It’s inequality, stupid.

Ecclefechan’s finest son, the essayist and philosopher Thomas Carlyle implored man as his first duty to conquer fear, to get rid of it entirely; for he believed man was unable to act until he did so.

Concern is understandably behind much of the reticence displayed by those yet to commit themselves either way to the Independence debate. It is not however, the fear we imagine it is; dispensed so cheaply by the Bitter Together campaign. It is more insidious. A creeping unease in the pit of the gut. As we will discover, this trepidation is wholly justified but I hope that by naming this fear we might finally begin to dispel it.

And if by flashing a bit of leg in the direction of those undecideds, I can persuade a few to join me in a chorus of Meg Ryan ‘Yessing’, then all the better.

The undecided will ultimately determine the fate of our nation. If the reactionary polemic and increase in hysteria witnessed recently are any indication of unionist jitters, it is almost certainly because Darling et al have realised that they are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of those undecided they had hoped could be bludgeoned into submission with casual threats and intimidation.

The undecideds have proven that they are far from the weak willed sops Bitter Together imagine them to be. They are circumspect enough to see that this decision ought not to be taken along straight party lines or be influenced by familial loyalty. They recognise the magnitude of the decision merits careful consideration. They will not be swayed by rhetoric, or cowed by invective.

However…

There comes a time when remaining undecided, becomes a decision itself and when choosing to sit back and analyse the data before committing one way or another results in a kind of paralysis by analysis. This plays directly into the grubby little hands of the Bitter Together campaign who would have us believe that the problem is more complex than it really is.

One of the benefits of being an expat abroad (perhaps the only one) is that it is easier to view objectively what is happening on the field of play from the relative safety of the touchline. I have discussed previously how successive governments have attempted to obfuscate debate by saturating the media until the signal to noise ratio is reduced to zero. Distance provides a unique perspective that reduces the noise and permits what scant signal is available to be heard more clearly.

The opportunity afforded us on Sep 18th is one that will not come around again for several generations. The decision remains a refreshingly simple one. One without need for so much as a rudimentary understanding of economics.

The referendum question does not ask us to endorse Alex Salmond, but simply to endorse ourselves. The delivery of a ‘Yes’ vote on September 18th does not grant the SNP a mandate to govern, rather it grants that mandate to the people of Scotland to do as is their want.

Wings’ latest poll data has revealed what many of us had guessed, that the large majority of those undecideds are made up of middle class types. Unsurprising, given that they have most to lose and have more reason to be fearful than those at either end of the socio-economic spectrum.

The middle classes are being cannibalized by regressive taxation policies, falling wages and negative equity. The creeping feeling in the gut that I referred to above is simply the realisation that today’s middle class will be tomorrow’s working class heroes. Given their predicament, it is not hard to understand their reticence and susceptibility to scaremongering. I  do not accept that their implied lack of determination is symptomatic of a population simply taking the path of least resistence through life.

The concerns of the middle classes must be addressed, not only to secure a ‘Yes’ in September but because our humanity compels us to.

The OECD inequality coefficient shows the UK to be among the most unequal nations in Europe. Today’s middle class children will become the first in over a century to find themselves less well off than their parents in adulthood. This is a theme exacerbated by global governments insistence on pursuing a neo-liberalist agenda and displaying a slavish deference to market whims.

The 85 richest people in the world now own more than the bottom 3,500,000,000.

If anyone doubt the inequality inherent in our current domestic relationship, mind Iain Macwhirter who pointed out last week, that if one side of this ‘union of equals’ lays claim to ownership of the pound, there is no equal union at all.

Here here.

Thorough investigations into the consequences of inequality can be found in a sobering new book entitled, The Spirit Level by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Joseph Stiglitz’s, The Price of Inequality and 99 to 1 by Chuck Collins among others. The OECD’s own figures are a vast repository of the many injustices that can be expected should we continue to see the income divide widen.

The teachers, engineers, doctors, lecturers and scientists that once comprised the middle classes along with financial professionals and bankers are being forced to the margins, no longer able to afford to live in London. Top of the class now, are the bankers, chief execs, fund managers and those working in the city law firms. Recent research published by the FT revealed two-thirds of top earners now live in London and the South East up from half 40 yrs ago.

