We haven’t mentioned the Telegraph’s blustery old colonel Alan Cochrane for a while, because his columns in the right-wing broadsheet have recently veered from, well, let’s say Nigel Farage to Nick Griffin. Not in content, you understand – for all Mr Cochrane’s unpleasant faults we see no suggestion of racism – but in tone.
Gone is the note of jocularity, the benignly patrician manner of the bluff-but-affable old British gent, replaced increasingly by poisonous, angry and disturbingly personalised hatred twinned with a rank and ugly intellectual laziness – traits which seem to have spread from the paper’s “Scottish political correspondent” Simon Johnson.
Today’s column illustrates both facets.
In a piece labouring under the unwieldy and contrived title “Starved of facts on UK split, can Scots stomach another helping of ‘Project Fib’?”, Cochrane pads out a few paragraphs with empty waffle before alighting on his point:
“Among other things we need from the White Paper are the following: what will the personal tax rates be in an independent Scotland; what will the VAT rate be; what will be the rate of Corporation Tax; how much will old age pensions be and how will they be paid for; at what level will welfare benefits be set.”
Now, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to point out how fatuously stupid that is. Take out two words and add just ten and you end up with this:
“Among other things we need from the UK government’s ‘Scotland Analysis’ reports are the following: what will the personal tax rates be in the UK in 2016; what will the VAT rate be; what will be the rate of Corporation Tax; how much will old age pensions be and how will they be paid for; at what level will welfare benefits be set.”
Because of course, all of those things have changed significantly in the UK recently. The main rate of VAT has variously been 17.5%, 15%, 17.5% again and 20% in the last five years alone, and the items on which the basic, lower and zero rates are applied are the subject of constant scrutiny and alteration.
Corporation Tax was 33% as recently as 2001, then 30% until 2007, was cut to 28% by Gordon Brown, then cut again to 26% by George Osborne, and then cut further to the current 24%. By 2014 it’s scheduled to be 22%. That’s a breathtaking fall of one-third in the rate over barely over a decade.
(Of course, despite UK governments of all parties having reduced the tax by 11% in a short space of time, the notion that an independent Scottish Government might cut it by a further 3% is unfailingly portrayed by Unionists as a dangerous, irresponsible “race to the bottom” – even, audaciously, by the man who personally cut it by 5%.)
In just the last 35 years – barely one generation – the basic and higher rates of UK income tax have both been cut in half, from 40%/83% to 20%/45% respectively.
Readers of this site won’t need reminding of the havoc that’s been wreaked on welfare benefits since mid-2010. The pension age is being extended, and all manner of benefits paid to the elderly are being questioned and/or threatened with means-testing by all three UK parties.
We could go on, but you get the idea – demanding guaranteed fixed answers about a prospective independent Scotland, when there is (and can be) no certainty about those things in ANY country, including the UK, is such a toweringly cretinous exercise it defies belief that someone’s being paid for it.
(And that’s before you even get to the bit where you remember that the referendum decides a principle, not policies. Tax rates are set by governments, and governments are decided at elections, not referendums.)
When pressed on this sort of stupidity, it’s not uncommon (11m 30s) for advocates of the Union to say “Ah, but we’re not the ones demanding change, so we don’t have to defend anything – it’s only you that’s got to make a case”.
Which is so epically stupid, even in the context of the preceding argument, that we apologise in advance for being about to insult your intelligence by spelling out why.
To all intents and purposes, the 1707 Union of Scotland and England will end on 17 September 2014. There are only two options on the ballot paper that will be put in front of voters the following day, and each represents an active, not passive, choice.
The people of Scotland can either decide to run their own affairs from that point, or to choose – for the first time, because the Scottish Parliament which signed the Acts of Union was in no way democratically representative of the people, who had no say in the matter and were busily rioting in the streets in protest when it happened – to surrender their recently-asserted sovereignty to the Crown in London.
Mr Cochrane, in his witless and accidental way, has shone a revealing light on that stark fact. There is no “status quo”. As we’ve just shown, every aspect of life in the UK is subject to constant change. Even ten years ago, who would have predicted state-run banks with 0% interest rates, a privatised Royal Mail and an effectively-privatised (English) NHS, £9,000 tuition fees (in 2003 they were still £1,000) and foodbanks in every town and city, to pick just a handful of examples?
The referendum is not a choice between change and stasis. It’s a choice between two competing visions of change. One where Scotland chooses its own path, electing its own governments and taking responsibility for itself, and one where we elect to abandon ourselves to the mercies of English voters and take our chances.
Perhaps David Cameron did play Alex Salmond for a sucker over the referendum after all, though not in the way other clueless Telegraph commentators south of the border pretend. Because making the options on the ballot paper Yes and No presents a false picture of reality.
Saying “No” to a proposition implies “don’t change, keep things the way they are”, and that’s simply not what’s on offer from the Union. What’s coming, as Cameron so candidly and crassly revealed from his golden throne this week, is an ever-increasing tightening of austerity’s grip.
Everything currently possessed by the poor and the squeezed middle alike is eyed greedily by the insatiable rich. Some of it has already been stolen away, the theft lubricated by petty bribes just as the Union itself was. A No vote will not be a vote to keep it, but a vote to have to fight tirelessly against impossible odds in a crooked game to hold onto anything at all.