The Scheme, Schemers and Scams

Car crash television

So who has been watching ‘ The Scheme’? Currently on BBC1 on Tuesday evenings after being shown first in Scotland, it is the epitome of car crash television for the middle classes. It tells, selectively, the lives of the inhabitants on Onthank housing estate, near Kilmarnock. If it is to be believed, Onthank is a god-forsaken place peopled by drug pushers and their clients, all of whom are kept in coke and smokes by the gullible tax payer. If you have ever done an honest day’s work in your life, the characters in this programme will have you spitting blood in fury. These families would put ‘Shameless’ to shame.

The Cunningham family in The Scheme

The Cunningham family, trying to keep their kids on the straight and narrow

The characters ( or rather caricatures ) wonder aimlessly through life, chain smoking, drinking and, in many cases, buying class A drugs on the street corners. Arrest, trial and prison are everyday occurrences – inevitable and random at the same time, like a a type of criminal russian roulette. It is supposed to be a fly-on-the-wall documentary, but of course, the players are far too savvy for that. In the beginning they know that instant fame could await them and are on their best big brother behaviour. Yet as the series progresses, they can’t keep shocking us and we eventually start to feel tainted by the greyness of their existences. In the end, one is struck by the huge disadvantages these people have, rather than the shocking way in which they deal with them.

The Cree family in Onthanks

The Crees, working for their community

They are not all bad, say the BBC. They show a couple who win a prize for their garden and another family who are working tirelessly to re-open a local community centre. Newspapers in Scotland have found many Onthank residents who deny the BBC’s soulless representation of their estate. But it doesn’t alter the fact that the BBC have produced a series that leaves most viewers torn between despair and retributive anger. These people are portrayed as architects of their downfalls who justify the view that giving them benefits is far more than they deserve. The apparent ease with which they play the system and their expectation that the state will pick up the pieces of their lives, no matter what, leaves us in a state of bemused bewilderment. It is difficult to decide whether they are the victims here or we are, constantly having to pay for their drug dependency, criminality and new kitchens.

There, but for the grace of God…..

Ultimately however, the one thing the state cannot supply to these people is hope. The vicious generational cycle of crap housing, crap education, crap infrastucture, unemployment and cheap drugs has led to an ostracised, antisocial class who subconsciously utilise their passive-aggressive natures to survive. The New Labour government supported this cycle of despair by supplying everything without expectation of anything in return. Blair often spoke of the interchange between rights and responsibilities, but the government were not prepared to put it into practice.

Marvin Baird, Dayne and his dog Bullit in the scheme

Marvin, Dayna and Bullit - the one that got away.

Undoubtedly there would have been howls from the liberal hearts if the feckless had been made to work for their benefits or if the teenagers had been given jobs – perhaps miles away from their homes, so that they escaped the influence of their dubious role models -or if the drug addicts were extradited to areas where there simply were no drugs ( there are plenty of uninhabited islands off the Scottish coast). And it would be true that these actions might well infringe their personal human rights. But what does it say when a mother can be grateful that her child is going to prison, because it is his only chance to get clean? If  tough love could have saved Marvin Baird from his lost years of drug abuse, or prevented Steven McMurray from exchanging his college place for a prison term, don’t you think they would have taken it?


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