Thank you, but…
Thank you for bringing us this far, SNP. Thank you for bringing us to the point at which the people of Scotland can decide their own destiny for the first time in centuries. Thank you for your White Paper, mapping your vision for Scotland. Now it’s our turn – those of us who reject neoliberalism – to present ours.
Background: SNP’s policies inevitable. Why?
I would argue that many of the SNP’s policies are inevitable, given the neoliberal environment of the UK and the constraints this puts on political parties. Two major and interconnected elements of this environment are the media and the need for money in order to be elected.
a) The neoliberal media
Much of the world is under the thrall of neoliberalism (defined and explained in this blog post). The UK certainly is. This means that the mass media, including the state broadcaster, allow only a narrow spectrum of opinion to be fairly aired: enough to give the semblance of debate and openness, but not enough to alert most people to the overwhelming evidence that neoliberalism is a massive confidence trick, designed to make the super-rich richer at the expense of the rest of society and of the environment. Those who attempt to present the facts are ignored, ridiculed or disparaged, often by means of ad hominem attacks, i.e. attacks not so much on people’s arguments but on their personalities and motivations. (For more on the media, see Media Lens.)
b) The need for money
A further element is that electoral success in our present, very flawed system of democracy (actually plutocracy) is related to the amount of money spent on campaigning. Dr Roslyn Fuller discusses this and other troubling facts in the talk below. This extract is taken from the section which starts at 36 min 33 seconds:
…Power can be translated into wealth, and wealth can be translated into power. [...] To win any election you need quite a lot of money.’ [...] I looked at a lot of different countries and I found in all of the ones that I looked at, and this ranged from American presidential elections to local elections in Ireland [...], actually, money has a measurable influence on the outcome of elections, to a quite staggering extent. Basically, the more you spend the better your chances of winning, and if you spend enough you can be virtually sure of it.
This compels political parties to seek millions of small donors or a few super-rich ones. As there is growing disenchantment with politics amongst the general public, not least related to its capture by the corporations and the super-rich, political parties are ever-more inclined to rely on corporate sponsors. This inevitably shapes their policies, and the vicious circle continues, with all mainstream parties ultimately dancing on the head of a neoliberal pin, increasingly despised by a disenchanted and poorly informed public, who despairingly witness their content-free Punch-and-Judy posturing while the environment and the quality of people’s lives steadily deteriorate.
SNP policies to please the neoliberal establishment
The SNP is not exempt from these forces (the corporate media and the need for money).Therefore their leadership at least believes (and they may have been right, up to now) that in order to be electable they have to adopt policies that will appeal to the neoliberal establishment. Hence SNP support for continued membership of NATO, their apparent desire for us to remain loyal subjects of a monarch, their refusal to even consider setting up our own currency and, most significantly, their plans to cut corporation tax.
They know they would be savaged by the mainstream media for every little deviation from neoliberal orthodoxy, and especially for large ones such as doing the contrary to most of the above. They also know they would lose their corporate donors. However, the people of Scotland, brainwashed as many are by the dominant consumerist/neoliberal paradigm, retain nonetheless some basic humanitarian instincts. The SNP has therefore had to play a tactical game of triangulation. (This is not to deny that some of the hierarchy will, in fact, be neoliberal believers.)
There is not only an alternative, there is no alternative to an alternative
So is there an alternative? How do we break out of the above vicious circle? On the first point, I believe that not only is there an alternative, but that there is no alternative but to have an alternative. I shall illustrate this, using just two examples: currency and corporate taxation. The second point I shall come to later…
We must have our own currency. The monetary system drives increasing inequality and environmental destruction.
As Positive Money says, our money system guarantees that inequality will get worse. The gap between the very richest and the rest of us has increased continuously over the last thirty years. The top 10% of population earns on average six times more than the bottom 90%. Many factors contribute to this growing gap, but one of the most significant is least understood: the role of money creation by banks.
You can read the evidence relating the monetary system to growing inequality here. If we are to build a more equal and democratic society, and one that is not to continue with disastrous destruction of the environment, we have to have our own currency, issued by our own central bank under the control of the Scottish Government, and prevent private banks from issuing money as debt. There is no alternative.
By the way, here’s a nice explanation of the madness of the current monetary system:
Tax breaks for large corporations and the super-rich do not create jobs. We should have a redistributive tax system.
I refer you here to a video I previously included in my blog post titled ‘Tax breaks for “job-creators”? Toolkit for busting this and other neoliberal myths.‘ In it, Nick Hanauer says that the interests of the super-rich and large corporations are in employing as few people as cheaply as possible: ‘A policy-maker who believes that the rich are job-creators, and therefore should not be taxed will do [...] terrible policy.’
