Callous Absolutism

poverty-ethnicity420x250By James McEnaney

David Torrance isn’t happy. On Monday he accused me – in my earlier article for CommonSpace – of arguing that “greed and rule breaking is somehow an inescapable product of a particular constitutional arrangement”, as if the problems of Westminster politics have come about purely because of the intangible evils of unionism. He also ‘presumed’ (his word, not mine) that I would “argue that Unionism had somehow corrupted an otherwise decent sensibility” and implied that at the root of my argument lay a hollow dichotomy within which ‘Scottish’ is accepted as something automatically good and virtuous which is invariably corrupted by the malign power of the British state. Taken seriously, Mr Torrance’s article would have you believe that Scotland is awash with voices claiming that we can cure-all that ails us by stamping saltires onto the foreheads of the poor and powerless.

It didn’t stop there. Mr Torrance also felt the need to point out that Britain is not Haiti and that Westminster is not the Kremlin, although he could have saved himself the trouble given that nobody had argued anything of the sort. The “hyperbolic” language of “broken” Britain may have “irritated” Mr Torrance, but he is clearly quite happy to spend his time tilting at scarecrows.

In all honesty I found this quite flattering, and while imitation may well be its sincerest form, misrepresentation is somehow far more satisfying. For a simple English lecturer to earn such opprobrium (described by Mike Small as “the oddest mixture of distortion and misunderstanding you’ll read in a long time”) from one of Scotland’s better-known journalists is something of a personal achievement.

In a roundabout way, though, Mr Torrance is correct, because the seemingly endless stream of parliamentary abuse, the contempt with which the political establishment regards vast section of the population, and the systemic corruption at the heart of Westminster are, in reality, examples of what our political system looks like when it operates precisely as it was intended to. When the rules have been designed to find ways of allowing MPs to supplement their parliamentary income, is it really any wonder that they exploit the opportunity? When the knowledge and contacts gained through parliamentary service are seen as something marketable, why should we be surprised when they are sold to the highest bidder? The truly shocking thing about the most recent Cash for Access scandal is that, if we’re honest, nobody was really shocked at all.

From a position of privilege it must be easy to believe that Britain is working well, and – as ever – even easier to hide behind callous absolutism. Of course the people of Port-au-Prince experience levels of poverty and despair that the people of Easterhouse will never face, but that doesn’t have any real bearing on the relative ‘brokenness’ of Britain and its political establishment.

The unacceptable realities of life in Britain for so many people were laid painfully bare during the independence campaign and now look like becoming key features of the General Election, but it seems that it is worth repeating a small selection: in a country which can afford to spend £100bn on nuclear weapons there are 900’000 people using food banks; whilst a publicly owned bank shamelessly hands out £421m in bonuses, 700’000 depend upon jobs with zero-hours contracts; as austerity bites ever harder into the flesh of communities up and down the country, the Westminster clique remains blissfully – and wilfully – immune to the appalling damage they are doing to the lives of society’s most vulnerable people.

Of course, Mr Torrance might be right. Perhaps these examples (a mere snapshot of the bigger, more harrowing picture of devastating inequality) do not demonstrate that Britain is broken. Perhaps, as he says, Britain really is one of the “least broken” countries. Maybe it is important to keep in mind that things could always be worse. Maybe.

But tell that to the mother who spends her Friday nights trying to decide whether to feed her children or heat her home. Tell it to one of the 100,000 children made to suffer when their parents are “sanctioned” by the DWP. Tell it to the people trapped in “part-time, low-paid, insecure work” and ‘represented’ by millionaires. The upper echelons of Britain’s political and social fabric are woven from threads of elitism, privilege and corruption which invariably ensure that those in power are completely removed from the real lives of those they should be representing.

Britain is, without a shadow of a doubt, broken, not relative to the plight of the Haitians but to the aspirations of its people. Some may scoff at this, dismissing as vague utopianism the increasingly vocal demands for real change, but in doing so they betray their own tacit acceptance of an unacceptable status quo.

Furthermore, these aspirations are not rooted in some sort of mythical democratic nirvana – as Iain Macwhirter has already pointed out, a comparison of the political cultures in Westminster and Holyrood serves as a scathing indictment of the systems in place in London. Nobody expects to live in a country where our representatives are imperious paradigms of virtue and grace, leaving the public gazing up at them in envious wonder in the same way that your average male looks at Michelangelo’s David. The premise of progressive politics is not that unionism corrupts good, honest Scots; instead, the rules and regulations governing the behaviour of MPs, and the culture that they have created, have poisoned our democratic well, and now everyone who depends upon the water is suffering.

