#bothvoteswhatever

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Vote however you want. It’s what the Scottish system is designed for.

So here’s my take on the ‘both votes SNP’ bollocks that’s going around.

There’s a lot of speculation about this or that scenario, what’s going to happen, what we do or don’t know, and most of it in my little bubble is a bit of an argument between SNP supporters and Scottish Greens – with the Greens as the lefty party arguably best placed to scoop up the list votes of lefty SNP voters.

So what do we actually know?

Corbyn’s left: naive, or just ‘not arseholes’?

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So Jezz Corbyn’s star continues to rise, and the debate rages on not between Labour and Tory but between three factions of Labour, described thus:

  1. the people who like Corbyn’s ideas and plan to vote for him as leader of the Labour Party
  2. the people who like Corbyn’s ideas but think he can’t become leader because he’s unelectable and because his relatively moderate policies can’t work despite broad public support ‘because The Market’, basically
  3. Tories who for some reason joined Labour

Let’s ignore Labour’s right-wing ‘Progressives’ since they need to just get in the sea, and talk about the first and second groups. I’m a member of the Scottish Greens and while I think the position of Greens wanting to vote for Corbyn is defensible for various reasons I won’t be doing it myself. However, we Greens get the accusations currently being aimed at Corbyn supporters by well-meaning ‘liberals’ – that we’re naive, too idealistic, that socialism is so last century and we need to stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen – all the time so I feel like I’m qualified to comment here.

So! I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Our current political situation in the UK is unsustainable insofar as I consider part of ‘sustainability’ to be ‘not causing the misery and death of untold numbers of the poor and sick’. Your definition may differ but for me a prerequisite for a sustainable society is that everyone has enough to eat and a roof over their heads. We do not currently live in that society.

On Boobs & Battleaxes

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Yesterday (June 1st) the Science careers website had a blink-and-you-missed it advice column that caused a wee bit of a stooshie over some rather controversial advice given by Dr Alice Huang, noted virologist. The column was quickly removed by the website, but because Nothing Ever Truly Dies on the Internet, let’s talk about it anyway.

So basically this woman is all “My supervisor keeps trying to look down my shirt.” Her pseudonym is ‘Bothered’, so let’s assume this is bothering her.

My completely 100% fair and unbiased summary of the response, in short, easy-to-digest chunks:

  1. Imagine what life would be like without people you fancy in the world. IMAGINE. NOBODY YOU FANCY. This is a relevant observation for reasons that… well, if you don’t know then I can’t help you.
  2. Fun anecdote: I had a friend who was reduced to a state of lust-induced catatonia by a nice straight nylon seam, poor boy.
  3. Sexual harassment law is for proper stuff like assaults and threats and grades-for-sex, so…
  4. Though I guess if you were really bothered by it that would count. Are you really bothered by it? Like I know you signed this letter ‘Bothered’, but really? REALLY?
  5. Basically, you need this guy to get through your PhD, so do you actually want to rock the boat on this? Thought not. Run along, there’s a good girl. Jesus, kids these days…

Yeh, it’s not a good letter.

On Tactical Voting: a message to Scottish Greenies

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Some Greens want to ensure the SNP landslide this election. In truth, in most seats they don’t need your help.

I will never give a person a hard time for voting ‘with their heart’ rather than their ‘head’, even if it hands a seat to someone they hate. As we ‘heart’ voters keep saying these days, the only truly wasted vote is a vote for something you don’t believe in. Moreover, when we vote tactically we don’t get a true picture of a party’s support and that keeps said party from ever getting the time and attention it deserves.

The Greens have been suffering from this for years – according to many polls as many as one in five people (one ridiculous poll went as high as 28%) would consider voting Green if they thought they had a shout at power. Imagine where they’d be if one in five people actually voted for them instead of voting tactically.

But a lot of ‘natural’ Green voters in Scotland – even party members – are saying that they would love to vote Green, but that in this election they’ll be voting SNP to aid the SNP landslide that is going to be so hilarious at the end of this coming week.

