Sunday, 27 April 2014

If Scots Choose Labour Rather Than Independence, They Could Be In Line For Another Kicking

The recent poll by ICM showed that if Scots thought the Conservatives would win a majority at the UK General Election in May 2015, 41% would vote Yes in the Independence Referendum in September 2014, while 42% would vote No. On the other hand, if Scots thought that Labour would win the rUK General Election in 2015, the number who would vote Yes in the September 2014 Referendum would fall to 36%, while 44% would vote No. In other words, although the gap between those who will vote Yes in September and those who will vote No, is continuing to get narrower, month by month, there is still a majority of Scots who would still prefer a Labour Government in Westminster to an independent Scotland. The likelihood that in an independent Scotland, there would be a greater chance of having a Labour Government more often, does not seem to have entered the minds of those Scots who prefer Labour in Westminster to independence. However, that the possibility there may be a Tory Government in Westminster is enough to persuade a sizeable number of Labour supporters to choose independence, suggests that that part of Labour's support is relatively soft and moveable.

That was not always the case, as with the possible exception of Wales, no part of the UK has shown more loyalty to the Labour Party than Scotland. That is hardly surprising, given that the Labour Party was founded by two Scots, Robert Cunningham Graham and Keir Hardie, although Hardie's early political activity was with the Liberal Party and the trade union movement, and his Parliamentary career was spent representing an English constituency. Despite the loyalty Scots have given to the Labour Party, particularly since the end of World War II since which time the popular vote has never dropped below one million, the loyalty has never been returned, even when Labour formed the government in the UK parliament. In those years when Labour took both the majority of the popular vote and the parliamentary seats in Scotland, but the Conservatives won the UK General Election, Labour's strength in Scotland was largely wasted. Labour's Scottish MPs were aptly named "The Feeble Fifty" in 1987.

There is no doubt the Atlee Government after World War II, established a system of state responsibility which improved the lives of working people, out of all recognition to their lives in the aftermath of World War I. The establishment of the Welfare State and the National Health Service is a permanent monument to the commitment of the Labour Party politicians of that era, to the betterment of the working class but what has followed, has been a pale imitation. The Blair/Brown era of New Labour, may have won three general elections but it was on a platform that was a continuation of the Thatcher years, reflecting the growing divide between general attitudes in Scotland and the rUK, particularly London and the South East of England. The nationalisation programme of the Atlee Government may be a thing of the past, with the exception of the NHS, but privatisation, particularly of the rail system, has been anything but successful and the coal and steel industries have all but disappeared completely.

The questions Scots Labour supporters have to ask themselves are, has their loyalty to Labour over the years been repaid, despite the leading role played by a succession of Scottish government ministers, particularly during the Blair years and, has Scotland managed to even keep pace with development in other parts of the UK, as the traditional industries on which the country depended, disappeared as a consequence of a mixture of deliberate government policy and foreign competition? The answer has to be a resounding "No" to both questions. For Scotland to benefit in proportion to the loyalty it showed to Labour, would suggest that other parts of the UK would be denied whatever limited benefits were available. That has never been the case and over the past forty years, despite the evident needs of the Central Belt of Scotland, Labour policies have been little different from those of the Conservatives, in terms of government spending and more recently, cuts in spending.

Perhaps the biggest betrayal of Scottish Labour supporters, has been the denial of the benefits that could have come from the discovery of oil. Labour governments were just as guilty as Conservative ones, of lying to the Scottish people about the amount of revenues oil brought to the Treasury. They were also just as guilty of using those revenues to help to rebuild industry in other parts of the UK, while little was done to ameliorate the effects of the run down of Scottish industry. Callaghan when he was Prime Minister stated that oil revenues would reach "around £4bn by 1980s" when in fact, revenues in 1985 reached £12bn. The McCrone report of 1974, showed that an independent Scotland would be one of the richest in the world, therefore that information was deliberately hidden from the Scottish people for over thirty years, something only recently admitted by Dennis Healey, "for fear of aiding nationalism".

Defence spending has figured largely in the debate on the referendum, with threats to Scottish jobs on the Clyde being held up as the first casualty of independence. At the same time, Scots are told that any attempt to get rid of Trident will bring total isolation from "the world", as well as the wrath of our NATO allies down on our heads. Blair was Prime Minister of the UK between 1997 and 2007 and there was a reduction of 10,500 defence jobs in Scotland, with a total underspend of in excess of £5.6 billion in Scotland. We can only imagine what could have been created if that "underspend" had been used to create opportunities in education, health or changing the shape of the Scottish economy. During the whole of that period, Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer but one of the most important reforms he initiated was in the field of pensions. It is ironic that he recently warned Scots against independence on the grounds that an independent Scotland could not afford the pension liabilities to which it would fall heir. This is particularly galling, given that the liabilities would have been greatly reduced, had his reforms not destroyed the pensions industry in the UK, by removing the tax benefits to pension funds in his very first budget. It is now estimated that that reform alone, has stripped over £115 billion from pension funds since 1997 and wiping out the vast majority of final salary schemes in the UK. It is further estimated that the total figure lost to retirement funds is closer to £ 250 billion, when the potential growth and re-investment of those funds, are considered.

Brown's reforms in the banking and financial services industry were also responsible for the collapse of the banking system in the UK and the recent crisis. Apologists are quick to argue it was a "world crisis" which is untrue and in Brown's Mansion House speech of 2007, after having been Chancellor for longer than any other holder of the office, he had this to say to the financial services industry, "I congratulate you on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London. I believe it will be said of this age, the first decade of the 21st century, that out of the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution, a new world order was created." In 2004, in the same Mansion House speech, he had told the same audience of financial high flyers and power brokers, "In budget after budget, I want to do even more to encourage the risk takers." We now know who those risk takers were and the impact their risk taking  has had on the economy. It is a far cry from Labour's alleged commitment to the under-priveleged.

West Central Scotland has been one of the most loyal parts of the UK to Labour, but has it benefited in any way from this commitment? In a recent blog "Poverty - The Curse of Scotland", I outlined the extent of poverty  that still exists in Scotland and how little things have changed in many parts. In the recent TV programme which looked at the life and career of Margo McDonald, she spoke of being confronted by a London journalist when she contested Govan in November 1973. The journalist suggested that Scots were being selfish by claiming the oil was Scots, to which Margo said, "Come with me and within five minutes of this office, I will show you conditions of poverty and then you can tell me if we are being selfish." I could still show you those areas forty one years, several Labour governments and countless Labour councillors, after Margo first spoke of them. Now that the modern Labour Party in Scotland has thrown its weight behind the planned Tory reforms to public spending and has even declared war on the "something for nothing society", Scots would be foolish indeed to place their faith in Labour.

We live in a country where there is not a main street in any town which does not have its share of charity shops, where people can shop for second hand clothes. There is even a hierarchy of shops, with those which cater for the "better off" and style conscious. It is a trend which means it is no longer any kind of stigma to say one shops in a charity shop for clothes. It is one thing however, to be "trendy" by frequenting charity shops to buy designer labels second hand; it is quite another to be forced to buy second hand food in the growing number of food banks, now frequented regularly by an estimated 90,000 Scots. If Scots continue to choose Labour, in the hope they may form a government at Westminster, in place of independence and the certainty they will get the government that a majority of Scots actually vote for, they will undoubtedly get the kind of kicking they have been experiencing for the past fifty years and more. The uncomfortable truth of the matter is, there is a possibility Labour will be doing the kicking, just as they have done in the past.

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