Child Poverty

Political Red Herrings, Childhood and Butterflies – Let Us Stand Together and Learn lessons From Billy Jean King

My last post mentioned red herrings? Aye, there have been lots of red herrings put about in recent weeks by apparent experts and there is a danger that we get side-tracked post indyref and the election into navel gazing and pointing fingers, rather than, taking steps to work positively to construct a better Scotland in ways that out flank Westminster.

butterfly scots

I’ll start with red herrings that relate to Holyrood including, for example, some writers at the moment over focussing on the ‘named person’ aspect of the Children and Young people’s Act.  This part of the act has problems, no doubt.  But, the focus on this detail ignores the bigger issues.

The bigger issue here is the act failed to enshrine children’s rights in law and move from ‘wellbeing’ discourses that set no minimum standards to rights legislation that would ensure the government and local authorities had to develop more effective support for families, for example, who experience poverty.

At present children’s services are a sticking-plaster for a much greater malaise called poverty.  We tinker with the structure of legislation whilst nothing is done to address poverty by developing policies that redistribute wealth. You can read more on this argument on the need to look at the bigger picture by clicking this link to the Common Weal paper on children’s rights and social justice.

The budget today included a direct attack on the poorest families (particularly those who have more than two children) and young people under 25 (who will not experience an increase in the minimum wage).  It will also enable rich families to leave up to 1 million pounds in inheritance to their children. This policy contrast is outrageous but it is also sleekit.

It is deliberately set as bate for opposition parties to appear to voters in England that they are against people who own their own homes and want to pass on their wealth to their children. I’ll not quick forget the wall of public school accents guffawing with glee when this policy was announced during the budget statement.

However, rather than shouting about this – we need the Scottish government to respond through their deeds.  Stewart Hosie points out the importance of devolved powers that enable the Scottish government to give grants to the poorest students but we need more examples of such redistribution.

For example, Nicola needs to explain to us how the SNP government at Holyrood is going to confront Tory cuts with redistributive and life changing Scottish polices on land reform and land taxes.  She needs to show the Scottish people that’s she is not just Tory-light and landed gentry-light on these issues and provide a consistent and coherent argument about how and why change in this area enables social justice (see the last chapter Andy Whiteman’s book The Poor Had No lawyers for examples of what is required).

Last week’s poverty figures, started the process of Tory MP’s  laughing at the poor and the budget just followed this up.  But this topic also provided us with a manipulative red herring by getting us to argue about how to count poverty rather than focussing us on solutions to poverty – e.g. see child poverty action group recommendations.

Over a decade ago there were a series of research projects that highlighted children’s own perceptions of poverty.  Tess Ridge’s work stood out from the crowd in identifying the relation aspects of child poverty – e.g. children who experience poverty can’t go to social spaces that involve spending money to meet friends, invite friends home or afford expensive collaborative learning activities/resources.

My own work with colleague, at the time, built on this by arguing that the impact of poverty is fluid – happens in different ways at different times, e.g. having to use a free dinner card at lunch times when everyone else is paying by money is very obvious to your peer group and even children from wealthy homes were found to experience emotional poverty when their families were too concerned with money and the world of work.

I was reminded of the relational aspect of poverty when watching more of the Austerity bites videos mentioned in my previous post.  In the video from the Netherlands a young person informed us there are more bicycles than people in her country but she can only dream of owning one (you can’t go for a cycle with friends if you don’t have one) or the video from Scotland that employed a Beautiful Butterfly to highlight in a dramatic way what it feels like when cuts to funding for the upkeep of recreation spaces inhibits the abilities to socialise.

butterfly 2



If you love butterflies – please note, no butterflies were harmed in the making of this video.

Experiences of poverty won’t be stopped by having a named person, a named person might listen and help start small local steps of change, but what we actually require is national action on poverty and a redistributive policy shift.

Another red herring came when the Independent Work Force Review of early years and care adeptly set out all the top down indicators we could use to measure the impact of workforce reform in the sector and at the same time stated professional qualifications in the field need to including teaching on these indicators.

The gob smacking ignorance of this statement was completely missed by supposed ‘experts’ in the media but not by the people who work in the sector.  Indeed, most of us are fully aware of how early years workers currently strive to develop their own local projects to improve services (see the practitioner research section at this site for example recent student led projects in the field).

