Thursday, 18 September 2014

Freedom is a Sweet Word


Freedom is a sweet word – a word that resonates within me. A rebel cry that declares my desire for... For what?

Independence?

No. For justice.

A little known band from the Eighties – Fat & Frantic – are responsible for that twist.

I’ve had the lyrics for their song – Freedom is a sweet word – going round my head for weeks. An a capella number that still has the power to haunt me.

The song was released at a time when Apartheid still had its soulless grip on South Africa. It dared then to subtly challenge racist oppression worldwide and still has just as much power today as we debate - and finally today decide - Scotland’s future.

We may gain independence after September 18th, but will we gain justice? If we fail to achieve justice then what will have been the point in striving for independence?

Freedom is a sweet word...

The song’s three verses have the power to question much that is wrong about Scottish society today.

“Freedom means you are allowed to make and guard your pile against the people who have freedom to do... As they please but haven’t used it so constructively as you”

Believe it or not, we have a great deal of freedom in Scotland today. Every single one of us – as a UK citizen and even more so in a Scotland which is part of the UK – has the chance to work hard; to educate ourselves; to choose a goal and strive to achieve it.

We have the freedom to do as we please.

We have freedom, yet for many of us, our options are limited by the actual costs of going to work; the increasing costs of simply surviving; the costs of education (even in Scotland with tuition fees mostly being paid); the cost of our tax burden... I could go on.

 The rich – whoever they are – have indeed made their piles of cash. Some is stored off-shore. Some is invested in land or property. Others are raking it in through lucrative businesses.

Yet it’s not injustice to be rich. It’s not wrong to be wealthy.

I've blogged for years on my 100 goals. Some of my goals are to enable myself and my family to be wealthy. Yet if you go right back to the beginning and read every page of this blog, you’ll find that in pursuit of some of these goals, I’ve done things which I cannot be proud of.

I’ve gambled. I’ve shown a love for money which blinded me to danger. I’ve exercised my freedom and it hasn’t always been a pretty sight.

Personally I have been unsure that we have a right to set tax rates too high yet conversely, or perhaps perversely, I’ve published a novel – The Great Scottish Land Grab – which has a theme of modern day land confiscation. Many of you will have seen the info-graphic videos on unequal wealth distribution. I posted two of the mostshocking on this blog last year.

When I heard that the richest 10% in the UK have declared wealth of three times more than UK national debt, I started to wonder – why doesn’t government just pass a law seizing wealth from the richest ten percent; pay off the national debt; use the money saved in interest payments to transform the economy?

Why?

Is it because, as Fat & Frantic so elegantly put it, freedom without justice is a freedom for a few?

I don’t believe that every wealthy person has obtained their wealth through unjust means. I don’t believe that every wealthy person is hoarding their pile of cash and refusing to share their wealth with the poorest in society.

I do believe that the ever increasing disparity between rich and poor is an injustice. Something has to be done before we reach that tipping point and some powerful but idiotic, cash laden whore tells the people they can eat cake.

Or am I just scare-mongering?

Could our allegedly first world, politically correct, oh so equal Scotland really descend into riots or civil war?

Perhaps I’ve spent too much time volunteering at our local food bank.

I currently work in Edinburgh where the majority consensus appears to be that we’re alright as we are, why would we want to risk that by leaving the UK?

It’s an understandable opinion. If you have benefited from the current political system, why would you want to change it?

But not everyone has benefited...

As I’ve been promoting my novel around Scotland I’ve heard a wide mixture of views, from the simple Yes and No, to apathy, to indecision, to extremes on both sides. There are many who have not benefitted from our current political system that persecutes the poor, keeping them in a form of slavery.

Some Yes campaigners may struggle to understand that some of those poor have been so beaten down that they cannot imagine anything changing and so have not even registered to vote.

Some Yes campaigners may also struggle to realise that the haves in modern day Scotland might just outweigh the have nots. If a majority of people in Scotland do perceive themselves to be well off under the present system then it will be a close vote today.

I want Scotland to be prosperous. I strongly believe that success and entrepreneurship should be rewarded. That hard work and ingenuity should result in success.

