A crowd of activists pointing out that the UKIP leader is a bawbag does not a national sentiment make.
In fact, with the good folks at Hope not Hate refocussing their ire from the scattered BNP onto its besuited twin, I imagine that Nige is soon going to have to contend with more crowds expressing strong feelings about the presence in their towns of this travelling salesman for the politics of divide and rule.
History may well remember the incident at the Cannon’s Gait not so much as an instructive moment in the movement for Scottish independence, but more as the time when Britain’s activist left started to more actively confront UKIP. That’s certainly what my English, no voting friends who were on that particular protest will be hoping.
But if the moment at the Cannon’s Gait casts little light on a difference between Scotland and England, that’s because it’s a difference which was already crystal clear.
UKIP is not an English only phenomenon. They have an MEP from Wales, and a member of the Northern Irish Assembly (though, admittedly one who defected from the UUP). It’s more accurate to say that they are specifically a not-Scottish phenomenon. And so it’s interesting to ask why.
And if we’re going to do that, then we might as well start with the obvious answer, and work backwards. You can’t move in punditry over the last few days for people commenting that the SNP are the Scottish equivalent – both want independence from something, so they *must* be the same. On the one hand, this is a level of political analysis about as moronic as thinking you’ll solve the economic crisis by sawing your own foot off.
The SNP is an explicitly centre left and liberal party. Their minister with responsibility for immigration – Humza Yusaf – went on telly yesterday to call for more immigration. They are pro-EU and against privatisation.
Their MEPs sit in the same group in the European Parliament as the Greens, and their MPs have basically the same voting record as the most rebellious socialists in the Labour party. They are, of course, still filthy capitalists, and there are many good reasons I’m not a member. But they aren’t anything like as absurdly right wing as New Labour, never mind the Tories. A comparison with UKIP is a joke.
But, on the other hand, I think there is a very different truth to the analogy. The traditional left analysis of far right parties is that they attract the support of the working class when the working class doesn’t have an organised left alternative. And what we seem to have seen across the UK in recent years is this analysis playing out before us.
There is a widespread anger at a generation of failed politicians. In Scotland, the SNP have been successful in expressing that anger – with the credibility which comes from the position of someone outside the Westminster cesspit. They do so from a clear left of centre perspective.
In England, no one on the left has managed to step into that gap. And so UKIP, the angriest party with regular access to the telly, manages to take its place. When the SNP take that anger, they channel it into an identity forged around welcoming people, internationalism and a belief in public services and community. UKIP take the anger, and channel it into a sewer of hatred.
But what this tells those of us who live in England is something important. We desperately need a party of the left, which is far enough from the establishment to be righteously indignant with it, but big enough to be heard: a party which can attempt to mimic the success of the SNP in Scotland.
And what I think this tells us more generally is important too. The basic argument – that the best way to resist the rise of a hard right is not by pandering to it, but with an organised left – seems to hold true.
(Except where constitutions are involved)
As recent debate about benefits in the UK has demonstrated, there is no agreement on what constitutes fairness or fair distribution in the UK. Now it seems, even the obligation to distribute via taxes is up for debate. In the UK, as there is no legal definition of ‘fairness’, what ‘fairness’ means is a constant mystery: For some it means the same treatment for all, for others it means addressing disadvantage by treating some differently in order to attain a level playing field, for many it means something in between, for others it means something more mysterious. This manifests in competing currents of policy and legislation emanating from a bipolar government. Should a motion be successful in Parliament, there is little for which Parliament cannot legislate. This is partly due to the unwritten nature of the British constitution.
Most societies have a written constitution which is the highest law in the land, which cannot be easily changed and which places limits on what government can do. Interpreting and defining constitutions can be tricky enough even when written in clearest terms, but in the UK where the constitution is not written the definition of its contents depends to a greater extent on how it is shaped by those in power. In a democracy, in theory, those in power respond to the demands of society. In the UK however, recent history suggests that when that demand takes the form of a protest it is met with criminalisation rather than policy change. Or when it takes the form of a song? – Censorship.
The 2012 report on democratic processes in the UK from the independent research organisation Democratic Audit showed (promising) marginal increase in democratic participation in 2010 but generally sustained decrease in political participation since the 1970s. Democratic Audit’s report showed a tenfold increase in membership levels since the early 1970s of the largest three such organisations – the National Trust, the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts, – accompanied by a corresponding decrease in membership of the three largest political parties. With dwindling democratic pathways between individuals and the centres of power, it is no wonder that many feel more inclined to support a nature organisation than a political party. Voting is simply not enough. Even if the party you vote for makes it into power, they are not bound by the promises they made in the past.
