For some time now the Better Together partners have been suggesting that the SNP have put Scotland on Pause. Yesterday Alex Salmond showed a Scotland far from “on pause”, rather a Scotland of the Possible. Possible- tackling of inequality and injustice in our society. Possible – tackling poverty. Possible – a better future for Scotland’s children. And with the full powers of Independence, possible – a Scotland that truly is the best country in the world in which to grow up.
I was delighted to be able to speak in the Parliamentary debate on Tuesday 7th January on Scotland’s Future where Alex Salmond announced, as part of a £114 million package for young people over two years of age, that every one of Scotland’s P1 to P3 children will have the option of a free meal in school from January next year, improving health and wellbeing, increasing attainment and saving families at least £330 a year for each child. Moreover, the First Minister also announced that free childcare provision would also be expanded to every two year-old from a workless household in Scotland by August this year. This will benefit around 8,400 children or 15 per cent of all two year-olds. And by August next year, free childcare provision will be extended further, reaching 15,400 children – 27 per cent of all two year-olds – by widening entitlement to families that received certain welfare benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance.
In my speech I highlighted how important universal benefits, like free school meals, are in tackling poverty and inequality. The announcement was warmly welcomed by those who have been campaigning for this policy. They include a coalition of Children’s Charities as well as the teachers’ Union, the EIS. In their briefing to MSPs campaigners emphasised how important such universal services and provision are in combatting the poverty and inequality that so profoundly affects the life chances of so many of our children. I highlighted in my speech the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s “The Case for Universalism”;
“If all of the available data is pulled together and the conclusions drawn, the historical and contemporary evidence strongly suggests that the appropriate response to austerity is to increase universal provision and so stimulate economic activity, equalise damaging wealth disparity and improve both government and wider economic efficiency”.
This was an important and lively debate. My colleague Stewart Maxwell made an excellent comparison with Norway, which began with a blistering attack on the contribution by Alex Johnstone from the Tory Benches;
“The speech that we have just heard was based on the Victorian premise of the undeserving poor and a belief that the only way to motivate the poor in this country is to make them poorer. It was an absolutely shocking speech and that is a shocking ideology that I thought we had got rid of.”
Christina McKelvie highlighted the advanced childcare on offer by our Nordic neighbours, including Denmark and also highlighted the opportunity offered by Independence;
“…independence is not a barrier but a gateway. As we make the journey towards that gateway and the referendum, we are presenting to Scotland’s voters a choice of two futures and the concrete realities of an independent Scotland. We have learned from our experiences of being subjected to laws that we did not support by Governments that we did not elect. I”
The Scottish Free School Meals campaign declared themselves “delighted” by the Scottish Government’s announcement, saying it “marks a major step forward”.
Labour’s cynicism and entrenchment was exposed too. Patrick Harvie appealed to their better judgment;
“Often, it is Governments that appear to claim such monopolies on wisdom or concern. Sadly, today, it was the leader of the main Opposition party who appeared unwilling to accept that her opponents have a shred of genuine concern about issues such as poverty and inequality. I have areas of common ground and areas of disagreement with Johann Lamont, just as I do with the First Minister. Sadly, there is a falsehood in our current political mode: very often, the parties on different sides of the independence campaign find it hard to acknowledge their common ground.”
Despite this widespread support for the policy from experts in the field working direct with children, Labour MSPs this week voted against the policy in the Scottish Parliament – to reactions of incredulity in the Chamber.
The debate completely exposed Labour’s narrow partisan agenda. In their determination to attack everything proposed by the SNP, Labour ended up voting against policies which they themselves have claimed to support and now they have to explain their actions to the coalition of charities which has campaigned for this policy.
Labour’s shambolic actions this week show once again that only the powers of independence offer us the chance to build on this to make a truly transformational change.
Meanwhile, this week, the UK Chancellor George Osborne warns of another £25billion cuts that will continue to hit the most vulnerable in society,
Under devolution, the SNP is investing in our future and helping protect those facing poverty.
So much more is possible with the full powers of independence.
Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause
Jimmy Halliday – lifetime Nationalist
To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland. Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956-70; in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.
There will be a Referendum for Scottish Independence this year, which was unthinkable in the dark days of 1955. Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85, and we will be publishing all his articles in the Scots Independent, all those we have electronic input for. It is anticipated we will publish a book with all his contributions over many years but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.
Presidents all round, or not, as the case might be – March 2008
You remember where you were when JFK died
Are we going to see a President of the European Union? And will that President turn out to be Mr Blair? Obviously much thought is being given to such possibilities, much work ongoing behind the scenes and no doubt dirty work at many crossroads. Mr Blair’s backers must be impatient waiting for a decision as to whether Europe is about to have a constitution and thus become an entity which might be blessed with a President. Or is there just going to be a treaty, harmless to all, allowing all states just to go on as before? Few want the first option, which is why those few are anxious to pass the whole thing off as a treaty. Whether Mr Blair would figure as an adornment or as a blemish is also a matter for debate.
Meanwhile as we begin to think about this possible, purely theoretical, Presidency, we are favoured with the most lavish coverage for decades of the contest for the very real Presidency in the United States. It is very satisfying, and very proper, that we should be invited to take such an interest as we are all affected by the result. During the Cold War years at least the identity of the US President was much more important to us than the identity of the British Prime Minister. Sometimes this was just as well, though not always. At that time it was all too clear that decisions on our lives would be taken by the American President. As for our own home-grown leaders, we knew that if they began to act the dangerous fool an American President would bring them smartly under restraint.
But folly is infectious; it moves around, and we now wait with some anxiety to see if we will be spared to see a safe end to the Presidency of Mr Bush. His two terms and the earlier term of his father, encourage us to remember with a warm glow of nostalgia the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.
Reagan was always a target for British dislike, rather unfairly. He had some pretty awful opinions and policies but Americans didn’t seem to hold it against him, It was his association with Mrs Thatcher that earned him the hostility of most of us. Now of course, no one under 45 will have much memory of the onetime target for our sustained derision.
A distorted memory has lingered on with consequences which have brought neither credit nor advantage to Britain or to Scotland. Throughout the life of all persons born since the mid-70’s the United States has incurred from many dislike and hostility. Anti-Americanism has become the one unchecked racism in our midst. You, of middle age and younger, have seen for most of your lives only narrow, shallow, unfair and at times foolish American Presidents and have worried about what they might be capable of doing. Even when they were not engaging us in wars we knew that they might, and three times now we have been proved correct in our fears.
You do not remember the other America. You do not remember how the starved victims in Belsen blessed the name of Roosevelt on the day of their liberation. You may remember something of the legend, but may not fully realise how far John F. Kennedy was seen by most of Europe as “our President too”. The achievements of Lyndon Johnson were obscured by the Vietnam War, and then frittered away by sabotaging successors, but he reached heights which some future Presidents may yet strive again to attain. The most truly and worthily American President of them all, Harry Truman, has slipped from European memory because of European ignorance and European prejudice, but historical revisionism can work to restore as well as to destroy reputations, and restoration in his case is already well advanced.
So welcome the American election. No matter what the outcome, a nightmare will end. A President Obama or a President Clinton will allow us to look out the old Democratic records of “Happy Days Are Here Again”. And if it turns out to be President McCain, he is a man deserving of respect, himself a victim of some of the lowest of Bush family election rotten-ness and not sharing the worst of their objectives. You remember where you were when JFK died. If you were old enough you would remember likewise where you were when FDR died. As Bob Dylan put it “The world was lucky to see him born”
That’s how American Presidents can sometimes be.