The former East Dunbartonshire MP is we’re told “focusing on an exciting new career”. But speaking to the Herald she said: “I think one of the things which is disappointing about the political environment is things are still so divided along the lines of the referendum. From the experience I had speaking on the doorsteps, while people do still have strong feelings about the future of the country and its place in the UK or otherwise, there was also, I think, a growing feeling for people who don’t want to live in such a divided society.”
You’d have to assume she wasn’t talking about the 100,000 of Britain’s poorest children who go hungry after their parents’ benefits are cut? The bleating from Unionist MPS about ‘division’ doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny as the most severe austerity agenda kicks-in and the next round of cuts closes libraries, playgroups and basic council services across Scotland. In a country where the government plans to reduce out-of-work disability benefits it’s a bit cheeky for people like Swinson to talk about how we’re ‘divided’ by the constitution. If we’re divided at all its because we get a government we didn’t elect, that’s imposing a punitive economic culture that is destroying peoples lives. Zero-hours contracts, a low-pay economy and a culture of background racism and war-mongering, that’s what leaves us divided and efforts to ‘bring us all together’ seem to backfire in parody.
But this sense of heightened division has a pre-history. In fact it’s been used to argue that we either aren’t a country at all, or that we are but we are so divided as to be broken. This pre-dates the referendum by some time. As Gerry Hassan has noted:
“One of the recurring stories of Scotland in the referendum and after has been to say that politics and debate have become bitterly polarised and divided. This sense of a divided Scotland links into history: that once upon a time we couldn’t surmount our own differences: Highland/Lowland, West/East, Glasgow/Edinburgh, Protestant/Catholic. This had a feeling of powerlessness – pathologising differences to the extent they became disabling. These were identities found everywhere in the developed world but in Scotland we were so abnormal we couldn’t handle them and ourselves.”
Actually, if polls are taken to be true then we are in Scotland remarkably united. That may be problematic, but it’s unquestionably true.
In a report published earlier this year (‘Breadline Britain: The Rise of Mass Poverty’) Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack tracked changes in deprivation and paint a devastating picture of the reality of poverty today and its causes. They shattered the myth that poverty is the fault of the poor and a generous benefit system, and showed that “the blame lies with the social and economic upheaval that has shifted power from the workforce to corporations and swelled the ranks of the working poor, a group increasingly at the mercy of low-pay, zero-hour contracts and downward social mobility.” They found that that more than twice as many people today reported skipping meals as did in the early 1980s, and that twice as many households – 33 per cent – don’t meet minimum living standards. Since the 1990s, the number of households without adequate heating, or enough bedrooms, has tripled. Fewer can pay for healthy food, rid their homes of damp, or put away regular savings. But then, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.
Unity and harmony are great things to aspire to but not if they are based on a false prospectus. Should we clean up litter in our communities? Sure but not as a sop to prop up 21C celebrity feudalism. This desire for a false peacefulness just offers up another soporific quietism. If there’s any sign a truly ‘infantile political culture’ it’s one where people can’t act like grown-ups and share their differences as active citizens. It’s the safety of passivity that the Unionists want.
The reality is that the constitutional question remains unresolved. The Unionist community would be better to face that reality and build a case rather than hiding and trying to paper over the cracks.
No campaigners spent most of the campaign moaning about how the referendum was ‘tearing the country apart’. Their energy would be better spent opposing the welfare cuts and work practices that leave us united in poverty.