When will they ever learn

Where has independence gone, long time passing?
Where has independence gone, long time ago?
Where has independence gone?
Killed by voters, every one.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?
……………………………. (with apologies to Pete Seeger)

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 from the even bigger, bigger mess it will become in the future.  We are now on our third Prime Minister since 2014, each one worse than the one before, and by 13th December, we may be heading for a fourth.  Who would have thought that we could be (almost) hankering after the good old days of the Thatcher era.  That’s how bad Boris Johnson is.

Pensioners who voted No in the referendum and who voted against the SNP in the 2017 General Election to protect their precious union or out of fear for their pensions have seen the UK government degenerate into helpless inadequacy (remember it was once strong and stable?); the value of their pensions, already the lowest in Europe, falling; fishermen desperate to leave the CFP seeing their fishing grounds bartered off (again) in the post-Brexit trade negotiations; farmers dependent on EU subsidies seeing their subsidies removed as we exit the EU, with no promise that the UK government will replace them after 2020; and all of us seeing a deterioration in our spending power; all because the top 1% didn’t want to be liable, under new EU legislation, to reveal where they were hiding their enormous wealth.

Ironically, many of these groups, the pensioners, the fishermen and the farmers, were persuaded to vote no in the independence referendum, falling for promises of brighter days ahead, only to be shat on by the Tories when they were no longer useful.  You would think they should have known by now what the Tories are like.

The Tories have little or no interest in Scotland anyway.  Remember the £160m the EU gave to the UK for Scottish hill farmers?  Remember that it was distributed among English farmers, leaving nothing for Scottish farmers?  Remember that the minister responsible, one Michael Gove, when asked about this, said, “Sorry about that, but it’s too late to do anything about it.  Suck it up, Scotland”.  I may be paraphrasing slightly here, but you’ll get the gist.

In the Brexit negotiations, May came back with a deal so bad that one former European minister described it as the sort of deal you would negotiate after losing a war, and most commentators agree that Johnson’s deal is even worse than May’s.  The same will apply to trade negotiations with any other country.  With the UK desperate for trade deals, what are the chances of getting a good deal from any negotiations?  What chance the NHS surviving a free trade agreement with the US?  What chance Scotch whisky still being distilled only in Scotland?  What chance any agreement better than we have now as part of the EU?    We have arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg saying it will take the UK 50 years after Brexit to get back to where it is now.  That’s two generations, or in political terms, 10 generations., or perhaps better expressed as more than half a lifetime.

Of course, folk can always change their minds, you might say.  If things are as bad as I’m saying, we can always have a referendum to decide to leave the UK.  It’s never too late.  Or is it?  The Lords have debated a bill to amend the Act of Union, one of whose clauses will make it impossible for any UK territory to secede from the UK, which would mean Scotland being tied to the UK for ever in much the same position as Catalonia.  Freed from the constraints imposed by the EU, Boris Johnson, or whoever is the Prime Minister after the 12th December election, can simply make it impossible to have a referendum by removing powers from Holyrood, or even closing it down.

But one chance still remains.  IndyRef2   We have the mandate for a second referendum and we have a current Scottish parliamentary majority in favour.  We have been promised IndyRef2 next year (now rebranded IndyRef2020), though only after we get agreement from Westminster (the almost mythical Section 30 order), so how we will proceed if Westminster says no, as they are almost certain to do, is, as yet, unknown.

But let’s assume IndyRef 2020 goes ahead.  The issue then becomes what the reaction of the voters.  Are we strong enough to take what could be our last chance, or are we going to go down in history as the only country in the world still too frightened to run our own affairs?  Only time will tell, but, if we don’t take the chance soon, very soon, will Scotland still exist?  After 300 years of trying, will the UK government finally manage to convert Scotland into North Britain, or should that be North England?

Please, government of  Scotland, give us a date for IndyRef2 and give us the chance to get out of the disaster that the UK has become.  Please, people of Scotland, screw up your courage, grasp this last opportunity in both hands, do the right thing by your children and grandchildren and transform Scotland into a normal independent country.

Where did the useless union go, long time passing?
Where did the useless union go, long time ago?
Where did the useless union go?
Killed by voters, every one.
Because they did learn.
Because they did learn.

You can never have too much money …… allegedly

A tale of loose morals and how the rich got richer and the rest of us didn’t.

After the end of World War II, 1945 ushered in a reforming Labour government which effectively set the scene in the UK for the next 25 years.  They introduced the NHS, free at the point of use, and expanded Social Security provisions with the objective of providing a safety net for all families “from the cradle to the grave”.   I know it will be hard for younger readers (ie. anyone under 50) to believe that Labour were once a reforming party, but I can assure you it was once true.  Labour used to be led by people who weren’t as right wing as Tony Blair, who weren’t as foolish as Gordon Brown and who weren’t as plain stupid as Tricky Dicky Leonard.  Really, they were.  Honest, it is actually true.  Would I lie?  Even when the Conservatives replaced Labour, the provisions introduced by Labour were largely retained because there was a general consensus in the country that they were the ‘right thing to do’.

However, step on a few decades and things started to change.  Since Thatcher’s government of the nineteen eighties, the UK has become a different country.  Instead of the production of goods, the emphasis in the UK economy has been changed to concentrate on the creation of money.  Those not concerned in the production of money were often discarded; manufacturing jobs were cut, supposedly to reduce the power of the manufacturing unions, and unemployment rose, funded largely by the newly discovered North Sea oil.  It is interesting to contemplate what Thatcher would have done without North Sea oil.  How could she have funded the changes?  Her need for North Sea oil provides a clear explanation of the reason behind the lies told to Scotland about its value.  If they had been told how much it was worth, the Scots might have wanted some of it for themselves and that would never have done.  Oil was not for the bare-arsed, kilt-wearing lower classes.

The banks were given practically free rein to do what they liked, as long as it generated money; as long as it increased profits.  Banks, whose local branches used to look after Granny’s savings and would lend money to small companies to help them grow, now became addicted to gambling in a big way and it seemed they were good at it as it certainly made their profits, and the bonuses of the gambling employees, grow.  In the United States, the gamble of choice was the subprime mortgage.  These were loans to folks who wanted to buy a house, but who couldn’t really afford one.  So they weren’t such a good credit risk, but the banks quickly found that the more risk you were prepared to take, the more mortgages you could sell, the more money you made and the bigger bonuses you could pay yourself.  In many cases, it was fake money because even more money was produced by moving batches of mortgages around while adding a bit on to the price each time it moved, generating profits for the bank and bonuses for the bankers without really increasing the value of the mortgages.  Of course, though nobody realised at the time or, if they did, they didn’t care, this couldn’t go on for ever.  The goods went round and round the merry-go-round, like a game of pass the parcel, sellers making profits and buyers happy to buy knowing they could sell to someone else at a profit, until the music stopped and the company left holding the parcel had to unwrap it to find out what was in it.  And often they found out that, by the time it reached them, there was nothing left, or at least, nothing to justify what had been paid.  But the fake ‘profits’ made at each stage had been used to justify the huge salaries and bonuses that the money men were able to pay themselves.  To make matters better, for them, but worse, for the rest of us, they would have enough money to afford accountants who would make sure they didn’t have to pay any tax.

