For Once The System Worked And The Right are Furious About It

Reading Time: 2 minutes

By David McClemont 

 

Last week a 78-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder after a suspected burglar was stabbed to death. The man, Richard Osborn-Brooks, discovered two intruders in his home South-East London in the early hours of the morning. One of the intruders was armed with a screwdriver and forced Mr Osborn Brooks into his kitchen where a struggle ensued and the intruder was stabbed. He was taken to hospital but was pronounced dead several hours later. The police, faced with a dead body and a man admitting to stabbing him, not surprisingly arrested Mr Osborn-Brooks on suspicion of murder.

This provoked a furious backlash in the tabloid press and some sections of the public. The Sun declared Mr Osborn-Brooks to be a hero and a GoFundMe page raising thousands of pounds for his legal defence was set up, one excited supporter on Facebook even declared that Mr Osborn-Brooks “deserves a medal” for his actions.

Within 48 hours, the police investigated the circumstances of the death and released a statement saying that Mr Osborn-Brooks would face no charges. You would think the tabloids would be happy with this turn of events as the police seemingly agreed with them that, given the circumstances of having his home invaded and being physically attacked, Mr Osborn-Brooks response was justified even if that caused the death of the intruder. However the tabloid press fury was undiminished declaring that Mr Osborn-Brooks should never have been arrested in the first place.

This was a tragic event, the elderly man and his wife suffered the trauma of having their home invaded and now he has to live with the guilt of having taken a life. We may not feel much sympathy for a man who sought to terrorise two pensioners but there will be a family mourning him.

The right wing press love to write stories about how the legal system and the courts are bias towards the criminal as part of their endless quest to terrify people, and by dropping the charges in this case the police undermined that narrative.

The legal position in these situations is that you can use reasonable force to protect yourself. As a general rule, the more extreme the circumstances and the fear felt, the more force you can lawfully use in self-defence. You are given greater protection under the law if force is used to protect yourself or others when dealing with a burglar. England’s Crown Prosecution Service says if you act in reasonable self-defence and the intruder dies you will still have acted lawfully. What is it that the right wing press find objectionable in that position? Do we really want to give free pass to someone who tortures an alleged burglar to death?

A crime was committed, a man lost his life, the police looked into the circumstances and found this elderly man was justified in using deadly force to protect himself. For once the system worked – don’t let the right wing press tell you otherwise.

OZYMANDIAS 2 (RETURN OF THE SANDSTORM)

Reading Time: 1 minute
                              Steve McAuliffe

 

They don’t

Or can’t

Or simply won’t believe

That their system of order is breaking down now around their ears

 

 

See, so convinced are they

Of their own invincibility

That they even tried to tell us once that this is the end of history

Like they had attained mastery

Over even history itself

 

 

-But you know what they say about pride

-Prior to a fall and all that.

 

 

I mean, holy shit

It took close to 12 trillion to keep their crafty dream afloat

The last time a major storm hit and rocked their luxury boats

And yet still then preen like vainglorious emperors of yesteryear

-Ozymandias and his select one per-cent of fawning courtiers-

Blissfully, arrogantly unaware

Of the coming, all enveloping and soon-to-be levelling sandstorm

A catastrophic storm approaches that will level all illusions of mastery

And consign them to the dustbin of history

So how very ironic that for them at least, very soon it will be

The End of History

 

 

 

You can read more of Steve’s poetry here

 

Ursula K. Le Guin: A Personal Tribute

Reading Time: 9 minutes

 

               Derek Stewart Macpherson

Ursula K. Le Guin

October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018

A Personal Tribute

I bonded with my dad over science fiction. I’d read everything of any interest in the kids’ library and I was still a few years too young to join the adult one, so I started looking a little more closely at what he was bringing home. There were a lot of yellow jackets. He could borrow half a dozen at a time, so he did, and I was curious. So he started letting me have some. Anthologies of short stories at first then, once I was on the hook, the hard stuff – novels. I loved the ideas. He was your classical sci-fi enthusiast – young in the 40s and 50s, an engineer, an amateur futurist. When I was four he kept me up to witness the moon landing, while he assembled an Airfix model of the lunar module. I didn’t really get the momentousness of the occasion at the time, but later I was glad to have the memory.

Anyway, one day he came in and handed me a paperback, saying only, “I think you’ll like this,” and walked off. Now when I’d first started reading sci-fi he’d pointed out a few basics. All those yellow jackets, for instance, were from a certain publisher who we can’t mention who published almost exclusively sci-fi and fantasy. And if something had won a Hugo or a Nebula Award, it might well be pretty good. If you don’t know what those are, they’re a bit like the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Is it the Golden Globes? Whichever one is by popular vote anyway. The Hugo is voted by fans, the Nebula by other writers. Occasionally they agree. This novel had been nominated for both. It was The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin, and he was right – I liked it a lot. It was the best thing I had read, and it began what will be, for me, a lifelong relationship.

It’s an odd thing to describe, though I’ve seen quite a few attempts, the relationship you have with a writer. Entirely one-sided, nonetheless profound, a relationship entirely of the mind. They needn’t even be alive when you encounter them, but some are, and some are there in person for 40 years, and then they go, and you feel as if you’ve lost an old friend. That happened to me when I heard of the passing of Ursula Le Guin in January. And what a friend I lost! For a purely intellectual relationship, she brought an awful lot to the table, and she drew on all of it in her work. I don’t know how to even begin to approach that body of work, and the sheer scope of her knowledge and her imagination, except the way I did first time round.

When I read that first novel, set in her beloved Portland against the backdrop of majestic Mount Hood (those who have read the book will be chuckling now, others will have to read it to find out why), first she lured me in with a delicious, juicy sci-fi and philosophical what if – what if you dreamed, and your dreams became reality, but nobody else realised what was happening, only you? I mean, how good is that? What would you do? People would think you were mad if you told them. Then she introduced a character, not a hero, not a sci-fi stereotype, but a real, ordinary but nuanced character, George Orr (thought to be a reference to Orwell), who has this power and is terrified by it. He can’t stand the responsibility of determining reality, regulated only by his subconscious. He begins to dread sleep, and becomes addicted to ‘uppers’ in an attempt to avoid it. As a result of this he is caught using an illegally obtained prescription and sent to compulsory psychiatric evaluation.

We now meet his psychiatrist, the well-meaning but grandiose Dr Haber. He has a particular interest in sleep and dreaming, and using a combination of hypnosis and a machine of his own invention, designed to augment dreaming, he puts George under and directs him what to dream. Over the course of a few sessions he comes to the stunning realisation that Orr is telling the truth, that his dreams really do change reality, and begins to attempt to use him to remake the world as he, Haber, thinks it should be. This is probably the point where I should say, “Spoilers!” and discretely draw a veil over any further discussion of the plot. So lets see, she’s given me a great sci-fi idea, characters I care about, oh and did I mention that she writes beautifully? In prose that was at once sparse and sparkling she opened the doors of literature to me, far more than anything I ever read at school did.

