Jim Sillars: Don’t swallow this Eton mess
That’s how Prime Minister David Cameron described the United Kingdom when he came to Edinburgh last week, setting out his reasons for Scotland continuing to tie itself to England. He didn’t quite put it that way, but a small country of five million, in political/economic association with a bigger one of 55 million, is actually tied to the policies of the big one. How can an intelligent man, educated at Eton, expect us to swallow that tripe about an inspirational model? Rising unemployment, young people facing a lifetime of being defeated in the jobs market, wages cut, prices rising, banks saved while good small businesses are put to the wall, high streets full of empty shops as our standard of living falls, ten more years of austerity staring us in the face, people’s savings made worthless.
Then there’s the growing “third world” factor. Newspapers have started reporting mothers going without food in order to put something on the plates of their children. Food banks are springing up everywhere, offering free food to enable the working poor to eat.
The question that arises out of these sobering facts, as opposed to the hallucinations of Mr Cameron, is why would Scotland’s people choose to remain part of a failing United Kingdom when we have the potential to break free from this economic and social quagmire? Just look at what Mr Cameron said when trying to persuade us to stick with England – it makes Scotland “stronger, safer, richer, fairer”.
Stronger? The UK national debt has now passed the £1 trillion mark – not a sign of strength but of structural weakness. Most people don’t realise it, but the worst of the cuts are yet to come and, even with them, that debt will spiral ever upward to £1.4tn in 2014-15. A few weeks ago, London was laughing at the possibility of an independent Scotland having an AAA credit rating. Last week, the UK was warned that its AAA status was in danger.
The Bank of England, with quantitative easing, is printing money and using it to buy its own government’s debt. US private sector bankers who engaged in that kind of dodgy dealing with funny money are now in jail. Today, printing money has become common practice, without the Bank or the Government having any idea of the long-term consequences. Turning on the printing presses, done these days electronically, has always been a sign of a country deep in the economic mire.
Safer? We now have armed forces so reduced in size that they would not be able to defend this island if it was attacked by a serious state aggressor. Safer? We are this year about to experience taxis banned from Waverley station through fear of terrorism, all due to the Olympic event 400 miles away in London. Why does Scotland apparently face a terrorist event? Because we were taken to war in Iraq, as part of the UK, against the majority wishes and wisdom of the Scottish people.
Richer? Does Mr Cameron really mean that? He cannot be living in the same country as we do. The gap between the rich and the rest has grown steadily wider over the past 20 years. Bankers continue to get big bonuses, as do senior officials in the civil service, while nurses get a pay freeze which, because of inflation and demands for higher pension contributions, reduces their monthly income, as is happening to other workers as well.
And what about the unemployed? How can losing your job make you richer? A child poverty campaign group has produced a map of every ward in every council in Scotland, which shows that 13 councils have wards with 30 per cent of children living in severe poverty. In Edinburgh, Sighthill/Gorgie has 36 per cent, Forth 30 per cent, Portobello/Craigmillar 30 per cent, Leith 29 per cent and Liberton/Gilmerton 28 per cent.
The money printing by the Bank of England does have one known consequence – it has caused a dramatic fall in yields from government bonds that pension funds are required to hold, thus drastically reducing the level of retirement annuities for people who have saved for a private pension. Richer? His pals may be, but the rest are not.
Fairer? In England, where previously working-class youngsters could compete with the well-off for university places, they now have to contemplate taking on a load of debt while the better-off have no such problems. It is only up here that Scottish youngsters don’t face that obstacle, but I doubt if Mr Cameron had Alex Salmond’s free university tuition fees in mind when making his “fairer” boast.
Finally, don’t be taken in again by an old Etonian’s “promise” of more powers if we just do what he tells us. In the 1979 Scottish Assembly referendum, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, another old Etonian, told us we should vote no because we could get a more powerful Assembly after we had done so. Too many Scots fell for it. It took 20 bitter, wasted years – 11 of them Thatcher dominated – before we got Holyrood.
Beware old Etonian promises.