This is the state we’re still in. Back in 2014, another age, another era, when the UK could still pretend that it was open and welcoming and respectful of the people who make it up, Scotland was promised that by voting against independence, we could have the best of both worlds. The best of both worlds has turned out to be a choice between irrelevance or perdition. Even worse, that’s a choice that Scotland won’t get to make themselves. It’s a choice that will be foisted upon us by a British state which treats Scotland in such a cavalier and high handed manner of disrespect and disdain.
This is the state we’re still in. In the UK poverty is a political choice. The government punishes the poor in its ideological pursuit of a state which grants free rein to the rich and powerful to enrich themselves at everyone else’s expense. This week a UN envoy examining poverty in the UK found that the British government is pursuing poverty as a political strategy. Despite its preening as one of the richest and most developed economies in the world, the UK is blighted by staggering levels of child poverty. 1,500,000 people in the UK subsist on less than £70 a week. In this best of both worlds, people go to bed hungry. Too many don’t go to bed at all because they have no bed to go to.
This is the state we’re still in. The UN envoy, Professor Philip Alston, said that poverty is a major challenge in the UK, but UK ministers are in a state of denial. Child poverty is rising, there’s been a 60% increase in homelessness since 2010 and the only growth industry in large parts of the UK is food banks. Those foodbanks are protected by poppy bedecked nuclear missiles. Doesn’t that make you proud to be British.
This is the state we’re still in. Compassion has been replaced by callousness, the poor are treated with a punitive cruelty, misery is compounded by mean spiritedness. And all this as official government policy. Poverty in the UK is a political choice. British values in the 21st century mean that compassion and care are regarded as a weakness, that empathy is replaced by snorting derision, that understanding is swept away by dismissive disdain. It’s the politics of the howling zoo of the Mail, the Express, and the Scotsman comments sections. And we’re told by those twisting the knife that there is no alternative. There is.
This is the state we’re still in. They told us that fairness and fair play, community and justice were British values. Tell that to the disabled woman who’s been sanctioned by the Job Centre for being late to an interview because she had to walk three miles in the rain because she didn’t have the bus fare. Tell that to the former soldier who lives on the street and begs for handouts in order to self medicate his way out of the nightmares brought on by PTSD. Tell that to the child who goes to school hungry. Tell them that this is the best of both worlds. They know and we know that it’s not.
This is the state we’re still in, where out of touch Tories with rich and comfortable lives inflict random cruelties and indignities on the poor, the disabled, the marginalised, and the weak, in order to score a few headlines in a press that even crueller and more lacking in compassion than they are. The safety net of social security has been replaced by a twisting screw that spirals into a savage spitefulness. It’s a system that couldn’t be more misogynistic if it had deliberately set out to be misogynistic, punishing women for the crime of having children. It’s a system which castigates single mothers, all with the goal of radically restructuring the British state into the low wage, low tax, low public service economy of the wet dreams of the Conservative party.
This is the state we’re still in. Thousands of families are separated by an uncaring and hard faced immigration system which has as its priority the placation of the right wing gutter press and not the need of British citizens to bring their foreign spouses and children into the UK. The UK government talks of family values while separating families. It’s created a generation of children for whom their experience of one parent is the flickering image on a computer screen. Skyping instead of cuddling.
This is the state we’re still in. The forces of English nationalism run unleashed, tarting themselves up in a tartan bow in order to tell themselves that they’re not nationalist at all. Scotland was told in 2014 that it was only by voting to remain a part of the UK that we could protect ourselves from political extremism and the dangers of narrow nationalism. Extremism is already here, every time you turn on BBC Question Time. The far right is normalised by the media.
Narrow nationalism is the defining characteristic of the British state, seeking to turn its back to the world in pursuit of its vanished empire, nursing its grudges against the Germans and the French for their wilful refusal to recognise that England is special and should have its Brexit cake while eating the fruits of the EU. The best of both worlds is now defined as leaving the EU with a deal that’s worse than what we already have, or the chaos and confusion of no deal at all and a Scotland whose existence isn’t even acknowledged by the British government. Scotland doesn’t deserve special treatment like Northern Ireland, they tell us, because Scotland respects democracy and doesn’t seek to bomb and maim its citizens in pursuit of constitutional change. This is the state that we’re still in.
And all the while those of us who try to say that this is wrong, that Scotland can aspire to normalcy, who talk of change through the ballot box, who speak of tolerance and respect, who espouse a civic nationalism, we’re the ones that the parochial nationalists of the British state call dangerous. Because we are. Because we know that there is a better way. Because we know that this is not the state that we have to stay in.
This doesn’t have to be the state that we’re in. Poverty and inequality don’t have to be a choice. The rich can be made to pay their fair share. Social exclusion need not be an instrument of the state. The people of Scotland can be listened to by a political class that is responsible and responsive to the needs of the people, and which can be voted out of office by that same people. Poverty and exclusion, callousness and cruelty, they don’t have to be instruments of the state.
There is a better way. We can aspire to a land where kindness and compassion, where care and love, where understanding and empathy, where tolerance and respect, are the defining characteristics of our government. That’s the state that we should be in. We can create that state. We can refuse to be defined by the limited horizons of British cruelty. We can be better than this.
Scotland can be smothered, or Scotland can be a beacon. Let’s choose to shine. Let’s choose to light up the horizons. Let’s choose a better way, a compassion way, a kind way. Let’s choose a path that leads to the world, and doesn’t lead us away from it. Let’s choose a Scottish state.
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