Politics is about priorities and it is about choice
As MSPs debate record social security investment in Scotland to tackle the cost of living crisis and inequality, Maggie Chapman examines the importances of political leadership and choice
Everything we do in politics is a choice and everything we do has a consequence. You can tell a lot about what a leader or a government believes in by the choices they make.
With a backdrop of crisis, and particularly with the constraints of devolution, our focus has to be on ensuring that we are doing everything we can to help, support and empower those who need it the most.
For me, it means using the limited resources we have to help young people who are growing up in poverty that is not inevitable, but created by a succession of cruel UK Governments propping up inhumane economic and social security systems.
It means prioritising getting cash into the pockets of parents being stretched to the end of their tether, choosing to go without themselves so they can scrape something together for their families.
It means offering security to the workers toiling through long shifts for meagre wages and zero hour contracts and still not knowing if there will be enough food in the fridge the next day.
Any of us can find ourselves at the mercy of forces outwith our control, in need of a safety net. Yet, especially after 14 years of Tory misrule and austerity, that safety net has been shredded.
And they’ve done it on purpose. From David Cameron and George Osborne to Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, the Tories have fought a punishing war of attrition against some of the most vulnerable in our society.
The bedroom tax. The child cap and rape clause. The sanctions regime. They've deployed a cynical strategy of divide and rule and created a dystopian system that has driven people to suicide and early graves while welcoming some of the world's worst tax avoiders into the heart of government. It is the antithesis of everything I believe in.
It was with seething anger that I read a story in this week's Big Issue about families who had their social security payments stopped by the Department of Work and Pensions, who falsely accused them of owing thousands of pounds in overpayments.
One woman who the DWP falsely accused of owing almost £25,800 said the anxiety and worry made her ill, flaring-up pre-existing conditions, and the cut “literally left [her] with nothing to live on.” This should not be allowed to happen in the 21st century.
With an election on the horizon and a desperation to appeal to the Tory faithful, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, is proposing to make the system even punitive and punishing in order to fund tax cuts for his wealthy friends and Tory donors.
After two years of the cooperation deal between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Government, one of the choices I am proudest of was the decision to raise the benefits in Holyrood's control in line with inflation, and to effectively mitigate the cruel benefit cap.
They may not be decisions that were celebrated across the Parliament and in the right wing quarters of the Press, but they were hard fought for and among the most tangible and consequential in terms of impact.
They have taken away some of the anxiety and pain that so many are feeling in a post-Covid UK that is still in thrall to the cost of greed crisis.
The unique Scottish Child Payment has been particularly effective. It was introduced at £10 a week in 2021 for every eligible child, but has been increased, and from April will be £26.70.
Whether it is providing extra money for essentials like food, clothes and nappies or allowing families to go for days out that they would not otherwise be able to, it is now a vital part of our Scottish social security system that is based on dignity and respect.
Oxford University academic Danny Dorling has said it is one of the most significant anti-poverty measures since the fall of the Berlin Wall and has moved Scotland from being one of the most unequal places to live in Europe for a child to being one of the most equal.
None of this is to say that Scotland has got everything right. Far from it.
There are areas where I want our government to go much further, and where I, and others in my party and outwith it, will continue to push for bold and radical change.
But I also know that many in the communities I represent can breathe just a little easier and worry a little less because of the steps we are taking.
Solidarity, empathy and hope will always be among the key drivers of my politics. There is more than enough money in the world, and in our country, to ensure that everyone goes to bed warm, supported and fed.
The problem isn't a lack of resources. The problem is how those resources are distributed and allocated, and who controls both the resources and the processes of distribution and allocation.
Sometimes, when I am listening to Tory MSPs urging us to celebrate or even replicate the disastrous policies they know are plunging people into poverty, it feels like we are on totally different planets.
Theirs is a politics that is focused on reinforcing a broken and punishing status quo. Why would anyone go to all of the difficulty of getting elected and come to work every day with the goal of making the wealthiest and most powerful in our society even wealthier and more powerful?
We have choices. We don't have to accept the unacceptable. In Scotland we have a long way to go if we are to tackle the preventable scourge of poverty, but I, and many others, won't stop trying until we do. Because we must be realistic and demand the impossible.