How then to ensure that access to these activities do not fall prey to a market-led government in this era of austerity? Now, more than ever, communities need to be creative in finding ways to engage in government decision-making, and in some cases that may mean competing with corporations and self-organising for ownership or control of public goods. Lessons can be learnt from a recent campaign in Edinburgh against the closure of council run swimming baths; Leith Waterworld. Despite protest, the facility was closed in early 2012 and a series of closing dates for offers to acquire the pool, either to buy or lease the building, followed.
Yet no offers were received. In August 2012 campaign group Splashback put forward what turned out to be the only bid, but this was rejected on the grounds that it did not represent ‘best value’. They had offered to buy the facility for £1. Splashback were invited to submit a second bid in response to the council’s feedback and therein projected additional revenue to the local area through reopening plus projected savings in public spending through the social value of the facility. In Spring 2013, their final bid was well received by Edinburgh council who considered the “huge community, health and social benefits” which a revitalised Leith Waterworld would bring. The bid will now enter the next feasibility stage.
The Waterworld campaign is just one example of where community engagement has served as the last line of defence in protecting economic, social and cultural rights in the UK. Without constitutional protection of rights, the baseline of common law rights in the UK is limited and does not extend to social and economic rights. Our black-hole of a constitution is why the Human Rights Act was created and, paradoxically, that is why it can be removed. It is why the benefits system can be removed and why people can be made homeless through lack of social housing and why public facilities which serve to support the right to education or an adequate standard of living can be closed overnight. Constitutional safeguards are becoming increasingly significant in the UK and increasingly conspicuous by their absence.
Excerpt from lecture for Dundee Arts Café public event series, April 2013
By Adam Pogonowski
Yet another example of the Tories’ determination to attack the worst off in our society is their proposed reforms to criminal legal aid.
Legal aid has already been removed from civil law areas such as clinical negligence cases, personal injury and divorce. In short, this will leave some individuals unable to access the justice system in order to redress serious harm done to them.
This is worrying. But worse still is Grayling’s proposal to kill off the criminal legal aid system. The current scheme, which is out to ‘consultation’, advocates introducing Price Competitive Tendering for legal aid litigation. The Ministry of Justice’s plans are that there will be roughly five providers of legal aid litigation (solicitors’ services) per legal district (mainly divided by county). Firms will bid to win these contracts; the lowest price offered usually the winning bid.
The effect of this will be to wipe out 1400 of the existing firms of independent, small, local solicitors and see them replaced by large companies, such as (Eddie) Stobart Law (I kid you not) or Tesco Law. These ‘mega solicitors’ will apparently be able to achieve economies of scale , driving costs down, though many barristers and solicitors have questioned how this will be achieved. The proposal decimates the high street solicitor profession, allowing big multinationals to swoop in and swallow up the legal aid market.
If you are a legal aid user in each of the arbitrarily divided areas per county, and you are arrested and need legal representation, you will get no choice as to who your solicitor is. As things currently stand, anyone arrested, legal aid claimant or not, can choose who their legal professional is. Under the Tories’ plans, the poorest in society will have no choice in this regard and they will have to stick with their allocated lawyer, whether they are happy with this or not. Client choice therefore vanishes. In this case, the clients are the poorest in society, those arguably in most need of effective representation.
Things do not get any better. The ‘criminal litigation price competition impact assessment’, at paragraph 13 states:
“Providers will deliver an acceptable level and quality of service.”
It then continues, at paragraph 23:
“Client choice may in certain circumstances […] give an incentive to provide a legal aid service of a level of quality above the acceptable level specified […] as firms effectively compete on quality rather than price. The removal of choice may reduce the extent to which firms offer services above acceptable levels.”
Essentially, the Ministry of Justice and Grayling want a lower level of quality for the financially deprived ‘accused’ in our society. At the moment, the quality offered surpasses ‘acceptable’. To the Tories, this has to be discontinued. This is deeply unjust. The Tories are continuing their drive to hit the most vulnerable hardest, creating ever-deeper divisions in the country.
The criminal legal aid ‘reforms’ are just another arm of neo-liberal economics being played out by politicians who care little for the socially and economically disadvantaged and who care a lot about enriching powerful businesses. Removing client choice of lawyer, destroying small, local firms of solicitors (and all the while raising unemployment figures) and lowering quality of service, will prove more costly than the savings Grayling is trying to secure. At the same time, it will severely damage access to justice for all, a fundamental principle for any fair society. A two-tier justice system will be created.