But it doesn’t stop there. As I began to look for her work and discover it, I could not fail to be impressed by the sheer scope of her knowledge and understanding. The child of two anthropologists, she assimilated psychology, political theory and Taoism, studied French and Italian Renaissance literature, understood environmental truths, before they became inconvenient, or even fashionable, and she used all of it to craft fascinating, challenging novels which imagined an array of possible human societies, such as an androgynous one, in ‘The Left Hand of Darkness,’ and an anarchist one in ‘The Dispossessed,’ as well as exquisite short stories like those in ‘The Wind’s Twelve Quarters’ (don’t ask me where that title comes from, I assume it just sounded good, it has no obvious connection to the stories, of which there are seventeen). This she opens with the tragically beautiful ‘Semley’s Necklace.’

Before I talk about that however there is something I have to explain. Ursula Le Guin wrote both science fiction and fantasy. The readers of these genres form two discreet groups, although there is some overlap. I will mostly be talking about her science fiction, but I cannot fail to mention her acclaimed Earthsea Trilogy and associated works. A Wizard of Earthsea, published in 1968, was the first of three books exploring the life of Ged, a young wizard. Spoiler alert: Ged grows and matures into an adult, starting with his attendance at a secretive school for wizards, where he is scarred on the face by a dark power (which he discovers is inextricably linked to him), and that he subsequently defeats. Sound familiar at all? There are words for that. Ugly words. But ugly words are not what Le Guin did. She said only that J.K. Rowling should have been “more gracious about her predecessors”.

She herself was more than gracious about her own predecessors, but never less than original in her vision. Being pigeon-holed as a ‘genre writer’ meant that for much of her career she lacked the recognition by the mainstream literary establishment that she so richly deserved. It was only in recent years that this began to change. She was awarded the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (presented by Neil Gaiman, whose many literary accomplishments include an honourable mention from me for slipping a relatively arcane Le Guin reference seamlessly into an episode of Doctor Who), and in 2017 that she was finally voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The genre itself has been more forthcoming, and she has won many Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards, far more than is practical to list. Let me just mention that she was only the second ever writer to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards for the same novel, with The Left Hand of Darkness in 1970 (behind Frank Herbert for Dune), and was the first of only five writers in history to achieve that feat twice, in 1975, when she won for The Dispossessed (ahead of Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama/The Fountains of Paradise). Asimov only managed it once.

I mention those names because when you look to place Le Guin in the sci fi pantheon, it’s way up there you need to be looking. For my money she is the best of them. They were great storytellers, but none had her psychological or political depth. They didn’t move me, and challenge me, and delight me the way that she did. She loved to challenge assumptions, not only within the genre, but in literature more generally, and in society as a whole. Her beautifully crafted prose always had a sharp sociological edge. She consciously set off to question the norms of fantasy and science fiction, especially in terms of race and gender. She was outspoken, for instance, about the “colour scheme” of her Earthsea series. She wrote:

“I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now.

She kept to this approach in her work from then on, not only in her Earthsea books, but also in her ‘Hainish Cycle’ works (so most of her sci-fi including those books already discussed). You’ll notice white characters are the exception rather than the rule. I was going to say her ‘hard’ sci-fi works, but in the course of research for this tribute it’s come to my attention that not everyone has the same definition of hard sci-fi as me, and here I must bring my dad in again. I read somewhere that there were those who felt that works like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed were not what they considered hard sci-fi because they concentrated too much on characterisation and sociological analysis. In other words, too much about people, culture and society, not enough space ship battles. My dad had a different definition of hard sci-fi, and I’ve always followed that one. It is that in order to be considered ‘hard,’ sci-fi writing must rest on actual science, and not speculation or easy cop-outs.

So for my dad, the fact that Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle books were premised on an Einsteinian universe where faster than light travel is not possible put them firmly in the hard sci-fi category. Writers who relied on unexplained, wishful-thinking props such as warp drive (looking at you Star Trek) to circumvent Relativity could make no such claim (and yes, I know, there is some theory to support it. These days. There wasn’t when they made it up). All of which brings me back to the opening story of The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, one of the finest anthologies of short stories ever published. Because there are narrative problems with an Einsteinian universe which must be addressed. Le Guin decides to meet them head on and make them integral to the plot in the story Semley’s Necklace. Semley, a member of a society which has fallen back to a pre-technological state, seeks a priceless, fabled family heirloom. She learns that it is in the possession of another culture with whom hers shares a planet, but which is a hi-tech, spacefaring society.

On hearing her request they deny knowledge of it, so she turns to a third group, the Gdemiar, who manufactured the necklace. They agree that she may reclaim the artefact, which is in a museum. On a space station. Light years away. She insists on journeying with them to recover the necklace, despite their attempts to explain the problems of Relativity this entails. She experiences the journey as ‘only one long night’ but when she returns nine years have passed, her husband is dead and her daughter is grown up. To those used to the cop outs, this comes as something of a shock. It was certainly a surprise to the 12 or 13 year old me. The rest of the anthology lived up to the promise of that opening tale, and finished with three absolute gems – a story from the perspective of a tree (the name of which I’ve borrowed for this tribute), ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,’ a timeless moral conundrum that many of us on the left find defining, and a poignant prequel to her novel ‘The Dispossessed’ in which we meet Laia Asieo Odo, the semi-mythical theoretician whose writings underpin the anarcho-syndicalist society of Anarres, on the last day of her life, ‘The Day Before the Revolution.’

As Odo, or Laia as she thinks of herself, reminisces about her life we get to know a character who is achingly human, and at the same time a true revolutionary, throughout her life dedicated entirely to her people, often to her own detriment. It’s an exquisitely beautiful portrayal, and it demonstrates what is incomparable about Le Guin. It relies on a comprehensive knowledge of political theory, revolutionary movements, sociology, psychology, and a deep understanding of the human condition. Only a highly empathic polymath could have written it, and that’s a surprisingly rare combination. She was my introduction to most of those subjects. If you’re political, if you think about society, about how it is and how it might be, if you question what others take for granted, then I can assure you, Ursula Le Guin is the science fiction writer for you. She was the one who walked away from Omelas, she has shown us the direction of the road, but she has left us the day before the revolution. She has not left us empty handed though, so get down to your local library and make a friend for life.

