When will they ever learn?

Perhaps it’s just post-holiday blues.  I know I should be grateful for getting away at all, but it’s been no fun coming back to the election aftermath, to Brexit and, worst of all, to Grenfell, possibly the worst man-made land disaster in the UK in my lifetime since Aberfan.

As the Grenfell death toll rises inexorably towards 100 and likely beyond, the truth surrounding the decisions taken by governments, both local and national, which led to a minor fire being transformed into a major catastrophe, are gradually filtering out.

Cheap cladding was specified, not because it would improve the lives of those living there, but because it would make Grenfell Tower look more attractive to the residents in the more expensive parts of the Royal Borough, the people who really counted to the local authority.  Indeed, many of the spending (or saving) decisions taken by Kensington and Chelsea council seemed more concerned with reducing the opportunity for the richer residents of the borough to come in contact with the poorer ones.

The so-called internal “improvements” in Grenfell were carried out with little regard to the structural integrity of the building and there’s significant evidence emerging that the “improvements” were at least partly responsible for the seriousness of the outcome.

However, Grenfell is not the reason I started writing this blog.  As I said above, it’s just one of the reasons why I’m perhaps feeling a bit depressed and this depression might be the root cause of what I’m going to say.

It has become generally accepted by all sides that a second Scottish independence referendum can only take place at the end of the Brexit process.  Sure there are differences between the parties as to what constitutes the end of the process.  Is it after agreement has been reached (or not reached) between the UK Government and the EU, likely in the latter half of next year?  Is it when the UK formally leaves the EU, at the end of March, 2019, unless a new date is agreed in discussions?  Or is it only once the full impact of leaving the EU becomes known, likely to be at least a decade after leaving?

However, all sides agree that, whenever the time comes, the Scottish people will be able to make a knowledgeable decision, based on the then known facts of the implications of staying as a part of the UK versus becoming an independent country.  Unionists probably hope that a longer delay will give the UK Government time to pull off a miracle and make Brexit look like the greatest thing since sliced bread, or perhaps they just think that kicking it into the long grass will give everyone the chance to forget all about this IndyRef2 malarkey.  But even independence supporters seem happy to go along with the idea, thinking that, when the terms and implications of leaving the EU become clear, many more Scots will realise what a bad deal we will get by staying as part of the UK and this will make them more likely to vote for independence.

Let’s look at this second belief in more detail.  The union has been in existence for more than 300 years.  The bulk of the Scottish people weren’t very keen on the idea, but it was pushed through by the politicians and the elites, the very ones who had most to gain from the arrangement, so, in the end, the street marches and protests were of no avail: the union went ahead as planned.

Wind forward to today.  The bulk of the Scottish people don’t favour the union, but its continued existence is being maintained by the politicians and elites who have most to gain from the current arrangement.  By the way, don’t confuse the statement above with the proportion of people who might vote to leave the UK.  Many people who voted no in the independence referendum did so out of fear for the future, not out of love for the present.

So if so many people don’t think the United Kingdom is good for Scotland, why did so many vote to stay in it in 2014 and why do opinion polls consistently show less than 50% in favour of independence?  The short answer, or answers as there are two, is/are fear and lies.

Let’s look at the lies.  You can’t survive on your own without handouts from England.  You won’t get your pension.  You’ll have to use the Euro.  You won’t get into the EU.  You won’t get into the UN.  You won’t be able to trade with any other country.  You won’t be able to afford an army or navy.  You’ll be responsible for the breakdown of world order.  You’ll be invaded by the Russians.  You’ll be invaded by aliens.  All of these and more were used by the opponents of Scottish independence.  All have been thoroughly debunked, but all had an effect on the outcome.

But why would such, in most cases, obvious nonsense make people change their minds?  The simple answer is repetition.  With a virtual monopoly of both broadcast and print media, union supporters were able to get a lie repeated time and time again, with virtually no chance that the same media would broadcast or print an opposing point of view.  Often it appeared that the media were working with each other, with a story appearing on the radio on Wednesday, being brought up in Parliament on Thursday, then repeated in the press on Friday and, to (almost) quote Mark Twain, a lie can be halfway round the world before truth has got its boots on.

For years, Scots have been told they are second class.  For years, they’ve been told they survive on handouts from England.  For years, they’ve been told they are subsidy junkies.  For years, they’ve been told they couldn’t run their own country, that they aren’t equipped to make political decisions.  Ruth Davidson, the leader of the so-called Scottish Conservatives, went even further to tell Scots that 90% of their countrymen and women are a burden on the state and that Scots are not normally put somewhere if there’s something they can steal.  This from a person who tells us she’s a “proud Scot”.  Proud to be one of a bunch of thieving, no-good layabouts?

The continued drip, drip of negativity (or at some times more like flood, flood) is what produces the fear.  Having been told so often, and by so many people, that Scots are generally useless, people fear that any change can only be change for the worse.  And when this gets repeated regularly practically all through your lifetime, is it any surprise that, deep down, you become a little afraid to make the leap into the unknown, to independence.  You might not really believe any individual story, but there’s no smoke without fire.

So unionists have been telling us lies for years and years, probably for 300 years, since the formation of the United Kingdom, though I can’t vouch for that personally, and enough Scots have been sufficiently swayed by the lies to fear change, change that they have been told can only make things worse.

