Mercifully, I’m not writing to you from the train carriage in which I spent three hours battling for phone signal the other day.
Mercifully, also, it was not a quiet coach. I broke the quiet-coach rules several times in desperate anger.
Why does it say “4G” when it means: “Sorry, no, your Twitter (referred to as X by those of a certain Musk) will not refresh”? Why does it flash, tantalising as a mirage on a sun-baked moorland, “5G” when, in fact, it means: “Actually, you’re back in a cave and can’t connect to Instagram”?
This compounded my already tempestuous mood, after I’d lost my sunglasses and the venue where I’d lost them – which I’m convinced was hoarding them – refused to answer its phone. Everything is broken.
One wouldn’t have fared much better at any of the UK’s airports these last few days, as air traffic control collapsed. More than a quarter of planned flights in and out of UK airports were cancelled on Monday, according to figures just released by analytics company Cirium, and disruption has already lasted several days.
Michael O’Leary, the shy and retiring CEO of Ryanair, said: “It is not acceptable that UK Nats simply allow their computer systems to be taken down, and everybody’s flights get cancelled or delayed.” While he might be wrong to charge us for bags and seat selection and the lukewarm rosé they served on the way to Crete last summer, he’s not wrong, about this. Things don’t just break. Moreover, they shouldn’t be allowed to. Everything is broken.
Is it all broken beyond repair?
Margaret Ferrier, the former SNP MSP, waited for a recall petition to be signed by around 12,000 constituents before deciding she was, in fact, wrong to knowingly use public transport while also carrying Covid. Nadine Dorries held onto her Westminster parliamentary seat in spite of rules, protocol and just due consideration for those whom she represented. Ten weeks after signalling her intention to resign, she finally did.
In a blaze of critique-filled self-indulgence, Dorries is consigned to life away from being an MP. Where was their sense of public duty and decency? It was broken.
Philip: "I was first on the scene of a head-on collision and someone died in my arms as I was giving them first aid. When will the promise to dual the A9 and A96 be delivered?"
— Holyrood Sources (@HolyroodSources) August 16, 2023
The disconnect between politicians and reality – you and me – was exemplified, again, by First Minister Humza Yousaf, when confronted by a man called Philip on the podcast I co-host, Holyrood Sources.
Philip had been first on the scene of a crash on the A9, and held a man as he died. Philip was on the verge of pleading for the road to be upgraded. The first minister could only commit to an announcement “soon”. As if that’s what’s required after years of a promise left broken. Everything is broken.
The grim and vile Lucy Letby is real. NHS systems failed, managers shirked and a killer struck seven times against the most vulnerable of babies during a period when they needed pristine care. Medics were ignored. The unthinkable happened – a spreadsheet and process-driven management did not listen to those who know best.
We can fix it
There should be no need for this, our first encounter on these pages, to be drenched with the depression of the ages. We can look around and see examples of where things are fixed.
The Falkland Islands have maintained mobile phone signal in tunnels through literal mountains for decades. Train travel should be seamless; it should be an opportunity for great productivity while rocking through countryside and rattling over bridges and rumbling through tunnels.
They have the expertise. They work at the coalface. Prioritise their opinions
Air travel, also, is a joy at its finest – it is a disaster when the systems breakdown. But we’ve got it nailed, don’t we? It’s safe, it’s quick, and work is progressing to make it climate-crisis compatible.
The NHS is brimming with the best people. Nurses, doctors, support staff. There are thousands upon thousands of the most caring and dedicated individuals employed there. Why are they not listened to?
They have the expertise. They work at the coalface. Prioritise their opinions. Investigate their hunches – to exonerate as well as to convict. We demand the best of our NHS; listen to the best to achieve it.
Politicians can and should connect with us
Elected politicians? Well, I’m not sure if we can ever fix them. What I do know is that it’s not always like this.
There are those who call into question the integrity of the majority. Some acted nobly in their day: Charles Kennedy, springs immediately to mind, rightly remembered for being the sole voice in the raucous chamber to push back against Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq.
One thing politicians can definitely do right is connect. With us. With integrity. With a sense of purpose and determination. All of this has gone missing and is going unchecked. And it’s time it was fixed.
Calum Macdonald presents Times Radio Breakfast and hosts the Holyrood Sources podcast