So what price a work ethic that refuses to die in the snow?

By Graham Grant

WELL, apart from snowbound villages in rural areas, and the occasional school closure, it’s over – so how was your ‘white hell’?

I was thankful for the company of an audiobook – A Tale of Two Cities – as I trudged through snowdrifts for an hour to get to work on Wednesday.

Hours later I could continue listening to Simon Callow narrating the Dickens classic when I walked back for an hour, this time battling through blizzards.

The story turned out to be appropriate but it was more a tale of two Scotlands as the Arctic conditions worsened: those who made it to work and those who didn’t.

How many of those who didn’t were genuinely snowed in, and for how many of them was their only heroic struggle the one they made to the sofa to watch Jeremy Kyle, with a mug of hot chocolate?

It was something to ponder on that long expedition home, not that I would want to begrudge my fellow workers their impromptu two-day week, or children their three-day sledging break.

Now Transport Minister Humza Yousaf is taking aim at bosses who may dock workers’ wages for failing to turn up to work during the official ‘red warning’.

No matter that legally he hasn’t a leg to stand on – it’s no business of government to tell private companies what to do, particularly firms that can’t stump up for wages because of a weather-related slump in income.

It’s the job of employment tribunals to decide whether it was fair in individual cases for bosses to penalise workers who failed to make it in for their shifts, and in time no doubt there will be a test case.

But Mr Yousaf’s threats are also a useful distraction from more salient questions, such as the near-total collapse of the public transport system.

Given that on a normal day, when there isn’t knee-deep snow, ScotRail struggles to function, its total capitulation to the winter storm was hardly a surprise.

During the last Big Freeze, in 2010, former Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson quit after snow shut the M8.

Mr Yousaf has avoided a similar fate (despite hundreds of motorists being trapped overnight on the blizzard-hit M74) largely because he would never quit – and Nicola Sturgeon is unlikely to give her enemies the satisfaction of sacking him.

Many did make valiant efforts to get into work only to be defeated by the snow and ice – and of course if the police and government advise you not to travel, it’s guidance that you must acknowledge.

But tell that to the selfless cancer surgeon who walked from Anniesland in Glasgow to Paisley – a solitary sojourn lasting nearly three hours – to perform an operation.

Could it be that a decision about whether to work boils down to a question of willpower: if you think you can get away with not turning up, frankly why should you bother?

And what about those who did make it into work through the white stuff.

If there’s no wage-docking, they’ll be paid the same as colleagues who failed to clock in, and what message does that send?

Bear in mind that the SNP Government has redirected scarce resources to research the feasibility of a universal citizen’s income, possibly as much as £20,000 per person, regardless of whether you work or not – which would cost £107billion a year.

My grandfather’s generation lived by the dictum that ‘if you don’t work, you don’t eat’: our burgeoning benefits culture proves this work ethic was buried long ago.

Bread crisis: a woman with a trolley full of loaves in Glasgow on Sunday

The unmistakable signal from government is that when the going gets tough, the tough should, well, crawl back under the duvet – safe in the knowledge that Mr Yousaf said it was okay for them to do so.

You might have thought it was a bit rich of someone who was charged for driving without insurance to be giving anyone motoring advice – but you have to put that concern to one side during times of national crisis.

The truth is that we’re all adults and can make judgments about whether it’s safe to travel.

But the wider problem is that too often ministers and forecasters cry wolf, putting out apocalyptic alerts for weather events that (thankfully) don’t materialise.

On the plus side, the cold snap was a chance for many of us to try out some ‘remote working’.

But how many of those who were snowed in were logging onto their laptops (and how many were catching up on boxsets)?

That’s another question to ponder, and perhaps you did as you helped to scrape stubborn snow from the pavements and streets around your child’s school, in response to a community appeal on social media.

Something else to reflect on is where all the other parents were, or indeed why on Earth the council couldn’t do it (too busy finalising plans for the looming council tax hike and crafting patronising tweets, perhaps).

The cost to the economy of the winter shutdown is estimated at close to £1billion.

For many businesses, the paralysis would have been not just costly but possibly devastating, pushing smaller firms that were already in trouble over the edge.

Miss Sturgeon blamed hauliers for adding to the carnage on the roads, and doubtless many of us nodded our heads in agreement (before bemoaning the lack of bread in the local Tesco).

But is it any wonder that a government that has failed to grasp the scale of the economic crisis Scotland is facing, with growth at negligible levels, should seek to lay the blame at the door of employers?

It’s all very well for flexi-time civil servants on taxpayer-funded tablet devices to work from their beds (or for ministers to be chauffeured home).

But for firms on the brink of extinction, and facing SNP tax hikes, a duvet day just isn’t a possibility.

Clearly no-one should put their lives in peril just to get to the office, and in any event those who are paid monthly salaries are of course the least likely to have their earnings docked.

But if you didn’t make it to work, why should you be paid? A tough stance, true, but then it was also tough for the employers who saw business grind to a halt.

Perhaps there ought to be a taxpayer-funded bonus to reward all those who did battle with the Beast from the East, in true Bear Grylls fashion – but then it would never do for the SNP to incentivise hard work and commitment.

For all those who did make it to work through the whiteout, spending their nights in city centre hotels and staggering to work through snowdrifts, there is an even greater reward than financial recompense.

And that’s the opportunity to regale your colleagues with tales of your trek through the tundra to your desktop PC – and to portentously tell them when you pop out for lunch in the midst of the snowstorm: ‘I may be some time…’

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Graham Grant.

Graham Grant.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper