Rebel Eldest takes her leave

Meg should be setting down in Berlin any minute now. Easyjet from Glasgow to Schonefeld.

Berlin Schonefeld Airport

Glasgow International Airport

The weekend has been a big party of bon voyage drinks and friends and food.

We spent Friday night in Maisie’s Pub. Shovelling coal onto the fire and getting unco fu’. So fu’ in fact that last orders triggered a ‘party at my house’ shout and the die-hards made their way to New Lanark for the champagne and whisky and Glayva – and a few bites of pakora.

R and Ana and I drove her into the airport at 9am this morning Meg had fretted non-stop over baggage restrictions and hand luggage. She had worried over what to wear and had a last minute change of mind over clothes. She had reassured me that the mobile phone bill won’t really be that expensive. And decided that she wouldn’t wear anything more than mascara on her eyes – because I’m going to cry when I say cheerio Mum.

In the end she and I did cry a bit.

My eyes filled when she walked away from us – up the one-way to Security tunnel. The sight of her setting off on her own. Fur hatted and slender in leather. Gorgeous but vulnerable but determined. Having a last minute panic but settling her own nerves and not looking back.

We say goodbye to them so often now. It seems I’ve entered that stage where my life as a parent is a long round of preparation for departure and then of farewells. This is good and as it ought to be. I just need to toughen up – have my heart go where my mind already is: that separation and independance is the endgame of parenting.

I also need to apologise to all those middle-aged and greeting parents whom I scoffed at as they waved goodbye or spoke of their ’empty nests’.There is pain in this thing that we are fortunate enough to go through.

Of course my ‘nest’ is far from empty. So I am aware that I’m being a bit of a drama queen. But still. With Meg now away and with Lou buying his own car and driving himself through to his new promotion (2nd in charge at a large store in Kilmarnock) I’m aware of how quickly it all passes. That one minute you are changing nappies and dropping from lack of sleep and the next waving goodbye to an adult.

R reminds me of the consolations. A New Year trip to Berlin to see Meg and a staff discount on the planned bathroom from Lou’s store. And I smile.

Truthfully, I cannot understand why I am feeling this way. I was always focused on the objective of the job – to get them safely through to departure. I was always a ‘selfish’ parent who built a large life outside of home. Who did not teach her children that they were the centre of the universe (or the centre of her universe).

But maybe – all along – with my parenting emphasis on independance, I was really doing it for my own benefit. Knowing that one day they would not ‘need’ me, I was preparing myself for the final umbilical cut. The time when my own axis, my centre of gravity, would need to shift.

All the time I was telling myself and others that ‘I had a life. My life was not all about the kids and being a Mother’ I find that actually, my role as Mother is central to my sense of Self.

I also find that whilst you worry when they are little – you ‘worry’ even more when they are grown…

How inadequately I prepared for ‘letting go’. How inadequately I really knew myself.

Anyway… ‘Onwards and upwards’ as my Mum says.

I trust them to look after themselves. To love and be loved. To contribute and be of use. To take pleasure from life and to hurt no person. All will be well.

And as R reminds me, I’ll get my trip to Berlin and a new, reduced price bathroom.


A cure for insomnia…

Training attendance is the price I pay if I’m to retain my judicial appointment.

(No, no. Don’t get too excited. This is small beer stuff. I’m no high flyer.)

So, today I spent a day ‘being trained’. Being forced to remember all that I had learned too long ago – to revisit a subject I thought my legal books and case law would suffice for (if really forced).

TUPE. The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 and then 2006… 77/198/EEC… 98/50 EC…Directive 2001/23/EC…

Why, oh why, TUPE?

Because the Government are consulting on possible changes.

TUPE was exciting once.

I think I remember. At the height of  Thatcher’s revolution it represented some little protection for employees who faced transfer of their jobs to another employer. It made it less (only ultimately a little less) attractive for private contractors to bid for public services – ‘contracting out’ – when they faced the prospect of having to honour those employees’ same terms and conditions.

It came about because of Italy. Give it up for the Italians and their 1960s/70s employment law practices!

TUPE has long since had its high day. Cleverer legal minds than mine have picked it apart and exposed its bones – which were suddenly found to be full of holes. And the EAT has managed a lot of strange, sometimes contradictory caselaw on the subject.

There are a few areas of law which I hate. Which I dread. Where my mind seems to shut down as soon as I lift my books. But of them all, I hate TUPE. I dread being asked about TUPE.

