Trump's hometown provides a dystopian vision of the UK's future – Kenny MacAskill
Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s Labour Secretary, recently tweeted that “three multibillionaires now own more wealth than the bottom 90 per cent of America” – a strange way to describe the overwhelming majority of the population but it makes his additional comment that “this is what oligarchy looks like” ring true.
It’s over a decade since the publication of The Spirit Level, by Kate Picket and Richard Wilkinson. That book ably detailed why more equal societies are healthier, wealthier, environmentally better and more sustainable, and even safer with less crime. On almost all indices, these societies outscored and outperformed the rest, and were simply better places to live for all.
It caused a stir at the time, yet since then the situation has worsened. Austerity has been a cover to allow the super-rich to garner ever more wealth and for the plight of the poor to manifestly worsen. It’s not just that the working class, as such, has been destroyed but that the middle class is now under attack. Growing financial challenges have been brought about by a supposed property-owning democracy, where millions struggle to pay their mortgage and countless others are denied that dubious pleasure, instead struggling to afford their rent.
It's not just the USA, as despite Picket and Wilkinson’s best endeavours, the UK has become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. The Office for National Statistics starkly confirms the direction of travel and a recent report by Oxfam, entitled “Survival of the Richest”, reported that the wealthiest one per cent in the UK now hold the combined wealth of 70 per cent of the population. We might be behind the USA on the curve but we’re on the same trajectory.
It affects our daily lives and not just in a plethora of superyachts and other ostentatious trappings of wealth amidst a sea of food banks, clothes banks and fuel poverty. It impacts on our society. Diseases we thought eradicated or belonging in Dickensian novels have returned to haunt us. Hunger and cold stalk the streets.
It impacts more widely. I recall as Justice Secretary the fears that crime would rise when the financial crash happened. It didn’t as poverty isn’t so much the driver, poor folk are after all more likely to be the victims rather than the perpetrators of crime. It’s inequality that fuels it and now we have Tesco giving body-worn cameras to staff.
Earlier this year I visited friends in Palm Beach, home of Trump and symbolic for many of the American dream. Yet what I saw was gated communities, armed guards, a palpable fear of crime, and a deeply divided society, racially, as well as economically. An overwhelmingly white community, other than black folk serving in fast food joints and Hispanics tending the gardens.
Is that the society we aspire to be? That’s apartheid delivered through economics and it’s coming here unless we act. It’s why Labour’s decision not to pursue a wealth tax is astonishing. Rolling back on employment law and the abolition of the two-child cap policy is shameful enough but this is fundamental to the society we seek. Let’s tax the wealth of the super-rich and create a better and more equal society.
Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian
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