Wednesday, 10 September 2014
Scotland debate crowds out the really improtant issues.
I usually find the views of Guardian columnist Martin Kettle thoughtful and persuasive, but in claiming in an article on Monday that "no other issue [than he referendum on Scottish independence] now matters in British politics" he has joined the ranks of those who use excitement at "bread and circus" distractions to divert us from the really serious issues facing us, whether in the existing or a diminished United Kingdom.
The overwhelming domestic issue, which won't go away whatever the result of the referendum, is that of unfairness. There is unfairness in incomes (top chief executives now earn 175 times the wages of the average worker, Frances O'Grady claimed at the TUC's annual conference on that same Monday); unfairness in wealth distribution; unfairness in opportunities to lead a satisfying and productive life (better to go to a fee paying "public" school than the local comprehensive, however good the latter); unfairness in the opportunities to buy a house (if your parents don't own one you've more or less had it); unfairness in public benefits (£300 a day if you're in the House of Lords, £57.35 a week in you're unemployed); unfairness in the dissemination of information (a press which toadies to the right and ridicules the left); etc etc.
Internationally we need to co-operate with others to take effective measures to preserve the environment; in the developed economies at least to discover how we can lead satisfying lives without relying on unsustainable growth; to control the manufacture and sale of armaments; to develop a trading system that is fair to all rather than biassed in favour of the already rich economies; and to create an international world order that will enable us to settle disputes by law rather than by threats and force of arms.
These issues barely feature in our political debate and, even when they do, they are petty scratchings on the surface (45% or 50% marginal income tax rate rather than a thumping wealth tax). No party has the guts, the Labour party least of all, to engage with these issues and tell us the truth. (The Tory party can't be expected to because they're satisfied with the inequalities as they are and will bust a gut to ring-fence the existing advantages of themselves and their supporters.)
Compared with these issues the Scottish independence debate fades into insignificance,.
I've already argued that I believe a "No" vote would give the entire UK the best of both worlds. But if they vote "Yes" so what? They will still be there, speaking the same language, though in modified form, and sharing a cultural history of umpteen centuries of fighting each other and 300 years of peaceful co-existence. We shall still be able to visit their lovely countryside, buy their whisky and, if we dare, their Iron Bru; share their universities, concert halls and current culture; play on their golf-courses; as fellow members of the EU (the claim that they may not be allowed to join is silly scare tactic) enjoy free trade and, if we follow the Irish precedent, a free border.
In fact a "Yes" vote will have its advantages. It will put the brakes on the Westminster politicians who so love strutting around the world bemused by the illusion of continued great-power status, and that Britain's this that and the other is "the best in the world and the envy of the world" when whatever they're talking about (other than the BBC) patently isn't. Then we may be able to settle for aiming at modest competence which has been so much to the benefit of the citizens of smaller states in such as Switzerland, Scandinavia and the Low Countries.