Sep 132013
 

Well, that’s Offshore Europe over and done with for another two years, and yet again it was a relative success, writes Fin Hall.

Taxis. Credit: Fred Wilkinson

The word relative is important here.

Thousands upon thousands of visitors, mainly males in light blue shirts, descended on the city and its surroundings, spending their company’s money on taxis, buses, restaurants, bars and ridiculously overpriced hotels.

There were keen ones taking photos throughout the city to show to their spouses and some might have bought a souvenir or two, if they were able to find the time between meetings, cocktail parties and free dinners.

After all, they were on business trips, and not (ahem…) an all expenses-paid party trip.

Personally, as a taxi driver, I thoroughly enjoy the experience, apart from the traffic jams of course, and not just for the extra business to my trade, although that does help.

I enjoy meeting people who tend to be here for the first time and are interested in hearing about the history of the city, and are fascinated by the grey granite buildings which look so much better in the really good weather that we had during the this year’s show. Some have even made up their minds to return for a holiday break with their wives.

There seem to be mixed feelings about the actual exhibition itself. Some say they don’t really enjoy attending, but do so because their boss tells them to, whilst others don’t mind at all. Some really enjoy it and get a lot out of it.

The general consensus is that there is very little, if any, business done inside the marquees and buildings, where the focus is mainly on a great deal of networking, exchanges of business cards and putting faces to names. There’s a lot of and catching up with old friends and making new ones.

I have been told that most solid deals and promises are done over dinner or, believe it or not, in the taxi queue.

But everyone agrees that the city makes them feel welcome and whole experience is really well run.

As yet, nobody has explained why the gates were locked

But….ah yes, there is always a ‘but’.

To return to the term ‘relative’ in relation to the Exhibition’s success, there were a couple of black marks against this year’s proceedings.

First was the well-publicised locking up of one of the overspill car parks, not only because cars were still awaiting to exit, but, for some inexplicable reason, concrete blocks were dumped on the ground inside the gate. This occurred after a car went on fire in the area, causing two hour delays, resulting in an extensive line of traffic.

This chaos was heightened by the fact that the Dons had scheduled a match against Viking FK of Stavanger with a 1900 kick off time.

As yet, nobody has explained why the gates were locked when cars were still inside. I know that the sign said that the car park was scheduled to close at 1900, but surely anybody with half a brain would have been aware of the situation? Also, what was the idea of putting the concrete blocks in place? I am aware that normally this empty lot is kept blocked off to restrict entry to it by travellers, but surely with 24 hour security in place, the need for laying blocks was totally unnecessary?

Not to worry though, the police finally managed to get somebody to nip over and relieve the blockade. After much persuasion, he grudgingly did the business. At 2300.

As for the P&J, I believe it was, pointing out that amongst the cars trapped inside there were even ‘Mercedes and Land Rovers‘.

How puerile and sycophantic was that? Should we be impressed or feel even more sorry for those vehicle owners than for the guys involved in the lock-in who had Mondeos or Skodas?

An edition of Aberdeen Voice seemingly cannot be published without the council coming in for criticism. This time, it is to do with their efforts in trying to lay on some free events for the visiting masses.

First of all was the three-day closure of Belmont Street for the country fair, which ran from mid afternoon until nine at night. On passing several times, it looked less than mobbed, although it was hard to differentiate between folk actually at the market and people coming and going from the street’s pubs and cafes.

The second laid-on event turned out to be an even bigger waste of your council tax

Why they insist on blocking off thoroughfares for this and the pseudo-continental market, when they have a ready-made market stance at Castlegate, and the larger Union Terrace Gardens, still mystifies most folk

The second laid-on event turned out to be an even bigger waste of your council tax, and that was the non-advertised free music shows held in the quadrangle of the Marischal College.

These concerts, which some of you may still not be aware of, consisted of an international evening, a Scottish evening and a jazz night.

Another faux pas here by our city fathers. Never mind that they seemed not to let anyone know about this, they decided to start the shows at 1800 and run until 2100.

This is really anything but an ideal starting time. It’s even worse than the free match at Pittodrie, since the exhibition didn’t end until 1800, and the taxi rank generally cleared of the remaining stragglers around 1945.

After a busy day, and before dining, the exhibitors and the visitors probably needed at least a half hour rest. So maybe if someone in the corridors of power, had really thought this through, then 2000 would have probably been a more sensible start time.

I picked up a man on Wednesday night who had been performing at the Scottish event, and he said that there were only around thirty people at the show. He also said that the line-up was ‘crap’, although he did use a stronger term to describe his fellow performers.

On passing the Thursday event in my car, it appeared that the jazz evening had a slightly larger audience than previous nights and there were even some people dancing. But overall I don’t think the term ‘success’ can be used to describe what should have been an entertaining affair.

Finally turning to my own profession, whilst most taxi drivers come out to provide a good service, and, yes, to make some extra cash, others decided that, and I quote, ‘I couldn’t be bothered’. Again, a stronger word was used.

It is unfair that some deride the industry which has helped stabilise the city through some lean years

What? You couldn’t be bothered providing a service? Couldn’t be bothered making some extra cash? Oh I see, it’s the idea that the regular Joe Public is being neglected whilst all attention is aimed at the high rollers. Well, in fact, the taxi companies make a point of servicing both their regulars and the visitors, being aware that once the Exhibition is over, life goes on.

It is unfair that some deride the industry which has helped stabilise the city through some lean years, when other cities have suffered high unemployment. The oil business is far from perfect and some feel that it should have been doing more for the city and the populace, but maybe history is to blame for that.

When the big companies first came here and wanted to build, the then council should have said, ‘OK, but first you must do THIS for the town’.

