How appropriate really for my blogging year to end largely as it started. With spats all over the place.
This week, I’ve been accused of being a little Scotlander – for the record, I’m not and I’d like to think my political philosophy and outlook in previous blogposts might have made that clear. I also got into a twitter ding dong with an SNP press officer over yesterday’s post, but we have since virtually kissed and made up. Today I had a wee spat with @johnmcternan over the Co-op staying open til 9pm tonight, with me questioning its much trumpeted ethical credentials as not appearing to extend to its staff and him suggesting I’m a puritan (who moi?) And now I appear to have upset some others by suggesting that maybe it would be nice if shops and non-essential businesses honoured the Ne’er’s Day and January 2nd public holidays in Scotland by staying shut, allowing their workers some much needed time off.
If that weren’t enough to be going on with, I find myself with a moment or two to write this blog about spats, because the chicklet is upstairs in his room cooling his jets, following an exchange in which sweary words were used. By him, not me.
It’s always a fractious time of year, that sense of enforced jollity, expectation and optimism for a year ahead, made difficult for many because of personal sadness, troubles, loss and regret. The end of 2011 probably cannot come soon enough for some, though many will be approaching 2012 with fear and trepidation. Few of us are safe in our jobs, our pensions, our prospects for ourselves, family members and friends. Many will be struggling with health and relationship worries – some of it will all be intertwined. Aye, whoever coined the phrase Happy New Year clearly lived in different times.
But the fact remains that for many, tomorrow will not be a day off, neither will Monday and it all represents a continued diminution of the sanctity of family and leisure time in order to service the needs of the profit gods. What is it that the shops and other businesses can offer us specifically on these two days of the year that they haven’t been able to provide on the other 364? We’ve all been shopping til we drop in December; some made it back out there for the sales and to replenish supplies, even though our cupboards and fridges are still groaning from the Christmas gorging; surely we could manage two days without them?
And I write this as someone who has, of course, been hypocritical enough in the past to visit the odd store or business on January 1st and 2nd and whose big chicklet will in fact be working tomorrow and Monday evening (in an hotel, he got to choose, he’s young, has no ties, the extra money suits him and the time off suits others with families and commitments, so that’s okay then?)
At least, there is some statutory protection for shopworkers against having to work on Christmas Day thanks to the hard-fought efforts of Karen Whitefield when she was an MSP. I seem to recall her floating the idea of this private member’s bill many years before it was finally passed. I was mistaken in thinking that it covered New Year’s Day as well but it seems the big UK retailers fought back and won that part of the battle.
What the law provides is for Scottish Ministers to pass an order prohibiting trading on New Year’s Day but only after consultation with everyone and their auntie. The provision has got so many caveats it has made it nigh impossible to achieve, something I’m sure the retail lobby was delighted to have made happen.
Shame. And shame that Scottish Ministers have not at least tried to consult on the idea, which they can do, before they introduce a draft statutory instrument to give effect to the act’s provisions. There’s something the SNP Government might want to think about, seeing as it is in the mood to take on the big retail boys at the moment. At the very least, it might give the government a bargaining chip over the public health levy on non-domestic rates.
There are many who work in essential services who have no option but to work over public holidays but for everyone else, the idea of some down/family/me time is surely something that should be fostered and promoted. Supposedly, workers get to choose whether or not to work such public holidays but we all know that the idea of choice can be broadly interpreted. Pressure is brought to bear on many workers, with few feeling they actually do have the option of saying no.
This is not about being puritanical (for once) or trying to drive us back to 1953 (as one wag suggested) but actually to rethink what is important in our lives, our communities and society.
People are what matters, not profits. Many retailers, big and small, are in trouble; the prospect of an extra day or two days’ trading has been too enticing for many to pass over; yet, we all know it will take much more than tills ringing for an extra couple of days to solve the weaknesses in these businesses. If jobs depend on opening on these two days, therein lies your problem.
And after all, it has been rampant consumerism and the need to buy and own stuff, that has helped get us into the economic mess we are in. Especially when few of us paid for it cash upfront. In fact, I’m amazed that anyone actually has any money left at this dismal year end to go shopping.
So, my plea is too late to be heard for this year but I’m interested in hearing from others who agree. Together, we can try and get it changed for next year, to have Scotland’s most traditional national holidays honoured where they can be, and ensure that lowpaid, hard pressed (and probably exhausted by this stage of the festive period) retail workers get to have Ne’er’s Day and 2 January off next year, with the rest of us.
Or are you going to leave me to do all the spatting myself?