Once upon a time I was a big fan of the BBC. What a long lost era it seems now. As a much younger man I travelled to plenty of countries where any kind of free press was a pipe dream. Most of these places were locked down behind the Iron Curtain. Crumbling high rise blocks and monumental factories belching clouds of brown smoke up into the grey skies. Aggressive cops and pot holed roads and nothing in the shops. And hushed conversations with frightened looking guys of my own age in back street bars. Talk of Keegan and Dalglish over great beer at tuppence a litre. Talk of the BBC World Service and hidden radios and keeping a careful ear out for heavy boots thundering up the crumbling concrete steps.
Half forgotten days when listening in to the World Service could mean five years of hard labour.
Those times when the Beeb was a genuine voice of freedom to millions all over the world living hard, locked down lives. And yes, it made me proud. It was very much the best of British. How well it compared to the new breed of Thatcher loving tabloids who cheered on every swipe of a police baton into yet another miner's face.
Yeah, yeah. I'm showing my age. I have reached an age where I seem to show my age all the time. I guess over the next few hundred words I will be showing it again. So be it.
The recent case of the hideous Unionist nurse and the BBC is depressing on so many levels. I think it is the complete and utter tawdriness of the whole affair which reminds me so strongly of East Germany.
It appears this loathsome woman pitched up for the Edinburgh edition of Question Time only to leave fuming because she had been deprived of her big moment. So she got in touch with the Beeb and reminded them of what she was yearning to tell the world. Juicy, juicy stuff. The poor beleaguered NHS nurse driven to a food bank by her Dickensian level of pay.
It's worth taking a moment here. The BBC receives north of a billion quid's worth of our money to be the balanced, level headed, professional deliverer of the news of the day. It's a hell of a budget. It is a budget massive enough to guarantee they are the permanent top dog. It means they have vast resources.
So what? So this.
It means they have enough people to look into things properly. So here is how things should have gone if the BBC remotely resembled the organisation they claim to be.
Got a moment boss? Thanks. I have been speaking to a woman called Claire Austin. She an NHS nurse, yeah? Been one for years. She was in the audience at Question Time but David couldn't squeeze her in. She's a bit pissed off actually. Anyway. She says her pay is so bad she needs to go to a food bank.
Bloody hell. NHS nurse needs food bank? I'm liking the sound of this. OK. Excellent. You best do some checking. Got your note book? Good. Here's your list.
1. How long has she been working as a nurse?
2. What pay scale will she be on?
3. Where does she live?
4. Where is her nearest food bank?
5. Who runs it?
6. What are their rules for referrals?
Oh yeah, nearly forgot! The usual, right. All her social media. Facebook. Twitter. All of it, right? We don't want an accidental nutter on our hands. Two hours enough?
Hi boss. The foodbank nurse....
Sure. In you come. Grab a pew.
I'll go through the notes if that's OK with you?
OK. It seems she actually IS an NHS nurse, though she does quite a few shifts for an agency. BUPA.
The starting salary for a nurse in Scotland is £22,000. She's no spring chicken. If she's been at it for eight years or so I'm told she'll be pulling in over £30K. Then there's all the BUPA shifts on top.
So minimum wage times three, right?
She's actually living in Stockbridge.
Christ. Stockbridge! As in average house prices of half a million right?
I've been onto the local food bank. Obviously they can't breach client confidentiality but they are pretty adamant they wouldn't be doling out emergency food to anyone over £30K a year.
I bet they are. Social media?
I think we've dodged bullet sir.
Let's just say it's an eye opener. Convertible car. Lots of pictures of her living it large in fancy restaurants. She spent New Year in a five star hotel in New York.
For fuck's sake. What does the bloody woman take us for? A bunch of complete twats? Just tell her to fuck off. Well. You know. Politely.
Will do boss. Pity really. It would have been a good story. If it had been true......
Oh yeah. Story of my fucking life. If we could cover the made up stories we would be box office every night. C'est la Vie. Keep at it.
How nice it would be if the BBC was still the kind of place where facts were checked before being thrown out into the world.