 

Power: A Winters Tale

Reading Time: 5 minutes
               Derek Stewart Macpherson

 

I want to talk to you about power. Not political power, or entrenched patriarchal power, but the everyday kind you get from the socket in the wall. Because I heard something very disturbing indeed recently – the UK almost ran out of gas, at the worst possible time. Now at the time I heard about this, it was Thursday the 1st of March, and I was stuck on the other side of the world, in Melbourne, where it was still uncomfortably warm. If you were in the British Isles, you were currently in the grip of the Siberian weather system known as the ‘beast from the east’ so that could have been a very real problem. We all know now that it didn’t happen. If it had happened then you’d all no doubt be well aware of it, and there would probably be an enquiry into the reasons. And if you’ve read anything by me before, you may well not be entirely surprised to learn that I’m going to blame the Tories for the entire mess.

They are entirely responsible for this though, through incompetence, mismanagement and just plain greed. And I’m here tell you why (because this is nowhere near well enough understood). It’s not really the present day Tories who are to blame, although it is happening on their watch, and they haven’t done anything to prevent it, so they cannot escape blame entirely. No, I’m talking about the Tories of an earlier era, the 1980s, and of course one Margaret Hilda Thatcher.

As with so much of what is wrong with today’s UK, it started with her. Of course privatisation has a lot to answer for, and I’ll be coming back to that later, but that wasn’t the start of it. It actually started in the early 80s, when we faced a number of strategic decisions about power generation. We had, at that time, a significant number of coal-fired and nuclear generators (including all of the 1950s Magnox reactors for instance) which were approaching the end of their design lives. The government still owned all of them at this point.

So, with major shortfalls in capacity expected by the early 90s, decisions on replacements had to be made, because the time lag from turn-of-sod to turn-of-key for 1GW+ power stations, both nuclear and coal-fired plants, is typically seven years. But Thatcher was determined to destroy the NUM, so she didn’t want to order any new coal-fired stations at that time.

So what about nuclear, you may ask? Well, as a result of her ‘price of everything, value of nothing’ philosophy, she decided to build more nuclear power stations, but at the cheapest available price. So a bidding war started, with the choice coming down to the leading US design, Westinghouse’s Pressurised Water Reactor, or PWR, and the British design, Babcock & Wilcox’s Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor, or AGR. The AGR was widely acknowledged in the industry to be the safest available design at that time, however the PWR came in a bit cheaper, so the decision was eventually made to go with that. However, due to the delay, before any actual starts could be made, Chernobyl happened, making it politically impossible to build any new reactors for many years afterwards.

So they were put on indefinite hold, but by now there was no longer time to avoid widespread shortfalls in electricity supply by going back to coal, plus by then the UK coal industry no longer existed, and we’d have been hostage to the international markets anyway. It was at that point that the decision was made to go with cheap and relatively quick to build gas-fired generators, which could be fuelled with North Sea gas.

Just one problem with that – when North Sea gas came on stream, we were told that we had 2-300 hundred years supply. But that was assuming it was used the way it was in the 70s, for mainly domestic and some industrial use only. There were no gas-fired electricity generators back then. Using it for powergen has resulted in that 300 year potential being reduced to more like 30 years, and the UK is no longer self-sufficient. Scotland would be, but not the UK.

In addition to that, the whole system has since been privatised. Also by Thatcher’s government. Private companies have not found it to be in their shareholders’ interests to hold supplies in reserve for extreme weather events such as the one recently experienced. In times when demand is lower, like summer, they don’t accumulate stockpiles, they sell it on the international market. Remember gasometers? Those big things you used to see on city skylines, that went up and down on periodically, and held gas reserves? Don’t see those any more, do you? Plus there was a single facility known as Rough off the Yorkshire coast that represented around 70% of the UK’s storage capacity. It was ageing, built in 1985, and needed a thorough refurbishment, but Centrica, the owners of British Gas, decided it was too expensive and got out of the contract that required them to do all necessary maintenance work, so they could just shut it down instead, with no alternative provision. Just like they worm their way out of every major powergen infrastructure investment that’s ever needed. The private sector does not build power stations. They are happy enough to buy them cheap once the public purse has built them, and run them into the ground, but they have never built one with their own money!

That is the truth that today’s Tories will never tell you, but you can check for yourself, they haven’t. When they have built anything at all, it has been with government grants and subsidies. Back in the early 80s, when I first studied economics, we used to call utilities like gas and electricity ‘natural monopolies,’ which obviously had to be publicly owned, because they were essential services and therefore too vulnerable to exploitation if they were in private hands. The argument goes that companies (and remember, economics 101, the purpose of a company is to maximise profit), would find the temptation to profiteer from essential services too great to resist. Then along came Thatcher and said, “No, no, no, we’ll open them up to competition and prices will go down!” Well? Have they? Are you enjoying the savings? No, of course you’re not! My mother, an 83 year old pensioner on supposedly the lowest tariff, got a bill for over 900 quid at the end of last year!

Prices have skyrocketed, as those of us who actually understood the first thing about economics always knew they inevitably would. The system we have now has competition, yes, but what it also has is two levels of private enterprise, in both generation and distribution, sucking money out of the system to give to their shareholders. How was that ever going to result in lower prices? You’d have to be an idiot or a liar to suggest such an obvious nonsense. Now, I don’t think Margaret Thatcher was an idiot. She must have known what she was doing, and that makes it fraud, on a massive scale. It’s quite clear. Google the Fraud Act if you have the time. Privatisation ticks every box, and the only valid defence for anyone involved in it would be to claim that they were too stupid to understand what the inevitable results of what they were doing were. So that’s the question modern day Tories and advocates of so-called market solutions must answer – are you too stupid and incompetent, or too crooked to be in charge of a petty cash tin, never mind a major economy? Because it has to be one or the other.

To use Thatcher’s favourite phrase, there is no alternative!

The G Word

Reading Time: 8 minutes
         Debra Torrance

 

