A Guest Post by John Mc.
I passed Victoria Park on the bus tonight and it was jumping with folk out to ‘celebrate’ the Commonwealth Games. Earlier today was the queen’s baton race through the streets of Glasgow. A YES Scotland activist in my area had been trying to organize spectators waving saltires to have ‘our’ presence felt. I feel that the message would be lost. Saltires, as a vicious flag war currently playing out in my area suggests, are not an automatic sign of a YES voter. “I am a proud Scot” is the war cry of the fence sitters and no voters too. If I were to see saltires being waved at the queen’s race I would assume the spectators were in support of the Games unless the context was specifically explained to me.
The interaction of the Commonwealth Games and the YES campaign is something I find a little depressing. The referendum looms before us and until it has been and gone it seems that the majority of people – and certainly the government – are terrified of upsetting or being perceived to upset the status quo. It’s hard to tell what came first: the fear of upsetting the status quo or the better together mud-slinging about how ‘uncivilized’ the independence debate has become. When I looked out the bus window at the families gathered around trampolines and burger tables in the sun I couldn’t help but feel totally estranged from it all.
The picture-postcard sunny day utopian scene has something rotten behind it.
Let us put the history of British imperialism and the millions of lives destroyed and atrocities committed in the name of the crown to one side. A difficult thing to do as the queen makes her way to Parkhead and the brit flag flies above the jungle, but putting things to one side is a theme not only at Celtic (Griffiths, Biton) but throughout the whole of Glasgow just now as the Commonwealth takes hold.
The theme of the Commonwealth Games 2014 is the peripheralization and displacement of the people of Glasgow. Jaconelli has shown us that as soon as one person doesn’t want to play along the benevolent façade slips and the compulsory purchase orders come out. Pride this year was relegated into a relatively small car park behind St Enoch’s Centre because of the Commonwealth Games taking over the city. Homosexuality is a criminal offence in 42 of the 53 Commonwealth countries. What is it the people in Victoria Park are celebrating again?
Later today Celtic supporters will be forced onto trains and busses to Edinburgh for the Champions League Qualifiers despite Celtic park not actually being used at the time. The ridiculous situation is caused by the council’s bid for the games containing a sort of ‘no compete’ clause where no major sporting events can take place in the City in the same week as the Commonwealth Games. Its not really on the PLC, although they have milked the Commonwealth Games for everything they can at the expense of the living wage, because a police safety certificate almost definitely wouldn’t be granted for Celtic to have matches at Parkhead during the Games. I’m particularly bitter about this because I can’t afford the train to Edinburgh on top of my match ticket and can’t go. Job seeking is a miserable existence.
This week past we saw reports of ‘protest zones’ being established for the duration of the Games: an attempt to cul-de-sac all political undesirables into ‘political ghettos’. Protest zones are a phenomenon in keeping with the larger Commonwealth redevelopment efforts to force economic and social undesirables away from the Commonwealth gaze. May we never forget that, had they had their way, the council would have aired the destruction of the Red Road Flats at the opening ceremony for £40 a ticket while the displaced residents watched on in big screens in Glasgow Green. Further, the flat used to house asylum seekers would have remained standing as Glasgow performed to the world that good enough for asylum seekers is not good enough for working class Scottish people. You may all be getting shat on but there is still a hierarchy, they say.
This week the city of Glasgow is totally colonized by the Commonwealth. Celtic games are displaced. Pride is displaced. Jaconelli is finally displaced. The working day is about to increase by a reported hour of travel each way. The gyms are shut. One lane of the express way is reserved for Commonwealth traffic. Everything is geared up to catering for international dignitaries and the Commonwealth gaze. Very little is geared towards actually improving the lot of the people who Glasgow belongs to the rest of the year round.
When you look at what the Commonwealth actually is and represents, it’s hard to understand how that translates to (displaced, disregarded) Glaswegians ‘celebrating’ in Victoria Park or elsewhere. All the atrocities committed in the name of British imperialism. Civilian massacres in India; concentration camps in Kenya; an gorta mór; the particularly dark episode in British history where the Brits were fighting against France in the Caribbean with the purpose of actually reinstating slavery! the situation in Palestine today is a direct product of British colonial interest in the Middle East. There’s not much to celebrate there as the queen descends upon Parkhead.
Furthermore, it feels like there is little to celebrate about the contemporary Commonwealth. LGBTQ people are legislated against in 42 of the 53 Commonwealth countries. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is welcomed into Glasgow. This man has overseen massive human rights abuses in Sri Lanka with British collusion. How does this translate to celebration in the streets of Glasgow?