People are guid.

Regular readers may remember my Troublesome Fenians post from the beginning of this year which was about Celtic ultras The Green Brigade’s efforts to organise a foodbank collection at a Celtic home game last winter. Yesterday they held another food drive and this time I went along to help out.

Because of last year’s amazing success everyone knew to expect a pretty good response this time and there were more people on standby with vans to help shift the donations. These were all volunteers and friends from the Celtic support too as the foodbank which was to receive the donations (Glasgow North-East Trussell foodbank based at Calton Parish Church just a few streets away from the stadium) has no vans of their own. As well as these drivers there were about 5 members of the Green Brigade at each collection point. Tara from the foodbank had got some collection buckets stickered up too as although last year the Green Brigade had asked for food donations only they still got over £500 in cash donations from people who hadn’t been aware there was a food drive on.

It was a fresh clear day in the morning and we all stood about at the collection point at the back of the Green Brigade’s own section at the stadium, not certain what to expect but hoping to at least match last year’s donations total. People began to trickle in with carrier bags. There was a wide range of people who were donating. Everything from a wee slow stiff old man with a walking stick and a couple of cans that had probably come from his own cupboard shelf, to the smart middle-aged chap who pulled up in a Merc and popped the boot to reveal half a cash-and-carry in there – whole cases of sugar, boxes and boxes of biscuits. We’re not sure if he was a shop owner or if he’d just rocked up with a hundred quid and bought food until it ran out. Another collection point reported they’d had a transit van from a supporter’s group that had been driven from West Lothian and the whole bottom of the van was covered in carrier bags for us. Meanwhile, a couple flash cars dropped off a succession of men in suits to the Executive Entrance. None of them came over. Most of them avoided eye contact.

We moved round to another point by the coach park to see how it was going there. By this point a few photographers were taking snaps as people brought their bags to add to the pile. The GB lads shuffled uncomfortably. No-one is too happy about faces being in the press but these were taking pictures for the food bank so they lined up anyway.

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Wee teenage laddies with scarves walked up shyly with a couple of bags of donations and walked off a bit taller after being loudly thanked. It was a lovely thing to see wee guys bothering with such efforts at all. A smartly-dressed guy walked past a short distance away after hovering about briefly. A discussion between the GB lads: ‘is that that Sky boy? It is! [at top volume:] HAW mister, it’s a food drive, did yez no get the memo?’ General laughter all round. The Sky reporter sped up.

We moved to the point at the bottom of the Celtic Way. This was getting very busy now, about an hour before the game. The cash buckets were being shaken and it was obvious there was plenty coins in them but also people were stuffing notes in. Fivers, tens, twenties. Somebody said he had more than one fifty pound note in his bucket. Tara and some of the elderly ladies who volunteer at the foodbank were here at this point looking delighted with how it was going. A photographer with an official Celtic FC tabard on was trying to line them up with some bags for a photo. He wanted some Green Brigade lads in there too but this was too much. They have a precarious relationship with the club at the best of times. Eventually someone agreed and the ladies all lined up beaming with him for the shot.

We moved round to the point on the Gallowgate towards kickoff time. The van here belonged to a joiner that no-one seemed to know but who had volunteered the use of his van. When we got there his transit van was stuffed full of bags and they were piling up on the pavement. We had to keep shifting them to the sides so people could get past. I had a wee wobbly moment when a guy crossed the road to us with a bulk box of nappies and another 5 massive packs balanced on top. Probably about 80 quid’s worth. He set them down without a word and went off into the stadium as if he does this kind of thing every day.

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3 o’clock came and our driver moved off to take the load to the church. He offered to come back for the rest, even though it would mean he probably missed the first half of the game. ‘I don’t mind, I’ll be back’. Frantic phone calls were going back and forth about vans by now as it was clear we had got a lot more then last year. I was sent round to the church to help unload with a few others, including a lady who had brought a bag of donations and then asked for a bucket to shake because she wanted to help. As we walked I had a chat with her. She wasn’t a Celtic fan but had seen something about the food drive online and decided to come along.

When we got to the church there were three vans parked up and with the crew of twenty or so people we had there we unloaded all the bags. The yard in front of the church door was literally covered in bags. We made a sort of human chain arrangement – the people unloading the vans left the bags on the pavement, then someone else took them into the church lobby, then someone else took them in to stack along the side pews. These were quickly filled and we had to move upstairs. The food was still coming in vans and we began to worry we actually couldn’t fit it all in so two of the vans were diverted to a disused shop the foodbank has the use of as a storeroom. Meanwhile the rest of us sweated up the stairs with bags and bags of cans and jars and packets. It took us an hour and a half to get it all indoors. The generosity of the Celtic support is amazing. A lot of these people are probably not so far from needing the services of the foodbank themselves but they came up trumps. The foodbank elderly church ladies were utterly delighted. As I sat having a cup of tea which they kindly provided afterwards one of them said ‘it just goes to show eh? These young people, these Celtic Brigaders. All you ever hear about them is bad things but then they go and do something like this’.