Making the day worse (for me), the trainer lectured. In a whining monotone he delivered very competent material, punctuated by well-intentioned references to his personal life.

And so I had travelled into Glasgow down a time travel tunnel to find myself in a curious old-fashioned lecture. Something I’d just about forgotten happened.

Years of training via workshops and focus groups and working groups and video-conferencing and e-training and role-playing and…

I was sat in a stuffy room, facing a whiteboard with the smizzling rain of a grey Wednesday-Glasgow falling on the window behind me and I remembered why a term of University lectures had convinced me I was narcoleptic.

Vice President came first. Bearing an hour long gift of depressing statistics. Then the trainer delivered two 100 minute lectures back-to-back. Filling in for the folk who should’ve but couldn’t be there. Time dripped by. Measured by rain on the glass plate, by my pen’s scratching of notes and then single words and then doodles on the powerpoint, by twitching and fidgeting, by the sitting unease of near four hours on a straight backed tribunal room chair and a growing cramp in thigh and calve.

And then, between the nagging of boredom and the heat and the metronome anti-cadence of human voice my head began to feel too heavy for my neck, eyelids too heavy for my sight, the whole weary day of lecture and learning too heavy for a mind full of dreaming and of not wanting to be there.

A lifetime of learning and I still have no self-discipline in the classroom. If it’s not new and not challenging I simply switch off. I’m 45 and yet I do this to myself time after time. I just allow myself to drift.

I haven’t a clue what it is I was meant to learn today. Except that 4 hours in the same hard chair hurts your back.

Happy to pay more tax?

Would I really be happy to pay more tax?

HMRC don’t permit donations. The closest any UK taxpayer can get to making a donation is failing to claim the tax rebates otherwise legally available (I don’t claim them – but that’s more from laziness than generosity).

But would I, if I could?

The question’s provoked by a spat on an other blog with a bright self-identified right-winger full of hyperbolic right-wing fear and loathing; detestation of all things public; an attachment to logical fallacy and ad hominem abuse; a love of understanding his left wing enemy in the flattest oldest stereotypes and of the reductio ad Hitlerum (because Fascists are, properly, left-wing). Oh and hypocrisy too – as he’ll no doubt be in receipt of a public sector pension having worked for the Beeb for many a year.

I asked my husband the same question last night. I took up the right’s cudgels and thumped him over the head with them.

I’ve a lifetime’s experience playing devil’s advocate – the only place I haven’t is with my own political views.

I decided a while back it was about time I did -instead of lazily accepting what I’ve been handed.

What – oh jeez , if I was wrong? Had been wrong all these years? Should have been applauding old Ronnie Reagan and his side-kick Mrs Thatcher? Instead of mentally stoning them.

Only, in the course of debate, I discovered that to admit of uncertainty or to interrogate your belief or the beliefs of others is an inherently left-wing thing to do. Right-wingers just seem to know that they are right. They don’t doubt their postures for a minute. They see such questioning of one’s own beliefs as evidence of a mental health condition – or worse, of left-ism/socialism/communism/devil-worship. It’s a bit like the old divine right of kings.

I was disappointed by my (otherwise very intelligent) opponent’s stereotyped thinking. The only things he left out from his characterisation of me was ‘lentil eating, hairy-legged dyke’ , cnd-supporting hippy, sanctimonious do-gooder, sisterhood loving. There’s probably more. But he ‘knew’ all this from a few lines on a blog. And what’s more he had settled the argument in his own head by deciding that I was all and any of the insults he chose to throw – on the basis ‘she is all of these stereotypes therefore her position is wrong’. That’s the way we argue when we’re children.

That’s part of the fundamentalist’s armoury though – sweeping generalisations and stereotypes allow dehumanisation of the enemy and a vicious high-minded evisceration or mockery. Fear and loathing are more easily engendered when you take away humanity. Forget the reality that none of us completely fit a stereotype. So I’m not a person with a myriad views – some contradictory some congruent – no, I’m a symbol of all that is wrong with the world. This moderately left-leaning unfortunately politically wet woman is the devil.

Anyways…. Would I pay more tax?

Pre-empting the critics, maybe I need to address the question Why does the State exist? There are many who view the State as an evil necessity – one which requires to be reminded that it operates (or should operate) within very tightly defined parameters and whose power to coerce must be limited. Funnily enough I do believe that too.

