Silence is not Golden

Opinion piece by Fiona Grahame

FionaWe all have a few happy memories that stay with us through all the tribulations of life and very often these are associated with summer childhood days. And I am no different.

For 3 summers we, as a family, had 2 weeks in Morar when I was a kid. We are talking sixties here. Everything about this holiday was exciting. The advance preparations: dad’s bike and a suitcase sent on ahead. Dad’s military precision suitcase packing. The actual journey of a taxi ride to Waverley station and two trains till we got to our destination. Best of all the holiday specials of the Beano and Dandy.

Morar was a complete contrast to Clermiston. The camping coach was an old once luxurious Pullman and was located on the station platform. The station master kept Morar station immaculate and also had his hens nearby which provided us with no end of amusement as we filled them up with our deliberately uneaten cornflakes.

The beach was a short walk away. Morar’s beaches: the silver sands, deserted except for ourselves. Even the sea was warm, such a contrast to the North Sea of Silverknowes.

Back at school those who had gone on holiday, because it was still a rare occurrence for most families, were keen to share their stories. In fact it was obligatory to write about them which kind of dulled the enthusiasm somewhat. Well my bonnie Morar with its frequently wet days and long train journey could not compare with the sun filled fun attractions and aeroplane journey of the few that had holidayed in Spain.

At home I asked dad why we could not go to Spain for a holiday. The answer: ” We don’t go to Franco’s Spain”. So as a small child I soon learned about General Franco and fascist Spain. Even at a young age I puzzled then why people from working class Scotland could happily sun themselves on the beach there. Morar would do fine for me.

Dad went on to explain about the men from Leith, a few years above him at the school, who had gone to fight the fascists in Spain before the second world war. Now I had heard plenty about WW2: at school, in the playground where we still played killing games, and on tv where at the weekend there was always some movie on about daring exploits of British types fighting Nazis or escaping from Nazis or uncovering a Nazi plot. But I had never heard the story of General Franco and fascist Spain until then.

The guys from Leith who went off to join the International Brigade were heroes. And that is in the true sense of the word not in the overused way we refer to anyone today  that finds a lost cat and returns it to its owner (commendable as that is), but real heroes. And even then it struck me as fabulous that men from Leith went all the way out to Spain to fight fascism. And of course many did not return.

Today decades after the death of Franco and its membership of the European Union as a modern state, Spain has again seen the rise of fascism. The unfolding situation in Catalonia where it’s democratically elected Government has called a referendum on independence has unleashed all the little general Franco’s in today’s Spanish Government. Protesters to be charged with sedition, water canon and van loads of state police deployed in readiness, the arrest of Catalan Government Ministers, the seizure of Catalan’s finances, threatening school principals with arrest should they allow their school to be used as a polling place – all of this and more is fascism. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think Catalonia should be independent. It’s about the right of a people to choose democratically how they wish to be governed.

And as in 1936 the governments of the West remain silent. And that worked out well didn’t it? The European Union is silent. The UK Government is silent. The Labour Party is silent. The Scottish Government has made a statement firstly through Fiona Hyslop,  Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs. She said:

“The decision over Catalonia’s future direction is a matter for the people who live there, and the Catalan and Spanish Governments are perfectly entitled to take positions for and against independence.

“However, all peoples have the right to self-determination and to choose the form of government best suited to their needs, a principle which is enshrined in the UN Charter.

“The Edinburgh Agreement was an example of how two governments, with diametrically opposed views on whether or not Scotland should become independent, were able to come together to agree a process to allow the people to decide. It is essential that democracy and civil rights are respected in all countries.”

And then by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon:

Scots show Catalan solidarity over independence referendum

The silence of the UK and European Governments and most of our politicians is one we should all be concerned with.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Desmond Tutu Brainy Quote

The Scots who fought Franco.


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3 replies »

  1. Fiona, It may well come to pass that this is what all decent folk should be thinking about as they plan next summers family holiday or better still only go to Catalonia.

  2. This is a good, well-written, thought-full piece.
    Unfortunately, people are all too happy to go for ‘holidays in other people misery’ – (The Sex Pistols). They often stay in a ‘complex’, where their only contact with the people of the country, is because they work there as servants. They are often there, just for the sunshine – apartheid South Africa comes to mind – remember “I ain’t gonna play Sun City”?
    For those with their thinking caps on, it can be hard to grasp how folk can be so blinkered, un-thinking and self-centred, but, unfortunately, they can be.
    It’s often a case of, they don’t care much what’s happening, as long as it’s not happening to them. Purposely not letting themselves look at situations or think about something which might interfere with their – enjoyment.
    People can also be…..most excellent.
    When I read your piece, Fiona, I immediately thought of the Sex Pistols song, googled to check I’d got the lyrics right, and saw this from Amnesty International, which I thought was apposite, and a good thing.

    By the by – my family always went over to Ireland to visit family when I was a child, Mum and Dad wouldn’t have thought to go anywhere else, and I have many, many happy memories of those holidays – on small farms, with animals to look after – learning to milk the cows and churn the butter. Helping to ‘save the turf’ – even thought the spiders were un-believable. Wouldn’t ask for anything more.
    Each to their own – but a bit of thought before choosing, can make a difference to people lives. The bad ‘uns don’t like to know that the world is watching them. That’s where Amnesty International plays such a big part.
    It all comes down to thinking, and not being self-centred. ‘Do as you would be done by’ – simple enough, or, it should be, could be.

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