It was pouring with rain that May morning in 1942 when my mother took my brother and me to see Mr Churchill. He had been in Harrogate where he was presented with a silver cigarette box by a local jeweller and was on his way to make a big speech in Leeds. Despite the rain, he was in an open-topped Rolls Royce and, as he passed the cheering crowds of women and children, he gave his famous V sign. It was to be the only time I saw him. The war was far from over and our father was overseas in the Army Medical Corps.
Later, we were excited to see the American troops in their huge vehicles with stars painted on their bonnets. We heard talk of chewing gum and nylon stockings, but mostly life seemed to be a struggle for basics as we accompanied our mother to the shops with our ration books. But the wireless started to report stories of victories, notably Alamein, and we drew pictures of tanks and spitfires. In place of Heinkels, Junkers and Dorniers, we watched the skies for Doodlebugs, the new German V1 rockets, and one did fly over in 1944, to fall on its way to Leeds where tanks were made.
One day in May 1945, I walked the two miles to school, trying to recall my seven- and eight-times tables. At assembly, the headmaster said a prayer and we sang a hymn. He then told us that the war was over in Europe. We had our lessons and in the afternoon we walked back home. Next door, our best friends who went to a girls' school, also went home. I don't remember celebrations. The war was still on, our father was still away in the Army and our friends' father had been killed in action.
Within a few months, the atomic bombs had ended the war in the Far East. Mr Churchill had been removed from office and replaced by Mr Attlee, who instituted the greatest reforms that Britain has ever seen, among them the NHS, from which we and all our politicians have benefited. A teacher who had fought in North Africa in Montgomery's Eighth Army arrived and started to teach me Latin, English and rugby. Eventually we were to join with Europe in order to prevent future wars, to live together in peace. Then some of them forgot all this and started the piecemeal selling off of the Welfare State, to the benefit of the wealthy.
On VE Day, I am glad the celebrations were muted. It was a moment of hope for the better world of which we have had a glimpse. Perhaps coronavirus will make some of them think again.
What a Westminster Government we have. They hijack the workers' bank holiday, then replace it with a distorted version of VE Day. Gerry Hassan's
excellent article on VE Day helped me to see through the pomp to the importance of the occasion. I recognise the present day dangers to democracy he highlights, from Hungary to the USA.
As Gerry points out, lessons from history are always complex and never completely neat and tidy.
I wonder, therefore, if the image that comes to mind, as a symbol to win back the workers' holiday, is too simplistic. It is vague at the moment and would take a gifted illustrator to do it justice. The image is of a soldier passing on a baton to a key worker.
Westminster likes its war metaphors and has used them liberally to describe our national battle against a virus. It seems to work with a lot of people. Maybe the same people could be persuaded to deviate from the response they're being directed towards, if the metaphor was followed through to its logical conclusion.
Maybe Victory in Europe next year will be a date associated with defeating a virus. Maybe slogans like homes for heroes (and decent wages for heroes) will be too compelling for the Government to ignore. Maybe they'll be forced to reinstate the workers' public holiday. Maybe democracy will be valued once more. And maybe the front line, that fought and died throughout the 20th century, will be allowed to rest in peace at last.
If Keith Aitken
thinks that internet shopping does not lend itself to la sérendipité, he can't be doing it properly.
Shopping on the internet is a bit like reading a dictionary, or Montaigne, or Nietzsche; it enables (but doesn't compel) what French semioticians have called 'non-linear hypertextual reading'.
The museologist, Eva Sandri, published an interesting paper in Cygne Noir
(No.1, 2013), entitled La sérendipité sur Internet: égarement documentaire ou recherche créatrice?
, in which she presented an analysis of four documentary research tools on the internet; namely Wikipedia, the Amazon storefront, and the Google and Oamos search engines. What she found was that the structure of these networks is not fixed – in the way that the streetplan of a market or the floorplan of a shop or the arrangement of goods on that shop's shelves is fixed – but is open. Like a collection of aphorisms, you can jump from one to another node in the network, and across networks, in any order and by any path you like via the hyperlinks that exist between each and every other particular in the digital universe.
