum. Threats of border posts and razor-wire played on the idea that Britain would be another Korea or Germany, people the same cut off from one another by ideologues.

Today Berlin is not the run down and crumbling liminal city of Bowie and Wim Wenders Wings of Desire and Faraway, so close! The cultural tropes live on though.  Everything from the rebuilding of the Hotel Adler to the demolition of the East German parliament building is designed to pretend fifty years of history did not happen.

Instead Berlin’s history is increasingly remembered through a series of arbitrary official sites, from the Holocaust memorial to the Topography of Terror exhibition on Nazism. The real scars though are covered up under the skyscrapers of Potsdamer Platz and the Dunkin Donuts stores in Mitte, the central district. The decision to put balloons up along the wall to mark its path was symptomatic of one of the ironies of post-89 Berlin: everyone is aware of the city’s history but most of the young hipsters would struggle to tell you exactly where the wall ran, or even its proper history.

Around Checkpoint Charlie, famous because it was the point at which you passed from American to Soviet controlled Berlin, people buy mass produced communist memorabilia. When I lived in Berlin you could see queues of tourists waiting to have their picture taken with actors dressed as border guards. The sentry post in the centre of the street is a fake, made to be more authentic than the larger 80s building demolished on reunification.

From the second world war to the 1990s Berlin was the centre of a frozen proxy conflict. Neither East nor West Germany were truly independent. Now though Berlin is controlled by a different group of outsiders, a youthful international class of people from Britain, the US, Israel, Russia, Poland, Scandinavia and Italy who all move to Berlin on wave upon wave of myth building. For young Israeli’s unable to come to terms with the limitations of living in a religious state or the idea of doing a term in the IDF, Berlin offers a way out. It is a city of many subcultures, but the Israeli expat gay scene is one of the more remarkable ones. Importantly, it is a significant step in Jewish people reclaiming central Europe as a natural home in a more modern guise, but now in the company of a multitude of other European ethnic groups.

This is the Europe that the UK seems reluctant to embrace. Those fanning the flames of an exit from the EU seem intent on resisting the reality of the open and interconnected Europe that has sprung up. For some that is a colonial hangover, for others a misreading of the way the continent has almost always worked with people moving from north to south and east to west. Only through British eyes does it become an instrumental project, interesting when it is useful and derided when not. Britain could play an integral part in the next twenty-five years of Europe, or it could build a wall and tell stories about what is on the other side.