Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mega sweet plans for Aberdeen’s City Garden Project

Design would see 14 brands of sweets inserted

Published: 26/01/2012
The centre of Aberdeen could be filled with sweets as part of the City Garden Project, designers revealed today.
The raising of Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen would see over fourteen brands of confectionary dispersed throughout the Granite Web.
The sweets – including Smarties, Bassets Allsorts, Quality Street, Love Hearts,  – would replace the 86 trees currently in Union Terrace Gardens, to help create the new City Garden in Aberdeen.
Designers have said there is also option to construct the elevated walkways out of Twix. Wham bars were initially considered, however they ruled out after they were found to soften in the Mediterranean climates predicted be brought by the creation of the Square  Garden.
A spokesperson for ACSEF tonight said initial projections suggest that the City Garden Project's 5 acres of sweets would create around 6,500 long and medium term employment opportunities "What this development had highlighted is the periphery industries which could benefit directly from the project. We believe this would allow Aberdeen to become a centre for excellence in Dentistry."

Frank Furter from the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust Steering Monitoring Project Gardens Strategic Partnership Collective said "Whatever you want in it, you can have it."

A source close to the city council, who yesterday agreed on a range of measures to pave the way for the City Garden Project, subject to a “yes” vote when the result of the ballot is announced on March 2, claimed that elected members were very interested in this new proposal "especially if there was an option to include butteries."

Sir Ian Wood, who has underpinned the City Gardens Project with a generous donation of £50 Million from his personal fortune today said "Yummy."

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The FUTURE is here!

Well, it has been a while since I last posted. While I was going to let sleeping dogs lie and use my current geographical shift to depart from the debate surrounding Union Terrace Gardens, the dogs have woken up, and in a fit have turned around and bit the good people of Aberdeen, and indeed anyone with any aesthetic or cultural sense firmly in the ankles.

Yes, dear reader, the Future is here! After much speculation ACSEF's shortlisted designs have been announced and revealed and (while us poor proles are not allowed to view the public exhibition at the former Pier building on Belmont street until tomorrow) released online. Regular visitors to this blog will have been used to serious hyperlinkage and cross referencing and a little bit of expose into the machinations surrounding the project, this special edition blog post will be a little different. I'm just going to take a little time to publicize the designs and let everyone have a look.

Six architectural teams have been assembled to provide designs for Sir Ian Wood's City Square Garden Project - but the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Up until now noone, let along the scheme's backer's have been sure what the project is all about. It started out life as a "Cross between Central Park, and a Grand Italian Piazza" it turned into "five acres of Garden, if thats what you want."

All images borrowed from STV Local.

Team One have taken their inspiration directly from a spider's web - or from a doodle idly drawn on the corner of a notepad while on the phone to someone they didn't really want to talk to (ACSEF?).
On closer inspection the web-designs seem to constitute a series of raised walkways so you, too, can experience life in the pleasure domes from Logan's Run, or the Futuristic world from sci-fi documentary, The Jetsons.
Complete with travelators for traveling from the Denburn Car Park to the Trinty Centre Car park nestled helpfully underneath this meadow:
So if you see plumes of smoke - dont worry its not a brush fire! Its simply exhaust fumes, what more would you need from an inner-city-future-space-meadow. To top off the futuristic theme, the cherry on top of team one's design is this teleporation hub/gateway between dimensions:

In Team Two's aerial view they appear to have done nothing at all, however a giant transparent worm is in the middle of devouring the denburn dual carraigeway. (And there was much rejoicing)
Not even the cold weather of Aberdeen can deter this giant Glass beast as it ambles up to devour the unsuspecting Aberdonians milling around. Which they can do now that the worm has eaten the road and the railway.
Ok, its not that bad. The worm doesn't actually  devour the humans, It appears to simply wine and dine them. Like a giant larval bad date. 

Or it could be fattening them up - who's to say? These are only visualisations. The main problem I have with Team Two's designs are the inability to shake this comparison out of my head:

Team Three are most likely to be Sir Ian Wood's favourites. In that their designs are practically identical to those vomited onto paper by Haliday Fraser Munro for the 2009 Technical Appraisal:
Although it fails to bother cover up the road and the railway. But that will be forgiven given that the architects of Team Three prescribe to the same school of fantasy aboroculture as Sir Ian. The cross sections provided below show:
Can you see it?
How about now?

Team Four have provided designs for the UTG Commerative Plate.

Although viewed from serf-height, and not from the vantage point of the Hubble Telescope, it appears to be a Paddy Field, being worked by future children. Obviously the current financial climate and Economic situation has seen a reversal of lifestyles and fashions to a post-war situation:
You will notice in the mid-ground that there appears to be a family erecting a shanty-home. Obviously these are just renderings, as it is doubtful that a Hooverville would be permitted in the centre of town.
 They havent even bothered to finish that building.

Team 5's effort appears as though it is sponsored by a popular angular crisp brand. Although I dont wish to name the actual brand for fear they may sue for defamation at the remotest posibilty of being linked with the unpopular scheme:
"Is that really a flat, green triangle?" An online correspondent of mine asked upon viewing the above image. While obviously ACSEF will not have anyone mention the word "flat" anywhere near the project, (Use of the word "Flat" in beyond Holburn Street or south of King Street is rumoured to be prohibited in a local by-law) we have to give it local Guardians of Economic Future here, as this other image clarifies:

Yes. It is in fact an image of Nuclear Winter circa 2150 AD, as rendered by a re-animated J.M. Turner. Note the elderly couple from Raymond Brigg's When The Wind Blows, cowering in the foreground, and in the mid ground people in various stages of being vapourized.

Last and, by no certain means lest, Team Six appear to have done nothing at all to the gardens:
But have rather spent all their money on.....

wait for it....


You can imagine it now, projecting the eeiry high pitched whine, underpinned by a rough bass hum as it fires groups of birds at the Trinity Centre. It dwarfs Union Street, standing twice the size of Jamieson and Carry. Already it is rugged and moss-covered as though it has always been there, As it Should Have. On closer inspection it is giant sized Jenga, as scale of which only the Guardians of Economic Future themselves can play. In its rightful as the biggest thing in Aberdeen, nay The North East, nay Scotland it dwarfs even The King as he stands proud with his scepter and guilded Royal Football.

There you have it, the designs everyone has been waiting for. If you have to pick, I urge you to VOTE MONOLITH. However this is really because I didnt think there was a more rediculous concept than to pave over UTG and replace them with a car park/undergound arcade/street level piazza - and Team Six have completely proved me wrong.

Out of all of them the Fosters  Team Two design is probably the best out of the lot, despite looking not unlike these fellas, from 1973 Doctor Who episode The Green Death: (which is pretty apt...)

