A guest post by Christopher Carnie
It’s a sunny, breezy September afternoon and we are walking arm-in-arm to the polling station. Someone says “a penny for your thoughts.” Here are mine:
I think of the poor. The poor in Ferguslie Park or Possil Park, where you are three times as likely to be unemployed and if you are unemployed, almost five times as likely to be sick and unemployed as folk living in the least deprived areas of Scotland. Your baby is likely to be born underweight and is much less likely to be breastfed – meaning that her daughters will also be underweight. You are locked into poverty. Why? Because the UK government is structurally and philosophically unable to deal with Scotland’s poverty. Structurally because its main focus is on London and the South East. Philosophically, because since Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph all our main political parties believe that by reducing direct taxation and allowing a few to get very, very, wealthy, that wealth will “trickle down.”
It floats up. The wealth gap widens*. And we create a broken society. The poor live in one world – what Abbé Pierre in France called the “4th World”. We, the better off, live in another. We, the better off, think that poor people are just shirkers or lazy or dependent; we don’t talk to them, find out who they really are. Neither the poor, nor the rich, feel part of the same society…and as a consequence of that the poor occasionally break up the street furniture as happened in 2011 in London, and the better off and powerful feel free to impose extra taxes (the “Bedroom Tax”) on people they don’t know and don’t care about.
Westminster believes in this neo-liberal philosophy down to its very soul. Holyrood doesn’t. Scottish politics has barely been touched by these ideas and as a consequence is willing to work for the poor. But its hands are tied by Westminster. So long as Westminster can carry on imposing its taxes on our poor, and its tax breaks on our wealthy, the poor of Scotland are condemned to poverty. We can break out of our poverty trap on 18th September.
We talk about your working lives, and business. Imagine, I say, a country on the edge of the world’s largest trading bloc. It’s an English-speaking country with a tradition of enterprise, trade and export. It has massive oil reserves and loads of wind and wave energy. It has a highly educated population and a strong research and technology base, with more universities per head than any other country in the world. It’s relatively easy to meet the people in charge – they are just down the road. Fancy building your new factory or headquarters there? Yes, of course you do! As an independent country it will do what everyone else does and nudge business rates here or taxes there to encourage inward investment. But it won’t have to. Scotland will be a dream to invest in.
You mention the Commonwealth Games – so good for Glasgow. Those nations – almost all of them once ruled from London. Even the tiny Sovereign Republic of Kiribati has its own government. Scotland can be a member of the Commonwealth too – as a sovereign nation, with the Queen still on her throne and the sun still rising each morning.
And then there is Trident. Set aside the madness of parking nuclear bombs 25 miles upwind of Glasgow, and of a heavily indebted country spending £4bn a year for 20 years on a new Trident. Trident is a metaphor. It’s from the time when “Brutain’s hardy sons” dominated an Empire. The missiles still get us a place in the UN Security Council, give us a role in US military adventures, and signal that we are an imperial power. It’s time to stop, and think. It is time for Britain to grow up and out of Empire, to become a modern, constitutional state. Remove the bomb and we can do that. On 18th September we can take that step away from bombs, America and Empire and towards a modern, fairer union of equals with our neighbours.
And now we stop for a moment to take a look over someone’s lovely garden. We take a breather. Because I am about to make a more controversial point.
I think we’ve been hypnotised.
All our lives we’ve been told that Scotland is poor. Too poor to look after itself. So poor that it is only kept alive with a drip-feed of Barnett-formula handouts from Westminster. And now I’ve woken from this hypnosis, and looked away from the propaganda. And I see a country that is an oil-producing nation, with productive, profitable industries (whisky, tourism, alternative energy). We’re an oil producer! We are not poor! We’ve been sucked dry of resources and of talent, and then told we’re handout junkies. This (take a deep breath, because this really is strong stuff) is how colonial powers work. Time for Scotland to crawl out from under the Empire and pay for itself. We can do it.
We talk about leaders. You comment that Holyrood is full (you acknowledge, gracefully, that there are a few exceptions) of small-minded politicians. So I tell you the story of a brilliant young advocate. With a good education at Loretto and the University of Aberdeen, he was an outlier in his cohort of young law students. He was a socialist. He dabbled in politics at university, and then as a councillor in Edinburgh. But he knew where the real power lay – in Westminster. He went to London to seek his fortune, eventually becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer.
That’s what you do if you want to change the world in the UK. You join the Westminster brain drain. But now imagine March 2016. Our brilliant young advocate can play a role in running a whole country from just down the road in Holyrood. He doesn’t have to head to London to do politicking. He and others equally clever will fight to get themselves elected in Scotland’s Parliament. We will get the leaders we need. We can do it.
We are getting close to the polling station now, and it’s time for you to go in and vote. There is a crowd of silent, thoughtful people outside, because this is a big choice. I don’t say anything – you must decide which way you will vote. But in my head I’m hoping. I’m hoping that you will vote for the poor of Possil Park, not for the whirlpool of Westminster.
You decide, and step in.
*I have data and sources for all of this if you want. But this is a conversation, remember.