A lesson from Catalonia: self-determination takes determination

This says it all. What does it take to put some fire in the belly, or is it going to be all about an easy life and leaving it for someone else to sort out. Do we really want this or can’t we be bothered.

Wee Ginger Dug

There’s an important lesson for Scotland from this week’s events in Catalonia. It’s a lesson that the independence movement in general, and the leadership of the Scottish government in particular, would do well to pay heed to. The lesson is that you don’t achieve self-determination without determination. You don’t become independent unless you think independently. Sovereignty, independence, and self-determination, all of them start in the mind, and all of them are meaningless unless they’re followed through with self-belief and taking action on that self-belief.

That’s what the Catalans are doing. The Catalans are staring down violence and oppression from a Spanish establishment that’s hiding behind legalism as an excuse not to engage with the massive dissatisfaction that exists in Catalonia towards the Spanish state. The Catalans are proving their determination in the face of naked aggression. They are refusing to be deterred, they are refusing to be bowed. They fill…

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Who’s too wee, too poor and too stupid now?

Too wee, too poor, too stupid.  It’s the standard cry of the Britnats whenever Scottish independence is mentioned.  Unlike all the other smaller countries in the world, Scotland hasn’t the size, nor the resources nor the intelligence to be a successful independent country.  It isn’t a view widely shared by the rest of the world, though you wouldn’t have realised that had you relied on the BBC and the rest of the British media for your information, with one or two honourable exceptions.

But recently, something seems to have changed, and it’s all down to Brexit.

It all started with David Cameron thinking that the best way to retain the votes of the loony right-wing little Englander elements in the Tory party who were threatening to move to UKIP, was to offer them a referendum on EU membership.  This duly appeared in the Tory’s manifesto for the 2015 election and it appeared to have the desired effect.  Against the odds, the Tories won a surprise overall majority.  Of course, this meant that Dave had had to deliver on his promise.

Not a problem, thought Dave.  Apart from the small number of loonies mentioned above, nobody with even a modicum of sense would consider leaving the EU, would they?  Or so he thought.  But he reckoned without possibly the worst campaign in British election history.  Both sides concentrated on telling the country how awful the other lot were (that bit was true) and the only positives came from the Leave campaign, with a series of promises which they knew they couldn’t keep, but as they were going to lose, there was no harm in promising the earth, was there?

In fact, both sides were so confident of the outcome, neither made any plans for what to do if the vote went the other way.  Remainers assumed it would be business as usual after their victory and Leavers believed no one with any sense could possibly fall for the bunch of half-baked lies that made up their campaign slogans.

Is one definition of stupid not to have any plans about what to do next following a vote on the whole future of the country?  Were they really that stupid?

Worse was to follow.  Having lost the referendum, Dave fell on his sword.  Admittedly it was a rubber sword, so it didn’t do him any harm, but it allowed him to bring forward his plan to make oodles of money on the speaking circuit from all those companies he had “helped out” while in office and it meant he would no longer have any responsibility for the shambles that was undoubtedly going to happen.

Step forward Theresa May.  A slightly reluctant Remainer during the referendum, she now became a born again Leaver.  Elected unopposed to replace Dithering Davie, she was seen as a safe pair of hands.  Having spent six years cementing her reputation as the nastiest Home Secretary in living memory, she was seen as just the person to sort out the problems caused by those nasty foreign workers coming into the country from other parts of the EU and contributing to our economy.

Determined to show she was a better Prime Minister than Dave, she set about assembling a cabinet of all the talents, including David Davies (hic!) as the man to sort out all those EU Johnny Foreigners and Liam Fox to arrange all the trade deals needed to replace the EU trade arrangements, … with a little help from his friends, perhaps.

But the most exciting appointment was Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, perhaps the only man living who numbers those he has insulted as greater than those he hasn’t.  The perfect choice to convince the rest of the world how much better than them Britain really is.

It didn’t take long before the UK government’s whole negotiating position began to fall apart.  Despite delaying the start of negotiations with the EU for as long as possible in the (ultimately forlorn) hope that they could scramble together a few ideas, it immediately became obvious that the UK government had no idea what they wanted to achieve, had no understanding of the complexity of the current relationship with the EU and couldn’t even manage to achieve any form of consistency in the statements made by cabinet ministers.  In or out of the Single Market?  In or out of the ECJ?  In or out of the European Counter Terrorism Centre and Europol.  In or out of Euratom?  In or out of European Medicines Agency?  The list goes on and on.  At the last count, there were at least twenty seven European agencies whose functions would have to be replicated if the UK government chose not to remain part of.  How many of them do you think our government has a plan for?

Instead of plans, we got “Brexit means Brexit” and “out means out”.  52% of those who voted (and 35% of all voters) became “the will of the people” and it soon became “unpatriotic” to deny the will of the people, an excuse trotted out to justify any change the government wanted to impose.

However, if you thought May couldn’t do anything more stupid than put such a bunch of numpties in charge of anything more important than cleaning Westminster’s loos, you were soon to be proved wrong.  Concerned that the slim majority in Parliament inherited from Dastardly Dave might leave her open to even a small backbench revolt, with a twenty point lead in the polls, May called snap election to cement her position as unchallenged Brexit supremo.  Unfortunately the only thing cemented were the shoes she was fitted with in preparation for her being thrown overboard when the Tory party decides she is no longer an asset.

Too stupid?

