Complaining about the Government is an enjoyable past time and I am as susceptible to doing it as the next person . We also have a great deal of material to work with. Ministers who favour contracts for their families, the fuel crisis, the HGV driver crisis, the food crisis, the NHS under huge strain, a Government lurching from definitive statements to U turns at the drop of a hat, the list is pretty much endless.
But are there positive alternatives ?
In a practical sense in Scotland , yes there is. Independence would provide us with a chance to re-set.
But what should we re-set?
Perhaps we could begin with our priorities .
Do we get more conservative as we get older or do we get more radical? I’m not sure, perhaps it is a bit of both in different areas? For me at least, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the political priorities we have. I’m a member of the SNP and I’d include my own Party in that gentle critique. When I listen to our conference I find myself looking for truly radical measures to tackle social inequality. I hear some voices talking in that way but I also see small c conservatism in how we go about that, a reluctance to really go for it? I’m not sure. Perhaps a reluctance to upset those sitting on the fence in the independence discussion ? I don’t see better alternatives in other parties .But I think there is a danger that in trying to not offend any sector of society we may end up serving none of them well.
Brits are not exactly the greatest of exponents of looking outside of our country for good examples. In another article I wrote that perhaps we have something to learn from Denmark. A high taxing country that also provides as a social benefit, services such as social care that might in the UK be provided by the Private Sector. They are hardly a communist country, they are entrepreneurs with a capitalist outlook but they have different priorities. They are also reported as a country where people feel most at ease with the balance of government priorities and feel optimistic for the future of their children.
The UK has been overshadowed by the notion of “ Market “ and “self interest” that has really established the last major social re-set – the Thatcher years . You couldn’t claim that New Labour really disestablished that, it tinkered . If anything the “Boris Effect” is the closest thing to a re-set that we have had for 40 years and it is a significant lurch to the right with a regressive dynamic that takes us back into our shell as a haven of British exceptionalism that can keep us warm at night .
Is it time for a more radical re-set? If so what priorities might we want to put up front and centre?
Perhaps we might begin by looking at those who are less financially fortunate as assets rather than burdens? Why is it that Iceland gives pensioners a guarantee of 75.7% of the average wage, while Denmark offers 80.2% and the Netherlands 100% ? Could it be that they see them as likely to spend the money and thus fire up the economy giving jobs to young people ?
Perhaps we could , for similar reasons of enhanced expenditure look at a National Wage for people regardless of who they are ? The notion that people would chose not to work is really quite bizarre, people will always want to better themselves, and the notion of a Universal Basic income is affordable . It has been around as a notion since the time of Thomas Paine . It gives people value rather than the stigmatising and punitive benefits system that we have now . It is simpler and less costly to implement, since it is Universal . Places have trialled this. The notion that it will significantly reduce the propensity for people to work has been shown to be false or at least exaggerated. There are some who work less some who work more . Stephen Hawking supported this, Bertrand Russell did, and astonishingly Elon Musk and Jeremy Corbyn are on the same page too.
Experiments looking at this here have come up with some figures – one suggestion was this might cost £18billion a year – which seems a lot until you look at the cost of nuclear weapons and what we have paid out during the pandemic, and here there is a prospect of a return to the exchequer through indirect taxation .
Of course we might also ask those who have more to be taxed more.
We are beginning to hear some of this but not enough . The taxation of those multi national companies who make significant money here needs international co-operation , but where it the will to do this? We also hear that the super rich are wealth creators. Really? Show me the figures ? I guess the suggestions will be that because they invest and the investment supports industry then that creates wealth . That is true . But how true? What percentage of their investment is in the UK, what percentage is in industries that are truly wealth creating ? We hear that if they or industries are further taxed they will relocate . Well industries do anyway . Some of the most fervent supporters of Brexit to ‘ get back control “ moved overseas . Why not test this notion?
Why, if we are so keen to see British people moving into the jobs that were taken by Europeans pre Brexit are we not seeing a flood of applications into jobs like, drivers, carers, the NHS, butchers, builders? Could it be because we value academic achievement over vocational achievement? Something that Germany did very differently after the War and clearly benefitted from. We tend to devalue people who we call “ essential workers” when we need them and wonder why they leave their jobs when they are under paid, poorly supported and poorly trained. Surely it is time to smell the coffee on this and ensure these folks get a good deal. Not just in money but in respect and recognition too.
Should we not be teaching citizenship to our children as a priority ? Should they not be educated on what politics is and what it means to them in terms of how it will affect their lives ? In our area 50% of those 16-18 years old eligible to vote in the last election chose not to. That should be seen as a national disgrace . I’m not saying that like Australia voting should be compulsory but then again why not? People need to have a reason to see beneath the political slogans.
One thing that does truly give me hope is the SNP bringing the Greens into Government.
Scottish devolved politics were always intended to produce minority Governments even though it suits the Government in Westminster to paint that as being in some way weak. The truth is that is the majority reality for most nations . In some countries it creates weak coalitions that constantly have to reform, but they seem to muddle through . Others do it differently, ah – Germany which is currently working through the options for a coalition Government . But of course it leads to weak leadership doesn’t it ? Angela Merkel led a coalition Government , how many of our PMs and American Presidents did she see off?
If you doubt that diversity in Government is a good thing look at the monoculture we have in Government in Westminster, guaranteed probably for the next 10 years due to the weakness of the opposition. Do you believe that the Conservatives are now “ a broad Church?” Do you believe that words such as “ levelling up “ are anything more than vote winning slogans? A government that voluntarily brings in a partner is a sign of significant political maturity not weakness. It also means that climate change will be a subject that has a home in Scottish politics and has a chance of being less token than down South .
I believe in Scottish Independence. But in a sense that is a slogan too. It isn’t a panacea to cure all ills . What it does do is give us the opportunity to re-set, think again .
It also gives us the opportunity to be proactive , get ahead of the game, and be progressive rather than lurch into the reactionary and regressive embarrassment that the not-so-United Kingdom is becoming. As an Englishman in Scotland I began the journey towards this point wanting for Scotland to achieve a sense of specific identity within the UK. For me although I voted for independence in 2014 the idea of Scotland in the UK went out of the window entirely when England chose its direction in 2016. From that point there was no discernible way back .
But to make independence work we need a plan. That plan needs a re-set of values and priorities that puts people and not money first. I think our young people are really looking for that and in my 70th year that they are they are future not me has never been clearer.
They are looking for radical solutions .