Balmoral estate hosts World Nomad Games

World Nomad Games

I suggested to my gymnast granddaughter that she emulate the archer quine (pictured), with a view to participating in the bow-and-arrow display at the Games, but she said that her ticklish toes would make the feat impossible.

‘Girl in traditional dress performs an impressive display’: photograph © Viktor Drachev TASS/Getty Images

There was an early tourism boost for Aberdeenshire as the World Nomad Games were staged on the Royal Deeside estate of Balmoral this spring, Scotland’s first turn at hosting the event. The Games were organised by Aberdeenshire Inspired and funded by the Scottish Government. The decision to bid and then extend invitations – to all diasporic nations sharing long nomadic histories – came about after the President of the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan visited Aberdeen in the autumn of 2016. With twenty-five golds, hosts Kyrgyzstan topped the medals table at last year’s Games.

“In the modern world, people are forgetting their history and there is a threat of extinction for traditional cultures,” said Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev. “Nomadic civilisation is a good example of sustainable development, which is what all of humanity is looking for today. The Games were designed to unite nations.”

Two thousand competitors from forty countries pitched up for the Games in Scotland. A hippodrome was built in the shadow of Lochnagar, beloved mountain and haunt of Prince Charles. A traditional yurt village was constructed on the site where the Braemar Gathering takes place in September every year.

The Games featured unorthodox disciplines and ethno-sports, such as hunting with golden eagles and throwing bones. The highlight was the horse-riding competition, Kok-boru, a tradition which dates back to when men brandishing sticks on fire used to hunt animals that preyed on their livestock. Fire wards off evil spirits. As part of the Games programme, visitors to the Games were encouraged to rewild with reindeer, beavers, lynx and wolves in the Caledonian forests, or to tramp on the Cairngorms mountains.

More fierce – if not fiery – competition was evident in the stick wrestling, an event in which two competitors tried to gain control of a small stick. The Scottish entrants excelled at the caber tossing, as expected, though the event was cancelled after several teams visited the Lochnagar Distillery prior to the tossing. The Army teams from nearby Ballater won both the tug-of-war and the polo competitions. The Royal Family sponsored a special game – riders on horseback tried to capture a dead goat, then hurl the decapitated carcass into a goal. Security was strict due to the Castle venue, and protest threats from animal rights activists.

Within the grounds of Balmoral, there were concerts for spectators, a nomads cinema, processions, stunts involving camels and yaks, husky racing, tent erection displays, belt wrestling, Bedouin dancing, rolling Easter eggs and pagan face-painting.

The opening ceremony for Scotland’s World Nomad Games was at Crathie on April 1st.

I thought that this article would crash my spellcheck; the only words it has challenged are ‘quine’ and ‘caber’. A quine is a lass, a girl.  A caber is a big stick, a telegraph pole.

Lonely Planet photographs

TRT World

Davide Monteleone works on independent projects using photography, video and text



Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access pipeline

Standing Rock

At Standing Rock in North Dakota, Native American elders fighting the Dakota Access pipeline have extinguished the Seven Council Fires, which has been burning for months at the main camp.  Young Native water protectors have relit a new fire, the All Nations Fire, part of the continuing resistance to the $3.8 billion pipeline.

The water protectors are calling for global mass mobilisations as the US Army plans to approve the pipeline. It threatens their vital water supply from the Missouri river. In April 2017 Bakken oil was flowing through the pipeline under Lake Oahe near the Reservation.

The Bank of America, HSBC, UBS, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo are among companies funding the pipeline.

These cities are pulling billions from the banks that support the pipeline.

Amnesty International has dispatched human rights observers to monitor the repression of Native Americans

Standing Rock Protesters React to Life Under Trump: Rolling Stone. President Trump has reversed previous policies and given the Dakota Access {and Keystone XL} pipelines the go-ahead to expand.