What has become clear is this: our political system (indeed, any political system) must be constructed specifically not only to administer our democracy, but also to protect it (including from those in its direct employ). That is why party funding should be nationalised and linked directly to individual memberships, why lucrative second jobs should be unequivocally banned, why MPs’ pay should be reduced rather than increased, why the House of Lords must be abolished, and why the prevailing philosophy that our elected representatives can’t be expected to suffer the consequences of their decisions must be defeated once and for all.

Social justice, political engagement and representative democracy matter. 45% of the people of Scotland voted Yes in September not because they had necessarily become nationalists, but because many recognised that they had become nationless. What’s more, these feelings are not unique to the people living north of Gretna.

A political and parliamentary system which is, even in part, arranged to facilitate and justify activities that most people would consider abuse of public positions, and which singularly fails to be of the people, by the people and for the people, deserves to be attacked. In truth, it deserves to be torn down.

Ultimately, Britain has been broken by a corrupt, self-serving, fanatically pro-business and fundamentally conservative political consensus which has resulted in the complete abandonment of huge sections of our society. But the windows are shaking, the walls are rattling, and the waters are very definitely rising.

Comments (44)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Iain says:

    Well said. While a straw man makes a fine target, we’d all be better served if the discussion could centre on the arguments that are actually being made.

  2. tartanfever says:

    Torrance and co’s arguments have one purpose, to create division among citizens and to keep the old argument of Labour vs. Tory key to political decision making. As long as we fight among ourselves in tribal political shouting matches then the Westminster system of elitism, class war, monarchy and corporate power will prevail.

    Keep the battle alive between Labour and Tory and they have both won, which is currently manifesting itself in the recent press coverage of General Election coalitions and voting strategies. It is clear, if you want to even attempt to start changing any aspect of our system of government, no matter which side your political beliefs lie, then you cannot vote Labour or Tory. A vote for either of these parties is a vote for class distinction, privilege and the continuation of this system of government.

    When the general population actually stop reading, believing and reacting to the divisions deliberately created by our media then we will be in a far healthier, stronger and more civil place.

    Until then we will remain the hill grazers of the political process, being herded from one election to the next under the false pretence that our vote actually makes any difference.

  3. John Page says:

    Thank you, James.
    Trident and the NHS aside, the most common driver for people who were not traditional SNP supporters to turn to Yes last year was distaste with Westminster. The view was that Scotland could be a better place.
    It really is simple……yes Holyrood is not perfect and yes Westminster govt is better than some others……..but things could and should be better for Scotland.
    Westminster is, by a reasonable assessment, “broken”.
    It is interesting that Mr Torrance had to look to Haiti and the Kremlin for his straw men but he did have his work cut out: extraordinary renditions flights through UK, the horror of the Iraq war, the Scottish Labour Speaker’s disgrace over MPs expenses, cash for access and honours, handling of sex abuse, an SFO enquiry into the Bank of England, manipulation of LIBOR, FOREX and commodities markets, adulteration of the food chain with horse meat as a result of pro business light touch regulation…… blood pressure is going up so I’ll stop.

    The people here in Scotland can do a lot better.

    1. BigMac says:

      Well said John.

  4. Clive B Scott says:

    Excellent response to the fretting, fearful and increasingly unhinged David Torrance. One minor point – doubt if there will be much enthusiasm for nationalising political party funding. Crowd funding with donation cap perhaps a better measure of public engagement and popular enthusiasm for political parties.

  5. Pam McMahon says:

    Thank you for this. I agree with everything you have written. Commentators like Torrance, who uncritically and unquestioningly support this dire system of DemocracyLite, must bear as much blame for the injustice suffered by us all, as the establishment which delivers and enforces it.

  6. Frederick Robinson says:

    As an Englishman who gave 30 years of my life to Scotland, returning on health grounds to my native slightly warmer climate, I abhor Scots’ and the SNP’s recent tendency to claim credit and moral ascendancy by (even if justifiably) talking about ‘broken Britain’ yet implying that (especially since given some measure of independence) Scotland is somehow above the fray, and ‘Westminster’ (in inverted commas as the version of the House of Commons misrepresented by the SNP in particular) is the root of all evil. What the ’45’ feels like – even to a Caledoniaphile like myself, with family and friends still north of the border – is a pushy bunch who cannot accept that they lost a simple binary referendum they, for the most part, chose to have. Life is more complicated than an election, and infinitely more complicated than a Yes/No referendum, and PUSHING on the basis of (losing, for heaven’s sake!) the latter simply encourages the many in England (and elsewhere, it’s a global problem; offshore tax-havens, e.g. don’t ‘de facto’ exist inland) who feel that allowing the Scottish Parliament was a mistake to then react by saying: ‘Oh, well. the Scots can get away with reneging within months on a ‘generational’ referendum THEY chose, so it’s time to plunder the moneybags, folks, before everybody’s at it!’ Which, of course, accelerates everybody to ‘be at it’, often even when they don’t know what ‘it’ is, and whether they want it anyway. like mobs fighting over tat at a fire sale. Take it easy. There are many in England, Wales, and northern Ireland who feel exactly as you do.

