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We’ve had a dry and sunny spell for much of the spring but in recent days it’s been back to normality in the form of rain and mist, here in the far north of Scotland. Someone posted in a local Facebook group that June had so far been wet, but that they live in hope [for better weather]. One joker replied wryly, “You don’t live in hope, you live in Wick!” which made me laugh. We are spoiled by rare good weather when it happens, and we know it.
It got me thinking about perceptions and how I probably contribute to them, at least here in my column at aNewsCafe. Mostly I portray life in the Highlands as idyllic, even quaint, and the lovely thing is that very often that’s true. But like anywhere else, we have our problems. So I thought I’d paint a more realistic picture of life in the north, both in general and personally, but rather than make it a long list of negatives, I thought I would try a more positive spin.
Therefore if I ruled the world, or at least my part of it, this is what would happen, in random order:
~Our horrible, inconsiderate, noisy, violent, boorish upstairs neighbors would have to live below themselves for three months to see what it’s like. Of course that defies the laws of physics so instead, if I were Ruler, I would have powers of eviction and they would be gone, taking their shouting matches, howling spaniel, and melodrama with them. The thought of a quiet life, where no one drops cigarette butts in our planters or lets their dog crap endlessly in stinky heaps in their scrap-heap back yard (which is two feet from our bedroom window), and where there aren’t anxiety-attack-producing bouts of domestic violence overhead at all hours (it’s as much her as him), well… it would be nice. Though I suppose it was interesting to have to pick him out of a photo line-up for police that time last summer…
~Every tourist who wants to drive in the Highlands would be required to take a three-day course on how to drive on our roads. This would be doubled for those who think it’s wise to rent RVs etc. despite having no idea how to handle them. Extra tutoring provided for those who think it’s a good idea to hold everyone up by creeping around the bends at 20mph, then going full throttle to 60mph on the straights meaning the rest of us can’t get past them on the very few places where we actually might have been able to, if they weren’t such colossal boneheads.
~I would create funding by taking it away from where it is not needed (more on that later) and pouring it into the roads and infrastructures. I’d love a locals-only flyover along the entire length of the “North Coast 500” (the increasingly popular tourist route around the north of Scotland) though I know that’s just silly. But I would at least add more passing lanes, as well as safe bicycle lanes along the whole route so that cyclists (a) were no longer blown off their bikes into hedges by fully-loaded logging trucks that blast past, and (b) didn’t hold the rest of us up.
~Organ donation would be opt-out, rather than opt-in. So many people mean to sign up to the donor register but it always slips their minds, or they forget to tell their family members (or their families go against their wishes). Opt-out would mean that if they felt strongly about not being a donor due to religious or other reasons, they could simply do so. But in my world, opting out of being a donor would also mean not being allowed to receive a transplant. Fair’s fair. (Children exempted; they can’t make that decision for themselves, and every child deserves a shot at as healthy a life as possible.)
~All of our small, local hospitals would be reopened. Centralizing services to the main (vastly outdated, under-staffed, no-longer-fit-for-purpose) hospital in Inverness would cease. People living in the Highlands and Islands would no longer be forced to travel three million miles a year collectively for hospital appointments and treatments (this is a true figure, recently reported in the news). A new battalion of nurses and doctors would be hired, at good pay, and provided with excellent working conditions. Ditto auxiliaries and cleaners, who would be given the time and materials they need to help stop the constant norovirus and e.coli outbreaks.
~More ambulances would be purchased, and more EMTs hired. People wouldn’t have to wait up to two hours, laying on the sidewalk where they fell because the only available ambulance was stuck on the main road 70 miles away. Added bonus: women would never again have to put “at the side of the A9 South, in an ambulance,” as the place of birth on their newborn’s birth certificates, or be sent to distant hospitals hundreds of miles away because the main hospital had no beds available on the maternity ward. (True stories, all, and more often than you might imagine.)
~Funding for these changes would be achieved in part by making a major change to NHS Highland administration (NHS = National Health Service). No longer would there be administrators and managers receiving umptyhundreds of thousands of pounds in yearly salaries. Their pay would come down to a reasonable level. Since it is likely that many of these posts could actually be eliminated, they would have their choice: accept the pay cut or move on. No hospital administrator would come from a non-medical background; they would have to have medical training of some kind before being allowed to make policies about hospital conditions, staff, patients and targets.