Court proceedings continue to rage in the battle over the pipeline that has drawn thousands of protestors to North Dakota. As law enforcement officers and Indigenous activists face off near the construction site, the conflict plays out in real time on social media, capturing international attention.  The main resistance camp set up by the water protectors has been largely vacated after protesters were ordered to leave the camp.

Profile: Dakota oil pipeline: Greg Russell writes in the National daily newspaper.

The Standing Rock fight isn’t just about the Dakota Access pipeline. It’s also about cultural theft, colonialism, and white supremacy.

Posts on Dakota Access ignored cultural considerations

Spiritual wounds from Dakota Access Pipeline protest won’t soon heal.






‘I, Daniel Blake’ film review

From Facebook page


Bankers trouser huge bonuses as foodbank use mushrooms.

I Daniel Blake was a carpenter..

After working as a joiner in Newcastle for most of his life, widower 59 year old Daniel Blake suffers a heart attack and needs help from the State. His consultant and GP say that he is not fit to return to work. The shambolic Department of Work and Pensions declare him fit and able to work, making him claim Jobseekers Allowance, seeking jobs he is unable to do on computers that he has never used

I, Daniel Blake

When a monastic cemetery was unearthed during excavations on a medieval site in Aberdeen last year, wags queuing at the local Halls of Plenty joked that the bones they’d found had been assessed and the monks passed fit for work. Presumably they were supposed to apply for jobs as skeleton staff.

‘Looking for non-existent jobs.. it humiliates me. You lose your self-respect, you’re done for’ – I am Daniel Blake.

Daniel Blake’s cardiac consultant and GP say that he is not yet fit to return to work. Unqualified, untrained Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff declare Daniel to be able to work and force him to claim Jobseekers Allowance. He befriends Katie, a single mother with two young children. They find themselves in limbo, caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare of welfare failure. Both Dave Johns as Daniel and Hayley Squires as Katie produce stunning performances in the lead roles of this new Ken Loach film.

Ken Loach abandoned self-imposed exile to deliver ‘I, Daniel Blake’, fifty years on from Cathy Come Home and Poor Cow (1967).

On November 9th judges ruled in favour of a family that have been forced to pay the ‘bedroom tax’ on a room used for medical needs, overturning a Court of Appeal decision made two years ago against Jacqueline Carmichael, who has the skeletal disorder spina bifida. The judges decided that it is “irrational” to argue against the extra bedroom for a hospital bed at her flat in Southport.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ is especially topical given that a £75million performance-driven tax credits contract is to be cancelled. Awarded by HMRC to Concentrix to save £300million a year, it imposed sanctions, arbitrarily signing claimants off for suspected fraud and other ‘offences’, draconian measures cloaked in Orwellian jargon. ‘Mhairi Black calls for new law to prevent repeat of Concentrix tax credits scandal’ – Andrew Learmonth

A National Audit Office report says that the DWP has failed to achieve value for money from the health and disability assessments it had contracted out to Atos, Maximus and Capita. Giving evidence to a committee of MPs, the three companies have been forced to admit regret at the poor quality of their work.

Once contracts rely on target-drives and monetary results, a deliberate bias is created. Private companies administering State services – what should be critical safety nets – are an essential part of Austerity UK, the vile war being waged against the poor and the vulnerable.

A stereotypical drunk Scot and a gaggle of partying Geordie girls bring levity, yet spoil a scene when I, Daniel Blake could have broken from its predominantly ‘cubicle setting’, missing an opportunity for a display of mass solidarity. Though depicting suffocation and dehumanisation well, the box-type locations continue until the film reaches a rather disappointing ending. The accompanying photograph (above) is from SUWN. Regular screenwriter Paul Laverty based his devastating script on extensive interviews and research including spending a day with SUWN activists on the streets of Dundee; everything you see in the film happened to someone in real life.

Dr Tony Cox was arrested for ‘breach of the peace’ when trying to accompany a vulnerable claimant to her Work Capability Assessment, despite the woman’s statements in Tony’s defence. Tony was giving his time to help someone through the thicket of punitive government bureaucracy. Found guilty, on July 21st 2016 he was sentenced to serve a 150 hour community payback (sic) order.

