Dumfries caught the rain on Saturday 13th May, but it didn’t dampen our event. In 2015 we elected a brilliant man to be our MP at Westminster, Richard Arkless SNP. We are going to re-elect him for Dumfries&Galloway in #GE17.
Look at the smiles and listen to the banter – that’s the SNP in Scotland.
here we are, the over 65s, clogging up the buses and the NHS, popping our free pills and spending our winter fuel supplements on Spanish breaks …. ……reprobates.
Meanwhile, the millennial generation are facing a future of uncertainty, of limited opportunity and cannot afford to buy their own homes. After 50 plus years of slow improvement in living standards and working conditions, it now appears that much of it is being taken away by a succession of governments which are neglecting their first duty to their citizens. The things my parents and grandparents endured and then fought to improve, are being eroded and withheld.
My generation came from impoverished antecedents, scarred by two world wars.
My grandfather was brought back from his new life as an emigrant farmer in Australia to serve on the Somme during WW1. He survived and, more remarkably, a bout of the murderous influenza didn’t kill him either.
In the twenties and thirties, a lot of people were in poor, overcrowded housing, damp and unsanitary. Many were undernourished and often unable to buy medicines. My mother’s father, in the west of Scotland, always kept a dog, not as a pet, but to catch rabbits in the nearby fields. Rabbits were a staple part of their diet, well into the fifties.
Their generations had little protection. Often, women and babies died in childbirth. Almost every family had lost children to preventable diseases. It’s all recorded in census and death certificates.
My mother contracted rheumatic fever as a young girl, before the NHS came into being. She was sent to an isolation hospital, but then sent back home, with weeks to live. Somehow, her own mother cared for her, slowly encouraged her and she survived – with permanent damage to her heart.
My father survived POW camp in Italy and internment in Switzerland in WW2. When he came back, he weighed six stones. He was six foot four.
My parents married at the end of the war. They were told they could never have children, as it would be too dangerous for my mother. Nature had other ideas, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. I was born in an NHS hospital, by Caesarian section.
My grandparents didn’t have access to this kind of care until the very end of their lives.
But I’m a baby boomer, born after WW2 at the end of the forties, when the National Health Service was introduced and ordinary people, for the first time, benefited from the care given them by the Welfare State, in return for their taxes.
After the war, people set about rebuilding their lives. They put all their energies into raising a new generation of healthy active children, with access to a good, if very limited, diet and the protection of health care, dentistry and vaccination, through taxation and National Insurance contributions. That was their contract with the state.
The sixties brought apprenticeships, college and university or the workplace.
Most young people moved out of their parental homes to access further education or work. The expectation was that after school you looked out for yourself. Many of us were the first in our family to go to university.
There were, however, student grants in those days, provided by the state.
A very small amount of means tested, subsistence money to live on in term time. It was supplemented by working through all the holidays, to pay your share at home. But no credit cards, no holidays, cars or nice stuff, but no debt either. And we didn’t have to catch and eat rabbits. And there was no conscription to the armed forces by then, thank god.
By the end of the sixties, we were getting married and in the seventies, having families. Most of us were still renting accommodation that was better than our student digs, but still too draughty to heat. The money barely went round the necessities, we had no savings and the only holidays were back with our parents.
By the eighties, our kids were moving on and needing financial support as the student grants shrank. In my case, we were 40 before we could afford a mortgage.
Interest rates inflated almost immediately, making budgeting a science..
Over the next decades, we boomers paid our taxes and our bills and did the diy on our homes. Then we retired. And we helped our own ageing parents in their last years.
Already care for them was costing them their homes and lifetime savings.
So now, boomers have become pensioners. The majority of us are ordinary folk. Some of us have final salary pensions, paid into over our lifetimes, others have much less. Those superannuation schemes weren’t free. A large chunk of monthly wages built the funds over a lifetime and our families still need help from time to time, financial and otherwise.
We continue to pay our taxes, to carry out diy, plug the childcare gaps in the system and in many cases, volunteer our time to local groups. There’s a long standing sentiment of “giving something back to society”.
But the current UK government has other uses for taxpayers money, and it is attempting to remove the most basic of those hard won rights. The National Health Service is under intense pressure in England and Wales. The reason given daily in the newspapers and on television, is that there is a problem with an ageing population, living longer.
Everyone is ageing – all the time. The “problem” is not the ageing or the numbers of old people. The real problem is a government and a state that walks away from the contract made with its citizens.
All of us have paid our contributions and kept the terms of the contract throughout our lives – and we still are. Government has not.
UK Governments over the last 30 plus years have chosen to spend taxpayers money on foreign wars, a nuclear deterrent, and exorbitantly high value spending on infrastructure in the south east of England. They have also used taxpayers money to bail out the banks which almost ruined the country through greed, risky gambling and self serving practices. And they have borrowed billions to top up these adventures, while making sure the rich stay rich.
What they have not done, is invest their citizens money in apprenticeships, student grants, workplace opportunities and affordable housing.