But the passable designs dont fullful the perameters of Sir Ian Wood, the minority stakeholder (Who's silence since the announcement has been deafening) and the real tragedy may already have happened: the loss of the most beautiful design for Union Terrace Gardens.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Use It Or Lose It

Following the demise of the Northern Light Contemporary Art Centre Scheme, spearheaded by Peacock Visual Arts, following the decision by Aberdeen City Council on May 19th to accept "in principle" an alternative scheme for Union Terrace Gardens there was a surplus of unused and somewhat unusable £9.5 Million. This at direct contrast with the scheme which had been amber-lighted, oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood's 'vision' for a five-acre, three story plaza to replace the Denburn Valley, which is short by at least £90 Million, ten times the money which had already been raised by the Peacock scheme.

In the months following the fateful council meeting the £9.5 Million which had been pledged to Peacock inevitably began to filter away. The £4.3 Million Scottish Arts Council grant was returned to new cultural body Creative Scotland and redistributed to other projects throughout Scotland. Aberdeen City Council held onto the £3 Million they had pledged, minus a small amount released to keep Peacock's campaign team running in the lead up to the Council Decision. However in the past week doubt has been shed on the future of the £2 Million pledged from Scottish Enterprise.

In January this year, the Press and Journal reported that Gordon McIntosh, director of enterprise, planning and infrastructure, claimed that the Scottish Enterprise grant had been prematurely withdrawn “The information that I was provided with last week was that the £1.6million was handed back last April,” adding that “The council was working under the assumption that the money was there when it wasn’t."

Gordon McIntosh: "£1.6 Million handed back last April"
However, Scottish Enterprise strongly refute these claims stating that "at no point did SE withdraw funding for the Contemporary Arts Centre in Aberdeen. Had the project gone ahead as planned and outlined in the legal agreement then SE would have honoured the funding agreement." This stance is backed up by documents provided by Scottish Enterprise detailing how the organisation had contacted Council Officers on three separate occasions towards the end of last year: September 15th, October 19th and November 19th in order to discuss options for alternative proposals to receive the remaining £1.6 Million of Scottish Enterprise money.

Two of the three documents provided by Scottish Enterprise clearly mention a March 2011 deadline for the re-allocation of the monies, while the third refers to identifying "alternative eligible projects which may meet SE's strategic objectives and conditions." The eligibility and strategic objectives and conditions relating to the grant were spelled out in a legal agreement between Scottish Enterprise and Aberdeen City Council dated 18th March 2009, which had been signed off by the city solicitor on 23rd March 2009, which also mentions a final deadline for allocation of monies by 31st March 2011.

The information provided clearly indicates that should the grant not be re-allocated then it would be returned to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in April this year, not last year as Mr McIntosh suggested in January. While at face value, looking at the numerous documents it could appear that mr McIntosh's claims were the result of a simple mistake, that the council officer had simply gotten his dates wrong. It remains to be seen how a council executive with such a large responsibility to the city could make announcements based on a seemingly minor oversight - especially when receiving monthly correspondence from Scottish Enterprise regarding Aberdeen City Council's responsibility to spend the remaining money. It is reckless at best for a local authority with such major and widespread financial problems to simply lose over a million pounds of public funding.

Another interesting note is the apparent discrepancy between the £2 Million awarded from Scottish Enterprise to Aberdeen City Council and the £1.6 Million mentioned in the documents from Scottish Enterprise which was required to be re-allocated or returned. The original legal agreement between SE and ACC "envisaged that £300, 000 of the Contribution was to be advanced by 31st March 2009" in order to "contribute an equitable share towards the advanced design stage of the [Peacock] Project." To this end £226, 000 was awarded to Peacock for "Architect, Design and Project Management fees", but a further £190, 000 was taken from the £2 Million in order to fund the Haliday Fraser Munro technical appraisal into Sir Ian's "vision" on behalf of ACSEF.

While SE ensures that "had the Contemporary Arts Centre project gone ahead SE would have honoured the £2Million grant in line with the legal grant offer", their money was being used to back two conflicting proposals, and the money for both came from a grant offer made to one project which was already in advanced design stages and had received full planning permission. In addition to the £190, 000 used to fund the technical appraisal, the Press and Journal revealed this week that the council had "secured permission to use £375,000 of the grant funding for Sir Ian Wood’s city square scheme" meaning that, in total, £565, 000 of the Scottish Enterprise grant awarded for the Northern Light Centre has been spent on the scheme which caused its collapse. That's over a quarter of the original grant.

The technical appraisal brief states that "the commission must deliver a technical appraisal which will inform an outline cost appraisal for three main options to develop Union Terrace Gardens and the Denburn Valley." The appraisal was to be carried out under a particular framework:

The framework for the options appraisal will fall under the following 3 headings:
1. Full street level decking
2. Partial street level decking
3. Re-design of the existing site without any street level decking
The appraisal must take into account a currently proposed project, with planning consent, to and create a £13.5M Contemporary Arts Centre (3,000 m²) on the West Side of Union Terrace Gardens.
However the actual results of the technical appraisal pay lip service to the framework but adhere closely to Sir Ian Wood's personal vision for the space. While the Contemporary Art Centre is included as a must, it is only included on the West Side of Union Terrace Gardens in option 3, which is quickly and unceremoniously dismissed as it only "would create minor benefits for Aberdeen City and Shire." Option 2, while having the brief to look at partial decking, it is almost indiscernible from Option 1, and bypasses the instruction from the project brief of "incorporating elements from previously appraised/designed schemes where appropriate" and ignoring the Millennium Square scheme (pictured, right)which would fulfill most people's desire to cover the dual carraigeway and railway, leaving the gardens mostly intact. Option 2 inexplicably replicates the first option but only doesn't meet with Belmont Street on the western side.

The technical appraisal, while bringing the costs of the project in embarrassingly light, pushes for the first option - directly facilitating the abandonment of the designed and planned Contemporary Arts Centre for which the grant which paid for it was intended. An odd and consciously contradictory machination which is not wholly unexpected.

In the ten months since The City Square project gained approval in principle, other than a change of name to The City Garden Project, it has made very little progress. The project has as-yet failed to gain Sir Ian's promised £50 Million investment, even though he claims it is now written into his will, a project board has been set up but inexplicably excluding any architects, and the timetable for the scheme is already slipping further back.

Kevin Stewart: "Surprise." Photo: Evening Express
Speaking in Saturday's Press and Journal, ACC Depute Leader, Kevin Stewart, in the face of losing the remaining £1.2 Million defended the council's actions by claiming “The city council made strenuous efforts to retain the Scottish Enterprise money for cultural projects. In fact, we drew up seven separate proposals — each of them costed and each presented to Scottish Enterprise for consideration.

“We had every faith that the proposals we put forward were worthy of funding from Scottish Enterprise, met the appropriate criteria, and would have contributed to the cultural life of the city.”

