Tomorrow, the Scottish Parliament will meet to consider Thatcher’s legacy. Here’s why I called for this debate.
The passing of Margaret Thatcher has prompted endless coverage about her period in office, and her political legacy. So much that I heard one man text in to a radio programme to complain that he had reached “Thatcheration point”! If he’s an Evening Times reader then I apologise, but I’m going to add my own comments to the deluge of analysis.
It’s important for several reasons that we take this opportunity to reflect on the ideas which Mrs Thatcher, more than any other politician, embodied. Marking her death does not mean celebrating it; I found that attitude as distasteful as many of her admirers. But it would be bizarre if this moment passed without a debate about how our society has been shaped since Mrs Thatcher declared that there was no such thing.
There are many people, including those who will cast their first ever vote in next year’s referendum, for whom Mrs Thatcher was already a historical figure only; they didn’t live through the times that she shaped. This may be their first chance to question some of the assumptions which have held sway for the last 30 years, about the dominance of the ‘market’, the unaccountable power of big business, and the individualistic values which Thatcherism promoted.
That referendum, in which Scotland will make a hugely important choice about its future, is another reason why this debate is timely. There are people on both sides of the independence debate who opposed Thatcherism during the 80s, and who remain committed to overturning its legacy today. Even across the constitutional divide, there is much that unites us. I don’t think Scotland can challenge free market fundamentalism or the values of greed and selfishness without far greater economic control, but if others disagree it’s important that their ideas are heard. The constitutional debate must be about the kind of society and economy we want, not just the location of government power.
Finally, the moment is ripe to debate the legacy of that free market, buccaneer capitalist economic model precisely because we’ve seen it fail so spectacularly. The ‘big bang’ deregulation of the financial markets, and the three decades of centre-right politics which followed (whether under the Tories, New Labour, or now the Tories again with their LibDem helpers) have brought us to where we are now. The recession which everyone except the super-rich has been living through cannot be solved with another dose of the poison which caused it. If we can’t make use of this moment in history to start a new chapter, we will have failed both our own generation and the next.
The Scottish Green/Independent group at Holyrood is urging politicians of all viewpoints in parliament to engage in an honest debate on the legacy of Thatcherism.
The group has chosen to make its allocated debate slot this Wednesday – the day of the former prime minister’s funeral – an open debate with no formal motion or voting. The theme of the debate is “There is still such a thing as society”, reflecting Margaret Thatcher’s comments that society is made up of individuals who should look out for themselves first.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow, said:
“Margaret Thatcher has died, but the tragedy for huge numbers of people is that Thatcherism as an ideology still lives. We aim to encourage honest consideration of the legacy of Thatcherism, the core elements of which – competition and selfishness – continue to affect our society and our economy.
“Despite her efforts to undermine Scotland’s shared values and public services, it is important to assert that our society still exists. Collective solutions to shared problems are all the more important in light of the failure of the Thatcherite economic model.
“By encouraging an open debate I hope we’ll see a bit less of the tribal politics Holyrood has suffered of late and bit more of an effort to acknowledge our shared aspirations for Scottish society. There are those on both sides of the independence divide who oppose the values of Thatcherism; they will need to find ways to work together after the referendum, whatever the result.”
A poll by the Scottish Greens of 1,000 Scots reveals the prospect of a fairer and more equal society is a huge motivating factor in next year’s referendum on independence.
People were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement: In reaching my decision about whether to support Scottish independence, the prospect of a fairer and more equal society is more important to me than whether Scotland as a whole would be slightly richer or slightly poorer.
The results were:
Agree Strongly 28%
Agree Slightly 30%
Neither Agree/Disagree 32%
Disagree Slightly 6%
Disagree Strongly 4%
In total 58 per cent agree that a fairer society is a more important consideration while a total of only 10 per cent disagree.
The survey also suggests those who have decided to vote Yes and those who have yet to decide attach more importance to a more equal society than those who have decided to vote No. Only 7% of Yes voters and 6% of Undecideds disagree, compared to 15% of No voters.
Patrick Harvie MSP, Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said:
“To date the economic arguments for and against independence have mainly focused on the prosperity of the nation as a whole, the performance of business and the extraction of oil. What our poll shows is that people are more attracted by a fairer society, where wealth is shared instead of hoarded by the few.