As a gay woman I’ve been lucky enough to have a broad range of inspirational females to befriend. Recently there has been furious debate about the changes to the Gender Recognition Act. I have friends on both sides of the debate. As I consider myself to be a generally liberal feminist (in the literal sense not ideological) who respects the right of transgender folk as well as the concerns of much more well versed feminists, I thought I could dip my toe into the mine field that it is.
Now another serious inspiration in my life is my elderly mother. I was her “change of life” baby, first diagnosed as the menopause. So I was a real pleasant surprise. I am surrounded by men in the form of my three brothers, so my mother and I have a strong bond and speak about everything. She was the first person I came out to.
Gender is something she, and I presume many well meaning people, struggle to understand. Unintentional misgendering and accidental use of long outdated language, is something she finds difficult to grasp. Trying to recite the gay alphabet to my mother only confuses the situation further, however she like myself believes everyone should have the right to live however they want to and identify however they wish without fear of persecution or abuse. She is pretty conservative about sex but liberal about sexuality. Her brother emigrated to Hawaii to avoid the persecution of gay men in the middle of the 20th century.
I wanted to state that before I continue with this piece. I am going to deliberately try to avoid gender studies type language that could cause confusion to folk like my wee Mum, such as heteronormative, homosexual, transsexual, or complex abbreviations etc. I will be using the term transgender which is someone who identifies as the opposite sex. If you don’t know what gay and lesbian is in 2018 my 77 year old Ma says you’ve to google it!
So the first thing i wanted to find out was what does the Gender Recognition Act mean to someone who’s life it would actually impact? So I asked my friend who I know is transgender and has been a woman as long as I have known her. She is middle aged and has been living as a woman since the 1990’s. Due to medical reasons, my friend will never be able to medically transition.
The changes to the Gender Recognition Act would allow my friend to avoid situations like she recently experienced as a witness in court. The opposing counsel purposely questioned her lifestyle and mockingly asked how to refer to her. Luckily for my friend she is well versed and confident. She simply stated to be referred to by her name, and the pronouns she and her. A simple request that some younger more inexperienced transgender people might have stumbled with, intimidated by the wood and leather of the courthouse, rattled and under pressure from the cloaked barristers with official titles.
This is why my friend also supports the changes to the age limits of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. When she was young, being gay was still criminal so suppressed thoughts of her gender were nowhere near surfacing. She is thrilled by the potential life changing new policies for the youth of the transgender community. Things that were only deeply buried dreams for her as a teenager could be a reality for these young women. However she raises concerns with the proposals for 16 and 17 year old’s requiring parental consent as not all parents are supportive of an offspring’s transition.
I wanted to look at the consultation process and examine the proposed changes. The now closed consultation can be viewed here

Overview

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 allows a transgender person to change their legally recognised gender. This consultation seeks views on whether and how the Gender Recognition Act 2004 should be amended in relation to the law in Scotland .
It covers establishing new arrangements for dealing with applications for legal gender recognition, the minimum age at which applications for gender recognition could be made and related matters.

Why The Consulting?

In the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, the Scottish Government committed to ‘review and reform gender recognition law so it is in line with international best practice for people who are transgender or intersex’.
The Government has decided that because people with intersex variations face issues that are distinct from those experienced by transgender people, we should consult separately on each set of issues. We will publish a consultation later this year seeking views about how we should address the issues experienced by intersex people/people with variations of sex characteristics.
Consultation is an essential part of the policy-making process. We will use the views expressed in response to this consultation to help inform the Government’s decisions about further action.
The consultation goes on to ask about different changes to the act that will affect transgender people over the age of 16. It states:
“ The Scottish Government considers that people aged 16 or older should be able to apply for legal recognition of their acquired gender using the proposed self declaration process.
4.05. There is clear evidence that people aged 16 do live full time in their acquired gender and want this to be legally recognised. For example, the Women and Equalities Select Committee heard evidence from LGBT Youth Scotland to this effect. In the Republic of Ireland, 8 people aged 16 and 17 have received a GRC31 after obtaining a court order permitting them to apply under their self-declaration system. The court in the Republic of Ireland is required to consider evidence about the young person’s transition to their acquired gender. “
Since we are already encouraging young people to get involved in politics, age limits lowered to 16 to be able to vote, I don’t see what the problem could possibly be about them being able to take direction of their own lives. I came out as gay when I was 16. However it wouldn’t be fair to present these points of view without also listening to the counter arguments.
So I spoke to my friend who is a radical feminist, she is also middle aged and well versed in the issues and topics that are often lobbed under the title of gender critical. My friend has referenced radical feminist theory since I have known her, she is often a source of inspirational articles for me. I asked her, what concerns she had about the changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
She replied:
“I’m a lesbian woman who is also a mother who fears for the generations of girls (and boys) coming after me. Will they even have a choice in life to choose to love their own sexual preference? Not if transgenderism becomes the only explanation for boys wanting to play with dolls (nurture behaviour) or girls wanting to play football (competitive behaviour).”
My friend is also concerned about the tone of the debate around gender critical opponents, by raising any issues there is often shouts of “transphobia”. When questioning the levels of medical supervision over transitioning genders, there is a fine line between invasive stereotyping and genuine concern.
For example a lot of young gay people will resist their emotions to begin with, I know when I was 16 I first said that I was bi-sexual, as though it was somehow easier to deal with than just being a gay woman. My friend pointed out that if the new gender revolution happened when she was younger, she could have been victim of peer pressure to conform to a male persona. This is the argument for a lot of women who in the lesbian community who could be described as butch.
Another concern for many lesbians is this new notion of a “Cotton Ceiling”. Like the glass ceiling, some transgender folk believe that there is a barrier to them with regards to dating. Since gender and sexuality is individual from one another, some transgender women who identify as lesbians feel they should not be excluded as potential partners based on the level of their transition. This is something I feel everybody should take notice of.
A fundamental part of feminism is bodily autonomy. No one should feel pressured into having sex with anybody.
I feel at this point in this long read, it’s important to highlight the condition known as Autogynephillia, “which is defined as a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as female.” It is suggested as much as 3% of men in western countries may experience this condition. This is a new field of study and complexities and association to transgenderism is not fully understood. It is however a fundamental component to many radical feminist points of debate.
I feel I should also address some other more scientific stuff here too. Such as Gender and what it actually means in 2018. Well there are two biological sexes, male and female. There is also intersex babies born who are often assigned a gender at birth. There is an argument that gender is on a sliding scale, some male born babies can behave with female characteristics and vice versa, and some folk don’t identify as any gender at all. These people are known as non-binary or androgynous.The scale on which an individual sits is often referred to as the gender spectrum.
It is said that people who identify as transgender suffer from gender dysphoria, “a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity” and this requires review at a Gender Identity Clinic to be officially diagnosed. Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness however it can lead to distressing and uncomfortable feelings.
According to a recent Stonewall survey, “eight out of ten transgender young folk have self harmed and almost half have attempted to kill themselves.” When we are talking about changing the lives of transgender folk, young transgender people have the most to gain. This same survey showed that nearly one in ten have received death threats at school. We need to change the environment for every young person, being transgender shouldn’t be an issue that stirs such hatred.
So to put it into context for someone like my wee mother, I created a hypothetical scenario. My elderly mum likes to only go swimming if it is an all ladies night. This is due to many reasons, none of which is sexist nor transphobic. I asked how she would feel if a transgender woman wanted to partake in her swimming session. Her response sums up the whole entire subject for me;
“If a woman wants to discreetly change into her swimsuit then it doesn’t matter what is in her pants, but if someone wants to gratuitously take advantage of that situation to get some sort of cheap thrill then it still doesn’t matter what is in their pants. He or she would be papped oot the club.”
To me, this is it, in these sorts of heated debates, particularly on sensitive subjects we have to come to a common sense approach.
“Extremism isn’t something that should be mistaken for rational thought with passion.”
                -anon
Most of the current debate has been about the extremes; sexual assault in toilets, infringement on women’s spaces, etc. The debate doesn’t seem to involve the wee lassie who’s been out as trans since 14 and is just wanting a certificate to get a job in the public sector or something.
Changes to the gender recognition act could make life so much easier for so many transgender folk. Equally some of the changes have raised legitimate concern to some women.
To shout “TERF” (transgender exclusionary radical feminist) to someone raising a valid point isn’t very inclusive, however to deny anybody the simple and basic human right of self identity is exclusionary. This fine line of language and debate is difficult, but to make Scotland a better and fairer, more inclusive place, we have to have these uncomfortable conversations.
We have to be tolerant of each other. We have to stop being so reactionary and conclusive in our judgements. After all Gender is fluid isn’t it? Why can’t the debate around it be too?