Unfortunately, the rest of the world was unimpressed.  For reasons that seemed to escape our government, there wasn’t a queue forming outside Westminster desperate to strike a deal which was really advantageous to the UK.  Several countries seemed more interested in striking deals with the EU, or had already done so.  As the EU market, without the UK,  is more than six times the size of the UK market, it can’t be a surprise to anyone that countries are more interested in a trade deal with the EU than with the UK.  That is, it can’t be a surprise to anyone except our current government who seem astonished that everyone wasn’t prioritising a deal with the UK over everything else.

As no one seemed to be beating a path to their door, May and her ministers were forced to take their pleadings for priority trade deals around the world.

Japan told May they were keen for a deal, but it would have to wait as they were currently too busy negotiating with the EU.  The UK would have to join the queue.

Canada were also prepared to discuss a deal, but not while the UK are still in the EU, as that’s against EU rules and Canada don’t want to irritate the EU just weeks after concluding their own trade agreement.  The UK would have to wait.

May also went to the US to hold hands with her bestest friend, Donald Trump, who promised a quick trade deal.  Unfortunately, Trump’s first act of the new arrangement was to slap a 219% tariff on aerospace parts coming from Bombardier in Belfast, not the act of a man desperate for a deal, but perhaps a taste of things to come.

Remember, during the independence referendum, when Unionists told us we would have to join a queue to get into the EU?  Well, who’s being forced to join queues now?

In addition to the reluctance of many major countries to prioritise deals with the UK, another problem the UK Government has is that it lacks the capacity to be able to conduct the separate negotiations necessary to replicate the trade agreements they already have as a part of the EU.  According to Liam Fox, the International Trade minister, this means concentrating on bigger agreements and ignoring smaller ones.  Even on the bigger ones, the UK Government wants to adopt cut and paste copycat deals, effectively replicating what they already have as a part of the EU.   You could ask where the benefit of leaving the EU comes from when the best that can be achieved is what the UK has now, and that only for bigger countries.  Unfortunately, the UK is just too wee to cope with all the changes brought on by Brexit.

The UK Government’s final problem is that it’s just too poor.  The UK has to take its place in the queue behind the more important countries, and by more important, we mean countries who can afford to trade.  UK national debt has been on a rising trend for many years, but the rate of increase has risen sharply since the Tories took office in 2010, despite an election promise to eliminate the deficit by 2015.  Debts of under £1tn when the Tories took office have increased to over £1.7tn now and are expected to reach £2tn by the end of this year.  Doubling national debt in the space of 7 years must rank as some sort of record.  I wonder if Guinness have been told?

This doubling of national debt has gone hand in hand with a decrease in the UK’s credit rating.  Remember when we were told that independence would mean the loss of our AAA rating?  Well, the latest rating issued by Moody’s shows the UK downgraded to Aa2, a rating which may well see interest charges rising on the UK’s enormous debt.  And all because nobody believes Brexit is going to improve the UK’s economy.

So the next time a Unionist makes comments about independence, just tell them that everybody else in the world thinks that it’s the UK who are too wee, too poor and too stupid.

 

 

Memories of the way we were

“Memories light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories of the way we were”
(with apologies to Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch)

Memories are defined as the ability to recall the past: to have a store of experiences you can bring back to help you understand the present.  Memories can also help to shape the future based on past experience.  Remembering what turned out well and what turned out badly, what worked and what didn’t, allows you to build on previous successes and avoid previous failures.  So memories are useful.

Of course, memory can play tricks on you.  Memories can come back wearing rose-tinted glasses.  Most of us remember that, in our childhood, summers were a long series of sunny days, full of games with friends, picnics and trips to the beach.  Summers were so much better then.  Nothing ever went wrong.  If only there was a way to make summers in the future more like those in the past.

That can be applied to countries as well.  There are those who want to create a better future by building on the successes and avoiding the failures of the past.  There are those who believe that the way to success is to recreate the past in all its rose-tinted glory.

No, it’s not Scotland I’m talking about.  Most Scots have a clear understanding of the sort of country they want Scotland to be and they’ve long since got rid of those rose-tinted glasses.  Most Scots want to live peacefully in a country which develops friendships and mutually beneficial trading relationships with other nations.  They want to live in a country where the needs of the many takes precedence over the greed of the few.

Scots don’t want a Scotland that makes the poor and disadvantaged even more poor and disadvantaged. They don’t want a Scotland which treat the disabled as if they were parasites. They don’t want a Scotland which only benefits the rich, the so-called “wealth creators”, whose talent is only to create wealth for themselves. They don’t want a Scotland which only treats the sick who can afford to pay for treatment. They don’t want a Scotland which attacks or invades other nations. They don’t want a Scotland which takes part in illegal wars. They don’t want a Scotland which hosts nuclear weapons or threatens other countries with using them. They don’t want a Scotland which builds aircraft carriers that, even if they had any planes, could only be used attack other countries. And they definitely don’t want a Scotland which acts as poodles to a United States of America led by Donald Trump.

Unfortunately, Scotland is part of a union whose government seems to want all of these things

Tory Governments have long memories. They remember the times when the map of the world was almost all pink. They remember the times when Britain ruled the world, when Britain ruled the waves, when Britons never, ever, ever were going to be slaves, and they don’t really understand why things have changed. They yearn for the times when Britain had an empire. They don’t understand why things can’t be like they were in Victorian times, or even in the time of Henry VIII. In fact, they remember Henry VIII so well that they’ve decided to give him a starring role in their latest attempt to destroy the future for everyone in the UK, except the rich, of course, while reducing the Commons to an irrelevance and virtually annihilating the devolved parliaments and the devolution agreements which created them

The only thing wrong with the Tories’ memory is that it’s only a long term memory. They suffer from short term memory loss. They entirely forgot the promises they made to Scotland in 2014. Do you remember the vow? They obviously don’t. They entirely forgot that the Scottish Parliament was going to be positively deluged in shiny new powers after Brexit. Or at least they forgot that the powers were going to be transferred to Westminster first so they could be “sanitised”, or changed so they work only to London and the South-East’s advantage, and to make sure that the few, if any, of the powers that are eventually transferred to Holyrood would not be of any benefit to Scotland.  They will prove to be yet more examples of powers not intended to improve the government of Scotland.  Only pretend powers that fool some people into thinking the Scottish Government can make things better by using them, but, in reality, only a trick, only there to provide something that can’t work except as a means for Unionists to claim that the Scottish Government are rubbish and aren’t fit to run a country.

