Addressing coronavirus scepticism

Since the summer, there has been a worrying growth of scepticism about the coronavirus. There have been claims that it is a manufactured, elite conspiracy, designed to control an increasingly fearful population. For some folk, the wearing of a medical mask equates to a fundamental attack on civil liberties and spells the doom of the much vaunted ‘western way of life’. Quite why wearing a cover over your face to prevent the spread of germs is tantamount to authoritarianism has never been properly explained by the coronavirus sceptics, but that is their position.

There is, however, an even more worrying position taken by other covid sceptics: coronavirus is real, but it has been over-hyped by the media and government, and it is not as dangerous as ‘they’ claim. Much of the coronavirus sceptic drive has come from the alt-right and groups like Q Anon, but there is a worrying trend of such material being shared by ordinary people on Facebook and other social media outlets.

Some posts allegedly come from professionals: doctors, nurses, scientists and the like, giving details of some new miracle cure, or dubious information, or ‘exposing’ some cover up. We say ‘allegedly’, because in many cases, it is far from clear where the original posts are coming from. Anyone can claim that they “… have a friend, who’s sister is a nurse, who works in a covid-19 ward…”.  And, even if the original post was submitted in good faith, its substance may be exaggerated, twisted, or simply downright nonsense.

Of course, in a democracy we should always be on the look-out for any move towards authoritarianism, and, during a crisis like coronavirus, the Government must always be held to account. Groups such as Q Anon, and their various off-shoots on the evangelical and pro-Trump right, are very successfully feeding off the increasing suspicion of government motives. Indeed, they rely on anti-government feeling to push their agenda. “You don’t trust or like the current political establishment?”, they say. “You’re right not to, and here are a load more reasons why they are imposing on your individual liberty.” In this way, they can spread their agenda. If otherwise sensible folk believe the conspiracy theory, it gives it a tinge of respectability. We should never forget that a lie mixed with a little truth is much more dangerous than an outright lie.

Other blogs and websites have done an excellent job of debunking the myths and rumours that are circulating about coronavirus. That is not the job of this particular blog. But, there remains a question: Why are people apparently so susceptible to scepticism around coronavirus?

We suggest a number of reasons:

People long for normality. Those days before coronavirus seem so long ago. Although some restrictions are lifting, we still can’t enjoy many of things we used to. We still can’t go to the football, or go swimming, or go for a proper night out. In the supermarket we worry about social distancing, or wearing a mask.  Pubs and coffee shops may be open, but many people are avoiding them, and they lack the chatter and conversation they once had. It is natural in highly stressful situations to long for normality, which often leads to wishful thinking that the problem is not as bad as it seems, or that it will ‘go away’ by itself.

There may also be a feeling that the dire consequences predicted at the start of the pandemic have not come true; and so that the situation is not as bad as it seems. There is an attitude, of “I’ve not been personally affected, so the risk is low”. This is again wishful thinking. The reality is that there have been tens of thousands of extra deaths in the United Kingdom due to coronavirus, and there would undoubtedly have been many more had ordinary citizens in Scotland, and the (dis)UK not shown a high degree of social solidarity and changed their behaviour. They must be congratulated on their efforts, but, unfortunately, the war is far from over, and the fight against the virus requires constant vigilance and social solidarity.

People also want to believe that coronavirus is not a serious problem for other reasons. It has already had a major economic impact, and we are in the midst of a major recession and escalating unemployment. Many businesses that were already operating on tiny margins before the pandemic have now been utterly sunk by the economic impact of coronavirus. And, whilst there has been a modest bounce back since the lifting of some restrictions, the economic impact of coronavirus will be with us for a long time to come, with

Many workers are now facing a very uncertain economic future, and, even where jobs have survived through the furlough scheme, employers will face hard decisions when the plug is pulled on government aid. The furlough scheme was, predictably, a typically Tory, “to he that hath shall be given”, solution. The guarantee to pay 80% of all workers’ salaries has had a disproportionate effect on the less well off. On a high salary, it might be a case of tightening your belt a little, but on a low salary, the 20% loss of income has all too often meant the difference between being able to live properly and barely surviving.

Some of the worst affected workers have been those who are self-employed tradespeople, many of whom have experienced a virtual collapse in their earnings during lockdown, whilst the government scheme designed to help them through this difficult time has been subject to a blizzard of complaints due to its byzantine design and often minimal financial aid.

In short, the main result of government aid to workers during the pandemic has been to keep the affluent well off, whilst the position of the low paid has got even worse.

And what if you are forced to go off sick, or to self-isolate? If you can’t work from home, that’s at least two weeks of not working. Statutory sick pay (SPP) is simply not enough. The extra one-off payment of £182 for people on Universal Credit (UC) or Working Tax Credit (WTC) who are self-isolating that is being trialled in Oldham, Blackburn with Darwen, and Pendle is a clear acknowledgement that current measures are insufficient.

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme, has given a boost to restaurants, but has demonstrated that an economy based on services, luxuries, and hospitality is simply not capable of standing any sort of economic shock. This is not to knock anyone who works or runs a business in those sectors, but they cannot provide the economic engine on which a society can run.

Coronavirus has demonstrated beyond all doubt that the neoliberal economic model of the last forty or so years is totally unfit for purpose. Before the crisis hit, many were hanging on by their fingertips, but now any illusion of safety has vanished. When the crisis is over, there may be a chance to create a fairer society, built on a more sustainable economic model and green technology, but we cannot take it for granted that this will happen. Already the Tories have demonstrated their desperation to return to business as usual, and, in the process, have worsened the impact of the ongoing pandemic on society, and on the economy.

Everyone is tired of the virus. We all long for the day we can socialise, and visit, and go out properly. We long for the days we can do all the things we used to do, but we cannot allow ourselves to be duped by conspiracy theories or covid-scepticism simply because it is economically or emotionally convenient. The ONLY way to defeat Coronavirus is through social solidarity, particularly solidarity with those at most risk, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Coronavirus is changing the world utterly; let us make sure that change is for the better.

Where stands Scotland now?

Free or a desert

The extent of Nicola Sturgeon’s success as leader will be measured by how many lives she has saved during the course of this crisis – how is Scotland doing compared with equivalent countries, in terms of population and profile? She will be judged on that criteria and no other. (Facebook post, 23rd April 2020)

On Thursday 23rd April 2020, Nicola Sturgeon, during the course of her daily press briefing, outlined a plan designed to lead Scotland out of lockdown. At its centre was a major new commitment towards a strategy of mass testing and mass contact tracing, aimed at the suppression of Covid-19 rather than, as with the previous policy, merely managing its progress through the population without collapsing the Scottish NHS. It is a most welcome development, and one which was being demanded by growing sections of Scottish civic society and by increasingly concerned and critical practitioners within medical and research circles.

Despite this dramatic volte-face, major questions remain as to why, faced with a disproportionately high death rate and an unfolding massacre within the care homes, it took so long for the Scottish Government to change tack. Indeed, following the First Minister’s ambiguous response to some of the questions at last Thursday’s briefing, it is not at all clear that she even accepts that there has been ANY change in Scottish government policy. When, following the press briefing, Nicola Sturgeon was asked about the details of her plan by Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News she referred to it as allowing the Scottish government to ‘continue to suppress it (ie the virus)’, whilst adding that a strategy involving the sacrifice of any section of the Scottish population, let alone the most vulnerable, was totally out of the question.

It is, though, far from clear that the Scottish Government approach has, up to yesterday’s volte-face, been based on ‘suppression’ of the virus. We will lay out the two strategies side by side so as to discern precisely which one the Scottish Government has been following, and whether last Thursday’s announcement does actually represent a departure from previous policy.

