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Kate Moss

(Photo: Sergey Ivanov/Creative Commons)

Children now have a right to a better life
(Photo: Sergey Ivanov/Creative Commons)

At last we are doing something for our children. Ashamed at leaving a quarter of them in poverty, a fifth of them unemployed, an economy in ruins and an environment increasingly polluted, this week the Scottish Parliament took one small step towards accepting their right to a better life.

Bill passed after a marathon session

Bill passed after a marathon session

MSPs passed the Children and Young People Bill after a marathon session on Wednesday. It confirms a few policy changes announced recently, such as the extension of hours for free nursery education and free school meals for all children in the first three years of primary school.

But, more radically and more controversially, it requires health authorities and education authorities to provide a “named person” or guardian for every child in Scotland up to the age of 18.

This health visitor, and in later years school teacher, will have a statutory duty to guard the rights of the child, make sure he or she doesn’t fall through the child protection net, and be someone who the child or the worried parent or relative can turn to for advice. Right wing politicians and fundamentalist religious leaders complain that this is the nanny state going too far. They still seem to believe that children are the goods and chattels of their parents, to be brought up as they see fit.

Children need to be seen as individuals (Pic: Steve Bowbrick Creative Commons)

Children need to be seen as individuals
(Pic: Steve Bowbrick Creative Commons)

I think that most of the modern world realises now that a child is an individual person and has his or her own rights. These rights should be protected by the community at large and include the right to a decent home, an education, free time and free thought, freedom from drug or alcohol addition or physical or emotional abuse. Obligations come later.

So, good for the Scottish Parliament for setting out this principle in law. All it has to do now is to find the funds for the 450 extra health visitors required and to make sure the system doesn’t get bogged down in bureaucracy.

There was some official rejoicing this week that unemployment appears to have fallen again, down 3,000 to 195,000. However the percentage figure has gone up from 6.4 per cent to 7.1. One wise man, interviewed in the street in Govan, put the case well: “They just move the figures around from one heading to another.”

A degree is no guarantee of a job (Pic: Creative Commons)

A degree is no guarantee of a job
(Pic: Creative Commons)

There are still an awful lot of people unemployed, or in part time work. One survey found that a quarter of all graduates are still looking for work a year after leaving university and nearly half of those who are in employment are in non-graduate jobs.

We have had a dramatic intervention in the independence debate. It came in just five words from a man who didn’t even turn up to say them. But that man happens to be David Bowie, speaking through the beautiful lips of Kate Moss at the British Music Awards in London. “Scotland, please stay with us,” he/she declared. Not usually noted for his Unionist political opinions, one wonders if he was put up to it and how many more celebrities will be deployed in the battle for hearts in the next few months.

Jose Manuel Barroso  Comments dismissed as part of 'project fear'

Jose Manuel Barroso
Comments dismissed as part of
‘project fear’

His profound few words dwarfed all the others this week. Sr. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, told us it was “unlikely if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to win the approval of all 27 members of the EU if it wished to join. Danny Alexander, the chief secretary of the treasury, followed this up with a warning that the cost of a mortgage in an independent Scotland would go up by £5,000. But all of this was dismissed as part of “project fear” by Alex Salmond who said Scots would not take kindly to suggestions that they can’t be a successful independent country. “Yes we can,” he told a conference of business people in Aberdeen.

Barack Obama might enjoy the use of his phrase by a fellow politician but he might not be so pleased to learn that Glasgow University students have elected Edward Snowden as their new Rector. He’s the American security contractor currently hiding in Russia after telling the world about the USA’s electronic spying operations. By a large majority, the Glasgow students have send a defiant message to all in authority that they value their privacy and their freedom.

Eve Muirhead Bronze medal at Sochi (Pic: Wikipedia)

Eve Muirhead
Bronze medal at Sochi
(Pic: Wikipedia)

Glasgow citizens meanwhile have sent a defiant message to the authorities in the art world that they rather like Jack Vettriano’s paintings. They’ve gone to see them at the Kelvingrove Gallery in record numbers – 123,000 since September. Self-taught Vettriano is mocked by the art critics but his realistic, story-telling pictures are loved by the public and by the auctioneers.

And havn’t we done well in the Winter Olympics ? Scotland has played its parts in giving Great Britain its best medal total since 1924. England may have produced Liz Yarnold and Jenny Jones in the sledging and snowboarding events, but Scotland has triumphed in the game it invented, curling.

Blue-eyed girl Eve Muirhead and her team have won a bronze medal in the ladies curling and, in the men’s, David Murdoch’s team have reached the final, giving them at least a silver medal.