So what sort of future do you want?  One built on a respect for the past, using our knowledge to construct a better future for all our citizens, or one imagined through the rosy glow of the Tory spectacles where, when the glasses are taken off, the benefits are seen to be going only one way, and it sure ain’t towards you.

You decide.

Democracy, Tory style

No government, no matter the size of its majority, can expect a completely problem-free period in office.  For one reason or another, all governments will face a number of mini or maxi crises during their period in power.

For example, what happens when you don’t win an election that you expected to win and it mucks up all your plans to convert your country into a tax haven for the very rich.  Do you talk to the opposition and come to an agreement about the policies you’ll put before your parliament and give up on all that tax haven nonsense?  Well,  not if you’re the Tories, you don’t.  You just pretend you really did win, say it will be business as usual, then sneakily try to change the rules to make sure the result doesn’t matter.

We have already been given a good idea of what democracy in Scotland will look like if the Tories get their way and if we hang around long enough as a part of the UK to allow it to happen.

While all political parties might exaggerate their potential achievements before an election, the difference between what they promise and what they deliver is generally small enough to allow them to explain it away before the next election, or they won’t get re-elected.  However, in the case of the 2014 referendum, the difference between the promises, like the Vow, like “don’t leave the UK, lead the UK”, like all the rest, and the delivery, no you can’t get home rule, but you can get EVEL to reduce the status of your MPs to second class, would have made chalk and cheese embarrassed.  Of course, the difference here is they thought there would never be another one.  As one after another of the proposed transfers of power from Westminster to Holyrood was voted down in Westminster by both the Tory and Labour MPs (including the Scots), they just laughed at us for believing them.

Following the result of the EU referendum, the Tories have now given us the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, or the Great Repeal Bill as it’s more commonly known.  The Government propose to make the Great Repeal Bill subject to the so-called “Henry VIII rules” which would allow them to make whatever changes they like after the bill is passed by Parliament by the use of “statutory instruments” with no parliamentary scrutiny.  Effectively, it becomes government by proclamation.  This means that the Government is free to make any changes it wishes to EU laws being transferred into UK law.  While some of these changes will be benign, for example to change a reference to a European institution into one to a British equivalent, there will be nothing to stop the Government introducing changes which fundamentally alter the original EU law,  or remove it altogether.  The Tories have promised they won’t do that (honest, they have), but is there anyone in the UK who really believes they won’t take the opportunity to make changes to any EU laws that they would rather hadn’t been introduced.  What are the chances of workers’ rights, environmental regulations, consumer rights or trading standards coming through the process unscathed?  Would that be no chance, or perhaps less than that?

Looking at what the Great Repeal Bill doesn’t say, it tells us what political life in Scotland is going to be like following Brexit.  Powers will all be reserved to Westminster, even in areas which are currently devolved, such as farming and fishing.  Trust us,  they say.  We’ll sort out the details later.  Unfortunately, later, the Government will be able to change the rules in any area without consulting the Scottish Government (or any of the devolved governments).  They will be able to overrule the Scottish Government, even in areas of devolved responsibility.  They can take back powers, reduce the Scottish Government to an impotent shell or even close it down altogether, though even the Tories may consider that a risk too far.  Trust us, they say.  We’ll sort out the details later.  But who is brave enough to forecast just how far the Tories will go to rid themselves of the annoyance that the Scottish Government represents.  Devolution was never intended to create Westminster’s conscience, Westminster’s Jiminy Cricket.

But aren’t the Tories a democratic party?  Surely, whatever they might do, can’t you always depend on the Tories to act democratically?  Well, if anyone still thinks the Tories are committed to democracy, just think for a moment about the replacement Scottish Tory MEP and the reason for there being a need for one.  When Ian Duncan, Scotland’s only Tory MEP, tried and failed to win a seat at Westminster in Theresa May’s snap election, his efforts to get into the UK government looked to be over.  But ignoring the verdict of the electorate (doesn’t that ring a bell?), Duncan was given a peerage and appointed to the post of Deputy Scottish Secretary, under Fluffy McFluffyface.  As a Peer, Duncan couldn’t retain his position as an MEP, so he had to resign from Europe and that meant a replacement was required.  The expected replacement should have been the person who came second in the ballot for the Tory list for the EU election, but the Tories (or do I mean Ruth the Mooth) decided to ignore the result of that ballot as well (surely not another one?) and instead gave the job to Baroness Mobarik, who was third in the ballot, and who then had to take leave of absence from the Lords to take up the position.  And this was just a relatively unimportant internal ballot.  How many more times will the Tories just ignore the result of an election because they don’t get the result they wanted?

