Leaders: Battle lines drawn, but election still to be won | No reason to panic over horsemeat
AMID the day-to-day grind of modern politics, the charge and counter-charge, the spin and counter-spin, the rebuttal and even the pre-buttal, ideas are often neglected, aspiration often ignored, vision often decried.
The publication yesterday by the pro-independence campaign of the document Yes to a Just Scotland – which contains not only ideas, but also aspiration and vision – is, therefore, to be welcomed.
Intended as a response to a paper from the STUC, A Just Scotland, the Yes Scotland document looks at how a Scotland that is no longer part of the UK might deliver a more socially just society.
At the heart of the report is the argument that the case for greater social justice would “fall on more fertile ground” after independence because of the different make-up of the voting public north of the Border.
It boldly declares that on contentious issues such as welfare, universal services and free university tuition, independence would allow Scotland to choose to avoid current cutbacks being implemented as a result of the UK government’s deficit reduction plans. This is true, but it is not the only path to a freer fiscal future – and should not be portrayed as such.
Welcome though this document is, there are three immediate problems its authors, as supporters of independence, have so far failed properly to address.
The first is the assumption that Scots are somehow more left-wing or social democrat inclined than folk south of the Border.
Academic evidence from experts such as Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University has questioned whether that is really the case. The best that can perhaps be said is that Scots are a wee bit more social democratic.
The second is the inference that voting Yes to independence in next year’s referendum will, in and of itself, result in policies that make Scotland a more equal society, by reducing income inequality. However, the truth is that this will only happen if Scotland votes for independence and then elects a left-of-centre government, something that Yes Scotland does accept but does not spend much time emphasising in its document.
The third point is that if an independent Scotland were to be more social democratic, what would this mean in terms of taxation? If we are to have Scandinavian levels of social support – not a bad thing per se – will we have high Scandinavian levels of taxation?
And this is not a right-of-centre critique. Responding to the paper, the STUC said commitments to retain generous welfare spending were being made “without the necessary related commitment to redistribution through increased taxation”.
So, while we applaud Yes Scotland for seeking to raise the level of the debate, we should all be very clear about the difference between the referendum and the following election.
No reason to panic over horsemeat
The decision to order all schools in Scotland not to serve frozen beef products after one local authority found a burger contained traces of horsemeat is a wise one – but it is important this is viewed in context.
In making the move, the procurement agency Scotland Excel, which deals with contracts across the country, said it was doing so while it ascertained the steps taken by suppliers to provide assurances on processed meat products.
Such a response is reasonable as the horsemeat scandal has badly undermined the credibility of the food industry. Schools, leisure facilities and some care homes, which are supplied by Scotland Excel, have the right to know that beef burgers are indeed made of entirely of beef.
And even though horse has only been found in a single burger, supplied to North Lanarkshire council, Scotland’s rural affairs secretary is right to say it is “unacceptable” that children might be eating a product which is not what it is said to be.
However, while it is also wise for the Food Standards Agency to continue testing food supplied to schools, it is worth pointing out this is just one positive test for horsemeat out of thousands of negative results.
It is worth remembering that horsemeat is not dangerous. Burgers which contain some traces of horse are, as far as we know, not a health hazard.
The watchword for food suppliers, the FSA and government should, therefore, be vigilance, not over-reaction.
Parents, worried about what their children are eating, should be kept informed but also reassured by the authorities. The risks should be kept in perspective.
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