Perhaps the best example of the serendipity this enables is the fact that I found my way from Keith's Despatch in the Scottish Review
to Eva's paper in Cygne Noir
by happy accident. I couldn't begin to count the number of such happy accidents that have led me to discover all sorts of random goodies during my adventures in hyperspace. Surfing is the new kind of browsing.
A word of caution, however. Eva concludes that: 'Favoured by the structure of the network, serendipity... appears as an availability of the mind to the improbable, but it also raises the risk of unfortunate documentary searches through the reverse phenomenon of zemblanity'.
Happily, this led me to google 'zemblanity', which I discovered is an antonym of 'serendipity': 'making unhappy, unlucky, and expected discoveries by design; an unpleasant unsurprise'.
Which was the last thing I'd have expected to find out when I woke up this morning.
I love it!
proposals for action to counter the economic downturn caused by coronavirus stop at the point where his suggestions become problematic, or more accurately, become political.
The proposal to borrow, rather than impose austerity, undoubtedly has merit. How this is likely to work out is not detailed.
Two questions arise:
(1) What will be done with this borrowed money?
It is nearly certain that there will be a massive loss of productive capacity in the economy for a number of years. This matters; as Paul Krugman famously said, 'in the long run, productivity is almost everything'. A less productive economy means less wealth to spend as individuals and as a society on a welfare system.
Further, those sectors of the economy likely to be affected most severely can be anticipated: tourism, anything to do with air travel, Higher education, events involving large crowds and the hospitality sector (pubs, cafes and restaurants. These have been driving forces in the Scottish economy in recent decades – particularly in Edinburgh.
How will borrowed money be used here? The most obvious use would be to keep businesses going rather than allowing them to collapse. This would prevent a massive surge in the number of unemployed. There is a very obvious danger here. Businesses with no long-term prospect of viability would be propped up. In Edinburgh, there has been a huge increase in hotel capacity in the last 15 years. Should Scottish taxpayers' money be used to subsidise it until tourist numbers return to their previous height? What if the tourists never return in such numbers?
Similarly, there has been a large expansion in Higher education – despite which we still have, in many respects, a low-skill, low-pay economy.
A significant fall off in numbers coming from abroad can be anticipated. (In Dublin, the Provost of Trinity College has suggested it will fall to zero.) This is particularly worrying for university finances since such students pay high fees. Should the Government also subsidise the universities?
Will it be possible to bail out all the sectors of the economy queuing up to be helped? This may be possible only by printing money on such a scale that inflation becomes a problem. The 1970s nightmare of stagflation might return. Stephen Roach in the Financial Times
warned of this danger. So much of what the left disagrees with in the modern world came about as a response to the damage done by inflation in the 1970s. Thatcherism was in many ways a response to the centre-left's failure to control inflation. In countries like Germany, where inflation was much less severe, there was no 'neo-liberal revolution.'
(2) How will pay it be paid back?
What is being proposed is borrowing on behalf of the people rather than from the people. Nobody will be directly aware that money is being borrowed from them. Nevertheless, borrowing clearly implies repayment. This is what happened after 1945 and it is largely a success story. The economy grew for a sustained period at a fairly high rate and this made repayment compatible with increasing living standards – very roughly from 1945 till the early 1970s.
In contrast, after World War I, low economic growth for most of the next two decades made paying off debt vastly more difficult. Across the world, the political problems following on from this were immense.
Low growth, both in the economy and in productivity, has been an ongoing problem since 2008. I see little likelihood of this trend being reversed in the near future. That being the case, the economic prospects for Scotland in the near future look dire.
On the positive side, Scotland is immensely more prosperous than it was in 1918. A majority of its population could endure a loss of wealth and remain by any historical or universal standard prosperous.
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