Okay I’ll admit it. When David Cameron announced that his UK Government was going to deliver an independence referendum for Scotland, I recoiled. Instinctively.
Immediately – without having even heard what he had to say – the memories of the Thatcher years and all those many betrayals bubbled to the surface. Closing Ravenscraig, destroying the mining communities, removing student grants, imposing the poll tax. It all came flooding back.
So when I listened to what he had to say, at first I scoffed. And then I felt a bit guilty. Times change. Surely parties and their politicians can too?
If the Prime Minister said that “we owe the Scottish people something that is fair, legal and decisive” and that all he wants to do is achieve “clarity” on the date and nature of a referendum on independence so that we can remove the “uncertainty” from our lives, then maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty. Maybe, he’s the Tory who says what he means and means what he says.
After all, Labour seems to be following his lead and agreeing with the need to allow people in Scotland to have their say, and about respecting that. And they wouldn’t allow themselves to be led down a constitutional cul de sac by the UK Government would they?
So there I am, sceptical idealist that I am, doing my best to try to believe that there is some honesty behind Cameron’s intentions, attempting to give him and his party the benefit of the doubt, and probably for the first time, persuade myself that he has my, my family’s and my country’s interests at heart. These are good words he is using after all, important words that matter in the constitutional debate.
I pick up on the #spartacusreport circulating on twitter and being largely ignored by the mainstream media. So I click on the links and visit the very excellent The Broken of Britain and Diary of a Benefit Scrounger blogsites to see what all the fuss is about. And I’m stunned.
By the ingenuity, the cleverness, the sheer doggedness and determination of this group of people who have beavered away secretly for months, compiling a devastating research dossier.
That lays bare the deceit at the heart of this Conservative-led government. Which in order to justify removing benefits, cutting the money it pays and making it harder to claim at all for some of the most vulnerable individuals and families in the UK, lied.
This Conservative-led UK government obfuscated, distorted and gerrymandered the consultation process it held on replacing a key disability benefit and misled and misinformed on the nature and range of responses received.
To suit its own ends. To ensure MPs did not know what disabled people and others felt, thought and feared about its welfare reform proposals.
Leaving aside that the UK Government failed to follow its own code of practice for holding consultations – various administrations in Scotland have done this too, and sometimes there are legitimate reasons for this happening, however frustrating it might be – the responses received were selectively analysed to give MPs a very different portrayal of people’s views. In short, the UK Government misled Parliament.
The #spartacusreport is worth reading in its entirety but effectively the researchers have uncovered, after painstakingly sifting through hundreds of consultation responses and considering equality law provisions in the UK, two things.
First, that disabled people who responded to the proposals to remove disability living allowance and replace it with a personal independence payment were ignored. The majorities are huge in terms of opposing some of the more odious parts of the reform – the work capacity assessment, the shift from three levels of allowance to two, increasing the length of qualifying period – yet this was not reflected in the document the UK Government circulated to MPs and others following the consultation. The UK Government did not tell people about the scale of opposition to its proposals from the people most affected by the changes and therefore, best placed to understand the consequences of those changes.
Second, the proposals did not adequately consider the impact on key minority groups, protected by international human rights legislation and also the UK’s own equality law. The UK Government was proposing to act outwith the scope of its own law. Again, this is not so unusual – in a former life, on two occasions, I sought and obtained human rights opinions on two separate pieces of legislation relating to disabled people. On both occasions, the Scottish bills were found wanting. Lawmakers are not great at respecting the human and equal rights of disabled people and their families, largely because they do not understand and have not received sufficient training on promoting disability equality.
But it is still shocking to discover that concepts of fairness, decisiveness, transparency, legality and certainty are such moveable feasts for this UK Government. Important it would seem for the Scots, but not for disabled people.
We in Scotland owe the #spartacusreport authors a huge debt. For they have proved definitively, in case any of us was beginning to have doubts, that the Tories cannot be trusted.