Dunfermline Press – “Youth Say” 29 August 2013

Originally published in The Dunfermline Press 29 August 2013

Sadly, the deadline for this piece was before Dunfermline’s MSP, Bill Walker, was convicted of domestic assault and breach of the peace.

THIS time of year is known as “the silly season.” If you don’t know what it is, I’ll do the legwork for you, and tell you what Wikipedia has to say on it: “the period lasting for a few summer months typified by the emergence of frivolous news stories in the media.”

There’s been a few good ‘silly season’ stories this summer, my favourite was the hysteria over the possible pregnancy of the Edinburgh Zoo’s female panda, Tian Tian. That’s right, possible pregnancy. Rather than wait the couple of weeks it would take to confirm a pregnancy, every media outlet in the country was dashing for pictures of the terminally lazy mammal.

Meanwhile in Belfast, The Belfast Telegraph ran with the following scathing headline last Tuesday: “WANTED: STATESMAN (OR WOMAN).” It then went on to criticise politicians in the country at all levels for their utter inability to maintain peace and order on occasion because of a religious-related tension in the first world in the 21st Century. The London riots got 50 times more coverage than this, what’s going on?!

Granted, it’s much nicer (and easier) to read about the possibility of a cute little baby panda plopping out by the end of the year, but it’s honestly more important. I was more concerned with last Wednesday’s Independent, whose lead story was on mental health patients who were sectioned (and thereby deprived of many of their rights) because psychiatrists knew it was the only way they could get access to a hospital bed – even though the patients weren’t a danger to themselves or anyone else.

Actually, going back to the pandas (again) – Tian Tian was one of the main stories on Sunrise on Sky News. She’s possibly pregnant – not with their own partner – with an as-yet unknown man. To be honest, it’s more Jeremy Kyle than Eamonn Holmes. I’m going to stop ranting now, before someone realises I’m a hypocrite.

PUBLIC transport. What would we do without it? (Well, for those of us that can’t/don’t drive and don’t have the time to walk or cycle?)

We in the UK have an extremely convoluted public transport system. Our railways are divided into around 30 different portions, some extremely lucrative, others loss making. This places us in the bizarre (but I fear not unusual) position of subsidising a private company in order for it to turn a profit. Why not just cut out the middle man? At the other end of the spectrum, the east coast route has been run by the government since late 2009 and has returned several hundred million pounds to the taxpayer, whilst its private sector predecessor struggled to make a profit above £3 million.

Over in Northern Ireland, the railways are in state control. The trains are new and on time. The services are frequent, and the fares are low.

East Lothian MSP, and former Scottish Labour Leader, Iain Gray has launched a petition asking for the return of bus regulation. The bill would prevent private operators abandoning loss-making routes in favour of more profitable ones, by tendering them together as well as handing more control over fares to local councils.

Why should we pay over the odds for a public service, just so a private company can pay more to its fat cat shareholders? To be honest, I’d rather read about pandas.


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