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.


  1. I taught Martin Kettle and did not rate his clarity of expression fifty years ago and still do not now.
    Inequality is by far the biggest problem in society and seems to be getting worse under Cameron. The Big Society is a forgotten shibboleth. Blair's New Labour meant that the party system has failed to grasp the problem. Despite the scandals over expenses MPs are claiming more than ever for their wives and families so it's snouts in the trough again. Morality and justice do not apply.

  2. Quite so. I believe inequality increased even under New Labour: Mandleson being "relaxed" over people becoming filthy rich provided they paid their taxes - a classic example of triangulation. The work of Wilkinson and Pickett demonstrates to most people's satisfaction that medical and social problems in society increase along with inequality, and the work of Thomas Piketty shows we need to tackle inequalities of wealth if the rot is to stop. The political debate in Britain is light years away from even discussing these issues.