Leaders: Scotland’s welfare issues must be addressed
A COMMON complaint from Nationalist politicians is that their opponents have a mindset that characterises Scotland as “too poor, too small and too stupid” to be independent.
Yesterday’s intervention in the constitutional debate by Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, comes pretty close to justifying that accusation.
Mr Duncan Smith said that an independent Scotland would not be able to afford the country’s substantial welfare bill. This was quickly rebutted by the Centre for Public Policy for Regions (CPPR), a think-tank staffed by former Scottish Government economists. It concluded that, contrary to what Mr Duncan Smith said about the viability of a separate Scotland, its financial balance could in fact be relatively healthier than that of the remainder of the UK.
It was not all good news for the Nationalists – the CPPR also pointed out that an independent Scotland would not be able to afford to salt away millions of pounds in a Norwegian-style oil fund, as proposed by First Minister Alex Salmond.
But the message to Mr Duncan Smith was clear: it is foolish to try to characterise an independent Scotland as some kind of impoverished nation deprived of the financial beneficence of the British state. There are some coherent and compelling arguments to be had about the future financial stability of a go-alone Scotland reliant on oil revenue and with the growing pensions burden an ageing nation inevitably has to shoulder, but the idea that Scotland is too poor to survive alone is not only bad economics, it is bad politics.
Some Scottish politicians on the anti-independence side have moved beyond the “too poor” debate. Instead, the debate has moved on to one about which powers it is wise to share across boundaries, and why. Unionist politicians at Westminster would be wise to take note.
That said, it is time that welfare came into the heart of the debate about Scotland’s future. At present, the arguments tend to be centred on fiscal powers, defence and international affairs. On the other main reserved power – the operation of the benefits system – there is little or no discussion from any of the political parties.
This must change. The pockets of welfare dependency to be found in some parts of urban Scotland are too serious a problem to be forgotten as this country debates its future. Is it necessary that social provision is general across all sections of the UK? Is there a case for Scotland’s specific problems of welfare dependency being addressed with specifically Scottish policies, under a new extension of devolutionary powers? If Scotland were independent, what would an SNP government do to address dependency and how much would that cost? These are issues that – unlike some constitutional memes – have a very real impact on people’s lives. It is time they were asked, and answered.
Calm police response is reassuring
Each new detail that emerges about the killing of two policewomen in Manchester forces us to re-examine our assumptions about crime in this country. It is hard to believe that scenes more reminiscent of America’s ganglands or a brutally cynical Hollywood movie were in fact the reality on a British street.
If there is one small reassurance, one glimmer of positivity in this bleakly gruesome story, it is the firm opinion being expressed by British police officers at all levels that they do not wish this to lead to the widespread arming of the British bobby on the beat.
They rightly argue that armed officers on patrol would simply lead to an arms race in the fight between law enforcement and criminals. It would also mean a fundamental shift in the culture of policing in this country – where despite appalling lapses like the ones exposed in documentation about the Hillsborough disaster last week – there is still a strong bond of trust between the public and those responsible for protecting them. Would this be the same if the friendly neighbourhood PC was toting a Heckler & Koch G36 semi-automatic carbine?
There will be those who want to use the Manchester tragedy to ramp up a get-tough debate on law and order. It is heartening that the police are not among their number. Organised crime of the kind that is mercifully rare in our streets clearly needs to be addressed with all the resources and wit at the authorities’ disposal. Armed units are, and will remain, a feature of policing. But let us take a moment to be reassured by the fact that even Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable, Sir Peter Fahey, says his force believes “passionately” that police should remain largely unarmed.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
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Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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