NOTEBOOK: Dirty old dumbarton could not hide the fact it’s a disgrace

Mother of God. Dumbarton has been in the spotlight on radio and television this past week, WRITES BILL HEANEY.

Even the esteemed Magnus Linklater, former editor of The Scotsman and the London Times, has travelled along the M8 from Edinburgh and across the Erskine Bridge to observe the way we are.

If only we had known that we were to be graced with the presence of the fragrant BBC Scotland political editor Sarah Smith and a camera crew from Pacific Quay, West Dunbartonshire Council might even have cleared the sunken wrecks from the River Leven.

Or that youthful political reporter Ciaran Jenkins of Channel 4 News would be making erudite comments about the election contest between Labour’s Jackie Baillie and Toni Giugliano of the SNP, they could have tarted up some of those filthy, fake shop fronts and For Sale or Rent signs on the High Street.

Unlike Sarah Smith, Ciaran Jenkins does not have much presence or style about him, and could have blended in easily with the crowd who usually hang around the Quay and under Dumbarton Bridge had he wanted to go under cover. We could have ordered him a sausage roll from Greggs.

He wouldn’t have got away with coming to work dressed like that in my day.

Dirty old Dumbarton sadly could not hide the fact that it is a disgrace. For once there was no evidence of cover-up or economy with the truth here when we needed it to persuade the world we were doing alright. Which we aren’t.

Despite the fact that we have an SNP administration at West Dunbartonshire Council and have had an SNP government in Holyrood for the past 14 years, Dumbarton is falling down round about us.

The changes that have been made for the better are so few and far between that they are akin to putting lipstick on a corpse.

Broken pavements, pot-holed roads, rusted lamp posts, empty shops and a vacant cinema are a reminder of what we used to see in cowboy pictures at the Rialto – with tumbleweed blowing through the town centre.

Calamity Jeane Freeman and Doc Holiday, not to mention the Wee Nippy One herself, who tiptoed quietly in and out of Castle Street, the modern day equivalent of Dennystown, are in charge of our health services, which are themselves in intensive care, hanging on to the quality of life the SNP seem to think we deserve here.

Children are living in poverty such as we have never seen since the days when families were living “on the parish” – food banks, handouts and school uniform hand me downs. Segs in their boots.

No flavour of this came across on television or in The Times or any of the other newspapers, those that are sadly left to survive on propaganda from the police, politicians and press officers.

Even the old local newspapers have taken off, deserted the scene altogether and left us without an indigenous press, which the cynical owners of these publications keep telling us are the essential ingredients that bind a community together. They aren’t.

Nowadays the press barons, dripping with £ millions made in the past but still putting the poor mouth on it, pay a pittance to the journalists who produce their papers on the phone from afar.

The democratic deficit is filled by a BBC scheme which allegedly helps to train journalists to sufficient competency levels. They pay their wages too. It’s all a bit like Pravda.

One wonders just how much of that public money is trousered by Scoop author Evelyn Waugh’s Lord Coppers, the 21st century equivalents of Lords Beaverbrook and Kemsley, while the gap between rich and poor has been allowed to grow exponentially.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Wee Donkey, we have the likes of Jonathan McColl running our town here and John Swinney in charge of our schools. He may soon be in charge of our country, God help us all.

Suck it up. That’s the kind of cold porridge you will be getting soon if the SNP win another runaway victory on Thursday.

Meanwhile, our elected representatives and public officials are sitting on their arses  far from the locked doors of the near empty council offices, where people who take an interest in local affairs are not welcome.

Hubris is all around as they check their bank balances and continue to fill their boots for the privilege of providing seriously poor public services.

The men in white coats should be coming around to collect those of us who tolerate our council’s chief officer being paid around £150,000 a year.

And another half dozen men in suits and women in tweed skirts pulling down £100,000 a year while they swan off on leadership courses.

Local government is one of the few places I know where people are given the jobs first and then financed learn at the expense of their employers (us) how to do the work.

They maintain they have to pay these humongous wages to compete in the recruitment market with industry and commerce.

There are no jobs in industry in commerce around here paying that kind of money.

That particular bus left the terminus a long time ago.

Dumbarton had a proud history when I started in journalism, almost 60 years ago now.

Elected representatives and council officials were clever, well turned out and courteous. Their role in life was to serve the public. They knew it and did it with compassion and style.

That is no more, however, and we will get a sample of this next Thursday when the community goes to the polls to elect Dumbarton’s Member of the Scottish Parliament.

We’ll have candidates and their hangers on strutting around as if they own the place, telling us to keep a safe social distance and to mind our Ps and Qs.

The Democrat had a taste of that already when two years ago we asked the Provost to turn up the sound in the Burgh Hall in order that we could hear what was going on at a meeting which was allegedly being held in public.

He refused and they threw me out after I told one of them to “bugger off”.

Since then The Democrat has revealed obfuscation, cover-ups and scandal in this basket case local authority which is so secretive that really they should shift their premises across the street to the Masonic Hall.

No offence to the Masons though who do a wonderful job helping local charities without shouting about it and drawing attention to themselves.

One newspaper columnist at the weekend described his own council thus – “a lack of imagination, a contempt for community voices and a belief that City Chambers knows best.”

He tore into them for their service cuts, especially library closures and children’s services and refused to accept their mealy-mouthed excuses that we should blame all that on the Covid pandemic.

He added: “All of this is happening against the backdrop of the attrition of local government which has been going on for decades, accelerated under devolution, and become turbo charged under the SNP.

“Not only that, there is a dearth of understanding on the part of the Scottish Government and councils about the importance of [public] services which really matter, breathe life and hope into communities, and which give people in disadvantaged areas an opportunity for a better life.

“The SNP manifesto after 14 years in office is promising all sorts of bright, new, shiny goodies all of which will cost money.

“Yet, simultaneously, they are presiding over the strangling of local government and the diminishing of the public realm.”

Please remember these words when you go out to cast your vote at the polling station next Thursday.

Dumbarton from the air. Picture by Sean Davenport of Myre Media

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