For their latest trick, even though they have no Commons majority, the Tories plan to push through a rule that says the Government (even a minority government just like today) will always have an effective majority on all Public Bill Committees (formerly called Standing Committees), those which debate bills and have the power to alter them.  Currently, the makeup of Public Bill Committees is required to reflect the relative number of MPs in the Commons for each party, which means a minority government would not have a guaranteed majority in committees.  The change means the Tories will be completely in charge of the content of all bills brought before Parliament.  Pity they hadn’t thought of this idea before they offered a £1.5bn bribe to the DUP.  They could have spent the money on something more important, like offering tax rebates to their mates.

Theresa May had called the election to give her a big enough majority to steamroller all the Brexit changes through the Commons with no real opposition.  When that didn’t work, she’s now changing the rules to give her the majority that the voters refused to provide.  So we see that, if they don’t get the “correct” result from the electorate, the Tories are quite happy to ignore the result and make up their own.  That’s Tory democracy!  Or do I mean Tory dictatorship?

What’s next, I wonder?  Perhaps, next time, the Tories will just miss out the inconvenient part of an election, the asking the voters part, because, if you can give yourself a majority by ignoring the views of the electorate, why bother asking them in the first place.

A bridge too far? Are Unionists right … or wrong?

Hip, hip, hooray, the day arrived when the Queensferry Crossing was officially opened and in a few days time traffic will be streaming across this fantastic new connection between the Lothians and Fife, allowing any required remedial work to be done on the current Forth Road Bridge with no inconvenience to the many thousands who travel regularly over the bridge at the moment.  Eventually, the Queensferry Crossing will be designated a motorway and traffic will be able to cross at motorway speeds, with public transport and non-motorway traffic being returned to the Forth Road Bridge.  The last couple of days have seen thousands walking over the bridge, taking the one chance before it’s closed to pedestrians for ever.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the thousands as, in common with most raffles I get a ticket for, my name didn’t come up.

The new bridge and, more particularly, the funding for it have been the subject of considerable controversy.  Originally suggested by the Tories in the late 1990s, the project was cancelled by Labour just as soon as they could, when they and the Lib Dems took office in Holyrood in 1999.

There the situation stood until 2007.  Despite warnings by FETA (not the big cheese, but the Forth Estuary Transport Authority) that the Forth Road Bridge was not designed for the volume of traffic using it and various well documented maintenance issues like corrosion of the cables, Labour refused to authorise spending the money on a new bridge, despite having the cash available.  In fact, during their period in office, Labour actually returned money to Westminster because they couldn’t think of anything to spend it on.  I, and lots of others, I’m sure, could have helped them out with ideas.  Still, it wasn’t altogether a bad thing as it did mean that Jack McConnell got a peerage for services to Westminster.

In 2007, everything changed.  When the SNP took control of the Scottish Government, they almost immediately conducted a review of the case for a new bridge and, by the end of the year, announced that they were going to give the go-ahead for the construction of the bridge.

Cue an outpouring of “support” from the Unionist parties.  Danny Alexander (remember him?) accused the Scottish Government of using taxpayers’ money to fund an SNP vanity project.  MSP James Kelly, at the time Scottish Labour’s insightful (or do I mean incompetent) infrastructure spokesman (OK, I am joking … about insightful) also called it an SNP vanity project, as did Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens, while MPs at the time, Alistair Darling (Lab), Malcolm Forsyth (Con) and Ming Campbell (LD) all described the bridge as a waste of money.  I won’t repeat what George Foulkes said about it, but I don’t suppose he remembers anyway.

BBC were quite happy to repeat that it was an “SNP vanity project”.  They alternated between this and “cut price bridge” because the SNP Government seemed to think they could deliver the bridge for less than half the £4Bn that Labour had claimed it would cost.  And to make matters worse (for the Unionists), it turns out they were right.

Vanity projects were in.  Practically everything the Scottish Government proposed was described as an SNP vanity project by one or other of the Unionist parties, Gaelic road signs, scrapping university tuition fees, Borders railway, even the Edinburgh trams, a project which was actually run by the (Labour controlled) Edinburgh Council.

Of course, insults were not the only problem faced by the Scottish Government.  The decision had been taken to use public funding, but there seemed no end to the effort made by Westminster to raise problems.  Gordon Brown, a “proud Scot but”, was the man in charge of the money at Westminster and he was determined to do everything possible to prevent a Scottish Government run by the evil SNP from claiming credit for such a major piece of infrastructure.  Various attempts to get Westminster funding were thrown out.  Borrowing powers were rejected and even a request to bring forward Scotland’s capital grant was knocked back by Brown, who instead suggested that the Scottish Government could cut back on services to allow them to save up to be able to afford it.  A typical Unionist plan.

Despite Westminster’s best efforts and without even a penny contribution from them, building work began in 2011, with a contractual completion date of June, 2017, though, unfortunately, Transport Scotland told everyone the bridge would be complete by December, 2016, providing the opportunity for all the Unionist media to be able to claim repeatedly that it was “months late”.  The media were less keen to say that construction was £250 million under budget.  To put that in context, I have compiled a full list of Westminster funded projects completed under budget in the last 10 years.

                                ?

Don’t you think that’s an impressive list?

Now the bridge is complete, there’s a concerted effort by the Unionist media to try to write the SNP Government out of the history of the bridge.  We find it described as a “triumph of British engineering” by both the BBC and Sky (is that a step up from SNP vanity project or a step down?), with no mention of the Scottish Government’s role, built using public funds with no mention of where the funds came from, and worst of all, a BBC commissioned radio programme charting the history of the Forth bridges, starring BBC’s favourite politician (now Ruth has gone into hiding), the great growling beast that is (you’ve guessed it) Gordon Brown.

