Commissioned by the New Statesman

The Scottish Executive’s ‘one Scotland, many cultures’ policy is one of several strategies to try and accommodate religion in an increasingly secular Scotland and the debate on faith schools and sectarianism is at the forefront.  

Sectarianism has been rife in Scotland throughout the 1900s, but it has been largely overshadowed by events in Northern Ireland. However, the attacks on the twin towers and the subsequent invasion of Iraq has brought a fresh focus on the divisive quality of religion in the 21st century, and since then, Scots have been more and more apprehensive on where and when religion and the state should be allowed to mix. The former education minister Sam Galbraith, was the latest addition to a growing list of high profile figures calling for the abolishment of faith schools. On Boxing Day last year Galbraith said faith schools “entrench a religious divide in society”.

MSPs have been avoiding the faith schools hot potato ever since they were given the responsibility to deal with it and there has been a considerable amount of passing the buck between education authorities and the government. But a landmark pilot scheme introduced by the Executive and Midlothian Council three years ago to reform schooling north of the border may now hold the answer. In 2004, non-denominational Dalkeith High School was joined with St David’s Roman Catholic School in an attempt to deliver a higher standard of education at a lower cost. ‘Shared campus’ offers schools much better facilities than they could afford on their own and even though the drive is economical, politicians concede that these campuses may help heal the sectarianism that is commonplace in some parts of Scotland. 

Despite the apparent win-win situation, the amalgamation of the schools was met with fierce criticism from both the religious and secular communities. The Catholic Church was furious that it would “dilute the ethos of Catholic education” and that parents had the legal right to send their children to a school “in line with their religious beliefs”.

On the other hand the secular community, although pleased with the decision to join the schools, was disappointed that the children would initially be kept apart in the playground and in the dining halls and would not be encouraged to mix. However, Midlothian Council, the authority responsible for building schools in the area, claims there were “never any intentions on keeping the children segregated” and that “barriers” were a pure fabrication by headline hungry newspapers. Children were simply asked to stay with their own school friends until they had become “familiar with their new surroundings”.   

Donald McKay, Director of Education for the council said: “These schools have their own identity and we have no agenda to dilute their ethos. There are opportunities for placements and shared classes between the two high schools, which provide a good way for people to come together and understand each other”.

Early skirmishes between students as well as rocks being pelted at school buses also prompted sceptics to remind the Executive that sectarianism was around in Scotland since the reformation, well before faith schools, Celtic, and Rangers and that shared campus would not get to the root of the problem. But Midlothian Council has always maintained that these teething problems were due to “territorial issues” and had nothing to do with sectarianism.  

After a shaky start, the school settled down, the “barriers” were removed and the £33 million required to build the campus was deemed to have been a good investment and the campus in turn was hailed as a great success. Children from both schools, as well as a third special needs school also sharing the campus now had access to an athletics track, an all weather pitch, a cricket ground, a gym hall, recording studios and a theatre. And because the facilities are also open to the community, the school could receive lottery funding, further boosting its financial stability. This is a long way from the deprived schools Dalkeith and St David’s were in the nineties.

On the back of Dalkeith’s success, Midlothian Council plans to build another shared campus site, this time combining non-denominational Loanhead Primary to St Margaret’s Roman Catholic Primary.  The Executive will be keen to encourage education authorities around Scotland to follow suit, but they will have to remain cautious when pushing such a grand design on Catholic schools. The Kirch in Scotland is still extremely powerful as demonstrated by their outright refusal to accept the recently passed laws allowing for gay adoption – the Executive were powerless to confront them.

Perhaps a more challenging issue for the Executive in the run up to the elections is the call for a state funded Islamic school. St Albert’s Roman Catholic Primary, in Pollockshields, has a 90% Muslim student intake. Pleas were made by the Muslim community to ‘convert’ the school but these were turned down. Despite receiving over 150 letters from Muslim parents in the area, Glasgow City Council, responsible for schools in South Glasgow, said there was no evidence supporting the need for an Islamic school. However, a memo obtained by Scotland on Sunday under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the council, Scotland’s largest education authority, had no intention of funding a Muslim school in any event. The memo which carried the initials of Ronnie O’Connor, Glasgow’s Director of Education, referred to concerns of social isolation of Muslim children, too much time devoted to Islamic studies as well as the poor treatment of girls. If these concerns had a backbone, shared campus could be one way of dealing with them. 

