Kaitlin Dryburgh 2nd September 2022
As I sit here writing this I am eagerly awaiting that beautifully annoying sound of a reversing bin lorry coming down my cul-de-sac, to take away the mountain of rubbish that has accumulated outside my flat in the centre of Edinburgh. Just as the rest of Scotland begins its descent into a bin strike, Auld Reekie (the most appropriate name currently) sees the efforts of bin and cleansing workers begin to clean up before the next strike begins.
Walking around the city has been quite shocking at times. If the sights don’t shock you, the smell definitely will, all I can say is I’m thankful that during this time there was no heatwave as that could have been an almost deadly smell. The rubbish that blows in the wind is a reminder that the Fringe has just passed, ice cream tubs and take away coffee cups getting stuck underneath hedges and crisp packets jammed inside drains. The lasting ramifications of this strike could be seeing your sandwich packet wafting around for years to come. Many visitors to the Fringe have been under the impression that this is how Edinburgh operates, which is unfortunate, however when we’re dealing with people’s livelihoods it is still necessary.
Just like what took place with the rail strikes, there has been effort from the mainstream media to somewhat villainise the strikers or to give the illusion that what they are doing is a symptom of laziness, but perhaps not as much as before. Perhaps the realisation of the current cost of living crisis has finally sunk in and the atmosphere is no longer there to make an example of those who don’t want to struggle to eat and heat their homes. However, that didn’t stop BBC Breakfast airing interviews with people (may I add my speculation that many of them were not residents) on the streets talking of their embarrassment of the city, not the embarrassment of the state of the pay for public workers.
It’s a sad and peculiar feeling to actually see everything crumble around you, in my lifetime the only times I can remember seeing this happen is the financial crash and the Covid pandemic. In the past decades there have been headlines of rising fuel costs, strikes and problems effecting the way our society functions. However, I have never seen such a perfect storm of issues coming down on us all at once, and this time you can really feel it and see it, the cost of living is affecting every crevice of this country and is leaving no stone untouched. Everyone has a story, and although it will undoubtedly get worse in the winter the problems are already affecting us today.
We have big problems, and as I mentioned in my newsletter last week the inability of some people to heat their homes will result in people dying. However we are also coming up against day-to-day issues constantly. For example, when I look outside my window I see the pile of black bin bags propped up against 7 overflowing bins, but this actually sits in front of a primary school’s playground. Currently a big section of it is out of commission due to the building beside it crumbling, the fencing was put up before the summer holidays and it is still there. The climbing frame in the playground is also partly blocked off as I assume something must be broken. I don’t know for certain, but I am fairly sure that if there was more money in the school’s budget, more public workers employed, and they weren’t so over-worked this would have been fixed a while ago. This is a sight in complete juxtaposition to the £200 million tram works that are happening at the end of the road (if anyone could point me in the direction of an Edinburgh resident who wanted the trams that would be much appreciated).
It’s the day-to-day tasks that have become harder, my parents back in Aberdeenshire now have to wait a minimum of hour and a half for a prescription or travel to a different town due to a severe shortage in pharmacists. My partner had to phone seven dentists before he could get an emergency dentist appointment, and my sister is struggling to find a rental property for when she returns to university. Even small things such as my favourite Chinese takeaway closing due to the unsustainable energy bills, of course my inability to get a cracking thai green curry isn’t a top concern of mine but it is indicative of what’s taking place around us, and that was someone’s livelihood after all. Since I’m on the topic of takeaways, Fish and Chip shops have also reported that many of them will struggle to keep going due to the increased price of fish and not to mention the fuel crisis. Everyone around us is struggling, there is barely an industry that isn’t under pressure.
It’s never been easier to see how the big headlines are affecting us now, the trail is easy to follow, from watching the evening news you can clearly pin-point how this is going to effect you the next day. It’s no longer easy for some people to bury their heads in the sand and declare that national or world politics doesn’t affect them.
So what is national sentiment at the moment? Having conversations about the current crisis with your nearest and dearest can range from worry, apprehension, anger, and bewilderment to how the situation could have possibly got this bad. When you see your community start to change so drastically and are aware that those who are the most vulnerable are weeks away from dropping into poverty, if they’re not already there, it’s difficult not get angry with the whole situation. Is anyone satisfied that any government has taken the right precautions to stop this from happening either in recent times or years ago when the right policies could have been deployed? Or that politicians are working round the clock to help put this right, as I’m not so sure.
This is when social movements start to shift and the creation of campaigns such as Enough is Enough! start to gain momentum. Enough is Enough! are campaigning for what have now become luxuries to be your god-given rights as human beings, real pay rises, affordable energy bills, access to good inexpensive food, decent homes for all and a commitment to tax the rich. The demands are simple yet when you look around you that’s what is actually needed right now, the campaign and their 500,000 followers are not asking for the add-on extras – they’re wanting the basic plan for all.
When I think back to the times just before Covid everything seemed a lot easier (and cheaper), it’s easy to feel despair in a climate like this but we can still keep campaigning for better, support the workers on strike and demand that government reign in the energy companies and actually provide emergency support for millions of homes, instead of treating this whole fiasco as a PR exercise.
I can however confirm that my bins have still not been emptied, and it has just occurred to me that an important letter that I was expecting tomorrow will indeed not be arriving tomorrow due to the postal worker strikes, but this is what happens when you bring the public sector to its knees.