politics

Review/Summary (9 - Anne Kustritz): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 26 December, 2015

Although less well known than romance novels or feminist porn, slash fan fiction [...] has frequently become embroiled in similar debates over the social meaning of romantic fiction and women's sexual imagination. The pendulum has swung back and forth and back again in the academic consensus on slash's political value over the 40 years since its inception in its current form. Thus, mirroring analysis of romance novels, erotica, and pornography, slash has been at times called anti-female and stridently feminist, radically liberatory and conservative, both queer and heteronormative. This incoherence partly results from a homogenizing impulse to make a single political judgment of the entire practice. In addition, such dueling political pronouncements indicate an inability to navigate cultural objects that simultaneously resist some forms of political domination while ideologically shoring up and reinforcing others, including not only sex/gender hierarchies, but also race, class and geopolitics. Thus, what the field currently needs is an analytical lens of smaller and more specific scope to cope with the ideological complexities across slash genres and even within individual narratives. (169)

Kustritz then proceeds to give an example of this by demonstrating how, while some slash fictions about Captain Jack Sparrow and Commodore James Norrington from Pirates of the Caribbean:

approach the pairing as a madcap affair between a laced-up goody-goody and a free-spirit, others use the relationship to engage directly with the films' suppressed political stakes and to explore the political and philosophical positions that the characters represent. (176)

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Kustritz, Anne. "The Politics of Slash on the High Seas: Colonial Romance and Revolutionary Solidarity in Pirates Fan Fiction". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 169-186.

Review/Summary (4 - Eva Chen): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 24 December, 2015

Eva Chen begins her essay on "Erotic Pleasure and Postsocialist Female Sexuality: Contemporary Female 'Body Writing' in China" with a brief historical overview:

Erotic writing and art have a long tradition in China. Though remnants have been found dating back to the first century, erotic wall murals found at the Dunhuang Budhist grottoes suggest a flourishing erotic art scene around the tenth century. The late Ming Dynasty in the seventeenth century saw a peak of erotic poetry and fiction, as well as erotica portrayed in "pillow books" and Taoist treatises on effective sexual techniques for maximizing life energies [...]. Much erotica of the period also focused on female foot-binding, a practice started among court dancers in the tenth century which later spread to gentry families, brothels and even peasant households, and functioned both to signify female virtue and domesticity and to appeal to male fetishistic pleasure [...]. Attitudes hardened from the time of the Qing Dynasty in the eighteenth century with the resurgence of Confucian moral conservatism, all but bringing to an end a thriving tradition of erotica [...].

The Western understanding of sexuality as an essential, intrinsic component of personal identity first entered China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [...] the liberation of women as autonomous, heterosexual subjects [...] was not celebrated for its own sake but was, rather, invoked as the binary opposite of a Westernized, masculine self that needed to be cultivated to "upend" Confucian kinship categories [...]. The origin of this idea in the Western, humanist understanding of an essential human nature, of which sexuality is an inalienable part, partially explains the later socialist criticism of this idea as bourgeois. When the Maoist party swept into power in 1949, the socialist state began to promote a new concept of women [...] emphasizing collectivist public roles rather than sexual difference [...].

It is in this light that the postsocialist celebration of the body, sexuality and "natural femininity" since the market reforms in the 1980s needs to be understood: as a reaction to the perceived socialist distortion of the "natural," gendered human self. (79-80)

Chen's essay then focuses on"Weihui's Shanghai Baby (2000) and Muzimei's sex blogs, later published as Left-over Love Letters (2003), as these texts figure crucially in two major public controversies concerning this Chinese female 'body writing'" (82).

Chen concludes that

an overly optimistic emphasis on emancipation must still take into account the complicated roles played by the state and the neoliberal consumer culture in forging a distinctly postsocialist Chinese female sexual identity. Chinese female "body writers" do assert a form of sexual agency as rights [...] but at the same time they also play into a state-approved discourse of seeking to direct such "freed" sexual energies into consumerism. (94)

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Chen, Eva. "Erotic Pleasure and Postsocialist Female Sexuality: Contemporary Female 'Body Writing' in China". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 79-95.

Who's Being Empowered Here?

