Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s latest publication, Long Shadows – Tales of Scotland’s North East.
Authors are told that when they write the blurb for the back jacket of their book they should focus on explaining what the reader will get out of it when they buy it.
So let’s apply this recommendation to Duncan Harley’s new book, Long Shadows. What will you get out of it?
You will be entertained for sure.
Duncan is a walking encyclopaedia of curious and interesting facts about everything that’s been written about Northeast Scotland.
If something extraordinary happened in your town or village, it’s probably in this book.
I can assure you that after reading it you will never dare repeat that ‘nothing interesting ever happens…’ in Buckie, Kintore, Ellon or the likes.
Now I do like quirky stories, and there is plenty in here to tickle the fancy – unexpected tales; little known tales. Take the story on page 54 about the artist Joseph Farquharson from Finzean.
In 1883, Farquharson painted The Joyless Winter Day which hangs in the Tate Gallery. It depicts a shepherd tending his flock in a raging Deeside blizzard. The execution of the painting was tricky because as Duncan explains:
“sheep cannot easily be persuaded to stand still.”
“To solve this difficult problem, Farquharson commissioned a flock of life size plaster sheep from Monymusk born craftsman William Wilson of Kelly’s Cats fame, and used these to mark out the positions of the original live subjects in order to preserve the scene as the work progressed.”
The downside of all this ingenuity was that Joseph Farquharson ended up getting the nickname from his fellow artists of ‘Frozen Mutton Farquharson’.
Or the connection between the horror writer Stephen King and Buckie.
Did you know (a phrase you will find yourself repeating after reading Duncan’s book) that in the course of investigating a terrorist act in If It Bleeds, fictional private investigator Holly Gibney discovers that Buckie Academy is twinned with a bombed US High School.
The two schools take a mutual interest in each other’s local sports teams – Buckie Thistle thus picking up a small fanbase in a fictional part of the US.
Long Shadows comprises thirty-three chapters starting with Aberdeen and ending up with Turriff.
In between are tales from local towns and villages, or in one case, the forest at Lenabo where there was once an airship base during World War I. The airships would fly silently out over the North Sea scouting for German submarines to shoot up with machine guns. The story is laid out in chapter 22.
Now I do know about this. My paternal grandfather, who was too old to fight in the trenches, helped to build the Lenabo base. If that makes me sound ancient – be aware that both my grandfather and father became parents in their forties.
Having written this I now take a peek at Duncan’s back-cover blurb.
“In his two previous two books, Duncan exposed readers to an exciting mix of history and mythology. The intention of this new book is to expand greatly on these themes in an entertaining and informative way.
“Please enjoy these wee snippets of Scottish history and smile gently at the past. Long Shadows – Tales of Scotland’s North East is guaranteed to enthral both residents and visitors alike!”
I must agree.
I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it. It’s available on Amazon at a price of £17.95 and looks to be selling fast. Do buy it.
It appears Marischal Square is nothing like the money-spinner city taxpayers were promised.
Within that glass box building, one of the most repugnant carbuncles to disgrace Aberdeen in recent years, government, multinationals and food businesses are enjoying sweeteners in the form of rent holidays, discounts and more.
Figures obtained through Freedom Of Information requests reveal that, to date, these sweeteners amount to nearly £4.5m.
Other costs have been estimated by the ‘We Campaigned Against Marischal Square’ group, which like Aberdeen Voice, has been fighting for data from Aberdeen City Council under FOI law.
We Campaigned posted:
“By my reckoning, since opening, MS has COST US £18 million so far. It’s taken in around £3 million and we have paid Muse/Aviva rent > £15 million plus we’ve spent around £3 million in operational costs.
How do we stop this financial mismanagement? Can we hold anyone to account? (We also have £1.3 BILLION debt to pay back the bond – interest payments of £40 million per year).”
Should the council have decided to go into the commercial rental sector with a new build? Did it have the expertise in house?
At one point the city claimed it had no idea of the amount of rent each individual business was paying, and that only Muse knew this.
If true, it’s a shocking dereliction of fiscal responsibility. Effectively, it makes freedom of information requests hard to successfully lodge, as Aberdeen Voice and ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal Square’ have found.
The following companies moved in. The list shows the value of their sweeteners.
Tenant / Approximate sweetener total
Aberdeen Journals Ltd / £1,710,630
Tony Macaroni / £225,000
Chevron / (£285,270 min, £570,540 max) £427,905
Ernst & Young / £570,420
Mitchells & Butlers / £187,500
Tenaris / £116,215
KPMG / £266,535
Scottish Ministers / £582,905
Costa / £59,800
National Westminster Bank / (£193,847 min £ 243,306 max) £218,576
Prezzo / £46,200
Mackies / £38,200 TOTAL = £4,449,886.00
Aberdeen City Council was less than forthcoming with this information Only after the Information Commissioner’s office interceded did they release the information.
Anyone wanting to see the actual heads of terms agreements for the rents showing duration, other perks granted eg. carpeting allowances and free parking, size of space rented, etc, will find this hard-fought-for information here.
As an aside, when finally handing this information over, the city tried to claim the documents were so large that they could only pass them over if Aberdeen Voice opened an account with ACC. This nonsense was quickly countered. An account with ACC to access its FOI documentation or make requests is not required.
The ‘too large documents’ were under fifty pages in total.
The city is competing with the private sector in creating this building, just a time when Brexit impacts and the changes in the oil industry reverberate. Sir Ian Wood is busy trying to convince central government to build yet more offices and industrial space in the city. Doubtless he’ll get his way.
The businesses that moved out of existing spaces to Marischal such as KPMG leave behind empty office space and take income from the private sector.
In order to compete with the private sector in a market where office space is hardly in short supply, ACC uses the taxpayers’ largess to dole out the sweeteners.
Aberdeen Voice will try to determine whether the city is giving any further rent breaks or sweeteners to their Marischal Square tenants
The businesses forced to close, yet forced to pay for Aberdeen Inspired/business rates may look with some justified envy on the treatment given to national chains, multinationals and Aberdeen Journals Ltd.
Damian Bates, disgraced former Aberdeen Journals Ltd empresario, alluded to the fact the city was already subsidising its rent at Lang Stracht.
Why a genuine news corporation would be willingly indebted to a government with so many stories that should be robustly investigated is not a mystery – the city used to spend quite heavily on advertising in the rags.
However, the P&J and EE no longer refer to Marischal Square as ‘controversial’ and seem happy to sing its praises.
The city recently said it is £30,000,000 in debt.
Many consider this figure to be considerably lower than the reality. Where it will be in a year’s time is anyone’s guess – but if it is banking on Marischal Square, it’s doomed.
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Marc Ellington, musician, philanthropist, climate change activist, author has passed away. He leaves behind his family and many friends.
Dr Ellington, or Marc to his many friends, was a singer, songwriter and guitarist. He occasionally performed with his lifelong friend Richard Thompson, and with Fairport Convention.
Marc had not often performed in recent years, but joined Richard on stage at the Royal Albert hall in September 2019 for Richard’s 70th birthday party show along with many members of the Thompson family, and artists including Dave Gilmour, and Harry Shearer.
Marc and his wife Karen lovingly restored Aberdeenshire’s Towie Barclay Castle and gardens. From its great hall he worked on his many projects.
Presentations were made by experts from various disciplines including the Met Office, focusing on historic properties and sites such as Skara Brae.
The Centre ran courses for professional and amateur alike including topics such as gardening, dry stone walling, and property repair. Perhaps its greatest success was running courses for young people with a variety of needs.
Young people learned from different specialists about the environment, wildlife, botany, and enjoyed hands-on activities from dry stone walling to building lean-tos at locations such as Fyvie Castle grounds.
Passionate about Aberdeen city’s and shire’s architectural gems, Marc edited The Lost City: Old Aberdeen by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson.
Marc knew any number of little-known historic jewels, and greatly enjoyed showing these off to his guests. He was a keen student of the area’s history, not least its importance to folk music from the past through artists such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.
Along with Charles MacLean and Daniel MacCannell Marc Ellington was an editor on the book, Scotland’s Secret History: The Illicit Distilling and Smuggling of Whisky. The book paints a vivid picture of whisky’s history and the Cabrach.
He was instrumental in the creation of a memorial cairn in the Cabrach dedicated to those from the area who lost their lives in WWI and subsequent conflicts. Whisky giants The Gordon family were the main funders.
“Each and every aspect of the construction of the cairn has involved members, both young and old, of the Cabrach Community working closely with master craftsman Euan Thompson.