However it is difficult to quantify exactly how "strenuous" these efforts were to draw up proposals for spending the remaining money when just over a month ago SNP Councillor Stewart, who is also convener of the council's finance committee expressed that "It comes as a surprise to me that this money was withdrawn long before we made decisions about Union Terrace Gardens." How could Aberdeen City Council be making strenuous efforts to retain money that apparently wasn't there?

The attempts made to steamroller through this mega-proposal are spreading their debris throughout the city council. It seems that in the haste to chase Sir Ian Wood's yet-to-be guaranteed money for a project which will see him as the shot-calling minority shareholder, due process is being cast aside and Aberdeen City Council are tying themselves up in knots over it. As the Union Terrace Gardens saga continues with breakneck twists and turns, game changing revelations and scant regard for what the general public want to see with this public development, even those who support and champion the development are becoming unsure of what stage the development is actually at. Only once the City Square has succeeded in its inevitable self-inflicted downfall will the true costs of the vainglorious project be apparent to the city of Aberdeen. We can only hope that by that point it is not too late to give Aberdeen the regeneration it deserves.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

When The Levee Breaks

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”
George Orwell

Late last year, Julian Assange, Internet activist and editor-in-chief of online whistle-blowing site Wikileaks, was released on bail from the Royal Courts of Justice, albeit two days later than planned and with a number of restrictions which include "wearing an electronic tag, reporting to police every day, observing a curfew and residing at Mr [Vaughn] Smith's home." Assange has been effectively placed under house arrest at the home of Frontline Club founder Vaughn Smith in East Anglia under the conditions of his bail, which relate to his fight against extradition to Sweden where he faces sexual assault charges. The plot thickens and the overriding smell of mackerel rises as you take into consideration that in late August the arrest warrant served to Assange had been withdrawn and a statement from the Swedish Prosecutor's office saying that "It's not a serious enough crime" and the country's chief prosecutor Eva Finne stating "I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape." Of the two separate accusations against Assange, the rape case had been dropped but Swedish authorities would continue to investigate accusations of Molestation, which is not a sex crime but apparently relates to Assange's reluctance to wear a condom during sex.

In September however, another Swedish prosecutor reopened the rape investigation and decided that the molestation charge "should be reclassified and investigated as a case of sexual coercion and sexual molestation." A wanted notice was served by Interpol, a warrant reached the UK by early December and Assange handed himself over to the police. To date he has been in courts in London three times since the warrant arrived on our shores, the first hearing saw him refused bail "because of the risk of the 39-year-old fleeing" and detained in solitary confinement in Wandsworth Prison, in the second bail was granted however it was reported that Assange will "will remain in prison pending an appeal against the bail decision lodged by Swedish prosecutors", the third hearing - held yesterday - Assange was released and granted bail pending a hearing in the new year with Judge Mr Justice Ousely stating that "The history of the way it [the case] has been dealt with by the Swedish prosecutors would give Mr Assange some basis that he might be acquitted following a trial." Following Assange's release the Guardian published the full allegations for which he was facing extradition.

The timing and confused handling of the accusations against Assange have raised numerous questions about their legitimacy. In July this year, a month before the sexual misconduct accusations, Wikileaks, released 92, 000 US logs from the War in Afghanistan, much to the chagrin of the American authorities with the White House quick to condemn the leak as they "could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security" and the Pentagon demanding "to have a conversation about how to get these perilous documents off the website as soon as possible, return them to their rightful owners and expunge them from their records." The current court proceedings and extradition attempts come contemporously with a new leak, that of over a quarter of a million classfied US diplomatic cables. Wikileaks, in alignment with newspapers including The Guardian, La Monde and The New York Times has begun publishing the documents which reveal sensitive and embarrassing insights into US foreign policy.

As with the Afghan releases, US government was quick to "condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorised disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information", however this time condemnation was brought down with added zeal. Congressman Peter King had asked "if the group could be classed as a terrorist organisation", Tom Flanegan, former advisor to the Canadian Prime Minister suggested that Barack Obama “put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something” on Assange, with Jeffrey Kuhner echoing this sentiment in a Washington Times Editorial, Mitch McConnel, Minority Leader in the Senate describing him as "a high-tech terrorist. He has done enormous damage to our country" being backed up by comments from Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich claiming "he should be treated as an enemy combatant." There have also been calls for the death penalty to be brought on Bradley Manning, the US Intelligence Analyst suspected of leaking the documents who is being held without charge in solitary confinement with reports of his mental and physical health declining in the process.

As Wikileaks continued to publish the cables, discontent continued to grow and attacks on the organisation also rose. Wikileaks domain name server at EveryDNS cancelled it's account, Amazon stopped hosting the wikileaks site on it's servers, Mastercard and Visa and Paypal cancelled transactions of funds donated to the organisation, with PayPal admitting that "On November 27th, the state department, the US government basically, wrote a letter saying that the WikiLeaks' activities were deemed illegal in the United States and as a result our policy group had to make the decision of suspending the account," and Swiss bank PostFinance "shut the accounts of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange."

A significant portion of the online community, represented by internet activists Anonymous, began fighting back launching DDOS (Distributed denial of service attacks) towards those inhibiting Wikileaks work, even going so far as to bring down the Mastercard Website as part of what they describe as Operation Payback. Outwith the digital realm the Icelandic Parliament have reacted to the actions of Visa and Mastercard and "have raised the possibility of taking away their operating licences", Moscow's Kremlin have suggested "nominating Assange as a Nobel Prize laureate" while Austrialia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard's leadership of her Labour Party was threatened by her comments regarding Assange.

In January this year, Hillary Clinton wrote in The Guardian "defending online freedoms." In her article she discussed the apparent merits in the free and instant access to information that the internet provided, even describing how "During his visit to China in November, President Obama defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens hold their own governments accountable" going further to warn of the dangers of stifling that information, saying "technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights."
"As in the dictatorships of the past, governments are targeting independent thinkers who use these tools. We've seen reports that when Iranians living overseas posted online criticism of their nation's leaders, their family members in Iran were singled out for retribution. And despite an intense campaign of government intimidation, brave citizen journalists in Iran continue using technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening inside their country."
When it emerged however that brave citizen journalists had used technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what was happening inside her country, Mrs Clinton was quick to join in the US' intense campaign of government intimidation. The Secretary of State described the disclosures as "not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests, it is an attack on the international community: the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity" and described how the American Government is "taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information."

In the digital age, information is the most powerful weapon anyone can wield. Rather than the Christian adage of ignorance being bliss, knowledge is power, and the pen is mightier than the sword - or rather the keyboard is mightier than the A-Bomb. Information is the weapon with the power to destroy entire governments but leave people and buildings intact.

Not that the notion of the power of information is anything new, the disclosures and investigation of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for The Washington Post into the Watergate Scandal was instrumental in bringing down the Nixon administration. The main difference is the ease and methods of dissemination of that information. Now you don't need to pass bulky documents around, photocopying or transcribing the contents, information can be passed from one person to hundreds of recipients at the click of a mouse, it can be posted as a status on Facebook or Twitter and be all the way around the world and back in an instant.