We need to ensure we fight these proposals and make them known to the public. Please also sign this petition. I am not a great fan of petitions for their own sake, but this petition is to ensure Parliament gets to debate these reforms. As things stand, Grayling is trying to push them through with secondary legislation, and Parliament will not get a chance to scrutinise the proposals that will bring the legal aid component of the criminal justice system to its knees.
Last Thursday’s local elections covered all 27 of the English counties, in eight unitary authorities and one Welsh authority, as well as two mayoral elections in Doncaster and North Tyneside. The results of these elections in 2009 were overwhelmingly Conservative dominated, but with mounting Con-Dem unpopularity and a huge surge in UKIP support, the local elections have made the political headlines for the past week.
On Question Time the week before the election representatives from the Conservatives, the Greens, Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP were all given the opportunity to set out their stall and compete for people’s votes in the local elections. Out of all of them, it was UKIP’s Farage who stuck in the mind, his face reddening from pink to puce as he elucidated on his party’s populist policies. This included a spur-of-the-moment promise to cut taxes, announcing a change in party policy away from an eye-wateringly regressive flat rate system of taxation towards a low-rate banded system (which even the most skilful of spin doctors would struggle to describe as ‘progressive’).
What was striking wasn’t his unapologetically Thatcherite agenda, or for that matter his on-air policy U-turn. What was notable was the absolute unwillingness of the others on the panel – when challenging Farage to balance the budget whilst simultaneously cutting tax – to grasp the nettle of using tax rises as a possible alternative to increased borrowing or yet more austerity. The possibility of increasing taxation has become so unpalatable to many that it is virtual political suicide to suggest it might be the right thing to do. However the left must not shy away from pushing for a more progressive tax agenda that takes more from the rich, takes far less from the poor and provides for all.
As is often the case, the difficulty lies in selling this idea to the public. Ever since Thatcher donned the mantle of Mrs Beeton and compared running a nation’s economy to managing a household budget, received wisdom has held that the right’s greatest strength is its ability to use analogies and narratives that are easy to relate to in order to spin their policies. Meanwhile the left falls to regurgitating tedious facts and figures like a boring geography teacher. And so what follows can be seen as an attempt to forge a narrative justifying higher taxes in terms which reach beyond the traditional rhetoric of the left, and may (just) chime with those same patriotic conservatives Farage is hoping to sway away from the Tories today.
While confidence in government may be at an all time low, “Brand Britain” is currently riding high. Why people are enamoured of the nation is subject to as many different interpretations as there are people living here today. For some it might be our institutions and values: the beloved NHS, the BBC, the welfare state, our tolerance towards difference. For others it could just be cricket on the village green, or fish and chips and warm ale. For me, it has to be whisky, haggis, neeps and tatties, the eightsome reel and British jazz. For a period in the 1990s, the British even managed to relax their stiff upper lips, shed the veneer of unemotional stoicism, and learned to outwardly love themselves under the guise of ‘Cool Britannia’. As demonstrated by the recent wave of national confidence engendered by the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, this overarching sense of pride in Britain has not yet vanished entirely into a recessionary black-hole.
I say this not to indulge in triumphalism, indeed as a Scot I feel alien from much of patriotism which infects public discourse. But I can see that, for all its many failings, life in Britain remains a life of relative privilege. It is a life that millions of people across the globe aspire to lead, hoping to come for a life free from persecution, war, poverty and disease. In many parts of the world – despite our illegal wars and neo-imperialistic tendencies – all things British still shine with an enviable lustre. The old cliché of a British accent abroad eliciting giggles of desire from women and gasps of envy from men is perhaps not too far from the truth (quite what they make of my Scottish burr and offal chomping tendencies is harder to say).
Great Britain is what business studies students call a ‘value added brand’ and is viewed internationally as a mark of quality. Not only do people want to live here, but they want to do business with us too. In a recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s consumer affairs programme, You and Yours, a representative from the China Britain Business Council discussed the appeal British-made products hold for Chinese consumers, who are willing to pay “double or triple the price” for luxury British branded goods.
You expect to pay top dollar when you buy a luxury brand, be it a Rolls Royce car or a Rolex watch, an Apple computer or an Armani suit. And so it’s only right that, if it’s within your means, you should expect to pay a premium rate to live in a top-notch country. Indeed it’s the very fact that we pay taxes that allows Britain to go on being top-notch. Tax revenue allows us to construct a socially cohesive country which is desirable to live in, not only providing a safety net for the disadvantaged, but a host of benefits for the comfortably-off as well.