Is that too naive? I don’t think so. When Stewart Milne wanted to develop at Portlethen, Aberdeenshire Council insisted that his company build a new underpass and road system, which he did.

Contrary to this, many years ago, when a company moved into the big house on Howes Road and turned it into an office block, warehouse and yard, they applied to the council to build a road linking their new premises to Lang Stracht to save juggernauts trundling through the housing estate where children would be playing. Unsurprisingly, the council declined their offer.

I realise that this seems to be ending on a negative note, and that really was not my intention. I really wanted this to be a relatively positive piece. Hey, there’s that word again,

So what lessons should be learned from this week?

First of all, obviously, when organising something, make sure that it is well-advertised and that citizens and visitors are aware of it.

Secondly, organise events to start and finish at reasonable times and have them somewhere people passing by will come across them, like the top deck of St Nicholas Centre, or even Union Terrace Gardens.

And finally, make sure there are security or police at every car park exit until all the vehicles have departed.

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Mar 282013
 

Last  week marked the 242nd anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871. The Commune was one of the most important examples in history of people taking control of their own lives and reorganising their society. In the second part of Simon Gall’s two-part analysis of the Commune through the eyes of some important progressive scholars, we examine its destruction by the French government in May 1871, but learn how its legacy lives on and how it has influenced and inspired the generations since.

The Downfall of the Commune

On 21 May, Versailles troops entered Paris and spent seven days massacring “defenceless Men, Women and Children”.

They were “cut to pieces” and “shot down in hundreds by mitrailleuse fire”.

There were random street executions and accounts of people being buried alive after the firing squads had failed to do their jobs properly.

Marx wrote, “Even the atrocities of the bourgeois in June, 1848, vanish before the ineffable infamy of 1871” and continued, “the great problem…(was) how to get rid of the heaps of corpses…after the battle was over. About 30,000 Parisians were shot down by the bestial soldiery, and about 45,000 were arrested, many of whom were afterwards executed, while thousands were transported or exiled.”

Opinions on the Commune

The Communards were endlessly praised by socialist writers the world over for their determination and bravery in attempting to bring about a new society, but many also offered their own analysis of what went wrong. All realised that the cards were stacked against the Commune from the beginning.

Indeed the situation led Peter Kropotkin to write, “The Commune of 1871 could be nothing but a first attempt. Beginning at the close of a great war, hemmed in between two armies ready to join hands and crush the people.” Nevertheless, scholars gave their opinions on the movement.

Peter Kropotkin was both heartened and disheartened by the Commune.

He saw traces of Anarchism in its governance, “By proclaiming the free Commune, the people of Paris proclaimed an essential anarchist principle, which was the breakdown of the State” and recognised its historical importance when he stated that with the movement of the “Commune of Paris a new idea was born”, and that it was “to become the starting point for future revolutions.”

In the months following the fall of the Commune, the luxury of hindsight meant that he was able to ponder calmly what he felt went wrong.

The first problem he noted was, “It neither boldly declared itself socialist nor proceeded to the expropriation of capital nor the organisation of labour. It did not even take stock of the general resources of the city….nor did it break with (in practice) the tradition of the State, of representative government…..they let themselves get carried away by the fetish worship of governments and set one up of their own.”

He felt that the Commune went some way towards realising the vision of a stateless society

He felt that this led to elected representatives falling out of touch with the electorate. He proposed that they had lost the “inspiration which only comes from continual contact with the masses” and had become “paralyzed by their separation from the people” and that “they themselves (had) paralyzed the popular initiative.”

In 1892, he continued his observations on the Commune, noting that the hunger that plagued Paris had been instrumental in the downfall of the revolution, the “Commune perished for lack of combatants. It had taken for the separation of Church and State, but it neglected, alas, until too late, to take measures for providing the people with bread.”

Mikhail Bakunin joyously claimed that, “Revolutionary Socialism (Anarchism) has just attempted its first striking and practical demonstration in the Paris Commune.” He felt that the Commune went some way towards realising the vision of a stateless society. Federated Communes, delegates bound by the imperative mandate, and the concept of instant recall were concepts which Bakunin had been discussing since around 1848.

He continued, “I am a supporter (of the Commune), above all, because of it was a bold, clearly formulated negation of the State.”

Whilst being careful to never lay blame at any Communard door he observed, “The proletariat of the great cities of France, and even of Paris, still cling to many Jacobin (radical bourgeois) prejudices, and to many dictatorial and governmental concepts. The cult of authority – the fatal result of religious education, that historic source of all evils, deprivations, and servitude – has not yet been completely eradicated in them.”

To him, the influence of the Jacobins “was the great misfortune for the Commune” because “they were paralyzed, and they paralyzed the Commune….they lacked the time and even the capacity to overcome and subdue many of their own bourgeois prejudices which were contrary to their newly acquired socialism.”

Karl Marx wrote one of the most comprehensive accounts of the Paris Commune, praising the revolution with the best of words, “Working mens’ Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators’ history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priest will not avail to redeem them.”

launching a resolute offensive against Versailles would have crowned its victory in Paris

He was immensely proud of what the Commune had achieved, despite being unconvinced about it at its inception. When he heard of the plan to overthrow the Government, he called the plan “a folly of despair.”

He changed his tune and began watching in awe as the proletariat of Paris took the reins. The movement had such a profound effect on their thinking that in 1872 he and Friedrich Engels edited the Communist Manifesto stating that, it was, in places out of date and declared “that the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.”

Later, Marx would call the Commune “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour.” After Marx’s death in 1883, Engels wrote in March 1891, “Look at the Paris Commune.That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” using the Commune to prove their thinking.

