Scots political elite united – against working people
As the political élite in Scotland focus on wrangling over the future of the union with England, they are united on one thing – the need to impose the full burden of the crisis on people already struggling with low pay, part-time work and fuel poverty.
Scotland’s local authorities have now agreed to impose a public sector pay freeze, a freeze on council tax and an agenda of cuts and privatisation, in pursuit of what Scottish National Party (SNP) finance minister John Swinney calls a “relentless pursuit of efficiency”.
His budget means annual spending will fall by 11.3% per year by 2014-15. A council tax freeze will benefit those living in the most expensive homes whilst leading to cuts in service for the many thousands living on the margins. Another year’s pay freeze for many public sector workers will mean a real terms cut as fuel and food prices soar.
The SNP is transferring money out of revenue budgets into capital spending by measures like forcing further education colleges, the police and fire service to merge and in the case of further education, to make massive cuts. The resulting capital projects will create little more than short-term, sub-contracted jobs without making any real economic improvements because they will not add anything to real demand in the economy, or long-term, stable employment.
What it will do is lead to more job losses, and particularly for women who work in education, the NHS and voluntary sector organisations contracted to deliver welfare services. Scotland already has a deficit of 17.25% in full-time jobs. Many women survive by working two and even three part-time jobs, and that is becoming more and more common.
The SNP blames the cuts on the Westminster coalition, but if that is true, why don’t they go straight for an independence referendum and get Scotland out of Cameron/Clegg’s clutches? It’s not only because they fear they might not win the vote. It’s also because Alex Salmond, a capitalist economist and banker, knows that during the current euro-zone crisis, an independent Scotland would face financial meltdown.
And since it would be impossible to join the euro, what kind of independence would it be if Scotland kept the pound? Basically, Salmond is hoping if he holds on until the end of this parliament, the eurozone crisis will be solved and his dream of a modern capitalist Scotland, pouring renewable energy into the grid and oil into the power stations, will be back on the agenda. Fat chance!
Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council huffs and puffs about the SNP government, but makes the cuts anyway. Edinburgh complains, but is itself mired in a growing scandal over inflated costs for repairs to homes, with a number of staff under police investigation. Aberdeen plans even more cuts in disability service, but is ready to squander millions on destroying one of the city’s best-loved parks.
Labour is leaderless and has not a shred of integrity or a political idea between them. In the place where the working class first realised the need for a political party to represent its interests, that party is now a self-serving unrepresentative clique. The Tories are ready to change tack and change name, using the Ulster Unionists as their model. The Liberal Democrats are desperately trying to distance themselves from Clegg and co – but the voters are not swallowing it.
Nowhere is the collapse of the political class clearer than in Scotland, where the three main political parties manage between then to make a minor figure like Salmond look like General De Gaulle; after the local elections next year he could be presiding over a one-party state. Truly, apres-moi le deluge.
There is an urgent need for People’s Assemblies, not with the aim of holding the political class to account but to plan how to replace them entirely, with a democratic body ready to meet the challenge of the crisis with radical plans for social justice, workers’ control and an end to poverty. Those Asssemblies could develop a charter of rights as a focus for workers throughout the UK. Once again, Scottish workers would be in the political lead. They could produce a programme for democracy and independence of a kind no SNP-run referendum will ever deliver.
7 October 2011