By Mike Small
“Margaret Thatcher is lying sick in a private hospital bed in Belgravia but her political children have just pushed her agenda further and harder and deeper than she ever dreamed of…” writes, Johann Hari in the Independent one of the best columnists around. And make no mistake, those children are on both sides of the benches braying at each other.
There is a difference in Scotland. Following a sort of feint folk-memory Scots voted in droves for Labour, Old and New: Thatcher’s bastard offspring that led us to war and PFI and a culture of bank excess and the super-rich, conceived by Blair, delivered by Brown, umbilical cord cut by Clegg and Danny Alexander, fumbling as a Cabinet of 23 millionaires deliver austerity measures on the poor of this country. The Financial Times has the Comprehensive Spending Review cuts “only” 7% higher than those proposed by New Labour in June. Policy merger is virtually complete, despite Labours protestations from the comfort of opposition. The difference is this: Scotland didn’t vote for shock doctrine.
They have no mandate to do this here. Middle England may have gleefully warmed to two decades of Daily Mail hatred of the poor ‘benefit scroungers’ rhetoric and warmly greeted Cameron to No 10. We didn’t. The befuddled fools who voted for the Liberals when they promised no nuclear power and no tuition fees might be feeling shame and stupidity, but at least the Tories were clear this was their intent. When Nigel Lawson and Co shuffle on screen to welcome these measures there is thinly-masked glee in their eyes. As Monbiot wrote this week: ‘The cuts are being used to reshape the economy in the interests of business – and to trash the public sector’.
As I listen to Joyce McMillan, her voice cracking with anger on Good Morning Scotland as she recalls the pain of the Thatcher era and the hatred of the poor that drives the Tory-Liberal measures announced yesterday, it’s difficult to know how to respond. The shock in Shock Doctrine leave you numb before the actual axe falls. Numb at the braying laughing Tory back-benches. Numb at the futility of it all and the sheer stupidity. Numb as you tune in to The Apprentice (“Lord Sugar will see you now”) and the oafs and a new generation of desperate grovelling incompetent management careering towards a ‘six figure salary’ as we cut benefits that are our collective entitlement. We broadcast this on the same day as the CSR.
Cut to the news and we interview bankers and the head of the CBI north and south of the border. They are delighted. Numb. Pat Kane writes: “We seem to be the victims of the most extraordinary act of ideological hypnotism, though. We go through a banking crisis involving the worst kind of plutocratic excess and arrogance. The result? Not jail for some bankers, and a more bounded role for finance in general – but their debt rectified by the state, and the basic lifestyle and assumptions of the financial elite unchanged.”
The ideological hypnotism has affected even the most astute. The oscillating Iain Macwhirter writes: “The kind of people voters are happy to see hit are bureaucrats, public-sector workers, local councils, banks, and people on benefits. And these are precisely the people targeted.” Are they? How many people in Scotland are on some form of benefit or a public sector worker Iain?
Is there a history to this? Only this year ‘we’ returned to our default setting of “Vote Labour to stop the Tories”. Scotland dutifully did so. What did we get? We got yesterdays travesty. As one commentator at the Scotsman wrote recalling the then 50 Labour MPS who couldn’t prevent the Poll Tax wrote: “Have the feeble fifty now morphed into the feeble forty? Just what exactly are these ‘feeble forty’ Labour MPs about to do for Scotland?” Yesterday we were answered.
But there’s another history to this. Hari again: “George Osborne has just gambled your future on an extreme economic theory that has failed whenever and wherever it has been tried”. Collective amnesia. Numbness. He continues:
“When was the last time Britain’s public spending was slashed by more than 20 per cent? Not in my mother’s lifetime. Not even in my grandmother’s lifetime. No, it was in 1918, when a Conservative-Liberal coalition said the best response to a global economic crisis was to rapidly pay off this country’s debts. The result? Unemployment soared from 6 per cent to 19 per cent, and the country’s economy collapsed so severely that they lost all ability to pay their bills and the debt actually rose from 114 per cent to 180 per cent.” Read the whole article here.