~There would be no more “career politicians.” Anyone who wanted to run for political office must have spent at least one year each as a fast food worker, cleaner, office worker, laborer, and sales person. They would have to pay for rent and living expenses out of the money they earned doing these jobs. No more trust-fund politicians who have no idea about how anyone else lives in the real world.
~People would earn a respectable amount of money even at minimum wage (which would be raised). Zero-hours contracts would be abolished. The food banks that are popping up all over Scotland would become obsolete. Families would no longer live in food poverty, as too many do, right here and right now.
~Every village would have its own “bobby on the beat” rather than a centralized police force. There would once again be local police who knew their “patch” and the people on it. Vandalism would abate. Drug dens would be dispersed. Oh, speaking of which, marijuana would be legal. Other drugs, not so much. There would be better education in school, starting in the early grades, about the effects of smoking and drug and alcohol abuse.
~Related to that topic, more teachers would be hired. There would be an emphasis on critical and independent thinking rather than rote-learning for standardized tests. In fact, I’d have a huge bonfire at every school, using those awful national standardized tests for fuel (hot dogs and marshmallows for toasting provided). More teachers would mean more individual help for kids who need it, and teachers who could do much more than just push students through the system to reach government quotas. Learning – and teaching – could be more fun again. And peeple wud leaf skool wit bedder speling grammer and comprehenshun to, cuz wut I see these days is lyk aweful.
~Business rates for bricks-and-mortar shops would be drastically reduced, and abandoned business premises could once again house shops and services that people need locally. Amazon is taking a bite out of all of us, but if local businesses were given half a chance without extortionate rents and rates, they could bite back.
~Affordable housing would be (a) truly affordable, (b) not hideously ugly, and (c) increased to meet demand. This includes renovating the many empty and abandoned homes across the Highlands.
~Some of the vast acres of moorland would be set up for RVs, camper vans, tents and caravans, with necessary services and amenities so that this type of tourist stops parking in every lay-by, private field, and harbor parking lot. Want to come visit the Highlands? Fabulous! We understand that you want to do it “on the cheap” by bringing along your own food and lodging, but you will no longer be able to just set up camp anyoldwhere and then disappear, leaving a mess behind. The local bobby will politely direct you to the campsites we will have in abundance, and make sure you go there. Everyone wins: nature no longer gets smothered with your trash, public toilets no longer get swamped with the contents of your waste tanks, and enough money will be earned to keep the campsites clean and serviceable with enough left over to repair the roads you’re helping to wear out. Added benefit: the locals won’t want to set fire to your RV while you sleep in it, parked up on their private property without permission.
~All those public toilets that have been closed would be reopened for everyone’s sake, from tourists to those of us with menopausal bladders which increasingly blight our lives.
~Another funding idea, if I were Ruler… taxes. Oh, the rich will hate this… but no more tax loopholes, or hiding money offshore. Taxes would be truly progressive, and reflect the ability to pay. Large corporations would be required to stop their tax-dodging shenanigans as well. Trade here, pay reasonable taxes here, end of story.
~Our ageing population would have more and safer places to live, especially those suffering with dementia. As with our nurses and teachers, workers there would receive good pay, and would be taught how to care for the elderly with compassion and respect.
~There would be no Brexit. Or if there is (since I’m writing as the theoretical ruler of Scotland alone), then Scotland would declare independence and become a member of the EU. We would own and control our own oil, negotiate fair fishing rights with our EU brethren, and have our own currency. Of course we would want our own passports, which should probably be purple, with a unicorn on them. (Did you know that Scotland’s “national animal” is the unicorn? Because it is!) Our passports can’t be tartan, as Sem would not stand for such nonsense. (His vote, when I asked him, was for a savage haggis rather than a unicorn.)
~We’ve got a good thing going with wind power already, so we would stop adding more windmills and instead put more emphasis on wave and tidal power. We’ve got wind and water in abundance; making the most of them for the sake of electricity is a win. We might even sell any excess electricity we’ve got to the rest of the British Isles. Maybe.
~We would save the bees, by whatever means necessary. Dangerous pesticides eradicated, natural habitats fostered, and wildflowers everywhere.
~Lastly, I would make sure that Sem and I lived in a nice home. Nothing ridiculous; just because I would be in charge doesn’t mean I need a palace. Our current place is all right, though a bit drafty when the wind is blowing in off the sea…
This place would do nicely. Rulership offices on the ground floor, private meeting rooms at the back, living space above… and NO upstairs neighbors!