Tuition Fees (And Why I Love the Scottish Government)

I just want to make a brief post in which I gush at how grateful I am towards the policies of the current Scottish National Party administration within the Scottish government which allow students studying for their first degree to be excempt from paying tuition fees.  Yesterday I received a letter from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland in which they promised to pay the roughly £1,800 yearly fee to study at Edinburgh University.  I have to apply again each year, but over the course of four years this will have saved me £7,200.  And the fee of £1,800 is incredibly modest! (I can’t help wondering how much a student from south would have to pay).

Compare this to the system in England and Wales: yearly tuition fees which can be up to £9,000 a year, after the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition as Westminster introduced them a couple of years ago.  Over a standard three-year course (it’s generally four years in Scotland) this would leave many students up to £27,000 in debt.  It’s abhorrent, and I deeply pity everyone subject to this hopefully temporary measure.  I can understand why the Scottish government has decided to make tuition fees apply to students from England and Wales – otherwise Scottish students would likely lose out as our universities would become understandably swamped – but I certainly wish there were another way.  It’s as if the young people of England and Wales are being punished for having the misfortune to have simply been born where they were. 

University is expensive.  As I’ll be moving to Edinburgh I will also have to worry about the costs of accommodation and also just the costs of living independently without a stable income.  I’m in the fortunate position of having some money available to me for university and I will never take this for granted, but I know so many other students will find it a financial struggle.  Abolishing tuition fees for a first degree massively reduces this struggle, therefore working to break down the class barrier and, within a generation, improving the skills of the population as a whole.

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The First Fringe Opinion Poll

Because this blog has been too quiet recently (my Geography exam went well today – just RMPS left on Monday), and because I’ve just discovered the exciting poll feature on WordPress – and also to see if anyone actually reads my blogs – I’ve decided to do a quick opinion poll. Political, of course. I may start adding these to most posts I make, if it’s relevant – “What would you rate this book/film”, “What do you think about X and Y developments?” Oh, if anyone actually votes that would be incredibly exciting!

But, for now:

2013 UK Local Elections Analysis

A day or so late with this, but here are the results of Thursday’s local elections:
[PNS = Predicted National Share]

2013 local elections

The news has been reporting these elections as the final breakthrough of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) into British politics; BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson described it as “The day UKIP emerged as a real political force in the land.”  And when you look at the results, there is no denying how well the party has performed.  If every party had stood candidates in every council ward and the votes spread across the country evenly, UKIP is projected to have won 23% of the total vote.  That’s about the same the Liberal Democrats won in the 2010 General Election.  There is no denying Nigel Farage’s claims that UKIP “is here to stay.”  However, lets get these results into perspective.

There is always a party which wins a spectacularly large amount of votes during midterm elections for a government – often referred to as the “protest vote”.  This would normally be the Liberal Democrats, who in 2009 [the last time these seats were up for election] won 28% of the vote.  This went down by 5 percentage points for the following year’s general election, indicating that voting for council seats and voting for the next government are two very different things.  With the Liberal Democrats in coalition with the Conservatives, and Labour still generally quite unpopular, UKIP have begun to vacuum up these disillusioned votes.

Secondly, there seats are generally recognised to be in very right-wing areas.  This is generally to the benefit of the Conservatives, but now have begun aiding UKIP.  Labour traditionally perform poorly in these seats, so the fact they are leading in the votes, even with only 29%, should not be played down.  These UKIP results, considering this and the protest factor, should be seen as the party’s maximum potential under its current level of popularity.  It’s looking very likely that UKIP will elect its first MPs in 2015, but how many?  Even if it does manage to attain a respectable percentage of the vote, it’s going to suffer from the same problem which has blighted the Liberals for decades: our First Past the Post electoral system.  Even for the local elections, despite UKIP achieving 9 percentage points more of the vote than the Liberal Democrats, they won 200 fewer seats.