“Scottish Greens want to engage with those Scots who haven’t yet decided how to vote next September, as we believe our approach offers a positive vision that rises above the arguments they’ve heard so far. Our vision has at its core the need to put the common good back at the heart of our politics. We see independence as a means to that end, not an end in itself. As long as we remain tied to Westminster we risk those efforts being stymied.
“Margaret Thatcher famously declared society does not exist. It’s quite clear Scots value society highly and next year’s referendum is an unprecedented opportunity to start shaping the fairer society we want to live in.”
The online poll of 1,002 Scots was carried out at the end of March by Panelbase.
For a full table of the poll results, see the Greens website here.
MEADOW PROTEST: MSP ACCUSES COUNCIL OF GREEN HYPOCRISY
Glasgow MSP Patrick Harvie is calling on the City Council to reject plans to build 90 flats on North Kelvin Meadow, accusing the local authority of engaging in hypocrisy over the environment.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s demonstration in support of North Kelvin Meadow (11.45am, George Square, Greens attending), he highlighted the hypocrisy of bidding to be Green Capital of Europe, while hampering the efforts of the community to make the city more sustainable. In a video for the bid, Bailie Cameron calls on people to be ‘green activists’ in their communities.(1)
Glasgow has been shortlisted for Green Capital of Europe 2015, but the Council has a record of hostility towards North Kelvin Meadow, taking community volunteers to court in 2009. (2)
Patrick Harvie MSP said:
“The Council has said they want the people of Glasgow to become ‘green activists’ as part of our bid to become Green European Capital in 2015. If this ambition is to mean anything, the Council must support the endeavours of the people of Glasgow to renew their local landscape, and block this development.
Martha Wardrop, Green councillor for Hillhead said:
“Local residents have put in the hard work to transform land that the Council let fall into disrepair, and a wealth of community activity has sprung up around North Kelvin Meadow as a result. If the Council lets this development go ahead, it will be utterly disheartening for local residents, and send a pretty negative message to other people in Glasgow who are considering investing time and effort in improving their local area.”
1. In a promotional video for the Green Capital bid, Bailie Cameron says “we need our own people to be fully engaged, and to know how much the city is committed to greenness and to sustainability. We need them to be working on this in their own community, to be green activists if you like, and to help change the spaces and places so they can be given back, truly sustainable, to the people.”
3. Details of the garden and the campaign can be found at http://northkelvinmeadow.com/
Last week a few eyebrows were raised at the idea of drawing up underground heat from below Glasgow’s streets, and the prediction that this could meet up to 40% of the city’s heating needs. I can understand why some people were sceptical; even in this relatively mild winter, it’s hard to believe as we trudge about the streets in February that there’s a ready supply of warmth under our feet.
But the study under way at Caledonian University will be looking at the disused tunnels and mineworks under the city’s streets, which stay warm throughout the year and which could be tapped for cheap energy. Glasgow wouldn’t be the first city in the world to use geothermal energy in this way, but it would be a unique example in Scotland or the UK, and the benefits could be huge for a city where around a third of households live in fuel poverty. That statistic is only likely to get worse as energy prices rise, unless we can do two things; cut down our costly waste of energy, and develop new sources of green energy.
Achieving those vital goals, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and using energy more efficiently, will require a real transformation of our energy system. But it must be done in a way which creates a social benefit too, and I think that means much more than just changing the technology. We have the chance to change the ownership structure too. Right now we’re almost all completely dependent on a handful of vast multinational energy companies, and the sad truth is that they will always put profit ahead of public interest. The global factors driving up energy prices can’t be wished away, and it’s not all the fault of these companies, but their primary function is to make bigger profits for their shareholders, not to serve their customers’ best interests. Right now we’re in danger of missing the chance to change that.
I think there will always be an important role for the private sector, but we certainly don’t need to leave these few huge companies so utterly dominant. Some European countries have successful publicly owned energy companies too, putting the profits from the industry back into serving the public good. Some of them are even developing renewable energy in Scotland, and while I’m happy to welcome their investment I can’t understand why we shouldn’t take the same approach ourselves, and reap the rewards for the public purse. Creating a Scottish public energy company would be a tremendous legacy to leave for future generations.
