A couple of days ago Twitter let me know that something was going down. Apparently I had been bad mouthed up in the Scottish Parliament and all kinds of ‘Yes’ stalwarts were jumping up and down with outrage.
What the hell….?
A couple of calls and I had the bones of the pathetic story.
The Right Honourable David Mundell MP had been summoned to appear before a committee of Scottish MSP’s. He was there to field questions about the impact of the Welfare Reforms and to answer the burning question of the day – are people being forced to keep body and soul together care of food banks because of your Government’s general cruelty and wickedness?
When you think about it, there was something almost historic about David’s appearance. Basically the whole of the Scottish Tory party in Westminster had been hauled North to account for being heartless and horrid.
OK. A cheap point. More pandas at Edinburgh Zoo than …..
I gather David had a pretty rough ride despite the fact he had a couple high powered minders from the Department of Work and Pensions along to watch his back. He managed to heroically hold the party line for a good while and repeatedly used the cunning ploy of insisting on being given the National Insurance numbers of any affected individuals before being willing to make any kind of comment.
The finish line was in sight when he finally dropped the ball and made a complete and utter pratt of himself.
Our local MSP Joan McAlpine put some evidence to him which she had taken from a blog I wrote about the crisis up in Kelloholm a few months back. No doubt the super clever wiz kids from the DWP would have had little concern at this point. Kelloholm? What the hell is Kelloholm? Who gives a shit about Kelloholm? Little did they realise that a raw nerve had been exposed and David was about to blow it big time. They were supposed to have his back. They were supposed to make sure he didn’t make a dick of himself. But how could they have possibly seen it coming…….?
He blew it.
He told the committee that he would take anything that came out of the mouth of Mark Frankland with a pinch of salt.
'Why on earth is that?' asked a puzzled but no doubt chuffed to bits Joan. Here’s the spade David. Please, please, please ...............just pick it up and dig…..
Because Mark Frankland was a very, very prominent ‘Yes’ campaigner!
Oh David. You silly old sod. And you a lawyer who had once upon a time sent nice fat invoices to those charming chaps at BT. You the professional politician getting by on £65K a year plus expenses.
And yet you decided to dismiss a guy managing a food bank for no other reason than the fact that he was a ‘Yes’ man.
Not smart David. Not smart at all.
A bit like strangling a six year old's pet kitten. In public. On TV. Wearing an 'I love Maggie' T shirt. With a big cheesy grin on your face.
The outrage exploded within minutes and it raged over the social media for a whole day. It meant that I spent yesterday in the middle of a mild media storm. Most of the journalists who called me seemed to expect that I would be a tearful wreck having been castigated by the whole of the Tory party in Scotland. The narrative couldn’t have been any better. In the blue corner - a small, heroic little food bank gallantly feeding the poor and hungry against all odds. In the red corner - the wicked bullies of the Westminster Tory Party. It was Nixon carpet bombing the Ho Chi Minh trail. It was Hitler invading the Sudetenland. It was Putin grabbing the Crimea.
Amazingly enough, I didn’t feel the need to seek any trauma counseling and First Base seemed to survive the body blow pretty well. Twenty of so food parcels went out of the door and Lesley and Iain were hugely amused that David had called me a downright cad and a liar on the floor of the Scottish Parliament.
So much for a supportive working environment.
I may as well re-iterate the key message I gave the reporters here in this blog. Since the Welfare Reforms kicked in, we have handed out about 20,000 food parcels. Each and every one of those food parcels comes complete with a back story. Each and every one of those food parcels has a reason. You know what David, people actually don’t much like having to come to a place like ours to get some food. They come for the simple reason that they have no choice. Well they do have a choice. I suppose they could do the decent thing and starve. We collect these stories. We collate these stories and if we see a trend, we pass the information along up the chain to our political leaders.
Like every other food bank in Britain, we have found that the vast majority of the people we see who have no money to buy any grub are in such a position because they have been screwed over by the Welfare Reforms.
I am pretty sure that David doesn’t think I am lying when I say that we have handed out 20,000 food parcels in the last four years. What he thinks I am lying about is the real reason why these people have come through the doors of First Base. Maybe they are not hungry at all? Maybe they actually have cupboards filled to bursting point but they just can’t resist the chance of a freebie? Maybe each and every one of them are blaggards, scoundrels, scroungers and cads. And obviously as a ‘very, very prominent ‘Yes’ campaigner’ I couldn’t possibly own up to the fact that in reality all is rosy in the garden. In truth, there is no hunger whatsoever in Dumfries. In truth, nobody has been sanctioned or told they are as fit as a fiddle having been ill for years. No. The truth is that all the cupboards are full and Dumfries is home to hundreds and hundreds of scam artists who have conned their way into some free grub.