“As well as being one of the finest memorial cairns to be built in Scotland in recent years, this is an outstanding example of what a local community, working together with energy and determination, can achieve.”
Marc spoke at an exhibition of international artists in 2018 held at the Glenfiddich Distillery.
He talked about the role art plays – or should play – in education and in our culture. As part of the speech he applauded the creators, rebels, movers, and individuals who stand up for what is right, who follow their passions and dreams. Indeed, this was how many saw him.
He was actively involved with stopping the destruction of wildlife, and cared deeply for the sea and marine life.
He acted as announcer and master of ceremonies for the annual Portsoy Boat Festival, often sailing his craft to the harbour.
Marc never missed a chance to help people when it arose; he always had a hilarious, apt anecdote for whatever social situation he found himself in.
He sought to impart his passions for the environment, culture, history, music and arts, and succeeded in influencing many. He is greatly missed, but his music and his many accomplishments will continue to influence.
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It’s back to business for convicted sex-offender Aberdeen City Councillor Alan Donnelly. His suspension from his role as a councillor ends 3rd of March. Suzanne Kelly writes.
Alan Donnelly was convicted in December 2019 for a November 2018 sexual assault on a young male waiter while attending a civic function in his capacity as councillor
He was given interim suspensions on full pay before a Standards Commission for Scotland hearing was held which allowed him to continue as a councillor.
In November 2020, two years after the assault, Standards declared that a further four month suspension was all the stricture required.
Standards justified their decision saying Donnelly was cooperative, had no previous referral to Standards, and had not received a custodial sentence. The Standards hearing panel could have removed him had they chosen.
Donnelly’s first hearing date was postponed on health grounds His attempt to likewise put off his November 2020 hearing failed.
Perhaps not even Standards could justify another postponement on revelation that Donnelly had enjoyed several holidays while suspended.
In response to the hugely unpopular decision, a formal complaint was made to Ethics Standards in Public Life. Ethics’ role had been to issue a report to Standards before any hearing could be set.
The complainant asked:
Why did it take Ethics until June 2020, six months after Donnelly’s conviction, to issue a report?
Why did Ethics decide not to give the victim an opportunity to make a statement?
Does Ethics took sexual assault seriously?
Ethics found its officers acted properly. There is no avenue for appeal.
Ethics claims it had to determine whether Donnelly was perceived as being a councillor when attacking the young man at a social function.
Donnelly is expected at a crucial council budget meeting
Donnelly’s city council register of interests clearly reflected he attended in place of Councillor Lumsden.
Instead, Ethics waited weeks to hear what the venue managers thought.
ACC Councillor Jennifer Stewart was quoted in the local press saying the sexual assault ‘didn’t sound too bad’. The victim could have been approached for comment, but they were excluded from proceedings.
During its investigation, Ethics was so deluged with complaints about Donnelly it refused to hear anything further.
Had they not shut the public out, they might have learned of a 2001 incident.
While in an ACC social work post, Donnelly reportedly took a sex offender to a bar against rules and was disciplined for it. Standards might not have concluded Donnelly’s improper conduct was a ‘one off’ had this information been presented.
Apparently one sexual assault on its own is not deemed sufficient to stop someone serving as a councillor.
On the 10th of March, Donnelly is expected at a crucial council budget meeting. The meeting was originally set for March 3rd – the final day of Donnelly’s period of suspension.
However, council business manager Ryan Houghton arranged a postponement, ostensibly relating to central government’s imminent budget announcement.
Donnelly is expected to vote with the reigning Labour/Tory coalition just as he did in 2020 in a meeting that took place the day before his suspension.
Donnelly was a Tory and part of said coalition until he went ‘independent’ coinciding with the sexual assault conviction.
The Labour councillors in this unholy alliance are suspended from the party for defying orders and aligning with Tories. To say that Aberdonians are looking forward to the May 2022 elections is an understatement.
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“Crazy how white Republicans got other white Republicans scared of Muslims and Mexicans when all along they needed to be scared of other white Republicans…” – Cyrus McQueen, author, Tweeting Truth To Power: Chronicling Our Caustic Politics, Crazed Times, & The Great Black & White Divide.
“Anti-vax conspiracy theories and COVID-19 denial are gateway drugs that introduce well-meaning people to the far right. Before they know it, large numbers are hooked on QAnon.”
– George Monbiot
Trump spent decades inciting violence, culminating in rioting and deaths in Washington DC on 6 January 2021. Now he says he won’t condone violence (or is that what he’s really saying?)
Suzanne Kelly, Aberdeen Voice contributor and campaigner explains why the leopard has not changed his spots.
Armed, angry white men and women were invited by Trump to a rally in DC. Trump told the mob to march on the capitol and he’d be with them (he wasn’t).
The warning signs were ignored. The violence was pre-planned, orchestrated. The National Guard was held at bay. Five people are dead, more were injured.
Trump watched the violence unfold on TV; he would not speak to aids or answer requests to stop the forces he invoked.
His after-the-fact denunciation of ‘political violence’ is perversely being taken as a call to arms by the extremists – who are openly calling for more such events. His impeachment is essential; he is a danger to us all.
Signs of his disordered mental state, his contempt for people and the environment were visible at Aberdeenshire’s Menie Estate before his election. Aberdeen Voice, Tripping up Trump, Aberdeenshire councillors including Martin Ford, Debra Storr, Paul Johnston and film maker Anthony Baxter all could have attested this man was the last person to be put in charge of a multicultural country.
Aberdeen Journals Ltd told you Trump was going to bring 6,000 permanent jobs and millions into the local economy annually and ‘enhance’ the irreplaceable environment.
Fast forward, and there are less than 93 permanent jobs, the course is permanently in the red, and the unique SSSI areas are destroyed.
Aberdeen Voice’s many calls over the years to local and national officials and official bodies as to where he got the money for the purchase from fell on deaf ears.
Here are some of my thoughts on why Trump is in power, why people still believe him, and what we need to address in order to stop more carnage.
Trump: the most damaging, divisive president ever.
It takes honour and integrity to own mistakes and Trump has neither quality. His youth included allegations of draft-dodging (he was healthy enough despite alleged bone spurs to play collegiate basketball) and sending in ringers to take exams in his stead.
He is credibly accused of preventing non-white people from obtaining leases for his Manhattan properties. He wanted the innocent, framed ‘Central Park Five’ to be executed.
His fondness for capital punishment saw him reinstate the death penalty; as rights watchers will tell you, many US death row inmates were denied due process, have mental health issues, and some have been found to be innocent after their execution. Some were black – convicted on circumstantial evidence by all-white juries.
Trump has invoked violence many times, whatever he may be saying now.
Trump told an assembly of police that it was OK with him if they harmed suspects.
He called for hecklers at his rallies to be ‘roughed up’.
He called journalists – the very people tying to tell the truth about the man –‘enemy of the people’ and said they should be ‘roughed up’.
When I spoke on The O’Reilly Factor about my petition to ban Trump from the UK under our hate speech laws, I was cut off before making many of my points and with no warning: but the last point I got in was that Trump planned to execute terrorists and their relatives. I still can’t believe this didn’t shock more people.
America is supposed to stand for justice, not ex-judicial execution of innocent people.
Trump is a racist (the KKK endorsement of his 2016 bid for the presidency is a clue); he lacks empathy, and will deceive without remorse. He has no regard for law, fairness or human life. He frequently calls for violence and fails to speak out against it when it comes from the far right and the white supremacist: his lack of condemnation encourages them.
Hate speech, racism, neo-Nazism: how the ignorant, angry and easily-led are funnelled
Claiming Muslims should be banned from air travel ‘until we figure out what the hell is going on’, Trump threw unjust suspicion on Muslims, including the seven to 14 million Muslim Americans.
This was not a dog whistle; this was Trump prejudicially linking all Muslims to terrorism. Those who thought my desire to ban him for hate speech might do well to remember his ban which unfairly harmed many. And as any observer of American terrorism can confirm, most of America’s terrorists have been white males.
Hate crimes are at their highest levels for 16 years according to the FBI.
Responding to Trump’s many calls to hate and violence, people like William Celli decided to build bombs to target Muslims. Trump’s comments about Mexicans and Hispanics have led to many assaults; in one case two suspects told police ‘Trump is right’.
Trump fanatic and would-be bomber Cesar Sayoc targeted Democrats and CNN. His defence lawyers wrote that:
“in this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump.”
Sayoc ‘Found light’ in Donald; sadly, so do many disaffected people, opportunist evangelical preachers, the NRA, GOP climbers, and racist groups like the KKK.
