" In a gentle way you can shake the world" Gandhi
Last weekend was a maelstrom of mixed emotions and experiences. On Friday I formed part of a panel in Dunfermline to discuss Scotland a year on. We discussed everything from local to international politics and it was a fascinating evening. The YES signs were out and we revisited the days a year ago when we were so full of hope and also inevitably discussed the possibility of another referendum. The discussion was an almost painful mix of grief and hope.
Again on Saturday, Leith hosted a great afternoon spent looking forward over what we have learned and what we can do now and in the future.
We agreed that Scotland a year on is changed but also that in spite of our renewed confidence as a nation, the challenges for many of our most vulnerable haven't changed -in fact since the re-election of a Tory government it has got worse.
That was so obvious to me the next day as I collected for the food-banks in Edinburgh, outside the Scottish parliament. In Edinburgh a rich city, in a rich United Kingdom we collected for food in the streets for our poor and hungry. We need things that can be cooked quickly as fuel costs money too - and even food that needs no cooking as some who seek help have no fuel at all. Not only do we collect food but recently we collected for school uniforms and sanitary towels. Yes that's right. Let's pause for a moment to think of how it feels to be unable to afford sanitary protection as a woman or not be able to buy your child's school uniform. This reality not only robs people of their dignity but of the joy of being a parent too. I'm ashamed to stand by and watch this happen.
We rightly question the UK's attitude to refugees but if we look at how we treat our own vulnerable we really shouldn't be surprised. Welfare changes, punitive assessments with an approach that suggests guilty until proven innocent, benefit sanctions all combine to appear to treat our most vulnerable as an undeserving group not worthy of our compassion. I am ashamed to stand by and watch this happen.
Our doctors and teachers are now trained to look out for signs of malnutrition in our population in one of the richest nations on the earth. Just this week a court agreed the cause of one man's suicide was a direct result of his benefit being stopped. His case is not isolated. It's just the one that hit the courts. I am ashamed to stand by and watch this happen.
Like many I not only want to understand how to achieve a fairer, more equal healthier Scotland in the future but also what we can do now to do our best work towards it.
So I developed this short plan for my talks last week which I think can help now. Some of it we are already trying to tackle and some of it is huge given our current constitutional settlement like reducing inequality but not all of it is and so i believe we can all play our own part
1. Be bold with the powers ( new and old ) we have to show the difference we can make eg with new welfare powers. We need to do things differently in health and social care and respond to the national conversations on a healthier and fairer Scotland with our thoughts and proposals. Although its a meagre 14% of the welfare bill we will have devolved with the Scotland bill, within that we can and must shape a different approach that treats people with respect and dignity.
2. We must continue to build our confidence as a nation setting out our own stall eg for refugees and on human rights. The road to a different Scotland is a psychological journey too, we need to build a positive narrative along the way and ensure the experience is of a confident Scotland unafraid to plow it's own furrow.
3. We must increase our gender equality; this will improve and increase women's role in society, reduce domestic violence and build confidence and resilience. Our greatest untapped potential is our women and others who are treated unfairly in our culture; Scotland has a bright future if all our citizens can thrive and realise their full potential.
4. Build a healthier Scotland with a focus on wellness ( see more in theWEL; reduce inequality where we can, build affordable homes for people,give all people access to meaningful work, give our population access to real food not just processed food loaded with sugar and do all we can to get our people to be active and get access to this beautiful land of ours.
5. Support communities to connect and care; we need to live our lives with care and purpose. Our fastest growing long term condition is loneliness. The impact of this on our health is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Our lives disconnect us and we are social animals. We have prised independence above connection, we have more and more single households and we are now seeing the impact on our health and services too. Let's invest instead in ways to connect in our communities. Approaches like community gardens and community choirs are showing the benefits for people, so what else might we do that includes our most isolated and vulnerable?
6. And finally my suggestion is that we build a mindful Scotland in our schools and across institutions to help us improve our attention and resilience, as well as improving awareness of ourselves and others. Through mindfulness we will build compassion and empathy in our population too.
Let's work do our part and ensure we live now in a better Scotland, more ready to take the bold steps to realise our full potential as a nation.