Want to Escape Austerity? Move to Scotland

The political mood is changing north of the border, says ERNIE JACQUES. A win for the Yes campaign could have profound consequence for the Labour Party in Scotland, and the rest of the UK.

Although polls on the Scottish referendum campaign show contradictory trends, and still indicate a victory for the Better Together campaign, Tuesday’s Scotsman (25 March 2014) is reporting increasing movement towards the Yes campaign and signs of alarm in the pro-union No camp.

John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, a specialist on social attitudes and electoral behaviour, is quoted as saying: “Better Together is beginning to look like a campaign in trouble.”

Some think this is unsurprising given the aloofness and arrogance of the Better Together leadership and its campaign based on relentless negativity. The No argument essentially boils down to the idea that Scotland is too small and poor to be independent, and it’s people too stupid, profligate and dependent on the union to manage its own affairs. That message seems to be annoying increasing numbers of Scots with unwelcome results for the No campaigners.Scotland Yes campaign ad

A small sign of the growing momentum behind the Yes campaign came from a Facebook post from my daughter-in-law, a woman who, to my knowledge, has never once in 30 years  mentioned politics, or shown the slightest interest in political debate, social issues, or even in voting. “Just the thought that if we get independence we wouldn’t get a Tory government is good enough for me,” she wrote beneath the Yes campaign ad (see left).

I was gobsmacked. Although this anecdote by itself is a totally unscientific, I do think we should consider the possibility that there is a real shift in the political mood north of the border, for if the Yes campaign wins it will have profound consequence for Labour and UK politics.

Whatever one’s political perspective on the independence vote itself, the message of the No campaign is easy to dislike. We all know that Scotland – like the rest of the UK – is populated by people of enormous talent, skills, ingenuity, creativity, pride and compassion, not to mention political savvy, and administrative and governmental expertise. The land itself has abundant natural resources and, anyway, when it comes to nation states, small can be beautiful.

A recent book, Life After The State, by writer, comedian and investor Dominic Frisby, makes the point persuasively, saying that Scotland has all the ingredients to become one of the wealthiest and most socially-inclusive nations on earth. He points out that all but one of the top 10 financially successful nations have populations of five million or less (USA is the odd one out).

He also says that “… there is a direct correlation between the size of the state and the wealth of the people – the bigger the former, the smaller the latter. The more power is concentrated, the less wealth is spread.” In other words, with fewer people there is less of a wealth gap between those at the top and the bottom. He adds: “The evidence of history is that the free-est countries with the widest dispersal of power have always been the most prosperous and innovative.”

Although this man is no socialist, and of course wealth doesn’t equal happiness, some of us do believe strongly that there is a correlation between equality, social cohesion and the good life.

Labour in Scotland

In my opinion, it would be a pointless exercise merely to adopt a smaller version of the austerity model peddled by those in power in Westminster. The SNP manifesto is a long way short of social democracy and democratic socialism, but it is significantly more progressive than anything on offer from those in the Better Together camp, including the Labour Party which sometimes talks the language of change with its ‘One Nation’ philosophy, but has a shadow cabinet overflowing with unrepentant Blairites and neoliberals wedded to the idea of light touch regulation.

This is likely to mean business as usual should they come to power – public sector cuts, privatisation, austerity and a small ‘c’ Tory agenda pursued by Labour politicians whose primary motive seems to be more managerial and career-driven than a desire for fundamental change and a new social compact. Wanting change and getting change are two very different things.

In this regard, it is important not to listen to some of Alistair Darling’s nonsense about a Yes vote being an SNP vote. The Scottish people are not voting for the SNP, nor for any other party, in the September referendum. It is a vote on Scottish independence. The issue of who will govern an independent Scotland, and how, will be delayed until 2016.

Yet, while Alistair Darling’s campaign seems to be doing a good job at alienating large numbers of traditional working class Labour voters, who are put off by pro-union rhetoric and status quo negativity, my spirits were lifted, temporarily, when I learned that the Scottish Labour Party has issued a mini-manifesto pledging to cut child poverty by 50 per cent, to increase wages and to reform the NHS. Woo hoo! Can we have some of that in north of England?

