The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

Another find morning awheel, just out to Pitscottie and back, the afternoon I spend in the garden making ready for the heavy rain destined our way tomorrow. We really need it for the hose will not reach any of the borders along the front wall and the land there is as dry as an old stick, a good soaking will do it the world of good.

I like the iScot magazine (plug, plug) its a coffee table magazine that you can pick up and put down at leisure. In the June issue Vivien Martin a travel writer tells us about the Smugglers’ Trail

These smugglers from Ayrshire were no amateurs, this was serious, very profitable, and a highly organised business, run by David Dunlop – the loans smuggling company was the most successful in Scotland. I was intent on a trip myself down to Ayrshire, to the Martine Museum there. Now I have a second reason to visit, The Smuggles’ Trail.

It is strange, I was reading Lesley Riddoch ‘Huts’ and in her book, she shows how the lack of land ownership in Scotland kept the people in poverty and servitude and we are not talking about the dark ages here, we are talking recent history, my grandparents time or even my parents time. Poverty in which farm labours, in particular, living and working the land in Scotland, bordered on desperation. Tied housing, near starvation, many left the land and headed for the big cities where they swapped the land for a job in industry, poor wages and dangerous working conditions, overcrowded living, where many died early, of disease and in squaller.

Then low and behold I was in my local charity shop looking over its bookshelves when the book ‘The Black Ship’ almost leapt from the shelf. It was not about pirates but the quest to recover an English pirate ship and its lost treasure – the story of Captain ‘Black Sam’ Bellamy, and a watery grave off the coast of Cape Cod in the great storm of 1717.

Before we even get close to the discovery and salvage of the “Whydah” we hear the story told to Barry Clifford, of the demise of the pirate ship and its treasure, and the story of Captain Bellamy and his lover Maria Hallett – a dark version of the Romeo and Juliet story. This tale told to him as a boy by his uncle, Bill, fires the imagination of Clifford, pirate ships, gold coins, buried treasure, all on the very doorstep, what could be more appealing to a young lad, equal to anything in ‘Boy’s Own’. This story stayed with him all the way into maturity. It would not be until 1981 that all the pieces fell into place for Barry Clifford to make a serious attempt to find the 265-year-old wreck, possibly buried under 20 feet of sand, somewhere along the Cape Cod shoreline.

The “Whydah” was lost in the great Cape Cod storm of 1717. going bad, becoming a pirate, would have been an easy choice for anyone who had served their apprenticeship on a Royal Naval or on Merchant Navy ship at that time. A pirate ship was the only true democracy at the time, for it was the crew who chose their captain, and the crew would vote, to a man, over decision making on board. A far better life than the harsh life of a Royal or Merchant Navy seaman at that time.

So in a way all three books clash, for it was out of sheer desperation that the islanders and highlanders (those that were not tied hand and foot and thrown onto ships) chose to be shipped off to the new lands of America and Canada. And possibly for the same reasons that smugglers, highway robbers and buccaneers came into being. Die in grinding poverty, emigrate, or possibly die at the end of a rope, your choice.

300 years on, are the people of Scotland, really that much better off? You would have to say yes, but no quantum leap.

Redistributing wealth

The economic growth of high-income countries is making the rich richer, but having very little effect on the working classes. Economist Thomas Piketty had spoken about the idea of an “inheritance for all”.

Speaking at the London School of Economics in 2020, he said: “If you look at today’s situation, the average wealth in France or Britain is about 200,000 euros per adult and the median wealth will be closer to 100,000 euros per adult, but the bottom 50% owns virtually nothing.

Around 5% of total wealth is owned by the bottom 50%, which means that they have on average, one-tenth of the average wealth – about 20,000 euros instead of 200,000 euros. They own very little and this is true within all age groups. It’s not that the young are poor and are about to become rich. Some of them are about to become rich, but on average, the concentration of wealth is just as large within each age group.”

So once more I will climb back on my old soapbox and say – ‘universal basic income’ could help to balance this inequality. The amount of data we now have on UBI proves beyond all doubt that it works, to end poverty and re address the wealth balance.

In 2010 Iran ran a scheme giving citizens transfers of 29% of the median income each month. Poverty and inequality were reduced, and there was no sign of large amounts of people leaving the labour market. In fact, people used it to invest in their businesses, encouraging the growth of small enterprises. (so paid for itself)

And in Canada, in the 1970s, a UBI trial took place in Manitoba showed a modest reduction in workers, along with fewer hospitalisations and mental health diagnoses. (so it pays for itself)

From Finland we have the biggest trial, and not surprisingly the best results. Their success has seen poverty eliminated for those within the trial, crime levels fell dramatically, and doctors waiting rooms emptied (it pays for itself)

Ending poverty

Advocates for UBI say that it could help bring everyone’s income above the poverty line. I read Annie Lowry’s book ‘Give People Money’ in it she tells us

“We have just tons of experimental data from the US, from other countries, from Iran, from all around the world that shows that if you give people money, it reduces poverty. Just really straightforward.

UBI is not of course the only way to put money in peoples pockets a living wage linked to inflation would also work. How do we know this – there was a time in the UK when disputes over pay got so bad that there were strikes almost daily. When Tory leader Edward Heath became Prime Minister, he came up with an idea that he hoped would put pay too costly disputes between workers and management. At the end of every month, the figures would be published and if the cost of living increased so our wages were automatically increased by the same percentage. Of course, management and businessmen did not like it and it was soon scrapped.

Discouraging low wages

UBI would give employees enough security to have bargaining power. Lowrey has said: “Why take a crummy job for 7.25 an hour when you have a guaranteed 1,000 dollars a month to fall back on?”

In Finland there is no strings attached to the money, no clawback if you find a part-time or seasonal job for a few months, that’s fine, for it is all about giving people better life chances. UC (universal credits) here in the UK – once in the UC system, you would not wish to take any part time job or seasonal work to improve your lot, simply because you lose your UC money, once the part-time or seasonal work comes to an end you have to go back on UC and a five-week waiting time to receive any payment. This is self-defeating.

There is a downside for business, they would not be able to find people to do menial work for starvation wages. But on the plus side, better wages would lead to a healthier, happier and prosperous society. Begging the question – why are the Scottish governments not introducing, some form of UBI or a minimum wage with built-in automatic pay rises linked to increased cost of living?

Where will the money come from I hear you cry, most of these schemes are self-funding from saving on the NHS, police and prison services, social work? Local people with money in their pocket will spend that locally, so good for the local economy, win, wind.

And don’t get me started on Land Tax – do you know it costs you more in taxation for a pub in Aberdeen that for the Queen’s whole estate of Balmoral.

Don’t start me on Land Reform, the cost of a worthless quarter acre of ground, on which to build a home, in the highland of Scotland, that once only was good for a sheep to graze on will set you back £20,000, where is the land to come from for affordable housing if there is no land reform in Scotland?

Eliminating poverty, homelessness, food banks, are all within the competence and devolved powers of the SNP lead Scottish Government at Holyrood, and have been for since the SNP came to power. SO WHY HAVE THEY NOT, WHY? – because we keep voting them into power, no strings attached.

Stay safe.  

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