Picture it, if you will. I am standing in a short shop queue waiting my turn to be served, when a man runs past me at full tilt, dropping something as he goes. I tend not to stare at public spectacle, so don’t rubberneck until I hear the scuffle behind me at the door. Another man has caught the fleeing one and is hauling him, struggling, back into the shop. A member of staff is there a moment later and the two defenders soon manhandle the would-be shoplifter past me, towards the back of the shop. It is over in a flash.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a shoplifter caught in the act before. When I try to remember any incidents I might have witnessed, I end up picturing the anti-heroes of Trainspotting, fleeing, laughing along Princes Street. The failed shoplifter is not laughing. As the two beefy men drag him away, he says over and over, almost sobbing, “I’m sorry.” On the shop floor a pace away from me, where he dropped it, is a loaf of white bread. Further away is the box he had been carrying, which he had been trying to fill, surreptitiously, with food.
My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and begin again my yearly cycle of wishing for the day that I can move away from Leith. However, as I walk back to my house with my messages, what I had just witnessed sunk in: the man had been trying to steal food. He was trying to steal food.
This is where austerity has led us. This is where we have been dragged to by a political establishment utterly without mercy and with not the slightest scrap of humanity.
The three parties that control the two chambers of the Palace of Westminster, with their commitment to, at the very least, several more years of austerity, demonstrate that they look out for no one but themselves and their corporate pay masters. There is no evidence that the suffering seen across the United Kingdom in any way moves them, or causes any to doubt the conviction that we must all tighten our belts for the common good.
Witness the recently revelation that Westminster’s champagne consumption has gone up by 72% since 2010. This begs the question: whose belts are tightening, and for whose benefit?
This is truly and finally a broken Britain. While people across the country are stealing bread or visiting food banks in such hunger that they will rip open a tin of beans and eat them on the spot with their fingers, our political masters and their coterie of lobbyists went through 8,082 bottles of champagne last year.
If you are thinking of voting no in September, this is the country you are voting for; a country where the poor are made to suffer for the mistakes of the rich. If you are thinking of voting no in September, this will be the political system that you are validating.
Should you choose to reject Scottish independence, you will implicitly be voting yes to austerity, to even more austerity, to endless austerity. You will be voting yes to more foreign wars and nuclear weapons, voting yes to one of the most unrepresentative political bodies in the world (only China is worse) and passing a motion of confidence in the self-serving elite who are part of it and the public scandals they have wrought and yet do nothing about.
On Tuesday night, it will be Alistair Darling who will be attempting to make a case for this union. Or, more likely, he’ll spend the night dodging questions about the union and instead attempt to denigrate Scotland. Mr Darling was in charge of the UK’s Treasury when we experienced our worst ever banking crisis. When he lost that job, he got a book deal and wrote a memoir about his time at the Treasury, calling it Back From The Brink.
Do you feel back from the brink?
You can bet Mr Darling does. Since the independence campaign began, The Sun reports that he has earned £250,000 on top of his MP’s salary and that he commands over £10,000 per night, when giving talks to financiers and private health companies.
In a few days time, a man who can earn more money in one night than I did in every tax year since he helped ruin the UK’s economy, will be arguing that seeing a man try to steal bread is just fine, that this is the way things have to be, that this is the best we can expect. He wants us to say “no thanks, I’m fine”.
From the safety of his massive bank account, I can understand why Mr Darling might think we’re fine, but we’re not fine. We’re very, very far from fine. As Westminster’s amoral austerity cuts continue to drag the line of where being fine begins ever higher, if you’re feeling fine now, just how much longer do you think that will last? Do you really want to gamble on the mercy of those who won’t stop guzzling champagne, while causing hundreds of thousands to go hungry?
With a Yes vote, we have the chance to remake our society. We can curb the influence of the privileged elite, who know only how to look out for themselves, and instead look out for each other.