    1. John Tracey says:

      Interesting viewpoint .
      I am no fan of nationalism, nor of the SNP. My “tendencey” is not recent. I have long looked for, dreamt about and, in my way, campaigned for a better society than the one we have and have had for a very long time.
      Our UK society is not good enough.
      The referendum was an opportunity, in my eyes, for trying for a better society.
      Despite the result of the referendum, I still want a better society.
      I claim no credit or moral high ground for a ‘broken Britain’ – I believe David Cameron’s post-referendum “English votes” announcement did more damage to the union than the referendum. I also believe it was done with the intention of breaking Britain – dividing the union/society as it’s easier to control a fractured population than a united one.
      Is it fair to say “Scots'” and “SNP’s” “recent tendencies” are quite seperate in origin though perhaps similar by coincidence?
      I come from a Red Clydesider background who remembers one nation Tories. Strange to think a time when I was born into a “single end” and what that meant could be thought of as the good old days – in terms of politicians perhaps they were.

    2. Tarisgal says:

      I think your move back to England has meant you are now prey to the MSM and their reports of ‘how things are’ up in Scotland, as I believe many of your comments seem to resound with MSM soundbytes. For example, I would heartily disagree with your comment that “Scots’ and the SNP claim credit and moral ascendancy by talking about ‘broken Britain’.” Living in Scotland as I do, I can assure you that Scots and SNP simply claim only that the poorer of society in Scotland (and the UK as a whole) are getting a VERY bad deal and Westminster are at the heart of their struggles. The SNP wish to change that by implementing policies that will help the hardest hit citizens. I’m sorry if that angers you but I think I prefer that at least ONE political party try to do something to make things better for the working people who are struggling… And if that is taking the moral high ground, then… you’ll just have to consider that so.

      And sorry but you are also wrong about the fact that that ‘pushy bunch who cannot accept that they lost a simply binary referendum…” is also inaccurate but again, I have heard this very comment SO MANY TIMES in the MSM it’s getting very, very tired. I was one of those who fought for a yes vote in the referendum and quite frankly, I haven’t done ANYTHING that could be considered ‘pushy’ and neither have my family, friends and colleagues in the SNP movement that I know. That is simply an MSM soundbyte that is being played ad nauseum – ‘you lost, get over it’. I can assure you we have ‘got over it’. VERY FEW people in Scotland actually cast up about the Referendum, though that mantra is CONSTANTLY being used by the media and ‘other’ responses under various Tweets. I can assure you – we have gone past it! But in saying that, the fact that we voted ‘yes’ and lost does NOT mean we are no longer allowed to vote! Voting for who you want in an election is a democratic right that even Scots are allowed to take part in. And Scots are allowed to decide who they want to represent them in Parliament. Whether anyone else likes it or not, most of Scotland is voting for SNP. That is democracy at work.

      And as far as the comment “reneging within months on a ‘generation’ referendum THEY chose” goes, as someone here has already said, individuals did not promise any such thing. *I* did not promise any such thing. Are you suggesting because ‘yes’ voters lost, they should no longer be allowed to vote for the party that best represents their idea of good governing?? If that is so, then I would say that that is appalling! I don’t agree with a ‘no’ stance but I firmly believe that ‘no’ voters had a democratic right to vote no. And as is MY right, I will fight for Scottish Independence for as long as it takes to get it. THAT IS ALSO democracy at work.

      Yes – I understand there are many in England, Wales and Ireland that feel as we do. But making such comments because we wish to exercise our democratic rights, as I assume you yourself are going to do at the next election, is not helpful to anyone. The MSM are stirring up this anti-English, Anti-Scottish, anti-SNP, anti-WHATEVER, to get everyone at each other’s throats, giving totally false information about each nationalist side which in turn angers all and mud is slung everywhere. It does no good to let the MSM tell you (generally speaking ‘you’, not personally) what is what. It is invariably wrong, is misleading and written solely for shock value to sell papers or to give the BBC kudos for ‘breaking’ a story. And to be honest, I do think it is all the misinformation, all the media lies, all the nasty rhetoric and political bias that will fuel the want and need for another Independence Referendum. Scots are getting mighty sick of being beaten with the ‘SCOTS BAD’ stick. Yes, some English, Welsh, Irish will say ‘well go then’. We tried that…  And WM tried very, VERY hard to keep us – and won. So – whose fault is all this???

