In Scotland today, over 1 in 5 children are growing up poor. And over 1 in 10 adults are growing old poor. And one in five adults in work are poor.
That’s a lot of people. That’s 250,000 children, over 100,000 pensioners and at least, an astonishing half a million people who go out to work everyday. Here in Scotland. In the 21st Century.
If ever we needed a reason to get rid of the Tories – and indeed, the Lib Dems – they bring us one, on a platter, today. Because today in the House of Commons, they are bringing forward proposals to potentially increase poverty and to make the lives of those of us who use public services – that’s us all then – worse.
The motion today on the Charter of Budget Responsibility will increase the ratio of cuts to tax rises from 4:1 to 9:1. Which means more austerity, not less. More attacks on people’s benefit entitlement. Less for Scotland to spend on all its public services – education, health, transport, social care, children.
The Charter is a wheeze of this Tory-Lib Dem government designed, apparently, to introduce more transparency into how public finances are managed and also to govern how the Office of Budget Responsibility operates. It is a creature of statute and consequently, it is a powerful thing indeed.
One of its dual purposes is to set out the UK Government’s fiscal policy framework – how it will manage the debt, what it will do with our money in the annual budget and so on.
That fiscal policy contains a clear cut commitment to manage our national debt levels down to ensure “sustainable public finances”. What this means is that they are going to cut, cut and cut again. And just in case we were in any doubt about whether this was political pragmatism or because they actually believe in a smaller state, the Charter makes this a key objective:
” a target for public sector net debt as a percentage of GDP to be falling at a fixed date of 2015-16, ensuring the public finances are restored to a sustainable path”.
Which brings us to the motion before the House of Commons today, which proposes to accelerate the level of cuts. Because despite four years of austerity, our debt levels are rising. The Tory-Lib Dem coalition for cuts hasn’t worked. All those people – poor and vulnerable people – hammered by bedroom tax, by benefit sanctions, by frozen wages, by zero hour contracts – suffering and it ain’t working.
So they are turning the screws and they have legislation to help them do it. And an ideological belief that this is what we need. Less for the likes of us, more for the likes of them.
Which would all be fine if we had voted for this in 2010. Except here in Scotland, we didn’t. We voted Labour, in big numbers.
And what are Labour going to do today? They’re going to traipse into the government lobby to support more austerity. Why? Because the party – of the people, don’t forget – cannot be seen to be supporting what will be presented as economic profligacy by the right wing press. Because in the marginal constituencies that count in this Westminster election – the ones down south – they like this sort of thing (or at least the voters they need to win over like this sort of thing).
If we had a direct say in today’s vote, would we opt for more cuts, for less spending on public services? I think not. So can we rely on our MPs to vote for what we want and what is in our best interests? Will our lone Tory outrider and his 11-strong Liberal Democrat posse ride to our rescue? That’s a rhetorical question by the way.
But what of the 40 Labour MPs? Nearly all of them represent constituencies where public services matter – as employers too. Where significant numbers of their voters are poor, or struggling under this relentless campaign of cut and counter-cut.
Can Scotland rely on its Labour MPs to protect its interests at Westminster today? Will Scotland’s Labour MPs choose people or the potential of power? Whose votes matter most? The ones that put them in the palace or the ones they hope will keep them there?
What say ye, Jim Murphy? And more importantly, how will you vote today?