Kezia Dugdale: Life has lost its spice with Brexit looming

IN the 1990s, I had a Saturday job in Dixons selling MiniDisc players that everyone was ­convinced would be the next big thing. The music options for this new-fangled device were pretty limited, but one of the albums you could buy was Spiceworld.

Tuesday, 13th November 2018, 5:00 am
The Spice Girls are back - along with the sense of despair the country felt at the start of the 1990s. Picture: PA

Unlike vinyl, which has enjoyed a renaissance, today the MiniDisc has been consigned to the dustbin of ­history – and you’d be hard-pressed to find one anywhere other than on eBay.

The Spice Girls, on the other hand, are at the centre of an unexpected comeback. At the weekend, thousands of fans snapped up tickets to see the girl-band at Murrayfield next year.

Two members of my staff were among those to fork out the steep ­asking price, which requires me to somewhat question their music tastes.

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I was more of a Britpop fan myself: Blur and Oasis. The great battle between Country House and Roll With It came right in the middle of the 90s, when the £2.99 singles were being grabbed from shelves in Our Price.

It coincided with a new era of hope in the country that appeared a distant dream at the start of the decade.

In 1990, 20 per cent of households lived in poverty – a rise of nearly 50 per cent in just seven years.

There was Black Wednesday, when the pound crashed and interest rates soared to 15 per cent.

John Major’s government was at war (over Europe, what else?) and there were constant rumours of a leadership challenge.

But by the time Britpop and Cool Britannia came around, and pupils were starting to ditch Microsoft Encarta and using dial-up internet to help with their homework instead (and making friends across the world on AOL at the same time), change was in the air.

The New Labour government led by Tony Blair aggressively tackled inequalities, lifting hundreds of thousands out of the poverty trap.

The economy began to recover and unemployment fell. On the European front, the UK signed up to the social chapter that gives workers the rights we all take for granted today: paid holidays; health and safety protection at work; the right to paid parental leave.

We entered the millennium with a sense of optimism – around about the the same time the Spice Girls packed up their minidresses and tracksuits and went off on their ill-fated solo careers.

Today, the same sense of despair we saw at the start of the 90s has returned. One in four children and one in five adults are now living in poverty.

Before the EU referendum, the UK led the G7 economies in economic growth; now we are bottom. Theresa May’s government is at war (over Europe, what else?) and there are constant rumours of a leadership challenge. Unfortunately, this time around, the signs of hope are harder to spot.

Despite ridiculous claims from the Prime Minister, austerity is not at an end and public service cuts are hurting communities the length and breadth of the country – with long-lasting consequences.

We are just months away from crashing out of the EU, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk, prolonging austerity, and jeopardising all those workers’ rights contained in the social chapter. But, despite all the doom and gloom, I refuse to accept that Brexit is inevitable.

Last week, I broke the Labour whip for the first time in my seven years as an MSP so that I could vote for a ­People’s Vote on the final deal.

I was joined by my colleague ­Daniel Johnson, who represents the south of the city. Together, we understand just how damaging Brexit will be for the people of Edinburgh, and we’re not prepared to stand by and watch it ­happen.

When it comes to Brexit, perhaps the Spice Girls said it best: Stop right now, thank you very much.

Fireworks for a whole week is just crackers

THE discount stickers were barely on the Hallowe’en tat before the mince pies were out in my local supermarket. It’s not OK to buy them yet, but it is now acceptable to look at them forlornly and contemplate the first glass of mulled wine to go alongside it.

Blink and you nearly missed Bonfire Night, unless of course you have a pet, a child or single glazing. After last year’s outbreak of public disorder, a huge effort went into the planning and policing of this year’s festivities, and I was pleased to see a significant reduction in the level of trouble.

That said, it was still among the police and fire brigade’s busiest nights of the year. There was still trouble and people were still aggressive and abusive towards our first-class emergency personnel. I can’t imagine what drives people to hurl abuse at those who commit their professional lives to keeping us all safe. I just don’t understand it.

My sincere thanks and gratitude to all the emergency workers who do this day in day out.

That’s part of the problem: fireworks night is no longer just a day – it appears to run to almost a week now, depending on parental attitudes to school nights and the choices people make between going to organised displays and organising their own efforts in the back garden.

I wonder too if the time limit is too late. With exceptions for religious festivals and Hogmanay, the last firework is allowed to go off until 11pm according to regulations.

I’m beginning to think if we must live with a week of firework festivities, we should perhaps cut the crackers at 9pm. It’s only big kids who are up after then anyway.

Being threatened with violence is all in a day’s work for staff in shops

VIOLENCE and abuse should never be just part of the job.

But, sadly, it is far too common for shopworkers across the UK.

Respect For Shopworkers Week got under way yesterday, and it’s an initiative I’m proud to support.

New data from union Usdaw’s latest survey shows that six-in-ten shopworkers across the UK have experienced verbal abuse this year, 37 per cent have been threatened by a customer, and more than 230 have been assaulted every day.

It’s simply unacceptable.

If you’re frustrated about a faulty item and need to return it, or the queue at the tills is annoyingly long, it’s absolutely no excuse for abusing a shopworker.

It’s unfortunate that it’s necessary, but it’s clear we need to provide additional protections for retail staff. Those who assault staff are sometimes not sent to court, and when offenders aren’t even charged, victims are left feeling that no one cares about them.

My MSP colleague Daniel Johnson is pursuing a member’s Bill in Holyrood to change the law, and his proposal has now received the necessary cross-party support.

The changes would ensure that crimes against workers are taken seriously, with new criminal offences for those who abuse and are violent against staff.

There is widespread support for a change in the law, with 95 per cent of people responding to the consultation on the member’s bill offering support, along with trade unions and major retailers.

It represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make shops safer for workers, and we must seize it.