David Duke is the ridiculously-titled ‘grand wizard’ of the KKK. It endorsed Trump as their presidential candidate, and Duke said the Charlottesville rioting which took Heather Heyer’s life was ‘a turning point’.
From the time Trump said of the white supremacist march ‘there are fine people on both sides’, he’d given a clear signal he would condemn neither violence nor racism. He deliberately fanned those flames, even if he didn’t manage to overthrow the government.
It’s Christianity Jim, but not as we know it.
There is no doubt that MAGA rallies created a community of like-minded Trump followers. These events called together every person who wanted a saviour, and the extremist evangelists used the far-right version of Christianity that these Trump acolytes had been raised on.
Artwork showing Trump as a Christ-like figure (as if); photos showing Trump surrounded by adoring televangelists – all this helped those who were already trained to be obedient to their preachers be obedient to the man their preachers endorsed and called saviour. It made Sayoc a terrorist.
The lunatic hypocrisy of claiming to be a follower of Jesus while simultaneously toting semi-automatic weapons, chanting ‘lock her up’, assaulting rally hecklers, and calling for death to the press doesn’t occur to any of these people. Their preachers are asking for donations, not soul-searching.
Here is a hilarious take on her absolute madness of Paula White
Compliant? The evangelical child in some of these sects grow up believing by constant reinforcement they are the only people who will be saved, that the superior race is white, and the superior sex is male.
Home-schooling is prevalent, and I believe plays more of a part in the radicalisation of people than many will admit.
The girl children? Many are trained to be subservient like our rushed-through newest Supreme Court Justice Coney Barrett. For many extremist evangelists, girls are to get married, be servants and be fruitful and multiply. Sex before marriage is strictly out.
All these QAnon extremists protesting about invented satanic child abuse? They need look no further than child marriage, legal in 46 states. When was the last time a QAnon protestor targeted this abuse?
Do these evangelists and Trump really believe one of their key recruitment planks – that all abortion is wrong? Trump asked his girlfriend to get one. Trump also raped Ivana per her written statement by the way. Very Old Testament.
If I had my say, every school age person would spend at least a few months in a non-home-school setting to mix with children of other backgrounds. Ensuring no one is schooled only in a vacuum might help end the vilification of other religions, other races and nationalities.
If nothing else, the evangelical girl child could be shown it is illegal to be married off against her will, and she can have a career other than as a mother.
And if I ran the world, there would be no marriages in America for anyone under 18, and all parties under age 21 would have to be seen alone before the ceremony to confirm they are not being coerced, and offered support if they are.
Tele-preachers and the NRA also insist an AK is a ‘God-given right.’ The hell it is.
Gun culture: how the NRA fuels paranoia.
A Senate subcommittee declared the National Rifle Association to a Russian asset, awash with Russian money. NRA chiefs gave illegal operative Russian Marina Butina and Putin pal Alexander Torshin access to members of Congress.
What was once an educational tax-exempt organisation now pumps tens of millions of dollars into Congress, some of that from Russia.
It will not brook any changes to US gun law. NRA-funded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented the Senate from voting on bipartisan gun law bills. Did America’ founders know automatic weapons existed – yes, as the NRA says, claiming all guns should be legal.
Did the founders have weapons that could kill 58 and wound 527 others from a great distance as we tragically saw in Las Vegas? No.
Should every incel, every angry racist own an assault rifle?
The NRA says yes.
The parents and loved ones of the over 40,000 shot in 2019 and 2020 say no.
In terms of ‘cancel culture’ – gun deaths cancel thousands of voices each year, and Mitch McConnell cancelled the Senate’s right to even vote on the matter. If he were confident the American people and the Senate did not want gun laws changed, he would have let the two bills be heard.
There is supposed to be a well-regulated militia: instead we had teen Kyle Rittenhouse driven to a protest by his mother where he killed.
‘Do you wanna be in my gang?’ Psychological manipulation.
Lonely? Friendless? Not promoted at work? Involuntary celibate? QAnon wants You.
A whole world of similarly-damaged souls awaits and you will be welcome, whether or not you’re a preposterous self-styled shaman who live streams from mom’s basement. If you’re feeling the financial pinch, it can’t be because of people like Trump, paper billionaires whose many bankruptcies have sent small businesses to the wall; it must be because a woman or a non-white person ‘took’ your job.
It is easier and cheaper to get recruited by QAnon than it is to either get mental health help, get involved with making positive change, or make real friends in the real world. The USA needs urgent medical health care reform, the kind Trump has tried to dismantle.
I have done as much of a dive into this culture as I care to. In fringe websites the insurrectionists share whispers of violence to come on Biden’s inauguration day.
Some think Trump is the messiah. They are happy, some of them, to wear Nazi regalia – and in doing so align themselves with the horrors visited on adults and children alike, despite QAnon using the fictitious pizzagate child abuse conspiracy as a recruitment tool.
The message seems to be that Nazi concentration camps were either invented or the children abused and murdered on an industrial scale somehow don’t count (viz the detestable ‘Camp Auschwitz’ shirt and Nazi symbolism worn by the insurrectionists).
However, invent a child abuse scandal now 100% discredited involving Satan and Hilary Clinton, and crying people will take to the streets holding signs about pizza parlours and baby-eaters while sporting a swastika tattoo.
These people don’t seem aware Trump did all he could to catch teen beauty queens naked at his pageants, or that he’s accused of many cases of sexual assault. There is no logic, no joined up thinking.
These echo chambers that sprang up following Q Anon’s overdue defenestration from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook reinforce the camaraderie, the anger of these misfits. They goad each other into more and more extreme views and actions. Something needs to be done.
As I am writing, Reuters confirmed that the mob intended to ‘capture and assassinate’ members of Congress. We must find, arrest, try every single one of these people.
Enacting laws concerning hate speech – like the UN and many countries have will help stop the abuse which has led to violence throughout this country’s history.
This is nothing to do with freedom of speech. The right to free speech has many exemptions. The founding fathers foresaw some of the potential future misuses – but none of them can have dreamed of it being used to remind Jewish people of the horrors of Auschwitz.
Trump spurred me to try to ban him from the UK under our hate speech laws. As a New Yorker living in Aberdeen, watching this man being treated as a star made me feel ill.
I knew of his discriminatory policies, his greed, his xenophobia. I didn’t care if I looked like a fool. Over 586,000 people agreed with me and we got a debate.
Who knows? We might even have got the Home Secretary to apply the law to a billionaire that had already been applied to more than 100 other hatemongers.
In the end, the night before the debate, MP Paul Flynn, slated to chair the debate decided to call the press to slate my petition (without letting me know he was doing so). ‘We might make Trump a martyr’ he told me. Parliament did deliver a good smackdown – but the Home Secretary did not apply the law to Trump.
JK Rowling made a joke about the petition at a New York literary gathering.
I was invited to write a riposte piece, and I did so, even knowing all of Harry Potter fandom would attack me to support her. I wonder if she sees the difference between hate speech and free speech now; I’d like to hope so, having been the target of hate speech herself of late.
What I didn’t get is that in her books the magical government was being taken over and most people were afraid to stand up to the spread of hate speech, but there you go.
Every time someone flies a confederate flag; every town that has a memorial to a civil war figure who tried to preserve slavery is a declaration of hate to black citizens from white supremacists. Every glorification of those who slaughtered Native Americans is a hate crime. I can’t shake the feeling that while all this division rages, the billionaires are laughing at the rest of us.
Billionaires like Trump (wherever his money is actually coming from; happily, there are signs it may be drying up).
If a Native American child or an African American child cannot wear their hair in a way reflective of their culture in school, then why are we letting people wave symbols celebrating slavery or concentration camps in gestures designed to intimidate and provoke fear and anger? I don’t understand.
The speech turns to violence, and these symbols have power.
If anyone wants to cry how unfair it is Trump’s been removed from social media for repeated rule breaking, fake news and hate speech, think again. He’s deliberately gagged people with lawsuits, confidentiality agreements (even extending to cooks in Scotland) and used his massive press connections to mock and ridicule opponents from Biden through to farmer Michael Forbes.
Can we please make Justice blind again?
Some of the argument against doing so aside from Flynn’s Chamberlain-esque appeasement was ‘Trump may be president someday’.
This alarming use of future potential is seen in America, where it gets many privileged white male offenders released from serious charges eg Brock Turner.
What if we had banned him from the UK? Would the GOP still have seen him as being presidential material? Perhaps not. Would things have been worse had the UK banned Trump? Worse how? – I’d like to know.
We’re seeing more flawed illogic applied to the insurrectionists by their sympathisers in the GOP: ‘Don’t impeach Trump, it may make insurrectionists angry’.