    3. dickybeau says:

      I wonder if the polls are confirming that the Vow had an effect. I spoke to a woman on the doorstep today. She was annoyed that the SNP had ruled out a pact with the tories but she was still going to vote SNP. She clearly knows the difference between a referendum and a general election. She sees that the SNP will speak up for the Scots in a way that no other party will do. As for the rest of your views, it is clear you don’t understand first past the post. The SNP vote has been described as the firmest of all the parties so expect them to take seats. Expect them to take seats because they represent a different way of doing things and labour committed a major faux pas by siding with the Tories. Millibands admission that tory cuts in England threaten the nhs in Scotland which appears in an article in the Sun today is just confirmation that the UK government and parties systematically lied to us during the referendum. Labour can’t be trusted. Unfortunately, labour will get another chance because they won’t be wiped out but they should be. And Alex Salmond doesn’t speak for the Scots. We will decide if another referendum is necessary.

  7. Crabbit says:

    Having read the article, I’d disagree with the proposal for the tax-payer to be required to fund political parties.

    This would have the effect of the incumbents becoming very hard to displace – they’d be funded even as their voter support declined.

    I’d agree with no corporate donations to political parties (or campaigns), and perhaps a cap on individual giving, say £10 a year?

    Would James’ proposal on a ban on second jobs also catch MPs/MSPs who are also paid to write for newspapers?

    1. Corporatist Hell says:

      I don’t think controlled / equalised taxpayer funding of political parties (a la Polly Toynbee) is what’s being suggested.

      I think what’s being suggested is that party funding can only be procured through individual party memberships, which presumably have a floor (£1) and a cap (e.g. £10).

      Then we’d see what ‘popular’ support parties really have – I could support this approach.

  8. John Mooney says:

    Torrance becomes more frenetic by the day with his puerile and fearful cut and paste “Opinions”Todays Herald is a classic example of his purblind knee jerk outpourings of unionist angst!

    1. John Page says:

      I usually don’t buy the Herald but did so this morning……..I felt annoyed with myself for the irritation and time mis spent on Torrance’s insubstantial piece.

  9. Crabbit says:

    Oh, and I’d agree with the abolition of the House of Lords but I’d still want a revising chamber – Holyrood needs one too (along with Committees with teeth).

    1. John Page says:

      Instead of a revising chamber should we not have a written constitution with a unicameral Parliament in which majority power is restrained by a minority-veto referendum mechanism…….W Elliot Bulmer’s A Model Constitution For Scotland gives this an excellent examination of the issue here. Just a thought….
      As I mentioned above I think Scotland can do better and perhaps one way of starting that process is continue the public engagement/discussion on a Constitution for the New Scotland commenced in the IndyRef. From the off we could proscribe WMDs, put the environment of Scotland at centre place and perhaps think seriously about how the power of multinationals can be circumscribed. I have just completed an excellent mooc from Coursera on the Magna Carta on the occasion of its 800th anniversary. I uncovered the following apposite quote about companies from the great 17th Century English lawyer, Sir Edward Coke: “(companies) cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed or excommunicated, for they have no souls”
      If in trying to make Scotland a better place we want to put its environment and its people at the centre of its Constitution we need to do something about corporate power and lobbying influence……..Andy Wightman’s excellent ideas around no land registration by haven coys and a Land Value Tax are great………maybe ? scope to petition a Scots Supreme Court to compulsory wind up companies whose activities are prejudicial to the environment, employees rights and safety or who fail to make a contribution by way of direct taxation…… the phrase “ex terrorem”? ( A lot to consider re EU law and TTIP!)

      John Page

      1. Crabbit says:

        I must admit I’m quite attracted by the US approach of checks and balances – with two chambers that elect out of cycle with one another (the additional US protection of a written constitution binding government, and enforced through the courts, could also be argued for).

        If the second chamber could bring in more non-career politicians, having gained experience and knowledge in other areas of society, that would be good too.

      2. Corporatist Hell says:

        “If in trying to make Scotland a better place we want to put its environment and its people at the centre of its Constitution we need to do something about corporate power and lobbying influence”

        Do you think you might start with the SNP’s largest donor, Brian Souter of Stagecoach, who paid £500,000 in 2007 to have bus regulation removed from the SNP manifesto?

      3. John Page says:

        C H
        I will research this matter. Can you kindly refer to any more current examples of influence purchasing from the SNP?
        John Page

        1. Peter A Bell says:

          I wouldn’t bother researching something that is one of the more inane pieces of unionist propaganda. Plans to re-regulate the buses were dropped for the very simple reason that it was unaffordable. One of the strongest arguments against wholesale privatisation is that it tends to be effectively irreversible.