In a letter to Dr. Kugelmann, Marx pointed to two mistakes the Communards made.

The first was that “They did not want to start the Civil War”. This point was pondered by Lenin years later. He felt that the Communards should have marched on Versailles because “launching a resolute offensive against Versailles would have crowned its victory in Paris”. He wrote that the hesitation “gave the Versailles Government time to gather dark forces and prepare for the blood-soaked week of May.”

He felt that the Commune aimed to achieve something very important – anti-parliamentarianism

The second mistake in Marx’s eyes was that the Central Committee of the National Guard “surrendered its power too soon, to make way for the Commune.” Presumably Marx thought that the Central Committee should have kept things under tighter control for longer, or perhaps decreed more reforms before resigning.

Lenin too paid tribute to the people of the Commune.

He wrote that the events and their actions were “unprecedented in history. Up to that time power had, as a rule, been in the hands of landowners and capitalists, ie the hands of their trusted agents who made up the so-called government.” He noted its importance as a grassroots movement by stating that “no one consciously prepared it in an organised way.”

He felt that the Commune aimed to achieve something very important – anti-parliamentarianism. It was to be “a working body” that sought to combine the work of the executive and legislative branches of government into one.

This was vital for Lenin as it stopped Parliament from becoming just a talking shop for “the parliamentarians must themselves work, must themselves execute their own laws, must themselves verify their results in actual life, must themselves be directly responsible to their electorate.”

However, he criticised the Commune for not “expropriating the expropriators”. He noted that large organisations, such as the Bank of France had not been targeted. The Communards could have made use of the capital. Also, he wrote that there was “no workers’ party, the working class had not gone through a long school of struggle and was unprepared.”

Despite his criticisms, Lenin diligently noted that “the chief thing which the Commune lacked was time – an opportunity to take stock of the situation and to embark upon the fulfilment of its programme…The Commune had to concentrate primarily on self-defence…it had no time to think seriously of anything else.”

Conclusion

The Commune is held up as proof by both anarchists and socialists of how their ideas and theories work in practice. The anarchists saw it as a negation of the state and the socialists saw it as the functioning Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

It is still the subject of much analysis and discussion in academia and among activists and trade unionists around the world. It has been examined on numerous occasions by the arts.  La Commune Film is one example.

It has inspired and continues to inspire people in search of alternative ways of living.

References and further reading

M Bakunin        The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State

F Engels          Introduction to The Civil War in France

F Engels          Reflection in Introduction

P Kropotkin      The Conquest of Bread

P Kropotkin      The Commune of Paris

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune – Experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 – Marx’s Analysis

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune – Lessons from the Commune

V Lenin             In Memory of the Commune

K Marx               The Civil War in France

K Marx               Letters to Dr.Kugelmann on the Paris Commune

Mar 212013
 

This week marks the 242nd anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871. The Commune was one of the most important examples in history of people taking control of their own lives and reorganising their society. In the first part of Simon Gall’s two-part examination of the Commune through the eyes of some important progressive scholars, we take a look at how the Commune came about, its short history and its structure.

The experiment ended in May 1871 when it was destroyed by the French government, but its legacy lives on and it continues to inspire. The Commune was the subject matter of the Socialist and Anarchist anthem, “L’Internationale”

The Commune and its importance.

“Working men’s Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators’ history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priest will not avail to redeem them.” - K MarxThe Civil War in France

“Paris inflicting a mortal blow upon the political traditions of the bourgeois radicalism and giving a real basis to revolutionary socialism (anarchism) against the reactionaries of France and Europe….Paris destroying nationalism and erecting the religion of humanity upon its ruins; Paris proclaiming herself humanitarian and atheist, and replacing divine fictions with the great realities of social life and faith in science.” - M BakuninThe Paris Commune and the Idea of the State

“It was an event unprecedented in history. Up to that time power had, as a rule, been in the hands of landowners and capitalists, ie the hands of their trusted agents who made up the so-called government.” V Lenin – Lenin on the Commune – 3 - In Memory of the Commune

The direct antithesis of the Empire was the Commune.” - K MarxThe Civil War in France

 “The political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour.” - K MarxThe Civil War in France

Overview

In 1871, the citizens of Paris took control of their own destinies and sought to break with the idea of bourgeois government, by seizing Paris and moulding it into something new.

On 18 March, they proclaimed the Commune and began dismantling the old Bonapartist structures of government.

People grew excited at the prospect of being masters of their own lives as the Commune began promulgating revolutionary decrees. However, after only 72 days, the rebellion was ferociously crushed by Government troops in a seven-day massacre.

Tens of thousands lost their lives but the idea lived, and still lives on. The experience of Communards changed political thinking forever and provided a sort of blueprint, or the beginnings of a blueprint, for future revolutions.

Lenin wrote of the Commune,

“The significance of the Commune, furthermore, lies in the fact that it endeavoured to crush, to smash to its very foundations, the bourgeois state apparatus, the bureaucratic, judicial, military and police machine, and to replace it by a self-governing, mass worker’s organisation in which there was no division between legislative and executive power.”  - Lenin on the Commune – 6. Bourgeois Democracy

Who what when where why?

In July 1870, French Emperor Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon III) declares war on Prussia. However, only three months later, he and his General, MacMahon, are captured along with more than 80000 soldiers at the Battle of Sedan. On hearing the news, the workers of Paris storm the Palais Bourbon and force the legislative body to proclaim the fall of the Second Empire.

By evening, the provisional Government of National Defence (GND) is formed, “All Parisians capable of bearing arms had enrolled in the National Guard and were armed” and the Third Republic is proclaimed.

