Kick Up The Tabloids


If you visit our capital city, you will find that its streets are no longer run solely by the City Council, but also by `Essential Edinburgh”. A bit of an oxymoron, obviously, but what exactly is Essential Edinburgh? It is a semi-privatised quango, set up to make the capital more appealing to tourists. Much like Kirkcaldy 4 All in Kirkcaldy, but with obviously less work to do in the tourist-attracting part of the brief. Effectively, it is privatisation of our streets. Well, it would be, were Edinburgh still to have any streets. For streets read “large holes in the ground surrounded by fences”.

However, throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK, privatisation of our cities has reached such an extent that I was surprised that, on my last visit to London, the whole city did not resemble an enormous Monopoly board. I’m sure the only thing stopping that happening would be the need to give everyone £200 when they passed “Go”.

Obviously, no-one would front up that kind of money, because privatisation is the other side of the coin from cuts. However, these cuts do not go far enough for some people. They do not go far enough even for Scottish Labour. Johann Lamont has frequently been accused of stealing the Tories clothes. Which is unfair, because the last time I saw a picture of her, it looked to me like Johann Lamont had stolen Susan Boyle’s clothes.

Whatever, Labour has now moved so far to the right on the public spending debate that the Conservatives have nowhere to go. Which leaves us with the ludicrous situation of Ruth Davidson going around inventing “statistics”. Hence the Scottish Tory leader’s recent assertion, at the end of last year, that only one per cent of Scots have ever at any time worked in the private sector.

Let us put to one side for a moment the fact that Ms Davidson herself, as an MSP, is employed in the public sector. Indeed, before entering parliament, she was employed by the BBC, again in the public sector. In fact, despite being such a huge fan of the private sector, there is very little evidence that she has ever worked in it. However, she may inadvertently hit on a way to cut back on public spending. Making all Tory MSP’s redundant, for example, would save the taxpayer millions a year, with no visible effect on the democracy of Scotland.

Let us rather focus on Ruth Davidson’s description of public-funded Scotland as a “Gangster State”. This seemed to me to be a somewhat skewed analogy. My knowledge of gangsters and their practices is somewhat limited. Nonetheless, one thing I do know is that 100 per cent of gangsters work in the private sector. Say what you like about Al Capone, The Kray Brothers and Fat Boy Thompson, they were all enthusiastic supporters of the free market. Indeed, when questioned, most of them would have said they did not consider the market to be free enough.

Furthermore, even in moments in history where the state has intervened to a large extent in the economy, gangsters have tended to stay in the private sector. Many on the left fondly recall the great landslide Labour victory in the 1945 General Election, in the wake of which coal, steel and the railways were brought under public ownership, and the NHS was formed. However, to the best of my knowledge, Clement Attlee never once considered nationalising organised crime. The public just would never have bought the idea of their local spiv getting bogged in all that state bureaucracy, paperwork and red tape.

It can, however, work the other way round. Look at the former Soviet Union, for example. Where once all industry was state-controlled, the entire country is now run by organised crime. Indeed, it’s proved so successful, they’ve now started exporting their gangsters to other countries around the Globe, to run key industries such as English Premier League football clubs.

However, the most ridiculous proposal for rolling back the influence of the State has to be the Coalition’s recent idea for hiving-off Rehabilitation of Offenders to the private sector. Companies will be able to bid to “mentor” ex-offenders leaving prison but will only be paid if the ex-cons in question do not re-offend. This will be offered out to charities and private companies.

Now, ask yourself this. Who, if there is a profit motive involved, will be more effective in ensuring their “clients” do not stray from the straight-and-narrow ? A church-based charity or a Paul Ferris ? Let’s face it, after a five-stretch in the Bar-L, you’d probably like to keep your kneecaps.

Privatisation? It’s only just started!