Woke rebels burn Harry Potter books but say little about life-blighting poverty – Susan Dalgety

Identity politics, of one kind or another, is distracting from important facts like a third of people in Scotland’s most deprived areas have no educational qualifications, writes Susan Dalgety.

Saturday, 19th September 2020, 7:30 am
Laura Martin, a member of One Parent Families Scotland, and her daughter Remy protest against cuts to charity funding in Glasgow's George Square (Picture: John Devlin)
Laura Martin, a member of One Parent Families Scotland, and her daughter Remy protest against cuts to charity funding in Glasgow's George Square (Picture: John Devlin)

While Scotland’s comfortable middle class have been grabbling with 1,000-piece jigsaws during the pandemic, France’s bourgeoisie have found a more subversive pastime.

A revolutionary board game, designed by two of the country’s most famous sociologists, Michel Pincon and Monique Pincon-Charlot, has sold 30,000 copies since last Christmas.

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Kapital, described as the “anti-Monopoly,” is a game which helps you “understand, apprehend, and even experience the sociological mechanisms of domination” or, in blunt English, class warfare with dice.

In an interview in New Yorker magazine this week, the couple, who have studied the relationship between social classes throughout their distinguished careers, explained the rules of the game.

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It begins at birth, and the player who rolls the highest dice to start is armed with 50,000 euro in each of four categories: financial, cultural, social and symbolic capital. Her opponents, losers from the outset, receive only ten thousand.

The winner is the person who negotiates the game’s 82 squares – representing France’s average life expectancy – to be the first to land in the final square, a tax haven.

Pincon-Charlot tells the New Yorker that the game’s unexpected success is because it is “perfectly in tune with the political moment, in France and everywhere else – the whole world is under the same globalised capitalism”.

It may be the ideal(istic) present for the Corbynista in your life, who can crack open a bottle of craft beer, turn up the volume on their Tom Waits album and pretend they are – at last – winning the class war, all from the comfort of their John Lewis sofa.

But the social and economic divide that the game represents is all too real for hundreds of thousands of Scots, as a depressing report revealed this week.

Almost one in three adults living in Scotland’s 20 per cent most deprived areas have no formal educational qualifications. Nothing, not even a Standard grade in home economics.

Turn a sharp right, to Scotland’s richest areas, where you will find that half of adults have either a degree or a professional qualification. This is the reality of 21st-century Scotland, where a roll of the dice – where you are born – will largely define how you will live, and die.

Poverty stalks Scotland. While property prices in Edinburgh reach eye-watering sums – a basic one-bedroom flat in Slateford Road sells for £230,000 – there are parents in parts of the capital who have to choose between toothpaste or fruit for their children.

Polly Heine, project co-ordinator at Edinburgh’s Hygiene Bank, which distributes basics like soap and toothbrushes to struggling families, said earlier this week that the pandemic has pushed more people further into poverty.

Ms Heine told the Edinburgh Evening News, “We hear of families having to use one toothbrush between all of them or parents having to reuse nappies as they have to make the difficult decision between feeding their family and keeping them clean.”

One in four children in Scotland live in poverty. A quarter of our future workforce. The Scottish Government’s own forecasts predict that the number will reach 38 per cent by 2030.

The Child Poverty Action Group points out on its website that, by the age of five, there is gap of 13 months between the vocabulary of children from higher income families and those living on the breadline.

Studies suggest children living in poverty are nearly three times as likely to suffer mental health problems, and as Nicola Sturgeon herself admitted earlier this week, children whose parents can’t afford organised, paid-for activities are missing out because the new lockdown rules restrict gatherings at home.

Scotland’s poorest children do not enjoy any of the financial, cultural, social and symbolic capital that their more affluent peers take for granted.

They will not be helped on to the property ladder by the bank of Mum and Dad once they are ready to leave home; even a rented flat will be out of reach for many. And they will inherit very little.

They don’t have access to the social and professional networks that more affluent kids take for granted, and their cultural life is restricted, by financial necessity, to TV. And the symbolic capital of self-confidence, bolstered by expensive dental work, private tuition and music lessons, is simply unattainable.

Inequality has been a feature of Scottish society for centuries. The poor have always been at the gate of the rich man, whether he was the laird in his castle, the merchant in his mansion house, or the banker in his New Town drawing room flat.

The global economy, where the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, controls the fate of the thousands of workers in Dunfermline with a tap of his smartphone, has entrenched the divide between capital and labour.

But there will be no revolution to televise. Today’s woke rebels care more about their own fragile identities than the fate of their less privileged peers. Burning Harry Potter books is the limit of their political courage.

One woman does have the power to transform the lives of our poorest children. Nicola Sturgeon. She has complete control over Scotland’s schools and an annual education budget of £3.5 billion. Scotland is home to some of the world’s best education theorists, and has thousands of highly trained, motivated teachers. A mother who has to choose between Colgate and apples during her weekly trip to Lidl really doesn’t care whether Scottish or Westminster politicians control the defence budget. But she does want her toddler to have a better life than the one she has been able to give him.

Education doesn’t guarantee you a Victorian villa in Morningside, but it does offer you a route out of poverty, a chance to gain some of the capital others take for granted.

Scotland should have the best education system in the world. There is no reason why it doesn’t, except political will. The pandemic will fade, the economy will recover, slowly, leaving Nicola Sturgeon with a dilemma. Yesterday, on the anniversary of the referendum that saw the Scottish people vote to stay part of the UK, she tweeted her regret, adding, “I prefer to look forward with a firm belief in what will be #indyref”.

That’s Sturgeon’s choice. She can spend the next few years wasting her political capital chasing her teenage dream of secession, or she can be truly revolutionary and start building an education system that will transform our nation. It’s her call.

Find out how you can support Edinburgh’s Hygiene Bank

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