Status Quo vs. UBI

In his newsletter of 19th May Paul Krugman starts by praising the success of unemployment insurance in replacing the salaries of workers laid off due to businesses faltering in the COVID-19 slump. But he goes on to say that this same success shows why universal basic income can’t work – it would cost $5trillion a year to enact. And the US doesn’t have that (doesn’t it? Another post.)

I’m going to be writing a lot about bad-faith arguments. This is a typical one made by economists and conservative politicians to deride progressive ideas, and frankly it’s unworthy of Krugman. His argument is, we can’t just give everyone the money it takes to live instead of them having jobs, because look how much it’s costing us to pay unemployment insurance for the ones who have lost them. But that’s a reductio ad abdurdum based on changing nothing else in the economy, but paying everyone’s existing salaries out of thin air.

Of course it’s impossible just to replace people’s incomes with UBI and let them all not work. For starters, unemployment insurance in the US is an emergency measure to replace salaries like for like –  inequitable salaries, whether insufficient or excessive. A UBI would be part of an economic rebalancing which would change the status quo – not something that Krugman regularly considers.

But more importantly, is it really so expensive to live? Well yes, in the US, it is and why is that? What does a living income pay for?

  • Food and clothing
  • Housing and utilities
  • Entertainment and luxuries (yes)
  • Transport and travel
  • Healthcare
  • Education

It also covers an extortionate amount of debt finance, as people attempt to paste over the gaps between ends that don’t meet with commercial credit. All of these cost so much more because within the price paid by the consumer or of their unemployment insurance, is the profits of all the middlemen in the economy – the health insurance, the car manufacturer, the school fees, the phone subscription, etc.

How much less would a UBI have to pay out if there was

  • Public transport
  • Public health
  • Public education
  • Public housing
  • Public utilities
  • Public broadcasting and internet
  • A debt jubilee?

And how would the US pay for all that? Well, perhaps by not fighting several endless wars at once and perhaps by taxing corporations and high incomes the way they were in the sixties? And by taxing the money spent by the recipients of UBI?

More thinking on this later, but… an economy is a flow, according to the most famous diagram in economics (link later to Samuelson’s fluid flow diagram) – why can’t UBI be the pump?

Blogging from my phone

Warren Ellis (link later) has been writing about different ways to do blogs, rather than just a consecutive timeline of thoughts and events. One idea that caught my attention was the ‘blogchain’, where you link together posts on a topic to develop a theme or a story or just work out an idea, distinct from the other posts.

So I’ve been getting involved again in politics over the last few months and I’ve never stopped reading and thinking about economics and ethics. I’ve been putting my notes on an Evernote journal but I decided, why not put them here? That way people can argue with them, tell me what I’ve missed, or perhaps even be moved by the arguments to change their own minds.

And because I have a new (pass-along from a friend, thank you Grainne) phone that runs blogging software and can cut and paste all this together without me needing to be seated at a computer, these thoughts and ideas can be more spontaneous, triggered by my reading.

So I’m going to do a blog chain of this thinking over the next few months and years. Bear in mind the title of this site – But What Do I Know? – these are my thoughts. On the other hand though, if you come for them with any kind of aggression, you’d better be standing on bombproof philosophical and evidential grounds.

An Essay in Game Writing

Here’s a thing I’ve just finished writing – Storm in a Wineglass.

The year before last, I went to a games writing seminar organised by Scottish Book Trust and run by Gavin Inglis. It was fascinating, and one of the exercises we had in the seminar was to write a text adventure – up to 100 scenes / choices, about a bottle of wine.

Work and life and poor mental health got in the way, and it’s taken me almost eighteen months to finish this little thing, but it’s the first new piece of work I’ve managed to complete in over a year, in a mode I’ve never tried before, and in a genre – social realism – that I never write in.

I’m pleased that I’m getting back on my feet, and now that I know a little bit about writing interactive narrative, I’ll write something much more strange…

Flotation Device

FlotationDeviceCoverIn the time of pandemic, the best thing that we can do to help stop the spread of disease is to stay home and limit our contacts with other people. What can we do to pass the time that we would normally spend out socialising?

