My Handy Guide

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There’s been some soul-searching on difficult issues lately resulting in deep-thinking articles and essays across the media, some of them excellent exposes of our national condition. This http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/21/how-alex-salmond-nicola-sturgeon-pulled-off-political-triumph-lifetime from David Torrance is probably the best example with its informative detail within an historic sweep. Nobody does it better – except perhaps Macwhirter. I felt challenged to do the same and then thought: Nahthat’s too tricky for me. There must be a simpler way of making the point without writing 2000 words. So here is my handy guide to some of the big issues of the day – in as few words as possible (explanations below).

Explain the rise of the SNP…. their time has come*1

Full Fiscal Autonomy will bankrupt Scotland…If we’re a basket case, it happened under the Union*2

Our schools are failing poor children…We can’t prevent that without powers to end poverty*3

What went wrong with Labour… You have to believe in something*4

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*1 There is a cultural shift in western society centred on knowledge now being instantly accessible to all, bringing unprecedented scrutiny of authority and convention. Every area of life is challenged by a myriad of questions that cannot be answered. But the search leads us to reject existing power bases in favour of apparently radical alternatives – Syriza, Podemos, UKIP, SNP. Each has a core belief which is powerful but vague and is hard to disagree with – A Stronger Voice for Scotland or Hope is Coming. Postulating that the old ways have failed is easier than justifying them and for electoral success all that’s needed is to present the alternative doctrine in plausible packaging. Appearing always to be on the people’s side rather than the elite’s helps. The British political parties can be neatly lumped together as the dead-end Unionists cheating on expenses, exploiting a corrupt system and enabling low wages and decline. Whatever benefits they bring, the debit quickly outweighs the credit. The concept of Scotland is as strong a message as any around which people can mass and endow it with their own meaning and, if it also signifies rejection of the failed London concept, it serves a dual purpose. Historically, the Union case has declined as knowledge and awareness of its failings and limitations have increased. The side rejecting that and offering optimism and opportunity gains, however nebulous their ideas may be. The idea that Scots have become en masse, nationalists, is ridiculous. Although the more Unionists – politicians and media – deride them for it, the more defiant they become, embedding the nationalist identity as a personal form of resistance and retaliation. The SNP makes them feel good, part of something unifying in a world which tends to isolate, and acceptance of the Union is grudging and resented. It helps that they have clever people and good technique but that’s not the reason they’re winning – many of the new voters and even MPs have only come along since the cultural shift started. Today’s SNP is the alternative to a failing system – for now. Their time has come.

*2 Unionism has trapped itself in a rhetoric of antagonism. Everything is grudging and reluctant. It is the very antithesis of hope, a key political message. FFA in layman’s language is simply controlling the budget, a concept every voter understands and regards as normal. To my knowledge there hasn’t been a single reason in principle why it shouldn’t happen, maybe because you’d have to say to Scots they’re not capable of looking after their own money – although that’s the clear implication. Warning of dire consequences, even if it was true, is the same approach that nearly lost the referendum. And Scots rightly resent the charge that they’re dependent on someone else for their income – there is no more corrosive claim in the debate which is why online threads are filled with triumphant Britnats trumpeting about subsidy. This is deeply damaging to the Union not to Nationalism. Opposition to FFA is simply Project Fear relocated in voter’s minds. If we’re too poor, whose fault is it? It can’t be Scotland’s and can’t be the fault of independence. It’s the status quo that has brought a rich country to penury, if it’s true. Scots now wish to look after this for themselves while remaining in the Union – precisely the idea floated ahead of the indyref. Is FFA practically impossible or is it just another block on our progress? Britain has the third biggest budget deficit in Europe and the Government is borrowing even more than Greece, official figures showed yesterday. The UK racked up a deficit of 5.7 per cent of gross domestic product last year while the national debt soared to 89.4 per cent of national income, according to Eurostat. Britain is the basket case and Scotland suffers proportionately and then some. The powers to grow the economy are largely reserved. Releasing them under FFA gives Scots the levers to change their own country and borrowing controls would allow the deficit to be covered. What are the Unionists afraid of? If we’re a basket case, it happened under the Union.

*3 There has rightly been condemnation of education policy and performance afflicting kids from poorer backgrounds. The SNP stands accused and appears to be taking it on the chin. Good. But this has always been the case and not just in Scotland. Here is the Child Poverty Action Group covering England.