I’ve always been (rightly or wrongly) suspicious of power and the effect it seems to have upon those who exercise it – which is why I am all for the strongest of checks and balances upon our Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.

The classic right wing response re the State is: it exists to protect pre-political rights, no more, no less. Life, liberty, property. The State ought to be minimal. It’s all about individual responsibility. The individual rules ok. Remember Margaret Thatcher’s speech (made during an interview): …who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women

Of course, there is nothing wrong with believing that people must take responsibility for themselves. How can we disagree with that? There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that statement. Nothing that is, until we start to unpick what those on the right mean by that.

The sentiment is based upon a picture of the world where there is no regulation. Where the Free Market determines the balance – and it’ll all work out good in the end. Where businesses act in the best interests of all – because, it is argued, it isn’t in their interests to hurt or harm people/their customers. Tell that to the children who worked in the Factories and Mines pre-19th century legislation. Tell that to those who had no employment rights – because employment rights mean unemployment and failing businesses don’t ya know. Tell that to those who worked piecemeal and for slave wages. Tell that to those whose strikes for a decent living wage were broken by those employers who exploited workers who were just that bit more desperate. Tell that to the victims of Rachmanism. To those who had no affordable healthcare and who died prematurely from industrial diseases and accidents that were direct consequences of unsafe practices designed to maximise profit. Tell that, in fact, to the employees of Lehmann Brothers or of RBS or of any of the multitude of Banks who were too big to fail and who took down our economies. The victims of the asset-strippers who bought up businesses syphoned out the profit and threw away the rest. Or to Starbucks (no UK tax anyone?) or Amazon (minimum UK tax bill anyone?).

And when the right refer to ‘regulation’ they mean ‘regulation produced by the State’. They forget or overlook all the ‘regulation’ which goes on between big companies. All that rigging of energy costs anyone? The magic coincidence of the big energy companies and their congruent cost structures?

There is a beautiful naivity about much of the right’s arguments – but they lead to a social ugliness and demonisation of the vulnerable and the poor and the marginalised. In an ‘ideal’ world maybe every one would be able to take care of themselves. They would have a family they could rely upon. There would be no need for interventions to protect or to control or to educate.

The right mean no welfare safety net or they mean a time-limited or cash-limited safety net. Ultimately, they mean homelessness and extreme poverty and the suffering – ultimately – of poor children, poor men and poor women.

Locke’s political philosophy (the ‘state of nature’ and ‘pre-political rights’ etc) provide the foundation for much of the US Constitution. Knowing this helped me to a (slightly) better understanding of the US and its body politic. This is a country which is stuck with an Enlightenment Constitution and ties itself in political and legal knots trying to re-interpret that time-specific Consitution to fit the 21st Century. A bit like the biblical scholars who tie themselves in knots denying evolution and ‘explaining away’ fossils – they are stuck trying to make a text 2000+ years old ‘fit’ their modern day life.

The ‘state of nature’ is a theoretical concept which might work for a tiny commune – who knows – no one ever will. But for a modern post-industrial country operating within the Global economy? Where massive populations have to be accommodated. Where there are complexities never imagined by Locke et al?

Tax is the cost to me of a civilised society. I pay tax and the democratic state manages to create a country I feel safe living in. There will be spending that I, personally, would prioritise. But I get my (perhaps imperfect) chance to influence that spending when I put my cross in the ballot paper box for the party of my choice. I exercise control over the direction of spending every 4-5 years. And checks and balances (sometimes not operating perfectly in this imperfect world) attempt to limit the worst excesses of power-wielding and decision-making by our Governments.

So…  to return to the question… Mr UKIP was correct.

If the tax was to be spent on a big fat nuclear bomb or 1000 bombs or was to be used to send more human fodder into a war arena to fight a ‘war against terror’ or find non-existent WMD then the answer is No. I wouldn’t be happy to contribute to that.

But does that mean I am anti armed forces? No. To make that leap is logical fallacy.

It means I won’t condone aggressive acts such as those which took us into Iraq or Afghanistan.

Use the money to improve the life chances of our fellow Brits? Yes.

Remove children from toxic families? Yes.

Implement policies which enhance equality? Yes.

But I do owe Mr UKIP an apology. My tax statement was meaningless and knee-jerk. I really ought to know better.

Norovirus: what a shit of a bug

Norovirus is a real impressive little shit of a bug.