Artists and writers are producing work to help you pass that time; it’s what we do for a vocation and sometimes for a living, and it’s good to be recognised as providing a service. Better still if we can help support the doctors and charity workers who are providing an even more essential service.

The Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle has produced a charity anthology, Flotation Device, of stories from the Circle. I am delighted to have been able to contribute, along with writers such as Hal Duncan, Neil Williamson, Cameron Johnston, and Ruth EJ Booth, and with cover art by Jenni Coutts.

All of the proceeds from the anthology will go to support:

Flotation Device is available here: flotationdevicebook.co.uk

We hope you enjoy the stories, we appreciate your donation to the charities, and we hope you’ll stay safe.

Transient Light – It’s Here!

I’ve been focused on politics the last few weeks, but that’s not all that’s going on in the world – SQIFF was on, it was the birthday of two of my friends, and the wedding of two others of my friends, and I’ve been getting help with financial difficulties from so many great people including my councillor – and I got these…

That’s right! My first book! I am so delighted with these, such elegant little chapbooks. The design is part of Speculative Books’ subscription series, and SB’s subscribers will be getting these through the mail this week.

Speculative have also sent out this press release…

 

TRANSIENT LIGHT by ELAINE GALLAGHER

Elaine Gallagher is a poet and activist currently living in Glasgow. Her debut poetry collection ‘Transient Light’ is being published by Speculative Books. Please join us for a book launch on Saturday the 19th of October at 8:30PM in St. Vincent’s Chapel as part of The Golden Hare Book Festival.

Elaine dives head first into themes of Love, Family and Regret giving the reader a glimpse into her own life, while also asking what it means to be Trans in Scotland today.

For review copy or tickets please contact mail@speculativebooks.net

“A spectacular poet, and sensitive reader … 
thoughtful, beautifully delivered”
– The Mumble 

 

There are tickets available for the launch in Edinburgh, and we will be having a launch in Glasgow which I will post about here as soon as it’s organised.

Hustings Questions

The ballots have been circulated for SGP members to vote their selections for the Holyrood list for 2021. 

The Glasgow Region hustings were held last weekend as a series of ‘speed-dating’ informal conversational groups. While I took notes of what questions I was asked, I didn’t manage to get them all. Lothian, on the other hand, had the following list (picked up from the Women’s Network, thanks) of questions which I’ll answer here for folk who were not at the hustings.

Obviously I’m getting to think about my answers here, and it’s not a test of my performance under time pressure. Glasgow Branch are having a campaign evening at Kelvinbridge on Thursday 3rd Oct which I’ll be going to. If you’d like to come along and help, that would be great because I’m also standing for Glasgow Central constituency in any snap general election that occurs for Westminster. We need to start getting campaigners out (see question 8…) and you’ll get to meet me then if you don’t know me already.

1 – If you were elected as a Green MSP, which topic would you like to be our spokesperson on and why?

I’d like to take on community development. This is a wider remit that it might seem because it’s an integral part of the Green New Deal. It would involve working with the Welfare spokes-person so that carers and others who are badly treated at the moment are not forced – further – into poverty; with Economy to ensure that taxes and public finance are spent on the needs of people; with Housing and Development to make homes affordable and see that jobs and local resources are available.

I have experience as an environmental consultant in planning and development, as well direct experience of poverty and trying to make a living in the arts, and I think that my skills and experience would be well applied here.

2 – How are you/the Scottish Green Party going move us away from the current obsession with economic growth as the best measure of a successful society, especially as we already consume about 3 planets worth of resources every year?

The Scottish Government has made a start on a National Performance Framework which collects measures on issues like crime, loneliness, victimisation, cultural activities, and inequality. This is only a start and we need to begin directing public effort towards funding and improving work in these areas, not just collecting measures. The overall goal should be towards measuring the success of the nation and the government in the quality of people’s lives, not in the movement of money and speed of transactions.