Faith schools are losing public support in Scotland. A survey carried out by the National Centre for Social Research in 2002 showed that 81% of Scots believed separate Catholic schooling should be phased out, a rise of 5% since 1992. Among the Catholic community, 59% believed it should be ended, a rise of 12%. The Executive is tentatively taking steps to conciliate Scotland’s secular future with its religious past, but the state’s position on faith schools is considerably compromised due to traditional ties to the church and fear of descent. Shared campus could provide a bridge between the times, but as of yet, no mainstream political party has dared to show its hand.


Commissioned by the New Statesman

Trevor Baylis considers himself lucky. Unlike so many of his colleagues, he has been given the recognition he deserves for his inventions. Most inventors in the UK tend to get a raw deal, but according to Baylis, that’s all about to change.

In 2002, he set up a company to help inventors realise their potential and protect their genius. Trevor Baylis Brands (TBB) came to be as a direct result of Baylis himself feeling the heavy hand of corporate lawyers.

“Everybody thinks I’m an extremely rich man, but I was turned over like a turkey,” he says.

Remarkably, like so many other British inventors that have been bullied by huge corporations, Baylis isn’t bitter.

“The most important thing is to try and do something to ensure that it doesn’t happen again to somebody else. I asked myself, what else do I want? You can only wear one suit at a time. So at the end of the day, it isn’t about cash; it’s about principle… decency, that’s why I brought my team together.

TBB started off as an idea to have a British Academy of Inventors, a safe and secure place for innovators to go to for guidance and legal protection from ‘Intellectual Property’ (IP) theft. But the government had little appetite to invest in such a scheme so Baylis decided to go it alone.

Baylis Brands encourages inventors to come forward with their ideas in the safe knowledge that it would be handled with confidentiality and deference. The opposite of the BBC’s solution, ‘Dragon’s Den,’ a reality programme which Baylis describes as ‘destroying someone’s life for 15 minutes of television.’

One of the main objectives of TBB is to ensure that Intellectual Property is thoroughly protected and that there are no loop holes in the law, so inventors aren’t dragged into expensive legal suits which they will invariably lose. Baylis cannot emphasise this point enough.

“It might be designed for the floor, but we’ll make sure the patent covers the wall, the ceiling and even the toilet.”

“The future and the economy depend on inventiveness and creativity, so we have to recognise that inventions and especially patents are absolutely essential if you want to score off you’re competitor.”

“Wherever the product is created, the economy is likely to be affected should it be nicked. The only way we’re going to avoid that is by recognising our British patent office and having the UK, the ‘UK plc’ if you like, standing behind the lone inventor.”

A lack of faith in the government to step in when MNCs are manhandling its citizens has pushed Baylis in to leading a charge to remind the British institutions what they were set up for and to encourage cooperation between private, governmental and charitable organisations.

“At the moment, the DTI are just bums on seats and they are not really helping the people that go to them. In fact, the Design Council were one of the first organisations to turn me down [regarding the clockwork radio]. They said there wouldn’t be a need for it.”

TBB promises its applicants to analyse all possible routes to market, and perhaps as a consequence, receives on average six inventions a day. Baylis treats each and everyone with respect.

“If someone comes up to TBB with a peculiar shaped walking stick because the person has a peculiar shaped back, well, there might only be a requirement for 10 of these in the whole world, but my god, don’t it make a difference to those ten people.”

There’s a fine balance between social need and financial viability explains Baylis, and in the same vain as William Morris over 100 years ago, marrying up the beauty of the invention with a potential use is his biggest challenge. TBB is now working closely with the Patent Office, the British Library, the Office of Fair Trading, the Company Fraud Squad as well as the National Research Laboratories and over 250 industrial collaborators towards that end.

Baylis’s conversation consists mainly of bloke next door vernacular with intermittent soundbites. But after sifting through the media talk, it’s difficult not to be moved by his enthusiasm and his one true belief – that ‘Invention is the future.’ His ‘baby,’ as he would put it, is currently sitting on a number of inventions that are about to go to market. With the revenue generated, Baylis is hoping to push for invention to be integrated into the national curriculum as well as expand into helping innovators in developing countries.

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Extract from the New Statesman

From parliamentary democracy to Worcestershire sauce, the Brits have always been world leaders in innovation and design. But, in recent years, British inventors have been struggling to hold their own in the cut-throat research and development industry and an increasing number are now finding themselves on the block.

James E. Lovelock, the unrecognised brain behind the microwave oven, knows only too well that there are no points for second place. In the 1940s, whilst experimenting on how to resuscitate cryogenically frozen hamsters, Lovelock realised that the microwaves used to thaw the animals could also be used to heat his dinner.

“I was the first person to have a microwave meal – a baked potato,” said Lovelock.

“I didn’t think to patent the idea because the magnetron (which produced the microwaves) was a massive device which cost the equivalent of £1m in today’s money.”