For every two jobs Walmart creates, three are destroyed. Watch this video from 7 minutes, 10 seconds:
The consequences of letting large corporations get away with paying little or no tax (whether through low rates of corporation tax or through lax regulations and enforcement) are that they syphon off larger and larger amounts of money, using their resources to squeeze out less ruthless and smaller competitors, competitors who contribute far more to the communities in which they are present. Giving tax breaks to the super-rich merely widens inequality, with terrible consequences for society and the environment. It does not create more jobs, as smaller employers are pushed out, and certainly does not encourage them to create better-quality or more stable jobs, as they can potentially, in any case, up stakes and find cheaper employees elsewhere. To compete with other countries to attract ‘investors’ on the basis of lowering tax and attacking workers’ pay and conditions is to compete in a race to the bottom. Far better to encourage decent businesses by offering excellent infrastructure and an educated population.
Rather than go on at length here, I refer you to my collection of resources ’Tax breaks for “job-creators”? Toolkit for busting this and other neoliberal myths.‘ (which contains many useful links, not least to the Equality Trust website), to David Erdal, who makes a great case for government policy favouring employee-owned companies rather than public limited ones, and to Ha-Joon Chang, who shoots down many neoliberal myths.
In conclusion, if you want to build a fairer society with more secure jobs, then you should not give tax breaks, willy-nilly, to the super-rich and to large limited-liability corporations, who are compelled, first and foremost, to make (short-term) profits for their shareholders. You should introduce and enforce a redistributive tax system, as do Denmark and Norway, for example, which also have higher rates of corporation tax than the UK. You should also invest in excellent infrastructure and public services, not least of which are public transport, healthcare and education. There is no alternative.
The complete alternative vision
It would be lovely to have an inspiring and complete alternative vision, and I am happy to say that this is rapidly taking shape, whatever the neoliberal media may say, but it is important that you contribute to it. For ideas and contacts please see this recent post: ‘Health policy in an independent Scotland: tackling inequality is key‘.
Where do we go from here?
We can recognise and thank the SNP for what they have done so far. Then we must also say, ‘Yes, but it could be even better. Here is our vision…’
Division in the ‘Yes’ camp?
Of course, the presentation of any alternative vision will be portrayed as a sign of division and in-fighting in the ‘Yes’ camp, and presented as a reason not to vote for independence. This is, of course, ridiculous and we must challenge it. The SNP’s vision – one of watered-down neoliberalism – is at least better than the full-strength variety which is the only game in town for the major UK parties, and there is no harm in acknowledging this while we argue that the referendum is an opportunity for everyone in Scotland to contribute to shaping a better country.
There is nothing wrong with having a healthy debate now, and getting really excited about the positive, evidence-based changes that lie within our reach. …And never forget, or fail to point out, that what we are arguing for is based on evidence. We are not a bunch of ill-informed dreamers; it is the neoliberal extremists who are unrealistic, as the evidence for the ridiculousness of their assertions mounts up. There is no alternative but to find an alternative to their destructive idiocy.
Breaking the vicious circle: we must simply get out there and make our case
Now I return to the point I left hanging above – how to break the vicious circle of political parties only being electable if they toe the neoliberal line. Well, it starts here and now with you and me.
Speaking of alternatives, part of breaking free of the vicious circle will certainly be to use alternative media to communicate our message (see the recommended sites at the bottom of this blog entry) but, more importantly, we should simply be talking to people, of all walks of life and, as Robin McAlpine made clear at the second Radical Independence Conference, particularly the poor and disenfranchised, for they have the most to gain from independence and will continue to lose the most from remaining within the UK.
A broad alliance, not another political party?
Should we, the so-called ‘radical left’, form an electoral alliance – a pact? People are rightly distrustful of parties, but a broad movement that includes many individuals as well as some parties (the Greens and the SSP, for example) might have more traction. While we are already united as the Radical Independence Campaign, should we perhaps consider another name for such an electoral alliance, as ‘radical’ might put people off, and as our policies actually have more of an evidence base than those of the neoliberal pinhead-dancers? How about the ‘Rational Independence Alliance’, for example? (Please post a comment below if you have any other suggestions.)
It isn’t a question of change or no change
I conclude with a poster I put together, with the graphic-design input of Eddie Gibbons, and which I have previously blogged about. It’s a point that must surely be made to those who are nervous of change.
P.S. What we are up against.
I conclude with a mention of this predictably nasty article in the corporate media. I would love to get this sadly ignorant journalist to read 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, then ask him who the real fantasists are.