Monday, 29 June 2015

On Monday 16th June, against the advice of their officials, Dundee Councillors voted to give the go-ahead to Sports Direct opening a gym and retail shop in Lochee with the promise of hundreds of jobs.  Since then a number of local politicians have been in the press wanting to know what questions have been asked about the terms and conditions that will be applied to these jobs, pointing out that Sports Direct are notorious for operating zero hour contracts and paying the minimum wage to non-unionised employees.  A member of the People's Assembly in Dundee has asked, "Where does the Fairness Commission's Living Wage City proposal stand on this issue?"
Promoting a Fair Wage City is among a number of 'good ideas' before the Commission and our next task is to create a process by which we can progress 'good ideas' and hopefully bring them into being.  It is important, we believe, not just to produce a report in a year's time, but to get some things done as we go along.
The main item of business for this month's meeting will be Welfare Reform and its impact in Dundee.
Oh how I wish I had the technical expertise to put a picture of the new Partick Thistle mascot on my blog.  It is exciting to learn that something about the dear old Jags has become an internet hit.  But there's an educational programme needed.  One journalist suggested that the mascot's fierce face would 'scare the children'.  Obviously the writer has seriously underestimated the children of Maryhill!!!!!
With the mascot has come a new song to the tune of Cwm Rhondda, "Partick Thistle, Partick Thistle, we're not cuddly anymore, we're not cuddly anymore!"  Visiting fans will be shaking in their boots... well, maybe.
A philosophical question for all you who like to think deeply about things.  Partick Thistle are liked, are popular because rarely are they ever a threat to anyone.  But were they to become fearsome and serious contenders, what then?  Is it desirable to give up cuddliness for fearsomeness?  Answers on a postcard please.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Don't just curse the darkness

I've had a response to making Dundee a Living Wage City that said basically, it's a good idea, but there's nae chance!  The writer, a mother from Whitfield, cites the exploitation of her young son by the employers he was sent to by the Job Centre.  It was yet another story to make your heart sink, but if we don't believe we can make a difference we might as well chuck it in now.
Another response to my blog has been to draw my attention to 'Babyboxes' in Finland.  You can find the story of these boxes at  Briefly it tells of how Finland once had a very high mortality rate, but 75 years ago introduced these baby boxes for every child born in the country.  These boxes were given to expectant mothers and contained everything needed for a newborn.  The box itself had a wee mattress and became a cot for the child.  The infant mortality rate dropped dramatically.  Perhaps the Commission might ask the City Council to cost such a provision for Dundee.
One little candle to light amidst the darkness of unfairness perhaps?
Adam Smith, the author of 'The Wealth of Nations' said, "No society can be flourishing and happy of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable."  In a modern society taxation is supposed to be the tool by which the cohesion of that society is maintained and all its members including the weakest are able to live with dignity.  With this in mind, it might be profitable for the Fairness Commission to visit the work of 'Common Weal'.
Common Weal is promoting a vision for economic and social development in Scotland based on the conviction that 'we will get better outcomes for both society and individuals if we emphasise mutuality and equity rather than conflict and inequality.'  Seems to describe the remit of the Dundee Fairness Commission.  The mechanics of change proposed by Common Weal are as follows:
  • There must be tax reform to reduce inequality, ensure strong public services and ensure that domestic industries are competing on an even playing field
  • Re-define welfare as a 'contract between the people' which all benefit from, with secure funding and strong social buy in.
  • Radically reform finance to make sure it is providing real investment security for industry and real savings security for citizens.
  • Promote balanced ownership structures in the economy to increase resilience and promote high quality employment.
  • Diversify the economy to move away from low-pay employment that creates poverty, inequality and contributes to public sector deficits.
  • Implement participative democracy practices at all levels to prevent the abuse of power by vested interest and better reflect the public will.