A herd immunity strategy aims to confer community-wide immunity to any invasive virus or disease through a policy of containment, mitigation, and, finally, eradication. During the containment phase, measures such as social distancing, community surveillance testing, and contact tracing are deployed, in an effort to snuff out the disease before it can get a grip within the wider community. Once the disease spreads into the wider community, however, the containment phase ends, and mitigation then becomes the order of the day through the shielding of the most vulnerable through lockdowns, which are aimed not so much at saving lives, but more at relieving the pressure on health services so that they don’t collapse in face of the pandemic. The idea behind ‘herd immunity’, as Martin Hibberd, Professor of Emerging Infectious Disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, explains is that;

In a good scenario, the 70 per cent infected, recovered and immune would be people who were expected to have mild disease and the 30 per cent who were vulnerable to severe disease would be protected by this herd immunity.

Two very important points have to be made about the applicability and appropriateness of ‘herd immunity’ as a strategy that can defeat this present pandemic. Firstly, a herd immunity strategy is usually, if not always, accompanied by a wide-ranging vaccination program; but in this instance there is no vaccine. Secondly, Covid-19 is only a few months old as a disease, and we still know very little, even at a basic level, about the way it acts. What we do know, is that it is highly infectious, over three times more so than the common flu virus, and that there seems to be some evidence that re-infection can occur. If this is, indeed, the case, then the ‘herd immunity’ strategy becomes completely unfit for purpose, and, by allowing the virus to circulate, may actually be counter-productive, as this could encourage the mutation of the virus into new strains – although, it is important to note, mutation usually leads to dilution in the toxicity of a virus.

What can be discerned through following the UK timeline of the pandemic is that a major shift in strategy occurred on 12th March. On that day, the UK government officially abandoned any attempt to contain the spread of the virus, by announcing that we had moved to the ‘mitigation’ phase of the herd immunity strategy. That same evening, Pete Wishart MP appeared on Question Time where he stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tory and Labour spokespeople in defending the need for a co-ordinated ‘four nation’ policy, which recognised the need to allow Covid-19 to rinse through the population. They even attempted to silence John Ashton (the former Director of Public Health in England and Wales) when he stated that such a course of action was leading the UK into a disaster of epic proportions. It should be noted that Pete Wishart was not appearing on Question Time in a personal capacity.

On the same day, both the UK and Scottish governments announced the abandonment of mass testing and contact tracing, as it was felt that the virus, which was already circulating in many communities, could no longer be contained. (In Nicola Sturgeon’s view, echoing that of her former chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, ‘mass testing was not a panacea’.)

Then, on 16th March, Jason Leitch, the Scottish National Clinical Director, and the most over-promoted dentist in the long, and up to now celebrated, history of Scottish medicine, clearly indicated that the Scottish Government policy was being organised on a herd immunity basis. Indeed, Professor Leitch (his Professorship is an honorary title), appeared very relaxed, when, on the same day that Austria went into full lockdown, he informed a rather non-plussed Channel 4 reporter that he didn’t believe social distancing was necessary and that he’d just visited his elderly parents, even adding that he had no misgivings whatsoever about giving them a cuddle. At this stage, there was still no official talk of a lockdown either in Westminster or in Holyrood, and Jason Leitch and other government spokespeople were busy re-assuring the Scottish public that there was no need to ban large-scale social and sporting events. Indeed, it was left to the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), alongside other sporting and civic organisations, to announce the cancellation of all Scottish senior football matches from the 14th March onwards. We can only speculate as to how many fresh Scottish infections would have ensued if the SPFL had not acted in the unilateral manner they did.

In the following week, it seems to have become increasingly clear to the Scottish government that their initial evaluation of the developing pandemic was far too optimistic, which would explain why, on the 20th March, they announced the closure of all Scottish schools, a measure that Westminster quickly echoed, despite there being little indication that this had been previously planned. In the next few days, with stark images of rows of ventilators holding faceless bodies struggling desperately to breath being beamed into UK living rooms from Lombardy, Tehran and Madrid, the full extent of the looming crisis was becoming readily apparent: the UK lockdown began on the 24th March, fully three weeks after Germany and four weeks after Italy.

In the weeks since the lockdown, questions have begun to be asked about the nature of the Scottish Government’s initial response to the Covid-19 crisis. It seems that they chose to adopt a ‘better together’ approach, involving joint action with Westmonster, at precisely the time when they should have been underlining their fundamental differences with the English Tory way of doing things. The crisis offered the SNP, and Nicola Sturgeon, a major opportunity to strike a blow for Scottish independence based on a vision of social solidarity rather than the ‘laissez faire’ individualism and low-wage economics favoured by Johnson and his chums. Sadly, this opportunity was never taken up, as Nicola Sturgeon (no doubt following advice from the likes of Calderwood and Leitch) repeatedly underlined her support for what amounted to a Scottish ‘herd immunity’ strategy.

As a result, Scotland now has one of the largest death tolls of any of the small nations on a worldwide basis. With a population of 5.4 million, Scotland’s deaths now number 1,120 (as at 24/04/20), compared with Greece, 10.8 million, 130 deaths; New Zealand, 4,8 million, 17 deaths; Denmark, 5.8 million, 403 deaths; Norway, 5.4 million, 199 deaths; Ireland, 4.9 million, 1014 deaths. Set against countries with a similar population and similar level of economic development and social organisation, Scotland stands out for all the wrong reasons. When we compare the Scottish and Irish figures, Scotland does seem to fare better, until we remember that the Scottish figures (as with all UK figures) represent an underestimation of the real death toll, as they do not include the deaths of ALL those for which Covid-19 is given as a cause of death, a fact admitted within the Scottish government’s new strategy document. The true UK-wide figure is now well over 40,000 deaths, despite the official total standing at 19,506, and a similar correction should be applied to the Scottish figures, which may well be nearer the 2,000 mark, or even more.

Many Scottish care homes have witnessed veritable massacres of their elderly clients, whilst increasingly desperate staff members have often struggled to source ANY PPE. In one of Channel 4’s most poignant TV reports from Scotland, a clearly distraught day care worker in Dundee explained that she had to spend hours every day sourcing her own hand sanitizer and other items of basic PPE before she was able to visit her elderly clients in their own homes. Susan was scared for their safety, the safety of her fellow workers, and her own safety, but she was still determined to carry on working, whatever the cost. Susan’s story is far from unique, and will, along with many other similar cases, need to be thoroughly investigated when we finally emerge from the other side of this developing catastrophe. We owe this, at the very least, to the huge numbers of Scots who have already died and who will continue to die completely needless deaths.

Whilst the Scottish Government, following the publication of their plans for exiting lockdown, have signalled a major departure from the former ‘four nation’ approach, they have not yet accepted responsibility for the high death toll that resulted from their previous herd immunity strategy. It is not even clear that Nicola Sturgeon accepts that the new policy represents a major departure; however, it is absolutely vital that she and the Scottish Government are held accountable for their disastrous approach to this crisis in its early weeks – and this needs to be seen to be done, if the SNP’s claims to be a different kind of government are to be treated as anything more than shameless political rhetoric.

It almost appears as though Nicola Sturgeon is attempting to re-write history in order to give the impression that Holyrood and Westmonster have been following very different policies, whilst hoping that nobody actually notices her less than subtle sleight of hand. In so doing, Nicola Sturgeon is making herself a hostage to fortune, along with her SNP government and the wider Scottish independence movement. It will only be a matter of time before more searching and persistent questions are asked of the First Minister. She certainly seemed far from comfortable as she was grilled, ever so gently, by Krishan Guru-Murthy on last Thursday’s Channel 4 News, and we should expect the Unionist press interrogations to start in earnest, and to become more searching and persistent, in the wake of this crisis. They will smell blood, and Nicola Sturgeon will experience a massive fall from grace, but the real risk is that she will take the hopes of the Indy movement with her. That is why this issue is so important to the Scottish Independence movement. It should be we, as active Scottish citizens, who hold our government accountable, rather than serried ranks of Fleet Street hacks.