The crash was bound to come and when it finally came in 2008, banks all over the world were in trouble, some going bust and many others close to.  What was to be done?  Should the ones who caused the problem and had benefitted from the racket be made to pay or should those with no involvement and no power be made to foot the bill?  As this isn’t a Grimms’ fairy story, I’m sure you can guess the answer.  In one of the biggest transfers of wealth of all time from the poor (the taxpayers) to the rich (the bank executives and shareholders), the government bailed out the banks with our money.  With the exception of one or two sent to the gallows so the government could pretend that it was taking action, those who caused the problem were able to retain their immoral earnings, while those who didn’t, lost out.  The government said at the time that the money used to fund the bailouts would be returned, with interest, when the banks returned to profitability, but we all really knew it was a lie and, indeed, that was the way it turned out.

Handing all this money to the banks left the government a bit short, so they had to come up with ways to increase their income or reduce their outgoings. The option of increasing general taxation to raise extra money was quickly dismissed, bad politics with an election coming up. A windfall tax on bankers’ bonuses was considered, but not implemented before the 2010 election, and there was no way a Conservative government would do such a thing. So again they turned to a soft target, the Social Security system. Changes were introduced to ‘tighten up’ the system, and with the Conservative media ramping up stories about benefit fraud, the Labour government were free to introduce one of the biggest changes, Work Capability Assessments, run from the start by ATOS, a French based private company who set targets for the number of claimants they could screw. Why do Westminster governments always target the weakest and poorest and let the strongest and richest off scot-free? Why did no one in government care about the impact the changes were having on those least able to defend themselves? Why did no one in government care about the number of deaths the changes caused? Though the changes were introduced by Labour, the Tories, who followed in 2010, with the willing assistance of their little yellow LibDem helpers, made things even worse for claimants at the same time as they were dishing out tax cuts to the rich.

The ATOS contract followed the usual government plan of handing taxpayers’ money over to rich companies.  As more and more private companies are brought in to carry out parts of what used to be public sector  functions, more and more of our money is being handed over to multi-national companies owned by rich money men.  Yet more transfers from the poor to the rich.

Unfortunately (for the money men), governments were forced to introduce rules to prevent the bank scam which caused the 2008 crash happening again, so that was the end of that money making scheme.  Something had to be found to replace it, because the money men needed to keep the money rolling in.  They may already have enormous wealth, but it was important to add to that wealth, because you can never have too much.  As things stand, the world’s richest 1% have as much wealth as the rest of the world’s population combined (see Fairtrade Foundation).  Even though they already have more money than they could possibly spend in several lifetimes, they still want more.

But there’s no shortage of inventiveness among rich people in search of further riches, so it wasn’t long before a new scheme was hatched, and this was even better, because nobody would lose, or at least nobody who counted.  It had long been known that betting huge sums on the movement of currencies caused by the outcome of significant political events could produce enormous profits, at least if you were right.  But if you were wrong, you could make an enormous loss, which obviously wasn’t such a good idea.  You certainly didn’t want to get it wrong.  But what if you knew someone who was in a position to influence what was happening, and what if you could strike a deal for them to take an action which would be very likely to produce a beneficial result.  An action that would be likely to minimise or even remove the possibility of making a loss.  Betting on a sure thing?

Who do you think would be in a position to influence what was happening in the political arena?  Could that be a politician?  Could that be the politician in the position of the greatest power, the one being punted by the media?

Before looking at the current situation, let’s think of an event that happened three years ago, the EU referendum.  As the referendum approached, large numbers of hedge funds took short positions, ie. they bet on the outcome being leave.  At the time, the expectation was that remain would win and, as the vote approached, polling data appeared to confirm this view.  Immediately after the polls closed, Nigel Farage, the effective leader of the leave side, appeared to concede defeat for leave and this view was confirmed by YouGov saying that the latest trends were towards remain.  As a result, sterling soared.  However, as we all know, the result was somewhat different.  Sterling tanked and the hedge funds which had bet on sterling falling made huge profits.  Several hedge fund managers have described 24 June, 2016, the day after the referendum, as the most profitable day in their history.

There have been many investigations into what happened that night, but it seems fairly well accepted that the profits made by the hedge funds were the byproduct of the comments made by Farage and other politicians and with the information provided by several polling companies.  Vast profits were made because of an alleged arrangement between the money men and those who had the ability to influence events.

So now let’s think about today and the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.  What immediately strikes you is the similarity between what’s happening now and what happened in the run-up to the referendum.  This time, the main man seems to be Boris Johnson, who is leading the negotiations between the UK and the EU, though his interest in securing a deal seems at least to be in some doubt.  We know (thanks to Carole Cadwalladr) that the hedge funds who were funding Johnson and the Leave campaign have already taken in excess of £8bn of short positions on a no deal Brexit (ie. betting that it’s going to happen).  Interestingly, a large part of the money was placed after the result of the Tory leadership election was announced, the result of which was influenced by these same companies bankrolling Johnson’s leadership bid to the extent of nearly half a million pounds.  Obviously, hedge fund managers must really like Boris Johnson.  They seemed very keen for him to win.  I wonder why.

So if things work out as planned, we will see a few very rich people getting even richer. But what will they do with the money? Maybe they’ll spend some of the money to buy a few more houses? Or a few more cars? Or maybe they’ll give their staff a rise to share out the good fortune? Or will they simply put the money into a bank vault to join the rest of their millions, taking it out of circulation where it won’t do the rest of us any good?  It is estimated, based on information contained in the Panama papers, that, worldwide, the equivalent of about $8 trillion is held in offshore accounts, mainly for tax avoidance purposes.  Of course, the whole Brexit fiasco came about because of the EU plan to crack down on such tax avoidance schemes, which the money men were very keen to avoid, for obvious reasons.

Should we be trying to do something to stop this latest money making scheme from succeeding?  Is there anything that realistically can be done? What do you think?  Suggestions welcomed.

Change is coming – but when?

I remember the days when August was the month of grouse shooting (I am old), when what we thought of at the time as newspapers were full of stories about landed gentry from the south of England coming up to Scotland to see how many they could “bag”, when there was a race to see which restaurant in London would be the first to serve Scottish grouse to their diners.  Oh, the good old days!

Now August is the month of GERS, Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland, for those who may still think it has something to do with football (oh,no, not that old joke again).  This is now the month that the BritNat media and politicians look forward to being able to show exactly how wee and how poor Scotland is and how stupid the Scots are for thinking that there is any chance they could survive as an independent nation.