In the next few weeks, Bonaparte’s forces surrender and, by October 31, the GND is ready to begin negotiations with the Prussians, but the Parisian workers rebel. The enemy reaches Paris but is only allowed a small corner of the capital by the Parisians. The Prussians disarm the city’s Mobile Guard but permit the National Guard to keep their weapons.

The revolutionary sections of the National Guard form the Central Committee to coordinate matters inside Paris and the newly-formed government of Adolphe Theirs flees to Versailles in March.

On the 18 March, Theirs sends government troops to disarm Paris but the soldiers refuse to carry out their orders and instead turn their guns on their Generals Claude Martin Lecomte and Jacques Leonard Clement Thomas. Some soldiers join the Commune. Thiers is outraged and the Civil War begins.

The Paris Commune was elected through universal suffrage on the 26 March 1871.

The Structure of the Commune

The Paris Commune

made use of two infallible means. In the first place, it filled all posts – administration, judicial and educational – by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, subject to the right of recall at any time by the same electors. And, in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers.” The maximum wage was set at 6000 francs, providing “an effective barrier to place-hunting and careerism…even apart from the binding mandate to delegates to representative bodies.”

The Commune was to spread across France. It was to be the structure of even the smallest hamlets.

“Rural Communes of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates (with the imperative mandate) in the central town” and was to be a “working body, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.”

Marx noted that the Municipal Councillors were “naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class.”

Decrees and Actions of the Commune

28 March

The Central Committee of the National Guard dissolves itself after decreeing the abolition of the Police.

30 March

The Commune abolishes conscription and the Army and declares the National Guard, comprising everyone who can bear arms, to be the sole armed force.

The Commune remits all payments of rent for dwelling houses from October 1870 until April 1871, with the amounts already paid to be used as future rent payments.

Foreigners elected to the Commune were confirmed in office. “The flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic”

1 April

Maximum wage set for Commune at 6000 francs (£4)

2 April

The Commune decreed the separation of Church and State. It abolished all state payments for religious purposes (priests’ wages etc) and all property was to become national property.

5th April

In response to the daily shooting of Commune prisoners by Versailles troops it was decreed that NO prisoner of the Commune should be shot.

6th April

La Guillotine was brought into the street by the National Guard and publicly burned “amid great popular rejoicing.”

8th April

Religious symbols, pictures, dogmas and prayers were excluded from schools.

12th April

The Commune decides to destroy Napoleon’s victory column, made from smelted weapons captured from a fallen army, as a symbol of nationalistic chauvinism.

16th April

Review of closed factories with a view to organising worker’s control of those factories in the form of co-operatives. The co-operatives were to federate into one great co-operative union. In the end 43 factories were organised this way.

30th April

Pawnshops were closed as they were “in contradiction with the right of the workers to their instruments of labour and to credit.”

5th May

The Commune orders the razing of the Chapel of Atonement which had been built in expiation of the execution of Louis XVI

9th May

The Versailles army closes in on Paris and captures its first Parisian fort.

10th May

The Treaty of Frankfurt is signed by Bismarck, the Prussian Chancellor, and Thiers the head of the French Government. The conditions were set out mainly by Prussia as they were in the strongest position. The deal was that France would pay Prussia 5bn Francs in indemnities over a shorter period of time than first agreed and Bismarck would continue the occupation of Parisian forts until he “should feel satisfied with the state of things in France”, making him the “supreme arbiter in internal French politics”. In return, Bismarck would release the remaining “100,000 French prisoners of war to help crush revolutionary Paris.”

References and further reading

M Bakunin        The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State

F Engels           Introduction to The Civil War in France

F Engels          Reflection in Introduction

P Kropotkin      The Conquest of Bread

P Kropotkin      The Commune of Paris

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune – Experience of the Paris Commune of 1871 – Marx’s Analysis

V Lenin             Lenin on the Commune – Lessons from the Commune

V Lenin             In Memory of the Commune

K Marx               The Civil War in France

K Marx               Letters to Dr.Kugelmann on the Paris Commune

In part 2 of Simon’s brief overview of the Commune, he will detail its destruction, the lessons that writers and political historians have learned from it and how its influence still permeates radical and progressive thinking nearly 250 years later.

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Feb 182013
 

A debate on the desirability or otherwise of NATO membership will be taking place in Aberdeen on Friday, 22nd February. With thanks to Jonathan Russell.

The question of NATO membership became headline news when the SNP decided to overturn their policy for an independent Scotland not to join NATO at their conference in October.

NATO is a military alliance which was set up during the cold war in 1949 but has outlived the Eastern Block.

Since 1991 NATO has conducted military operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya as well as having a training mission in Iraq and deploying warships to protect maritime traffic in from Somali pirates.

Alex Johnstone is a North-East for the Scottish Conservatives and will be speaking in favour of NATO membership.

John Finnie is an independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands region who opposes membership of NATO and resigned from the SNP over their change of policy on NATO.

The debate promises to be both interesting and informative and should get to the heart of whether or not an independent Scotland should be neutral or a member of NATO.

The debate will take place at 7.30pm on Friday 22nd February in room 613 in the MacRobert building at the University of Aberdeen. It is being hosted by the University’s Politics and International Relations Society in partnership with Aberdeen Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

All members of the public are welcome to attend.

Nov 092012
 

Who cares if the envious and small-minded accuse Aberdeen fans of ‘living in the 1980s’? Not Richard Gordon, for whom his book Glory In Gothenburg is a labour of love, nor Voice reviewer David Innes, a terrace veteran of the great 70s and 80s campaigns.

