A Beacon of Fairness

Metal spikes outside London flats

‘Anti-homeless’ spikes installed in entrance to luxury block of London flats spark. Further sign of Britain as a ‘beacon’ of ‘fairness and social responsibility’?

 
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?

Brown writes:

Brand new transportation device - just launched!

Brand new transportation device – just launched!

“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).

140515 Household Wealth

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.

 

_75308531_newstatesmansalmond‘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.

 



Categories: Commentary

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13 replies

  1. OK its not nice to have to step over somebody sleeping across your front door or entrance to your flat.Its not nice being that homeless person either,and perhaps its much less nice sleeping in your doorway,but the problem of homelessness is engineered by those making a “killing” by not building house and keeping a false economy bubble going and it will burst again and the poorest will pay the most again.There are many empty house deemed not “of suitable standard” but I would prefer to be in a house/flat etc not of suitable standard as opposed to your doorway.A park bench in the summer is OK for a couple of nights if your young and fit,although you wont be fit for long and you will age quickly,so house/flat is better.They could be opened up to the homeless and for the excuse to be “not of suitable standard” is another part of the greedy economy,for while all are desperate to have a home the price is falsely inflated so that on the selected ones can be housed.We can change this but it does take change because without the change there is no progress.Change the system vote YES and we will break the elite in Westminster.

  2. 1.15? Fx

  3. I think you are a bit harsh on Jason Cowley. I did not think it was a shoddy piece from start to finish but an interesting and informative piece with any mistakes due more to deadlines than bad journalism. Certainly he got a lot out of Darling. He mentions the Schama piece mainly to say that no Scots have written with such a positive outlook in favour of the Union. He then challenges Darling on why all Scottish authors, artists etc seem to be on the YES side rather than the No side to which tellingly Darling has no answer. Cowley seems to be very engaged in the debate for a London based editor and positive about what Salmond had to say when he gave the New Statesman sponsored lecture in London.

    • No he’s really specific about arguing tat McMillan’s analysis (which he gets fundamentally wrong) is preferable to Simon Schama’s. He also completely misreads the work of all the artists/writers he quotes.

      • Had another look at the article, I was writing from memory, and you are right. I thought he had just contrasted the two but reading it again he does favour certainly the tone of the Schama piece to McMillans.This and the following paragraph are noticably clumsier and less clear than what comes before which I thought was generally good and fair with the exception of the blood and soil bit. Think he was either in a rush to get finished by this point or having a problem transferring from the specifics of the interview to his general thoughts. I do think the coverage in the New Statesman which follows the general line that the independence debate opens up new possibilities for progressive politics in the UK and also refreshs a tired political scene that seem to no idea for example how to react to UKIP has generally been good. Even the articles in the Spectator have been “interesting”

  4. Torcuil Crichton: “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.”

    Torcuil obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Labour Party of Ireland has been in government more often than any other political party except Fianna Fáil. Everytime there’s been a Fine Gael “government”, it’s been a government in coalition with the Labour Party. But why let truth or facts get in the way of a good scaremongering?

  5. You’ll find anti-rough sleepers’ devices popping up around London. Just around the corner from my work in central London is a low-sitting window ledge of considerable length, on a building rented by a retailer of very expensive office furniture. The ledge would provide rough sleepers some shelter, off the ground and inset from the pavement, however, bolted to this is several rows of ‘teeth’ which prevents anyone using the ledge either for sitting or lying down. They are pretty brutal looking, medieval even, more so than those studs in the picture above.

    • I remember having vicious iron spikes in the corners of building pointed out to me by a friend in Limerick City. To keep young lovers out, I was told. That was nearly 40 years ago though, and I’m pretty sure Limerick will have changed radically since then.

  6. Torquil is pretty insulting to the memory of many fine Irish folk in his bizarre article – does he not know of their key contribution in the history of the Scottish and UK Labour Parties?

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