I WENT to the Queen’s Speech once. It was 2015; so long ago that David Cameron was prime minister. Crowded into the back of the House of Lords chamber, it struck me that this was the British establishment turning the irony dial up to 11.

One of the richest people in the country, wearing the most expensive hat in the world, was talking about her Government’s commitment to reducing poverty.

I’ve not been since. Joining the chorus line in this most bizarre of political pantomimes isn’t for me. But watching from afar this week it seems not much has changed, except the one who wears the hat.

The hat, or the Imperial State Crown to give it its full name, is worth an estimated £3-5 billion and travels to the ceremony in its own carriage. You’d get a lot of doctors and nurses for that.

Leaving the theatre aside, what can we deduce from the content of this King’s Speech?

The National: King Charles III arrives for the start of the State Opening of Parliament, in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London. Picture date: Tuesday November 7, 2023.

Well, first off, that we have a Conservative government. And secondly, that this Conservative government believes its salvation is in doubling down on its reactionary right-wing agenda, rather than softening it as the election approaches.

Britain is more unequal now than at any point in my lifetime. Six million households face fuel poverty this winter, unable to pay bills that are twice what they were two years ago.

Meanwhile, there are more millionaires and billionaires than ever. The pandemic turbocharged this inequality, and the cost of living crisis is hammering those on middle and lower incomes whilst the rich get richer.

There is widespread public concern about this. So, perhaps this would be a time to take some radical measures to reduce inequality. A tax on accumulated wealth, for example? Or a supertax on the biggest company profits? Nothing of the sort.

Okay, I know, we’re never going to get such measures from this bunch.

What we are getting is a range of measures designed to normalise this inequality, and to ensure that any resistance is constrained and delegitimised. Already this year, we’ve seen draconian restrictions on the right to protest and to outlaw public sector strikes. Expect more of the same.

In amongst the proposed Criminal Justice Bill are proposals to criminalise begging. Given that this is driven by a Home Secretary who thinks homelessness is a lifestyle choice, expect these provisions to turn social problems into criminal ones. Thankfully not for viewers in Scotland.

Some of the King’s Speech proposals are cosmetic, form over content stuff, designed to influence the mood music of the body politic. A case in point is the Sentencing Bill, designed to throw away the key for those guilty of the most serious crime.

Undoubtedly, there are some people you would never want to release back into society. But not all. Redemption is possible, and it should be the job of a criminal justice system to facilitate it. That’s why it should be for the courts and judges to decide after studying individual cases what the right punishment should be. And if they make mistakes there should be procedures for review.

Taking that judgment away from the courts and putting it in the hands of Tory politicians would be a disaster. More to the point, it won’t make anything better for the victims of crime. But then again, it’s not intended to. It is only intended to make it look like the Tories are doing something. Again, thankfully, this proposed bill won’t apply in Scotland. However, it is distressing to see our English neighbours lapse into a politicised criminal justice system driven by right-wing polemic.

The Investigatory Powers Bill is one that does apply in Scotland. It will extend surveillance powers over individuals by state agencies. Given that Michael Gove’s department is now considering branding anyone who “undermines” the UK as extremist, we should all now worry about these powers being deployed against us.

The National: Communities Secretary Michael Gove has said the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few has helped undermine capitalism in recent decades (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

And on the day in which the Palestinian death toll reached 10,000 and most of the world joined calls for a ceasefire, back to parliament comes the Anti-Boycott Bill designed to outlaw non-violent civil protest against the Israeli government.

It is perhaps in the field of energy and climate that the Government’s actions ring least sincere. They know that there is a climate catastrophe. They know that burning fossil fuels is a primary cause. And yet they persist in the evidence-denying nonsense that we can reduce our reliance on oil and gas by licensing more of it. In much the same way I believe I can lose weight by eating pasta and ice cream.

The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill has been framed as increasing energy security. Yet it does nothing of the kind. Most North Sea oil and gas is sold on the international market, not used here.

It is ludicrous that in a speech that referenced making “long-term decisions in the interest of future generations”, the UK Government didn’t announce robust measures to incentivise investments in renewables.

That is where energy security lies – especially for Scotland. The renewables sector here has been crying out for proper investment and certainty from a Westminster government that constantly U-turns on climate commitments.

Maybe this shouldn’t surprise us. After all, England is a country where it is easier to get permission for a coal mine than an onshore wind farm.

Elsewhere in the King’s Speech are measures which try to respond to public environmental concern but fall way short.

Take the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, for example. It proposes to restrict the sale of vapes but falls short of banning single-use devices. Again, it doesn’t apply in Scotland where the Scottish Government is consulting on a complete ban on single-use vapes.

This may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things but remember five million disposable vapes are thrown away every week. Apart from the environmental damages, the lithium and copper in the batteries of disposed single-use vapes would have powered 5000 electric cars. They should be banned.

By any measure, this is a threadbare King’s Speech with no serious proposals to tackle the cost of living crisis that is punishing ordinary families in Scotland, or the climate crisis which is threatening our existence.

That’s why the SNP has been calling for extra powers to be given to the Scottish Government to allow them to do the job Westminster wont.

While the Tories at Westminster refuse to act, the Scottish Government has been doing what it can to ease household budgets.

The Scottish Child Payment has boosted the lowest incomes, and the council tax freeze will make a real difference to families here. But we need the powers to do more. We should be controlling energy in Scotland, capping bills and boosting renewable investment. We should be able to set our own wage rates and have powers over company taxation so that we can support small businesses whilst making the corporate giants pay more.

As we approach the election, we will continue to point out the need for more power for Scotland and seek a mandate to pursue a new UK Government to get it. But we will also point out the obvious truth that the best way to get these powers and to keep them is to become a normal self-governing independent country.