Editorial: This April 1st, The Joke’s On Us

Photo credit:  Stuart Crawford

Some headlines will stay in the public consciousness, capturing an event or a sentiment in a way that only the printed press can. If any headline deserves to be remembered, then today’s Guardian front page does: ‘The day Britain changed’.

‘A new world heaves into view this week,’ the Guardian reads, ‘with a raft of cuts and reforms taking effect’. Sadly, this is only one of many days in recent history in which Britain has been changed, and the trajectory is only going one way: the wealth of a tiny elite continues to grow, while ordinary people are left to suffer.

Nothing could make the priorities of Cameron’s Britain any clearer than two of today’s headline policy changes: while the feared Bedroom Tax comes into force, the nation’s richest are given a hand-out in the form of a cut in income tax. This government are not even trying to mask their callousness and inhumanity.

There is little we could say about the Bedroom Tax that hasn’t been said more eloquently elsewhere. It is a horrific policy, dreamt up in a Whitehall office to solve the dubious problem of the poor having too much living space. Politicians will line-up to tell us that this is to solve overcrowding, and that tenants affected can simply move into smaller properties. In the real world outside of the Westminster bubble, there are simply not enough smaller properties to fit all those being punished.

If a society is measured by how it treats its disadvantaged, this policy should shame us all. The majority of those living with a ‘spare bedroom’ are disabled. The Bedroom Tax may have made perfect sense to the privileged men around the Cabinet Table, who will have little exposure to life in social housing outside watching repeats of Shameless. And so the list of those hurt by this penalty will include the widow, the carer, the single parent with weekend custody, and the family whose child is serving in the military. To these people their ‘spare bedroom’ is not a disposable luxury: it is a part of their home, and it is being denied them by rich politicians who have a second home provided by the taxpayer.

There are those who claim that the Bedroom Tax is not a constitutional issue. On one hand, we agree – the tax is too dangerous to be left until 2016 to be dealt with, and we hope that politicians and campaigners on both sides of the independence question can come together to resist the Coalition in any way possible. And yes, there are those in Newcastle and Swansea who will suffer just as much as those in Glasgow under this Government. This is, of course, tragic.

But nobody is denying that Scotland is a nation which would be capable of surviving as an independent state. Those who are arguing against independence are not claiming that Britain is one country, but that we are several countries who are simply ‘Better Together’. On today of all days, surely, nobody could make that claim with a straight face. Such is the concentration of wealth and power that the BBC economics editor recently asked if all of Britain should declare independence from London.

There is a basic issue of democracy at stake here. David Cameron has no mandate to govern in Scotland, and yet is free to impose despicable measures on the Scottish people. This is not simply a nationalist claim, but an opinion backed by the Scottish people – the entire justification for devolution, endorsed by Labour, was that Conservative governments had been forced upon an unwilling Scotland. As Donald Dewar wrote in 1987:

In Scotland, Labour won the election. We took the seats. We carried the argument. Scotland voted not just against the Tories but emphatically for Labour… Labour MPs are not a Scottish pressure group at Westminster; but in moral and electoral terms the real representatives of a real majority.”

With the Bedroom Tax coming into force, it is the position of Labour that it is the job of the Scottish Parliament to use its powers to block these proposals. We believe that it is an unhealthy state of affairs for a Scottish Government to exist purely to mitigate the worst excesses of Westminster misrule.

It is impossible to imagine that an independent Scotland, with our centre-left tradition and proportional voting system, would ever elect such a venomous, regressive and out of touch Government as we see in Cameron, Osbourne, Clegg and co. It is hard to see, without independence, how Westminster will deliver anything different. There is a pattern to British politics, where the Tories will drag us all to the right, only to be followed by a Labour government who will deliver a few progressive promises but fail to challenge the new consensus out of fear of alienating the voters of ‘Middle England’.

We at National Collective want independence because it offers the possibility of transformative change and the hope of a better society. But we also recognise that we need independence because, to quote Cameron himself, ‘Britain is broken’. We don’t want to wake up to many more mornings like this one.

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