Who better, we opined when covering this book’s launch, to document Aberdeen’s greatest twin achievements than self-confessed Dons fanatic, yet fair-minded broadcaster Richard Gordon?
His own view is that whilst the story of triumph is well-known, there are many behind the scenes tales to be told, to paint an even more vibrant tapestry of what was the zenith of the Dons’ sometimes not-too-glorious history.

The author has succeeded in this objective and Glory In Gothenburg is a fabulous read where the passion drips from the pages.

On more than one occasion I had to swallow something hard and jagged as the emotions of the two year period covered by the book welled up in me thirty years on. Fitba, eh?

What makes it even more special though are the stories never heard before as told by the players.

Gordon’s dogged research has seen him hunt down everyone involved and get the inside line on what were the defining moments of his heroes’ careers.

Cleverly, each of the players quoted are linked to a particular match on the memorable run from Fir Park to the parade, as my late friend Alan said at the time, of Gunther Netzer’s P45 around the track at Pittodrie as the Super Cup plaque confirmed that the Reds were undisputedly the best club in Europe.

Among the surprises is Gordon Strachan’s claim that he didn’t really take in much of the detail and his admission that after watching the Gothenburg final on ESPN relatively recently, he phoned Alex McLeish to declare excitedly, ‘We weren’t a bad team, were we?’

Eric Black weighs in with a comment that beautifully encapsulates the confidence of youth, ‘I had nothing to compare it with obviously, I just thought that was how it was – you turned up, played a game, got shouted at a bit and won a trophy every year!’

There are moving passages about, for example, John McMaster, whose injury problems limited what should have been a sparkling career and which should have seen him capped ahead of others not quite so outrageously-gifted. Stuart Kennedy, by dint of not playing in the Ullevi Stadium, does not merit his own chapter, but he is showered with affection by his team mates throughout Glory In Gothenburg.

They knew, even better than we devotees did, that this was an athlete who contributed incalculably to results and the unique team spirit of that squad.

Even the formidable and fearsome Fergie is shown to have a soft side. Stuart Kennedy, on the bench for the ECWC Final reveals, ‘…at one stage he sent me out to warm up. When I asked why he’d bothered to send me out, he told me, ‘I gave you a run out in front of the fans and let them sing your name’ and I really appreciated that’.

Gordon also tells of his sorrow at losing his friend Phil Goodbrand, who at only 22, died during the final in Gothenburg and how annual celebrations on 11 May are always tempered by the memory of this inexplicable loss.

There have been attempts before to capture the effervescent, ebullient spirit of those days when we swaggered across Europe contemptuously dismissing those who had the temerity to think they could compete with us, but it has taken a highly-articulate and unashamed fan who makes his living from words, to put together this, the best and most heartfelt account of a time we are unlikely ever to experience again.

  • Note: the publisher has kindly offered three copies to give away as prizes in a reader competition that Voice will arrange in the next week or two. Thanks to Paul at Black & White Publishing. 

Glory In Gothenburg. Richard Gordon. Black & White Publishing. 276 pages £14.99
ISBN 978 1 84502 470 3

Oct 312012
 

With a lively debate taking place on an independent Scotland’s place in the European Union, EU national Christian Allard looks to the future.

What a week that was for EU nationals like me living in Scotland.

It seems some politicians would like to see the back of us.

First, let me clarify the term EU national.

We are all EU nationals: Scots, Welsh, English, Irish (on both sides of the border) and all who chose to come and live in Scotland from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are also included although they are not members of the EU).

It may come to a shock to some politicians to learn that we have the same rights that they have to live and work in Scotland.

People from both sides of the referendum for Scotland to become an independent country have called for calm and to stop the hysteria around the position of an independent Scotland in Europe.

On Saturday morning I happened to listen to a debate on Radio Scotland when the example of a French national living in Scotland and paying tax was given; a French national who, after voting YES for Scotland to become an independent country, would wake up to find Scotland being out of the EU.

This is me. I am a French national who voted for devolution in 1997 and will vote for Scotland to become an independent country in 2014; an independent country that is fully part of the EU. I cannot believe the claim that somehow you and I would lose our EU citizenship after we vote YES.

This is the incredible proposition that Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon tried to defend in the same BBC radio programme i.e. that somehow Scotland would have to apply to rejoin the EU after independence. More incredibly, he added that the rest of the UK would stay in the EU but not Scotland.

Mr Lyon should understand that you cannot strip the EU citizenship from EU nationals living in Scotland – including you and me – without our consent. The solution to the problem, if Mr Lyon wants to call it a problem, is that after we vote YES, both Scotland and the rest of the UK will negotiate a new arrangement with the other EU members to reflect the new constitutional setup.

Ian Hudghton, an SNP MEP who participated in the same programme, made it clear the EU was watching and waiting to see the position of the Westminster government. Now that David Cameron and Alex Salmond have signed the Edinburgh agreement, both governments will respect the outcome of the 2014 referendum and, of course, so will the other EU member states.

This is very much about our right of self-determination and how the new constitutional setup will be respected by all – even the likes of George Lyon, who pledged to respect the vote of the people.

I have a message to the NO campaign.

We EU nationals will exercise our right to vote for a better future for our children and grandchildren. If George Lyon MEP, David Cameron and the rest want us to vote NO, they must change their tune and stop spreading fear and doubt. Instead, they should try and tell me why I should keep on paying taxes to a Westminster Government I did not elect.

 Image Credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)protesilaos.ideasoneurope.eu

Oct 262012
 

Glory In Gothenburg was launched at Pittodrie on Tuesday 23 October, in the company of Gothenburg legends Willie Miller and Doug Rougvie. David Innes of Voice had a few words with the author. Alan Jamieson took the pictures.