A central plank of learning in the field of early years involves students challenging top down indicators and analysing their pros and cons – we do learning on indicators already – just not in a reductionist way. The work force review, in a manner similar to Tory MPs at Westminster, showed no awareness of the participatory democracy ideals of the indyref, and for example, the Common Weal papers that called for improvements in local democracy.


On reflection I realised that the writer of the earl years review is not an expert on Scottish Politics and has little understanding of the culture and history of early years services in Scotland. So, understandably, the reviewer probably thought it was not in her remit to consider the current Scottish local political context.

She may also have thought that our questioning of top down indicators in early years was a sign of ignorance rather than being connected to indyref values relating to the need to devolve power to local people.

International research on what works in early years is important – it can be very useful when trying to argue for funding for more qualifications in the sector.  However, simply writing a report that largely repeats the literature on how to do top down change in early years (repeating literature that we all knew about already) does not count as ‘radical’ analysis.

It was amazing how the sheep like mainstream media repeated this claim  instead of examining whether the report was actually radical  – Carol Ball of Unison worked this out very quickly – Unison’s position is that we can’t wait 15 years for change. International research and not so, ‘independent’, reviews are only one part of the overall picture and must not be employed in top down ways to oppress children, parents and professionals.

We have to trust local professionals to work collaboratively with children and families to develop high quality services that are defined locally (taking into account all the available information). It will be very interesting to see Nicola and her colleagues’ response to the early years review, will it do anything to boost the pay of some of the lowest paid degree professionals in the country?

Will the Holyrood government’s response be redistributive? Those questions are the real test of this government.  The real test focusses on actions not words.


My final red herring involves Westminster long term sustainability.  The danger of the current Westminster parliament is that Scots may be riled into acting in anger at our exclusion at the hands of the Tories.  The UK members of the current parliament have shown no indication that they are capable of developing a mature response to the unprecedented election result in Scotland.

Just let me restate the result of the recent election: SNP 50.0%, Labour 24.3%, Conservative 14.9%, Liberals 7.5%, UKIP 1.6% and Greens 1.3%.  I have come across media commentators who seem unable or unwilling to accurately restate the result and gloss over the democratic deficit – yes only the arrogant public school boys of the Tory party could think that 14.9% of the vote gives them legitimacy in Scotland.

The danger is that we allow our response to the Tories to looks like ill-thought through anger, that we latch on to their deliberate attempts to rile us and we develop a culture of protest that simply reinforces the Tory MP’s sense of superiority rather than shifting the power relationship and actually engendering change in the relationship.

The danger exists that we constantly chase the many red herrings put into the Scotland Act rather than focussing on the overall and wider key issue of how to demonstrate that we are a powerful nation that can stand up to the elites of Westminster.

Some people would like us to think that we are powerless to confront the Tory majority at Westminster.  But, just as the Greeks have challenged their oppressors with an OXI vote (can’t bring myself to say a No Vote), we need to also rise again – and be prepared to meet any consequences head on with the belief that the people of Scotland are strong enough to surmount anything that is thrown at us.

We need constitutional experts who are sympathetic to independence to stop swanning around on TV and radio programmes, get their heads down and work out what steps we can take to stand up to the bullies of Westminster.  We need concrete suggestions more than witty podcasts.

We need to identify two or three key steps that can be taken to take the wind out of the Tory sails.  We need to draw them onto our ground and use their own divisive tactics against themselves.  This might also require tactics of civil disobedience (e.g. grassroots activism and mass boycott).

It’s not my field, but someone out there must know how legal and legislative processes can be used to confront the Tories. In the end legislative tinkering of the Scotland act at Westminster is simply a demonstration of nil-sum game public school boy politics at its worst.  We need to change the rules of engagement. The only idea I have come across so far is that we could lodge a people’s petition at Holyrood that states three things:

  • The act currently going through Westminster does not provide Scotland with Devo+, federalism or home rule, (as promised in the indyref), therefore, the unionist referendum promises have been broken.
  • That Westminster MPs lied to the Scottish people, now ignore Scots amendments to the Scotland Act and happily injure us with previously unannounced cuts (in their very male way) and that the only sensible course of action is for the Scottish government to take every steps to stand up to the abuser.
  • That these two things indicate a substantive change in circumstances since the first indyref.  It means that we have reached Nicola Sturgeon’s benchmark that set out that there would have to be a ‘substantive change in circumstance’ for another referendum to be held. Therefore, we the people of Scotland give permission to the Scottish government to call another referendum at a time of their choosing.(Up date – Of course since this post – Brexit is also a substantive change)

This doesn’t mean we have to have a referendum now – but it will show Westminster that we cannot be pushed around with impunity.

