How life in Britain is getting worse as MPs obsess about constitutional issues – Christine Jardine

The growth of poverty and foodbanks is reminiscent of the world of Scrooge and Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, says Christine Jardine (Picture: MJ Kim/Getty)
The growth of poverty and foodbanks is reminiscent of the world of Scrooge and Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, says Christine Jardine (Picture: MJ Kim/Getty)
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If politicians spend their time bickering about Scottish independence and Brexit, there is less time to fix the very real problems facing society, such as Dickensian levels of poverty, writes Christine Jardine.

If ever there was a moment for us to take a break from constitutional politics, this surely is it. For the past two months, it seems we have all talked about little else. For the past three years almost, we have talked about nothing but Brexit.

And now independence has reared its, for me, ugly head again with SNP demands for another referendum. As if we haven’t had enough of those binary votes and the problems they bring.

So let’s just take a step back for a moment and think about where we are. A week from now we will be on the cusp of a new year and the third decade of the 21st Century.

Oh I know accountants will quibble that 2021 will be the first year of the next decade but for most of us when the dial turns over from 9 to zero we are at the beginning, not the end. And that is exactly how I feel we should be looking at next Wednesday. A new beginning. Let’s put all the arguments about Brexit to one side.

They will, of course, go on as those of us who fear what it could mean for the country work to avoid the cliff edge which now looms at the end of 2020, and achieve the best outcome we can.

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But they should no longer be our main focus. The independence argument too needs to be taken off the table. The best way to tackle the problems the country faces because of Brexit is not to create another identical one.

Instead let’s focus on the things we see around us which, in the fifth largest economy in the world, need our attention. Fast.

All around me for the past few months, people have been making Dickensian comparisons.

A profusion of food banks

On the TV news, in papers and finally in the House of Commons itself, the ghost of Britain has been raised. In her presentation of the Loyal Address following the Queen’s Speech, MP Tracey Crouch took ‘A Christmas Carol’ as her theme.

I am not sure if it is some subliminal association many of us are making prompted by the uncertainty ahead. Perhaps it is the growth of poverty. The profusion of foodbanks. But it is an association we should not dismiss. Too often in the past few years, we have allowed ourselves to be entangled in constitutional bickering.

Each time we have, it has meant neglecting the measures we are supposed to be elected to pursue: legislation to improve people’s lives, tackle poverty, protect jobs.

Much has been written, some of it by me, about the paralysis at Westminster as we became ever more entrenched over Brexit.

But let’s not forget that exactly the same thing happened in Scotland during those bitter divisive years around the independence referendum. For more than a year, there was not a single piece of legislation passed at Holyrood.

I don’t believe it’s coincidence that since then our NHS has continued to suffer as increasingly stressed staff have to cope with patients frustrated by longer and longer waiting lists. A hospital in Edinburgh whose opening has been put off indefinitely. An education system falling down the international league tables.

Sturgeon’s bravery

All of those are the responsibility of a Scottish Government whose independence obsession is damaging us all. And whose reaction to any problem is simply to pass the buck. Blame Westminster or the local authority, but never take responsibility.

For a time, I thought we might get away from that. The First Minister said to judge her on education. She declared a climate emergency. Both of those things were both brave and deserve praise. But it didn’t last.

We are back to the blame game when what we all need is for both of our governments to put the constitutional arguments aside and start working together.

As long as I have constituents who need foodbanks, who have to wait anything up to a year for a mental health appointment, or who are desperately trying to cope with the hardship caused by Universal Credit or the change in state pensionable age for women born in the 1950s, I shall demand better from both administrations.

When I look around me, see those things, and I am reminded of how our system is continuing to let people down, I understand exactly why people are drawn to those Dickensian parallels. But perhaps it is not the apparent constant bleakness of his work that we are clinging too. For in almost all cases, there is a happy or at least uplifting outcome.

Even Christmas Carol with its iconic miserable Scrooge and the pitiful Tiny Tim fits that template.

So as we approach the next decade let’s work towards a more positive approach to our politics. Put people first and tackle the issues we face.

But first have a happy and peacefuol holiday season and in the words of Tiny Tim himself, “God Bless us, every one.”

Christine Jardine is the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West