In the past week, according to the UK Conservative Government – the government rejected by the people of Scotland – we have been plunged into a constitutional crisis.
The cause of this crisis was unelected Lords voting to amend government proposals that aim to cut the level of Working Tax Credit received by people struggling to survive financially, despite the fact they are in employment.
The Tories’ idea of what constitutes a constitutional crisis is interesting, mainly because the House of Lords did not actually do anything it is not permitted to do, and the Tory Government in the House of Commons does not actually have to accept the Lords’ amendments to its Working Tax Credit proposals.
It could be suggested that a real constitutional crisis lies in the fact that the Tory Party has only one MP in Scotland but is able to impose its will on the country, including its plan to slash the level of Working Tax Credit against the wishes of 99-percent of MPs elected by the people of Scotland.
Of course, Tories point-out that Scots – by a 10-percent majority – last year voted to remain within the British Union, and this decision meant the people of Scotland agreed to accept whatever government all the peoples of the United Kingdom chose to elect. As pro-independence supporters made clear ahead of last year’s referendum, the reality of this argument actually means England will elect the UK Government, irrespective of how Scotland votes.
The so-called ‘Scottish’ Labour Party knew this full-well, but still campaigned shoulder-to-shoulder with Tories. The absurd position of ‘Scottish’ Labour is that it would rather see Scotland governed by a Tory Government from London, than have a Labour Government and a Labour First Minister in Scotland if that relied on us re-taking our independence.
‘Scottish’ Labour got its wish: Scotland remains within the British Union and the Tories – with just one Scottish MP – governs all of the UK, including Scotland.
So, Scots having a government that was overwhelmingly rejected by the voters of Scotland does not represent a constitutional issue, never mind a crisis. It simply represents the desired constitutional outcome campaigned for last year by the Tory-Labour-Lib Dem British Unionist coalition during the Independence Referendum.
That said, there actually is a constitutional issue relating to the House of Lords. Quite simply, in a democratic country, unelected and unaccountable people should have no place in the process of government. There are other related matters, such as the cost to the public purse of funding the activities of these unelected and unaccountable people – Lords and Ladies can claim £300-a-day, tax-free, for attending the Palace of Westminster, irrespective of whether or not they actually do anything once they are there.
An argument can be made for a second, revising chamber within a parliamentary system, but no logical case exists for the undemocratic British House of Lords populated by retired politicians, party-political donors and the descendants of so-called aristocrats who owe their positions to services provided to the ruling British elite.
It should also be clarified what actually happened last week in the House of Lords. Labour Lords abstained on a Lib Dem Motion that sought to completely kill-off Tory plans to cut Working Tax Credits. The Labour abstention meant the Tory plan remains in place.
There were then two Labour Party amendments, which did not seek to kill the cuts but, rather, simply changed how they would impact on people. Close scrutiny suggests that, overall, they could actually make things worse.
The two Labour amendments were passed by the House of Lords but, if implemented, they would simply result in the introduction of a three-year ‘protection’ for current claimants, meaning they would still be hit by cuts to their Working Tax Credits…eventually…although this would be done when claimants are transferred onto Universal Credit.
New claimants would still have their Working Tax Credits reduced immediately.
However, the bottom-line is that the Tories’ plan to cut Working Tax Credits – and make the poor even poorer - was not killed-off by the House of Lords.
The reason Tories claim we now have a constitutional crisis is because the House of Lords did not simply endorse the proposals of the Conservative Government in the House of Commons. There is an opposition majority – Labour and Liberal Democrat – in the House of Lords. The Scottish National Party does not nominate anyone for the unelected and undemocratic chamber. However, the House of Commons will always have its way, even if it meant Prime Minister David Cameron had to create over 100 new unelected peers to deliver a Tory majority in the House of Lords.
All of which brings us to the real issue that should be hitting the headlines, but which has been submerged under the manufactured outrage over a spat between the two houses of the Palace of Westminster.
The Tory plans to cut the level of Working Tax Credit will make poorer those who are already struggling financially, even though they have jobs. We shouldn’t be surprised by this move, punishing the poor is what Tories have always done: and we shouldn’t be surprised that the real issue is not even being discussed in Britain’s media.
Working Tax Credit exists to raise income to a level that means people can pay their bills and support their families. Remember, these are people who are in employment. The real issue we should be outraged over is that employers are still getting-away with paying wages so low that workers cannot survive on them.
Working Tax Credit is a public subsidy to employers who refuse to pay their workers a living wage.
Of course, this results from the nature of the capitalist economic system: capitalism is entirely based on greed and exploitation. Employers exploit their workers in order to maximise profits. This situation will not change until we elect politicians prepared to put first the interests of people, rather than the financial profits of multi-national corporations.
Capitalism is not inevitable, it is not the only game in town. We do not have to tolerate a social and economic system that says people must struggle and that, for many, life has to be unbearably tough.
Democracy – people power – means we can change things, if we want – but if we do want change, we must stop voting for political parties that implement policies enshrining hardship and inequality.
In Scotland, we must also recognise that remaining within the British Union means we forego the right and the power to control our own country and our own lives.