What I fat about when I fat about fatties

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We as a culture need to stop focussing on obesity as a primary cause of bad health – and not just out of compassion but for pragmatic reasons too.

There have been a few articles in the past few days (notably on the BBC and in the Guardian) citing a new study, editorialised in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, indicating that exercise is bugger-all use for losing weight, and that really it’s all about diet.

This may or may not be the case – to be fair to the research, they were really attacking bad diets and in particular sugary drinks more than dismissing exercise, and the news headlines are largely spin, but what I want to argue is that focussing on ‘obesity’ as the monster to beat rather than bad health is in and of itself incredibly damaging. So, for all you viewing at home…

Gobby Wimmin – Nicola Sturgeon at the Leaders’ Debate

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Nicola Sturgeon was called out in the STV Scotland Debates show for talking over other leaders, but did she? Or is it yet another case of a woman being seen as talkative just for daring to make herself heard?

At about the 21:37 mark in the STV Scottish Leaders’ Debate on Tuesday 7th April, a (male) audience member offered this observation:

On the standard of the debate… I am a bit concerned that it seems that Nicola thinks that when it’s her turn it’s her turn exclusively, and when it’s the other three leaders fifty per cent of their time is still hers.

There was a respectable smattering of applause at this so obviously a good few folk agreed with this fair-minded chap, and Sturgeon just smiled wryly, gave a head-tip of acknowledgement and mouthed an ‘okay’ (or possibly ‘sorry’; it’s not entirely clear).

Later when she recognised the same man asking her a question she acknowledged his challenge as fair – but was it?

Certainly my perception, watching along on catch-up, was that everyone had been talking over one another to some degree, but that Sturgeon was no better or worse than anyone else.

As it turns out, we were both wrong.

Letter writing: £200 ‘health surcharge’ for non-EU immigrants

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I can still write letters to my MSPs even though I’m running for parliament, right? 🙂 (Note: calls to action herein are personal and do not represent Green Party policy.)


Dear [all],

I’d like to draw your attention to the new ‘health surcharge’ being levvied on non-EU migrants from today, as reported by gov.uk here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/migrant-health-surcharge-to-raise-200-million-a-year

This reform is part of the draconian and inhumane Immigration Act 2014, and is supposedly intended to better recoup the costs of providing healthcare to immigrants. What it is doing however is in effect charging immigrants MORE for the NHS than UK citizens. As you will know, prior to this only non-EU migrants who were in work or study were eligible for free non-emergency healthcare – those who were not working were eligible to pay for their care. The problems in collecting these fees notwithstanding, the idea that we should now charge £200 per annum to those who are working – and therefore paying income tax and National Insurance – in this country is unfair in the extreme.

I am well aware that immigration is not a devolved matter, so you may be wondering why I am contacting you on this topic. Well, the press release on thegov.uk website observes:

“The money collected by the Home Office will be passed to the health departments in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

This money will presumably be distributed on a proportional basis. I would like to see a clear commitment from the Scottish Government that the money recouped from this unnecessary and unfair surcharge will be given back to immigrants, whether in the form of increased support, the creation of a hardship fund for immigrants resident in Scotland, or indeed (admittedly perhaps requiring the increased powers over taxation we’ve been ‘promised’) as a direct tax-break returned to those who have had to pay this surcharge. I believe this would send a strong message to Scottish immigrants and to the rest of the UK, and would show a clear commitment on the Scottish Government’s part to fairness and honesty as far as is in its power. Indeed, this surcharge actually gives the Scottish Government its first real opportunity to ‘put its money where its mouth is’ on matters of immigration.

As is well-documented, immigrants put more into the UK economy on average than native Brits do. Over and above this, immigrants wishing to remain in the UK face years of visa applications with ever-increasing fees to remain in the country already – fees that have increased severalfold in recent years.

