1996 Campaigns and letters

Letter printed by The Scotsman in the week of the Scottish Parliament referendum vote

Despite what the frequent contributors to your letter columns may say, Gaelic in the Lowlands is enjoying a huge amount of support. Not only amongst Gaelic speakers, but amongst non Gaelic speakers too. Not only Scots but also those from other countries. The introduction of Gaelic to the Edinburgh International Festival was a runaway success with most of the events selling out well in advance and the concerts receiving rave reviews from both Gaelic and non Gaelic speakers alike. Indeed, the Gaelic church service at Greyfriars which I attended was so popular that the church ran out of extra seats and some had to stand.

I hope that this initiative can be built on, not only in the cultural sense but also in other areas. The week following the Referendum will be national Gaelic week, with a range of Gaelic events on throughout Scotland, and many in Edinburgh. I am also pleased to support the referendum Yes-Yes campaign, not only because I believe it to be best for Scotland, but also best for Gaelic. The opportunities to develop Gaelic arts and obtain legal status for Gaelic will be far greater in a Scottish parliament than they would ever be at Westminster. It's got to be "Yes, Yes" or "Tha, Tha" to take Scotland forward. People who state Gaelic should not be given legal status on the grounds of cost, are little better than those who reject the Scottish Parliament on similar grounds. Whether linguistic or democratic, freedom should be our goal. In the words of Robert Burns:

Liberty! thou art a prize truly and indeed invaluable, for never canst thou be too dearly bought."

Letter in The Scotsman, June 96

I read with interest the recent letter (18 June; 21 June) concerning non-smoking pubs. I have been campaigning for several years for pubs with multiple bars to set aside one of them for non-smokers. This would allow both smokers and non-smokers to choice of being able to go out for a drink and having a smoky environment there or not. As a folk enthusiast and singer, I find the folky pubs are often the worst culprits for smoke. As someone with asthma, I'd appreciate my pint without my lungs and clothes suffering because of it. I am pleased to report that I now know of hundreds of pubs in the UK with non-smoking areas, although sadly only about 2 dozen are in Scotland. However, a survey by Which in 1989 indicated it was the most wanted change in Scottish pubs. When I appeared on TV in 1990 campaigning for smoke free areas, I received a huge mailbag with every letter in favour of the idea. Besides support from the customer's side of the bar, publicans should also note that a smoky pub damages the health of their employees. Smoky pubs therefore contravene the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Common Law Duty of Care. Failure to act voluntarily now could result in a legal precedent to ban smoking completely in pubs. Whilst I don't welcome such a restriction on the smoker's choice, it would result in pubs catering more for the majority of Scottish adults who don't smoke rather than the small minority who do.

Letter in The Herald 2-July-96

Buttoned Up
Summer is now upon us but some people think we're still in the middle of winter and enforce ridiculous regulations concerning office dress, appropriate for winter. I'm talking about having to wear a shirt and tie with the top button done up.

Women have a bit more flexibility in what they can wear, and many female executives wear open necked blouses and summery dresses. These are far more appropriate to the summer weather conditions and offices with lousy air-conditioning.

The clothing worn at work comes under the Sex Discrimination Act. Women have brought successful cases against companies which said they couldn't wear trousers at work.

Shirts are also worn by both sexes and if women can come in wearing them without a tie, surely men can too?

I am tired of this stuffed-shirt British attitude which many companies have regarding dress. If you're not seeing a customer, why does it matter what you wear? Many American companies in Scotland have an enlightened attitude towards dress.

Strangely, where I work people can wear jeans and a t-shirt on Fridays only, but have to suffer in the heat for the other four days! If dress doesn't matter on a Friday, why should it matter on any other day?

Letter in The Scotsman 27-June-96

I read with interest the recent letters concerning non-smoking pubs.

I have been campaigning for several years for pubs with multiple bars to set aside one of them for non-smokers. This would allow both smokers and non-smokers to choice of being able to go out for a drink and having a smoky environment there or not.

As a folk enthusiast and singer, I find the folky pubs are often the worst culprits for smoke. As someone with asthma, I'd appreciate my pint without my lungs and clothes suffering because of it.

I now know of hundreds of pubs in the UK with non-smoking areas, although sadly only about 2 dozen are in Scotland. However, a survey by Which in 1989 indicated it was the most wanted change in Scottish pubs.

