Real Carers Week

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Sandra Webster

I am privileged to belong to a group of passionate writers who are called Ungagged. I love them because they share voices that deserve to be heard and often are not. At the end of Carers Week, am proud to be writing for them.

Once a year we carers get patted on the back and told what a fantastic job we do. I think there will come a time when we all realise the love and compassion carers have, make the world a better place. We do what we do at the expense of our own health, there are no health and safety measures put in place. In a past life I was a paid carer a career, fantastic colleagues. I worked in places with great practice. I had time off and paid holidays. My work then could not prepare me for the reality of being an unpaid carer. We care round the clock often 24/7 when our caring role is over many of us have PTSD and are expected to find work quickly. We have much to offer our skills include advocacy, form filling, managing our time effectively. Most employers will look at our “work history” and not regard this as real work. However we do what we do with love in our hearts.

This week has been a rollercoaster for me but is just a typical one. I have read so many stories on social media. Some of us have been tweeting #RealCarersWeek. We live in the shadows and keep the dark times to ourselves; posting pictures about happy times masks how difficult our lives actually are. The stories I have read this week have made me cry and smile and make me realise I am not alone. I rarely get out. I saw a dear friend who is also a carer this week and got to a gig!! I thought I would not get but I have not had a night out on my own for over a year and we made it. It refreshed my batteries but I felt so guilty going. I know many folk will get that.

Carers contribute more than the NHS budget in unpaid care. What would happen if we downed tools but w won’t of course. The Adam Smith foundation presented a paper this week which said women should expect to be unpaid carers. That is the crux of the matter it is mostly seen as “women’s work” though I know more and more men who are carers. Assumptions are made as well as cuts to essential services. I believe in people being seen and part of their community but this is used as an excuse to making cuts to essential services. Such services are crucial and I am all for volunteers and charities but they should not provide essential centres. Language about community care are used as an excuse to make cuts.

So another Carers Week is almost at the end for us though #RealCarersLives continue 52 weeks a year seven days a week. We have to battle and advocate for support for our loved ones forgetting ourselves. Am glad that so many people have shared their stories on #RealCarersWeek this year. It is up to a 1000. I live in hope things will get better this week but in reality doubt it. Am proud on behalf of Ungagged to wish all who care the best, always at your back. Come and share the microphone that is Ungagged and let others hear your story it is an important one. Love and strength to you all. xx

 

You can read more of Sandra’s Ungagged writing here or listen to her on our podcast

A long week in politics

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Mhairi Hunter

A long week in politics

It can be difficult sometimes to gauge what will provoke a reaction in politics. It’s been commented on that Brexit doesn’t seem to have had as big a political impact in Scotland as was forecast. The events of the past few days suggests that may be changing.

I suspect many Scottish people – indeed many British people – still haven’t fully recovered from those crazy weeks after the Leave vote when the UK didn’t really have a government and no-one knew what the hell was going on. True, the UK now has a government of sorts but it’s still the case that no-one knows what the hell is going on, least of all that government.

In Scotland bemused despair at the antics of a UK leadership which is patently unable to agree a workable form of Brexit is deepened by the fact that the overwhelming majority voted to remain in the EU. At least down south a small majority voted to leave, even if many of them did so in the false expectation that the Leave side had a plan. For most Scots, though, the idea of leaving the EU was – and is – self-evidently bonkers. And everything that has followed on from that disastrous Leave vote has continued to be bonkers.

Small wonder political commentators have struggled to analyse Scottish public opinion. Basically, the average Scot wishes the EU referendum had never happened and that they could wake up – Pam Ewing style – and realise it was all just a bad dream. Especially that surreal bit tacked on at the end about Donald Trump being elected President and meeting Nigel Farage in a golden lift.

This kind of political environment has made it challenging, to say the least, for the SNP. One of the key problems around the Brexit debate has been that it’s all so damned legal. A debate about the (as yet theoretical) repatriation of powers from Brussels was never going to set the heather on fire, was it? Except that it did.

