Don’t attack universalism, celebrate it
I take it if Brian Wilson had his way, then tuition fees for undergraduates would be introduced to help finance other areas of education provision (Perspective, 8 November).
It is not clear whether that view is shared by any of the party’s leadership contenders. Or even whether the whole principle of universalism is to be abandoned altogether.
It is a matter on which Labour should think very carefully before any attempt is made to introduce charges for pensioners’ bus travel, personal care, free prescriptions for those under 60, free eye tests or, indeed, university tuition.
Let’s leave aside for a moment the actual cost of administering means tests.
Consider the case of a family with, say, two youngsters at university; that family needs occasionally to rely on medical prescriptions and has elderly relatives who rely on concessionary travel, and may soon be in need of personal care. That family has benefited in times of falling real incomes by the universalism Brian Wilson is so keen to criticise.
These benefits should not be ritually denounced as “freebies”. They have played a vital social and economic role in a time of deep recession.
But the most telling fault in Mr Wilson’s analysis is when he says that “universalism is the enemy of an ability to redistribute wealth through public provision”.
Does that argument apply to the National Health Service, so often invoked by senior Labour figures as the party’s raison d’etre and a beacon of socialist principle?
Brian Wilson’s bitter attack on free university education should not pass without comment.
It is true that some wealthy people benefit from the policy. However, the vast majority of beneficiaries are the children of ordinary “workers”, such as electricians, plumbers, nurses, teachers, etc.
It is not the case that such people, mostly struggling with excessive mortgages, can afford the high cost of tuition fees.
So to lump middle-income families together with the rich is frankly absurd and suggests someone rather out of touch with economic reality.
Perhaps Mr Wilson should go down to England to see the debt catastrophe to which his party’s introduction of tuition fees has eventually led. Furthermore, the principle of universalism, which Mr Wilson deplores, is absolutely worth preserving. It expresses a society’s core belief in certain shared goods, like education or health, and without such a principle no genuine community is possible.
Education free at point of use, health care free at point of need – these are the finest achievements of civilisation. Mr Wilson should start celebrating and consolidating Scottish social democracy, not sit back picking holes in it.
Glen Douglas Drive