Nicola said the Scottish people would need to want another referendum – well let’s put our signatures down for one.  Let’s not get angry, let’s find well thought out ways to get even. We don’t have to put up with Westminster abuse – we have the right to walk away from this abuse.

We should have no fear in holding another referendum but we should not tie Nicola’s hands in respect of when that referendum is. Some people argue that the Tories want the Canadian situation where we lose a second referendum in a row, they are trying to bring us onto their guns.

Independence is not simply a political issues, it is a state of being. We do not need to run onto their guns, our first step should be to put down a marker – a marker that gives permission to the Holyrood parliament to flex its muscles in a way that challenges the public school bullies of the Tory party.

I was reminded recently, with the start of Wimbledon, that male power can be undone fairly easily by the skill of an intelligent woman who sophisticatedly takes the man’s power away.  For younger readers – see this article about Billy Jean King beating sexist Bobby Riggs on the tennis court and in public debate.

Nicola needs to explain to us how she is going to do this – we need the equivalent of Billy Jean locking the players in the Gloucester hotel room and all Scots sign up to the agreement. We need to act in much more independent ways.  We need to find intelligent  ways of expressing our independence now.

More cleaver people than me need to work out a much more active strategy, objectives and tactics than just shouting at the Tories. Nicola needs to get the lawyers and strategists together in the equivalent of Billy Jean’s Gloucester Hotel room and work out how we can exploit the gaps in legislation that are available to us to run rings round Westminster, just as Billy Jean piece by piece took apart Bobby Riggs (see video here).

Billy Jean, ‘I didn’t want to be a second class citizen and I didn’t want anybody else to be a second class citizen either’. Do you hear that Mr Cameron.

We need a sophisticated approach to focus people’s attention on the democratic deficit which currently involves the imperial master, Scottish Secretary David Mundell (he of the one Tory seat), undemocratically ignoring our representatives at Westminster (56 seats).

We do not have to put up with that – we need to ignore all the red herrings and take action that will eventually, one day, maybe soon, call back the #56 percent of people that voted No and ask them – is this really what you voted for?

We all experienced a great deal of anger and frustration during the referendum with unionist politicians and the main stream media.  But we cannot let them and their negativity define who we are.

This is another of the reasons that I have started writing this blog – instead of shouting at the TV, I now simply keep it switched off and spend the time writing.  I find writing songs and poetry a great release.

Here is a poem about last year’s referendum:


September Hurt Would Soon Turn To Tears of Victory


September brought oor tears, Misfortune and distress

A hurtful autumn morning, Ma open heart express

An inklin sawn amongst us, Tae thwart those heart o thorns

Was lang ti be lamented, A joy yet ti be new borne


Thit braisen pack of merchants, We’re no ti fleet forget,

They fausely quoted brigands, And aw th’r meikle threats

September brought oor tears, Wi eyes si sair thit gret

A hurtful autumn morning, Dawned feelings o’ bereft


Thir pirie smottie empire, Clawed and wretched fir clout

Geordie’s sleekit worded oaths, Paraded without doubt

Yet, our silhouetted soles, rose up frae ancient fires

Surmounted thir shattered vows, And mended raging storms


September brought oor tears, Yet we hae nae regret

That hurtful autumn morning, Placed aw oor lives in step

Oor dreams faw not ti slumber, For we have caw’ed awake

Oor people’s confidence, With words of love not hate


Oor tune awoke the mountains, Wi dreams o’ yester year

And May did bring us sustenance, Bring us aw repair

September brought us hope, An a  brunette buskie lass

Who garnered May’s sweet victory,  Thit will nae be our last


No need to start again , Claw a million mile ascent

Oor faithful beating hearts, Wi’ll be oor providence

By Steps o’ independence, N’ strides that do not lurch

We’ll make oor way to freedom, surmount their empire o’ dirt


This poem was inspired by Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt: