If Right is Wrong, What’s Left?

Almost thirty years ago I went to my first demo, one in support of the miners.  I was swept along by the passions of the crowd, the excitement of the day.  The chants were varied, but there was one constant refrain:

WHAT DO WE WANT?

MAGGIE OUT!

WHEN DO WE WANT IT?

NOW!

Last June I turned out to a demo against the incoming UK Government’s budget cuts.  The mixed crowd were protesting at reduced funding for our vital public services – education, health, care for elderly, et cetera – following the banks’ bail out.  None of us could understand why the financial sector’s gambling at the roulette wheel would see services that everybody has access to suffer.  Again, the chants were varied, but there was one constant refrain:

WHAT DO WE WANT?

TORIES OUT!

WHEN DO WE WANT IT?

NOW!

So, across several parliamentary terms and various elections, nothing had changed.  We weren’t happy with right wing politicians making cuts and doing their best to do away with things that they didn’t have to use.  You know the type of thing, free healthcare, state schools, public transport and the like.  I listened while speaker after speaker blamed the current UK Government for the cuts.  Most of them argued the fall in state spending was unjustified and ideologically driven.  They also highlighted they would significantly affect those from the bottom half of society more than the better off.  This is especially true with rise in VAT, a regressive tax where the poor lose a greater percentage of their income than the rich.

I agreed with most of what I heard but was disappointed at the lack of alternatives put forward.  Aye, opposing cuts is an easy call to make, as is firing insults at those of a conflicting opinion.  Where it gets hard is coming up with how to make a bad situation better.  One option of course is to play the class war card and call for higher taxes for THE RICH, an easy, vague target for scorn and hatred.  A better choice is to try and decide where we go from here.  One way or another, the UK is in debt & wants to improve the state finances.  But how?  The Tartan Tax, or the Scottish Variable Rate, only allows the First Minister and colleagues to vary the basic rate, hitting everybody.  Franklin D. Roosevelt showed in the 1930s that spending your way out of a recession can work, improving the country’s infrastructure at the same time.  However, this came at a price, with unemployment running in the double figures.  Is that a price Scotland is willing to pay?

The simple fact is there are no easy answers to improving the economy.  Worldwide, countries have to change their spending, so Scotland and the UK are no different.  The question is how.  Yes, you can try getting better value for money but I’d say that that will produce a 10% saving, if you’re lucky.  Also, you have to make sure you don’t buy into a false economy.  I can remember an old flat mate who worked in a hospital complaining about the cloths they used to clean and wipe up spills.  A cheaper product was found and bought, regardless of the fact that they needed to use three times as many since the quality was so poor.  The management argued they had achieved a saving since the unit price was lower, while they had really just saddled themselves with a larger bill.  Cheaper doesn’t always mean as good or as useful.

If you cut public spending, you will make people unemployed.  That increases the unemployment figures and the accompanying benefit costs.  You also lose the income tax revenue and the spending power of those who have lost their jobs.  How does that improve the economy?  The private sector is struggling too and there is no white knight conglomerate or multi-national riding in on a charger to offer employment to people.   What’s worse is that the damage the cuts cause will only materialise in all their glory four to five years down the line, after the next Westminster election.

So what do we do?  Am I going to just resort to demanding that people earning more than a figure I pluck out of the air should pay more tax?  I’ve already said that is a lazy and knee jerk reaction but is it actually wrong?  In Scotland, full-time workers’ average yearly earnings before tax is roughly £31,000.  I’d say that if you almost double that figure to £60,000 you’d see a group of people who could afford to pay an extra penny in the pound.  Yet that is not enough.  We need to create an economy that works well and avoids the classic boom and bust cycle we were supposed to have shed.

That’s why those leaning left politically, including myself, have to look at where we go from here.  Do we change what the state spends money on?  Or alter the levels of spending in certain areas?  Personally, I think the UK should shed the Trident programme, saving at least £2bn a year on the maintenance bill alone.  Imagine how many nurses and teachers we could have if we moved away from an outdated view of out importance on the world stage.  You would also have to take action to offer alternative employment around Faslane of course.  Could the skills of those working with engineering or technical skills help the energy and renewable sectors?  I’d imagine with retraining and suitable opportunities you could create a more worthwhile industry there.

So let’s stop defining ourselves by what we oppose and start looking at how we build a better Scotland.  You can only express yourself so much by pushing against the shadows.  Eventually you have to step forward with ideas, potential solutions and a willingness to make life better.  Let’s look for answers and opportunities, not bemoan the situation we are in.

WHAT DO WE WANT?

A BETTER COUNTRY!

WHEN DO WE WANT IT?

NOW!

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About LothiansKen

I'm a middle classed kiddie, but I know where I stand.
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