Hey everyone It is with great interest that I read Michael Gray’s column in yesterday’s National with the headline It’s time for equality to take global centre stage. This is an excellent headline and the article which follows makes a very powerful case for redistribution of wealth.
This is indeed a welcome call for greater sharing of global finances and the end to the current levels of inequality which have quite frankly reached obscene proportions. Indeed as Mr Gray points out, the top 1% are on target to own more than the other 99% combined by 2016 and it’s making us all worse off. That this is indisputable is a undeniable fact cannot be denied, however there is another side to equality which also needs to be examined and that is that whilst we must address the economic barriers between the richest and poorest in our shared global village we must not forget the social and cultural issues which can and all too often do lead to the demonisation of marginalised groups of people as ‘other’ or the even more insulting term ‘them’.
These two factors go hand in hand but Gray’s article focuses on the wealth gap and in the eyes of the general public this is correct road to take as that needs to be the primary concern before we can get our other issues sorted out. There is no doubt that the last 20 years of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st have seen capitalism get so far out of control that what we now accept or at least tolerate as normal is a ridiculous level of personal wealth where those who have are allowed to do what they like as those who have not pay the price. Yet until now it has been allowed to go virtually unchecked.
As a race, yes I count us all as one human race, I believe we need to stop and ask ourselves how it ever got this crazy, and it seems that the world it seems is at last waking up to this fact.
As Gray points out key figures from Barack Obama to Pope Francis have stated the need for change. Austerity isn’t working well not for the less well off who have either had to endure a pay freeze which in real terms amounts to a cut or like myself lost their jobs due to cutbacks or redundancies. This for many people has had a serious and detrimental impact on both their standard of living and quality of life.
There are Michael Gray states ‘towards one million people living in relative poverty’. This means already stretched resources are stretched still further and a growing number of families pay a visit not to Morrisons, LIDL, or Tesco but to foodbanks and I should know having had to use these facilities myself in times of need and been grateful for the service they provided. Meanwhile the top 1% of the population have seen there wealth increase since the so-called Bankers crash which ushered in the birth of austerity Britain. Indeed Gray goes on to say that the wealth of the richest 1,000 people has doubled in the last five years to 519 Billion. This would be laughable were it not so disgusting, and yet politicians both Conservative and Labour tell us there is no alternative to austerity. What they really mean is there is no alternative for them, maybe just maybe that is why leading Labour Party figures such Anas Sarwar, and Jim Murphy were so keen to keep the so called United Kingdom united no matter the cost as it really was better together for them so they could completely unchecked in their ruthless quest for wealth.
As we know, austerity says indeed it demands that the poor pay the price for the mistakes of the rich but there is another way namely to place as Gray says ‘a tax on the super-rich and financial services’. If President Obama can suggest in what is after all a nation which is even more right wing than the UK then surely it shouldn’t be beyond the SNP and The Labour Party to base it as a starting point for any post UK election deal. A deal with which this card carrying SNP member would have few if any problems.
My reason for stating this is that I believe the two parties have when we strip away the constitutional question far more in common with each other than either of us have with the Conservatives though there are some in the Labour Party Murphy and Sarwar amongst them who would I am sure like to change that at their earliest possible convenience. Therefore it is imperative that should the post election arithmetic prove favourable to some sort of arrangement that the socially progressive forces in both parties reach a deal to send a loud and clear message not only to Scotland but the whole of the British Isles that the days of New Labour and the Blair, Murphy, Sarwar axis are over and over for good. There will be no more Red Tories now or ever.
By taking this action Ed Milliband and Nicola Sturgeon could bring about the conditions where genuine economic redistribution of wealth could begin to mean exactly that and create a climate where both businesses and individuals could gain the opportunities they seek to improve their situation. Indeed one benefit of such an arrangement could be a similar Land Reform Bill for the rest of the UK than the one SNP Government steered through the Scottish Parliament last year.
Both parties are also committed to greater social and cultural equality and though much has been done both at Holyrood and Westminster since the turn of the millenium I believe there is much more which can be done to create a greater sense of social cohesion. This is an issue no Scottish or UK Government can afford to ignore as there continue to be far too many marginalised groups within these islands. I say this a degree of authority as I speak with a great deal of personal experience on this issue.
You see I speak as someone who is a self identified trans woman who is also a self identified disabled person, I am also a member of the Irish-Scots community, and a Christian, I think I may know a thing or two about the barriers be they cultural, social, or economic which can lead to exclusion and this gives me an insight to environmental and attitudinal barriers within communities which many of the more mainstream political thinkers may accidentally overlook especially in times of austerity where the idea of every man and women tends to sow the seeds of selfishness within many hearts if action is not taken early to cut it off at the root.
As a former equality trainer who specialised in disability issues I found the attitudes of many people to be almost shockingly naïve with regards to causal prejudice and discrimination. Indeed many participants on courses I delivered would often say to me at the end of the course how appalled they had been by their own attitudes and how the course had helped them and made them take action to change their previous way of thinking. As I said early on in this post labelling groups can and does lead to demonisation as ‘other’ or ‘them’ and it doesn’t cost anything to change an attitude. Believe me I have experienced both disabling and transphobic prejudice and though a small percentage of it was nasty, most was just ill informed and when I challenged it in a firm but non threatening way you would be pleasantly surprised as to how many times I managed to change what had been deep rooted cultural or social beliefs.
No doubt I can hear certain people asking why I thought such a challenge to someone’s opinion was even necessary. This is usually stated by those who hide behind the mask of free speech and claim I am too politically correct. Sometimes they may try to use a rhetorical question like what’s that got to do with the price of fish or did you really need to say that? You know the usual nonsense when people are resistant to change, well perhaps if I put it in plain language they may begin to understand.
The way I see it is simple, the less people you brand as other, the more you see them like you. The more you see them like you, the more chance there is that you will see their talents and skills and maybe give them an opportunity to contribute to society. The more they contribute to society the less marginalised and excluded they feel. The less excluded they feel the more they want to contribute and the more they contribute to society the more likely they are to be successful in whatever they do. So instead of creating a vicious circle in which people feel trapped and excluded you create a virtuous circle in which people are happy to be included.
This idea of a kind of attitudinal redistribution ties in nicely with Michael Gray’s theme of economic redistribution. Indeed as I said earlier the two go hand in hand. In summing up his thoughts Gray states that ‘redistribution once seen as radical is now considered a necessary solution. Indeed in his final paragraph he states that ‘Inequality is a threat to social stability in Scotland and across the world’. This is something I very much agree with but economic redistribution alone will not solve the issues of exclusion or marginalisation. There has to be in my view a shift not just in financial redistribution but in also in social and cultural attitudes. I say this as these often unrecognised factors can however unintentionally put up barriers between groups and communities. This makes the case for an attitudinal shift one of the fundamental truths of our time because as any good economist will tell you the real wealth of a nation lies in it’s people. Personally, I think Scotland and the world need to wake up and smell the future and we need to do it now. This means we need to have a redistribution of attitudes and only after we have this attitudinal shift then we can start on our economies. You see it is my belief that If we don’t redistribute our attitude and see us instead of them, then the super rich will have escaped yet again perhaps for another two generations. I ask you are you willing to take that risk? I most certainly am not. The future is ours to be won or lost and the decision you make now could be the most important you’ll ever make. The time has come to stand up and be counted the future of your children and grand children may depend on what line you decide to stand in.
Love. And Best Wishes