The above video was released by Wikileaks under the title "Collateral Murder" in April 2010. The video, leaked from within the US Military, allegedly from Bradley Manning, and shows footage from a US Apache helicopter engaging alleged 'insurgents' in a Baghdad street on 12th July 2007. The engagement left twelve people, including two Reuter's journalists, dead. The official line from the US Military described how "American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed." While Reuters requested more detailed information on the attack, and requested access to the in-flight video through the Freedom of Information Act, the requests were blocked by the Pentagon and it looked as though, as The Washington Post reported, it would remain "unclear whether the journalists had been killed by U.S. fire or by shooting from the Iraqis targeted by the Apache."

With the release of the leaked video, so too came the clarity. The journalists were not killed by Iraqi insurgents, in fact the video clearly shows that there was no fire in the area they were in, there was no small arms fire and although some of those gathered in the area were armed "the permission to engage was given before the word RPG was ever used," and not content with opening fire on the suspected insurgents, the helicopter returns to the scene and re-engages a wounded, unarmed journalist and the occupants of a van trying to help him.

As well as highlighting the true trigger-happy nature of US combat in Iraq, displaying the disturbing reality of warfare and the dangers for Journalists trying to report on the conflict, it also reveals that those perpetrating the crimes are well aware of what it is they are doing and do not want the general public to know. As Winston Churchill pointed out, "History is written by the victors," had the video not been leaked then the 'victors' of this particular skirmish would have been content to leave it "unclear whether the journalists had been killed by U.S. fire or by shooting from the Iraqis targeted by the Apache" and eventually the whole event would have been forgotten and the people killed simply added to the tally of Iraqi's killed during the conflict and the actions of the helicopter crew, clearly working against their own rules of engagement, would never be known.

The value of organisations like Wikileaks, investigative journalism in general, and the basic democratic right to freedom of speech are what keeps the world open, exposes those truths and information which governments do not trust their citizens with. The act of covering up war crimes, and writing and re-writing history pushes the 'civilised' nations of the West further into Orwellian dystopia. Wikileak's publishing of the Iraq and Afghan War Logs turned the spotlight on the two current perpetual wars, and the diplomatic cables that followed highlight a "sense of futility" regarding the Afghan war and the apparent ineffectiveness of the British military efforts. The US Defence Department responded to the leak of the logs with the claim that the release "could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed” however (in the video below), Republican Senator, Ron Paul asks the reasoned, legitimate question: "Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths: lying us into war or Wikileaks revelations."
Despite this, the US powers that be, such as Attorney General Eric Holder, rather than making a dignified apology and reassessing their foreign policy in the wake of the leaks, have stated that "We have a very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature. I authorized just last week a number of things to be done so that we can hopefully get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable, as they -- as they should be." Further to this as the Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives following the recent Mid Term elections, they reveal that they have "included WikiLeaks in a list of priorities for investigation."

Indeed the first move of this investigation was revealed when Twitter, having managed to overturn a gag order notified several users of the microblogging site, including Manning, Assange, US programmer Jacob Appelbaum, Dutch Hacker Rop Gonggrijp and Icelandic MP Brigitta Jonsdottir, that "the US government has subpoenaed the social networking site Twitter for personal details of people connected to Wikileaks," and "The US District Court in Virginia said it wanted information including user names, addresses, connection records, telephone numbers and payment details." While twitter was able to challenge the gag order placed on the legal action, it has been suggested that Google and Facebook may have been issued similar subpoenas but not challenged the gag order. Wikileaks lawyer, Mark Stephens has claimed that the court order not only covers the five specific accounts but also "600,000 odd followers that Wikileaks has on Twitter". Should this claim be true, and if Facebook is indeed facing a similar subpoena then one could assume that the court order extends to those accounts who have "liked" Wikileaks. At time of writing, Wikileaks has 1, 529, 442 fans on their Facebook page which could mean that the court order will obtain the usernames, passwords, IP Addresses, postal addresses telephone numbers and credit card details of around two million people.

America loves a witchhunt, be it looking for actual "witches", "communists", "terrorists", Taliban, Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Fidel Castro - now they have Julian Assange. In their haste to pin a conspiracy charge stick in order to prosecute him under the 1917 Espionage Act, US Senators, pundits, judges and lawyers are already running rough-shod over the supposedly sacred First Amendment and international human rights and privacy laws. The reality of the situation is that the curtain has already been pulled back, the truth is out in the open and no amount of denial is going to change that. Rather than chasing and punishing anyone related to the leak, threatening the future job prospects of University students, or forcing companies to strangle organisations dedicated to revealing war crimes or injustice perhaps it is time to look into the core values of democracy: transparency and openness. It is time to investigate what has gone so horribly wrong and the damage that this culture of secrecy and lies has done and will continue to do if left unchecked.

Should accountability and punishment lie with Wikileaks, Julian Assange, News Organisations or internet activists for making this information public, and not the system which has allowed thousands of civilian deaths to be covered up, forged war under false pretence and systematically mislead and lied to the people of the world then we will be heading down a very dark and precarious path.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Apathy in the UK

"The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment."
Robert M. Hutchins, 1899-1977

A recent comment response to a post on this humble blog came with a call to "live with the result and don't whine about it" as "What's been done is not illegal, it may be slightly shady but that's life." While loath to get into the specifics of the nature of the call, or indeed the blog post in question, this response, rather than anger or irk, saddened me as it is symptomatic of widespread attitudes towards activism or, to put it more generally, caring within today's world.

Not long after the comment appeared, around about six weeks ago I began writing this post. It was primarily influenced by this, but also to a general sense of impotence which seemed to be arising around certain issues: for instance the lack of reaction to a student protest petition against proposed redundancies at Grays School of Art, with The Robert Gordon University's acting principal John Harper's response nothing more rather dismissive rhetoric and an empty statement to the effect that "I’m confident that the recommendations will ensure that the University continues to produce a steady stream of talented graduates who will drive the regional creative and cultural economy." The assurance that "Further consultation sessions with students will be arranged at the appropriate times" seemed enough to dissuade a number of students from taking the matter any further feeling it was outwith their control.

I was, at the time, poised to write a post discussing this, and also the binds of non-disclosure agreements which restrict academics disclosing their opinions of the growing corporation of Universities and education and the general levels of apathy which have dominated the British Public. However, I focused on another set of topics I believed more pressing at the time before returning to this post in an attempt to get it down, when this happened:

Millbank Tower Protests - Photograph: Ray Tang/Jonathan Hordle/Rex Features
 On the 10th of November the first in a series of marches opposing the proposed rises in student tuition fees and they're oft-overlooked stablemate - an 80% Reduction in teaching budgets - deviated from their proposed route and resulted in the occupation of Conservative Party Headquarters at Millbank Tower. The bulk of the media coverage concentrated on the "violence at Tory HQ [that] overshadow[ed] student fees protest" with reports of the broken window as pictured above and case of a fire extinguisher thrown from the roof of the tower. While the action was quick to be condemned: by Aaron Porter of the NUS as "despicable"; David Cameron as "unacceptable"; while Boris Johnson accusing those in occupation as having "abused their right to protest" the condemnation mostly tars the occupation and the violence which occurred at Millbank Tower with the same brush.

