Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sarah Boyak's shoes

I first did a stint on an exhibition stand when I was 14 years old.
It was the huge Interbuild exhibition in Glasgow, and a German friend of my Father's had asked him for 'eye candy' for his stand, and he'd suggested me and my pal Norma.

We'll come back to this child labour business later.

I have worked exhibition stands for all sorts of organisations. Trade Unions, Political Parties, Government Organisations. It's a tough gig and to do it properly, you really have to be like a smiley encyclopaedia on your subject. It's theatre. It's a show. It's sales. It's public relations. And if you do it well, it's business and friends for life.

I always make a point of chatting to people on exhibition stands. They've paid to be there and they need a return on their investment. I particularly zone in on the miserable stand dwellers as they are unaware they are deflecting visitors.

I was at the SNP Conference and I was walking through one of the 2 exhibitors areas and saying hello to folks and finding out why they were there and giving them my time and.... I spotted Sarah Boyak. Sarah is the former Labour MSP for Edinburgh Central and lost her seat to the SNP in 2011. She stood again in 2016 and lost to Ruth Davidson. When Labour tried to ensure her a list seat in Holyrood in 2016, they didn't get enough list seats to keep her in a job. 

Sarah's stand was on the through-route to the main conference hall and in a prime corner position. Yet, there she was, deflecting folk with a face that was 'tripping her'. I made a note to talk to her on my next pass.

Yup, my father offered my 14-year-old services as eye-candy for a German guy called Reiner who made wall fixings, brick ties and the like. When he mentioned we'd get paid actual cash and have fun and that he'd keep an eye on Norma and me, we agreed. I'll bet Norma remembers to this day all the methods of 'block to block construction'. I remember we spent the money on tutu's, hairspray, Chanel make-up, nightclubbing (under the watchful eye of Norma's professional bouncer big brother) and Sobranie cocktail cigarettes.

When I was Labour, Sarah Boyak was a 'somebody'. I'd been a Sarah Boyak fan.

"So it is you!" I said.

Sarah Boyak looked at my delegate pass.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

Sarah Boyak looked at her shoes.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why have you not killed yourself yet?

In a former life, I used to take the then Department of Health and Social Security to Disability Appeal Tribunals on behalf of Clients of the Citizens Advice Bureau. It was my task to bash down their stupid arguments for denying disabled people benefits. I was very good at it. I never lost a case.

Now and again I reel in horror at some of the stories of people being declared fit for work when they clearly are not. 

But this week, a particular aspect of the DWP assessment process stopped me in my tracks.

Picture the scene:
It’s a Tuesday morning and a disabled member of our community is attending a disability assessment.

It’s been tough getting ready for this assessment, both physically and mentally. But they must attend the meeting or they will not receive their pittance of benefit money from the UK Government. 

They’ve been up since 5am. They haven’t slept much because attending this assessment has consumed them with worry and dread. For weeks, they’ve been anxious and today’s the day a stranger with a pen decides whether they continue to receive disability benefits. 

They’ve travelled into the city. It’s been an ordeal getting there, but they are compelled to attend. If they don’t go, then the benefits application will be rejected and they’ll have to start all over again.

The receptionist greets them with a practised welcome but she will not maintain eye contact as she explains how travelling expenses are reimbursed.
At the allotted time, the assessor appears to usher the disabled person into the assessment room. The assessor seems pleasant enough and explains what will happen during the meeting. It begins…

There are general questions about mobility and capability. There are boxes ticked. There are specific questions about their ability to do everyday tasks like washing and feeding themselves. There are opinions written down. These opinions will decide the outcome of the PIP application.

Then, out of the blue, the interview takes a more sinister turn.
Already feeling intimidated by the barrage of personal questions, the assessor calmly asks the disabled person:

“So, why haven’t you killed yourself yet?”


All pretence at being there to help the person with the disability is gone.

You what?  “Yet”?  

The addition of the adverb “yet” has turned this question into an expectation.

Let’s think about how that question would affect you:


All the synapses are firing. All possible interpretations of the question are being processed. Fear, panic and anxiety are all normal responses to this question if you are already geared up for an interrogation. The brain goes down a dark rabbit hole. You can’t stop the associations it will make:

You’re a worthless piece of shit.
Everyone hates you.
What is the point of you?
You’re costing us a fortune
Why don’t you just die?
Why are you even here?
Why don’t you just go away and end it all?
I never want to see you here again.
It’s probably best if you were to die.
You are a drain on society and you should kill yourself.
You should die.
You’re a waste of space.
You’d be better off dead.
You are nothing.
You mean nothing.
You are not a productive member of society.
You have no right to life.
Why should we pay for you?
I told you that you were a failure!
You're a complete failure.
You don’t matter.
You’re not contributing.
It’s not as if anyone would miss you.
You’re a burden on the state.
You might as well put an end to this.
What sort of life do you have anyway?
Go away and do it!
Kill yourself!
No one will care.
No one cares about you.
No one will miss you.

