Murdo Fraser wants to change the world. Or at least he wants to change the world’s statistics. Just as he wanted to change the name of his party, but didn’t want to change its essential nature, so Murdo is now re-interpreting the figures that show Nordic countries are more equal societies than Britain. If you’re reaction is: Norway – fairer that Blighty, the country that gave the world fair play and stiff upper lip?! – stop reading now and find another website.
Try this one – oecd.org – home of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development where governments share official information to find ways of doing things better. I tried matching Murdo’s assertions about the UK being a fairer country than Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark with the data held by the OECD and it’s like looking for information on how Scotland could be a better place to live on the Better Together website. The proof isn’t just missing, it is flatly contradicted.
For example I came across how the in-kind benefits from public services in all OECD countries impact on household income inequality based on the same Gini coefficients used by Murdo and factoring in education, health, social housing and care services. It shows that when the public services are added in, the first three least unequal nations are…Sweden, Norway and Denmark and the only large nation in the first 10 is France – all the others are smaller nations. The UK was at 18, behind those economic basket cases so beloved of Jim Murphy and other British state apologists, Ireland and Iceland.
Next there is the share of top incomes increases – covering the top 1 per cent of pre tax incomes showing the highest percentage rises for the top earners to be in the USA and the UK. Out of the 19 nations in this comparison, four of the last six nations – those with the lowest rises for the top one per cent – were Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
It goes on to warn that income inequality creates economic, social and political challenges by stifling upward social mobility (even your old leader Major agrees, Murdo) and intergenerational earnings mobility is low in countries with inequality in the UK, the US and Italy but much higher in Nordic countries where income is distributed more fairly. (That’s stopping people from getting on in life, Murdo, leaving the field for the privileged like Tories. Shouldn’t you be backing policies that lead to a meritocracy?)
Government transfers – both in cash and kind – have an important role to play in guaranteeing that low-income households do not fall further back in income distribution – especially after a recession, according to the OECD. But that’s exactly what Tory policy is doing, impoverishing further those on low incomes and benefits. (Interested in taking advice from influential western economic thinkers, Murdo or happier treating them like Communist troublemakers?)
OECD says access to sustainable jobs is key. (I know this sounds like it’s lifted from Common Cause, but honest, it’s not). Recent trends towards higher rates of in-work poverty indicate that job inequality has become a concern for a growing number of workers. (That’ll be those Zero Hours Contracts and other employer fiddles which treat people like workhorses. Whose party best represents those employers?)
Then instead of low-paid, no rights jobs, the OECD recommends investing in human capital including training and formal education. It says access to tertiary education is important for improving the prospects and living standards of lower skilled people. (That indicates that free education, if it can be afforded is the right way to go, not charging students a mortgage just to learn).
Murdo is the latest right wing revisionist to traduce the success of Scandinavian people. Try the Institute of Public Affairs website for the latest “inequality equals happiness” mythology. Rather than closing his mind to the blatant success of Nordic society, wouldn’t he and Conservatives be better trying to develop a new narrative from their North Atlantic experience? The Right is making headway in some of these countries so it’s not a left wing nirvana. Why do British Tories insist on sticking themselves on the fringes of every idea?
Get on a flight to Norway, Murdo and smell the pine needles or drop in on Copenhagen and find that nearly everybody is just like you – well-heeled, well-educated and middle class living mostly stress-free lives, certainly compared to Food Bank Britain with low levels of child wellbeing.
There is no instant solution for Scotland’s problems to be found in Scandinavia or anywhere else but there are lessons to be absorbed and adopted to our own use and I think the overwhelming majority of Scots either know this or are gradually learning it. That leaves the doom-sayers like Murdo moaning and isolated while – yet again- the ground moves underneath them. What puzzles me is why anyone of any political colour would strive so hard to deny the advantages of greater equality and to undermine the evidence accepted by the rest of the world.
Sorry, Murdo but denying the growing tide of opinion may be a common and comfortable place for Conservatives to find themselves, it’s just that, as ever, the rest of us have moved on. Try to catch up. On second thoughts, forget the OECD website (too much data), try this instead: http://theflatearthsociety.org/forum/.