But I also know that many of the poorest in our society work just as hard and are just as ingenious as the rich – sometimes more so. Yet many of the poor cannot break free from debt or poverty.

In the last decade my wife and I have taken ourselves from being utterly dependent on Tax Credits to being able to provide for ourselves without that insidious burden. We’ve had to fight and struggle all the way.

I know how difficult it is and also know that some fellow Scots that I’ve worked with have not been willing to make the same sacrifices or take the same risks that we have.

Apathy and laziness and depression will not disappear in an independent Scotland.

Is it right that those who are not willing to take the same risks, to make the same sacrifices, to work as hard should fail to reap the same rewards? Personally I believe so.

But my capitalism is edged with a form of socialism. As stated above, I have considered whether a one off tax on the wealthiest would redress the massive injustice in wealth distribution.

I would be willing to pay more tax if that money was distributed to the poorest – but I would not be willing for the recipients of that tax to be allowed to sit around and fail to contribute to society.

Regardless of how the vote goes today, tomorrow we will have the same problems to face. We will still have politicians in Westminster and Holyrood who ignore the people they are supposed to serve, who prioritise their narrow political agenda, ignoring the majority.

This week I debated for Yes on Revival FM radio. I agreed with my opponent who argued for No on far more issues than I disagreed with. A vote for No will not change the fact that we the people are ruled by corrupt politicians desparate to hang onto power. Neither will a vote for Yes.

Yet I will vote Yes today, not because it will magically fix our problems but because it is a public statement that something radical needs to change and this is the only way I can see to start the process.

As I’ve been writing my novel I’ve been able to dream what a just Scotland could look like, to give voice to my own vision of a system that rewards those who strive and enables everyone who wants to be productive. A Scotland where there is full employment, a Scotland where the historic injustices of the clearances could be reversed.
This is a future I want to work for, one that I believe will be more possible (though require no less work) in an independent Scotland.

Could we create a Scotland where people are encouraged to make themselves wealthy and every person has the same opportunities to better themselves?

It will be difficult but isn’t that worth fighting for?


You can get a flavour of how ‘Freedom is a sweet word’ sounds here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00BFRGJF2/

The Ken Thinks Aloud blog has kindly provided the lyrics to ‘Freedom is a sweet word’ here: http://kenthinksaloud.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/fat-frantic-freedom-is-a-sweet-word/

Friday, 12 September 2014

A recipe for Democracy!

Goal achieved!

Somewhere back around 2007 I set myself three impossible goals to achieve before I turned 40. You can read about them on my list of my 100 goals. I wrote the first draft of The Great Scottish Land Grab in 2011 as part of NaNoWriMo and considered the goal achieved. I always felt like I'd cheated though as the real goal was to publish a book - even though I had only said write one.

Today that goal is fully achieved: The last part of The Great Scottish Land Grab has been published on Amazon!

Book 3 went live this morning:


A recipe for democracy…

“We’ve said all along that the fight for Scotland does not end with the referendum, well it doesn’t end with this election either. Scotland has voted for a Land Grab and Scotland is going to get one!”

With these words, Robert Castle declares war on all who would oppose him as he seeks to overturn the injustice of the Highland Clearances.

A victory has been won but many will fight to retain their power and their property. Can Castle and his Café Politics win the struggle or could Scotland descend into civil war?

Helen Castle has sacrificed much to support her husband but as the pressure mounts, will she have to sacrifice her last dream?

Irene Newlands has only known poverty. When a stranger appears on her doorstep, how will she cope when he threatens to take away the little she has?

Imagine a country without politicians, a country governed by the people, for the people. The Great Scottish Land Grab is a vision of democracy. A blueprint for a future Scotland.

