It’s one of the dirty words of politics. The thing that our political culture doesn’t want us to talk about and, worse, wants us to think has gone away. The dirty c-word of all dirty c-words, that has an amazing ability to cause some people to huff and groan like no other word in the English language: Class.
For the first time in my generation we are having a discussion about how we are governed. We’re looking at how our politics works; who funds it; who controls it and how does it work for us and those like us? However it was never supposed to be this way. These are questions that the British establishment – made up of the super-rich and powerful of our small island – hoped we would never ask.
Wealth has hijacked Britain’s democracy. A powerful and super rich elite have a much greater influence over our governance than ordinary people do. Whether it’s the rotten way in which political donations are governed, the financing of thinktanks and economists, or the print and broadcast media that is largely owned and run by the same elite, our entire political discourse is decided by them and in their favour. Whilst this is not a new analysis of what is wrong with British democracy, it strikes at the heart of the referendum debate.
I can already hear the groans.
Just look at some of Westminster’s priorities. The UK Government recently moved to introduce fees of up to £1200 to take your employer to a tribunal (something that is reserved to the UK Parliament). In a victory for the boss-class, politicians have put themselves on the side of bad bosses and against those who wish to take employers to tribunals for harassment and mistreatment. If you’ve been unfairly dismissed by your employer then you better be able to cough-up and prove it. Otherwise, shut-up and get on with it. Welcome to Britain in 2014.
Tax avoidance is a huge priority for voters right across Britain, and it has been for some time. Around £35bn is lost each year due to tax avoidance and non-payment. Loopholes in the tax system have been exploited by the elite for years and governments have done all they can to scupper any sort of international agreement to clamp down on avoidance. However if you’re a small business and you are only days late in paying your tax bill, then you can be sure that an HMRC officer will be knocking on your door – one rule for them and another rule for us.
It’s no wonder that establishment figures, such as Tory donor Ian Taylor – whose company, Vitol, has been able to legally pay minimum levels of tax equalling an average of 10.5% on global profits of £15bn over the past nine years – have backed the No campaign. He is part of the system. It should surprise you even less that he has backed it with a fistful of money – £500, 000 to be exact. This is how the super-rich react when the system that feeds them is under threat. The more they have to lose, and the more that ordinary people have to gain, the tighter their grip gets.
A Yes vote presents a clear danger to their system. It gives the opportunity for our democracy to be led by the citizens of Scotland – and ordinary people like the idea of this.
I campaign with my local Yes group in the Southside of Glasgow every week. There’s barely a day that goes past when we aren’t signing up people to vote for the first time, or the first time in many years. In areas such as Castlemilk, where I was born, people are anxious to use the only power that they feel they have; the vote. They don’t have the money, the access or the resources to influence the British system to work in their favour – despite their numbers. So they are voting to take back control of their lives and their government.
There are some on the No side of this debate who believe that, because of the class struggle, it is better to stick with Britain. However the corporation that is Britain today has killed that idea. Our public services are being privatised; work place rights are being eroded and our welfare state is being dismantled. This has been done deliberately; because those running corporation Britain know that once these things are gone they are very difficult to get back. Britain has become an obstacle to social justice, not a path to it.
A miasma of despair hangs over working people across Britain. We have a chance in Scotland to shake that off, do things differently and lead, in solidarity, a quiet revolution of politics and economics in favour of the many and not the few. Could we really claim to be progressives if we turned that opportunity down?
Some folk – largely those who are not engaged in the debate – think our referendum is about nationalism. They view it through the lazy prism of Scotland versus England. They could not be more wrong. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ in this debate are ordinary people and Britain’s super wealthy. Do we continue to be governed by ‘them’ and their system, or choose to self-govern as confident citizens in a modern country? That’s the question we need to answer, and it is plainly a question of class.