This is the time to test whether there is any substance to our claims to want to be a better place, with a real commitment to equality and social justice, or have we all been corroded by the tabloid culture of self-hatred, blaming the poor, kicking the weakest when they are down that we will scuttle back to the false safety of Labours arms?
The media would have you believe this is the only response we have. This morning the Scotsman and other outlets are shouting the same headline that Labour are ahead in the polls (‘Osborne forces ministers to slash £1.3 billion as poll shows SNP behind Labour’).
Don’t believe it.
Labour’s vote has flat lined and the Lib Dems vote crumbled to its lowest level in over 9 years. The SNP is polling at a higher level than at the same time prior to the 2007 election. Can the Tory vote sink lower in Scotland? Where will the Liberal vote go? Danny Alexander and Michael Moore prodded forward by Tory fixers both had car-crash media moments on Newsnight and ‘nicht yesterday. Gordon Brewer – hardly an intense interviewer had them for toast. Next year they face annihilation. The sudden fall in Lib Dem support could leave the party with only nine MSPs at Holyrood, down from the current 16, if replicated next May. They may have to face up to the notion: You can’t lie to all of the people all of the time.
“The huge cut in housing support, and the end of lifetime tenancy of council houses, introduces the cold steel of domestic turbulence into many poorer families who were hanging on in the best of times. A commitment that “wages are never exceeded by welfare” will mean a downward pressure on welfare, in an environment where wages are already depressed.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of forthcoming unemployed from the public sector have to hope in what Joseph Stiglitz (Alex Salmond’s new economic advisor) calls the “confidence fairy” of private-sector revival to appear. According to Stiglitz, economic history shows that austerity measures in a slump rarely, if ever, create the “jobs boom” predicted by advocates.” (from Thoughtland)
I don’t believe in fairies. Neither do you.
In times like this, gallus humour prevails, Armando Iannucci: “I think the cuts were fair. It’s about time bedbound homeless people with learning difficulties were taken down a peg or two.” But there’s a need to move beyond the constant shift between laughing and desperation.
Yesterday was about myth-shattering. Defence jobs are safe under the union. Gone. The Liberals won’t do the Tories dirty-work. Gone. A vote for Labour will stop the cuts. Gone. The Tories cuts will be fairly made, ‘we’re all in this together’. Gone. Okay, no-one ever swallowed that last one.
Our friend Lallands Peat Worrier recalling and deconstructing a recent Salmond’s speech writes: “The speech included some snappy lines, snappily delivered – ‘Our water will not be privatised – not a tap, not a drop’ and plenty of intertextuality including Edwin Morgan, Robert Cunningham Graeme, Jimmy Reid. I noticed that he twanged on one of my own favourite strings – that independence is not the radical irresponsibility of the teenage tearaway in the huff, but fundamentally a movement about civic participation, active citizenship – and the tensions of responsibility.”
Sound like the Big Society? No, it’s about whether we have a collective response as a nation to reject this failed dogma and take real responsibility for a different Scotland where the sort of austerity measures announced yesterday just couldn’t happen. Do we? The shock doctrine is a failed experiment, and so is the Union.
Salmond’s speech ended like this: “I want us to act together, in common purpose, to deliver that better land. I want you and everyone here in Perth, in this land, to know that having a parliament in itself is not enough. We need a purpose – and it is my purpose to get the powers to address our problems.
I believe our people want a better society. Not a bit better, not a wee change, not some tinkering at the edges, but a better land full stop. Perhaps from now on I should explain it thus – The referendum we wish to have is first and foremost a jobs referendum. The Independence I seek is the independence to create jobs. The powers I wish for us all are powers to protect us all. This is not an arcane question removed from the people – it is the people, you and me, and how we protect our society.”
It’s a speech we should not just be listening to but making ourselves.