We could start building it right now, if local authorities used their borrowing power to invest in profitable sources of green energy. Different technology would work in different places, and in Glasgow those underground heat pumps could be a great way to start. In other areas wind, solar (yes, even in Scotland!) and hydro power would be options. The income generated could be invested in public services, or in the housing stock to cut down on energy waste and save even more money. Ultimately, if Scotland votes for independence, we’d have the chance to put a national energy company in place.
There’s a real chance we could make green energy the people’s energy, and I don’t think it’s a chance we can afford to miss.
The words we use in politics really matter. They can change the way people perceive ideas, and even how we perceive one another. The way we name ideas and policies can make all the difference between popular approval and outright defeat.
The UK Government’s welfare changes for example, can be described by supporters as necessary reforms to simplify the system, or by opponents as an assault on the poorest people in society, even the death of the welfare state. Most people won’t be surprised that I tend to the latter view.
Very soon hundreds of thousands of households will be hit by what the Tories and their LibDem allies describe as “under-occupancy rules”. Everyone else in the country has adopted a punchier name; the bedroom tax.
Slashing up to 25% from housing benefit for people in council or housing association homes, on the basis that they have one or more “extra” bedrooms will mean huge numbers of the UK’s poorest people losing out, some by nearly £100 a month. When this policy begins in April we’re likely to see increased poverty, debt, evictions and homelessness. This isn’t an accident; it’s the deliberate aim of the policy.
It’s by no means the only brutal aspect of the Tory/LibDem welfare agenda. Many other changes will come in at the same time, mostly uncosted, untested and unjustified. So how are they getting away with this? Why aren’t we seeing a wave of public outrage? Again it has a lot to do with the words being used.
Debate about welfare has become dominated by words like “scroungers” and “skivers”, to contrast with “strivers” and that old favourite, “hard-working families”. This language is designed to undermine the compassion people feel for one another, it sets “us” against “them”. It’s the opposite of the purpose of a welfare state where everyone contributes to social protection, and everyone benefits. Where we really are all in it together.
This government wouldn’t be finding it politically possible to pursue this agenda if they hadn’t used such divisive language to change the way people see one another. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, a battered and indebted country fought for and won a welfare state to be proud of. It’s now being dismantled in front of our eyes, and this generation must summon up the same determination and win that same battle all over again.
Scottish Greens are welcoming the publication of proposals by the Scottish Government for the transfer of powers and development of a constitution following a Yes vote in the independence referendum.
Patrick Harvie, MSP for Glasgow and Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said:
“I very much welcome this contribution to the debate about a written constitution for Scotland. The Scottish Green Party has long supported a written constitution, and we adopted support for a constitutional prohibition of weapons of mass destruction last year.
“The approach suggested by the Scottish Government will help voters and politicians alike to start considering the practical steps to be taken in the event of a Yes vote, and it will become ever clearer that independence will open up new opportunities to improve Scotland from day one.
“In any political or public debate about the constitution, we will also continue to make the case for a fully secular Scotland with an elected head of state.
“It remains unclear why the Government is proposing the transfer of sovereignty two months before the election of an independent Parliament, and I’m still concerned to ensure that the Parliament has the capacity to hold an independent Government to account from day one. However this is an important step forward for the debate about Scotland’s future, and there is a great deal to welcome in the document published today.”
Scottish Greens support Scottish Independence from the conviction that the urgent transformation needed in our society and our economy can best be achieved by Scotland as a small autonomous country. Bringing political and economic structures and decision-making closer to the Scottish people is a core Green principle and ambition.
Scottish Government proposals:
Here’s my latest column from the Evening Times:
IN A previous column I wrote about the Scottish Government’s Budget and its 1% cap on public sector pay increases.
This is way below inflation and will mean even more overstretched household budgets. But not in every household – because a few public sector workers are doing very nicely.
Over recent years some parts of the public sector have become just as unequal as big business, with minimum wages paid to outsourced workers, while a lucky few enjoy astonishing salaries. This, apparently, is what “the market” demands, say some so-called experts.
Some of the highest salaries in the public sector are at Scottish Water, with several senior staff paid around £250,000. Its last chief executive was on £380,000.