I happen to live only a stone’s slide from Thomson’s Tower built for the gentlemen of the Duddingston Curling Club who first wrote down the rules of the game in 1804. I wonder what they would have made of the ice maidens of Sochi.

Brigitte Bardot, by Gerald Laing

Brigitte Bardot, by Gerald Laing

By Bill Heaney

The artist Gerald Laing has died at his home, Kinkell Castle on the Black Isle, aged 75.

Laing was best known for his iconic images, which included as the remarkable 1962 portrait of French film star Brigitte Bardot and, more recently, his paintings of Amy Winehouse, who herself died earlier this year.

Always operating on the pulse of modernity, Laing’s early talent was recognised by both his contemporaries and the art establishment whilst he was a student at St Martin’s College of Art in London. He painted many of his memorable images there, including the one of Bardot, which went on to become a bestselling Habitat poster and highly collectable screenprint.

Laing was invited along with other British Pop artists, notably Richard Smith, Peter Blake and Joe Tilson, to attend weekly discussions about the “New Idea”, and at about the same time in New York he was accepted on the art scene in America.

He spent some time living with Robert Indiana and worked in the same circles as the still to become famous Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jim Rosenquist, among others.

Laing was at the centre of the American Pop Art movement. Before graduating, he had been taken on by a leading American gallery, after which he then moved his young family to New York, where he made a successful name for himself as an “American” artist.

He showed his work at the American Pavilion at São Paulo Biennale in 1966 and his paintings were acquired by leading American museums and institutions. The subjects of his work during this period were mainly based around four themes: the novelty of space travel; the modern and dangerous pursuit of dragster racing; sport parachuting; and his infamous Starlets, the bikini-clad “ideal” women.

Laing had a dedicated passion and appreciation for machinery and young women that lasted throughout his lifetime.

Friends describe him as “a bold and political thinker”, and Laing was also known for using the Pop idiom as reportage to confront controversial issues throughout his career, often provoking strong reactions.

For example, his commemorative work Lincoln convertible, believed to be the only painted record of President John F Kennedy’s assassination by a living artist of significance, was deemed too controversial to display.

It was hidden away from view by his art dealer in a shed for almost 30 years. Again according to friends, so profound was the impact of this on Laing, and such was his disappointment, that it contributed towards shattering his faith in the American Dream.

Similarly, the body of work he produced in response to the wars in Iraq and the 7/7 London bombings are later examples of Laing using his art as a platform on which to confront contemporary values and the establishment.

In this case, despite making highly uncomfortable viewing, Laing achieved immediate success with them and as they have been widely publicised and exhibited as some of the most significant and incisive commentaries on these matters.

Laing, whom friends say was disillusioned with the American politic, moved to the Highlands to fulfil a childhood dream of rebuilding a castle ruin and he purchased ailing but beautiful Kinkell Castle, near Inverness.

Newly married to his beloved muse and second wife, Galina, they departed New York together and returned to the United Kingdom on the QE2. The happy couple were treated to a send-off party on board the ship with a cake Lichtenstein had decorated with the saltire to celebrate the occasion.

Laing was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1936, the son of a soldier from the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and Enid Foster, originally from Newcastle. Laing’s relationship with his father was absent and his childhood even with his mother was unhappy, but his response to this was to embark on life from scratch with tremendous energy and zeal.

Gerald Laing

Gerald Laing

As head of an extensive family, what he achieved in his lifetime is both inspiring and admirable. After training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Laing joined his father’s regiment in 1955 as a young officer.

He soon discovered, however, that the life of a soldier was not for him – and, after a brief flirtation with the idea of becoming a ballet dancer, Laing left the Fusiliers in 1960. After taking art lessons in secret, he enrolled to become an art student at St Martin’s.

After gradual success and finally eminence in America, and a grand retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art on his return to the UK, he treated the ruin of Kinkell Castle like a giant work of sculpture, lovingly hand-crafting and repairing it with great expertise and newly acquired skills.

Laing also found time during this period to set up a tapestry workshop, where he taught himself the traditional skills of tapestry weaving. Once content that he had acquired sufficient skills himself, he trained and employed a team of weavers who ran a successful enterprise, and Henry Moore was among a number of famous people who had tapestries made there.

Laing also set up a bronze foundry at Kinkell Castle after experiencing an epiphany at the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner.

He sought out and worked under the expert guidance of George Mancini, a retired Italian master in bronze whose family used traditional methods passed down from Roman times.

It was from this particular venture that Laing built an incredible body of sculptural work comprising of both personal and public commissions over a period of 30 years.

His earliest surviving examples of working in bronze can be seen in the Galina Series, a group of portrait bronzes depicting the love of his life. Further significant sculptures include: Four Rugby Players and The Line-out at Twickenham, the home of English rugby.