          A moment’s rational thought will tell you just how silly the idea of policies being “sold” really is. If the SNP could be so easily bought by wealthy vested interests, the party’s manifesto would look markedly different.

          Also, whatever else Brian Souter may be, he is no idiot. He was perfectly well aware that economic constraints would almost certainly prevent re-regulation. Yet another part of the idiocy of this anti-SNP propaganda is that it asks us to believe that Souter would pay £500,000 for something he was going to get for free anyway.

      4. John Page says:

        Thanks, Peter. I am doing some personal reading on how to frame a modern constitution that addresses the crucial question of lobbying and influence buying. I am not aware of any recent issues involving the SNP but wondered if apart from this one possible example this chap could enlighten me.
        John Page

        1. Peter A Bell says:

          My advice would be that, whilst awaiting enlightenment from someone who is so easily taken in, normal respiration should be maintained.

  10. tammcgarveyT says:

    I agree with you James. Westminster’s main parties have broken the social contract with the largest portion of the UK population to prop up a corrupt financial services sector and self serving banking “elites”.
    The mainstream media and a small army of press-titutes have assisted them through a process disinformation and avoidance of revealing the sinister economic and social engineering our politicians are complicit in inflicting upon us.

    Scotland could have taken a crucial first step away from this if we had voted YES last September but despite the huge energy behind the YES campaign we somehow failed.
    I sometimes thinks that there was no way that Westminster and the US could ever let us break away, get rid of Trident, own our oil fields, set up a more left wing political system and not fight in their wars without moblising all their powers to stop us falling out of line with their New World Order. Also, we might have encouraged more folk in England and other countries to follow suit which would have been intolerable for the powers that be.

    While we will find it hugely difficult to resolve current issues of social injustice, poverty and get Scotland’s economy back on track, getting more SNP MPs in Westminster might put the ball back in our court to make a challenge on behalf of everyone who finds the present UK political system repugnant.

    Instead of defending or bypassing the corrupt status quo it would serve all corners of the UK well if our journalists, and their editors, would take interest in exposing the child abuse allegations aimed, mainly on the internet (they wont put it up on the mainstream media, especially before a general election) at high level members of the establishment, some of whom are still serving MPs and possbly involving an ex Tory PM. And I am not referring to Mrs T’s gaffs regarding Cyril Smith and others.
    Jimmy Savile and Rotherham are but the tip of a disgustingly cold,dirty iceberg.

    This issue has been too long sidelined. Instead, the media, especially in the context of Scottish independence, has put the spotlight on percieved divisions between Scotland and England while English people suffer from the disfunctional politics of Westminster too.The media would rather we focus our attention on third rate celebrities, sport, manufactured culture and keep us in fear of immigrants and what they define as terrorism. In most cases establishment crime seems only to be revealed in the media when it has nowhere else left to hide.

    We have a massive problem at the top-end with greed, unethical and immoral practices, neglect of duty and dare I say it, something resembling treason through deliberate damage to the social and economic fabric of the UK and its constituent parts through financial corruption and involvement in false flag phoney wars. And all to achieve short tem finacial gains for the advantage the undeserving few.

    Hopefully we will have another referendum in a few years. By gaining full independence and breaking away from the corrupt elitist “old boys” crony culture of Westminster would not only be good for Scotland but would encourage the rest of the UK to replace the cronyism with real democracy.

  11. Big Jock says:

    You upset poor wee David. Well done that man.

    I think your comment about everything looking fine from a position of privelage. Sums up the Brit/Scot attitude to our nation. They don’t see poverty as a problem, as long as the middle classes have two cars and a 5 bedroomed house.

    The fact that we live in one of the most unequal countries in the world. Means nothing to David as long as he is not one of the one affected.

    Selfish, greedy,bigoted and total contempt for those who think differently. David stand back from your keyboard, and go out to a foodbank or council estate. These things don’t exist because poor people make them exist. They exist because of the way this country has been run for the last 50 years.

    Without saying as much, David probably thinks poverty is created by individuals and not society and government.

    You can lead a horse to water as they say…but I afraid David and his ilk will never drink.

    1. Corporatist Hell says:

      I understand your concern about these things. However:

      “Go out to a foodbank … these things exist … because of the way THIS country has been run for the last 50 years”.

      The ‘nordic utopias’ of Denmark, Norway, Finland etc all have foodbanks. So does Germany. In fact, foodbanks can be found in all Scandinavian countries, all EU member states and of course in many other countries.

