BRITAIN is collapsing. Scotland is collapsing. On Sunday, The Herald published a lengthy article of mine investigating the extent of poverty in Scotland. The findings shocked readers, outraged them. One in four children live in poverty here. In order to make sure there’s food for their children, mothers are surviving on their kids’ leftovers. Mothers are losing so much weight their clothes are literally falling off. Children are going to school in dirty uniforms as their parents can’t afford to put on the washing machine. Parents are contemplating suicide – that’s how shamed they are by the destitution they face.

And if it’s bad in Scotland, it’s worse in England. If starving parents isn’t a definition of "collapse" then tell me what is.

None of this is inevitable. None of this is the fault of those in poverty. The research published at the weekend focused on single-parent families – the worst-affected group when it comes to poverty. The majority of single-parent families in deep poverty are working, but surviving on disgracefully low pay. Many work in the care sector, looking after our elderly parents or disabled children. Ironically, many working families in the deepest poverty include a disabled adult or child. Disability often means poverty.

All of this is down to choices by our political leaders. The SNP likes to talk the talk when it comes to being progressive, but does little to walk the walk.
However, credit where it’s due. Those on the frontline fighting poverty in Scotland – organisations like One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS) or the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) – say the SNP has at least done "something" to help the poorest in society. The Scottish Child Payment is a significant lifeline. There’s no such help in the rest of Britain. However, as organisations like CPAG and OPFS say, there’s so much more the SNP could be doing with the powers it already has. Income tax and council tax are levers which could be pulled to help the poor. It’s clear the SNP believes taxing the wealthy will undermine middle class support, which the party needs to win any future independence referendum … should it ever happen. Constitutional concerns are clearly being put ahead of the poor.

However, if the SNP has done "something", the Tory government has done nothing. Why would it? Tory policies created this Dickensian society, evidently. Austerity, brutalising social security, and the creation of a low-pay economy and precarious employment inevitably means poverty. It’s as simple as that.

So if the SNP deserves a low pass grade for its work to alleviate child poverty – caused by UK decisions – the Tories don’t even deserve to get into the exam hall. Conservative policies are the accelerator of poverty. It’s a challenge to understand how this can be seen as anything other than wicked.

Read more: Scots parents are starving themselves to feed their children

The Tories, specifically through the self-inflicted ideological wound that’s Brexit, are driving Britain to ruin. The poorest in Britain have a worse standard of living that the poorest in Slovenia, for pity’s sake, as research by the Financial Times showed. Put simply, in most western nations the gap between rich and poor is such that the poor can still enjoy a reasonable standard of living. In Britain – and America, a nation we’re increasingly mimicking in terms of social inequality – that’s not the case. The irony of ironies is that Ireland, the ideological nemesis of Brexiters, is a much fairer society than Britain. The poorest in Ireland have a standard of living 63 per cent higher than the poorest in Britain. If Brexiteers were true patriots, they’d be copying everything Ireland does. History can be a funny old dame.

Liz Truss’s plan for the financial crisis – set to sweep millions more into destitution – will give the richest twice as much support as the poorest. She says “it’s fair” her tax plans hugely benefit the rich. She describes taxpayer-funded help as “handouts” – even though we pay her salary. She’s a servant who imagines herself lady of the manor. And while the poor freeze, starve and can’t even afford the basic necessities for a dignified life like soap and toothpaste, her new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng plans to lift the cap on bankers’ bonuses – even though it was unrestricted city pay which led to the recklessness that caused the 2008 crash. The crash resulted in Tory austerity … and food banks.

There are lessons for every shade of political opinion here. For parties like Labour, the SNP and the LibDems in Scotland, the lesson should be: put your constitutional differences aside when it comes to fighting for the poor. The SNP must be held to account and forced to do more, but when the Scottish Government does something good, like the Child Payment, acknowledge that, support it, and use it as a weapon against the Conservatives at Westminster. Perhaps if English voters were aware that the SNP was at least doing "something" it might begin to change the nature of the UK’s political discussion.

As for nationalists: they must stop lying to themselves. The party they support isn’t doing enough. It has powers it’s not using. The SNP says it’s progressive but does far too little to prove it. What do nationalists care more about? Independence or the lives of the poor, right here, right now in 2022, not in some imaginary utopian future? Parties of the centre and left – Labour, LibDems and SNP – must bury the hatchet where they can and join forces against Tory misrule. The Scottish Tories, if they had any sense, would accept their mother party in England was utterly out of step with the needs and wishes of Scotland; that the actions of the Westminster Government aren’t just wrong, but dangerous, and, in truth, deliberately cruel and heartless. If Scottish Tories wish to remain relevant they should just split from London and try to salvage some form of compassionate conservatism.

Here’s the bottom line: Britain is a failed basket case. Scotland is a mess but at least the Government does something for the poor, even if it must go much further and faster. And – I say this only half mischievously – perhaps we should all just be a wee bit more Irish?

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