Many people have asked me for copies of my speech to todays Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow so here it is....
Britain isn’t working
Can I begin by saying how proud the Scottish Socialist Party is to be part of this wonderful celebration of ideas and this progressive Independence movement.
This session, examining the failure of British capitalism & its state, is a gentle start to a day we all hope I’m sure is productive above all in helping to identify the solutions to that failure and delivering a programme & strategy for transformational change that can find mass support in Scotland today.
‘Scotland benefits from a strong, successful UK and has done for 300 years, so why change?’
That is the NO message. It is a message I am familiar with both as a Board Member of ‘Yes Scotland’ and having spent the last month debating with Labour MP’s/MSP’s in a series of meetings organised by the Communications Workers Union as part of its membership consultation on the Independence Referendum.
And the inevitable question I put to those MP’s was ‘What successful UK are you referring to?’Because the Scottish working class, who make up the overwhelming majority of the population of this country, do not benefit, we are held back by the UK. Our standard of living today is in steep decline as our bills rise and our incomes plunge despite being repeatedly told the worst economic recession in 80 years is over!
Scotland is one of the richest country’s in the world and yet we continue to endure searing poverty, a health epidemic caused by that poverty, a chronic housing shortage and a life expectancy level in parts of this city lower than the third world.
Our lives are blighted by casualisation and super-exploitation at work, our pensions are under assault, we face widening inequalities and our children face a future worse than their parents.
And our political rights are denied us as Scotland’s ‘social democratic’ aspirations to avoid the hateful & exploitative politics of the UK is repeatedly thwarted by a neo-liberal financial elite at Westminster & the City of London.
This is a systemic failure rather than the mistaken policies of this or that individual Govt.This ‘systemic’ economic and political failure is down to a system based on the exploitation of the many by the few. The rich, via their ownership of capital, exploit those who must sell their labour hourly simply to survive. The constancy of that relationship means the poor achieve relief from brutal exploitation only by organising and fighting back.
And British neo-liberalism is amongst the most exploitative in the world.Others on this platform have mentioned the child poverty that sees 1 in 3 children in Glasgow for example suffer deprivation, the food banks - the modern day soup kitchens, the ‘Zero hour’ contracts, casualisation of labour & vicious exploitation of youth, immigrants and claimants.
But I wish in the short time available to me to attest that Britain’s inability to provide gas & electricity to 1/4 of its households indicates an equally profound sign of failure.
The particular misery of fuel poverty has a developed into ‘the perfect storm of our time’ illustrating the ‘systemic’ failure at the heart of UK PLC.
Gas & electric bills have doubled in last 6 years, but our wages, pensions & benefits haven’t!
The huge rise in heating bills has occurred as wages in the poorest families have fallen 11% in real terms. Consequently Scotland now has one million households [1/3 of the total] living in ‘fuel poverty’ [spending 10% of their income on heating bills], and unable to keep warm, up from 220,000 in 2004.
And I want to say to the million families shivering away on this cold day in Scotland that your ‘fuel poverty’ is not your fault!
How can it be? Not when the poorest face the highest tariffs, not when 6 power companies declared combined profits of £8bn last year, not when Govt reports suggest 27,000 people are expected to die of ‘cold related diseases’ this winter.That’s not your fault, that’s their fault!
We have the perfect example of a systemic failure with harrowing consequences; bills rise as private power companies extort greater profits, incomes fall and Government cuts eat away at the ‘Winter fuel allowance’ and those other meagre programmes designed to help the most vulnerable. Eight million people in Britain [Dept of Energy and Climate Change] can no longer afford this basic human necessity. And the UK’s response? Like Queen Marie Antoinette from the French Revolution who said to those hungry for bread - ‘Let them eat cake!And to chill the blood even further the National Audit Office predicted this week that gas & electricity bills will rise above the rate of inflation for the next 17 years as customers must pay for essential infrastructure improvements.
Friends, an Independent Scotland must deliver on the promise many before us failed to deliver to eradicate fuel poverty in this energy rich country once and for all!
And that means returning the gas and electricity supply industry to public ownership to ensure no one is left out in the cold in 21st century Scotland. That’s the kind of society we will build as opposed to the one we leave behind in 2014!
Margo Macdonald said this week ‘Independence is not a policy it is a mechanism for delivering policy.’ And I think that is right. Independence offers a route around British failure.But of course, as Dennis, Patrick and I will point out in welcoming the SNP Govts White Paper on Tuesday ‘other visions of Independence are available’.
For the vision that merely offers a Saltire flying above corporate HQs instead of a Union Jack; that lets financial corporate crooks do their worst with impunity and their lackeys remain in charge - telling us no doubt how little can be changed and how long it will take. That is not the vision for me because it addresses none of the fundamental failures in our society.
No, Independence is the progressive option above all because it offers change, a chance to replace the neo-liberal elite with the honest, social democratic aspirations of the majority.Independence is a profound opportunity, it is as Margo suggests, the key that allows us to break free from the handcuffs of the British ruling class and their political prison.
They are steadfastly opposed to Independence of course because it shakes the very foundations of their power structure, their influence and control.Me? I’m for an Independent socialist Scotland, a modern democratic republic where we, the working class majority, are in charge of our own country & our own destiny at last.
So, be prepared for the fight of your lives these next 10months as they defend their power and privilege from attack and we mobilise the people of Scotland behind change.Thank you!