Richard Gordon has always worn his heart on his sleeve when it comes to football.
Always the reasonable and unflappable professional on air, he makes no excuses for being an Aberdeen fan and does not let that cloud his judgement, despite the barbed comments of several of his fellow broadcasters whose own claims of club allegiance do not always ring true.

So, who better to write the book commemorating the imminent 30th anniversary of the night that the Dons looked down on the rest of Europe as if the Broad Hill was loftier than the Matterhorn, than Richard Gordon?

Gordon told Voice,

“I love the fact that we can look back now and say that we won a European trophy, and we beat Real Madrid. That’s much better than saying we beat Waterschei or Austria Vienna. That was as good a 120 minutes as I’ve seen from any Scottish side. We hammered  Real Madrid 2-1 after extra time. 

“They’re a huge name again now; they’ve always been a huge name, and we beat them. They’d have gone into that game fully aware of what Aberdeen had to offer because of what we’d done in Europe already that season and they clearly thought they were still going to win. Whether or not they were over-confident, I don’t know, but if they were, within five minutes it was knocked out of them.

“I know some people say, “Ach, you’re always looking to the past,” but, I’m sorry, the past is hugely important to me as a football fan. I don’t know when the team I support is next going to win a cup. I’m hoping I’ll see this in the not too distant future, but I love looking back on the trophies we did win. That’s what football fans do.”

The launch was all about the club’s unparalleled European pedigree and the book spans the period from John Hewitt’s record-breaking goal at Fir Park which set Aberdeen on the way to the 1982 Scottish Cup win through to their coronation as 1983’s best European side (go on, read that again) with the capture of the Super Cup in December that year.

Yet, both Gordon and Miller took time to share their excitement at the prospects for the current squad of Reds, a blend they both agreed, of youthful enthusiasm and energy and wily, street-wise experience.

We have a copy of Glory In Gothenburg for review and that will appear soon.

Glory In Gothenburg by Richard Gordon is published by Black and White Publishing, is available now and costs £14.99.

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Jun 222012
 

With the personnel turnaround in football being higher than at any time in the game’s history the mantle of ‘club legend’ is probably easier to assume than ever. Consequently, it’s quite refreshing to write about a genuine club legend being with a club for around fifty years. Dave Watt writes.

Teddy Scott’s official connection with Aberdeen FC began when he was signed by Dons Manager Davie Halliday from Scottish Junior Cup winners Sunnybank in 1954 and finished when he retired in 2003 – a period which covers around half of the club’s existence.

During his career as coach and kitman he served under twelve managers and endured the club’s occasional struggles with relegation and participated in the heights of numerous domestic triumphs as well  as the ultimate joy of two European trophies in the 1980s.

Teddy’s coaching duties were mainly with the youth and reserve sides and his philosophy was encapsulated in his much quotedYou try to teach the youngsters good habits as well as skills and hope they will still be around when the club can reap the benefit”

In the harsh and largely unsympathetic world of professional football it speaks volumes for Teddy Scott that generations of Aberdeen players regarded him as a father figure and mentor long after they themselves had retired from playing. The club recognised this in 1998 where it took the unprecedented step of awarding a reserve coach a testimonial against Manchester United at Pittodrie.

It’s probably a trite statement to say that ‘We shall not see his like again’ but it’s just as probably true. In a game which to my cynical old eyes (mostly watching footy on the tv these days) seems to be worryingly infested with pampered and increasingly precious 19 year old multi-millionaire drama queens, I can’t imagine a new Teddy Scott arising or being appreciated if he did arise.

A friend of mine remembers seeing Teddy in Ellon a few days after the Cup Winners’ Cup Final back in 1983. It was a bright May morning and the city of Aberdeen was recovering from the notion that it’s very own provincial club was up there with the ‘big guys’ at last. Players, managers and fans had been in a five day media circus and there was another big cup final with Rangers coming up with still more media hype on the horizon.

While all this was going on each morning saw Teddy in his usual snorkel parka carrying his ‘piece bug’, getting on to the Ellon – Aberdeen bus and basically looking every inch the picture of  ‘jist a mannie gan awa tae his work’. I’m sure this deserved some sort of Turner prize for sheer bloody lack of pretension.

Having said that about pretension I’ll pretentiously quote Shakepeare’s Henry V as my summing up for Teddy Scott and the rest of the ordinary, working, common sense humanity everywhere.

‘We are but warriors for the working-day;

Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirch’d

With rainy marching in the painful field;

There’s not a piece of feather in our host–

Good argument, I hope, we will not fly–

And time hath worn us into slovenry:

But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim’

Image Credit: Thanks to Aberdeen FC

Feb 292012
 

Shakhaf Barak wrote to a friend highlighting the history behind the current referendum that is dividing the city. He has kindly allowed Voice to use it, almost verbatim as the deadline approaches for voting.

Dear Friend,
Here in Aberdeen there is a bitter referendum taking place, and it could go either way. Over 70,000 people have voted thus far, in a city of barely 212,000 souls, and both sides have reported each other to the police. Central to this story is a 250-year old city centre park, Union Terrace Gardens, and the billionaire oil tycoon seeking to redevelop it.

Union Terrace Gardens are similar to Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens, lying in the natural amphitheatre of the Denburn valley, the Denburn being a stream which flows right through the city, underground where it borders the Gardens. Much of Aberdeen’s best architecture was clearly envisaged to overlook this area.

The Gardens are home to a cluster of 260-year old elms trees that once formed part of the Corbie Haugh, a historic wood which ran through the valley. This is among the largest concentration of healthy mature elm trees in Europe, and they are reputed to have escaped Dutch Elm Disease, not only due to their isolation, but also because the pollution of the city has afforded some sort of protection from it.