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 12 September, 2015

For the latest issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies Stacy E. Holden's interviewed authors and editors of romance novels featuring sheikh heroes, including Lynn Raye Harris, who,

much like the ten other authors and three editors interviewed for this article—denies an explicit intent to address politics in her romance novels, but both the text of her novels and the transcripts of her interviews belie this unassuming assertion. Indeed, the author reveals a belief that her novels may well contribute to a better American understanding of the Arab world. Analyzing the sheikh, a composite Arab hero that essentializes the region’s political and cultural complexities, she notes that “I think it’s important for romance reader to think of him as a man, to know that he is sexy and desirable as a man from their own culture could be. Maybe that’s naive of me, but I choose to believe having sheikhs populate romance novels makes readers think of them as people, not terrorists or Islamic fundamentalists who hate America” (Harris, email, Follow Up, 11 February 2013).

However, it would seem that part of what these authors do in order to make "readers think of them as people, not terrorists or Islamic fundamentalists", is remove a great deal of the sheikh's non-Western culture, replacing it with "a fantasy that eschews discussion of any factual differences between the US and specific countries of the Middle East and North Africa, instead celebrating an exoticized fantasy about a glamorous Arab culture", and most of his religious beliefs:

authors express the desire to break free from the negative stereotypes of Arabs put forth in other media via the vehicle of romance, a worthy intention indeed. In order to accomplish this goal, however, authors sometimes suppress certain aspects of Arab culture and contribute inadvertently to Orientalist discourse. Islam, for example, is the principal religion of the Middle East and North Africa, and highly misunderstood by many Americans. This religion is not necessarily off limits in romance novels, though the treatment of it by authors exists on a spectrum, one that ranges from complete omission of it to oblique or (occasionally) direct interaction with it.

One of Sandra Marton's sheikhs, for instance, is

ethnically Arab, and yet he is culturally quite Western in his orientation. He is an alumnus of Yale University, and his American mother resides in California. The cover of the book deliberately eschews visual mention of Arab culture, since it features a naked man and woman in bed together. Noting that Arab clothing can be “off-putting,” Marton and her editor “had long ago agreed that my sheikh books would never feature covers in which my character was dressed in Arab garb.” Marton also insists that her stories “deliberately avoided religious discussion or religious rules.” Towards this last, her stories actually upturn the principles of the Islamic majority in the Arab world. She notes that she allows her sheikhs to drink wine, prohibited by Islam, “because I give them a backstory that involves being educated in the West” (Marton, email, sheikhs, 5 May 2-13). Her readers responded to this formula.

Holden concludes that

With its explicit images and arousing fantasies in which Arabs and Americans ultimately live together in peace, the sheikh romance novel can be read as a form of socio-political erotica. [...] Read skeptically, against the grain, these novels present a fantasy in which autocratic leaders of the Arab world—those sheikhly heroes who love American women—embrace the values of their Western fiancées and wives, reconciling their two cultures in a way that secures and privileges American interests. But read more generously, in light of their authors’ intentions, the sheikh romance novel does present a hopeful vision of the world, one which exchanges Huntington’s vision of a Clash of Civilizations for a world in which the clash between individuals from two worlds, now at odds, is ultimately an erotic clash: one which leads them to fall in love, resolve their differences, and live harmoniously together.

Megan Crane's response to Holden, also published in this issue of JPRS, is that

one could as easily substitute “Scottish highlander” or “Greek tycoon” for “sheikh” and make many of these same arguments

Up to a point, I'd agree, but I don't think it in any way undermines Holden's argument.

As someone who was born and lives in Scotland, I've found the US romance novels set in Scotland unsettling. Admittedly I haven't read many of them, but that's because the ones I did read felt as though they were set in a parallel universe. I knew I wasn't the intended reader and I wondered why this version of Scotland appealed to US readers. What is clear to me, though, is that while "Highlander" romances may resemble "sheikh" romances in some respects, I think they do some different political work in others. For example, they presumably have particular appeal to US citizens who have Scottish ancestors.