… Perhaps the best known battle between the UK and the US was over penicillin, a British discovery left unexploited until an organised American development programme modified the production process sufficiently to mass-produce the drug…

… The British engineer Alec Reeves suffered from a similar fate. His invention, Pulse Code Modulation (PCM), is nowadays at the heart of all digital electronic equipment…

Henry VI granted the earliest known English patent for invention to Flemish-born John of Utynam in 1449 for making stained glass windows, over 300 years before the first US patent, but in the 21st century Britain has been left far behind.

“Standing on the shoulders of giants”; the words of Britain’s most celebrated scientist are embossed on the side of the two pound coin. If Sir Isaac Newton were alive today, he might lament that our inventors have too often provided the shoulders on which others are now standing.

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Kane and Able


Commissioned by New Statesman

Kane Kramer is the legendary inventor of MP3 technology; the saviour of hip i-podders around the world, and he’s about to blow away the duller ones amongst us with his latest creation.

The father of music downloading is on the verge of launching a revolutionary new technology that he claims is going to be the “greatest tool” for businessmen, accountants, lawyers and everyone else in between “since email and mobile phones.” ‘Monicall,’ short for monitor call, effectively allows legally binding contracts to take place over the telephone by recording the conversation and storing a hard copy on file at the telephone registry. Kramer describes it as “better than a handshake.”

It took him just 6 years from thinking up the idea to getting it into the market. He explains that it really wasn’t that difficult, because he purposefully by-passed all governmental involvement.

Kramer had reservations about approaching the government for investment.

“I have to look at their track record in terms of how long it took them to catch on to the internet, and applying it.”

“In my experience, private investors and business angels are not only faster in realising the potential of something well ahead of its time, but faster to act on their decision.”

The government is unwilling to take risks he says. It is using public money and it is accountable, but as a consequence, a lot of chances are missed. The governments expects you to already be a successful business before you approach them for funding, by which time your main competitors have already monopolised your market.

“You have to be well ahead of the game,” Kramer says. “I came up with the idea of the MP3 in 1981, over 20 years before the i-pod and 10 years before the internet, and it’s only in the last 5 years that people have started to download files.”

“You have to make a conscious step to appreciate how the technology may move forward and how that will impact on the way that people actually live and work in their environment.”

There are cultural barriers as well Kramer explains providing Monicall as an example.

“In early 2000/2001, there was still a kind of reluctance to the idea of recording telephone calls. Nowadays, people accept that everyone is recording calls.”

“When it comes to funding, our real assets are the fund managers and banks who with crystal clear thinking perceive the change in culture as though it had already taken place, a rare breed.”

Monicall is estimated to make £2bn in the first 5 years from its launch in May this year.

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Commissioned by Scotland on Sunday – Date of Publication TBC

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‘State of Emergency,’ Iajuddin Rahman, the President of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh announced before he calmly resigned from office last week.

There has always been a state of ‘emergency’ in South Asia’s youngest sovereign nation: In 1970, it was a cyclonic tidal surge, that killed over 500,000 people, in 2006, exposure of the use of child labour by British multinationals, and in the future, mankind will look back at the 60 million people currently being poisoned by arsenic in the groundwater and label it the biggest humanitarian disaster of the 21st century…

… Pakistan witnessed a military coup in 1999 with General Pervez Musharraf becoming the chief executive of the country. Although Musharraf got repeated requests from the international community to restore democracy, his open offensives on Islamist militancy have kept him in the good books of western leaders.

A similar regime could also emerge in Bangladesh, which would crush Islamic militancy as well as take a hard line on corruption. Autocracy, guided with a strong and fair left hand, so that democracy could grow once again from the good will of the people, may be the best option available at present.

‘State of Emergency’ rings alarm bells for all Bangladeshis who dared to survive the 1971 War of Independence. The dream was vivid then, a democratic, secular nation, with reform and equality as its guiding principles. Unfortunately, 35 years on, it’s time to wake up and smell the Bengali tea – Bangladesh, is back where it started.

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Taken from The Oaxaca Times, Mexico

Finally, the perfect excuse for refusing to go to that unbearable Christmas meal at your great aunt’s, who isn’t actually related to you anyway.

“Sorry Aunty, I won’t make it this year: Grasshopper Roast just doesn’t agree with me – I’m allergic to the way it looks.”

Eating insects is an old tradition that dates back many millennia. The Old Testament encouraged Christians and Jews to consume locusts, beetles, and grasshoppers; Pliny, the first-century Roman scholar and author of Historia Naturalis, wrote that Roman aristocrats loved to eat beetle larvae reared on flour and wine, and even Aristotle, the fourth-century Greek philosopher and scientist, claims that “…at first the males are better to eat, but after copulation the females, which are then full of white eggs.”

