The Curiously Absent

Newbie National columnist, bon viveur and reknowned Peat Worrier Andrew Tickell writes:

“£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?

Comments (30)

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  1. Kenny says:

    There are a few interesting points here. Firstly, Tickell is right to point out that a heavy focus on “saving” “the poor” poses problems. Most folk don’t perceive themselves as poor or slighted unless it’s specifically explained to them. Even then, that’s not something most folk want to hear. Ultimately too, most people really aren’t poor. Sure, many of us may end up on JSA for a while, but most of us have a decent standard of living and while many people want to make things better for everyone, there’s always a more pressing concern about how any great change may affect them personally. (There’s also a good chunk of folk who just don’t believe in poverty and/or believe that help from the state is at best useless or at worst actively damaging and immoral.)

    Personally, I think our key is not to focus on economic issues at all, except in showing we have a firm grasp on how to create the infrastructure for an independent Scottish economy and explaining any major potential changes we could make with indy. Instead, we should focus on things people can see and feel that are real and cause real detriment to Scotland. The democratic deficit is key to that, but we should also focus on things like the paltry Scottish output of the BBC. Why, for example, is English women’s football a “Scottish” show? Why does the BBC make Scots contribute more to “national” broadcasts of English football than to our domestic game? Indeed, why is MOTD shown in Scotland at all when Sportscene isn’t broadcast down south? Why is there virtually no Scottish political programming to scrutinise our newly empowered parliament, but an hour a day (at least!) on mostly English politics? Why does “The North” start at Birmingham? These are questions that highlight just how abnormal and unfair Scotland’s position is within the union. Economics is impossible ground for us because we’ve only got ideas, not evidence nor familiarity and comfort. We have to win on the principle. We have to show that Scotland loses out from the union in many more ways than just the financial. The more people see that – and that Westminster will NEVER address it – the more likely they are to see independence as the only viable solution.

    1. “There’s also a good chunk of folk who just don’t believe in poverty”.

      Wow. Its not like Nessie!

      “Personally, I think our key is not to focus on economic issues at all… Instead, we should focus on things people can see and feel that are real and cause real detriment to Scotland. The democratic deficit is key to that, but we should also focus on things like the paltry Scottish output of the BBC. Why, for example, is English women’s football a “Scottish” show?”

      Er, okay.

      1. Kenny says:

        Seriously? You’ve never heard people say “nobody is really poor in this country”? Even most people actually experiencing chronic poverty don’t recognise their poverty as such.

        On the second point, do you not think that highlighting how Scotland gets mistreated, undervalued and underrepresented within the Union is an important part of campaigning? Isn’t the democratic deficit the main reason we’re doing this? Aren’t some of the issues I mentioned good concrete examples that people can understand? We can’t win an economic argument because by definition our proposal poses more obvious risks than the status quo and we can never have evidence for any of our assertions. Telling people that the Union costs their football team money is something tangible and personal.

        Or, y’know, you can sneer at people who don’t agree with everything you say and make another independence campaign about your pet policies instead of an issue of principle and we’ll lose again. Whatever. Comments like yours make me ever more apathetic about the whole bloody thing.

  2. Jim says:

    A well written, good read!

  3. duncanio says:

    Small point, Mike, on the definition of “average” in statistical terms. There are generally 3 measures of ‘central tendency’ in numeric data, namely:

    Mean:
    The arithmetic variant, which is the sum divided by the number. (This is the ‘average’ to which you refer).

    Median:
    The mid-point of a set of numbers that you also describe.

    Mode:
    The most common occurrence in a set of number.

    Sorry for being pedantic but probably best to use the correct term so as to avoid clarification.

  4. Richard MacKinnon says:

    “We don’t live in the here and now, it’s true”. So where do live Mike?