Reactions to this result within the Conservative Party have ranged from Cameron’s calm resolve of winning back voters to blind panic and demands to hold an EU referendum before the next election.  My fear is that politicians of all parties will begin tripping over themselves to declare harsher and harsher immigration policies i an attempt to stem to flow of voters to UKIP – not something I would like to see.  However Labour, at least, has little to fear from UKIP.  I read a statistic earlier suggesting that Labour didn’t lose a single seat to UKIP, whereas the Conservatives must have lost at least a few good dozen.  Indeed, with Labour retaining David Miliband’s South Shields seat in the by-election and replacing the incumbent mayors in Doncaster and North Tyneside with Labour candidates, this has been a good week for Ed Miliband.  At first glance UKIP would appear to be the true winners of these elections, but upon further inspection I would argue that this title goes to Labour.

(I am a little bit sad the Greens didn’t perform very well, but at least they managed to win a few more seats).

2013 English Local Elections

Hello followers!  Exam cycle has begun once more, and it’s a long one, dragging from now until very early June, so I may be distracted for some time (though, frankly, my most important exams will be done by the 20th).  I would make a detailed comment on this year’s local elections, except firstly I don’t have the time, secondly I live in Scotland – so it’s not really any of my business – and thirdly, polling expert Anthony Wells has summed it up infinitely better than I could.  So I’ll give you that link, and summarise his points:

  1. The seats up for election are very much ‘Tory seats’.  Considering how well they did in 2009, during Labour’s “rock bottom” period the last time these seats were up, they’re almost certain to lose councillors.  This isn’t necessarily a suggestion of ailing support for the Conservative Party.
  2. Most of the Liberal Democrat candidates will face their greatest threat from Conservatives, who they typically do well against, so there may be fewer losses here than the party has become accustomed to.  Nick Clegg may finally have a good day.
  3. UKIP will undoubtedly see an increase in voting share, but it is uncertain how this will translate into actual seats.  This could be a test for the growing party.

Changes to the Minimum Wage (2013)

Good news, everyone!  The UK government has announced that the minimum wage shall increase!  For over 21s it shall increased from £6.19 to £6.31, and for 18-20s from £4.98 to £5.03.  The minimum wage was introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 1998, and has virtually put a stop to any exploitative employment which may have been seen previously, by ensuring all workers earn a decent rate.  It has been criticised for being too low, so, surely, this is good news?

Well, no.

These increases (1.9% for adults) are well below the current national inflation rate of 2.8%.  Sure, wages are increasing, but the cost of living is rising faster.  If we assume that poor, working people are not the government’s greatest priority (it’s been obvious for quite some time), this doesn’t even make economic sense.  The economy is not going to get moving unless we increase the spending power of the population as a whole, but the government seems set on boosting the wealth of businesses and the upper middle-class, over the misguided belief that making it easier for the wealthy to become even more wealthy will cause some of their wealth to ‘trickle down’.  These ideas were first majorly implemented by Prime Minister Thatcher and… well… The figures really speak for themselves.

Wealth has been getting progressively more concentrated since Thatcher’s Conservative government was elected in 1979.  Labour, to their shame, did little to reverse this concentration, and the current Conservative-led government is clearly, day by day, continuing these disastrous policies.  Look at that chart.  Very soon, if not already, we’re going to be back to Victorian levels of inequality – unless someone does something about it.  Cameron and Clegg certainly don’t seem particularly bothered.

Margaret Thatcher Dies at 87 (reaction)

I’ve just recently been alerted to the news that Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 – 1990, has died.

Now, from what I have heard and read about her time in power, I believe her to have left a truly terrible legacy for Britain, in terms of what she did to the country’s industry and the damage its very social fabric, as well as her dubious international record (the sinking of the Belgrano and her support of Apartheid spring to mind).  Others – many others – will disagree, and likewise, I’m sure, a lot of people will agree.  Thatcher, even now, proves to be a controversial figure.

