Dissolving Scottish Democracy
DISSOLVING DEMOCRACY: From The Province Of The Cat by George Gunn
When Leo Tolstoy was asked by his increasingly anxious publisher, who had forwarded him a considerable sum of money for his next novel, when he could expect the book, he was told by the writer, “Anna Karenina has left. I am waiting for her to return.” As I look across the dreaming bog of Scottish democracy I cannot help but admire Tolstoy because contained within his honest if not alarming confession – for his publisher, at least – was the seed of optimism. He was waiting. He was sure Anna would return. Scottish democracy has left. Will she return? I too am waiting, if a little less optimistically than Tolstoy. We vote for one thing: we get another.
How can the structure of democracy withstand the tensions pressed upon it by the rapidly growing inequality of wealth and wages, an over-production of financial elites and an expanding economic catchment area which defines the reality of being poor?
For example, according to latest figures from researchers at the London School of Economics, households across the UK have paid £7bn since Brexit to cover the extra cost of trade barriers on food imports from the EU. The university’s latest report estimating the impact of leaving the European bloc on UK food prices found that trade barriers were consistently hampering imports, pushing up bills by an average £250.
The cost of food in the UK has rocketed by 25% since 2019, the researchers calculated, but if the post-Brexit trade restrictions were not in place then this increase would be only 17% – nearly a third lower. Adding up the impact on all UK households suggested they have paid an extra £6.95bn as a consequence. You voted for “Taking back control” in the 2016 referendum and you get increased poverty as a result in 2023.
Just to add to the collective cheer, according to The Times Rich List, the UK’s 171 richest people increased their wealth by £30 billion last year. They now have a combined wealth of over £680 billion. There is little oxygen for democracy to breathe in this climate.
Wealth is not taxed but income is. When wealth expands and income shrinks something has to give. Britain escaped revolution with the 1832 Reform Act, and the extreme conditions after the Great Depression of 1929 alarmed the US government of the day and led to America’s ruling elite giving away a large proportion of its wealth in taxes to prevent catastrophe. There is no sign that this will be repeated any time soon, either side of the Atlantic. In fact the UK government regularly passes legislation which will make it easier for the wealthy elite to shore up their loot off-shore and harder for the poor to express their discontent at home. The Conservatives have begun to implement a series of measures which will limit the human rights of all who threaten its primary purpose, which is to make a profit for their backers. There are limits put upon the right to strike, to free assembly and the right to protest, as well as the beginning of setting up barriers to participate in democracy, such as voter ID at elections. These are just some of the more obvious and ominous measures they have put in place. More and worse is to come.
As far as Scotland is concerned the next stage for Westminster is the thwarting and emasculating of the Scottish government and parliament – as well as the unravelling of the SNP as the dominant force in Scottish politics – so that Holyrood will find it hard to pass any legislation the UK government does not approve of, even though the Bills have been democratically processed and approved by the Scottish parliament.
Also on the increase will be the already substantial surveillance of individuals and groups, across Scotland, that the UK government deem undesirable. And for all of you who cheer for the Scottish space race and for the rocket launch sites to be built on the A’ Mhòine peninsula in North Sutherland and at Saxaford on Unst in Shetland the sobering reality is that if Lockheed Martin, the US arms corporation, are involved (and in Shetland they are) the satellites launched – the payload – will not be those of love, as crooned by Lou Reed, but of military use, mainly surveillance.
In other words you will be hacked, tracked, tapped and your beloved smart gizmo that you stroke so gently with feather-lite fingers will no longer be your own. Your electronic life will become intel-data and you will be put on a list and the opportunities open to you so freely in the past will suddenly be limited, if not disappeared completely in the future. Everything that was open will be closed. The good life will inevitably become the hard life. No explanation will be given to you except that you or your group will find that it is the price you pay for having an active political life.
This is how the British state, whether Tory, Labour, or their Lib Dem’s lap-dogs, will dissolve democracy in Scotland. Once this political alchemy has been achieved north of the border it will be England’s turn. A population of 5.48 million is much easier to control than one of 55.97 million but with the technology available to the state and with a significant majority possessing a smart phone it is low hanging fruit for GCHQ and MI5.
Those who advocate that tackling wealth inequality, poverty and the erosion of our civil rights can wait until after Scotland becomes an independent country – well, for them, Anna Kerenina will never return. Once you are dissolved you stay dissolved. At present democracy in Scotland is like an aspirin dropped into a glass of water, except that when you drink it you develop a headache. We need to address and act upon these issues now or our headache will be that the new Scotland will look very much like the old Scotland and what is the point of that?
