Every little helps

There’s only one thing Project Fear has for sure, and that’s an enormous barrel.  How else to explain their ability to keep scraping the bottom of it to come up with a new scare story.  It can’t be easy to come up with some convincing goods when you aim to produce a new fright every other day.

It’s not made any easier when your quality control is handled by policy wonks who think a ride on a fairground ghost train is a pants wetting journey into the terrifying unknown.  We get a lurid warning of impending doom all lit up in neon flashing lights, which on closer inspection turns out to be a poorly made plastic dummy worked by clearly visible strings.  But enough about Alistair Darling.

This week it’s supermarkets.  Undaunted by the fact that previous claims that we’d be paying more for the leckie, gas, and mobile phones were debunked even before the ghost train had passed the Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here sign, Better Together have been in touch with some supermarkets in search of pricing quotes that can be used to terrify us into voting no.  A couple of executives from Asda and Morrisons came up with some cheap mince.  Every little helps eh?

We shouldn’t blame the executives too much, at least not this time, their area of expertise is flogging baked beans.  Some over-enthusiastic journalists took their comments and twisted them out of context in order to create an unidentified item in the bagging area, which Better Together promptly decided was actually an unexploded bomb and not some offcuts of tripe.

A list of hypotheticals and unwarranted speculations turned magically into a fact.  Food is going to be more expensive if we vote for independence because fewer Scots eat vegetables and that will make them more expensive to deliver because they’ll form a smaller proportion of overall sales nationwide.  And it will cost a fortune to organise the security details and special cages to protect the petits pois from Scottish people who are afraid of legumes.

Surely however, by the same logic, since Scots eat more processed foods, then processed foods will form a larger volume of sales so will be cheaper to distribute.  Or am I missing something?  I thought this was supposed to be a scare story.  Independence would give us slightly cheaper chocolate digestives versus slightly more expensive broccoli, the vegetable spawn of Beelzebub.

But back to reality.  No supermarket chain has issued any statement saying that if Scotland becomes independent, they’ll put up prices.  In fact there are plenty of reasons why food prices in an independent Scotland could be lower than they are in the rest of the UK.

The story was comprehensively debunked, both by Business for Scotland and the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston, within hours of Better Together’s horsemeat lasagne hitting the supermarket shelves.

The intervention of Robert Peston was interesting.  It’s perhaps a sign that even the BBC, Better Together’s biggest cheerleaders, are beginning to despair of their lamentable excuse for a campaign.

And today Newsnet Scotland is reporting that they have contacted Morrisons, who denied that they were predicting higher food prices in an independent Scotland at all.  In fact the company admitted that it was possible that food prices could even fall.

Despite the scare story being dumped in the compost bin quicker than a mouthy MP can jump on a bandwagon, the Herald reports today that Magrit Curran is justifying her MP’s salary by demanding that Alex Salmond come clean on the price of beans in an independent Scotland.  Magrit is insistent that the weekly shop will be cheaper if Scotland stays part of the UK, and added that it’s a “devastating blow” to Yes Scotland because the White Paper did not give a detailed statement on the possible impact of independence on two for one offers on toilet duck.  Maybe it’s just Magrit who should BOGOF.

After Scottish independence food will of course be cheaper in the remainder of the UK, but only for people who are forced to get their weekly shopping from a food bank.  We can be sure there will be increasing numbers of those if we vote no.

The number of food banks in the UK doubled over the last year.  Between April and September this year, the number of people approaching the Trussell Trust for help tripled.  The Trust runs over 400 food banks across the UK.  A third of those who needed help were families with children.  The Trussell Trust alone helped to feed 350,000 people, and this doesn’t count the many thousands who approached other organisations running food banks.

Stagnating wages, increases in the cost of living, and cuts to benefits are forcing thousands of citizens of a rich developed country to resort to food banks to feed their kids, but the Trussell Trust reported that the problems of poverty in the UK are so deep that increasing numbers of those they help are rejecting offers of food that must be prepared and cooked.  They just can’t afford the fuel bills.  Organisations running food banks put the increase in demand for their services very squarely down to the changes to benefits policies introduced by the UK government.

Labour has no clear solution to this problem.  In fact they refuse to commit to reversing the changes to the benefits system introduced by the Coalition.  There will still be food banks in the UK even with a Labour government in power.  The only certainty from the supermarkets is that food prices will continue to rise, and the only certainty from the Westminster parties is that increasing numbers of families will still have to resort to food banks while a tiny minority grow increasingly rich.

There is no truth to Project Fear’s claim about food prices in an independent Scotland.  But even if there were, and food was slightly more expensive if we reject Westminster’s policies, what sort of country would you prefer to live in?  One where more and more of us subsist on poverty wages and sub-poverty benefits, or one where food was slightly more expensive but everyone has enough of an income to feed, heat and clothe themselves adequately?

I’d rather live with dignity, even if it means paying 2p more for a tin of beans.

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