I was slightly surprised when The Herald got back to me yesterday within an hour or so of me speculatively submitting a piece for their Agenda column. They published it today (click here) having changed it a little bit. They omitted my title, leaving it to suggest that it is no more (nor any less) than a personal manifesto; not quite what I intended. I enjoyed quoting my SNP MSP saying to me a few weeks ago that a referendum is “the voice of the people” in order to contradict him. Anyway, here it is:
CHRISTIAN SOCIALISM: AN UPDATE
From Old Testament times there have been passionate calls for social justice, summed up in the injunction which, explicitly, carries into Christianity: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The history of the Church is full of condemnations of greed and abuse of power and calls to share resources equably.
The term “Christian Socialism” (CS) was coined in the 19th century in contradistinction to laissez-faire individualism. At its heart is the belief that we are social creatures, that we must work together and care for each other. Translated into political language, that means collective action and solidarity, which is the bedrock of Labour Party ideology.
But the Labour Party is not the sole proprietor of CS. It cannot be right that a majority will insist on universal conformity to its own norms. We have human rights and we must all enjoy civil liberties. The Lib-Dems remind us that with every right comes a responsibility; it is a duty to afford rights to the stranger and the outcast.
And the Parable of the Talents says there is space also for private enterprise. We need risk-takers, without whom society becomes stagnant. The force of economic tides and the power of the marketplace cannot be ignored. The instinct to do well for oneself and one’s own is not wrong, and absolute equality of circumstance is not an aim of CS, but it insists no-one shall grow wealthy or powerful outside certain margins.
Since entrepreneurs are good at looking after their own interests, strong government is needed to develop and protect community and personal interests. We are looking for a healthy balance between competition and co-operation.
A wise entrepreneur knows that a fair taxation on his personal and business wealth to pay for good public services is money well spent. It buys an educated and healthy workforce, and it generates wealth in the population to purchase his products. Reasonably equable societies are harmonious and productive.
Traditional CS needs to be updated. Wherever we stand within it, we must all be aware of the urgent need to respect and protect our natural environment, for we are on the very brink of destroying it. We all must be actively Green. This is not an optional extra.
An early achievement of CS was the foundation of trade unions to protect individuals and communities from the worst effects of capitalism. Now there needs to a be a recognition that capitalism has morphed into corporatism, and unionism needs to change accordingly. International collaboration at state level – updated, enhanced unionism – offers protection from corporate oligarchs who operate globally.
Christian Socialists are democrats, which requires government by representative democracy. We expect our elected representatives to be creative, to work through the issues, to respect others while they argue and persuade, to take responsibility and regularly face the electorate.
A referendum is a failure of representative democracy. To say that it is “the voice of the people” is shallow and inadequate. A referendum reduces politicians to cheerleaders egging people on in a one-day showdown, which is a model of decision-making we left behind on the medieval battlefields.