They are already angry. And armed. The law is not supposed to care how rich you are or if applying the law equally to all will make white supremacists angry.
The self-styled shaman is being given the organic meals in prion he demanded because of his ‘religion’. Meanwhile, as noted by various Native American groups, when Native people wind up in US jails, they are absolutely laughed at and ignored.
Symbols of hate belong in the trashcan.
The confederate flag shows the bearer approves of slavery, and wants it back.
Statues of confederate generals towering over parks and town centres show deference to the people who tried to preserve slavery and contempt for descendants of slaves.
A swastika patch or tattoo, or a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ shirt shows the world the bearer hates everyone who’s not a Nazi.
A MAGA hat suggests the wearer wants to ‘Make America Great Again’. It shows support for a KKK-endorsed white supremacist who ridicules minorities and incites violence against virtually everyone who is not a white male. It is the symbol of the Trump rally, a sign you would suspend your logic and values (if any) to be part of a mob.
The far right, the conspiracy believer, etc have also commandeered symbols of the crusaders, arcane symbols and invented symbols. This is all part of the ‘I need to be in a crowd and be one of the mob’ mentality we saw running through the Capitol.
Can we chuck these and other such inflammatory, hate-provoking emblems now? Other countries have.
We don’t need miseducation.
If there were a better, balanced system of education that also taught tolerance and life skills (I mean, we even have people who now believe you can fall of the edge of our flat world), we would all be better off.
It would not be so easy to convince people that Bill Gates is a reptile from another dimension who is trying to forcibly inject nanobots and trackers by unleashing a fake virus scare.
When I was in school, I remember ages devoted to names and dates of the Revolutionary War. About a quarter of that amount of time was spent on the history and culture of the rest of the world. Mistake. It was later I learned of the atrocities committed against Native Americans (including by Lincoln) and slavery.
When we studied slavery in school – and this I remember to my dying day: we read two different accounts of women who had been plantation slaves.
One was entitled ‘Lordy Them was Awful Days’ and she told of being whipped and salt being rubbed in her wounds. The other woman said slavery wasn’t so bad: I kid you not. And then we moved on.
It was as if every coin has two sides – a flaw seen in current day news reporting.
Slavery does not have another side. We also had in our textbooks the horrific photos of lynched black Americans, with white people standing under them socializing. Did my teacher explain how horrific this was? If so, their words are lost on me though that photo remains burned in my head.
Do the confederate flag-wavers even know what the reality was for so many? Do they even want to? A better, complete education that shows America’s many flaws could help. Teach logic, how to frame arguments, critical thinking, and how not to be a racist.
What are we going to do today? Pending violence.
As mentioned, I’ve been going on these twisted far-right sites to see what is going on. These people do think, as reported in the news, that Trump wants more violence and has sent secret messages to QAnon in his latest word salad of a speech.
They and others point to his saying ‘I cannot emphasise that there must be no violence…’ as a call to arms.
With Trump having established that he is barely literate, we don’t know what he actually meant. Hilariously, he says he can never condone violence, despite having called for violence on many occasions.
However, the conspiracy theory force is strong with these insurrectionists.
Some claim he tapped out in Morse Code the letter ‘Q’. Really? The man can’t spell ‘coffee’.
These people are looking for signs. If you look for signs, the brain will find them even where they don’t exist. A decent education could have taught the ‘I saw the Virgin Mary in my slice of toast’ brigade how the mind works to create images and patterns, but there you go.
These people want a violent, bloody revolution. They want to take over America. They are using internet sites to make their plans. Many of them are police and/or former armed forces members (we need a Venn diagram of white supremacists who have been in the police and who have needlessly killed non-white suspects).
Some of their helpers are congresspeople. They cannot win, but they can certainly harm and kill.
Ignoring them and hoping they will disappear is not an option. I am not an expert, but I think my suggestions have some merit for the future. The present needs to be the focus now.
In my opinion, we need to: immediately declare QAnon, the KKK, other hate groups terrorist organisations and remove terrorism supporters from Congress. Any congressperson/police officer who gave the insurrectionists help must be removed from office and charged.
No one gets into Congress without going through the metal detector. No guns get into Congress.
Every single insurrectionist from Trump down to the last one needs to be charged with all applicable charge from sedition and insurrection through destroying federal property.
We need to shore up what the 1st and 2nd Amendments mean.
We need to change the laws so there are no more Kyle Rittenhouses.
Anyone who is in QAnon or the KKK is not fit to be in law enforcement or law-making, and needs to be removed from office. We need more scrutiny of how these ideas are getting into the heads of the violent, and address the root causes (extremist evangelism, poverty, poor education etc).
We cannot just forget this happened and heal without cleaning up the source of infection and getting rid of the poison. We need to have Biden and Harris stabilize our country and Make Hate Hateful Again.
Unfortunately, we need to do this about 80 years ago at a minimum. But let’s start today.
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Further to Part I of these two articles, when a stone wall in Wellington Brae started to crumble, Aberdeen City Council decided to arrange the repair work. The city went to SUSTRANS representing ‘we have a problem’ and it secured £200,000. By Suzanne Kelly.
In Part I of this series a timeline showed different stories as to who owned the land in question. Lawyer, and then councillor and finance committee convener Willie Young said at different times he didn’t know who the landowner was, or that his dad was the landowner.
The press reported that Young and his wife were the owners according to Registry documents.
In this part of the story, Aberdeen Voice comments on emails recently released by ACC as well as those previously leaked and published.
We also acknowledge the huge amount of work done on this issue by others including the Stop the Desecration of Marischal College Facebook page, and we include their recent synopsis of this bizarre tale.
Below are images of some of the emails and commentary, both officially released and leaked, on ‘Wallgate’. Aberdeen Voice will be happy to receive further material and is continuing its Freedom of Information efforts.
I) ‘WE have a problem’ – on 3 February 2016 someone at ACC wrote to SUSTRANS to say ‘we have a problem’ and ‘our head of maintenance has advised there is no budget to carry out these repairs which could be £250,000…’
The recipient at SUSTRANS would have concluded that as the council says it has a problem, it has no budget, it is the party seeking repair funds, etc, that the responsibility for fixing the wall was the council’s.
The council keeps a spreadsheet showing every single property it owns; Aberdeen Voice has a 2012 copy and can confirm no entries exist on it for 2012 concerning Wellington Brae.
Was even this quick, simple search conducted before an email was sent to SUSTRANS from Aberdeen saying ‘we have a problem?’ Did anyone use the council tax rolls and contact the people living at the property to ask them about ownership?
It would be good to know how the author of this email to SUSTRANS decided to word their appeal- its tone is that the problem is Aberdeen’s.
There was no uncertainty over ownership expressed, just the assumption Aberdeen needed to find the money rather than a private landowner. It is also worth noting that the report brought to councillors to accept the money that was solicited from SUSTRANS in February was not presented to them until 24 May 2017 – fifteen months after the money was requested.
Will the email author’s line manager go back and check whether or not similar representations have been made to seek funds from external sources to repair properties that the city did not own?
How was the decision made to conduct the survey, to commission the in-house 12-page detailed Bill of Quantities report made in May of 2016 (which conveniently matches precisely the estimate for repairs presented to SUSTRANS in February), and who approved this budget to pay for a survey of benefit to private landowners?
II) Leaked email – Young is well aware of, and is briefed on, the approach ACC made to SUSTRANS. At least three different ACC personnel have, according to this email, been in touch with Young.
The writer says Young gave the verbal go-ahead for the project in his council role. Young is being asked for written confirmation.
We are still not at all certain why, with his legal background, Young apparently did not caution those on the project to cease any work until it was determined who was responsible for paying for the work at the moment he was approached for his permission.
Young asked for information to be re-sent to him in a paragraph: as the scheme involves SUSTRANS paying for the stonewall work, Young will have been in receipt of correspondence/data/reports/financials concerning SUSTRANS funding in the form of documents sent by email on a matter that concerns his family’s property.
Even if you disbelieve the authenticity of this email, Young later confirms officers approached him about the scheme – wouldn’t he have asked for some detail and background then, not least to find out why it was decided he was the landowner.
III) leaked email – According to this Young, who is addressed as Councillor, has the plans and is checking with his solicitor as to whether or not he owns the land.
IV) Leaked email – indicates Councillor Young issued a verbal instruction to proceed with the works at Wellington Brae 28 October 2016.
Many public and private entities have ethics charters and anything that could be a conflict of interest or potentially fraudulent or reputation-damaging must be raised, and if a decision to proceed is taken, this must be formalised and approved.