It’s hard to imagine the BBC could have delivered a bigger insult to those involved in building the bridge than using the man who did more than anyone to try to prevent it being built.  I suppose it won’t be long before we see Monica Lennon describing, in breathless terms, the challenges she overcame in pushing the SNP into funding this wonderful new, Labour inspired construction.

Following on from the British triumph, we’ve had a procession of proud Scots but rubbishing the idea that there’s anything for Scots to be proud of.  They’ve pointed out the use of materials sourced from elsewhere  (how can you think it’s Scottish when the steel came from China) and the involvement of “furriners” in the design and construction (how can you think it’s Scottish as the design involved Danes).  It’s only a bridge, they said.  You can’t be proud of anything Scottish, they said.  It’s too wee, there were queues when it opened, they said.  It should have been a tunnel, they said.  It’s not as long as that one in Hong Kong, they said.  But what they really said was: “We think it rubbish because it’s Scottish and because it was built by an SNP government” and “Scotland are too wee, too poor and too stupid to ever complete a project like this on their own”.

OK.  So we all know that it’s not sensible to have an overwhelming belief that nothing your country does can ever be wrong.  But is that really worse than an overwhelming belief that nothing your country does can ever be right?  And do those who hold to the latter belief still consider themselves Scottish, or are they just Britnats who haven’t yet outed themselves.

Finally, in answer to the opening question, “A bridge too far … are the Unionists right or wrong?”, the answer is undoubtedly wrong.  The Queensferry Crossing is an impressive Scottish bridge, conceived in Scotland and brought into existence with the help of friends and partners from other countries.  Praise for the bridge has come in from all over the world, but only in Scotland are there people so determined to denigrate everything that happens in their country that they are lining up to tell everyone how useless it is.

Sad, sad people.

She’s gone, gone, gone (and I don’t care)

So it’s finally happened.  After months of speculation, after many possible dates being mentioned, Kezia has jumped, probably just before she was pushed.  Was it a coincidence that it came immediately following Corbyn’s pretty disastrous tour of Scotland, where his appearances were met with huge waves of apathy?  Perhaps.  Given her widely expressed views on the unsuitability of Corbyn as leader of the Labour party and given Corbyn’s upsurge in popularity following June’s election, it was only a matter of time before an excuse was found, and likely Kezia’s unsubtle hint that Labour voters should vote Tory in constituencies where the Tories had the best chance of unseating the SNP was it.  The net result of many potential Labour voters following her advice was an increase in Tory seats in Scotland, keeping May in power and depriving Corbyn of possibly his best, or maybe even only, chance of becoming PM.

When your hatred of the SNP exceeds even your desire for your own party to succeed, you have to be on a shoogly peg as leader, even if you’re only the local branch manager.

There have already been many views expressed about Kezia’s performance as leader of the Labour Party in Scotland and, no doubt, there will be many more.  My own view is that she put herself into an impossible position, inheriting a disaster from Jim Murphy, when she had neither the competence nor the experience to turn things around.  We all have known people who, even from a young age, were able to take control of any situation and make things happen.  We have also known people who, no matter their age, didn’t have the confidence and the authority to define a course of action and convince others to follow their lead.  Kezia is, unfortunately, one of the latter.  She mostly acted like the teenager who wants to be liked but who, somehow, always ended up on the outside.  She was unable to define a clear and consistent set of policies to energise her party and attract the voters.  In the end, her only consistent policy was SNPbad and that’s not a platform for government.

One last point.  The timing of her resignation has been the subject of some discussion, coming, as it did, on the same day as the opening of the Queensferry Crossing.  Was this a deliberate act to try to take some of the attention away from the opening?  Given Kezia’s well documented lack of forward planning, it’s hard to imagine it was part of some long term plan.  More likely, it was a last minute decision and, if she thought about the bridge opening, she would have thought the timing a bit of a giggle and payback for all the problems the evil Nats caused her.

Bye, bye Kezia.

Lies, dammed lies and GERS

There has been much said in the press about the famous (or should that be infamous) GERS report over the last few days varying from the National’s “Deficit cut by 1.3Bn” to the Scottish Daily Express’s “Nationalists Fake-onomics exposed”, while the Herald and Scotsman both decided that bringing up (again) the figures from the referendum White Paper would portray the evil Nats in the worst possible light.  Surprisingly, both BBC and STV took a more factual approach, obviously thinking that the £13Bn deficit was enough on its own to scare the punters away from independence, without need to add the usual level of exaggeration and misinformation.

To be clear, the GERS report has nothing to do with the latest football match played by a well known Scottish team (I know it’s an old joke, but still), but it’s the annual statement of Scotland’s economic performance, Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland.

But what about the figures themselves.  For years, certainly since the run up to the referendum, GERS, and the UK economy in so far as it affects Scotland, has been the subject of considerable public debate.

Should Scots be paying a share of “UK” projects that appear to produce little or no benefit to Scotland.  London Olympics; HS2 from London to Birmingham and, if we’re lucky (is that the right word?) to Leeds and Manchester some time later; and the London sewer upgrade come to mind, but there are many more.  You may have spotted that, in all these projects, the region which appears to benefit consistently from the spending is London, but that may just be coincidence.  My “favourite” is the English Tourist agency, which Scots pay towards because it’s considered a national organisation as it covers more than one region of the UK (all in England, of course), while the English don’t make a contribution to the Scottish Tourist agency, because it’s considered to be a regional organisation, the whole of Scotland being just a single region of the UK.

GERS has also been the subject of much discussion, mainly because so many of the figures are estimates, particularly on the income side, and because so much of the expenditure is controlled by Westminster and spent without so much as a by-your-leave, mostly outside Scotland.