Nowadays in Latin America, cicadas (fire-roasted tarantulas) and ants are prevalent in traditional dishes and one of the most famous culinary insects, the Agave worm, is eaten on tortillas and placed in bottles of Mezcal liquor in Mexico. So why don’t Europeans and Americans eat insects despite their well certified track record?

“We invested in livestock, and bugs became the enemy,” explains David George Gordon, the author of ‘The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.’

Manfred Kroger, a professor emeritus of food science at Penn State University, says “what people choose to eat is conditioned by culture.

“Many Westerners readily consume shrimp and lobster (which, like insects, are arthropods) along with pork and oysters—foods other cultures reject as dirty.”

“Another reason is that after Europe became agrarian, insects were seen as destroyers of crops rather than a source of food,” says Gene DeFoliart, a professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Wisconsin.

“In our preoccupation with cattle, we have denuded the planet of vegetation,” DeFoliart states. “Insects are much more efficient in converting biomass to protein.”

Hamburgers, for example, are roughly 18 percent protein and 18 percent fat. Cooked grasshopper, meanwhile, contains up to 60 percent protein with just 6 percent fat. Moreover, like fish, insect fatty acids are unsaturated and thus healthier.

Insect farming is arguably much more efficient than cattle production. One hundred pounds (45 kg) of feed produces 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of beef, while the same amount of feed yields 45 pounds (20 kg) of cricket.
“People are poisoning the planet by ridding it of insects, rather than eating insects and keeping artificial chemicals off plants that we eat,” say DeFoliart, noting the widespread use of pesticides in industrial agriculture.

In Colombia, insects used as food by indigenous populations are often those that are dependably most abundant. Thus, many of the species used as food are important crop pests. So the question has been raised whether increased promotion and harvest of palm weevil (Rhynchophorus) and rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes) larvae as food might serve as a form of biological control of these pests (and the associated ‘red- ring disease’ of palms). Such a practice might result in the reduction of pesticides, as well as creating new economic opportunities for indigenous people.

If insects were to become more widely accepted as a respectable food item in industrial countries, they would form a whole new class of foods made to order for low-input small-business and small-farm production. International trade in edible insects would almost certainly increase. Although prospects for widespread acceptance are uncertain, there has been a notable increase in the number of articles in newspapers and magazines, and the subject is usually treated more seriously than in the past.

Ant drinks are said to have been used in Britain in the middle ages as a tonic for general ailments. In 2001 British company Inter-Continental launched a version of this tonic called ‘Ant’ on the western market, as an energy drink (and, yes, it was made from real ants).

Worms in jelly or clear, hard candy, invented by biologist Juan García Oviedo, have also been a big hit in test groups over the last decade.

“The kids love them. They tend to eat the candy to get at the bug to see if it’s real. Once they find out its real, they keep on eating anyway,” says Oviedo.

Long a food source in Oaxaca, the bug movement is spreading. Farmers on the outskirts of Mexico City were spending large amounts of money on pesticides to kill grasshoppers, Oviedo said, until they found they could get more money for the edible bugs than for their crops.

“Now, these farmers are planting a cheap kind of corn, just to serve as a trap to catch grasshoppers.”

While the ideas have made it to market studies and consumer testing, they still require seed money. Oviedo says he has interest from foreign investors, but has been hamstrung by Mexican food-safety standards that treat insect content as contamination rather than a potential main ingredient. Officials at Mexico’s Agriculture Department say insect consumption falls outside regulations because it’s a traditional, non-commercial food product.

Oviedo also claims that with a protein content as much as twice that of beef, bugs could also become a welcome diet supplement among the estimated 20 million extremely poor who live on incomes of $1 per day or less.

Dr. Hector Bourges of Mexico’s National Nutrition Institute said eating insects was a “sort of return to the distant past,” but he doubts bugs alone could make a big difference in diets of malnourished people. Even so, Oviedo hopes to produce more modern, ‘mixed-bug’ products, like grinding up grasshoppers into hot dogs, or enriching tortillas with high-protein bug larvae powder.

Scientists estimate that we will probably ingest 1 pound of insects in our lifetime. In fact, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even set guidelines for the maximum allowable insect parts that can contaminate foods. For instance, 50 grams of flour must not have more than 75 parts of insect, and chocolate should not contain more than an average of 60 bug fragments per 100 grams. We’re all eating bugs anyway! Isn’t it disconcerting to learn that we’re not that sophisticated after all?