It seems that panic has forced a change in policy as thousands of disillusioned Labour members and voters desert to the Yes campaign. At a recent launch of its ‘Together We Can’ Red Paper programme, Anas Sarwar MP, deputy leader of Scottish Labour, said the policy initiative “… was designed to give voters a clear sense of why they should vote No in September’s independence referendum and elect a Labour government in the 2015 general election.”

Having taken time to reflect on this, however, I can’t help wondering whether this policy has the endorsement of the two Eds? If not, Scottish Labour might have a serious ‘unity’ problem. Either that or it’s merely rhetoric and political spin. It also begs the question, why has a party that, until recently, dominated politics in Scotland, was in charge for years at Westminster, Holyrood and across local government, decided to wait until March 2014 before tackling poverty, workplace inequality, a living wage and NHS reform?

The Labour leadership in Scotland is also talking now about supporting ‘devo max’ once Scotland sees off the Yes campaign. Yet, while there is growing support for more devolved powers north or the border, no one is willing to spell out what this means, nor what it will cost. As ever, the devil is in the detail.

Meanwhile, the Scottish left think tank and advocacy group, the Jimmy Reid Foundation has published In Place of Anxiety, Social Security for the Common Weal, by Willie Sullivan and Professor Ailsa Mckay, which outlines an alternative to government welfare reforms based on social justice, a living wage, employment security, affordable housing, a citizen’s income, and measures designed to tackle the benefit trap.

This is a programme for change based, not on austerity and the big stick, but on investment in people, job creation and job security, and affordable houses for all. Such a policy proposal ought to garner support from most Labour movement supporters, athough neither Labour’s ‘One Nation’ approach, nor this ‘In Place of Anxiety’ agenda will be achievable without the backing of a broad-based coalition of community groups and the will of the people.


See also: ‘An Unfit System’ by Ernie Jacques.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation’s report, In Place of Anxiety, Social Security for the Common Weal, is here.

Anas Sarwar’s speech to the Scottish Labour conference is here.


  1. […] a Nation’, by Barry Winter ‘No Short Cuts to a Progressive Scotland’, by Vince Mills ‘Want to Escape Austerity? Move to Scotland’, by Ernie Jacques. Tags: Campaigns, Policy, Scotland, The Labour […]

  2. […] also: ‘No Short Cuts to a Progressive Scotland’, by Vince Mills, and ‘Want to Escape Austerity? Move to Scotland’, by Ernie Jacques. Tags: Campaigns, Economics, Scotland, Social democracy, The Labour […]

  3. […] ‘Want to Escape Austerity? Move to Scotland’ by Ernie […]

  4. Ernest Jacques
    16 April 2014

    SNP Policy Proposals

    The recent SNP spring conference and Alex Salmond’s speech was interesting insofar as nationalists’ manifesto plans confirmed that a more equal and balanced society based on state support for social justice and inclusion will form the central plank of an Scotland’s economic and social policies should the Yes camp win the referendum and the SNP then go on to win the subsequent general election.

    Manifesto proposals significantly more progressive and social democratic than the status quo negativity on offer from the Better Together No campaign led by Alistair Darling MP. So unlike Labour’s plans for more of the same austerity and small c free market conservatism, the SNP intend to use the state to rebalance Scottish society and invest in people, communities and its welfare state.

    Political Caveat

    The caveat as always being that what politicians say when they are fishing for votes and what they do when in office are two very different things insofar as when it comes to the delivering on promises they often fail to deliver, especially so when it concerns promises made to ordinary working people and to those at the bottom of the social ladder.

    But having said that, it is undeniable that current SNP social policies are significantly more progressive than anything on offer south of the border and that its economic, social and foreign policy plans, post-Independence, is for many Scottish voters attractive and tempting which in turn suggests that the Scottish people might be about to deliver the equivalent of a political, constitutional electoral bombshell of cataclysmic proportions for our complacent and ultra-conservative Westminster politicians

    Labour No Camp – Defectors

    Having said that, I still think the odds are stacked against a Yes vote, but the tide is turning especially among traditional Labour voters who are starting to turn their back on Labour, in droves. This is because the SNP manifesto is head and shoulders more balanced, progressive and social democratic than anything on offer by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.

    All this in addition to a natural tendency for the Scottish people to be turned off by a self-serving Westminster elite who have the audacity to suggest that the Scottish people are unable to govern themselves.