OK, when the Scottish Parliament declined consent for the EU Withdrawal Bill it didn’t set the heather on fire. It didn’t even really set twitter on fire, a medium far more flammable than heather. But when the UK Government over-rode that lack of consent with calculated contempt and SNP MPs walked out of parliament after they were denied a serious debate – woosh! Up the heather went.

Not only has the SNP gained thousands of new members but reports have been coming in from across the nation of “real people” being overheard discussing the issue and supporting the SNP’s position. What exactly is going on?

It is not, in my view, an endorsement of the SNP walking out of Westminster for good. Far from it. Rather, I think it’s a recognition of the hard work SNP elected members have been putting in to defend Scottish interests and a shared annoyance at the contemptuous response.

Like them or loathe them, I think most people would have to admit SNP parliamentarians have put in a hell of a shift on Brexit.

From the very first days following the Leave vote Scottish Government ministers – supported by the SNP’s elected members at all levels – have worked diligently and seriously to protect and support EU citizens, to make the case for the UK remaining in the single market and customs union, to argue the positive case for freedom of movement and to argue for a fair and consensual approach on the repatriation of powers, one which protects the devolution settlement.

On the whole they have received widespread if occasionally grudging support for their efforts and, I suggest, earned a degree of respect even from those who are not their natural allies. The cross-party support for the emergency Continuity Bill demonstrates this.

Labour argues that devolution is “their” project and that therefore the SNP’s effort to protect the devolution settlement is opportunistic and essentially bogus. But the SNP has done a good job working to protect devolution, as well as working to argue for the least terrible form of Brexit at a UK level – work that Labour should have been doing, but hasn’t been. I think people recognise that.
That’s why the casual contempt from the UK Government and Tory MPs at Westminster has actually shocked people. It’s almost as shocking as the lack of concern shown by Brexiteers for the impact of their pet project on the Good Friday Agreement. The whole debate has shown up what narrow nationalism really means. A complete lack of care and thought for the distinct interests of the devolved nations of the UK by a group of politicians who appear more clown-like by the day.
This is now having a political impact in Scotland. Surprising people are contemplating independence and, if not exactly embracing the idea, wondering if it might not be the least worst option.
It’s absolutely vital in my view to understand the political dynamics of this. Yes, the MPs walkout was a dramatic moment. But it only had an impact because of the months and years of hard work that preceded it.

There’s a clear lesson here I believe for the independence campaign. If we work hard, if we make our case in a serious and evidence-based way people will listen to us. They won’t necessarily agree with everything we say but they will respect us for working to earn their trust and they will give us a fair hearing.

The same, of course, is true of those who believe in the Union – but they are hampered by that very cause which ties them to a Westminster system of government which has been exposed over the past few days as being antiquated, inept and downright farcical, requiring MPs to scurry in and out of lobbies like mice in a maze and devoting nineteen minutes exactly to overturning the serious political work of decades, with backbench Tory MPs who haven’t had a serious political thought in years braying like donkeys as they did so.

This does not have to be our future. Bemused despair does not have to be our response to this boorach. The impact of Brexit can lead us in a completely different direction and I think something really changed this week to make more people understand this. We still have a mountain to climb but the way forward is, I believe, a bit clearer and more people are coming to join us on the journey. We should welcome them with open arms.

 

You can read more of Mhairi’s writing here or listen to her and other contributors on our podcast

What does Pride mean to me? -Brian Finlay

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Brian Finlay

Everyone’s opinion of Pride is different. Pride events have increased in size and the number of events being held in large cities tends to have a mainstream festival feel. I find that small town Prides, such as Kirkcaldy, who are holding their second Pride this year, try to have the local community at their heart by including local bands and such like. I have felt, in recent years, that rainbow capitalism has replaced the organic and inclusive resistance movement that was set up to protest the injustices of both inequality and persecution of the LGBTIQ+ community in the larger city Prides.

