Yes, Yes It’s Valentine’s Day Again.

Valentine’s Day is now a multi billion pound/dollar occasion but has it always been here or is it just a load of clever marketing?

A few years ago I remember suddenly being confronted with a poster asking me: ‘What will you get Them this Year?’ This over a colourful banner declaring that some date or other was now ‘Grandparent’s Day’ or as displayed in another card sellers window: ‘World Grandparent’s Day’ although I am not sure how the word ‘World’ altered the implied sentiment. I remember thinking at the time ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ Then I had terrifying visions of my one surviving Grandmother, or rather Nana, who is still around and still possess the power to whither anyone within hearing range, with a single word demanding to know what I was doing sending her such a card, and then more than likely setting fire to the thing, before lighting yet another cigarette with it.

Bee My Valentine.jpgPhoto by Karen Horton

Of course it didn’t take too long for me to get to the bottom of what I suspected was going on. Yes you guessed it – The UK’s Carlton Cards and a few smaller brands had joined forces with that Global behemoth of them all: America’s Hallmark Cards and decided, Cartel style, to reveal to us a whole new stable of “Celebration Days” that from what I can see, they created almost singlehandedly. This move against an unsuspecting public of people like me, who not only forget their own birthdays, but worse, often remember too late, when an obligatory card Must be dispatched. The scary thing is that this blatant ploy, to squeeze more money out of more conscientious card and gift senders than I could ever be, almost worked. If only they had squeezed out Grandparent’s Day alone, which may have been a slow burner, it may have ultimately carved out a place in our annual list of anxiety making celebrations. Not unlike Halloween, which as a kid we only celebrated with a carved lantern, which stunk out our houses with scorched turnip for a few days, before being quickly forgotten, but now has become a multimillion pound annual business of plastic tat, costumes, trick or treat, and oh yes, celebration cards.

Anyway, as I was saying, the Card Cartel just got plain greedy because it wasn’t too long before their shop windows had some kind of celebration poster up almost every week. Here’s a handful dates that they have been trying to sell to us:

January 11th World Ex’s Day – yes you guessed it where you are suppose to touch base with your Ex with a card or a phone call… yes your Ex Girlfriend/s, Boyfriend/s. Nooooooo don’t do it!
April 10th May 5th Brother’s day – for some reason there are now 2 days so if you forget the first you can…
July 26th Uncle & Aunt’s Day
August 11th Son & Daughter’s Day
October 2nd World Sister’s Day
October 3rd Grandparent’s Day
The-Sunday-after-Mothers-Day Step Mother’s Day
April 1st* 2nd Cousin Twice Removed Day
*Sorry I couldn’t resist making that last one up, maybe an April Fool’s Joke? Although, I could also argue that my dates share just as much legitimacy, as those thrust onto our high streets at the behest of someone’s marketing department.

I digress…
Returning to Valentine’s Day – It all began as a liturgical celebration one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Several martyrdom stories were invented for the various Valentines that belonged to February 14. A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.

The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and eventually sending greeting cards. Of course peer/ partner pressure has pushed the envelope on what is expected until now, for some, a simple card is not enough and many people now expect at least a weekend city break or an upgrade of last year’s Cartier watch. Whereas in the world I once inhabited a decent night out, maybe a candlelit dinner was usually the minimum expected to keep that special person smiling. Although in my own experience, the annual wrestle to find a table, even at just a half decent pizza restaurant needs a degree of planning in order to avoid having to accept a vacant table at 10.30 at night.

Of course Valentine’s Day is not welcomed everywhere, and not just by the most pathologically none romantic amongst us.

Love is a human right.jpgPhoto by Lewisham Dreamer

Iran Most Islamic teachers see the celebrations as opposed to Islamic culture. So the printing and distribution of any goods promoting the holiday, including cards, gifts and teddy bears could land you behind bars.
Malaysia Islamic officials in Malaysia warned Muslims against celebrating Valentine’s Day, linking it with vice activities. Even the Deputy Prime Minister said the celebration of romantic love was “not suitable” for Muslims
Pakistan While most Islamic political parties have called for the banning of Valentine’s Day celebration. Despite this, the celebration has become popular among urban youth and the florists expect to sell a great amount of flowers, especially red roses.
Saudi Arabia Religious police have banned the sale of all Valentine’s Day items, because the day is considered a Christian holiday. In 2012 the religious police arrested more than 140 Muslims for celebrating the holiday, some who were reportedly struck with canes, and they also confiscated all red roses from flower shops.
Turkey Although many people say Turkey is losing much of its Secular identity, and while some in the ruling Islamist leaning AKP, might welcome similar measures to the more conservative minded states listed above, Turkey has actually avoided much of the Christian connotations associated with St Valentine by simply renaming the day in recent decades as Sevgi Gunu, which roughly translates to Love Day.

After reading this you may think I posses a slight degree of cynicism if not outright dislike for the 14th of February, but dear reader you would be very, very wrong to think so. Although I don’t claim to be this great romantic I have still enjoyed some incredibly close and romantic Valentine’s days over the years. However, this date only became important to me for one massive reason a few years ago, on a day that was quite possibly the best day of my life. It was the day I witnessed the birth of someone very, very special.

Photo by Adrian Pratt

Baked it myself!


