Happy New Year! Although as I write this it’s raining again, reflecting what was a pretty miserable year for most and few prospects for improvement in the coming year.
For all but the rich and privileged, protected by the ConDem government, the relentless impact of austerity economics continues to blight our public services and the communities that rely upon them. A government that takes three times from the working poor as it does the banks is surely morally and economically bankrupt. And let’s not forget the impact on young people, who are struggling to find a job at a decent wage or a house to buy or rent at an affordable price.
There is a better way and we need to find new methods in 2013 of making the case for it. That strategy must challenge inequality. Our success in highlighting tax dodging shows that campaigns that highlight inequality can work. We need to make the link between inequality and the impact of the wider economy, explaining how more equal societies do better on nearly every measure. As Nelson Mandela put it so well, “While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”
On the bargaining front it will be another challenging year. Public sector pay cuts have been the largest contributor to public spending reductions. This not only damages standards of living, but has also contributed to the length of the recession. The Scottish Living Wage has brought some respite and we need to widen its impact in 2013. Pensions is also going to keep me busy in the first half of the year, as we address the UK government’s unwarranted interference in the Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme.
Public sector reform will be another big issue in 2013. Adult health and care integration, procurement, regulation and community engagement legislation all have centralising elements to them. We need to make a strong case for local democracy in 2013, before it is lost as ministers gather more powers in Edinburgh.
The consequences of past centralisation will continue to blight Scotland in 2013. The Council Tax freeze and ring fencing will impact on the council budget setting early in the New Year. The new centralised police force comes into operation in April, saddled with the absurd police numbers target that takes police officers off the street to perform civilian roles. Disproportional spending cuts will hit colleges, along with the centralisation of what should be local educational provision.
The constitutional debate will grind on, I suspect with indifference being the reaction of most Scots until 2014. More work is needed on the devolution options this year if the No campaign is to offer a credible alternative to independence. The Yes campaign will continue to struggle if it doesn’t answer the many questions being asked and the early publication of the White Paper would help.
While we focus on Scottish issues we shouldn’t forget what is happening at Westminster. I have already mentioned the Public Service Pensions Bill and the Energy Bill will also impact on Scotland. Employment rights are to be undermined further together with health and safety laws that will lead to more death and injury at the workplace. However, the biggest issue will be the implementation of welfare reform. £Billions will be ripped out of the Scottish economy from people who least can afford it with local economies suffering the worst.
Finally, back to the weather. It would be good if governments across the world started to take climate change seriously. Emissions are rising, ice is melting, we will miss the 2C target and yet the response of our governments is to do little or nothing. George Monbiot highlights this well in today’s Guardian. But he also points to wider action that would be good New Year’s resolution for us all, “Governments care only as much as their citizens force them to care.”
So let’s work that much harder to make them care this year!