“That same night, I wrote my first short story. It took me 30 minutes. It was a dark little tale about a man who found a magic cup and learned that if he wept into the cup, his tears turned into pearls.
“But even though he had always been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear. So he found ways to make himself sad so that his tears could make him rich. As the pearls piled up, so did his greed grow.
“The story ended with the man sitting on a mountain of pearls, knife in hand, weeping helplessly into the cup with his beloved wife’s slain body in his arms.” – Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
If tears were pearls, Scotland’s poor would be millionaires.
Tears of desperation, tears of despair and, as far too many Scots lose their lives far too early, tears of needless grief.
So, too many tears on the streets where pennies and pounds are stretched beyond breaking but in our parliament? Too many warm words, too many hand-wringers and not enough will, not enough action and no serious, impactful policy-making at all.
If politicians saying the right thing buttered toast, there would be no young Scots going to school hungry.
If policy-makers gravely promising to strain every sinew to ease the plight of people living in these abandoned, stricken communities made sick people better their lives would not be many years shorter than those in leafier suburbs just a few miles, and another world, away.
In 2023, the graveyards of our towns and cities should not still be filling with people in their 40s and 50s who, if not for an accident of birth, might have lived to see their children grow up. It is an obscenity that in a country with so much wealth, there are still so many with so very, very little.
At the very close of a final, dispiriting substance-free hustings last week, two of the three leadership candidates vying to become our next first minister asked to be judged on their efforts to eradicate poverty.
We would, of course, take their solemn promises a lot more seriously if their predecessor as first minister had not made the very same promise about education. Nicola Sturgeon might even have meant it back in the halcyon days of 2015.
She had taken over from Alex Salmond on a wave of unprecedented support and goodwill from voters on all sides of our constitutional squabble and, for a moment, it seemed she might just be prepared to risk a little political capital to make seismic, generational, legacy-making change in Scotland’s schools. Fat chance.
The attainment gap – or, more properly, chasm – between children from our poorest and richest postcodes has only widened after our first minister talked of referendums rather than take on teachers and force through change to improve the life chances of every young Scot. It was an opportunity thrown away like so many young lives and so much untapped talent.
This is not a party issue, it is a humanity issue, a decency issue and our politicians, every one of them, urgently need to go to these communities and identify the best work being done there to ease and save lives.
And then they need to ensure the people doing that work are given every possible support and encouragement to do more of it.
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