Both the park and its beautiful Victorian toilets are Grade A-listed, and all of the trees are under preservation orders. Up until as late as 2003, the Gardens formed the centrepiece of Aberdeen’s Britain In Bloom entry, and they were truly stunning, but since then expenditure has all but ceased, and the toilets have been closed for several years.

In 2008 a local arts organisation, Peacock Visual Arts (PVA) was granted planning permission for an award-winning and sympathetically-designed arts centre to be built into the hillside of the Gardens. This would have meant felling a small number of trees but none of the elms. The design was universally acclaimed and it was hoped that this scheme would help regenerate interest in the Gardens.

Enter Sir Ian Wood, one of Scotland’s richest men, and chief of Wood Group PSN. Sir Ian decided that he’d like to redevelop the Gardens by building a five-storey bunker in their place, whilst covering over the adjoining railway line and urban dual carriageway, with the entire roof of this construction forming a flat civic square at street level. It was not entirely clear what would be installed in the bunker, although speculation was rife to say the least.

He offered the council £50m towards the cost of this project, which was mooted to cost £140m. This was possibly an optimistic figure since Union Square, a similarly sized shopping mall with none of the technical difficulties or prior excavation work, cost £250m to build. The council felt this offer was too good to refuse, but the some members of the public were up in arms.

Sir Ian decided to put the proposal out to public consultation and promised to walk away should the public reject it.

The ‘consultation’ was commissioned by Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future (ACSEF), a publicly-funded unelected QUANGO, and conducted by The BiG Partnership, Scotland’s largest PR company.

It many ways it resembled a marketing exercise. The bulk of participation was via a website, which asked several questions with a somewhat loaded feel to them. For technical reasons, the question on whether or not to proceed with the plan defaulted to a YES vote.

If, during completion of the questionnaire, any previously-given responses were subsequently amended, this again defaulted back to a YES vote. When the results were released, it became apparent from the comments sections that may people who had intended voting NO had instead been recorded as YES voters.

Over 10,000 people participated in the consultation, and In spite of it’s technical oversights, the public voted against the Civic Square proposal by 54%-46%, a healthy and significant majority. However the PR machine kicked in and somehow spun that the 202,000 people who had not participated possibly represented a silent majority in favour of this scheme.

  Critics described it as a cross between Tellytubby Land and a skate park

Sir Ian decided not to walk away, and the project went to a council vote. The council voted in favour of taking the plan forward at the expense of PVA who by that time had 80% of their £20m funding in place. It has subsequently been alleged that some of the PVA funding was diverted into the new project.

The BiG Partnership now re-launched the plans under a new name, The City Garden Project (CGP). It was claimed that the outcome of the public consultation was that the public were broadly in favour of a garden as opposed to a civic square. Any implication that they were actually in favour of preserving the existing gardens was ignored.

The interested parties now felt that the best option was to redevelop the Gardens by building a five-storey bunker in their place whilst covering over the adjoining railway line and urban dual carriageway, with the entire roof of this construction forming a new garden at street level.

The whole thing had an air of déjà vu.

This time it was decided to hold an international design contest, paid for with public money. Six designs were shortlisted from hundreds of entrants. One, The Granite Web, bore a striking resemblance to Civic Square concept, albeit with less concrete and more greenery. Critics described it as a cross between Tellytubby Land and a skate park.

The local press heavily promoted the Granite Web design from the outset of the contest, leading with it on their front page and providing it with more photo coverage than the other designs. It was almost as though it had been ordained.

The public voted, and spoiled ballots aside, all indications were that The Winter Garden design proved the most popular. An independent poll confirmed this and put The Monolith in second place.

Tellingly both of these designs retained much of the topology of the existing Gardens. Word on the street was that The Granite Web was not a popular choice, but we’ll never know for sure, because a decision was taken not to release the results of the so-called public vote to the public.

It was then announced that the winner of the private-public vote would be put forward to the selection panel, along with another design. The self-appointed selection panel consisted of Sir Ian, some other influential people from the oil industry, an architectural consultant on the project payroll, and a councillor who backed the project.

The two designs discussed were the acknowledged public favourite, The Winter Garden, and you’ve guessed it, the joker in the pack, The Granite Web. When the panel announced the result, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that they had chosen The Granite Web, yet there was a shocked silence, and even those had come out in favour of the redevelopment initially appeared bemused if not downright confused.

The original Civic Square was mooted to cost £140m, with £50m coming from Sir Ian, £20m from the private sector, and the rest to be borrowed through a Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) scheme. Any over-run would be covered by the council (read local taxpayer) .

Only £5m of the private sector contribution has materialised thus far, but there has been an announcement that The Granite Web would be significantly less expensive to build than the previously-envisaged, but somewhat less complex, civic square. Sir Ian has offered to personally fund up to £35M of any cost over runs, should they occur.

The TIF proposal cheerfully bends all the guidelines of TIF funding. TIF is intended to be used to redevelop brownfield sites, with the loan being repaid over a 25 year period through increased rates recouped from any businesses setting up in the redeveloped area. The city council had already approved planning permission for two new industrial estates on the outskirts of town, under the business case for the TIF funding, these new estates become part of the TIF zone, so in The Granite Web’s case, sections of the TIF zone are located several miles away from the actual redeveloped area.

The predictions are for 6,500 jobs and £122m annual revenue to the local economy, all based on the new industrial estates, which have no obvious linkage to The Granite Web, operating at full capacity. Even if one were to accept that any new jobs could be somehow attributed to The Granite Web, the figure of 6,500 seems unlikely given that the London Olympics is only projected to create 3,500 jobs.