Ana brought it home from school on Thursday. She spent a night of helpless contortion and expulsion. We spent a night changing the bed, cleaning the floors, mopping fluids and trying to supplant eau de smelly cheese (said Ana) with dettol – all whilst, in my case, simaltaneously holding my nose and doing the sympathetic retch.

That was 5 days ago. In that short space of time No 1 has become the plague house.

With a ferocious ability to infect and an incubation period of 12-48 hours, I suppose family wipe-out was inevitable.

Robert and Jamie performed a vomit-duet on Saturday night. That got just a bit messy. And I got just a bit pissed off being the sole responsible adult…

Robert – a man with a low BP problem – managed to flake out, hitting his head on the sink as he fell. Have you ever tried to lift a 6’5″ dead weight?

Louis was next. A lesson in how you can expel from numerous orifices at the same time.

Then came Evan – clearly oblivious to the leson I had already learned about simultaneous voidings.

It was my turn yesterday. 4am and I was hugging the porcelain and lowing like a coo.

There is a calm settling today. Let’s hope norovirus has left the building.

There’s a lot of different ways of looking at this…

One Possible Scenario: the barest of facts

Boy, 14yrs is walking home after a couple of hours with his friends. He is a good boy. His mother said ‘Be home by 10pm’ and he will be. He hears footsteps behind him. Turning around he sees it is an older boy whom he recognises from school. This older boy left school just a couple of weeks ago. He is almost 16 years old. The older boy may be under the influence of some substance. He challenges the younger boy to ‘stop looking’ at him. The younger boy starts to walk more quickly. There is an exchange of words. The older pushes the younger and the younger boy falls, splitting his forehead and lip on the kerb. The older one flees when he sees the blood. The younger one uses his mobile to call his mother to come get him. Mother seeks immediate medical attention and the police become involved following discussions with the medical staff. The older is arrested and charged the following day.

It may or may not be important (to you) that older boy is from an immigrant family. His parents have recently separated and are low-income. He struggles with English. Younger boy is British. His parents are middle class; they own a successful business and own a large house.

What do you think should happen next?

Allow me the evil of generalisation…

If you’re writing for the Daily Mail you will in all likliehood emphasise the unprovoked nature of the attack; the age differential; that the alleged offender was intoxicated; the primacy of the need for punishment. You will print pictures of the injuries; of the large comfortable home and the concerned respectable tax-paying business-owning sucessful parents. You will mention the non-British origins of the perpetrator. That his parents are seperated. You will write of the percentages of immigrant benefit claimants. You will be indignant that you cannot name the perpetrator.

If you are a UKIP or Conservative Party (or any one of the myriad parties to the right of the political spectrum supporter) you will – in all likliehood – deplore the degeneracy of today’s too-liberal society; bemoan the lack of boot camps and/or national conscription for young offenders and/or the young generally; call for immigration borders to be closed and for withdrawal from the EU. You will be concerned that British streets are no longer safe. You will speak of your fear for your children when they leave your sight. You will be certain that rising crime can and should be dealt with by harsher punishment: longer prison sentences; maybe bringing back corporal punishment; supporting marriage and encouraging mothers to stay at home. You will blame multiculturalism and the hegemony of ‘the left’. You might even quote some religious text – an eye for an eye? – and use that to justify a desire to have the victims have a say in sentencing.

The Guardian might report the incident in a small tucked away column. But most likely will not report at all. If they go for a larger article the emphasis will be on levels of inequality and their impact on crime rates. There will be a nod in the direction of options open to the police and the Procurator Fiscal. The criteria which will be applied when they weigh up those options. There might be some mention of marginalisation of youth in that area where the offence took place. The lack of meaningful work and the divisions in the community. An ‘expert’ in community relations and engagement might be quoted.

The blue-collar ex-Labour voter will tend to agree with the Daily Mail. ‘These foreigners are mucking up everything’. They might reflect that things are not always as reported.

