Congratulations to Scotland’s Mercury Prize winners, Young Fathers

Young Fathers
Young Fathers, photo by Sarah Nuehring

Jean has congratulated the hip-hop group Young Fathers, which was formed by Kayus Bankole, ‘G’ Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi in Edinburgh in 2008, on winning the 2014 Mercury Prize for their debut album, Dead. They are the first Scottish act to win the Mercury since Franz Ferdinand in 2004.

Jean, who is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Culture, lodged a motion in the Parliament celebrating the trio’s success, and also recognising the enormous contribution that immigrant communities have made to Scottish arts and culture, today and throughout our history. Alloysious Massaquoi was born in Liberia, and Kayus Bankole was born in Scotland to Nigerian parents.

The motion, which has so far been co-signed by 11 other MSPs, reads:

Motion S4M-11362: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 30/10/2014
Congratulations to Young Fathers on Winning the 2014 Mercury Prize

That the Parliament congratulates Kayus Bankole, G Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi of the Scottish hip-hop group, Young Fathers, on the group’s debut album, Dead, winning the 2014 Mercury Prize; believes that this win is indicative of the strength, innovation and diversity of Scottish popular music today; notes that Alloysious and the parents of Kayus were immigrants to Scotland, and celebrates the enormous and essential contribution that immigrants make to Scotland’s culture.

To watch the video for Get Up, from the Mercury Prize-winning Dead, click here.

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“We Poles are a freedom loving nation.”

Polish-Scot actor Tomek Borkowy
Actor Tomek Borkowy is urging fellow Poles to vote Yes on 18 September.
Jean has welcomed Polish-Scottish actor Tomek Borkowy’s announcement that he will be voting Yes in the independence referendum. Tomek is a household name in Poland, as the star of the hugely popular drama series Dom (“Home”), which ran for twenty years from 1980 to 2000. He first came to the UK in 1977, unable to speak English, and is now a British citizen and runs Edinburgh-based international performing arts agency Universal Arts.

Tomek said:

“A Yes vote is a vote for the new opportunities for all people in Scotland, but especially for Poles, who left their country because they felt marginalised by Polish politics and politicians. A lot of us have succeeded here and many more will. Scotland gave us an opportunity, and we will repay our debt.

“I will vote Yes because I strongly believe that this is the best deal for the people. We Poles are a freedom loving nation. Only 25 years ago we reclaimed our full independence. We understand the need of a nation for self-determination and most of us, I hope, will support it.

“Scotland has more economic potential than most European countries which regained their independence in the last quarter of a century and I urge all of my countrymen to vote Yes and be involved in the social, cultural and political life of our adopted country.

“Unlike the rest of the UK, which persistently is more inward looking, Scottish parties supporting independence are outward thinking. Scottish independence will open more self-development opportunities for Poles and the prospect of a balanced and enhanced life for them and for their children.”

Jean is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Groups on Poland and Culture. She said:

“I’m really delighted that Tomek will be voting for independence in September. The Polish community has contributed so much to Scotland, and should grab this opportunity to shape our shared future with both hands. They’ve more than earned it.

“I am proud that Scotland has a good record of welcoming not just Poles, but generations of New Scots from every corner of the globe, in contrast to the UK establishment’s increasingly xenophobic rhetoric. The chance to build a country of mutual respect and friendship, not fear and loathing, is one of the great prizes of independence.

“As Scotland considers our constitutional future, we have much to learn from Poland’s example. The 1791 Constitution of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of the first in the world to recognise the people as sovereign, and we can take heart from Poland’s centuries-long but successful struggle for independence, first from occupation and latterly from Soviet domination.

“As Tomek says, the Polish people know more than most the value of freedom. I am so proud to work with the Polish community in Parliament, and will be even more proud to celebrate with them on the 19th of September.”

The Electoral Commission have provided Jean, as Convenor of the CPG on Poland, with a factsheet on the voting rights of Polish citizens in Scotland – like all EU citizens, Poles have the right to vote in the referendum as well as in the European Parliament election on 22 May, Scottish Parliament elections and local government elections.

Everything you need to register to vote is available at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.

Poet George Gunn on George Robertson’s ‘cataclysm’

George Gunn
Thurso poet, playwright and educator George Gunn
You might have seen George Robertson’s ridiculous doom-warning yesterday, that independence would be “cataclysmic” for the West and a boon for supposed “forces of darkness”. Here’s a brilliant and funny response from Thurso poet and playwright George Gunn:

Good Morning & Here Is The News

Good morning & here is the news
on the evening of 7th April 2014
former Labour politician George Robertson
(now Lord Naw Naw & self proclaimed prophet)
has reportedly experimented in public
with a new chemical element
recently discovered in the production
of apocalyptic scare-mongering
against the democratic process
in a small European country
of just over five million people

this element is called Pomposherous
its properties are that when it is exposed
to the cool air of reason
it becomes very unstable
& begins to smoke alarmingly
producing intense heat but strangely no light
& then eventually it combusts violently
emitting a hot gas
that is nauseous to the human senses
& fatal for most small mammals
if inhaled

last night former Labour politician George Robertson
was apprehended by authorities in New York City
for illicitly selling Pomposherous without a license
& for inciting public cataclysm

Lord Naw Naw this morning was unavailable for any serious comment

Motion: One Big Drum at Trade Union Week

Jean has lodged a motion welcoming East Sutherland’s One Big Drum group to Holyrood as part of the Scottish Parliament’s Trade Union Week celebrations.