Rainbow capitalism is the targeting of marketing at the explicit inclusion of LGBTIQ+ community to produce profit. This manifests through tailored products and services being offered to boost economic activity for corporations and marketing campaigns. That said, some of the core messages of Pride still exist and these events continue to inspire and mobilise LGBTIQ+ activists to tackle contemporary issues. These include the ongoing fight for LGBTIQ+ inclusive education in schools, spearheaded by the TIE Campaign, and issues surrounding sexual health and the stigmatisation attached to them.

What Pride means to me has changed over the years. I saw it initially as a weekend to meet up with friends, family and loved ones to see a variety of acts from drag queens to mainstream popstars. It was a piss up where you could feel relaxed in an LGBTIQ+ inclusive environment; much more public and open than that of a bar. To an extent, I feel this is what most peoples’ attraction is to Pride is but after becoming more politicised in recent years I’ve started to view it in a more critical light. I feel large city Prides have become just another summer festival which aims to push boundaries of its size and capacity whilst focusing on the status of the artists performing. This year in Glasgow the event will take place in Kelvingrove Park with an after-party concert with the camp pop sensation Steps. A ticket will cost you £45 for a two day ticket, to the other acts and activities, and the entrance fee to the after-party concert. This all seems ‘fair’ for seeing such a popular act but is that really inclusive at that price? Albeit it tickets for the weekend, without access to the after-party is £15. The Pride website homepage is littered with ‘pro-LGBTIQ+’ corporations such as RBS and AXA insurance with very little about the core issues Pride should be raising. The focus has shifted far too much towards rainbow capitalism rather than the issues impacting on LGBTIQ+ people here in Scotland, the wider UK and overseas.

Well, so what? There is nothing wrong with this casual capitalism creeping into community events, it reflects the shift in mainstream society, more is the pity, but we should be remembering what Pride is about and the struggles that the LGBTIQ+ community face and have faced.

On the 28th of May 1988, little more than 30 years ago, Lark in the Park took place in Edinburgh to protest Section 28 which had come into effect a few days before it by Margaret Thatcher’s Government. This prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in the classroom, or other public buildings, and silenced any discussion of LGBTIQ+ issues or its existence for nearly 13 years; which was during my time in the education system. As a gay man, I find it sad that LGBTIQ+ inclusion was not encouraged or promoted during my time at school as it could have enhanced my experience of the Scottish education system and could have made me feel confident expressing my true self. I was lucky to have an open minded and caring family that always taught me it was ok to be ‘who I really was’ but that experience is not echoed in every LGBTIQ+ individual. If a young person has questions or concerns around LGBTIQ+ issues should, and should always have had, access to support; not have their community silenced under a right wing Tory Government. It was as little as 17 years ago the repeal of the Clause 28 campaign was successful in installing change in Scotland. This meant the younger generation have had the ability to seek out support and not have LGBTIQ+ issues silenced or forced underground in civic life; all because of Pride and public demonstrations.

The Lark in the Park was pivotal in raising awareness of this nasty policy and lead to prominent LGBTIQ+ speakers publicly coming out, literally in some cases, to express their disgust and opposition to Thatcher’s obsession of control and ‘tradition’. This meeting of like-minded people and political activists present to show solidarity and displaying willingness to resist oppression and inequality faced by a minority group in society, from the mainstream media and their own Government. That is what Pride should be. Politics should be front and centre. We should all be standing side by side with the trans community who are experiencing dreadful levels of suicide attempts and ongoing low levels of mental well-being. On average, according to Stonewall, 48% of young trans people have attempted suicide. What is causing these people to feel so low and isolated that they want to end their lives?

Moreover, we should be remembering and highlighting what is happening abroad where homosexuality is illegal in some Commonwealth countries and beyond. We should also be remembering that in Chechnya gay men are being hunted down by the authorities and facing persecution. These are the important issues; amongst many others.