Similarly, businesses must accept that when they operate in Britain they are tapping into a premium market – the sixth largest economy in the world – and for that privilege they ought to pay more. And we must ensure that they actually do pay their taxes. Whichever way corporations dress up tax avoidance, their behaviour is the moral equivalent of going to a Michelin starred restaurant, eating a four course meal with a vintage bottle of fizz, before scrambling out the back door without paying the bill; they take the good stuff and don’t give anything in return. To those who claim that higher taxes would spark a mass exodus (an outcome that doesn’t seem particularly plausible in the first place), the flippant, but reasonable, response is that those who want to leave simply don’t know high quality when they’re slap bang in the middle of it.
We must not undervalue our worth as a country and knowingly undersell ourselves. It is perfectly reasonable to ask people to pay a tax rate that reflects the country they want to live in, and perfectly reasonable to ask businesses to pay a tax rate that reflects the market they operate within. It’s time to kill the myth that a low tax economy can produce quality for more than the very few.
In the next few years we shall either get that effective Socialist party that we need, or we shall not get it. If we do not get it, then Fascism is coming; probably a slimy Anglicized form of Fascism, with cultured policemen instead of Nazi gorillas and the lion and the unicorn instead of the swastika.”
George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937
On Friday, at the Oxfordshire election count, I asked a fresh faced UKIP member “how does a young person become a Fascist?”. That was fun. It is easy to hate them. It’s bonding to pour venom over our enemies. But it does nothing to help us understand the rise of this Anglicised form of Fascism.
If we are to get our heads round it, then it is useful to go back to the quote above, and the context in which it was written. The paragraph comes from Orwell’s book The Road to Wigan Pier – written after the forces of darkness had extended across Germany and Italy, but before he himself showed up in an office in Catalonia and declared ‘I’m here to fight fascism’.
It is as true today as it was then. UKIP itself is, of course, less a firmly fascist party and more a discordant rabble. It’s voters are by no means all racist, and its representatives range from those motivated by bigotry to those who see it as a useful tool to defend their wealth.
But the point isn’t who they are. The point is that, the more they persuade people that immigrants, not capitalists, are responsible for low wages and unemployment, the darker, colder and nastier our country becomes – the closer we tilt towards fascism… a slimy, Anglicised form of fascism.
And as Orwell recognised, Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberals will be useless in combating them. Because they are the parties of the status quo, and it is the status quo which needs to change, with which people are enraged. As UKIP tip the boat to starboard, these parties roll with the tilt until we all capsize.
The solution is that we need a party which explains, in clear terms, why wages are low, why there are no jobs, why there is a housing crisis – a party which can credibly do so from outside the establishment, a party which is steadfast in its commitment that they shall not pass.
For the Green Party, we have a choice. We can become this party – the effective Socialist party that Orwell demanded – or we can become irrelevant.
Of course, there are many socialisms, and the Road to Wigan Pier was written before Nineteen Eighty Four. Greens must learn the lessons of the 20th century, and accept that progressive movements today aren’t the democratic centralists. That way lies disempowerment and disenfranchisement and, ultimately, is at the core of the failure of the Labour party. Successful left movements are about decentralism and mass empowerment,
But that doesn’t change the point. People are, more than for a long time, angry with the establishment. And right now, that anger is being captured by the elite, and channeled at those who least deserve it. Whilst many Labour members will do great work in the coming struggle, their leadership have no place in the fight against an establishment of which they are a key pillar.
Unless we, Greens, can, along with a broad movement, organise ourselves against the establishment and for the people, the boat will one day capsize. Our country will become a colder, darker place. If you’re not a member yet, we’re going to need all the help we can get. Join this fight today.
It’s fair to say the outrage against those celebrating Thatcher’s death has been simultaneously immense, orchestrated, and unsurprising. Much of it centres on the fact that, as an article in last week’s ‘i’ newspaper stated, ‘the majority of those celebrating…were not old enough to remember the Iron Lady’s reign’. But regardless of the ethics of grave-dancing, why should young people be excluded from having opinions on the rule of one of the most influential – and arguably devastating – politicians of the 20th century?
We live in a world moulded by Thatcherism – the individualist logic of self-interest, manifesting itself politically as a programme of privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation. The impact of Thatcher on young people today can’t be underestimated.
