Friday, 5 October 2018

A tale of two visions of Scotland's future


From my Daily Record column

THIS is a tale of two commissions, two rival visions of the future which collide over the SNP conference in Glasgow, though neither are on the agenda.

The first, the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission report will be the embarrassing uncle, talked about but kept away from fireplace conversations.

Andrew Wilson’s independence blueprint has not aged well over the six months since it hatched.

The vision of a low tax Scotland where austerity would last at least another 10 years look very unfashionable now.

In contrast, the IPPR Commission on Social Justice, a landmark report with radical solutions for the broken economics that have left so many people behind, set the weather for the political conference season.

The IPPR recommendations translated straight into platform speeches for McDonnell and Corbyn, capturing the mood of voters to the extent that Theresa May was forced to claim she will abandon austerity.

With calls for a decent living wage and workers on company boards, the “prosperity and justice” report really did spark a national conversation.

It spat out ideas like a £10,000 “universal minimum inheritance” for all young people. It proposed to double the number of workers covered by collective bargaining, to auto-enrol gig economy workers into trade unions, to give the self-employed work-related benefits.

The Wilson Commission didn’t even consult the Scottish Trade Union Congress.

Instead, it recommended workers prepare for independence with something called “flexicurity”, a term so loaded with low expectancy, low wages and globalised exploitation that it will be the shameful headstone for the Wilson report when it is buried.

The IPPR Commission recommended reversing cuts to corporation tax, which have failed to increase investment as promised.

The Wilson commission argued indy-Scotland should match the UK’s low corporation tax step for step in a race to the bottom.

Given the preferred Tory model for Brexit Britain is to slash tax and diminish work protections, this is deeply worrying.

Tackling poverty and inter-generational opportunity are at the heart of the IPPR report.

In the Wilson Commission these issues, central to what politics is for, get little more than wishful thinking.

The IFS, the highly regarded economics research institute, concluded Wilson’s plans would leave Scotland facing an extra 10 years of austerity.

Yet, the SNP national assemblies convened to debate the Wilson vision reportedly spent their time obsessing over what currency Scotland should use.

Instead of wishing for money they don’t have, SNP members would do better for social justice by asking their leader questions about the money she does have.

Anyone going to the Glasgow conference will know the city has the highest levels of deprivation and lowest life expectancy in Scotland.

The council, now SNP run, have to tackle this with £233 per head less to spend on services than five years ago.

In the rural Western Isles, where public services are harder to provide, council funding has reduced by £504 per head of population over the same time.

These are not Tory cuts, this is austerity minted in St Andrew’s House.

The Scottish Parliament’s own research unit show that since 2013 council budgets have been cut by £744million, or 7.1 per cent compared to the Scottish Government’s own UK grant, which decreased by 1.3 per cent over the same time period.

Theresa May could end austerity with the stroke of a pen. So could Nicola Sturgeon but she backs the Wilson blueprint for independence and she’d double down on austerity.

Anyone who believes in tackling economic injustice, that's anyone on the left really, ought to look at Sturgeon’s council cuts and should compare the Wilson and IPPR reports.

Only one has the answers for a fairer future.