Monday, 15 June 2015


Summertime - and provided you have half decent health and an adequate income, for the old retired guys - the living is easy!  That's a big 'provided' in there.
I'm sitting in the sun with my wife looking at the boats in Arbroath harbour.  We're enjoying fish and chips fresh from the chippie washed down by a can of Irn Bru.  What could be better?  Reminiscing is what we oldies do best and I found myself thinking back to the days when fish suppers came wrapped in old newspapers - often the Sunday Post.  Now they're in a polystyrene box - but they still taste great.
Would you believe the polystyrene box got me to thinking about the world economy?
I'm sure the fish was caught and landed by a local fishing boat.....well I hope so anyway.  I hope the chips came from locally grown potatoes. But what about the polystyrene box?  What's polystyrene made of?  Where did it come from? Who manufactured it?  Gosh, my fish supper now comes in a product of global science, technology and manufacturing.
When I was a wee boy we were told that Irn Bru, made in Camlachie in the east end of Glasgow (hence its posh name 'Chateau Camlachie'), was 'brewed frae girders' which came from the nearby Ravenscraig steel works. So I know where Irn Bru comes from, don't I?  But what about the can I'm drinking it from, that someone will recycle after I've binned it?  We are truly in a global economy and in this real economy most people work hard for pretty modest returns.
There is another economy populated by the money boys (and girls) where avarice is honoured.  It is populated by the wild and greedy speculators who were the true architects of the financial crisis.  With the support of our political leaders, whose interests lie primarily with them, the money boys continue to pay themselves obscene salaries and award each other unearned bonuses. 
Meanwhile they treat any sense of democracy or decency with contempt and have been known to dismiss the rest of us as 'pond life'.  They have been, and continue to be, cavalier about the drop in living standards of most of the population.  They have presided over massive unemployment, partly masked by part time jobs and zero hours contracts and others being forced into 'working for their benefits'.  They have, without any sense of shame, given tax cuts to the wealthiest whilst imposing the so-called 'spare room subsidy' - a bedroom tax - on the poorest.  Then they paint all this as being just, fair and supportive of 'hard working families'.
They have raised to an absolute art form the power of propaganda to say that black is white and white is black.  The on-going assault on people with disabilities through the fitness for work assessments are made out to be 'opportunities' when they know fine well there is no work.  They maintain their steadfast denial, in the face of every scrap of evidence, that the burgeoning of foodbanks has anything to do with their policies.  Its like we are living in an Alice in Wonderland world with a succession of Mad Hatters in charge and no sign of any escape on the horizon.  It makes it hard to have dreams of a fairer more equitable society where prosperity is shared and the weak and elderly are valued and protected.
At the last meeting of the Dundee Fairness Commission it was asserted that 'grinding poverty and vast inequality are not inevitable'.  So, if we believe that, what are we going to do?

Monday, 8 June 2015

Dundee - our kind of city

One of the bonuses of being old and retired is that often, if, when you wake up in the morning and a peek through the curtains tells you it’s a dull and miserable day, you can just snuggle back under the downie for another hour or so.  It’s great!

 I’ve found that that hour or so is a good ‘thinking’ time, (except Saturday mornings when, if like me you support Partick Thistle, it’s an extra hour to worry about the day’s game).  The other morning I was having thoughts about the last meeting of the Fairness Commission.

 We had been unanimous in believing that to seek to make Dundee ‘A Living Wage City’ was a really good idea and the idea of drawing up a Dundee standard for employment was mentioned.  I found myself wondering if we could invite the Chamber of Commerce, the Trades Union Council and the City’s Economic Development Department to get together and come up with something that is feasible, even if not possible to enforce by law?

 Of all the statistics we were presented with about Child Poverty the one that stuck most in my mind was that children from the poorest backgrounds were already well behind other children by the time they were starting primary school.  ‘Unfairness’ begins in the womb.  There is nothing we can do about the unpredictable magic of the mixture of genes, but it is clearly crucially important to improve the health of pregnant mothers, post-natal care and early childhood education.  What steps can we take towards that and making Dundee ‘A Bairn Friendly City’?  Big costs involved I suspect.

 I thought about the woman who said, “When you are struggling to make ends meet you are treated as rubbish.”  One thing we can do without needing any more revenue is to treat each other decently.  1981 was the ‘Year of the Disabled Person’ and throughout Britain there were all sorts of events and campaigns to highlight the dignity and worth of people with disabilities – all with little effect at the time I’m afraid.  In 1982 Australia thought something different was needed and so had ‘The Year of the Patronising Bastard’.  It had a huge impact.  Too often if you are not being treated as rubbish, you are being patronised, there’s always someone or some organisation or department that knows what’s best for you.  Nobody in Dundee should be dismissed or patronised; nobody should be patronising or dismissive of any fellow citizen.  We can at least make Dundee, a Decent City’.