Resilience

Reading Time: 6 minutes

 

Resilience

 

My teacher taught me to be more resilient today.  I fell and I cried, and I was embarrassed she saw me.  But my teacher said, “life can be like that.  Just pick yourself up again, and get on with it.”

It started out an ordinary day.  I had to get to school.  Da’ had come round to the flat last night.

My maw and da are not living in the same house.  Maw’s nerves are bad.  Da makes them bad.

Me and Iain had been out lookin’ for maw.  She goes out sometimes and forgets we can’t get in.  Somebody grassed and my da came round and hit the door through.  Maw was in the house after all, but she had had some of her medicine and hadn’t heard us. Da shouted at her that he couldn’t have the we’ans coming round to his in case he was reported to the social.  And maw flew at him with a bottle.

Iain gets all upset when they fly at each other.  I tell him to get behind the couch and get down.

Da caught the bottle on the arm, and telt her that if she did that again he’d cut her.  She said if he didn’t get the bleep out, she’d have the polis on tae him.  He jist said, “keep them we’ans aff the street at this time of night or I’ll have ye seen tae.”

He had her seen tae one night outside the flat.  That oul’ woman at 9b came out and pelted the guys with clothes pegs, like that could help.  But they ran away, and she brought maw into her house.  It was a really nice house.  Warm, with lights.  Maw was in some state.  And they guys had taken her bottle. After she was fixed up, maw and us went back to our flat and maw telt us never to speak to that nosey oul’ biddy again.

When da’ went back out of the flat, maw give me a leatherin.  “why the bleep did ye go to that bam,” she shouted.  I say bleep ‘cause I don’t like bad words.  Maw and da say them aw the time.  They fly like broken bottles across the street from their gobs when they see each other.  After she leathered me (I don’t cry, ‘cause that can make it worser), she telt me she was sorry and things were bad and that I was a pretty wee thing.  Her wee Norah.

Onyways, Iain and me, we went and slept on the same mattress in the other room.  We’ve a duvet each an’ we can share.

I don’t sleep all through the night.  Sometimes its ‘cause maw is singin’ and dancin’ after her medicine. Sometimes, its just ‘cause I’m listening out for da.

I woke just when the light was startin’ and I crept through to see where maw was.  She wasn’t in the flat.

Our flat isn’t warm.  It isn’t light. Sometimes people in school talk about when they get up out of bed and they get their breakfasts from their maw’s and they have a shower and stuff.  Our maw isnae like that.  We do get showers, especially when the social worker is coming.  But maw hasn’t been good in the past few weeks.  She gets the depression.

The water is cold, but I make Iain wash his oxters and face an’ hauns.  Iain is older than me, but he has special needs.  Or the depression.  They seem the same to me.

Our school Uniform isn’t in the flat.  An’ I know what maw has done.  She has done it before and promised not to.  The social will be roun’ later, because the only thing I have to go to school in is a pair of shorts and a vest.  Iain has a ripped pair of jeans and a power rangers pyjama top.  She mustn’t have been able to fit our welly boots into the plastic bag last night, or maybes people don’t want to buy wellies.  She calls it, “robbin’ Peter tae pay Paul.”  Paul must be the skinny man who she gets her medicine from.

When we are leaving, I leave the door on the latch.  Maw might not have remembered her key, and if she has a lot of medicine in somebody’s house, she might not be hame tae the morra.

The school isn’t too far.  I don’t know the time, but I know when the morning rolls are being delivered to Detsy’s, its near breakfast club time.

When we got to the school, Charlie the breakfast club guy, said, “Youse must be freezin’!” and he gets us uniforms, socks and trainers.  People in the school give them in when they are too wee for them.  He lets me choose, and I choose the ones that look the oldest, so maw won’t try an’ sell them again.

Breakfast club is great… walking in here, into this big new building, with its big hall and light and warm and things to do is like sunrise.  It’s like when I had a torch and I was able to light our room one night when it was scarey.  This place is the only place my forehead doesn’t feel tight.  Sometimes I feel so happy here, I get a bit out of control, and the teachers shout at me.  But its not like da’ or maw shouting.  Its safe shouting.

One of the times I do feel bad is when people are getting points for bringing in their homework.  I never have mines done.  I cant do it.  I don’t have time. You don’t get told off for not doing it, but its like one of maws slaps when Kylie Loft gets points.  She’s horrible.  She wouldn’t give me a share of her big bag of Doritos last Tuesday, even when she gave Maisie, Tina and Mohammed some when we were playin’ tig, because she says, “Norah never shares anythin’.” I wish I did have some stuff to share.  I feel bad when its my birthday and’ the teacher sings happy birthday.  Because I never have a cake or sweets to give the class.

Our teacher is nice.  But I wish she’d stop giving points for things my maw and da’ can’t do, like best costume on World book Day, or for wearing all your school uniform, or for healthy snacks or home learning projects.  I don’t mind people getting points I suppose.  But all them projects are mostly done by people’s maws.  Their maw hasn’t got the health my maw has.  I can never get points.  And that’s like a punch in the stomach sometimes.

The school dinners are the best.  I pretend I hate them like Tina does.  I know Tina loves them like me.  Where do you get food like that?  Its all different colours!  Things you just don’t get normally in the chippy or outta tin. Mr Singh behind the counter likes me.  He gives me extra stuff and winks.

Onyways, after lunch, it was gonna be circle time.  I like afternoons an aw, but I get a wee bit sad because I know its nearly time for home, and I knew it would be cold, and I knew my maw wouldn’t be there.  And sometimes I get angry at my friends because they haven’t Iain to look after, or maw to clean or da’ to hide from. And on the way up the stair to class, I tripped and I fell and I didn’t want to get up.  And I wanted Mrs Madigan, the classroom assistant to pick me up and give me a wee cuddle and tell me things would be awright.  Mrs Madigan says, we have a jar that you have inside you that should be filled with cuddles and love, and when you feel sad, you can use one of the cuddles and pieces of love from your jar to help you keep going.