The left-leaning academic will nod at the Guardian but shake their head a bit at the slight hint of middle-class fear in the text. They will agree with the inequality thesis. Social exclusion fosters criminality. What is required are resources to ensure ‘inclusion’ policies are implemented. You know just the right person to do that…

The touchy-feely left-wing Social Worker who happens to pick up the Guardian that day (the stuff of right-wing and Daily Mail nightmares) begins to think of the possible reasons for the older lad’s actions. Maybe he is upset about his parents split; he has lived with domestic violence; he has in fact been the victim of parental abuse; he has a substance misuse problem; he is ‘socially disadvantaged’ (poor, foreign) and socially excluded (poor, foreign, with English as a second language, without friends, suffers a possible illness). Perhaps the younger boy offered provocation. Perhaps this was a case of misunderstanding exacerbated by a language barrier. Perhaps he has an anger management problem. Perhaps he needs a befriender. The younger lad has supportive parents by the sound of the report so no worrying over him.

So, whose moral universe is the ‘correct’ one? Which (of the crude examples) do you find yourself preferring?

Does it change your own assessment of the bare facts to hear the following additional material:
– the older boy has Aspergers
Or the following:
– the younger boy taunted the older boy
Or the following:
– that the younger boy’s mother is regularly beaten by his father and has been throughout the 20 plus years of their marriage. Divorce is out of the question for religious reasons.

How would those facts change the reactions of the cyphers above?

Would charge or prosecution of the older boy serve the public interest? Was the younger boy in need of protection?

I read a report yesterday – in the tabloid my Dad buys ‘because it’s cheap’- and got to thinking. What had the Reporter deliberately chosen to emphasise because it made good copy – or perhaps more significantly – it mirrored and amplified the political leanings of the newspaper and its readers?

I also remembered the volume of cases referred to me in my last job. The child offenders whose offending went hand in glove (without any exception I ever experienced during the near decade I was performing the assessment tasks) with their family circumstances; their poverty and insecurity; their exposure to domestic violence or to physical, sexual or emotional abuse; their low educational attainment or truancy; their poor housing or parental addiction problems… The decision I had to make was a) was there sufficient evidence to substantiate the offence ground or some other care ground and b) whether or not those child offenders required compulsory measures of supervision.

The system in Scotland – the Children’s Hearing System – is based upon a holistic assessment of child need. The Kilbrandon Report established the principle that a child offender was as much in need of care as a child who was offended against – and in fact the two very often went hand in glove.

I don’t condone criminality. I understand that many people survive abuse or deprivations and yet remain law abiding. However a quick look at the Prison statistics will reveal disproportionate numbers of prisoners with mental health problems; with looked after and accommodated backgrounds; with chaotic early lives.

What judicial punishment will succeed where the lifetime of punishments and suffering have failed?

Big State vs Little State

Obama and Romney face their final electoral countdown in a race that all commentators are claiming is still too tight to call. Bad news for the 20 out of 21 countries who, when asked, expressed a preference for Obama’s Presidency.

The choice between them both has often seemed slim to this outsider – but crudely, appears to come down to their opposing ideologies of Big State vs Little State.
This country I live in, Scotland – the country of my birth – is politically left-of-centre and could not be more different from America.

I’ve never understood the ‘America, Land of the Free’ descriptor. It always seemed a bit of a misnomer to me. Free? Maybe. But perhaps only if you’re rich, white and powerful?

What freedom does poverty offer? Opportunity surely becomes meaningless when inequalities are as stark as they are in the US. Wage inequality has never been greater; homelessness figures show disproportionate numbers of men, blacks, veterans and the disabled; 21% of all children are in poverty… (

I struggle to understand the vehemence with which even my closest US relations will defend as unquestionable the ‘fact’ that free markets and individual achievement are the primary factors behind economic prosperity. They will favour laissez-faire economics, fiscal conservatism, and the promotion of personal responsibility over public welfare. They want less Government not more. They view my expectation of Government proactivity as dangerous communism.

It’s a clash of worldviews.

Those friends and relatives who want less regulation argue that if you remove government restrictions, the free market will force businesses to protect consumers, provide superior products or services, and create affordable prices for everyone. They believe that the government is inefficient and creates nothing but a big bureaucracy that increases the cost of doing business for everyone.

But I argue that government regulations are necessary. They are required if we are to effectively protect consumers, protect the environment and the general public. I state in opposition that corporations are not looking out for the public’s interest – they are looking out for their own interests – and that’s why regulation is required.

It seems crazy contradictory to me that I would vote into power representatives whom I cannot trust – or will not trust – to act in my best interests. But that I’d actually rather place my trust in undemocratic corporate bodies who very clearly have vested economic interests in policies which promote and strengthen them – and not necessarily me. The reality is that I vote in representatives with a mandate to follow policies which they have outlined in their manifestos. I understand they may not be able to implement every policy. I may not even agree with every policy. But the management of a country is achieved through pragmatism and compromise – consultation and negotiation.