The anger over ‘I, Daniel Blake’ needs to turn into action – here’s how it can: Sarah Glynn

Loach and Laverty can boast a wonderful track record of collaboration; they are responsible for some of the most moving and powerful dramas of the last 20 years, two decades of (en)countering austerity as crass benefit porn has flourished on screen. A Scot, Laverty’s outline for ‘Carla’s Song (1996)’ caught Loach’s attention to begin the partnership. The script introduced a Glasgow bus driver who befriends a Nicaraguan woman and visits Central America. Peter Mullan’s performance in ‘My Name is Joe’ won him the best actor at Cannes in 1998. In 2000 ‘Bread and Roses’ told the stories of a group of Los Angeles janitors who become activists to fight their exploitative bosses. Martin Compston played a youngster on a Greenock housing scheme trying to help his Mum in 2002’s ‘Sweet Sixteen’.  ‘Ae Fond Kiss (2004)’ brought us a love story set within Glasgow’s Pakistani community. ‘The Wind that shakes the Barley (2006)’ documented the early days of the Irish Republican movement and won the duo their first Palme d’Or at Cannes.

The second Palme D’Or winner, ‘I, Daniel Blake’, proves that their work is as essential to our struggles now as it ever was. The film catalogues frustration; it’s a searing indictment of neoliberal Britain. Tears will well as you watch the film; by all means scream at the eye-wateringly serious – dozens suffering sanctions have been driven to suicide. But tears and anger are not enough.

Footnote: in a new collaboration auguring well for the future, Scots writer Jenni Fagan has turned her debut novel ‘The Panopticon’ into a script. It is set to be realised on film by Jim Loach, Ken’s son.



CAP in handouts; murdering birds on the moors


Images: Bennachie hill range from the skies


‘The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a disaster, essentially a £50 billion welfare system for the landed gentry and other big landowners across Europe. You would think that leaving the EU could actually be a positive thing for agriculture. Free from the shackles of CAP, we might get a fairer system. Right?


‘A UK agricultural policy that doesn’t subsidise the rich’ – Alex Scrivener


50% of Scotland’s hill farmers only survive thanks to Working Tax Credits, the CAP payments IT system has buckled, becoming a processing shambles, and overall debt levels in the farming sector have reached a record high. At the beginning of December 2016 it emerged that another blunder had occurred issuing farm subsidy payments. Farmers and crofters have been overpaid during the UK Government’s £300million cash advance loan scheme.  ‘Responsibilities’ – Alec Finlay

Scottish tenant farmers call for sale of Highland sporting estate to be put on hold  Loophole in bid to punish landowners for killing birds of prey

Doffing caps, Tillypronie Estate Trusts received £385,279 from CAP in 2014 for “first afforestation of agricultural and non-agricultural land”. The 6000 hectare estate in Aberdeenshire is up for sale, complete with grouse moors and valued at £10.5 million.

A Scottish land owner has claimed £3 million in CAP subsidies from the European Union last year – more than anyone else in the UK. Frank Smart owns land near the town of Banchory on Deeside. He is what’s known as a ‘slipper farmer’, buying farms along with their subsidy entitlement, and then leasing them out to be farmed by tenants.



Brigadista Ale

brigadista ale V9 arial FINAL accented

From across Europe, and indeed the world, ordinary men and women answered the call to defend the Popular Front newly-elected Spanish government, the Second Republic. From lands far away, to a country which few knew much about, came the volunteers to join what became known as the International Brigade(s). The Brigaders were poets, writers, revolutionaries, railwaymen, adventurers, idealists, builders, nurses, dockers, miners and dreamers. What happened in Spain should have served as a warning to the rest of the world; dark times were upon us.

