Remember all those promises that the Better Together campaign made to Scotland during the independence referendum campaign? All those tax office jobs that would be safe, all those EU memberships that would be secure, all those pensions that would be guaranteed, and all those steel workers who were going to stay in work, all thanks to the wonderous graces of the fabulosous United Kingdom. Not so much a political union as a beneficent charitable scheme for indigent northern nations. Those kind hearted people in Westminster doing all those things for us out of the kindness of their hearts, giving us jobs and money and saving us from our own base Caledonian nature.
The tax office jobs are going, EU membership is looking increasingly dubious, you’ll be working for a pittance until you collapse into the grave, and the owners of the steel works want rid of the plant and the jobs that go along with them. Even if we are supposed to assume nothing but the very best of intentions from the Westminster government, their milk of human kindness would struggle to fill a teacup in a doll’s teaset. Mind you, they’re very good at filling their boots with proceeds stashed away in the tax havens of British overseas territories.
We’re supposed to believe that this UK government is going to be the most transparent ever, that it’s going to crack down on tax avoidance by big corporations and rich individuals, when the head of that government has himself been a beneficiary of tax avoidance schemes set up offshore by his dad, and most probably will be a benficiary in the future. Asked a carefully worded question about whether his family had benefited in the past or will benefit in the future from his father’s offshore holdings, Davie obfuscated and answered a different question that he wasn’t asked.
Meanwhile social security is slashed and public services cut to a bone that’s had its marrow sucked out and we’re all told to tighten our belts until we snap at the waist, while Davie Cameron smiles and waves and tells reporters his father’s Panamanian dealings are a private family matter. And he’ll get away with it too, because this is Britain.
And because this is Britain, the ones who will be condemned, the ones who will be called haters and extremists, are those who point out the avarice and greed of the rich and the powerful. That’s because screwing over the little guy and pissing in the public pot isn’t an action of those who are beyond the social pale, it’s central to the way that the UK works and the economy is structured. In the land of the robber the honest are despised.
None of this is new. None of this should be surprising. None of this should make us raise our hands in astonishment. We’ve all known for years that the despoilation of the world’s wealth has been going on, that a tiny minority enrich themselves on the back of the poor and the marginalised.
British governments both Tory and Labour have bowed down before the might of the robber barons of the City of London and prostrated a country before them. The Panama papers aren’t a story of the dirty dealings of foreign kelptocrats, of bribery in far off places, of corruption in distant lands. They are not the tale of the downfall of the prime minister of a small Nordic nation whose citizens are repulsed by his greed. They’re the story of how the British economy works, drawing in the ill-gotten gains of the corrupt and the dishonest and hiding it in British overseas territories that Whitehall doesn’t supervise. They’re the story of how Britain has become the money launderer to the world’s despoilers. They ought to be called the Square Mile Papers.
All over the UK people are as repulsed as the Icelanders about the rules for the rich that don’t apply to the poor, but unlike in Reykjavik there will be no political consequences for the British hypocrites who tell us that we’re all in this together. Better together with hypocrisy and cant, better together with deceit and deception. And there’s nothing we can do about it within the British state.
The United Kingdom isn’t a united kingdom at all, it’s a city state with colonies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions. Much of the London is owned by the super rich through shell companies registered in British overseas territories. They pay no taxes here but inflate the London property bubble, inflate the importance of London at the expense of the rest of the UK. All those promises that Better Together made to Scotland during the independence referendum were about preserving London’s pole position as the go-to city for the super rich, where few questions will be asked and few demands will be made of them. The oligarchs don’t pay for the public services that keep the value of their property empires buoyant, we do.
The rich are as skittish as sheep on one of the vast Highland estates owned by a brass plate on an office block in the Cayman Islands. Stability is all, and Scotland making its own way in the world threatens that cosy world of secret deals and handshakes. Scotland might want to do something about land ownership, might want to ensure that the super rich pay their way.
I want to live in a land where the rich abide by the same rules as the rest of us. I want to live in country where politicians have to resign for hypocrisy and lies. I want to live in a country where the voices of ordinary people are heard, where government isn’t a scheme for the rich to get even richer while blaming the poor for their poverty. I want to live in a country where the super rich skittish sheep are coralled and shorn instead of the people getting fleeced.
That’s not going to happen in the UK, because the UK’s raison d’etre is robbing the poor to pay the rich. It’s only going to happen in an independent Scotland where the government is close enough to the people so that it can be held to account like in Iceland, where it’s the sheep that get shorn and the people don’t allow themselves to get fleeced.
BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE Barking Up the Right Tree has now been published and is an anthology of my articles for The National newspaper. You can submit an advance order for the book on the Vagabond Voices website at http://vagabondvoices.co.uk/?page_id=1993
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