Helpless together – Better apart


By Alex Robertson
On Wednesday the Chancellor, George Osborne, will deliver his Autumn Statement on the Economy. 
On Sunday he told the country that his policy of two years is not working and that the deficit of spending over revenue is increasing and not responding as he had hoped and planned.  So we are all to suffer more cuts in services and welfare benefits for longer as a result.

You don’t have to look far around you to see the devastating results of this policy on our society: Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has announced that the number of its clients seeking food aid has doubled to 2200 in the past two years.

Margaret Lynch, chief executive of CAS, said: “The report reveals a Dickensian situation facing many of Scotland’s low-paid workers and people who rely on welfare benefits.  People are having to rely on food parcels to feed themselves and their family, old folk are having to choose between eating and heating their homes, and disabled people are having their support withdrawn in energy rich Scotland in the twenty first century.

A social worker told me this week that an email has been sent out forbidding him and his colleagues from using the word “embargo” or “cancelled”, and yet cutting off claimants to save money.

Just to put this all in perspective: Westminster is spending £34bn on Trident replacement, and the cost of the war in Afghanistan is costing £20bn.  Based on population, the Scottish ‘proportion’ is around £5.4Bn, compare these numbers to the annual Scottish Block Grant of £34bn.

And despite whatever Johann Lamont or anyone else says there is very little if anything the Scottish government can do to mitigate the horrendous consequences of Westminster policies.

What the Scottish Government have done is commendable: free prescriptions, free bus travel, free education for all and yet it is simply not enough to remove the misery the Westminster cuts are wreaking amongst our most vulnerable.

The long term effect of all this is to erode the mortar that binds our society together, the invisible contract that says the state will never turn on its own and leave them to their own defences, and in return the people will respect the state and its laws and behave as good neighbours and members of society.

It was Mrs Thatcher who claimed not to know what society was and asked for a definition.  And it is her alter ego David Cameron who is overseeing the destruction of the bonds that bind society together.

Nobody can be in any doubt that the SNP are implacably opposed to such thinking.  Yet even as the damage goes on, the Scottish Labour Party is busy trying to climb aboard the ‘cut-everything’ wagon.

The damage being wrought is terrible and will be with us as a divisive force for a very long time.

Westminster made this depression, for that is what it is now, and it is going to get a lot worse.  If media reports are to be believed, the UK is set to lose its triple ‘A’ credit rating.  And the effect of that will be to raise interest rates on money the government has to borrow, and it has to borrow a lot.  And the effect of that will be to make the deficit bigger, which will mean deeper and more cuts, for longer.

Despite what Mr Osborne says, there IS an alternative.

The alternative is to focus on economic growth.  For every 1% increase in GDP, around 7 to 10 billion pounds of revenue results.  And going for growth does not mean, as Labour says, borrowing more to fund growth projects.

An alternative is a reduction in corporate tax rates, removing things like fuel duty, and air passenger duty, and scrapping things like Trident replacement and foreign wars.  And this can be done alongside a more gentle cost saving effort over longer.

There is no doubt that Scotland could do all these things if it had the power.  But it doesn’t.  For the meantime we endure the incompetence of Westminster bunglers who mess things up and have no idea how to get us out of it without making the weak pay a dreadful price.

None of the Westminster parties is offering sound policies or action.  Scotland is being made to suffer and it is tearing the fabric of our society apart.  Better Together?  I don’t think so.

The only way out of this deadly mess is to take the power ourselves and solve our own problems our way and retain the confidence and allegiance of our own people.  We, at least, can be better apart.