3 – You’re canvassing during the election campaign, and a voter says “I support your policies, but I don’t support Scottish Independence.” How do you respond?

My focus is on improving the lives of the people in my constituency and region. I think that would be best served with independence, but until there’s a good enough majority so that we don’t get into the fighting that’s happened around Brexit, my local community is going to be my first concern. And then I would change the subject to find out what their own concerns are and link that to how a Green New Deal would serve them best.

4 – What should the party do, and what have you done/will do, to improve our appeal to BAME individuals and communities?

‘Build bridges, not walls,’ is the best principle – the party should ask people in the BAME communities how they would best be served by efforts such as the Green New Deal, and what they would want to see from community development and inclusion, and ask people to help out and welcome them when they do. I as an MSP would respect and support the communities in the region without demanding that they be assimilated, and ask for their help in addressing their concerns. If I get to go to celebrations and other cultural events as a guest, that would be lovely, but it would not be about me.

5 – Young people have activated the climate movement across the world. What are your thoughts on the future of young people shaping politics and how you would enable young people as an MSP?

It’s long past time that the adults listened when the kids say that there is a problem. Current politics is shaped by property owners and retired rentiers who don’t have a stake in any future but that of their own children, and they’ve made sure that that is sewn up. The climate emergency is an actual emergency and will get worse in my lifetime let alone that of the teenagers who have become activists. I would include young people in the political discussions not only by making sure that the vote is given to 16-year-olds across the board, but by promoting seminars and planning sessions for people under 25, and making sure that the results are included – and seen to be included – in the Scottish Government’s decision making.

6 – In recent years sectarianism has got worse in Scotland, how do we deal with this?

I think that we have to promote an inclusive Scotland. Practically that includes limiting antagonistic sectarian displays on all sides, while recognising that they have been supported in the past by bias in the local institutions and government. Sectarian politics spilling over from Ireland, and racist nationalism travelling up from England should have no home here.

7 – What is your view of the party’s policy on trans rights?

I’m all for it. I think that people are people whether they’re trans or cis, and trans and non-binary people are an oppressed minority. As a trans person myself who identifies as ‘it’s complicated’ when asked about my gender, the protection and support that the party’s policy gives me is the only reason I feel safe to stand for office.

8- Should we stand candidates for Holyrood in all the constituencies?

I think we should – “I’d like to vote for you but I can’t” is a powerful argument against people engaging, and “Both votes Green,” is a simple message. However, money issues aside, that means that we have to get campaigners engaged early on so that we have people building up a grassroots awareness of Green policies and presence in every constituency.

9 – What demographics do you believe are the most open for increasing the green vote?

I think the formerly industrial working class have been set aside by capitalism over the last 30-40 years. If we can demonstrate how apprenticeships and modern industries can lead to a secure working life from youth to retirement through a Green New Deal, then we can get the ex-Labour-voting demographic back from the SNP, who are predominantly focused on protecting business and property interests in Scotland.

10 – What are your views on the legal status of sex work?

I think that sex workers should have the strongest voice in determining their legal status and protections. I think that sex work is work, just like every other transaction that involves a person trading their efforts for a living. I think that people trafficking and coercion into sex work is just as much modern slavery as trafficking migrant workers, and protecting, not stripping, the legal rights of sex workers is the way to address modern slavery and protect children. I am advised by people who know better than me that decriminalisation of sex work is the way to go, and I’ll support that.

11 – A major ticking time bomb for Edinburgh is the state of older buildings, especially tenements. The council has no money to intervene, so what can MSPs do, by way of law or other tools, to make a real difference?

In Glasgow it’s the same. This is a major area in which the Green New Deal can have early benefits. Publicly-funded restoration and improvement works will lift people out of austerity-induced poverty and inject money into the economy, while addressing fuel poverty and carbon footprint both, by reducing heating usage and costs.

12 – If you were selected in the lower half of the list, what do you think you’d be best set to do to support higher candidates?