I’ll start with the most obvious. Trade union membership. Working people – including young people – in 1979 were organised. 13.5 million Brits were union members. Upon her exit, that had shrunk to 8.5 million after the whole-scale privatisation of utilities, and the crushing of the (largely Northern) miners and dockers. Now, just a quarter of workers are in trade unions – and just a tenth of 16-24 year olds. It’s no surprise then, that young people are now probably the most systematically exploited demographic in Britain, working zero-hours contracts to be fired on a whim. Our generation is precarious, teetering from one short-term job to the next – when we can find work.
Thatcher ushered in the era of mass unemployment. The ending of the social democratic consensus brought with it the long dole queues, which despite being by no means unknown in pre-Thatcher years, became accepted and normalised. At the peak of Labour’s so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’, unemployment was at 1.1m – a figure we could only dream of now. Under Thatcher it doubled to peak at over 3m. Who does unemployment hit the hardest? Those with least experience, in most likelihood – the young. Around a million young people are now unemployed – around the same as the total ‘Winter of Discontent’ figure. You read that right. Thanks, Thatcherism.
Of course, despite our very serious worries as uni students, they are trivial compared to some of our generation. Those not wishing – or unable – to go to university are plagued by the decimation of manufacturing which used to provide stable and reliable employment to working-class kids after school. Going from around 18% of the economy in 1979 to less than 10% today, the systematic destruction of our manufacturing base to undermine the unions has led to a crisis of youth unemployment, especially for those not expecting to go into higher education.
It’s in housing that young people are currently hurting the most, were there to be a rather macabre scale of modern miseries. The property obsession Thatcherism stimulated culminated in her deregulation of the mortgage market – a partial cause of both the unsustainable property bubble of the 2000s and the 2008 financial crash. It also led to unfulfilled aspirations. 88% of people today aged 18 to 30 still say they want to own their own home in the next 10 years. Most of these know it’s a pipe-dream. And with a massively depleted social housing stock due to the Right to Buy policy, there are no truly affordable homes to fill the gap. Millions are on waiting lists. An IPPR report in 2012 recognised the problem for this generation – ‘housing under-supply – in combination with a number of other social, economic and cultural forces – is having real and substantial effects on the lived experience and future aspirations of young people‘.
These problems are just a few of those faced today by our generation, which were in large part due to, or exacerbated by, the policies of the Thatcher governments of the 80s. Post-Thatcher governments have failed to turn away from a services and finance dominated economy which offer the wonderful polarity of McDonalds – for us – or RBS, for the new elites.
This isn’t to go into the many mental health problems caused by an all-permeating ideology of greed, consumerism and privatised space, where billboards and the media daily sell us more insecurities which can be solved – at a cost, and temporarily – by the latest fad. Young people today are raised on such insecurities, which are added to the list of material worries discussed before.
I think it’s safe to say young people have a better claim than many to criticise her. We live in a world partly of her making. We are acutely hit by increasingly precarious work (when we can get it), increasingly unattainable housing, and by the decline of communities which once offered refuge and comfort when you were in trouble. I won’t say party on, Brixton revelers. I won’t say download ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’. But hold some kind of opinion. We owe that much to the first generation hit by her policies – the miners of Orgreave, the dockers of Liverpool, the pit communities surrounding York. Celebrate her death if you want – but more importantly, get organised. Because this government is carrying out policies Thatcher could only have dreamed of getting away with.
This article first appeared here in The Yorker newspaper.
Yesterday, in her first public speech 7 months after she was appointed as the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller said British culture should be seen as a commodity. Whilst we waited on how she pledged to ‘fight culture’s corner’, she demanded the arts demonstrate its economic impact. Discussing the arts’ economic impact is nothing new; we have been continuously defending its benefits in community, literacy, diversity and social enhancement. What is unsettling in Miller’s speech is that all these are quietly ignored, and what she really wants are hard numbers. Except Miller’s colleague, Arts Minister Ed Vaizey, has already made that case in a keynote speech made just over a month ago on 7th March where he stated that,
Every £1 spent by local authorities on the arts brings in an extra £3.83 of additional funding.
Thanks Ed for the numbers.
Now there is nothing wrong with holding publicly funded arts institutions accountable for where the money is being spent; in fact, it is a must. What is of concern is the way in which Miller has treated Arts Funding as her very own Dragon’s Den. Perhaps she fancies herself as Duncan Bannatyne. Let’s for a moment consider the absurdity of Miller’s demand that ‘arts must make an economic claim’. Now replace the word ‘arts’ with something entirely immeasurable in monetary terms – ‘Love must make an economic claim’. No, ‘love’ does not receive government funding, I understand, but what I am trying to show is treating ‘love’ as a mere transaction devalues the very sense of it. The same can be said of the arts.
