From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

Betty The Brave

The Sentinel managed to balance its coverage between issues of national importance as well as giving up time and space to the people who made up the community of Wester Hailes.  We’ve already featured a couple of names from the past who appeared on its pages.  This week, we’re able to take a look at a local resident who represented both local and national concerns in her campaigning role. 

Campaigning for older people's free travel on public transport

In 1985, the then Secretary of State for Social Services, Norman Fowler MP was conducting a review of social security with a view to making cuts.  Betty Fulton was the Wester Hailes representative of the Scottish Old Age Pensioners Association which sought to influence social policy affecting older people.  With concern mounting over the scale and potential impact of the proposed cuts and what that would mean for pensioners, Betty became involved with city and region wide campaigning organisations who were organising a week of action co-ordinated with similar action in other parts of the country.  This included occupying the headquarters of Scottish Conservative Party which brought publicity to their campaign, giving them a chance to highlight the seriousness of the anticipated changes. 

 It also took her to London for a protest rally where she was interviewed for BBC Radio’s News At One.  Betty had clear views about the effects of the Conservative Government’s policies and in particular about Margaret Thatcher.  When asked by the BBC reporter what good it would do coming all the way down from Scotland to London to campaign on an almost certainly lost battle, she pointed out that Britain was supposed to include Scotland and that Margaret Thatcher had done nothing for the people of Scotland. 

 Although written 27 years ago, this article surely still has relevance for us today.  Betty talks about the hardships facing Wester Hailes where the proposed welfare cuts will affect practically every home.  She reflects on how difficult it is for young people, leaving school with no prospect of a job.  And she is concerned about the loss of hope she is observing as people feel they have no influence or power to change the situation being faced.  Reaching out across time, she is able to remind us of what life was like before 1945, before the Welfare State existed, before the implementation of the Beveridge Report.  As a child, she saw what happened to those who were poor and elderly, having to enter Poor Houses which weren’t completely abolished until 1948 with the demise of the Poor Law system.  It was the memory of those terrible conditions that gave her the impetus to continue fighting for a decent standard of living for all and to call on others to stand with her.

 You can read Betty’s interview in full by clicking here on Sentinel December 1985. 

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