On the ground, the fact that I’m on the list and campaigning door-to-door will be a strong support – there would be no need to mention my chances of getting elected. In the background, I would work on policy statements and research, developing programmes under the Green New Deal.

13 – How can we reach out and win over voters who have never voted Green at Holyrood before?

Ask what they need and what they think before promoting any kind of ideology or identity. The other parties have particular constituencies that they appeal to out of cultural background, but the Greens don’t have to do that. If we are responsive to local needs, then voters will remember us, if not at Holyrood, then in the Council.

14 – What are your views on referenda? Do we need more direct democracy, and if so, how can we help people make well informed decisions?

Referenda can work if they are used properly. If accurate information is presented and an informed populace is asked to present their views then direct democracy can support representative democracy. But 2% of the vote is not a mandate to hijack sovereignty. Before this happens, we would need to develop a culture of learning, not just repeating sound-bites from newspaper headlines. We would also have to strengthen the penalties against misinformation in public campaigning, use of targeted social media, and illegal funding. Once this is done, funded public information campaigns with accurate information could be rolled out, rather than pro-or anti-spun advertising campaigns.

 

Thank you for your attention. If you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments. Please note that comments are moderated and abuse will not make it past the firewall, but may be saved and reported to the police as hate speech. 

Guest post – The Economics of Insecurity

Last week I wrote about the ideology behind austerity. This week is a guest post from writer Chris Napier, about how this corrosive ideology affects the health of many people…

Austerity is little more than ideological eugenics against the disadvantaged.

Even the IMF admit that it doesn’t achieve the supposed aim of balancing the country’s books after the banking crash in 2008.

Alongside ever deepening cuts, the decimation of public services, the ‘simplification’ of welfare and a persistent media campaign against shirkers, benefit cheats, millenials and immigrants there is another pernicious effect of austerity.

Without security it is impossible to plan.

Without an address to call home, a pretty good idea how much you’ll have coming in this month, never mind for the next year or so it is impossible to heal, to commit to a course of action that might leave you overextended should something change outwith your control.

I’ve worked in social housing. I’ve heard the terror in people’s voices as they are compelled to pay more rent because the government decided that they don’t need all the bedrooms in their house. Of course, this was applied whether there was more suitable social housing stock available or not and heedless to the effect of forcing people to choose between deepened poverty and leaving a beloved home.

I’ve lost work because of poor mental health. Cast aside by an employer who could have offered another, more suitable role instead. This came barely a month after my first child was born.

I’ve been pressured by the jobcentre to take work where the costs of transport would outweigh the difference between jobseekers allowance and the wages I would earn.

I’ve been granted the Personal Independence Payment and had it taken away a year later. This was after being called in for an assessment which say my symptoms and their affect on my day to day life misreported and misrepresented in the resulting report.

I’ve had my family’s tax credits cut several times due to an overpayment that was the DWP’s mistake, often with no notice.

I’m currently lucky to be in stable employment with an understanding manager and eight years after diagnosis, found a balance of medication and work that I can maintain. That doesn’t mean the anxiety goes away. The fear that if I slip just a little then my family will be destitute and homeless in a matter of weeks is ever present.

I am far from the worst affected by this regime and it is clear that it amounts to little more than performative cruelty. Austerity certainly has no economic or social benefit – apart from keeping everyone so desperate that they can’t challenge the status quo.

So who might feel insecure in this environment?

– One in five people are disabled, facing cuts to services, social security and possibly even the protections provided by EU equalities laws.
– 15% of the population live in private rented accommodation, vulnerable to homelessness if they can’t keep up with the rent and are unable to hold landlords to account.
– Real terms wages – especially for the lowest earners – have been in decline for decades meaning that assumptions based on 1970s working hours and costs no longer tally out.
– Zero hours / freelance / gig economy work takes up a higher percentage of the workforce every year which means more people struggling to budget from month to month and prey to the slightest blip in economic confidence.
– Roughly quarter of a million people – most of them in Scotland – are employed in the oil & gas sector – a figure that has halved in the last decade. That’s a quarter of a million households reliant on an overvalued industry that is both economically and ethically on borrowed time and threatens to collapse like coal mining and heavy industry before it.
– Anyone else employed or reliant on an industry threatened by automation, export of jobs overseas or vulnerable to asset stripping.
– You get the idea.

