Welfare butchery spells curtains for ‘Better Together’ campaign

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  By Mark McNaught
 
As an American, it’s a grim day when the UK government makes US Republicans look like philanthropists.  Newt Gingrich once opined that poor children should clean the toilets in their schools to learn the work ethic their parents so evidently lack.  Tories don’t seem to want the UK poor to realise even that degree of upward mobility.
 
With the enactment this week of the savage ‘Bedroom Tax’ and other radical changes to the social welfare system, the UK government has rendered ‘better together’ an oxymoron and doomed any prospects of convincing Scots to remain within the Union.

  By Mark McNaught
 
As an American, it’s a grim day when the UK government makes US Republicans look like philanthropists.  Newt Gingrich once opined that poor children should clean the toilets in their schools to learn the work ethic their parents so evidently lack.  Tories don’t seem to want the UK poor to realise even that degree of upward mobility.
 
With the enactment this week of the savage ‘Bedroom Tax’ and other radical changes to the social welfare system, the UK government has rendered ‘better together’ an oxymoron and doomed any prospects of convincing Scots to remain within the Union.

This may take some time to be reflected in the polls, but once Scots become fully cognisant of the real effects of these changes, the poll numbers will shift dramatically, and Scotland will vote for independence in 2014.

The ‘Better Together’ campaign has based its case exclusively on the illusory perils of independence.  As the real perils of remaining in the Union become manifest, especially increased homelessness and destitution among the poor, Scots will rightly see staying in the UK as a societal death wish.

It is astonishing to reflect on the logic underlying this scheme.  Societal well-being was obviously not a concern.  Helping the poor find non-existent jobs is not in there, however paradoxical.  Families are not strengthened.  What are they thinking?

They are certainly not thinking about the reaction of the Scots, and whether such barbaric measures may induce them to vote for independence.  If they had, they would have remembered the poll tax imposed on Scotland before the rest of the UK in 1989.  Riots, and massive non-compliance ensued.

Imagine how boneheaded it would have been if they had imposed that in 1979 during the referendum for a Scottish Assembly.  The UK government is doing something at least as inane with the welfare changes, while they are purportedly trying to convince Scots that they are ‘better together’.

The bedroom tax comes in the context of the unravelling of many other arguments for staying in the union.  The premise that Scotland benefits from the UK being able to borrow more cheaply because of the AAA rating was demolished by Moody’s downgrade.

The fantasy promoted by shady think tanks – that Scotland would be worse off if it received the taxes from oil off its own shores – has been shown to be a lie even by Vince Cable.  The question of Scotland remaining in the EU has been overshadowed by the very real possibility that the UK will leave the EU. 

The notion that Scotland is subsidised by the UK has been shown to be the other way around, especially if oil revenues are counted.  Many Scots were surprised to know that their country had been ‘extinguished’ by their union with England in 1707.

The ‘better together’ campaign is rapidly being robbed of even remotely plausible scare tactics.  With its new welfare policy, the UK government has demonstrated downright contempt for its less fortunate citizens, that will have disastrous real world consequences for many people.  In its wake, the ‘better together’ campaign is left stammering to make a positive case.

Of course, in the run up to the 2014 referendum, they will function as a campaign.  However, I believe this week will mark the moment when the unionists went from playing offence to defence.  They will not recover.

This should not be a reason for complacency within the ‘Yes’ campaign.  All in favour of independence must continue to talk to their neighbours and the undecided to convince them that the bedroom tax is exactly why Scotland needs independence.  This issue marks the beginning of the end for the better together campaign, precisely because it amply demonstrates that they are not.  Even the name of the campaign is now patently inaccurate.

This idea that these cuts to welfare will ‘make work pay’ and get the unemployed, destitute, and disabled to work is a dangerous fallacy.  Ham-handed Tory social engineering has failed over the last 30 years to help the most destitute, because it is not designed to do so.

There is no better argument for independence than the opportunity to chart a course away from the slide towards neo-Dickensianism.  The ‘Yes’ campaign must seize this opportunity and not let go.

Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission and an Associate Professor of US Civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France. He also teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.