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“We’re All Jock Tamson’s Bairns” – Compassion and Scottish Values 

We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns” is a popular saying in Scotland. The Reverend John Thomson (Jock Tamson) was a much-loved minister of Duddingston Kirk, Edinburgh, from 1805 to 1840. He called the members of his congregation, “Ma bairns,” (my children) and this resulted in folk saying, “We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns,” which gave a sense of belonging to a small, but special group. Nowadays, the phrase is often used to indicate we’re all the same under the skin.

Every country has national pride, and sometimes it’s very hard to understand each other’s but I have never been more proud of Scottish values than I have been this month, and it all has to do with compassion. Let me explain…

Increased taxation – yay!

I’m not remotely political, nor can I understand anyone who wants to be a politician as it seems to me that the vast majority are willing to sell their souls for expediency and political gain. So this has nothing to do with politics but everything to do with humanity and compassion.

Scotland is part of the United Kingdom but has devolved powers of government. One invoked for the first time in December is the right to vary tax rates from UK national rates. As a result, an extra 1% tax was added to the charge for most people in Scotland on middle income and upwards.

I’m sure you’re still waiting for the GOOD news here, as extra taxation isn’t welcomed by anyone – unless they are Scottish, apparently.

All week, I’ve been watching news reports about the tax increase and listened to politicians bumping their gums about whether or not it’s good for inward investment or bad for business (or perhaps the other way around). I’m happy to leave that debate to the more politically inclined.

What I’ve found humbling, awe-inspiring and a source of immense pride, however, was the sheer number of ordinary folks who not only welcomed the tax rise but said they’d have been equally happy if it had been doubled.

These are not wealthy people. In fact many of those interviewed were pensioners and working families for whom life is pretty far from pampered and Prosecco fuelled.

Their quiet acceptance of increased taxation isn’t down to being downtrodden or necessarily liking the government of the day either – it’s down to their love of the National Health Service.

Free healthcare for all

Of the many interviews I saw, there was never more than a little good natured grumbling about taxation, followed by heartfelt insistence that funding a rambling and undoubtedly inefficient institution which provides free healthcare for all, is more than worth the sacrifice.

The UK National Health Service is far from perfect. With an ageing population, it’s creaking at the seams and sometimes waiting times for treatment are downright unacceptable. We have private healthcare available too, but frankly it doesn’t FEEL right to most Scots to be able to purchase better health than their poorer relations.

There’s also a valid argument that free healthcare, without restriction, hardly encourages people to live the best way they can.

I get all that, and I’m all for health education and for people taking responsibility for their own outcomes. But for anyone who cannot, or for whatever reason does not manage to live well, eat well and exercise, there is a safety net. Not only that, but it’s broadly the same safety net for a successful lawyer as for someone who has fallen on hard times.

The fact that Scots are downright enthusiastic about reducing their disposable income to maintain this facility, is the kind of wonderful folly that makes me immensely proud to be Scottish.

Civic responsibility – an old fashioned notion?

A North American visitor recently explained to me the unfairness of being expected to pay more in health insurance to subsidise people who, “Didn’t look after themselves.”

“We have a gym at home and we go cycling in the hills most days,” was her argument. “We eat well too, so why should I pay more for those who eat fatty foods and sit in front of the TV all day?”

Frankly, I don’t have an answer for that, except for compassion, and the feeling of, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” There is no justification for to having to subsidise others, except perhaps that it’s a better model for society.

One interpretation of being “All Jock Tamson’s bairns” is that anyone can find themselves in unforeseen circumstances. Someone finds themselves in a road traffic accident, say, or falling victim to an acquired brain injury which suddenly pulls the rug from under their lives.

With a National Health Service, saving lives takes no account of wealth or social standing, or the rights and wrongs that brought someone to that place. It merely scoops them up and does its best to make things better.

I don’t want to live in any place where that’s not important. What sort of society would want to avert its gaze from the less fortunate and still sleep easily?

“Civic responsibility,” is such an archaic phrase, yet I heard it time and time again in response to the tax hike. And again it made me proud to be part of an old fashioned, slightly socialist inclined populace for whom civic responsibility is still “a thing.”

In tune with humanity

I’m praising Scots here, but I know there are many people; the vast majority worldwide, who share the humility and instinct to put themselves out for others.

It’s the creed of most religions and it’s what we celebrate when we laud services and emergency personnel. It’s what creates heroes when bad things happen and individuals rush to help strangers or to donate what they can to assist survivors.

So, maybe what I’m saying is that I truly love those bits of humanity which are instinctively unselfish, and put the needs of others on a par with their own, at least in some practical ways.

In Scotland today, it’s a penny on income tax, smilingly borne.

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