This week it has been revealed ScotRail is fast catching up with this. Its managing director will be enjoying a pay rise of £54,000 this year, taking his total package of pay and perks to a third of a million pounds.
ScotRail, of course, is run by First Group, a private sector profit-driven company. But it is operating a public sector franchise to run a public service.
The gap between high and low pay has grown incredibly wide in recent years –and it does not need to be this way. Simply blaming “the market” as if it is a law of nature is nonsense. Markets are just the name we give to the overall effect of individual decisions. Market conditions are set by the people making those decisions, and those who set pay levels for senior positions must take responsibility.
This inequality is shameful at any time, but even worse when the UK and Scottish Governments are squeezing the pay of the dedicated public sector workers that we all depend on to provide the services a decent society needs.
The minimum wage (currently £6.19 an hour if you are over 21) was an important step forward, and the Living Wage (now £7.20 for Glasgow City Council workers) is a vital next step.
But it is time we also looked at high pay and start to close the gap. New appointments are coming at the top of Scottish Water and Creative Scotland, and there is a new ScotRail franchise coming soon.
So the Scottish Government should seize this moment to introduce maximum pay ratios between high and low pay in the public sector, and in companies delivering public services. Maybe then the phrase “we’re all in it together” will not ring so hollow.
Scottish Greens are warning Finance Secretary John Swinney that his proposed budget – debated at Holyrood today – is flawed, and will let down college students, public service workers and Scotland’s climate change ambitions.
Patrick Harvie, Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, used the debate to reaffirm his party’s opposition to the £34million due to be slashed from college budgets. He also called for funds diverted to capital projects to be put back into public service pay to help workers keep up with the cost of living.
Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow, is concerned that the Scottish Government has failed to produce a legally-required report which explains how it will make up lost ground following its failure to meet the first annual target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Patrick Harvie said: “As it stands this is a seriously flawed budget. Mr Swinney is following George Osborne’s lead when instead he could be helping public service workers with a wage rise that keeps pace with inflation. Shovelling precious cash into short-lived capital projects won’t guarantee economic recovery.
“The SNP would be foolish to ignore the growing concern at college cuts. Further education, particularly part-time courses, is so important at helping people from all walks of life improve their chances of employment.
“And it is appalling that as parliament debates the budget it has no idea if it will adequately fund the government’s climate change policies. Ministers have two weeks to lay their revised report before the final vote, and by dragging their feet they are failing to show leadership on an issue they like to talk up.”
The UK Government has this week published its “midterm review”, a self-assessment of their performance since the Tory/LibDem coalition came together in 2010. I’d guess that few people would be as forgiving about their dismal government as they are themselves.
From the beginning, their essential argument has amounted to “no pain, no gain” – telling people that only dramatic cuts to public spending and long term efforts to reduce the deficit can create economic recovery. In their coalition agreement they wrote about building a new economy from the rubble of the old. The reality of course is that many Tories have longed for a chance to dismantle the public services which the UK should be proud of, and the LibDems were willing to put them into power in exchange for pathetically limited concessions.
If their basic economic strategy was bearing fruit, they’d at least have some kind of defence. But their failure is all too obvious. Even on their own terms there has been no economic recovery. The cuts to public services and the attacks on the poorest in society have created all that pain, but for no gain. So far, some of the worst of it is being inflicted only on England; the dismantling of the NHS and the continued efforts to turn education into a market commodity are shocking, but in Scotland we are able to protect ourselves from those policies. Even though the political parties here disagree about how to deal with the funding cuts which Westminster hands out, even Tory and LibDem MSPs aren’t pushing for the same wreckage of the public sector here.
However the worst is yet to come. With savage cuts coming to the welfare state, designed partly to save money but also to ensure that those savings come from the poorest in society instead of the wealthiest, we’ll see the chronic inequality in the UK get even worse, and those least able to defend themselves will be hit the hardest. Unless the UK Government changes track, mere failure will turn into genuine disaster.
I have no interest in hearing the Tories’ rhetoric about “tough choices”, or the defensive pleading of LibDems who rightly fear the voters’ judgement. If they don’t have the nerve to bring this toxic government down they will deserve everything they get in 2015.
The chance to throw this shower out of government can’t come a moment too soon.