David Jamieson argues we cannot allow the Scottish Government off the hook in a period of worsening hardship.
The threats facing workers across much of the world – falling economic growth, retreating or stagnant wages and spiralling prices – present Scots with a distinctive problem. Households across the country will have to meet an additional £700 in energy costs, and 7 percent inflation.
From one major viewpoint in Scotland, our own parliament and government is not a legitimate site of protest. The nature of devolution, with budgets set and powers retained in London, means that all enmity must be directed south.
I say this problem is ‘distinct’, but of course we have been here before. For over a decade in the 2010s, cuts budgets were passed from Westminster to Holyrood, and from there to local authorities and other institutions around the country. We have grown accustomed to the buck-passing that inevitably results. Councils cannot pay workers or finance services because the money ‘doesn’t exist’ having been cut by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government cannot finance the local authorities because of cuts in London.
Nor does the buck stop there. For most of the 2010s the Conservatives had their own get-outs. They had to cut to protect Britain’s credit rating. Across Europe the pattern was the same – governments had to cut to meet EU directives, pay debts to foreign banks, and on it went.
Of course, once all this passing is done, the buck does finally come to a stop – with us. The austerity decade saw a significant transfer of wealth between the majority population and the richest parts of society. So have the last two years, a time of enormous disruption for millions of people, when official rhetoric continually emphasised a mood of public solidarity. Once again, massive wealth has accrued to the owners of the big monopoly firms that dominate the global economy. Shell and BP (recent proprietors of the rights to develop Scottish seabeds) have posted record profits. Millionaires and billionaires increased their share of global wealth in the pandemic. They refuse to pay for the new privations, arguing taxation would dissuade investment.
In the end, this is about class power. Those who say that the Scottish Government is not to blame for the current situation must reckon with this reality.
The only appropriate response is to say that the buck stops anywhere but with us. Every and each level of government has a greater capacity to bear hardship than ordinary households.
There’s still plenty of give in the Scottish Government. They say they’ll introduce a rent cap in 2025 – why not now? Whatever happened to the reform of Council Tax to relieve the burden on lower income households? A promised National Care Service would be able to alleviate care costs if it weren’t a fiction. There is, in short, much the Scottish Government can do but won’t do because of its reluctance to challenge elite interests.
The ‘team Scotland’ attitude must end. By forming a common front with a Scottish Government unwilling to take any serious measures to protect the public, we are killing any prospect of an effective fight where we live.
It is not just that we are letting the Scottish Government and its corporate backers off the hook. The deeper problem is that the UK Government can afford to disregard the protests of Scots so long as they are trapped in the framework of devolution. If we won’t fight the British state as it exists in Scotland – including the institutions of devolution – then all we have is Ian Blackford’s droning in the House of Commons, and empty promises of future referendums.
It’s time to abandon any remaining attitude that ‘devolution is our friend’. This myth unites all sections of the post-1997 establishment in Scotland. Labour say it was their splendid innovation; SNP leaders say independence is simply the perfection of devolution; Tories won’t dare denounce it.
But after a decade of austerity with only symbolic resistance, millions of Scots now face an onslaught on living standards.
This perspective does not require abandoning support for independence. But it does mean dissociating that stance from a defence of the SNP and its version of liberal nationalism. The SNP leadership’s approach to the constitutional question has already resulted in a permanent deadlock which they, far from trying to break, are happy to wallow in. There is, quite simply, no coherent relationship between defending the Scottish Government and supporting independence.
The years ahead are likely to be troubled for this country. Scots cannot go into this era with a mood of political quietism, shackled to the zombies in Bute House.