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September 10th – September 16th, 2022 Week 37

10/09/22 – 16/09/22                                                             

Disability, royalty, republics, and are we being gamed?……

Disability Discrimination

          People with disabilities were harder hit during the pandemic and now by the cost-of-living crisis, according to Helen McArdle in the Herald (‘Disabled should be a priority for the new health secretary’, 10/09/22).  But the SNP/Green Programme for Government last week had nothing for them.   Analysis by health think-tank the King’s Fund found the risk of dying of covid was three to four times higher in more disabled people than non-disabled people, 1.5 times higher for those with physical disabilities than for those without, and 3.7 times higher for the learning disabled.

          Extreme risk factors were the likelihood of being in residential care, with 60% of UK covid deaths involving those with a disability.  Disabled representatives are pressing to be included as ‘core participants’ in the UK Covid Public Inquiry, which would give them access to documents and allow them to question participants.  Disabled people felt forgotten in the pandemic, with social care abandoned, poor information, communication, and unfair treatment.  

          Potentially discriminatory clinical guidance issued in March and April of 2020 may have caused the elderly and disabled to be wrongly denied access to ventilators and intensive care treatment, with some disabled people having a DNR (‘Do Not Resuscitate’) sign put over their beds without consent or knowledge of the patients or families.  This appears to breach their human rights, as did guidance to doctors to consider factors like patients needing help for daily activities or living in a nursing home, implying this would affect their access to critical care. 

          The disabled who were previously shielding were denied access to covid antivirals and spring boosters when restrictions were lifting, according to Dr Sally Witcher, former senior adviser to the Scottish government, effectively preventing the disabled from returning to normal life.  Immuno-compromised people were also affected by the UK decision in August not to procure Evusheld, a covid drug evidenced as protecting the disabled.  It was already used elsewhere and even approved by UK regulators.

          The present energy crisis impacts the disabled further the cost of living, but even more so those who must run expensive equipment at home.

Warm Banks

          Glasgow and other cities are setting up ‘warm banks’ this winter for those in fuel poverty as a refuge for those unable to heat their homes.  They will use council buildings and those of Glasgow Life and may later include religious settings or voluntary organisations, and will open from October to March.

Police Scotland

          Serious questions are being asked over the policing of events in Scotland surrounding the death of the former monarch.  One woman was arrested for holding a sign saying ‘F*** imperialism. Abolish the monarchy’. She was charged with breach of the peace, despite not being abusive or shouting.  Maybe her choice of words was unfortunate, but how did a wordless placard incite such angst?

          The police also used section 12 powers to break up a gathering of 50 people by Cairde na h’Eireann in Glasgow commemorating the international volunteers who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War.  Were the police really worried about a planned counter-protest as claimed or were they just cracking down on peaceful protest?

BBC Impartiality

          Its Royal Charter demands that the BBC should reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom both in its output and services and raise awareness of different cultures and alternative viewpoints ‘that make up its society’.   Scant evidence of that this week with wall-to-wall coverage of the royal passing.  The BBC Scotland website carried 22 stories and videos on the monarchy before any other news.

          Much was made of the 33,000 people who lined the streets of Edinburgh for the passing of the royal cortege.  A good number, but not from half a million residents.

          A BBC reporter was also accused of laughing at a comment that John Knox ‘cleared the Catholics out of Scotland’, for which they were later forced to apologise.

Should Scotland be a republic?

          ‘Our Republic’ convener Tristan Gray referred to polling published in May which found that only 45% of people in Scotland support the idea of keeping the monarchy.  Alex Salmond thought Scotland did the Queen proud, the ceremonies were without flummery and ‘as it should be’.

           Richard Murphy of Tax Justice points out that the Privy Council was assembled in London ‘to be told that Prince Charles was to be made king’.  No approval sought.  No consent to Charles becoming our ‘liege lord’, putting us under his ‘protection, owing him a debt paid in homage and duty’. Scotland has a new Duke of Rothesay and Wales a new Prince of Wales, both positions held by one Englishman.  No consent sought from Scotland or Wales.

          But for her part, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon paid tribute to the Queen as the ‘anchor of our nation’ and ‘true friend’ of the Scottish parliament. She pledged Scotland’s support to the King throughout his reign.

