One of the most common tropes of those who viscerally oppose independence is the complaint that ‘That Essempee’ has divided Scotland. This is a theme which is enthusiastically promoted by the anti-independence media. For example this week saw the publication of the most recent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, which found that independence is the preferred constitutional option of 52% of respondents while support for devolution as the preferred option has plummeted to 38%, and support for the outright abolition of the Scottish Parliament remains on just 8% despite the very loud and prominent presence of the staunch Über unionists on social media and in the comments sections of the Herald and the Scotsman.
52% vs 38% vs 8% is a pretty categorical finding which would translate into 53% support for independence in a binary choice referendum where the options were independence or the current Scottish Parliament, and likely would be even more decisive once people appreciate the danger to devolution posed by the current Conservative government which just this week published its so called ‘Brexit Freedoms’ bill, which allows Westminster to unilaterally over rule Holyrood and gives UK ministers the power to act within devolved areas without consent from the Scottish Government. The fact is that devolution is not safe and cannot protect Scotland from a malignant Conservative government that it did not vote for.
Truss would like nothing more than to grant that frothing 8% its dearest Cringing wish. However the only thing which prevents a Tory government which has already proclaimed that the UK is not a voluntary union of four nations, but rather one single British nation, from neutering Holyrood entirely, is the political threat of another vote on Scottish independence. If Scotland is foolish enough to vote no a second time that is exactly what will happen.
There is a broad degree of consensus in Scotland that this country needs a considerable measure of self-government. Nevertheless BBC Scotland chose to frame its report on the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey as yet more evidence that Scotland is a divided society, riven by disagreement over the constitutional question.
When the Conservatives and their allies complain about the divisiveness supposedly caused by the independence debate what they are really complaining about is that they can no longer arrogantly assume, as they did prior to 2014, that Scotland will always get Conservative governments if that is the outcome of a General Election in England. They are upset that they can not continue forever to count on electoral hauners from outwith Scotland for their political opinions which have minority support within Scotland.
They are also upset that their Brit-centric Scottish Cringe is now subject to challenge and they can no longer pontificate in the golf club or bowling club bar about how wee, poor and stupid Scotland is without the risk of being challenged.
The Scottish independence movement is overwhelmingly peaceful and law abiding, the only notable violence associated with the independence debate has come from British nationalist thugs who pose no threat to a douce middle class no voter pursing his or her lips about ‘divisiveness.’
What these no voters are really complaining about are legitimate differences of political opinion which are normal and healthy in a democratic society, the only possible reason that they might become unhealthy is because the anti-independence parties are doing their utmost to prevent these legitimate differences in political opinion from being resolved through the ballot box, which is how a properly functioning democracy deals with such matters.
There are however very deep and very real divisions within the UK, divisions which unlike differences of political opinion have a profound and lasting effect on people’s lives and prospects. Those are the divisions between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots. OECD figures suggest that the UK has one of the highest levels of income inequality amongst the largest economies in Europe (as measured by the Gini coefficient), although income inequality is lower than in the United States. Under successive governments social inequality in the UK is only getting worse. Since 1980, the share of income earned by the top 1% in the UK has generally been rising, rising to to 13% in 2015. This is almost double the corresponding figure for Belgium (7%) and higher than Australia (9%), Sweden (8%) and Norway (8%). These are divisions which blight lives, which create ill health and misery for millions, divisions which cause genuine grief and hardship, not the mild and minor passing discomfort of encountering an individual with a different view of Scotland’s potential place in the world from your own.
Within the UK there is also very pronounced regional inequality. For generations the economic policies of UK Governments have served to concentrate wealth and opportunities in London and the South East of England at the expense of the rest of the UK. The UK is one of the most regionally unequal economies in Europe, in Germany regional inequality is gradually diminishing – and remember Germany had to incorporate an impoverished East which was formerly part of the communist bloc – in the UK regional inequality is only getting worse.
This Conservative government’s much vaunted levelling up programme will do little to help, the Tories are using it as means of funnelling public money into Conservative voting areas and Liz Truss even had the gall to announce that removing the cap on bankers’ bonuses was a part of levelling up, which is literally claiming that you are alleviating poverty by giving the richest more money and making the poorest pay for it.
On Friday Truss’s partner in slime, the chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, fresh from laughing and gurning his way through the Queen’s funeral, unveiled a mini budget which was shocking in its brazen enrichment of the wealthiest while we are in the midst of a cost of living crisis which threatens hundreds of thousands with penury. Kwarteng announced £45 billion in tax cuts, the great bulk of which will go straight into the bank accounts of the wealthy and which will only widen the chasm of life styles and opportunities which exists in the UK between the rich and the poor. Kwarteng’s bungs for the wealthy will be funded by government borrowing which the rest of us will have to pay for and which will be loaded on to the next set of GERS figures as more supposed ‘proof’ of a union dividend.
It’s a mini budget which is truly gob smacking, even by the standards of the Conservatives, for its cruel and callous disregard for the struggles which millions of ordinary working households are currently facing. As well as further enriching the already wealthy at all our expense, he also found time to turn the screw even tighter on those who are worst off, announcing measures to reduce the already meagre incomes of those on Universal Credit if they are deemed not to be making sufficient effort to find work. Effectively he has blamed the UK’s Brexit created labour shortage on the poor. Kwarteng is threatening to strip the poorest and most vulnerable of what little they have, leaving them even more destitute and desperate, more ripe for exploitation by greedy rich to whom he has just given a tax cut.
40% of people on Universal Credit are actually in work, 56% of people in poverty are in a working family, 7 in 10 children in poverty are in a family where at least one parent works. The Tories are cracking down on Universal Credit claimants is because they blame them for their own poverty. they are lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses is because they are rewarding them for their own failure.
The inequality and social injustice of the UK are the real divisions that we need to worry about, they are the divisions that the Conservatives are taking a publicly funded crowbar to as they gleefully prise them ever wider apart. It’s only going to get worse under Truss.
There will always be differences of political opinion in a democracy, independence is Scotland’s only real hope of healing the divisions that really matter, the divisions created by poverty and lack of opportunity. That will never happen as part of the UK. Independence is not about creating division, it’s about healing the wounds and fractures inflicted upon Scotland by successive Conservative governments that we didn’t vote for.
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