Before we go on, let’s get an old chestnut out of the way.  For those who delight in telling us that GERS are the Scottish Government’s own figures, sure the report is produced by the Scottish Government, but the majority of the data on which the report is based comes from Westminster/Whitehall, so no way is this a Scottish Government report.

Each year, virtually the same figures are produced which show that Scotland only exists thanks to the largesse of the English taxpayer.  Thanks, guys.  Of course this may not be the whole story, or even any part of the story.  We know the report is full of errors, with many figures produced by guesswork, often not very intelligent guesses at that.  For those interested in the figures, have a look at my blog from 2017.  The numbers might be a bit old, but, unfortunately, the basic arguments haven’t aged as much.  For those really interested in the figures, have a look at Richard Murphy’s blog, which gives much more factual information than I ever could.

However, looking at the history of the Scottish deficit, in 2013, the approach of the Scottish independence referendum gave Westminster a bit of a problem.  On one hand, they want to continue to portray Scotland as a basket case which, they believed, would suppress the popularity of independence in Scotland.  On the other hand, Westminster didn’t want to tell the English taxpayer that they were handing vast sums to Scotland, which would certainly encourage the BritNats to demand that they get rid of the burden that they believed Scotland represented.

So what to do?  Obviously believing that Scottish independence was the more pressing problem, Westminster went for Plan A.  But to show that Scotland had a continuing high deficit when the overall UK deficit was starting to reduce has had a surprising side effect.  As you can see from the graph, it has cause the Scottish deficit, as a proportion of the whole UK deficit, to

GERS graph - Scot share of debt
Thanks to Richard Murphy and Wings over Scotland for the graph

increase to the point that it represent close to 60% of the total. In fact, adding the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish deficits together, they represent way over 100% of the UK total, meaning that, at least according to these figures, England is in surplus and are subsidising all the rest of the UK.  Thanks, guys.

The total deficit for the UK, excluding England, is £35.5bn (Scotland £12.6bn, Wales £13.7bn, N.Ireland £9.2bn), while the corresponding figure for the UK as a whole is £23.5bn, which implies an England surplus of £12bn. (By the way, no GERE report is produced to show comparative England figures.  I wonder why?).  Of course, when I say an England surplus, I really mean a London and the South East surplus, as the regional figures show that nearly all the other regions in England run deficits as well.  The latest figures, from 2018, show London with a surplus of £34.4bn, the South East £20.4bn, with all other regions in deficit, with the exception of the East, which has a small surplus.  (These are based on the ONS figures, but will be close enough to show the trend).

The report has made people think of a number of questions, apart from the obvious one:

Why does the Scottish Government believe that this load of shite represents anything close to the current financial position in Scotland, even as a part of the UK, never mind as an independent country?

Only the Scottish Government can say.  I only wish they would.

Others have asked:

How can a country with only 8.3% of the population generate 55% off the deficit?
though that question could perhaps be better expressed as
How come so much of the UK’s revenue comes from London and the South East?
That’s a harder question to answer, but it’s probably based on the desire of successive Westminster governments to concentrate activity there.  Westminster governments like to have all the activity around them and to hang with the rest of the country.

But I have another question to add.  Over the last five years, the UK deficit has significantly reduced, from about £90bn in 2014-15 to £23.5bn in 2018-19.  During that time, the Scottish deficit has reduced by only about £1.4bn, while the other countries have had even smaller reductions, so that means   Now, about 40% of Scottish spending is actually spent by Westminster on Scotland’s behalf, almost all of it in and around London.  That being the case, my question is:
What has caused this sharp increase in the London and South East surplus over the last few years and why, at a time when the cost of public services in London and the South East is reducing, is this reduction not reflected more fully in the results for Scotland?
I’ll leave you to mull over that, but it may be caused by a huge increase in the revenue in these regions, at the expense of the other parts of the UK, or it may be caused by a significant improvement in the cost of delivering services, including those which are charged to Scotland, or it may be something else altogether.

So what does this all mean for Scotland?  Do we (and by we I mean the Scottish Government) really believe the GERS figures?  Do we really think a country with such large resources cannot stand on it own two feet?  Do we really think that Westminster have been making the best decisions for Scotland?  Do we really think PM Johnson won’t take every chance to prevent the loss of UK income that Scottish independence would mean?  Do we really think he’ll wait for several years before taking action?

Don’t we have to make our move now?

Is there a real plan B?

With Brexit fast approaching and the increasing likelihood of a no-deal exit, there is much discussion about the current state of the independence debate and how close we are to a second referendum.  Though we are still behind in the polls, though Johnson and Hunt are doing their best to change that, it has become tantalisingly close and many independence supporters point out that, in the last referendum, support for independence increased from 25% at the beginning of the campaign to 45% at the end.  True, of course, but it was all about winning and we didn’t.  No matter how many lies were told by BritNat politicians, no matter how many pensioners were frightened by threats of losing their pensions, no matter how many scare stories were printed in the BritNat MSM, no matter how much the BBC and, to a lesser extent, STV twisted the facts to convert every story into SNPbaad and no matter how many rules the No side broke, they won and we lost.  Many supporters were convinced we were cheated out of the win, but no one who could do anything about it complained.  So we are where we are.

So what now for Scottish independence?  How far have we come since the disaster of September, 2014 (don’t tell me it wasn’t a disaster) and where do we go from here?  Perhaps if progress was measured by the number of times it gets mentioned by our politicians, we would be independent by now.  At every PMQ in Westminster, Ian Blackford tells Treeza that Scotland has a way out, though, unfortunately, no one seems to be able to find the door.  So many MPs and MSPs have threatened an independence referendum but are we any closer than we were then?  Or are the SNP in danger of becoming the party who cried wolf?

We have seen some small steps potentially supporting independence.  The announcement of the Scottish investment bank, the expansion of Scottish business offices abroad and the continued contact with senior political figures in the EU and elsewhere are all good, as is the planned introduction in Holyrood of framework legislation for a referendum, but though they are actions that should make the transition to independence easier, they don’t bring independence any closer.  In a statement in the Scottish Parliament earlier this year, Nicola Sturgeon outlined what might trigger a referendum.  She promised us a referendum sometime before the expiry of the mandate granted to the Scottish Government in the 2016 election, two years from now, but only if Brexit had happened by then.  It appeared that only if Scotland were dragged out of EU against our will could we even think of asking the people what they want to happen.

In the 2016 SNP manifesto, being dragged out of the EU against our will was considered just one example of something that would trigger a second referendum.  However, since then, and I don’t know how or when this happened, it now seems to have become the only valid reason.  Nothing else seems to be good enough.  That every promise made by the BritNats in 2014 turned out to be a lie isn’t good enough.  The lack of respect shown to our elected representatives in Westminster isn’t good enough.  The removal of powers from Holyrood isn’t good enough.  The fact that Scottish opinions and concerns are routinely ignored by Westminster isn’t good enough.  Nothing other than Brexit is good enough.