His frieze of The Wise and Foolish Virgins adorns the Standard Life building in George Street, Edinburgh. Axis Mundi, again for Standard Life, and a memorial to Sir Arthur Conan are also in Edinburgh and there are two editions of The Highlanders at Helmsdale in Sutherland.

Notable portrait commissions carried out by Laing include Sir Paul Getty, Sam Wanamaker, Luciano Pavarotti, Johnny Johnson and Siaka Stevens.

Laing’s work is collected all over the world. Examples can be found in the collections of the National Gallery, the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; in the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York; and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; and in the Indianapolis Museum.

Other examples of Laing’s work are known to be in the private collections of some of the world’s most famous women, including the supermodels Jerry Hall and Kate Moss, the designer Sadie Frost and the late singer Amy Winehouse.

Laing’s decision to divide his time between London and Kinkell Castle in the last decade of his life created a huge stir in the art world and affected a renaissance period for him that lasted right up to his death.

Friends say this makes the loss of his battle with his illness even more tragic, as the true extent of his renown was just being realised and re-addressed.

Laing died of cancer, and worked right up until his death. He leaves three ex-wives and six much-loved children.

Gerald Laing, artist, 11 November 1936 – 23 November 2011.

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Cernunnos <em>Picture: effekt!</em>

Cernunnos Picture: effekt!

By Charlie Laidlaw

It’s that time of year when our thoughts turn to Santa Claus, turkey and how to keep Aunt Mabel off the sherry. But we’ve also recently celebrated, if that’s the right word, another anniversary of hubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

As we approach Christmas, an arbitrary date that the church plonked down on 25 December to cover the pagan Yule, it’s worth considering how witchcraft and Christianity have an interwoven story that, despite being refined over the centuries to harmless cliché, also defines something less palatable about ourselves.

That is especially pertinent at Christmas when it’s joy to the world and all good things to mankind, because – only a few weeks ago – Halloween was a reminder of a rather less tolerant attitude, and that by defining our scapegoats we also define ourselves.

The witchcraft persecutions of 16th- and 17th-century Scotland offer a more contemporary Christmas parable. Rather than goodwill and forgiveness, the real story is one of social exclusion and intolerance. The same intolerance we still heap on racial or religious minorities and which, in Europe, reached a zenith in Hitler’s Germany.

Simply, we still demonise those we blame for society’s ills, whether they be hoodies, Muslims, gays, junkies, bankers, single mothers or asylum seekers – and through their exclusion define those values we think are important to us. Most recently, it was this summer’s rioters, given lengthy custodial sentences designed to underline our revulsion and their exclusion.

Over the Halloween period, in every supermarket and corner shop, there were contemporary depictions of the witch: masks that portrayed her as a warty old crone with unkempt hair and, perched on her head, a spiky bonnet. Kate Moss she certainly isn’t, and her very ugliness makes her evil – another parable that disability rights groups have been fighting for years.

Those traditional images of the warty crone define witchcraft as essentially Satanic: a pact between its followers and the devil himself. By defining the ugly witch as our annual scapegoat, we are defining the essential goodliness of Christianity and its constant struggle to fight the good fight.

It’s an image of evil that owes much to Shakespeare’s Macbeth – the crones around the cauldron chucking in eye of newt and toe of frog. However, it’s likely that Shakespeare was also poking a bit of fun: eye of newt and toe of frog are actually herbs that were used in a contemporary cough remedy.

But, like all good clichés, it’s an image that has stuck, reinforced through the Brothers Grimm, Snow White and the Wizard of Oz, and constantly regurgitated in books, films and the TV. (The only real exception was Elizabeth Montgomery in the 1960s sitcom Bewitched.)

Witchcraft started out as prehistoric religion, when primitive people peered from their caves and tried to comprehend the universe. Their early gods were an attempt to make sense of the infinite, in a world that was both threatening and magical. That search for the infinite has been going on ever since. Only the gods have changed.

In Britain, those early gods were Cernunnos, the horned god, and the moon goddess Diana, although images of a horned god are also found across much of mainland Europe and have an echo in both Roman and Greek mythology. The wee god Pan who gave his name to our panic, probably gave Cernunnos his horns and, later, gave the Christian church a marketing opportunity.

The early inhabitants of our islands respected the changing seasons, finding resonance in the turning earth. The old calendar is reflected in those earthy realities: Candlemas or Imbolg, May Eve or Bealtaine, Lammas or Lughnasadh and Halloween or Samhain. Four other sabbats at the equinoxes and solstices made up the ancient calendar.

