They say that the older you get, the more conservative you become: perhaps that’s the reason there are no Tories in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon has announced that she will freeze the retirement age at 65 as raising it would be unfair on Scottish people, who die younger. Iraq has a higher life expectancy than certain parts of Glasgow, and probably a better standard of football. I often wonder if the real reason the royals holiday in Balmoral is so they can use Scottish staff to teach their children about mortality, in the same way that you or I would let them have a hamster. “I’m afraid Old Jock’s dead son, but he was 35 … in Scottish years that’s two World Cup qualifications …”
The SNP are far from radical, but they do have a knack for producing the odd simple, progressive policy that’s hard to argue against. It has to be a vote-winner among Scottish people to announce that you will oppose the retirement age being raised to several years after they die. It must have been a strange journey for Sturgeon to have gone from relative obscurity in the substantial shadow of Alex Salmond to having the entire nation watch her exchange soundbites with a Labour leader who looks like a dream about a nose that has teeth. It feels almost as if the establishment is still assessing her. Which of the traditional tactics to employ: scorn or vilification? Do you call her the most dangerous woman in Britain or stage a smear where she’s a gossipy woman? Decisions, decisions.
There is still a note of muted horror in the English media about women leading political parties. People feel much more comfortable with the 50 Shades of Grey version of women’s liberation: possibly feeling life would be much simpler if the suffragettes hadn’t wanted the vote and just really enjoyed chaining themselves to railings.
In Scotland, Sturgeon’s opposition is Jim Murphy – a guy with the air of a harassed PE teacher. A man so far out of his depth he should be turning up for work on an inflatable banana. Anyone who describes anything as “a new low” in Scottish politics possibly just hasn’t been paying enough attention over the years but, even to a jaded post-referendum electorate, Labour’s eagerness to spread the Telegraph’s smear must have been like being slapped around the face for two days with a cock made from lies. It’s worth remembering that the religious crosscurrents that helped Labour in the referendum (you know that thing we have every so often where two sets of fat people get together and sing about famine?) don’t apply here. Polls show a huge majority of Scottish people are against austerity.
Scottish Labour strategy can be broadly summarised as: get a bunch of stories that don’t really bear any scrutiny into the tabloids and hope that nobody in Scotland owns a computer. No doubt their postmodern relationship to truth would have been fine in simpler times when you yelled policies through a loudhailer from a moving car. They are doomed to lose heavily in what is, essentially, a campaign against Google.
It’s quite telling about our political climate that the establishment seem terrified of an SNP who, let’s remember, aren’t that progressive. They propose rejecting austerity in favour of a very modest spending increase and don’t think their country should be a nuclear missile base. This only seems radical if you’re a gibbering rightwing lunatic. It’s just unfortunate that so many of those people own newspapers.
Who wants to have to work past 65 anyway? I’m 42 and I feel terrible. Women now look at my naked body in the same fearful way that pensioners look at snow. White, forbidding, and – let’s be honest – it’s probably going to break your pelvis. Surely after 65 you should be free to potter around your shed not seeing enough of your grandkids and wishing that your mates weren’t dead? Taking pointless cruises where getting dinner is like going to a China Buffet King on roller skates. Feeling good about what you’ve done with your life, because you can no longer remember it.
Years ago those adverts for Scottish Widows that we thought were just a ridiculous excuse to show a beautiful young model in mourning were actually brutal realism. A 29-year-old Scottish widow isn’t fantasy, it’s a pretty decent plot point for a Ken Loach movie. I think the election is as good a time as any for Scottish people to ask if they are happy with this reality. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to live in a country where it was the people who broke the social contract by making people work longer that provoked press scrutiny? It might just be nice to live in a country where a politician got the same amount of coverage for a progressive announcement as for something they didn’t say. It might even be nice to live in a country where when people mentioned life expectancy, we were talking about the quality of life we expected rather than just the quantity.