More worryingly, inequality affects society in more damaging ways. Outcomes are significantly worse for richer, more unequal countries (the UK features prominently here) in physical/mental health, obesity, imprisonment, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, education and social mobility. 

The opportunity then, is to define for ourselves an alternative. Independence affords us one last chance to extricate ourselves from the structural violence of inequality.

Many inequality determinants are not immediately recoverable. Starting points (the socio-economic conditions into which we are born), Early Life Opportunities (opportunities or a lack thereof which amplify our initial starting points), and Global Influences (globalization, the downward pressure on wages for unskilled workers and subsequent increase in earning potential between the skilled and unskilled workforce) will take time to rectify. But the Natural Economy (balance between manufacturing and services) and Tax and Policy (here we can immediately begin to redress the regressive tax policies that exacerbate inequality and pursue a progressive tax system and redistribution of wealth) can be taken on immediately.

I accept that progressivity is not the same as redistribution. The United States has one of the most progressive tax systems in the world but inequality in the US is higher than any other G8 nation due to their tokenism when it comes to spend on social security. Nordic nations have far less progressive taxation but firstly, collect more and then spend more on social security and services.

To this end, I would urge whoever takes up position in government following a ‘Yes’ vote to implement as a matter of urgency a multi agency unit with responsibility for addressing the spiraling inequality that prompted the Scotland’s Outlook campaign to warn of an impending ‘humanitarian crisis‘. 

The unit, Ceartas (the gaidhlig word for fairness or ‘justness’) would report directly to the cabinet and would need to comprise high level officers with the authority required to command, co-ordinate and ensure adherence.

After an initial review period, the unit would set measurable and attainable goals to reduce inequality. The unit will be supported by an implementation team of operational personnel seconded for the purpose to the central unit.

The fact is, we are in a position to determine for ourselves the kind of country that we so desire. We are in a position to create something new. Something equitable. Meritocratic. Participative. Socially mobile. Just. A Scotland that will never shirk responsibility for those with less.

To return to Mr. Carlyle once more, who said,

“A man lives by believing something; not by debating and arguing about many things”.

It is time for the undecideds to believe in themselves.

Andrew S. Loveland’s ‘The Sound of Abundance of Rain’ is available to buy from the Kindle store here

2 comments
  1. Absorbing piece. Interesting for me as an Irishman to read the views & perspective of a Scot on this Independence issue. Your points about fear (of the unknown, outside the Union ) are well taken.

    Our own experience has been, as you know, mixed.

    I wouldn’t trade our independence for anything, yet with a few honourable exceptions, (Sean Lemass, Garret Fitzgerald) the nation has mostly been administrated by a bunch of third-raters, vision-less muppets, or just outright crooks.

    Oddly enough, I suspect Scotland would be/ will be, better run as an independent state. Something to do with traditional Scottish virtues of probity and work ethic. (if you can forgive the casual stereotyping and lazy, received ideas)

    Re Ireland, and our experience, I’m not a professional historian, but I’m going to brave the waters soon: am planning a series of pieces soon that will argue that we in Ireland may well have been better off if we’d achieved Independence later, and via the constitutional route (probably in late 1930s, possibly in 1946)

    I was also curious by the way about the Carlye quotes (effective hook by the way, for this reader at least)
    I recall reading him while on a University exchange to the US, as my American English Lit prof there was a Carlye scholar, and he at least partially won me over. I say “partially” because, although I began to get the sense of Carlyle’s meanings and ideas, I never ceased to find his prose any more readable or any less heavy going. Do you not find it almost unreadable? I wouldn’t dispute for a second he was one of the major thinkers of the Victorian era, yet his prose-style surely means he has slipped into relative obscurity outside academic and intellectual circles. He was a giant in his own time, but Very few people today, even amongst the educated, could tell you what he stood for, (unlike, say, John Henry Newman) He must be one of the most ignored, neglected or misunderstood writers & intellectuals of his era. After my university exchange, when I returned to my own college, and mentioned what (who) I’d been studying, my lecturer there simply said: “Carlyle? – Isn’t he some sort of Victorian proto-fascist type?”

    Anyway, too much information, I am sure.

    Thanks for following me. Am delighted to reciprocate. Keep up the good work.
    Regards- Arran. (Q Henderson)

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