      So by your logic, foodbanks exist in all of these countries because of the way all of these countries have been run – including the fetishized Nordic utopias.

      What would an Independent Scotland, and its people have that would defeat a problem that troubles all other nations, including the nordic utopias?

      1. ian says:

        We can at least start to look for solutions to those problems and i would rather wallow in my own shit than someone elses.Its clear WM have little or no intention of trying to do anything else but look after themselves.

      2. Corporatist Hell says:

        Sure, by all means start to look for solutions. But the reasons for the existence of foodbanks are many and varied.

        And the fact that they are prevalent not just in the UK but even in the Nordic countries, which are held up as models of good governance, ‘social democracy’, equality, egalitarianism etc. etc. suggests that ‘Westminster’ is not solely or directly responsible through action or inaction for their very existence. In the same way that the governments of Denmark, Norway etc. are not solely or directly responsible for their very existence in those countries.

        It is more complicated than that.

        (It may be more accurate to suggest that their existence and prevalence just about everywhere is more a symptom of the failings or limitations of state regulated capitalism, or social democracy, or indeed ‘society’ itself – in England, Scotland, the Nordic countries etc.)

        Attempting to pin the existence of, demand for the services of and necessity for foodbanks on ‘Westminster’ is just lazy. It would be equally lazy to try to pin this on ‘Holyrood’.

        What are the solutions? I’m not sure.

        One of the problems of course is low pay. Unfortunately one of the (probably unintended) consequences of the minimum wage is that it establishes an artificial ceiling as well as a floor for wages for unskilled and low skilled labour, and tells employers both what the minimum they have to pay, and what they ‘should’ pay. The ability to negotiate is curtailed and the balance of power shifts too far to the employer – especially in a time of oversupply of labour, especially low and unskilled labour. Tax credits had a similar effect, sending a message to employers not to worry about paying better wages, because the state would top them up for them.

        (I am not necessarily advocating abolishing the minimum wage btw).

        And the implementation of the Living Wage would not be without risks.

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          “the reasons for the existence of foodbanks are many and varied.”

          No they’re not, they’re specific and singular. This according to Joseph Rowntree, Oxfam UK, the Trussell Trust and all of the bodies that have reported on it.
          I think I’d rather go with their evidence than someone spouting anonymously.

          What do they say the reasons are? The changes to the benefit system. Will quote details when I have access to them tomorrow.

      3. Corporatist Hell says:

        No, the reasons for the existence of foodbanks (not just in the UK, but across Europe and in the nordic utopias) are many and varied.

        Sure, in the UK, especially in recent years there is overwhelming evidence that a major driver of the growing numbers of foodbanks which are facing increasing demands is clearly linked to changes to the benefit system. There is causation there – but it’s not the only causation.

        It’s not just changes to benefits – it’s also low pay, it’s also changes in the economy and the labour market, macro-economic factors, micro-economic factors affecting communities of place and of interest, the GFC and the recession from 2008, redundancy and job loss etc etc.

        Foodbanks first appeared in numbers in the UK in the early 2000s, long before the coalition government and their reforms to the benefit system.

        Foodbanks in my part of the world have for a long time reported supporting people who ‘they’d never expect to see’, people who might once have thought they’d never need to use a foodbank. These might be people renting, in social housing or paying a mortgage.

        For example families with both parents working on low incomes who were ‘making ends meet’ but then experienced severe difficulties when one or more adults was made redundant and couldn’t find alternative employment post 2008.

        Or indeed just those who have struggled with the rising cost of living. We might still have some of the cheapest energy prices in Europe – but its the dramatic rise in costs in the UK that has really caught people out.

        And if you want links, a quick google reveals this one – from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation of all organisations!

        And how do you explain the presence of foodbanks at scale in all European nations and indeed the social democratic egalitarian nordic utopias?

        Are you saying the the reasons every single one of those countries has foodbanks is solely because of changes to the benefits systems in each and every one of those countries?

        No, because the reasons for the existence of foodbanks in all of those countries are many and varied too. What with us living in a complex world, where problems are rarely if at all driven solely and exclusively by a single factor.

        I’m sorry if it conflicts with your narrative, but it is simply not the case that foodbanks, here, or in Europe, or in the nordic utopias, has been driven solely and exclusively by changes to benefits over the past few years.

        And I trust you won’t be moderating this comment?

  12. junius45 says:

    @Frederick Robinson. When was there a decision made on a generational refendum? the Scottish people made no such decision & have signed no indenture, Alex Salmond may have expressed an opinion on this which I’m sure he greatly regrets now, he was hugely disappointed at the time, but it’s called getting back up, dusting yourself down & starting over again. Alex is one individual & didn’tt speak for the rest of us. No man can set a limit on a nation’s ambition.
    A referendum now, in any case, would doubtless have a very different outcome.