We note that Willie Young contacted ACC’s Monitoring Officer for advice – more on that appears later in this piece.
The question here is did no staff member or officer working on this project who were asking Young for approval as a private landowner think to raise any ethics/conflict of interest concerns?
Did no one question whether it was appropriate that ACC staff and resources were deployed to help private landowner Young (or his family) to obtain the SUSTRANS grant? Would this help be given to other private landowners who weren’t on the council?
We asked SUSTRANS to comment on the city’s ARS report which said:
“Sustrans funding would have been made available irrespective of who owned the affected land…”
We have have had no response as yet; this piece will be updated when they respond.
V) ACC recently-released email – The landowner has verbally given permission.
From mid-September 2016 it appears the city acted as if it were aware who owned the land – quite possibly they knew earlier looking at the leaked emails. Who is going to do the ‘rubber-stamping’ at ACC to approve this?
In a private organisation, seeking external sources of funding, issuing tenders and evaluating bids are meant to follow strict protocol, and any expenditure over a certain threshold is meant to be carefully scrutinized for internal control as well as external legal requirements.
Representatives of legal, finance and executive teams would all be expected to read detailed reports then either object or sign off before any such moves were made. This would extend from the first email sent to SUSTRANS through sealing the deal.
It is also noteworthy that the company initially appointed after the tender for the wall work went out of business and did not have much if any relevant experience. Perhaps Audit Scotland needs to visit Aberdeen’s procedures – again.
One further thought: a verbal agreement, in legal circles, is said to be ‘worth the paper it’s written on.’
VI) ACC recently-released emails from the latest FOI – How could the Head of Maintenance be ‘adamant’ there weren’t any funds? Couldn’t they have applied to Finance for either guidance on what to do or for more funds?
The path could have been closed until the new fiscal year opened – not ideal, but April was not that far off, either: during which time the mystery of who was responsible for the repair could have been determined.
Finance could have authorised emergency finance or an advance on the next quarter’s budget; You can think you have no funds for your department for important projects – but how can you be certain – or even ‘adamant’ you have no possibility of getting any finance without asking Finance to confirm?
In the private sector, such an approach would certainly lead to a member of the finance team asking the relevant questions – such as who owned the land.
VII) ACC recently-released email shows SUSTRANS awarding £200,000 on 25 November. Formal paperwork is coming – this will presumably require the landowner(s)’ signature(s). Who signed/approved for the landowner?
Asked to comment to Aberdeen Voice on 14 October, Willie Young wrote (which was not received on the day, but re-sent when requested on 22 November):
“You ask if it was an ethical use of my position at ACC. As the freedom of information report and the Council enquiry report shows officers of the Council did not act within agreed protocols and this led to a situation where a report that should have come to committee did not appear.
“As for my position I was convener of the Finance committee and any report would have gone to the Communities, Housing and Infrastructure Committee not my committee so in answer to your question my ethics was never questioned by the Council nor was a matter ever passed to the Ethical Standards Commission, the monitoring officer for ACC is on record as saying that I did not have a conflict of interest.
“You ask when I disclosed to SUSTRANS that my family owned the wall, the answer to that is I never disclosed that my family owned the wall to SUSTRANS indeed this was not a matter for a Councillor it is a matter for the Council Officer.
“As the FOI shows the officer moved forward with discussions with SUSTRANS without involving Councillors. The Councils own report and the FOI clearly shows that the Council requested that this work was undertaken without speaking to the owner of the land and without being in a position to know who owned the land.
“Disappointingly this matter was not even discussed by Officers with the convener of Communities Housing and Infrastructure. It was not for me to determine who owned the land it was for the Council to determine who owned the land and contact the land owner requesting permission.
“The report which went to council confirms the council failed both those tests.”
“In respect of your final question regard complaints I can categorically say without fear or favour that not one single person complained to me about the wall before or after Storm Gertrude.”
The City’s Report – should they have closed this case? Details hidden from public.
The Audit Risk and Scrutiny Committee reported on 26 September 2017 decided Young was ‘placed in a vulnerable position’; the Chief Executive apologised for this. This internal exercise resulted in a decision which reads in part:
6.18“Sustrans funding would have been made available irrespective of who owned the affected land…”
4.67“It was appropriate for Councillor Young to seek advice from the Monitoring Officer in order to address any perception that he was conflicted in his interests.”
4.68“The Monitoring Officer has stated that based on the information available to him at the time, Councillor Young did not require to declare a conflict of interest because he had not been asked to make a decision as a Councillor on the works or the grant, but rather to provide his consent as a landowner.”
and paragraph 7.9“Councillor Young’s actions did not contravene the ICT Acceptable Use Policy as the emails did not concern any confidential information, were not protectively marked, and had been addressed to Councillor Young.”
6.18 quotes a claim that ‘SUSTRANS would have made the grant whoever owned the land’: Aberdeen Voice awaits SUSTRANS’ comment. Was a repair notice served on the land owner, if so when? Would a land owner approaching SUSTRANS have had to commission and pay for a detailed survey such as the one ACC had deployed resources to?
4.67, 4.68 – At what point did Young approach the Monitoring Officer – when did Young decide the perception of conflict existed and why did it exist for him? What did Young tell the Monitoring Officer that led to the conclusion there was no conflict of interest to address?
Did the Monitoring Officer proactively look at all the angles of this situation or just what Young presented to them? Why does the MO feel they have to say their conclusion was based on the information available to him at the time – has more information come to light, and if so, did it change this position?
7.9 – How is it ‘acceptable use’ of ACC computers, office and equipment to conduct business as a private landowner? These lines between councillor and landowner should never have been blurred. It is risible to think that using the address ‘Councillor’ automatically absolves Young.
Section 2 of the Audit Risk & Scrutiny report is withheld from the public for ‘data protection reasons.’
On the case: The ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal College’ Facebook page.
AV notes the Facebook page Stop the Desecration of Marischal College has been instrumental in researching the Wellington Brae saga. In the past it has shown that claims Mr Young made concerning the Marischal Square development were unfounded.
Young once claimed that if the unpopular project went ahead, the city would be penalised by developer MUSE to the tune of £100 million. Summoned to appear before the Standards Commission, he was cleared of lying on grounds the information given to him by officers was inaccurate.
Déjà vu. (Young apparently did not find the concept of a £100 million penalty to be extreme, and did not question the information he passed on to the public).
The ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal College’ posted this summary on 22 November:
“Willie stated on Twitter today that no one from the council contacted the Wellington Brae landowner until August 2017. He added that it was shocking.
“What’s shocking Willie is between March 2106 and April 2017 you were aware the council had checked the land registry and believed (as per the records they obtained) that you were the landowner.
“What’s shocking is you were asked numerous times by various officers to confirm that you were the landowner and for whatever reason decided not to even though – as you said last week on this page – you were a lawyer by trade and skilled in commercial negotiations.
“What’s hard to believe, particularly after August 2016 when you were told Sustrans had agreed to fund £200,000 of repairs and after you were shown and asked to approve the landscaping of the land above the wall, that you didn’t mention this to your father over Sunday lunch.
“Knowing the wall’s maintenance was the landowner’s responsibility one might have thought a saving of £200,000 might be worth mentioning.
“What’s more the August 2017 contact date Willie assured is right, is in fact wrong. In April 2017 he confirmed to the BBC that his father owned the land in question.
“What is most interesting though is when asked if anyone was sacked Willie said ‘no, but they should have been.’
“There is little doubt the council’s governance could and should have been better but Willie has no one to blame but himself for not realising £200,000 of public funding to fix and landscape a wall and land his family owned would come back and bite him.
“To now publicly say officers should have been fired is not only a cheap shot but serves to minimise his own culpability in this whole sorry affair…”
“You can’t help but feel if this had been anyone else’s wall the outcome would have been rather different.”
When a stone wall in Wellington Brae started to crumble, Aberdeen City Council decided to arrange the repair work.
Rather than identifying the property owner and troubling them with a repairs notice, the cash-strapped city mysteriously decided to look to its own maintenance budget, and decided somehow that there were no funds.
Did those involved approach anyone connected with Finance to ask for emergency funding? Apparently not. Did they decide to determine who owned the land at that point and issue a repairs notice? Suzanne Kelly presents part one of a two part investigation.
As many Aberdeen homeowners can attest (including the writer), even a few slates falling off a roof or a damaged front garden wall can result in a warning letter from the city that repairs must be done.
The wall in question sat on privately-owned land and the stone wall collapse spilled over onto Wellington Brae cycle path: all the more reason why, some might think, a repairs notice should have been swiftly sent to the owners, who should have been identifiable from the Land Registry records.
