By Bob Duncan
Allow me to share with you a simple tale of how the Law of Unintended Consequences can sometimes act with almost karmic irony. I offer this story, not simply for amusement, though I dearly hope it does amuse, but with a more serious purpose in mind, as those who persevere to the end will discover.
My story involves an officer of the Western isles Council (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar), who will remain unnamed in order to spare his blushes, who worked for many years in the department of Education.
For decades, fourth year students of the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway have been given a talk intended to help provide them with a set of life skills to aid them when they leave school. As part of this activity, each pupil is supplied a copy of the “Young Scot” information handbook, a magazine which contains a great deal of useful advice on topics such as how to apply for a passport, pay your bills, register to vote etc.
A few years ago, following a shake up in the department, the responsibility for giving the talk and distributing the magazine fell to our protagonist. When perusing a copy of the magazine, he spotted an advert for a gay helpline service for young people.
Our man was so offended at the concept of this helpline that he refused to countenance the distribution of the magazines, locking them away in a cupboard where they would be unable to poison the minds of the island’s children. From his point of view, that was the end of the matter.
However, pressure from his boss and fear of a parent-led revolt forced him to perform a volte-face and he reluctantly agreed to distribute the magazines after all. But not before spending a day with a ruler, carefully removing pages 11 and 12 from every copy of the publication. That year, the fourth year pupils were given no talk, but each did receive a copy of (most of) their Young Scot Magazine.
Of course, as soon as the pupils opened their magazines, each fell open naturally between pages 10 and 13, exposing the absence of the missing sheet. Being inquisitive and intelligent young people, they immediately went online to look at the electronic version of the magazine, and see what had been removed from their copies.
Meanwhile, the charity which had placed the advert for the gay helpline noticed a spike in the number of pupils reading their web site. They published their conclusions in their annual report, stating that young adults in the Western Isles were three times more likely to access their web site than those living in the rest of Scotland.
Our officer, and his boss, were reported to be less than pleased by the ensuing publicity.
Now, you may think that this is a simple parable of one rather over-zealous godly individual, exceeding his authority then receiving his just deserts. And on one level it is.
However, intolerant attitudes like our protagonist’s are still prevalent across Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, and they do our nation no credit whatsoever.
Last year, for example, the Labour Party candidate for the Western Isles seat at Holyrood campaigned for hotel and guest house owners to break the law by denying access to potential guests whom they considered to be gay (or Sodomites as they were described during the campaign).
Thankfully, this led (in part) to the SNP winning the election with the second highest vote in Scotland. But it is indicative of the underlying intolerance among some members of our society that the Labour party would think a man with such views a suitable candidate for high office. Though still a member of the Labour Party, he is now an “Independent” Councillor on the CnES, which says much about politics in the islands.
I was present at hustings that year when a phalanx of some 30 black-suited, red-tied Labour activists cheered wildly (on cue) each time their man advocated such homophobic lawbreaking then jeered noisily (to a man) when the SNP candidate appealed for tolerance, social justice and equality.
Two weeks later, ironically once more, one of the youngest members of the thirty Labourites finally came out as gay himself. Statistically, at least two of his colleagues must have also felt pretty uncomfortable during that election.
I bring this to your attention because such intolerant and hypocrytical attitudes are the antithesis of the way most of us in Scotland would like to see ourselves.
Ever since the Declaration of Arbroath with its insistence on the sovreignty of the people, we have felt ourselves to be at the forefront of democratic liberalism. This was particularly reinforced during the Scottish Enlightenment, a time when we were truly a beacon for the Western world.
In the late 19th century, it was Scotland and the Scots who formed the fledgling socialist movement. In the 20th century, we fought Fascists in Spain, Nazis in Germany and Thatcher at home. Then, just for a moment, the Red Clydesiders showed us that there was more than one way to play the game.
When, at the close of the century, the Labour Party lurched to the right under Blair, the Scottish National Party took up the mantle of social democracy in their stead, and hold it to this day. This was exemplified by the comment of the late and great Jimmy Reid who stated “I didn’t leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me”, before finding a home within the body of the SNP.
Socialist leaders, long dead, from Keir Hardy to John Smith, would birl in their graves at the attitudes shown by the “Scottish” Labour Party in the 21st century. However, the values these heroes espoused are kept alive within the Nationalist movement today and it is now up to us to carry the flag for social democracy, tolerance, equality, fairness and inclusiveness.
But, if we wish to set an example to the rest of the world, then we must be careful to practice what we preach, even when it is uncomfortable for us to do so. The release of Al-Megrahi was a prime example of this, and one of which we should be very proud. The provision of free Higher Education is another, as is the protection of the National Health Service in Scotland.
Consequently, I appeal to all Scots (by which I mean everyone living in Scotland, whatever their origin) to use the opportunity of our forthcoming independence to help create a country of which we can we be justly proud.
But much more importantly, to forge a new nation of which others will say, “It doesn’t need to be like this. Look what the Scots have done since they gained their freedom. Surely we can do that too”.
Read more from Bob – http://hebtalk.blogspot.co.uk