This ideological, institutionalised insecurity makes it harder for people – disabled or otherwise – to find suitable long term work that they can maintain. It makes it harder for people to commit to training or education. It is a direct contributor to the fact that suicide is the biggest killer of women under 35 and men under 50.

Aside from all of this – which is clearly of no moment to the types who still view austerity as a necessary evil or worse, view the suffering and death it causes as a feature, not a bug – insecurity makes the economy weaker. After all, people who can’t look up from a desperate struggle to survive can hardly buy luxury products and can’t improve their own ability to contribute.

Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps leaves you face down in the dirt

– especially when someone is kicking you in the arse at the same time.

On top of all of this, Brexit looms on the horizon making absolutely everything even more uncertain. Potentially denied the protection of European equalities, workplace and environmental laws and consigned to disaster capitalist race to the bottom, how many of us can say we look past the next few months with any sense of surety?

This is why we need a compassionate social security system, why we need investment in social housing, mental health services, and social care. This is why we need accessible and affordable public transport and why we need a just transition from fossil fuels, creating more sustainable jobs in the energy sector rather than watching whole communities wither as happened under Thatcher. This is why we need a representative and accountable government representing Scotland’s interests in Europe.

This is why we need people like Elaine Gallagher in parliament.

I’ll leave this with a thought from a greater writer than myself.

“When the human race neglects its weaker members, when the family neglects its weakest one – it’s the first blow in a suicidal movement.” – Maya Angelou


If you want to support Chris’s writing on a regular basis, please check out his Patreon or if you feel like helping out in a one-off sort of way, buy him a coffee on Ko-Fi.

© Christopher Napier, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Christopher Napier with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“What a Parcel of Rogues…”

Two weeks ago I wrote about the wreckage that Austerity has left of the British economy, and that the way to repair it would be a Green New Deal. I mentioned that the reasons for Austerity were ideological and left it there. So let’s look at ideology now.

Economics, the Game

For a hundred years or so, the governing principle of the Western world has been capitalism – the economy controlled by private interests for profit. The opposing principle for that century has been socialism; control of the economy by the state for the benefit of the populace. There are arguments for both and, since the USSR folded in the early ’90s, many people have been claiming that capitalism won.

But here’s the thing – hardline capitalists are hardcore individualists; they run the economy to win, to amass more money than everyone else as if it were a game of Monopoly. In fact, Monopoly was invented to point out the flaws in capitalism and promote redistribution by taxes – it was originally called ‘The Landlord’s Game,’ invented by Lizzie Magie. It was then stolen by Charles Darrow who copyrighted it and sold it on in a perfect example of how to cheat at the game. But if you play to win by grabbing all of the property and pushing the rents through the roof, then everyone else has to lose. Magie’s concept was to have two versions of the game, the other played by growing the size of the pot so that everyone wins. Oddly enough, this wasn’t so popular.

For the last forty years, the economies of the US and the UK have been run in order for the people at the top of the pile to win by bankrupting everyone else. In the board game this is a fair – if vicious – match because everyone starts out with an equal pot. This is very much not the case in real life.

Entitlement Cheats

I rent my home from a friend. When we were looking for a new letting agent, the ones I recommended – who had dealt with me fairly in the past – advised him to kick me out of the property and charge £300 more than I was paying.

How could they even consider doing that? What about my right to a home?

Margaret Thatcher denied that there was any such thing as society; she went on to say that we should look after ourselves first and our neighbours after. That opened the way for people to look after themselves only, and their neighbours not at all. The landlord class rewrote legislation to strip their tenants of rights in order to strip them of money and, if they protested, their homes. The financial sector rewrote practises and more laws to allow landlords to buy up more properties. Social housing was deregulated and sold off first to the tenants, and then to the big rentiers. Over the next four decades the attitude of property companies has become that if people are not paying money to be in a place, it’s theirs to take and charge entrance.

