Robin McAlpine on the future of the Common Weal.
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Only by altering the way we see things in general terms can we begin to deliver a fairer society. Robin McAlpine proposes ten changes of mindset to set us on our way
For decades politics has been presented as a managerial process in which technocrats run society for the greater good and citizens award them points for success every five years. In 2014 Scotland broke that mould and there are signs of the political system breaking down right across the UK and beyond. We need to redesign politics as something people can understand, care about and be involved in. It isn’t difficult if you want to do it, but it does require that we abandon the corporate-fest that politics has become and talk about our future in a new language.
You would have thought the unfolding HSBC scandal made the point brutally enough: that in tax, as everything else, there is one law for the rich and another for the poor; that those at the top of the pile will cover for one another, while those at the bottom are screwed.
It’s not as if we could miss the contradiction inherent in wealthy individuals hiding millions of pounds of untaxed income in Swiss accounts, while tradespeople face the full force of the law for doing the odd homer. Or that we’d failed to notice the Black and White ball, which saw Tory donors paying £1,500 a ticket, took place the day after the story broke as, elsewhere, food banks struggled to deal with demand and local authorities considered what cuts they’d need to make to meet their austerity budgets.
Still perhaps David Cameron felt our faces weren’t being rubbed in it enough. Because shortly after it emerged HMRC had failed to prosecute Paul Bloomfield – a property tycoon who hadn’t paid tax for 24 years – the government announced it was planning to penalise those who are obese or in the grip of an addiction if they were found to be contributing to their own worklessness by refusing treatment. The proposed cuts to their sickness benefits will yield a tiny amount when set against the millions people like Bloomfield made, but will be enough, no doubt, to tip more families into poverty.
Ben Wray takes a look at participatory budgeting in Edinburgh, which has grown from Leith to other parts of the capital, and asks whether it could be the salvation for an unpopular and increasingly underfunded local government system.
DO you trust your local councillor? Joan McAlpine, SNP MSP, doesn’t think so. She wrote in her Daily Record column recently that Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy’s plans for ‘Devo-Max within Scotland’ – i.e. devolving Scottish Government powers to local councils – were handing power to the unaccountable and, therefore, power is better off residing at the Scottish Parliament.
Perhaps McAlpine has a point about councillors. The recent goings on at Argyll & Bute Council, where councillors face a vote of no confidence after incomprehensibly opposing a community buy-out, and long-standing claims of alleged corruption in Glasgow City Council, just one example being a £500,000 pay-off to a local regeneration chief, do not exactly paint the picture of local government being a bastion of democratic participation and accountability.
The appalling turnout in the 2012 local elections, where just over one in three adults voted, does nothing to strengthen the local councillors’ case.
How much attention is really paid in local communities to these people who meet up within the 32 council buildings in Scotland and make decisions on the public’s behalf over where their kids go to school and how many teachers they have?
How much awareness is there in local communities over who decides whether new socially rented housing is going to be available, whether there will be elderly care space for parents and grandparents, or how many times residents’ bins will be collected?
And if the balance of power has to shift, should even more be handed to local councils or should it be MSPs who play a bigger role?
Perhaps there’s a third option between more power to the local councillor and more power to the parliamentary politician: communities making decisions themselves, through meeting up, talking about what they want money spent on, and then agreeing to do it.
Sound far-fetched? In Edinburgh, there’s evidence that one form of participative governance, participatory budgeting, is being embraced to organise funding for community grant projects.
Boots has its roots in the mid-19th century when John Boot, an agricultural worker, moved to Nottingham to start a new business. He opened a small herbalist store on Goose Gate in 1849, from which he prepared and sold herbal remedies. His business soon proved popular, especially with the working poor of Nottingham’s new industries, who could not afford the services of a doctor. After John’s death in 1860, his widow, Mary, continued trading, with the help of her young son, Jesse, who became a full partner when he was 21. The store continued to flourish, and, in 1877, Jesse took sole control.
Jesse’s talent for business was soon evident. He expanded the range of products he sold to include proprietary medicines and household necessities. He adopted a strategy of buying stock in bulk and selling his goods much cheaper than his competitors, advertising…
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Magrit Curran, my lovely MP, has a tangential relationship to truth, reality, and indeed her electorate. On Monday the fragrant one – she reeks of hypocrisy and stinks of the rot of a socialism that died a long time ago – tweeted that she had voted to stop fracking. She had of course done no such thing, Magrit had abstained on an SNP and Green backed motion to have a moritorium on fracking. She had voted for a Labour motion to allow fracking, subject to a few minor qualifications that will not unduly trouble the energy companies. It’s a bit like claiming you’ve voted to ban television when you’ve supported a small increase in the licence fee, or saying that you’ve voted to ban smoking when you’ve abstained on a measure to introduce plain packaging.
But that’s Magrit for you, she tells you she lives in the East End when…
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Reposted from Kate Belgrave
A few thoughts as we kick into the year. Interviews from people who’ve been sanctioned at the end of the post:
As you’ll no doubt have read, the work and pensions select committee meets this coming week to hear evidence about benefit sanctions, with sanctioning connected to crime and depression.
Okay. I suppose that hearing will at least draw attention to the sanctions problem and the extent of it. It’s the What Next part that I wonder about. A lot of people know how things are. I spent many hours speaking to JSA claimants at jobcentres in 2014 (have posted some of those interviews below) and at least some of those people had complained to their MPs about sanctions and their treatment at jobcentres. Like many people, I can tell you now that there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that stopping jobseekers’ allowance – already…
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Wellington, December 29 2014 (Alochonaa):
The widespread shift in format from physical ‘mass’ news media (exemplified by the broadsheet press and to a lesser extent television news) towards digital media presents serious challenges for traditional media companies. This statement is often heard, not least from media companies themselves. These challenges often come in the form of reducing circulation, revenue and quality. They also seem to have led to a particular style of click-bait journalism. To the casual observer though, why this might be is less clear.
A key transformation, caused by the digitisation of media, seems to point the way. This transformation can be called the shift from ‘everything somewhere’ to ‘something everywhere’ patterns of consumption.
This transformation means it can sometimes feel like news media has two choices: continue with its traditional…
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