  5. Gordon McAuslane says:

    The question is not whether Scotland is a poor or rich country based on income that determines the need for independence. It is the geographical disparities that exist within the UK. In Scotland we see the population of the South of England (London and the Home Counties) able to afford second homes in various desirable parts of the rest of the UK, very ordinary people from the south able to holiday in places that Scots in the highest paid employment here can barely afford and the knowledge that we could run a much more economically efficient economy without UK overheads; It’s envy, I suppose.
    Resulting from the above is the depopulation of the country by the cream who realise that migrating to anywhere south of Watford will bring them wealth beyond their dreams, so depriving Scotland of their skills and talents.
    Other reasons for the desire for independence are cultural and political. Scotland, in the main is an egalitarian society and generally hates to see unmerited privilege or wealth (the lottery is ok). The unelected House of Lords is anathema to most of us along with the unearned and secure income and expenses of those ermined layabouts.
    The City of London with its ability to take the real wealth of the country earned by sweat of brow, ingenuity and science and turn it into ‘funny money’ by gambling on the currency markets, short trading in stocks and shares and coming up with ‘products’ that con pension savings and insurance premiums out of the gullible whilst extracting unjustifiable ‘expenses and commissions’ is another reason.
    The other and most important reason is democracy. We see Westminster government after government implementing foreign and domestic policies that most Scots would never have voted for. We need a government that fits the needs of Scots. Hence we need full independence.

    1. “The question is not whether Scotland is a poor or rich country based on income that determines the need for independence.”

      “Scotland, in the main is an egalitarian society and generally hates to see unmerited privilege”

      This is fascinating stuff

  6. Kerly says:

    Are you saying no matter what vote YES, Always been my motto

  7. Alf Baird says:

    Over the years I’ve asked quite a lot of ‘No’ voters, which economic or other policies would make them vote for independence. The answer is usually ‘none’. At root the yes/no constitutional decision therefore seems fundamentally one of cultural/heritage; ‘most’ people simply feel either more British or more Scottish and vote accordingly, which is heavily influenced by their socialization – learning of behaviour and attitudes – where they come from, and of course this is influenced by propaganda. Policy differences seem relatively immaterial in this regard and anyway most people distrust politicians of all parties and their promises. And culture/heritage is notoriously difficult to change.

    1. Willie says:

      Quite agree Alf.

      And if I interpret correctly, which I think I do, what you are saying is that there are sections of people who would be happy to remain under Westminster rule even if it meant living in fuel poverty, with no pension, and no access to social care, or a national health service whilst a select band of super elite live the life of luxury.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Willie, taking a slightly different tack, I would suggest that the vast majority of ‘No’ voters constitute the parts of Scotland’s population that are the least likely to be living in or to ever experience any kind of poverty; the margin of poverty weighs far more heavily towards the ‘Yes’ side. Let’s say if the ‘Yes’ side contains 50% of its complement who are living in or close to poverty, the ‘No’ side is probably less than 10%, which means they are fundamentally different in economic make-up. Why do I say this? Well, the ‘No’ vote, after all, comprises the vast bulk of Tory and Tory-Light (LibDem) voters, i.e. mostly ‘professionals’, middle class, as well as the rural and landed classes, i.e. the better off, and indeed much of what remains of Labour ‘diehards’ arguably lies also in that socio-economic direction.

        As to the Editor’ response, obviously ‘policy development’ cannot be dispensed with. All I would say here is that, to most ‘No’ voters in Scotland, culture and heritage far outweighs the relative importance of anything policy-wise which Holyrood (or Westminster) might wish to do, more especially when it comes to the constitutional question, again also taking into account the fact that the majority of ‘No’ voters tend to be the least impoverished (or discriminated against) and hence are already the most privileged and better-off group in our society anyway, and not too swayed by ‘progressive’ policies either way. Moreover, the SNP has given the latter group much in the way of benefits already (e.g. free elderly travel, free healthcare, prescriptions, student fees, protected funding for public sector professions, and farmers etc) whilst remaining within the union, implying even less need for fundamental constitutional change in their eyes. This group (i.e. ‘No’ voters) have arguably ‘never had it so good’, paradoxically also thanks to the SNP policies.

