Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thoughts on Scottish Independence

I met a good number of young Brits while I was travelling alone through Australia this past spring. My contact with young people was constant and intense, as I stayed in youth hostels. When you travel alone, and the choice is $250 a night for a Hilton-type room in the centre or $40 a night for the upscale youth hostel in the same location, well, it's a no-brainer. A bed and shower were all I needed. Besides, there is a security in having people around, and young people bring energy and spontaneity to the party.

My first night in Sydney I had to take a "mixed" room (men and women, six beds). I landed with two young men from the English countryside. They were 23 years old, and had purchased the work visa. We had a lively discussion during which they referred to themselves as "POHMES" (Prisoners of Her Majesty's Empire), and yes, they were impressed that this yank immediately knew the acronym from reading "The Fatal Shore" by Robert Hughes.

Anyway, there was an anger and bitterness about these men, and I met more like them as I travelled, seemingly under the impression that, unlike back home, jobs were plentiful in Australia. In Melbourne I stayed with a young British woman who called her parents and cried on the phone. She had made her contacts with shirttail relations, but it appeared that none could help her with finding employment. My heart broke a little for her. It takes courage and desperation to travel half way around the world without a job in hand, in the hope of making a better life, but that's what these young people were doing.

Unfortunately, jobs are a mixed bag in Australia, and not easy for foreigners to obtain. There is "under the table" work, and plenty of free foreigner labor (Woofers), and these youth hostels were full of 20-some backpackers seeking employment. Without a serious in-demand skill it is difficult to obtain a post, yet those that could land something benefitted from Australia's higher minimum wage.

So yeah, I get why young Brits are frustrated. It will be interesting to see how this independence vote breaks out along age demographics.

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