Sketch: Litter picking with Maurice Golden

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 16 November 2018 in Comment

Sketch: The Scottish Tories are absolutely not planning to send children out to work on farms

Image credit: Iain Green

Maurice Golden was wandering around underneath a railway bridge, picking up litter. Watching him go, it was hard to say why political parties don’t make more policy announcements while surrounded by broken glass and pigeon shit.

The Scottish Tories were announcing new plans to clean up the environment – including proposals to increase the fine for littering to £100 – and they were announcing it while literally cleaning up the environment.

It really was a very satisfying press call, not least because it had been worded to suggest the Scottish Tory spokesperson for the low carbon economy would be doing this whether anyone came along or not, making it less of a photo op, and more of a normal Tuesday morning.

Which is probably fortunate, because only one member of the media turned up. Possibly because they had told everyone to gather underneath an old bridge, which is the sort of thing trolls do.

So it was just Golden, five members of the Tory comms staff and one journalist, wandering around central Edinburgh, looking for things to pick up. It was quite a strange experience. At one point, someone found a used dog bag, but after a brief discussion on messaging strategy – or possibly hygiene – it was decided the bag should stay where it was.

But, to be fair, Golden does have extensive experience in the area – he worked for Zero Waste Scotland for years – and the Tory plan goes well beyond picking up dog crap.

No, as well as raising littering fines, it transpired that the party also plans to establish a Scottish recycling plant, which they say would increase recycling rates and create jobs, as well as producing a ‘Scottish Green city plan’, which would see the party develop ‘school farms’, where groups of local schools across Scotland would share a farm to work on.

Of course, the danger with announcing a policy based on children being sent to work on farms is that it sounds very much like the Scottish Conservatives are planning on sending children to work on farms.

But Golden seemed very keen to refute that. As he explained, between picking up crisp packets, the Scottish Tories are absolutely not planning to send children out to work on farms. That’s the first thing to keep in mind.

“No,” he explained. “I think it’s a real shame that many children don’t understand that their potatoes, or indeed chips, come from vegetables in the ground. Just like how we need to change our relationship with products and resources, we need to change our relationship with food, so that, particularly children, understand where their food comes from and how it is cultivated. I think that by having better access to micro farms, even to a simple potato bag, would be really, really helpful to children.”

He added: “You could do stuff in a completely urban environment with window trays, or some raised beds. There is some good work in this area already, but getting farmers to link in with schools would be helpful.”

There’s some good work in this area already? Where? In child labour?

To be fair, it sounded like children would only be forced to play a relatively minor role in maintaining the future of the UK farming sector, but, listening to Golden, it was tempting to wonder if that would be enough. After all, although it was good to see the party doing something to address projected skills shortages in agriculture following the UK Government’s decision to end freedom of movement, it wasn’t obvious this was the right solution.

OK, little children could probably do a job on a farm – and they require less food than an adult – but it still didn’t explain how the Tories would maintain other heavy industry. Maybe that’s something that will be covered by future photo ops. First Golden does a bit of litter picking and talks farming. Next week it could be Jamie Greene explaining how toddlers could maintain Network Rail. Or Dean Lockhart on the contribution 10-year-olds could make if we just legalised fracking. At the moment, most ten-year-olds don’t even know where their natural gas is coming from. Let’s show them.

But at least the party was thinking outside the box, with MSPs being sent to pick up litter – presumably in shifts – and kids charged with maintaining the UK’s food security.

And actually, given growing concern that the only thing stopping the UK Conservative party from sliding off to the right is that they lack the required degree of organisational skill to do so, the ‘hand control of farming over to children’ plans had quite a refreshing feel to them.

So maybe Golden was right. Why not dismantle the traditional role of the state altogether, and let the population organise directly from a grassroots level? They could do it through workers’ syndicates. Or primary school assemblies.

But sadly the day out had to end eventually. And, while it was unclear how big a dent Golden had made in Scotland’s littering problem during the 15 minutes he had been out in his high-vis vest, the occasion certainly had its merits. A win for the Tories today, and a success for the children of the future.

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