Friday, 20 December 2013

Looking ahead this Christmas



If I told you that most of the Ministers in the SNP Scottish Government are former pupils of Ardrossan Academy, you probably wouldn’t believe me – and you would, of course, be right.

Off the top of my head, I think First Minister Alex Salmond and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill are both from Linlithgow and attended the local secondary school. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon went to Greenwood Academy in Dreghorn; Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop is a former pupil of Ayr Academy; Health Secretary Alex Neil is from Patna in East Ayrshire, while Housing Minister Margaret Burgess is originally from Fairlie. Admittedly, there is a bit of an ‘Ayrshire Mafia’ thing going on there, albeit with a relatively wide spread across the county, but there is also Education Secretary Mike Russell who was born and raised in Kent, and Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead from the north-east of Scotland.

It would, of course, be totally incredible if just one school produced a majority of the politicians that govern our country – but if we turn our focus to the UK Parliament in London, that is exactly the situation.

At this point it is worth noting that, under the devolved constitutional settlement, the UK Parliament still has responsibility for crucial areas of government affecting Scotland, such as economic policy, welfare, taxation and defence. It is also worth remembering that the current UK Government is led by the Tory Party, which was soundly rejected at the ballot box by the people of Scotland. The Tories are only able to govern Scotland because our country remains part of the British Union.

Of the Tory frontbench in the UK Parliament, no fewer than 15 members went to the same private school – Eton. From there, most went on to either Oxford or Cambridge.

Many people in Scotland will either be directly affected or will know someone who is directly affected by the ‘austerity’ measures introduced by the Tory-led UK Government. Housing charities estimate between 80,000 and 105,000 Scots are being adversely affected by the Bedroom Tax alone. The Bedroom Tax punishes anyone in a public sector rented house who has even just one room more than the UK Government says they need. Tenants in such a position are having their Housing Benefit cut by 14%; anyone with more than one ‘extra’ room in their rented home is seeing their benefit slashed by 25%. This is happening to people who are already amongst the poorest in society.

This Christmas, thousands of people across Scotland – including here in North Ayrshire – will be reliant on Foodbanks to stave-off hunger. Some Foodbanks are organising Christmas dinners and are attempting to provide at least one small present for young children who otherwise would go without because their parents are poor.

Meanwhile, the people imposing these ‘austerity’ policies – the old Etonians in the Tory Cabinet – will have no such worries.

Prime Minister David Cameron has an estimated fortune of around £3m, mostly provided by his late father who accumulated his wealth partly by ‘off-shoring’ his funds in tax havens to avoid paying UK taxes. Mr Cameron is a fifth cousin of the Queen, and is married to Samantha, daughter of Sir Reginald Berkley Sheffield (8th Baronet) and Annabel Lucy Veronica Jones (Viscountess Astor): his wife’s personal fortune far exceeds that of the Prime Minister.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gideon Oliver Osborne (he decided to call himself George when he was 13) is descended from a family of English aristocrats who were once overlords in Ireland and retain titles from that period. Osborne is married to The Honourable Frances Victoria Howell, daughter of Lord Howell of Guildford. The Chancellor has an estimated personal fortune of around £4m, mainly as the beneficiary of a trust fund that owns a 15% stake in Osborne & Little, the upmarket wallpaper-and-fabrics company co-founded by his father, Sir Peter Osborne.

Iain Duncan Smith is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the man whose department is overseeing savage cuts to welfare, benefits and public spending. Mr Duncan Smith is married to Elizabeth Fremantle, daughter of the 5th Baron Cottesloe. The couple live in a country house on Baron Cottesloe’s estate in Buckinghamshire.

The Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – the man behind the Bedroom Tax that is punishing so many already-struggling people – is David Anthony Freud (Baron Freud). The Tory Baron, who started out as a member of the Labour Party, lives in a £1.9m four-bedroom townhouse in London’s fashionable Highgate, and retreats to his eight-bedroom mansion in the Kent countryside at weekends.

In addition, the Tory frontbench that is imposing its will on Scotland includes: Philip Hammond, Defence Secretary, estimated personal wealth - £8.2m: William Hague, Foreign Secretary - £4.8m; Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary for England and Wales - £4.8m; Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General - £3.2m; Dominic Grieve, Attorney General for England and Wales - £2.9m.

So out of touch with reality are these Tory multi-millionaires that they could not even begin to imagine what it is like to exist on inadequate state benefits. What is worse, they don’t care. We are being virtually transported back in time, almost to the period of the Victorian workhouse: once again the poor are blamed for their predicament and are punished.

On December 25th, many Scottish children will have Christmas dinner at a Foodbank. If they are lucky, Santa might provide a present. Replace ‘foodbank’ with ‘workhouse’ and a vision from history reveals the reality behind the Tories’ brave new world – a world where the gap between rich and poor gets ever wider.

In Scotland, we didn’t vote for the Tories and we didn’t endorse their manifesto of ‘austerity’. We only have the Bedroom Tax and other welfare cuts imposed on us because our country remains part of the British Union.

To their shame, the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party’s position on Scotland’s future is that they would rather see Tory millionaires continue to impose their will on us from London, than have a Labour Government in an independent Scotland.

Let’s make this the last Christmas that Scottish families are hammered by devastating cuts imposed by Tories we already rejected at the ballot box. Let’s make this the last Christmas that foodbanks are needed to prevent Scottish children from going hungry.

On September 18th 2014 we can vote to re-take political control of our country. By voting ‘YES’ to independence in next year’s referendum, we can begin the process of moving to a democracy in Scotland where we always get the government for which we actually vote – and it won’t be Tory.

This Christmas, let’s agree to turn our backs on Tory austerity and, instead, commit to building a better, fairer, brighter country for all the people of Scotland.

Independence means implementing policies to meet the needs and aspirations of those who live in Scotland. Independence is simply being a normal country.

* Originally published in the3towns.com

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