But what happens to this plan if Brexit doesn’t go ahead or if even more extensions are requested by the UK and granted by the EU?  Does that mean independence delayed further, or even indefinitely?  Although some mention has been made of other circumstances which may prompt a referendum, the lack of any serious discussion about the other options may make it difficult to convince the sceptics that these are real fears and not just something invented when the ‘real’ problem (Brexit) no longer justifies a referendum.

Then we have the problem of the Section 30 order.  At the time of IndyRef1, my opinion always was that agreeing a Section 30 order as a condition of going ahead was always going to be a hostage to fortune.  This wasn’t demonstrating the sovereignty of the Scottish people.  This was going along with the unionist idea that Holyrood could do nothing without Westminster’s approval.  And so it has turned out.  Now, umpteen Tory ministers, including Theresa May and both her potential replacements, have stated, unequivocally, that Westminster will not agree to a Section 30 order unless a variety of conditions are met, with some even going as far as saying that it should never be granted, including those who are supposed to be standing up for Scotland, like tRuthless Davidson and Fluffy Mundell.  One of the ongoing mysteries of the Scottish independence debate is what makes Scottish BritNats even more extreme than their Southern cousins.  Is it because they are closer to the action or because they are just desperate to demonstrate their allegiance to their English masters by keeping Scotland as Westminster’s cash cow?  If the latter, it must be a blow that recent opinion polls have shown that a large majority of English voters would be happy to dump Scotland if that was the way to ensure that Brexit was delivered.  You would have thought that must have really hurt, but it seems only to have encouraged the Scottish BritNats to shout the same tired comments even louder.

Despite the obvious problem, the Scottish Government continues to say they will ask for a Section 30 order and several senior SNP figures are on record saying that a referendum can never go ahead without one.  Taken at face value, all Westminster has to do is continue to say no and that means a referendum cannot happen.  There is an argument that it would be illegal to refuse to grant a Section 30 order, but this has never been tested in court and the Scottish Government don’t seem keen to try.  Perhaps something that could/should have been done sometime in the last five years?  The suggestion has been made that a Section 30 order is not required, that it’s only confirmation that both parties will accept the result no matter what, but again, that’s not been tested in court, so it would be subject to legal challenge if a referendum was held on that basis.

You might have thought that defining a legal basis for a referendum under any circumstances might have been a priority for the Scottish Government, but this hasn’t happened.  Indeed, over the three years since the EU referendum, much more time has been spent on Brexit, effectively trying to save England from itself, than has been spent on independence preparation, much to the displeasure of an increasing number in the Yes camp.  If the campaign either to cancel Brexit or at least, put the question back to the people, was to reach a successful conclusion, it would blow away the current justification for an independence referendum, but that doesn’t seem to worry the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government would no doubt argue that we haven’t yet been taken out of the EU, so we must wait until it actually happens before acting.  While logical, such a delay is not a no-risk option.  There will of course be a significant time period between the announcement of a referendum and its taking place, to allow for organisation, campaigning, etc., and during this time, it is naïve to imagine that the UK government will simply sit on their hands, waiting for the referendum to take place.  This will be a period of unfettered Westminster control, without having to worry about EU interference.  So Westminster can do whatever it likes.  We must always remember that Holyrood is a devolved government, depending on Westminster for the maintenance of such power as it wields (‘Power devolved is power retained’).  The period between announcement and occurrence provides Westminster with the ideal opportunity to introduce legislation to delay IndyRef2 or even prevent it going ahead altogether.   Who believes that they wouldn’t take the opportunity to throw spanners in the works.  These could be small spanners, such as taking as long as possible to complete anything they have to do, or they could be medium-sized spanners, like introducing legislation to remove Holyrood’s ability to even hold a referendum, or they could be very large spanners, such as dissolving Holyrood all together.  And the more time Westminster gets, the worse the outcome is going to be for the people of Scotland.

So what now?  What next steps should Yes supporting Scots do?  Should we give up on the SNP, who seem reluctant (to say the least) to put the question to the people, unless, of course, the question is Brexit.  I accept and understand that we don’t want a neighbour whose economy has tanked, especially a neighbour that we do a lot of business with, though not as much business as the BritNats would have us believe.  But surely the priority is independence.  Once independent we can make our own decisions.  If we want to help out the rUK, we can do that.  But it will be our decision, not Westminster’s, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll even get a bit more gratitude than we do now.

But if we give up on the SNP (and don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind), who do we support to make independence a reality?  Could it be one of the ‘British’ parties, headquartered in London?  Anyone who expects the Tories, Labour or LibDems to support Scottish independence needs to seek medical help.  And the same goes for those who think the UK could become some sort of federal state.  It will never happen, because it would mean Westminster giving up some real authority to the federal parliaments, something they will never do.  And please don’t even think of bringing up the current devolution settlement as an example of  Westminster giving up powers.  The devolution settlement was designed to fail.  It was designed to make sure the SNP could never get into power.  It was designed to demonstrate that Scotland were incapable of self-government.  The SNP’s success in the Scottish Government comes despite the devolution settlement, not because of it.

What about the Greens.  They already support independence, so that must make them a better choice than the ‘English’ parties.  Unfortunately. their support base is too small to think that they could ever form a government in Scotland, at least in my lifetime.

So that leaves us with the SNP as the only option to create the political conditions for self-government.  We might all wish they would get their collective fingers out, stop focussing on Brexit, it’s really someone else’s problem, then tell the elected representatives to stop abusing people who have different opinions on any subject, we can do without it.  All the conditions for IndyRef2 that have been talked about have happened.  We know we’re leaving, we know Boris is going to be PM.  What more do we need?   The UK’s direction is obvious.  If there’s a plan B, now would be a good time to reveal it.   Waiting only provides Westminster the opportunity to destroy Scotland.  We need to go quickly before Boris has time to completely screw us.  We need to go now.

If anyone in the Scottish cabinet reads this, please start a conversation with Nicola before it’s too late.  Please remember that SNP are the party of independence.  We elected you to bring us independence, not to sort our Brexit.  For God’s sake, start the independence process NOW.

Vile cybernattery – a discussion

Along with tens of thousands of other independence supporters, I took part in the Glasgow march last Saturday, an event full of good spirits that passed off with no serious problems, save the small number of unionists who shouted abuse at the marchers as we passed through George Square.  Disappointingly, there was only a very small official SNP presence, a trend that seems to have accelerated since 2014.  However, the vast bulk of folk left the event energised and excited, ready to get stuck in to the next phase of independence campaigning.

The following morning, everything changed.  We were presented with an article in the Herald written by Neil Mackay which characterised marches as a waste of time, something in which only the extremists, the cybernats, would take part.  More worryingly, the article contained quotes from Angus Robertson, Alyn Smith and Stewart McDonald, appearing to support this point of view.  Even worse, both Angus and Stewart tweeted other comments, attaching the Herald article, as an attempt to justify their point of view.  There was also a follow-up tweet from Mackay on Twitter which said that SNP top brass had described cybernats as “cowards”, “weird”, “creepy”, “snarling”, “vicious”, “poisonous” and “vile”.