The Guardian's John Harris argues that while indeed it was a small minority who brought the violence with them, it was not a small minority who had marched on Millbank Tower: "You had only to look at the crowd to know that the vast majority of them were not anarchists, but reasonably regular twentysomethings. As if to illustrate the point, when one of the people on the roof made the stupid decision to hurl down a fire extinguisher, they were met with an outraged chant of "Don't throw shit! Don't throw shit!"" Going on, Harris quotes an exchange from a colleague who had spent the day at Millbank "talk of cynical provocateurs, he said, was "nonsense": the crowd was made up of "ordinary students who were viscerally angry", but also mindful of what was ill-advised, or plain daft. When one of their number had prised up a cobblestone and moved to lob it at the police, he had been roundly told to "stop being an idiot.""

While I am certainly not going to condone or advocate violence on this blog, whether be towards a protester, innocent or police officer who is merely doing their job, I will say that it is something I can understand, and something which was justified in a statement from lecturers at Goldsmith's College "The real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts." Anger and discontent is widespread and rising amid the lies and hypocrisy being espoused by those in government and the rapid and alarming breakdown of the basic principals of democracy.  It seems the democratic process only comes into force once every four or five years (depending on jurisdiction) when an election approaches and the general population is required to see one party (or two as is currently the case) into power. Even then this year's UK elections have seen even the polling booth to be a hollow gesture where the thoughts and opinions of the voters mean nothing, given the Liberal Democrats finding themselves in a position to turn the tide of political governance mostly based on a pledge which they apparently planned to drop regardless of the outcome. It is unseen how a Lib Dem pre-election pledge which did get through, the "powers of recall" will effect the Liberal Democrat mandate to govern, but it is very clear that the student occupation of Millbank tower was "just the beginning."

UK Uncut protest in Brighton. Photograph: Howard Davies/www.reportdigital
In late October, after Private Eye revealed that the HM Treasury had allegedly "agreed a deal to let Vodafone off a £6bn tax bill" people took to the streets in protest. "Four shops in central London were forced to close on Saturday because of the demonstrations, sparked by a campaign on Twitter and Facebook" with other branches being targeted across the UK. The campaign quicky gained weight becoming "UK Uncut" as their protest gained momentum and demonstrations continued with growing regularity despite HM Treasury dismissing the allegations saying "There is no question of Vodafone having a tax liability of £6bn. That number is an urban myth" and Vodafone themselves claiming that "We pay our taxes in the UK and all of the other countries in which we operate" , even though recently "Indian tax authorities have given Vodafone 30 days to pay a 112bn rupee ($2.5bn, £1.6bn) tax bill."

As the demonstrations have grown in numbers and frequency, UK Uncut have widened their targets, moving on to tackle high-street chain, Topshop, and in particular its founder Philip Green who is also accused of Tax Avoidance. UK Uncut claim that "In 2005 Philip Green awarded himself £1.2bn, the biggest paycheck in British corporate history. But this dividend payout was channeled through a network of offshore accounts, via tax havens in Jersey and eventually to Green’s wife’s Monaco bank account. The dodge saved Green, and cost the tax payer, close to £300m." Green in particular has been targeted as he was in august appointed to "lead an efficiency review of government spending" while Liberal Democrat MPs called for an investigation into his tax dealings.

As the commons vote on the tuition fees on 9th December approached two more protests occurred on the 24th and 30th in the capital with many more emerging across the country. Following from the Goldsmith's College Occupation last month, students across the country began to occupy their University buildings and for the first time pupils occupied their schools in protest as the biggest demonstration march approached to coincide with the crucial vote. Despite Downing Street's condemnation of lecturers who had supported the protests at Millbank, lecturers, trade unionists and schoolchildren joined the students in the protests last week. Following criticism of the policing of the protests a month earlier, the Metropolitain Police were infinitely more prepared for the trouble which emerged when the protest again deviated off course and saw thousands of protesters enter Parliament Square.

The Guardian's live blog of the day can fill in most details as they happened. As the protesters broke into Parliament Square the Police switched to riot gear and began employing the controversial "kettling" technique to contain the protesters in one area. In practice, however, it appears to have exacerbated the situation, creating a bottleneck and effectively trapping people - including teenage schoolchildren - within the Square. Student groups came out accusing the police tactics of provoking violent reaction, with the Guardian's live reaction blog highlighting cases of apparent contempt from Police towards protesters, reports of police dragging a cerebral palsy sufferer from his wheelchair (video, below), and student Alfie Meadows, a 20 year old protester "suffered bleeding to the brain when he was struck by a police truncheon during the tuition fees protest." A few days after the protest a video emerged showing an officer policing the protest without displaying her shoulder ID, following the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in 2009 Metropolitan Police Commissioner had condemned the action: “I have made it absolutely clear that it is absolutely unacceptable for any officer who should have identification numbers on not to have those identification numbers on.

Following last week's protests, Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers stated that the repeated clashes with protesters and demonstrators would begin to threaten the reputation of the police "if it is allowed to be played as the cops acting as an arm of the state, delivering the elected government's will, rather than protecting the rights of the citizen." While the policing of these events is part of the Job description, the increasing conflicts, questionable tactics and growing discontent are bound to erode the relationship between the police and the general public, it wont be long before discontent spreads into the police ranks. Police Forces throughout the country are not immune to the same round of cuts which are angering students, with warnings that "40,000 officers would lose their jobs if the police budget was slashed by 25%" and Home Secretary Theresa May telling Met Commissioner Paul Stephenson to "brace for an 11 per cent cut in government funding over the next two years."

As the police launch an investigation into the events of 9th December, with students blaming police tactics for the violence, and the police and government condemning a "significant number [who] came intent on violence", however will the investigation pinpoint who is really provoked and caused the violence and protests: the Coalition Government?

When you look beyond the media emphasis on violence which undermines the voices of campaigners and masks the real issues, that of a systematic dismantling of the education system and the UK Government's unflinching bias towards big business.The Government continues to hand over policy-making roles to representatives from business such as Philip Green and ignore the wishes of the voters, including inviting fast food giant MacDonalds to inform public health policy. Education is not simply a tool to be used by commerce or business in order to train workers into functional obedience. A day after the Government voted through the rise in fees a statement from CBI Director General Richard Lambert states "business will have to play a much more active role than it has in the past in informing students about its likely future needs" even going further to suggest that business should be influencing which courses Universities offer and steering the choices which students have to make much earlier. Society as a whole benefits from an educated populous, it is a right and not a privilege, which drives forward innovation and invention and should be free and accessible to all.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tracing Place

For several months now I have been following the magnificent Other Aberdeen blog. The blog is a psychogeographical insight into the fabric of The Granite City, which explores areas off the beaten track, at right angles to the usual and those elements of the city which most people in the course of their lives in the city either miss out or ignore.

