People quite rightly point out that a Yes or a No vote shouldn’t be cast solely on the exquisitely attractive option of permanently ridding this country of Tory rule. It’s about far more than that. As Brian Wilson says in the Scotsman today: “the way to change the policies is to change the government, not change the constitution.”
But the attacks on the gains of devolution, on the fabric of society, on the concept of univeralism (‘we’re all in this together’) and on the poor are not confined to this Coalition Govt, or that New Labour manifesto. They are built into the structure of the British State and the structure of power relations within it.
This is what needs to be understood about Britain, it is structurally incapable of being progressive. Why? Because of the concentration of power and privilege in the south-east and in the City of London, because of the power of the military establishment and because of the wholesale capture of government by private interests.
The reality is that south of the Severn-Wash line, outside London, Labour holds just ten of 197 seats. This is why, if Labour wants to win some of these back, Labour must be according to Ed Miliband: ‘the party of the private sector as much as the party of the public sector’ and the party of the ‘squeezed middle’ as well as those of those in poverty.
This is getting worse. As the Tory party begins to shed its veneer of respectability and organise around the far-right agenda of Britannia Unchained. MPs Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss call for a Britain of extreme economic liberalism in which, in the words of Labour’s Jon Cruddas, “their ideal worker is one prepared to work long hours, commute long distances and expect no employment protection and low pay”. The Financial Times called it “shock therapy for the country”, a quote the publishers apparently took as a compliment.
Is this all the preserve of right-wing think-tanks of London and the chattering classes? Not at all. This is co-ordinated and is unleashing a new throwback to a new Thatcherite policy surge. As the Reid Foundation has outlined:
“We should not mistake the onslaught for the passing thoughts of a few individuals on the back of the announcement that Scottish Labour is to review what its leader calls ‘something for nothing’ benefits. This is a political programme actively supported by a number of groups. Right wing think tanks (and especially the David Hume Institute) has been gnawing away at the principle of the welfare state for ages, mainly using ‘public sector accounting’ as its method of attack. Likewise many parts of the Scottish media have been curating a story about ‘affordability’ and ‘maturity’ for ages, absolutely confident in their belief that accountants are the most valuable members of society when it comes to defining political ideology. What you don’t see is the use of the expensive lobbying budgets of organisations like SERCO or A4E or Atos Healthcare which are being used at all times to pressurise government to carry out more and more means testing (it’s one of their main sources of profit after all).”
There is an extraordinary attack coming. The carving up of the NHS is one travesty, now in the hands of the private sector. The extension of a tax system staggering in it’s inequality is a central part of rip-off Britain. This is the future we have to avoid being drawn into.
Shutting Down Debate
Meanwhile, the ‘commentariat’ we’re told by Newsnight Scotland, are at each others throats. This is really just Gerry Hassan criticising Ian Bell, Iain Macwhirter and Joyce Macmillan. For example Hassan (‘Searching for the New Tartan Tories’) writes:
“Macwhirter on ‘Newsnight Scotland’ (3.10.12) confronted an incredulous Brian Wilson with the charge that Lamont’s stance meant Labour was supporting ‘£9,000 student tuition fees in Scotland’, a complete fiction. Elsewhere Kevin McKenna commented that ‘Mrs Thatcher would have been proud’ and that the views expressed by Lamont ‘would have tickled the Iron Lady’.”
But it’s odd because neither Lamont or Davidson is expanding new ideas, they are re-treading the old failed economics of the past. It’s not ‘binary’ or blinkered to hold fast to an aspiration for a better more equal society nor to defend the (modest) gains of devolution. Gerry talks of a ‘profound complacency’ but there’s more complacency about an inability to respond and come together in solidarity against the forces of the Unionist right.
Why is it that only benefits are being discussed? Why not taxation and the burdens of supporting Americas resource wars in the Middle East or the crazed sacrifice of young Scots men in Afghanistan? Why aren’t we discussing the mass tax-avoidance of companies like Starbucks and Amazon?
Why aren’t we discussing why the country’s in recession and who broke the financial system? One of the reasons this focus is compelling for Unionist parties is that it feeds in to two central ideas they want to rehabilitate. The first is that Scotland is too poor or reliant on Westminster subsidies to be independent.The second is that the whole devolution period has created policies that are now untenable given our ‘new financial reality’. This is a warm-up act for austerity, the austerity measures being rejected across mainland Europe.
Let’s debunk some of that right now. We are a country of huge potential scarred by inequality.
This is not a poor nation:
– Scotland contributes 9.6% of total UK tax revenue, yet only 9.3% of total public spending is spent in Scotland (GERS)
– Scotland generates over £1,000 more tax per person than the UK average
– Over the past 30 years, Scotland has a cumulative relative surplus of £19 billion
– 95% of North Sea oil reserves and revenue are situated in Scottish waters; North Sea oil has been estimated by scientists to have over 60 years of production left
– Scottish North Sea oil and gas is an asset worth over £1 trillion
– In the next 5 years alone, North Sea oil revenues will be £54 billion
– Trident cost approx. £15 billion and continues to cost over £2 billion annually; removing Trident from Scottish waters would save billions which could be spent on hospitals, schools and the police
– A Scottish Defence Force would save Scottish taxpayers at least £1.5 billion; independence would reduce our spend on Defence from £3.3 bn annually in the UK, to £1.8 billion under independence (RUSI)
– The war in Iraq cost the UK nearly £10 billion; an independent Scotland would not take part in such expensive, destructive and potentially illegal wars (UK Govt figures)
– Scotland has an exceptionally strong exporting sector, including whisky and renewable energy sustaining thousands of jobs and livelihoods
– Scotland has 25% of the whole of Europe’s renewable energy potential; fully harnessing this great asset could create 28,000 quality jobs and attract £30 billion of investment to Scotland
For Scotland to be ‘unchained’ it needs to be liberated from the mindset and the dogma of neoliberal Britain, it needs to be creative about new economic models and social experiments to lead us out of the darkness of Union.
Yes let’s have some real debate in this country about our economy, about what we can and cannot afford. But let’s not bullied into believing that ‘real debate’ means buying into the framing of these ideas by the forces of reaction. Let’s discuss our economics on our own terms.