The 70s and All That
By Gordon Gibson
It was hardly remarkable that the right wing press (and other Unionist commentators) rushed, at the first whiff of industrial action, to drag out comparisons between the present state of the UK and the way things were in the 1970s. At the same time, I could not help but wonder how many of these self appointed guardians of Common Sense and Economic Probity were actually around at the time.
Being suitably long in the tooth, I can remember those days very well. I was a newly qualified teacher. My family struggled to exist on what I was paid, my daughter qualified for free school meals and I had to seek extra sources of income. These varied from private tutoring (despite the fact that it contradicted all my beliefs about education), playing guitar in a pub (only once, not asked back), to working in London as a builder’s labourer during my summer holidays. I left teaching after two years for a job in a voluntary organisation with slightly better pay. Two years later I was back teaching, after the organisation where I worked lost its Urban Aid funding. Inflation reached 30%.
Across the decade, UK politics were in a state of chaos. A surprise Conservative election victory in 1970 installed the Heath government. They were in immediate conflict with strong Trades Unions, mismanaged the disputes and lost power to Labour after two general elections in 1974. The Tories blamed Heath for being ‘defeated’ by striking miners, and Thatcher became party leader in his stead. The so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’ and Labour’s Callaghan premiership, savagely attacked across the media, paved the way for the first Thatcher Government in 1979.
I cannot make up my mind whether today’s Tory media are afraid that Unions are regaining strength or are hoping that obvious government ineptitude may lead to the party throwing out Johnson, replacing him with someone even farther to the right. Or perhaps, with talk of ‘Union Barons’ and ‘impossible wage demands’ they are seeking to convince the British public that only the Conservative Party can save them from the ever-worsening economic situation.
What seems clear to me is that neither a continuing Conservative government, nor a victory in the approaching general election for lacklustre Labour, will be able to steer Scotland away from the problems that now confront the UK.
I am reminded of the cry of a former colleague in times of trouble: ‘An Albatross! Cut the rope!’