Recently as part of a project I am currently working on I had the pleasure to meet and have a chat with Alan Gatt, who with his wife runs the blog. We discussed a number of topics relating to Aberdeen, and I asked him about the concept of psychogeograpy - which I believed I was unfamiliar with. However just this morning while mulling over our chat I realised that I had indeed come across the concept before, and had actually written about it.

Earlier this year I was asked to write an introduction to a catalogue of a public art project carried out by third year Sculpture students at Grays School of Art. The project was pure psychogeography, with the students working with the concept to create artworks which highlighted the city around them and those areas which had become forgotten or overlooked.

View from College Street Car Park - Aberdeen
Tracing Place

The notion of place is one of the universal concerns intrinsic to the development of our species since long before we crawled out of the oceans and grew legs. Our immediate and extended context has dictated how society has developed, we have always reacted to the space around us: celebrated it, took inspiration from it, amended it, created new spaces or simply destroyed it.

For an artist, the contemporary concerns about space are often as important to a practice than the materials used or sometimes the final artistic output. While pre-Duchamp, the interest in place was mostly representational - afterwards the focus shifted from representation to an overriding analysis of context that the conceptual concerns with our surroundings came to the fore.

At the dawn of a new century, we seem on the brink of a critical point in perspective and thinking. Two hundred years of industrialization have irreparably changed the face of the world we live in and it is our generation that has to confront the consequences of this “progress.” Within contemporary practice, the approaches to making, creating and concept often involve working in the public realm, whether large scale site-specific commissions or more subtle interventions or subversive, in-your-face street art, the artist is no longer confined to the studio and artwork no longer to the gallery.

Widespread industrialization and population migration from rural to urban spaces caused the rapid, unplanned, transformation of cities. Tenements, factories, mills, foundries, stores and roads emerged as societal perspective and priorities changed and our surroundings became less important. The human race had abandoned its former fascination with synergy and natural order with the emergence of the hedonistic pursuit of Capitalism.

Rachel Whiteread - House (1994)
In the inevitable decline of heavy industry, forgotten spaces became ubiquitous in the urban landscape, monuments to short sightedness of our forefathers and reminders of the effect of progress on our planet. The transitional period we find ourselves is an area of certain fascination for artists. Gormley’s Angel of The North, built through the processes and materials common to Newcastle’s manufacturing heritage, looks over the city symbolizing the cultural awakening of the city; Rachel Whiteread’s House represented the living space of a street which no longer stood, erased from reality and from our memories.

Tracing Place seeks to highlight those forgotten spaces throughout Aberdeen. Simple interventions, such as Amy Flint’s outline footprints, encouraging the viewer to see the cityscape as artwork, or Hannah Malone’s Castlegate, a series of sandcastles crumble across Aberdeen’s Civic Square emphasizing the fragility of the space around it: an underutilized, yet historically significant part of the city.

Wallace Tower - Netherkirkgate, Aberdeen
Aberdeen differs greatly from the post-industrial centres discussed. As heavy industry declined across the UK, North Sea Oil gave Aberdeen its own Industrial Revolution. A great many unique features were swept away: historic buildings on Broad Street replaced by St Nicholas House; Old Torry by an oil refinery; the Wallace tower, making way for Mark’s and Spencer.

Even today, with a global shift in priority, Aberdeen, still in the grips of the billion-dollar oil boom, seems destined not to take heed. A project for culture-led rejuvenation of Union Terrace Gardens, a gift to the people of the City, is under threat from a boorish scheme reeking of sixties modernism brought forward by those who have personally benefited from industrial exploitation would see these Gardens ripped out, covered over and wiped from existence.

Projects such as Tracing Place are vital at this particular juncture. The role of the artist is to celebrate our context, remind us of what we have and what we have lost. We must be able to stand back and embrace the beauty around us or we will be forever destined to repeat the mistakes of our past at the expense of our future.

Commissioned for Stage 3 Sculpture Catalogue of the same name,
Grays School of Art: April 2010

Friday, 5 November 2010

Art for a Few, Education for a Few and Freedom for a Few

"Money is a magical phenomenon. Because there's nothing there. You didn't burn, for example, food. Most of the governments of the world destroy food every day so as not to bring down the market price. You didn't burn Art (the pictures on the notes are okay, but you wouldn't want them on your wall); you didn't burn Literature -both of these things are burnt every day; you didn't burn people. What you burnt was paper that is a symbol of value."

Alan Moore, on the K Foundation's burning of £1 Million
from The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid, 1995
A conflicting argument to Moore's assessment of money can be found in the musical Cabaret which debuted on Broadway in 1966, that of the song lyric Money Makes The World Go Round, which has become somewhat of a motto for those occupying the board rooms of the huge corporations around the world, as well as those gambling every day in The City and on Wall Street. Far from being billions of years worth of cosmic dust barrage from even before the formation of the planet, money plays no part in the rotation of the Earth. In fact, if anything, Money may be the one thing that will cause the world to stop rotating, burst into flames and fall out of the sky.

Mark Wallinger: Save The Arts
Last week's Comprehensive Spending Review as announced by our new leaders in the coalition government, aiming to "terminate the budget deficit" in full over the next four years. The main event has been the announcement of £81 billion worth of cuts to Government spending in order to combat the £115 billion deficit, with the remaining balance to be met by raising taxes, such as the impending VAT increase from 17.5% to 20% in January. The spending cuts include (in no particular order): 50% in social housing; 8% in Defence; State pension age to rise to 66 for both men and women; "funding for police will be cut by 20%"; "60% cut in capital spending and Educational Maintenance Allowances"; "Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BiS) is to be cut by 7.1%."; "Sport England ... funding cut by 33%"; A freeze in the Science budget which works out as "a cut of less than 10% over four years" in real terms; "3,000 fewer criminals in prison"; Abolition of 192 quangos; "7.5% real terms reduction in revenue and another 41% reduction in capital funds" for Wales; "£4bn cuts in the budget" for Northern Ireland; "7% cut in resource spending and 38% cut in capital spending" for Scotland; 30% to the Arts Council of England; and 40% to Universities. Of the few departments to have been "spared" in the spending review, the NHS budget "will rise by £10bn."

