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All Jock Tamson's bairns? That's rich

THE RICH, they say, are always with us.

And they're a right shower an' all. New research from the University of California reveals the poor are more compassionate than the rich. There's a surprise, you say cynically.

But the notable factor in the study was that the rich were like another species. Individuals in the upper middle and upper classes were unable to detect and respond to other people's distress. Many people these days are eager to defend the rich, and the researchers were no exception, hurriedly denying that those with brass were cold-hearted. They just don't recognise suffering because they aren't familiar with it. I see.

The rich were also more "self-focused" and did better in an individualist, competitive environment. The poor, by contrast, had a culture of compassion and co-operation, born of threats to their wellbeing — usually from the rich or, more likely, the censorious middle classes. These are another right shower. Forever complaining about strikers and those on benefits, they make much of their money from doing precisely nothing. Or owning shares, as it's called.

In other words, like the entire southern English economy, their income is partly based on usury but, having successfully built up an image of themselves as decent, prudent, modest citizens in cardigans, they escape criticism, even if any fair and free society would imprison them. The charge? Making money without earning it.

However, at this point in the narrative, I feel constrained to make the following announcement: we're all the offspring of Mr Jock Tamson. True, the first thing the rich will ask is: do you mean the Perthshire Tamsons or the Milngavie branch? But we mustn't speak of people as if they were another species.

It makes me uncomfortable, even if the rich go out of their way to make it seem so in the first place, differentiating themselves from the commonality by spelling their names differently — your flippin' Ffions and whatnot — saying "supper" (and pronouncing it "suppah") instead of "tea", or declaring at the dinner table, "Please excuse me, for I must micturate urgently", rather than just getting up and announcing, "I'm dying for a slash".

Once, I watched a television documentary about horsey people in Surrey. It frightened me. I'd seen less alien species on Star Trek. You also see fairly exotic beings around Embra's Morningside Road, which is just an ordinary tenemented street, despite the area's reputation. However, it attracts the 4x4 brigade from nearby affluent suburbs, and you can always tell these. They don't signal, they open their car doors into traffic, have no manners, and wear horrible, humanity-hating expressions on their faces.

Biggest clue of all is the uniform they wear to distinguish themselves from the mob: Barbour jackets, hideous green padded waistcoats, irritatingly unusual wellies. Of course, one ought not to generalise. But that only makes it more fun.

Finding the rich vaguely deplorable doesn't mean one must love the poor. I've lived among the latter, and found them a little noisy. They shouldn't be sold audio equipment if they haven't got O-Grades.

The above study also says that, where the rich are hawkish, the poor might be mawkish. But I repeat: we're all the same underneath. That repeated, when I write articles like this, I wonder what'll happen when I become rich after writing a best-selling novel. Would I call for myself to be imprisoned? I think not. For I'd remain the same old Rab. I'd still dine at Greggs, would mumble and remain self-conscious. I wouldn't change my vote or wear a Barbour jacket.

However, I'd probably keep the heating on all day, instead of sitting in front of my computer wearing a hat and coat. I'd change my 10-year-old Ford Focus for a racier model. And, inevitably, I'd start to look smug from not having to worry about penury.

I'd change the spelling of my name to Rrab and employ a wee man to go about whispering reminders in my ear: "You are not a god." Me: "Aye ah am." Wee M: "Ye're no." Me: "Ah'm ur. And you're fired!" And you know what? I wouldn't feel a thing.

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