Welfare Nation State

Up until the end of 2012, 51,700 jobs have been lost in the public sector in Scotland since 2009. Local government workers in Scotland have had a 10 per cent real-terms cut in wages in the last three years, even greater for workers who have been hit by the increase in pensions contributions, civil servants, health workers, etc. The Scottish government resources budget will amount to £4.5 billion by 2017/18. Sixty per cent of these cuts have still to be made. Sadly, while making the case for an independent Scotland the SNP government continues to pass on the Westminster cuts.

As Scotland heads toward the referendum vote next September, people on the left are beginning ask what kind of Scotland we want to live in. This is an opportunity to seriously consider what kind of Scotland can be built. If independence is to mean anything it must mean an end to sharing out the cuts, it must mean a clean break from the austerity agenda through measures like major wealth redistribution and widespread public ownership. It must mean a genuine political alternative, a commitment to reverse the cuts and to rebuild and repair the coalition government’s economic vandalism, in other words – socialist policies.

There must be democratic accountability, genuine consultation and effective economic planning as to what public services people need and how they are to be delivered and where are they to be located

The market worships ‘choice’ while restricting it for the broad mass of the population. At its most basic austerity is actually about limiting the choice between health and illness, education and ignorance and so on. The ruling elite aim to destroy the welfare state that has offered people at least some measure of social security in a system they run for profit not people.

The real question is what do we want from our public services and how can we make sure we develop them, nourish them and protect them from right-wing market driven attack, privatisation and outsourcing. And of course how do we ensure that they are accountable.

There needs to be a serious debate about why public services are vital to any civilised society, what citizens are entitled to expect in terms of a welfare state and a national health service too. A Scotland that rejected the myths and lies of neoliberalism and worked toward social and economic justice would be a very attractive prospect indeed for the overwhelming majority of people.

Take the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP); why is this department regarded so negatively by so many users? In simple terms the job of this department is to stop people falling into poverty – surely a good thing worthy of respect – but it is now viewed as punishing the unemployed and disabled and driving people to extreme poverty and to the food-banks through a vicious sanctions regime.

There is a real choice here for politicians who want to build a fair, equal and economically efficient Scotland – a choice that would require some honesty from them. Just sticking with the DWP example, all evidence shows societies with strong supportive welfare systems are economically more efficient and wealthier with better rates of equality than those run on the neoliberal model. There is no mystery to this: motivation works better than punishment – so why won’t ‘progressive’ politicians say so?

Let’s have a debate that cuts through the nonsense sprayed out daily by corporate-backed politicians and the media. On the question of choice for example: – if I break my leg, I don’t want a choice of hospitals to be sent to, I just want the care and reliability of the NHS to look after me, and give me the best care available, regardless of the size of my wallet.

Education, health and welfare were all taken into public ownership because the private sector and charities were incapable of delivering them. Politicians prepared to take on the *Daily Mail* and argue for a supportive welfare state might just find they are tapping into a huge vein of popular support.

How ‘government’ is perceived is crucially important. The debate has to broaden out so that it is not just about Scottish ‘governance’ but about Scottish government services: who runs them and for who’s benefit?

There must be democratic accountability, genuine consultation and effective economic planning as to what public services people need and how they are to be delivered and where are they to be located. If we are really to contemplate a new Scotland, the where, why and the status of public services and delivery in Scotland post-referendum should not be viewed through a model that carves off chunks and slices – and drops them on plates marked local govt, central govt, health or Edinburgh, Glasgow and then of course, everywhere else.

To build a Scotland with a future for all it would require a change of mindset that public servants are just there to collect taxes and dole out benefits. Effective government planning can be embarked upon, linked to an extension of public ownership of the utilities and a progressive taxation system that could, even under capitalism, greatly improve the lives of the Scottish people through a strengthened economy that rejects the great lie that only profit matters.

This would mean rejecting the demented neoliberal narrative that holds public services as some kind of drain on an economy rather than what they truly are; an intrinsic part of our economic infrastructure To show this through a negative example, currently for every job lost in the public sector at least one, probably two and sometimes even three are lost in the private sector.

Scotland could make the choice to build a welfare state that rejects the myths and lies of ruling elites who want to cut as much of the welfare state as they can and privatise what can’t be cut.

My union has consistently argued for an economic alternative that puts the public services where they rightly belong, at the centre of society and at the centre of economic planning. It is entirely possible as socialists to both point out the failure of capitalism while arguing for economic alternatives that give working people greater control over their lives and the impersonal corporate forces that dominate them. I suspect those who present a vision of this nature would celebrate victory in the independence referendum.