On a personal note, as the UK spouse of a US immigrant we are very lucky to even be able to live in the same country together – applying as we did for our FLR(M) only a few months before the July 2012 reforms under which we would have faced my partner’s deportation because I earned a few hundred pounds beneath the £18.6k ‘minimum spousal income’ at that time – in spite of the fact she earned well over that and our household income was perfectly comfortable by any standards. We were in a Civil Partnership and both in full-time, stable employment. Add to this the fact that as same-sex partners we physically could not have begun the immigration process in the USA at the time we got together due to a Federal-level ban on same-sex marriage until very recently, and you must understand that issues like this hit very close to home for me and others like me.

So I ask you, haven’t we been gouged enough? Haven’t we suffered enough stress and financial hardship already? Must we be forced to pay twice for our healthcare into the bargain?

I hope, therefore, that you will give this issue due consideration and consider what measures you might be able to push forward at a devolved level to at least send a message that the Scottish Parliament does NOT stand with Westminster on these draconian reforms, that Scotland cares about and values its immigrants, and that Holyrood will do all it can to mitigate the negative effects of these measures.

Yessay

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A friend asked for information on the independence ref, and I realised that I’d never actually sat down and written an essay on the stance I’ve reached on the matter. This is partly because for the first few months, I think, after I decided I was a Yes, I was ‘in the closet’ about it, too worried that I was being naive and childish about the whole thing. It’s also because the ins and outs of how I feel on the topic do shift and change, even if my gut feeling does not.

Anyway, I figured it was time to get the whole thing written down in one place, so I wrote my friend an essay – a ‘yessay’ if you will. It’s emotive and passionate of course because I’m incapable of being otherwise, and I don’t pretend that it’s unbiased – I’m a bleeding-heart lefty and I wear that on my sleeve – but I don’t THINK it contains any lies or obfuscations. So caveats over, here we go…

I’m a Yes voter for essentially idealistic reasons and I make no apology for that. Westminster has rejected voting reform that would have moved us toward (slightly) better representation there, and their dismissive, negative attitude toward coalition government in both principle and practice highlights just how out-of-touch they are with a voting public who are increasingly less and less split between red and blue and nothing else. ‘First past the post’ representative democracy simply does. not. work. when there are more than two parties, and Westminster have staunchly refused to accept this, making a mockery of their own electorate in the process. The Scottish Parliament, by contrast, already has a great voting system that actually represents, proportionally (almost), the voting choices of the people.

So that’s the first reason: fair representation.

Another big factor for me is that a No vote isn’t just a vote for the status quo. ‘More of the same’ from Westminster doesn’t just mean more like this, it means worse than this. Austerity isn’t temporary; it’s the way the Tories want it, and Labour are too cowed by the way public perceptions have been skewed to mistrust public spending and demonise the poor and sick to promise to do ANYTHING really concrete about it – sure, they oppose a policy here, tweak a number there, but it’s just a variation on the same melody when what they need to be doing is picking a completely different hymn. I believe that most of Scotland wants to be singing that different hymn. Our government has done its best to insulate us from the worst of Westminster’s attacks on the Welfare State and the NHS is mercifully devolved, but we can’t hold out forever.

A personal factor on this front for me is immigration. Firstly, I passionately believe in freedom of movement, and cutting through the crap the fact is that young foreigners are presently propping up our health service, our service industry and our retail sector, and moreover are paying our pensions and for the care of our old and sick through their taxes. Immigrants give back more to the country than citizens and get less back for it. The current tide in immigration reform was described a couple of years ago by the Dundee Uni principal as the worst threat to academia faced in the UK, and the Home Office persist in making it harder and harder for people to come here to live, which, in a world where we are more and more making connections all over the world through the internet, strikes me as tragic.

