Former RBS economist, Andrew Wilson's doom-laden prediction for the Scottish economy may have served us all well on the basis of the adage 'hope for the best, but plan for the worst'. Unemployment is already increasing and can only get significantly worse. Many businesses may never trade again. This will inevitably reduce Government revenue, and thus the level of public spending, unless the difference can be made up by increased taxation, and/or borrowing. As with local authorities, the Scottish Government cannot at present finance current spending by significant borrowing, as this is only allowed for some capital investment. We must rapidly grow our economy.
Unlike businesses, the public sector cannot go bust, or simply cease 'trading', yet it is dependent on the private sector for its income. The success of private enterprise is therefore crucial to maintaining the NHS and social services. Cuba reputedly has a good health service, and the Castro regime had a spy in each street, but the vast majority of its population lives in poverty. Moving to a less materialistic society may appear attractive, but what constitutes safe and healthy living by modern standards is hugely dependent on technology, sophisticated organisation, and the social and economic infrastructure required to support that.
The failure of the UK as a whole to manage the coronavirus crisis competently suggests something is far wrong with our governance structures. The jury is out on whether an independent Scotland would have done better. Remarkably, after more than 20 years of devolution, the structure of Government in Scotland still widely replicates that of England, and remains based on what we had before it. Measured by the outcomes to date, there has been little difference between the administrations at Holyrood and Westminster in dealing with the crisis. Regardless of what the future may hold, we have all been 'in it together' up to now.
A political system dominated by careerists, with little experience of anything outside politics, is heavily dependent on civil and public services that may, in many instances, have become subject to 'producer capture'. Cocooned from the impacts of their performance, with a phalanx of politicians to take the blame, unelected mandarins still appear to run Scotland at all levels. Job security, huge pension pots and early retirement for these members of Entitlement Scotland contrasts with the lot of most Scots. Poor, slow and uninformed decision-making has given us one of the highest mortality rates in the world from coronavirus. Tinkering won't fix this.
The constitutional debate cannot continue to ignore the key issue: how do we create the wealth to deliver the kind of society most Scots want? A good start would be to divest ourselves of a command and control governance structure that was designed to run an empire rather than a liberal democracy of five million people. It is time to restore more autonomy to our communities and businesses, respect difference, and encourage true diversity. This would greatly reduce currently centralised administration, enhance living standards and more equitably distribute resources. Some may wish to still live in a quasi imperial state, but the rest of the world has moved on.
The massive wave of farewell for Vera Lynn ('that wasn't thunder, that was troops applauding Vera through the pearly gates') hit a slightly hollow note for those with long memories. Vera was doubtless well known but she was just one amongst many musical heavy hitters who sang for their nation.
Vera, however, was white. Her less remembered contemporaries were black. Adelaide Hall, Elisabeth Welch, and Leslie Hutchinson were huge stars who were amongst the first to entertain the troops. The shows were presented by ENSA (nickname Every Night Something Awful but actually Entertainments National Service Association) who pioneered morale boosting by song and laughter. Adelaide and Elisabeth came to us from America. Leslie from Grenada. In particular, Adelaide was a massive star. From Broadway to the West End, she had unparalleled success. Her dedication to the war effort was typified by a Lewisham concert when she racked up a record 54 encores as she sang through to the all clear after an air raid. She followed the troops across Europe and may have been the first entertainer to enter Germany with the Army en route for Berlin.
Leslie Hutchinson was another real headliner. He had been a star in New York, Paris, and finally London. As good looking as he was talented, he was as famous offstage as on. Prior to the Normandy landings, he entertained thousands at Weybridge. While he earned huge amounts at the box office, he was courted by high society pre-war, being a particular favourite of the then Prince of Wales. Rather more awkwardly, he was also intimately admired by Lord Louis Mountbatten's wife, Edwina. A public scandal led to him falling from grace and even being blanked by the Beaverbook newspapers.
At the war's end, there were no awards nor medals for Hutch. No Damehoods for Adelaide or Elisabeth. Forty folk turned up for Hutch's funeral. So cheer for Vera but don't forget the others. Black singers mattered.
There is a solid bit of 'irony' about using an image of London that included a K6 phone box for David Torrance's
piece last week. Until a recent discovery in the GPO archives, I was unaware of the significance of red cast iron phone box in relation to Scotland's engineering achievements.
In attempting to prevent the removal by BT of my Falkirk street K6, made by the local foundry, I delved into the labyrinth of the GPO/BT archives to see if I could find out what role Carron Co played in phone box history (phone box literature has overlooked the makers). Much to my amazement, I discovered that Carron Co won the first GPO tender, in 1927, to supply 500 K2 phone kiosks, in cast iron, for installation in London. Along with 100 by Saracen Foundry of Possilpark. Even more satisfying was to discover that Carron Co won the big order because they offered a discount on return of the packaging: a very positive message from the past.
Another intriguing discovery was that three Central Scotland foundries – Carron, Saracen and Lion of Kirkintilloch – supplied some 80,000 kiosks to the GPO (apart from two orders for 500 each). Not only are all K2, K4 and K8 red phone boxes made in Scotland, but so are almost all K6 versions, which is a credit to their engineering skills.
For David Torrance's further interest, on the junction of Nigel Road in Peckham Rye is a K2, another 'solid' slice of Scotland in London. It may be that he would consider lending his support to a campaign, by Falkirk Made Friends, to encourage BT to 'regenerate' the remaining K2, K6 and K8s in public service, to celebrate the centenary of the first standard GPO public pay phone kiosk service in 1921: a public service that democratised access to phone communication and enabled a social revolution.
should be advised that the removal of his right to vote in a French municipal election was not caused by what he calls Brexiteers. Those British electors who chose to live at home and then voted in a democratic process to recover their national sovereignty are not responsible for the small-minded, mean-spirited, typically spiteful behaviour of French politicians. Indeed, I doubt that most French people agree with it.
In that UK referendum, Mr Aitken witnessed elective parliamentary democracy in action. If he is so anxious to be part of that process let him abandon his Francophile idyll and join the rest of us back home who are seeking to make the United Kingdom once more an independent country that is fit to live in and where the wishes of the people are paramount.
I'm guessing from the internal evidence of Gerry Hassan's
appreciative article on Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson that he, like me, is travelling in an open-topped vehicle on a clear road, pushing 65 and trying to avoid putting any pressure on the accelerator. I too was at the performance of the re-constructed SMiLE
and loved it. I remember a bloke playing perfectly good guitar in the band suddenly picking up a French horn and playing the opening solo of God Only Knows
flawlessly. Later in the gig, he picked up a muted trumpet and played the Woody Woodpecker
riff from Heroes & Villains.
I've never seen musicianship like that before or since. But this is all boy stuff. I'm open to correction, but most of my female acquaintances are lukewarm about The Beach Boys at best. I'm reminded of a (possibly apocryphal) reply that Joni Mitchell gave to an interviewer who asked how it felt to be the greatest female songwriter and composer of the 20th century. 'What do you mean female
?' she is supposed to have replied.
I would remind Gerry that golden ages are always just leaving us. There may well be a new golden age coming into being now, and the last people to hear about it will be blokes like us. Given the current circumstances, a fair number of musicians of my age (including me) are starting to suspect that they've played their last gig. However, I am heartened by the high quality, sheer skill and passion of many of our young musicians, and their willingness to seek out chances and make things happen in these terrible days. Recessions have always been fertile ground for new bands and artists.
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