Duncan Hothersall, Editor of Labour Hame, says we have the power in our hands to choose a progressive approach to securing the services we all rely on. We should grasp it.
Yesterday Kezia Dugdale outlined a plan to increase the basic rate of tax so that swingeing cuts to education could be reversed. As she said, its not just an education policy but an economic policy.
Everything we know about our economy and the world economy tells us that Scotland’s future will be more and more dependent on our people’s skills. There is a simple choice facing us. We can embrace that future and prepare our people so that they can thrive in the world of tomorrow; or we can accept the Tory-imposed austerity that condemns a portion of society to looking in from the outside.
Every year in Scotland, 6,000 children leave school unable to read properly. What kind of future is there for them? Will they be able to participate in a skills-based economy? Will they find rewarding and fulfilling work? Or will they be condemned to a future of low paid, temporary, precarious work while the rest of the world moves past them?
I take the pragmatic view that the job of government is to harness the resources of society to ensure a future where everyone has a fair chance to participate. Going on as we are is no longer an option. Far too many are locked into unfulfilling work, with uncertain hours granted by exploitative employers. At the same time they are locked out of the promise of the future.
In the past few years, through the Labour Party and through shared friendships, I’ve got to know a lot more older people than I used to. It’s truly an education. When you’re young you think you know everything. The older you get the more you realise how much you need to learn.
One of our new friends is Maureen, who wouldn’t thank me for telling you her age but who is now retired. She often mentions just how much access to education meant in her life. She left school at 15 with little in the way of qualifications, started a family and worked every day to make a good life for her sons. When the last of them started school (she now has seven grandchildren!) she looked for work, but her lack of qualifications made it hard to find anything. A school friend persuaded her to go back to college, which she did, taking advantage of a small bursary, first part time, then eventually on to an ONC and an HND. With those qualifications she embarked on a career in the NHS, and more than thirty years later she retired from a job where she managed budgets into the millions and hundreds of staff.
Maureen had to work hard, which she did all of her life, but she had just a little help along the way. She despairs at what is happening to this generation of young people. The ladder she was able to climb is simply no longer available. More than 150,000 college places have been lost and the sneering criticism of “part time, hobby courses” made by defenders of the SNP’s choices sends a cold shiver through her.
A world where Maureen couldn’t find the help she needed to make the life she wanted for her family is worse for her, but it is also worse for all of us.
You can reduce it all to costs and benefits, if that’s the way your mind works. For me, though, I’m persuaded by the simple notion that the measure of any society is how we treat the least well off, how we nurture and support those born into disadvantage. The Spirit Level famously makes the compelling case that more equal societies are better for everyone.
In response to Labour’s idea that we need to find resources to tackle the crisis in education, the Nattering classes seem unable, or unwilling, to appreciate that you can’t both be against austerity and unwilling to act against its causes.
This is sad, and self-defeating. So here’s my message to my SNP friends.
First of all, stop a second. Half of you are screaming hatred at Labour from some sort of Pavlovian response, without ever even having checked to see if the spin you are being fed is fair. (Spoiler: it’s not.) Pause. Read. Reflect.
Second: what’s the point in having powers if all you do with them is implement Tory spending plans? Seriously. You have literally spent years talking about needing the economic levers to make a difference. They are in your hands. Have a pull.
Third: surely, surely, this is not the budget you want? If the Tories had increased taxes for everyone by a penny, you wouldn’t be arguing that we should use the power to reverse that would you? So all you are left with is the iron determination to manage George Osborne’s spending plans in Scotland.
And finally, though I say this more in hope than expectation: why not put politics aside just for this one moment in time? Why not join us and say there is a reason why we have our own parliament, it’s so we can make our own choices. So let us together choose a better path for our country.
This is the real deal. Labour is standing up for progressive, fair taxation to fund the services which make the society that we all, all of the Maureens, rely on. Isn’t this the Scotland you’ve been fighting for? Let’s actually do it.