What should have been a ‘quiet’ political period was shattered by the riots in several English cities. Comments and theories abound, from those like Peter Hitchin blaming ‘liberal’ thinking since the 1960s, Michael Gove on Newsnight telling Harriet Harman that it was all due to the 13 years of Labour Government, a leftish commentator saying it was due to the State intervening too much in working class areas and no less a person than George Osborne saying the solution was to ‘do something’ for areas and people who had been ignored for too long. Confused? I certainly am.
What annoys the historian in me is the total lack of historical understanding shown by the media and far too many politicians. I heard commentators comparing these riots with those of the early 1980s and suggesting that the latter had reasons rooted in social conditions and the current ones had not. That’s not what was being said at the time!
In that context I saw a fascinating TV programme last week about riots in Llanelli in the ‘long hot summer’ of 1911 (pre-planned for the centenary but maybe screening accelerated timeously?). Railway strikers were supported by many others in trying to stop trains getting through Llanelli. The military were called in and two local young men shot dead by the army. This was followed by burning of sheds and trucks. What was fascinating however were the newspaper headlines ‘Looters not strikers!’. Shortly after school children ‘struck’ and marched around the town. This apparently was the first of several such ‘school strikes’ across the country – as far north as Glasgow. No facebook or twitter then – but the word still spread, albeit in days rather than hours!
There are no ‘simple’ explanations. That isn’t to condone criminal acts, many of which will harm the rioters’ own communities more than anyone else. But events like this don’t arrive in a vacuum.
The other back-drop to this is the ongoing financial crisis in the Eurozone and elsewhere. Here unemployment is rising in the period to June which is before this year’s school, college and university leavers hit the market. What struck me during the exchanges between Osborne and Balls when the Chancellor made his statement to the recalled House of Commons this month was just how far apart they were. Osborne is not for budging and fast deficit reduction remains his only plan. He clearly takes great pleasure in saying that the US has now agreed with him – even if it is only because of the grip the Republicans now have in Congress. Does that make them all right? The US under Hoover and the UK under McDonald & Baldwin sang from the same hymn sheet but history (at least until very recently?) judged them to have been wrong.
Constituency visits… part two
During the Recess I have been continuing to visit organisations working in our community. Following my Westminster Hall debate in June I was particularly keen to meet Carers’ organisations to hear direct from them what they thought the main issues are and to hear about their work locally. In July I met with Vocal & with Mecopp (the latter being the only BME specialist carers group in Scotland). While progress has been made in recent years in recognising the important role played by informal carers, the main message I took away from this was the need to move from ‘recognition’ to the creation of real rights for carers, both to be accepted as partners in the care of their relative or friend, and for such practical help as regular respite care.
Together with Kezia Dugdale MSP I visited One Parent Families Scotland to talk about the implications of the substantial changes the Coalition Government is making to the Child Maintenance system. The Government hopes that many more people will make voluntary arrangements in the future (and using the statutory system is going to be made more difficult and costly to the parents) but this depends on there being a great deal of support and assistance being available. Although the change is coming from Westminster, the responsibility for funding such services as mediation and relationship counselling lies with the Scottish Government. This is a good example of the need for MPs and MSPs to work together. Kezia is putting down parliamentary questions to find out what exactly is being funded at present by the Scottish Government and One Parent Scotland is gathering information about the reality on the ground. From Parliamentary Questions at Westminster I have discovered that there are no plans at present for money to come from Westminster to Scotland to help boost provision.
Another visit was to the Craigmillar Business Incubator, based at the Castlebrae Business Centre to hear about the help they can give to people trying to set up their own business. For more details call 0131 661 8888 or click here http://goo.gl/2ESXE.
Craigmillar’s New Library and East Neighbourhood Office
I was delighted to be present at the ‘turf cutting’ ceremony for the new Council Office and Library being built in Craigmillar – despite the appalling rain on the day! Public investment like this provides a huge boost to the local economy. It gives work to the private construction industry which has been struggling in the last few years. It provides jobs for construction workers and the Cyrenians project is working with the building company to secure work placements and job opportunities for local people who have been unemployed.
But the economic stimulus doesn’t stop when the building work does. The council office will house around 300 staff (over 3 times the number in the current neighbourhood office) who will bring business to local shops. Just opposite Scottish Government funding has refurbished a classic 1930s roadhouse – ‘The White House’ – and one of the local hopes for its future use is to provide a café. What better place for a lunchtime coffee?
This is a small scale example of what Government should be doing to help the country grow out of recession. The Tory/LibDem Coalitions at Westminster wants us to believe that ‘public’ spending is bad and ‘private’ good, that public spending ‘squeezes out’ private business and that we don’t need to worry about public spending cuts because the private sector will spring into life to replace the jobs and services lost.
But the truth is that the public and private sectors are inextricably linked; that many private businesses – like construction – flourish when there is ‘public’ investment. Businesses need customers. That’s true whether you are a small shop or a large multinational company. More people out of work mean less customers. See more: http://goo.gl/Vi8hz.
New Enterprise Allowance
From 01 August 2011, the Government may give extra help to unemployed people who want to start their own business, through the New Enterprise Allowance. The allowance is available to Jobseekers Allowance claimants that have been on JSA for over 26 weeks. Mentoring and support is provided to develop a business plan and get through the first few months of trading. All applicants need to submit a proposal which has future growth prosepts. A total package of support can be worth up to £2274 for anyone that wants to start their own business. Further information can be found here http://goo.gl/W3XJT.
Greenhouse events: FREE Allotment Visits and Workshops
Run by Craigmillar’s Community Alliance Trust, the Greenhouse is giving you the chance to see what other people are growing, learn some new skills and make some new friends! Each workshop will include a tour of the allotment site and a chance to see polytunnels, willow growing and a plastic bottle greenhouse in action. There are several events over the next four weekends being held at Greendykes, Hays and Hunters Hall. If you want to attend, visit http://goo.gl/mFvGk for more information.
Macmillan Coffee Morning – 30th September 1000-1300
I was unable to take part in the world’s biggest coffee morning in 2010 as my constituency office was still in the process of being setup – this year I wanted to make sure we played our part. So many people are helped by the work of Macmillan and we are looking forward to meeting local residents, and raising funds for the charity. It’s not the most comfortable of offices but there will be plenty of fairtrade coffee and homebaked cakes on sale to raise funds. We will be giving away free homegrown fruit as one member of staff is expecting a bumper crop of apples and pears this year. If you have never been to the office before, or would like some free apples or pears, please pop in on 30 September.
Dates for you diary
- Edinburgh Mela Festival – 2nd – 4th September – Leith Links. For more details see http://goo.gl/VfpuE.
- No Women No Peace Workshop – 10th September – Quaker Meeting House, Victoria Terrace Edinburgh – register by the 5th September by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Moving Planet march/cycle and rally in Edinburgh to mark the Global Day of Climate Action – 24th September 2011 – Assemble outside City Chambers, High Street/Royal Mile. See http://goo.gl/DBV2m.
- Edinburgh Annual Volunteer Recruitment Fair – 28th September 1100-1900 – St Paul’s and St George’s Church on York Place. See http://goo.gl/QThXW.