Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Better Buses for Aberdeen

Scottish Greens MSP and co-convener, Patrick Harvie, has embarked upon a campaign to give bus users a voice (car users have the AA amongst many others, of course). The campaign is called Better Buses, but unfortunately, it's restricted to Glasgow (Patrick is a Glasgow MSP after all).

Glasgow's problems with buses are numerous. Having previously lived on Renfield Street for three and a half years, I used to witness that street completely blocked by buses snaking in and out of lanes, getting in each others way, and looking out the window at 6pm, you would regularly see over 20 buses up and down the street. At times, it looked like a car park for buses. They are also expensive, and the information at the bus stops is extremely poor - I would often have to call the travel helpline in order to find out which bus took me where I wanted to go.

However, at least Glaswegians have other options. They have the subway for those remaining in the city centre or going just over the Clyde (although it's quite remarkable how slow it is - you can technically cycle quicker), and for those going to suburbs, there's a pretty excellent rail service ( or at least, it's far better than ScotRail's national service...) In Aberdeen, we're not so fortunate. First Bus have a virtual monopoly, not just on the bus routes, but in public transport provision in general. Yes, there are Stagecoach buses, but they're only useful if you're going outside Aberdeen - you can't get a Stagecoach in Ferryhill or Garthdee, for example, and there is no alternative on the main 1/2 route. As a result, they can run shoddy services and charge extortionate fares, and nobody can do a thing about it. There's no subway, there's no local rail, there's no over-priced tram line... Nothing.

Where do I get off calling their service shoddy, though? What's my proof? Well, I spent the past six months taking the bus to and from work, and before that would take it back from work and occasionally to work. This has included:

  • being treated worse than sheep in a mobile sheep pen, due to some bright spark deciding to put a single decker bus on the busiest route in Aberdeen during rush hour (this happened regularly, not just once or twice, and when I complained I was given some excuse about it being beyond their control)
  • watching buses pass by, even though they weren't due for another few minutes yet
  • as a result of the former, being left waiting for far longer than I should have to, as a result of the next bus having to pick up all the passengers the previous one missed
  • buses being cancelled/completely re-routed and absolutely no notice being given (this happened twice in one week, if I remember correctly, due to car accidents on the already-far-too-narrow-for-a-main-road Broomhill Road) - I have no idea what people who lived in Garthdee and Auchinyell were meant to do about a bus on those occasions; and even if you're at a bus stop with an electronic display, these buses go from "DELAYED" to just disappearing, apparently off the face of the planet.
All this for what is probably the most expensive bus service outside London (probably even more expensive...)

Enough is enough. Aberdeen needs proper public transport, a service worthy of the name. So where is Aberdeen's answer to Patrick Harvie to spearhead such a campaign to take on First Bus and compel them to up their game? Obviously nae me, because I'm just an ideas man (i.e. a moaner), and this calls for someone who doesn't mind talking to people. Besides, the council elections are coming up, so there are plenty of people going about desperate to get people to like them looking for vote-winning ideas.

So, how's about it? Eh? Eh? EH?!?!?!?


Wednesday, 7 March 2012


The attack on the online pro-independence community continues to heighten. There has long been an attempt to dehumanise those who support independence for Scotland, and although this increased when George Foulkes coined the term "Cybernats" as a handy shorthand for anyone who believes Scotland should be independent, it most certainly started long before that.

There are two recent articles that have annoyed me and which illustrate this dehumanising effect quite well. David Torrance's one on Total Politics about Scottish factionalism, and Ian Smart's one which, inexplicably, is titled "Nationalists".

