Veteran social campaigner Evelyn Gillan has launched an outspoken posthumous attack on austerity policies and privatisation.
Ms Gillan, who spearheaded the Zero Tolerance campaign against domestic violence and helped drive the Scottish Government to legislate for the minimum pricing of alcohol, penned her final campaign contribution when she already knew she was terminally ill with gastric cancer.
Writing for HeraldScotland, she speaks of growing up in a mining community in the east of Scotland with 'Old Labour' values and criticises privatisation and the pursuit of individualism.
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She writes that finding herself facing death at 55 taught her "the giving and receiving of love is what matters most in life."
However the importance of love, family and community and the desire to give back and look after those less fortunate than yourself have become deeply unfashionable, she says. "We have been hoodwinked into believing that other things matter more. It was not always this way."
Here is the full article:
When a close friend handed me Elizabeth Kuebler Ross’s book Death – the final stage of growth I looked at it briefly, said “interesting title” and promptly put it on a shelf out of sight. I had no wish to offend one of my oldest and dearest friends, but inside I was thinking - what growth is there in dying? You die. End of.
I had recently been told that I had Stage 4 gastric cancer with a life expectancy of three months and I was struggling to get my head around my diagnosis and what it meant for me and my family. My head was exploding with a hundred different scenarios about what was ahead of me, but the notion that I was facing a new, elevated stage in my personal growth and development was not one of them.
The idea seemed frankly preposterous.
Six month on, I am still here and I can honestly say that dying has taught me more about living than anything else I have experienced in the fifty five years that I have been on this earth. Most importantly, dying has reinforced for me what I already knew deep down, that love in all it’s beautiful, myriad forms, is the sine qua non of life, and therefore, of death. The giving and receiving of love is what matters most in life.
We know this, but somehow allow this deep knowledge to get lost in the cacophony of noise that accompanies our every day life. What also matters when you are facing death, is to feel that you have lived the best life that you could have. For me, that meant feeling that my life had, in some small way, contributed to the greater good.
With a lifetime of campaigning for public interest health and equality policies, it pleases me to know that this box has been ticked.
Yet over my lifetime, the importance of love, family and community, and the desire to give back to society, to look after those less fortunate than one’s self, values which were bred into me from childhood, have become deeply unfashionable. We have been hoodwinked into believing that other things matter more. It was not always this way.
Growing up in the 1960s and 70s in a mining community in the East of Scotland, my experience of a traditional, working-class community is so far removed from present day, prime-time depictions such as Benefits Street, as to be virtually unrecognisable. Of course the macro-economics were different then. The majority of families living on my Council estate were in work. Good, honest work included securing a decent apprenticeship or being fortunate enough to make the transition to white collar work. There were no zero hours contracts and people were indeed aspirational. But their aspirations were not the narrow, neo-liberal interpretation of aspiration that we have heard of late from politicians who should know better. Aspirations were not about individual advancement over other, less-deserving neighbours. My parents wanted us to do well and this meant ensuring that we were given an opportunity that they never had – the ability to access higher education. “We must educate our class” was one of my father’s favourite mantras. Education was seen as a route out of poverty. One grandfather was a miner, the other a baker. With families of five children each to support, the money that would have been required in the early 1940s to send any of their children to university was simply not there.
Our family was what some might call ‘Old Labour’ although I prefer ‘True Labour’. The values that were passed on to us I have tried to pass on to my own children, distilled down to one simple message “Never believe anyone else is any better than you, and never believe that you are any better than anyone else”. But perhaps even more important in our family was the notion that it was far more noble to seek to contribute to the greater good than to be concerned primarily with your own advancement. Growing up with such a solid value base, it came as something of a shock to hear Margaret Thatcher declare that there was no such thing as society. The policies that her government preceded to pursue - privatising key nationalised industries, introducing the market into the NHS and dismantling trade unions, saw all the values that had been carefully instilled into me carelessly tossed aside. The election of Tony Blair after 18 years of Conservative rule offered hope that we might begin to reinstate those cherished values. On that bright morning in May in 1997, my six year old son and his friend were swinging on our gate chanting in unison “No Tories in Scotland, No Tories in Scotland”. Passing cars tooted their horns in support and neighbours gave them the thumbs up.
Little did we know that within a few years my partner and I would take our two sons on their first demonstration joining hundreds of thousands to march against the Blair government for launching an illegal war. Nor did we imagine that rather than halt the privatisation project, under New Labour it would be enthusiastically expanded. Or that their warm embrace of big business would result in a serious regulatory failure which would cause a global financial meltdown. And the idea that we, the ordinary taxpayers, would have to bail out the banks only to be rewarded with years of austerity policies that leave the financiers unscathed and hit our most vulnerable the hardest, would have been too unbelievable to contemplate.
As I prepare to depart from this world it gives me great pleasure to see that in Scotland at least, there is significant resistance to reinforcing tired old policies by politicians who are more often than not, subsequently found to be lining their own pockets. The values that formed the backdrop to my childhood – equal opportunity for all, help for the most vulnerable and an economic system that seeks to redistribute wealth, are literally exploding back into public consciousness in my beautiful home country. This is reassuring and familiar at the same time. The combination of renewed democratic engagement in Scotland and the abundant love and light that has come my way since my diagnosis reaffirms for me that all is not lost. The neo-liberal project that has relentlessly sought to prioritise private gain over public good may not win the day after all. As my nearest and dearest have sought to build a wall of love around me, I am reminded of the importance of love, of family, of caring for each other and for those less fortunate than ourselves. It is the hardest thing to leave your loved ones, especially your children, but I take my leave of you with hope that we are rediscovering those things that matter most.