For The Sake Of The Children And Much More Besides – USE THE MANDATE

“Thank you for giving my mum food so we can eat”. Those were the words written by an eight year old boy who had been caught stealing tomato sauce sachets from his school as he thought he could make soup with them. A heart-breaking and scandalous glimpse of the reality of poverty in the 21st century.

Yet what makes the story even more shocking is it did not emerge from a war torn region or third world country it emerged during evidence to the Social Security Committee of the Scottish Parliament last week and concerned a hungry child in Glasgow.

That Committee heard from both those in the front line working for charities trying to help the poor and victims of modern day poverty. In an area of Glasgow’s Southside, not far from where I live, a divorced father of two children had survived on nothing but water for four days such was his dire lack of income while The Trussell Trust, which now runs 53 food banks across Scotland, reports use of their services have soared by 80% in the last few years .

Many others too embarrassed to use food banks are reduced to raiding skips (large metal refuge bins) in the cover of darkness as the reality of benefit cuts, sanctions, the chaos of Universal Credit and inordinate delays in processing claims kicks in.

The most haunting warning given to the Parliament Committee by the charities working with Scotland’s poorest citizens and children was that the dire situation faced by increasing numbers was rapidly becoming “unsustainable” .

Glasgow used to be referred to as the ‘second city of the Empire’ such was its dominance in the world of shipbuilding and engineering in the early part of the 20th century. Poverty and inequality has always stalked the city but many believed concrete progress had been made in raising the 1990 City of Culture out of the swamp of poverty affecting so many of its sons and daughters.

Yet as we approach the 19th year of the 21st century we have kids stealing tomato sauce sachets and families scavenging in bins for food. It is a shocking and shameful situation.

Weeks prior to the Committee meeting the Joseph Rowntree Foundation released their Child Poverty in Scotland 2018 report that showed years of improvements were now reversed as far as relative poverty was concerned and 230,000 children are now in households classed as poor as they are unable to provide the things most families take for granted like nourishing meals, warm clothes, an adequately heated house and every day treats. In the year 2018 almost 1 in 4 of Scotland’s children (24%) are raised in poverty .

The situation would be even worse if the Scottish Government was not protecting Scottish families from the cruel Tory Bedroom Tax and providing crisis payments to the poor through the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Established in 2013 applications to the Fund have increased by 70% in the last 12 months and applications for emergency help are now over 45,000 with the increased threat of homelessness through rent arrears driving up the demand. In the last 5 years the fund has paid out £173 million to allow the poorest to buy food and avoid being made homeless .

The situation right now is shocking in a country so rich in natural resources and the ability to generate vast amounts of wealth. We don’t just possess Europe’s largest supplies of oil we also produce vast quantities of natural gas and have a food and drinks sector which is the envy of the world let alone Europe. Our potential to be a world leader in the production of clean and sustainable energy was graphically illustrated only a week ago with the news that wind farms were being paid millions of pounds to turn off the wind turbines because the National Grid is unable to cope with the amount of energy generated on windy days .

Yet the bad news is set to get worse under the Westminster Tories and their cold and callous policies of further wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.

An independent economic analysis carried out for the Scottish Government last month predicts poverty in general and child poverty in particular will get even worse under the planned Tory cuts. Despite all their measures to try and mitigate the benefit and income cuts the percentage of children suffering from poverty in Scotland will rise from 24% to 38% over the next decade .

Child poverty in Scotland is predicted to rise from almost 1 in 4 to well over 1 in 3 while other small independent countries in Europe, who have also suffered from the world economic crash of 2008, have child poverty levels of 1 in 10 or less (Denmark  9.2%; Iceland 10%; Norway 10.2%; Finland 10.9%) .

There are so many arguments for Scottish independence but right now I want to highlight these shocking child poverty statistics as a huge motivation for the Scottish SNP Government to use the democratic mandate they possess to call and organise IndyRef2.

British unionists argue that we had a referendum in 2014 and that should be the settled will for a generation, around 2039 or longer. I say away and ‘bile yer heid’, to use an old Scots phrase.