    Trident & Nuclear Weapons

    An added bonus, associated with a Yes vote is a clear and equivalent commitment by the nationalist to get rid of Trident and nuclear weapons and to use the money saved (that part of the defence budget paid for by Scottish residents) for socially useful purposes. And if that were to happen it would fatally damage and wreck the UK’s (so called) independent nuclear weapons system and (hopefully) lead to Scotland exiting NATO – THIS YEAR.

    Now that must appeal to all progressives, ILPers and to tens of thousands of of CND, Labour Party and trade union members, north & south of the border. And if, additionally, Britain was to lose its seat and veto in the UN Security Council, then that would be an added bonus. Great, I say!

    Labour Party

    In this regard, I am not a puritan and I much prefer this pragmatic approach and the certainty of some progressive change than to wait in the hope that the Labour Party will get its act together and have a Road To Damascus conversion by putting equality, social justice and the working class as its priority.

    The ILP fall-back position of the long haul might be realistic but it is unappealing especially as in my heart of hearts I know full well that no-matter what Ed Miliband, Jon Cruddas and others might say about their desire for a One Nation and fairer society, the vast majority of Shadow Cabinet members and Labour MPs remain committed to free market economics and the interests of the City of London, big corporations and big money.

    In this regard, the social and community cleansing of poor people from London and in many other big cities and areas under Labour local authority control with hardly a whisper of outrage, dissent and opposition is, to my mind incomprehensible, damming and shocking. In my wildest dreams I never, ever thought that such an immoral and socially divisive policy would be allowed to go unchecked and that Labour leaders would become complicit in allowing this to happen.

    I dearly wish it was otherwise and that Jon Cruddas would be successful in his desire for fundamental change and social justice. But for the life of me I cannot see this happening insofar as I fully accept the ILP perspective about the need for bottom up – community and electorate – demand for change but this is also premised on the notion that Labour politicians will support deprived communities, those who are socially excluded and many of those that they claim to represent. And until there is a threat to the jobs and careers of Labour cabinet ministers and our look-a-like Westminster Labour MPs there is unlikely to be a change of heart and priorities, and neoliberalism will continue to reign supreme.

    Change and Jam Today

    So with all its uncertainties and unknowns a Yes vote could deliver change, and at 75, this North Yorkshire Sassenach does want a little bit of jam today and not wait for tomorrow and the long haul.

  5. Harry Barnes
    2 April 2014

    Further to the comment I made yesterday, I now see that on Friday the Commons’ Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform published a report entitled ‘Do we need a constitutional convention?’ (HC 371). It raises the English Question. Namely, as power had been devolved to Wales, Northern Ireland and especially Scotland (which now have the option of independence), what should happen in England where no less than 83% of the UK population live? Should it also have, say, regional devolved structures? And how do we sort out what should happen?
    Click here to read the report.

  6. Harry Barnes
    1 April 2014

    A version of ‘devo max’ seems to me to be the best solution for Scotland. There are indications that it would be a popular option, see this from today’s Scotsman.

    The ‘no’ campaign needs to press devo max now. The line could be, vote ‘no’ and we will campaign now and afterwards for devo max. To ensure Westminster would not gradually grab back powers after devo max, maximum devolution needs to be established via a federal arrangement.

    But if this is a good solution for Scotland it is also a good solution for Wales and regions in England. It provides the ‘small nations’ solution Ernie seeks, but on a wider basis. Britain as an island forms a natural boundary for a nation, but that does not mean that within a nation matters have to be centralised in the hands of the few. The question would then be, how would Northern Ireland (and Ireland?) fit into this pattern? Could a UK federal or Irish unit be established which would satisfy Nationalists and Unionists?

  7. Jonathan
    31 March 2014

    The relentless scare stories about, amongst other things, the pound and the Scottish economy, have made me much more sympathetic to Scottish independence. In the long run, I suspect England will lose more than Scotland from independence (otherwise, why all the hoo-ha?).

    However, I do wonder if severing the nations will cause economic problems for Scotland too and undermine the policies that currently make it appear so attractive: things like no tuition fees and free adult and social care. Of course, this may be a misconception on my part, rooted, as Ernie suggests, in prejudice about Scotland, but I am happy for my fears to be proved wrong.

Comments are closed.