Now, while I think Neil Mackay’s article, and his tweet, might have contained at least a little ‘poetic licence’ (some might call it lies), there has been no attempt by anyone in the party hierarchy to dissociate the SNP from these remarks.  While I certainly hope the remarks aren’t true, they do come on top of quotes from other SNPers, such as Mhairi Hunter describing people in the party that she doesn’t like as trash.  Comments such as these are particularly unfair to the huge majority of independence supporters who never tweet abuse.  The use of the catch-all “cybernat” has come to mean any independence supporter saying anything on Twitter that a BritNat doesn’t like, so cybernat effectively means any of us, myself included. 

 Why the SNP wants to take ownership of a problem which can be reasonably applied to any and all political parties is a mystery to me.  If they want to hold themselves to a higher standard of behaviour than everyone else, that’s a strategy that’s bound to fail as virtually no one will be aware that they’re doing it.  Is it sensible to provide ammunition to opponents of independence, allowing them not only to repeat the comments, but to point out that the party accepts they are true?  Think of examples from the recent past when members of the party were suspended or expelled because unionists complained about something they’d written or done.  Grousebeater and Michelle Thomson come immediately to mind where no attempt was made to support a member of the party accused unfairly by opponents.

What particularly annoys me is the lack of response from the SNP to obvious lies from unionist politicians, the most recent example being the total lack of response to David Mundell’s lie when he described the No side’s argument from the first IndyRef that a vote for Yes was a vote to leave the EU as an SNP myth.  They also seem to have completely ignored Michael Gove’s threat that Westminster would retain part of the Scottish Government’s budget so the Tories can decide what to spend it on.

These examples, however, are just the tip of the iceberg as far as the lack of response to unionist “mistakes”.  Are these not the sort of comments that the SNP media team are supposed to respond to?  Have they just gone to sleep or are they too frightened to argue with Tories?  In fact, without the efforts of the much maligned cybernats, many unionist lies and many cases of unionist abuse would go unanswered.

However, no matter how much I would like to see the SNP do better, I’ll still vote for them in the Euro election as I can’t see that there’s any choice if you don’t want Brexit.  Votes for Greens, LibDems and Change UK are wasted as none of them stands a chance of electing an MEP.  What I’m saying is when will the time come when the SNP get back the fire in their collective bellies, start challenging the lies of their opponents and start documenting the advantages of independence.  Surely, to convince people to support independence, the best way is to show them how much better off they’ll be under independence than under the current pathetic Westminster government.  Get your fingers out, SNP.

And then they came for Scotland

First published on July 10th two years ago under the title “First they came for the foreigners …”, I was reminded of it after reading Stuart Campbell’s thought provoking post “The long way home” on Wings, which should be compulsory reading for anyone with any real interest in Scotland.  I have modified my post a bit to take account of the recent fun and games in Westminster, but it’s amazing how relevant it still is and how much it confirms how far the current UK government will go to get what it wants.

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 ideas 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 UK 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 over 70% being successful, according to latest figures.  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 many 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 finally 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 the 2017 General Election to protect their precious union or out of fear for their pensions have seen the value of their pensions, already the lowest in Europe, 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 all of us have seen a deterioration in our spending power.

Remember the £160m the EU gave to the UK for Scottish hill farmers?  Remember that it was distributed among English farmers, leaving nothing for Scottish farmers?  Remember that the minister responsible, one Michael Gove, a possible post-May Prime Minister, when asked about this, said, “Sorry about that, but it’s too late to do anything about it.  Suck it up, Scotland”.  I may be paraphrasing slightly here, but you’ll get the gist.

In the Brexit negotiations, May has come back with a deal so bad that one former European minister described it as the sort of deal you would negotiate after losing a war and the same will apply to trade negotiations with any other country.  With the UK desperate for trade deals, what are the chances of getting a good deal from any negotiations?  What chance the NHS surviving a free trade agreement with the US?  What chance Scotch whisky still being distilled only in Scotland?  What chance any agreement better than we have now as part of the EU?

Of course, folk can always change their minds, you might say.  If things become as bad as I’m saying, we can always have a referendum to decide to leave the UK.  It’s never too late.  Or is it?  The Lords are currently debating a bill to amend the Act of Union, one of whose clauses will make it impossible for any UK territory to secede from the UK, which would mean Scotland being tied to the UK for ever.

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 what could be our last chance, or are we still the only country in the world too frightened to run our own affairs?  Only time will tell, but, if we don’t take the chance soon, very soon, will Scotland still exist?  After 300 years of trying, will the UK government finally manage to convert Scotland into North Britain, or should that be North England?

Please, government of  Scotland, call IndyRef2 and give us the chance to get out of the disaster that the UK has become.  Please, people of Scotland, screw up your courage, grasp this last opportunity in both hands, do the right thing by your children and grandchildren and transform Scotland into a normal independent country.

Are We in the Last Chance Saloon?

As I write, the Brexit cliff edge beckons.  There’s only two weeks to go until the UK makes the biggest mistake of its 218 year history by closing the door to the rest of the world.  At this stage, no one, including the UK Government, in fact, especially the UK Government, has any idea what’s happening now and even less what’s going to happen after we leave.

Currently, it seems as if the country is being governed by a combination of the weirdly named European Research Group, who hate Europe, and the even more weirdly named Democratic Unionist Party, who are probably the least democratic party in the UK.  In fact, seems as if the UK Government are prepared to give away pretty much anything the DUP ask for just to keep their votes.   So much for taking back control.  And talk of making better trade deals without the interference of the evil EU has turned out to be just that, talk.  Ask Liam Fox if his deal making is going to plan .

What the Brexit debates have shown, at least to anyone who has been paying even the slightest attention, is that the UK Government has no interest in Scottish opinions and that SNP voices are routinely either ignored or abused (and no, I’m not talking about Ross Thomson here).  Treeza walks out every time Ian Blackford stands to speak (is she frightened of him?) and Tory back benchers either try to drown out any SNP speech, to the extent that even the Speaker feels obliged to tell them to shut up, or they walk out on-mass, preferring a visit to the bar to bothering with the debate.  Scottish Tories are the worst of the worst.  They seem to have no interest either in their constituents or in Scotland.  They seem to believe that they have been elected to ignore the former and rubbish the latter.   I won’t list all their insults and their demonstrations of ignorance about Scotland and Scottish history, but their latest effort shows clearly what their main objective is, as they try to persuade the UK Chancellor to scrap the Barnett Formula and reduce the proportion of Scottish taxes returned to the Scottish Government because “they will only fritter it away” on things the Tories don’t approve of, like free tertiary education, decent social security payments, free meals for school children and free care for the elderly, when everyone knows it should be given to their rich pals.