Take News Corp. It is global. Massive. It has commercial interests which dwarf the economies of entire countries never mind other companies. Will News Corp be altruistic? Will it campaign for policies which will not benefit it? Will its power and influence be used as a force for good in the world – if News Corp will not directly benefit from the ‘good’ it campaigns for?

When a media corporation becomes the electoral kingmaker who then is king? And whose interests does that ‘King’, who is made by News Corp, ultimately protect?

The phone-hacking scandals which led to the closure of the News Corp newspaper, News of the World, in the UK reveal the extent to which a corporation will go in order to determine policies which will benefit it.

Take Private Healthcare companies. Do they pay for the nurse and doctor education which they parasitically rely upon in order to offer their ‘goods’? Do they take the complex difficult cases or the health cases which are not ‘profitable’? Will they treat you if you can’t pay? What price health and medical care? Should life and death decisions be left to the market – or to whether I or my neighbour can afford to pay for treatment? And why on earth would I need a choice of provider? One State provider accessing medical excellence offers to remove my tumour and treat my cancer – why do I need a private provider to offer the same service?

Consider Goldman Sachs or Lehmanns or RBS or any of the Banks whose reckless unregulated acts led directly to economic disaster. Would these turkeys have voted for a more heavily Regulated Christmas? Though of course I can’t ignore the fact that RBS – along with others – states it acted wholly within UK banking rules and yet there was still a major disaster…

I wouldn’t trust these companies with cleaning my toilet let alone running the society I am part of…

Of course, I challenge the Laissez-faire politicians and am directed to the role of Charities and the voluntary sector.

But who checks their objectivity I ask? Is the advice or assistance they provide to be meted out only to those who satisfy their rules? The poor and those in need divided into ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’?

What then for the woman who seeks an abortion? And who is sent for counselling to the provider who in reality is a Pro-life campaigner. Or is she to find herself a pro-choice provider? Be certain of the ideologies underpinning the organisation she seeks assistance from?

Is homelessness not our social shame? The inability to feed our children not a reason compelling collective action?

When I work in an unsafe non-unionised mine and suffer an accident which cripples me, what interest does a corporation have in improving conditions when there is a pool of the unemployed ready to take my place? That same pool of ready labour, the existence of which ensures wage levels are kept low. And no, the answer is not fear of litigation – because litigation is expensive and no poor person can afford it – and the no-win no-fee is a win generally only for the solicitor who will take on only absolute certainties.

And if the practices of the mining company are such that they manage to achieve a monopoly what pressure can we bring to bear upon them to change their practices? There is no economic argument which can be made – nothing which will override payment (and maximisation) of the shareholder’s dividend.

When Scots vote they vote – overwhelmingly – for those political parties which offer a collectivist solution. If not Socialist, the visions on offer are influenced by Socialism. We vote for policies which promote equality of opportunity.

There is general belief in and acceptance of a State which is informed by the desire to promote public welfare. A State whose paramount consideration is the health and welfare of the populace and the promotion of that collective voice to centre stage.

It is taken for granted that it is via Government action that we deliver effective protections for our citizens.

It was Hobbes who famously said that ‘in a state of nature’, human life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.

Locke stated:
IF man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? Why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.

 In Scotland we ‘sign’ our Social Contract on the understanding that it is for the greatest social good that our individual ‘freedoms’ have limits placed upon them.

But we agree that there are some basic rights which must be recognised and delivered – whether via the UNCRC or the ECHR or from social precedent. Shelter; food; heat; healthcare; employment; freedom from discrimination; freedom from torture; right to a fair trial; freedom of expression/right to free speech; right to family life and to privacy…

Dod eat dog – survival of the fittest – these are concepts that belong to theories of evolution where there is no mindfulness or morality involved. It seems unspeakable to me that I would blame my neighbour for his mesothelioma and refuse to contribute to a society and a public welfare bill which would ensure he recieved treatment and was cared for. It seems utterly incomprehensible that I would condemn my neighbour’s children for their misfortune in having a father who contracted a terminal illness. That I would shrug my shoulders, say ‘bad luck’ and just walk on by. And remember – the healthcare insurers and providers have a myriad ways in which they limit liability – they do not want to maximise their payouts! There is no moral imperative operating for them – only the economic imperative which will ensure their continued existence and their profitability.