The Scottish people and the Scottish Independence movement need to hear Nicola Sturgeon giving a full and sincere apology for inflicting policies of herd immunity on  the Scottish population, and we need a full guarantee that mass testing and contact tracing WILL, indeed, form the centre-piece of the Scottish government approach going forward. We also need Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government to move away from the heavily centralised and top-down form of organisation that has marked the official response to the pandemic up to this point. The much publicised controversy regarding the breakdown in supply of PPE from English sources only served to underline the absolute necessity for this country to produce its own supplies. Indeed, as the SUWN has repeatedly pointed out, there was nothing to prevent the Scottish government from mobilising all available resources through a national appeal and requisitioning of companies, small firms and institutions (as well as drawing in individual households with the requisite skills) to produce masks and scrubs, as has happened in other countries, notably the Czech Republic. It is also the case that Scottish local authorities seem not to have been given much of an independent role whatsoever during the course of this crisis, which has only exacerbated problems with the supply, and production, of PPE, and the lack of mass testing and contact tracing.

In the final analysis, failure to respond adequately to this crisis was not limited to the SNP leadership, but was, without exception, equally shared by ALL British mainstream political parties. It has sometimes appeared as though we are saddled by governments that cannot give a lead, opposition parties that cannot oppose, and a national media that refuses to hold power to account. The veritable silence from the Labour Party underlines just how determined their new leadership is to be seen as ‘Her Majesty’s loyal opposition’, whilst their Scottish branch office is currently in the process of upbraiding the Scottish Government for daring to move away from full co-operation with Westminster.

When we look beyond the next few weeks and the end of this crisis, whenever that might be, it become obvious that the present political vacuum created by the major failure of the British political classes poses a major challenge for the Scottish Indy movement, which should now be looking to establish a socialist or left Indy political voice that can properly hold the SNP to account. We cannot allow the shortcomings of the SNP leadership to compromise the future of our movement and our chances of winning the different Scotland that we all know is not only possible, but absolutely essential.




COVID-19 Practicalities and Politics


If the UK government had set out to demonstrate that capitalism can’t cope with a pandemic, they couldn’t have made things much clearer. Their initial reluctance to do anything that would interrupt the economy will be blamed for thousands of extra deaths; and, even now that they have realised the need to take action and spend large sums of money, the focus of their expenditure has been on preserving the economic system. Otherwise, they apparently consider it enough that hundreds of thousands of households will be kept just above subsistence level, though even this has only been achieved through public pressure

The government seems determined to do nothing that might reverse social inequality, but there are questions being asked about what will happen when the immediate threat is over: should we return to the old ways? As a society, we have seen that capitalism couldn’t provide a solution and that we needed massive public intervention. We have discovered that, when they are pushed, governments can find money. We have learnt who are the really vital people in keeping our society running – and that, apart from doctors, they are generally on the lowest wages. We have found that huge numbers of people are ready and willing to self-organise and play an active part in supporting others in their community. And many people are being jolted into reflecting on what really matters in life.

We should be able to build on all this to create a very different society, but that won’t happen automatically, especially with progressive organisations in their current state of disarray. We need to resist those well-meaning voices who tell us to put politics aside while we focus on immediate needs. In the SUWN we have always argued that practical mutual support must go hand in hand with political activism to change the system that is creating the problems in the first place.

Of course, there were viruses before capitalism – though the relentless exploitation of the natural world makes their emergence more likely. But the prioritisation of commerce, and the running down of public health services has allowed the disease to spread more virulently and destructively, both in its immediate impact, and in the effect it could have in strengthening inequalities and snuffing out those things not backed by big money.

And if we don’t make the case for a better world, then the momentum could move, instead, to those who have responded to the failures of economic liberalism by promoting a new authoritarianism. Already, COVID-19 has been used as an excuse for bringing in draconian legislation and giving new powers to governments. These could be used for much more than containing the spread of a virus.

We will continue to play our part in raising the bigger political questions – but we also need to make sure that as many of us as possible are fit and able to fight for that better world. So here is our guide to the current situation. If you can’t find the answer to your questions here, please get in touch and we will do our best to find out for you – though many of the new rules have yet to be fleshed out.

You can contact us on or through Facebook, or ring 07803 052239 or 0131 467 4488.

If you’re still in work

Collective action is more important than ever, so, if you’re not already in a trade union, please join one! This is not just an insurance against individual ill-treatment. It also enables more effective action if employers are not providing necessary protection or are exploiting the situation for their own gain.

If, because of Covid-19, your employer no longer has work for you to do

The UK government is supremely concerned about the survival of the capitalist economy and the UK’s ability to restart the system once the pandemic is over. This has dictated their funding priorities, including the establishment of a Job Retention Scheme. If your employer is short of work due to COVID-19, the government will fund them to keep you on the books, and not working, but receiving 80% of your wages (up to a £2,500 a month). This arrangement has to be agreed between employee and employer. It will also take a bit of time to get up and running Employers won’t get the money back until the end of April, which is making some reluctant to sign up to the scheme, or encouraging them to try and pass on the delay to their employees (Google ‘Wetherspoons’). If your employer is trying to make people redundant because of lack of work, then they might be persuaded to agree to this scheme instead. Trade unions can help make the case for this. You can only be part of this scheme if you are doing no work for your employer. There is no scope for part time working. Your employer can choose to make your wages up to the full amount themselves, but they don’t have to. If your employer doesn’t agree to keeping you on under this scheme, you will be left to the mercies of Universal Credit or Jobseekers Allowance.

If you’re self-employed and can no longer work

The government has finally been shamed into including the self employed in their 80% earnings compensation scheme – but with no payments expected until June, which demonstrates how little they understand or empathise with the real lives of most of the people whose future depends on them. There is also nothing here for those who have only recently become self-employed. To qualify, earnings from self-employment must make up more than half of your taxable income for the year 2018-19. This and the previous two tax years (if you were self-employed then too) will be used to calculate what you will be paid. If you haven’t put in a tax return for 2018-19 you can still do so. The details – such as they are – are set out here. Other than checking you’ve put in that tax return, there’s nothing more that you can do to claim this now, except wait for future emails from HMRC. It’s, basically, don’t ring us, we’ll ring you. Meanwhile, though, you could apply for Universal Credit to tide you over, provided you are otherwise eligible. As always, you may not want to apply for Universal Credit if you are getting other benefits under the old rules (such as housing benefit or tax credits) as once you are in the Universal Credit system there is no going back.

If you lose your job

If you lose your job, then you may have to rely on out-of-work benefits. Already, half a million people have been trying to apply, and the system can’t cope.  Now that a whole new cohort of vocal people will be forced to rely on Universal Credit, the Government has had to acknowledge what benefit claimants and campaigners have been telling them for a long time: it is not enough to survive on. To try and pre-empt the inevitable outcry, Universal Credit will be raised by £20 a week from 6 April (on top of the planned small increase) which will make it equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay. This increase will also be applied to Working Tax Credits (for those still on these). Couples have to share the increase between them, and there appears to be nothing extra for those claiming JSA or ESA.

Despite many demands for change, there is still a five week wait between signing onto Universal Credit (provided you can actually get through the overburdened system) and getting your first benefit payment. You are expected to get an advance loan which will be subtracted from your future payments.

The timing of your application can make a big difference to your first Universal Credit payment. You need to put in your claim almost as soon as you are eligible, as you can only backdate a month, however it’s usually best to wait until after you have received any final payment from your last job in order for that payment not to be included in the first month’s benefit calculation. This doesn’t apply to redundancy pay, which is counted as capital. (If you are returning to Universal Credit after less than six months, you can sometimes lose money if you delay signing back on for more than a week after you end work.)