Despite the Conservative's pseudo-socialist rallying cries that "we're all in this together" it appears the banking community are getting away quite lightly in terms of cuts in comparison to every other aspect of society. With the spending review came a "new bank levy [that] will raise about £2.5bn a year from 2012", to allow the banks whose pivital role in 2008's Credit Crunch sparked the global financial meltdown, and the price tag for the UK bailing out it's banks, which came to around £850 Billion led to the country having such a massive budget deficit. Financial Secretary Mark Hoban said rightfully that banks should "make a fair contribution in respect of the potential risks they pose to the UK", however early indications are that the "levy would be set at 0.04% in the first year and would then rise to 0.07%", nowhere near as as huge a drop or as big a saving as being faced throughout the rest of society. Leading government think tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has already hit out at the spending review, with claims that "poor people would be hit harder than the rich", but in the meantime leading banks such as Goldman-Sachs are willing to continue to pay out massive bonuses, with their vice-chairman, Conservative peer Lord Griffith calling on the taxpayers to "tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all". Other banks are hitting out at the supposed "severity" of the rates levy, despite "The Treasury spent the summer consulting" the banking industry, something it failed to do for the rest of the population.

Lord Browne
The restructuring of the finances in Higher Education were not put out to consultation, or in fact given over to one of the hundreds of qualified specialists in this sort of thing who are already working for the Government through Universities, this particular pleasure was allocated to Lord Browne, former head of BP and House of Lords crossbencher, whose only apparent insight into Universities was that he had been to one. Browne's report, which was used as much of the basis for George Osborne's radical reshaping of the finances of Universities, outlined that "tuition fees which are capped at £3,290 a year, should be raised to as much as £7,000" sparking fears that we could end up in a situation where "that students are essentially consumers who should pay for services they receive – the more upmarket, the higher the price." However following the spending review, Lib-Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable and Deputy Prime Minister have made assurances that the cuts would be capped, with Mr Cable telling BBC News "I don't think there's any prospect of having unlimited fees - that simply isn't going to arise."

However during the election campaign, the Liberal Democrats made a firm pledge dedicate to "Scrapping university tuition fees during first degrees" entirely, and have since faced "the first serious revolt within the Liberal Democrat party since the formation of the coalition" with Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland stating that "It is certainly my belief that this is not a done deal and the strength of feeling among Lib Dem MPs could derail any attempts to see fees rising substantially and I will certainly be doing everything I can to make that happen"  and former party leader, Sir Menzies Campbell adding that "It would drive a horse and cart through my credibility in my capacity both as chancellor and as an MP if I were to renege on that pledge – and I don't intend to." With an uncertain track record on the issue and, according to the Guardian, Conservative sources disagreeing with Clegg and Cable "that elite universities should have the freedom to charge what they like", which led Aaron Porter, of the National Students to warn that "A market in course prices between universities would increasingly put pressure on students to make decisions based on cost rather than academic ability or ambition."

As well as the proposals for tuition fee increasing, the review, or Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education,  outlined in section 6.2 PUBLIC INVESTMENT WILL BE TARGETED ON THE TEACHING OF PRIORITY SUBJECTS, outlining that public investment in teaching budgets would be reserved for subjects which a perceived "prority" defined as  "Typically the courses that may fall into this category are courses in science and technology subjects, clinical medicine, nursing and other healthcare degrees, as well as strategically important language courses." An Observer Editorial surmised that "The big problem with Lord Browne's report is not in the mechanism it uses to develop new funding streams, but in the fact that it uses that mechanism as a pretext to slash teaching grants", indeed the realities of the suggestions outlined by Lord Browne were brought through in Osborne's spending review by cutting the Higher education budget "from £7.1bn to £4.2bn by 2014." Before the report was published, The University and Colleges Union warned “Cuts of this magnitude will leave many cities and towns without a local university and our students paying the highest public fees in the world." with Aaron Porter surmising that "The true agenda of the coalition government this week is to strip away all public support for arts, humanities and social science provision in universities and to pass on the costs directly to students' bank accounts."

Backing up the fears of the NUS, University Minister David Willetts, while announcing the £9000 cap on fees told the Daily Mail of his desire to "rate degrees by the employment rates and salaries of graduates, ...  the best degrees to be given ‘kite marks’ by professional associations as an indication that they are rated highly by employers. which the Mail, in its usual non-sensationalist style described as a "war on pointless degrees." It seems that Universities, once places of education, morality and thinking are, since their transferral to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are simply another tool for "economic prosperity" and wealth generation.

With the Spending Review came announcement of the Arts Council of England facing a "29.6% cut [which] will see ACE's current government grant of £449m drop to £349m by 2014" which included a condition that cuts of 15% would be required to be made from regularly funded organisations which could mean that "at least 100 arts organisations will lose their funding." As alarming as the thirty percent cuts are in themselves, the condition placed on the arts council in how to administer almost half of these cuts has been criticised for eroding the "arms-length" policy by which the Arts Council does its business, in a move akin to washing his hands of the affair, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey stated "We've made it clear that it's a condition of their settlement that ACE limits cuts to the overall RFO budget to 15%; but if they choose not to fund certain organisations that is their decision." going on to say should the ACE not comply with the condition that "Life would get very interesting."

As the dust settles, ACE has already begun outlining how its cuts would be made, which would include "7% first-year reduction for regularly funded organisations." and "£6 million from savings due to the postponement of a major public engagement project, cuts to our audience development plans, and to funds for partnership working with local authorities and the private sector." Aside from the ACE, "The British Film Institute will see its budget cut by 15%" while a "budget cut by 16%" by a six-year freeze in the licence fee and covering the costs of the World Service would see the BBC loosing a "total of £340m of extra money annually" and being described as the "moment when the BBC sacrificed its fiercely defended independence for a role akin to another government department."

North of the Border we will have to wait until the end of this month to hear John Swinney's Proposed Budget for the next fiscal year outlining how Scotland will deal with the "£900m reduction", although at the moment unknown, some suggest that there is very little left to cut. The two issues discussed above, that of Education and Culture are devolved issues, dealt with and administered by our SNP Government, who's future is in the balance given the upcoming Scottish Elections in May. However Scotland faces its own cultural confusion around the emergence of the Creative Scotland, and already our education establishments are preparing to weather the storm, while others are beginning to crack under pressure.

As previously mentioned, the Robert Gordon University, an institution which has long held the principles outlined by David Willetts and the Daily Mail at the core of its educational ethos, a University which proudly boasts that "business and entrepreneurship lie at the heart of much of the university’s academic offering," and its "best rates of employment in graduate-level jobs" have announced that "Given the current public spending environment it is important that the University addresses resource issues now to avoid greater challenges in the future." To this end, using the impending public spending cuts for Scotland as a handy excuse, the University intends to deal with a budget deficit of £370, 000 at Grays School of Art, one of Scotland's Four Art Schools, by informing staff that "a voluntary severance scheme would be available for those wishing to be considered." The poetic irony of the move is that the results of a consultation, and the announcement of the redundancies and reprofiling of the School is to be made on November 15th, the day before the 125 Anniversary of the School's founding.

