Agreeing with Neal Lawson

Bit of a shock this morning, finding myself agreeing with Lawson on anything at all. Still:

Last Thursday\’s byelection result was not a victory for nationalism, but for social democracy. What makes it easy for ex-Labour voters in the east end of Glasgow to switch to the SNP is that the SNP\’s symbolic policies chime with the social-democratic values of the Scots. The Scandinavian counties, to which Alex Salmond so often refers, are not nationalist success stories; they are social-democratic success stories.

I agree that the Scots and the Scands do seem to be in favour of social democratic policies.

There, I\’ve agreed wih him. Shudder.

However, I think that\’s rather tightly tied into nationalism rather than being in opposition to it. The thing about the Scands (and Scotland) is that they are small nations. 4-10 million range the lot of them. I\’m inclined to the belief (with pretty much no proof, that\’s why I call it a belief) that social democracy, this we\’re all in it together so we should take care of each other collectively through the State, only gains great support when it is indeed done on such scales. What works in groups of say 5 million people doesn\’t work for 50 million or one hundred million. for the sense of belonging to the group (tribe, nation, what you will) and the responsibility to it is too weak for people to be willing to bear the tax burdens.

We can use the counter examples of Germany or France….but that\’s to miss quite how much of the power there is at a much more local level. In Germany it\’s the Lander, looming rather larger in the lives of the people than the Federal Govt. In France the prefecture and the commune have vastly more power than any level of local government does in the UK. And even in the Scands things like the health service are paid for and organised on county grounds, precisely to bring them closer to the actual people who both pay for and use them.

It\’s for this reason that I\’ve always been rather amused by American liberals who are arguing for something close to Scand type social democracy. But they argue for it through the Federal Govt, when it\’s actually the States that make much more natural units for it….

Here in the UK I can see that Wales or Scotland might be quite happy with a Scand style tax and spending regime. I can\’t see that England would be. Too big and too centralised. Those regions proposed are similarly not going to do it (Cornwall being run from Bristol won\’t gain any more support than it being run from London): it might work at a county level, but then those who do argue for Scand style social democracy never do argue for true power to be devolved to, say, the counties (that "postcode lottery" argument).

In short, I don\’t think you can have a well functioning social democracy if it\’s centralised over a large population. Which leaves those who propose it something of a problem. If social democracy really is what they want then they\’ve got to give up any hope of they themselves running it from the centre: but perhaps the desire to be running it is greater than the desire for social democracy?

6 thoughts on “Agreeing with Neal Lawson”

  1. But we don’t know whether the Scotch are willing to bear the taxation for their socialist experiment as they don’t bloody pay it.

  2. …or we do, because oil/see Norway/etc. Can we not have a moratorium on ignorant rants about the Scots not paying tax *and* about the English stealing the Scots’ oil? In practice, these offset each other.

    I’m not sure Tim’s right about county level vs regional level: the Cornwall example is an extreme, because Cornwall is much less populated than the rest of England and has something resembling a separate national identity.

    I’m still pretty sure the people of, say, Middlesborough would rather be run from Newcastle than London, notwithstanding historic rivalries…

  3. “or we do, because oil/see Norway/etc. Can we not have a moratorium on ignorant rants about the Scots not paying tax *and* about the English stealing the Scots’ oil? In practice, these offset each other.”

    Not being able to determine who is subsiding who does NOT mean that therefore that the different factors cancel out and there is no net flow; it just means you have been unable to determine the net flow.

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