As someone who's half Spanish, romances with Spanish heroes, written by non-Spanish authors, generally also make me feel as though they're depicting a parallel version of the place inhabited by most of my family. Again, I haven't read many because I find the experience of reading them very strange. However, I've read enough to think romances with Greek, Spanish and Italian heroes play into stereotypes about "hot-blooded", macho Latin lovers. As far as I can tell, they also tend to imply that mediterranean cultures are less advanced than northern European ones in terms of their attitudes towards gender. And I notice that there aren't equal numbers of Greek, Spanish and Italian heroines, which makes this feel like these books' "implied reader" is not a Greek, Spanish or Italian woman.

Crane, however, would

argue that any fantasies in these stories have more to do with the modern woman’s belief in the power of femininity to solve problems and change lives for the better than in any kind of cultural or historical revision. For example, the popularity of this or that band of warriors (see: the alpha heroes of Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, Julie Garwood’s beloved Highlanders, Kristen Ashley’s almost-outlaw biker gang) who are forever altered once the members begin to fall in love.

I think that's part of it (although since a belief in "the power of femininity" can be deeply sexist, as in the nineteenth-century "cult of domesticity", I'm extremely wary of the idea that any particular gender identity imparts special powers). At least when this belief is played out using paranormal creatures the lines between reality and fantasy are pretty clear and if they're less so when idealised US cowboys or bikers are involved, they're probably offset by news reports etc which inform readers of the realities involved in these lifestyles. Even if they aren't, idealisation of cowboys and bikers isn't likely to cause cowboys or bikers much, if any, harm.

The situation seems to me to be significantly different when romances draw on, and thereby reinforce, racial/ethnic/cultural stereotypes which are accepted by many as being, at least partially, based in reality. Nouha al-Hegelan, for example, has stated that,

As a result of Western misinformation and lack of awareness, Arab women are unfortunately, victims of the stereotyping process. There is little understanding of either our status as women or the total context of our lives.

It is problematic when, in order to bolster "modern women's belief in the power of femininity to solve problems and change lives for the better" entire nationalities/cultures are identified as barbarian/medieval/backward so that they pose more of a challenge to, and make all the sweeter the victory of, the White Anglo woman.

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al-Hegelan, Nouha. "Women in the Arab World." First published in Arab Perspectives 1.7 (October 1980). Republished online by Cornell University. [I quoted her in an earlier post I wrote, at Teach Me Tonight, about sheikh romances.]

Crane, Megan. "Stacy Holden's 'Love in the Desert': An Author's Response". Journal of Popular Romance Studies 5.1 (2015).

Holden, Stacy E. "Love in the Desert: Images of Arab-American Reconciliation in Contemporary Sheikh Romance Novels". Journal of Popular Romance Studies 5.1 (2015).

Book Banning: A Romance Heroine's Response

By Laura Vivanco on Friday, 28 August, 2015

Today it was reported that:

The British Library has declined to store a large collection of Taliban-related documents over concerns regarding terrorism laws. [...]

Alex Strick van Linschoten, an author and researcher who helped spearhead the project said it was "surprising and disappointing".

"There's no recipes for making bombs or anything like that," he said.

"These are documents that would help people understand history, whether it's Afghans trying to learn about their recent past, or outsiders wanting to understand the movement.

"Any scholar would realise it's essential to read primary documents related to your subject if you want to understand militant groups, but there is a climate of fear among academics who study this kind of material because UK law is very loose." [...]

The Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006 make it an offence to "collect material which could be used by a person committing or preparing for an act of terrorism" and criminalise the "circulation of terrorist publications". (BBC)

In Rebecca Flanders' Second Sight (1984) the librarian heroine argues against restricting library collections and wins because the book-banners are forced to recognise that their definitions of offensive materials are too loose:

"the problem with this library system is that we have no written guidelines for the librarian to follow. It's a small system, and I suppose we always felt that there was no need for written rules, that the librarian's judgment was sufficient. However" - her smile was self-deprecating - "obviously it is not enough. I assure you that I would have been quite willing to abide by such regulations had they ever been presented to me in an official manner, so allow me to suggest, for my sake - or that of my successor - that we erase the ambiguity right now and vote on a standard of criteria by which books should be judged so that this unfortunate situation never recurs [...]

