Brian Monteith: Time to eat some humble pie

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Another Christmas has come and gone and many of us will be considering what to do with all those gift tokens, vouchers and wads of notes that have gathered up after opening presents and cards.

The post-Christmas sales beckon (joining the pre-Christmas sales) as the biggest festive retail sales figures on record are given a further boost.

I recall how as a 13-year-old I would wait for the book sale at John Menzies and spend a morning compiling a pile of illustrated hardbacks about military aircraft that would help me dream about being an aircraft designer that in the end was limited to me building airfix kits.

As a kid, Christmas was almost exclusively a time of receiving, but once my milk and paper rounds started I could afford to discover the joy of giving and what Christmas really means.

Now I look forward not just to the opening of presents, but also the fun of planning cheeky or inventive gifts, sourcing them through internet surfing or scouring shops – and then making elaborate wrappings (those airfix kit-skills eventually came in handy).

The selfless joy of giving can be a great balance to the selfish desire to receive what one maybe can’t afford oneself or would not make a priority when faced with the cost of making ends meet.

Realising in the thick of it all just how lucky you are compared to 
others, just how privileged your life is in so many respects – and not all of them material – keeps your feet on the ground at a time when it’s easy to become spoilt, and even conceited and arrogant.

Christmas, being so close to the New Year when one reviews the past events that have unfolded since January, is a great time to develop your own sense of humility; recognising your mistakes, your personal limitations and what about yourself you might not like and want to change.

If only our politicians would learn the humility that Christmas helps to teach us all and not just keep it for their private moments, our political scene would be far healthier and our democracy all the stronger for it.

It is all too easy to be generous with other people’s money, should be the first lesson – for if having a Scottish Parliament free to make its own spending decisions has proven 
anything it is that showering money on public services does not 
necessarily deliver improvements.

All the prevailing evidence shows that our Holyrood politicians have tested the ever-greater-spending theory to destruction only to find that our nation’s performance figures – in education and healthcare – are worse than our neighbours in England and considerably worse that other small countries such as the Netherlands.

Some humility that improving the way we do things is not measured by how much of other peoples’ money we spend still needs to be learned.

The mantra coming from so many of our politicians has been that Scotland required greater control of the levers of economic power – and yet having enough money has not been the problem, it is how we have spent what we have that has let us down.

Where now would our nation be if we had embarked on a course that was built on the supposedly solid foundation of an ever-rising-oil price?

When, earlier this year, the White Paper for an independent Scotland appeared it was based on an oil price of $115 a barrel. We were promised a land of milk and honey with not only more free services (childcare anyone?) but an oil fund that would ensure the munificence (with other peoples’ money) would never run out.

Well that oil price went south and is now below $60 a barrel – a shift that would have consigned an independent Scotland to the begging bowl at the door of the IMF and the humiliation of looking to England to help us out (just as Ireland was forced to do following its own banking crash).

Some humility from those politicians that would have staked all our public services and the public finances for a generation on such a gamble – denying all the warnings that were being given by oil experts and economic forecasters – would be in order.

Somehow I don’t expect any, although I am more than willing to show some Christmas charity towards Nicola Sturgeon and “oil expert” Alex Salmond if they were to lead their followers to the alter of repentance. Unfortunately, their incantations are inaudible.

And for those politicians who dabble in foreign affairs – be it in Washington, Brussels, London, or the other capitals of world powers – I ask them to consider the plight of Christians and Jews the world over who at this time are facing not just repeated persecution, but horrific deaths and mutilation at the hands of Islamic fanatics that seek to establish rule over their countries in the name of barbarism.

There will always be tyrants in this world, but learning that imposing Western values on foreign lands can actually deliver a worse form of tyranny would be a humility that our international leaders could well benefit from.

If just a smidgeon of those three lessons on humility could be learned by our politicians, next Christmas will be happier than this one.