        1. Geacher says:

          “Moreover, the SNP has given the latter group much in the way of benefits already (e.g. free elderly travel, free healthcare, prescriptions, student fees, protected funding for public sector professions, and farmers etc) whilst remaining within the union, implying even less need for fundamental constitutional change in their eyes. This group (i.e. ‘No’ voters) have arguably ‘never had it so good’, paradoxically also thanks to the SNP policies.
          No, wrong, there is no paradox here. As one of the latter group I realise that ScotGov can only afford to give away these vote catching freebies as at the end of the fiscal year WM absorbs the costs incurred by these SNP policies… on independence we would have to find the money ourselves to fund this largesse. Fat chance. All those things that Mr Baird lists are only possible because we are in this Union.

          1. Gordon McAdam says:

            You need to explain your final paragraph.

            How does WM absorb the costs incurred by SNP policies? Scotland finances all its commitments year-on-year from its allocated budget. As it is not an independent country the govt. cannot borrow to cover these costs. However, due to proper management of the limited resources usually there is a bit of underspend (which the SNP, unlike Labour, negotiated the ability to carry forward rather than refund to the Treasury).

          2. Alf Baird says:

            Geacher, Westminster quite possibly at present “absorbs” the cost of these “freebies”, however, without SNP policies, or perish the thought say with Ruth Davidson as FM, such “freebies” might not exist. As a ‘No’ voting professional, to you the “freebies” policies would therefore appear to make little difference to your definite ‘No’ vote which, would I be right in saying, must then owe more to the influence of your culture and heritage? In other words, I take it you would opt for a British state irrespective of how poor or wealthy Scotland might be, or whatever differential policies Scotland might offer?

    2. Does it flow from your argument that policy development should be dispensed with?

      1. Geacher says:

        My response was in order to correct Mr Baird’s assumption that No voters weren’t “the least impoverished or discriminated against” and are quite happy to be served by a SNP run ScotGov whilst remaining within the Union.
        I would see the SNP out the door tomorrow if I had the power and would be quite happy to pay for my bus travel, prescriptions etc.
        So the answer is no.

  8. geacher says:

    My response to Mr Baird post was to highlight that No voters do not thus vote in order to keep us in the Union whilst enjoying the policies of an SNP run ScotGov. We would be quite happy to see the end to both the “free elderly travel, free healthcare, prescriptions, student fees, etc” and the SNP run ScotGov.

    1. Willie says:

      And why would you wish to end concessionary travel, or elderly travel as you describe it Geacher.

      Do you understand why it is in place, or are your comments just a right wing snarl.

      The latter I fully suspect.

      1. geacher says:

        @Willie The phrase “elderly travel” was introduced by Mr Baird, which was why I used the quotation marks. Why should a fit and healthy 60 year old male with a good job and disposable income receive free bus travel?

    2. Alf Baird says:

      By your response, you appear to have confirmed the hypothesis I set out, Geacher, viz:

      “As a ‘No’ voting professional, to you the “freebies” policies would therefore appear to make little difference to your definite ‘No’ vote which, would I be right in saying, must then owe more to the influence of your culture and heritage? In other words, I take it you would opt for a British state irrespective of how poor or wealthy Scotland might be, or whatever differential policies Scotland might offer?”

      May I ask how you would describe your dominant culture/heritage?

    3. Jamsie says:

      Geacher
      Perhaps you should also mention that in the main they are not the product of SNP policy at all.
      Also that the SNP clearly did not budget for them as the tax rises demonstrate.

  9. geacher says:

    @Alf Baird. Aside from the fact that several of the “freebies” were in situ prior to SNP coming to power, it is very easy to be generous when someone else is picking up the tab, as is the case here. Perhaps some of us “least impoverished” have the nous to realise that an independent Scotland could not afford to continue with some of the stupid policies that have been inflicted upon us. Tell me Alf, who benefited more from the nine year freeze on the Council Tax, the single parent in the damp one bedroomed flat or the professional couple that stay in the big house at the top of the hill?