[...] First, [...] I believe you made reference to 'offensive language and sexual themes.' Shall we agree that this should be number one on the list of unacceptable material to appear in a library book?"

There was unified agreement.

Jennifer made a check on her note pad and reached to take a book from the stack she had collected and placed upon the chair next to her. "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, ladies and gentlemen," she said, and tossed it onto the pile of previously rejected books. [...]

Then, matter-of-factly, before anyone could say anything, she went on, "Graphic violence, evil intent, works reflecting the influence of drugs or alcohol or advocating their usage?" [...] Jennifer made another check on her pad and reached for another book. "The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe," she said [...]

She said, "Then, shall we agree that in the future no book containing explicit sex, offensive language, references to improper relationships or perversion, graphic displays of violence, or themes that condone immoral behavior be admitted to the shelves, and that all such books as now occupy space on the shelves of our public library be immediately removed?" [...]

Jennifer stood slowly and placed a copy of the Bible on top of the stack of banned books. (241-5)

In response to the librarian's logical defence, the library committee, recognising that their criteria were far too broadly worded, back down entirely; in the context of the British Library's refusal to give shelf space to a potentially controversial collection, the "Home Office declined to comment saying it was a matter for [the] library" and the loose definitions remain in force.

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BBC. "British Library declines Taliban archive over terror law fears". 28 August 2015.

Flanders, Rebecca. Second Sight. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 1984.

Romance and the Politics of Health Care

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 7 February, 2015

According to Joseph McAleer,

After the Second World War, the NHS [National Health Service] inspired a new kind of popular novel that was [...] supportive and sympathetic to the emerging health care system. [...] the new 'Doctor-Nurse' novels first published by Mills & Boon in the 1950s [...] reinforced a positive view of the NHS among middle- and working-class readers. [...] the almost fanatical endorsement of the medical profession is striking. The message sent, and met with approval by adoring readers, was this: nurses are heroic and selfless; doctors are larger than life; the delivery system works; and hospitals are places of romance as well as healing. The NHS could not have asked for a better endorsement. (174)

By contrast, here's a short passage from a US-set romance from 1994, whose hero is a recreational therapist:

"Private insurance companies aren't willing to spend money entertaining people, as they call it." Matt's lips curled derisively. "They'll cover physical therapy costs, but most baulk at recreational therapy."

"I find that hard to believe."

"It's true, though. If medical insurance companies subsidized places like mine, there'd be hundreds of them across the country. Unfortunately, there aren't, and only the well-off can afford the few that do exist. I try to take on as many needy cases as I can, but that's not a huge lot," he admitted. "I have to pay my therapists' salaries and feed the animals, and I can't do that without charging."

"What a shame!"

"It certainly is. The United States is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, but we have no comprehensive national health plan. It's a crime that people have to pay so dearly for medical treatment. To make matters worse, the more medical problems you have, the less likely you'll find an insurance company willing to underwrite you. [...] I'm involved with a group that's been lobbying Congress for a national health care system. So far there's been a lot of talk about legislation, but not much else." (Duquette, 29-30)

I haven't yet seen any comparison between medical romances from the US, UK, Australia, etc but I think one could be very interesting given how different their medical systems are. The descriptions of some of US author Adeline McElfresh's medical romances, for example, are intriguing: in Doctor for Blue Hollow (1971)

The rundown clinic at Blue Hollow was a far cry from big, modern Bayley Memorial Hospital where Ann Tyler once worked. But for the lovely young surgeon, this tiny Kentucky mining town seemed a perfect refuge from the memory of a handsome doctor who betrayed her love.

Waiting for Ann was the challenge of protecting the health of the miners and their families, even though this meant battling the owners over safety in the mines.

It sounds as though the novel deals with inequalities in healthcare provision and also with the ways in which the interests of big business can conflict with the health needs of their workers and their communities. Another of her novels, New Nurse at Dorn Memorial, features a heroine, Celeste Weller, who

had never walked away from a challenge, and her new career at Dorm Memorial Hospital would prove to be the greatest challenge yet. Not only was she the first nurse to break the racial barrier at conservative Dorn, but through the bigotry of one of its influential patients, she was transferred from the Surgery Department, her first love. From there she was thrust into the hectic schedule of double shifts in Emergency and the clinic purposely designed to force her to resign.

