By Colin Fox
The 1.2 per cent growth in the UK economy heralded by Tory Chancellor George Osborne in his ‘Autumn Statement’ is unlikely to provide much relief for working people any time soon.
That was the stark message from the Office for Budget Responsibility at New Year. Their report on the state of the UK economy pointed out, among other things, that the purchasing power of average wages has fallen by 17 per cent in real terms since 2008 and shows no signs of recovery before 2017.
The average Scots family therefore faces a loss of £61 a week in median earnings compared to 2008 by 2018.
That dreary prospect ought to focus the minds of working class families across Scotland in the run up to September’s Independence Referendum. Having spent the last 5 years stretching household budgets to cover soaring food prices, gas and electricity bills and transport costs they increasingly find they cannot make ends meet without resorting to further borrowing. Even those not yet relying on Wonga, Cash Converters, or Provident Cheques face increased pressure on repayments as wages tumble. Any rise in interest rates for millions of already indebted families could prove disastrous. And yet most economists forecast just such a rise sometime this year.
The OBR report also revealed the number of people in work and in poverty is now greater than the total of the unemployed and retired combined. And to add insult to injury the National Audit Office [NAO] warned households to expect above inflation increases in gas and electricity bills for the next 17 years as energy companies recoup the cost of infrastructure investments from hard pressed customers. This at a time when one in three households in Scotland already suffer the misery of fuel poverty!
For the vast majority of Scots then their economic distress is not over, not by a long way. And with George Osborne also signalling a further £25billion in public spending cuts should the Tories be re-elected in 2015 falling living standards are likely to provide the decisive backdrop to this year’s Scottish Independence Referendum. Nicola Sturgeon and Alistair Darling are agreed on that much at least.
The ongoing debate within the ‘Yes’ camp over whether people are more likely to vote for Independence if the economy is growing rather than declining is more nuanced than any straight correlation might suggest because official figures indicate an upturn in the UK economy whereas the vast majority of people continue to experience a fall in their living standards.
The SNP have long taken the view that an economic upturn is a prerequisite for a ‘Yes’ vote. Others believe poorer economic conditions make it easier for many people to reject the
status quo and the miserable prospects it foreshadows.
Alongside such economic factors determining the outcome of the Referendum stands the prospect of another Tory Government being elected at Westminster in 2015. And it is clear Cameron and Osborne will lay claims to have successfully steered the UK economy out of ‘Labours disastrous recession’. So we can expect that message to be played over and over by Tory spin-doctors throughout the year ahead.
All the evidence clearly shows that support for Independence will grow if another Tory Government seems likely. The same progress can be expected if, as seems likely, UKIP emerges with the largest overall share of the European elections vote in England.
With support for ‘Yes’ strongest amongst the working class and the poorest the Scottish Socialist Party clearly has a crucial role to play in convincing more of them they will be economically, socially and politically better off with Independence.
Ruling out another Tory Government is a powerful reason why working class people should vote ‘Yes’.
So the key question is how do we convince and mobilise those as yet undecided working class Scots to vote ‘Yes’?
Promising better jobs with improved pay and conditions, trade union membership, greater protection and public ownership of services like the Royal Mail is clearly one part of the answer for sure. The other part needs to make clear that working people like us get nothing without struggling for it. We need to persuade them therefore not only to vote ‘Yes’ but also to get involved in the Independence campaign itself to help shape the kind of Independent Scotland that emerges from that positive result.
Together with the Radical Independence Campaign and the ‘Yes’ side the SSP must fully appreciate that of the many tasks confronting us in the next 8 months uppermost is inspiring, energising and mobilising the Scottish working class behind our banner. That is the key to our victory in September.
Courtesy of The Scottish Socialist Voice