Writing: Max Hunter
The Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, Christine Jardin, called for a Universal Basic Income in a Scotsman article on Monday. Writing for her old paper, she claimed that the policy of granting a minimum, non-means-tested state-provided income to all citizens was an idea whose “time has come”. A move away from the social security principles of Beveridge was needed, to make a welfare system that provided “universal protection”. She stressed that this idea was gaining currency with “people from all shades of the political spectrum”.
This is an idea that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, already ruled out in March. But with economic insecurity worsening for thousands, if not millions of British citizens, it does seem to be gaining momentum. Even in 2018 a Populous poll commissioned by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce found that 40% of British voters supported the idea.
This suggestion from Christine Jardine is consistent with her votes in parliament; on 4th March she voted along with 179 other MPs to call on the government to “end austerity, invest in public health, [and] implement the recommendations of the Marmot review”. The Conservatives comfortably defeated this, in a pattern that their parliamentary opponents should get used to. Although with Jardine having never voted against her party in this parliament, readers could plausibly imagine that Jardine is moving with, rather than against, the prevailing currents.
This kind of rhetoric is certainly a world away from the Lib Dems of the Coalition era, for which Jardine worked as Scotland media adviser. Is this a sign that the Scottish Lib Dems are realising how toxic their association with austerity is for them up here? Or perhaps a sign of changing times, in which the impossible suddenly seems a lot closer to hand.