So my question is: does anyone think that this will change at the end of the Brexit process, whenever that is.?  Will the media tell us how bad things might become for the UK after a Brexit on terms much worse than we have now, or will they tell us that this is just the first step to a brighter future?  Will they tell us that every good outcome from the talks shows the brilliance of UK negotiating, or will they say it’s just a practical necessity?  Will they place the blame for any poor outcome on the UK government or will they blame Johnny Foreigner?  Do we really think the media will not be supportive of whatever is the outcome of the negotiations?

If nothing changes in the media, if the media continues to praise the UK position and continues to tell us only what the politicians and elites want us to hear about the Brexit negotiations, why would we think that the Scots taken in by the lies and the spin in 2014, those who feared change in the last referendum, are going to react differently this time and be able to see clearly that staying a part of post-Brexit UK is not in their best interests.

Unfortunately, I can’t see a post-Brexit independence referendum producing a better result.  As I said at the start, perhaps it’s just post-holiday blues, but I fear that, no matter how bad the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the Scots who didn’t see it last time won’t see it this time either.  So those of us who want independence need to think of a more radical approach than the current let’s wait and see how Brexit turns out.

How much is a life worth

 

I know it’s really too early to jump to conclusions about the tragedy at Grenfell tower, but I’m so angry about it, I just had to write down something about an event that may turn out to be the worst fire related disaster since Bradford stadium, or maybe even worse.

Recent events at Grenfell tower have brought the lives of those living in high-rise, often council-owned buildings into sharp focus.  Should it be a requirement for the council to ensure the use of the best quality materials and to application of the highest standards of construction or is there some acceptable compromise, occasioned perhaps by the cost savings to be gained by the use of less than optimum standards?

Should the answer to the question be different, depending on whether we are referring to aspects of the building’s construction which affect the structure of the building and the safety of the occupants or aspects which are merely cosmetic.  Whereas it may be acceptable not to specify gold taps costing £500 each in favour of bog-standard chrome-plated ones at a fiver each, is it still acceptable not to use external fireproof cladding costing £5 sq. metre in favour of a non-fireproof alternative, costing £1 less?

Of course, other questions need to be asked.  Should all multi-story apartment blocks have sprinklers fitted, whether specified at the time of construction or not?  A local authority spokesman pointed out that few multi-storey blocks in any area had sprinklers retrofitted.  Is that an acceptable excuse?  Should all multi-story buildings be required to have smoke detectors and fire alarms and should these be regularly checked and serviced?  All multi-story buildings are already built using a cell structure, helping to prevent the spread of fires from one area to another.  Should it be a requirement that any internal structural or cosmetic alteration does not impair this ability?

Events at Grenfell have highlighted all too clearly the answers to these questions and the dangers of not paying attention.  Fire retardant cladding was available, but was rejected at Grenfell in favour of a cheaper alternative.  This helped a relatively small fire on a lower floor become an inferno engulfing the whole building in a very short period of time.

Sprinklers would have delayed the spread of the fire, or even extinguished it before it could really take hold.  A serious fire in a similarly clad building in Dubai, but with sprinklers fitted, involved no loss of life.  Properly functioning smoke detectors and fire alarms would have warned residents more quickly, allowing more of them to escape.  One resident who did escape said he only knew there was a fire when he heard passers-by calling out.

Stories following the recent refurbishment of the building suggested that the alterations had not been carried out with safety in mind.  They talk of holes in the walls, partially blocked doorways and poorly place pipework, all of which point to a poor standard of construction and a lack of a proper inspection regime.  Just a rushed low-cost job?

Some escapees talk of  smoke coming into the flats, completely against the principle construction goal in multi-storey buildings of isolating a fire and preventing its spread.  How could this happen in a properly constructed multi-storey block.

But any impairment in the building’s structure would have had a tragic knock-on effect.  In case of fire reported in a properly constructed and maintained multi-story block, a fire officer’s advice to anyone calling 999 will always be to stay in the flat, as that’s not only the safest place to be with a functioning cell structure inhibiting the spread of the fire, but also it prevents emergency services’ access to the building being restricted by escaping residents.  Unfortunately, in Grenfell’s case, with its apparently compromised structure and non-fire-resistant cladding, this may turn out to have been the wrong advice.

Still to come are details of the decisions taken by the those involved in the construction and refurbishment of the building.  Who specified the cladding?  Who designed and oversaw the internal refurbishment?  If the work was as bad as has been suggested, and if many complaints were made by the residents, why did it not prompt some form of immediate action.  What part did the local authority play in this.  When Kensington and Chelsea are one of the richest areas in the country with many properties worth £millions, why was money not available to carry out proper work.  Was the local authority starved of cash by Government or did they just choose to concentrate their resources in richer, and more vocal, areas, ignoring those who they can afford to ignore, at least until an event like this

All in all, this has the look of a tragedy which was both man-made and avoidable, but only after a more detailed investigation will the real truth come out, f indeed the real truth ever comes out.  Unfortunately, following other similar fire events, politicians have been happy enough to sympathise with the bereaved and make promises about how lessons will be learned, without there ever being any real change.  As sympathy fades, cash becomes king, and no one is prepared to spend the money necessary to make the improvements.  Perhaps, if we had a pound for every time a politician has said lessons will be learned, we would have enough money to carry them out.