A Poor Show

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  By Derek Bateman
 
We didn’t have to wait long for my warning that Catherine Macleod in the Herald sings from the same hymnbook as Brian Wilson. Within 24 hours they both made exactly the same assertion – that Scotland already has the powers to deal with inequality and you don’t need independence to end poverty. That was quick…

First it was Catherine stating without qualification in the Herald: ‘And as we remember John Smith’s tragically premature death, we should recall that he was driven by a need to deliver social justice. The Scottish Parliament has all the levers it needs to do just that.’

Next day in the Scotsman, Brian Wilson agrees and says the government is only talking about ending poverty and failing to bring in social justice when it has powers to do so. He urges the minister Shona Robison: ‘Please, tell us…can you point to some catalogue of actions …that have redistributed wealth from die-old rich Scots to the die-young poor, using existing powers?

Well, I googled the government site and within seconds had this list

‘We have created the Fairer Scotland Fund for community planning partnerships. The fund is worth £435 million over three years to target investment at the root causes of poverty in Scotland. Over 2008-11 we are investing £87 million in the network of six Scottish Urban Regeneration Companies to provide the momentum necessary to bring local assets into use and stimulate economic growth. We have allocated £36 million over three years for the Wider Role Fund which supports work by Registered Social Landlords to reduce poverty and financial exclusion in the communities they serve.’

That’s a tiny fraction of government activity which it seems counts for nothing in the world of Unionism which doesn’t think full tax powers and welfare impact on wealth…

Let’s check some inconvenient facts provided by those at the sharp end of social misery – Christine Cooper, Mike Danson and Geoff Whittam at the Poverty Alliance.

The tax system – if you didn’t know and if Catherine is still reading – is a reserved matter, that is, reserved to the British government, not the Scottish government.

They write:

‘…consistently the poorest 10 per cent have been losing a greater proportion of their incomes in tax than the average and indeed than the richest 10 per cent. We have a regressive tax system.’

That’s a British tax system. Scotland has one small component available – raising or lowering the basic rate by 3p. Everything else is done at the British Treasury (where Catherine worked so closely with Alistair).

‘Britain is now one of the most unequal and divided countries in the OECD and is returning to levels of inequity not seen since the 1930’s. And yet the tax system exacerbates that state of unfairness in incomes with associated inequalities in health, life expectancy, well-being, education and other indicators of a cohesive and inclusive society.’

How much of this do you reckon is down to the reckless, uncaring John Swinney?

Here’s a rather politicised section from their report that neatly sums up the Unionist attitude – but missing from Wilson and Macleod’s analysis:

‘While the mantra of We’re All In This Together has metamorphosed into the Something for Nothing Culture (Lamont) and Only 12 per cent Are Net Generators of Scotland’s Wealth (Ruth Davidson), the Sunday Times Rich List recorded that the top 100 multi millionaires in the UK saw their collective wealth increase by 29.9 per cent – a whopping £77.25 billion.’

Everybody on benefits in Britain is ‘relatively much worse off than their counterparts across most of Europe’, according to the OECD.

Then, in contrast to Wilson and Macleod, they nail the Unionist lie.

‘The devolved powers at the disposal of the Scottish government and Parliament, even as amended under the Scotland Act 2012, can have but limited impacts on inequality and poverty…’

They then focus on local taxation and don’t believe the council tax is a fair system, an argument the SNP applied when they tried unsuccessfully to bring in local income tax. That was opposed by Labour, the councils, the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the unions and the (British) (Labour) Treasury which said it would cut one billion pounds out of the Scottish budget if it went ahead.

Now don’t tell me any government can’t do more to combat poverty. I’ve expressed before how this is the single most important issue for me and I question just how committed the government is when so many other priorities have to be met. But who is lecturing here?

Wilson and Macleod were both at the heart of the Labour government which consistently missed its targets for eliminating poverty. Here’s the view of Peter Townsend, Professor of international social policy at the LSE:

‘All OECD countries have substantial public social security systems. The most successful in reducing poverty rely predominantly on universal or group schemes, which are invariably more efficient and less costly to administer than means-tested benefits, including tax credits. But these schemes also contribute to social integration, link the generations and support those who cannot be expected to earn their way out of poverty.’

But that meant higher taxes and hitting the wealth creators.

So Labour make progress but not enough and then in the Westminster cycle, the Tories come in and undo it. That is why there is no definitive progress on equality in Britain and nothing but independence can change that.

But read carefully. What we are offered here from like-minded Unionists with a total commitment to the British state and thick as thieves with Alistair Darling, is a critique that there is no need for independence and, crucially, there is no need for extra powers. These are anti-devolutionists – regressives bent on undoing the advances Scotland has made and if the power of the Yes movement is defeated, it will be defenceless against them.

 
Courtesy of Derek Bateman