Celeste knew a bigger city might give her a better opportunity for acceptance on her own merit, but she was determined that her small hometown would have to make room for her. And she had allies on the staff. But more than that, Celeste was the best nurse Dorn had ever had.

As far as I can recall, the medical staff in the UK-set romances I've met have been pretty much exclusively white, which doesn't seem very accurate given that

Once the NHS was up and running in 1948, demand for health service labour increased rapidly, not only for basic care but also for new techniques and technologies such as radiology and blood labs. At a time of overall labour shortages in the British economy, health service workers from abroad were vital, with recruits from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent especially prominent. [...]

The overall scale of recruitment from abroad is striking. By 1960, between 30 and 40 per cent of all junior doctors in the NHS were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. “The Health Service would have collapsed” said eminent doctor Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, if it had not been for this “enormous influx”. [...]

Around 30 per cent of doctors and 40 per cent of nurses in today’s NHS were born outside the UK. Those proportions may yet rise as an ageing population limits the potential supply of British-born staff while adding to increased demand for health care. (Bowlby)

I do know that Anne Fraser's The Playboy Doctor's Surprise Proposal features a hero whose "parents are from India originally"; it's set in Australia.

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Bowlby, Chris, 2011. 'How Immigration Saved a British Institution', History Extra, 28 July 2011.

Duquette, Anne Marie, 1994. The Dinosaur Lady (Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin).

Fraser, Anne, 2010. The Playboy Doctor's Surprise Proposal (Richmond, Surrey: Mills & Boon).

McAleer, Joseph, 2011. ‘Love, Romance, and the National Health Service’, Classes, Cultures, & Politics: Essays on British History for Ross McKibbin, ed. Clare V. J. Griffiths, James J. Nott, & William Whyte (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 173-191.

They voted no

By Laura Vivanco on Friday, 19 September, 2014

Scotland has voted "no" to independence and I agree with Euan Bennet that this seems a likely outlook:

  • No new powers for the Scottish Parliament. Or worse, the Labour proposals for further devolution are brought in, featuring no new powers, but new responsibilities without the means to fund them.
  • A Tory Government or a Labour Government at Westminster come 2015. Both have pledged that they will continue planned public spending cuts, austerity measures, punitive welfare reform, and confrontational foreign and immigration policy. Add UKIP to a coalition with the Tories for extra racism, sexism, and every other ‘-ism’ in your worst-case scenario!
  • An EU exit following the proposed referendum in 2017.
  • The TTIP opens up the NHS in Scotland to marketisation just like it already is in England.
  • 100,000 more children in poverty by 2020.
  • Another banking crash fuelled by the housing bubble that economic policy is currently reinflating.
  • More austerity, forever.
  • BUT enough money to build a new generation of nuclear weapons stored 30 miles from our biggest city.
  • Scotland’s renewable energy potential left to one side while fracking poisons our soil and water.

That so many people have voted for this has fundamentally affected how I feel about participation with other people, both on and offline. I'm putting this blog on hiatus and only expect to update it if I publish any new work (and I'm considering cutting down on that too).

Stereotypes Dogging Scotland

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 9 September, 2014

Euan Hague sent me his latest article on Scotland, in which he notes that in romance novels set in Scotland (but written by US authors)

the idea of Scottish adversity, typically in relation to England, produces an 'underdog' theme which researcher Jody Allen [...] finds appealing: 'Scotland as the underdog, always fighting back, still today with the "yes" vote campaign for independence.' The idea of fighting against a superior political power resonates with US readers reminded every Fourth of July about their nation's struggle for independence. A reader of romances who posted on Word Wenches (2013) concurs: 'I think we like to read about the "underdogs. Scotland is loaded with "underdogs" in history ... I read a lot of English-set novels - but for them I am usually reading for the heroine, who is the underdog. When I'm reading a Scottish one, the hero is just as important because usually he's as much of an underdog - the stakes are greater! Freedom for your entire country - a huge stake!' (188)

These novels are not, however, necessarily ideal entry points to understanding either modern Scotland or its independence referendum. The kind of Scotland to be found in US romance novels can generally be described as