But our teacher came back just before Mrs Madigan and told me to get up and taught me resilience.

Resilience is when you pick yourself up and brush yourself down and start all over again.  So my teacher says.

I count the cuddles and love going in to my jar.  I don’t have much in there, but when I get them, I clamp the lid down tight and remember and remember them. Because I know that one day Iain and me might need them.

Written by Neil Scott

 

No place like home – but where is home when you are on wheels?

Reading Time: 6 minutes
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Debra Torrance

No place like home – but where is home when you are on wheels?

The shows, the carnival, the fairground integral parts to a gala, the Highland games, a village fete and important part of Scottish communities; essential components to local economies. What are the shows?

The flashing lights and ringing bells, the stall holders calling out to come to their stall. “Hook a duck, every one’s a winner!”, “Can you ring the bell? “Have a go!” The smell of candy floss, toffee apples, donuts. Hotdogs? Hamburgers? You aren’t sure but the smell of fresh fried grub makes your stomach ache even though you already had your dinner.

You wait though because you haven’t been on the big rides or in my case the sticky wall yet. You stand in that circle drum, everybody laughing, knowing what is coming, it starts off so slow. Turning a wee bit, the young boys look determined, ready to perform acrobatics to impress whatever wee lassie they are winching. The speed picks up, the floor suddenly drops away and the boys flip upside down, everybody starts screaming and laughing. The force of the spin has pinned you to the wall, you are trying to look around, someone to your left looks awfy peely wally, are the gonna…? Aw naw!

Wean’s running about with plush toys, their bounty’s won at different attractions. From shooting galleries to hammers; small and large to test your strength. Hook a ducks; a children’s favourite. Can you knock over skittles with a throw of the ball? Can you throw a ring round some whisky?

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The annual Glasgow holiday is even called the Glasgow Fair. Where for generations Glaswegians went doon the water to Ayr, Rothesay, Troon, Saltcoats and other seaside towns. And every year there was a carnival in the Glasgow Green. A summer celebration, I don’t think i ever missed as a child.

I even have a jigsaw of me and my niece as wee tots on a big green helicopter, on a roundabout. It was the winter carnival though at the Kelvin Hall. This has now moved to the SECC and is better known as the Irn Bru carnival. Where it is still tradition to go with the family between Christmas and New Year.

With fairgrounds being so popular in Glasgow and the West, it should be no surprise that…

“An estimated 80% of show people are Glaswegians, living in about 50 privately-owned or leased yards in pockets to the east, south and north of the city.”

The community of folk who travel and operate the fairgrounds all over Scotland are facing ever increasing difficulties. Show folk have intrinsic links to their yards, carnival sites and surrounding communities. Although the nature of business for the modern showman has drastically changed from 100yrs ago, many still travel with their wagons to various towns and villages often occupying the same routes at the same times for many years. These businessmen and women operate in all aspects of trade, diversifying and settling in communities, some have coffee shops and catering businesses, some have property portfolios and 9-5 jobs.

But the thing that unites them is their community, their inherent sense of belonging, their language and perceptions of self, they will remember the carnival differently from me. They might remember the smell of diesel and the “put put” of the generator, (lighting set for the well versed). Showfolk will remember the hard work, the long build ups and pull downs, gathering with their friends and attending dances, the weather when they had to get towed by a tractor and moving to the next town or village.

Imagine being able to go to work where you can meet up with all your family, your extended cousins and aunties, kids you used to go to school with. It would be such a privilege to work a wee kids Ferris wheel that your great grandad also operated, imagine having that connection and sense of belonging. It’s so beautiful and should be treasured.

As a punter going to the carnival means different things to me than it would a showman. But I can clearly see the deep and varied traditions, I can appreciate the art of the stalls and could endlessly stare at the vintage graphics on display. But i am surprised to find that this amazing culture has no official status or protection.

Even though a distinct and unique culture, showmen aren’t afforded the same status as Irish travellers or Romany Gypsies. Fairground sites where showmen can also park their wagons alongside their valuable machinery are rapidly disappearing. Static year round yards where showmen can be secure in the knowledge their children have a stable and consistent education are rapidly being eradicated.

Showfolk face discrimination like many minorities, one story I was told that broke my heart was of a young kid going for her first day at a new school, her classmates made her feel welcome so much so that they invited her “to come throw stones at the gypsies”. At her own home, her own people.

The lazy stereotyping of the general population also doesn’t help. An increasing amount of show children are doing well at school, attending university and of those who don’t continue in eduction have a hard working ethos instilled in them from being part of a family business from a young age.

The fairground community is a vibrant, hardworking, complex part of Scottish society. The skills, knowledge and history so connected to Glasgow that in the Museum of Transport there is a whole display dedicated to Showfolk, their vehicles, their homes and the history of the fairground.

What now is seen as a trendy lifestyle choice, living off grid in eco friendly homes, maximising space and storage, the showfolk of Scotland have been doing for centuries, such as conserving water, recycling and up cycling. Although a modern chalet is more akin to a modern semi detached new build than an off grid earthen shed, Amazing Spaces and George Clarke should check out some of the innovative chalet design in various Glasgow yards.

Showfolk take such pride in the appearance of their stalls at a carnival, imagine the pride they have in their homes? Showman’s yards are like many estates within Glasgow, some immaculate, well maintained, tidy properties others not so pristine. Rides, trailers and machinery vital to their livelihood, kept close by for security purposes. They are nice places, where everybody knows your name , would help out in any situation and somewhere I’d want to live. This is a throwback to traditional Scottish Communities where every neighbour knew everyone on the street. Everyone knows everyone. If they don’t know you they ask “Who do you belong to?” and quickly a connection is established.

So imagine living somewhere for 37 years, establishing roots, having a short term lease throughout that tenure precluding you from investing in it, you become more of a maintainer or caretaker than an owner of that place. Moving into it as a dump. A black site, unsuitable for anything else so the council lets you park on it. But you still have to pay rent, council tax and have a licence to occupy. Then out of the blue, just because that place you have lived for all this time, is now trendy, you have to move. What are your options here? Move your kids from School, depart from your friends in the local community? Will your neighbour you have parked next to for 37 years be beside you again? Your next site will not be in The West End, nor will it necessarily be in the South side where you are but most likely the alternative will be in another black site – ghettoised in 2018.