However, I don’t see myself either mourning or celebrating her death.  Despite my opinions on her political record, I think it would be utterly wrong to celebrate the death of another human being.  While now might be the time to have a political debate on the legacy she has left, I personally feel inclined to look back how exceptional a Prime Minister she was – for better or for worse.  Firstly, she was the UK’s first – and, to date, only – female Prime Minister.  Her 11 years in power have been the longest uninterrupted premiership since Robert Jenkinson left office in 1827.  Even considering Prime Ministers who were in power more than once, she is still has the 7th longest time in office of every Prime Minister in British history, as well as the longest tenure in the 20th century.

The Iron Lady may be gone, but she has earned herself a very secure place in the history of our country.

Thoughts on Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

I’ve been writing too much about economics, politics and the class system recently, so I’ll keep this brief to avoid repeating myself.  Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, by the rising author, columnist and commentator Owen Jones, takes a unique look at the British class system.  He presents his theory that class is not a redundant issue in modern society, particularly as we enter this ‘Age of Austerity’.  His main focus is to condemn the demonization working class people face by the media and politicians, of ‘benefit scroungers’ living on council estates – all of whom can supposedly be described as ‘chavs’.  He also goes into the reasons for a political shift from working to improve working class conditions to helping people escape working class conditions.

The book is a very thorough examination of the issues.  It is extraordinarily well researched – on every page you can expect a a newspaper, politician or campaigner to be quoted, alongside several statistics.  I can’t imagine how much effort it must have taken to compile the evidence.  This accumulates to build an worthy case for Jones’ beliefs, which I was mostly convinced by at the book’s end.  What makes the book truly admirable is that it attempts to understand the reasons behind poverty and antisocial behaviour.  In the updated preface, Jones mentions differing reactions to the 2011 England Riots, from “lock up the mindless criminals!” to “maybe we should look at why this happened.”  Jones opts for the second, and rightly so; unfortunately there does not appear to be a consensus among politicians over the riots – our leadership seems to be pretending they didn’t happen and, likewise, pretending they won’t happen again.

Despite my deep praise for the book, there are a few points I wasn’t entirely convinced by. Jones argues that Margaret Thatcher’s policies as Prime Minister (1979 – 1992) were terrible for the UK, through her victories against the unions, thus limiting the power of workers to contest their working conditions, the destruction of traditional industries like mining – which have left countless communities shattered, broken and lost – and depleting the council housing stock through the “right to buy” scheme whilst not building any more.  On each of these points I mostly agree, but I would question his narrow approach to Thatcher’s policies.  Far as I am from a supporter of Conservative policies, I don’t think it’s fair to put the blame for the decline of traditional industries solely on Thatcher.  Depletion of core resources, international competition and the loss of a ready-made market through the British Empires had also been causing a decline for many decades; between 1913 and 1970, for instance, the number of coal mines in South Wales had already dropped from 630 to 54.  Thatcher’s policies may have finished these industries off, but they by no means caused the decline.

He also seems to glorify the traditional industries.  I can accept that industries like mining and manufacturing did form the heart of communities, and that their destruction has helped to cause the social problems of unemployment, drug use, depression etc. that we see today; that holes exist in communities which service-based jobs such as supermarkets have failed to adequately fill.  Yet, perhaps this was not his intention, but the book seems to lament the loss of a time when there were pre-made jobs for men to go into, jobs which were passed down from father to son, jobs which generally were not seen as jobs for women.  That, to me, seems no better than the state the country is in today.

I am glad, however, that Jones takes a balanced view towards the political parties.  Despite being a member of the Labour Party, he is perfectly willing to condemn its policies during its time in power (1997 – 2010).  Not as devastating as the Conservative rule, but certainly made no real effort to reverse the changes.

Overall, Chavs is a highly successful book at making you think, and consider things you may have previously thought nothing of.  It paints a terrifying view of Britain, a view which is actually quite foreign from my own experiences.  Living in Shetland, where we’re sustained by the generally unchanging (for now) oil and fishing industries, I really haven’t witnesses the social deprivation seen in other parts of the UK.  I hope the book is at least slightly an exaggeration