Democracy is nothing if it is not alive, constant, always engaging with the populace. The evidence that the 2104 Referendum was fought on a deceitful and fraudulent basis is now unassailable. The unionists insisted that the ‘only’ way Scotland could stay in the European Union was to vote NO to independence. Set aside for a moment the lies about pensions being under threat from independence, shipyard order books being dependent on rejecting independence and banking and civil service jobs being safe only on the basis of a NO vote. They were all lies. Part of the cynical ‘Project Fear’ campaign that specifically targeted the elderly.

The concrete reality of Scotland voting by 62% to stay in the European Union but being dragged outside it by England which voted 53% to leave is a massive material change in circumstances which on its own justifies a 2nd independence referendum.

However the SNP fought and won 56 of Scotland’s 59 Scottish Westminster seats in 2015. It won the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. It then won the 2017 snap General Election with 35 of the Scottish Westminster seats, more than all the other parties in Scotland added together. It organised a debate and vote on the issue of a 2nd Referendum in the Scottish Parliament last March. By 69 votes to 59 that democratically elected Parliament, Scotland’s Parliament, voted to hold IndyRef2 between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

This mandate is referred to as a “triple-lock” mandate as was clearly explained by the SNP Manifesto for the June 2017 General Election:

“If the SNP wins a majority of seats in this election, that would complete a triple lock, further reinforcing the democratic mandate which already exists”.

“In such circumstances, any continued Tory attempts to block the people of Scotland having a choice on their future, when the options are clear, and on a timescale determined by the Scottish Parliament, would be democratically unsustainable.”

The situation could not be clearer. We have in Scotland a rock solid mandate to hold a second independence referendum anytime between now and April next year. That is the terms of the mandate. A mandate which was secured through hard work and vigorous campaigning in the teeth of an overwhelmingly hostile and biased unionist press and media. To fail to use this mandate would be a gross dereliction of duty and a betrayal of the trust bestowed on the SNP by the broad Independence Family.

Nicola Sturgeon is Scotland’s First Minister and she has led the SNP into the democratic battles of 2015, 2016 and 2017 and won every one of them. She is head and shoulders above the leaders of the unionist parties in Holyrood.

Last month she delayed calling the date of IndyRef2 at her party’s conference in Glasgow on the basis that the Brexit exit terms are not yet clear and therefore some ‘patience’ and ‘pragmatism’ was required.

I reckon her performance as the SNP Leader and First Minister over the last 3 years has earned her the right to be trusted on the IndyRef2 timing question but I am also acutely aware that there are voices close to her urging a significant delay.

In fact some are urging her to ditch the hard won mandate and seek a new one at the next Scottish elections in 2021. I say no. Don’t listen to the gradualists who would have you throw away a triple-lock mandate for the gamble of securing another Parliament Indy majority in 3 years’ time. The credibility of the Scottish Parliament is on the line. The credibility of SNP Manifesto commitments is on the line. The strength, energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the grassroots Indy Movement is on the line.

Most important of all the future of Scotland’s children, our public services and the welfare of our country is on the line. Those who urge caution may be able to wait another 3 or 4 years but the victims of Tory unionist austerity can’t afford to wait. Their opportunities, life chances, hopes and desires are being trampled upon right now and the situation will only worsen over the next 3 to 4 years. Sure many of us will still fight the cause of independence no matter when the next vote is held but what’s at risk right now is the onset of disillusionment.

An incredible 1.6 million Scots (1,617,989), predominantly those under the age of 55, voted YES in 2014 in a referendum which motivated a record turnout of 84.6%. Some eight months later 1.4 million (1,454,436) voted SNP at the 2015 General Election, 50% of those voting on a higher than normal turnout of 71%.

However two years later the SNP vote at the snap General Election in June ‘17 fell by almost 500,000 votes (476,867) although they still recorded their second best General Election result in their history. The point is the Tory vote increased by over 300,000, Labour by less than 10,000 and the Lib Dems lost 40,000 but the turnout was down 5% points and the reality is the SNP suffered more from disillusion than defection, reflected in the lower turnout .

