Playing ping-pong with childcare problems

You are a senior manager in a large and important organisation. One lunchtime, your boss discreetly calls you and a manager from a different department into her office. She tells you, quietly and seriously, that something has gone very wrong in an area of delivery for which the two of you share responsibility. She asks you both for an explanation.

Choose your response.

A) We’re both very sorry. Something’s gone wrong, and we’ll work together to figure out what happened and how we can resolve it as quickly as possible.

B). Well, it wasn’t me, it was her! And even if I did get some things wrong, her department got it much more wrong, and everything was much worse that time you put them in charge!

Which do you think would be most likely to get you politely escorted to the door, clutching a cardboard box and a P45?

And yet inexplicably, response B is the option that not only the First Minister but also Glasgow City Council plumped for today, when discussing the fact that many parents cannot access the 600 hours of free childcare to which we are allegedly entitled.

Kezia Dugdale asked the First Minister what she was going to do about it. The First Minister told her that the problems in Glasgow were all the Labour Council’s fault, so she should speak to them if she wanted to get it sorted. The SNP backbenches erupted in joy. The aforementioned Glasgow City Council, in the person of Cllr Stephen Curran, put out a statement saying that whatever they might think, what parents actually wanted were changes to national policies and that Glasgow City Council was really doing a magnificent job on childcare, even though lots of pesky parents kept pretending it wasn’t.

What I find especially dispiriting about it all is that I bet everyone involved was very pleased with themselves. The First Minister had turned a difficult question back on the Labour party, and the Council had responded quickly to make quite clear where they thought the blame lay. But nobody lifted a finger to improve the situation, and no parent or child was at all better off at the end of this unfortunate and unedifying day in politics.

Well, as politicians are so fond of saying, let me be clear. I want politicians to stop focusing on making their party look good and start concentrating on fixing problems.  I couldn’t care less who sorts this out: I just want some of our leaders to take responsibility, act like grown-ups and stop blaming each other. Perhaps they ought to spend some time in their own local nurseries – on today’s evidence, toddlers might have something to teach them about adult behaviour.

The Second Time Around

The first time I heard my daughter’s heartbeat was a profoundly moving moment. I lay on the bed in the midwife’s room, watching as she skilfully moved the doppler around my belly, listening to the low, rapid bass drum beat of this brand new heart that was growing inside me. Tears slipped down my face as I took in what was happening, grinning idiotically at the miracle my body was performing and the technology that allowed me to hear my own little baby even before she was born.

Last week, I lay on that same bed, glancing up at the midwife as she beamed down upon me, dimly aware of a muffled healthy thump from the machine next to me, but far more focused on the small demanding voice a few feet away, shouting “My nose! My nose! My nose!”

Eilidh wanted to read I Can Find My Nose, and she wanted to read it now: her new little brother or sister could wait. I thanked the midwife, fed Eilidh rice crackers while I got my blood pressure checked, and then went off to the park.

Earlier that day, I had entered the waiting room where, not quite three years ago, I sat sick with anxiety, waiting for the scan that I hoped would confirm the start of an extraordinary adventure but feared would reveal nothing but an empty womb and a lost hope. That first time round, everything seemed slow and significant. Once we’d had our scan and seen our healthy, kicking baby, that maternity unit took on a dreamy, magical quality that never quite went away, even on those days when I’d wait for over an hour for a five-minute appointment, frantically keeping up with work emails on my much-detested Blackberry.

Second time around, I passed the time with Eilidh cuddled on my knee reading books together, or watching her career around the room, pointing out objects with her usual glee. “Chair!” she’d announce. “Book! Lady!”  This after I’d had the entirely new experience of peeing into a sample jar while crammed into a hospital loo with a fascinated tiny spectator providing a running commentary.

So far, Eilidh has no real understanding of what’s about to happen. Frankly, neither do I – I suspect that being a mum of two is a whole new ball game. But even at this early stage, not quite four months into my pregnancy, I feel very sure of one thing.

This time around, things are going to be different.

The Citizens, The Mavericks and the Scotland Bill

The STUC was in high dudgeon today following the publication of the Scotland Bill, describing it, confusingly, as “not even the end of the beginning of progress to meaningful additional devolution”.

Reading between the lines of their press release, they seemed upset because they didn’t get to see the Bill before it was published. Having been at the launch and had the chance to chat to a few weary-looking civil servants, I suspect that was because it was only finished at about 2am yesterday and then rushed off to the printers to be produced in time for David Cameron to wave it around chummily on the Our Dynamic Earth stage.

Anyway, I was actually quite interested in the STUC’s suggestion that the Bill should now be subject to a citizen-led consultation process, in order to ensure that all the non-politicians who threw themselves into the referendum campaign can have their voices heard.

I was interested because I’m not sure I agree. Nor am I entirely convinced that the apparent deluge of Yes campaigners signing up to stand for the SNP is unequivocally a good thing.

The brilliant thing about the referendum campaign was that it steamrollered the politicians and became a phenomenon totally beyond their control. People organised their own events, got their own groups established, went round their mates’ houses to debate the issues and expressed themselves in umpteen different ways, from music to drama to comedy and much else besides.

There has been much political harrumphing since 18th September about the need to maintain this momentum, but it all seems to aim at getting the campaigners to play the politician’s game: whether by joining a party, taking part in a consultation process or standing for election. Just today, there was a Guardian story about all the mavericks who are choosing to stand for the SNP in order to achieve independence – but mavericks tend to cease being maverick-y once inside the system.

It’s worth saying that I do admire those who are choosing to stand, or seek selection as a candidate. Politics is a tiring, demanding, dirty business and I respect anyone who’s willing to put in the hours and take the abuse that seems to go with party politics, especially when you’re giving up a perfectly comfortable and pleasant lifestyle to do so.

But I worry when I read all these mavericks talking about the need to recognise the realpolitik of the situation and to maintain discipline in order to win the bigger goal of independence. Politics already suffers from too much discipline. The reason so many people dislike politicians is that they all sound the same, toeing the party line in order to maintain order and, they would argue, advance the greater good. But this is to confuse the interests of a political party with the interests of the citizenry. It is in the interests of a political party to preserve discipline so they don’t get trashed in the press and made to look unruly. But it is in the interests of the public to have proper debates and to have politicians who are willing to tell us what they actually think.

I don’t know if the STUC will get their citizen’s jury. If they do, I do not believe it will re-ignite the pre-referendum energy. Nobody who is now enjoying a well-earned sit-down, having spent months standing on platforms to declaim their beliefs or trudging the streets delivering leaflets is likely to fling down their Sudoku puzzle and cry, “At last, the opportunity I’ve been waiting for! To the barricades, friends, to analyse clauses 25-39 of the Scotland Bill!”

I hope Scottish politics is truly changed forever, and I wish all those with the gumption to stand for election the very best of luck. But I also hope that at least some of our mavericks stay on the outside, doing their own thing.