          We are told ‘now is not the time to discuss the monarchy’.  Isn’t the death of the monarch the best time to discuss it?   We are told not to politicise the events.  Has no-one been reading the papers this week?  They are little but a PR exercise in preserving the monarchical status quo.

          Scotland pays about £35 million a year towards royalty, according to protest group Republic, but says this may be an underestimation due to funding royal visits and so on.  Very little of the claimed economic boost reaches Scotland.  Jamaica and Belize now want to abolish the monarchy, and Australia, New Zealand and Canada are tending towards republicanism.   Perhaps Scotland should join them.   

for more, go to ‘Why should we fall into line and accept the new monarch?’ on the ISP website and ISP on Facebook.

 Are we being ‘gamed’ by the system?

          Yes, according to Scottish neuroscientist Adrian Hon, one of the world’s most influential games designers.  His book ‘You’ve Been Played’ investigates how big business, governments, employers and even schools use digital techniques which make computer games addictive to control us (‘Is modern life just a game?’, Neil Mackay, Herald, 11/09/22).  Gamification is using ideas from game design for non-game purposes, and is practised by employers like Amazon, Domino’s, Microsoft and so on.

          Amazon warehouses represent workers as computer ‘avatars’ vying with other workers for rewards like ‘vendor dollars’ to be spent on-site.   Uber drivers are given ‘quests’ working longer and harder for financial rewards. The technique tricks workers into working longer for a little more pay. 

          Many apps gamify people in return for their data, but Hon says brain-training apps are not as effective as crosswords or reading.  Many gamification techniques are not benign but turn us into robots, easily programme-able by government.  Some UK schools use the education app ClassDojo using online rewards and punishments to shape behaviour, and China has created a ‘social credit score system’ for rewarding or punishing behaviour on a credit score controlling future finance and social status. 

Unsafe Cycle Lanes

          Compensation claims have sprung up against councils injured in cycle lanes installed as part of the SNP/Green active travel promotion.  The problem surrounds the ‘orcas’, black and white rubber humps bolted onto the tarmac which are fitted to separate cycle lanes from the rest of the road.  Victims have broken limbs due to falling over the ‘orcas’ which blend into the road.  Glasgow City Council is facing 27 claims centred on an accident hotspot next to St Enoch Square, but Edinburgh, Angus, East Renfrewshire and others are also affected.

          Transport Scotland’s Prioritising Sustainable Transport puts walking and wheeling (wheelchair using), cycling and public transport at the top of their priorities, with cars at the bottom.   Should pedestrians also be at the bottom of the list if the ‘orcas’ blend to the point of invisibility and cause serious injuries?

Sexual harassment in schools

          may be a much bigger problem than the government will admit.  Girls in more than 460 Scots primary and secondary schools reported in an anonymised online platform they have experienced sexual harassment and violence, with many incidents occurring in school.  Cyberflashing affected up to 90% of respondents (receiving unsolicited explicit pictures or videos) and sharing explicit images and ‘up-skirting’ are becoming normalised.

Rent Controls

          The rent freeze from September 6th, 2022, to March 31st, 2023 recently announced by the Scottish government may be more limited than it seemed.  Social sector rents were not due to increase until next April anyway, and Scots law does not allow a landlord to put rent up within one year of a previous increase, meaning those who have had rent increased in the past six months are not affected.

          Landlords are predictably protesting against the measures, saying that they will be forced to sell.  But many properties were taken out of the long-term rental market by people letting them short term or as holiday ets on Airbnb, leading to increased rents. 

          Measures are needed to bring properties back onto the rental market or, preferably, reduce prices and allow people to buy outright.  Germany’s rental sector is based on a rental contract based on current market prices, indexed for inflation. 

Finally,

The Trinity of Tedium

          The Perthshire village of Dull (population 85) twinned with Boring, Oregon since 2012, regularly welcomes tourists visiting each other and buying T-shirts and mugs.  The town of Bland, New South Wales, Australia, joined them in 2017, with the 3 known as the ‘Trinity of Tedium’.   Two further American towns, Dreary and Ordinary, are considering getting in on the act.

          Perhaps dull and boring are an antidote to the tumultuous times we are living in.

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