Although the IndyRef2 commitment made it into the Manifesto the SNP tried to fight the election on other territory and that did not enthuse and mobilise the core YES vote while the Tories fought on virtually nothing else but the constitutional question hoping to sweep up the hard core unionist votes.

In the context of a disgracefully biased anti-SNP, anti-independence press and broadcast media the run up to the 2021 Scottish elections will be dominated by SNP bad stories and blame for everything negative, from low wage rises to public service and welfare cuts, will be falsely laid at the SNP’s door. In such circumstances the SNP will do well to emerge as the largest party in the parliament but the independence majority with the Greens could easily be lost. A recent opinion poll has in fact predicted such an outcome .

Failure to use the current IndyRef2 mandate could make that scenario even more likely as those in the Indy Movement who give the SNP their votes on the basis of independence alone, as opposed to party loyalists, may instead refrain from voting or choose another available Indy option.

So not only would it be wrong in principle to fail to use the current live democratic mandate it would also be a tactical blunder which the SNP would regret.

Some say wait until the opinion polls record consistent majorities for YES before calling IndyRef2. I say that is pie in the sky. Polls are mere snapshots of opinion and many have proved fragile recently. If polls were to guide the first referendum of 2014 it would never have taken place. On 23rd January 2013 the Guardian newspaper reported support for independence had slumped to the lowest level since devolution in 1999 with only 23% support .

Nine months later the picture had barely improved. It looked dire. The Scotsman newspaper gleefully reported that the broader and supposedly more reliable Scottish Attitudes Survey recorded support for Independence was only a mere 25%. That was on 12th October 2013, less than twelve months before the actual vote .

Yet despite the unionist British Establishment promoting lies, distortions and fears about independence the YES vote actually rose to 45%.

The crucial point is it hasn’t fallen below that level in the last three years and some polls have suggested it has risen to 47% with a recent poll that factored in the Brexit issue suggesting a majority for independence post Brexit of 52% YES to 48% NO once Don’t Knows are excluded .

If we were able in the Indy Movement to rise from 25% to 45% in the teeth of British Establishment lies, distortions and ‘Bitter Together’ promoted fear in 2014 we could most definitely rise from 45% to over 55% in the space of a short, enthusiastic, energetic and informed campaign over the 4 months from December to late March.

Our foe is very formidable but crucially for us they are divided right now. The British Establishment are past masters at devising and promoting divide and rule tactics but right now it is they who are divided. Some want a soft Brexit, some a hard Brexit and others want to reverse Brexit. Their division is our opportunity.

The waiting for the outcome of Brexit negotiations cannot be allowed to stretch beyond the end of this month. As far as Scotland is concerned the details of whatever is brought back from Brussels is irrelevant. As a country we voted to stay in the European Union. The May Government does not talk for us or represent our views. Scotland did not vote Tory in 2015 or 2017. The fact we have a Tory government is a democratic deficit that only independence can resolve.

From well-known celebrities like J.K. Rowling and Billy Connolly to prominent and effective NO campaigners like Murray Foote, former Daily Record Editor, and Mike Dailly, Principal Solicitor at the Govan Law Centre, the Brexit issue has changed their minds. They are all now in the YES camp and they are representative of hundreds of thousands who when given a second chance after witnessing the unravelling of Project Fears’ lies and the Brexit chaos will choose the path of Scottish independence and controlling our own destiny rather than being tied to the increasingly narrow, nasty British nationalist coat-tails of Westminster.

We have marched all over Scotland in 2018 to demand IndyRef2 culminating in a massive show of strength in Edinburgh last month of over 100,000. That is the equivalent of a million marching in London. The message we have is a positive one. We want the tools to be able to build a fairer, more equal, inclusive, prosperous and non-nuclear weapon scarred Scotland. Nothing will change the day after we win IndyRef2 except the ability to change everything. Our plea to First Minister has to be loud, clear and positive #UseTheMandate.

Tommy Sheridan 

This article holds the views of the author and not neccessarily the views of Solidarity as a party
Posted in Tommy Sheridan's Columns.

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