by Kenneth Roy
The pandas have entered the Holyrood election campaign. About time. I doubt that they appear in anyone’s manifesto. Of course I cannot be sure. I confess, with an almost complete absence of shame, that I am unable to face reading anyone’s manifesto – I am no great lover of modern fiction; so I am sort of guessing here. But it seems they have become what Mr Benn used to call an ishoo.
In the Sunday Telegraph, Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who revealed the existence of the notorious ‘sexed-up dossier’, writes:
“Even the pandas could be getting a handout. Later this year, Edinburgh Zoo will take delivery of two of the adorable furry creatures – Britain’s first since 1993 – but hasn’t yet raised the sponsorship money to pay for them. No-one has promised anything, but there is growing talk of a panda subsidy for vitally-needed bamboo shoots.”
If ‘no-one has promised anything’, what’s the big deal? I am always suspicious of ‘growing talk’. Where did Mr Gilligan hear this growing talk? From whom? Is he just sexing up his own dossier or is there some basis for this disturbing allegation?
Yet the headline above the story reads: “Even the pandas might get a subsidy in Scotland, the land of the state freebie.”
It would have been just as easy to compose an alternative. I have without difficulty done so myself:
“Even the pandas might get a subsidy in Scotland, the land of the state freebie. On the other hand, they might not. In which case you won’t hear any more about this silly non-story.”
If Mr Gilligan wished to pursue a real story he would have examined the disappearance of certain executives of Edinburgh Zoo in mysterious circumstances, leaving open the question of whether there will be anyone left to distribute the publicly-funded bamboo shoots. Perhaps the furry and adorable Alex Salmond will have to do it himself.
But let us be fair – if we absolutely must. The non-existent panda subsidy was merely a feeble journalistic device, a way of re-engaging the readers of the Sunday Telegraph – the terminally disgusted citizens of Tunbridge Wells – in the continuing scandal of Scotland. “As governments across the West shrink, cut and retrench,” writes Mr Gilligan, “there is one country where the sun still shines.”
Could not Mr Gilligan have fetched a more original metaphor? But, having chosen this one, he should realise that, when the sun shines, it casts a cruel reflection on the true state of much of urban Scotland.
Tis true. Even in Kilmarnock, the sun shines today. It has been shining all week. It shines upon the paper shop which sold its last copy of the Sunday Telegraph many sexed-up dossiers ago. It shines upon the camera shop, just closed after 60 years of service to the community. It shines upon the abandoned toy shop and the long-vacated cafe round the corner, and the boarded-up little pubs, and all the empty offices in this building, where the Scottish Review will soon be alone. It shines mercilessly upon the clients of JobCentre Plus opposite Labour’s campaign headquarters. It shines upon the hopeless cases in the bus station. Fifteen miles to the north, it shines upon the men of the east end of Glasgow whose average life expectancy is 53.9 years. It’s those extra nine months that give the statistic poignancy. They would live 16 years longer in the Gaza Strip.
Could not Mr Gilligan have fetched a more original metaphor? But, having chosen this one, he should realise that, when the sun shines, it casts a cruel reflection on the true state of much of urban Scotland. It serves only to expose the essential bleakness.
“Though Scotland does contribute its share to the national coffers, not least through taxes on North Sea oil, the great majority of the UK’s taxes are raised south of the border …”
I suppose we should not be terribly surprised that the great majority of the UK’s taxes are raised south of the border. I am reconciled to this fact; I refuse to feel guilty about it. Could it be because almost 90% of the UK’s population lives south of the border?
“Not least through taxes on North Sea oil …” Here, Mr Gilligan may be on to something. I did a little research – a journalist’s way of saying that he looked up the internet – about the loot raised in the last 40 years since, as the BBC’s man on the spot, I received the first of the product at Grangemouth refinery, live on national television. It is a surprising amount. Greedily appropriated by the nation state of Scotland, aways assuming we’d had one, it would have paid for everything – everything – for about 30 years; or it could have been invested in a Norway-style petroleum fund for a rainy day. Instead it went into what Mr Gilligan calls ‘the national coffers’, and some of it came back. About some of it coming back, a slightly larger share than other parts of the United Kingdom, I do not intend to feel guilty either. Instead, I contemplate the sad fate of the male inhabitants of Kensington, West London, who can expect to live until they are 87 years and seven months old.
How long does a panda live? How long must I go on subsidising that pair in Edinburgh? I will let you know. Then we can all start feeling guilty about it. Or not.
Published with thanks to the Scottish Review