A Letter from Pyongyang

After Ruth Davidson’s rapid follow-up to Johann Lamont’s scene-setting speech this week, we’re now in no doubt that thecampaign against the welfare state is now in full flow in Scotland.

It’s no longer possible to disentangle the fight for self-determination for the fight for social justice. Comparing Scotland with economic basketcases has a long history (Albania’s a favourite) and the litany of abusive terms for our elected FM is commonplace, but Ruth’s taken the Romneyesque choice of insulting virtually a whole nation saying that “North Korea would be a ‘beacon of free enterprise’ in comparison with Scotland unless action is taken to curb the state’s dominance north of the Border”. Before adding “Welcome to Pyongyang” and deriding her critics for challenging her ‘facts based argument’.

This is drivel and it will, ultimately cost her her job. The facts she so cherishes are not on her side. In a swift rebuke that even made the print Guardian Stephen Boyd pointed out, the Scottish leader’s got her sums badly wrong:

“Hilariously, at a time when Davidson’s party is campaigning hard for an end to Scotland’s universal benefits such as free bus travel for OAPs, free prescriptions and free personal care, the calculation assumes that the distribution in Scotland of “household income, benefits and taxes is the same as that of UK households”. It isn’t. In Scotland, those in the upper income brackets are recipients of additional spend that is lost in her analysis.”

To compound the problem it now turns out that the Scottish figures (skewed and disfigured as they are) are better than the UK equivalent. The Centre for Policy Studies, a right-leaning think tank, has unveiled striking new research which suggests that 53.4 per cent of British households take more in benefits and services than they contribute in taxes. (1) Oh. Dear. (Whaur’s yer subsidy junkies now hen? – Ed)

Worse still Bella is put in the invidious position of having to agree with Alex Massie. An egregious position and this for one recuperating after hospital. Mr Massie – after a humorous admission (‘It is staggering and perhaps also frightening if the Tory leader really believes the public can so easily be divided into the Bad (88%) and the Good (12%) in this fashion. If nothing else Davidson – whom I suppose I should disclose is an old friend-cum-acquaintance of mine – might have remembered that her own career has hardly been a model of private-sector entrepreneurial vigour’) – goes on to state the wonderfully bleedin’ obvious that: “It’s not difficult to appreciate that We Hate You, Now Vote for Us is not a winning political message. Moreover, when Michael Forsyth – not always a man in tune with Middle Scotland – suggests you’ve blundered it is reasonable to think you may have made one hell of a mistake.”

Just as I was beginning to think that all was lost, that Davidson’s remarkable onslaught against 88% of Scots would win over floating voters, or that Cameron’s high-praise of Workfare in his party speech today might have rekindled the Party de Panda in Scotland, in flew Old Tom Harris (he of the social media fame). Tom kindly re-tweeted his guest post on his Tory pal Iain Dale’s blog explaining why sixteen and seventeen year-olds shouldn’t be allowed the franchise (Votes at 16). Now you can argue this, and that’s fine, but what is going to be interesting is defending this once – as is now highly likely – under 18s are given the vote: ‘Now we didn’t want you to have the vote but now you have vote for us (to not have more powers)’.

So now we have the full range of the NO alliances political messages in the run up to the referendum, neatly summarised as We Hate You, Now Vote for Us:

  • Bar 12% of you you are all scroungers
  • Young people shouldn’t be allowed to vote on the future of their country
  • You live in a  freebie culture – your ‘something for nothing culture’ must end
  • Vote for us and we’ll take away your free education
  • Vote for us and we’ll make you pay

Davidson talks of a ‘corrosive sense of entitlement’ and a ‘rotten system of patronage’ yet it’s clear that the person who speaks these words has no sense of irony and is semi-detached from reality. Scottish Labour and the Scottish Tories are now led by two remarkable women dancing hand in hand towards the autumn of 2014.

With Murdo Fraser and the aforementioned Tom Harris each party had a chance of rebirth. Now they are caught in a death-spiral. As Richard Seymour wrote recently:

“Scottish Labour is thus caught in a vicious circle. The more it suffers electorally, the more it loses whatever political talent it has accumulated. It moves from disaster to disaster, from Alexander to Gray to Lamont. The more the SNP demolishes it, the more bitterly hostile Scottish Labour becomes, and the less rationally it responds to its crisis.”

So too the Scottish Conservatives recklessly lurching from anonymous oblivion to the harsh glare of ridicule. In her speech at Tory conference Davidson said that Salmond was ‘isolated in the Scottish Parliament’, clearly drawing succour from Lamont’s policy statement, but it’s a thought so bereft, so  detached from reality as to almost evoke sympathy.


1) http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jakewallissimons/100184157/britain-now-takes-more-in-benefits-than-it-gives-in-taxes/