by Kevin Williamson
The weekend just passed has been quite an eye-opener for anyone looking for clues as to what the future holds should Scots choose continuity rule from London. While its one thing to be positive about the very real possibilities of building a better country to live in its also necessary to look at the alternative.
We can thank the American patriot Edward Snowden for lifting the lid on a sinister can of worms that the British state would have preferred to keep secret from its own citizens. The Guardian broke the story on Friday:
“Britain’s spy agency GCHQ has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency (NSA).
The sheer scale of the agency’s ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.”
The Guardian revealed that behind the backs of British people a secret operation codenamed Tempora was data-trawling on a colossal and indiscriminate basis. Edward Snowden described it as part of “the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history”.
Operation Tempora tells us much about the thinking that goes on behind the cooing rhetoric of “security” we hear from the usual suspects. The UK government distrusts and fears its own people. John Pilger is correct in describing this as the rise of a new kind of fascism.
While this gives us an insight into the ugly reality of what lies in store for Scotland if we opt to remain part of the UK it was two other media reports at the weekend which shine some much needed light.
OSBOURNE’S CUTS WILL SHAPE THE ECONOMY – AND THE FUTURE ROLE OF THE STATE
A sane, responsible or compassionate government would be working overtime to make sure its citizens were protected against the worst excesses of increasing poverty and inequality. Instead the London government have chosen a scorched earth policy when it comes to the public services and system of welfare which were designed to protect the most vulnerable and needy in our society during hard times.
The Guardian (under the headline in bold above) again detailed what’s around the next few corners:
“First, the scale of what is being proposed is mind-boggling for all departments, except those with protected spending: health, education and international aid. Every time cuts are ordered, the more difficult they become to identify. New Labour’s internal rows were often between ministers wanting bigger slices of an increasing spending cake. Now the reverse is happening.
Based on figures provided by the Resolution Foundation, Cable’s business department can expect by 2015-16 to have endured cuts in its annual expenditure limit of around a third compared with 2010-11. The same is true for Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s spending is likely to have almost halved and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will have endured cuts of more than 50%.
And everyone in Whitehall knows worse is to come. “Ministers realise they have to make the arguments for their budgets now or else next time there will be almost nothing left to defend,” said one Whitehall source.
If things look tough up to 2016, projections from bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation begin to look downright scary for unprotected departments after that, unless whatever government is in power puts up taxes or slashes welfare further.
The Resolution Foundation estimates that after the £11.5bn of cuts for 2015-16 to be announced by Osborne on Wednesday, a further £26bn will have to be shorn from spending by 2018 by whoever is in power if the books really are to balance.
And that will mean cutting even deeper and faster than we are doing now. The current rate of cuts will deliver only £16bn of the £26bn needed.
The foundation has calculated what the impact that hitting £26bn might be on unprotected departments by 2018. It says that in theory Cable’s department could have shrunk by then by a giant 45.1% compared with 2010-11. The Home Office would be smaller by 45.8%, defence by 38.2%, the Foreign Office 64.3%, and Communities and Local Government 54.9%.”
This will be inhumane and brutal for all those affected but it needs to be stressed there is no electoral knight in red armour waiting in the wings. Opposition leader Ed Miliband made it clear this week that should the Labour Party be elected in 2015 his party will NOT be repealing these austerity cuts.
In a speech to Labour’s National Policy Forum Miliband was unequivocal:
“Nobody here should be under any illusions: the next Labour government will have to plan in 2015 for falling departmental spending.
“Our starting point for 2015-16 is that we won’t be able to reverse the cuts in day-to-day current spending unless it is fully funded from savings elsewhere or extra revenue, not from more borrowing.
“So when George Osborne stands up next week and announces his cuts in day-to-day spending, we won’t be able to promise now to reverse them because we’ve got to be absolutely crystal clear about where the money is coming from.
“We will show the discipline the challenge of our times demand. It is the only way we can credibly change our country. It’s a hard reality.
“I am clear about it. Ed Balls is clear about it. And everyone in the Labour Party should be clear about it too.”
SCOTLAND”S INEQUALITY WIDENING
“Scotland is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. The wealthiest households are 273 times richer than the poorest households. This looks likely to widen in future years.
“In 2012 Scotland’s 100 richest men and women increased their fortunes to £21bn, up from a combined wealth of £18bn in 2011. These deepening inequalities are accentuated by the declining progressivity of the UK tax and benefits system – which should address rather than exacerbate inequality.”
Judith Robertson, head of Oxfam Scotland, told the BBC that she believed “the existing economic model was not working.”
She said: “Despite decades of economic growth and a myriad of anti-poverty policies, the reality for too many Scots is a cocktail of high mortality, economic inactivity, mental and physical ill-health, poor educational attainment and exclusion from the decisions that affect them.
“This is a structural problem caused by the economy. If we are serious about tackling these issues, then our politicians and policymakers need to make a fundamental change. Without that change, poverty and inequality will continue to shame us and drag all of us down for generations to come.”
(NOTE: The structural problems of the UK economy may be a mystery to most people but Margaret Cuthbert did us all a favour with her recent Reid Foundation paper, The Mismanagement of Britain, which explained the inherent problems with the UK economic model.)
The future of the UK has been laid bare this weekend. Its an unappeasing and remorselessly bleak future of widening inequality, crushing poverty, painful austerity and indiscriminate surveillance of the people. If nothing else we can at least be thankful that this reality has now been brought out into the open. Its up to us to make sure that everyone who enters the polling booths in 2014 is fully informed of what a No vote will mean.
‘GCHQ Tap fibre-optic cables for secret access to world’s communications’. (Guardian, 21st June 2013)
‘Osbourne’s cuts will shape the economy – and the future role of the state’ (Guardian, 22nd June 2013)
‘Miliband: Labour won’t reverse Osbourne’s cuts’ (Sunday Herald, 23rd June 2013)
‘Scotland’s inequality widens, claim Oxfam‘ (BBC, 20th June 2013)
‘Understanding the latest leaks is understanding the rise of a new fascism’ (John Pilger, 20th June 2013)
‘The Mismanagement of Britain’ (Reid Foundation, April 2013)