They have cheated the young of a better future for themselves and their children.
But they blame an ageing population, most of whom do not have personal debt.
Most of whom had what little they had saved, halved or lost in the banking crash.
Most of whom still pay tax, and most of whom are living longer because they got a good start in life and were cared for by the NHS they and their parents paid for.
Do we really want to turn the clock back to the thirties? We will still be paying tax to the state, but we will also be paying huge sums on medical insurance – if we can afford them. For many, many people, that is a non starter. The inevitable result is poorer health and yes, shorter lives.
Look around you.
We are the midwives who brought you into the world; the nurses, doctors and dentists who cared for you, the teachers and lecturers who taught you; the farmers and fishermen who fed you; the civil servants who looked after the smooth running of all the state functions; the scientists and engineers who designed and created the technology you use every day; the ones who drove the buses, trains and lorries; the cooks, the cleaners, the artists, musicians and writers, people just like you.
The men and women with their free bus passes haven’t stolen your future. The neo-liberal crony governments are the problem. If you are old, or disabled, or the wrong colour, or the wrong religion, or not from here, or unable to find work, then you are not wanted.
And now, my own family is back to square one. My grandchildren live 6000 miles away, economic migrants; just like their great great great grandfather, they had to leave Scotland and start again in Australia.
Bad government damages people’s lives. It’s a warning that should be on every ballot paper.
Choose those who value society, in all its dimensions. Age comes to everyone.
One of the pieces on my gallery page is my Emigrant book.
I had never made anything like this before, but in 2012, something happened as a result of the economic downturn.
Our daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren, “emigrated” to Australia, or in other words, had to leave to find work.
I’ve been fortunate. I’m the recipient of a good free education, I’ve had a professional career, I never had to face leaving Scotland from necessity. But I never thought my own children would need to either, as professionals. A scientist and an engineer, lost to Scotland.
That was shocking and I would ask anyone to think about it for a bit.
I reckon there are many households in Scotland who are living with the same kind of absence.
It got me thinking about Scotland’s history of emigration and separation. It’s an old story, but one that is constantly repeating itself.
On both sides of my family, people left for America and Australia, starting in the late 1880s. A few came back, but many never did. There were no good prospects to come home to. In the early years of the 20thC, more left home and in the mid fifties, still more. And here we are in the 21stC.
I am lucky, I can text, phone, Skype my family, everything but touch them.
How could those left behind in the 1800s and well into the 1900s, bear the separation? Six weeks at least on the boat out to Australia and then as many again for the first letters to come home with news. Nor was there any likelihood of the young sons and daughters being able to make a visit home. All the rites of passage, marriages, children, deaths, happening thousands of miles apart. It must have been a sore, cheerless existence for the old folk left behind.
I started my book with the words ‘nobody’s child’. I think it applies to all newly arrived immigrants. Arriving in an alien environment, cut off from your culture and family support, is a bit like being an orphan. No history, no back story in the new place, just your own small nucleus, trying to find its way. Everything around you is different.
None of my immediate family had language barriers, nor were they refugees fleeing war zones and persecution. They just didn’t have a good future here for their children.
Maybe Scotland understands very well what it is to be an outsider. All the signals of uncertainty, confusion and isolation resonate somehow across cultural boundaries.
Scotland can’t feel like home yet to newly arrived refugees but kinship is wider than race, religion or language and it costs us nothing to offer it.
In the current climate of restrictions, bans and deportations, remember the folk that sailed from the Broomielaw, or who now fly from Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Don’t allow inward looking isolationism any houseroom.
Scotland is bigger than this in heart and mind and it’s a precious thing – in the real sense of that word.
But in the meantime, if we want our children and grandchildren to grow and flourish in Scotland and if we want to see our country able to support them and future generations, then change is necessary.
The first step is to recognise that no change means no change and that in 50 or 100 years time, someone else will still be lamenting the lack of opportunity that has gifted other countries the benefit of our young people.
It’s in all our interests to have confidence in our ability to govern ourselves and to make decisions for ourselves. So what should we do about it?
We need to be able to grow our economy and improve all our people’s life chances here, to give everyone the right to a normal life, so that starting a new life in another country is a choice, not a necessity.
Better opportunities and better employment prospects will only come when we have control of our own resources and manage them for the benefit of Scotland and her people.
For the last 160 years the United Kingdom has served my family ill. The stark choice was to stay disadvantaged and disempowered or to make the decision to leave.
Brexit is the single greatest threat to Scotland’s prosperity since the Great depression years.
The case for an independent Scotland is to allow Scots to make all the decisions that affect our lives and to make them well. We have been diminished by neglect, by rule from afar, and by the absolute contempt of the ‘ruling class’ for ordinary people and their hopes.
Adventures and experiences abroad should be a matter of choice, a rich aspect of our own personalities as confident, worldly Scots. They shouldn’t be the last best hope, where there is none to be had at home.
Emigrant is a book about loss. Let’s make sure it becomes history, and let’s plan instead for a better future, that builds on our aspirations and supports us to realise them.