If you have paid enough National Insurance in the relevant recent period (it’s complicated) you can apply for ‘New Style’ Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA) instead of Universal Credit. You should then get your first payment within two weeks, and some of the other rules are better too. However, you may have to apply for Universal Credit on top of this if you need further help, such as housing benefit – and perhaps for that extra £20?

You are not currently expected to go to the Jobcentre. Everything is done online or via an incredibly busy phone line .

ALL WORK SEARCH REQUIREMENTS HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED FOR AT LEAST 3 MONTHS. You should still inform the DWP via your online journal if you need to self-isolate, but, if you do have Covid-19 or have to self-isolate or care for others who are self-isolating, this won’t be counted against your allowed periods of sickness.

If you are self-employed and on Universal Credit

As a temporary concession, the DWP has dropped the rule that prevented you from getting extra benefit payments if your income dropped below a set minimum (the minimum income floor).

If you are having trouble paying your housing costs

One of the first things the government did was bring in payment breaks for people with mortgages. Renters had to wait until the pressure for change was impossible to ignore. Local Housing Allowance (the benefit to help pay private-sector rents) will be increased in April, but there are no rent breaks, just a promise to bring in a stay on evictions, which has yet to be legislated. Housing Associations have already announced that they will not evict. The Tribunal is already closed for new eviction hearings, but it is unclear what will happen if an eviction order has already been granted. Check Shelter Scotland for up-to-date information.

The stay on evictions is a start, but it only defers problems till later. If you are worried for yourself or your friends and neighbours, here is the link to Living Rent, the tenants’ union. You can also find them on Facebook.

If your employer is putting your health at risk

The government has been dangerously vague and there are no previous cases to refer to, but employers should follow government advice on social distancing and provide facilities for hand cleaning.  Acas comments ‘An employer should listen to any concerns staff may have and should take steps to protect everyone.’ Again, you may need help from a trade union to try and get your employer to ‘listen’ and to act!

If you are considered to be at very high risk of severe illness if you catch coronavirus

If you are classified as at very high risk, you will be advised to isolate at home for twelve weeks. You should be contacted by the NHS (see here).

If you have to stop work because you have Covid-19, or have to self-isolate, or to care for others in the household who are self-isolating

If you are an employee earning an average of £118 a week or more, you can apply for Statutory Sick Pay (£94.25 a week), which is now (temporarily) available from day one. Instead of a doctor’s line, you need an ‘Isolation Note’, which you can get online from the NHS website (it’s the same link for Scotland). The Government Guidance is here.

If you’re self employed, you will need to apply for Universal Credit or, if you have paid enough National Insurance in the relevant recent period, ‘New Style’ Employment and Support Allowance.

If you are expecting a health assessment for PIP, ESA or UC

Face to face assessments have been suspended. Decisions will be based on the paperwork that they have or on a telephone interview. You will be contacted about this. If you are interviewed by phone, we would still recommend that you have someone with you as a witness to the discussion and for moral support. (You could put your phone on loudspeaker.)

If your PIP or DLA is about to run out it will be automatically extended

(See here.)

If you are waiting for an Appeal Tribunal

Tribunals are being postponed or being done by telephone

If you’re angry with the situation we find ourselves in

Don’t forget the politics: educate agitate organise!


From a trickle to a stream

stream (2)

Bob emerged from a routine appointment in the Jobcentre looking shaken. He explained that had been stopped by security personnel when entering the office, who had “closed in [on him] like automatic doors from each side”. He obviously felt intimidated and had asked his advisor what they were doing. He was told that security were there for “staff protection”. He was also told they were able to “frisk” people. If this is illustrative of a wider policy, it is a worrying development.

Of course, we have been here before. Back in 2014-15, we had many confrontations with the security staff in Dundee Jobcentre, who were very fond of laying their hands on SUWN volunteers as well as unsuspecting claimants, who often found themselves in a half Nelson when all they’d done was perhaps question an advisor’s ruling or contemptuous attitude towards them. We will keep an eye on this situation, but, in the meantime, if you’ve had experience of over-bearing or confrontational security guards at Dundee (or any other) Jobcentre we’d like to hear from you.

After two to three months of fairly quiet stalls, when we were dealing with perhaps two to three cases, this week proved to be very different, with around ten folk requiring assistance or help of some kind. Doreen emerged from the Jobcentre looking perplexed. She had been sent a letter from the DWP. Until recently she had been claiming Carers Allowance (CA), as she had been raising her two disabled children. But she was now no longer responsible for one of the children, and the DWP had sent her a letter claiming this represented a change of circumstances, meaning she would now have to apply for Universal Credit (UC). We offered to accompany Doreen into her appointment, but she felt confident enough to deal with the issue herself, and when she re-appeared shortly afterwards, her beaming smile indicated that she had resolved the problem and would continue to be paid CA. Doreen was only too well aware of the problems with UC, and was determined to avoid being transferred into its loving embrace for as long as possible.

Fergus had been detained overnight in police custody. He had consequently missed a Jobcentre appointment. Obviously, he had had no way of accessing his online journal, or any other way to contact the Jobcentre. He feared a sanction, but emerged looking very relieved. The Police had been helpful and had confirmed his story to the Jobcentre. He remembered the SUWN from the past, and thanked us for our ongoing work.

Adam had also just been released from a short jail sentence, during which time his medical ‘fit note’ had run out. He had been unable to renew it, and was now worried about the ‘gap’ and whether his GP was going to be difficult about continuing the fit note from the end date of the old one. He took a leaflet and said he would be in touch if he had any further difficulties.

Emma had come to the Jobcentre to ask about the process of applying for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) on behalf of a friend. We explained that the initial application for PIP was done over the phone, and provided her with the number. We also urged her to get help with the application process from a welfare rights organisation. It is always worth applying for PIP if you think you might be eligible, but we always advise folk to get help with the paper form, preferably from a welfare rights advisor.

Ian told us that he is getting £80 taken off his payments every fortnight due to paying off a loan. This leaves him living on only £50 a week. We advised him to apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund to help with immediate difficulties, and to register with Welfare Rights, who should be able to negotiate a less crippling repayment rate.

Gill, who has COPD and who works part time in a discount store, had been on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for some years, but now gets Universal Credit, and the Jobcentre is pressurising her into applying for full time work. This is placing her under severe stress and exacerbating her condition. The matter was not helped by her advisor, who she felt had been openly contemptuous of her and who had threatened her with a sanction if she didn’t comply with demands to up her working hours, despite Gill’s repeated explanation of her medical condition. Gill had recently changed to a new advisor, which had resulted in a slight improvement in tone, but she said she might want someone to go in with her next time. We have advised her to apply for the Limited Capacity for Work element of Universal Credit.

Hamish is a part-time taxi driver. His UC payments are not coming through, and his hours are up and down. The SUWN has highlighted the problems of UC for those on uneven hours, or who are self-employed. We advised him to seek a full benefit check from welfare rights, which would clarify whether he has been short changed, or whether this is another case that demonstrates just how unfit for purpose this ridiculous excuse for a welfare system actually is – particularly when it comes to protecting the low paid.

Jack has had previous dealings with the SUWN. He is doing everything he can to look for work. He told us that the Jobcentre, are sending him on a two-week employability course. He was not exactly sure of the details of it, but suspected that it will be tutorials on CV Writing. Jack already has an excellent CV, and has several different versions tailored to different sectors. He will be taking copies of his various CVs to the course and asking what they could possibly tell him that he isn’t already doing. He has also promised to keep the SUWN informed as to what the course entails. We warned him to be careful about any paperwork he signs.

Duncan, Garry, Jock, Jonathan, Norma and Tony were at this week’s stall.

