"Do we? You could have fooled me. It doesn't feel like it to me."
That exchange, which I had with a woman in Glasgow's Govan as we campaigned for people to "vote YES for a decent living wage", sums up the obscene inequality we face. And it captures a central reason to win independence and then rebuild society in the interests of the millions rather than the millionaires.
The poverty is etched on the faces of people passing our SSP street stalls in areas like Govan and Drumchapel. Many clutch messages from the cheapest shops, desperately trying to juggle feeding their families with meeting fuel bills and clothing the kids. Much of the cheapest food is the unhealthiest, depriving people of a quality of life available to the well off.
Poverty stalks the eighth-richest country in the world, and it's rising. A "humanitarian crisis" is how anti-poverty campaigns recently described the fact nearly a million Scots are below the breadline, including one in five kids.
Poverty wrecks lives. It limits people's enjoyment and social life. It means poor diet. Those living on an expanding island of poverty in a sea of wealth are bombarded daily with the 'must have' adverts - which make people feel inadequate because they don't have the commodities way beyond their reach. It adds to life's stresses.
Poverty kills. The mortality rates from heart disease (100 per 100,000 people) is twice as high in deprived areas as Scotland's average rate. Cancer mortality rates (200 per 100,000) is 50 per cent higher in deprived districts than Scotland's average - and they haven't fallen for the past decade, even though the national average has, by one-sixth.
The sad, shocking statistic that most clearly condemns this capitalist system of built-in inequality is the fact a boy born in one of the poorest 10 per cent of areas will live 14 years less than boys born in the wealthiest districts; for girls the equivalent is 8 years less of a lifespan.
People are being battered by a hurricane of rising fuel prices, rocketing food costs, inflation-busting rent rises, savage benefits cuts and sustained, systematic lowering of wage rates.
The number of people wandering round shops with barely a penny to their name because of DWP benefit sanctions is heartbreaking. I spoke to the woman who'd been docked £35 because she had missed one out of a dozen appointments, for which she had never received the letter because a neighbour had been away from home and the letter mistakenly delivered to him. But the government cuts machine showed no mercy. Another women suffered benefit sanctions because she did voluntary UNPAID work and turned up slightly late one day!
Charges for Benefits Appeals
And worse is yet to come if we remain under the dictatorship of the benefit-slashing millionaires at Westminster. A recent leak from the DWP proposed charging claimants for making appeals - even though 56 per cent of current appeals are upheld, proving that unfair decisions on an already punitive benefits system are rampant.
Reason enough to vote Yes in September and organise to build a new welfare system that is a safety net for the sick, disabled, elderly, young or unemployed - not a truncheon to bludgeon them over the heads with.
But it's a stark, scandalous fact that the absolute majority of those in poverty actually work to remain poor! Pathetic wages, the spread of part-time work, underemployment - all combine to make wages a source of poverty for nearly half a million workers in Scotland.
Wages are stagnant - and in real terms consistently falling since 2010. In the 1970s and 1980s wages rose by an average of 2.9 per cent each year. That trend slowed down in the 1990s (1.5 per cent) and 2000s (1.2 per cent), but since 2010 real wages have FALLEN by an average of 2.2 per cent every single year.
On top of that, the number of Scottish workers in part time jobs wanting full time work has rocketed (120,000 by 2012).
At the other end of exploitation, vast numbers in work are stressed out from working long hours - including the daylight robbery of doing unpaid overtime. The TUC's latest report shows 5.42 million workers in the UK gave their employers about £640million worth of work free of charge last year!
£9 an hour minimum at 16
The struggle for a decent living minimum wage of £9 an hour for all over 16 - a modest figure, two-thirds male median earnings in this country - is pivotal to banishing poverty.
And it's another prime reason to vote Yes. There's a better chance of snowballs surviving Hell than of getting the three rival factions of capitalist exploiters at Westminster to concede £9 an hour.
Subsidizing Scrooge Bosses
Successive Tory and Labour governmnets have passed laws to keep wages low. Even when the demands and pressure of the trade union movement helped force the last Labour government to introduce what became Working Tax Credits, that was a public subsidy to low-paying employers. It costs taxpayers between £5.9bn and £6.3bn every year in Scotland. It's the working class subsidizing bosses to pay other workers a low wage!
Kick the door open
An independent Scotland wouldn't automatically guarantee a solution, but it would open the door to one. It would give working class people, including their trade unions and socialists, the chance to organise and demand a living wage of £9 minimum rather than prop up the exploiters through public subsidies.
The likes of the multinational retailers - who now make up by far the biggest employers - could well afford such a wage out of their multi-billioned profits.
Taxation of the rich - including the wealthiest 100 Scots who have a bigger combined income than the Holyrood government's annual budget! - could easily fund such a decent income in the public sector.
And those micro-businesses who genuinely don't have the profit levels to pay £9 an hour to the couple of workers they employ for useful work could be subsidized.
Most to gain from Independence
Yes, we are in the eighth-richest country on earth, but also the fourth most unequal. One decisive measure to dismantle that obscene contradiction is a decent minimum wage.
Those on poverty pay and breadline benefits have the most to gain from escaping the rule of the bankers, billionaires and bosses who dictate policy at Westminster.
Voting Yes is not a vote for Alex Salmond. It's a vote to shape our own future and boost the prospects of winning decent wages, living benefits, and a future socialist Scotland where little kids will ask "What was poverty?".