A view from the cheap seats
Florence Boyle is a member of the Scottish Labour Party who voted Yes. Here she sets out what she’d like to see next from her party.
Firstly, let me get my confession out of the way.
Although I remain a Labour Party member, I have not participated in any party meetings or processes for at least 5 years. It may be longer. I could say more but it would literally be a waste of space – but just for information, no one has ever asked me. Although they did give me a call to help fund the No campaign.
Next confession: I voted Yes in the referendum. Not out of any deep-seated sense of nationalism, nor from a lifelong desire for an independent Scotland, but instead I, like many other Labour members, saw it as an opportunity to reset the social justice agenda and begin again with the challenge of tackling the poverty issues that still exist in heartland Labour areas, despite Labour’s stewardship of those areas for generations. Because it just doesn’t feel like we are Better Together.
In the eyes of some this may nullify my right to contribute to the “where next” debate currently underway in Scottish Labour; but I hope it will be received, as it is intended, as a contribution from a critical friend. Be warned, some of it may be heresy, some of it may be naïve. I claim no expertise in local or central government management but I am sure there are enough people within the party who do.
Have a more adult conversation about the politics of ‘difficult choices’.
Elected representatives remind us on a regular basis that this is what politics is all about, without ever spelling out how they came to the decisions they made or what it was a choice between. Although expressed clumsily there is a grown up debate to be had about universal benefits and the ‘something for nothing’ culture which has now become entrenched in the welfare state.
Benefits exist to catch you when you fall. The distortion of the principle of universal benefits means that we now provide free bus passes to people in full time employment who happen to be over 60. We also give free prescriptions to people like me who are rarely ill and can pay for an occasional course of medicine for a less serious ailment. What’s the policy alternative which is not being funded or insufficiently funded because of this choice? Where’s the courage to talk this through and put the case? Is the welfare state a safety net or a pot we can all dip into?
Properly fund local government.
The race to the bottom in terms of freezing Council Tax has left poor areas like Glasgow, Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire in a no-win position. The truth is if the freeze were removed tomorrow there is only so much of an increase that would be tolerable, and the revenue base in these areas is incapable of generating sufficient revenue to properly fund the services they need. The Council Tax system is broken. Where is that admission and where are the proposals to address local government funding?
Be bolder in addressing in poverty.
Ed Balls in his recent conference speech warned that retirement age will have to increase. I am in my mid 50s and won’t receive a state pension until I am 67. I am buffered by private pension arrangements but many people in poorer areas are not, and these are the same people, especially the male population, who are likely to work in manual occupations. A recent EU study found that the number of years people in Scotland are anticipated to enjoy good health are 68 for men and 70 for women. What’s that about raising the retirement age?
Another of Ed Ball’s proposals was to raise the minimum wage to £8 per hour by 2020. This looks like timidity. Has the Labour Party forgotten all that Keynes taught us?
It has recently become common currency for Labour Party figures to refer to free higher education as a subsidy to the middle class. I remember when we accepted it as one of the principal routes out of poverty and a basic right. Germany certainly agrees. Surely the greatest middle class subsidy is that which is happening at the end of life where the system of aged care seems geared towards ensuring that middle aged, middle class children inherit their parent’s house?
Care of the elderly.
This has become one of the most significant family issues of our time but still remains largely unaddressed by the political parties. Is the regime of 15-minute visits and a ‘tuck-in’ visit before 7pm something that any of us look forward to? Where too is the examination of the burden this places on women, often working and raising their own families now expected to pick up the slack for aged parents?
As a single women with no children I can only reflect the experience of friends and family. Why is it so expensive yet those who provide it (mostly women) so poorly paid? With the increasing physical capacity in primary schools is there not some scope for childcare and nursery education to be provided within the education system, whilst increasing the skill level and pay of those who work with the under fives? A policy of closing schools when the roll falls only creates transport and safety issues for the parents of primary school children.
Regeneration of post-industrial communities.
A particular bugbear. This is often ‘done to’ these communities by professional planners and national politicians who have no direct investment in the outcome – i.e. they don’t generally live in the regeneration areas. In Clydebank I could take you to social housing which has been demolished and rebuilt two or three times in the last 50 years. In the same area, fellow residents happily live in owner occupied property which is at least a century old. In the same area, factory units have been built along the main thoroughfare of the town.
My own ‘acid test’ for development is perhaps, unfairly, would ‘they’ do this in Eastwood? The answer is invariably no. Sensitive development it seems is the right of the leafy suburbs – anywhere else you take what you get. Real community (rather than Council) control would undoubtedly help shape better development.
Another question: why are commercial property owners allow to abandon (their) property and leave it unmaintained until it turns into a blight on (my) landscape? A quick trip to any of the old ‘heartland’ towns will quickly reveal the depressing effect this has.
Now comes the heresy. The recent faux controversy over Scotrail nationalisation returns me to the ‘difficult choices’ argument. Re-nationalisation may create a warm glow in the heart of the Labour and Trade Union officials, and is at the moment popular.
But go and ask those living in Labour areas where they would like to see the money spent. I am sure they have a list. This is only an excerpt from mine.