Perspective: Inequality and disparity are why things need to change
by Colin Holmes - The views in this article are those of the guest author and do not necessarily represent the views of Yes Scotland.
The Westminster mantra that "we are all in this together" is ridiculous because its implication of parity or equality within the UK is known to be false. A recent piece in the Financial Times sketches the more accurate picture:
“Taking total assets – physical, financial, property and pension – into account, the top tenth of all UK households own 44 per cent of the nation’s wealth... The bottom 50 per cent of households own just under 10 per cent.”
So when we look at the gross disparity in the wealth and assets of people in the UK, we always have to wonder what it is they are claiming we are all in, together. All we can admit is that we are all in the UK together, both rich and poor in this grossly unequal state, together.
But then they start saying we are better together…
In the speech he gave at the launch of the No campaign, Alistair Darling said: “Our case is that, on every test, there are more positive gains from staying together.”
Well here is a crucial test: fairness and equality. Rather than there being a positive argument for the status quo to be taken from the fairness and equality test, inequality and disparity are good reasons why things need to change, and ultimately why we should vote Yes in 2014.
It is nonsense to say there are more positive gains to equality and social justice from being in the union. Inequality is almost at the stage where it could hardly be worse; and compared with similar countries it definitely is worse.
The big question for Scotland is this: should we not be living in a fairer country?
After all, as an independent nation we would be the sixth richest in the developed world and yet today we are part of a state that is the fourth most unequal in the developed world. Given all the resources and talent we have, and given the social democratic consensus across Scottish society, this simply doesn’t make sense.
Opponents of an independent Scotland would rather keep the UK’s inequalities quiet; they want to ignore all the divisions and disparities in society and present Britain as a unit, all together, in one society. Yet a vastly disproportionate amount of assets in Britain are in the hands of the super-rich and look set to remain so for a long time to come unless some significant change happens to what we call the ‘United Kingdom’. Such a change can be brought about with independence.
There are many good things that a Scottish government and society could do to improve equality and social justice, if it had the powers and the will to do them.
To say that equality and social justice are better if we remain in the UK than if we become independent is to place no faith, at all, in the ability of a society to challenge inequality and unfairness. That would be a pretty devastating conclusion for most in Scotland, especially those who support the Labour party.
This was the central tenet of Nicola Sturgeon’s recent address in Glasgow. “The end”, she said, “will be the country we can build with the powers that independence will give us. A country that earns its wealth and shares it more fairly.”
The challenge is to convince enough people that we can use the powers gained through independence to carry out these changes, to win their support in the referendum and then to ensure that after independence we carry out this end.
Let's pick out another statistic from the Financial Times and ask whether it is an argument for us being better together:
“The top 30 percent of households have so much money saved for retirement that it is worth more than their investments in housing and property despite surging house prices between the mid-1990s and 2007.
“The bottom 10 percent of households have mean negative financial wealth of £3,900 as well as mean negative housing wealth, meaning they owe more than they have.”
UK society’s poorest are, on average, in debt. Their work does not return to them any wealth they can live from, so they have to keep working or - if they are unable to work or if there is no work available - they need to look to society for help through the welfare state.
But of course, it is not just the poor who are in debt; the government is also steeped in debt. This means there is not really any money left for government to give to those people who must rely on society to live.
People are forced into hard and underpaid work even if they cannot really manage it.
Meanwhile, the richest have so much money waiting for them in pensions that it is worth more than all their property – and that is a lot of property. By one measurement, known as Net Present Value, the value of the top ten per cent is “£2.5tn – a sum that dwarfs the entire 2012 output of the UK economy, estimated at about £1.5tn.”
So the richest ten percent are ‘worth’ more than the total output of the economy, while the bottom ten per cent are ‘worth’ less than nothing.Image of high-rises in Glasgow by Danny Fowler
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