But now a further possible problem with the figures has been suggested, courtesy of Richard Murphy, an accountant and economist who has previously presented evidence on GERS to the Finance Committee at Holyrood.  It should be stated at this stage, as Richard Murphy himself had said, that these are just preliminary ideas, not yet fully formed, but it may give all of us some food for thought.

In GERS, there appears to be no relationship between income and the money spent to generate that income, the expenditure.  In normal accrual accounting, the spend to achieve a particular income and the income amount are both put through the books at the same time, so you can tell how profitable an activity is, because you know how much you earned and how much you had to spend to earn it.  However, in GERS, by design, this relationship doesn’t seem to exist.  Both income and expenditure are treated separately.

But what difference does that make to the figures in GERS?

The cost of Westminster providing a particular service to Scotland is generally calculated as a proportion of the total UK cost of the service and recorded in GERS as Scottish expenditure.  However, because the fact that Scotland paid for the service is not known or not taken into account when the income is allocated, the income generated by that activity is allocated to the location where the income occurred.  As a simple example, if civil servants in the MoD in London work on an activity which a deemed to benefit the whole of the UK, Scotland will be responsible for a part share, calculated on a population basis, so about 8.5% of the cost will be allocated to Scotland and recorded in GERS.  So, if the total cost of the service is £1M, then £85,000 would be entered into GERS.

But what about the income?

This is where we seem to have a problem.  Because the income data is processed without reference to who paid the cost of generating the income, it’s not possible to allocate the income in the same way as the expenditure.  If we think of our earlier example, the civil servants employed by the MoD in London are paid a salary from which tax is deducted.  This tax, or at least 8.5% of it, should be treated as income in GERS, Scottish income, because Scotland paid for it, but because this is not known when the income data is processed, the tax is allocated to the place where it was paid, in London.

So there we have the problem in a nutshell.  Expenditure is always allocated to the Scottish account, but the income generated by that spending generally isn’t, except in the few cases where the income is actually generated in Scotland.  By failing to include in GERS much of the income that should be attributed to Scotland, the deficit is massively overstated.

In fact, the situation is much worse than that because of something called the multiplier effect.  When your civil servant in London gets paid, he will then spend his income on goods and services, probably mainly locally.  And the recipient of that spending then spends the money received, and the recipient of that spending then spends the money received, and so on, so the money spent ripples down through the economy of the region where the spend happens. If, as is suspected, GERS is not being credited with the income generated by Government spending, Scotland will be losing out, not only on that income, but also on the further impact of that revenue to the Scottish economy.

As I said at the beginning, these may be just preliminary ideas, but they do have a ring of truth about them.

For those who want more information, look at Richard Murphy’s blog, which, apart from a much more detailed explanation, also has a number of very interesting comments.
http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2017/08/25/gers-is-this-why-it-always-says-the-scottish-deficit-is-so-large/

Corbyn’s offer to Scotland.

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Since Corbyn is currently in Scotland claiming that the SNP isn’t doing enough to mitigate Tory austerity, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of how Labour compares to the SNP, and indeed what Corbyn’s vision would mean for Scots.

In their general election manifesto the SNP pledged to fight for an end to the two child tax credits cap, and for Universal Credit roll-out to be halted to prevent further cuts, and also for the benefits freeze to be lifted. Conversely, Corbyn’s Labour manifesto only committed to ending the rape clause and long wait times for receipt of Universal Credit. Indeed the Resolution Foundation confirmed that Labour’s manifesto would only have reversed a quarter of the cuts from/still to come from these policies. Whereas the SNP’s manifesto pledges would have reversed/prevented 100% of these billions worth of cuts. Incidentally the SNP manifesto also argued for reinstatement of the Work…

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How not to win a referendum

In autumn last year, I posted a blog entitled “How to win a referendum?”, where I expressed doubts about the then frequent comments, critical of parts of the Yes movement, coming, not from unionist supporters, but from other independence supporters.  At the time, I thought that unionists could come up with enough SNP-bad comments without any help from our side.  Unfortunately, the practice seems to have been resurrected, though this time the targets are independence supporting media, such as National, iScot and Wings, and prominent indy supporters.

From my point of view, the last straw was the trolling of Mhairi Black by Caitlin Logan, new columnist on Common Space, to “prove” that Mhairi was supporting homophobes.  Caitlin Logan was apparently encouraged by Angela Haggerty, the editor.  I would have expected something like this from an idiot unionist, but from someone representing a supposed independence supporting platform, I was surprised and disappointed, to say the least.

The bad news is that the blog from last year is as relevant today as it was then.  It seems there are still those out there who believe that the best way to get independence is to point out that everyone who disagrees with them is wrong and it’s even better if you can attach a label like homophobe to them.  Just to prove that it’s true, here’s last year’s.  What do you think?

Sadly, since Indyref1, there has been a significant upturn in negative comments by some Indy supporting groups about others.

It may have originally been prompted by feelings of disappointment at the result, looking for someone to blame, but it certainly increased in the run up to the Scottish election, when, of course, supporters of the various parties were trying to distance themselves from the rest to gather electoral support.  Unfortunately, several groups chose to highlight differences by pointing out the perceived weaknesses in their opponents position rather than the benefits of their own.

Unfortunately, much of the bitterness generated over that period seems not to have gone away. Several indy supporting sites seem happy to publish articles which show other parts of the indy movement in a poor light, with the SNP being a common target, though by no means the only one.  The recent attacks on the indy group who had crowdfunded a plan to put up billboards highlighting BBC bias being a recent example, not involving the SNP, which generated a significant amount of negative comment.