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My Saltire has red in it

Three weeks. It’s only been three weeks since the Independence Referendum. It feels like about a year though, in the way it always does when you’re grieving something really important that’s been snatched away. I’ve been wallowing a bit, like most of the Yessers I suppose, then I’ve been angry (furious), then this week I’ve been just feeling a big yawning gap really – where for the last year or so there’s been something positive and hopeful and endlessly fascinating in the news to keep an eye on, now there’s just ISIS and Ebola and UKIP. I’ve stopped paying much attention to it for the sake of my mental health. I’ve still got twitter and facebook though, and some of the news from those sources has been positive – news of pro-Yes party membership skyrocketing, of the Women For Independence meeting in Perth that was far better attended than the Lib Dems conference the other week.

Social media shows you all sorts, unedited except by the kinds of people you follow or are friends with of course. One of the things it’s been showing me this week is that people have started calling George Square in Glasgow ‘Independence Square’ and ‘Freedom Square’ since it became a focus for the Yessers in the days leading up to the referendum, and has remained one since then partly due to Glasgow’s Needy using it as a drop-off point for foodbank donations. Now I get the temptation to make something your own, to try and keep the positivity going, not to let go of it. But I don’t like George Square being called something else. If you call it Independence Square you break the link with Red Clydeside. 90,000 Glasgow workers didn’t gather in Independence Square to demand a 40-hour week. The Red Flag wasn’t raised in Independence Square, the Riot Act wasn’t torn out of a Sheriff’s hands before he could read it out in Independence Square, 10,000 troops armed with howitzers and machine guns weren’t sent to Glasgow to quell the populace after anything that happened in Independence Square. Tanks weren’t stationed in the Gallowgate because of anything that happened in Independence Square.

Glasgow and Scotland should keep hold of that link. I don’t want happy-clappy thoughtless nationalism. I want a socialist independent Scotland. My saltire will have a red flag flying beside it. And George Square should stay George Square.

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No Thanks

Ok, so the #PatronisingBTLady broadcast was a bit of light relief. It was so pathetically badly-aimed it was actually funny. But back to cold reality now. David Cameron is coming to Glasgow for a jolly today to butter-up the CBI at their annual dinner at the Hilton. The CBI is a group of bosses, representing the interests of the bosses. They registered as an official No campaigner without consulting their membership in April then swiftly about-turned and deregistered again shortly afterwards because there was a bit of a stooshie about it. So, The CBI are not officially No campaigners. Are you keeping up so far?

At this not-officially-a-No-campaign-event dinner tonight, David Cameron will tell his audience that Scottish voters ‘should not abandon one of the oldest and most successful single markets in the world’. He will tell them this in a city in which even the council isn’t sure how many people are relying on foodbanks to survive (they know there’s at least 46 foodbanks operating though), in a city in which a third of all children are living in poverty (in Glasgow North-East it’s 43%), in a city which has the highest unemployment rate in the UK.  I bet he will even have the bare-faced temerity to use the phrase ‘Better Together’ at some point. He will tell them this at a dinner for 230 guests, a single dinner on which the CBI is spunking just under ten thousand pounds. How do I know this figure? Because the Electoral Commission is making them provide accounts proving it is less than £10k.

The CBI was told that since it was providing a platform for Mr Cameron to make the case against independence – and not offering a similar platform to the Yes side – it was not allowed to spend more than £10,000 on the annual event.

That meant that the dinner in Glasgow had to be scaled back, with a reduced menu and the scrapping of the usual fripperies, including flowers. “It will be a more modest affair,” said one CBI insider.

That means that they were planning on spending more than £10k, until those Electoral Commission spoilsports came along with their big party-pooper rules. These are the people Cameron is appealing to when he comes to Glasgow today. He’s not talking to you or I and asking for our vote to stay in the Union. He’s talking way, far, far above our heads.

The No campaign was funny yesterday. Today it’s just grossly insulting.

 

 

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A woman who made up her own mind

Better Together have lost it. In a move almost beyond parody (but not quite… see #PatronisingBTLady on twitter for lols) they’ve released a Referendum Broadcast today appealing to undecided women voters by, er, telling them it’s all too complicated and scary and that they haven’t really got time to worry their pretty little heads about such things because the weans and the husband need their breakfast getting.