Besides support from the customer's side of the bar, publicans should also note that a smoky pub damages the health of their employees. Smoky pubs therefore contravene the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Common Law Duty of Care.

Failure to act voluntarily now could result in a legal precedent to ban smoking completely in pubs. Whilst I don't welcome such a restriction on the smoker's choice, it would result in pubs catering more for the majority of Scottish adults who don't smoke rather than the small minority who do.

Letter in The Herald 5-Feb-96

This was published by The Herald in full as their main letter of the day. The background was that the Tories were in power, I was living in central Edinburgh and my MP was Alistair Darling, then opposition treasury spokesman and on his way to be secretary of state for social security. Here's his speeches from 1996. No mention of sorting out the social security red tape. I met with Alistair at the time (Jan 96), he promised to do something about it, I had to do it myself in the end hence the letter below. The grant maintained school reference was about where Harriet Harman was sending her children to school.

Poverty trap bound by red tape

The disproportionate publicity given to a Labour MP's decision to send her child to a grant maintained school is causing the real issues affecting millions of people to be quietly brushed aside by the Conservatives. Here is an example of a "customers" experience of the disastrous state the Welfare system is in after nearly 17 years of Tory rule. They only have themselves to blame. As a "Customer" my response is that the Welfare state is a mass of red tape and I'd like to shop elsewhere, if I could.

Last year I was made unemployed and I registered as such with the unemployment office. It turns out, that despite a 500 a month mortgage, approx. 100 a month in bills and a requirement to buy food to live, I am not eligible for any state aid. I am disqualified from receiving any unemployment because during the year 93/94 I was on the Government's Employment Training initiative and only being credited with National Insurance, not paying it. My other 7 full years of actual contributions count for nothing. I couldn't even get the Welfare State to pay my 70 train fare for an interview because the initial contract was for less than 12 months.

I am disqualified from Social Security as I live with my fiancee and she works 25 hours a week. It apparently doesn't matter that her monthly wage is the same as my mortgage. It costs about 600 a month minimum plus food for us to exist and every month we are going more overdrawn because of the lack of the welfare state. The government defines "full time employment" as 16 hours or week or over and if one of a couple is working this, the other is not eligible for social security or housing benefit no matter what their income is. This definition of "full time employment" is patently ridiculous. If I put on my job applications that I would work 16 hours full time, I'd get laughed at. If I put I'd only work 16 hours a week on my signing on card, I would not get full unemployment benefit. The Government clearly has it both ways.

The "Employment Service" fully accept this problem and numerous people at the Employment service have said "I shouldn't say this but you would be a lot better off if your fiancee gave up her job or moved out". Is it really the Conservative party which believes in "family values" which has created this appalling system - forcing people out of work or splitting up families so that they can afford to eat?

Taking the Conservative philosophy of choice to its conclusion - I believe my paying National Insurance is like obtaining an insurance policy for myself and for the benefit of others. My experience of this system is that the rules are obscure and complex. It eliminates people who need money whilst giving money to those who may be out of work but well off. I would like to opt out of this mess, as I can with a pension scheme, and pay towards a scheme which has clear, easy to understand rules which pays out when I need it. Looking at private redundancy schemes, this is what they offer.

What this country really needs though is a simple system for the unemployed and low paid of adding your income, subtracting reasonable outgoings and then paying all or some of the difference, at a level which gives a guaranteed minimum income but is an incentive to go back to work. No exclusion clauses based on one person's 16 hours work expected to fund a couple. No exclusion clauses based on what happened in the tax year years ago and no automatic benefit for the wealthy whilst genuinely poor people are trying to make ends meet.

The issues surrounding one child's schooling pale into insignificance next to the millions caught in a poverty trap by Conservative Red Tape.


Letter in The Scotsman, 29-Feb-1996

True Democracy
I would back Neil Butterworth's call (Letters, 22-February-96) for an upper house free of political parties. The need for such an upper house arises because of the allegiances of most politicians, who serve the whips, the party or their careers rather than their country or their constituents.

Democracy under those conditions is mostly an illusion with sovereignty resting with parties and ministers rather than in the hands of the people. We will only have true democracy when the people come before party politics.

(this letter was inspired by having spoken at a meeting for such a house in 1994. A transcript of the day is available in Gaelic on my Gaelic pages)


Craig Cockburn
craig@siliconglen.com

Copyright © 1996-2006 Craig Cockburn

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