‘Scottish Social Security: Too little too late’ – SUWN at the Holyrood Magazine Conference

Holyrood Mag conference 2

We were both surprised and pleased, not only to be invited to speak at last week’s conference on poverty organised by the Holyrood Magazine, but also to find that the feeling that the Scottish Government could be doing more was widely shared – and we weren’t even the only people raising the issue of more progressive taxation. Of course, everyone acknowledged that the root of the problem lay in Westminster, but the focus of the event was on what could still be done here in Scotland. (The Greens had made their budget deal with the Scottish Government the day before, and while the concessions they have secured are good, we are still waiting for them to choose the vital issue of welfare as one of their red lines.)

Sarah’s presentation to the conference is below:


First, a bit about the SUWN. We set up in 2011 in response to the demonising of the unemployed. We aim to combine the practical grassroots work of solidarity and mutual help, with campaigning for change. We hold regular stalls outside the buroo handing out Know Your Rights leaflet and asking everyone who comes out if they have problems. We campaign against cuts and the increasingly punitive and oppressive system coming from Westminster, and for progressive reforms. And we also highlight the need and possibilities for more fundamental change – for a new approach to the economy and to work, including a Universal Basic Income.

Progressive change only happens in response to movement from below. That movement must be built on solid foundations. It gains support by showing relevance – by combining practical help with analysis of the bigger picture. It’s hard work, but there is no short cut.

We’re a small organisation and don’t claim detailed knowledge of the technicalities of Scottish Social Security reform, but I want to talk about our experience of trying to persuade the Scottish Government to make the system a bit better for those hardest hit by austerity.

We are well aware from talking to people south of the border that the Scottish Government has made the situation here not quite so bad as it is down south. But there is lots more that can be done.

I have no truck with people who say that it’s not Scotland’s job to mitigate UK welfare cuts. We hear this all the time: notably from Jeanne Freedman, but also in numerous comments on our Facebook posts. We know they can’t do everything, but it is absolutely their job to do the most they can in the circumstances. If our parliament can’t protect Scotland’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, then of what use is it?

Which is why, two budgets ago, we presented a petition to the Petitions Committee calling on the Scottish Parliament to make more money available to mitigate the impact of UK Government welfare cuts through reassessing spending priorities and bringing in more progressive taxation.

We are well aware of the danger that calling for more spending in one vital area can lead to cuts in another – which is why we pared our call for more spending with a call to raise more money from those who can afford it. We were also careful to acknowledge the limits of what is possible under devolution and the need to target spending were most needed.

The petition process is thorough, with time to follow up with detailed evidence as well as present to the committee. But although we argued that

  • the need was urgent – indeed for some a matter of life and death
  • that there were practical and affordable ways of making a real difference
  • and that if these weren’t done the consequences would be measured in both human misery and much greater financial costs in picking up the pieces of devastated households and a broken society

nothing happened

Not quite nothing. The Social Security Committee mentioned our petition a few times – sometimes, it seemed, just to kick it further into the long grass, but they did use it to support a call for an increase in the Scottish Welfare Fund – which itself got kicked back by the Scottish government, who claimed it wasn’t need because some excessively cautious councils had not advertised the fund and so under-spent.

Now, of course, 2 years on, we are finally getting a small increase in the Scottish Welfare fund – though not enough to catch up with inflation let alone cover the extra costs resulting from Universal Credit and all the other attacks on benefits. And we are also seeing a small increase in the money for Discretionary Housing Payments, which we campaigned for too.

We are going to claim a small part in making this happen, but these increases don’t begin to reflect real need. It is a case of too little too late – and my fear is that this is characteristic of a government, which, while seeing itself as careful and prudent, actually manages to be uncaring towards those suffering now, and also careless of long term social and economic consequences.

I remember this time a year ago, at the last budget, saying I never again wanted to hear the phrase ‘dignity, fairness and respect’. There is no ‘dignity’ when society doesn’t allow people enough to put food on the table, let alone pay for ‘luxuries’ like a holiday, and where people are being weighed down with the worries of inescapable debt.

We will reserve judgement on whether the Scottish Social Security system will treat people in a more civilised manner. The DWP has set the bar pretty low, so that shouldn’t be difficult, but it is worrying how little has been done to address the immediate plight of people waiting and waiting for that more dignified service to get organised.

The Scottish Government is fully aware of the total size of the benefit cuts , which amounts to billions each year – and they are also aware of the accompanying change in attitude towards the unemployed who are blamed for their own misfortune. But I don’t think they fully appreciate the impact on people’s lives and on wider society.

The devastation caused to families will still be being felt decades on, as children brought up in homes riven with stress and lacking basic amenities, struggle to establish their own lives. Poor areas are doubly hit. People living there are hit directly, and there is also much less money in the local economy. This legacy will last, like the legacy of Thatcherism.

This deliberately punitive system impacts huge numbers of workers too. It is a deliberate method of social control. When unemployment is such hell, then you can’t risk your job by protesting against bad conditions. And Universal Credit is forcing people into the gig economy. There is no option to refuse part time work and short contracts, even though the system is so badly designed you may lose out financially.

One of the impacts of all this, and of the political failure to address financial, physical and mental stresses in so many people’s lives, is a growing sense of loss of hope and of expectations, and a distrust of government – which has been exploited by the populist far right, though not so much here in Scotland.

The stakes are huge, and the options for action are limited by devolution, but, as we argued in our petition, there is still scope for the Scottish Government to do more, and I will end by outlining some practical solutions.

First, it is possible for the Scottish Government to raise more money. They have made income tax a tiny bit more progressive, but they could go a lot further. The difference with rest of the UK has been accepted. Now they need to argue the case for more substantial redistribution.

We have long been promised a replacement for Council Tax. Council Tax is recognised as very unprogressive and is itself a source of severe poverty and distress, but it is currently being raised across the board. Instead we could have a Land Value Tax, as proposed by Andy Wightman for the Scottish Greens. This is a wealth tax on wealth that cannot be moved out of the country. It also limits land speculation and land banking.

And the Scottish Government could make some positive cuts. They could stop subsidising first time buyers, which only pushes up house prices for all. And they could stop giving grants to arms manufacturers such as Leonardos.

The money raised and saved could then be invested in some carefully targeted spending.

First, the SUWN backed the widely-supported campaign for targeting child poverty with an increase in Child Benefit. This is a Universal Benefit, but targeted at families, and has been calculated to have a big impact on child poverty. Universal benefits don’t suffer from lack of take up, or from stigma. (Yes, richer people get them too, but you can more than balance this with more progressive taxation). The extra child payments that are being given are very welcome of course, but this is another example of government caution, preventing them from doing enough to be really effective.

Then the Scottish Government could mitigate the benefit cap. This is a cap on the maximum amount of benefits any one household can receive. Benefits are calculated to reflect need, so a cap doesn’t make sense. If a family has high benefits, it is because they are calculated to need them. In fact, after  all the other cuts, they probably don’t even meet household needs before being capped. The Benefit cap is leaving some people unable to pay their rent and facing eviction. Many people have been given discretionary housing payments to help, but not all, and this isn’t automatic.

Similarly, the two child policy ignores actual needs and should be mitigated. The SNP have done a good job arguing against the policy, but for those currently suffering, practical help is also needed.

And they must stop forcing councils to make cuts in services and community facilities. The budget deal with the Greens has helped (again), but there are still pressures . (And was the initial figure announced just a bargaining position, made with the knowledge that they would up it in response to the Greens’ demands?)

We need real increases in the Scottish Welfare Fund to meet growing needs. This is a discretionary fund so should have the potential to respond to the different crises caused by the wait for Universal Credit payments, the loss of mobility payments,  PIP refusals, and the many other things that can go wrong when families are stretched beyond the limit. As I’ve said, the current increase doesn’t even match inflation.

