Sunday, 25 March 2012

Mahler Week

On Friday I attended the Past Presidents' Dinner of the Law Society of Scotland. It was an eclectic turnout. Some who still make their living at the coalface of the law; others who now occupy positions of yet greater importance within the legal establishment and many who have retired from any active engagement with legal practice.

No-one less than fifty and some of many greater years.

It is not my kind of event and yet it ought to be. A recognition that, for most, our best year(s) are behind us and that all that lies ahead is a long, slow journey into night. And yet, for one night at least, it might be possible to rage against the dying of that light.

I left early. I, at least, had a working day behind me and a weekend which beckoned.

On the train back I sat across from two young women who, for reasons I do not know, also had occasion to be travelling East to West late on a Friday night. They seemed to me very young to be travelling unaccompanied by an "adult" but they were probably either at the very top of "school" or in the very early years of University. And they were mathematicians. One was clearly very tired but her companion was anything but. The latter insisted on trying to explain to her companion some error that she at least believed they had both encountered in the day that had just passed.

(Here, against the possibility that a real mathematician might read this, I paraphrase) "Obviously that wasn't right! It was obvious that the answer was sin (a) minus the root of cosin (b) over (a) squared! And as she did this, with her finger she traced the equation in thin air on an imaginary blackboard. Rather blearily, her companion nodded in agreement. And, metaphorically, looking on to the intellectual beauty of youth, my hair dye slowly rolled down my cheek, as certainly as had Dirk Bogarde's on the Lido all these years ago.

But it lead me also to more substantial thoughts. I obviously do not know the precise financial circumstance of all of the past Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland but as we moved, in the comfort of the New Club,  from Champagne to Chablis and then on through the Burgundy to the (most excellent) Port, I don't think anybody was duly worried about the potential expense of the wine bill to arrive on their doorstep next month. Even among those who now enjoyed no income other than (their personal) pension.

There are clearly pensioners who struggle to make ends meet. I certainly wouldn't want to try to survive on a guaranteed minimum income of £140 per week. But I wouldn't want to be working earning £6.08 an hour either.

I doubt if George Osborne will ever have cause to quote Marx. "From each according to their ability to each according to their need."

Nonetheless, the principle of taxation must surely be that it is paid by those who can best afford to pay. Without exception.

Very few mathematicians make a fortune. Even the ridiculously enthusiastic ones.

More widely however, young people today are having a terrible time. The choice of jobs enjoyed by those of us born in the Fifties and Sixties has given way to a gratitude to secure any sort of employment at all. Graduate entry no longer guarantees immediate entry to lucrative employment in respect of even the noun let alone the adjective. And even when that happy land is attained, no longer can the cost of having sailed there be left on the boat. Or the guarantee of permanent future residence be taken for granted.

Yet no matter how difficult the journey or the wider responsibilities to be undertaken shortly after arrival, the assumption is that those who have most recently travelled must then meet the cost of passage for those of us who went before in stouter ships on calmer seas. And who, in some cases at least, then trashed the port on their arrival.

So, on reflection. even as someone approaching the status of pensioner myself, I don't simply lack sympathy with the complaint that, as a result of the budget, some pensioners will only be £4 a week better off next year, rather than the £5.60 they expected. I am angry at the mentality that even gives rise to such a sentiment.

I believe in progressive taxation. Without the exception of anyone by virtue of age, any more than the exception of someone earning more than £150,000 per annum.

So should my Party.

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