Dennis Canavan: Only way to escape austerity that punishes the poor

I RECENTLY came across a Labour Party leaflet from the 1979 general election campaign.

Dennis Canavan. Picture: Robert Perry

It began: “This election will determine the kind of society we have for many years to come. Do we want a greedy, grasping rat-race where only the strongest survive and the weakest go to the wall? Or do we want a caring, sharing society based on the principle that most help should go to those who are most in need?”

Back in 1979, Scotland voted for the latter option, but the UK voted for the former. We all got a prime minister who declared that there was no such thing as society.

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In 500 days’ time, the people of Scotland have another opportunity to determine what kind of society we want for ourselves and future generations.

At the forthcoming referendum, we face a stark choice: more austerity under the Union, or the opportunity of a fresh start with independence.

The negative propaganda of the No campaign is designed to create a climate of fear caused by uncertainty. What will happen to pensions and benefits? What about mortgage rates? How much tax will we have to pay?

The truth is that there are uncertainties whether we opt to remain in the UK or choose independence. No-one can say with certainty what the rates of interest, tax or benefits will be in five or 10 years’ time, if we stay in the UK. Only a snake-oil salesman would claim otherwise.

But one thing is certain. Staying in the UK will mean more austerity because that is the agenda of all the major parties at Westminster. Scotland is at present being ruled by a UK government which is rewarding the rich with massive tax hand-outs and punishing the poor with savage cuts in benefits. The leader of the Opposition has failed to give any firm commitment to reverse the cuts, not even to abolish the iniquitous “bedroom tax”.

Five hundred days from now, the people of Scotland will have the opportunity to choose a different path.

We can choose to continue as members of a discredited Union in which economic consensus has brought us to the brink of bankruptcy and the political consensus is scapegoating the poor.

Or we can start afresh with independence and try to build a more caring, sharing society, where the freedom of people is more important than the freedom of market forces. «

• Dennis Canavan is chairman of Yes Scotland