Secondly, my personal anecdata: The post-study visa that allowed Erin to stay in the country with me after her degree: gone. The two-year probation we’re presently on as a legally partnered couple: now five years. And scariest of all if we had applied for her latest ‘further leave to remain’ visa only four months later, my partner would have been deported because my salary was a few hundred pounds beneath the ~£18k minimum for partners of immigrants. We had been living together four years. We have a Civil Partnership. She was in full-time employment earning £6k more than me. Wouldn’t have mattered. She would have been deported to a country where I could not legally enter as her civil partner because at a central governmental level same-sex partnerships weren’t (at the time) legally recognised. I would have been forcibly and indefinitely separated from my legal spouse for the sake of a few hundred pounds a year. I don’t want to be emotionally manipulative here but I’m sure you can imagine that tears well-up even as I type that.

To me that is utterly terrifying, and everything I have read and everything that I’ve seen leads me to believe that Scotland does not hate its immigrants, does not buy the line that The Daily Mail and the like feeds it, and will institute fair and reasonable immigration legislation in the event of independence. And then Erin and I can begin to sleep a little easier at night, safe in the knowledge that our right to be together isn’t going to be spontaneously ripped away from us. Immigration reform cannot happen at a devolved level – even under ‘devo max’ – it just doesn’t work that way. It can only happen in a fully independent nation.

So that’s the second reason: self-determination. In an independent Scotland we get to make these decisions for ourselves – ALL these decisions, not just the ones afforded to us by the central government that is unfair, unrepresentative and has its own agendas that are entirely unrelated to the will of the people. Does the Scottish Parliament make mistakes? Hell yes. Will there be corrupt and self-interested folk in it? There already are. But in a wee country of 5 million where our vote – EVERY vote – actually counts, we can hold these people accountable, and we can boot them out if we don’t like them. They will work (more) for us, not big business or The City or the rich. It’s not perfect, but it’s a much better starting point than the situation we have right now.

My worries: I think a formal currency union with the UK£ is a terrible idea. I don’t think there is any question whatsoever that the Tories would agree to a formal currency union. The people who stand to gain most from a formal union are the Bank of England and The City. The biggest losers would be the people of Scotland themselves. We give up complete financial autonomy if we have a formal union, rendering independence largely pointless and downgrading it, in effect, to a rubbish brand of devo-max where we don’t even have MPs representing us in the country where our interest rates are set. It could also cause trouble for our EU membership terms as we would have the BofE as our central bank and lender of last resort – particularly awkward if the UK then voted to leave the EU! Labour have promised to block a union and for all that I think they’re the wrong people doing it for the wrong reasons, I hope they stick to that. In the event of a Yes vote I will certainly be campaigning against a currency union. This is a stance shared by many in the ‘non-SNP-Yes-camp’, but we don’t really get our voices heard much over the din of “Oh aye we’ll do what we like”. A break needs to be a clean one. As a no-voting friend of mine put it (riffing on a particularly odious Yes blogger’s analogy), it’s never a good idea to get divorced and keep sharing a car, particularly not if one partner’s in charge of the keys and the fuel-ups and you only get to use the car as and when they say so! Even if you plan to stay friends it’s a recipe for disaster.

I also worry about their undemocratic plans to write a ‘draft’ constitution without a constitutional commission made up of people outwith the political establishment.

Finally, I think that their timeline is woefully short. There will be a great deal to do in the event of a Yes vote, and their attempts to rush everything through in time for the next Scottish Parliamentary election are both suspicious and ridiculously optimistic.

Unfortunately, while there are plenty of independent Yes voters who share such worries and would like to see the alternatives investigated fully before any key decisions of this kind are made, a combination of media bias and sitting on our hands has left us basically hoping that we can reverse this stuff when really we should be campaigning for it now. The issue is that what the SNP are pushing is the line that’s most likely to get a Yes, by saying that very little will actually change for those who fear it. Maybe this approach will gain more votes than it loses, I don’t know. I do know that it’s cynical and pragmatic to a fault, not to mention patronising and insulting to the people of Scotland (even if it’s a wee bit true). But I don’t think that this dishonest approach by some makes independence itself a bad idea.