This is the origin of ‘Wallgate’, a tale of council procedures being ignored, a simple matter of land ownership being hopelessly (unnecessarily) confused, leaked emails and more.
ACC officers first tried to identify and contact the property owners AFTER the money was sought from SUSTRANS the cycling/walking charity, on 3 February 2016.
Why didn’t ACC do what they have often done – identify the owners and hit them with a repairs notice?
The email author asserted that the cause of the wall crumbling was Storm Gertrude; others claim that the wall was in bad repair before then (Aberdeen Voice will try to find out whether any repair notices were served on the property, or whether any complaints had been made prior to the storm).
As it transpired, then Finance Chief Councillor William Young apparently owned the wall – or maybe his dad – or maybe his wife – or maybe someone else.
For reasons hard to fathom, ‘Wall I Am’ was uncertain who owned the wall despite telling the press on 3 May 2017 he had sold property at Wellington Brae to his father in 1992, and despite apparently giving verbal permission for the repairs.
All will become clear – or not – shortly.
Whose Wall is It Anyway? – A time line.
Mr Young is adamant that he acted properly throughout. Would a lawyer and Councillor acting as Finance Chief/convener be expected to know whether or not he owns a property – or to act swiftly to find out whether he did if asked for permission to do with it?
If you sold your father land, would it slip your mind?
Here is a partial timeline showing dates of statements, sources, and who is apparently being treated as the landowner.
Much of this information has been published before, such as the leaked emails, but assembling this timeline illustrates how problematic all the conflicting ownership claims are, and the issues arising.
Who is said to be the landowner?
‘WE have a problem’
EMAIL WORDED AS IF ABERDEEN CITY COUNCIL WERE RESPONSIBLE
Someone at ACC writes to SUSTRANS to ask for £250,000, wording the email as if the responsibility for repair had already been determined to be Aberdeen’s. The city’s later report does not appear to address this misrepresentation – a serious failing one might think.
“Following your conversation with our XX yesterday (27th October) re your verbal instruction to proceed with the works at Wellington Brae.”
Why did Willie give verbal instructions to proceed if he was as he said in 2017 unsure who owned it? Would a lawyer remotely risk acting like this? If he knew he was the landowner and was free to give these instructions, then he ‘misspoke’ in 2017 when he said officers ‘mistakenly believed’ he was the landowner.
“A couple of months ago XX and myself [came] to see you about Wellington Brae. Please find attached. These show the extent of the works to be undertaken. My understanding from our meeting was that you would forward the plans to your solicitor to confirm whether you owned the area?”
Willie was to have checked with his solicitor and knew about the scheme ‘months ago’. If he acted promptly – and who wouldn’t to find out if they owned land or not? – then why is there still uncertainty to ownership implied in this email?
“…we are looking for written confirmation that the works can proceed – can you reply with this confirmation?
How is the public supposed to know for certain which hat Young is wearing here, not least as he is taking meetings about privately-held land in his office by now according to the ACC report – land he is at points denying ownership of or expressing uncertainty whether he owns it?
AV has to ask why aren’t all the involved parties asking for complete cessation of negotiations until the question of ownership is 100% settled? If Mrs Young is also an owner as was claimed in the press subsequently, there is scarce evidence to show her approval was ever sought.
“The Land Register for Scotland lists William Young and his wife as landowners of the site. Cllr Young said he was unsure who owned the land despite council officers telling him he was the land owner.
MR & MRS W YOUNG
Willie says he’s not sure who is the landowner; Land Register apparently says he and his wife are. Was Land Registry advised of the sale Willie made to his dad in 1992? What was the sale price? Were there any tax/stamp duty implications from the sale? Why was the Council not able to get this information?
“The land in question does not belong to me. I sold land at Wellington Brae to my father, David Young, in 1992, and land in this area remains in his ownership. “Late last year, I was approached by officers of the council, who mistakenly believed that land at Wellington Brae belonged to me.”
This sale does not appear to be reflected in Land Registry records. We are meant to believe a man with a law degree did not know he owned the land and/or somehow the title transfer was not made. Why would council officers have approached Young – through his councillor email/office – as being the owner? Why didn’t Young immediately tell the officers he either wasn’t the owner or was unsure who was?
“I told them I would ask my solicitor to check the title… and I have since confirmed that none of this land belongs either to Deeview Homes or to me personally. “All I actually did was to respond to council officers who mistakenly believed I owned land there, to say that I was not sure of the position, and that I would ask my solicitor’s advice on the matter.
While stating he sold land at Wellington Brae to his father in 1992, Young is simultaneously unsure about the title. ‘All he actually did’ also includes (according to ACC emails) giving verbal permission for work.
“The Council is in the process of contacting the landowner to discuss the necessary agreements to access and facilitate the works.”
Eric Owens, Fraser Bell and Stephen Whyte reported to councillors requesting scheme approval. Councillors were presented with their report – without the ownership issue or Cllr Young’s potential ownership getting a mention. In private institutions this omission might be taken extremely seriously. As an aside, it is likely now a new fiscal year for ACC: would Maintenance still have had no budget? Why didn’t the report authors suggest getting the landowner to pay as an option? Councillors are often slated by the public, but they are only allowed to vote on what officers put before them.
“Councillor Young did not require to declare a conflict of interest because he had not been asked to make a decision as a Councillor on the works or the grant, but rather to provide his consent as a landowner”
WILLIAM YOUNG Willie Young referred to as landowner in this Audit Risk & Scrutiny report
Back to Square One: NB Willie had told the P&J on 3 May “Late last year, I was approached by officers of the council, who mistakenly believed that land at Wellington Brae belonged to me.” Some would say the conflict arises precisely because Young is both a councillor and a private landowner, benefitting from council help with the estimate and securing finance as meetings were held in his council office and correspondence conducted through his council email. His title of Finance Convener, his position as a councillor all carried weight.
“You ask when I disclosed to SUSTRANS that my family owned the wall, the answer to that is I never disclosed that my family owned the wall to SUSTRANS indeed this was not a matter for a Councillor it is a matter for the Council Officer. As the FOI shows the officer moved forward with discussions with SUSTRANS without involving Councillors.”
If we accept the ARS finding that Willie was being contacted via his council email as the private landowner, it is unnecessary to talk about what his role was as a councillor. As a private landowner whose permission was required for the scheme (perfect word for it) went ahead, at some point SUSTRANS must have been made aware whose land it was they were putting c£250k of their money to work on and whether via intermediaries or not, Young must have been in the loop. Willie is right – councillors were not involved – but the landowner was – whoever that actually was. The landowner is mentioned in the 26 September email as having given verbal consent. The leaked emails show that Young was in the loop; the ARS report says he was giving his consent as landowner. If he never disclosed that ‘my family owned the wall to SUSTRANS’ it was nevertheless disclosed to the staff within ACC that ‘his family’ owned the land or they would not have sought his permission – permission which perhaps should have come from his father.
Email to Suzanne Kelly from Willie Young 14 October 2020 (re-sent Nov 2020)
Mr Young told AV:
“As the FOI (the most recent answered by ACC) shows the officer moved forward with discussions with SUSTRANS without involving Councillors.”
AV accepts this: what we have been questioning is who owned the land, why ACC was not pursuing the land owner to pay for the repairs, why Young was uncertain whether or not he owned land, and why he was being contacted as a private landowner (mistakenly or not) via his official ACC councillor email rather than a private one.
Aberdeen Voice continues this story in Part II – examining recently-released emails and leaked emails in further detail.
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What are friends for? Aberdeen City Council gives Aberdeen Journals Ltd three years rent free at Marischal Square. Suzanne Kelly reports.
A Freedom of Information request by Aberdeen Voice has revealed that Aberdeen City Council gave Aberdeen Journals Ltd the equivalent of three years free rent for Marischal Square.
The Information Commissioner’s office is investigating the city’s refusal to provide details, and in October it was revealed that the brand-new, taxpayer-supported project gifted AJL space for c 200 staff (with 19 free parking spaces) at virtually no cost whatsoever for the first three years.
The document reads in part:
“The tenant will benefit from an incentive package as follows: Equivalent to a rent free period 36 months.”
Aberdeen Journals Ltd is allowed to choose how it will use this benefit:
“… taken as rent free, surrender payment for the lease at Land [sic] Stracht or a capital payment or a combination of all three.”
The 19,000 square feet are charged (if AJL were paying that is) at £30 per annum or £570,210 per year. Over three years this comes to £1,710,630.