David's article tries to suggest that the Scottish independence debate is particularly visceral, more so than other debates. For a start, this is wrong. Anyone who knows anything about internet discourse knows that the anonymity it gives people leads arguments to become far more heated than they would in person. The subconcious knowledge that, no matter what you say, the argument will not descend into physical fighting, means people have far higher (or should that be lower?) limits to how far they will push their opposite number. As the comment I've left on his article suggests, the stuff I've seen on Twitter and on blogs in regards to the debate on Scottish independence is no worse than what I've seen in other discourse. Indeed, in some ways it's far tamer, and at least it is a debate that warrants tempers being flared. Godwin's Rule exists for a reason, and it was being utilised liberally long before people in the Scottish independence dbeate started getting called Quislings or Nazis.

But his main failing is the implication that the nationalist side are somehow worse than the unionist side. This is demonstrably wrong (I'm confidently predicting that clicking on that link will always return Tweets calling the SNP the Scottish Nazi Party), yet he quotes Murdo Fraser saying that Cybernats are a "peculiarity". Murdo's description of The Cybernat ("blindly and viciously loyal to the SNP and vociferous; extremely personal and nasty to those who don’t share their point of view – they go along with a tendency on every occasion to play the man not the ball") is pretty much a description of internet trolling itself, and it is absurd to suggest that there are not people who do exactly the same but from a unionist perspective. If comparing Salmond to various dictators is not "extremely personal" and playing "the man not the ball", then I don't know what is (and these are just elected - and non-elected - politicians...)

Then we look at Ian Smart's blog. Ian is meant to be one of the few Labour members who doesn't go for the knee-jerk reactions of many in the upper echelons of the party. He's thought to be a considered unionist. However, his article is anything but considered. Apart from completely misrespresenting Joan McAlpine's column, he choses to "play the man not the ball" by bizarrely talking about how wrong it would be to compare Alex Salmond to a predatory paedophile (in my opinion, a far worse metaphor than the one he accuses Joan of making) in an extremely tenuous attempt to show that Joan's metaphor (which merely apes the "divorce" metaphor so often trundled out by Labour politicians in particular) is completely inappropriate. The thing is, he muddies the waters by introducing comparisons between Highland Clearances and the Holocaust, and Alex Salmond and Robert Mugabe. The reason this muddies the water is because the latter comparison most certainly IS regularly made (most infamously by Paxman recently), and the Highland Clearances metaphor probably has been used as well. So is he saying the predatory paedophile metaphor is also utilised? If so, by whom; and if not, why introduce it in amongst metaphors that are actually utilised?

He ends by suggesting that if the SNP do not sack Joan, it must be because what Joan says is what they believe. That would be fine if he hadn't spent a whole article talking about domestic violence and made the assertion that this is what Joan was comparing the union to. This is the most vile kind of politically motivated misrepresentation of a person's views, but it is especially heinous that he extrapolates this onto the SNP as a party and, by naming his article "Nationalists" without any other reference to us (leading to the assumption that the article is about nationalists as a whole), onto those who support the party and Scottish nationalism itself.

This all points towards the objective that the catchy term "Cybernat" (which has long since been adopted throughout the media - no such term has been incorporated to describe those of the opposite persuasion) was created for: to paint all nationalists as reactionary, slack-jawed, swivel-eyed nutters, hell-bent on ripping the UK apart and trampling over anything that gets in their way. Nothing is off-limits, we'll use and abuse whatever we can in order to destroy the poor, innocent union. Why bother trying to make a positive case for the union or disprove our arguments when you can just attack our character, in one big, all-encompassing argumentum ad hominem?

Of course there are pro-independence people who make poor arguments for our case, whose poorly-constructed ramblings are an embarrassment to the rest of us who try to take part in reasoned debate, and whose views are just completely unattached to reality. But this is not unique to nationalism, and to pretend otherwise is completely disingenuous. It is time for unionists to start facing our arguments head-on, and to stop using smears and lies to try to undermine our case. If they cannot do so, then it is difficult not to take this as a silent acknowledgement that they have no substance to back their arguments, and that the "Positive Case for the Union" does indeed consist entirely of "BUT MUMMY I DON'T WANT TO LEAVE!!!!"