A tale of two countries

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Posted by here on Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nourish Director Pete Ritchie on the elections aftermath and the widening gap between Holyrood and Westminster.

the right to food

Whichever side of the Border you live, it is the best of times for the haves, and the worst of times for the have-nots. But the two governments north and south have very different views about why this is happening and what to do about it. Since the Scottish Primavera, it’s not just policies which have diverged; increasingly, there is a different narrative and worldview north of the Border.

Take food: Holyrood’s resolutely anti-GM while Westminster wants farmers to have the choice to grow GM crops. Westminster’s overall approach to food policy is laissez-faire; while the Scottish Government has put together a cross-cutting national food policy to match economic success with long-term action on environment, health and local food.

The gap’s even wider on the approach to food poverty. The All Party Parliamentary Group report on ‘Feeding Britain’ seeks to entrench food banks in the welfare system and to upscale the recycling of surplus food to the hungry poor (many of whom unfortunately are the hard-working people which the new government loves so much). Meanwhile, there’s talk in Scotland about establishing a ‘right to food’ in line with UN conventions, about zero hunger, ending the punitive culture of benefit sanctions, implementing the living wage: and about upscaling the community food movement so that emergency food aid is embedded in an empowering, participatory and inclusive approach to food.

It’s no surprise the first clash is over the Human Rights Act. The Tories don’t do philosophy, preferring to appeal to ‘common sense’. But there’s a long tradition of rights discourse here, going back to Francis Hutcheson who came over from Ireland to start the first Scottish enlightenment.

With globalisation getting under way in the early 18th century, he believed that people were motivated by more than money, and coined the phrase ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. The first Glasgow University lecturer to speak in English rather than Latin, he argued that people could consent to be governed – but that they retained inalienable rights. When government neglects the ‘public good of the State’ it becomes despotic and Hutcheson advocated people’s right to resist . He said this is ‘when it is that colonies turn independent’.

His books were popular downloads with the founding fathers of the American revolution. As it happens.

Pete Ritchie

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