Corbyn’s offer to Scotland.

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

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

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How not to win a referendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First they came for the foreigners …

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

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

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

First they said the problem was “foreigners”.

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

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

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

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

Next came the unemployed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When will they ever learn?

I am getting a bit worried about where the Indy campaign is going.  Perhaps it’s just post-holiday blues.  I know I should be grateful for getting away at all, but it’s been no fun coming back to the election aftermath, to Brexit and, worst of all, to Grenfell, possibly the worst man-made land disaster in the UK in my lifetime since Aberfan.

As the Grenfell death toll rises inexorably towards 100 and likely beyond, the truth surrounding the decisions taken by governments, both local and national, which led to a minor fire being transformed into a major catastrophe, are gradually filtering out.

Cheap cladding was specified, not because it would improve the lives of those living there, but because it would make Grenfell Tower look more attractive to the residents in the more expensive parts of the Royal Borough, the people who really counted to the local authority.  Indeed, many of the spending (or saving) decisions taken by Kensington and Chelsea council seemed more concerned with reducing the opportunity for the richer residents of the borough to come in contact with the poorer ones.

The so-called internal “improvements” in Grenfell were carried out with little regard to the structural integrity of the building and there’s significant evidence emerging that the “improvements” were at least partly responsible for the seriousness of the outcome.

However, Grenfell is not the reason I started writing this blog.  As I said above, it’s just one of the reasons why I’m perhaps feeling a bit depressed and this depression might be the root cause of what I’m going to say.

It has become generally accepted by all sides that a second Scottish independence referendum can only take place at the end of the Brexit process.  Sure there are differences between the parties as to what constitutes the end of the process.  Is it after agreement has been reached (or not reached) between the UK Government and the EU, likely in the latter half of next year?  Is it when the UK formally leaves the EU, at the end of March, 2019, unless a new date is agreed in discussions?  Or is it only once the full impact of leaving the EU becomes known, likely to be at least a decade after leaving?

However, all sides agree that, whenever the time comes, the Scottish people will be able to make an informed decision, based on the then known facts of the implications of staying as a part of the UK versus becoming an independent country.  Unionists probably hope that a longer delay will give the UK Government time to pull off a miracle and make Brexit look like the greatest thing since sliced bread, or perhaps they just think that kicking it into the long grass will give everyone the chance to forget all about this IndyRef2 malarkey.  But even independence supporters seem happy to go along with the idea, thinking that, when the terms and implications of leaving the EU become clear, many more Scots will realise what a bad deal we will get by staying as part of the UK and this will make them more likely to vote for independence.

Let’s look at this second belief in more detail.  The union has been in existence for more than 300 years.  The bulk of the Scottish people weren’t very keen on the idea, but it was pushed through by the politicians and the elites, the very ones who had most to gain from the arrangement, so, in the end, the street marches and protests were of no avail: the union went ahead as planned.

Wind forward to today.  The bulk of the Scottish people don’t favour the union, but its continued existence is being maintained by the politicians and elites who have most to gain from the current arrangement.  By the way, don’t confuse the statement above with the proportion of people who might vote to leave the UK.  Many people who voted no in the independence referendum did so out of fear for the future, not out of love for the present.

So if so many people don’t think the United Kingdom is good for Scotland, why did so many vote to stay in it in 2014 and why do opinion polls consistently show less than 50% in favour of independence?  The short answer, or answers as there are two, is/are fear and lies.

Let’s look at the lies.  You can’t survive on your own without handouts from England.  You won’t get your pension.  You’ll have to use the Euro.  You won’t get into the EU.  You won’t get into the UN.  You won’t be able to trade with any other country.  You won’t be able to afford an army or navy.  You’ll be responsible for the breakdown of world order.  You’ll be invaded by the Russians.  You’ll be invaded by aliens.  All of these and more were used by the opponents of Scottish independence.  All have been thoroughly debunked, but all had an effect on the outcome.

But why would such, in most cases, obvious nonsense make people change their minds?  The simple answer is repetition.  With a virtual monopoly of both broadcast and print media, union supporters were able to get a lie repeated time and time again, with virtually no chance that the same media would broadcast or print an opposing point of view.  Often it appeared that the media were working with each other, with a story appearing on the radio on Wednesday, being brought up in Parliament on Thursday, then repeated in the press on Friday and, to (almost) quote Mark Twain, a lie can be halfway round the world before truth has got its boots on.