Other details to emerge from recent FOI requests by Aberdeen Voice include:
* ACC said:
“Marischal Square is managed by CBRE on behalf of ACC. This means that all invoices for rent are raised by CBRE and are payable to CBRE who then pay over rental income to ACC as it is received. We are therefore unable to provide any information on amounts billed and whether or not these have been paid in full.”
* The total rental income received via CBRE for Marischal Square to 30 September 2019 is £849,936.61.
* The Headline rent for Marischal Square is £30 per square foot.
* The city claimed at one point it had no idea about details of which entity paid how much rent. The City said:
“We are unable to provide you with information on rent ACC has collected from occupants, renters of Marischal Square including amount billed to occupants/ renters, and whether or not the sum invoiced for has been paid in full as it is not held by ACC.
“In order to comply with our obligations under the terms of Section 17 of the FOISA, we hereby gives notice that this information is not held by us.”
When the Information Commissioner concludes its report, Aberdeen Voice will update this story.
Debates on what is and what is not Racism abound on Facebook, recently involving a former Aberdeen councillor. Craig Gorman shares his thoughts.
Warren Ellis once wrote:
“Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world.”
Many ‘Journalists’ in our city would do well to take heed of these words.
The reaction, or rather, the lack of reaction, to former councillor Willie Young’s racist tweet, depicting a caricature of a Chinese person, wearing a rice hat, with a fortune cookie containing broken English, would suggest that we do not live in a city blessed with quality journalism.
Rather, we do live in a city served by stenographers, happy to toe the party line and serve up soft balls to the public, neither questioning nor instigative in its approach or execution.
Gone is the robust, detailed and forensic approach of John Pilger. The anger and outrage which bled onto the work of Hunter S Thompson, has been reduced to bland and flaccid copy. White hot fury has been replaced by beige, dejected acceptance.
The Evening Express was extremely reluctant to cover the matter, when informed of the tweet, they reverted:
“With regard to the fortune cookie picture, I would urge you to report it the Standards Commission to see if they consider it worthy of investigation. If they do, that would be a story that we would cover.”
Surely the position currently and formerly held by Mr Young would render this a matter of the public interest and worthy of coverage? Did no journalist at the Evening Express feel any impulse to pen an article which would eviscerate the tweet, but not the man?
Indeed, our national broadcaster, the BBC lead with the headline:
“Labour suspends former Aberdeen councillor Willie Young over cookie tweet.”
To be blunt:, the tweet was racist. The failure to capture and draw attention to this is a hallmark of how toothless, ineffectual and utterly insipid the standard of journalism has become in this country.
Perhaps I expect too much of our media.
However, the job of a Journalist should not be to provide a layer of faux impartiality, to offer a comfort blanket to those whose disposition they may offend. Or to unsettle those in power.
Mr Young immediately went on the offensive
One would think that the newspapers actually represented those individuals and their interests over their readership.
Perish the thought that the public should have a critical and articulate voice.
No, the job of a Journalist should be to impartially appraise a situation, present the facts and then call it as they see it. At no stage should racism, intended or otherwise, be presented with a veneer of impartiality. Racism is a binary topic: It is or it isn’t. It is acceptable or it is not.
Now, not for one second do I believe, or wish others to form the opinion that Willie Young is a racist. I don’t believe for a second that he is. What I do call into question is the judgment of the man.
Once the offensive nature of his tweet had been pointed out to him, Mr Young immediately went on the offensive, belittling anyone who criticised him and further doubled down by claiming the:
“world we live in has gone mad if people think my tweet was racist in any way”.
This is not an accusation of an ‘ism’ without context nor nuance. Mr Young was continuing his year-long streak of baiting and antagonising, trolling if you will, supporters of Scottish Independence on social media.
However, so petty and gleeful was his latest attack, that his already questionable judgement failed to spot the clearly racist element of his attempt at ‘humour’.
Let’s be very clear: there is nothing ‘funny’ about racism. Casual. Explicit. Accidental. It s a cancer which is growing and gnawing away at the heart of our society.
This behaviour has a cumulative impact upon society.
Our nation and our very sense of decency has been decimated by it. Our tolerance of racism has been exposed to the world writ large, and laid bare in the most vulgar and tawdry manner possible.
Individuals like Mr Young, and those who have attempted to gaslight criticism of the racist tweet, fail to appreciate the notion what by continually defending, or perpetuating the myth that those who object to racism are ‘snowflakes’, ‘the offended brigade’ or someway implying that we should casually hand wave away racist language or actions.
This behaviour has a cumulative impact upon society. It sends the message and gives the green light for others to behave in a similar manner.
This tolerance of racism, actively allows it to take a foothold, to become normalised and overtime accepted.
As we as a people hold the door open to casual acceptance of bigotry, the further down the mire we slip of allowing racism to be the underpinning factor in our society.
Indeed, is there anyone with an ounce of honesty going to put their head above the parapets and admit that Brexit was driven by an undercurrent of racial and xenophobic hatred?
That the ugly and utterly repellent ghost of the United Kingdom’s colonial past still haunts the collective conscience of many in our nation, unwilling or unable to grasp the fact that people from all cultures and backgrounds form part of a modern and progressive culture.
Does anyone think that the impoverished working classes in many areas of England voted for the Tory party in such overwhelming numbers because they felt they had something in common with the odious Reece-Mogg?
Or are we going to be adults about this and state that the racism and prejudice found in many of these areas was the overriding factor in voting for a party which views the poor and vulnerable as nothing more than the fair and justifiable targets of an ongoing class genocide, rather than an infinity for the very policies which have killed tens of thousands of people?
we send the message to all, that it is once again acceptable to be racist
The vile and hate-filed forces which the likes of Boris Johnston and Nigel Farage have unleashed upon our society cannot be underestimated.
Indeed, a brief look at some of the posts on the AV Facebook page demonstrate that racism and intolerance are being acted upon in our country with impunity.
No longer are baseless, moronic, outbursts against Muslims or ‘foreigners’ considered something to be ashamed of.
Rather, the dregs of our society, inspired by the likes of Farage or Yaxley-Lennon, are more than happy to post memes featuring such figures as Enoch Powell, invoking his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.
Stealth racism, posited in the form of critiques of organisations such as BLM, frequently find fault with one element of protests against racism, or to provide a defence of the maintenance of monuments to former slave owners.
On no, dear reader, in no way are these people in any way racist. Please, don’t think that.
“We’re not racist – we’ve got black mates, don’t cha know, guv.”
With this, we arrive at the crescendo, the end point.
In diminishing the impact, of Mr Young’s tweet, by failing utterly to condemn racial nature of the content, we send the message to all, that it is once again acceptable to be racist – that it is acceptable to single out an element in our society to be thought of as less than worthy of our full respect.
We have lost the most basic empathy to understand that those who are different to us, whether it be culturally, racially or in their sexuality, are an equal and valued part of our culture and society.
I long for the days when racism, homophobia, Islamophobia are once again through of as bad things in this country.
Sadly, as long as we have individuals who are incapable of comprehending that such caricature portrayals of our fellow human beings are an outdated and unwelcome relic of a bygone era, I fear that we have a long way to go to fully eradicate racism from our society.
If you managed to keep up with shifting Covid-19 government advice, changing statistics and the evolving list of related health complications, congratulations.
If you have mastered the Rule of Six, know when you are or aren’t in a relationship, have figured out when you’re free to break the rules ‘in a specific and limited way’, and when it is or is not acceptable to drive to Barnard Castle, perhaps you can explain to the rest of us why pubs and restaurants are risky, but schools are safe.
Advice on children and Covid-19 is as changeable as everything else to do with this disease, and yet teachers, staff, parents and students are being reassured by some school heads that ‘school is perfectly safe’.
How safe is ‘perfectly safe’?
A teacher’s perspective: An arse covering exercise.
“Risk assessments have been talked about more than anything else in every school, folk that are employed to do them have seen their workload go through the roof recently because they’re needed as an arse-covering exercise.
“Teachers will get Covid and die; their family members will too, children will spread it to vulnerable people they’ll die too.
“The risk assessment will be used to justify that ‘we all knew what we were signing up to’ and that’s true to a point. It’s all about getting people back to work and getting taxes and money coming back into the system. Safety is secondary to that.”
The Safety Expert: Not enough detail.
We invited an expert to look for risk assessments, and we sent a representative sampling from the short (1 to 3 page) document to the massive document (over 30 pages). We looked at scores of risk assessments – some schools happily publish them; others feel they should not be shared – which rather defeats their purpose.
Our expert wrote:
“ In preparing risk assessments not enough detail is put into them and people tend to just put in an overview and think it’s sufficient when dealing with a highly contagious virus.