Early witchcraft was a rudimentary and localised religion, bound up in fertility and survival – the two over-riding concerns for our species, then as now. Way back then, society meant only the village you lived in. Abroad was the next village. The other side of the world was ten miles down the road, if there was a road. The concept of organised religion or ordered society was simply a contradiction in terms.

But, by degrees, the world progressed. The concept of society developed; so too the idea of established religion, which quickly began to stamp out the faithless religions that had gone before. The certainty of the new religions, notably Christianity in Europe, made it inevitable that nonconformity would pay a price.

However, paying the price took a while to come. In the early years of Christian imperialism, the church much preferred to assimilate by stealth. For example, until 834, All Hallows was on 13 May – it was moved to 31 October by Pope Gregory IV to overlay the older pagan festival. So too, of course, Christmas itself.

Witchcraft’s journey from early acceptance to demonic intolerance took several centuries. In eighth-century Saxony, the death penalty existed for anyone killing a witch. In 11th-century Hungary, Charlemagne decreed that there was no legal remedy against witches, “since they do not exist.”

Bit by bit, the church flexed its muscles and tolerance was chipped away. By the 15th century in Hungary, the memory of Charlemagne now dimmed, a first offender found guilty of witchcraft was made to stand in the town square wearing a Jew’s cap, a symmetrical punishment alongside Europe’s other principal scapegoat.

Indeed, in many parts of Europe, the social exclusion of the Jews was only matched by the social exclusion of witches. It was merely a matter for individual societies to pick the scapegoat who best suited their particular circumstances. Intolerance, stoked by Renaissance enlightenment, became the catalyst that fuelled a dual persecution of the Jew and the witch across Europe.

In the Alps and Pyrenees they burned witches, in Spain they burned Jews – for the simple crime of being either a witch or a Jew. In 14th- and 15th-century Germany, it was the Jews who suffered; by the 16th century it was the witches. In the 20th century, it was the turn of the Jew again, the cycle of persecution turning full circle in the ovens of Auschwitz.

The witch persecution simply reinvented Cernunnos as the other horned god, Satan, neatly avoiding the fact that Satanism is a corruption of Christianity, not of witchcraft. In the wiccan creed, there is no equivalent of the devil. However, two horns bad, no horns good: another cliché to demonise nonconformity.

As often or not it was the local wise woman who suffered first. This local worthy had, from earliest times, been doctor, pharmacist and midwife. Now it became a calling with a bleak future. Indeed, there is some evidence that during the witch persecutions women started giving birth on their backs as a male-dominated medical profession took over – and decreed it more decorous for women to give birth lying down.

The epidemic was self-fulfilling because the more of them you tortured, the more you found. In Scotland, unlike England, judicial torture was allowed – and who wouldn’t confess and name all their friends and relations when their fingers and toes were being crushed by the pennywinkis? In England, the witch persecution was relatively mild. In England, another difference, witches were hanged.

All that was required in Scotland for a guilty verdict was for the accused to look nervous. If the court was in any doubt, dooking was a favourite route to justice. You chucked the poor unfortunate into running water and, if she floated (most of the witch victims were women), she was guilty. Such was the fate of Elsie Peat in 1589: she floated in Edinburgh’s Nor’ Loch and was then taken to the castle esplanade to be strangled and burned.

In East Lothian, the witchcraft epidemic was particularly severe. Many were either carted off to Edinburgh or burned more locally, notably at Spott, near Dunbar, where a stone still commemorates the village’s grisly history. In the Highlands, relatively few witches met a fiery fate. Highlanders, it seems, had better things to worry about.

James VI of Scotland swept away the distinction between good and bad witches, a policy that he also pursued on his accession to the English throne. The epidemic only receded as judicial torture fell out of favour. By the time the last witch was killed in Scotland, in 1722, the persecution had claimed some 3,500 victims.

The last person to be prosecuted for witchcraft was Scottish housewife Helen Duncan, jailed for nine months in 1944 because, as a spiritualist, she seemed to know too much about the war effort. The last Witchcraft Act in the UK was passed in 1951. In other parts of the world, notably Africa, witches are still feared and still persecuted.

The cult of the scapegoat is alive and kicking, as Sir Fred Goodwin knows only too well. But the trouble is that by defining scapegoats we are also defining our own intolerances, and looking for somebody to blame. Sir Fred should have seen opprobrium coming a mile off.

But behind the clichés we should remind ourselves that several thousand Scots died in the witch persecutions, innocent victims of a society that still needs to find its hapless scapegoats. In there, as we scrape Aunt Mabel off the floor, is a Christmas message worth remembering.

