IN THE heat of an independence referendum campaign played with such high stakes, it is perhaps inevitable that all politics – not just that pertaining to the constitution – is seen through the prism of whether or not it aids the Yes camp or the No camp.
Inevitable, perhaps, but also regrettable.
This polarisation of Scottish politics, which seems to deepen and calcify on an almost daily basis, means that what unites political rivals, rather than what divides them, seldom gets the prominence it is due. As a consequence, opportunities for Labour and the SNP to join together in a common project are more rarely taken up than they should be, given that both parties lay claim to similar ground on the political spectrum.
One such opportunity, however, has now presented itself. The campaign against the UK government’s bedroom tax has caught the public’s imagination. Many of the coalition’s plans for welfare cuts require an understanding of the often arcane details of the benefits system to be understood fully. The replacement of one type of benefit by another, calculated in a different way, has been hard for the general public to get a grip of.
In contrast, telling people they will be financially penalised for wanting their children to have a bedroom each is something everyone can understand. Quite rightly, in this newspaper’s view, the policy has caused outrage across much of civic society, with particular attention being paid to its almost Dickensian intrusion into people’s home lives. The fact that many of those affected are disabled, and live in modified homes, and have good relationships with helpful neighbours, has also become an issue.
Some Yes supporters have sought to turn this into a referendum issue, arguing that the only way to defeat the bedroom tax is to have it abolished in an independent Scotland. This has the unfortunate effect of undermining efforts to stop it taking hold – and doing its damage – in the first place.
In today’s Scotsman, a leading figure in Scottish local government calls for constitutional differences to be put to one side, and for Labour and the SNP to work together in the here and now to oppose the bedroom tax.
Andrew Burns is well-placed to issue a clarion call for greater Labour-SNP co-operation – he is, after all, the leader of an Edinburgh council administration that is itself a Labour-SNP coalition. When this was created after the last local authority elections, it took many political observers by surprise, but to date it has proved a relatively stable and efficient administration – perhaps helped by the good sense and levelheadedness of some of the individuals involved in putting it together.
The call by Mr Burns has this newspaper’s support. It is now up to the leaders of Scotland’s government and Scotland’s opposition, Alex Salmond and Johann Lamont, to take up the challenge.
King’s fresco is ideal artistic model
The form of art known as the fresco is perhaps more closely associated with Renaissance Italy than a corner of contemporary Edinburgh a stone’s throw from the fleshpots of Lothian Road.
And yet the King’s Theatre – a venerable institution in the capital since 1906, and based in one of the city’s few red sandstone buildings – is to be the recipient of a new ceiling dome artwork by the artistic polymath John Byrne.
There is much to celebrate in this news. A new artwork by Mr Byrne – whose Slab Boys trilogy is one of the jewels of the Scottish theatre canon – is most welcome. Is there nothing he cannot do? Also welcome is a new public
artwork for Scotland that uses such a time-honoured – and perhaps unfairly neglected – artistic technique.
Even the way this project is funded is worthy of acclaim. Unusually for a new piece of public art, it is intended that this will be financed using not one penny of public money. Instead, according to the plans we reveal in our news pages today, donations from well-wishers and a levy on tickets bought by theatre-goers will foot the bill, which is estimated to be in the region of £125,000. This should be a model for artistic endeavours elsewhere.
It is not difficult, in contemporary Scotland, to find artists of various stripes complaining about the state’s reluctance to provide them with a livelihood. In some cases, state support is inevitable and commendable.
But maybe part of the answer is to come up with ideas that are so popular and compelling that the Scottish public has no hesitation about putting its hand in its pocket to pay for them. We look forward to the unveiling of the King’s fresco in due course.