What does the stink of corruption smell like? In Scotland, it smells like burning human flesh.
How close would you like to live to a crematorium? Serious question, and I would ask you to kindly pause for a moment to consider the answer before you read any further. How close would you like your flat or house to be to a crematorium?
In Scotland, the current legal limit is two hundred yards. Most people think that is about right. We know that, because the Scottish Government held a public consultation on this issue and the large majority of respondents replied that 200 yards was about right. Which makes it rather strange that this week the Scottish Parliament will finally pass into law an act reducing the distance to nil. Yes, nil.
I want to make this very plain. It just does not mean that new homes can be built close to crematoria. It means that somebody can build a crematorium right next to existing homes.
The Bill has been working through the committee stages at Holyrood, and at every stage the committee strikes out the abolition of the distance between crematoria and homes. A the next stage the Scottish government simply puts it back. This week the Bill will finally be passed, with the SNP using its majority to override everybody else and insist crematoria should be built right next to homes.
Why? The truth is, Scotland does not have a massive population or a shortage of land – there are plenty of places away from homes where crematoria could be built.
Here lies the extremely ugly truth. Crematoria are profitable private businesses. Private business interests have been investing in new crematoria – through sticking the furnaces into existing buildings – for the last three years, under ministerial assurances that the bill will be passed. There is one in Haddington only thirty yards from homes, and with its exhaust chimneys actually below the level of people’s windows. Planning permission was given on the absolutely extraordinary grounds that the present law does not forbid the construction of crematoria close to homes, only the carrying out of cremations. So they can be built waiting for the developers’ ministerial pals to ram the law through Parliament.
Here is the nub. In what kind of banana republic are businessmen able to spend millions in preparation to carry out an illegal activity, safe in the knowledge that their ministerial chums will change the law for them? What does that say about our democracy and the functioning of Holyrood? What incentive do those ministers have to approve a policy so irrational and unpopular as this one, and keep ramming it through against the opposition of public consultation and the relevant parliamentary committees?
As we move forwards to independence, we are fools if we do not face one fact. Just being independent, or even just throwing off the Labour Party, does not rid us of the culture of corruption which we all know has bedevilled Scottish urban politics for decades. This all seems to me just like witnessing the handling of contracts by Dundee Council in the 1970s.
Sadly, Scotland does not have investigative journalists, only unionist stenographers, which is why you have not heard of this. The government will reply that modern technology makes crematoria emissions safe and clean. I do not care. It is an activity which ought to be secluded, for the dignity of both mourners and local residents. People do not want particles of someone else entering their homes and nostrils, no matter how microscopic or sterile. The Scottish Government’s behaviour in this matter is atrocious.
You simply cannot get more neo-con than the de-regulation of death itself for private profit. There could be no more stark example of the SNP acting against everything it is supposed to stand for. How ministers can do something so shameful, while acting in a manner so arrogant, is quite beyond me. I can think of only one possible reason, and it is not pretty.
At least after Independence we will only have corrupt Holyrood politicians to jail and not Westminster ministers too.