What is to be gained from such attacks by one Indy group on another?  Obviously, the author will feel better for getting “something off his chest”, but will the Indy movement itself gain anything?

Negative comments are often picked up by the unionist supporting media and then relayed to their viewers and readers as yet more Indy-bad propaganda, often with an even more negative spin.  What does the indy movement gain from this?   Even worse, the comments are sometimes rehashed Indy-bad articles which have already appeared in the unionist media.   What does the indy movement gain from this?  Would it not be the case that negative comments that appear in both unionist supporting and indy supporting media are more likely to be accepted as true by ordinary punters?  What does the indy movement gain from this?

Attacks on the Scottish Government are often justified as holding the Government to account.  Laudable though the aim might be, when the vast bulk of the media are constantly on the lookout for any chance to rubbish the Scottish Government, the SNP and, by implication, the whole Indy movement, are we just giving our opponents a bunch of open goals?  Do we really think it benefits the Indy movement to join with the unionist parties in asking the Scottish Government to do everything we want with its extremely limited powers and its ever decreasing pocket money budget.

At this time, with Indyref2 on the horizon, we have to decide what is really important to us.  Do we want to continue to fight with each other over the minor changes we can hope to get from the application of the few powers we have now, or do we want to set aside our differences for now in search of the one big goal of independence.  Yes, it means handing the Scottish Government a get out of jail free card, valid until independence is gained, but is that too much to ask for, given the importance of what we want to achieve?

Only with independence can we make our own decisions for ourselves.  Only with independence can we argue for our government to spend money based on Scottish priorities, knowing that winning the argument in our parliament will mean it will happen.  Only with independence can we stop the obscenity of half of Scotland’s budget being spent to benefit the citizens of another country.  Only with independence can we restore Scotland’s rightful place among the nations of the world.

Can we do everything we can do to make it happen?  What do you think?

First they came for the foreigners …

This isn’t a current affairs posting.  Perhaps because of my age, it takes me a long time to think what I really want to say, but here are some thoughts on where I think the UK is going, and, by implication, why Scots really need to think seriously about whether they want to be a part of what the country will have become when it gets there.

Any government’s policies will inevitably produce winners and losers, depending on the interests of the government and what it believes to be important.  In that, the current Conservative government is no different from any other.  But there’s been a change.  Remember the so-called one nation Tories of the fifties, sixties and seventies?  They, at least, made some effort to govern for the many.  But then came Thatcher.  If, before Thatcher, Tory governments at least gave the appearance of governing for the many, since Thatcher, Tory governments have dispensed with their one nation stance and, instead, adopted an attitude of relatively blatant favouring of the better off at the expense of the poorer.  Making the poor suffer for the mistakes of the bankers, while still allowing the same bankers to collect huge bonuses, is perhaps the most obvious example of this, but there are many others.

Part of the Tory government’s plan has been to begin a process of demonising less fortunate sections of society, blaming them for the country’s problems and encouraging other groups to do the same, thus deflecting any criticism away from government actions.  Divide and rule: a technique UK governments over the years have been extremely good at.

First they said the problem was “foreigners”.

Foreigners were coming into the country in their hordes, taking our jobs, getting priority for housing, getting treatment from the NHS for free and living off benefits.   Foreigners, they said, were the reason why you, the ordinary British worker, couldn’t make ends meet.  Foreigners were the enemy.  Strangely enough, the view put across by the government, staunchly assisted by the largely Tory supporting media, didn’t feel obliged to mention the foreigners who were treating our sick, picking our fruit, boosting our medical and scientific research and paying more taxes than the average Brit.

May’s plan, so she says, is to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands”.  The key word in the last sentence is “net”.  It seems to be next to impossible to make sufficient inroads into the numbers coming in, so throwing people out, many who’ve been living in the UK for years and contributing to our economy, helps reduce the net figure and so is now considered a good thing, even when it means damaging the communities they’re living in or splitting up families.

Remember Jason and Christie Zielsdorf, the Canadian couple who moved to Scotland with their family and invested quarter of a million pounds in Laggan Stores.  Threatened with deportation by the Home Office, they moved back to Canada without even having the chance to sell their business, the only shop within miles.  Is this the action of a decent, humane government?

Remember Irene Clennell, married to her British husband for almost 30 years, deported by the British government to Singapore where she had no family, no place to stay, with only the clothes on her back and £12 in her pocket.  Is this the action of a decent, humane government?

Next came the unemployed.

We have to distinguish between “strivers and shirkers”, they said, immediately classing a large number of unemployed as happy to continue living off benefits.  Supporting the government’s position, a compliant media immediately produced a string of stories in the press and TV showing “typical” examples of those shirkers.  Point proved, or so it seemed.

However, before long, shirkers became anyone unemployed.  It didn’t matter for how long they were unemployed.  It didn’t matter even if they had a prior history of employment.  It didn’t matter how much they had contributed to society prior to their unemployment.  It only mattered that they were currently a “drain on society”.  Shirkers, they said, were the reason why you, the ordinary British worker, couldn’t make ends meet.  Shirkers were the enemy.

Then, suddenly, shirkers also included the low paid.  Previous governments had introduced a top-up benefit scheme to encourage those seeking employment to take lower-paid, often part-time jobs knowing that they could still be earning a decent income.  Of course, whether the scheme was introduced just to help the unemployed, or whether it was a sneaky way of using taxpayers’ money to subsidise companies who should have been paying a proper wage, has always been in doubt.  But the Tories managed to find a way to make those receiving top-up benefits into a problem for the rest of society.  This was to become the next great Tory idea.  In an era of job insecurity, where government ministers are actively promoting zero hours contracts as a “good idea”, we were told that only those who weren’t really trying were in jobs where they had to rely on top-up benefits, ignoring the fact that the better jobs weren’t available, mainly because so many employers were offering low-paid jobs because they knew they could attract applicants because of the top-up benefits scheme.  So now, they said, the low paid were the reason why you, the ordinary British worker, couldn’t make ends meet.  The low paid were the enemy.