    1. Alf Baird says:

      “Tell me Alf, who benefited more from the nine year freeze on the Council Tax, the single parent in the damp one bedroomed flat or the professional couple that stay in the big house at the top of the hill?”

      On who benefits more I agreed with you geacher, when I previously stated that: “This group (i.e. ‘No’ voters) have arguably ‘never had it so good’, paradoxically also thanks to the SNP policies.”

      My other point is that, on the matter of Scotland’s independence, most ‘No’ voters such as yourself appear rather less influenced by (any) policy than by virtue of the overriding power of their dominant culture/heritage. I then said: “May I ask how you would describe your dominant culture/heritage?”

      1. geacher says:

        Alf, not sure what point you are trying to make here. Why would “No” voters be any better off than “Yes” voters? It is not the effects of the policiesy that I am disputing here, its the actual policies themselves that I dislike. You have seen that cringeworthy SNP video with “Davey” at the party? The SNP are boasting about their achievements, achievements that are only possible BECAUSE we are in the Union. They are in effect saying “look at all the goodies we give you. Vote for independence and they will end because we won’t be able to afford them” Last year every living person in Scotland received £1,900 extra from HMGov than we would have been if we were independent.
        As for me? If you are thinking that I am Lord Geach Of Geacherland, think again. I was brought up in a council house in a small town on the west coast of Scotland, my Father was a binman, my Ma did books for local companies. No silver spoon in my mouth.

  10. geacher says:

    @Gordon McAdam. Scotland CAN borrow… the Scotland Act 2012. And as for “coming under buget,” we have the largest GDP deficit in Europe, £10billion, which HMGov takes care of by absorbing into the UK’s debt. This deficit is not unconnected with the costs incurred by the universal freebies.

    1. Kenny says:

      It is absolutely unconnected. Until now, Scotland’s budget and Scotland’s “deficit” had literally NOTHING to do with Scotland’s actual economy. It’s ENTIRELY based on England’s public spending. If the mechanism didn’t give Scotland the budget it does, spending choices would necessarily be different. What you’ve done is blame an effect for a cause.

      1. Geacher says:

        What YOU have done is write a pile of nonsense. Scotland’s deficit is down to England’s public spending?????

      2. XenonTheMegablast says:

        The £10bn GDP deficit is based on GERS calculations which are often used to show what Scotland would look like if there was no Barnett formula – i.e. the link you are talking about is broken and Scotland receives the tax money raised in Scotland, rather than the Barnett sum from the Treasury (or now, the tax money plus the Barnett differential).

        I think you are basically saying that we have spent what we have been given. Which makes sense – you wouldn’t give it back after all – but it has led to a level of public spending which probably not be sustainable in an independent Scotland.

        The second issue is that – once established, it is politically difficult to reduce public spending – the Tory struggles on ‘austerity’ spring to mind. Greece’s descent into bankruptcy (where it is still residing) was largely driven by significant overspending and a complete lack of political will to do anything about it (preferring to assume that the rest of the EU would be more generous than it turned out to be..)

  11. XenonTheMegablast says:

    “How and why – would you persuade anyone that they were worse off than they actually were?”

    Well, the ‘why’ is because you want to persuade people that change is desirable.

    The ‘how’ is more complex….

    Poverty (in developed countries) is more of a relative condition than an absolute condition – i.e. whether or not you are poor depends on what everyone else has. If everyone else has three cars and you have one car, then you are poor. If you have one car and everyone else has no cars, then you are rich.

    Alternatively, almost everyone in Scotland is rich by median North Korean standards….

    So to persuade someone they are worse off than they actually are you need to paint a picture of other people being richer than they really are. You could do this by painting an overly rosy picture of living conditions in other countries, selective use of statistics – for example international ranking tables or quoting GDP of other countries whilst ignoring their national debt – and talking a lot about super-rich people in London (rather than the far larger number of English people who enjoy similar living conditions to most Scots).

    Not – I hasten to add – that I am accusing anyone of doing so – I am simply demonstrating that it is possible to do…

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