This modern version of enclosures and clearances has extended itself into all walks of life, so that ownership is everything. Seeds are copyrighted and farmers impoverished. Images are copyrighted and artists and writers silenced. Financial windfalls such as Trump’s tax cuts are funneled straight to shareholders rather than invested in development, employment or wages. Large shareholders and owners such as the Koch Brothers and Lord Rothermere have so distorted politics that the climate emergency and Brexit have been allowed to happen, because it serves their interests. Inequality is at levels not seen since the time of the robber barons, and social movements such as trade unions, the NHS, and the welfare state itself are undermined or dismantled so the pieces can be sold off and made to pay income to owners who do no work.

And because they own everything, the landlord class think that this is the natural order – that because they started the game with enough money to win, they are entitled to keep winning and it’s their victims who are at fault.

This is the ideological basis for Austerity.

Trashing the Commons

Since the economic crash of 2008, caused by bankers playing trading games with people’s homes and mortgages, the British government has stripped public services beyond the point where they can function. The excuse for this pillaging has been that there is no ‘magic money tree’ to pay for nurses and teachers. The reason has been that government ministers, all from the entitled landlord class, see no reason that they should go out of their way to support people who are not owners. They fail to levy taxes that are owed by multinational companies and, instead of funding services, funnel what money they raise from taxing the populace to arms companies and their shareholders in the form of multi-billion-pound white elephant projects.

The more they take, the more they feel they are entitled to take and the less they feel that the rules of common decency – the society that Thatcher denied – apply to them. Parliament has been run for the last 400 years on the principle of custom and respect for custom. Various MPs have run afoul of custom over the years in expenses scandals and cash-for-access scams and so on but they have paid lip service to the rules. Now we have a prime minister, elected by a background minority of entitled old rich men, who blatantly breaks the rules. He has lived a life of contempt for everyone and for the truth, and he is in a position to sell off the country to his pals.

If a no-deal Brexit is allowed to happen, the PM’s backers stand to make a windfall of £8billion by selling the economy short. And that’s just the start. Outside the EU, new regulations forcing multinationals to declare and pay taxes will not affect them and, as with the letting agent who proposed to make me homeless, they will go on to buy up public services and failing companies and push their unearned rents through the stratosphere, all in the name of winning the game.

Equality and Human Rights

In 2016, working with the Rainbow Greens, I helped to compile the Scottish Greens’ LGBTI+ mini-manifesto. This highlighted and expanded on the main SGP manifesto and promised that Scotland could be a safe place for LGBTI+ people to grow, live, and thrive by:

  • Ending discrimination and tackling hate crime against LGBTI+ people;
  • Challenging health and social care inequalities and removing barriers to healthcare for LGBTI+ people;
  • Ensuring education in schools is LGBTI+ inclusive and without fear of prejudice or bullying;
  • Ensuring the gender and sexual orientation of all people are recognised and protected in law.

These human rights cannot be delivered without the support of every party and every person. To end bigotry against any group be it LGBTI+ people, racial, ethnic, or religious groups, women, disabled people, or people from different class backgrounds, that takes a complete change in the thinking of the people of Scotland. It’s not enough to enact legislation and to prosecute people who defy it. The harm is already done whenever a person is singled out for mistreatment.

Human rights and the GRA

When a group is singled out they are vulnerable. Take the example of the Gender Recognition Act debates in Holyrood this year; I gave an interview to Cass MacGregor of the SGP about why the GRA would be important for the lives of trans and non-binary people. The consultation on the GRA was overwhelmingly in favour of streamlining the legislation in line with international best practise, including non-binary people, and extending the remit to people of 16 years and older.