For years, Scots have been told they are second class.  For years, they’ve been told they survive on handouts from England.  For years, they’ve been told they are subsidy junkies.  For years, they’ve been told they couldn’t run their own country, that they aren’t equipped to make political decisions.  Ruth Davidson, the leader of the so-called Scottish Conservatives, went even further to tell Scots that 90% of their countrymen and women are a burden on the state and that Scots are not normally put somewhere if there’s something they can steal.  This from a person who tells us she’s a “proud Scot”.  Proud to be one of a bunch of thieving, no-good layabouts?

The continued drip, drip of negativity (or at some times more like flood, flood) is what produces the fear.  Having been told so often, and by so many people, that Scots are generally useless, people fear that any change can only be change for the worse.  And when this gets repeated regularly practically all through your lifetime, is it any surprise that, deep down, you become a little afraid to make the leap into the unknown, to independence.  You might not really believe any individual story, but there’s no smoke without fire, so they say.

So unionists have been telling us lies for years and years, probably for 300 years, since the formation of the United Kingdom, though I can’t vouch for that personally, and enough Scots have been sufficiently swayed by the lies to fear change, change that they have been told can only make things worse.

So my question is: does anyone think that this will be different at the end of the Brexit process, whenever that is?  Will the media tell us how bad things might become for the UK after a Brexit on terms much worse than we have now, or will they tell us that this is just the first step to a brighter future?  Will they tell us that every good outcome from the talks shows the brilliance of UK negotiating, or will they say it’s just a practical necessity?  Will they place the blame for any poor outcome on the UK government or will they blame Johnny Foreigner?  Do we really think the media will not be supportive of whatever is the outcome of the negotiations?

If nothing changes in the media, if the media continue to praise the UK position and continue to tell us only what the politicians and elites want us to hear about the Brexit negotiations, why would we think that the Scots taken in by the lies and the spin in 2014, those who feared change in the last referendum, are going to react differently this time and be able to see clearly that staying a part of post-Brexit UK is not in their best interests.

Unfortunately, as things are going, I can’t see a post-Brexit independence referendum producing a better result.  As I said at the start, perhaps it’s just post-holiday blues, but I fear that, no matter how bad the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the MSM will make sure the Scots who didn’t see it last time won’t see it this time either.  So those of us who want independence need to think of a more radical approach than the current let’s wait and see how Brexit turns out.

How much is a life worth

 

I know it’s really too early to jump to conclusions about the tragedy at Grenfell tower, but I’m so angry about it, I just had to write down something about an event that may turn out to be the worst fire related disaster since Bradford stadium, or maybe even worse.

Recent events at Grenfell tower have brought the lives of those living in high-rise, often council-owned buildings into sharp focus.  Should it be a requirement for the council to ensure the use of the best quality materials and to application of the highest standards of construction or is there some acceptable compromise, occasioned perhaps by the cost savings to be gained by the use of less than optimum standards?

Should the answer to the question be different, depending on whether we are referring to aspects of the building’s construction which affect the structure of the building and the safety of the occupants or aspects which are merely cosmetic.  Whereas it may be acceptable not to specify gold taps costing £500 each in favour of bog-standard chrome-plated ones at a fiver each, is it still acceptable not to use external fireproof cladding costing £5 sq. metre in favour of a non-fireproof alternative, costing £1 less?

Of course, other questions need to be asked.  Should all multi-story apartment blocks have sprinklers fitted, whether specified at the time of construction or not?  A local authority spokesman pointed out that few multi-storey blocks in any area had sprinklers retrofitted.  Is that an acceptable excuse?  Should all multi-story buildings be required to have smoke detectors and fire alarms and should these be regularly checked and serviced?  All multi-story buildings are already built using a cell structure, helping to prevent the spread of fires from one area to another.  Should it be a requirement that any internal structural or cosmetic alteration does not impair this ability?