To move away from the abstract, Radio 4 pointed out that no commercial producers wanted to touch theatre shows Warhorse or One Man Two Guvnors; deemed not economically viable. Yet Nick Hytner, artistic director of the subsidised National Theatre, took a risk. There may initially have been a few sharp intakes of breaths, nervous side glances perhaps from the Arts Council, but even they understand that it’s not all about money and you cannot overlook these shows’ commercial success.
They are still playing to sell out houses in the West End, have transferred to Broadway and many incarnations of them are or will be touring nationally and internationally. If I’m not mistaken, a savvy businessperson would call them the cash cows of the National Theatre. Somewhere, in the Dragons’ Den of commercial theatres, Cameron Mackintosh is probably is kicking himself. So much so that another NT masterpiece, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, is now a co-production with a commercial theatre where they also recognise creative potential.
In the play #Aiww The Arrest of Ai Wei Wei, currently playing at Hampstead Theatre until 18th May, whilst being interrogated by his captors on the value of his artwork, actor Benedict Wong as Ai Wei Wei says,
The art is in what happened to those people’s spirits. Their personalities. It is their changing consciousness that interests me.
Art’s anthropological impact is immeasurable and unquantifiable; it engages, challenges status quo and encourages new potentials to be sought from risk taking. Perhaps the speakers at the Oxford Literary Festival say it best:
Miller’s sales pitch has also drawn this statement from Harriet Harman MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary,
If Maria Miller is going to try to convert her Chancellor and Treasury colleagues to the economic value of the arts and creative industries to jobs and growth, she will have our strong backing. Arts are suffering under this Government’s cuts at local as well as central government level and the Government must think again.
But she needs to persuade her Education Secretary as well, that for the sake of all children and the future of arts and creativity in this country, arts must be at the heart of the curriculum.
And she needs to promote the fact that arts and creativity is about much more than the economy: they’re about a sense of identity, of community and the potential of each and every individual.
All the theatre shows I have mentioned employ a huge amount of people in the sector which in itself already tick an economic box, but what of the rest of arts’ impact beyond market forces? It seems that we cannot avoid the cuts but we will continue to produce work by surpassing market economics, because quite frankly, Miss Miller, this (transcript of Maria Miller’s full speech) feels nothing like you are fighting culture’s corner.
George Osborne is in Glasgow today to lecture us on how independence would be a bad idea. This is, he argues, because the rest of the UK wouldn’t allow Scotland to have a say over monetary policy in a shared currency – the pound sterling. His position is that currency unions are not a good thing if they are cross-national. The rest of the UK would therefore have to prevent Scotland from having a say in Sterling-wide monetary policy – what Alex Salmond calls a “currency union”.
This speech was, of course, political not economic in content. Conservatives have a nostalgic and emotional attachment to the Union which requires action. Conservatives also have a direct economic interest in retaining the Union.
But there are some substantive points in this speech and the report to which it refers. It’s important that independence is what Scots want it to be, rather than what the SNP say it will be. The case for a Scottish currency merits more debate and consideration by those with interests beyond those represented in the Fiscal Commission.
I’d like to make three points about Osborne’s speech:
The monetary policy of the United Kingdom already treats Scotland as peripheral
The British economy is heavily weighted towards the financial services sector, and particularly the City of London. The very strong opposition of Osborne to the Financial Transaction Tax (popularly known as the Robin Hood Tax) shows just how in hoc he is to the City of London’s big money.
In 1986 the ‘Big Bang’ removed the regulatory framework keeping the City of London in check. Since then the British economy has become more and more dependent on the revenues raised by the City of London. This has worked in two ways. Firstly the City of London was able to increase the level at which it borrowed, penetrating more markets and making returns through privatisation of utilities and other newly marketised areas of the economy.
Secondly, the creation of a global financial centre in London pushed the value of Sterling up. This is for a number of reasons, including that Sterling becomes a hot currency used to buy stocks, shares and other financial products. This makes it much more difficult to sell other goods abroad as the currency is effectively over-valued. It is for this reason that UK manufacturing went into terminal decline after the Big Bang.
And that’s before you take into account the impact of big money donations from the City of London to the political parties, preventing the Robin Hood Tax and preserving bankers’ bonuses.