A government that claims to dare about dignity and the living wage, should also increase the Carers’ Allowance to a proper full time wage, as this is full time work. The small increase that has been made is another example of excessive caution.

And despite criticising punitive sanctions, the Scottish Government seems content to say that they are not allowed to mitigate these. But, if they were minded, they could test this in court using the argument that they were addressing exceptional circumstances – as Paul Spicker has suggested.

It would also make a huge difference to have more money for Welfare Advice for UK benefits, and not just for the new Scottish benefits. People need help to get the benefits that they are due, and getting in that money helps them and everyone around them. Currently a lot of people are missing out, even on the hard-won bedroom tax mitigation. The need for help is compounded by a criminal level of negligence by the DWP. The difference made by the help that has been provided is palpable, but we need much more, so that no one is turned away and advisors have time to address issues properly. This could include providing advice support for families and friends of people claiming benefits, so they can check that they are giving reliable help.

And there’s a lot of other areas where a bit of intervention could make a huge difference – such as ensuring that everyone applying for PIP or ESA can get supportive evidence from their GP, and that assessment centres are accessible and can’t force people to walk long distances in a sneaky additional test of their fitness, as happens in Dundee. (If you don’t show readably visible distress going down that corridor, then you have disproved your need for mobility help.)

Of course, one of the big disappointments has been how long it is taking for the Scottish PIP replacement to get up and running. I don’t know the reasons why it is so complicated, and it is too late to argue that they should have been able to arrange some intermediate improvements to the existing system meanwhile – such as changing the threshold for full mobility payments back from not being able to walk 20 metres to not being able to walk 50 metres. Clearly there are lessons here for the future, but there is also a lesson for the here and now. There are people suffering as a result of  this delay, which has pushed them into the PIP system, and often caused loss of mobility payments, on top of a lot of worry. Future ‘dignity, fairness and respect’  is no good for these people, who need help now, before its too late.

I think there is a theme here:  too little too late. Good intentions, smothered by excessive and misplaced caution.

As we pointed out when presenting our petition to the committee: help now can prevent family and social breakdown, which brings much greater financial costs, as well as personal tragedies. And more help for those with least, puts money into deprived areas where it can have the greatest positive impact on the economy. The approach currently being followed by the Scottish government may seem to be cautious and pragmatic, but if it does nothing more to help those at the sharp end of Welfare reform, then it can be accused of being both callous and poor economics.

Less than Everything You (Didn’t) Want to Know about the Scottish Budget 20-21

Scottish money

Editorial Health Warnings:

  • This is a very brief, unstructured, synopsis of the key points relating to Social Security
  • The budget is a draft budget, subject to approval by Holyrood Committees & Parliament
  • The full document is 283 pages (very) long. Spending plans may be included in different “portfolios” (e.g. voluntary organisations that are funded centrally or via local government)
  • The writer is not an accountant, economist or any other kind of fiscal expert!

Official Health Warnings:

  • Unusually, the UK Budget will be announced after this draft budget, on 11 March. Due to the complex “grant sharing formula” for UK/Scotland (“Barnett”), the Scottish budget may change
  • Brexit can impact the economy and public spending;
  • The “fiscal risk” (uncertainty) of actual Scot Gov spending & actual Scot Gov income via taxation and grant adjustments is higher this year than previously (see below).

Brief Overview:

Note: £1b = 1,000,000,000 (a thousand million); £1m = 1,000,000 (a mere million)

Within a total budget of £50b:

Health & Social Care = £15b

Local Government = £11.3b plus maximum 3% increase in local Council Tax

Social Security = £3.7b (most of which is still paid via the UK DWP, see below);

Scottish Taxation: no change in rates and “higher earners allowances” frozen, meaning that 56% pay less than in rUK and the wealthier 44% pay more. (There is some uncertainty re actual income from Scottish taxation)

Social Security (Complex & confusing):

£3.7b Scottish social security budget will be mostly still paid to claimants via DWP in 2020-21

First “big” benefit transfer to Scottish control is new claims for child DLA in Summer 2020, estimated at 16,000 awards totalling £3m

Extra £10 p.w. per child under 6 in low income families will be introduced in Xmas 2020, estimated total £21m

The “Demand led” nature of transferred DWP benefits brings greater financial risk/uncertainty;

The Welfare Fund is (finally)being increased from 2013-14 levels, rising by £2.5m to £35.5m (a small nod to our SUWN campaign…)

Money for Discretionary Housing Payments is being increased from £63.2m to £71.8m, plus a further £2m for “care leavers”. (We campaigned for an increase in these payments too.)

Further details of the many Social Security developments (and a link to the Scottish Budget) can be found here

Thanks to Ian Davidson for this analysis

Bringing in the New Year, DWP Style

stormy weather ahead

The first stall of 2020 took place against the backdrop of Baltic weather conditions and the recent disastrous re-election of the Tories, which means that groups like our own will find ourselves, yet again, back on the active front line of the ruthless and never ending class war being waged against the poor and disabled in the name of ‘welfare reforms’. Whilst this very real prospect did not exactly fill us full of joy, particularly when we started to lose the feelings in our fingers, we are also aware that the situation we face at Dundee buroo is not nearly so desperate as it is at many other job centres. After nearly six years of advice stalls and constant pressure we have succeeded in reducing the number of cases we deal with from a torrent to a trickle, as local DWP managers have introduced a whole series of measures in order to ‘dry the well’ of issues that we can take up and campaign on.

We now regularly hear unemployed folk remarking on the change for the better in the atmosphere at the buroo and in the way that they are dealt with by the job centre staff. Indeed, some of the recently unemployed now take this new less confrontational approach by Dundee DWP for granted and can’t seem to understand that it was not always thus, and that change only came about through, sometimes, bitter conflict with DWP management, staff and security personnel. Of course, despite these changes for the better, there are still issues and cases for us to take up, and we are also aware that the situation could change for the worst in the blink of an eye, if, or rather when, the Tories launch their new class war offensive.

Jim approached us even before we’d finished setting up the stall. In his mid-fifties and on UC, he had been on the wrong side of a DWP clerical error, which had resulted in a stoppage of his UC payments. He had been given a slip of paper with a phone number on it, but had been advised that it could take a good while for the situation to be sorted. In the meantime he had nothing, not a single penny, to his name, whilst his electricity and gas was running low and his rent and council tax was overdue. We quickly arranged for a food parcel delivery through Taught by Mohamed and put him in contact with DEEAAP, which gives advice and financial assistance to those who are struggling to afford heating and lighting in the Dundee area (for further details see here). We also urged him to visit the Shelter office to seek help and advice with the housing issues he has and to request a full benefit check in order to ensure that he is receiving what he is entitled to. He left us in a far better frame of mind than when we’d met him, which made the cauld and weet fade into the background, at least for a wee while.

We also met Davey, who is on UC and, as a result of paying back DWP loans etc, was now seriously struggling to keep body and soul together on the princely sum of £94 per month. He explained that he has been in constant employment for most of his working life, but had been suddenly hit by illness, which he hoped and believed he would recover from sooner rather than later, thus allowing him to return to work. He was dismayed and angry that, for the first time in his life, he now found himself penniless, and was appalled at the way that he was regularly being spoken to by his advisor – particularly given the fact that she was young enough to be his daughter. It quickly became clear to us that Davey was eligible for Contribution based (now called New Style) JSA, as his NI contributions were up-to-date, which begs the question as to why he was not made aware of this.