Tartanry, replete with kilt-wearing, sword-wielding, bagpipe-playing Highlanders wandering across treeless mountains and along scenic lochsides among the purple flowers of heather and thistles, remains the dominant representation of Scotland internationally. (173)

and

key themes include genealogy, family and heredity, which raise associated plot lines of the legitimacy of heirs and competing claims to land, power and leadership positions in both clans and royal families. Brooding, passionate, feisty Scots are often drawn in contrast to more prosaic English or American protagonists. (176)

It would be very wrong, for instance, to assume that those campaigning for Scottish independence are motivated primarily by "genealogy, family and heredity":

In Scotland, both the devolutionists of the Constitutional Convention and the independence-minded SNP (which stood outside the Convention) have proclaimed a non-ethnic, inclusive, ‘civic’ concept of nationalism.(SA 29:138) Ethnic nationalism ‘is in essence exclusive’, stressing the ethnic group and common descent. Civic nationalism ‘is inclusive in the sense that anyone can adopt the culture and join the nation’. (Kellas p.65) (Miller and Hussain 1)

 

As for being an underdog, well

Dr Nasar Meer, an Edinburgh-based social sciences academic at the University of Strathclyde who has studied the support for independence among minorities, agreed that minorities "identify with the narrative" of Scotland.

"They understand what it feels like to be oppressed, and that's the Scottish version of their history too," he said. "Though, of course, it's not necessarily true that Scots have always been oppressed. Scots ran the British Empire, practically. The Indian military has a Scottish tartan in its formal regalia." (Elgot)

If that sounds like a bit of a paradox, try this, from Professor Tom Devine:

the Scottish people seem to be wedded to a social democratic agenda and the kind of political values which sustained and were embedded in the welfare state of the 1950s. In fact, you could argue that it is the Scots who have tried to preserve the idea of Britishness in terms of state support and intervention, and that it is England that has chosen to go on a separate journey since the 1980s.

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Devine, Tom. "Tom Devine: why I now say yes to Independence for Scotland." Bella Caledonia, 22 August 2014.

Elgot, Jessica. "Why Are So Many Scots From Ethnic Minorities Voting Yes?" Huffington Post, 14 June 2014.

Hague, Euan. “Mass Market Romance Fiction and the Representation of Scotland in the United States.” The Modern Scottish Diaspora: Contemporary Debates and Perspectives. Ed. Murray Stewart Leith and Duncan Sim. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2014. 171-190.

Miller, William L. and Asifa M. Hussain. "Devolution, Nationalism and Ethnic Minorities: The Civility of Civic Nationalism."

 

The image of the Scotch Terrier came from Wikimedia Commons and was created by Pearson Scott Foresman.

A Sermon on the Scottish Independence Referendum

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 31 August, 2014

I've written in a somewhat comical vein about the referendum in the past. It's not because I take the subject lightly, though. This week I'm choosing a rather more serious template for my post because I was filled with righteous indignation by Alistair Darling's attitude in the second televised debate between him and Alex Salmond. In his summing up, Darling stated that "any country's starting point is currency, money." Let that sink in. It's not the people of the country, the communities they build, the respect and love they show one another, or the talents and skills they have. No, for Alistair Darling it apparently all starts with money. And that's what the No campaign's been about: money.

Since this is supposed to be a sermon, can I just point out that

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)

The No campaign's been focussed on Mammon: its priority seems to be to frighten people that they'd lose the pound, and make older people fear for their pensions. So, let's clear those things up:

Last Sunday, over 30 ordained ministers of the Church of Scotland declared "We believe that a Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum makes possible a more socially just Scotland" and they quoted Matthew 23:45

Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.

The Yes campaign have been saying quite a lot about social justice and about the need to end inequality. These are pressing issues because

Recently released research has revealed increasing levels of poverty in Scotland. Over the last year a further 110,000 people fell below the poverty line, under which affording the basic essentials of life is often a struggle. The fact that women, men and children are turning to food banks to get enough to eat is just one sign that the system isn't working.

In a wealthy country like Scotland, it's scandalous that some 820,000 people now live in poverty, including 180,000 children.

But alongside increasing poverty, there's another major issue: inequality.

