Saturday, 4 October 2014

Better Together? Really?

If you voted ‘No’ in the Independence Referendum because you wanted to see public spending and services slashed, further attacks on the poor and tax cuts for the rich, then you must be very happy.

On the other hand, if you voted ‘No’ because you believed we are “Better Together” and that Scotland remaining in the British Union would allow us to have “the best of both worlds”, then you might, by now, have realised you were conned.

You could be one of the people who had intended to vote ‘YES’ until you changed your mind when former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a speech promising extensive new powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament and that he would “ensure” those powers were quickly delivered after a ‘No’ vote.  You, also, were conned.

Brown is a backbench Labour MP: he has no authority to promise anything and no power to deliver.  ‘YES’ campaigners pointed-out this major flaw in the ‘Brown saves the Union’ stories that newspapers and broadcasters were only too happy to carry in the days before the referendum.  ‘YES’ campaigners also warned the ‘vow’ of more powers, made by the leaders of the three main British Unionist political parties, would not be fulfilled after a ‘No’ vote.  Throughout the two-year-long referendum campaign, ‘YES’ supporters explained that rejecting independence would hand power back to the Tory-led Government in London, which would result in further austerity and savage cuts impacting most heavily on the already-struggling poor.

What has become absolutely clear since the vote on September 18th, is that Labour’s Gordon Brown did not ‘save the Union’: he simply saved the political career of Tory Prime Minister David Cameron.  Of course, the London-based Unionist party leaders have ignored Gordon Brown’s pre-referendum promise of maximum devolution, which this week saw the Labour MP in the humiliating position of asking Scots to sign a petition calling for the powers he previously said he would “ensure” were delivered.

In the days since the referendum we have seen conferences from the Tories and Labour.  Both reaffirmed their commitment to forcing the poor to pay debts run-up by multi-millionaire bankers and financial speculators in the City of London. 

At the Tory conference, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced his plan to “eliminate the deficit” by partly imposing a further £3bn of cuts to welfare spending.  The Tory faithful cheered and applauded a move that will inflict additional pain on the poorest members of society.

Osborne also announced tax cuts for the rich and the raising of tax allowances, which will benefit the highest earners by four-times as much as the poorest.

The Labour conference tried to portray the party as different to the Tories, their recent partners in the anti-independence campaign, but we know that Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls is committed to retaining austerity measures and Tory spending levels.  In addition, Shadow Secretary for Work & Pensions, Rachel Reeves, a former Bank of England economist, has stated a Labour Government would be tougher on welfare than the Tories.  Ms Reeves told the unemployed, “If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forgo your benefits.”  So, Labour would continue to punish the poor for the crimes of the rich, while the unemployed would be forced into destitution if they refuse a job, however inappropriate or unsuitable the offer might be.

Is this really what British Unionists meant by as being “Better Together”?  It’s certainly what a ‘No’ vote has delivered.

Meanwhile, the Tory and Labour conferences made clear that Scots should not hold their breath waiting for the promised ‘significant additional powers’ for the devolved Scottish Parliament.  Labour said they would stick to what they said during the referendum campaign, but, like their ‘star’ performer Gordon Brown, they are not in power and cannot deliver anything.  Of course, Labour tells us they will be in power after next May’s UK Election, but the latest English opinion poll shows the Tories ahead.  So, what is Labour’s ‘Plan B’ for Scottish devolution if they don’t win the Westminster Election and the Tories are returned to power?  Come on, Labour...what is your ‘Plan B’?

For the Tories, the party’s Scottish Leader Ruth Davidson made their post-referendum position perfectly clear when she told conference that devo-max was “a non-starter”.

It’s little more than two-weeks since the referendum, when we were promised more powers and a better life within the British Union, if we just said ‘No’ to independence.  In the short time since, we have already had both the Tories and Labour commit to further austerity alongside cuts to public spending and services.  We’ve seen UK forces join another ‘war’ in Iraq; we’ve seen the London-based UK Government make clear it would overrule the Scottish Parliament to allow potentially dangerous, unwanted and unnecessary fracking in Scotland; we’ve had the UK debt continue to rise, which, of course, increases the amount apportioned to Scotland; we’ve seen an announcement that already inadequate benefits will  be frozen for a further two-years, which represents a real-terms cut when seen against the rate of inflation; we’ve had plans to scrap Human Rights legislation; we’ve had distancing from promises of maximum devolution of powers to Scotland; we’ve had continuing privatisation of the NHS in England, which negatively impacts on funding made available to Scotland through the block grant; and we’ve seen a continued increase in English support for the far-right UK Independence Party. 

So, is this what British Unionists meant by us being “Better Together”?  Again, it’s certainly what a ‘No’ vote has delivered.

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