The objections to revising the GRA ranged from thoughtful to absolutist; but the opinions on both sides of many other debates vary far more. The objectors were a tiny minority – the same seven women turn up at every Pride to try to disrupt it; a block of Twitter activists jump on every mention of trans human rights, and their funding and organisation is traceable to rightwing evangelical groups in the US. Why was the response to the GRA to kick it into the long grass with another consultation?

Because it suits a small number of MPs and MSPs to play politics with people’s lives and it doesn’t matter a damn to the majority of the rest.

This is what happens when people’s right to life is not accepted as a matter of course. It is why feminism, queer rights, trans rights, civil rights, and every other human dignity should be regarded as important, equal, and intersectional.

Intersectionality

‘Intersectional’ simply means that different people have privileges – advantages, protections, and freedoms due to their background and position – which interact in different ways. As the writer John Scalzi puts it, people play the game of life at different difficulty levels. A working class white man might not think that he has many privileges, but if he goes to the police with a complaint of sexual assault, he will be listened to more readily than a working class white woman, or in some places, any person of colour.

The idea is important because historically, activists who focus on one issue have neglected or rejected others. White women campaigned in the 19th century for the vote only for themselves; gay rights activists throw trans people under the bus; nobody knows that intersex people exist; and so on. This also means that divisions of opinion can be played against the group as wedges. Evangelical enemies of LGBTI+ rights target trans people specifically so that they can roll up gay rights and then go after women’s and racial civil rights.

This effect is clear in the response of the public to ‘toilet laws’, which mandate against trans people by insisting that they use the toilet corresponding to their ‘correct’ gender. This is supported by some feminists as a measure against men who assault women in toilets. In theory this is a laudable aim but in practise masculine presenting women are frequently harassed by both men and women, while men intent on sexual assault pay no attention to using the ‘right’ toilet and barge in anyway. As well as regulating trans people out of existence, the laws now police women’s appearance and behaviour, enforced by straight conservative women to their template of how women ‘should’ be.

This isn’t feminism, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Equal rights and dignity

That example is specific and personal to me but the wider principle holds: when we limit the human rights of one group we weaken the case for decent treatment for all people.

Some activists reject ‘identity politics’ whenever the issue of rights is raised. In theory again, their position is that everyone should be treated equally; in practise since many people are not treated equally, this is a move to bury any discussion of equal rights. The people playing on the easiest setting of the game are happy to keep it that way and reject any changing of the rules. This also buries issues including racism, ableism, anti-semitism, and sexual harassment and assault within activist circles; identity politics are the modern version of the sixties’ feminist slogan, “The personal is political”, and keeping personal issues out of politics makes life simple for abusers.

In Holyrood and other governments, equal treatment for everyone has to be continually fought for. We enact laws to protect the rights of specific groups because if we don’t, then prejudice and bigotry set in to exclude and abuse them. Sex discrimination and unequal treatment and pay for women. Racial discrimination. Religious bigotry. Gay bashing. Trans people driven to suicide or murdered. When we do not fight for these rights, then we end up with bigotry and abuse enshrined in law, as we see in the ‘Hostile Environment,’ Section 28, ‘fit-to-work’ tests, toilet laws, and abortion bans.

Straight white rich men don’t need any protections. The rest of us have to look after each other.

Scottish Green New Deal

GreenNewDeal

A New Deal

On Thursday the Scottish Green party unveiled a new programme for social and economic change; the Scottish Green New Deal. The SGND aims to tackle the climate emergency and create a just and prosperous society by transforming the economy.

It’s worth breaking all of this down. Let’s start with social justice and prosperity. A recent Guardian article reported – this is not news – that up to 10 million people in the UK are in precarious work. They operate in the ‘gig economy’, which is a euphemism for having no rights to steady or continuous employment, no rights to a guaranteed minimum hours or income, wages that are at the legal minimum in most cases – which is not the minimum required to live – and no right of redress if their employer fires them. This situation is not limited to cleaners, delivery cyclists and ride-share drivers; freelancing and casualised employment extends into every workplace and profession, where junior teachers, lawyers, academics struggle to build careers with no security. I know a university law lecturer who moonlights as a stand-up comedian because they have no guaranteed hours.