This being the 80th anniversary of La Guerra, the International Brigade Memorial Trust and HOPE not hate have come together to commission something they hope will serve a valuable and timely reminder to the history of the men and women of the International Brigade – an ale of all things, made by Blackhill Brewery , a microbrewery in County Durham. Blackhill’s real ales are named after Durham coal mining seams. Owner Chris Graham was inspired by working as a coal miner for twelve years.

‘Life is a rollercoaster at the moment. We were asked to produce a commemorative ale for the Spanish Civil War, which we readily agreed to; lo and behold, Brigadista Ale was brewed. A tiny idea has grown huge, and we are overjoyed to be part of something so massive. We do supply locally and do swaps, but don’t often go far afield, so the orders from London and Reading made us think, then came emails from Ireland, the Channel Islands and Spain, which proved to be more of a logistical challenge. Just as we got our heads around the fact that we finally had a website, we had to learn all about blogging. With Twitter brought into the equation; Wow! so many followers in such a short time. Brigadista Ale is brewed to commemorate and educate. And to be enjoyed.’  Chris Graham

Monies raised from the sale of the Brigadista Ale and its associated products will go towards keeping alive the memory of those volunteers, facing great hardships, who went to Spain and confronted fascism.


The Lucas Plan

Flyer for the Lucas Plan Conference, which was held on 26th November 2016 in Birmingham. Design: The Coastal Invention Company


What if the workers were in control?   Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry .

The Lucas Plan was a pioneering effort by workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. It remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change. Today, in 2016 — 40 years after the Plan — we’re facing a convergence of crises: militarism and nuclear weaponsclimate chaos, and the destruction of jobs by automation.



The battle of Cable Street on 4th October 1936

‘The notorious Daily Mail headline, “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, is just one chilling indication of the very real threat Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) posed in the mid-’30s. Inspired by the successful rise to power of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany, Mosley sought to galvanise support via a combination of naked anti-semitism and brute force.  By 1936 he was attracting both well-heeled establishment support and thousands of ordinary people to his rallies. Any counter-protests would be dealt with violently by Oswald’s supporters, and the police scarcely intervened. On 4th October, Mosley planned the BUF’s biggest and boldest initiative yet. His uniformed Blackshirts would march through London’s East End, home to one of the country’s largest Jewish communities. The intention was clear: to cause fear and stir up hatred.’ They did not pass

On the day, more than a hundred thousand East Enders, of any faith or none, turned out to protect their community.


Cable Street mural © jo marshall/wikimedia commons


Through tireless mass work, the growth of fascism in 1930’s Britain was stymied. The community actions at Cable Street in Stepney, East London were the culmination in a decisive fight against Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirt thugs. The British struggle was part of a worldwide battle against fascism and war.

After a long period of decline, Stepney was largely slum property. It had a population of 200,000, the same as Leicester or Plymouth, ‘housed’ in an area a fraction of their size. The main issues were bad housing and rampant unemployment.

Anti-semitism flourished in these conditions; it was calculated to influence backward sections in the community – folk ready to seek out scapegoats, to blame easy and wrong targets.

Under the guise of allowing ‘free speech’, the Labour Home Secretary supported the Tories and Liberals, enabling Mosley to re-establish his poisonous movement.

On a memorable Sunday in October 1936, East London was at fever pitch. A campaign of propaganda and preparation had been organised against a provocative Blackshirts march.

Steps were taken to bar the fascists from all the roads leading to Stepney. Scores of rousing meetings were held. Thousands of posters and leaflets were produced and distributed. Hundreds of gallons of whitewash were used in advertising the counter-demo. The Communist Party was the prime mover in these activities. Approaches were made to the British Legion, trade councils, trade unions, Labour Party branches, religious organisations, dock workers, residents and many others: a broad church was mobilised for participation. Motor cyclists, cyclists, bands, contacts and observers were organised. Though other sites were full of protesters ready to block the march, the aim was that Cable Street be the focus of activity against the fascists. It was a narrow street with alleys and side roads, ideal for building barricades. Timber and furniture were utilised. Trams, buses and lorries were abandoned by sympathetic drivers or commandeered to block other routes, to funnel the Blackshirts down Cable Street.

