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Thursday, 19 April 2012

Reasons To Be Fearful

Living in one of these new housing estates that are isolated from local services, I drove to the bank this morning to pay some bills. Returning to my car, I find that an intermittent, yet recurring, engine fault means I will be immobile for about ninety minutes if previous experience is any guide. Sitting in the car, with notebook and pen, I get a close up look at a part of the local area that I rarely pay much attention to. It is a fairly non-descript part of Glasgow. Neither particularly impoverished nor affluent.

Parked in a sidestreet about two hundred yards from the main drag, I can see a number of things. Forward of me, I can watch the vehicular and pedestrian traffic stream along the shopping area and across the junction an imposing church with what seems an unusually tall spire. In this street, handsome sandstone tenement residences with little of the soot-blackened facade that used to be so common - these buildings look pristine; as if they have very recently been sand-blasted. There is a tastefully refurbished community centre. And a modern doctor's surgery directs a steady stream of souls to the chemist on the corner. There is a small, relatively-picturesque, wooded park immediately to my right and behind me - where bollards mark the end of this dead-end street - there is another open space (concrete this time) which is a hive of activity where a well-known developer constructs new housing.

When I re-walk the length of the street (both sides) later, to get some fresh air and stretch my legs, virtually every parked car is more up-to-date than my own and all have correctly-displayed and current tax discs. This is not broken Britain.

But look at the people. There is no obvious confidence. No apparent pride. Few walk tall with their heads in the air and their eyes forward.

I watch them closely from behind the lightly-tinted glass. Though I hesitate to use the words, these are the only ones I can find...

I see people who look destitute and downtrodden. They look poor. It is clear that a substantial number have fought, are still fighting, losing battles with drugs and/or alcohol. The majority look unhealthy - some emaciated, some morbidly obese; those that fit into some acceptable middle ground are notable only because of their scarcity. Some are - again it is the only word that conveys what I see - mis-shapen; as if they have been carelessly thrown together by a mischievous God. Most are smoking and with the window down I can hear many breathe with a laboured wheeze as they shuffle past.

They are poorly dressed. Tribal football uniforms are what many of them will consider their contribution to style. One particularly crude zebra-print, 'puffa' jacket, with the white segments now no more than a memory, is especially eye-catching. Crude amateur tattoos abound. There are broken veins on many faces which already suffer the indignity of a particularly sickly pallor. Shouted greetings to acquaintances across the street are unashamedly punctuated with obscenities. There is casual littering and carefully considered hawking up of phlegm, both of which fight for pavement space with the dog shit left behind by their aggressive-looking terriers.

Many have babes in prams and pushchairs while some carry and some harry pre-school toddlers along the street. Their offspring are not spared in the casual torrent of swear words that colour their conversations. Scant consolation is taken from the realisation that the children tend to be better dressed than the parents. Still, I wonder, what chance for these future adults?

When the rare vital or attractive individual chances by, I stare - perhaps for too long. The males, no doubt, take me for a copper or some other snooping authority and glare back. The females, avert their eyes and hurry past.

It is a singularly depressing experience.

I watch one moderately plump mother carry her toddler down the street towards me, stop twice in a hundred yards, place her child on the ground and re-adjust the brown cords which are threatening to part company with her fleshy hips. As they get closer, I can hear that the child is crying. No agonised tears. Just the tired, fitful sobbing that kids sometimes do. From her soothing words, her ruffling of her son's hair and her kissing of his forehead, her love is obvious. But the child cries on and, sitting there, I want to weep with him. And nearly do.

I want to weep because I fear for where this is all heading.

In one of the wealthiest nations in the world, we have permitted to develop a permanent underclass. Rather than take meaningful steps to address this, Westminster governments - of all stripes - would prefer to pursue unachievable, perpetual growth. Untold billions are available to bail out the bankers who sold them this vision of ever-increasing prosperity then tried to make it so via exotic and illusory financial instruments. Untold billions are available to upgrade our nuclear arsenals with ever more sophisticated weapons whose sole purpose is to kill millions of human beings at a stroke. Billions more are available for foreign wars - some of which are clearly illegal while others are merely ill-defined and ill-conceived. We spend vast sums intervening in other conflicts in support of those elements we've just fought against in our previous wars. It really is the politics of the madhouse.

Rather than make a concerted attempt to elevate the poorest, we continue to reward the richest. Rather than give those at the bottom of the ladder a stake in our society, we allow those at the top to stretch further into the distance.

We make university education an even greater financial risk. We sell off our National Health Service to the highest bidder. We give access to our political leadership to those who can pay the most. We pay private companies to declare the sick and ill fit for work.

Fascism is when the interests of corporations and Government merge. Can there be any doubt that this is where we are inexorably heading? Was Orwell correct in predicting sectioned-off inner-city reservations fit only for the 'proles'? We are already seeing American style gated communities. How long till someone suggests our own Israeli-style Walls to cordon off those we see as less-deserving; just as we have seen it suggested in the past few days that they not be allowed to vote?

Since 1979 there has been a sickness at the heart of our democracy. Despite changes at the top - of personalities and political parties - that sickness has only intensified. Britain, it seems, has chosen its path. Scotland has the opportunity to choose another way. And it must. And it must be chosen by as many of us as possible.

Scotland for most of the past century has voted for more progressive politics than our neighbours. Social democratic principles are more ingrained here than in the southern half of our island. It is time for all of us to come together and provide that example of progressive social democracy that I know we can be.

Labour supporters must throw off the baggage of New Labour - that distortion of a once proud Party of principles and social justice. We know that many of you reject the war-mongering, neo-Conservative values that the London party has adopted. It is time for you to be brave enough to reject it publicly.

Liberal Democrats must distance themselves from those in your Party who have decided to bolster a Conservative assault on our societal well-being, our freedoms and our most cherished institutions. You too must return to the principles that you hold so dear.

Together we must first win the chance to govern our nation in a way of our choosing. Then we must renew it. Make it once again the nation that could justly claim to be one of the driving forces of universal Enlightenment and the invention of the modern world.

Let us not waste this opportunity. Let us not have to comfort ever-increasing numbers of weeping children. Let us not have to admit that all we did was wept when we had the chance to roar.


  1. Very well said. Let us all roar for independence and a fairer society.

  2. Excellent piece. Takes us back to the real reason for our fight.

  3. An excellent, thoughtful article which goes right to the heart of why Scotland must become an independent nation. I was born in Govan and lived most of my life in Govanhill, I now live in Aberdeenshire and the contrast is startling. I left Govanhill in 2008 as was very relieved as it had become an area ridden with crime, drugs, unemployment, slum landlords and racial tensions. In contrast Aberdeenshire has little or any of the above. Yet visit Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe and much of what you describe can be seen daily in Union Street. Oil has been very good to those with an education, however for many Aberdonians it has been a poisoned chalice, attracting criminals, pimps and pushers from all over the UK and beyond.
    There are perhaps millions in Scotland who fit the picture you paint. Independence will surely improve their lot.

  4. A great summary of what the journey to Independence is for.