Don’t be so bloody daft.
A few months ago Joan McAlpine MSP came along and spent a day with us at First Base. She handed out food parcels and had a craic with those who needed them. You are more than welcome to come along to do the same David. It would be a pleasure to have you. And if after serving twenty or so of our clients you still feel like anything we say should be taken with a pinch of salt,, then fair enough. It’s a free country, right? We’re all entitled to our opinion.
The kind of instinctive nastiness David showed the other day has been a feature of the ‘No’ side’s behaviour in the weeks and months since the big vote. Nothing has worked out the way they expected and they hate it.
What bitter winners they have become.
On September 19th they gave us a very clear message. We won. You lost. That’s it. It’s over and don’t you dare speak about it ever again. We are the top dogs. We are in charge. You are a bunch of losers. Get over it. Live with it. Doff your bloody caps.
Well, maybe not quite that! But you get my drift.
The trouble is that the Peasant’s Revolt hasn’t gone away. Instead it has continued to grow and gather momentum. Against all the odds, the heart of ‘Yes’ is still beating as strongly as ever. Maybe even stronger.
And how those good people from Better Together hate it. And let’s face it, they haven’t found a way to be good winners. And every time they can’t help themselves and go and verbalise their bitterness and nastiness, the people of Scotland hate them a little bit more.
We have seen quite a bit of this stuff at First Base in the months since September. On several occasions I have left messages with local councilors regarding the problems a client of mine is facing. Before the Referendum these messages would have provoked a return call within an hour or two. Not any more. Now the messages remain unanswered. No prizes for guessing why. What is completely out of order is the fact that this does not punish me. Instead it punishes my clients who are some of the most vulnerable people in the community.
First Base will be 12 years old in June. We have had 11 Christmases. For the first ten Christmases we received cards from the town’s two elected politicians. And this of course was entirely usual. The local MP and MSP send a card to a small, front line charity who is doing its best to support constituents who are having a hard time.
And the cards were addressed to ‘Everyone at First Base’.
But this Christmas there were no cards!
Somehow orders had been issued to whoever was in charge of the Christmas card list for the name of The First Base Agency to be removed. And duly removed we were.
How unbelievably petty. What was particularly ridiculous was the fact that the card was not to me, the manager. The card was to everyone – our Management Committee, our staff, our volunteers and our clients. All of us. But just because the manager decided to speak at ‘Yes’ meetings, everyone else was somehow held collectively responsible. I seem to recall that Stalin liked to play that particular card. Some guy might have been bold enough to criticise the Great Leader and his whole family would be shipped off to Siberia.
Was anyone at First Base bothered? Of course we weren’t. We get bothered when public servants refuse to pick up the phone to help out our clients. Their constituents. And I dare say we will get pretty short shrift should we apply for any funding in the foreseeable future as the Better Together parties dominate the local Council.
So the charity is made to suffer for the crimes of its Manager. And the crimes I committed? I chose to enjoy my right of free speech. It's funny how the very same people who were so keen to defend the rights of Charlie Hebdo to draw cartoons of the Prophet cannot stand the idea of a charity manager speaking up for ‘Yes’.
I need to point out that this is NOT everyone. We DID get a card from Alex Ferguson MSP, just like I knew we would. Alex is a first class individual in every way and it comes as no surprise whatsoever that he is not one of the bitter winners.
I must also mention David’s opponent in the coming election, Archie Dryburgh. Archie is a mate of mine and he has been a massive supporter of our work with local veterans. During the campaign we knocked ten bells out of each other during a debate in Langholm, but once the dust settled there were no hard feelings on either side.
Sadly, classy and dignified winners like Alex and Archie have proven to be thin on the ground. The majority of those in the Better Together camp have behaved like spoilt kids denied the latest Iphone.
Sound familiar David?
Let’s just hope they all carry on and continue to show such a constant task of class. The more they live up to the stereotype the better. And the heart of ‘Yes’ will beat stronger with every passing day.
I guess I need to get on the phone to my GP to arrange a sick note. Doctor, I have been through a terrible trauma……