Springingtiger's Blog

Ninety Seven Percent (thoughts inspired by the Tony Benn film)

Ninety Seven percent, 97%!
In Scotland, in the run up to the independence referendum we have got ninety seven percent of those eligible to vote registered on the electoral roll, experts are predicting a turnout of over eighty percent for the first time since 1951. However Scotland votes on the eighteenth of September we have an almost unprecedented opportunity to promote popular engagement in the political process, or to put it another way, get ordinary folk involved.

Last night I went to see the Tony Benn film, “Will and Testament” which was followed by a question and answer session. Needless to say a member of the No campaign tried to cheapen Tony’s legacy by reducing the evening to “would Tony vote no?” and ignoring the lessons the film contains about democracy, public ownership, misuse of resources, nuclear weapons, colonialism, capitalism. I squashed the attempt by saying, “The point is not whether we vote Yes or no, but whether we put power back into the hands of the ordinary people of Scotland!” I personally believe that it does matter that we vote Yes, and that a Yes vote will best increase democratic engagement among Scots, but I have too much respect for Tony Benn to misuse an occasion like the screening of his film.

I must admit I was annoyed to see the No camp trying to co-opt Tony Benn to their cause when they are, in many ways, opposed to his views.
Tony stood against nuclear weapons the no campaign wants to keep them and continue to squander resources on them.
Tony set up an oil fund to use North Sea oil for the benefit of the people, but the Unionist parties of Westminster plundered the oil to support financial misbehaviour and to subsidise banks. The YES campaign supports an oil fund. The NO campaign does not.
The YES campaign wants finances to be managed responsibly, whereas No campaign parties are opposing European legislation to cap bankers bonuses to fifty percent of their salary.
Tony Benn stood for social justice, the Yes campaign is committed to preserving the European Community Human Rights legislation and the Court of Justice; No campaign parties have announced they intend to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw as a signatory of ECHR. Why? Because the Human Rights legislation provides protections to workers, refugees and minority groups from abuse and exploitation.
Tony stood for social justice and equality, the United Kingdom is more socially and economically divided today than it has been for half a century and the Unionist parties are committed to perpetuating this inequality, even the Labour Party has promised continue the Tory austerity measures and so we will see queues outside food banks some time to come of we allow them to continue.

Tony Benn would be delighted by the level of political involvement in Scotland at the moment, across all levels of society. I was leafleting for YES in Springburn when a little afro-caribbean boy said he’d take one into his house, he stood halfway into his house and read the leaflet. As I came back past his house he asked me, “How old do you need to be to vote?”, sadly I replied, “sixteen, sorry.” and his little face fell. It reminded me of news reports of black South Africans queuing to vote for the first time and of just how precious a privilege it is to have a vote. However the vote may go, NOW is the time to to build democracy in Scotland! The people of Scotland have tasted the possibility of power; whichever side wins the vote, if they fail to move government closer to the people they will be guilty of a terrible betrayal. There is no evidence that a No vote will bring power to the ordinary people, indeed yesterday we saw William Hague assuring Conservative MPs that the promises of more powers for the Scottish Parliament, made by the party leaders, carried no more weight than election promises and are not policies. A YES vote begins a process of democratic involvement such as these islands have never seen, as we build a new country, with a new constitution, enshrining human rights and bringing government close to the people neglected for too long by a distant parliament in another country.


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