What Pride means to me is the increased commercialisation of a community event that was originally intended to express discontent and show an appetite for equality. In large city events, we see mainstream festivals that are sponsored by big business and are obsessed with securing the best and biggest acts to attract more numbers. However, alternative Pride events are organised in venues in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which tend to reflect the true nature of what Pride once was, with no or very little fee for entry. Try and seek them out if you can; if not do enjoy the party. Whilst doing so, always try and reflect on the injustices facing the LGBTIQ+ community globally and take political action where you can.

Happy Pride to one and all!
Brian Finlay

 

You can read more of Brian’s writing here

Union of Equals?

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Maggie Chapman

Union of Equals?

The last couple of days have been quite extraordinary. We have seen changes made to Scotland’s devolution settlement without Scottish MPs being heard, nevermind the Scottish Parliament giving its consent. We witnessed a Conservative MP suggest that suicide was the choice open to Scottish MPs who thought this was perhaps not the way democracy should work. And we’ve seen an SNP MP barred from the Chamber for trying to use the Parliament’s own standing orders to get a debate on the division of powers between Holyrood and Westminster, leading to the whole SNP group walking out of PMQs.

Was the walk out a stunt? Yes. Was it the right thing to do? Yes.

Political stunts most certainly have their place in campaigning, in politics, in the theatre that is the oppositional nature of Westminster. It is quite clear to me that there is no other way the SNP MPs could have protested the series of events that would show up the UK Government for what it is: self-important, shambolic and completely uninterested in the wishes of either the Scottish parliament or the Scottish people.

Westminster is a farce. It has been for some time, but yesterday’s events show just how broken it, and therefore how broken British democracy, is. True debate, where everyone respects each other, listens to each other, learns from each other, is just not possible. There does not seem to be any real respect for individual or groups of MPs. And there is certainly little respect for the citizens that parliament is supposed to represent.

Without respect for democracy, the UK is well and truly broken. Theresa May talked of a Union of Equals. Well, she and her government wouldn’t recognise equality if they bumped into it in the streets. Probably because they have no idea what actually goes on in the streets of the UK. They certainly do not understand, or seem to care about, the streets of Scotland that I call home.
You can read more of Maggie’s writing here.

Maggie Chapman

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Maggie Chapman

Maggie Chapman was born and brought up in the sunshine in Zimbabwe. Her musician Dad and housewife Mum encouraged her to spread her wings and explore the unknown. So she came to Scotland in 1998.

 

She studied zoology and environmental management, her fieldwork taking her all over Scotland. However, she became frustrated that most humans were not viewed as legitimate parts of many environments. And so she moved into the critical social sciences and spent nearly 9 years lecturing in human geography and environmental philosophy at Edinburgh Napier University.

 

At the same time, Maggie was elected to Edinburgh City Council as one of Scotland’s first Green councillors. She served the people of Leith Walk ward for 8 years during which time she pioneered participatory budgeting and including people in decision-making. She was the first Scottish politician to call for the payment of the Living Wage, and has been an active anti-austerity campaigner.

 

Elected as female co-convener of the Scottish Greens in 2013, Maggie played a key role in widening the Party’s appeal through her work in Green Yes and the Radical Independence Campaign. She stood as lead candidate in the 2014 European Elections, and was top of the North East regional list for the 2016 Holyrood Elections. She argued for the devolution of employment law and abortion legislation as a member of the Smith Commission.

 

A passionate believer in and activist for equality, Maggie now works to promote inclusion and awareness of people with vision impairments, heading up the work of SCOVI, the umbrella body for vision impairment in Scotland. As Rector of the University of Aberdeen, she also works to improve understanding of intersectionality, supporting trans-inclusion in feminism and mentoring women and young people.

 

Maggie inherited her father’s love of and talent for music and she plays a wide range of instruments. She can often be found with her fiddle, a pint of Guinness and a dram in the Hebrides Bar on a Monday evening. When not politicking, making music or drinking whisky, she loves spending time in the hills. And she is chief slave to two rather beautiful ginger cats!


