UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.
Friday, 19 September 2014
#indyref By now the result of the Scottish Referendum will be known. Some will be drunk with exhilaration; others will be drinking to forget it. Perhaps there is one starting point on which both sides can agree. Scottish politics needs to change, and politics per se with it.
Eighteen months or so of debate however have taken their toll, and one outcome is that bitter divisions that have been sown, a schism in Scottish society that could take years to heal. In particular an unthinking primitive nationalism has been aired and aired publicly This nationalism has labelled every dissenter from the “Yes” agenda as an English traitor or a lackey or pawn of the Westminster establishment to be ‘sent home’; or the epithet “a feartie” flung around to close discussion. It was sometimes said with a grin, in a pub, sometimes on the street with anger or menace.
It can be called playground politics but replaced rational debate on too many occasions, an anti English emotion directed against fellow Scots. Irrational prejudice is a form of racism. It is to be regretted that it formed part of the Independence debate. If divisions are to be healed, its invidious influence needs to be recognised and resisted.
UNISON campaigned for a “Just Scotland”. Whether we have “independence” whatever that means, as the SNP proposals are indeterminate as they are subject to negotiations; or whether we are to have “more and better devolution”, as latterly promised but for the moment equally vague, the aftermath of the debate around the “Independence” question points to a deeper consideration for those for whom the ideal of more just, more equal society is the goal. How do we get there?
What we have at the moment is the Austerity Agenda and a Scottish Parliament that has powers that it fails to use to tackle that agenda. We have a deeply unequal society where too many people simply exist rather than being able to live. We have poverty exacerbated by welfare cuts, and we have in work poverty where zero hours contracts and minimum wage jobs leaving workers on the breadline. We have a major failure of collective bargaining in the public sector that has led to substantial wage cuts. We have trade unions shackled by the most oppressive anti trade union legislation in Western Europe, whose diminished role is most clearly seen in the declining share of national income that goes to working people.
The greatest sufferers in this system are those children condemned to a cycle of poverty and lowered life expectations. These policies are not accidental. The current tax regime rewards the 1% at the top while cutting support for everyone else. In the last few years those at the top of the income and wealth ladder have been getting richer at a much faster pace than the population as a whole.
We no longer provide housing but have a property market designed to make those rich enough to own property a profit. Local authority public services are in danger of extinction - privatised and monetarised, forcing the poor to pay more for everything from care services to leisure and library fines, burials and cremations. Meanwhile a council tax freeze keeps Milngavie happy, but public sector workers are sold off to the lowest bidder.
The “NHS is tops” remains the top of all Scottish politicians slogans, but the integration of health and social care, between a public service and a largely privatised one, based on the exploitation of care workers, cannot be achieved on the combined resources of the two alone, not if the result is to be a quality service.
The Scottish energy industry has been nationalised – albeit by the French and the Spanish whose state companies enjoy the profits. Meanwhile companies like Ineos, English based and registered, take advantage of weak trade union protections and the recession to impose reductions to pay, pensions and terms and conditions on their workforce and to weaken the trade unions.
Private companies run our previously regulated or nationalised bus and rail systems, to their own advantage. Our justice system has privatised prisons and privatised security – at the moment. Voluntary sector provision exists on the precarious road to the cheapest price for every service – cheap that is for the commissioners but failing the client base and the service providers.
That is the agenda we will continue to face. If we believe our own propaganda, if we honestly believe in a just, more equal Scotland, we have a duty to stand up and campaign for change.
One thing that the referendum has proved is that there is appetite for changing Scotland. Both on the yes side, and the no side, there were those who shared rejection of the continuation of neo liberal politics, and a desire for change. But against that, there were also groups on both sides for whom lower taxes and the considerations of business and finance were paramount. Whoever has won the referendum, that is the dilemma that Scotland now faces. Does the appetite for equality and justice prevail or does business continue as usual?
If the future is to be one in which the possibility of change is to be realised, referendum yes or no positions must be forgotten and the agenda for change seized. For some party politics will dictate their attitude to whatever changes are proposed; my party right or wrong will trump radicalism. For others the radical agenda informs their party politics. That is the choice we now all face.
It is easy to say that the referendum campaign was about the rejection of English politicians. It was not. It showed a rejection of professional politicians, and for some of those advocating radical change that must include the party that in the most recent past has governed Scotland.
There have been a myriad of campaigns again austerity – mainly small and concentrating on one specific aspect, be it the bedroom tax, disability benefits, cuts campaigns, rarely looking at the bigger picture. In this UNISON needs to consider its own contribution. If a government department produces a paper advising on the length of Donald’s troosers, UNISON produces a briefing on it.
Across the output, there is an expectation that members can relate the briefing on the police cuts and the briefing on health integration and the briefing on housing finance into a coherent narrative - and that is a big ask. Did someone mention a wood and trees problem here? Comprehensive and integrated campaigning is needed to sustain momentum for change and to influence the direction whatever constitutional change is on the cards
Today the professional politicians of all shades and hues will issue their press statements and attempt to wrestle control of the agenda back into their hands. How change in Scotland is implemented, to ensure that it benefits the many not the few is now the task that needs to be faced. Whoever has won, we can give into rancour and recriminations, and rehash the same old arguments that have failed to convince one another for the past year.
Changing the agenda means changing the politics. That is the challenge.