Let’s Make Scotland Unrecognisable
Today sees a raft of news coverage about yet another set of figures showing just how wealthy a nation we really are. Scotland, according to these figures, would be the fourteenth wealthiest nation on earth if we were independent – higher than the UK as a whole.
New statistics and economic analysis can be as exciting as watching spuds boil to most people, however we shouldn’t ignore them. Polls have shown that people are interested more in the economic argument for independence than any other. The economy seems to dominate the public debate around independence and that is understandable. People want to know that their homes are going to be secure, that their pensions will remain valuable and their jobs won’t be at risk. Given what people have been through over the last few years this comes as no surprise.
The new statistics, put together by Scotland’s Chief Statistician, show that Scotland’s finances are in a healthier position than the rest of the UK’s by £1600 per head. They show that we in Scotland send more tax to the UK Treasury – by an average of £800 per head – than those in the rest of the UK. This has been the case for the last thirty years.
Scotland is a wealthy nation although, for some, it certainly does not feel like it. There are those in and around us who live off the currency of despair and hopelessness. For them, they live in a separate country that takes little account of their daily struggle to heat their homes and feed themselves. Either in low paid work or reliant on benefits, there are large numbers of people up and down the country who are disconnected – quite literally – from the world that the rest of us are living in. The most shameful thing, however, is that there is a new generation of children and young people waiting in the wings to take over that disconnected country.
The Scottish Government published its child poverty strategy just days ago. That report concluded that, by 2020, an additional 100 000 children will be pushed in to poverty because of the UK Government’s welfare cuts. That fact alone should make all politicians sit up and take notice. However let’s not pretend that this started in 2010. This has been the case for decades because the UK system that trades on poverty. We have a capitalist system that UK Governments of all stripes have allowed to insulate, protect and reward the extremely wealthy, whilst those at the bottom are supposed to feel better with tit-bits like a minimum wage increase of nineteen pence, as announced by the UK Government today.
The cycle is heart-wrenchingly depressing. Entire communities are reliant on scarce, low paid and low skilled jobs. Low take home pay is leading people to search for extra jobs, meaning they are literally living to work. Worse, some people are turning to pay-day loans. Those reliant on welfare are seeing it get even harder to obtain, with people being sanctioned for all sorts of trivial reasons such as being ten minutes late for an appointment. The system, whether you’re in work or out of work, is callously designed to grind people down.
What’s even more depressing is that none of the parties at Westminster want to change that system. There is just no space in the British political debate to put forward a radical restructuring of our economy so that ordinary people can start to win rather than constantly lose out I fear that anyone who thinks that an incoming UK Labour government is going to make the radical changes needed to stop that additional 100 000 children going into poverty, has their hopes misplaced. To be clear, I don’t doubt for a second Labour’s wish to see a more equal and fair society, but I don’t think that the boundaries of the British political debate allows for that to happen. Faceless market forces, and the rise of parties like UKIP are setting those boundaries, and British politicians have only shown us how impotent they are the face of those forces, to the point that they have given up trying to debate meaningful change. The UK system now only offers us different shades of the sameness. The place of the ordinary voter is simply to go to the polls and judge who will shaft them the least.
That debate, however, is already taking place in Scotland. Why? Because we have an independence referendum that gives us the chance to wipe the slate clean and do things differently. We’re having a debate about how we get create better, skilled jobs. We’re having a debate about how we ensure that our workforce looks more like the population around us. We’re refusing to be bought off by the ‘work longer for less’ ideology that is being driven by London, and instead we’re having a discussion about how we make work pay and pay well, so that people don’t need a dividend from the state or a pay day loan to get them through to the end of the month. We don’t want to live in a country where the value of a ginger bottle is worth more than the minimum wage rise announced by Vince Cable today. Irrespective of the outcome of the referendum, we in Scotland are starting to say with a growing confidence that, yes, we actually do know what is best for us – and that is a wonderful thing.
Redistribution of wealth is absolutely key. However what the pro-independence message about is a redistribution of hope so that we can redistribute wealth when we have the power in Scotland to do so. The hope that things can really change if we really want them to. The hope that we – all of us – really can feel like we live in the fourteenth wealthiest nation on earth. We’ve paid in to a system that has rewarded us with extremely little. That system – the London system – does not know what is best for us. Do not fall for that con any longer. Let’s build a new country that is built solidly on fairness, good jobs, good public services, a fair tax system, equality and ambition. Let’s build a Scotland that will make future generations not recognise the Scotland that we have grown up in. Otherwise all of that wealth really is for nothing.
I would highly recommend readers visit http://allofusfirst.org/ to read more about a balanced and creative economy.