Labour are just as bad.  Remember the Bain Principle, that Labour would never support any action proposed by the SNP, even if it was something they really agreed with.  However, under Corbyn, Labour have adopted a new strategy.  Whereas they used to treat SNP amendments as an opportunity to get pissed on cheap Westminster alcohol, knowing they would be abstaining when it came to the vote, now they simply sit on their bums in the chamber while voting is going on, still abstaining, but staying more sober.  The impact on the Westminster bars must be considerable.

Surely by now, anyone who cares about Scotland’s place in the UK must realise that there is no chance of the UK ever becoming a union of equals and of Scotland ever being treated fairly in Westminster when English representation is so much bigger that they can even outvote the three other countries put together.  Westminster is the de-facto English parliament.

The Brexit debates have prompted much discussion about a date for a second IndyRef, particularly as several recent polls have shown independence ahead of all possible Brexit outcomes.  There seems to be four “popular” options for the timing of a referendum, two of which can be described as the “audacious” options and two as the “cautious” options.  Let’s look in more detail at the options.

Audacious 1
We make an announcement as soon as the EU and the UK Government reach (or don’t reach) an agreement and the full horror of the impact of the exit terms becomes apparent, so the referendum can be announced on or before the Brexit date of 29th March.  This is the option favoured by a large number, maybe even a majority, of Yessers.  In fact, most would probably prefer an even earlier date, tomorrow, say.
*  Pros: Announcing a new independence referendum will energise the huge number of supporters becoming frustrated at the lack of action
Cons: A short independence campaign may not provide sufficient time to convert enough Noes to Yes to give a winning result.

Audacious 2
As we have an existing mandate, with a pro-independence majority in both Holyrood and Westminster, we need to hold the referendum after Brexit but before the end of the current Scottish parliament in 2021 when the mandate expires.
*  Pros: It makes use of the existing mandate, not guaranteed to be available after the 2021 election and it prevents upsetting voters who voted for independence last time not turning out because their last vote was “wasted”.
*  Cons: Free of EU control, it gives Westminster time to introduce rules to handcuff the Scottish Parliament and make another IndyRef difficult, if not impossible.  Not making use of the existing mandate can create difficulties among those who voted SNP on the basis of the pledge to bring forward a referendum if  (e.g.) we were dragged out of the EU against our will.  Will all of these people be prepared to give the SNP a second chance?

Cautious 1
We should wait for some time after the 2021 until people have more direct experience of the full horrors of Brexit foisted on us by the lunatic fringe of the Tory party, when they will realise that they can’t escape the disastrous impact that Brexit will have on their lives.
*  Pros: The problems brought on by Brexit will have impacted the lives of the majority sufficiently for those who voted no last time to be encouraged to look favourably at the option of independence.
*  Cons: By that time, Brexit will have been in place for several years and will have started to become the accepted norm, so we may be in the same situation as in 2014, that some will be reluctant to risk independence.  It also gives Westminster even more time to act against Holyrood to prevent a second referendum.

Cautious 2
We should seek a fresh mandate in the 2026 Scottish election, with a specific manifesto pledge to hold an independence referendum within a year (say) of the start of the parliamentary session.
*  Pro: It provides the opportunity to get an indisputable mandate for independence that Westminster might find hard to ignore.
Cons: As before, it gives Westminster time to act against Holyrood and many voters may think Brexit has been in place too long to change.

Don’t let us forget that there are two other possibilities which have been pretty much ruled out by the Scottish Government but still could come back into play, UDI, which might be considered as the nuclear option, and the Margaret Thatcher option, that if a majority of pro-indy Scottish MPs are elected to Westminster, that would be enough to trigger independence.  Pity we hadn’t pushed for that in 2015.

Re-reading this before posting, I almost wish I hadn’t written it as it crystalised my own thinking that the SNP were depending too much on the failure of Brexit and on developing a reputation as a safe pair of hands, and, as a result, independence was taking something of a back seat. The years since IndyRef have seen caution as the watchword and the excitement that characterised the run-up to 2014 isn’t front and centre as it was then.  The Scottish Government have concentrated for too long (in my opinion) in trying to save the rest of the UK (mainly England) from the Brexit problems they’ve brought on themselves and not enough time on independence.  We even had the ludicrous situation that the BritNat parties were talking more about independence than the SNP.  Is that right?  Even many of the comments made by Nicola about independence in her speeches seemed more aimed at what the grassroots could do and were not really saying that the party would be leading from the front.  Recently, there has been talk about how Brexit is making the case for independence stronger, but talk without action is in danger of making the SNP into the party who cried wolf.  Perhaps the Spring Conference will bring more clarity.

Think folks, while there are dangers in going too early for independence, there may be even more dangers in waiting too long.  Strike while the iron is hot.  Grasp the nettle.  Take the bull by the horns.  Etc.  Etc.

Is this standing up for Scotland?

Over the last two days, as I write this, there was a debate in Westminster on the EU Withdrawal Bill.  Following the debate, eleven divisions (votes) were called on amendments proposed by the opposition parties to the Bill.

Virtually every amendment which went to a vote was voted down, the Tories with their new DUP mates taking practically every opportunity to make sure that anything good currently provided by the EU would not get translated into UK law without being watered down by the Tory government.  Of course, any EU law being watered down by the Tories is the equivalent of death by drowning, it just won’t survive.

So what were the Tories in favour of?  They were in favour of ministers being able to create barriers to membership of the EU single market.  They were in favour of ministers being able to take decisions which removed EU human rights or environmental regulations.  They were in favour of ministers being able to cancel reciprocal healthcare arrangements with EU countries.  Can you imagine what a post-Brexit UK is going to be like after the Tories get finished with their modifications to EU laws and regulations?

uniontwat3-460x305                                                                            Post Brexit national dress

But there was one further amendment of particular relevance to Scotland.

Included in these amendments was one to prevent UK Government ministers from using Brexit as an excuse to modify the Scotland Act and the Government of Wales Act, thus preventing UK Government ministers from reducing the ability of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly to take actions which have particular relevance to their own populations.  The use of the infamous Henry VIII powers which would allow UK ministers to change the way the Scottish Parliament works without the need to discuss it with anyone, and certainly not with the Scots.  In fact, if a UK minister happened to wake up one morning in a particularly bad mood, he or she could decide on a whim to abolish the Scottish Parliament altogether.  All he would have to do is tell a few of his colleagues to confirm it.  Job done.

When it came to a vote on the amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill (division 65), surely, all Scottish MPs would be keen to make sure that their constituents had a voice in the Brexit negotiations and that UK ministers couldn’t take decisions about the role of the Scottish Parliament without consulting Scottish ministers.  Unfortunately, that’s not the way it turned out.

Not surprisingly, Scottish Tory MPs all thought that it was essential that Scottish voices should be ignored, apart from their own, of course.  All thirteen voted against the amendment.  The Tory attitude to the Scottish Parliament is really weird.  It’s surprising that they even bother to stand for election to the Scottish Parliament as they appear to have absolutely no interest in it, except to find ways to get it abolished.  Of course, they do get paid a substantial salary for doing nothing, so perhaps it’s just the Tory way.