Why write these thoughts you may ask, well this injustice is happening now to people in Glasgow, because when it comes to it they are people, like you and me, being told to move because that bit of land is now worth more to the council with them off it. This has happened in Patrick, Vinegar Hill to name but a few and it is now happening in Govan. The two adjoining yards in Govan, the Stringfellow’s and Johnstone’s are being closed, the council not allowing their lease to be renewed. The papers heralded the new development without initially reporting the impact on the people. The occupants for nearly four decades are being evicted. With limited options of another location. To be geographically displaced is one thing but when you think about what their options are most likely to another black site, not desirable (at that time) and without their ties to the local community and possibly their established businesses in that area, not much of a choice really! Will this be owned or will this be leased? If they do get somewhere else is there really any certainty over the future of showfolk and their established roots in Glasgow…

Not everyone who identifies as showmen travels with the fairground. Elderly folk retire to these yards and continue to be protected and looked after by their community.

This also goes hand in hand with other economic influences affecting showmen such as inconsistent licensing regimes across Scotland, all of which threaten their economic well being and way of life.

Weesht For Indy – Not…

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Weesht For Indy – Not…

I am part of a political group that agrees to disagree on pretty much all of the razors of political analysis that cause splits, tantrums and forked tongued statements.  Ungagged is a website and political podcast that has pretty much every left view somewhere in its archive, said by people ranging from Trotskyists, Tankies, Blairites, Anarchists, Greens, Nationalists – all from the left spectrum of politics.

We respect the fact that others going to sometimes say, organise or promote an aspect of left politics we don’t agree with on the podcast, or written on the website.  And the fact that quite a few of us are from different parts of the world with different experiences, or different parts of Britain and Ireland, with different experiences, or different parts of Scotland with different experiences, informs us, rather than divides us.

My political background is as complex as anyone’s, but to summarise it, I was brought up in Northern Ireland in a protestant/unionist community and found myself at odds with that community.  I read literature and had experiences in Northern Ireland that convinced me the UK was not conducive to equality – in any way or aspect – and when i moved to Scotland I became involved with left and pro-independence politics.  I was a member of the SSP EC in the late 2000’s; co-opted again during indyref, and elected again onto the EC, twice. I left the SSP in late 2015.

I don’t see independence as a tactic.  I don’t see independence as being about my identity.  I don’t see independence as an income stream. I see independence as a way to break a state that at present is reinventing its imperialist past as somehow glorious – a state that is “dripping with blood from head to foot.” A state that is a key block, still even in its weakened state, in the curtain wall of capitalism.  A wall that hems in the poor and working class, while the rich and corporate world can fly free, borne on wings built with our bones, fueled by our blood and fed to obesity while we starve.

So…

There is an attitude in the Yes movement at present of, “disagreement is not healthy,” or “don’t challenge people – we are all on the same side.” I loathe that. That is nonsense, and designed to shut down debate, just as those on the left who prevaricate and hide the analysis they share within their particular cult shut down debate.

In order to come to agreement as to what sort of Scotland we are fighting for, we have to disagree, hone our arguments etc. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.  And both those who tell us to shoosh for Indy, and those who hide their true analysis and hide behind their moderately successful tactic of the past independence referendum are, mistakenly in my opinion, really doing their best to stop education through engagement.  They are building walls to a synthesis of feet on the streets, together, during the next campaign.

“Shoosh for indy,” seems to be the order of the day, not “unite the diversity,” though many of those telling us to wheest cry, “why is the movement not as accepting of difference as it was between 2011-14?” and,  “Why cant we all just raise a flag of truce and deliver a saltire to each door?”

I strongly disagree with some people who want independence, or those who at this juncture feel it is “a good tactic.” I strongly agree with some others.

Some I disagree with, I would trust with my life. Some who seem to “agree with me,” I really trust no more than crocodiles resting just below the water.

And this attitude is coming from all sides. If you criticise the ultra nationalists careering around social media, expect to be trolled. Raise points about people making money (rather than raising funds for expenses) from independence, and you are a traitor. And criticise some of the left “analysis” and you are accused of all sorts.  Let’s not, however class all of those we disagree with in the same category. For example, I have recently seen criticism of Darren McGarvey after his interview with Owen Jones. I don’t entirely agree with Darren, but I totally respect the guy (I honestly went from a position were I didn’t rate him, to once having met him, perhaps “getting him,” to now feeling, as a teacher concerned with ACES, the guy is pretty cool). He is absolutely honest in what he is saying… Which is where I get annoyed by some other folk who write about or speak about, independence or social change or socialism -their hiding behind words and “analysis,” as if those words and analysis are objective and self evident. Hiding behind analysis as “objective,” is deceiving (and in some cases this is exactly what the writers and speakers intend). All analysis is subjective. Darren never pretends his writing or words are anything other than his opinion or experience.

The pretence at objectivity from left individuals and small organisations is breathtaking.  And the pretence that what some of them are doing is for the common good is just damned depressing.  The narcissism of some just makes me want to run as far away from some of the left in the independence movement, but Scotland an the independence media being so small, they seem to be everywhere.

The great thing about the Yes movement between 2011 and 2014 is that it was allowed to shift and expand and then it took on a life outside the original Yes Scotland “diversity plan.” After September ‘14, there were statements and manifestos drawn up in our name, without our input; read out in halls and we were all expected to cheer.

I am a democratic radical socialist. And I am not part of a cadre or vanguard or group with vested interests in how the campaign takes shape and is run. I have always, within the movement and when I was in a political party, spoke my mind and called out dishonesty and worse.

I, like many, have views about what should happen post indyref. And I, like many, have views on how we should as campaigners and activists, be represented in the press, and on political bodies growing up within the movement. And at the moment there are far too many self appointed spokespeople for me. Few of whom speak for a movement of butterflies, and a majority of whom seem to want to stick the butterflies in boxes and tell them to shoosh for unity etc. while they tell us what to think.

To argue, to disagree and to call out tactics and vanguards and manels and pyramid schemes seems to cause great ire.

The people who do are the ones I trust.

We don’t need a monument of Margaret Thatcher…..we’re standing in one

Reading Time: 7 minutes
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Brian Finlay 
This article originally appeared on Brian’s blog

We don’t need a monument of Margaret Thatcher…..we’re standing in one

A nation of powerless workers and inequality

 

The name Margaret Thatcher is one that resonates with more or less every single person the UK. It is met with scoffing or near hatred by most working class and a sense of pride and ‘Britishness’ with others. The connotations of the stern and confident female leader is enough to make any Conservative Party supporter weak an the knees and think of the good old days. The days when LGBTIQ+ rights in the classroom were silenced and we used excessive force against Argentinian navy ships to install British pride. Let’s face it, they’re certainly not getting the Iron Lady 2 with Theresa May who is as strong and stable as mercury at room temperature but just as ‘likeable’ to the majority of the working class.

