It’s not been a good week for Better Together as we’ve extensively reported. The “official” response was a pitiful attempt to insinuate that some badly scrawled graffiti on the Scotsman’s office meant we were descending into some sort of Scotch on the Rocks style fascism. Comparing a bit of non-violent direct action (however rubbish) with a campaign of corporate bullying and political censorship shows just how disingenuous they are. The response of many unionist activists has been to take to social media and just shout “BRIAN SOUTER” over and over again. In some quarters this has just been a distraction but it also seems part of a pattern of attempting to pinkwash the campaign. And frankly, we should be having none of that. It’s worth making the point that Brian Souter has not in fact donated any dosh to the Yes campaign so these arguments are academic.
But I love academia, especially if it means I get to call out Brian Souter.
The 80s was a good time to be an oligarch. The collapse of “communism” saw the provision of basic needs like housing, energy and transport opened up to the profiteers. Into the void stepped now household names like Roman Abramovic, Boris Berezovsky and our man from Perth, Brian Souter. Souter, an accountant who had turned his hand to helping his sister run her caravan hire company saw an opportunity to expand. First renting mini buses and then buses (which Souter himself used to drive) their success would not have been possible without the wholesale deregulation and privatisation of transport which occurred under the Thatcher government. Slowly buying up routes and competitors they managed to grab hold of huge chunks of the bus network. “Bus Wars” ensued in which rival companies competed for routes by undercutting and loss-leading. One company inevitably gave up, allowing the other to become a monopoly and charge whatever they liked. Whole communities were cut off if the routes which linked them to the rest of society were deemed “unprofitable.” Millions of elderly, less able and vulnerable people were forced to stay at home or get a taxi if they wanted to get around.
Brian Souter made lots and lots of money. Stagecoach expanded into another former public service, trains. They now hold a 49% stake in Virgin Trains on top of their East Midlands and South West operations. Never one to bait, in 2012 he decided he would pay himself £51m and give his sister £37m in the same week as 25% fare increases over a three year period were announced for his train passengers. They have also been responsible for the one form of transport which strikes fear into the heart of any human – the Megabus.
It’s not just the decimation of former public services for private gain that hasn’t enamoured Souter to decent human beings over the years. In 2000, at a time when his drivers were on strike and Stagecoach were pleading poverty, Souter found endless sums of money to throw at the homophobic hate campaign, Keep the Clause. The sight of a millionaire using his fortune to bully LGBT* people was truly repulsive. The right wing media attempted to stir up a frenzy and added an air of legitimacy to Souter’s vile nonsense. I’ve covered this elsewhere, so I won’t repeat it further. Suffice to say gay people do not need to be reminded what Brian Souter tried to do to us.
The main thrust of the argument seems to be that Souter funds the SNP. Even if, as we repeat, he has not given any money to the Yes campaign, he may be indirectly funding the campaign for independence. That’s easy to deal with. There will be a few business men funding the Yes campaign (although as a recent survey shows, most of the business elite knows their interests are better protected by the maintenance of the Union) and it’s important that progressives respond to this. We do this by doing the things which annoy them most. Putting forward actual alternatives to problems – something the unionists simply do not have. Here are two simple solutions:
Brian Souter is a homophobe. So let’s take his money and use it to build a Scotland where the equality and the human rights of LGBT* people are enshrined in the constitution of our new nation. Let’s stop pretending people’s lives are up for debate. Let’s stop pretending the legitimacy of peoples relationships is up for negotiation.
Brian Souter wants to continue to make profit out of human need. Let’s take his cash and use it to build an integrated public transport system that’s free at the point of use. Reconnecting Scotland would not just create jobs but could help lift our economy out of the economic malaise. An environmental, needs based system could transform our communities and our lives.
Section 28 and transport deregulation were not introduced with any mandate in Scotland. In the early 80s, led by Margaret Thatcher, a Tory government who very few in Scotland had actually voted for imposed it’s will nonetheless. Labour in Scotland looked on powerless and then later decided they weren’t that bothered anyway, settling for a bizarre “compromise” over the repeal of Section 28 and the continuation of the deregulation and Thatcherite privatisation. Slowly but surely, the idea that our interests as ordinary citizens were simply never going to be served by rule from London was building. Today those rumblings are becoming a loud cry for independence.
Independence is the idea that we can do things better ourselves. People who live in Scotland should have control over how they are governed, LGBT* people should be enshrining their rights into law in their own words, passengers should be running and organising our transport network. We deserve the democratic power to do these things and we can have it. Those anti-democratic activists who masquerade as being progressive by casting up Souter or the SNP’s questionable tax policy are simply not. They are standing in the way of what this country can be. We can make these arguments because we come from a position of strength – of consistently supporting the forces of progress and speaking out against those who threaten that progress. Their alternative is not strong.
It is in fact not an alternative at all. It is just what it is. What it was always meant to be. The divine right of Tories. UK OK. I don’t believe human rights in Scotland are best protected by watching the Tories rip them up, I don’t believe we’re best protected from the effects on austerity by cheerleading for it. Brian Souter and Ian Taylor are products of the same system. And frankly, it’s not ours – it’s yours. Yours is the Britain of austerity, privatisation, deregulation, financial mismanagement, dodgy deals, corruption. The Britain which allows the boards at Vitol and Stagecoach to ruin the lives of citizens for profit. Yours is the Britain which wants to rip up Human Rights conventions. And you can keep it.
We’re putting forward a better plan. An economy which works, public services which deliver just that, a Scotland where human rights are respected. That’s what about Brian Souter. So you can take your giant red, white and blue elephant and do one. And before you go, answer us this,
WHAT ABOUT IAN TAYLOR?!