Alice Kirby was the first person to let the world know that this question was routinely asked by DWP appointed assessors, whom the DWP describe as “health professionals”. Since her statement on Twitter, many disabled people across the UK have come forward to corroborate that this question was (and is) asked as standard during disability assessment interviews.

One in four of our people with disability in Scotland is living in deep poverty. They’re not “Just About Managing”. They are just about at breaking point. A disability assessment that includes this question is enough to send such people off the deep end of despair. 

There are members of our community here in Scotland who have told me that they seriously considered ending their lives after just such a PIP assessment.
PIP and ESA assessments should be about assessing disability, not encouraging people to top themselves.

I am comforted to hear that the Scottish Government is currently consulting with recipients of disability benefits in Scotland to radically alter the way in which our people are treated in such assessments. It's a start.

In an independent Scotland, we will be able to do so much more.

Saor Alba Gu Brath.

Friday, March 3, 2017

There's been a Murdo

“The aim of politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins... all imaginary.”

The British ‘Establishment’ feels it has the independence movement in Scotland well 'sussed'. It is a practised machine at undermining independence movements and has a vast experience of quelling any form of peasants uprising and has fought every single one of the 59 Countries that have become independent tooth and nail. 

The British 'Establishment' has successfully infiltrated every protest group that has ever dared challenge its status quo. It has burrowed deep into the Trade Unions, the political parties, every "Think Tank" you can think of, CND, and even has a bunch of anti-fracking Nanas in Yorkshire on its “to do” list.

But consider this:  Sometimes, they don’t even have to plant people in amongst us to sabotage our progress towards Independence. Sometimes, all they have to do is distract us and the easiest way for them to do that is to send us scurrying in all directions by dropping an #OBomb. A communication specifically designed to make us angry.

For example:

A UK Government Policy that they have no intention of implementing is mooted...

"Outrageous!!!!! I’m totally outraged at this and I’m going to..."

Or a sexist/racist comment is made in Parliament or in a Conference speech...or an MP "woofed" at...

"This is outrageous!!!!! How very dare they!!!!"

Murdo Fraser tweets a shocker of a comment...or as they have become known in Scotland: 

"There's been a Murdo!!" 

"I've never been so insulted in all my life!!!!!"

They want us to lose our rag with them. They want us to bicker and fight amongst ourselves. They want us to spend weeks analysing the hurt. They want us to waste time. It's just a game to them. So when they drop an #OBomb, are you outraged or are you just playing ‘fetch’?

I'm not saying that #OBombs should be ignored. I'm saying that we might first view them as a deliberate provocation and take a deep breath before giving our measured response.

I'm as guilty as anyone of being outraged. But if we are to stay the course of the independence movement, we're going to have to adapt how we react and how we react to each other.

Make no mistake, the #OBombs are going to go off like artillery fire. They will keep coming. They will never let up until the very hour of Scottish independence.

So, rather than live the constant state of alarm that they design for us, let's ease up on ourselves and recognise when we are being poked with a stick. 

It is time for us to get back on message. All the things we discuss should be about how we leverage independence. Let’s put all #OBombs through the independence filter and focus.

Blair Jenkins of the original YES Campaign said that all we had to do was each get one NO voter to vote YES. That is still all we have to do. That's our focus.

It’s not a big Nation-wide campaign that will get us to our goal. It is everyday stuff: random chats with strangers on the bus; chapping doors for your local YES group and taking the time to speak and listen to our neighbours and friends. Obstinate questionings: “Are you YES yet”? 

As for the #OBombs, y
es, of course, register your outrage - just do it in a way that distinguishes what our independent Scotland's approach will be.

“I’m outraged by this (insert #OBomb) but, this is how we will do this better/differently in an independent Scotland.”

Problem and solution must be presented together, not just the problem and a great big bucket of cortisol fuelled outrage. 

The late Hans Rosling of who died recently was a big fan of the Yes movement's “Hope over Fear” slogan. His last message to the world was:

 Spread your hope over their fear.

"In an independent Scotland we will do this, and this, and that, and this and this..." y
ou get the picture.
Start painting that picture of the Scotland that we know we can be.

The unionists have an unerringly positive message: 
“Let’s all pull Together” and we are “Stronger Together” and they stick to it come hell or high water. It may be “BS” but it’s a positive message. They don't have to prove that doesn't suit Scotland. They own the status quo.

In comparison, when we react badly to the latest #OBomb then even some of our closest buddies say: “Oh do shut up!”

The British "Establishment" will run us ragged if we let them.

Hope over fear fellow Independistas. Hope over fear.

Saor Alba Gu Brath