Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s speech in Glasgow on pensions (April 22) contained many inaccuracies.
He claimed Scotland will soon have a greater proportion of pensionable-aged people than the UK as a whole, that we receive back more in spending than we contribute in taxation and that because the pension bill is three times the income from oil revenues, pensions would be unaffordable in an independent Scotland.
All these statements are untrue and, furthermore, the last one is meaningless because the UK pension bill is 25 times the UK’s oil revenues – if that source of income is important for pensions, then it dramatically undermines his own argument.
However, of even greater interest is what Gordon Brown did not say. He didn’t mention that UK state pensions are the lowest in Europe. Nor did he mention that the British state pension amounts to only 33 per cent of the average wage, while in Italy it is 70 per cent, Austria 77 per cent and the Netherlands 91 per cent. Our proportion is on a par with Mexico – hardly a shining example of a state which provides well for its citizens.
Is this what we want to stay in the UK for? Is this why we are better together? Surely we could not possibly do worse than be bottom of the pensions league.
If that is all this talk of broad shoulders and pooling resources has produced, then telling us we should not risk losing such “benefits” is setting dismally-low standards and shows a depressing lack of aspiration.
Another factor which Gordon Brown failed to mention is that there is no UK pension fund or state pension pot. Not a penny of all those National Insurance payments you’ve been making all your life has been saved or invested. In fact, that same Gordon Brown put National Insurance contributions up when he was Chancellor, but then spent the extra revenue elsewhere.
All state pensions are now wholly funded from general taxation (and borrowing). In other words, if you are a pensioner, you should be aware that the UK Government has no money put by to ensure that you will be paid – next year’s payments are awaiting receipt of future taxes.
Contrast this with Norway’s sovereign wealth oil fund which has built up such a massive amount of reserves for the nation that this small country of five million people now owns two per cent of the world’s stocks and shares. The entirety of North Sea oil revenues which went to London were blown by successive governments, leaving us with precisely zero in the bank.
Gordon Brown was one of the Chancellors who thought it was acceptable and prudent to spend all that money and allow the wealthy to pay much lower taxes than they do almost anywhere else in Europe – including such pillars of the capitalist world as Germany. Do we really want to be taking lessons from a man who presided over the worst economic crash in recent history and insulted pensioners with a 75p per week rise?
Why would we want more of the same awful governance that has emanated from Westminster for decades and given us a society of food banks, payday loan companies and the bedroom tax? Even the comfortably off among us recognise that this is a spiv culture where morality and social cohesion are ignored in favour of ensuring that the world of finance prospers.
There appears to be two alternatives to the dreary status quo – the rise of UKIP across England and an even more narrow-minded spitefulness, or the prospect of an independent Scotland where values which many people recall being a part of what once made the UK a good place can be reclaimed and put into practice.
Independence is a political choice, but it is also a moral issue.