Children from poorer backgrounds lag at all stages of education. By the age of three, poorer children are estimated to be, on average, nine months behind children from more wealthy backgrounds. According to Department for Education statistics, by the end of primary school, pupils receiving free school meals are estimated to be almost three terms behind their more affluent peers. By 14, this gap grows to over five terms. By 16, children receiving free school meals achieve 1.7 grades lower at GCSE.

The evidence is irrefutable. Poverty causes poor performance. The answer lies in tackling poverty, not tackling teachers (although we shouldn’t hide from that). Britain’s tax, welfare, employment and economic policies embed poverty and close off options for improvement. Scotland can do it differently but doesn’t control the means of boosting the economy and supporting the poor. Without that capability (FFA et al) academic improvement will be limited. We can’t prevent poor performance without the powers to end poverty.

*4 A party has to serve a purpose, if not just a cohort of voters. There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Tories favour money-making (however incompetent and dysfunctional at it they are) and will represent the interests of those who make, and keep, money. They are personal friends with the bankers, financiers and business executives and run to Europe to uphold the right of bankers to make bonuses even as they slash welfare. Those whose finances allow the need for accountancy, as opposed to a DWP cash payment or PAYE deductions, know they’re more likely to be understood by Tories. Upholding a mostly fantastical idea of British values helps.

What does Labour represent? The working man? Nobody seriously says that today. The decline in unions mirrors Labour’s yet the party failed to back its own support by abolishing Thatcherite anti-union legislation. If you don’t protect the core, you don’t deserve to keep them. Labour pretended to believe in socialist ideals while refusing to use the word. They appealed instead for the home-owning shareholders in the belief that the core would stay loyal. They did – for a while. The message – the belief – is now so confused it can mean something totally different in the mouth of each member. On any subject Labour leans two ways. Trident – ideologically against but voting for. Business – in favour obviously but prone to trade restrictions. Immigration – non-racist but keen to limit. Is Labour in favour of nuclear energy? Do they support onshore renewables? Do they want EU reform? Do they want to sell off RBS? Does anybody know…? In Scotland you could ask the same – how committed are they to devolution? The answer appears to be a) they founded it so yes, but b) they’re really scared of trusting the Scots too much. So Yes – kind of and eh, No – not too much.

Poor leadership performers don’t help but can be forgiven if the message is strong – and popular – enough. It isn’t. Just look at Jim Murphy’s efforts – weak, confusing and incoherent. It won’t do. If you waterboarded a Tory (I’m not suggesting you try) they’d tell you they believed in Markets. If you did the same to a Nationalist, they’d say they believed in Scotland. And if you did it to Labour? ‘We believe in what the focus groups tell us.’ You have to believe in something.

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17 thoughts on “My Handy Guide

  1. Less is more, I like it!
    First the headline soundbite, then the detailed explanation for those who want more.

  2. Tony Blair reinvented Labour as a Conservative Government replacement service. He had no vision for the direction of travel when the temporarily gained support of a significant part of the wallet motivated public began to return to their usual station.

    For five years, from May 2010, a revamped regular service was gently put back in place with the assistance of “Clegg and co” consultants to make sure that the process was gradual and not too full of glitches or nasty surprises. With their help full normal post-Thatcherite service has now been restored with the exception of some non core areas like Scotland where the public are probably going to have to be forced into compliance or properly identified as a disposable asset.

    Labour are currently in the process of appointing a new CEO and have no clear strategy. They are caught between two conflicting ideas. We do not know if they will once again try to create a Conservative Government replacement service or go in a different direction and open up new destinations. This process is likely to be ongoing and, as of today, a return to the triple A rating of 1997 seems beyond rational possibility.

  3. Anne J Butler

    The Labour Party caused the banking scandal because they tried to be Tories, but did not have the deeply ingrained real power of the City who then used the light touch to make a mint for themselves; and their gift to labour was to turf them out of office. But labour had by then lost the traditional labour voters and with no area for a power base means they have no voters. They now have nothing in Scotland and any philosophy which could reflect the wishes and needs of Scotland means no votes in England .

  4. More and more people in Scotland are seeking out independent-minded and independence-minded websites like this, yet the unionist MSM, television especially, still hold sway, or at least thinks it does. I keep hoping some clever computer buff will hack into the BBC’s website and post Handy Guides like Derek’s.