Only marginally less surprising was the behaviour of the Scottish Labour MPs.  Despite voting in all the other divisions on the Bill, six of the seven chose to abstain on division 65.  So they had no view about the importance of Scotland having a voice, or at least no view they wanted to share with the rest of us.  The only exception to the mass contempt shown by these so-called representatives of their constituencies was Ian Murray, who at least had the decency to vote in the division.

Remember the Tories talking about voting as a block to support Scotland?  Remember how they would be standing up for Scotland?  I wonder if they remember.  So for those of you who may be upset by their MP’s apparent interest in abolishing the Scottish Parliament, or at least reducing it to an impotent shell, and making sure Westminster makes all the decisions about Scotland, here’s a list of your local Tory MPs who would, I’m sure, be very happy to learn your views.

Andrew Bowie (Andrew.Bowie.mp@parliament.uk)     West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine
Colin Clark (colin.clark.mp@parliament.uk)                       Gordon
David Duguid (david.duguid.mp@parliament.uk)          Banff & Buchan
Luke Graham (luke.graham.mp@parliament.uk)           Ochil & South Perthshire
Bill Grant (bill.grant.mp@parliament.uk)                             Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock
Kirstene Hair (kirstene.hair.mp@parliament.uk)           Angus
Alister Jack (alister.jack.mp@parliament.uk)                   Dumfries & Galloway
Stephen Kerr (Stephen.Kerr.mp@parliament.uk)           Stirling
John Lamont (john.lamont.mp@parliament.uk)             Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk
Paul Masterton (paul.masterton.mp@parliament.uk)    East Renfrewshire
David Mundell (david@davidmundell.com)                           Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale &                                                                                                                                                                                                            Tweeddale
Douglas Ross (douglas.ross.mp@parliament.uk)             Moray
Ross Thomson (ross.thomson.mp@parliament.uk)        Aberdeen South

For those of you who are lucky enough to have a Scottish Labour MP who can’t get off their arse to vote for an amendment directly impacting their own constituents, here’s a list of the Labstainers.  What caused them to miss such an important vote?  Were they just too busy tucking into a subsidised champagne snack or are votes impacting Scotland just too boring for them to bother with?  Who knows?

Hugh Gaffney (hugh.gaffney.mp@parliament.uk)              Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill
Ged Killen (gerard.killen.mp@parliament.uk)                     Rutherglen and Hamilton West
Lesley Laird (lesley.laird.mp@parliament.uk)                       Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath
Danielle Rowley (danielle.rowley.mp@parliament.uk)    Midlothian
Paul Sweeney (paul.sweeney.mp@parliament.uk)              Glasgow North East
Martin Whitfield (martin.whitfield.mp@parliament.uk)  East Lothian

So the moral of this story is: if you live in Scotland and you want an MP who will represent you in preference to those living in the South of England, don’t vote for Tory or Labour candidates, who, once elected, will prioritise the interests of those living in the South because that is what their party bosses will tell them to do.  And despite what they said to get elected, that’s what they’ll do because they want to keep taking the money.

All for Brexit’s Wedding

A Modern Political Fable.

Brexit. Is it the most stupid action ever by any UK government, perhaps the most stupid action ever by any government in the world? Heaven knows what was going through Cameron’s tiny mind when he embarked on this utterly ridiculous exercise. To solve the problem of the idiot right wing Tories defecting to UKIP and damaging the Tory’s electoral chances (step forward and take a bow Messrs. Cash, Redwood and Rees-Mogg, you know you want to), he decided to shut them up permanently by proving once and for all that most Brits were European at heart. He was so confident that he would win, that he did very little proper campaigning and, worst of all, he didn’t bother to think through what he would do if he lost. Well, when I say what he would do, I meant what the country would do, because we all know what he personally would do, because he did it. He pissed off to make loads of money, helped out by the mates he helped out when he was PM, and left the rest of us in a great pile of steaming ordure. In any case, what made him think that the loony Tory’s BritNat wing would shut up just because they lost a vote. Was never going to happen.

With Cameron off to make money elsewhere, The Tories needed a new leader with a plan to stop them sinking into the aforementioned ordure. All seemed lost until Treeza started spinning and, in a puff of smoke, revealed herself to be WonderMay. We must embrace Brexit, she said. Brexit is Brexit, she said. We’ll have the biggest, hardest Brexit that anyone has ever had, she said. We’ll show them all that we’re the bestest Brexiteers in the history of Brexitting, she said, especially those f’ing Europeans. Cue Tory cheering. We’ve found our saviour, they said.

Little did they know then that their idol had feet of clay, or do I mean head of clay, and, unfortunately, events over the following year only showed that the clay was of the thickest, most impenetrable kind as May stumbled from one self-made crisis to another, her only solution being to throw money at them. She threw money at the DUP. She threw money at the EU. She even threw money at Scotland, although that turned out to be more like Monopoly money, the kind you can’t spend, except when you’re playing games.

But even the peasants were starting to get restless. Some of them were openly expressing the opinion that SuperMay wasn’t really all that super, that she wasn’t in control of Brexit, that Brexit was really in control of her, that she was just as stupid as she appeared. Some were even questioning the whole Brexit idea and saying that another referendum was needed. This had to stop. Money was at stake. Super-rich money.

Make no mistake, money is what Brexit is all about. The ability of the super-rich to keep all the money they’ve got and make much, much more. Brexit has nothing to do with improving the lives of most of the UK population. Taking back control is nothing more than a slogan invented by the Brexiteers and parroted by the media to sway enough the masses. It is years of anti-EU propaganda finally paying off. There was never any intention to take back control. If the intention had been to take back control, why the efforts to prevent the UK Parliament having any involvement in Brexit, why the secrecy about putting documents before parliamentary committees and why have the government not bothered to work out the impact of Brexit on the economy. The intention has always been to remove the EU from any involvement in UK lawmaking and transfer total control to the super-rich, fronted by a bunch of compliant politicians, well paid for their efforts. The EU was proving too big for the super rich to control and the last straw was an EU proposal to introduce rules to prevent multi-national companies from transferring their profits out of higher taxed EU countries to lower (or zero) taxed off-shore tax havens. A proposal likely to take effect in the Spring of 2019. Does that date ring a bell? The proposal would particularly impact the City of London, which has been described as the world’s biggest tax haven through its use of a multitude of British Overseas Territories and Dependencies where serious amounts of super-rich money is hidden away. The UK and its territories represent a haven for over 25% of the world’s offshore funds.

But it was all going wrong. NoLongerSuperMay had proved incapable of driving the changes necessary while keeping enough of the population onside. A popular movement against Brexit could derail the whole project. But what to do? Replacing NoLongerSuperMay would almost certainly strengthen the feeling against Brexit among much of the population, so that was not really an option. The choice of actions was extremely limited.