    A pity that your sojourn here has left you with your imperial mindset intact. Our future is in our hands, as you will discover in a few short weeks.

    1. Crabbit says:

      A referendum in the next few years isn’t a done deal. It certainly isn’t the centrepiece for the 2015 election (in my SNP youth, that was the prize, independence through large numbers of SNP MPs) and I wonder if Nicola will include it on the manifesto for 2016, as Alec did for his?

      For those comfortable with the union, but who have previously voted SNP, would they do so again knowing they would have to go through another two-year campaign, which they mght lose?

  13. junius45 says:

    @Frederick Robinson, forgot to mention that compatriot of yours who also thought, post referendum, that the cat was well & truly in the bag and indeed expressed the view that matters at Westminster,( that model of democracy), should be so arranged that Scotland could never /leave/end the United Kingdom.

    That’s Jack Straw for you! whatever happened to him. 🙂

  14. Reblogged this on This Little Earth and commented:
    My response to David Torrance’s criticism of my CommonSpace article.

  15. Peter A Bell says:

    What an utter muddle David Torrance gets himself into as he tries to have a go at Scotland’s growing independence movement whilst making a doubtless heartfelt but nonetheless failed effort to defend his beloved Union against charges that it is broken.

    It’s all there. The dishonesty. The strawman arguments. The inconsistencies and contradictions. The disturbing obsession with ethnicity. It’s like revisiting one of those tiresome tracts produced by British nationalist commentators during the referendum campaign. A campaign which those same British nationalist commentators insist is over and should be moved on from, whilst being curiously unable to let go of their own role as anti-independence propagandists.

    In order to get to the more mundane unionist drivel offered by Torrance in the forlorn hope that it might be taken for grown-up political analysis we must first get by the obstacle of his tortured attempt to argue that the Union is not broken because the UK is not a “Failed State”. (Note the sleekit way Torrance calls in aid Tom Nairn, despite the fact that the distinguished academic never has and surely never would describe the UK as a failed state.)

    Where does Torrance get the idea that independence campaigners described the UK in such terms? Not from anything that was actually said and that he is able to quote. Not a bit of it! The idea is entirely a figment of Torrance’s fevered imagination born of his own highly prejudiced interpretation of Yes campaign rhetoric.

    The conclusion that one inevitably draws from this pathetically contrived effort at straw man building is that Torrance is totally bereft of a way of refuting the argument that the UK is broken and so must resort to pretending that “broken” is synonymous with “failed state”. It’s dishonest. And it’s very, very silly.

    The obsession with ethnicity which David torrance shares with his fellow British nationalists is revealed in the remark about one of the latest British politicians to be accused of corruption being “a Scot”. Most of those who are regularly referred to by Torrance and his ilk as “narrow nationalists” will be wondering what the hell Rifkind’s being “a Scot” has to do with anything. But Torrance seems to suppose, for no reason he troubles to explain, that the man’s ancestry is highly relevant.

    Note again how Torrance name-drops another academic at this point, impertinently presuming to put words in the mouth of respected lecturer James McEnaney. How would Torrance know what James McEnaney would make of Rifkind’s dubious escapades?

    Torrance next has recourse to some classic “whitabootery” with the woefully ill-thought argument that “the phenomena Nationalists [sic] cite as proof of Britain’s broken-ness exist in Scotland too”. At which point it is impossible to resist the use of a vernacular expression denoting reaction to a statement so stunningly stupid as to challenge the standard lexicon of the English language.


    In an evidently totally unconsidered attempt to counter the “broken Britain” hypothesis Torrance manages both to acknowledge the broken-ness and to provide a statement of how this broken-ness impacts on Scotland which is as succinct as any that an advocate of independence might hope to deploy.

    It all then descends into confusion as Torrance manages to reference two arguments – from Will Hutton and Peter Hain – which pretty clearly contradict his own argument. Yeah! I don’t get it either.

    Those who have read my previous critiques of David Torrance’s unfortunate forays into the realm of Scottish politics will know that I always strive to give credit where it is due. In that vein, young David is to be complimented for the following,

    “Marry holistic structural reform of the UK to a bold policy agenda and you might end up with something both electorally attractive and worth fighting for.”

    Which is the most artful euphemism this writer has yet seen for the actual strategy being pursued by the British parties. A strategy which might be more accurately stated thus,

    “Combine another round of cobbled-together constitutional tinkering with a raft of empty promises in the hope that it will fool the voters one more time.”

    For the gift of that amusing denouement at least, I thank David Torrance.

