Belonging and what it means not least for older people has been a common theme in my blogs and talks over the years and yet again it’s a subject that I’ve been reflecting upon over the last few days. For instance yesterday I took part in recording an interview with Amy Callaghan MP for the Channel Four programme ‘The Political Slot.’ The theme was the critical workforce shortages in social care and the extent to which Brexit has been a contributor to those and whether the immigration system has supported the sector. I’ve written enough on Brexit over the years for it to be no surprise that my personal and professional perspective is that the referendum decision has been an unmitigated disaster for social care in Scotland – for many reasons. Equally the current immigration system and its cumbersome barrier-approach to attracting new workers is damaging and unworkable. Not helped by the latest round of rhetoric calling for increased restrictions on social care and health visas. When will some politicians and commentators own up to the reality that for Scotland at least there are simply not enough people in our population to deliver essential services without significant inward migration?
The interview pushed me to think of what does it mean to belong to a community and a country. It’s probably a theme which will be uppermost in a few minds as we approach that annual celebration of national identity which is St Andrews Day on the 30th November.
National days can become parodies of stereotypes and serve to perpetuate tropes and I know for one that there is much more to a Scottish community or our nation as a whole than an annual celebration of tartan, bagpipes and shortbread. Not to do the day down I recognise that there is an attempt to celebrate what is best about Scotland. – hospitality, inventiveness and innovation, entrepreneurship and adventure. But national days should if they do anything force us to think about the nature of the community or nation we want to belong to and build.
What does it therefore mean to belong to Scotland?
For me as someone of Gaelic origin I am continually drawn to the notion and concept of dùthchas and not least its association with the land and what it means to belong to a particular place and space. It’s a complex phrase that is often used in many contexts but for me it’s one of the many words that suggest ‘belonging’ – that sense of being at one and at home amongst a community or in a particular location. For many Highlanders the physical land and local space over generations has a pull and appeal that makes you feel uniquely different in that place compared to anywhere else they may have been.
In an excellent article on dùthchas Col Gordon writes:
‘ Crofter and world-renowned knitwear designer Alice Starmore from Lewis described dùthchas as
“a feeling of belonging, of where everything is linked, completely linked. Where you belong to the land, and the land belongs to you – there is no distinction. It’s like a hand in a glove. Everything fits in, and your culture is part of that as well, and everything you know that’s around you; every part of life that’s around you is all interlinked and interdependent, and it’s all about ancestry, knowing where you’ve come from and that you are a continuation of all that.” ‘
But though this chimed with my own sense belonging, especially to Skye, it is not sufficient on its own to describe dùthchas – it also denotes as Gordon states – responsibility both to people and place. He summarises this when he writes:
‘Dùthchas is a critically important word within the Gaelic worldview but I believe it needs to be understood as more than simply a slightly woolly feeling of belonging and interconnectedness, but as a
“tangible conduct and action motivated by a sense of ethics, respect, and responsibility for said place and community to maintain ecological balance.”
Belonging demands and necessitates responsibility. It roots respect into moment and ethics into conduct and behaviour in and for a nation and people. So what are the responsibilities incumbent in belonging to Scotland. I’ll mention just one from my world view.
For me the overarching responsibility of any community or nation is how we treat those who need care and support. Intimately linked to this is how we value the unpaid and paid carers who enable compassion to come alive in our midst.
So, it is today as the GMB union organises a demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament under the banner ‘fight for fifteen’ that together with other unions, provider groups like Care England and many others that I personally am proud to support ‘Fairness at Fifteen.’ This is about putting flesh on the bones of a Fair Work agenda which is about recognising and valuing frontline care work by paying those staff a salary and wage which is not minimum, not even about a living wage but about a flourishing and thriving amount to say loudly that you are what we should all be – carriers of compassion for those who are the best of us in community.
It is simply time that we pay our social care staff a decent wage! That for me means that this moment of belonging has to be to a nation that cares and that means in practical terms no less than £15 an hour for our care staff.
By extension that means that we properly resource the organisations that employ them – there is no point in saying to someone we are giving you £15 an hour but your employing organisation will probably go to the wall and you’ll be redundant soon!
If belonging means anything, if it is a true sense of dùthchas – then for me it has to be about a nation and community that values social care in all its rich glory. That’s something when it happens that will be worthy of a day of celebration and I will live then in a place worthy of belonging.