Austerity and taxation: With so many leading economists having denounced the politics of austerity, it’s hard to see how the Tories have a shred of credibility that their ‘long term economic plan’ is working. They continue to repeat the mantra, but the statistics for numbers of foodbanks, suicides of benefit claimants and the instability of the job market only highlights that their plan works only for the very rich.
WfI has long highlighted austerity measures falling disproportionately on women, and redistribution of wealth reaches vulnerable women only as an afterthought, if at all. Increased childcare hours was a positive step, but the Scottish Government needs to go further – provision of out of school care is woefully inadequate in rural areas, and full-time childcare is too expensive for many low income earners. Rather than ploughing more money into child tax credit, or increased hours, we would like to see a commitment to encourage employers to be more creative. Many workplaces could provide crèche facilities without huge costs, and new technologies should allow more women to work from home, if only employers were ready to set up their systems to allow it.
Creative employment practice also leads to economic growth. The only way to counter austerity without having control of the benefits system is to promote economic growth. Conservative policy favours suppression of wages and employment instability to secure higher profits, only benefitting shareholders.
The Scottish Government over the next term will have to prove it can redistribute wealth fairly using new taxation powers. But the trap lies in only able to raise taxes – platform poison in an election. We need more creative thinking around transport links, education policy, childcare policy and redistribution of taxation in order to combat austerity within the devolved powers and lift more women out of poverty.
Trident: It’s clear we’ll be hearing more about Trident over coming months but what is not clear is whether Corbyn will whip his MPs into voting against renewal. I’m not sure anyone needs a crystal ball to judge this unlikely. However, the vote by Scottish Labour to scrap Trident is significant. We can now truthfully say that Scotland as a whole does not want a nuclear deterrent and now we have a real test of Scotland’s place in the so-called equal partnership of the UK.
Nothing will expose the powerlessness of Scotland within the Union more clearly than the vote on renewal – a united Scottish vote to scrap this abhorrent and expensive weapons system will be overruled by the significantly higher number of English MPs voting to renew. Although a reserved matter, WfI would like to see the commitment to scrap Trident clearly stated in the main parties’ manifestos. Scottish Labour, the SNP, the Greens, and RISE are all anti-Trident, but I think it’s clear only a commitment from Labour as a whole to scrap it, or full Scottish independence will remove this dangerous waste of money from our shores.
Human rights: Tory desire to deport terrorists and ensure prisoners can’t vote will allow far greater breaches of the freedoms enjoyed by the rest of us than we can yet anticipate. The Tories say innocent people who have nothing to hide shouldn’t be concerned if government chooses to hold information on their DNA, email communications and participation in protests. This is what is at stake – our very freedom to hold and publicly profess beliefs which may be contrary to official government policy. All main parties must clearly indicate they will oppose this Bill at Westminster, and WfI will be at the forefront of any campaign to oppose it. However, this again highlights the difficulty with reserved matters – Scotland simply does not have the Westminster numbers to oppose legislation without all Labour MPs’ support.
Trade Union Bill: Also a reserved matter, the main parties’ manifestos must express how they intend to counter this legislation if it is passed. More than any other Tory legislation, this will impact hugely upon women. 76% of part-time workers in Scotland are women, and 57% of Scottish women earn the minimum wage. These groups will be particularly vulnerable if restrictions to strike are enacted.
Using union support, the Scottish Government must support workers in defying this draconian legislation. Assuming no agreement has yet been reached under the Smith Commission, all the main parties must make this a ‘red line’ – no government in Scotland will enforce these measures against Scottish workers.
Sandra Mills is an elected member of the Women for Independence National Committee. Qualified as an English teacher, she runs a tuition business, is active in the Back to School Bank and Hamilton Academical Homework Club, and has an interest in all things educational.