Read Iain in Sunday Herald and Herald
Aggreko warns of risks.” The Scottish front pages have been reduced to a proforma. They just fill in the dots. Alliance warns of risks, Standard Life warns of risks, RBS warns of risks … Lloyds … BP … Shell … Sainsbury’s. There is a weary inevitability about the coverage of the referendum campaign. George Osborne says No, Ed Balls says No, Danny Alexander says No, Johann Lamont says nothing at all. A coalition of the City of London, the political classes and a UK-dominated media laying down the law. Wagging a finger. No means No!
I’m beginning to wonder whether this isn’t becoming just a little counterproductive for Better Together. This relentless procession of finance companies, business bosses, Tory politicians all lecturing, scolding, tut-tutting and shaking their heads. You can’t have the pound, we’ll take our ball away. Your money won’t be safe because we’ll take the banks. We’ll try to destabilise your cross-border pension funds – don’t expect any co-operation from us. If you don’t do as you are told, we’ll take your passports away and have you kicked out of Europe. We’ll put up the price of food in the shops, and your mobile phone charges, and your insurance rates.
Eventually people are going to ask themselves: who exactly is running this country? Who are these people to make these threats? Who elected all these financiers and captains of industry? Bob Dudley, the boss of BP who earned $8.7 million last year, heads a firm that isn’t even British any more. Since when did we allow banks to make our political choices for us? The degree of direct political involvement by big business in this referendum campaign is unprecedented, and deeply disturbing. It is reminiscent of Latin America in the bad old days, of US dirty tricks and Yankee colonialism.
Normally, companies avoid taking political sides in Western democracies, because, well, they are supposed to be democratic countries. And it can damage business. As I noted last week, a lot of Scots – Yes and No voters – will be taking their money out of Standard Life and RBS and shifting to Barclays, whose chief executive recently said he would at least try to make any arrangement work. And Ryanair has become the airline of choice for thousands of Scots, after their canny boss said: yeah, sure, whatever.
I can’t speak for the Labour Party in Scotland, but I can tell you how it looks to many of their voters: an unpopular front with the discredited Liberal Democrats, the loathed UK Tories and the City of London. It’s these daily hectorings about the irresponsibility of independence from the finance houses, Alliance, Standard Life, RBS, Lloyds – the very people who nearly destroyed the UK economy out of unrestrained greed – that sticks in my personal craw. Being lectured on public responsibility by banks is like being lectured on childcare by paedophiles.
A campaign that is based almost entirely on fear is a campaign that has lost the argument. Correction: it hasn’t lost the argument on the Union because it hardly bothered to make it in the first place. A few platitudes about Team GB and Nelson Mandela from David Cameron in his Olympic speech does not amount to a reasoned case or claim of right. Then the dambusters took over. I defy anyone to compare the New Statesman lecture from Alex Salmond last week in London with what we heard from Danny Alexander in Edinburgh.
A lot of people dislike the First Minister, and perhaps with some justification. He can be a bit full of himself. He was fairly criticised for equivocating on whether he would cut the top rate of income tax in Scotland if it was still in place in England – though just imagine the threats that would have come from all those business interests if he had. But the point is that the referendum isn’t about Alex Salmond or the SNP running Scotland – it is about the right of Scots to run Scotland and choose the government of their choice. Right now, Scotland is being run by the City of London and the UK political establishment.
This conflation of the personality of Alex Salmond with the case for Yes is the disingenuous means by which the left in London has sought to ally themselves with financial corporatism against Scotland. Ah – he’s just like the rest of them, “shovelling even more wealth to the elite”, tweets Owen Jones, the BBC Question Time’s favourite tame lefty, clearly knowing and caring nothing about what has been happening in Scotland. Like ending means-tested prescriptions, scrapping tuition fees, promoting childcare, resisting the bedroom tax, and defending policies such as free personal care. You would think the left in London would be glad there was an alternative political space opening up in which it is possible to challenge the neoliberal consensus.
And come to think of it, which party actually did press for the abolition of university tuition fees? It was the SNP, and it was opposed by the Labour Party in Scotland, which regards these policies as part of “the something for nothing society”. Salmond told the New Statesman audience last week that Scotland doesn’t want to be a part of a country that is dominated by the anti-immigrant, anti-welfare, low-tax government of which Danny Alexander is a leading figure. He tried to spell out how Scotland could be a beacon of progressive policies that could counter the relentless drift to the right of the city state of London which now dominates the UK, and as even Vince Cable said, is sucking the wealth out of the rest of it.
One of the most chilling experiences I have had recently was at an NHS Scotland conference last week on welfare reform in Scotland. The impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms is devastating – especially on the many Scots with disabilities the bedroom tax is causing huge hardship, food banks are running on empty and, as our report shows today, poverty has returned to Scotland in a way I could never have imagined a decade ago.
George Osborne is planning to push through another £12 billion in cuts to people who are workless through no fault of their own. And there is nothing that the Scottish Parliament can do about it because it doesn’t control welfare – or taxation, or the huge oil revenues that flow to the London exchequer to finance Boris Johnson’s grandiose schemes. Politics of envy? Damn right.
And what was the Unionist response? Danny Alexander coming north wagging his finger, and warning: “the currency decision is final” – and anyone who doesn’t get it will be sent to the back of the class and held after school. Well, here’s a message to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury: the currency decision, Mr Alexander, will never be final, because it is not in the UK Government’s gift to make it. The pound is common property of the UK, not London’s toy balloon.
As for the threat on cross-border pension schemes – the EU is on the point of announcing that it wants to see a lot more of them. His pensions warning was just another nasty little scare, like mortgage rates, Europe, food prices. And don’t think this scolding, contemptuous tone from the London financial establishment will somehow disappear if Scots obediently vote No. We’ve learned a lot in the past few weeks about power and how it is distributed. The campaign has revealed the true face of the Union. They may win the referendum, but they’ve lost Scotland.