 

The discussion of having a statue of Thatcher erected outside Westminster has gone on for sometime now. It seems to have surfaced again more recently with supporters across the political spectrum. I understand she was the first female Prime Minister but I don’t feel that justifies being set in stone, or in iron with a large swinging handbag as some doting commentators have joked, especially since we are all standing on the monument to Thatcherism. We stand in country with a welfare state that is being decimated, bureaucratically alienated from it’s users and stigmatised by the right wing press and the ‘just about managing’.

 

We live in a country with a shameful social housing sector which was sold off for state profit with Maggie’s ‘vote winning’ right to buy scheme. Yes this allowed many working class people to own a property but it has residualised social housing and saw the decline of the desire-ability of housing estates once sought after under state ownership. I could go on and on about other ideological policies that inflicted harm on the working class people of the UK in the 1980’s but discussing the Poll Tax needs it’s own blog or political essay.

 

When Thatcher came into power in 1979 she had won to fight the unions. The ‘winter of discontent’ had triggered a political shift to Conservatism and she brought her ‘traditional school teacher’ attitude to politics. A strong woman ‘of the people’ to take on the male domination of Trade Unions who were, in Thatcher’s opinion, scuppering the UK’s productivity and holding public services to ransom. The planned and aggressive butchering of trade union rights through the plethora of legislation passed transformed employment relations in this country. Simultaneously her government went on to sell off public utilities including coal mining, gas providers and water.

The ideological assumption was that a competitive market would improve service delivery, keep costs down and the productivity in these industries would be improved; look how that has worked out. This was a turbulent time for manufacturing as a whole and the working class communities right across the country. The miner strike of 1983/84 is a prominent memory and artefact in history of how aggressive and ideological Thatcher’s regime was in empowering employers and weakening trade unions and the employees. This whole period of time could be, and actually has, it’s own textbook but fast forward to today we see that ideology played out in favour of Thatcher. The neo-liberal agenda and quest for a free unregulated market was not accidental and was not halted or minimised under 13 years of a New Labour government.

 

Today where huge industrial estates and other hard industry once stood we see retail parks and leisure parks. Where small independent businesses used to occupy our high streets we see national and multi-national chain corporations occupy those sites which still remain open. In Scotland around 25% of the working population work in the service sector including retail, sales or hospitality. Just under ten percent of Scot’s work in hotels or restaurants. Traditionally the vast majority Scottish workforce was employed in manufacturing, production, energy extraction or manual labour. Some commentators assert the reduction in this type of work is because much more women are now in the workplace, which takes up just over 40% of the today’s workforce, but this is down to the decimation of industry which is echoed in areas like Northern England and parts of Wales.

 

This is significant because service sector workers tend not to have collective representation or be represented by trade unions; hindering their bargaining power with employers. In fact unions in the UK have seen membership decline massively and only have ‘real’ authority remaining within the public sector. However, public sector trade unions are under attack from Theresa May’s government with the austerity lead public sector pay cap weakening the only strong remaining trade union movement in the UK. In the UK’s service sector is where we see some of the lowest wages, precarious working conditions and low skilled repetitive work. Many of these jobs have face-to-face customer interaction 100% of the time which exposes the employee to high levels of exhausting emotional labour which can lead to burnout.

 

The precarious types of employment can manifest in zero hour contracts (ZHC) or as ‘self-employed’ style of working with a central employer; referred to as the ‘gig-economy’. If an employee is on a ZHC have no guaranteed amount of working hours per week from their employer. This gives the employer the ability to have the manpower when it is required but scale down and not have pay employees when they’re not needed. This can also make it possible for employers to stop giving hours to employees that don’t ‘fit’ or don’t produce high levels of productivity. Having hours cut or removed completely is common if a staff member is ‘problematic’ or seen to be a trouble maker; meaning the employer holds nearly all the power. This type of working conditions are expected in retail and hospitality and becoming more and more normalised and widely accepted as ‘how it is’ these days. Employees with limited influence or power can do very little and as these jobs are relatively low skilled a disgruntled employee can be replaced relatively easily and quickly.

 

The gig-economy is a self-employed type of working arrangement with a single employer. This means you’re a worker for that employer but not an employee of them meaning you don’t receive all the same benefits or rights as employees. This is common in the growing courier companies, such as DHL and Hermes, where employees must rent their vehicle, uniforms or even buy the fuel for delivering the parcels. This model of employment is also present in companies such as the taxi firm Uber. This manifests by an app providing drivers with the customer pick ups and have they have their service scored and graded by the customer. The employee can also be monitored centrally by management to ensure their productivity, working hours and even levels of customer service are above targets; set by management. What we now see in the new employment age is employees being controlled by an app on their phone which they require to utilise to gain access to work. The Conservative Government ‘investigated’ these types of employment practices and recently imposed these employees must receive the National ‘Living’ Wage and be entitled to annual leave but they did not address the core issues of power, control and the really precarious nature of the job. In companies that adopt the gig-economy model can revoke the offer of work for that day with no notice or state they are not meeting the required standard of work and not offer work going forward. This cuts out the very lengthy performance management procedure and prevents the employer being taken to tribunal.

These two common manifestations of precarious work have installed uncertainty, in-work poverty and further job degradation and deskilling. The jobs are designed to be as simplified and controlled as possible, often by technology as the first contact ‘line manager’, resulting very little autonomy. It is known that job satisfaction and organisational commitment predominantly comes from autonomous flexible work but in the precarious age of work it’s more profitable to have de skilled, repetitive and highly controlled types of job roles.

 

So what has this created? What does it have to do with Margaret Thatcher? The answer is a nation of powerless workers and the employer holding most, if not all, of the power. The precarious and low paid jobs occupied by a chunk of the Scottish workforce result in employees essentially being trapped in in-work poverty and uncertain financial position due to having no employment security. In the hospitality sector, where less than 2% of the workforce has trade union membership, this is the kind of working practices that are on offer. In our contemporary labour market, which is amongst the most unequal in the ‘developed’ world, we see cases of CEO’s being paid 125 times more than junior member of staff. We see the need and utilisation of foodbanks increase every month due to in-work poverty and the implementation of the heartless Universal Credit welfare reforms. This is extreme Thatcherism. An unregulated employment market free from collective bargaining and trade union interference. We all live and work in the monument sculpted by Thatcher’s governments ideological ideals, and this monument has been embellished by New Labour and Coalition/Conservative governments that served after her. We don’t need reminded by a glorified statue outside the Palace of Westminster because we are reminded everyday. Reminded that in the sixth largest economy in the world the wealth inequality is scandalous and it is an eye sore. Let’s look at building on that rather than fawning after a Prime Minister that inflicted such social harm on the people she was elected to represent.