It shows a woman in her kitchen (because that’s where we belong, obviously) bemoaning her husband boring on about the referendum. Because, you know, politics is boring. You should find it boring, because you’re a woman. Politics is for the menz. Women don’t pay any attention to politics after all do we? She can’t even remember the name of our First Minister, you know the one the country elected with a majority, he’s just ‘that guy aff the telly’. That politics, it’s all so very far above our engagingly fluff-and-kitten-filled heads. We’d never bother to do our own digging about whether the oil is ‘a bit too good to be true’, because we have female intuition and snap judgements you see, and they’re much better than talking to knowledgable people and making up your mind based on hard well-researched fact. Besides, we’re too busy in our kitchens. And our teenagers are only interested in their phones. Eat your cereal.

Soon she realises she’s gone off topic a bit and gets back to the really important thing women should be concerned about at all times – our children! And our children’s children! And how afraid we should be for them! Look, here’s some lingering shots of a Hotwheels car, a colouring book and some juice. Do you want your weans to have no Hotwheels cars, colouring books or juice in an independent Scotland? DO YOU? You heartless Yes-voting wenches! 

Is this really what the No campaign thinks of us? Of women? Of ordinary Scots? Of children? Even my 8 year old could give you a set of bullet points of why we would be better off under independence. They think we’re thick and they think we don’t care about politics. Well, they’re wrong. And on the 19th of September they’re going to see just how wrong.

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Scotland, we love you. Honest.

In another baffling example of the UK media trying to persuade us in Scotland to change our indyref voting intentions based on the wishes of rich famous people rather than cold hard economics, Dan Snow has published an open letter to Scotland in the Telegraph this week signed by 200 mostly English upper class people:

“The decision on whether to leave our shared country is, of course, absolutely yours alone.

“Nevertheless, that decision will have a huge effect on all of us in the rest of the United Kingdom.

“We want to let you know how very much we value our bonds of citizenship with you, and to express our hope that you will vote to renew them. What unites us is much greater than what divides us. Let’s stay together.”

Dan Snow’s father-in-law is The Duke of Westminster, who owns quite a lot of Sutherland. 94000 acres of it. You can see why he’s keen to hang onto us.

Some of the signatories to this letter have said some rather unbecoming things about us before they thought we might up sticks though. Take Rod Liddle for example.

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“the only reason any people remain in Scotland is on account of the extremely cheap alcohol available in supermarkets, plus a ready supply of heroin for when the alcohol runs out”

David Starkey, he also loves us really:

“If we decide to go down this route of having an English national day, that means we become a feeble little country, just like the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish.”

Simon Cowell and David Walliams are also signatories. Apparently they really do love us and were only joking about not liking Scottish people and being afraid they’d get lynched if they came back to Glasgow.

They really sound like they value their bonds of citizenship with us, don’t they?

Quite apart from that lot being brazenly two-faced and expecting us not to notice, a lot of the names are just a bit, well, perplexing. Will anyone really decide to change their vote because Ben Fogle says he wants them to? Or Cilla Black? Never mind the chance to have more control over our own affairs, protect our NHS and welfare state and boot nuclear weaponry out of Scotland, Ross Kemp says he’ll be upset if we go. Right then.

 

 

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Broken nets, shattered dreams

This one’s going to seem a bit self-indulgent. But bear with me.

I had the dreaded Brown Envelope Of Doom through the letterbox the other day. It was a letter from a Revenues and Benefits Officer at the council telling me my Housing Benefit’s been suspended. I get about three quarters of my rent paid by Housing Benefit, because I am a single mum of three and only work three days a week. I knew the letter was coming, because I filled in the annual review form they sent me truthfully and told them I’d had a payrise of £4 per week in November. This payrise tipped me over the threshold for paying NI contributions, so I haven’t seen all of it, but that doesn’t matter. It will have led to an overpayment of Housing Benefit, because when you work part-time on a low wage the taper is brutal. As soon as you earn a couple of quid more, they take it straight off you again. The same phenomenon means that even by working part-time I have to pay £116 a month of my Student Loan back and lose my kids’ entitlement to Free School Meals. Anyway, I worked out that it probably means they’ve overpaid me maybe £100 in total over the period in question. This letter arrived two days before my rent was due. Because they’ve immediately suspended payments, that meant instead of having to pay £150ish towards my rent, I suddenly had to find the full £650. With two days’ notice. I should point out here that my eldest daughter’s going on a compulsory residential school trip in September, they’re allowing us to pay for that in three instalments of £100, end May, end June and end August. So I’m already, er, a bit stretched. Luckily this isn’t the first time this has happened to me, so past experience has taught me to keep at least a month’s rent in an ISA at all times. 

The letter asks me for payslips, P60 etc, including a payslip I haven’t received yet and won’t until around the tenth of June, then says a decision will be made based on the information I return. Past experience also tells me that this decision won’t be made quickly. So I’m expecting to probably have to pay all of next month’s rent too. I know I’ll get most of it back, because I know it’s only a small overpayment. But it’s going to totally screw my plans for the summer. This was going to be the first year I was stable enough to afford to take my kids away on holiday myself. I’ve been telling them ‘maybe…’ for years, then having to say that no, I can’t really afford to do it.

