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.

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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.

 

To rail against injustice

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At the end of last week, Westminster decided that, over the five years from 2019 (known as Control Period 6 or CP6), the Scottish Government should be given £3.6bn for the development and maintenance of the Scottish rail network.  Sounds like a lot of money, doesn’t it?  After all, as the Westminster tells us, it is a 20% increase on the previous five years (or CP5).

But the Scottish Government are not happy with the settlement as they believed they should be getting £4.2bn.  So, what’s the justification for their claim?

Well, first of all, there’s inflation, which eats up about 12% of the increase.  So just to keep up with inflation, the CP6 requirement would be £3.36bn.  That means £3.6bn settlement represents only a 7% real terms increase, not the 20% figure that Westminster are keen to talk about.

Perhaps the comparative figures for England and Wales can shed some more light on the Scottish figures.  During the current 5 year period (CP5), Network Rail were given £24.5bn for development and maintenance of the network in England and Wales and this has risen to £34.7bn for the next 5 years.  That represents a 42% increase in gross terms and a more than 26% increase in real terms, dwarfing the Scottish figures.  Actually, the difference is much worse that even these numbers suggest, as the much higher population density in England and Wales means Network Rail can get a much higher level of income from passengers than is possible in Scotland.

Historically, the proportion of Westminster rail spending going to Scotland has been 11.17% of the UK figure, based on the size of the network in Scotland compared to the level of population.  This was put forward by the Office for Rail and Road (ORR), the independent rail body, as part of the original settlement when spending power on rail networks was devolved in 2005.  As can be seen from the figures, the settlement of £3bn for Scotland for the current period represented 12.2% of the England and Wales figure or 10.9% of the UK total, whereas the proposed settlement of £3.6bn for 2019 represents 10.4% of the England and Wales figure or just 9.4% of the UK total.  Perhaps you can see now why the Scottish Government are unhappy.  Their requested figure of £4.2bn for CP6 would have been 12.1% of the England and Wales figure or 10.8% of the UK total, similar to the CP5 figures, though slightly lower.

It seems as if the Scottish Government are justified in their expectation of additional funds.  The reduction of £600m appears to be part of a deliberate decision by Westminster to reduce Scottish rail funding from the historically agreed 11.17%, based on the size of the network, to a figure closer to a population share of 8.4%.

Yet another blow to “pooling and sharing”?  The broad shoulders of the UK again seem to have developed a distinct slope when it comes to returning money generated in Scotland to the Scottish Government for devolved matters.

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/