In short, I have my worries, but these worries are not enough to remove my convictions that Scotland will be better off on its own. There may be hard times – there’ll be job losses and job creation, there’ll be upheaval, there’ll be fluctuations in funding in some sectors while stuff is sorted out, and we might be a wee bit poorer before we’re richer (though even pessimistic projections say it’s only a very, very wee bit poorer), but for me it’s worth it because this isn’t a decision for me or my next five years’ comfort; it’s a decision that will shape the future of the whole country.

We DESPERATELY need to change the way we do things.

Welfare ‘reform’ is putting children on the street, sending working folk to food banks, and hounding the ill and disabled literally to death, with inequality between the richest and poorest increasing at staggering rates, rates that make you sick to your stomach when you think about them. Can Scotland make those changes alone? Do we have the stomach for it? Do we have the guts to swim against the tide, put equality above ‘growth’ on our national agenda and change the world we live in, setting an example for what a wee nation of inventors and writers and crazy gingers can do when we set our hearts AND our minds to it?

Maybe? I mean, it sounds really, really hard, but MAYBE? I really, really hope so. I will say that I have given up all hope of that sort of change coming from London. Ever. Maybe that’s defeatist of me but I’d call it pragmatic. At the very least, though, I can see the possibility of a better way, and so I, for one, will be grasping for it with both hands.

Non mainstream campaign ‘Yes’ links

And here’s the indyref filter on the blog of a No voter and friend I respect a great deal, and who turned me on to many of the worries I have about the SNP’s Yes campaign (though I’m more optimistic than her about being able to change them obviously):

Jim McGovern vs The Gays

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I can hear myself sighing, because he’s talking again about how, despite every unbiased opinion poll coming out with over two thirds of people in favour of allowing same-sex couples to marry, his mail-bag was about half and half – and that more folk had written to congratulate him than castigate him after his ‘nay’ vote.

It’s interesting that he’s telling me this, because he says his decision to vote against the bill was driven by his conscience, his soul-searching, and yet he takes great pains to remind me, over and over again, that if I’m going to tell him that he’s flying in the face of public sentiment, his mail says otherwise. I don’t know who he thinks he’s placating – certainly it’s no comfort to me that half the politically motivated people who live in my part of town apparently think I shouldn’t have equal rights. And if he voted with his conscience, why does it matter what his constituents did or didn’t think?

The ‘pro’ camp were ‘hostile’, too, he says – ‘demanding’ that he vote in favour of the bill, harassing and insulting him. I didn’t observe that the ‘anti’ camp probably said things an LGBT person would consider hostile, even if he wouldn’t. As we were leaving I reminded him – not to defend people who sent abusive messages but to at least put their words in context – that a lot of those folk had probably spent their whole lives being discriminated against and he had, this week, become a symbol of that for them. He favoured me with a wry, understanding grin, and said that he knew all about being discriminated against: he was a Catholic. It’s probably fortunate that there wasn’t time for my partner to get out her tiny violin before I dragged her out and we made our way, hands clasped tightly, still shaking a little, home to our cats and our contented little liberal bubble where it’s becoming easier and easier every year to forget that people like Jim McGovern, Labour MP for Dundee West still exist.


So what did I gain?

After all, I wasn’t going to change his vote. “You should’ve come to see me last week,” he said – last week’s surgery he’d been visited by four folk urging him to vote against. Of course, last week all that mattered to me was that the vote was going to go through, as I was confident it would. Last week it didn’t matter that some MPs would vote against; it wasn’t personalised the way it was by my MP – my representative – voting the way he did.

See, we’ve visited McGovern before when my partner was having some issues with the UKBA. If he’d been uncomfortable dealing with a pair of lesbians, he hadn’t shown it; he’d been friendly and helpful. So I certainly didn’t visit him on Friday expecting hostility or abuse.

