The Curiously Absent
“£28,354 seems to unite every wing of our politics in unease. The figure seems to baffle both the left and the right. The rich miscall it, and the poor don’t recognise it. Socialist supporters of Scottish independence struggle to accept it, and objectively wealthy Unionists teeter into outright denial when faced with it. So what does £28,354 buy you? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is the median income of a full-time Scottish worker last year.”
The problem is, he explains: “The better-off underestimate their affluence, and the less well-off underestimate their poverty. Both groups are deprived of the illusion that their incomes are ordinary” (‘Yes campaigners must recognise that Scotland is already a wealthy nation’).
By the way – the average income in Scotland is about £24k.
[The median of a set of numbers is that number where half the numbers are lower and half the numbers are higher. The average of a set of numbers is the total of those numbers divided by the number of items in that set.]
So aside him from his three main points – that the Tory response to the Scottish Government’s mild tax alterations were wildly hysterical, that “Most full-time workers need a telescope to see the upper rate of income tax” and that people often aren’t able to ‘place’ themselves – the rest of his article doesn’t add up.
As a fully-paid up “ranting Trot” let me explain why.
Aside from the questionable notion of what a ‘wealthy nation’ is, Tickell writes: “… much pro-independence advocacy going into 2014 and beyond has been predicated on the opposite argument – by trying to persuade a majority of Scots that they are considerably worse off materially than the evidence of their senses suggests.”
I don’t think that is true. I don’t think that could be true.
How and why – would you persuade anyone that they were worse off than they actually were?
Tickell continues: “The Scottish Government regularly surveys the population about its financial wellbeing. “How is your household managing financially?” and then reports how everybody’s getting along fine.
Two things immediately strike me about this description. The first is the recurring memory of the two old boys interviewed on the television from Stirling when the indyref date was announced. They were outside a social club and both nodded that they’d be voting NO and they’d had wonderful lives. The camera panned away to show Raploch and some of the worst social conditions in the country. But to these guys, everything was fine. Tickells’s social income / social status disorientation works both ways.
The second thing is that I believe his figures and have no wish or desire to paint a picture of a country in which everyone is impoverished.
But many people are, and many people have suffered from a series of policy changes that are disturbing.
It doesn’t transfer that if you are doing well, or answering the question: “How is your household managing financially?” with “Tickety-boo” that you wouldn’t also have a strong motivation to improve the lot of others, to improve the conditions of society (our infrastructure, transport, housing and education) or to aspire to not more great lolly for yourself but for a more equal society.
Your own personal income isn’t the only determining factor of your political outlook.
There is such a thing as society and there is such a thing as solidarity.
The other thing that’s slightly odd about Tickell’s analysis is the curious non-political.
He can describe the romantic left and the rabid right, but like many in the nationalist movement his own politics are just absent.
He is just ‘middle’, a sort of Political Everyman. Of course no such thing exists – any stance is political – even not having one. Even being peculiarly ‘neither left nor right’ is political.
The line: “Independence cannot be won with the votes only of the men and women of no property” was reminiscent of the Tory (or was it a Labour politician?) a few years ago who tweeted a photo of a house with an old mattress outside with the line “you don’t win elections with these people”.
The are many many people who have become just inured to precarity, insecure or exploitative housing conditions, zero hours or over-work. Income is not the only metric for security.
I do agree with his argument that: “Too often, Scottish discussions of class and politics quickly descend into nostalgia and cliché. Scots have an insatiable appetite for the post-industrial misery memoir which is becoming less and less representative of the experiences of the majority of people in this country. It is premised on a kind of bleak nostalgia.”
At least I do agree with the desperate need to update our focus.
While we grind on and on about the price of oil (whilst simultaneously celebrating our ‘world leading climate change legislation’) we ignore (or grossly under-value) gaming, the arts, fintech, tech, film, social enterprise, and many other small emergent and dynamic industries that will eclipse old industries very soon.
We don’t live in the here and now, it’s true. We need to be future-focused. But a bleak nostalgia can be matched with bourgeois blinkers. If there weren’t and aren’t massive social problems in Scotland then, what’s the point?