“Independence – the Ultimate Statement of Self-Confidence”. So typed a rather deluded SNP spokesperson, before going on to illustrate exactly why such arrogance can be so damaging. You see, that bluster quickly degenerates into “every person is an island” (Thatcher) and is often blinded to the build-up of serious problems (like the Credit Crunch). Let’s not forget that Scottish banks were the worst offenders and have benefited most UK government bailouts.
The most insidious danger is that the ‘charity’ he highlighted becomes defined as what makes me feel better about myself, rather than genuinely considering what my neighbour needs. Frankly, I was appalled that Graham used the amazing voluntary work going on in Moray, especially litter pick-ups, to score cheap political points and create an atmosphere of artificial optimism about our current situation. Whilst we should never surrender to despair or cynicism, it is only right to acknowledge that these are very difficult times and – when troubles comes – they are best tackled together.
At Glasgow University, my first year politics lecturer explained a very important concept to me: subsidiarity. Basically, this means that government – people coming together to make decisions for the common good – should happen at the most efficient and effective level. For example, we try to have a united European Foreign policy because this one voice carries much greater weight on the world stage. We are rightly proud to have a UK Defence Force that is top-class and makes best use of all the varying capabilities of this former island superpower. Similarly, Olympics Team GB scores so spectacularly high in the medal table because we can share coaching facilities and expertise.
In Edinburgh, the SNP is correct to facilitate mergers of Colleges and Police Forces because it makes sound economic sense to avoid unnecessary duplication in Pay Roll and managerial functions. Locally, the Moray Council should be addressing the appalling lack of bins on our streets. But they appear to be too busy posing for pictures at those volunteer events in a vain chance of improving their PR. Incidentally, I trust that all who care about that issue will make their views very plain in the Council’s current budget consultation. Please, if you’re going to show at a litter pick-up, make sure you’re there to actually help out and work as hard as you can, not just chat to people for their vote! Likewise, how can they take the opportunity to grandstand and bathe in the reflected glow of Heather Stanning’s achievements, whilst relying on volunteers to spearhead a bid for decent athletics’ facilities in Moray?
Please don’t misunderstand. I love and applaud volunteering. Be so encouraged in whatever you are doing to help others – it gives a joy little else can match. However, it’s time that we properly scrutinised and called our governments to account for what they should be doing. We’ve no time to waste dreaming of what could be with even more re-configurations of the political boundary lines. Use wisely the powers and potentials we already have – don’t lust for more.
The more I consider and hear about what Independence means, the less I like the sound of Salmond’s vision for Scotland. Do you know what I see when I look at the Union? Two brothers – we like to bicker and play around a bit, banter off each other and enjoy a wee drink at the pub together. Yes, we sometimes have our fall-outs, but we always resolves these like mature, sensible grown-ups. We’re tied together by strong bonds of family, so we can easily drop in on each other, share the latest news and ideas, learn from one another’s mistakes (and successes), enjoy shared moments of achievement.
When I look back at our history, I see that Scotland has been strongest when we’ve been united to our siblings down south. The Scottish Englightenment and our heroic last-ditch defence of the world against Hitler’s tyranny happened when we were collaborating most closely. If anything, our demise as a powerhouse can be traced to the first rumblings of Independence. The SNP’s first electoral test was in 1935 when they contested eight seats and one none. Since then, they’ve been cutting deals and jumping on bandwagons, eventually winning enough seats in the Scottish parliament to force a vote that only a minority of the people actually want. Recently, Salmond’s flip-flopped on all kinds of issues, desperate to please as many people as possible, so the glow will rub-off on his pet project. Remember, a local income tax – good idea as it sorts out a manifestly unfair system. That’s no longer talked about. Then, there was the in or out of NATO question at their party conference. If we want to eject Trident from Faslane, then it’s hypocritical to accept a nuclear defense shield from the world’s big boys.
But, do you know, I don’t think Salmond has a principled bone in his body. In fact, all he seems to care about is Independence and becoming the first Prime Minister of Scotland. Well, newsflash: those who are elect govern to serve the people, not the other way round. Use the powers you already have to benefit Scotland.
For example, in the last year, I’ve written to politicians on a number of issues and nothing has happened. Here’s the list of proposals that have struck me from my experience and I’ve tried research as best I can, with my limited resources:
1) set an ambitious target for the SQA to make all written exams computerised. Technology helps us to communicate better, share ideas, collaborate and create. Who, nowadays, actually hand-writes anything? Unless you’re in school, spending years learning to write in a straight line, not to mention all the million and one rules of our English language that a computer can help you with. You can edit, change and perfect a composition on the PC, but with a pen or pencil it’s much more laborious, leaving less time for anything else.
Why set a target? Well, as a former English teacher, I know that teachers and pupils work best when faced with an exam – that’s what motivates the maximum numbers to study. So, if exams are computerised and based on systems actually used in the real world, then we’ll be properly training our students to succeed. We’ll still need to have proper Talk assessments – it’s important we can actually discuss, debate and present information face-to-face – but I’m afraid that handwriting is about as relevant to the 21st Century as calligraphy. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach people who want to how to write beautifully and artistically. Imagine handwriting as on a par with painting. The target drives change, so every child has all the access they need to computers from early in life because educationalists can see the long-term benefits.
What’s the bottom line? In a global and competitive world, we need to utilise every possible advantage and stay ahead of the game. This is one way…
2) negotiate a change in the law back to six-hours lawyer-free questioning of suspects – back in 2010, shortly after Salmond and his ilk came to power, a chap called Cadder in Glasgow decided that his “rights” were stripped away from him because he was briefly denied access to a solicitor whilst the police questioned him about a crime they strongly suspected he committed. Now, these interviews were taped and recorded, so everything was totally above-board. He was found guilty through the proper due process, but because (down in England and across Europe) there must always be legal representation, this valuable window was closed to coppers.
It’s tough enough trying to convict anyone for crimes committed these days. I’m a big fan of community payback orders as well (volunteering for x number of hours, rather than being sent straight to jail in the first instance) so please don’t think I’m being down on law-breakers. Yet, back to the central point, police need our help and support to protect us from those who break the law, which we (as a democratic society) can shape and shields us from many harms. Surely, it’s about time for remembering that everyone has rights – to peaceful, crime-free communities and to know that those responsible for sticking-up the proverbial two-fingers to everyone else are actually brought to book?
3) prioritize the provision of better sporting and cultural facilities and coaching for everyone in our society. Look at what can be achieved with the Olympics. One small local example would be Cooper Park’s tennis courts. Why on earth – after Andy Murray’s wonderful triumphs are we still having to pay to use? These courts can only be accessed during opening hours, which are a little restrictive, especially in the long, warm summer days. We need to start having ambition and encouraging productive recreation that keeps people fit, healthy and enjoying life. The only stumbling-block is that Salmond has frozen any possible Council tax rises for the last few years. That means that local government is so strapped for cash they have to keep finding new ways to balance the books as inflation rises – like parking charges – that any lost revenue becomes a big problem. Again, the SNP has gone for the pleasing headlines, rather than allowing those closest to the people to actually make decisions in their best interests.
So, who will you vote for next time? Well, look at the policies, study the evidence and go with your gut.