You can follow Maggie on twitter and Facebook.

Disorderly Democracy

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Disorderly Democracy

Constitutional Chaos following Brexit Power Grab

Image by Red Raiph

By Debra Torrance and Derek Stewart Macpherson

Debra:

What the heck happened in the House of Commons?

Today, Wednesday 13th of June at Prime Ministers Question there was “unprecedented chaos as a SNP member of the house was ejected by the speaker, and the rest of the party walked out” – BBC News.

But what actually happened? What’s going on?

So after receiving a text, since I’m currently bed ridden with MS issues and nerve pain, unable to do any walking, a message saying SNP MPs walked out of Westminster.

Hmm? What? I immediately sat up and opened twitter and my messenger. Yup. On the face of it, they did. All of the Scottish National Party Members of Parliament who were there for PMQs got up and walked out after Ian Blackford, the SNP at Westminster group leader, requested to move to a vote on a private sitting.

The speaker of the house John Bercow, seemed flustered and gesticulated with his aides in front of him over rules and passed papers between them. He demanded Ian Blackford sit down and said he preferred the vote to be held after the session, to which the SNP MP requested “I beg to move”.

I am not all that familiar with parliamentary language, but that sounded pretty official. Ian Blackford is a knowledgable guy and extremely professional. Bercow ejected Blackford and the SNP MPs stood up and followed their leader.

Some commentators have suggested this was a pre-planned stunt, but for me Joanna Cherry’s actions suggest it wasn’t, she scooped up her belongings and walked out with a wave, the exact same way I’ve witnessed many women do when they have had enough.

To me this was a principled action by professional people who have committed years to their work in Westminster, followed archaic and seemly endlessly bureaucratic legislation and traditions to serve their constituents in Scotland.

And Scotland is what this is really all about, the EU Withdrawal Bill debate so far has been a farce. Scottish Parliament, Holyrood has devolved powers enshrined in its very existence. Powers which the Tory party are trying to steal back through Brexit.

Video by Sarah Mackie

Now if you disagree with this, that’s all very well, but how are we meant to have a democratic debate on the matter if no Scottish MP gets the opportunity to speak about it in the chamber? If sessions are allowed to be filibustered and timed out by nonsensical votes, what other options do representatives have?

Is the walk out a stunt? Did the SNP speak about such actions? Yes it is as much a stunt as mocking an opponent when you get an opportunity to speak at a debate in the chamber. Was there chat about the possibility of a walk out among SNP politicians? I dunno, probably, but I don’t think that means it was pre-planned. Watching it over again, it looks so spontaneous. It felt impromptu.

How were the SNP meant to know Bercow would act in that way? They followed the rules and evoked powers entitled to them as members of Westminster Parliament.

To me the whole thing just highlights the democratic deficit of this institution and the entire governance of the supposed United Kingdom. I’m proud of the SNP MPs walking out, they used their feet when I can’t. Thank you!

 

Derek:

“Today, Wednesday 13th of June at Prime Ministers Question there was “unprecedented chaos as a SNP member of the house was ejected by the speaker, and the rest of the party walked out” – BBC News

Well, it’s hardly unprecedented, it’s the sort of thing that happens from time to time in Westminster system parliaments all over the world. And I’m still not sure that’s even what happened. Did the Speaker intend to eject the member, or merely to sit him down? Well, apparently later he clarified that he had been expelled. However many people believe in the BBC clip he can be heard to say, “Well we’ll have to have the vote then.”

How he intended to have a vote the mover of which he had just ejected is unclear. A case of premature ejection it would appear. It sounds as if he realised he’d got it wrong just as the SNP members were following their colleague out.* It adds to the sense that Bercow’s grip is not what it once was, that he’s stressed and making mis-steps.
*
The procedural motion Ian Blackford moved was one of those parliamentary delaying and disruption tactics that are often used when a government is trying to ram something through, which is what’s happening at the moment with the EU Withdrawal bill. They had to overrule the House of Lords on no less than 15 amendments, which left no time to debate the Scottish concerns and the fact that Holyrood has refused consent.

