Brian Monteith: Some are more unequal than others

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Soon it is the season to be merry, and for David Cameron and Nick Clegg Father Christmas has already called early to Downing Street.

After what has seemed like interminable weeks of bad news (think jobs lost in naval yards) – or at least worse news averted (think jobs saved at Grangemouth) – at last this year’s barely perceptible economic recovery is now beginning to gather momentum. This week’s good figures are not just one-off blips but believable trends.

Not only is economic growth improving but forecasters are now revising their figures for the future and believe that it could reach an impressive three per cent next year.

This is accompanied by good news where unemployment is falling and employment is increasing. With the growth in Britain’s population (from immigration, rising birth rate and longer life spans) both statistics need to move in the right direction and that is now being achieved.

Other examples of good news include the growth in car manufacturing that, within the next five years, is expected to overtake Britain’s record for manufacturing cars established back in 1972.

Of course there are those Labour and SNP politicians who want to move the debate away from the economic recovery and keep talking about all that’s wrong with the country – either because they would rather we leave the country altogether (the SNP plan) or would prefer to go back to the old ways that got us into the mess in the first place (the Labour plan).

Thankfully for our health, wealth and happiness both alternatives are in trouble.

Labour and the SNP like to say that what exists of the recovery is of benefit to only the rich and has been gained by making the country highly unequal. But the facts just don’t bear this out.

Research by Jeffries International and Credit Suisse shows that Britain is not as unequal as we are often told – using a respected measurement called the gini coefficient, the gap between rich and poor is far larger in supposed fairer lands such as Germany, France and the Netherlands. And before anyone mentions wonderful Scandinavia, the evidence puts Denmark, Norway and Sweden as all more unequal than Britain.

Not that I expect the facts to get in the way of politicians’ sound bites.

So the grass is not always greener elsewhere – but worse still for 
opposition politicians the inequality was worst during the Blair-Brown years.

Yes, it’s true, official figures produced by the Office of National statistics show that since 2010, when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power, income inequality has fallen.

If you take the basic measurement it has returned to the level of inequality that existed in 1986, while if you include housing costs it has returned to the level of 2005. With either measurement, income inequality has not increased, it has shrunk, and it has certainly reduced from the all-time high between 2007-10 when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister.

For the SNP the figures are problematic in another way – not only are they generally good news but they also show that Scotland is not the downtrodden, subjugated colony that some nationalists like to imply – but is consistently third in economic status behind only London and the South East of England.

London has to be considered as a truly international city and not just Britain’s capital and its success drives the South East region that surrounds it – so if we take those two out we can see that Scotland is the best performing economic area in the UK.

That means, of course, that it could stand alone and be successful as an independent nation – I’ve never thought otherwise – but of course the very policies that the nationalists are keen to advocate – supporting more state deficits, larger national debt, a growing state payroll, higher taxes and costlier, more generous welfare benefits are just the sort of policies that would soon undermine and ruin the economic gains we have made over the last three years.

Cameron and Clegg can’t wait for 2014.

Lead by example

How low can our First Minister stoop? Not content with supporting the mobbing of Nigel Farage at an Edinburgh pub earlier in the year – he ridiculed the UKIP leader and failed to condemn the bullying protests that denied Farage the freedom of speech in a parliamentary by-election – he has now failed to condemn the bullying of a senior Dundee academic by his sports minister.

I have said it before and it bears repeating; if our political leaders do not set the highest examples of democratic conduct then the activists on the streets will take their lead from rude behaviour and repeat it – with bells on.

Not only do we need to have next year’s debate conducted in an open and peaceful manner, we also have to ensure that attitudes and tempers do not run so high that the aftermath breeds grievances and bitterness.

It is naive and complacent to think Scotland is above political violence. Simply saying it won’t is not good enough, our politicians need to set an example and encourage open debate.