“What needs to happen is every small detail needs to be looked at, the slight act like passing a pen to each other can prove fatal down the line, therefore this highlights the actual need to be doubly vigilant in the preparation of a risk assessment”
Risk assessment should identify every task involved in an enterprise (such as a school day) from students lending each other pens to touching surfaces to grouping together.
A valid risk assessment identifies every activity’s possible risk and then determines how likely or unlikely the risks can be (from catching or transmitting Covid-19, being mildly ill with it – or worse).
A robust risk assessment then determines how likely or unlikely the risks are before corrective measures are made, so it can prescribe the corrective measures to lower the risk.
Aberdeen’s Oldmachar Academy has a 31-page risk assessment document based on government templates seen elsewhere; it mingles Covid-19 and non-Covid issues (lift maintenance for instance).
Staff are mentioned 137 times; the word pupil appears 47 times. It is cumbersome, and the actual risk matrix says nothing concrete about the risks of Covid-19 – illness, death, transmission, long Covid etc.
Three Aberdeen City schools have had Covid-19 cases.
It is not easy to use and is not geared for all the people who are meant to be covered by it. As adults we find it cumbersome; if we were pupils, we’d find it less than user friendly.
It scores diseases as medium risk; though permanent health problems and death are present when Covid-19 is present.
Despite the time-sensitive, urgent nature of our request for risk assessments, Aberdeen City Council suggested we do a Freedom of Information request rather than have its media department send all or at least some of it for us to review.
The city should have had all the assessments in and professionally reviewed before schools opened. As it happened, the city’s risk assessments were still not finalised in the last few days before its schools opened.
Three Aberdeen City schools have had Covid-19 cases.
How it handles these in the media follows a pattern seen elsewhere: dissuade the public from thinking there could have been school transmission; claim their risk assessment is robust; patronise parents by saying ‘we understand your fears’.
Here is what Bridge of Don Academy told the press:
“Mrs McWilliam said: “I would want to reassure parents and carers that there is no evidence of transmission of Covid-19 at Bridge of Don Academy and that the school has very good control measures in place.
“The strength of the control measures has enabled Public Health to advise that the school remain open to the vast majority of young people.
“I realise that this is unsettling news and want to reassure you that decisions have been made following a robust risk assessment process with public health.””
We have requested this ‘robust risk assessment’ but do not have it yet. How is it determined ‘there is no evidence of transmission?’
Teachers are not all keen on going to school; as we saw, our teacher states they believe teachers will die.
Covid-19 facts that dropped out of the curriculum.
Few if any risk assessments we saw which were prepared prior to school openings acknowledged the existence of long Covid (the lingering fatigue and other symptoms that can last weeks or months). Perhaps this is a very rare occurrence; some say it is.
Is it worth taking the risk though, or risking long-term or permanent heart, lung nervous system damage, and inflammatory syndromes striking young Covid-19 victims such as Kawasaki disease.
Some head teachers still seem happy to insist their schools are safe, to insist it is fine for children to mingle unmasked in groups which can range from a dozen to one hundred pupils, and that ‘safety is our main concern’.
Talking to parents, it is this insistence that all is well and there is no risk that causes their worry: how can a school be a sanctuary from a disease that is spreading elsewhere in a community?
In order to get children through the doors, parents are being threatened with fines, threatened with social worker visits, threatened with police visits, ridiculed (‘you are the only parent who has any worries’), threatened they are harming their child (children must socialise and must learn at the government prescribed rate). But possibly worst of all, they are being greatly misled.
Failing marks for factual information.
One sentence found in a few school bulletins up and down the country concerns symptoms; here is one variant (from South Grove Primary School):
“This means that if your child has a cold, they should still come to school just like they would have last year. If your child has symptoms that point to a cold, they can still come to school. These could be a blocked or runny nose, sneezing and/or itchy eyes.”
The problem is experts, including the CDC, advise the following concerning flu and Covid-19 symptoms:
“Both COVID-19 and flu can have varying degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share include: “Fever or feeling feverish/chills “Cough “Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing “Fatigue (tiredness) “Sore throat “Runny or stuffy nose “Muscle pain or body aches “Headache “Some people may have vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than adults” – https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm
If the schools are handing out advice contrary to world experts, it hardly inspires confidence.
Unsurprisingly, some teachers and parents fear retaliation if they talk to reporters on the subject. Many tell us they ‘are not allowed’ to tell others if their school has had a positive Covid-19 case. This stifling of expression would have been contrary to European Human Rights law – but that seems like something we don’t need to worry about any longer.
One school wrote to parents, advising their child might have been exposed to an infected peer to self-isolate for 14 days:
“We must prioritise the health and safety of our students first and foremost.”
It begs the question: if they were prioritising health and safety, wouldn’t they allow students to study at home and take lessons remotely?
The government maintains its recalcitrant stance against this sane, risk-mitigating measure.
With a vaccine in the pipeline with several pharmaceutical companies, would it be that bad to save lives and educate at home for a number of months?
Yes, children need to play, socialise, learn and be around others: but if junior falls behind a few months but is free of long-term health issues, surely that is worth it.
Parents’ advocates Boycott a Return to Unsafe Schools (BRTUS) keeps a map of school Covid-19 occurrences, and its Facebook page is filled with discussion.
A BRTUS spokesperson said:
“Boycott Return To Unsafe Schools is campaigning for a Sensible, Safe and Sustainable return to schools, which should take consideration of local infection rates and include properly resourced blended or distance learning where appropriate.
“BRTUS understands the pressures teachers are under, and BRTUS is concerned for the welfare of all who are in the school environment – students, teachers and staff.
“Our map of Covid-19 cases within schools demonstrates that a return to full classes in the most densely populated classrooms in Europe is unsustainable and threatens the safety of society as a whole.
“In addition to sending newspaper reports to add to our map, parents have forwarded us communications they have received from their school, confirming cases which have not always reached the media. Some parents state they have been pressured not to discuss the case outside of their school community, and express concern that we will ensure anonymity. “
This is just one example of unacceptable treatment being endured by parents; the blanket policy of compulsory attendance fines – irrespective of local infection rate or the health risk factors of family members – is entirely inappropriate in the context of a pandemic.
“This policy has a detrimental impact on the mental health of family members including children, and alongside lack of funding prevents schools from providing appropriate support for home learning in order to protect children’s academic progress.
“With cases rising once again the Government must now formulate a properly funded plan for education which will minimize the opportunity for schools to be vectors of transmission, protect children’s educational outcomes and ensure the safety of families who are at increased risk from Covid-19.”
“The headteacher hates any disruption to their usual [routine] and any complaints tend to be quashed pretty quickly. Their risk assessment was poor to say the least, as most points there were useless or still to be done.
“Even though the school is in the area with most cases in our town, they supposedly remain Covid free. It just simply doesn’t make sense. Rumours started amongst students that a teacher got it and when enquiring about that, I was told that the school doesn’t comment on rumours.
“Regardless of the fact that my own child had direct contact with this teacher, they refused to confirm if he is waiting for results or already has a positive result.
“Our local newspaper has published that the council confirmed that “a number of schools have had positive tests”, yet only one school has been named. I do believe my children’s school has been affected by now.”
“If my child gets sick who is to blame? Me? The school or the government?”
“We’ve even been threatened with police!”
“We don’t want to deregister but we’ve been told we’ll be fined.”
“My head teacher says I am the only parent who has worries”
“The school says it will send social workers because I don’t want my child in school.”
Other parents talk about an absence of social distancing and masks at drop off and pick up times; parents with conditions such as asthma do not feel they are being taken into account, some find out their head teacher have called their child’s physician to discuss the parent’s reticence to send their child to school.
One thing bothering teachers, staff and parents is how widely varying policy and procedures vary from one school to the next. Some schools are having giant bubbles of the entire year; some have small bubbles of different classes within a year.
Some have taken the concept of ventilation to extremes insisting windows must be left open all the time (one parent told of a puddle forming in the back of a classroom when it rains) but will not let children wear coats to keep warm (cue potential respiratory illnesses) – and a school in Aberdeenshire has classrooms where windows cannot be opened.
Children in one school will eat at their desks; others will eat outside in all weather – standing up.
There is nothing logical, scientific or even consistent going on in the country’s schools when it comes to the pandemic. Maybe students will not die – but we believe the risk to teachers, staff and parents has not been addressed sufficiently.
If you think we are being overly dramatic or fearmongering by bringing up the risk of death, don’t blame us, here’s a quote from Matt Hancock:
“Don’t kill your gran.”
Hancock was referring to young people not keeping social distance: what exactly does he think happens in a school setting?