What a relief to wake up on 19 September and learn that Scottish voters had voted resoundingly against independence! So the United Kingdom remains united. Sort of.
As democrats we should rejoice that this momentous outcome was possible within a peaceful democratic process. This is a moment in history when nations should seek to be growing together, rather than separating from one another. The recent history of nations that have divided, and the bitter warfare that so often follows, not only between those that were formerly united, but also within the newly formed nations as different factions or tribes vie for power, shows the dreadful dangers of nationalism and separatism. Some of the violent rhetoric of the Scottish Yes campaigners was, frankly, quite frightening.
So we have a result which preserves the Union, and which both sides have pledged to respect and to work with. But that should not mean that the UK Government breathes a collective sigh of relief and returns to business as usual. For very many people, one of the strongest appeals of the Yes campaign was the promise of creating a fairer society. And this should give us and our Government great pause. Because it means that a large number of us believe that this is very far from being a fair society.
The statistics speak for themselves. The UK is one of the most unequal societies in the Western world, third only to the USA and Portugal. During the recession of the 2000s real incomes have declined for most people, with ⅓ of workers having a pay freeze or even a pay cut. Not so the rich. In 2012 it was revealed that the richest 1000 people in the UK had increased their wealth by 4.7%. And let me tell you, 4.7% of a million pounds is a lot of money. Pay rises were also widely different depending where you stand on the already well-off scale. Average pay rises this year are:
FTSE 100 directors 14%
Nurses, teachers, members of the armed forces 1%
Pay differentials between top CEOs and the lowest paid of their workers are typically about 300:1. Yes, the boss ‘earns’, or at least gets paid, 300 times what the lowest paid worker in the company does. Our politicians obviously don’t think this is a problem. Why would they? In 2010 23 out of 29 members of the Cabinet were millionaires, several of them with fortunes running into billions. Privately educated, from the upper classes of society – why would they even think of introducing a reformed monetary system, or a new set of taxes to seriously redistribute wealth and properly fund the NHS?
Is it any wonder that not even ⅔ of those eligible turn out to vote even in General Elections? Why bother, when my vote seems to make no difference, and all the political parties seem to be in league to preserve the status quo? Is it any wonder that UKIP and even more far right parties are gaining in support? But the Scottish referendum engaged the electorate in such a way that 85% of them turned out to vote. There is hope that, when given the chance to really influence the course of events, the British electorate will have and express their views. And what’s clear today is: British society and politics have got to change.
So, thank you, Scotland, for voting to preserve the Union. And thank you for showing the rest of us how it’s possible to get the vast majority of the electorate to vote for a fair society. It’s time to tell the Westminster elite: the rest of us want one too!