By Mike Small
It’s unfortunate for Labour that the week they try and ‘bring in the big guns’ (for which read put Anas on a bus and roll out Dr John Reid to bring some sunshine to the campaign) the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reports:
With 100 days until Scotland votes on its future, new research shows by the mid-2020s, one in seven working-age adults and children could still be below the poverty line – two thirds of them in working families.The findings are detailed in the third and final referendum briefing written by the New Policy Institute (NPI) and published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) today.
Needless to say the Joseph Rowntree Foundation are one of Britain’s most respected poverty research and campaign groups. This slighty undermines Gordon Brown’s essay in the Guardian today, given a whole page to itself (‘The referendum is not Scotland v Britain. It’s about a patriotic alternative to the SNP‘), in which he argues:
So entrenched is this guiding principle – that need, not nationality or ability to pay, decides your rights – that Britain’s social union is now akin to a covenant between nations. ” Britain, he explains, is ‘a beacon for the world of the future.’
Scraping about for an explanation, as if struggling himself to explain the campaign he is, at least partially anyway, a part of, he writes:
“It is not too late to build a more progressive vision of a Britain that can accommodate Scotland’s interests and values and is more in tune with a progressive view of our British future.”
Well, it almost is. You’ve got 99 days to make it up. This time with feeling.
But why? Why is this happening at all?
“What is fuelling the nationalist uprising – is the insecurity many Scots feel at the economic and social dislocation wrought by de-industrialisation and the loss of a million heavy-industry jobs.”
But didn’t that process start 30 or 40 years ago? That’s not new. Not unless mobile phones, colour telly and central heating are? Can we expect Gordon to tour the country in a Sinclair C5 declaring it will revolutionise Scottish transport?
Have the loss of Ravenscraig, Timex and the collapse of Scottish manufacturing and industry just sunk home? Many will remember the ‘Feeble 50s’ inability to protect Scotland from these changes, or to respond with any guile or innovation. But it’s not new, and if that is seriously Brown’s analysis then the much-repeated mantra of his great intellect is seriously flawed.
Pooling and Sharing
But what of the future?
Brown, now in full rhetorical flight, puts forward his inchoate vision – for more (much more) of which see ‘My Scotland, Our Britain‘:
“…in the absence of the glue that once came from imperial success, economic pre-eminence and military conquest, unity is best built around shared values, British ideas of liberty, fairness and social responsibility, the themes of Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony.”
Yes, Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony, while it worked as a piece of hugely expensive state propaganda it hid a bitter truth: that the health system, the last sinew of British collective identity was (and is) being torn apart by the Tories, upping the ante from the work done by New Labour to privatise huge swathes of British society.
But the constantly regurgitated theme of ‘fairness and social responsibility’ and the precise idea that this has some sort of pan-national impact across the UK was undermined only last month when statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed how pensions, savings, property and investments are distributed within the UK and they confirm the appalling social and geographic imbalances that have been allowed to develop under the Westminster system (including the fact that the ‘bottom’ half of the population owns just 9% of the wealth, compared to 44% owned by the ‘top’ tenth).
In fact, the ONS reported, “the median household total wealth for Scotland is a fifth (20%) lower than the corresponding value for Wales and over a quarter (26%) lower than the value for England.”
This despite the fact that recent figures from the Scottish Government, published in March 2014, show that our economic output – the wealth we collectively generate – is 11% higher than for the UK.
Sharing and Pooling
It’s not just Gordon Brown that has had a bad week. Over at Labour’s Daily Record, Torcuil Crichton was publishing a very strange piece of analysis. As the standfirst put it: ‘TORCUIL believes that the impotence of the Labour movement in the Irish Republic should act as a warning to trade unionists flirting with a Yes vote.’
Crichton uses the same theme as Brown. Britain equal social justice (‘Irish history shows that independence could kill off socialism in Scotland‘)
. He writes: “When Scottish trade unionists hear enticements that a single vote in September will open the door to a land of social justice, they should look to Ireland. Not a single Labour government in the country’s history. Not one.”
And, as we all know, the only party in the world that can deliver social justice,s is one called Labour. This is a universal truth. The logic of the argument seems to be that if Dublin was still run by London it would be Oslo?
Or is that only London can deliver socialism? I’m confused.
Blood and Snotters
A bad week also for Labour-supporting New Statesman who’s editor Jason Cowley published the infamous ‘blood and soil’ interview with Alistair Darling (not online as we publish). But reading the hard copy you realise that that’s the least of the problems.
‘While I was in Scotland, I read a column by Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman’ he writes.
‘As McMillan sees it, Scotland has far too long been oppressed by the English’ he says, continuing: ‘a subtext to her influential Scotsman columns is a sense of assumed moral superiority: the Scots are instinctively fairer people’.
I don’t think Joyce McMillan has ever argued this way, nor does anyone. It is about a political problem of different political cultures and values with very real historical and cultural origins. See Lesley Riddoch’s ‘Blossom’ for a nuanced examination of the roots and extent of these different values. This is sloppy shallow political journalism.
As if reiterating the chasm he denies, Cowley then goes on to suggest that Simon Schama represents a more fair and open ‘non-Ethnic British mosaic’ over McMillan’s.
James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, Kathleen Jamie, Tom Devine, and James Robertson are then tumbled together with Pat Kane and Joyce McMillan and accused of having created a ‘national culture that is defined against England’.
It’s such a shoddy piece of journalism from start to finish, from the egregious ‘error’ of the blood-and-soil quote and the pathetic misreading of key cultural writers, poets, historians and artists.
Cowley writes: ‘What most concerns Darling is that people in Scotland are losing interest in the debate or switching off altogether’.
He really shouldn’t worry.