Big Alec Johnstone the Tory MSP for the north-east of Scotland is as nice a bloke as you will find in the Scottish Parliament. He has some funny ideas, but then, haven’t we all? And he is a Tory.
But because he knows what it feels like to have done a hard day’s work, clad in dungarees and out in all weathers, I decided to listen to what he had to say to the Tory conference about Welfare to Work.
My instincts were right. He talked about the chronic failure of UK governments to find a way of getting the long-term unemployed into work, how we owed that much to these people and how he worked locally to try and do this. Too true, I thought, maybe the Tories are ridding themselves of the nickname “the nasty party” and fewer of their number treat unemployment like some sort of illness that people can take precautions against. I was mistaken. Far too many Tories, and others, think that chronic unemployment is a lifestyle of choice for the men and women trapped in a vicious circle .
There are claimants who are not trying to get a job. That’s just as true as it was when Peggie Herbison, a former minister in Harold Wilson’s government, estimated that six-seven per cent of the potential workforce were workshy. At times of economic difficulties, there has always been a heightened interest in the money paid to those people who were out of work, and who, according to the most strident of their accusers, live the life of Riley on their hard-earned taxes. Having listened to a fair cross-section of Alec Johnstone’s fellow delegates, I don’t think the Tories have changed all that much – they still appear to have their ideas skewed by this minority.
If they are known to the local employment office, staff to be unenthused by the offers of menial jobs or training modules or courses, local offices should have some discretion as to the difference in support given to both groups. It doesn’t seem unfair to be less generous as a society to people who free-load on the community. There would need to be a transparent process to determine if children were properly nourished in households where the potential breadwinner was a refusneik. If social services are pleased with the children’s development, then less time and effort need be spent in trying to make useful citizens of the parent. Unfortunately, the Tories still seem to class all unemployed people as work-dodgers.
Time for hard questions about being better together
It can seem that everyone who passes the time of day with me takes their leave with a poignant reminder that they need more information before deciding on which way to vote in the referendum. I’m not complaining because I probably started the discussion. But it dawned on me this week, everyone wants to know what Independence will look, smell, sound and feel like, but have they considered the alternative?
Do they have big “meet the people” events where Alistair Darling answers questions about what the future holds for the UK? Perhaps he and Dougie Alexander, the shadow foreign affairs minister, are supplying the hard facts that people can rely on as much as they can rely on any politician’s response to embarrassingly straight questions. Here’s a question you can put to the leaders of the Better Together campaign (which keeps a healthy distance between itself and other pro-Union outfits, like the Tories): is £25 billion due to be cut from the UK’s spending on health, education, pensions, etc, the year after the Referendum next year?
Question for Labour: is that why Ed Balls, who’ll be the Chancellor if Labour wins in 2015, says he’ll stick to the Tories’ spending plans? Detail the changes (reduction) in Scotland’s devolved budget if it’s a No vote.
And to be fair, a question for the Tories: detail the economic advantages for Scotland of handing over control of the oil and gas industries to the Westminster Treasury instead of the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Dept (if we vote for Independence)? If you get a straight answer let me know, please.
Left on a downton
My weekend was geared to worship at the ecumenical theatre I discovered, with a few million others, a few months ago. Maybe I expected too much, but Downton Abbey didn’t leave me feeling refreshed and renewed.