Sadly a rather different set of facts drive the BBC's agenda when it comes to domestic news coverage.
1. The Tories look nailed on to be in power for at least the next ten years.
2. When it comes to all of that lovely billion quid's worth of licence fee money, the Tories very much have their grubby mits on the purse strings.
3. The Tories are in the pockets of a whole bunch of right wing media barons who hate the licence fee and resent the BBC and yearn for the day when Auntie is forced to become 'pay for view'.
4. The best way to hang onto their swag is to attack whoever the Government deem to be the bad guys. Like the SNP. Like Corben.
So it was the prospect of putting the First Minister into the firing line of the Walter Mitty nurse was just too good to ignore.
You absolute fucking beauty! So what's she like? Will she bottle it or will she stick the knife in?
Oh she'll stick it in all right. Wait till you see her. You'd cast her as the nurse in Misery. What a face on her. You could cut bread with it.
Fucking love it. Love it, love it, love it. We'll have that jumped up little bitch hopping like she's on hot coals. It's done. Line her up. Nice one. Won't go unnoticed this.... yeah?.....
Sheila. Dial up London will you? get me Freddy on the line.....
Freddy!!!! .......Yeah, good...... Fucking excellent actually.... get a load of this... we've got this nurse lined up for tomorrow night.... a right hard nosed bitch... and .......
Brownie points all round. Smug glasses of port in oak panelled rooms where it is still OK to say 'Wog'. Pats on backs and invites to a decent spot of shooting in August. Expenses accounts waved through and pensions to die for and maybe, just maybe... well.... maybe even a 'K'......
And of course I feel pissed off on so many different levels.
I'm pissed off for being put in a position where I have to feel grateful to the Scottish Sun for exposing the dreadful woman. And I really hate feeling any kind of gratitude to the Sun.
As a YES man I am constantly pissed off at the endless, wall to wall Unionist state sponsored, tax payer funded propaganda.
But I am most pissed off as a food bank manager. Every year I accept invitations to talk to at least twenty community groups - church congregations, Rotary Clubs, Women's Institutes. And every time I have to explain how we don't get ripped off by armies of scrounging chancers trying it on for a bag of free grub.
I run through our referral rules. We do emergency food. As in last resort food. We often see people who are receiving their benefits in full who are finding life tough. Obviously they are. Living on £60 a week isn't anyone's idea of a picnic. Do we give them a food parcel? No we don't. Is this because we are hard nosed people who tell our clients to learn how to bake bread and soak broth mix and generally buck up their ideas?
We say 'no' because we have no choice. Were we to give emergency food to everyone out there who is trying to survive on State benefits we wouldn't be handing out 5000 emergency food parcels a year: we would be handing out 50,000 emergency food parcels a year. And we couldn't manage that. No chance.
So we need to draw a line. Which means we have to tell people trying to get by on £3000 a year we cannot help them. So what do you think we would do if the likes of Claire Austin came in asking for our help because she was struggling to get by on thirty grand a year?
Aye. Well. No prizes for guessing.
This is why food banks like First Base are the collateral damage of this tawdry tale. We are completely reliant on the £45,000 worth of food our local community donates to us every year. Without this generosity we would have to turn people away. And these would not be people earning thirty grand a year. These would be people with not a single penny to their names.
By allowing Austin to peddle her lies on prime time, the BBC has helped to sow a few seeds of doubt. What's going on with these food banks? What do they think they are playing at doling out free grub to people earning £30K a year? I don't earn £30K. I don't earn £20K!
And the next time the viewer passes our collection bin in the supermarket they stop and think for a moment. Then with a small shake of the head they put a box of cereal back in the trolley.
Austin's nasty lies might well cost us thousands of pounds in food donations. Because as the BBC know only too well, people don't look deeply into stories. They merely absorb the bullet points. Food banks give food to people on £30K a year. Which isn't right. So I'm not giving any more. Why should I? I don't earn that kind of money?
So thanks for that. I can't see you losing any sleep about it. Instead you can dream of that lovely final salary pension....
And you never know......
Maybe just maybe.......