“Where power is decentralised and rests closer to people, values of community, co-operation and caring come to the fore. Where power is centralised and wealth concentrated in a small part of a large state, inequality and injustice follow.”
Duncan McCabe of Radical Indy Dundee looks at the links between wealth, inequality and the decentralisation of power at the YES Cafe held in Fairfield Social Club, Drumgeith on 8th February.
I took part in a debate during the week, and my Better Together opponent was a staunch trade unionist who put the case that for ordinary, working class people being part of a bigger, stronger country with more influence on the world stage was the best option.
So does size matter? Is big better for the majority of people? There are a lot of figures out there from organisations such as the OECD, the EU and the UN and they produce league tables comparing different countries across a range of indicators.
According to the OECD league tables, the wealthiest countries in the developed world measured by GDP per capita are Norway, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Indeed, out of the top ten richest countries in the world, six have populations below 10million. Belgium and the Netherlands with 11 and 16 million populations are also in there. An independent Scotland would currently rank 8th – and that’s before we’d made any changes at all to boost our economy.
Perhaps more importantly there’s also an inequality league table. The countries with the lowest inequality, the smallest gap between rich and poor, are again, the smaller ones: Norway, Denmark, Slovenia, with the UK and the USA as unequal as Mexico and Turkey!
But of course money isn’t everything so let’s look at the UN human development programme figures (life expectancy and education as well as a decent standard of living). And it turns out that of the top ten countries, seven have populations below 10million and include, of course, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and Slovenia as well.
We can also look at something a bit less tangible – happiness. Yes, there’s even a league table of global happiness. Top, almost every year, comes Denmark closely followed by Norway with not-so-great-Britain currently 22nd. So size does seem to matter: but it’s small that’s beautiful in terms of the creation and sharing of wealth and the building of happier societies.
It’s worth asking why smaller countries seem to be able to share and care better than larger states. They all have to cope with the effects of the financial crash and the relentless march of neo-liberal globalisation – which is easiest understood as Thatcherism for the world and that, as we know all too well in Scotland, is not a good thing.
Some of these small countries are in the EU – some are not. Some are in currency unions – some are not. Some have huge natural resources – some have not.
The common factor does seem to be their small size, government is closer to people, which has fostered a highly developed sense of community and democracy. The Scandanavian countries have strong local government. A Norwegian municipality has as much – actually a bit more – financial power than the present Scottish government. In some Nordic countries taxes are collected locally and passed on to national government. Switzerland is a federation of 26 self-governing cantons. Where power is decentralised and rests closer to people, values of community, co-operation and caring come to the fore. Where power is centralised and wealth concentrated in a small part of a large state, inequality and injustice follow. In Scotland we have suffered from this centralisation and concentration of power and wealth for generations.
The Scottish Parliament has made a difference since 1999. It’s certainly not perfect but we can see through free prescriptions, free university tuition, and significantly just last week, the broad consensus across parties – Labour, SNP, Green, Lib Dem on the bedroom tax, that social justice and the protection of the weakest and most vulnerable in our society is a collective priority.
I believe this shows that the political and popular will exists in Scotland to build a fairer and more equal society and by showing that there is an alternative to austerity, cuts and privatisation, we will set an example that I hope people in England and the rest of the UK will want to follow. But we can only do this with a Yes vote in September.