Edinburgh College of Art: Crisis
Meanwhile, at Edinburgh College of Art news of a merger with Edinburgh University was mooted with reports that "ECA principal Professor Ian Howard sent a letter to staff explaining that the move was being examined in the light of the current economic situation." the letter outlined how the merger brought "very exciting possibilities for enhanced teaching, research and creative endeavour" with The Scotsman describing how "As a joint institution, the two could make substantial savings by sharing facilities and services, such as human resources, libraries and student accommodation. Buildings made redundant could be sold off." "It [University of Edinburgh] will work with the college [ECA] in securing a financially sustainable future" described Melvyn Cornish, Edinburgh University Secretary,  however, the news did not bode well for ECA alumni. Dr Barbara Rae, Chair of the Alumni Association stated that "We believe it imperative to safeguard the Edinburgh College of Art in the same way the Glasgow School of Art is respected and revered, both founded long ago to explore and promote originality in the arts" and within days of the announcement it emerged that four governors of the College had resigned over the matter, with Lady Mathewson declaring that "I and my fellow governors who have resigned no longer have confidence in the Chairman or Principal who have driven through an incomplete merger proposal that has now been put out to public consultation, excluding key financial information."

Attempting to quell the furore, an ECA spokeswoman refuted Lady Mathewson's allegations "the suggestion that there has been a failure to explore the options or to ensure transparency in the process is entirely untrue." This was before the real nature for the merger plans emerged.  The Sunday Herald revealed that "The University of Edinburgh and ECA are asking the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the body that funds higher education in Scotland, for £13.8m to enable the merger. The majority of this, £9m, is to bail out ECA’s bad debts" also detailing a building maintenance bill of £44.1 Million to the College's estates which are reported to be only worth 37.3 Million - were Edinburgh College of Art a car it would be a write off.

Much of the College's cash woes centres around the redevelopment of Evolution House in the City's Westport. The Sunday Herald article points out that "The college has spent £21m on Evolution House but it is now worth only £10.6m" and "that Lloyds Bank could in theory at any time require repayment of the whole £11.5m loan, because the college’s financial performance has meant covenants with the bank have been breached." Among other shady dealings, ECA has been granted a £1.6m advance from the Scottish Funding Council, and borrowed almost half of its Andrew Grant Scholarship fund, a move which the report claims "the university’s own legal advice suggests that it is not clear that the trustees were working within the law in making this loan.” All in all, the leaked document paints a disturbingly glum picture of the College's financial situation, which also states that "“ECA would not now be trading if it had not received advances of grant from the SFC.”

These two cases provide a horrifying hammer blow to half of Scotland's Higher Education Art Provision, before the cuts outlined in the Spending Review have even taken effect in Scotland. The uncertainties surrounding the provision of arts and humanities education was spelled out by Natalie Fenton, Deputy Head of Media and Communications at Goldsmith University, where students yesterday began an occupation in protest to the education cuts and tuition fee rises: "This is a massive cut to higher education and a slashing of the public subsidy for teaching, which will hit the arts, humanities and social sciences particularly hard if the science budget is going to be protected.

"Some institutions will close, and it's inevitable there will be mass redundancies across the sector. Goldsmiths will be forced to take on an enormous number of international students who pay higher fees to make up for the cuts. Class sizes will rise, they'll be humongous; the staff-student ratio will rocket and nobody will be satisfied.

"Some institutions will close, and it's inevitable there will be mass redundancies across the sector. Goldsmiths will be forced to take on an enormous number of international students who pay higher fees to make up for the cuts. Class sizes will rise, they'll be humongous; the staff-student ratio will rocket and nobody will be satisfied. "By only protecting science, they're signalling that arts, humanities and social sciences are worthless. But these are the disciplines that engender civility, and teach empathy and tolerance."

The next four years look set to be grim, with some claiming these are the "biggest spending cuts since 1945" but what is the outcome of the cuts, what exactly are they for? While David Cameron and his LibDem human shield, Nick Clegg, are quick to defend the cuts in terms of fairness: "Fairness is actually about asking how much people give as well as how much people get and I think that we have done it in a way so we can genuinely say it is difficult, it is tough but it is fair" and senior Tories such as Lord Ashcroft urging everyone to see the "bigger picture." However no one in Government is looking at the "bigger picture", the picture they are looking at is 156mm x 85mm and has the queen's face on it and a bunch of numbers.

The motivation behind the Comprehensive Spending Review is by no means far-sighted, in no way looks towards any notion of a "bigger picture", it is simply an exercise in backpedaling, with the way of life of everyone in the country paying for the mistakes and reckless gambling of the few. The spending review is based on the idea that "reducing the deficit is a necessary precondition for sustained economic growth", but essentially it is about reducing how much debt the county is in so we can start over again, return to the status quo and let the cycle run its course once more. "The Spending Review is underpinned by a radical programme of public service reform, changing the way services are delivered by redistributing power away from central government and enabling sustainable, long term improvements in services", but it in no way examines how we got in this mess in the first place, it no way intends to reform the fiscal system to which we are all unwitting prisoners. Love it or loath it, the capitalist system by which our wold prescribes has failed, not just in the last two years since the nightmare of the Credit Crunch, but it has always failed, it is destined to fail. Every ten to twenty years we find ourselves in the same situation, it happened in the mid seventies, the early eighties, the early nineties and now the late 2000s, and what always happens is a "tightening of the belt", cuts to frontline public services until economies begin to grow again and then we just get back to the way things were.

The difference with the current round of recession-beating belt-tightening is the severity of the cuts we are facing, estimates of "1.6 million job losses across the public and private sectors", the erosion of the welfare state, closure of Universities and Arts Organisations, small business crippled by an increase in VAT. Once you cut these vital services, "reform" education, close business it will be very difficult to get them back, it has taken sixty years to build the UK to the powerhouse of creative and cultural initiatives, and that could be completely reversed in less than four. And even then the nature of the focus of the cuts, with emphasis placed in the wrong place: "The coalition is now poised to take billions out of the economy, all in the hope of unleashing a private sector recovery based on manufacturing and exports. But to whom? The strategy relies on wide-open borders and eager consumers with money in their pockets. That is not how the global economy looks right now."

A reform of the ecomonic system, perhaps a movement away from a monetary based system (given that, according to Moore, it is based on something that doesn't exist in the first place) would require a sort of global joined-up-thinking which our politicians and managers seem unable to engage in. It would require putting aside petty differences, it would require putting aside nationalism, imperialism and one-upmanship. It would require the global communities to sit down and think about a solution which is better for the world, one which not only takes into consideration economies, but other global concerns, overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, climate change etc. However to think on this scale would require looking at what is best for the many, rather for the few, and what is best for all of society and the planet, not just the west.

It would require the relinquishing of the the very thing that money represents: power. And with power comes control, and inequality, as former US president said in 1826 "There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword, the other is by debt."