The mega-rich, celebs on the make, and the people on the No 24 bus


By Kenneth Roy

When Sir Brian gets one of his minions to plaster the latest announcement at the front of the No 24 bus alerting us to a ‘revision’ of the service, you just know that Sir Brian has bad news to impart. ‘Revision’ in the vocabulary of Stagecoach, the Scottish political establishment’s very own bus company, is often a euphemism for cuts in the service. It means a further tiny reduction in the quality of Scottish life, adding to the many other tiny reductions which go routinely unmarked.

Sir Brian is a man who prays. I urge him to say one for the small community served by the No 24 bus. I don’t see why God should be spared the news.

One day soon I will be walking to work. It will be good for me. I need to walk; it will help to release the anger I feel about the damage the Souter family has done to the social fabric of our neighbourhood. But there are others in this place, the elderly and infirm, who cannot walk and who have no car. What happens to them? There remains the possibility of Tesco Online for essential supplies, assuming they have Broadband access, which most of them don’t. That will leave the option of starving to death.

The latest ‘revision’ will take effect, appropriately enough, on the feast day of Ruritania when the monarch sails up a river on a barge to mark her accession following the unexpected death of her father. It was a sad week, that one in 1952, and not without rancour. People in Glasgow were criticised for wearing bright-coloured ties. Wearing a tie was more or less obligatory; the issue was the popular failure to make it respectfully black enough. All things considered, the coronation of 1953 was marginally jollier. Well, they will probably be celebrating that too. In Ruritania, it is important to keep the people constantly distracted.

‘Jesus Saves’. How well I remember the message. It appeared as a notice on the rickety Alexander’s bus which I boarded as a small boy every Saturday morning to go to Matheson’s tearooms in Falkirk with my grandmother. It must have been in or around the year 1952. It scared me, this message. I didn’t have a problem with Jesus. But I did wonder what I had done that was so wrong that Jesus had to save me. And save me from what? These days, despite Sir Brian’s evangelistic tendencies, you won’t find ‘Jesus Saves’ as a slogan in that right-hand promotional wall of the bus, in front of which sits the unseen beer-bellied driver, gagging for a fag, grumpy as you like. You will find Sir Brian’s latest ‘revision’ instead.

As the monarch accepts the cheers of her grateful subjects, we will be accepting Sir Brian’s idea of a bus service. A few years ago, he decided that we should no longer go to the town to our north. He dropped the service altogether. One day there was an hourly bus to the north; the next day there was none. Now he has decided that, although we are still allowed to visit the town to our south, we should go less often than before. The service has been halved. One senses the general direction of travel. We will soon be boarding the bus to nowhere – the destination known as ‘Sorry not in service’. I’ll be the first on. I like the idea of nowhere.

I have no doubt that the same is happening in many other parts of Scotland. Each reduction in the standard of our life is too small to be measured or to attract the attention of our acquiescent press.

‘Before’ – when life was better on the whole – the bus service was run by a nationalised outfit called the Western SMT. I trusted the Western SMT. I do not deny that it occasionally cut services. But when it proposed to do so, there was an obligatory period of consultation with the local community. People could scream and shout, and sometimes the Western SMT listened to these yelps of pain, because social responsibility was part of the agenda. Sir Brian’s notion of social responsibility is to put up a notice a fortnight before the cuts take effect and to let us find out for ourselves what fresh grief he has in store for us. We’re still waiting for the new timetables to appear on the No 24, although an advance copy was handed round the other morning and as devoutly studied as the holy bible in Sir Brian’s church.

I have no doubt that the same is happening in many other parts of Scotland. Each reduction in the standard of our life is too small to be measured or to attract the attention of our acquiescent press. Cumulatively it’s a national disaster – the closure of the Achnasheen Post Office and the abolition of the bus service to Irvine barely register on the richter scale of the calamity. It feels almost silly to complain. And, much as I would like to, I can’t blame Sir Brian for everything. He is not responsible for the ill-educated young, or the poor of Springburn, or the withdrawal of welfare benefits from the disabled, or the national reluctance to face up to the injustice of the Lockerbie trial, and all those other evils which amount to a great deal more than the fact that, thanks to Sir Brian, I will soon have to walk to work.

Actually, I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all but for one thing. This weekend the SNP launches its referendum campaign with some glitzy bash in Edinburgh. It seems Sir Sean may be there – a prospect as eagerly anticipated by the Scottish press as the second coming. Not that they would necessarily notice the second coming; they would probably mistake it for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. I don’t know if Sir Brian is proposing to attend in person, but as one of the party’s main financial supporters he will undoubtedly be there in spirit.

During this grotesquely extended run-up to the referendum, can we expect a thoughtful discussion of the woeful inadequacies of public transport and Sir Brian’s unhealthy monopoly of the bus service in many parts of Scotland? I think not, and for two reasons. First, the Scottish administration is too close to Sir Brian to contemplate any serious inconvenience to his business interests. Second, it is much more fun to mix with the mega-rich and celebs on the make at the governing party’s ever-expanding court than to be overly concerned with the anxieties of the people on the No 24 bus.

It is, however, possible that the people on the No 24 bus, sensing the growing detachment of those set in power over them, will have the last word. They often do.

Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review