Bob versus Bob
“Duncan Smith is paradox personified. He wept at the plight of the poor yet now hands out punishments that must bring tears to their eyes. In 2005, at a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference, he called on Labour to promote a definition of lowest income that would allow all to have “sufficient resources to participate in the life of the community”. Now, the poorest families are in receipt of food parcels.” – Bob Holman, author of Keir Hardie: Labour’s Greatest Hero? and co-founder of the Easterhouse Project in Glasgow
Something interesting happened at First Minister’s Questions today: the referendum debate was specifically argued along class lines. The Labour leader Johan Lamont continually asked Salmond how many Chief Executives support independence. She said “People in Scotland care about what Bob Dudley says cause he invests in our country!” She added that corporations like Asda, Tesco and Morrisons were against independence.
Salmond responded that Bob Holman, a longstanding Labour member and anti-poverty campaigner, came out as a yes supporter because he wants a Scotland based on democracy and equality and that “Johan Lamont should be more concerned about the ranks of Scottish Labour turning to Yes than what Oil chiefs have to say”. After further pressing from Lamont he replied: “Don’t cite the elites, cite the people of Scotland who support independence!”
It is not without irony that the politics of class has returned to mainstream political debate in Scotland through what is commonly considered its anti-thesis: nationalism. Whilst those on the left of Labour like Owen Jones say that “a class alternative” to nationalism is still possible through a federal UK, in practice the “class alternative” on offer from Scottish Labour is BP oil chief Bob Dudley and his friends in the global capitalist elite. Better Together have already let us know that we are to expect English celebrities to be used in a ‘lovebomb’ strategy to convince Scots that the stars of Saturday night TV really care about us.
Whilst the No side makes its case through wheeling out celebrities (millionaires) and oil tycoons (billionaires), the yes side relies on opposition to welfare cuts like the ‘bedroom tax’ and the case for free childcare so working class Scottish mums can get back in to the workforce. No have got Bob Dudley; Yes have got Bob Holman.
The Sunday Herald interview with Ipsos-Mori’s Scottish boss, Mark Diffley, put meat on the bones of the increasingly self-evident fact that this referendum is all about class. Diffley said of polling evidence on referendum voting intentions:
When you put all the variables that we collect together – where people live, their age, their gender – then neighbourhood deprivation is generally the most important factor.
He added that those at the top end of the income spectrum “weight the population as a whole against independence” because they are “utterly opposed”.
So both in terms of the conduct of the referendum debate and voting patterns; class is becoming the prominent dividing line.
We really shouldn’t be surprised: British capitalism is dominated by a bloated financial sector and housing market in London and the South-East. As a recent report pointed out, 80% of all new private-sector jobs since the recession began have been created in London. The UK state is intrinsically tied to the success of global finance, and what comes with finance-led development is growing income inequality and regional inequalities. The wealth of the majority of Scots has been static or in decline since the recession began; whilst the richest tenth have taken two-fifths of all increases in income.
Unfortunately, the fact Scottish Labour must reconcile themselves with is that their party in Scotland and the UK have not just failed to stem the tide of growing inequality, they have been engorged in it. The days of Labour being ‘intensely relaxed’ (Peter Mandelson) about inequality may be over, but there is little in the way of serious policy initiatives from Miliband or Lamont which could be said to do much to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor or challenge Britain’s addiction to finance-led development.
Those self-same rich in Britain and beyond who have benefited from UK PLC are now the shock troops of a class war against the poor over Scotland’s constitutional future. If the ballot-box revolt of deprived Scots translates into a yes vote on September 18th; we shouldn’t forget that it was the representatives of global capital who tried to stop it.