The debate over statues and streets named after Dundas rumbles on. Of course, we have far too many statues commemorating rich conservatives who stood in the way of progress. Our cities might indeed project a more optimistic image if these works were moved to sculpture parks, where they could be appreciated for their artistic value rather than the politics they glorify.
But wouldn't it be good if we could be a bit more positive than that? Why not spend more time and money on celebrating the lives of those who did good in their time? And St Andrew Square is a case in point.
While the controversial statue lowers over the square from its centre, a small plaque attached to a building in the north-west corner of the square deserves more attention. It commemorates Henry Brougham who, among many other achievements, founded the Edinburgh Review
. Brougham later moved to London and was a noted Whig politician. At this time he became a vigorous supporter of the movement for the abolition of slavery, a cause to which he would be passionately devoted for the rest of his life.
The man who delayed the abolition of slavery is commemorated by a vast column and statue. That is clearly regrettable. But his Edinburgh contemporary who worked for the abolition of slavery is commemorated by a faded plaque not a thousandth of the size and probably noticed by only one in a thousand of those who pass by. That should be a cause for concern to anyone who believes in the power of positive political action.
While it is satisfying to excoriate those who behaved badly, it would be constructive to ensure that those who enabled beneficial progress within the framework of their time are given proper recognition.
A news item in The Guardian
on 2 December caught my eye. It told me that the Royal Mail (incidentally, why is a private company allowed to describe itself as 'Royal'?) has announced that from 1 January 2021, the cost of a first-class stamp would rise to 85p. That represents a 21% increase since March this year. And it means that a first-class stamp will cost double what it did in 2010.
But how does 85p today compare with my memory of buying a stamp for a letter in, say, 1950? Well I'm absolutely certain that for years in the post-war period a stamp cost exactly tuppence ha'penny. And remember, I'm talking about the pre-decimalisation world when a pound was worth 240p. So, in today's money, a stamp then cost the equivalent of 1p – i.e. the new stamp will be 85 times more expensive than it was in 1950.
Of course, it is always fun to compare today's prices with those in the olden days. In 1945, the average annual salary was £214 – which explains why 'a thousand a year' job became a guarantee of middle-class status and security. Then the average cost of a house was £620 – which explains why in Aberdeen as late as 1970 I remember insisting that the time would never come when I'd pay five figures – £10,000 – for a house!
But 85 times as much? Surely this is an all-time record, and proof that the Royal Mail should be re-nationalised.
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