How Scotland Dodged an Oily Bullet

Funny how time flies. Is it really a whole year since demonstrations in Ukraine turned violent, and gave Putin his flimsy excuse, a couple of months later, to help himself to Crimea as if he was simply accepting an hors-d’oeuvre that had been legitimately offered to Russia, rather than stealing a large chunk of another sovereign states territory. Is it really six months since my trip to Albania, where I watched on a big screen in downtown Tirana how mighty Brazil, hosts of the 2014 Football World Cup, were totally humiliated as they lost 7-1 to the eventual winners of the World Cup Germany. And is it really 4 months since my post about the people of Scotland giving a big fat no to Scottish Independence. Now that really was a bullet dodged, because unlike Russia and Brazil who are now both struggling to stop their economies implode because of their growing reliance on the price of oil, Scotland has the safety-net of still being within the United Kingdom, which has mitigated and absorb the volatility in oil prices so no one in Scotland suffers because of an almost total reliance on oil prices, which was the cornerstone of the nationalists plans if the Yes had won the referendum.

rig fire
Photo by Florida Sea Grant

Lying is a strong word, even when referring to politicians so let’s use the word delusional to describe how the nationalists had massaged and cajoled their figures and projections to show a roaring economy based almost totally on oil, because none of them, not a single nationalist had factored in what would happen to Scotland if the price of oil collapsed as it has done since that referendum. So where would Scotland be in a few years time if they had taken the other road and voted Yes as the Independence at any Price crew of Alex Salmond, his Scottish National Party (SNP) and far too many other outwardly sensible people had been dreaming of?

Bankrupt – Bailout – Unemployment – Austerity – Economic Wilderness
These are all words that could have been used, just a few years down the line, in any news report that included the word Scotland in the headline. Perhaps something like Today the IMF reported that following its most recent bailout Scotland was in danger of slipping below Albania and Greece to the bottom of the European prosperity rankings!

It was only ever about the Oil Throughout its modern history, the case for Scottish nationalism has rested almost completely on oil. When North Sea oil was first discovered in the 70’s, the SNP quickly used the slogan ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’ to argue its case for Scottish independence. Since then they have used it to fuel resentment towards the UK government and Oil became the most overused one word answer to most questions about independence. ‘An independent Scotland will have oil.’ the nationalist argument always went, ‘so its prosperity is secure.’ However, they are all strangely quiet now the fundamental weakness of this longstanding pillar of the case for independence has been so totally exposed for five simple reasons:

1 The SNP always overstated the impact of oil. In their white paper on Scottish independence, they calculated that oil would bring in revenues of £6.8bn-£7.9bn in 2016/17. But last year the non-partisan IFS argued that this was far too over optimistic. The think tank argued that that the SNP had overstated the revenues by more than 50% because it had calculated that the oil revenue would be lucky to reach £3.3bn.

2 Relying on oil means accepting a structural dependence on big oil companies. You don’t get small or medium sized enterprises in the oil sector because the costs of drilling and exploration are too high for them. But big companies have more influence on government than small ones. Especially as we rely on them for tax revenue, jobs, and social responsibility. So this also gives them extra leverage over governments because they can always threaten to leave.

3 It was always a bad idea for the SNP to rely on the oil argument because the harder the oil is to reach, the higher the cost of development. Exploration has moved towards fields in deeper water, which means that you cannot expect the cost of development today to be the same in the future because it is likely to become a great deal more expensive.

4 North Sea oil is running out and nobody really knows how much is left. Therefore if this oil is finite there is an automatic shelf life on oil as a pillar of the case for Scottish nationalism, because what happens when the big companies decide there is no economically viable oil left under the North Sea?

5 One of the main reasons that this longstanding argument of the SNP has been crumbling is that people are waking up to the fact that reliance on oil means reliance on forces beyond Scotland’s control. Relying on oil means relying on foreign powers which dictate the price of oil. This would seem a direct contradiction to the claims of any movement that has declared it wants to bringing control and sovereignty closer to the people.

you lie
Photo by Boulanger I.E.

And as the oil price has dropped and dropped, the danger of relying on it have become ever clearer. Today oil is hovering around the $45 a barrel mark, which would have meant much lower tax revenues, and less money for the Scottish government to spend on a better Scotland . An independent Scotland’s public finances would have been totally dependent and exposed to any volatility in oil prices. If as widely expected oil stays cheaper for years to come, an independent Scotland would have faced very deep cuts to its public services, which the UK as a whole is much better placed to moderate.

But low oil prices are not just a problem for tax revenues. It’s also a problem for the oil industry and every Scot it employs. There have already been thousands of redundancies, which can only get worse according to Company Watch, a company which devotes itself to ‘tracking corporate financial health.’ They estimate that as much as 70 per cent of the UK’s publicly listed oil exploration and production companies are not profitable any more, which completely unravels the nationalist case for independence based on oil.

One final observation for the people of Scotland to remember the next time (and there always seems to be a next time) there is an Independence referendum. Just 6 months ago Alex Salmond said that oil would generate £20.2 billion in tax revenues in the first three years of an independent Scotland. However, since the oil price has collapsed, the Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael has estimated that the true figure would be much closer to £4.7 billion – less than a quarter of Salmond’s figure.

So don’t forget this! in 2024 or 2034 or whenever the nationalists try and reanimate that Dead Parrot that is any Scottish Independence based on oil revenue.

I am indebted for some of my statistics to Azeem Ibrahim Executive Chairman of The Scotland Institute, an organisation which stands independent of any Governmental or Party politics.