Next in the firing line for government treatment were the sick and the disabled.  The plan had always been to show that many of those in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, and other illness and disability related payments, weren’t really trying and were perfectly capable of taking on some form of employment, thus reducing the cost to the Exchequer, the implication being that the disabled were also a drain on society because of the cost of supporting them.  Some commentators even went as far as suggesting euthanasia for those who “couldn’t contribute”.  Naturally, there was no real assessment made of the likelihood of there being jobs available for those with serious illness or disability.  But did the Tory government care?

Work Capability Assessments were initially introduced by the Labour government in 2008, with two main objectives.  Firstly, to provide the “evidence” based excuse for reducing the numbers claiming disability benefits, and, secondly, to also provide an excuse for outsourcing another former public sector function to the private sector, though perhaps the second objective was always the more important.  The Tory coalition government that followed greatly expanded the scope of the assessments, making them compulsory for all with the replacement of Incapacity Benefit by Employment Support Allowance (ESA).  Hundreds of millions of pounds have been paid to the companies charged with running the assessments, initially ATOS, latterly Maximus.

From the start, the assessments were controversial.  Often carried out by people with limited understanding of the claimant’s condition, sometimes even by people with virtually no medical knowledge, they seemed to be conducted with the assumption that everyone is fit for work and anyone who really isn’t, can always appeal.  As a result, many thousands of appeals were made with around 40% being successful.  Of course, prolonging the assessment added to the stress inherent in the process, affecting claimants who were already in poor health.  Worse was to follow when it was found that thousands had died within weeks of a “fit for work” assessment, including several who took their own lives as they could see no future for themselves in today’s Britain.  Is this the action of a decent, humane government?

In many cases, the result of the assessment involved the loss of a Motability vehicle.  Just how anyone can justify taking away a disabled person’s means of transport as a way of getting them into employment, or even keeping them in employment, is beyond belief, but, of course, the government have not been forced to provide any justification for their actions.

Interestingly, it has been shown by the National Audit Office that the cost of carrying out the assessments exceeds the savings made, so not only is no money being saved by the cruel changes imposed by the UK government, but the net effect of the change is to transfer money from the sick and disabled to US based corporations.  Is this the action of a decent, humane government?

Pensioners were next on the hit list.  Despite UK pensions being among the lowest in the developed world, the UK government had already introduced a plan to increase the retirement age for both men and women as the country could not afford the cost of the existing arrangements.  However, one of the first actions of the Tory coalition government was to accelerate the changes, creating a particular problem for women born in the fifties, the WASPI women.  No amount of campaigning to introduce some form of transitional arrangement has so far had any effect.

In their manifesto for this year’s general election, the Tories proposed to remove the triple lock on pension increases, increasing pensions annually by inflation in retail prices or average wages or 2.5%, whichever is the greatest, replacing with a less generous double lock, which excludes the 2.5% guarantee.  Although the deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party prevented this from appearing in the Queen’s speech, who would be willing to bet that the proposal won’t reappear at the next possible opportunity.

Ironic when you think how the No campaign used the affordability of pensions in an independent Scotland as one of their main arguments against independence.

On top of all that, we have the Brexit negotiations.  We don’t know what sort of deal, if any, the UK government will manage to achieve, but we can be sure it will make the country worse off than as a member.  In fact, if what we know of the UK’s absolutely inept negotiating stance so far is anything to go by, it will be very much worse.  Each passing day introduces a new aspect of the changes caused by Brexit that the Tory government either haven’t thought of or have, but haven’t planned for.  Everybody is going to feel the pinch, except of course the very rich, who, with the help of their political friends, will be able to arrange the exit to benefit themselves.  Does that mean that the comfortable middle classes will finally be raised from their “I’m all  right Jack” stupor to finally see where the country and their lifestyle is headed?

I, and others, have consistently warned that it was only a matter of time before practically everyone was affected by the savage cuts being made by the Tories in Westminster, a government that can’t find the money for the unemployed, for the sick and disabled, or for the pensioners, but can find the money for nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations, for paying private sector companies to run benefit assessments and great chunks of the NHS in England and Wales, and even to help support a government without a Commons majority.  Along with the rest of us, most of those who voted Tory are eventually going to be disadvantaged by the changes introduced by the Tory government.

But what about Scotland?  In 2014 we had the opportunity to get away from the mess that the UK was in then, and from the even bigger mess that it’s in now and will become in the future.  Pensioners who voted No in the referendum and who voted against the SNP in this year’s General Election to protect their precious union or out of fear for their pensions are going to see their incomes falling, fishermen desperate to leave the CFP are going to see their fishing grounds bartered off (again) in the Brexit negotiations, farmers dependent on EU subsidies will see their subsidies removed as we exit the EU, with no promise that the UK government will replace them after 2020, and the rest of us will see a deterioration in our spending power.  In the Brexit negotiations, May will likely grasp at anything to avoid years of trading under WTO rules and the same will apply to negotiations with any other country.  What chance the NHS surviving a free trade agreement with the US?

But one chance still remains.  IndyRef2   We have the mandate for a second referendum and we have a current Scottish parliamentary majority in favour.  Are we strong enough to take it or are we still the only country in the world too frightened to run our own affairs?  Only time will tell.