Monday, 23 November 2015

Bairns not bombs, Mr Cameron

David Cameron has announced the results of his 'strategic defence and security review.' This is a misnomer. It should have been called his 'shoot first, talk later' review.

Because Westminster just took £178 billion of your money, and poured it into guns, bombs, tanks and drones. None of these are to be used for 'defence.' These are weapons of attack.

The attack is in both directions. It is an attack on a region of the world that is reeling under years of war, war sparked off by messrs Bush and Blair and then fed with firepower manufactured by Europe's 'leading defence suppliers', in the anodyne expression used to describe them. Britain has continued to export arms to the Middle East right through this conflict.

And it is an attack on the poor. Because where else will Osbameron get the £178 billion than by raiding funds that could have gone to health, housing, education and care for older people? It is the poor who will suffer as Osbameron tries - as fruitlessly as all his predecessors - to bomb the Middle East into submission.

Worse, he is handing two victories to Daesh. His military strategy will mean more martyrs to the cause across the Levant (and, naturally, 'collateral' deaths among the region's women and children.) And the grinding domestic poverty in the backstreets of Britain will manufacture more young men and women who believe that death is better than hope.

How stupid are our politicians? On these measures, about £178 billion stupid. Imagine the social good you could do with £178 billion! That is one and a half times the whole NHS budget! Twice the education budget!

Bairns, not bombs, Mr Cameron.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A Tale of Two Cities

Travel from Glasgow to London - it only takes a few hours - and you experience the strange governance of the British Isles.

In rainy, blustery, Glasgow people were leaving their homes as I headed to Central Station for the train south. Homes where the average rent according to is £634 per month.

In London people were talking about house prices. Not surprising - in south west London rents are now averaging £2,373, almost four times as much as in Glasgow. Purchase prices are more dramatically different: average purchase price for a home in Glasgow is 10 times the figure for a semi-detached home in south west London.

Friends told of how their son, on a decent graduate wage, cannot afford to live anywhere in London, of property developers selling 25 square metre micro-flats for prices in the hundreds of thousands of pounds as a "first step on the property ladder." I heard people discussing the property boom brought on by Crossrail.

How do you govern this economically bipolar country from a gilded parliament surrounded by homes whose average value - £1.4m* - has risen by 250% in the last 10 years?

The answer, of course, is that you don't. You focus on the nearby - on the City of London, on the Home Counties, on the safe neighbourhoods. Which then makes it easy to dream up a scheme like Osbameron's tax credits wheeze.

House prices are a thermometer under the tongue of the British economy - an economy now utterly divided into London and the rest. There is no way that Westminster can unite this Queendom.

* Source: prices for semi detached homes in London SW.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Tax Test

Dear Nicola

It's November, and here in Edinburgh it is cold, wet and windy. Last night I walked past three people sleeping rough just up the road from Harvey Nics. A wee reminder - in the form of a kick in the ethical ribs - that there is lots more to do on poverty.

And what a great time to do it, Nicola. You are going to win a landslide victory next May. Frankly, you have so much political capital that you could propose we all paint our teapots pink and you'd still get in; we'd be out there next day with the candy-coloured paint and the brushes.

Yes, you are starting to move, or be moved; the land reform policies will open up Scotland's acres to more productive, better shared use; but that will take time - 20 years? 50 years? And your focus on education is the right one - better schools and schooling focused on the poorest people will help - but again, that's for the next generation of schoolkids, maybe 15 years away.

We need impact, now. Impact on as many of the causes of poverty as you and all your advisers can lay their hands on. And if that means defying Westminster and working outside the to-be-signed Scotland Act, then #naefear - go ahead and defy them. Yes to better benefits, yes to extra nutrition for kids in school, yes to employment projects, yes to more cooperatives, yes to forcing power companies to cut charges for the poorest people, yes to social housing and yes to a nationwide programme of insulating homes.

Yes to it all, to a full scale war on poverty in Scotland.

And yes to paying for it from taxes.

This is the tax test, Nicola. Are you willing to give up a wee bit of your party's political capital -  to drop from 'Galactic Scottish Superstar' to 'Comet Commander' - for the sake of the war on poverty? 

You would lose some voters (although you would win others) were you to announce that you will raise the taxes of the better-off in order to fund a war on poverty. But that is the proper way to fight the fight; to signal to everyone in Scotland that poverty, and exaggerated wealth, are unacceptable. To put into action your own words about the damage that the wealth gap inflicts on Scotland.

It means adding a penny or two to higher rates of tax, and tackling wealth held in real estate. These will not be enough, and no doubt your economics team can come up with more and better. Those clear signals to wealth - yes, you can be wealthy but you must pay your share -  are as important in building a fairer society as your education programmes for poor kids. Link that new tax income to immediate, visible, demonstrable success in the war on poverty and you will bring us all with you.

Take the tax test, Nicola. Show us what you can do, now.