As Prem Sikka points out in his article, as if it wasn’t bad enough to have the Tories attacking working people’s living standards and rights, Ed Miliband has joined the attack on low paid workers with his support for Tory policies.
As this issue’s cover tries to show, we should not allow a preoccupation with the intricacies of the referendum, to be held in 2014, to distract us from the fights of the here and now: pension rights, tax injustice, low pay, attacks on welfare benefits, cuts, unemployment etc. etc. Prem’s analysis of the growing inequality in our society could encourage us to look for a Scottish solution. He does however offer a solution within the UK based on simple changes to the taxation system. Anyone assuming that Alex Salmond and the SNP would adopt such measures should familiarise themselves with the SNP’s plans. Their failure to use their current powers to improve working class living standards, tackle inequality or take back public assets is evidence enough. Their plans for using the enhanced powers they could achieve are worse. They would use such powers to cut business tax and benefit their key business backers.
As Vince Mills points out “What the SNP variant of nationalism offers is client capitalism”. Alex Salmond quotes the number of new small nations as an achievement, but to paraphrase Eric Hobsbawn, when the number of states is maximised, their size and strength is minimised. Stephen Low argues strongly that just as a Scottish Parliament shouldn’t have been an end rather than a means, nor should Devo Max. Powers should only be sought on the basis of their ability to improve the lives of working people. As Drew Smith says “Flags won’t help the fuel poor and constitutional politics are cold comfort [to children in poverty]”. As the new Shadow Minister for Social Justice, Drew argues that services must provide more than safety nets.
Lynn Henderson is the Scottish Secretary of the civil service union PCS, whose members provide many of these services, often on low pay and feeling increasingly insecure. The past year has seen unprecedented industrial action from PCS members who will not have been impressed with the SNP MSPs who crossed a PCS picket line to go into the Parliament, even though the Parliament’s support staff were out on strike. The SNP, like some Labour Party leaders are frightened to be seen to support workers in struggle. Alex Salmond does not want his business buddies thinking that he would one day support their employees in industrial action. PCS activists have shown that they can win public support by making clear arguments on public sector pensions. Ed Miliband and Johann Lamont should learn from this. Being mealy mouthed does not win support from “the squeezed middle” instead it reinforces the belief that there is no alternative to Tory policies and at the same time alienates those fighting for decent pay and pensions.
Mike Kirby reinforces the case for supporting public services and makes the point that any question about democratic change must take account of local government. Glasgow City Council provides irrefutable evidence that local government must change. Instead of going into Local Government elections with a clear radical alternative to the SNP the Glasgow Labour Group is tearing itself to shreds with infighting and battles to advance individual councillors careers. Meanwhile the whole future of local government is in question. The Scottish Parliament may well take powers away leaving it further weakened. Gordon Munro outlines the discussion that the Edinburgh Council Labour Group has taken to the electorate showing it is open to finding new ways to work.
When we become too focused on Scottish politics it is good to hear about other parts of the world. The developments in Latin America provide inspiration, but also warnings. The vulnerability of smaller economies to the might of multinational companies should not be forgotten, but we should also recognise that when united these countries can offer a powerful bulwark. Cuba is benefiting from the increased influence of countries like Brazil and Venezuela, but the Miami 5 remain in US prisons. The Beyond the Frame exhibition will publicise their fight for freedom. The debate about devo max will continue and the left should ensure that any alternative fiscal framework is progressive, not just within Scotland, but within the UK. We cannot, however, spend the next two years focused on this one issue. Any campaign must take account of what can be done in the real world and with the powers available to politicians in the here and now.