Nothing is perfect. No system is faultless.

There is a need for contribution to society (financial or less tangible) to be the bedrock of our civic relationships. An emphasis upon the need to pay taxes. The importance of finding a way to work and to take care of ourselves.

But do not tell me that the children of the so-called ‘feckless’ or the ‘Benefit scrounger’ should suffer as a consequence of their Mother and Father’s social ‘sins’. For too long it has suited the world of Capital to have a pool of poor – whose existence drives down wages and increases fear. Ultimately poverty begats poverty.

And of course, sometimes our politicians will be caught with their pants down… they will deviate from a manifesto on the basis that it was unrealistic and now does not fit the circumstances of government. But ultimately in a democracy there is rule by a consent which can be removed.

Our Scottish (and UK) politicians are variously lauded and despised. They sometimes cheat and they often do the right thing. They commit fraud and yet they sacrifice their careers for the sake of a principle. They are bad and they are good. They are often castigated for not telling the truth and yet are punished at the ballot box when they do. Their private lives are public property. Their wives are pitied for their thick ankles or admired for their Sunday Roasts ; their children’s transgressions are forever the stuff of editorials, headlines and camera angles. They are – when it comes down to it – just ordinary men and women on a small national stage. There is integrity for some. And there are others who are corruptable – if not corrupted.

When it goes wrong -as occasionally it does- then are the attack dogs brought out. The pundits pronounce their moral indignation and ask the question again: who is fitted to represent us?

Good question. Who is fitted to that job?

Better question, given the viciousness of the scrutiny and criticism, Who on earth would want to perform it?

Clearly Obama and Romney…

I put away my childish things and read Law.

See. She nodded. 

See these tears? She tutted.

Hear these big sobs? And she paused.

I nodded. Staring. Guiltily.

This is what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket.

And the basket breaks.

She shook her head, said stupid girl and then resumed folding the now dry clothes into the basket.


I’ve wondered what to do with that scene. Where to place it. But then there are so many scenes. So many notebooks and loose leafs and computer pages.

I have become the mistress of fragments and of intentions. Habitually intending to work that up into something.

I have polished my prevarication. It’s well-worn excuses grease the wheels of my everyday working life.

And then there’s the fear and the feelings of unworthiness. How can you write? whispers my inner voice. You’re not good enough. it continues. And anyway, people like you don’t write.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a (wo)man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

My father plays that small Cornet we bought for him with a still piercing sweetness. When we talk of our music, he will tell me again of his long, lonely childhood bus journey into Parkhead Forge, where he would be taught by the best brass bandsmen and play with the CWS*. Of how he played in London in 1958 in the Royal Albert Hall. And of how his Father wept as his cornet solo soared and swept through the Hall bringing the crowd to their feet in a rapture of applause. The radio beaming his sound into his Mother’s kitchen. 

Coltness Silver Band circa 1957 – later Newmains Brass Band – Dad is back row third from the right 

Later his Father would tell him that music was a hobby not a real job; that he would not go full time to the Glasgow Athenaeum School of Music; that he would be an apprentice accountant. My Father put away his childish hopes and dreams. He tried and tried, then ran away from the accountant’s – not understanding then, that his stupidity was profound dyslexia.

He could not read numbers or letters without the greatest difficulty. But he could read music by sight and effortlessly.  He played with his bands – always their star turn; their best player – but his real life was a life of graft punctuated by failure and redundancy.

He was my star. My hero. I was his camp follower. Tucked away on practice nights amongst the hard black cases with their crushed velvety insides. Inhaling the bloody intoxicating metallic of the instruments. Sooking the lollies and sweeties the players had brought for me. And being obliterated by the vibrating air that was thick with the sound of a brass band in full song.

Later, when they asked me why I wanted to study English, I said because I want to be a writer. They laughed and said that’s not a real job Yvonne, you can do that in your spare time.

I put away my childish things and read Law.


*CWS Brass Band is now the Co-operative Funeralcare Brass Band. Dad played with the biggest and best. I was hopeless with the Cornet but good with the flute and Dad took me to my private lessons every Thursday (in a succession of cars with  failing – and on several occasions – failed brakes). Latterly Hughina my teacher refused to raise her prices – she taught me for the same money for the last 5 years. She wanted me to go to the Athenaeum – by then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.