TRYING TO SWIM through the treacle of Scottish Government policy pronouncements can sometimes feel like an out-of-body experience. While trying to give our politicians the benefit of the doubt that they have something valuable to say, what they do say throws up a tidal wave of doubt and confusion about what they may or may not want.
The proposal to establish “Consumer Scotland”, a new quango to “identify and understand consumer harm and inequality” is a case study in government confusion and obfuscation.
At its heart, with a stated aim to “prevent systematic unfairness” it would appear that it would be more correctly called Grievance Scotland; a publicly funded entity dedicated to virtue-signalling and enforcing left-wing shibboleths. “Fairness” appears to be a de-facto moral value implicit in the exercise of environmental practices, the living wage and local community support. That’s those income dissipating values that increase the price of energy, put people with less skills out of work and entice communities to spend their tax money on social enterprises that compete with owner-managed entrepreneurialism. Hmmm.
But it is actually more sinister than this; a driver for this new quango is “recognising and encouraging the overlap between consumers and citizens” because “active citizens can influence how consumers behave”. I am reminded of the Chinese communist regime’s village cadres engaged in what was called “the public struggle” in which they named, shamed and often violated those with whom they disagreed or felt were not towing the Party line. Is the Scottish Government really saying it wants to politicise Scottish consumers? Presumably only those who hold to the leftist virtues above.
Actually, it is more farcical than this. The consultation on this new quango proposed that it should target “legal services, water, education and health” as key markets where “policy decisions and unscrupulous trading practices can have profound impacts on consumers”.
Now I am getting confused, these services are provided by the Scottish state, or in legal services more often than not dealing in matters relating to its policies, so this quango is to be dedicated to use taxpayers’ money to spray grievances on other taxpayer funded entities in a bun fight about who deserves what from unscrupulous providers of state services. The “what” in this case appears to be related to “in depth investigations into areas of most pressing harm to consumers” with a jolly infographic citing indebtedness, fuel poverty, financial vulnerability and (bizarrely) lack of access to household gas as (I think) examples of harm.
So, rather than tackle these questions the state considers it essential that consumers are “empowered to exercise their rights to redress” from these examples of – er – state sponsored harm. This is described as “a complex landscape” and without any sense of irony points out that Citizen Advice Scotland, the Consumer and Markets Authority, Trading Standards Services and “a range of ombudsmen” already work to resolve consumer disputes.
But, ho hum, the provision of consumer advocacy and advice using a public body was allowed through the Scotland Act 2016 so, guess what, Nicola’s army will construct a mission and spend our money on it. Daft.
All the above is encapsulated in the proposal that Consumer Scotland will engage in “identifying and understanding consumer harm and inequality in Scotland”. Well, let me suggest something; everything I can see about this useless, un-needed, interfering and confused entity suggests to me that it’s staff will be highly paid taxpayer-funded middle class professionals who have interminable meetings with other highly paid taxpayer-funded middle class professionals with follow-up costs and mutual reading of memos; unproductive engagement with highly paid politicians, civil servants and businesses will follow.
This circus of uselessness will no doubt produce truly vast fountains of prejudicial ordure that will do absolutely nothing to protect consumers against the monolithic state monopolies and their self-regarding rationing of decent services. It will certainly do nothing to deflect the major global corporate players of the digital age that less well-off people spend around a third of their disposable income on these days. It will not allow the state to cut VAT on the booze, fags and other highly taxed items that the next third of their income is spent on. It will also generate higher prices for consumers to deliver goods and services and reduce the competition between suppliers that protects consumers in the marketplace.
Finally, what it will do is insure that a lot of well-meaning highly paid numpties dedicated to leftist utopianism make a lot of just-about-managing families more unequal than ever through permanent high taxation and debt payments. In that sense Consumer Scotland has to be seen as an entity that will inevitably create more consumer harm and inequality.