One Big Drum brings people together to learn African drum music, including young and old, and people with and without disabilities. The group was created two years ago by Health and Happiness‘s Bruce Armstrong and Roxana Meechan from High Life Highland, and has won great audience reactions at many local events and at the 2013 STUC Unions into Schools Songs Festival in Glasgow.

Jean will be meeting with members of One Big Drum on Wednesday 19 February, and they will be performing in the Scottish Parliament’s central Garden Lobby that night.

Motion S4M-08997: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 10/02/2014

One Big Drum at Trade Union Week

That the Parliament welcomes the visit by members of One Big Drum from East Sutherland during Trade Union Week at the Parliament; commends High Life Highland and Health and Happiness for the One Big Drum initiative, which brings together people with learning disabilities, non-disabled people, young people and older people; recognises the support from Brora Community Council, Golspie Community Council, High Life Highland, Health and Happiness, the STUC and from Unions into Schools in making the visit possible, and joins with One Big Drum in celebrating what it sees as the positive contribution that African drum music makes to breaking down barriers and collectively improving wellbeing.

‘Outside the Box’ – art by Inverness prisoners

I had the pleasure of seeing Out of the Box at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery last Thursday. The show is an exhibition of art created by prisoners taking part in Fife College learning programmes at HMP Inverness over the past year.

One prisoner who took part in the exhibition said:

“Prison can be an emotional and daunting experience, with some prisoners feeling like worthless failures who have no hope of going anywhere in life. The education department offers prisoners both the support and tools they’ll need to change their lives, in an attempt at, hopefully, changing these thoughts and feelings.”

I think that captures something important – that the dehumanisation of prisoners that is apparently so popular among some politicians and tabloid columnists is not only revolting in its own right, but also stands in the way of prisoners rebuilding their lives and, in so doing, reducing reoffending.

My favourite painting was the G4S van plunging into a lake – a rejection of just the kind of industrialised, for-profit incarceration to which this project is diametrically opposed.

Outside the Box is at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Castle Wynd, IV2 3EB until Saturday 15th February 2014.
Please call 01463 237 114 to check availability, as part of the exhibition is in a room that is used for other events.

The Week Ahead (18th-24th November)

This week began at Parliament on Monday with the Scottish Futures forum on Workforce Development work-streams, which took up a large part of my day.  I spent the remainder of the day at Parliament engaged in email correspondence with constituents, as well as various administrative tasks.

On Tuesday, I began with some of my fixed engagements, including my team meeting in the morning.  Due to the sad passing of my colleague Helen Eadie MSP, there is no parliamentary business in the afternoon, and my thoughts will be with Helen’s family and friends.

Wednesday morning will be occupied by the Finance Committee, followed by a seminar for teachers on teaching about the Scottish Parliament.  Afterwards, I have an interview with the Fostering Network, followed by a meeting with the Polish Ambassador.  My final engagement is in the evening, at the Scottish IMPACT Award winner’s celebration.

On Thursday morning, I have a meeting with Energy North.  At 12PM, I’ll attend First Minister’s Questions, and straight after I’ll go to an event organised by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs.  I have some more meetings during the rest of the afternoon and then I’ll attend an evening session of the Business in the Parliament Conference.

Friday will see me in Glasgow at a Scottish Refugee Council arts event entitled ‘A View from Here’, of which I will take a great interest in as Convener of the Parliamentary Cross Party Group on Culture.

Speech: Dundee City of Culture Bid (12th November 2013)

On behalf of the Independent and Green group, I would like to echo the support for Dundee’s city of culture bid that has been expressed by members across the chamber.

Dundee is, in many ways, a microcosm of Scotland. It is a city with a proud industrial heritage that is reinventing itself for the 21st century and leading the way in video games technology and biomedical research. Over the years, it has been infused with Irish, Italian, Polish, Asian and Chinese immigrants—to name but a few—and both of its top-class universities continue to attract students from all over the globe.

The continued investment by the Scottish Government in Dundee’s waterfront will transform the way in which its citizens interact with the city and will, I hope, add further architectural excellence to Dundee’s many cultural accomplishments. I am assured by my Dundonian researcher that the city’s football teams—of which I know absolutely nothing—particularly the one that plays in dark blue, are also worthy of mention for their European heritage and exciting style of play.

