Tuesday 28 December 2010

Painting an election picture

I thought that the die for the coming election had been all but set, with the debate ranged wide and narrow about SNP competence in Government versus Labour's distinct unfitness for office; about SNP progressive politics putting Scotland first versus Labour's greet that they're "no in poo'er enny mair"; Labour's lack of any kind of policy platform from which to launch their vision of a Scotland better than it is versus the SNP's eagerness to continue the job that's started, barrel Scotland along the road of progressive and far-sighted politics that are designed to make this a more socially just and inclusive Scotland and which will allow for greater equality and a far greater range of social mobility.  I thought it was set, but both Iain Gray and Danny Alexander have set out to prove me wrong.

Iain Gray, if I may resort to the vernacular, spat the dummy in a weekend interview, failing to see that personal invective is neither an eloquent nor an adequate response to the charge that he simply is not capable of taking power and running Scotland well.  He appears to fail to understand that the charge is not that he will not take an interesting photocall (the politician who doesn't take such photocalls either disdains the electorate or does not understand public politics), but that the charge is that he is not and will not be in a position of leadership even within his own party and that this indicates a failure of leadership, a tragic and fatal flaw in his political career - he will not need to echo Sherman, he is playing Coriolanus within his own party and will fall at the hands of his new allies having abandoned his old allies in that nest of vipers.  The appropriate response to his immature outburst, I thought, was dignified silence but I think that the Worrier of the Lallands Peat may have bested me with an appropriate festive ditty.

It is Danny Alexander, though, whose attitude is most rank and malodorous.  While there is a political debate on whether the cuts being imposed by the current Tory/Lib Government are, as he argues, "common-sense" and "unavoidable" (and that debate is raging at present) or even whether the cuts imposed by the previous Labour Government of roughly two-thirds the size of these were "common-sense" and "unavoidable", surely there is no-one who could possibly imagine that they are "progressive" as that word is used in politics nor that they can in any way be described as "civilised"?  To read Mr Alexander's quotes in this article, as he glibly attributes the pains of poverty to losing control of macrofiscal policy and skites blithely by the effects of the spending cuts on people's jobs and public services with the reassurance that he "was aware" of them, is to realise that he lacks any degree of empathy with the people facing this from the wrong end of his barrel.  It's not clear whether he knows what progressive politics consists of nor whether he has any idea, it's the fact he doesn't care; he is, to borrow an old turn of phrase, 'stepping over the homeless on the way to the opera'.  I don't think people mind the cuts as much as they despise the attitude with which they are being handed down, they don't object to the economic policies so much as they object to the social policies and the social engineering behind those economic policies.  They still object to the cuts but they don't mind them as much as they object to the expectoration that comes with them and the suspicion that micturition will follow it.

I saw an interview with John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue magazine, this morning on BBC Breakfast where he was talking about radical reform of the welfare state.  He was saying that the welfare state is of no use if it doesn't make benefit recipients stronger and more able to fend for themselves, that its aim appears to be as much and perhaps more about keeping the poor down than about alleviating poverty.  It was an interesting and thought-provoking item but one visualisation he used struck me as particularly apt when thinking about the policies of the current UK Government and the one which immediately preceded it.  I'm paraphrasing but fairly accurately - "if the safety net is made of concrete you're finished when you hit it".

We may live in interesting times but I hope we avoid times of barbarous government.  We face an election next year where the Lib Dems are the axemen of the current Tory UK Government whose policies are anything but progressive or civilised and who are only a different hue of the previous Labour Government whose shadows still hang in the air.  In Scotland Labour feigns anger for whatever was in the morning paper or was overheard on the morning bus; turning to rattle the cages of sections of the electorate it believes belongs to it with faux-left rhetoric while it is happy to skip hand-in-hand with the two coalition partners when modesty suits in order to attempt to inflict party political defeats on the SNP Scottish Government.  In their unholy trinity it seems we can all too often hear them cry havoc and let slip their dogs of war.  I thought the land was laid for the coming election but Labour and the Lib Dems seem intent on divesting themselves of as many opportunities as possible, it may be that this election will come down to the pitched battle and the ideological clash between those in Government in Edinburgh and those in Government in London - and all for the command of the future direction of politics in Scotland.  These barricades will be hard to defend, the structure of the Parliamentary and Governmental power under devolution does not contain the strength to protect Scotland, but it will be the style and manner of our victory and the size of our winning margin that determines for us as the SNP, and for us as the people of Scotland, which direction we must take next.

Monday 20 December 2010

Tuition fees

A thought, a thought ...

If you consider Further and Higher Education to be public services then why is that some people think that students, almost uniquely, should pay an additional tax for receiving that service?  If you have the need to call for the assistance of a constable you would not expect to find upon receipt of your next payslip that you were paying more tax.  If you have the misfortune to require hospital attention you would be surprised to be landed with a bill as you were sent home to recuperate (leaving aside, for the moment, those PFI monsters which charge for access to a television, for parking, and for anything else they can get away with - thus 'almost uniquely).  Walking home of an evening using the pavement and the streetlights does not incur an additional charge.  Having snow cleared from your path by serving soldiers brought from barracks for the purpose does not leave you with a burden of debt to repay.  Using our public libraries will not bankrupt you.  Sending children to school does not incur result in a higher rate of tax for decades after they leave.

Why should students be singled out?  They have higher earnings over their lifetimes?  They'll pay more tax in a progressive system (actually, they'd pay more tax in a flat rate system as well, but I prefer the idea of progressive taxation, it seems fairer).  Others don't get the benefit of that education?  Yes we do - in the form of doctors, engineers of all kinds, teachers, plumbers, electricians, nurses, town planners (give them a wee break), geologists (they find things that we need, you know), philosophers, and even lawyers - although universities do also produce economists, there's a fly in every ointment.

Of course, there's always the argument that Further and Higher Education don't constitute public services but in that case why do we give them any public money at all?  Tuition fees have no place in public education and we should pay for Further and Higher Education out of general taxation because they're part of our civilisation and tax is the price we pay for civilisation.  You need a tax system which is fair and raises enough money of course - you wouldn't want to try to run a country on a block grant - and you'd need to be prepared to invest for years before you saw the benefits, but that's OK, the sooner you start the sooner you benefit.