A few weeks ago we were expressing horror at the fact that thousands of Greek parents were giving away their childen because they could not afford to feed them. The blame was being laid squarely at the door of the euro and the fact that Greece should never have joined the single currency. Opprobrium was heaped on the heads of Greek politicians and, quite rightly so, some of the biggest offenders lost office. The loss of political office however, was as nothing compared to what the Greek people were losing in terms of their dignity, self-respect and even their families.
We now learn that thousands of Scots are in exactly the same situation, as unemployment has increased, forcing many of our country men and women to rely on the charity of the churches, which have been providing food parcels to people whose only crime is to be unemployed. Not only are they unemployed, they are left at the mercy of our bureaucratic system which determines who does and who does not get benefits. Bureaucrats have never been known for their sensitivity in dealing with those who rely on them for their every means of sustenance. I can still remember when the dole queues snaked around the interiors of the most soulless buildings imagineable and the poor unfortunates who were there to "sign on", were separated from those who decided whether or not there was a job for them, by a solid mesh fence. The way the least able and the least likely to find work - any kind of work - were treated, was nothing short of despicable. Nothing will strip a man or woman of their dignity quicker, than a spell on the list of the unemployed. It is only a matter of weeks before they see themselves as being "unemployable", purely and simply because they lose faith in themselves, because their confidence is stripped from them, as rejection follows rejection and job applications are not even acknowledged.
There is nothing new about high levels of unemployment in Scotland. There is nothing new about the SNP campaigning against job losses and in the early years of the first Thatcher government the party was rarely off the streets. In the first twelve months of her being in office, as Vice Chairman in charge of policy in the SNP, I organised demonstrations in the four major cities in Scotland, as well as giving the workers at the Lee Jeans factory, our full-hearted support in their fight against the factory closure. The party fought hard against the closures of the steel mills in Scotland, a legacy of Heath's deal with the Common Market, supported the miners in their fight against pit closures and supported the initiatives of the STUC, as the trade unions in Scotland did their best to fight unemployment. Gordon Wilson and I had several meetings with the TUs and management at Ravenscraig and for the first time ever, we had formal discussions with the STUC.
In July 1986, an economic summit met in Glasgow to discuss Scotland's economic situation, under the auspices of the STUC and Strathclyde Regional Council. It included representatives from Scotland's political parties, the Trade Unions, industry and commerce, the churches and local government. I had a long chat with Cardinal Tom Winning, who for the first time as far as I was aware, made his interest in independence known to the SNP. There was nothing very new about this type of response to Tory governments. The STUC convened an "Assembly on Unemployment" in Edinburgh in 1972 with unemployment at 85,000; a "Convention on Unemployment" in Glasgow in December 1980 with unemployment at 250,000 and the "Economic Summit" in July 1986 with unemployment at 480,000. As on each of the previous occasions, a standing commission was set up, of which nothing more was heard after the 1972 and 1980 meetings and although an SNP suggestion that we meet each year for the next four years was agreed, the end result was much the same.
The STUC produced a discussion document, "Scotland - a strategy for the future" which included proposals which were a radical departure from the anodyne documents of the past. For example it said, "A directly elected Scottish Assembly, with independent revenue raising powers is essential....to carry out the scale of the regeneration envisaged in this paper." It then went on to say that in order to protect the UK (including Scottish) companies, a future government should "limit shareholding by foreign bidders.... " and "set up a specifically Scottish watchdog". Some of the proposals could not have been completed without Scottish independence, something which seemed to pass unnoticed by the document's authors. The introduction states, "The final programme for recovery, while part of an overall United Kingdom plan must never-the-less be geared to suit specific Scottish needs", while the conclusion points out, "Scotland is not a poor country. We are the fifth largest oil producer etc etc..."
Why take this quick romp round recent Scottish industrial history? For no other reason than to show that nothing in the past thirty odd years has changed, other than the fact that the Trade Unions have disappeared to all intents and purposes. The same anodyne statements are being made by the Labour Party in Scotland, statements which are just as empty today as they were thirty years ago, although thirty years ago Brian Wilson, the Labour Party's arch Unionist and anti-devolutionist, would not have been seen dead as a Trade Envoy for a Tory government. Mind you, was there any real difference between the Tory governments of Heath, Thatcher and Major and the New Labour governments of Blair and Brown? When Darling became Chancellor in June 2008, UK unemployment stood at 1.72 million and when he left office in May 2010, the figure stood at 2.47 million. Osbourne has increased the UK jobless figure to 2.56 million. In May 2008, the month before Darling took office, unemployment in Scotland stood at 105,000 and by September the same year it was 112,000. In May 2010 the Scottish figure had climbed to 216,000 and currently stands at 214,000 although the figure in December 2011 went up to 231,000 and Scottish figures in the early part of this year tended to buck the UK trend, something which analysts find it difficult to explain.
In 2009, when the unemployment figure in Scotland stood at 157,000, experts predicted that the Scottish figure would peak at around 230,000 by the end of 2011. The same experts also predicted that it would be 2017 before levels of unemployment in Scotland returned to the levels of 2008 or, 105,000. In spite of the history of unemployment over the past thirty years and before that, albeit that Scottish unemployment during part of that time, was lower than that of the rest of the UK, Unionists and the "No" campaigners insist in suggesting that an independent Scotland will have a difficult time. They have no answer to the current problems for the unemployed in Scotland. They have no shame at the fact that Scots are having to live on food parcels, something which should be inconceivable in the fifth highest oil-producing country in the world. The STUC commented on that fact nearly thirty years ago but neither the TUs nor the Labour Party in Scotland were prepared to allow the Scottish people to enjoy the fruits of their own resources. They preferred to lie and hide the details of the McCrone Report from the Scottish people, in order to save the Union. What is so special about the Union of the UK, that many Scots would rather see their children live off food parcels and charity than live in an independent Scotland?