As with so much else concerning Universal Credit, the devil is in the detail. Many people  whose NI contributions are up-to-date may benefit from going on UC as well as contribution-based JSA. The JSA payments don’t have the 5-plus weeks wait and are not means-tested, but you can no longer apply for housing benefit and child tax credits on top of JSA as these benefits are now part of the Universal Credit system, so if you would be eligible for help in these areas you’ll need to apply for UC too.  (Don’t rely on the DWP systems to point you to the correct benefit – they often seem to assume that everyone should just apply for Universal Credit. Ask about JSA and get independent welfare advice if you can.)

It was clear that in Davey’s case, going onto UC had plunged him into a financial crisis, chiefly through the disastrous impact of the five to six week wait that all folk have to endure before receiving their first UC payment. This meant that he had to take out a loan, and is now subsisting on a pittance. The DWP can only deduct a maximum amount equivalent to 30% of the claimant’s Universal Credit standard allowance , so deductions should be no more than £95.35 a month for a single person over 25 (For further details see here). However, they can make an exception to this rule when a claimant owes back rent and is in arrears with gas, electricity and water bills, which was the situation that Davey found himself in. We advised Davey to raise this whole issue with a welfare rights organisation in order to get a full benefit check and to see what would have been the most appropriate benefit for him to apply for, and whether he is due any back payments. They should be able to negotiate a more manageable debt repayment programme too.

Shortly after Davey took leave of us, we packed up the stall and made our way to the Counting House to warm ourselves with a coffee and a crack. However, we had not even taken our seats when we were approached by a well turned out elderly gent, in his early sixties, who asked us if were the SUWN and then informed us that he had just been sanctioned for two weeks for failing to attend a scheduled interview. He explained that his phone is not the best, that it had a cracked screen, and that, as a result, he had missed the text message. He also informed us that he was a volunteer with a cancer charity, which appeared to be frowned upon by his advisor who was of the opinion that he should be spending more time being out in all weathers looking for work that was not there. We advised him about the procedure for appealing, and explained that he should first contact the DWP on line with a mandatory reconsideration. We explained that whilst the mandatory reconsideration was likely to fail, as it is judged by an internal DWP ‘referee’, it is necessary to go through with it in order to get to the appeal tribunal stage, which is made up of public figures who are not connected with the DWP. We also provided him with our advice leaflet and phone numbers so that he could contact us when his mandatory reconsideration is, inevitably, rejected. The elderly gent, whose name we did not catch, took his leave of us with a smile on his face, and with our best wishes for a speedy and successful resolution of his case – whilst we returned to our very welcome cups of coffee.

Duncan, Norma, Gary and Tony were at this week’s stall.


Not (yet) the end of an era – and a poem from Sir IDS


As we end a decade of Tory rule with a prime minister who is more right wing than any in recent memory, the fightback is far from over. The SUWN was set up in response to the first year of Tory ‘Austerity’ and attacks on the unemployed, and although the situation today looks frightening on so many levels, we mustn’t forget the gains that welfare activists have won. It’s not just the immediate changes, such as embarrassing companies to withdraw from workfare programmes, or the very notable change of attitude shown by many of the staff at the Dundee Jobcentre. We have won the public argument. Despite an election result in the rest of the UK that was skewed by Brexit and a right-wing media, people are aware of the attacks on benefits, even when they are not themselves affected, and they don’t like what they see.

And, while we shudder at the actions of the right-wing and fascist regimes now dominating so much of the world, we have to take heart from the scale of the protests against them. Whether we are marching with thousands, or standing in the rain outside Dundee Buroo, we are all fighting that same neoliberal system, which is quite literally destroying people’s lives and destroying humanity’s future. So, see you at the stalls, or at the protests against the next inevitable attacks, and at the climate protests and the Indy marches.

We are fighting for a better world – but just in case you need a reminder of what we are fighting against, here is a short message from Sir IDS:

Iain Duncan Smith’s my name

A bold knight of the realm

Slaying welfare is my game

The weak to overwhelm


My Easterhouse epiphany

Taught me about the poor

Now bow the knee in front of me

You vagabond outlaw!


Oh, welcome me Sir IDS

All righteous lures I’ve spurned

To make you live on less and less

My title is well-earned


To tax the rich would count as theft

So just restrain your tears

The legacy that I have left

Will last a hundred years


And if you died in my crusade

A piece of glory’s yours

Your death has seen my future made

You’ve helped a noble cause





Scotland free or a desert

scotland free or a desert - trimmed

Today the world is an even more hostile place. The UK election has dealt another blow to the planet and corroded truth. It is a gift to the warmongers and the bloodsuckers. It is an attack on all the hard-won gains of the post-war welfare state. It will make life harder for the vast majority of the population, and if you’re on low wages, or from an immigrant family or unemployed or disabled, then heaven help you.

So why did so many people, especially in the old Labour heartlands, vote against their own interests?

Over the course of the last four decades, many places in the north of England have, as in Scotland, been transformed from vibrant local communities based on heavy industry, into windblown wastelands. However, the Brexit issue and how it was taken up by the working class of the English industrial heartlands points up the very real political differences that now exist between Scotland and England. Many areas such as Blythe Valley and Bassett law have been strangers to hope for many years, but voted in huge numbers for Brexit, which, for many, appeared as a way out of an oppressive system. In 2017 they largely remained loyal to Labour, even when the party’s left reformist program was being attacked every bit as viciously as has occurred over the last few weeks. The difference between then and now is that Labour has effectively moved away from honouring the result of the 2016 EU referendum, towards a fudged policy that faces in two directions simultaneously. Instead, many Brexit voters chose to support the man and the party whose only coherent message was, quite deliberately, ‘get Brexit done’.

It is a dark and burning irony that Jeremy Corbyn has been, like many others on the socialist left, a long-time opponent of the EU, which he, correctly, viewed as, essentially, an anti-socialist and business dominated bosses club, which would block any attempt to bring services such as rail, energy and water into public ownership. (The problem with Boris’s Brexit is not Brexit per se, but the way in which it is being done and the new trade deals that are being planned in its stead.) Corbyn’s move away from this radical, and socialist based, Euro-scepticism represents a triumph for the party’s EU-supporting right wing, and has cost the Labour Party dear. However, the drive for a second referendum on the EU came not only from the Blairites, but also from the left of the party, and particularly from within Momentum. This group, which played such a key role in Corbyn’s historic Labour leadership victory, have transformed themselves into Labour’s very own gravediggers, under the leadership and influence of John Lansman, a ‘useful idiot’ of the first rank, who, on the antisemitism witch hunt well as the EU issue, could not have been a more effective recruiting sergeant for Tory reaction.

It must, however, be acknowledged that whilst John Lansman’s complicity in leading the Labour left to the hell it has now found itself in was founded on good intentions, this is not the case with the Blairite and virulently anti-left elements within the parliamentary Labour Party.  These are the people who are saying that the reason for Labour’s defeat was Corbyn and what he stood for, and that now Corbyn has said he will step down, his more socialist (though by no means radical) policies should go with him.

In reality, the only sense in which these policies damaged Labour’s electoral chances is that they ensured that the whole British establishment lined up against them, including a deeply compromised BBC. It wasn’t just the incessant lies and smears, and the endless monstering of Corbyn himself, but the deliberate diversion away from discussing the essential bread and butter issues that Labour was highlighting and which threatened to make the UK a more equal society where they would no longer be so powerful. They did this precisely because they knew that if these ideas were properly heard and discussed they would be vote winners. You could describe this as political gaslighting. But, in the final analysis, it is important to underline that it was not the popular social-democratic manifesto that lost the Labour Party votes, but their confusing position on Brexit, along with relentless attacks from the right both within and outwith the party.