So was it a stunt? The reason for the ‘chaos’ is that there is a very real constitutional crisis here, and it’s one entirely of the government’s own making. The Scotland Act of 1998 is very clear – anything that’s not specifically reserved to Westminster is devolved to Holyrood. Including each and every power being repatriated from Brussels. But the government doesn’t want to give Scotland some of those powers. There are 158 of them. The government wants to retain 24 including some really quite important to Scotland economically such as agriculture, fisheries, food labelling and public procurement.

Why do they want to do that? Presumably so they can use some of those things as bargaining chips in Brexit negotiations. And why is it such a problem? Because it undermines the devolution settlement, and because it puts the parliaments on a constitutional collision course. They have passed (or will shortly in Westminster’s case) conflicting Brexit bills, and the courts will have to resolve their constitutional competence over the various matters at issue.

This is a pretty big gamble by the May government, and it’s one that a hell of a lot of smart legal money thinks they might well lose. Not only that, but the potential precedents the case could set may have ramifications for years to come, on subjects as yet unimagined. It might even touch on the great question. The ultimate question. The question of life, the universe and everything! Well no, not quite, but nearly. The question of sovereignty, that of not only the Scottish parliament but of the Scottish people. And of a fascinating little constitutional law bomb set many years ago, by that indefatigable champion of Scottish independence Winnie Ewing.

Way back, on the first day the shiny new Scottish Parliament at Holyrood was due to sit, somebody had to declare it open before it could even elect a Presiding Officer, so the task fell to the oldest member of the House, Winnie Ewing MSP. She said,

“I want to start with the words that I have always wanted either to say or to hear someone else say – the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on March 25, 1707, is hereby reconvened.”

Those were carefully chosen words. That particular parliament has had a lot of bad press, some of it from me, but whatever else it might have been there’s one important thing we know that it was – sovereign.

But despite the obvious weight and moment of these matters, the government did not see fit to allow MPs a chance to debate them, in its haste to ram through its ramshackle legislation. What the SNP members are trying to do is demonstrate how serious this is. How constitutionally significant. A lot of people have exhausted their attention spans when it comes to Brexit. They just want it to be over. I understand that, but this really does matter. The high-handed actions of this omnishambles of a government threaten to undermine the very constitutional foundations of the Union. And it might not end the way they expect.

 

 

You can read more of Debra’s writing here, Derek’s writing here, and listen to them both on our Podcast

Rip It Up And Start Again

Reading Time: 1 minute

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

On this episode of Ungagged, themed around the idea of “rip it up and start again” and  introduced by Victoria Pearson, we’ll be hearing from Thomas Morris  with his piece “I am asexual, hear me roar,” we’ll have a round up of only the important public celebrations from Red Raiph, and we will hear Steve McAuliffe‘s Angel Wings.

Catriona Stevenson will be talking about Bannockburn, George Collins will be taking a more positive look at his specialist subject; the American manufacturing industry, Nelly Neal will be talking about our theme in relation to Ofsted, Debra Torrance will talk about ripping it up and starting again in relation to the UK, Derek Stewart Macpherson will be saying “Rip it up Donald” and Chuck Hamilton will assert that “the only away to improve capitalism is to set it on fire and burn that motherfucker to the ground.”

Along with our fab contributors we’ll have music from Thee Faction,The Babel Fish Project, Husky Tones, The Exiles, Robb Johnson, Girobabies, The Hurriers, Emma Flowers and Cascadia Fault Line.

Pulled together, kicking and screaming, by Neil AndersonNeil Scott and Victoria Pearson

Remember we love to hear from you so get yourself Ungagged on our Facebook page, or on Twitter, or check out the latest news, views and opinion right here on on our website.