At the same time financialisation of property and businesses, with management by bankers, mass buy-ups by large private landlords, a bubble in the housing market, insufficient investment in social housing, and reaction to the economic crash of a decade ago, mean that it is impossible for anyone without job security, income, and significant savings to buy their home. Changes in legislation governing rentals have eroded tenants’ rights in favour of property owners to the point where the right to a home is non-existent. Rents, especially in London but everywhere in Britain, take up the majority of the minimal income that people are earning.

And since the crash of 2008, real incomes in Britain have actually reduced. Average wages are 10% lower, as compared to increases of 11% in France, 14% in Germany, and 23% in Poland.

A Broken Economy

Why is that? Again, it’s worth breaking this down. When the housing market crashed in 2008 it endangered the viability of whole economies. Many governments’ responses to this were to curtail spending, enacting massive cuts in the name of Austerity and ‘balancing the budget’. This was exactly the wrong approach. Government spending and investment are one of the chief motors of the economy, keeping money flowing, providing cash for people to buy goods and services and pay their rents or mortgages. Without that boost people cut their spending, which cut income for businesses, which led to job losses and the ‘rationalisation’ of employment in a spiral dive of recession.

Most governments, including the US, realised this eventually and pulled their economies out of recession. The UK government has not. Why is that? The ideology behind it is something for another article.

So what is the right response to a crash? Every government that has recovered its economy did so by boosting it through investment, either by borrowing long-term on bonds or literally printing more money. This is known as deficit spending, where you borrow to improve the performance of the economy, and repay when you’re doing well. In the Great Depression, the US government under Franklin D Roosevelt enacted the New Deal, in which they funded public works including road building, plumbing, bridge building, and public buildings. The facilities that were built with public money in the early 1930s are still in use and the towns who received this assistance prospered. The towns and even states who rejected this help, again for reasons of ideology, are now among those who are impoverished in the modern US economy.

The New Deal, then, is not a new idea. It has been proven to work. The Scottish Green New Deal, like other Green New Deals around the world, addresses a failing economy and stagnating jobs and wages by investing public money in public works, jobs, and infrastructure.

Rebuilding – A Better Scotland

The Green part of the SGND is simple. The climate emergency is real and we have at most ten years to halve our greenhouse gas emissions. This is going to require a massive investment in changing the infrastructure of not only the country but the world – away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy; away from mass transport of foodstuffs towards local agriculture; away from individual car ownership towards public transport and walkable towns and cities; away from housing and buildings that are costly to keep heated towards net-zero-energy buildings.

The investments required for the SGND are in some cases obvious – development and roll-out of wind, tidal, and solar energy and clean decommission of fossil and nuclear power plants; building social and other housing to efficient standards and refurbishing all of the other housing stock; social needs, shops, services, libraries and transport within easy walking distance. All of these things will improve employment prospects for Scottish people and pump money into the economy.

The plan must protect jobs as it improves employment – what about the oil and gas industry? So many people in the North East of Scotland depend on it for their livelihood. Offshore wind farms are already going into operation, and expanding, built in Nigg and Dundee and Aberdeen and put in place and serviced by the same construction crews and ships who build and service oil and gas platforms. New tidal turbines are being built in the same yards. Onshore, the same skills that are needed to fit and maintain gas appliances are needed to build district heating systems and fit solar and ground source heating plants. All of these renewable systems will require maintenance, upkeep and replacement at the end of their lives. Unlike the coal, oil and gas industries, which strip out the easily available resources and move on leaving a trail of poverty behind them, these are jobs for generations to come.

In other cases the plan is not yet obvious and decisions have to be made – what do we want our economy to be like? Do we want to be at the mercy of large employers, shareholders and property owners who asset-strip our income and labour to moulder in bank accounts in the Caymans? Or do we want to be a country where people are welcomed and work is valued and dignified, where it is possible to make a living in the arts or as a care worker?

What kind of Scotland do you want to live in?