The Early Days…..

The turkey has been eaten, the Brussels sprouts are well and truly digested, transformed, and dissipated into the atmosphere. The current almost daily celebrity death toll continues to rise as 2016 bows out. Who will it be tomorrow, a legendary sporting hero, a film star great, another music god or goddess, a world leader perhaps? There’s a horrible eerie feeling that 2017 is looming, with all of the hatred, division, anger and injustice that potentially will come with it. A sense of foreboding abounds.

For Scotland, somewhat hidden in amongst all of the background noise, a little light flickers, and grows. A small symbol of hope that perhaps things are going to change for the better. That no matter what unionist propaganda the media flings at us incessantly, the momentum is in fact still in the direction of self-government and “ living in the early days of a better nation.”

As we all know, as a result of the farcical watered-down Smith Commission, the diluted to the point of tasteless Scotland Act, and Westminster trying to justify the repetitive worn out ‘Scotland is now the most powerful devolved parliament in the known universe’ (which surely only the most naive or staunch unionists actually believe, and that’s only because they want to) a handful of powers are being scooped out of the Westminster sack here and there and chucked lazily across the road at Scotland. The senior partner in this great union of ours, which has never actually been a union, acting liking a drunk father of the bride at a wedding scramble.

Scotland is gaining control of, and some powers to vary, eleven separate welfare benefits. Benefits which affect 1 in 4 Scot, including Carers Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments.

Kind of like asking Andy Murray to play tennis with a racquet which doesn’t have any strings this move does not represent a comprehensive transfer of control of benefits (Scotland will only have control of 15% of social security spent in Scotland once the transfer is complete),along similar lines to the recent limited transfer of tax powers without the levers of financial control, leaving not a lot of room to manoeuvre, and the feeling of one hand being tied behind the Scottish government’s back whilst hopping on the spot. A challenge to administer, but significantly, an opportunity to prepare the groundwork for the future, and an independent Scotland.

The indomitable Jeane Freeman, notable wiper of the floor with media establishment bully Andrew Neil’s big shiny forehead, is on the case, working tirelessly towards the creation of one of the foundation blocks of a modern mature nation state with social justice at its centre, a social security system for Scotland.

Confirmed socialist and plain speaker, a player in the Yes Scotland campaign, and one of the founding members for Women For Independence, the Minister for Social Security, who has been in post for seven months following May’s election success, has a huge challenge ahead, but undoubtedly has the capabilities, drive, and the commitment to get things done.

Reading an article in Holyrood Magazine about the progress of Ms Freeman’s task it is refreshing to note the basic values which underpin the work that is going on. Harking back to progressive post-war times, when enlightened visionaries created a noble welfare state that subsequent UK governments over the last forty odd years have worked hard to subvert, Scotland’s new social security agency will first and foremost exemplify the principles of “dignity, fairness and respect’ in everything it does.

Embarking on a journey towards the creation of a social security system which will work for Scotland’s people Jeane Freeman has wisely focused in on priorities quickly by doing one simple thing, asking those who use the UK’s benefit’s system what currently works for them, and what doesn’t, through a comprehensive consultation which has generated over 500 submissions, the majority of which are from individual recipients of benefits. This has brought forth many suggestions for improvement.

Ms Freeman says, of her discussions with Scots who have first-hand experience of the benefit system, that “what has been made clear is our firm belief that social security is an investment we collectively make in ourselves and each other.” We all know that politicians spout this type of rhetoric all the time but Jeane Freeman is not your average career politician. She is the real deal, a pragmatist and a driving force.

In a world where many of us are only two rent or mortgage payments away from potential disaster, where the media tells you that anyone claiming benefits is a lazy good-for-nothing, a drain on society, and the most vulnerable in our communities, those with disabilities, along with their carers, don’t ever receive anywhere near enough support, it is good to see that there is a strong commitment at Holyrood to buck the trend and firmly swim against the tide of right-wing self-obsessed greed, to build a social security system which is caring and responsive to the needs of the community, for Scots who require to use it. That is the Scotland many want to see. if anyone can ensure that this is done well, and done right, it is Jeane Freeman.

Maybe sometime soon Andrew Neil could ring her up and ask her to come on his show to give an update on progress. That would be interesting.

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