  16. Corporatist Hell says:

    “Our future is in our hands, as you will discover in a few short weeks”

    Me and my wife’s higher rate taxes will be used to throw red meat to the Labour party faithful and bribe Sturgeon for crowning Milibean?

    So really you’ll be using other people’s money to fund your ‘future’ i.e. and an end to ‘austerity’ paid for by other people.

    (I’m Scottish btw, before you start).

    1. John Page says:

      Would you not agree that tax is the price one pays for civilisation? Surely you should be pleased to contribute to your country and to those less fortunate than yourself?
      John Page

      1. Corporatist Hell says:

        Yes, I agree entirely that tax is the price one pays for ‘civilisation’, and we ‘contribute to our country’ as you put it freely and willingly. We have no objection to or complaints about the level of tax we contribute, and we recognise that we are ‘fortunate’ (in as much as we have achieved a ‘privileged’ position, but we weren’t born with it or handed it)

        We might have objections to how and where that money is spent though. (And other people might disagree, or have different objections, and that’s life)

        The original poster pointed to ‘his future being in his hands’.

        If your future was truly in your own hands, you’d have won the referendum, and you’d be looking towards making your own plans funded by your own money post-independence.

        As it stands, the plan appears to be ‘an end to austerity’ by obtaining £180bn out of the communal UK pot (that I and my wife pay into, where as higher rate taxpayers we are net contributors)

        So really your future is partly in my hands, and other people’s hands, across the UK.

        And not actually ‘in your hands’ at all.

    2. John Page says:

      I am really not sure what point you are trying to make. Are you saying James’ piece is without merit because he did not defer to you and your wife because you are HR taxpayers? You seem not to be expressing any ideals or principles, just negativity, apparent self interest and contemptuous point scoring about those who wish to see Scotland being a better place to live. I find your contributions to be entirely dispiriting.
      The future is in all of our hands and my BR taxpayer vote thankfully is worth the same as you HR vote
      I am out of this discussion and will body swerve your future input.
      John Page

  17. junius45 says:

    @Corporatist Hell. It wasn’t Nicola Sturgeon who wrecked the economy with casino banking & wholesale mis-management of scarce resources, neither was it the SNP who squandered squillions on illegal wars & mass murder. The Scottish Government is required to run a very tight ship & balance its budget, and could teach Westminster a thing or two anent the wholesale corruption in that place.
    Your wife, furthermore, will be delighted to hear that the money (her money) that Westminster intends to squander on useless weapons of mass destruction, will be used much more sensibly if Nicola Sturgeon has anything at all to do with it. 🙂

    PS, don’t apologise for being Scottish, explanations are quite un-necessary.

    1. Corporatist Hell says:


      Thanks for replying.

      No, Nicola didn’t ‘wreck the economy’, economies around the world were ‘wrecked’ by the GFC and as you indicate the global banking antics that were going on behind that. Including those involving RBS, HBOS – Scottish banks. Unfortunately even if ‘Nicola’ had been in charge in 2008, Scotland and the UK would still have been ravaged by the GFC just like everywhere else. Scotland is and will always be exposed to the weather of global capital. You’ve been very successful with inward investment – but that is a double edged sword.

      However if we were all to learn the lessons of 2008 (we may not) then I’ve no doubt Scotland has the potential to position itself as a relatively self-sufficient economy (England by contrast would have a more severe trade deficit)

      We’re quite happy with some of our taxes being used on the UK’s nuclear deterrent. I think you disagree completely, and that’s fine, that’s life. (My wife works in the NHS, as it happens). There are always competing priorities, and its not a zero sum game.

      There is absolutely no chance of Nicola having any influence around the UK’s nuclear deterrent by the way, regardless of what happens on May 7th. NATO is a bit bigger than Scotland (as is the EU).

      And anyway, the next government of the United Kingdom is going to be another coalition of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and possibly others, even if the SNP get all 59. Milibean is sinking, fast, and Conservatives gaining ground in the popular vote and in the key marginals. (Feel free to come back and compare notes … the actual formation of the government might take some weeks or even months after May 7 though)

      I may be wrong though, and I’ll have to live with whatever the outcome is.

      Perhaps you ought to keep your smiley face powder dry until democracy has run its course?

  18. I had occasion only yesterday to pass through Port Glasgow.
    Sincere apologies to all of that towns residents, but if it ever came to a choice between living there or in Port Au Prince, I’m afraid I would have to go for the latter.

  19. junius45 says:

    Magnificent view north, better than Port Au Prince. Each to his own josef, this was the town which built the worlds first steam ships. What did Port Au thingmy build?

  20. Maddie McCance says:

    Great read and very concise. Hitting each major point squarely on the head

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.