Charlie Laidlaw is a director of Laidlaw Westmacott Communications, the Edinburgh-based PR firm.

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<em>Picture: Office of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann</em>

Picture: Office of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann

Funny how?

Republican Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has made the cover of Newsweek magazine, which should represent a triumph for her.

Unfortunately, there is an easy consensus from both left and right that the senator for Minnesota looks, to be frank, odd. While focusing on the funny-ha-ha, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart contends that the intention of Newsweek’s famously liberal editor Tina Brown was to make the woman they’re calling Sarah Palin 2.0 look funny-strange.

Fox News think it’s a left-wing conspiracy.

“Some people look at this picture and think Michele Bachmann looks crazy, “ Brown said, in a rather unconvincing rebuttal. “Some people look at it and think it’s the next president of the United States. The fact that these two things are no longer mutually exclusive is what I think makes it pretty compelling… This is a very polarizing moment in politics and this cover absolutely captures that moment.”

Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s sketch-upload site Funny or Die has certainly made merry on the issue.

The real problem is that great magazine covers – portraits of high-profile individuals, anyway – tend to do one of two things: capture someone’s essential essence, or play with it to change perception or surprise.

Both are normally – but not always – done with the subject’s blessing. Here, in no particular order, are five magazine covers which do one thing and five which surprise:

Five covers which captured someone in a moment…
1 – Andy Warhol, Esquire, May 1969
Art director George Lois’s covers for Esquire were expert at capturing the essence of a story. So much so that they made them into a book. Lois worked in advertising, too, which made sense when you look at how he helped Esquire sell Andy Warhol.

2 – Demi Moore, Vanity Fair, August 1991
Not only Hugh Hefner knows that plenty of nude women have graced covers, but Annie Leibovitz’ portrait of a nude pregnant woman got America talking. And, no, that is not Ashton Kutcher’s older brother in there.

3 – Kurt Cobain, NME, April 1994
Sometimes an image can say more than a hundred obituaries.

4 – Vladimir Putin, Time, December 2007
In modern terms, the two main portraiture photographers are Martin Schoeller and British photographer Platon. Platon’s shot of Vladimir Putin was not in itself noteworthy, but Time’s pronouncement of the Russian leader as 2007’s Person of the Year was the real talking-point.

5 – Suede, Select, April 1993
The music press likes to think of itself as starting scenes. It could be a challenge to round up the lapsed Melody Maker readers who will petition on behalf of the “Romo” and “New Wave of New Wave” movements. This cover actually did start what would become Britpop. While the rest of the music press was shoegazing and had their eyes fixed on Seattle, Select saw something in the burgeoning British music scene featuring Brett Anderson in front of a Union Jack. Under two years later, Damon Albarn shouting “Wake Up, America” from the stage of Blur’s all-conquering Brit Awards.

…and five covers which flipped the script
1 – Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, W Magazine, July 2005
A happy families shot of the Jolie-Pitts wouldn’t look shocking now – the weekend papers carried shots of them outside a west London branch of Halfords. But before the ink on your divorce to Jennifer Aniston had been filed (that was August), going to an upscale fashion mag with your new girlfriend, fashion photographer Steven Klein and some imaginary weans is pretty out there.

2 – Ice-T, Rolling Stone, August 1992
After the riots (remember them?) in LA, Ice-T released a charming ditty with his band Body Count called Cop Killer which had Moses himself (OK, Charlton Heston) walking into a board meeting at Warner Brothers and parting the Red Sea of shareholders. Rolling Stone had a novel way of soothing the biggest story in America that summer – this.

3 – Macaulay Culkin, The Face, November 2002
Terry Richardson is a provocative photographer. And The Face certainly had plenty of provocative and iconic covers. Any number of Kate Moss, Kylie or Madonna images could have been chosen. But Kevin from Home Alone. This time it was the readers who affected both hands to cheeks and opened their gobs.

4 – Britney Spears, Rolling Stone, December 1999
A long, long time ago there was a period last century when Britney Spears appeared on magazine covers with her clothes on. Then Rolling Stone and David LaChapelle talked her into this. (Note to magazine editors: next time a truculent pop star tells you they won’t share a cover with another artist, remind them Britney shared hers with a Teletubby.)

5 – Diana at 50, Newsweek, June 2011
What would the late Princess of Wales have made of life in 2011? We’ll never know. That didn’t stop Tina Brown trying to have a controversy-rousing guess.

The Michele Bachmann cover is problematic because if she wasn’t complicit in the way she was represented, it doesn’t seem entirely fair. Voters in America will soon have their chance to make up their minds on the candidate, but whether this cover captures her essential essence is unsure. It could tell us more about the magazine editor behind it.

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