One of Labour’s key allies in Scotland is solicitor Mike Dailly of the Govan Law Centre. Best known for his attempts to force the Scottish Government to subsidise the bedroom tax by cutting services elsewhere, he’s a venomously anti-SNP figure who rarely passes up the chance for a bit of Nat-bashing.
(It would, we’re sure, be overly cynical to suggest that Mr Dailly wants the bedroom tax propped up because if it was abolished he’d suddenly be out of the public eye.)
We thought we’d take a look.
“Page 44 of the Scottish Government’s white paper tells us: “Within the UK, Scotland is part of an increasingly unequal society. The UK ranks 28th out of 34 nations in the OECD on a measure of overall inequality”. So according to the Scottish Government, the UK is the seventh most unequal OECD country.
But perhaps not. Because the statement is still purposively misleading and inaccurate.”
We like “purposively”. We might start using that.
“Let’s start with the observation that the OECD don’t measure ‘overall inequality’ with the statistic quoted; it is one of four OECD indicators in relation to income inequality. On a scale on inequality, the other three indicators place the UK in positions 9th, 10th and 12th out of the 34 OECD member states. Being in the second quartile isn’t ‘one of the most unequal’.”
Um, we don’t know where (or if) Mr Dailly learned his arithmetic, but yes it is. If one divides the OECD countries into halves, the top half being the “most unequal” states and the bottom half the “least unequal”, then clearly with rankings of 7, 9, 10 and 12 the UK is well inside the “most unequal” section in all four cases.
If on the other hand we divide them into three sections – most unequal, averagely unequal and least unequal – the UK is still in the “most unequal” sector for three out of the four, and right on the dividing line between “most unequal” and “averagely unequal” for the other. Sounds like a fair definition of “one of the most unequal” to us.
“The key issue to appreciate is that the white paper selects only one income indicator using a ‘Gini co-efficient’. This is a simple measure between 0 and 1, where 0 means everyone within a country have precisely the same disposable income and 1, which equates to the impossible scenario where just one person has all of a nation’s income, while others have none.
The misuse of quoting Gini statistics without an explanatory context should be avoided because they measure relative wealth, so for example in 2010 the Netherlands and Bangladesh had the same Gini co-efficient but it would be completely misleading to suggest Bangladesh was as equal as the Netherlands given the stark contrast in basic quality of life and economic opportunities.”
No it wouldn’t, you fat-headed clown. The Gini coefficient doesn’t set out to measure quality of life or economic opportunities. It sets out, extremely specifically, to measure equality. If everyone in a country is equally poor, they’re nevertheless still equal. Bangladesh could perfectly easily be as equal as the Netherlands, without being in any economic sense equal to the Netherlands.
It’s not supposed to be a measure of wealth, but of wealth distribution. A country with a low GC is sharing out whatever wealth it has, be that a little or a lot, as fairly as possible. The Scottish Government’s point isn’t that the UK is poor, but that its wealth is disproportionately possessed by the rich.
(Still struggling, Mike? If you give ten people a banana each, their “banana wealth” is equal but they’re not rich. If you give them a billion pounds each, they ARE rich, but they’re still equal. The levels of wealth are different in the two scenarios, but the levels of equality are exactly the same – specifically, a Gini coefficient of 0.)
“It is also important to note that even amongst OECD member states the Gini co-efficient variance between a number of countries is relatively minor.”
Is it? Is that important? Is it okay to live in a massively unequal country so long as other countries are massively unequal too? Does that make it better somehow?
“The graph below illustrates the difference in income inequality using the Gini co-efficient between EU member states – the difference between the UK, France, Italy and Spain is very small; as is the difference with the EU average.”
We’re not quite sure why France, Italy and Spain are the examples chosen. One might wish to observe, for example, that the UK’s nearest neighbour on the graph is Greece, or that our three nearest neighbours – Greece, Italy and Spain – are three of the five “PIIGS” countries most disastrously affected by the economic crisis.
(Of those five, only Portugal and Greece are more unequal than the UK, along with a clutch of former satellite states of the old Soviet Union.)
But in any event, the narrow gaps between adjacent bars of the graph still add up. Wealthy Sweden is only 4th in the “most equal” list, with a GC of 0.25 while the UK figure is 0.33. But that’s a hefty 32% more inequality. (If you don’t think that’s a lot, ponder whether you’d be happy about your rent or mortgage going up by 32%.)
Dailly then returns to his theme of misdirection for several paragraphs, confusing inequality with wealth and a host of other factors like education, and tossing in a few sneaky curveballs of untruth like references to “the UK’s NHS” for good measure, before finally revealing his real agenda:
“The UK can do much better if a Labour Government is returned in 2015.”
Dailly isn’t quite finished bashing his straw man, though:
“In conclusion there are two key points to be made about the SNP’s claims that the UK is ‘one of the most unequal countries in the developed world’. It isn’t! Not in the developed world, and not even on the sole OECD Gini indicator it isn’t. ”
Except, as we’ve seen, it is one of the most unequal. It’s just not one of the poorest.
“The SNP, as always misrepresent and omit. And as I’ve illustrated, equality cannot be meaningfully represented by one single income indicator while ignoring all of the more positive factors that don’t fit in with the SNP’s story to sell ‘independence’ to Scots.”
So the message is that the UK’s actually doing pretty well, and the dastardly SNP are just talking Britain down for their own evil ends. We all agree with that assessment of the current state of affairs, right? Everything’s peachy here.
“Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, what have the SNP being doing to reduce income inequality in Scotland over the last six years? Has it escaped their attention they have been in Government and could have introduced their free child care policy (announced today) which would have enabled more women in Scotland to reduce income inequality by being able to work and progress in their chosen careers?”
Ah, faithful Mike, always on message with the latest Labour line. As was repeatedly noted yesterday, to enact that policy without the control of taxation and welfare that come with independence would mean hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts elsewhere. As ever, Labour’s supporters are curiously reluctant to detail where those huge cuts should fall.
“And what about replacing council tax?”
What about it? Labour currently has no suggestions for an alternative.
“What about using income tax powers?”
As far as we’re aware, the Scottish Parliament currently has no income tax powers. But even if it did, are we to assume that Labour is now calling for substantial income tax rises? We don’t remember reading about that.
“What about redistributing wealth instead of the obsession with lower corporation tax?”
Mr Dailly appears to have accidentally forgotten to include his ideas for bringing about wealth redistribution without powers over taxation or welfare or major spending like defence. We’re sure he’ll correct the oversight any minute now.
“What about using their £170m underspend? Why cut funding to Scottish colleges preventing Scots getting skilled up and into better paid jobs? What about taking some of the responsibility for once?”
It might have escaped Mr Dailly’s attention, but the SNP is currently doing everything it possibly can to “take responsibility” for Scotland. We’re sure that when it succeeds, he’ll be full of constructive suggestions.
There’s a serious point here, beyond shooting down one egocentric buffoon. Because what Mike Dailly speaks is the purest Labour tribal orthodoxy, and what it represents is the poverty of Labour’s ambitions. He thinks the UK is actually in pretty decent shape at the moment – and even if it’s not, he’s not too bothered about it as long as some other countries are a mess too.
When Labour offer an Ed Miliband government at Westminster in 2015 as the solution to Scotland’s woes, it’s worth keeping in mind what their criteria of success are.