Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Did you hear that George woz 'ere?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Second Lord of the Treasury, the Right Honourable George Osborne, MP, visited Scotland today to tell us how grateful we should be.

He said we could be £2,000 better off if we voted ‘no’ next year.  That’s after 30 years, of course, and it’s not £2,000 each; it’s £2,000 per household so a family of four get £500 each in three decades’ time.  His news release says “Research in the paper concludes that remaining part of the borderless United Kingdom could boost real incomes in Scotland by as much as 4 per cent after 30 years, equivalent to £5 billion in 2012 prices or £2000 per household, compared to the outlook if Scotland were to become independent.”

I’m tempted to ask why the last 306 years in the borderless United Kingdom haven’t had that effect but let’s leave that aside accept the figures at face value, for now, and look at it a bit more deeply.  We know that the UK is already a very unequal state where the poor are getting poorer while the very rich are getting richer and that £2,000 is an average so perhaps we can extrapolate that the very rich get £5,000 richer and the poor get poorer – or whatever factor you want to use; we’re talking about 30 years away and George can’t even predict his own borrowing requirement for the rest of the year.

Tell you what, though, I think that the total value of our nation’s wealth isn’t as important as what we want to do with it so while George is cutting budgets all over the place I’m not filled with any great hope.  While the Bedroom Tax (invented by Labour as the Local Housing Allowance for people in private rented accommodation and applied to social housing with great gusto by the Tories) is resulting in disabled people being turfed out of houses that have been modified for them or they’re being told to take in a lodger or get on their bikes and look for work I couldn’t give a stuff whether I’ll have a few extra quid in my pocket many years from now.  I’ll quite happily give up that possible two grand for the right of an independent Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to abolish the bedroom tax, get rid of nuclear weapons, keep free education and an NHS free at the point of delivery and maybe, just maybe, find a way to tax those multinational companies who are making profits here.

It’s not how much we’ve got, it’s what we do with what we’ve got that’s important.

I don’t expect George to care much about people who are losing their homes, people who are at the end of their tether with worry, people who are just trying to survive; he doesn’t understand them.  Son of a baronet and from a wealthy family he was educated at private schools, joined the Bullingdon Club at Oxford, farted around for a year after university and eased into working for the Conservative Party.  Elected to a safe Tory seat in 2001, he joined the Shadow Cabinet and pitched into life as Chancellor after Labour’s confused fall from grace in 2010.  His personal wealth is estimated at around £4 million (I don’t suppose an extra couple of grand will be all that important to him).

I don’t know what property he owns, nor do I really care, but he did have to repay some expenses he’d claimed on mortgages after flipping his family home and, erm, some he’d overclaimed on chauffeur’s expenses – well, we all know how hard it is to get your chauffeur bill right.  George has a tied flat in a nice part of London that comes with his job and a mansion in Buckinghamshire that also comes with the job.  That’s not why I think he doesn’t care – I’ve met some rich people who had some understanding of what it must be like to be in need – it’s because he seems so cold and his actions in Government have shown a coldness beyond being out of touch.

He appears to see people as an expense.  Not a necessary expense; an expense he can do away with.  He seems to think he can cut any support that Government provides them and all will be well.  I’m not even sure he sees the people, perhaps it’s just the numbers on the paper he sees.  So when he comes to Scotland to tell us how well we’re doing out of the UK I hope no-one will find it rude if I don’t believe him.

Not only did he tell us that we’d be better off in 30 years if we just trusted him and his pals to look after our affairs, he told us our trade will collapse when we vote for independence.  I’ve got some issues with that, too.  One of the Scottish Government SPADs, Liz Lloyd, pointed out on twitter that there was a major flaw in his trade analysis – on page 118, section C.4 it says that the paper “is likely to overestimate the effect of the creation of a border between Scotland and the rest of the UK especially in the short term.”  So not only is it a guess but it’s a guess that George knows is garbage.

I’ve got something else for him to consider – a lot of Scotland’s wealth creation comes from things that can’t be moved elsewhere; our oil and gas, our scenery (tourism), our seafood (world class and sold around the world), and whisky.  That’s something that can’t be said of much of the rest of the UK’s wealth creation – especially if George’s pals get their way – and Scotland has a lot more to offer as well.  We’re well able to take care of ourselves.

Something else about George’s assertion that we shouldn’t have a border between us and a partner that we trade a lot with just doesn’t make sense.  Is he suggesting we shouldn’t have a border between us and the US?  Between us and China?  Between us and India?  The EU doesn’t have trade borders so the border effect won’t exist even if there had been a chance of it happening – unless, of course, the UK is leaving the EU sometime soon and George is thinking of flinging up trade barriers (because that’s always brought good results).

Let’s come back to what’s important, though, and that isn’t how much pocket money London thinks Scotland deserves; it’s what kind of country we want Scotland to be.  A nation that thinks its way into kindness and relative equality or a nation that disregards its own soul for the sake of private greed?

The referendum isn’t a choice between the status quo and independence because the status quo is being dismantled in front of us.  It’s a choice between the light of a nation moving forward and deciding its own future or staying in the dark and watching the shadows lengthen.  With the loyal opposition in Westminster parroting the lines trotted out by the UK Government there’s no prospect of a change in attitude coming, either.  The UK is heading down a path which it will find it increasingly difficult to turn around on.

Two grand in thirty years George?  No thanks.  Even if decency was for sale it wouldn’t come that cheaply.  The referendum is in just over a year’s time – I wish we could do it more quickly.  This is a wealthy nation and it’s about time we put that wealth to use for the people who live here, building a welfare state fit for the people who use it (that’s all of us), building a state we can respect, opening up opportunities for employment, business growth and advancement while remembering that some people can’t grab those opportunities.

We can build a new democracy in this ancient nation and forge a new future.

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