There was only one last hope. They had to deploy their ultimate weapon. They called in the “Family”. Yes, it was time for the thermonuclear royal device. Never previously known to fail, the thermonuclear royal device could take two forms, either the baby royal strategy (BARS) or the wedding royal strategy (WARS). The only decision to be made was which to go for. It was a hard choice, but there had to be something to take everyone’s attention away from Brexit and the disaster it had become.

In conjunction with the Family, the Tory government did what they always do in such circumstances, they set up a committee. And here the Tories made what might turn out to be a fatal mistake. Given the seriousness of the problem, they set up two committees, one to examine the BARS option and one to examine the WARS option. But each committee was determined to be the winner in the race to prove that their strategy was the bestest, that their strategy was the one to give the best possible result in the shortest possible time, so neither team wanted to share information and, as a result, communication between the BARS team and the WARS team was almost non-existent.

With the agreement of the Family, the BARS team had set out a development plan with a scheduled completion date of April, 2018, so, because of the strict timetabling in place for projects of this type, a start had to be made in July. Everything was put in place. The Royal Prince Willie was prepared to do his duty and the Royal Princess was said to be receptive, though, as with any plan (except Brexit, Ed.), a number of backup strategies were readied, in case the first attempt flopped. However, we won’t go into details of the backups just now.

The WARS team had more flexibility in making their arrangements and initially had aimed for the merger to take place much earlier, but their plans were delayed by indecision on the part of certain senior members of the Family and uncertainty that the Princely participant had completely run out of wild oats. Finally, agreement was reached and a date in May 2018 was set.

Imagine the shock when it was realised that the two events almost coincided. Images of babies being breast-fed during the wedding ceremony or even crying while the Royal vows were being exchanged flashed through people’s minds. How would that go down with the TV audience? After all, the solemnity of the occasion was what kept the audience glued to the screen. Turning it into a comedy show could have the opposite effect. Was this bad timing just an unfortunate coincidence or was it proof that, under the stress of the situation, even the Family were losing their touch? Another Royal baby and another Royal wedding in the same year? Surely one of them should have been delayed for twelve months to take our minds off Brexit. Isn’t that what the Royals are for?

To be slightly more serious for a moment, does the whole ongoing fiasco that is Brexit, combined with the disaster it represents for most of us should it actually happen, not mean we need to be doing all we can to get away from it? Do we really want to be ruled by a bunch of BritNat idiots who can’t tell truth from lies. Do we really want to live in a world created by David Davis, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Theresa May. David Davis, who doesn’t seem to know if he has any documents or not. Liam Fox, who tells us he can magic trade agreements out of thin air. Michael Gove, Rupert Murdoch’s little placeman in the UK Government. Boris Johnson, surely the UK’s worst ever Foreign Secretary, who’s desperate to do whatever it takes to be in charge. And Theresa May, whose only interest is in creating laws which allow her husband to further enrich himself and his super-rich clients. And that’s before we get to the likes of Jeremy Hunt, whose job it is to give away the NHS as quickly as possible, mainly to Richard Branson.

Is that the future for Scotland we are happy to see? Or is there another way? Surely now is the time for us to create our own future. Surely now is the time for another indyref.

Money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s world

Last week we had a budget statement from the chancellor.  Note I said “a budget statement” and not “the budget statement”.  I’m certainly old enough to remember when there was only one budget a year and most folk looked forward with apprehension to how much the chancellor was going to slap on drinks and smokes.  The media were full of suggestions for days in advance about what should be announced and, afterwards, the analysis of winners and losers went on for more days.    Now we seem to have a budget announcement about every month and anything interesting is leaked to the media by the Treasury in advance of the statement so everyone has a decent excuse for sleeping through Phil’s speech.

For Scotland, the best news appeared to be an extra £2bn on the Scottish block grant and the decision to remove the VAT liability from Scottish emergency services.  However, a more careful look at the announcement shows a slightly less optimistic view.

Firstly, looking at block grant, the £2bn (actually £1.97bn) is the total effect on Barnet consequentials of the UK spending changes announced in the Budget for the four year period from 2017 to 2021.  It includes over £1.1bn of financial transactions, money which has to be repaid to the UK Treasury.  Let’s call it a loan.  Perhaps Scotland only gets given the money so that Westminster can have the fun of taking it back, now that we don’t have a Labour First Minister to return money they can’t think of anything to spend it on (© Jack McConnell et al, 2000-2007)  Of the remaining approximately £850m, £500m are increases in capital spending, leaving only £350m for additional day-to-day spending.  Of course, that’s the raw cash terms amount, but that increase represents a reduction when inflation is taken into account.  So perhaps not just as good a settlement as the UK Government, and of course the Tories and the BritNat media, would try to make us believe.

Secondly, the VAT change.  In the period since its inception in 2013, Scottish Police and Fire have been the only UK forces not able to reclaim VAT, costing the Scottish emergency services well over £100m.  Over this whole period, the Scottish Government and the SNP MPs have constantly pointed out the unfairness of the situation, but have been more or less ignored by the UK Government, whose only response had been to say “Suck it up, Scotland.  We told you we would screw you, so you can’t complain now”.

So, what has changed?  The cynical amongst us (not me, of course) might point out that the only change is the election of a few more Tory MPs.   Hammond, somewhat pathetically, tried to justify his decision to remove the liability as a consequence (more consequentials?) of the new Scottish Tory MPs being able to explain the problem in such simple language, that even he could understand.  Well, I have heard that the new Scottish Tory MPs are quite good at being simple.  Given they have Fluffy Mundell, the master of simple, as their mentor, I suppose it’s no real surprise.  However, I’m not sure what bit of “It’s no fair” was proving difficult for Hammond to grasp.

Of course, there’s another interpretation that can be placed on the reluctance of the UK Government to do the right thing.  In 2011, Scots elected a majority of SNP MSPs to the Scottish Parliament, something that the voting system was expressly designed to prevent.  It wasn’t supposed to happen and it was baad.  To make matters worse, in 2015, Scots elected a majority of SNP MPs to the UK Parliament.  That was even more baad.  It was very baad.  The aforementioned cynics might even suggest that the Tory government’s decision to retain the VAT liability had more to do with punishing the Scots for having the temerity to elect a government that Westminster and the BritNats didn’t approve of, rather than any rule based logic.  In fact, the change requested by the Scottish Government was little different to the rule introduced by Westminster in 2011 to make schools which became academies exempt from VAT.  OK for English schools, but not for Scottish police and fire services.  In fact, the same cynics could argue that Westminster recognised they were wrong and took the first available politically expedient opportunity to get out of an increasingly embarrassing hole.  However, they were not sufficiently embarrassed to return the money they had stolen since 2013.  Perhaps that would have really given the game away.

All this comes at a time when Brexit could change everything, but the establishment have a cunning plan to stop folk thinking about bad Brexit stuff.  Can you guess what that is, readers?  Come back shortly for an update.