I was out of bed at the crack of dawn this morning. If I’m late even once the benefits get cut. I work 40 hours a week for nothing. I’m in workfare and so is every member of my family.
If you were to put those sentences in front of me a few years ago I would have dismissed it as the ravings of those stupid and abusive ‘cybernats’. A whole family on workfare? I would have said it was simply nonsense from YES voters. I would have told you that they were misunderstanding the benefit changes and that the Tories were only really trying to stop those who were cheating the system. It was all for the greater good. The ‘welfare reforms’ were there to stop the scroungers who just wanted to sponge off the state; lazy, work-shy scum. These are things I would have said, the things I did say at the time. These are not the words that I say now.
I’d always planned on voting No in the referendum, that wee fat Salmond boiled my blood. Talking Scotland up, pretending we could be this beacon of progression. Who was he kidding? This was ‘Scotland’. You know, the country of the kilt, bagpipes, terrible accents, cringy folk music and that nationalist porno Braveheart. We had a useless economy and we were propped up by London. If we went independent we would have collapsed instantly. While the ‘Forces of Darkness’ lines from George Robertson were a bit over-the-top, as well as that John Barrowman video, Better Together were right that we couldn’t make it on our own. We were a wee country, couldn’t defend ourselves, we didn’t even have culture beyond the parochial silliness. We were Scottish and that meant we were just rubbish. It was better to be covered in the cloak of Britishness than to stand on ‘our own two feet’ ( we’d have fallen over quickly, like the drunks we are). These were the thoughts that led me to putting the cross in the NO box on September 18th. These are not my thoughts now.
The first few months after the referendum passed by without much incident. The separatists were raging and had a good old moan like they usually did when things didn’t go their way. Apart from that things in Scotland went on as usual; crap, grey and very, very ‘Scottish’. My family was employed back then; me and my wife had decent paying mid-level jobs, my dad was retired and living quite comfortably off his pension and my two children were about to embark on the journey to University. Tuition fees were paid for by Westminster at that time, they charged in England and Wales but because us Scots were a bit on the poorer side they let our kids go for free which went against all the nationalist propaganda at the time. That’s what I thought in 2014. When it came time for my kids to apply in 2015 things had changed. My son handed me the letter that stated his tuition fees needed to be paid and that it would cost £12,000 per term. I knew that had to be a mistake and so contacted the University, then UCAS and SAAS. All of them said the same thing; these were the accurate cost of going to University in Scotland. I wrote to my MSP, convinced this was a complete balls up by Holyrood ( just like the SNP tram fiasco) but she wrote back telling me that education had now been taken back under Westminster control and this was the cost. I began to get a sinking feeling in my gut.
Me and my wife couldn’t afford the tuition fees let alone give the kids anything for living costs. They had to abandon the idea of University and began searching for full-time jobs. I got laid off around about the same time – the company I worked for was downsizing and moving to the South-East – and so me and the kids went along to sign on at the Job Centre. £70 a week was what I expected but none of us were eligible due to the fact we all lived in the same residence and my wife was still working. We got nothing but were told that we had to partake in a ‘Help make work pay’ programme if we were to stay on the system and be eligible in the future. We had some savings which would get us all by combined with my wife’s salary. We went for it as there was nothing else forthcoming.
It’s been four years. Four years of waking up in the morning and heading out to work knowing full well that you’re essentially working for free. The Job Seeker’s allowance never arrived. My wife lost her job as more and more businesses fled Scotland; Westminster taxing any business north of the border to such incredible degrees that they had no option but to move south. We sold the house hoping that by moving to a smaller place we could make some money from the sale. Westminster ensured that didn’t happen. We were all on ‘Help make work pay’ now and so the government had the legal right to all property of those involved in the scheme.
I contacted my MP and my MSP but the former was a useless Labour stooge who had about as much empathy as a vacuum cleaner and the latter was losing her position as Holyrood was being asset striped and Scotland brought back into line with One Nation Britain. We didn’t starve though, at least not completely. All those involved in ‘Help make work pay’ were giving food tokens each week which could be redeemed at your local foodbank. ‘Local foodbank’, the term makes me sick. They sprang up like Starbucks on nearly every corner. The 21st century and most of population was surviving on food vouchers instead of wages and it was not enough. We’re being slowly starved to death.
The riots started not long after. People seeing violent acts against the government as their last option. Our house got caught up in a particularly nasty incident but when I phoned the police and fire brigade they wouldn’t send anyone out until they had taken a £250 service charge from a debit or credit card. The damage to the house is still there. My son got his leg broken by an angry protester, claiming because he was in ‘Help make work pay’ that he was ‘one of them.’ I tried phoning an ambulance but they required deposits up front and guarantees of further payment for treatment and recovery; £2300 to examine a broken leg.
If you’d shown me this in 2014 I would have told you that you were crazy and deluded. Things like this could never happen. ‘They’ would never get away with it.
Well they did and they have. I’m only realising now how much the Scottish Government shielded us from the majority of the Tory policies. I’m only realising now how much of a mug I was, buying into the No camps scare-stories and jingoistic notions of Britishness. It wasa lie, all of it.
As I look into the faces of my family; starving, devoid of hope, depressed and verging on suicide, I see the true face of Tory Britain. I see the true face of Westminster.
Looking back to 2014 I just wish someone had fucking warned me.