Praise for The Great Scottish Land Grab:

“The first book left me intrigued - the second one has left me excited! Mark Anderson Smith has set up a scenario that seems totally implausible but he manages to make it wholly believable. I think there is discontent generally with political life across all of Great Britain and the idea of another way is very attractive. I love the concept of voting for new policies with your mobile phone just as you would for your X Factor favourite! Really looking forward to book three!” J Kluver

“What a great follow up to book one, particularly enjoyed the cafe politics that allows people to have a say as opposed to not being listened to by politicians (sound familiar), just a pity it's fiction…” A Welsh

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Cover design by David MacKenzie

Talking to random strangers over the past few weeks - as you do when you're selling your novel - I've had some useful feedback on my novel's book cover. Here's the original image for book 1:


One person said they didn't read non fiction. Another said you'll be voting No then...

Neither of these is the impression I wanted people to have looking at the cover.

I'm beginning to detest the saying "Never judge a book by its cover." Every single person I've offered my Great Scottish Land Grab business cards to over the past two months - over 600 people - has made a judgement. Some have been immediately interested, others turned off, whether by the photo cover or the title.

I judge books by their covers and have been wondering whether I needed to get a professional in.

Enter David MacKenzie (http://dmackenzie.com/). He designed the logo for my company: Goal 31 Ltd and I absolutely love it:



I could have gone to many different cover designers

but I had such a good experience working with David to design the logo that I wanted to go back to him.

He's now drafted four simple designs based on an idea I gave him. My rough sketch was of a coffee cup with steam rising out with the book title in the steam. Here are his initial layouts (as he's said, these are rough drafts) at postage stamp size - which is how most people will see the novel initially on Amazon/iBookStore/Lulu:


I'd love to hear which you like best and why.

I've already had some fascinating feedback and will be writing that up in a later post.

Larger images are below.






















And in case you're wondering - that is a Cafe Politics logo on the coffee cup... If you don't know what that means, you'll have to buy book two!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

From puff the magic dragon to the magic fountain

My wife and I desperately wanted to see the famous Gaudi dragon while in Barcelona. Turns out that Park Guell where it's located isn't entirely free to walk around. To see the amazing architecture and statues up close you need to book in advance and pay.

Our first trip to the park was a rather dry, exhausting and disapointing trip. However we went back, having booked our tickets and took the tour round a stunning display of Gaudi's work.

I'm not going to comment any more except to say if you like beauty, there is a lot of it to be found in Barcelona.

The magic fountain...? If you've never seen it yourself, you'll get an idea at the end. Google it. The display is quite something...








Sunday, 17 August 2014

From Catalonia to Caledonia

After completing book two of The Great Scottish Land Grab I promised my wife a holiday.

We got cheap flights out to Barcelona for a week and I tried to put the novel out of my head. Didn't work but at least I had left the laptop at home...

We were staying in an apartment hotel, one of the better ones with a reasonable kitchen and a fantastic pool on the roof. Managed to sunburn myself on day one... Shouldn't let Scots like me into hot countries...

Everywhere we went I noticed these colourful flags, yellow with four red stripes. Some with a blue triangle and white star.


Kind of hard to see unless you zoom in really close...


I assumed football colours. Lot of football supporters in Barcelona then.

Always dangerous to assume. I google searched and found the flag is a symbol of Catalonia independence, the Estelada.

No, I couldn't escape the referendum debate on holiday...

It is a beautiful flag, bright colours... at least when new. Some of the flags had obviously been in the sun a loooong time.

Once I knew what the flag represented, I found myself comparing it to the Yes and No Thanks posters and stickers that I've seen around Scotland.


Nowhere near as bright or colourful but still a barometer of how Scotland feels about independence.

Divided.

There are clusters of Yes. Clusters of No Thanks. There is definitely a rich and poor divide. I've seen far more No Thanks posters in affluent areas. Conversely, More Yes posters and stickers in what I would class as less well off areas, including my own.

But nothing is never as clear cut as one would like. Why is it that only one house in these three has Yes posters up?Why is it that in many affluent areas there are no No Thanks posters to be seen?

In Barcelona, while I had initially thought there were hundreds of these colourful flags, I quickly began to notice the large gaps between them. Whole streets with not a single flag in sight.

If you're interested in comparing the Catalonia independence call to that of Scotland's, Debating Europe has a handy beginners guide to some of the issues: Arguments for and against Catalonia independence. However, as an outsider who is only starting to learn about Catalan, I'm wary of assuming this is an unbiased site.

FT.com published this in April: Catalonia to forge ahead with referendum on independence. The comments section revealing for the views in English about proposed independence.

Wars of Spanish secession was also an interesting read while I was away.

I'm back in sometimes sunny, sometimes drizzly Scotland. I met one gentleman this week who was adamant he would leave Scotland and take his business with him if Scotland votes Yes. I contrast this with the only man who offered an opinion on Catalonian independence while I was away. He was against it.

Yet for every person I meet in Scotland I meet who is against independence I am meeting an equal number who are for it. Who are looking to a brighter future, a more colourful future, one where maybe we won't need any more food banks, maybe even job centres...

I'll leave you with my Estelada, something to remember Barcelona by...


Saturday, 2 August 2014

AJCWordsmith - A name in vain

I.
a name in vain
profane and vulgar-
yet I sit while you sin

II.
MY Lord's Name
carries weight and strength-
it carries my soul

III.
His name is no trite obscenity-
speak those two words with joy
and know power eternal

By Alexander Cunningham

It's not often as a blogger that someone says a blog post has inspired them to write a poem. Absolutely fantastic to read the powerful result.

I introduced myself to a new Facebook group - Christian Bloggers UK - last week, shared one of my posts from 2012 and within a day Alexander Cunningham had contacted me with the above poem.

You can view Alexander Cunningham's Facebook page here:
https://m.facebook.com/AJCWordsmith

Alexander has been asking people for three words which he has been using to write a linked, three verse haiku. If you'd like to help him with his project, contact him at his Facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/AJCWordsmith

I couldn't copy and paste the text giving the full explanation of the project but (as I TwitFaced last week) fortunately my daughter has shown me how to take screenshots:


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Great Scottish Land Grab Book Two published!

What a ride!

Book two of The Great Scottish Land Grab went live on Amazon Kindle today:


The First Minister is missing... Scotland is divided… The referendum is in crisis...

Only one man has a vision for Scotland that could unite both sides in the independence debate.

News that the First Minister of Scotland is missing, with only four months until the referendum on Scottish independence, challenges Robert Castle to decide whether he will fight for Scotland’s future.

Sensing that the theft of Scotland’s land over many centuries has robbed the people of their opportunity to be independent, Castle fights for a modern day land grab - to reverse the clearances that stole Scotland’s land from the people.

But if the First Minister is not found, it will not just be the referendum at stake but the government of Scotland.

Will Castle’s determination to win this battle drive him and his wife apart? Will it cost him more than he can bear to lose?

Praise for book one of The Great Scottish Land Grab:

“Power to the people! I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in current events in Scotland, though I know a fair few who would be shouting at the screen. Look forward to the next instalment if only to find out what he has done to Eck”

“Great debut story! Really enjoyed this story and can’t wait for the second part. Left readers with a real cliff hanger of an ending. Whether you intend to vote yes, no or couldn't care less this book will be of interest.”

“Can't wait until the next book is issued in July!”

The final book will be released in August 2014

Now available worldwide in the following Kindle stores:
UK
USA
India
Germany
France
Spain
Italy
Japan
Brazil
Canada
Mexico
Australia

Also, I've finally released book one in an ePub format. You can buy book one from Lulu.com. Hopefully over the next fortnight Lulu will distribute book one to Apple, Kobo and Nook.

Book two will be released in ePub in August. I need to check with Neilsen about using the ISBN before I release it

I've already had one review of book two on a friend's Facebook page: "Thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm fascinated by the history and politics behind the Scottish referendum, and interested to see what happens, both in the real referendum and in Book 3. I did suggest to the author that he sends the hero to Southern Africa to research how not to do land redistribution I wonder if he'll take my advice?"

I'm now starting to wonder if that would be a twist in the tale worth following...

Book three is starting to take shape but I've still a lot of writing to do. I'm not likely to be blogging much over August but I will still be using TwitFace - as my wife lovingly refers to it. You can follow me @my100goals

I'd love to hear your feedback on book two. Comment below, on Amazon, Lulu, my Facebook page... Or just stop me on the street!