No, I was expecting very much what I got. He’d taken advice from his church, he said, who’d told him that they believed that allowing civil marriage between same-sex couples would inevitably pave the way to the Catholic church being forced to marry same-sex couples. His evidence? Well, look at civil partnerships – we never thought they would happen.

I was a little too nonplussed by this logically bereft angle to really put up much of a fight. I made the usual case – I pointed out that it was a matter of religious freedom that religious organisations should be allowed to marry same-sex couples if they wanted to, just as it would continue to be the right of the Catholic church to refuse*. I pointed out, repeatedly, how opposite-sex couples marry without ever going near a church. He waffled a bit about the Bible, our arguments staying pretty firmly parallel to one another without intersecting.

At the end of the day, I got to look him in the eye when I told him that whatever he thought his motivations were, I saw his choice as discriminatory, and I could no longer vote for him (not that I ever had). And that was important to me, though I’m sure I’ll lose a lot more sleep over it than he ever will.


I did learn some important things, though, things that do represent to me a call for action.

I learned that some folk on our side are sending their MPs communications that make them feel attacked. I understand why they do this – why they send ‘demands’, why they form their words forcefully. But Jim McGovern doesn’t hate me. Yes, he’s prejudiced, but he doesn’t see that, and he genuinely doesn’t believe that he bears me any ill will. When you communicate with someone like that in an aggressive way you make it easier for them to vote your rights away, not harder. There is no doubt in my mind that every single hostile communication McGovern received was a salve to his conscience – no matter how much he bleats that he wasn’t influenced by his constituents. Furthermore I owe it to myself to make sure that my approach to someone who opposes my views is not just a hasty attack fuelled by my disappointment and frustration that everyone isn’t as enlightened and progressive as me. Be positive. Say why equal marriage is a good thing. Things are getting better for LGBT people every day in the UK; we have every reason to be nice, even when we’re talking to people who we know would halt that progress if they could. See it from their point of view: we are stamping all over their dolls, making them share their lego, and expecting them to agree to it with good grace. A spoonful of sugar keeps your conscience clear and your soul a little lighter while you win – and let’s not forget: we are winning.

I learned that not all the ‘antis’ are just names on identical postcards. We’d like to think that the pro camp is made up of individuals who care, and the anti camp is a monolith of obedient churchgoers signing what their priests tell them. We know that in the case of last year’s consultation in Scotland, though the responses taken as a whole came out against equal marriage, the results were literally flipped to about two thirds for equal marriage when postcard campaigns and petitions were left out of the count. But if what McGovern told me is true, he’s been getting a very different story. If I only care about that vote going through in Westminster, I don’t need to care about that. But if I want my MP to know my views, and to represent me faithfully, I owe him more than a stock response. Bringing me to my final lesson…

I learned that it’s always worthwhile looking a person in the face if you can. I didn’t change my MP’s mind about equal marriage by going to see him. He’s not a young man, he’s obviously very committed to his faith, he takes his cues from his church and from what is apparently a socially conservative community, and moreover he knows he doesn’t need to change. He’s in a safe seat and knows his side has already lost the war. He has nothing to lose. He could ‘be a sheep’ as he put it and obediently get in the pen with most of the rest of his party, or he could make what he sees as the brave move to take a stand that loses him nothing other than the votes of a few scattered deviants in his constituency. But now he’s looked one of those deviants in the eye as she told him, politely and simply, that she was disappointed in him, that he’d lost her vote, and why, and I promise you that that made more impact on him than any number of emails. I didn’t change anyone’s mind, but that doesn’t hold true for every MP. Some will swither. Some aren’t sure. Go to their surgery, speak to them face-to-face. Show them how much you care. It will make a difference.

*Leaving aside the question of what the established Church of England’s situation might be, but that’s a rather different kettle of rainbow trout.

This article was originally published on lgbt.co.uk and in Scots Gay magazine.

