Eleanor Harper explores how the Conservative government’s inhumane disregard for the working class has increased the gulf between Holyrood and Westminster.
On 21 October 2020, during a global pandemic and in the midst of the most drastic period of socioeconomic unrest since the 2008 financial crisis, 322 MPs in the House of Commons – 321 of whom were Conservative – voted against providing eligible children in England with subsidised school meals throughout the upcoming winter and spring school holidays. Consequentially, one million vulnerable children across England are now facing weeks of periodic starvation throughout the winter months. Additionally, as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the UK has seen an unprecedented rise in hardship with more and more families struggling to put food on the table as unemployment, poverty and financial insecurity quickly become the “new normal”. Furthermore, it’s evident that children have no capacity or control over their ability to access food or over the wider socioeconomic climate. Regardless of where you lie on the political spectrum, surely it is clear that sentencing innocent children to weeks of food insecurity, malnutrition and hunger is unforgivable, unethical and unjustifiable.
It’s important to note that in Holyrood on the other hand, MSPs passed the motion to offer subsidised school meals to eligible children across Scotland, a true act of legislative compassion from the Scottish Parliament. However, we cannot ignore the role Scottish MPs played in the rejection of this bill at Westminster. Disgustingly, five Scottish MPs voted against the free school meals motion in the House of Commons – all five of whom are members of the Conservative Party. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, was the only Conservative MP in Scotland who didn’t vote against the motion, instead choosing to abstain. Every single Scottish Conservative MP made the choice to “represent” the views of their constituency by either implicitly or explicitly enabling the government to starve vulnerable children. As well, it is important to put into perspective that these six Scottish MPs all actively chose to reject or abstain from voting on a motion to feed starving children in the very same week in which their party announced a proposal to award all MPs with a £3,300 pay rise. This is truly abhorrent, cruel and despicable behaviour, and we owe it to England’s vulnerable children to hold these six Scottish “representatives” to account. We have a responsibility as their direct constituents to make it crystal clear that their cruel Conservative regime will not be tolerated in Scotland.
Moreover, regardless of their voting record, it’s vital we place pressure on all of our Westminster representatives to actively condemn and challenge the outcome of this vote. Reach out to your MP via a letter or an email or even a message on social media, and urge them to sign petitions, speak up in Parliament and fight against the Conservative’s reign of suffering. The more scrutiny we place on the government then the more pressure they will be under to rethink their position. We must refuse to let this issue be swept under the carpet. The greatest act of compassion and solidarity we can show the innocent children being condemned to weeks of starvation is a blatant refusal to stay silent. We must be relentless in our resistance.
The outcome of this vote highlights the vast divergence between the socio-political values dominant in Scotland and those of the Conservative government, raising yet another powerful case for a second independence referendum. Scotland’s conflict of values with Westminster is emphasised through our political allegiance to the Scottish National Party. The SNP hold the majority of Scottish seats in both Holyrood and Westminster; therefore, it is both fair and accurate to assert that the ethos and values central to the SNP’s manifesto echo the majority of Scotland’s social and political beliefs. In relation to this and in complete divergence with the Conservatives, every single SNP representative, in both Holyrood and Westminster, voted in favour of the free school meals initiative. However, despite this clear ideological conflict, we as Scottish citizens are still condemned to paying a significant portion of our taxes to a Westminster government which we fundamentally disagree with. A Westminster government who would rather channel £900,000 of public funds into giving the Prime Minister’s personal plane a new paint job than an initiative to feed starving children. Through their rejection of the free school meals motion, the Conservatives have once again emphasised their utter disregard for working-class struggles and working-class children; a political ethic which the SNP’s voting record highlights is simply not mirrored in Scotland. Furthermore, as a nation with fundamentally differing values regarding social policy and public spending, it’s counterproductive and nonsensical for Scotland to still be financing and answering to a government who don’t represent the compassionate political ideology we vote for under the SNP. Therefore, it could not be clearer that it is time to make a change.
The ideological conflict between Scotland and Westminster is irreparable. We must branch off and bloom into our own nation. A nation of compassion and respect. A nation where no children go hungry.