Even then, the result for Labour in England is not the collapse that the MSN and the labour right have widely trumpeting it as, and does not begin to compare with the catastrophic melt down of the party in Scotland: English Labour actually polled more votes (10.3 million) than they managed in 2005 (9.5 million), 2010 (8.6 million) and 2015 (9.35 million), and even in terms of percentage, Labour’s result on Thursday was 32.2%, compared with 29% in 2010 and 30.4% in 2015. It is also clear that this Tory government will be almost immediately beset with crises on an ever widening front, from Ireland, where the Unionist parliamentary majority has disappeared like snow from a dyke, to the potential consequences of a ‘hard Brexit’, and the very real possibility that a further economic recession is on the horizon. Under these circumstances, it is crucial that English Labour remains a viable force, thus enabling the SNP to form an effective anti-austerity alliance that can withstand the inevitable Tory offensive that is coming our way, whilst a collapse in the party south of the border would also strengthen Tory reaction, and allow them to focus their full attention on the ‘Scottish problem’.

There is now a stark political contrast between Scotland and England that is probably unequalled in modern times. Scotland has spoken, and the message is clear – a fundamental rejection of Tory Austerity and of dog-whistle reaction, and a resounding call for a second Independence referendum. Here in Scotland people do not have to pin their hopes on Brexit because a way out of the current system is clear. The Scottish working class voted SNP in droves, and Independence represents their settled will, despite increasingly desperate pleas from an albeit dwindling band of Labour activists that the ‘constitutional issue’ is a deflection from the class struggle.

The looming confrontation between the Scottish Indy movement and Westminster will be played out on the terrain of class conflict, as it always has been. During the ‘Scottish Insurrection’ of 1820, Hardie, Baird and Wilson believed that revolution was necessary because Scotland was either ‘free’ or it was ‘a desert’, and this battle cry was taken up by John MacLean during the political upsurges that accompanied the end of World War One. Another century on, it remains as true as before.

It now falls to a new generation of Scottish socialists and the wider progressive left to carry this tradition forward. Despite some pockets of socialist campaigning, Labour is almost dead in Scotland, but they could still become relevant again, if they were to embrace the spirit of their late nineteenth-century origins, when they became the Scottish party of ‘Home Rule’. Gordon Brown and others may well attempt to resurrect their dismal demands for some kind of Federal agreement, but that ship has sailed, and today hope lies only in Independence. With the possibility of a Labour government now off the table, Scottish Labour should, as a matter of urgency, drop their opposition to Independence – a position that has no relation to socialist values – so that we can work together in the fight for a better Scotland founded on social justice and economic equality. On the other hand, if Scottish Labour continue to set their face against independence they will quickly become completely irrelevant as a meaningful vehicle of Scottish working-class interests, and will yet again be used as a cat’s paw by the forces of reaction in the looming Independence struggle.

The only realistic possibility of a better future, and even of basic relief for those Scots who are unemployed, disabled or elderly, now firmly rests with Independence. Indeed, so many lives depend on it that the issue of welfare and class should be at the very heart of the independence campaign. Our message should be that another Scotland is not only possible, but absolutely essential in order to ensure a future for the coming generations – a welfare system and a wider social and economic system that truly reflects the aspirations and desires of embattled working-class communities across our nation.

With Boris in Downing Street, working-class communities will increasingly have to draw on their own resources merely to help each other survive. We will find ourselves continually involved in defensive struggles, but these can be transformed into the struggle for something better: for the independent ecosocialist Scotland we look to as the alternative to the neoliberal gulag that the dis-United Kingdom has become.


Social Security and the election

ballot box

While no-one would, or should, base their vote only on social security policies, it is good to know what the different parties are promising – and a useful indication of their general approach to society. So thank you Ian Davidson for ploughing through those pages for us and drawing up the summary below.

For their approach to social security, as well as their prioritisation of addressing climate change, the Greens should win hands down, but we know they haven’t got a chance of getting an MP elected in Scotland, so when it comes to voting, many of us will need to think tactically.

If there is a chance that the Tories might get in in your constituency, there are websites that can tell you the best tactical vote to keep them out– which in almost every case in Scotland will be a vote for the SNP. From the point of view of defeating the Tories, we must hope for a Labour government propped up by the SNP, which can be achieved whether we elect SNP or Labour MPs. (As the Liberals have said they will not work with Corbyn, a Liberal vote is a Tory vote.)

We recognise and welcome the promise of Labour’s manifesto, and the international significance of its determined move away from the politics of New Labour (and from the SNP’s Growth Commission!), but their reluctance to support Scotland’s right to self-determination is inexcusable. Those of us who believe that Scotland’s future should be decided by the people who live here, and not in Westminster, will hope to see a large contingent of SNP MPs to reinforce the mandate for another Independence referendum – which could be especially important if we get landed with another 5 years of Tory government.

Brief UK General Election Manifesto/Social Security analysis

Ian Davidson  27.11.19


(52 pages)

A whole range of benefit reforms: Scrapping Universal Credit, the 2 child limit, the Bedroom Tax and the punitive sanctions regime; ending the benefit freeze; reversing Universal Credit pensioner cuts; Full compensation for WASPI women.

NB: This is a statement of UK-wide policies which the SNP would seek to persuade the Westminster Parliament/government to implement & fund; it is not a statement of what the SNP propose to do currently within a devolved Scottish context.  However any commitment to spend more money UK-wide on a devolved service (e.g. the NHS) will result in increased block grant from the UK government to Scotland. To make matters more confusing, currently 15% of the UK social security budget spent in Scotland (consisting of DLA, AA, PIP etc.) is being transferred from the DWP to the Scottish Government. This programme is in its early stages (referred to below in the Scottish Labour manifesto).

Labour (UK):

(103 pages)

Universal Credit to be scrapped, with an interim scheme to end the 5 week waiting period pending replacement.  Also goodbye to the benefit cap, the 2 child limit, and the Bedroom Tax. Increases to Local Authority Housing Allowance/Housing Benefit rent levels. Top-up to ESA . End to the current disability assessments. Pension age increases capped at 66. After publication of the manifesto, the commitment was made to fully compensate WASPI’s.  

Scottish Labour:

All of above, plus: Improving Scottish benefit reforms; increasing the Scottish Welfare Fund, topping-up Child Benefit. (Though as this is an election for Westminster these are just political markers.)

Tories (UK):

Very brief reference to benefits – continued roll out of Universal Credit; end benefit freeze; reduce number of disability re-assessments for people with long-term conditions.

Scottish Tories:

Nothing significant to add to UK manifesto.

Green Party (UK):

(92 pages)

Main statement (pp.26-27; 49-50): introduction of Universal Basic Income (UBI), an unconditional payment to all adults. This would gradually replace existing social security benefits, but requires more detail (e.g. on future housing costs);  It is linked to Living Wage proposals.

Scottish Greens:

The Scottish manifesto (28 pages) pulls together key poverty issues (p18-19) from the UK manifesto.

Liberal Democrats:

(100 pages)

Main commitments (pp 62-66): Scrap: the Bedroom Tax, and the two child limit. Reduce the waiting time for the first Universal Credit payment to 5 days. Various changes to work capability assessments, sanctions, local housing allowances. Implement Ombudsman’s WASPI report.

Scottish Liberal Democrats:

Unable to locate Scottish LD manifesto.


  1. The manifestos are statements of intent by each party in the event of winning an overall majority. Otherwise, the “commitments” may form part of any trade-offs between parties.
  2. WASPI: women born after 1950 affected by increase in state pension age from 60/65, (66/67).
  3. Each party has used different styles and terminology. “Social security” is just one policy heading; you need to look at broader issues such as housing, employment, equalities, funding of essential services etc. to make an informed judgement on each party’s approach to welfare.

Perhaps the most appropriate way to finish is to refer to:

Analysis by Resolution Foundation of the three main UK party manifestos (excluding Greens and SNP): clear conclusion that the Conservatives’ policies will increase child poverty. Also, general lack of vision amongst all three parties as to the future shape of social security.