Gina Davidson: Mean spirit is lingering on

IT’S been hard to think or talk about much else this last week. The death of Maggie Thatcher has been so all-consuming that the real problems being faced by society right now seem to have been overshadowed by the one cast by her coffin; the people of the country and their daily woes subsumed once again by the might of her will.

Never mind the campaigns on payday loans, bedroom tax, cuts to disabled people’s benefits, the strains on the NHS, rising youth unemployment, even in death, she has ruled the roost like a be-gowned headteacher of old with cane in hand, making us revert to our younger, more reactionary selves – feeling powerless to do much else than stick two fingers up behind her back and Blu-tac Vote Labour posters to the living room window.

In fact with football violence on the terraces, newborn babies being abandoned under benches, and the stirring of a radicalism within me I thought was long gone as the eulogies to Thatcher grew crasser by the minute (apparently she was always good with the “little people”, according to one of her supporters on the radio, that’s untitled folk to you and me), this last week could have been lifted straight out of 1986.

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So I wore red yesterday, not to celebrate the death of an old lady, but to protest at the pomp and ceremony that surrounded her funeral and the £10 million of public money spent on ensuring that she was in fact dead and buried. Now it’s just her ghost that will need vanquished – and that will be the job of the very thing she hated: society.

Without a doubt Thatcher’s legacy is our current Westminster government and the appalling welfare policies of David Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, who proudly boast they are tearing apart the things even she did not touch. She took people’s jobs and destroyed their lives and souls, and this current government is doing exactly the same but targeting the more vulnerable, the disabled and the poor.

So the fight against Thatcherism has to go on – and it does so in Edinburgh. One of the good things she did for this city (for so long a Conservative kind of place with Tory councils and even MPs – imagine the novelty children!) was make sure it was governed for 23 years by Labour. Even now Labour is the largest group in the council, though it is now power-sharing with the SNP. And they are working together to do battle with the inequities being handed out to society by Thatcher’s present day

The Edinburgh Guartantee is a local scheme to try and make sure young people can get apprenticeships and a foot on the employment ladder – with many of them being given work within the council. And it is council drive that is making the private sector get on board. Similarly, the council has already introduced the Living Wage – at a time when it seems the government is considering scrapping the minimum wage.

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And this week the bedroom tax was debated in the City Chambers and thanks to Labour, the SNP and the Greens, the council agreed it should not evict those who fall into rental arrears because of a cut in their housing benefit which has been deemed necessary by a man who lives 
mortgage free in a many-bedroomed 

It also agreed to look at whether rooms could be redesignated, to work with housing associations to try and ensure they adopt the same approach towards evictions and ultimately to campaign to get this cruel cut in housing benefit scrapped.

In such ways they hope to reassure those dependent on the state for a roof over their heads that they will be able to stay in their family homes even if they have the luxury of a spare room.

The irony of three disparate political groups coming together to form this policy to protect the poorest in Edinburgh feels somewhat delicious as Maggie is laid to rest. It’s a decision based on a common cause, it’s solidarity against a wrong, it’s about people, family, community and society. It is everything she didn’t stand for and that is one result of her legacy about which we should be pleased.

Chance missed

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THE Scottish Government has decided to hold an independent commission to investigate the policies and practices of crematoria across Scotland when it comes to dealing with remains of babies. What a missed opportunity. If it’s launching a commission why not go the whole hog and have a public inquiry into historical practices too so that the answers parents affected by the baby ashes scandal can be answered once and for all? Why be half-hearted about this issue?

Parents know that the inquiry into Mortonhall to be carried out by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini will only go so far, that it won’t have the legal power to compel testimony from those involved.

Public health minister Michael Matheson needs to be brave and scrap this commission idea, and hire Dame Elish to head up a proper public inquiry and get to the truth of this horrible secret so it can all be laid to rest once and for all.