Saturday, 9 May 2015

Surrendering to neo-liberal ‘fiscal discipline’

Keith Ewing suggests that Scottish independence may come sooner than the high-speed rail link, partly because of ‘Labour’s extraordinary proposal to give quasi-constitutional status to Austerity.’ Unfortunately, Labour is not alone in this as the SNP manifesto betrays. (UK Constitutional Law Association) - first published in UNISONActive on 27/4/15

He is right that the proposed ‘Budget Responsibility Lock’ – at least without a miraculous and spontaneous economic recovery – would effectively make some level of austerity legally compulsory, if it could be made to work at all.

Legislating to cut the deficit year on year until the books balance enshrines in law the mistaken view that a country’s finances are the same as household finances. Gone is the ability to run a deficit and borrow in the short term to maintain public services as a lever to building the economy.

Where, with respect, Keith gets it wrong is in the assumed Scotland/SNP effect in terms of austerity. Currently there is a loud socialism and/or nationalism around Scotland that will vote for the SNP and independence irrespective of what that brings. The mantra of the ‘we may be in poverty but it will be our own poverty’ brigade.
There is also a left independence lobby that genuinely believes that is only way to defeat austerity. It may take years of austerity but the hope is for a radical government in the future that will create a different, fairer society with social justice at its centre. That, of course, gambles on the fact that social atitude surveys which show Scotland is not much different in attitudes for the rest of the country must be wrong.

With respect to TUSC and the Greens, the only realistic way to independence is the SNP. That’s where the anti-austerity argument becomes interesting.

Set aside for the moment the ‘full fiscal responsibility’ preferred by the SNP that would add at least £7.6 billion of cuts that would have to be dealt with, a quick glance at paage 4 of the SNP manifesto is very revealing.

It will tell you that a very modest 0.5% increase in spending will be coupled with a plan to “enshrine in law key principles of future financial management, including elimination of the deficit and balanced ‘current account’ spending”. Now that looks suspiciously similar to Labour’s legally compulsory austerity.

We wonder how many across the UK who have been impressed with Nicola Sturgeon’s fine words on defeating austerity have read that bit. We wonder how many of the tens of thousands now backing the SNP as the only way out of austerity have noticed that.

If we really want to challenge austerity we cannot rely on the parties and we are going to have to look to trade unions. In the case of Labour, getting organised within the party they fund. In the case of the SNP, dropping the self imposed loyalty clause that means its trade union wing is compromisingly silent on social justice lest it undermine the overriding cause of independence.

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