  5. I am in Australia, and the Labor (their spelling, not mine) Party here is much the same. Never in the history of politics has there been such a soft, slow moving target as the LNP coalition, and Labor is behaving like a pile of wet blotting paper. It seems that, to both these parties, “Socialism” once meant “watered-down Communism”, and now means “watered-down Capitalism”.

  6. Nicelyut and it didn’t take a half hour to read it – nice one!

  7. I’ll really get my head in a sling for this, but perhaps the SNP are winning because they are seen, quite rightly, as more honest and better intentioned than any of their rivals?

  8. Secondly, the demise of Labour is quite simply because of their takeover by soulless, careerist graduates like Tristam Hunt; most traditional Labour supporters, unsurprisingly, hate their guts.

  9. FFS FFA is a no-brainer

  10. Our schools have been failing poor children for a very, very long time.

    • Absolutely not: that is a cop-out, an excuse. Ninety percent of a child’s learning takes place outside school, and what they learn outside in terms of attitude or behaviour or understanding affects their ability to learn within school. If their parents and peers are imbued with the attitude that schools are doing them down, then the schools have an uphill battle. Anybody who knows teachers knows their exhaustion, the ceaseless efforts made on pupils’ behalf, the vicious abuse which some parents think they are entitled to inflict, and the heartfelt happiness when a pupil from a disadvantaged background does well.

      Nobody has to be a teacher. Society is lucky that some people do take on the job. I got out.

      • Absolutely Iain!

        I have to teach some children whose literacy and numeracy is several years behind their actual age, there are many factors in this, one common one is these children live in homes without a single book is that the fault of the teachers?

        We have pupils who spend all of their leisure time playing computer games or on social media or watching DVD’s rather than reading, studying or doing homework, is this the fault of the teachers?

        Another factor is as austerity bites, schools are not immune from the cuts, and cuts are happening in secondary schools to the more vocational, less academic (and hence more expensive) subjects, for our less academic students these subjects are crucial to their achievement at school and in gaining positive destinations following school, again are these cuts the fault of the teachers?

        Councils are increasingly using money which should be going into schools to supplement falling budgets, for example to fill pot holes in roads, and unless we completely review how our education system is funded this is going to get far far worse!

        • I’m not knocking either of you guys, I know what you’re saying. I was lucky enough to get sent to school with my homework done, a decent kip, a good breakfast and sensible shoes. Plenty of my mates didn’t have those advantages, and that wasn’t the fault of their teachers.

          To my mind a hell of a lot could get done by spreading parenting skills, though I haven’t a clue how that can be done.

          Somewhat off topic: let’s have some proper careers advice in schools too. Working class kids have a massive disadvantage when they compete against other kids who have been schooled to enter medicine, finance, IT etc.

  11. Steve Asaneilean

    It is not the schools or the heqlth service that are failing the poor. It is us as a society for failing to elect governments that will seriously tackle the inequalities that drive poverty.

    Unless and until we do that there is little the school, health centres and hospitals can do other than do their best to mitigate the consequences of the poverty and inequality we tolerate as a society.

    As for the Tories – I loathe their politics but it’s clear what they are and where they stand (not something you can say about Not Labour). They are the party of the rich, for the rich, by the rich.

  12. Pretty much nailed it Derek.

    Sometimes the simplest answers are the right answers and sometimes people look for complexity where none exists. However, I’m sure both the establishment politicians and the media know exactly where to look already for the answers to all their questions… the mirror.

    The public are frankly sick of them. Sick of how the politicians practice their politics and sick of both politicians and the media manipulating their perceptions for personal agendas. You screw with people for long enough, then who knew that even the most patient of electorates would eventually turn round, scream enough is enough and kick you squarely in the haw maws?

    Worse! The electorate aren’t finished cleaning hoose by a long shot. People were taken for granted, their vote, their trust and loyalty used and abused for too long by self serving careerists and power for powers sake parties. What’s occurring now, is only the beginning. Politics is changing in Scotland and I feel this is simply the start of the process.

  13. Bill Halliday

    Monday 22nd evening. Just watched Lord McConnel & Lord Falconer & Lord X, Y, Z and and a stream of honourless Right Honourables telling us how they knew that winning the Referendum would let the SNP get the upper hand for a while and how they would win back etc etc etc.Even saying it was a rejection of Westminster but apparently blind to the fact that THEY ARE Westminster.

  14. Aye, good article.

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