A Christmas Carol

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It’s Christmas night, and E’s gone to bed, and although there was more wine in the fridge, I make a pot of tea for my aunt A and I – the Last Men Standing, as usual.

“The thing is,” I say, continuing the rant I started before the last bottle had run out. “I don’t understand how people can be so transparently stupid, so easily led. I mean, it’s a fact that the majority of people on benefits are also working, so if you cap their benefits at beneath inflation just because wages are capped, you’re capping financial support for working people whose wages are rising at beneath inflation – people who’ve been pushed into part-time positions, people who haven’t seen their wages rise in years – or who’re disabled and can only work part time. And the government are actively obfuscating that fact. Why is this not headline news? How did we all end up on this bandwagon of actively demonising the poor and sick? How did we get here, you know?”

A gives me her ‘oh the passion of youth’ look as we settle into our seats at the kitchen table. “Just be glad you’re both in positions where you have potential for advancement, and in a sector where you can expect wage rises,” she says. “Imagine if you were in a charity, or in local government.” I open my mouth to observe that technically of course universities are charitable organisations, then shut it. A hasn’t seen a pay rise in years, and I think she was pushed into part-time hours this year, at least for a while ’til they realised they needed her around. I know only a vague overview of the situation, and when I enquire I get a Look and a ‘Don’t ask’.

“I’ve worked in welfare rights for thirty years, under all sorts of government – in the eighties under Thatcher, in the nineties under Blair, and now,” she says. “Every few years, there’s reform in the benefits system. Every time, the stated ‘aim’ is to simplify it, and every single time it’s made more complicated, and more and more people fall through the cracks.

“I was all prepared to give input on this during the most recent round of changes, actually. You’d think, as someone who’s been doing this for so long, that they’d value my input. I had everything gathered together and ready to present, and I was told my presence wasn’t required.”

She doesn’t sound even slightly surprised by this, and nor am I.

“I’m used to feeling removed from stuff like this,” I say as I pour our tea – we both take it weak and milky. “I’ve never directly tried to claim benefits, even when I was unemployed – I always had some cushioning there, my overdraft or family or whatever. But this time, this business with ATOS and the DLA-”

“ESA,” she corrects me.

“Right, yes, I meant ESA, sorry. This time I know people – I mean, not well, but I know them – who’re on the…” I wave my hand vaguely. “…Magic Roundabout. They keep popping up on my Facebook and they’re under assessment, or in the appeal process, or they’ve had their appeal and just had another assessment letter through. It’s not just some isolated cases made up by the Daily Record, it’s-”

“It’s everyone,” A confirms. “We don’t even know how many people are really suffering for this because honestly, trying to get people to keep proper records when they’re already overworked and underpaid is just impossible.”

“And the appeal success rate is, what, like a half, forty per cent?” I say. I know it’s about forty per cent but I’ve learned not to sound too much like I know what I’m talking about around A; it makes her want to put me in my place.

“We lose folk even before that. Look, when those assessment letters go out, a third of people just disappear. We actually don’t know what happens to them. A third of them are just gone, out of the system, because even filling in that form is just too much to handle.”

I raise my eyebrows. The statistic sounds familiar, but it’s no less shocking for that.

“Of the people that get assessed, fifty nine per cent of them are found fit to work. That’s fifty nine per cent of a group of people who’ve been properly examined by doctors, medical professionals who know them, and know that there’s no chance they can hold down a job or they wouldn’t have signed them off in the first place.

“On appeal, about forty two per cent are successful. But of the group who receive competent legal support, that appeal success rate goes up to sixty per cent. That’s with people like us helping from the Advice Shop.”

“And all those other support services that are being cut back and losing their funding.”

“Exactly. That support isn’t going to be around much longer.”

“I just don’t know what I can even do about it, y’know? I write angry letters, I bang on about it constantly, but… I don’t know what else to do.”

My aunt sighs, shakes her head. “Just keep writing them.”