Threat and fear – scare and smear: the ugly side of Great Britain plc

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By Ken Ferguson

Just as the days shorten and the leaves fall, the annual ritual begins of the power profiteers hiking prices as they wring their hands in regret for their poor customers.

Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) is first in the field with an 8 per cent rise.  British Gas has now followed and we can be sure they will not be the last, as any notion that gas and electricity are offered to the public by fiercely competing firms serving their interest ceased to fool the long-suffering public years ago.

By Ken Ferguson

Just as the days shorten and the leaves fall, the annual ritual begins of the power profiteers hiking prices as they wring their hands in regret for their poor customers.

Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) is first in the field with an 8 per cent rise.  British Gas has now followed and we can be sure they will not be the last, as any notion that gas and electricity are offered to the public by fiercely competing firms serving their interest ceased to fool the long-suffering public years ago.

Across the spectrum, pro-market politicians scrabble to mollify the public with plans and schemes to deal with the issue of soaring prices piled on millions with pegged pay and benefits.

So, from supposedly born-again Bolshevik ‘Red’ Ed Miliband, a plan to freeze power prices for a whole 20 months in two years time, if he wins the UK election.  Despite the howls of protest from the power firms, Tories and old Blairites like Peter Mandelson, far from a return to “socialism”, such a plan would leave the fat cats largely unscathed and save consumers relative peanuts.

Promises of tougher regulation are likely to be watered down by a Labour Party which long ago accepted the idea that the market – dominated by six big firms – is the best way to ensure vital services such as energy.

This is underscored by Labour’s obstinate refusal to contemplate the obvious solution to the energy prices scandal – supported by the public – of taking the firms into public ownership to ensure both the necessary investment and fair prices for customers.

Indeed, one of the ironies of this situation is the fact that one of the big six is EDF – an offshoot of the largely publicly-owned French state electricity firm.  Unlike here, in France prices are fixed by the government which is, in turn, open to public pressure.

If Labour’s plan wilted in the spotlight of reality, the ConDems, with the usual coalition response, offered little alternative other than whistling in the dark about better competition and the frank admission from Westminster Energy Secretary Ed Davey that they were powerless to stop the soaring prices rip off.

The more extreme wing, largely climate change sceptics, suggested scrapping tariffs to develop green energy to save money.

Into this blundered Scottish Government energy minister Fergus Ewing, who poo-pooed any price freeze and repeated company claims that black outs of power supplies were a real possibility.  Apart from leaving consumers to carry the ever soaring price of power, the entire affair also highlights the real danger of leaving vital services in the hands of greedy private firms.

All the evidence is that voters saw through the supposed magic market years ago, and they support public ownership of key services such a gas and electricity, railways and of course the Royal Mail, sold off at scandalously low cost to the speculators in the city.

In Scotland’s case, public control of energy is even more vital not just to ensure essential investment and fair prices but to develop the potential ‘Energy Eldorado’ represented by renewables for the public good, not private greed, as happened with North Sea oil.

More widely, as the No campaign reshuffles the pack at the anti-Scottish Office and the scare tales roll on – no Scottish Army, slower broadband and now the best yet, no world market for Scotch whisky.  All this as the dominance of big business daily exposes the supposed “benefits” of the union.

So power firms openly threaten power black outs and an investment strike if a tiny bite is made out of their profits.  In response, the toothless British lion bleats that it can’t do anything about this.  So a state bristling with nuclear weapons and happy to wage wars across the globe is unable or unwilling to take on the fat cats at home.

Worse, the Tories – ably assisted by the increasingly reviled Liberal Democrats – ignore the failures of privatisation and sell off the Royal Mail at rates so low that that it guarantees even more super profits for those same speculators who crashed the economy and imposed austerity on us.

In contrast to the SNP who pledged a re-nationalised post office after a Yes vote, Labour clapped the posties at their Brighton conference and then told them that a Labour government would not re-nationalise Royal Mail.

And perhaps the most bare faced example of the use of uncontrolled private power comes from the venture capitalist of Ineos which is now holding Scotland to ransom.

Insiders close to the Grangemouth dispute believe that this may well be part of a wider strategy aimed at weakening jobs and conditions at the vital site which produces the vast majority of Scotland’s fuel supplies.  Ineos, despite the threat of a strike having been removed, have temporarily shut down the plant and claimed that the complex has no value, at the same time as they seek public money to redevelop it.

The picture then is a stark one.  Within the supposed safe haven of the British state we will be allowed to earn poverty pay, subjected to labour laws favouring employers and face falling living standards stretching to the far horizon.  However, we can sleep easy guarded by nuclear missiles and secure in the knowledge that we remain British.

As the clock ticks towards the referendum, the absurd smears of the No camp and the reality of life in a country, built around and serving the needs of a greedy few, must be put at the heart of the debate.  The choice gets clearer daily.

Believe the smears about, well, almost everything and stick with the speculator’s state which is Great Britain, or grasp the future by voting Yes and fashion a society based on people before profit.

Courtesy of The Scottish Socialist Voice