Leader: Marchers' message

IT WAS perhaps inevitable that the trades union movement's massive demonstration in London yesterday would be marred by violence from a minority of anarchists, anti-capitalists, revolutionaries and random discontents who simply wanted to lash out at any figure of authority.

The troublemakers' instincts are loathsome, especially as they were unleashed in the midst of what the march organisers intended as a family day out with a serious message. The violence spread fear and alarm among the overwhelmingly decent and well-behaved majority of the marchers. The wrecked police vans and missile-throwing youths may dominate TV coverage, but in the longer view it is the size and symbolism of the march itself that are the most significant aspects of yesterday's events.

The march was, of course, an alliance of radically disparate views. Some union leaders question the need for any public spending cuts at all, insisting the money required to reduce Britain's deficit could be gained from closing tax loopholes. While there is a legitimate point to be made about the tax avoidance of big companies, to present this as a panacea for Britain's ills is, at best, wishful thinking.

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From the early days of this Westminster government, this newspaper's view of the cuts has been the one shared by the SNP and the Labour Party - that cuts are necessary to help reduce the deficit and get the economy under control, but those proposed by the Coalition are too fast and too deep. So much so in fact that they risk the very recovery they are intended to facilitate. The alarming downgrading of Britain's hopes for growth, confirmed by Chancellor George Osborne in a lacklustre Budget speech last week, are cause for concern. So too is Osborne's apparent inability to even contemplate that his plan, which assumes an enormous amount of private sector entrepreneurship to fill the economic black hole made by the lack of spending in the public sector, may need to adapt to changing circumstances. Here in Scotland, where entrepreneurial zeal is in regrettably short supply compared with other parts of the UK, that is a particular worry.

In one sense, yesterday's marchers - dominated as they were by public sector employees - were belatedly catching up with those who work in the private sector, where job cuts, wage freezes and restructuring of pension provision have been facts of life for some years. And yes, there will be some in the private sector who look at the pay and conditions packages still enjoyed by many in the public sector (even after the cuts) with a degree of jealousy. But this was not just about people complaining about their lot and looking out for themselves, it was also people warning of the huge and harmful effects cuts will have in services that they are involved in.What private and public sectors can agree on is that the scale and indiscriminate nature of many of the cuts being proposed threaten many services on which communities - especially those in deprived areas - depend.

It is unlikely yesterday's march will change minds in Downing Street. But in the office of the Deputy Prime Minister the sight of ordinary people taking to the streets in numbers not seen since the protests against the Iraq war should perhaps give pause for thought. Without a doubt, many of those tramping up Whitehall yesterday voted Lib Dem in the general election last year. Many fewer, it seems fair to say, would do so again today or at any point in the foreseeable future. In Scotland, opinion polls show support for the Lib Dems as low as 6 per cent - just one percentage point above the Greens and two points above the Scottish Socialist Party. With most of the actual cuts still to bite, Nick Clegg would be forgiven for wondering if, by collaborating in these cuts, he has destroyed a once-great political party.