 

 

Ungagged is a not for profit voluntary collective, and we rely on the generosity of our listeners to help fund our solidarity and charity campaigns, and meet hosting, equipment and advertising costs. If you love what we do and can spare some change, our collection tin is at PayPal.me/ungaggedleft

 

 

 

Cascadia Fault Line

Reading Time: 1 minute
Cascadia Fault Line

 

As sure as a moonlit ocean will reflect the light and shade of a far away sphere, Cascadia Fault Line will reach you, then weave and thread into your senses.
Like an ancient story told a thousand times the songs have narratives
never complacent with a truthful journey into the core of your heart

A revolution in smooth, jazzy, dream indie sound with added fuzzy guitar greatness in this amazing Cascadia Fault Line’s Dream Wave and Indie Rock their newest front runner involving the genres has a crystal clear sound that incredibly enhances the senses. The subtle yet poignant hints of a roaring fire and flames glimmering in one’s eyes brings your imagination back to a time when fire was the mainstay of all light that brightened our nights. The Renaissance like sound and dreamy mind’s eye visages of Cascadia Fault Line’s music leaves you wanting more from this amazing three piece located in Liverpool, UK.

 

Find out more on Cascadia Fault Line’s Facebook page, twitter, bandcamp or on their website.

Free education: The Foundation of a Better Society

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Free Education: The Foundation of a Better Society

 

I am passionate about education. I believe that it has the power to transform individuals, communities and society for the better. As such, I think education should be free. And that means free education throughout life, not just primary and secondary schooling. As Rector of the University of Aberdeen and a member of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, I am proud to have learnt from and stood with so many students who are also committed to free education for all.
The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) has just published a report showing that fewer than two in five students in the UK think they are getting value for money. At the same time, levels of student wellbeing continue to fall. One interesting aspect of these results is the difference in satisfaction between the four nations of the UK: 60% of students in Scotland, where Scottish students do not pay tuition fees, felt they were getting good value, compared with 48% in Wales, 36% in Northern Ireland, and 35% in England.
It is tempting to conclude that the absence of fees in Scotland – something for which I have campaigned and continue to support – is the main reason for the marked geographical variation. It does, I am sure, play a part. But I think the report, and indeed the whole approach to assessing student satisfaction on the basis of value for money, require deeper exploration and challenge.
Education must not just be seen as the means of churning out economically viable and valuable cogs (students) for the labour market. There are innumerable studies that highlight the non-economic benefits of education. This is especially true of the education of women and girls. Education makes us more fulfilled and compassionate people, builds more equal and resilient communities and creates healthier and happier societies.
We must, I believe, resist the marketisation and commodification of education. We know that market forces do not – cannot – value what really matters. We know that tuition fees and inadequate financial support to live leads to debt. And we also know that the student debt repayment system is just a nonsense, being very complex and inefficient. But more than this, we know that debt is a way of disciplining workers: of forcing people to pursue market-valued careers that do not sustain human life, rather than the creative and caring careers that provide solace for the soul or care for our communities. People are driven out of and away from careers that are socially helpful, like nursing, teaching, caring, creating, just to repay debt. And they are forced to be compliant workers: profit maximisers in the neoliberal economic machine, not complaining, not causing a fuss.
And we know that debt is not only bad for the economy, it is bad for all of our mental health. Financial pressures are a major source of anxiety, depression and other ill-health for students and young people. The Hepi research finding that student wellbeing is decreasing should cause alarm bells to ring for all of us. Why support a system that we know makes us ill?
The Westminster government has created an environment in which public spending reduces year-on-year; where cuts have become a normalised part of service provision. And I profoundly reject this ideology.
I want a society that values education as a universal good; a society that gives people the chance to learn about music, the arts, philosophy (subjects facing cuts at every level of education) as well as science and technology; a society that seeks to support the creation of well-rounded, creative and caring people, not just atomised labour market fodder.
And so we should build an economic system with this at its heart: one where universal goods are provided by a healthy public sector that is supported by redistributive taxation and where the wealth of society is used to create health, happiness and better lives for everyone.