You and whose army?

I haven’t been posting a lot lately and when that happens it tends to be because I am too busy with work, or the family, or I’m just too tired… or not in the mood… or… well, given that this is an unpaid endeavour any reason is as good as another isn’t it? I mean, when people aren’t paying us to do something then we have to really want to do it if it’s going to get done at all. I don’t get paid for gardening (or even tidying my garden) and guess what? Yep, I don’t do a helluva lot of gardening because I hates it.
Writing this, on the other hand, I do enjoy so I get to it when I can. Would it be better if someone paid me? Probably. Possibly. I know I like being paid to do things. Would it be better if I got paid to do gardening? Same answer. I would be more likely to do it, but I would still dislike the entire process. Which leads me neatly to Brexit… Ha! You weren’t expecting that were you? Well, stick with me, the connections are a bit labyrinthine but they get there in the end. My opinions on Brexit are well known. I have a European wife and children so even if it were not the most massive incident of economic self harm ever known, even if we would all be better off financially, I would still hate it. And given that it will have an immediate impact on where I live out the rest of my life I do tend to read a lot about it. Which brought me (at 4am) to this.
A citizen’s assembly. Now the first time I heard about this I thought it would be a dozen people like a jury but it turns out that it isn’t. In the Irish referendum on abortion they had a citizens assembly of 100 people and according to Gordon it went off without a hitch. No yellow vests were spotted as far as I know and there seemed to be a remarkably calm transition – with no need for the rise of the far right. Now, this is Gordon Brown – a man I would not trust to bring the correct change back if I sent him to the shop for a pint of milk and 20 Lambert & Butler – but since the idea was originally Irish I managed to put aside my initial reticence and ended up with an even bigger proposal.
Still a crap idea.

The Irish Citizen’s Assembly didn’t just meet once and have a chat – they met over 5 weekends and didn’t just talk about abortion. Which got me to thinking… did they get paid for that? And yes, I am Scottish, why do you ask?
picture of money that isn’t a pound or euro
I mean, that’s five weekends you’re talking about there. As a man with a young family I get enough abuse if I work even one day on a weekend and whilst I am not moaning about that it did raise the thought in my mind… well, why shouldn’t they be paid for it? There they are thinking about what to do with the ageing population in Ireland, or climate change or whatever… seems to me only fair. Then I thought… paying people to solve problems… that’s a neat idea. I wonder why no one ever thought of it before? And of course they have, but they f***ed it up and invented politicians by accident – a group of adults who act like teenagers and believe that a good excuse is the same as a job well done. So they decided to leave it to business instead and discovered that the money became the problem instead of the solution. Clearly we are in need of better people to address these issues. People who either don’t care about money, or don’t need it. People who have time on their hands and no clue what to do with it…. I think I might know some. Imagine a society that had at its disposal a group of activists. An army of social activists that is. Not political activists you understand, not people dedicated to a single party or cause, but to society as a whole. Look at the problems we currently face. Brexit, climate change, immigration (or the lack of it)… take any issue from a huge global problem such as automation and employment down to the personal difficulties of loneliness and mental health. Then add an army…
Hmmm…not quite
It will come as a surprise to many of you (as it did to me) that the idea we really need was in the Daily Mail all along. What we really need here is conscription. I have an acquaintance in Israel – he is a young and talented film maker who could have avoided his national service in the infantry simply by joining the communications corp or whatever. In the end he chose not to – he joined the infantry and spent two years scared shitless. I am old enough to have known people in France who had to do their national service – and they generally did choose the communications corp, or did their public service in some other institution like a museum or some such. That is to say, they spent time working in their community – and we could do with a bit more community could we not? Imagine if, instead of being conscripted into the army, you were told to do your public service in the community. What issues might we be able to tackle? What great problems might be lessened with that dedicated workforce? You won’t need it everywhere – the Queen and her family don’t really need checking up on despite their advanced years. And you wouldn’t have to pay the Queen’s rate for a bit of community work either. I’m not talking about people marching up and down here. This isn’t a ‘STAND BY YOUR BEDS!’ proposition. No, I’m talking about a vast swathe of the country’s young people (all of them really) delaying the start of their post-school life for a while. I’m talking about Etonians working with the homeless in Manchester or Glasgow. The privileged working alongside the less fortunate for a few months and learning something of life beyond their entitled bubble. Equally it is a chance for those less fortunate to get mobile. Maybe you want to live in your home town your whole life? That’s fine… just as soon as you’ve done your bit for the landscape or whatever. I know people in my home town who have no idea about foreigners, folk of a different colour or even other local authority areas… and they are happy to hate all of them. Can you imagine people hating Polish folks so much if they have had a chance to work with them and meet them and talk to them since they were in their late teens? Can you imagine Brexit happening after 20 years of this when every Polish person who has grown up here has had a chance to work on an equal basis with everyone else?
The disconnect between the politicians and the voters, in my opinion, has never been wider – and it needs narrowing. If we did this then we might have some chance that the professional political class to come would have a notion of what ‘real’ life is like. It becomes more difficult to hate people you have lived and worked beside and that’s all I am proposing here. Everyone does the same thing… no one is disadvantaged by delaying a year because the intake for university or whatever is the same for everyone equally – except you get people with a little more life experience when they do arrive. Wanna take a gap year? That’s fine. You can do that just as soon as you finish this.
Just to confirm – you can still join the army if you want to – nobody is stopping you – or you can try a bit of social work, or get your driving license so you can work the mobile library/foodbank/ blood drive van. And just before you say. How will we pay for it? We already do pay for it. The knock on costs of cleaning up the environment/ dealing with the elderly/ drug crime and addiction… ach, this could help all manner of things. A society that spends money on the defence of… itself. And you don’t even have to wear a uniform.
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