By managing the mediocrity of devolution the SNP have aided the British state in dissolving democracy. Too many in the present Scottish government, the professional party and the National Executive Committee of the SNP, are cheerleaders for independence until the reality, the possibility, presents itself and then they take flight and run away from it. Fear of the unknown and the uncontrollable, of not being able to dictate the process and an addiction to property and wealth betrays their bourgeois nature. The National takes precedence over the Social question; necessary radical change is deferred therefore democracy is dissolved further. While social injustice increases the politicians in Holyrood talk and hold press conferences when they cannot get what they want which, somehow, is never what the majority of the people need. One of the reasons support of the SNP is falling – even though support for independence is increasing – is that the party has forgotten just who voted it into power. The needs of the majority in Dundee and Glasgow always take second place before the sought after good opinion of landowners, bankers and corporations. The former desire a new socially just country to live in. The latter hate the very notion.
In its quest to consolidate its power the British state has no hesitation in dissolving the very democracy which validates it and gives it legitimacy. It sees democracy as an impediment to its true objectives: power, wealth and military might. Each succeeding Prime Minister and First Minister talks of a growing and developing economy but they are never honest about who this growth and development will benefit. It is not the majority in Dundee and Glasgow. What is not said is that political process and the rule of law can go hang. If you are ideologically opposed to this relentless growth of wealth for the few and misery for the many then you better switch off your smart phone now. The reality is that the development of capitalism is the only growth they are interested in. Historically capitalism is in direct opposition to democracy.
Witness the doleful tone adopted by Shona Robison, the Finance Secretary, when delivering the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s four year forecast to Holyrood earlier in May. Even a cursory glance at the document makes for grim reading. We are in for tax increases on earned income and more public spending cuts. The cost of living will continue to rise and the majority of people will get 4% poorer. This is what voting No in 2014 means. The Finance Secretary seems clueless as to what to do about it all. In mitigation a lot of the problems are the result of the kamikaze economic and social policies of Westminster. In the National (29.5.23) George Kerevan suggested the way out of this bind is to go for a target of a 3% rise in economic growth, which means “upping the amount of capital investment in machines and new technology, to increase productivity.”
The problem with that is that “growth” is what will kill the planet and anyway the UK will not invest in Scotland for political reasons, and so far the Scottish Government have failed to find a mechanism to meaningfully invest in our own country. Scotland’s assets are being well and truly stripped and her vast wealth remains untaxed and whatever and whenever wealth comes into the public domain it is unfairly distributed. The root of the fiscal problem is that wealth is never taxed. The true value of land is left to benefit landowners who continue to stash their rents and revenues, who contribute little or nothing to the common good and maintain the Highlands as a wet desert. Our land alone makes Scotland, potentially, a wealthy country. Not to tax wealth is a political choice. Instead of economic justice we get the same old weary mantra from the Scottish Government that capitalism is safe in their hands. All that confession does is to lock them into a limited, conservative and highly destructive economic mind-set.
In Scotland we cannot continue to draw inspiration and nutrition from our cultural roots when the political, economic and social top-soil of our society is being blown away. What we can and must grow is an understanding of how we got here, to these dark political times and to believe that things can be better. Let us, the people, asset strip the rich so that our independent country can have a future.
One thing is clear: if you seek the approval of the British state in order to achieve Scottish independence then it is questionable how much you desire that independence. If you do not truly believe in it, as a government and as a party, then you betray the future. Westminster creates poverty through a rigid application of economic principles which lie at the heart of capitalism. If you accept capitalism you accept poverty. Tesco makes millions whilst people go hungry. SSE and BP make tens of billions in profit every quarter as an increasing number of people have no heating or electricity.
Protecting the assets of our oppressors only hurts the people who so far have supported the SNP. The way to regain political traction is to legislate for your core vote, not to take them for granted. If Scottish Government policies are not directed to help and encourage that support – the majority in cities like Dundee and Glasgow – then that support will fall away and the wheels will finally and completely come off the SNP bandwagon. The SNP will be politically dissolved by the people.
While the politicians talk the people suffer. For Humza Yousaf and for Nicola Sturgeon before him whatever has to be done constitutionally has to be done legally and respectably. This means that nothing will happen. The sad fact is that there is no radical social or economic initiative emanating from the parliament the people of Scotland voted for. The truth is that not one single person in Scotland needs to go hungry or suffer from cold. There is an opportunity here for the SNP but they refuse to do anything much to alleviate the situation. Our MSP’s may stand up and rage against the austerity imposed on the majority of Scots by Westminster but in reality all they do is denounce an effect of whose cause they, by their inaction, support.
©George Gunn 2023