Either way, the setup feels a bit shaky; the truth is that these jobs and their associated revenue will accrue with or without The Granite Web.

By this time, councillors seemed to be getting edgy and unwilling to green-light the project, so they decided to hold a public referendum. Any group wishing to campaign was required to adhere to an £8,000 spending limit, and for this they were provided with 300 words of text in the voting pack.

The packs went out, but unfortunately some of the Retain lobby’s statements were mangled due to a ‘computer error’. The voting packs were closely followed by a big money public relations mail bombing campaign by The BiG Partnership promoting The Granite Web. Publicity materials went through every letter box, pro Granite Web articles dominated the press, and adverts were played around the clock on the local radio stations.

Apparently this expenditure was permitted by virtue of being funded by an ‘unregistered’, and as yet anonymous, campaign group – whatever that means! I guess it’s a bit like not having to pay tax because your parents never applied for a birth certificate, who knows? By this point, things were becoming surreal to say the least.

The referendum closes on 1 March and it’s a bitter fight that has divided the city. For example, an oil company boss has made a complaint to the police alleging mail hacking and cyber bullying. The police claim they are taking this allegation seriously. There have also been two arrests possibly related to claims of vote-rigging, but ultimately no one was charged.

The town has gone berserk and it’s civil war all over Facebook. It’s as if we’re all experiencing a really, really bad shared dream. I just dread to think what we’ll all be waking up to on Saturday morning.

Feb 222012
 

Aberdeen is a city on a downward slide. That makes for uncomfortable reading, doesn’t it? Our gut instinct, being the proud city we are, is to reject this notion out of hand, though deep down we all know it is true, says Graeme Campbell.

The cause of the rot is not easy to identify. Opinions will differ and any debate would most likely be fierce. It is perhaps best to say the gradual slip in the condition of our once grand and glorious city can be pigeon-holed to two vague categories – poor planning and the slow decline of the energy sector.
Or perhaps over-dependence on it? Two and a half pigeon holes then.

So, avoiding any unhelpful debate surrounding the way we arrived at this point, we must as a city look forward to the best possible route to a future of prosperity. We must look for a plan to return grandeur and pride to the Granite City. 

Our carefully-selected councillors, together with possibly our most successful loon, Sir Ian Wood and the private partnership Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Futures (ACSEF) think the solution to the gradual slip is a new garden. Not exclusively a garden you understand, but a garden with conferencing facilities and a café. To give all credit due, the plans certainly are impressive and whilst perhaps not so impressive in keeping with the architectural fabric of the city, we are, of course, a city not afraid of change.

In the most recent release posted through all city letterboxes, Aberdonians are directed by a host of interested parties to the key point, “You deserve it!” Well yes, most likely. But oddly, relegated to fifth, is what will be the key point for most Aberdonians. Once again we don’t want to admit this but we’re all thinking it, “We can afford it”.

Will Aberdeen City be pushed to the very brink of bankruptcy by this plan, as happened when the city took the bold decision, so long ago, to construct our now famous Union Street granite mile? Probably not. Of course, Sir Ian’s mammoth oil wealth will go some way to meeting the cost of development on the site – and only on this site, he has been quite clear on that point – the further estimated £100m will come from business rates, council tax – of course – and the heinously-complex Scottish Governmental TIF funding mechanism.

Now nobody wishes to be bored to tears by the inane workings of a TIF, so let’s not worry about that. Instead, let’s find out what other places are using TIF to create.

  • North Lanarkshire plans to spend £73m to transform the former Ravenscraig steel site, an area of quite unrivalled deprivation, to the benefit of the many people who live in the area.
  • Argyll and Bute is to extend the North Pier at Oban for £20m, further securing the town’s position as Gateway to the Islands, a major boon to the tourist industry no doubt.
  • Falkirk plans to use its TIF in a far less grand manner, by bringing about strategic road developments and improving the flood defences. Clearly a sound decision.

But the plans which should be of most interest to any outward-looking Aberdonian comfortably seated in Europe’s oil capital, come from Fife. The council there is to spend its modest £17m TIF improving vehicle and marine access to the already-thriving Energy Park Fife, where renewables are already being constructed. I know, that’s not oil, but it is very real, so let’s not sneer. Not content with this, Fife has also begun construction of the Levenmouth Low Carbon Investment Park which is set to become ‘Scotland’s foremost energy park’.

Whilst in Aberdeen we plan to spend £150m on a garden and café.

Is anyone else embarrassed? Our great city, the economic powerhouse of Scotland, is being distracted by plants and trees whilst other towns are going green in a wholly more financially-sound way. This city has the engineering and science skills, brought by the oil industry and our two modern and diverse universities, to become a world leader in the renewables field.

You don’t need to do the math to know a research and development centre, alongside a manufacturing park would be of significantly greater financial gain to the city than the redevelopment of a garden.

This brings us to the question – has the Council considered this? Understandably, Sir Ian may not be keen, but this is about so much more than the oil empires held by the few; this is about the continuing prosperity of the many.

So, as the ballot papers find their way to you, look around the city. Look for the signs of the rot brought about by poor management by those who, for too long, have only looked inwards – decision makers enjoying the security of the formerly-booming local oil industry.

Consider what the world, given the current environmental and economic climate, would look to Aberdeen for. Horticultural tips? A show in our new 5000-seat outdoor amphitheatre? Or will they look to Europe’s ENERGY Capital to lead the way to a bright new future of renewable energy? And then, as our city leads the world in technological advancement in the renewables field we will look forward to investment, to jobs and to success.

When the ballot paper lands on your doormat, consider what Aberdonians truly deserve and ensure your vote lets our council know just what you want for your future.