Across the UK the five richest families own the same as the poorest 20% of the population put together. Here in Scotland, the richest 10% of households have 900 times more wealth than the poorest 10%.

And yet, figures from the Trussell Trust in Scotland show the amount of food aid distributed has risen sharply, with over 71,000 people using their food banks last year - a five-fold increase over the previous 12 months. (Oxfam)

The Yes campaign isn't promising that independence will transform Scotland into a utopia, but it is confident that after independence

we’ll be able to vote for policies such as the following:

  • abolishing the “Bedroom Tax” cut to housing benefit and increasing support for carers
  • introducing a “triple lock” on pensions and ensuring tax credits and benefits rise with living costs
  • transforming provision of childcare to help tackle gender inequalities
  • ensuring the minimum wage rises at least in line with living costs
  • an industrial strategy to revive Scotland’s manufacturing sector, creating good quality jobs
  • a tax on bankers’ bonuses, an end to tax cuts for hedge funds and the reintroduction of the 50p top rate of tax.
  • promoting and incentivising companies to pay the living wage and wage ratios, and support for collective bargaining to boost wages. (Yes Scotland)

Internationally, a Yes vote could also be a force for good. The Yes campaign is committed to removing the UK's Trident nuclear submarines from the Clyde and Scottish CND is therefore of the opinion that "The independence referendum provides a great opportunity not just to remove Trident from Scotland, but to achieve nuclear disarmament in Britain" (Yes Scotland). The Churches' position on this would seem to be clear:

“We believe that nuclear weapons are inherently evil .” (General Assembly of the Church of Scotland May 2009)

“This point of view, that nuclear weapons have any place in a civilized society, is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 2007)

“ All people of faith are needed in our day to expose the fallacies of nuclear doctrine. These hold for example that there is a role in the human affairs of this small planet for a bomb more powerful than all the weapons ever used. We are bound to confront these follies before it is too late”. (World Council of Churches 2006) (Church and Society Council, Church of Scotland)

Scottish Independence Referendum: The Musical

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 25 August, 2014

Tonight sees the second debate between Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, and Alistair Darling, the head of the "Better Together" campaign. In the first debate

Alistair Darling pressed Alex Salmond repeatedly about which currency he would use if the rest of the UK refused to enter a currency union.

For his part, Alex Salmond urged Mr Darling to accept that Scotland could be a prosperous independent country. Again and again he asked him to say if he agreed. (BBC)

The fact is, though, that a Fiscal Commission outlined various currency options many months ago.  So if I were writing a musical about the referendum, I'd give myself a little bit of poetic license and adapt the folk song about a soldier who implies he'll consider marriage, if his demands are met, only to turn around at the end and say he's already got a wife:

"O Darling, Darling, will you not agree,
we'd be a "successful independent country"?"
"Oh, no, Salmond, I really can't agree,
For I have no currency clarity."

Then off Salmond went to his Fiscal Commission,
And brought back a report from the very, very best:
He brought back a report from the very, very best,
And the Darling took a look.

 

"O Darling, Darling, will you not agree,
we'd be a "successful independent country"?"
Ah, no! Salmond, I really can't agree,
For you have no currency Plan B."

Then back Salmond went to his Fiscal Commission,
And brought him Annex A of the many, many options:
He brought him Annex A of the many, many options,
And the Darling took a look.

 

"Now, Darling, Darling, will you not agree,
we'd be a "successful independent country"?"
"Ah, no! Salmond, I really can't agree,
For I've a Project Fear I can't disown!"

Yes, yes, yes!

By Laura Vivanco on Wednesday, 6 August, 2014

So, having tried my hand at writing fiction about the Scottish referendum last week, I thought I'd move quickly on to graphic design.

I thought this would be ideal if there were a "Romance Readers for Yes" group

On second thoughts, if a Romance Readers for Yes group existed and we used this on our T-shirts, we'd probably get hassled by people wanting to know which currency we'd be accepting.

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Of course, I had to borrow all the elements because I'm not much good at drawing. And then I needed a bit of help with resizing and positioning the various elements, but at least I cropped them myself!

The woman came from the cover of a 1949 comic. The "Yes"es were provided by Yes Scotland.