This is about Raploch not Bannockburn. A reminder – if any was needed of why we need a better Scotland – was brought to us this week by two very different prophets of modern Scotland. As Ian Duncan Smith did the rounds delivering the latest efforts to flog re-heated Thatcherism on behalf of Better Together, Martin Sime of SCVO delivered a damning verdict:
He is presiding over the biggest assault on the poorest people in living memory and causing untold misery to families the length and breadth of the country. While the Work and Pensions Secretary and his aides talk about scroungers and cheats, huge cuts to the living standards of people already on the edge are being masqueraded as reform. Disabled people are being harassed on to dole queues, tenants of social housing are being forced out of their homes and an impossible bureaucracy is driving many to the edge of despair. To make matters worse, Chancellor George Osborne has his eyes on a cash grab that will see even harsher cuts. There is nothing decent about any of this.
It’s the quite ones you’ve to watch out for.
Initial attempts to force the unemployed to work for nothing were rightly condemned. I recall a busload being made to sleep under a bridge in order to provide early morning security for the Jubilee, and a handsome profit being made for the company that had won the contract. Then there was the embarrassment of Tesco leading a stampede of retailers heading for the exit, since no amount of hype could cover for the exploitation involved in getting the shelves stacked for free. Here was a scam that would actually reduce the need to hire staff in proper jobs, swelling the dole queue even further.
Howls of outrage will meet this suggestion that an Independent Scotland would mean a Tory-Free one, or that Scotland can assume a culture of equality or social justice. We have our wee Tories too, and not all of them in blue, it will be rightly pointed out. All true. We have our vested interests and corporate forces who’d love nothing better than slave labour stacking shelves. None of this is disputed.
It’s widely assumed that the presence of David Cameron and his Bullingdon Cabinet will drive people to vote Yes. I think it’s the wrong way round. More likely to be the absolute dearth of imagination of a response, the desperate void that faces the onslaught Sime describes, and the fact that much of the Tory plans are built on initiatives developed under New Labour. The sheer paucity of a response was hinted at by Michael Kelly this week (‘The internal fight is over, now for the real battle’) where he rejoiced in the slaying, not poverty or poor housing, but of the latest internal feud of Scottish Labour. ‘The battle was savage’ we were told, but, Johann was triumphant. Having slain general secretary Colin Smyth the grand plan could proceed. Now (the triumph building), we were told “a programme will be developed and announced.” Sounds like a good idea.
Finally, showing that they are fleet as foxes ole’ Labour, Kelly informs us: “Constituency Labour parties are being rejigged to reflect Holyrood, rather than Westminster.” 13 years on, sounds like a good idea. None of this is good. It’s an unhealthy polity that sees the calibre of Willie Rennie and Johann Lamont prop up once credible parties. A big shift is underway and it’s been a long long time coming. Today will be a signpost of the way ahead.
From the ‘Scotland Demands Democracy’ march in 1992 to the Declaration of Calton Hill in 2004 to the huge defiant march against war in Iraq in Glasgow in 2003 (pictured) many of the people on the streets today will be the same, but many, thankfully, will not. Many will be newly inspired by the closeness of the possibility of change.
Many will be responding to what Gerry Hassan described as a crisis of progressive Britain. Hassan has written: “The progressive story of Britain is in deep, deep crisis, perhaps mortally so; it has been battered by the onslaught of Thatcherism it was then brutalised by Blair’s twin track continuation of Thatcherism consolidated along with his grotesque application of the British state and foreign policy.”
There’s still a big shift required for people to realise that these trends in British politics are not about the transitory reactionary nature of Blair or a Cameron government, they are enshrined into the fabric of British society, they are part of the structure of the Anglo-British state and the economic forces that control it. Redemption is impossible within these confines. The British state is irredeemable. Change cannot come about with a political class tied to and in bed with the City.
But that big shift is coming.
Veteran commentator Ruth Wishart announces today (‘Nailing my colours to Scotland’s mast‘):
I was proud to recount my friendship with Donald Dewar at his funeral, and enjoy cordial relations with folks like Annabel Goldie and Menzies Campbell. Yet today, I find myself on a platform supporting the rally for a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum, and speaking up in favour of Scottish independence.
Wishart continues: “The over-riding reason why I will come out loud and proud today is because I truly believe this to be a historic opportunity to shape the kind of nation we want our children and grandchildren to inherit and grow up in…The de facto privatisation of the English health system, the wilful fragmentation of their education sector, and, most damaging of all, the imposition of appalling tax and benefit “reforms” which will hit the most vulnerable while protecting the wealthy are all anathema to a large majority of Scots of all political persuasions.”