Kevin McKenna: Scotland is not better than England. It's just different - thank goodness
Dec. 07, 2019
IN this new age of witch-burning and unforgivable sin we reach for superlatives to convey mere common decency or simple error. We denounce politicians as liars when their facts begin to disintegrate in the threshing houses of social media even before their wretched interviews wind down. Most have simply spun pessimism and optimism or omitted to add inconvenient codicils. What happened to just getting it wrong? On these occasions a simple Glaswegian, “Aye right” would suffice rather than to abjure the perpetrator for being a satanic entity.
During the first independence referendum Unionists were often accused of lying when they ascribed a worst-case scenario to economic forecasts or when they spoke darkly of civil unrest on Scotland’s streets when there had only been loud heckling. Few of us, if we were being honest, really believed these were lies; exaggeration: perhaps; grandstanding: definitely, but not a deliberate attempt to swap a known falsehood for a universally-accepted fact.
As the 2019 General Election campaign enters its final week it is now routinely described by commentators and politicians alike as "rancorous", "unpleasant" and "bitter". In truth, though, it’s not really been much more obnoxious than most others in our lifetimes. Social media tends to amplify prickliness and makes it monstrous. That which we once considered only to be disagreeable now becomes disgusting. Perhaps this is what happens when thousands of us now find we can take to the stage and think that only by shouting the loudest can our voices be heard in a crowded market-place.
What has made this election unique in my lifetime is how simplistic to an almost insulting degree has been the offering of the UK Government. When the optimistic investment numbers and shaky NHS promises are stripped away it comes down to one slogan: Get Brexit Done.
This flies on the deception that our withdrawal from the EU can be wrapped up before the Christmas trees come down and that everything will be back to normal before next summer. It omits to provide the truth of the two years (at best) of tough negotiations with a sullen EU on future trading arrangements conducted on a painstaking case-by-case, sector-by-sector basis. It asks us to accept that the US will be falling over itself to be charitable in cutting a beneficent trade deal. It long ago ceased even trying to deny predictions of economic hardship in Britain’s most disadvantaged communities. It dismisses concerns that any part of the NHS will be on the table when the Americans come knocking. Aye, right! These may not be outright lies but they rely on concealing all relevant data to those who are most at risk from its adverse effects.
If it prevails on December 12 the duplicitous and infantile nature of Boris Johnson’s personal manifesto will make the divisions between Scotland and England deeper than they have ever been. Even in this age when we are too ready to reach for extremes and ultimates the differences have become a chasm. By the time this one is over six elections will have been conducted in Scotland since 2014, encompassing Holyrood, Westminster, local authorities and the European Parliament. The previous five have all returned resounding victories for the SNP campaigning for self-determination and, latterly, a second referendum on independence. This one will follow that pattern. We’ve also had a referendum on membership of the EU which overwhelmingly rejected what England’s heart desires. This though, only hints at the cultural, philosophical and political chasm which now exists between Scotland and our great southern neighbours across more sectors than we could ever have previously imagined.
This is not to say that Scotland is better than England or that we hold ourselves to a higher moral standard; merely that the governments either country has chosen to represent its people’s aspirations regard humanity and human existence in starkly different ways. In Scotland our political instincts and legislation is geared towards providing options for the poor, the vulnerable, the excluded and those fleeing terror in other countries. In England, the Boris Johnson option (it has nothing to do with traditional Conservatism) is to gain power at any cost and to hold it with every artifice at his disposal. It discourages speaking truth to power but submerges truth with power.
It relies on the confidence that comes with knowing that the main mass media outlets are strictly controlled by a handful of those whose best material interests are served by him or who attended the same school as him. He knows that no-one will look under the bonnet or ask for his workings. It constructs false enemies at home and abroad and stitches them up as the culprits for ills both real and imagined. As the challenges of Brexit begin to bite in those communities least equipped to deal with them the EU is already in the crosshairs of the backlash when it comes.
In Scotland there can be valid criticism of the Scottish Government’s stewardship of the NHS and education but there are key differences of attitude in these landscapes. In Scotland we want them to deliver for as many as possible and with no exceptions and the failures are of management and civil service incompetence. In Boris Johnson’s England health is being set up to fail and thus to attract the predators of private equity.
The great and humane system of care as devised by a great Welshman in England can now only be seen in Scotland. Here, a child has access to 500 hours of early learning and nursery care, saving families more than £2000. In Scotland our students are provided with free tuition while those in England must find almost £10,000 a year. Prescriptions and care for the elderly are free. In Scotland we want to make the journey from the cradle to the grave as long and as comfortable as possible. In England in the grip of the Johnson regime the same journey will become shorter and more brutal as Brexit and America’s big pharmaceutical companies gather to feed.
By all means let’s get Brexit done if that is what England truly desires but let it soon be followed by Scottish independence if we truly desire decency and compassion.
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