Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Dear N

Dear N

In your email yesterday you said you were 'totally confused' about the choice in Scotland next Thursday.

You are a clever, insightful, worldly woman with years of management experience. Perhaps you are looking for complexity?

Actually it's simple.

I focus on just one issue; poverty. How can we make the lives of poor people in Scotland better?

From this one issue flows almost all the arguments.

We can't make poor people's lives better because Westminster keeps on making them worse. The latest in a long line of examples is the iniquitous Bedroom Tax, imposed on poor families a twelvemonth after wealthy MPs were found to be claiming expenses on  second homes with third, fourth or fifth bedrooms.

We need the power to stop Westminster wrecking the lives of poor people. Follow that one line of argument and you have a case for a Yes vote.

But I can see that you are not yet convinced. So, take defence. Nothing to do with the poor? Or everything. Because Westminster runs a massive military spending machine in order to retain the aura of its old Empire. This includes Trident, the aging nuclear bombs parked 25 miles upwind of Glasgow. The A-bomb gets Britain its seat on the UN Security Council. And an "all-party" committee in Westminster has recently decided that Trident should be renewed. At an estimate cost of £4 billion. Each year. For 20 years. That 'estimated' £80bn budget represents about £8bn from Scotland, proportionately.

How many poor people could you help, dear N, with £8bn?

To help its poor, Scotland needs control over defence.

Since Mrs Thatcher invented the phrase, British politicians have believed that wealth will 'trickle down' to the poor. Cut back on government and cut taxes, allow the rich to get very wealthy and some of the gold dust will land in the poor woman's lap. All three main Westminster parties now subscribe, in one or other form, to this 'neo-liberal' philosophy. They do so despite the evidence. Because as the OECD has repeatedly shown, the wealth gap in the UK has widened continuously since Mrs Thatcher entered Downing Street. The rich get richer as the poor get relatively poorer. Wealth does not 'trickle down.' It floats up.

And yet, together, we are stuck with this three-party-no-choice. Scotland's politics has long been different - further left and, to date, remarkably untainted by the neo-liberals. Perhaps Scotland comes, as some writers have argued, from an older tradition of how to do right by society. Even my Dad is an old-fashioned decent Conservative. However we got here we are yoked to the neo-liberal policies of Westminster. While those policies exist we cannot help our poor people.

To unlock is poor people from no-choice Westminster, Scotland needs to govern itself.

Scotland's poor people are stuck in structural poverty. Too many are trapped in the poverty that their parents and grandparents also suffered. Some are stuck in poverty because of a disability. This is a human rights issue. The poor need the power to tackle governments, to secure rights over property or food or education. But England has no written constitution, so rights can be easily removed. (For evidence, look at Mr Cameron's new 'anti-terror' legislation.) As you know from your work with women in the Global South, poor, powerless people need strong protection from a state that is constitutionally required to protect their rights.

To help its poor, Scotland needs a written constitution.

Scotland's health record is a heart attack car-crash. Too many of us eat a poor diet, smoke, drink and don't exercise. Too few women breastfeed their weans. These are conditions of, and conditional on, poverty. The result is that Scots die younger than their English equivalents. Scotland needs to create its own solution to its terrible health record. We need to pull ourselves up by the straps of our exercise boots. Westminster MPs, with a couple of notable exceptions, are not interested. Their focus is on the slim, attractive, prosperous, joggers of London. Because London is where the power and the money are (which is why so many of us, me, and maybe you too? left Scotland to seek our fortunes in London.) Westminster's focus on London blinds it to the unhealthy northern hinterland.

To allow its poor people to help themselves into a better lifestyle, Scotland needs to break the London lock. By governing itself.

We need the power to stop Westminster taxing the poor. We need control over defence and the awful £80bn A-bomb, in order to release those funds for the poor. We need to break away from the neo-liberals. We need a written constitution to guarantee the rights of our least powerful citizens. And we need to look after ourselves.

It is in the end a simple question with a simple three-letter answer, on a slip of paper, next Thursday:

Can we make the lives of poor people in Scotland better?


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