Donald Trump is an international disgrace.
His imposition of “enhanced security measures” this weekend meant citizens from seven countries with a history of terrorism were suddenly banned from entering the USA. The 5-year-old son of an Iranian passport-holder was detained on his own for hours at Dulles airport. Twelve refugees fleeing persecution because of their work aiding American forces were denied entry at JFK. Iraqi translator Hameed Khalid Darweesh had waited three long years to get the precious visas needed to save his family.
Hamaseh Tayari, a postgraduate veterinary student at Glasgow University was stranded on holiday in Costa Rica. She grew up in Italy but holds an Iranian passport. In less than an hour, a crowd-funded appeal by Women for Independence raised the cash for Hamaseh and her partner to return to Scotland via an alternative route.
Mass protests were held at major airports across the US, prompting scores of lawyers to turn up offering to plead for those detained. A federal judge in Brooklyn weighed in with a late night ruling that blocked part of Trump’s banning order and stopped his government from deporting the Darweesh family. But District Judge Ann Connelly’s action stopped short of letting them into the country or issuing a broader ruling on the constitutionality of Mr Trump’s actions.
“America has become a country of involuntary dissidents,” wrote American journalist Sarah Kendzior. So has the UK. At 5pm yesterday, half a million people had signed a petition calling for President Trump to be banned from entry to the UK – enough to trigger a Commons debate.
Donald Trump has dragged the office of President into the mire and in so doing has united the civilized world. But beyond protest and petition - what can be done?
Strange as it may seem, a citizen’s basic income may be one medium to long-term solution because unless modern democracies tackle the fear, anxiety and chronic insecurity that accompanies modern cut-throat capitalism, voters across Europe may follow the American example and vote for populist, right-wing, “anti-establishment” candidates out of sheer, bloody-minded desperation.
Democracies can do better – and Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Finland are trying to do better right now with pilot schemes to see if a guaranteed minimum income gives a semblance of security to casualised, low paid workers, an incentive to some unemployed workers to take on paid employment without fear of the benefits trap and gives measurable democratic, health, wellbeing and societal returns.
The Finnish pilot, just introduced by a Conservative Government, will give 2,000 unemployed Finns £475 a month for two years – guaranteed regardless of income, wealth or employment status and a sum which will still be paid even if they find work. Finland’s social security body, says the trial aims to cut red tape, poverty and above all unemployment, which now stands at 8.1 per cent.
Now people may think such an optimistic scheme is all very well for a Nordic country. Finland hasn’t got oil income and is still recovering from the loss of Nokia but it has got a near intuitive understanding of the importance of equity as a precondition for a decent society. The relatively small income gap in Finland is regularly cited as the main reason their pupils top the PISA charts comparing international educational attainment. And now - despite having a more generous welfare state - the Finns can see the need for a basic income.
So do Glasgow and Fife councils both of whom want to start pilot projects here.
Matt Kerr, Executive Member for Social Justice explained Glasgow Council’s thinking on the BBC’s Big Debate yesterday, “Right now the citizen is the servant and the state is the master. The basic income can reverse those roles so citizens are free to choose whether to be a worker, student or carer.
“It’s time the left took back the idea of freedom from the populist right.”
That’s true. A citizen’s basic income is a transformational idea with an equal and opposite force to Trumpism, protectionism and stranger-blaming because it offers some security and dignity to those out of work and a higher income to those who choose to have an additional paid job.
At a practical level it means unemployed people can afford to do vital caring jobs without losing their benefits. At a societal level it provides an answer to the impending chaos that will ensue when automation reduces the need for human labour in all sorts of professions.
Economists Howard Reed and Stewart Lansley predicted further benefits in a Compass think-tank report last year.
As well as a solid income base in an age of increasing economic and social insecurity, a universal basic income would offer “financial independence and freedom of choice for individuals between work and leisure, education and caring, while recognising the huge value of unpaid work.”
In short, you can be ahead of the curve or behind it – but so far most mainstream political parties in Britain are vainly trying to sit on it.
That’s why it was so significant that a sell-out conference organised by the Citizens Basic Income Group Scotland this weekend witnessed all party support for a pilot project in Fife.
Dave Dempsey, Tory group leader in Fife, described the Citizens Basic income as “an elegant solution that replaces the dog’s breakfast of benefits.”Of course there are always shortcomings in pilot projects – the biggest stumbling block is cooperation by the Westminster and Scottish Governments.
But in Fife at least, plans are going ahead and councillors seem intent on challenging politicians to put up or come up with a more effective game-changing alternative.
Let’s hope this ugly weekend, astonishes sceptics and stiffens political resolve.