What really makes Dundee worthy of its bid, though, is its people and how they have shaped their sense of self through the bid. Artists and writers are now thriving in a city that is universally recognised to be bursting with opportunity and ambition. From Sheena Wellington’s show-stopping performance of “A Man’s a Man for a’ that” at the opening of the Parliament in 1999 to the wry observations and brilliant talent of the much-missed Michael Marra, Dundee’s contribution to Scotland’s traditional and contemporary folk scene is legendary. Its links to Deacon Blue, Snow Patrol and The View and its annual blues bonanza demonstrate that that musical legacy continues to the present day.

New publishing firms such as Teckle Books and the success of the Bob Servant novels perfectly encapsulate the irreverent Dundonian sense of humour. Those success stories beget popular events, with the DCA’s Dundead horror festival and the Dundee literary festival being other highlights of a packed cultural calendar.

The bid for city of culture status gives Dundee an opportunity to celebrate all her heroes. There are too many other cultural strings to Dundee’s bow to mention: the McManus Galleries, the impending V&A museum, DC Thomson, Brian Cox, AL Kennedy, William McGonagall—I could go on.

It is worth noting in particular the continuing success of Dundee Contemporary Arts and Dundee Rep, not least because both were established at a time when some would have suggested that arts funding should be a lower priority for the city. As two key drivers of Dundee’s continued regeneration, I believe that they have demonstrated the intrinsic worth of cultural investment, and they are two potent symbols of the dedication of the city of Dundee to its artistic community. They are successful because they are used—and used well—by the folk of Dundee.

Dundee fully deserves to be awarded city of culture status, and I hope that, when the judges take in the spectacular view as their train travels over the silvery Tay, they realise that they have just arrived in a city of great culture in any year.

Motion: Condemning Moray Council Library Closures

That the Parliament condemns Moray Council’s decision to close seven rural libraries; notes that the closure of the libraries, based in Burghead, Cullen, Dufftown, Findochty, Hopeman, Portknockie and Rothes, was subject to an equality impact assessment (EIA), which recommended retaining three of the libraries; understands that, despite opposition plans to keep all seven open or to keep the three libraries highlighted in the EIA open, the council administration pressed ahead in closing all seven; considers this decision to be a short-sighted penny-pinching one that will harm the cultural and societal fabric of some of Moray’s more remote communities by removing a hub used by some of society’s most vulnerable groups; notes that the EIA expressed concerns that “the council could be at risk of falling short of its statutory duty to secure adequate library provision and would thereby be exposed to legal challenge by way of judicial review”; believes that this decision, coupled with an earlier decision by Moray Council to cut its arts budget entirely, demonstrates a lack of understanding of the importance of the arts to society and may, if challenged, cost more money through legal challenge than is saved by the closures in the first place, and calls on Moray Council to reconsider the closures as a matter of urgency.

Motion: 2014 Edinburgh International Festival

I lodged the following motion in Parliament today expressing my regret at the decision taken by the EIF to not commission any productions examining the independence referendum next year. It seems such a shame that the opportunity is being passed up by the EIF to use the event to show the role that the arts can play in the big decisions of our time, regardless of their angle or viewpoint.

That the Parliament notes with regret the reported decision taken by the director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Sir Jonathan Mills, to exclude any independence-themed productions from the 2014 event; believes that, regardless of voting intentions, the cultural sector has a massive role to play in the referendum; considers that political neutrality can be better obtained through an open, fair, and balanced programme that includes the views of all sides rather than through what it sees as enforced silence in what is universally recognised as one of the most important debates in Scotland’s history; believes this to be an act of censorship that will inadvertently politicise the festival and a wasted opportunity for Scotland’s arts community, and, in order to promote an open, healthy and vigorous debate, encourages the organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival to reconsider the decision.

Screen Machine Event, Scottish Parliament

Last week, I was able to catch up with some old friends when the Screen Machine  rolled into Parliament for its 15th anniversary. The Screen Machine is a tremendous mobile cinema, lodged inside a 35-tonne articulated lorry and taken into every nook and cranny in Scotland to bring the latest films to rural communities.

Thanks to funding from Creative Scotland, HIE and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, as well as support from RBS, the Screen Machine was able to visit 34 different communities in 2012/3, and is soon to be on its travels again. One of the films being shown is the much-lauded crowdsourced documentary We Are Northern Lights, and I was lucky enough to meet its director outside the Screen Machine last week.

Full details of the current tour and programme, including details of how to book tickets, are available at: www.screenmachine.co.uk or by phone on 0871 902 5750 – more information can also be found on their Twitter and Facebook pages.

Jean with Nick Higgins, Director of We Are Northern Lights (photo by Hannah Houston)
Jean with Nick Higgins, Director of We Are Northern Lights (photo by Hannah Houston)