by Colin Campbell
THE days are shortening rapidly and the first chill of winter is setting in. We are a year further into this virus situation, and with everyone who wants to be fully vaccinated, things should be looking a lot better than they were 12 months ago.
But it doesn’t feel like it. And not even the sunniest optimist could say the first days of October are brimming over with cheer.
The virus threat is receding to the level of fractional risk, although strange people, young people, are still to be often seen walking in the open air on empty streets masked up to the eyeballs for reasons best known to themselves. I think they are complete idiots. How are people ever expected to gain relief from virus concerns when we still have these types so blatantly displaying some kind of moral superiority or simply making a fashion statement? And of course when they go to the pub with their pals at weekends it’s a racing certainty there won’t be a mask in sight.
What else seems to be aimed at dragging down morale as the nights close in? Rather a lot.
The newspapers and politicians like Inverness MP Drew Hendry tell us the supermarket shelves are running on empty because of a Brexit fuelled shortage of HGV drivers. Hendry features some random pictures of empty shelves on his Twitter site.
But as Hendry and his crew try to make their autumn/winter of discontent claims a self-fulfilling prophecy the supermarket shelves here remain stubbornly full, as we can see with the evidence of our own eyes.
There is also a fuel crisis with long queues of drivers panic buying, the same calculating doom mongers tell us. Not in Inverness there isn’t. We must be incredibly lucky to live in the only city in the country not being brought to its knees by these crises, except that’s not the case. My brother lives in Perth and says in the Fair City the shelves are full and petrol is being bought as normal also.
What else is bringing an early winter blast of apprehension and chilling warnings of hardship ahead?
The furlough scheme has just ended, after billions were spent on paying much of the wages of people earning but not working. Sturgeon, Hendry, Blackford, Forbes and the rest of the SNP grievance mongers want the free money payouts continued indefinitely, of course, and condemn the “callous Tories” for deciding they can’t go on any longer, running up ever more national debt.
They think they’re on a winner here but I’m not so sure. I was this week visiting a couple, care workers in an Inverness nursing home, who’ve worked all the way through the pandemic and haven’t received a brass farthing of furlough money. “Although people stood on their doorsteps one Thursday and gave us a round of applause,” they said sardonically. They were in fact unaware that furlough was still going on, and were thoroughly displeased to hear about it.
Some people may experience genuine difficulties with the ending of the furlough scheme. But the care folk I spoke to said the news is awash with reports of job vacancies and firms in different sectors being unable to find staff and yet people have still been paid to stay at home and do nothing.
They made the straightforward point that to them that simply doesn’t any longer add up. I agree with them. And I suspect that many other people will share their view also.
Universal credit is being cut and “the evil Tories” are stealing money from the poorest in society. “We are facing a catastrophe,” says Hendry. Well he’s not, at least, with his snout buried in the Westminster trough and raking in more money in salary and expenses than he knows what to do with.
And universal credit is not being cut, in the proper meaning of the word. It was increased at the beginning of the pandemic, like the introduction of furlough, specifically to cover the duration of the pandemic, and now that the pandemic is almost over the increase is being removed.
Those of us who do not receive universal credit probably can’t venture an opinion as to whether that’s reasonable or is wholly unjust. All we do know is that we cannot accept the opinions of Hendry, Blackford and the inveterate liars of the SNP at face value.
The warning of a steep increase in domestic fuel bills over the winter? The council can do its bit here and increase the winter fuel allowance they make available to pensioners from the Inverness Common Good Fund in a process which has involved such a complex form filling questionnaire that many may have been deterred from even applying for it in the past. Simplify the application and pay out the cash. If they can spend tens of thousands of pounds of Common Good money on the reviled Gathering Place they can use funds from the same source to help old people stay warm.
So what other bad news is around? Well last but not least the cancellation of the entire Inverness Winter Festival programme, a decision which seems more indefensible every time you look at it.
This is because of the virus and “in the interests of public safety”. So all the open air events which helped brighten up winter, the Halloween Show at the Ness Islands, Bonfire Night, the Christmas Lights switch on, the Red Hot Highland fling, all wiped out.
And for why? As of yesterday there were only 23 people in hospitals across the entire Highlands, which is 0.01 per cent of the region’s population, receiving treatment for the virus, in a continuing downward trend of hospitalisations. But that, essentially, has been enough to cause the cancellation of everything that would have lifted morale and felt like an ongoing return to normality, “in the interests of public safety”.
The idiotic, paranoid killjoys behind that decision have well and truly done their bit to increase the likelihood of a long and fairly cheerless winter.
Maybe not intentionally, but nevertheless In lockstep with the rest of the ultra determined doom and gloom brigade, they have succeeded in making whatever difficulties lie ahead look as grim as they possibly could be.
If mental health problems flare up to a level even more acute than last winter, they will shoulder at least some of the blame.