So already the monetary policy of the UK is focused on the City of London, not Scotland. Scotland is at best peripheral in decision making about monetary policy. And you can see that policy focus in the UK government’s approach to the great recession. The priority has been to protect big City institutions not the people of the UK. And certainly not the people of Scotland.
Osborne says “if it ain’t broke don’t brake it”, but it’s only true that Sterling “ain’t broke” if your view is that from (or for) the City of London.
Osborne’s attitude towards Scotland’s participation in Sterling shows Westminster’s intent to Scotland
Osborne’s key point is to ask the question “why would 58 million people give away some of their sovereignty to another state?” This reflects the approach of the Westminster government to Scotland. Scotland is “better together” with the rest of the UK only if it does what the Westminster government wants. It’s what most of us would call bullying.
If we really are better together, then surely any of the concessions given by an independent Scotland to retaining elements of the Union should be welcome to unionists like Osborne?
Saying you’re better together with a partner whose approach is to threaten you when you want to assert control over your currency seems a pretty thin argument. It’s clear from his stance that what Osborne is seeking to do is continue Westminster control over Scotland. The case that the rest of the UK would be disadvantaged by a “currency union” is particularly weak. It seems to amount simply to a threat to do damage to an independent Scotland in a fit of spite.
His argument that currency unions are a bad thing across nations applies within nations where the national economy is differentiated. Having a currency set up for financial services has destroyed manufacturing industry throughout the UK to benefit London. That’s without any national borders.
The substantial arguments about a “currency union” are those about the negative impacts on Scotland. But those are Scotland’s concern, not those of the rest of the UK.
This bullying attitude reflect poorly on those who claim that Scotland is better off as part of the Union. It tends to reinforce the feeling that Scotland only gets attention when it tries to act in its own interests.
A Scottish currency is the logical outcome of Scottish independence
There are some substantive arguments in the report. These relate to the true nature of Scottish sovereignty as part of a “currency union.” And for this reason an independent Scottish currency bears further examination.
An independent currency would avoid the problems caused by Sterling’s inflation by “hot money” coming in to the City of London. It would allow the regeneration of manufacturing industry in Scotland. It would promote Scottish exports.
There would be increased transaction costs related to trade with the rest of the UK, and there may be problems of capital flight. But these are things that need to be investigated further and fairly.
There is also a clear interest in the British capitalist class which is heavily dependent on North Sea oil for its future enrichment. The need to retain control of oil and other strategic interests, such as the Faslane nuclear weapons base are his reasons for wishing to keep Scotland as a dominion. The logic of Westminster privatisation and austerity will become irresistible if Scotland remains in the Union. As money spent on public services in the rest of the UK falls, so Scotland will have to follow because of the dependence on Westminster that the Union requires. Scotland in the union can hold out against this neoliberal logic. But it cannot resist it forever if it remains in the Union.
Conservative backers will be keen to take advantage of the business opportunities that will follow from the privatisation of health and education that seems inevitable in the rest of the UK. Scotland will be forced to follow suit in the 10 to 15 years following privatisation in England. And that makes it very important for Osborne to make the case for the Union.
This should be old news by now.
Once more, the excellent folk at ‘Vote For Polices’ have produced a survey encouraging people to do a blind comparison of their beliefs with the policies of the six biggest UK-wide political parties – Labour, Tories, Lib Dems, UKIP, BNP and Greens. And once more, of the 312,000 odd people who have taken the test, the Green Party policies are the most popular.
I say this should be old news because every time I can remember in recent years that a similar survey has been done, Greens have come out on top.
Now, of course, this isn’t a scientific sample – it’s designed to help individuals understand which party agrees with them most, not to poll thousands of people. Presumably a particular demographic is more likely than others to fill out the survey, etc.
However, that doesn’t mean the data isn’t significant. The very least it tells us is that among the people who took the test – nearly a third of a million British people – Greens are the most popular. And even if this is demographically skewed, it shows what nonsense it is that Green policies are unpopular.
And this is important. Because all too often, I meet Green party members and activists who have spent so long losing that they don’t believe victory is possible. And the result, for all too many people, is to believe that people are just too right wing, that there is no way we can ever get their support.
And in fact, this is nonsense. Our policies are, in general, pretty popular. And some of the areas of policy which are particularly popular in this survey may be surprising.
When broken down by policy area, we find that, amongst this group, our crime policies are the most popular of all of the parties, and so are our education policies (as well as our environment policies). On the economy and democracy, we’re second to the Lib Dems, and on welfare and healthcare, we’re second to Labour.
