Monday, 30 December 2013

Back to the 19th century?

We have a shortage of housing, unemployment (and, in particular, youth unemployment) is high, it can take 3 weeks in some parts of Scotland to get a doctor's appointment and NHS dentists are scarcer than hens' teeth - so would someone please remind Calton why we need thousands more immigrants from Eastern Europe? Unfortunately, unless we leave the EU (which is Calton's favoured option), we are powerless to stop a new influx in two days' time, regardless of what some Conservative activists may think. Even if we succeeded in delaying the ability of Romanians and Bulgarians to move here until 2018, that is just postponing the problem. The Tory activists are at least right in one thing - more immigration will only fuel tensions, particularly in poorer areas where people are already struggling to find homes and jobs and to access vital services. Calton is not against immigration per se - he is against unlimited economic immigration from poorer countries within the EU and one look at the graph in this BBC News article will tell you why. The number of Eastern European workers in the UK has gone from less than 50,000 in 2003 to 800,000 in 2013. There are areas in Glasgow where one bedroom flats house 15-20 people. That's a higher population density than when the Victorian tenements were built! If this is the sort of Scotland which Alex Salmond and his party wants, Calton's response is "no thankyou". A return to overcrowded tenements and streets overflowing with rubbish hardly seems to be progressive - it's more like a regression to the 19th century. Is this really Scotland's future?

Friday, 20 December 2013

Calton's Christmas Message

The First Minister's choice of image for his Christmas card tells us a lot about what he believes and where he wants to take us as a nation. It depicts a fictional 4th Magi or Wise Man - Artaban - who misses out on seeing Jesus because he is caught up with helping others he meets along the way. He is a seeker who never finds but who is finally admitted to Heaven on the strength of his good works. It all sounds very nice but, actually, it is the antithesis of the Christmas message - which is that none of us can ever do enough good to merit entrance to Heaven and so God sent, not a muscular wise man, but a helpless baby to do what we cannot do and save us from our helplessness, failure and sin. Accepting that baby requires a humility which the First Minister seems to lack. It looks like he would rather try to reach Heaven by his own efforts, like Artaban, and the Scotland he wishes to create is one in which the gospel of Christ is increasingly marginalised, as the baby Jesus is in his card. Artaban sought and never found but Christ promises that all who seek will find Him. Just as #lostbear was found by his owner this week and regained his identity as Roar the Lion, we need to seek and be found by our owner, God, the one who created us, and, in so doing, find our true identity. That is the real message of Christmas.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Out of touch Tory?

"Out of touch Tory" is not a phrase Calton usually associates with Murdo Fraser MSP, however the man does seem to be out of touch with the stark choices facing many people this Christmas when he tweeted this:
When families are struggling to put food on the table and heat their homes, never mind buy presents for the kids, suggesting that the only way you can wish someone a proper Merry Christmas is by spending 50p on a stamp is, quite frankly, demonstrating that you don't know what being poor is. OK, it is a bit crass (and lazy) to write a one-line email and then send it round your entire email address book with one click. Calton can see Murdo's point in that regard but, the reality is, even those who are fortunate to have a job these days are becoming reluctant to use Royal Mail to distribute their Christmas wishes at 50p a pop. Even a very modest Christmas card list of 40 names would cost £20! Many people are opting instead to send e-cards or personalised email greetings and either save the money or give it to charity and Calton is wholeheartedly in agreement with this, even although it means that the old eyrie looks a bit bare compared to Christmasses past when you couldn't move for cards falling about your ears. So, please don't be offended if your Christmas greeting from Calton Hill arrives over the internet - apart from anything else, the Barn Owl who usually handles Calton's mail is still recovering from delivering the White Paper!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Don't forget the poor singles

Calton is not at all surprised that those in poverty are now more likely to be working than on the dole. He's also not surprised that they are likely to be single, childless adults. If you don't have children, you lose all benefits as soon as your income goes over about £100 a week but you don't qualify for working tax credit unless you work at least 30 hours a week. That is becoming increasingly difficult in these days of zero hours contracts and part-time work. The result - a lot of single people stuck in a poverty trap. It is good that child poverty has fallen, according to the latest Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, and pensioners are also better off, however a truly just, fair society will look after all its members, something which British society is currently failing to do. If we don't end the scourge of low wages and under-employment, we are stoking up a problem for the future when poor single people reach pension age and do not have anything apart from the state pension to fall back on. Perhaps the new Universal Credit should recognise the reality that full-time employment remains a dream for many people and include a graded benefit rather than the current step-change at 30 hours a week. Now that would be progressive.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

A stark contrast

It is frightening the way some people are trying to silence their opponents in this supposedly democratic country. The latest example Calton has heard was Jeanette Winterson on Any Questions? last night. She had been given plenty of air time to make her points, some of which were quite pertinent, but that didn't stop her trying to silence Andrew Lansley when his turn came. When told by Jonathan Dimbleby that Lansley was entitled to have his say, her response was "I'm not sure about that" and repeated shouts of "NO". Not only was this extremely rude, it was a deliberate attempt to stop another panellist from putting forward his point of view and it was totally undemocratic. Thankfully Dimbleby sat on her (metaphorically speaking) but not before she'd shown herself to be a screeching dictator with no time for anyone else's views. The very essence of democracy is free speech. The minute we start denying certain people the right to air their opinions, we start down the slippery slope of censorship which leads to dictatorship. Winterson's behaviour was the very opposite of another man in the news this week - Nelson Mandela. He was willing to work with his opponents and to listen to them. That is why he is being revered right now. The contrast with Winterson could not be more stark.