Saturday, 27 September 2014

Why Yes?

One of my hobbies is genealogy and family history.  Naturally, my first project was to research my own family, which I've traced back to the early 18th-century on both sides.  As it turns out, 98% of my direct ancestors were born in Scotland.  The others are either Irish-born or English-born.

I was immensely aided by the fact that both of my parents have very unusual surnames.  Unusual to the degree that I have never found them in any of the surname books for either Scotland or the UK.  Family lore has it that both sides originated from Europe, although I haven't been able to prove it.  Nevertheless, the implication is that my family were originally immigrants.

All of my ancestors are from the working class.  There are tailors and dressmakers, crofters and ploughboys, dairymaids and housemaids, drivers and railway workers, masons and canal tenders.  None of them wealthy, and some of them very poor indeed.  Most of them are Scots.

Let's go back in time to the late 1930s, when my dad was born, the eighth of nine children.  He has an elder brother who he will never know.  His brother died at the age of 2 from pneumonia.  At that time you had to pay for a doctor's visit, and his family doesn't have much money.

Fast forward.  It's the late 1940s.  My grandmother has died in the mid-1940s, at the age of 47, and my grandfather has remarried.  My dad has some great news.  He has passed his 11-plus, and a place at the local grammar school awaits.  His parents have some bad news however.  Wearing a uniform is compulsory at the local grammar school, and the family budget will not stretch to cover the cost.  He will have to attend the local secondary modern school instead.

Fast forward.  It's the late 1950s.  My dad gets married to my mum, a nurse.  She is also a talented musician, but nursing offers a steadier way of making a living.  He is called up for national service and opts for the Royal Navy, where he makes a career and learns the skills of an aircraft engineer.

Fast forward.  It's the late 1960s.  My dad has worked his way through the ranks to Petty Officer.  However, he decides it's time to leave the Navy, and he takes his skills to the world of commercial aviation.  My mum has been a stay-at-home mum while I was growing up, but is thinking of going back to work once the youngest of my siblings goes to school.

Fast forward.  It's the late 1970s.  I have passed my exams and have a place at Glasgow University.  There are no tuition fees and I am entitled to a maintenance grant.  It's not the full grant, as both of my parents are working, so they are expected to pay a contribution to my maintenance.  They do this.  My brother also goes to Glasgow University the year after me.  They also pay a contribution to his maintenance.  Meantime our two remaining siblings are attending school.

Fast forward.  It's the early 2000s.  Two of my nephews are going to University, one to Glasgow and one to Stirling.  The one going to Glasgow has lived in England for most of his life and must therefore pay tuition fees as well as taking on student loans for maintenance.  Fortunately my brother has had a successful career and is in a position to help his son with this.  My other nephew has lived in Scotland all his life.  He doesn't have to pay tuition fees but does have to take on student loans.  I have been diagnosed with a chronic health condition.  I have received excellent care from the Scottish NHS.  My condition is manageable, and the introduction of free prescriptions will be of great help when they are introduced in 2011.  My dad has retired.  Among other things, he has taken to writing poems.  He has talent.

Fast forward.  It's September 2014.  In a few days we will be voting in the referendum on Scotland's independence.  In England the NHS is being privatised by stealth.  It's thought that in 5 years there will be no NHS in England in its original form, free at the point of need.  Tuition fees in England currently stand at £9,000 per year and look like they will shortly rise to around £11,000 per year.  If we vote No, Scotland will follow suit.  Not because we want to, but because the UK government will take a No vote as implicit approval for their policies and will use the block grant to impose them.

I don't want to return to a time when healthcare depended on the money at your disposal.  I don't want to return to a time when education depended on what you could afford, leading to a huge waste of talent.  I do want to do things differently. I wanted future generations to have the opportunities I had.  That's why, on the 18th September, I will vote Yes.

Fast forward.  It's a week after the referendum.  Sadly, we did not get our independence.  Not this time.  However, I am heartened by the fact that 45% of us wanted the change that independence would have brought.  I am also heartened by the fact that we are not giving up in the quest for independence.  The future is still bright with possibility.

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