The day began as it would continue when the right of British Legion ex-servicemen to march against fascism in their own borough was challenged by the police who ripped their Union Jack to shreds. Thus began the establishment of ‘law and order’ by the authorities that day. Six thousand foot police were on duty. A police observation aeroplane flew low overhead. An immense human barricade of 50,000 anti-fascists gathered at Gardner’s Corner. The police charged, catapulting folk through shop windows. Failing to clear a path for the fascists through such a massive crowd, the police turned their attention to Cable Street, as expected. Resistance there was so strong that some policemen surrendered, to the surprise of the counter-demo organisers. Several East London homes proudly displayed batons and even a souvenir helmet on their mantelpieces that night.

There were many arrests and multiple injuries. The first-aid depots that had been organised and opened in shops and houses were kept busy. The police carried on their battle as the fascists lurked in the background, waiting for a signal to begin their march. It never came. The preferred route went uncleared, the march was forbidden by the police commander on the ground near Cable Street, and Mosley’s thugs retreated to disperse on the Embankment. Mosley was to have staged a rally in Victoria Park Square: instead a jubilant victory demonstration was held there.

Cable Street showed the world how to oppose fascist forces in a community. The recipe was unity: the ingredients made for strange bedfellows – orthodox Jews had joined with Catholic Irish dockers, for example. Comrades on the barricades went on to join the International Brigades fighting fascism in Spain. The slogan issued at Cable Street had been ‘The fascists shall not pass’. This slogan was inspirational for the Madrilenos at that time as they defended their city against the rebels at the start of La Guerra.

Christy Moore – Viva la Quinta Brigada. Live at Barrowland Glasgow

Mass action on the streets isn’t so common nowadays – think CND marches, Poll Tax demos, Iraq war protests, and community-driven anti-fracking activities. State agents still react with similar tactics – remember the massacre of 200 Algerian workers by French police in Paris on October 17th 1961, the advent of kettling at the anti-Vietnam war demo in Grosvenor Square (1968), violent attacks by the police on striking miners at Orgreave and the Peace Convoy at Beanfield (1985).

In these dark days of ‘post-truth’ psychosis and ‘alternative facts (lies)’, often we are failing to confront narratives, let alone march – think immigration and racially motivated attacks, Trident and jobs, the lies revealed by Chilcot, corrupt bankers, explaining ‘neoliberalism and austerity – the alternatives’ in concise terms, detailing a Scottish currency post-independence, and exposing the folly that is Hinkley Point.


Reading: ‘Our flag stays red’, Phil Piratin’s 1948 book from which much of this article is sourced and edited.


News footage from 1936

The Men they couldn’t hang – ‘Ghosts of Cable Street’ on YouTube

‘Yesterday’s Witness’, BBC TV documentary.

Theatre: ‘Chicken soup with barley’ – Arnold Wesker play.


Related reading:

‘Received-ideas-of-racism-and-nationalism’ – Simon Hardy   ‘No credible study published shows any correlation between immigrant labour and a reduction in jobs or a reduction in wages.’ Simon is a trade union activist and a Momentum member. In this article he highlights the distinction between ‘common sense’ (widely-held, received ideas) and good sense (empirical ideas, backed by evidence).

A Spanish Civil War memoir by International Brigader Bob Cooney (1907-84)

Bob Cooney joined the International Brigades in August 1937. Bob Cooney, Spain. Article and photo in forviemedia gallery. Published for the first time, Proud Journey is Bob’s memoir of those times. It takes us from clashes with the Blackshirts on the streets of Aberdeen to the battlefields of Spain and the heroism and sacrifice of Cooney and his comrades facing the forces of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. Written in 1944 with the Second World War as a backdrop, this is a rousing personal account of one man’s part in the long and bloody fight against fascism that helped define this key period of history.