I had a running headfirst into a brick wall moment earlier, making small talk with the fabulously wealthy mum of my youngest son’s best friend from school. She asked what our plans are for the summer holiday, so I said although their father will be taking them away, I’m probably not taking them anywhere now because ‘money’s a bit tight’ (euphemism for ‘my Housing Benefit’s been suspended again so I’ve got to find £1000 by July on top of paying out £300 for my eldest’s school trip, bye bye savings’, because, y’know, screw telling her that). But said I might get them away to stay at a hostel in Perthshire, for a weekend. This was probably a lie tbh as I can’t see even that happening now. I won’t tell you what her holiday was going to be, just that it’ll be the third foreign holiday her family’s taken since February.

Anyway as I say this is all a bit me-me-me isn’t it? I don’t mean it to be. I’m well aware that there are others far worse off than me. I’m nowhere near the food bank stage, unlike an increasing number of people in a similar position. I had a little bit of money saved up from what my mum left me when she died nearly two years ago, and I had the spidey-sense to hang onto it for a Brown Envelope Day. My kids won’t starve. But the whole thing neatly illustrates the barriers facing people like me, who have to rely on benefits to pay the bills. I have three children. I am lucky to have an employer who gave me a fixed hours, 9-5, weekdays-only permanent contract (this is like gold dust in retail, so I’m hanging onto it even though the wages are rubbish). I can only work part-time, because their father provides the childcare, and he has to work too, so I’m constrained by what he’ll agree to do. If I were to use paid childcare, I would be worse off than I am now, because I only earn just above minimum wage. After school care for the three of them costs half of my wage. Holiday care costs about £28 per day more than I actually earn. I can’t do more hours, because childcare. If my employer gives me a payrise, the council will pay me less Housing Benefit (and screw my life up for two months while they decide how much less). Because I have to work part-time, I’m never going to earn enough not to need Housing Benefit to pay the rent on my private rental for the next seven or eight years. I can’t get a council or HA flat and cut my outgoings that way (been on the list for years). Every time I see the sentence ‘hard work is the route out of poverty’ it makes me do a bitter little laugh. 

So here I am, stuck in this spiderweb safety net. It’s reasonably comfortable, most of the time. I can’t get out of it up the way by climbing. There doesn’t seem much point in struggling. But I, and the others caught in it, can fall through it at the stroke of a civil servant’s keyboard. That’s the thing about nets. They’re fragile, and full of holes.

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Lie back and think of Scotland

Scotland now rather unbelievably has its first UKIP MEP, happy happy joy all round. Here he is. 

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He’s started as he means to go on today with the pronouncement that to sort out Scotland’s economic need for more working-age population to help pay for our older people’s pensions, healthcare etc we just need to have more babies. We don’t need any of those nasty immigrants coming over here, wilfully paying their taxes, contributing to our society, no! – what we need is our indigenous women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Everyone knows that’s what women really want, anyway, don’t they? At least, the ones that don’t want to get to the top, anyway. Although, don’t expect to go back to work on the same terms as you left it in UKIP-land, because Nigel Farage says that you’re not worth as much as a man once you have a baby.

 “I don’t believe that in the big banks and brokerage houses and Lloyds of London and everyone else in the City, I do not believe there is any discrimination against women at all.

“I think young, able women that are prepared to sacrifice the family life and stick with their career will do as well if not better than men.”

Yes, because men have to sacrifice having a family in order to do well in their career, don’t they, so that’s only fair. Oh wait.

Also, hell mend you if your partner should unexpectedly leave you in the lurch after you’ve patriotically got pregnant for Scotland, because the sort of people who fund UKIP don’t approve of single mothers one little bit.

 “First of all, the question is why should unwed mothers be given anything? They have been naughty girls, and should be given a good smack.”

So, to recap:

– women need to have more babies, it’s our patriotic duty to stem the flow of nasty foreign types coming over here and taking our jobs that we haven’t currently got enough people to fill

– but don’t be expecting to carry on as a full member of society afterwards, it’s the kitchen sink for you once you’ve sprogged because no employer worth their salt will want you

– if your man leaves you then everything will become Your Fault (you are a single mother after all, everything’s ALWAYS our fault) so don’t be expecting any benefits or a roof over your head or any of that good stuff, and rich supercilious men will be legally entitled to slap you up and down the street on sight

So thanks, you UKIP-voting 10.4% of the 33% of the Scottish electorate who bothered to turn out to vote, this is what you’ve given us. And see the rest of you? Get the finger out on September the 18th and vote Yes in the independence referendum, or we’ve got more of this sort of woman-hating nonsense to look forward to.

 

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