Now, I don’t want to overstate this – this is just one online test. I’m sure any of us could pick up flaws in the ways the questions are asked, inaccurate representations of the policies of a particular party, etc. But for me, it reflects a broader point.
Green Party members believe, presumably, that our policies would significantly improve the lives of the vast majority of voters in the country. I certainly do. It turns out that lots and lots of people agree with us. And if this is the case, we must surely be able to persuade them of it.
Now the fact that our policies are most popular doesn’t mean we are most popular: clearly, we aren’t – if we were, we’d be in government. People often vote for parties they don’t agree with as much because of habit, or in order to keep another party out, or whatever. But whilst those things are a barrier, it’s important to remember that the other parties also have a big barrier – their policies aren’t very popular.
And whether you’re a Green or not, there’s an important point here for everyone on the left. We are forever being told that our views are unpopular, rare, bizarre, quirky, or dangerous. But the truth is that left wing policies are about making people’s lives better. If we can persuade people of that, we have a great chance of winning.
Across much of England on the second of May, people will be voting in County Council elections. Green party members all over the UK are standing and campaigning in day in, day out. And for me, I hope this survey comes as a reminder to party members: of course we can win.
Journalist and men’s rights activist Peter Lloyd is suing Kentish Town Sports Centre (warning: the article is hosted on an MRA website, which some readers may find offensive or upsetting) for offering women-only sessions in their gym and swimming pool. According to Lloyd, barring him from using the pool or gym at certain times, but charging him the same membership fee, is an infringement of his human rights comparable with the racial segregation laws enforced in some US states until the 1960s.
Even the most basic research into Peter Lloyd’s background shows that he’s a man with an agenda. He’s a campaigning journalist with a particular interest in men’s rights, he writes for blogs which advertise websites that publicly name and shame “bigots” (feminists) and “false accusers” (abuse survivors), and last year he accepted an award from the Anti-Feminism League. Suing his gym for the relatively common practice of offering women-only sessions sounds like either an overreaction or a publicity stunt, but if he wins his case it could force gyms across the country to start charging different membership rates for men and women. Since many sports facilities – particularly those run by or on behalf of local authorities – also offer some exercise classes which can only be attended by people over 60, or swimming sessions that are solely for parents with young children, will he be demanding further discounts for those who are young and child-free?
Lloyd claims that all men are being punished because of the minority who might ogle women in the gym, and that this is unfair to those men who can behave like decent human beings, but this shows a misunderstanding of why some women are reluctant to exercise in mixed company. Even if every male visitor behaved impeccably, there are some women would still feel uncomfortable being around men while exercising. Some women might have religious or cultural reasons for preferring to exercise in a single-sex environment, but many will simply be afraid of the silent judgements that men will pass on their bodies.
Although Lloyd is correct in stating that some men also struggle with body image, it doesn’t compare to the level of socially sanctioned prejudice about women’s appearance. Whether it’s the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame or comments from family members, co-workers and complete strangers, women’s bodies are constantly up for public discussion. Boob-size, bum-size, clothes, make-up, hairstyle (which is a particularly sensitive issue for black women), wrinkles, acne, cellulite, body hair – other people feel entitled to comment on all of them. And the worst part of it is that judgements on your appearance aren’t just about your appearance; they’re a reflection of your worth and status. In the eyes of society and the media, not meeting the approved beauty standards doesn’t just make you unattractive, it makes you a bad person.
As well as anxiety about their appearance, women also have to contend with society’s negative attitudes towards women taking part in sport. The competitiveness and athleticism are seen as undesirable in women; we’re supposed to be soft, weak, and passive. When the football referee Sian Massey started working at men’s Premier League matches in 2011, commentators questioned whether a woman was capable of running around at the edge of the pitch for a full 90 minutes. Pre-olympics profiles of athletes, such as the now-infamous Vogue photoshoot, went to great lengths to make the women appear glamorous and feminine by picturing them in bizarre costumes, and in most cases posing like fashion models (and there are rumours that some had their limbs airbrushed to minimise their muscles), while the men were shown training. While male athletes are praised to the point of objectification for their muscular physiques, visible muscles on women are seen as ugly, unfeminine, and even unnatural.
Societal pressures like these form a major barrier to many women’s participation in exercise, and since these attitudes aren’t going to disappear overnight, we need to have ways of mitigating their effect in the meantime. “Equality” doesn’t necessarily mean treating everyone exactly the same; some people need extra support to participate fully in society, even though others manage without help. Providing that support isn’t discrimination, it’s inclusion.