Sunday, 15 September 2013

Is Scotland really 'Socialist'?

Newsnet Scotland has a piece by Gerry Hassan on 'Fighting Scottish Poverty' the article is, as is most of Mr Hassan's journalism, stimulating but in this case sustains the author's narrow socialist view - the real solution to poverty is to tax the rich even more. The solution is to continue the 'class war', the same social engineering view point that has brought Scotland and the UK to its present pass; an artificially divided land along artificial political lines. We do not have a UK based on fairness because both extremes seek scapegoats to blame and in doing so increase the divisions, rather than heal them.

Of course my own politics colour my view. I am what Gerry would call a 'social democrat' in my old age; Liberal in my youth. I have always been left of centre but having seen the failures of 'socialist states' and their counter part 'fascist states' I have long wondered why these two antagonists are the norm in nation states; as both are fundamentally the same paternalistic state where control of the population is paramount and loss of control by the political elite is a disaster (for them).

I was brought up on the tales of 1919 by both my grandfathers who were at Glasgow Cross. Hardy, Maxton and McLean were folk heroes in our family but they need to be seen within their context and time though if all were alive today they would see big improvements but the same basic social and socialist failings they saw and suffered from. A large gap between rich and poor with socialists high on theories but more interested in beating each other up, rather than creating a cohesive force for good. The recent history of Scotland's Socialist Parties does not make pleasant reading for the socialist cause.

Gerry's basic thesis is the 'rich' should 'pay more' and this is his solution. He argues from the basis of Rowntree Foundation papers which appear to give him credence but the problem is these papers are talking about an 'ideal world' and could only work if every single duck was in line. The reality is getting a large number of humans to agree is akin to herding cats. What an independent Scotland needs is pragmatism not a new set of political shibboleths, no matter how well meaning they are. The answer to Scotland's ingrained poverty is not political, it is consensus; the two are subtly different but rely on each other.

I spent from 1996 to 2005 being paid decent money to go into businesses, government departments and the NHS to state the 'bleeding obvious' (aka consultancy). My most common question was; Why do things need to be this complicated? To which the common answer was variation on a theme of  'its aye been'.

UK organisations are like Window's upgrades they add more layers and never throw any away because they might be useful, sometime. This leaves them stultified, top heavy with bureaucracy, slow and unable to respond to meet changing needs. This partly explains why so many brilliant and innovative systems and products created or invented in the UK are developed and make profits for companies over seas. For many in industry investing in the UK is a lottery because the UK Government is always randomly giving and taking tax breaks away on a political basis rather than an economic basis, as we are currently seeing with the craze for 'fracking' which will have no actual impact on the UK economy except to make power generation in England even more dependent on natural gas, not a real solution - just another political stop gap.

What I learned in my time as a consultant is the more you try to define a process, whether it is benefits or the sale of contact lenses, the more the process goes out of control and the more you try to define the process, this is clearly a self destructive cycle. This is the political solution writ large. It is not the legislation which is wrong it is the people, so we have to control the people and make them follow the legislation by creating even more legislation. The basic failing here is not the people, most folk know what they need and expect, it is legislation which does not reflect these identifiable needs and expectations for themselves and others ( as opposed to political wants). The misinterpretation of the logical Health and Safety Law by so called legal experts is a case in point. The requirements of health and safety are; I as an employer must assess all the potential risks to my employees from mechanical, chemical and other hazards, I have to address these risks to ensure my employees are safe and train my employees to operate safely within their work environment. My employees are expected to follow their training when operating within my business, including the wearing of any safety equipment provided. 

Where this goes wrong is, for example, where lawyers from a council decide the council would be at risk of being sued if a teacher did not check the seat belts 'worked' before a school trip. The reality is testing seat belt operation is a technical skill outside of most teacher's experience so by claiming a seat belt 'worked' leaves the average teacher with the problem in court of; How did you know? The actual responsibility lies with the coach owner who has to ensure their bus is safe for purpose in all respects and properly checked before sending it on a hire, that is the point of the hire contract and the associated documentation should be available for inspection. Again, how many teachers know what the minimum safe depth of tread on a coach tyre is or its correct operating PSI? I bet most could not tell you the operating parameters for their own car tyres.

So any new form of Benefits System in Scotland has to be based on need and expectation of the community as what is 'fair' and not on what has happened or is happening at present. I will have a go at defining the basic need and expectation as I see it:

  • A roof over your head
  • A space which is large enough, dry, warm and secure
  • Clean water, washing facilities and an internal flushing toilet
  • Cooker and cooking implements
  • Furniture
  • Food
  • Funding must ensure basic human rights and choice (not the same as a 'living wage')
  • The property is properly maintained by both the tenant and the provider
  • Heating is always available
  • Benefit should not be set at a level where work is less rewarding
  • Opportunities for paid work and self improvement should be readily available
This is where I disagree with Gerry Hassan, the Beveridge Report of 1942 still has many serious questions to ask us over 70 years later which we have still failed to address such as a preventive approach to community health. We have made strides but most of the preventive benefit is going to people who would have probably had access or were already aware of the health issues in any case. A preventable disease such as tooth decay, is now a social disease with 80% of the disease in the poorest 20% in Scotland. Dentists can hazard a guess at your postcode from the state of your mouth, in Scottish cities.

The real answer to the poorest in Scotland is to raise them up, not to pull the rich down. Many of Gerry's rich are well aware of their responsibility to their society and are ploughing chunks of their riches back, in quiet ways, to help their communities and Scotland.

Scotland needs to re-find its 'chutzpah', its celebration of the woman or man from the bottom who 'makes it' in no matter which field. We need to cherish the Tom Farmer's of this world, not berate them, because if a tyre fitter from Dunfermilne with little education but an idea can make it, then why not any lad or lass from Drumchapel or Easterhouse or Niddrie or Fintry?

The benefit system in an independent Scotland should seek to help and encourage this to happen, not legislate, it is not about redistribution of wealth but a different way of thinking, epitomised by actually making real the idea of:

'We're aa Jock Tamson's bairns'

1 comment:

  1. Agree with most of your comments.

    However I would add the validation of self worth of the individual whatever their circumstances and the failings of any economy based on the low wage principle.