Events at Grenfell have highlighted all too clearly the answers to these questions and the dangers of not paying attention.  Fire retardant cladding was available, but was rejected at Grenfell in favour of a cheaper alternative.  This helped a relatively small fire on a lower floor become an inferno engulfing the whole building in a very short period of time.

Sprinklers would have delayed the spread of the fire, or even extinguished it before it could really take hold.  A serious fire in a similarly clad building in Dubai, but with sprinklers fitted, involved no loss of life.  Properly functioning smoke detectors and fire alarms would have warned residents more quickly, allowing more of them to escape.  One resident who did escape said he only knew there was a fire when he heard passers-by calling out.

Stories following the recent refurbishment of the building suggested that the alterations had not been carried out with safety in mind.  They talk of holes in the walls, partially blocked doorways and poorly place pipework, all of which point to a poor standard of construction and a lack of a proper inspection regime.  Just a rushed low-cost job?

Some escapees talk of  smoke coming into the flats, completely against the principle construction goal in multi-storey buildings of isolating a fire and preventing its spread.  How could this happen in a properly constructed multi-storey block.

But any impairment in the building’s structure would have had a tragic knock-on effect.  In case of fire reported in a properly constructed and maintained multi-story block, a fire officer’s advice to anyone calling 999 will always be to stay in the flat, as that’s not only the safest place to be with a functioning cell structure inhibiting the spread of the fire, but also it prevents emergency services’ access to the building being restricted by escaping residents.  Unfortunately, in Grenfell’s case, with its apparently compromised structure and non-fire-resistant cladding, this may turn out to have been the wrong advice.

Still to come are details of the decisions taken by the those involved in the construction and refurbishment of the building.  Who specified the cladding?  Who designed and oversaw the internal refurbishment?  If the work was as bad as has been suggested, and if many complaints were made by the residents, why did it not prompt some form of immediate action.  What part did the local authority play in this.  When Kensington and Chelsea are one of the richest areas in the country with many properties worth £millions, why was money not available to carry out proper work.  Was the local authority starved of cash by Government or did they just choose to concentrate their resources in richer, and more vocal, areas, ignoring those who they can afford to ignore, at least until an event like this

All in all, this has the look of a tragedy which was both man-made and avoidable, but only after a more detailed investigation will the real truth come out, f indeed the real truth ever comes out.  Unfortunately, following other similar fire events, politicians have been happy enough to sympathise with the bereaved and make promises about how lessons will be learned, without there ever being any real change.  As sympathy fades, cash becomes king, and no one is prepared to spend the money necessary to make the improvements.  Perhaps, if we had a pound for every time a politician has said lessons will be learned, we would have enough money to carry them out.

May’s approach to Brexit negotiations

May’s stated objective is to get the best deal for the UK from Brexit, so she would obviously do only what is necessary to achieve her aim.  But is that the way it has turned out?  Here are some thoughts on May’s “strong and stable” approach from the point of view of achieving that objective, remembering that this is what Scotland faces in 2019 as part of the UK.

Back in July, whilst the EU cracked on with preparing, May lost time starting two (competing) Whitehall departments from scratch.  Then in the Autumn, when the High Court ruled that Article 50 was outside prerogative, May could have got on with the job with an Article 50 Bill – but appealed instead, wasting more time.  May was lucky the Supreme Court said only a Bill was needed and didn’t insist on input from the devolved administrations as well, but it was a huge, needless, time-wasting gamble.  Had May just got on with preparing the Article 50 Bill, it would have been passed by Christmas.

She claimed not to want show her cards, using that as the excuse for not giving any information to the public, but then she made her Birmingham conference speech when she just couldn’t resist telling the party faithful how clever she was going to be.  In that speech, she declared (a) a March date for Article 50, (b) no ECJ jurisdiction and (c) no freedom of movement.  So several cards fully shown?

Come this April, instead of “getting on with the job”, she wastes almost two months of the Article 50 two years schedule with a needless general election, in clear contradiction of her excuse for refusing to sanction a Scottish independence referendum, though, I suppose, only needless if you ignore the possibility that as many as 30 Tory MPs (her majority is 12) could end up in the chokey for fiddling their election expenses.  Three times she could have “got on with the job” but instead we get two needless new departments, a needless appeal and a needless general election.  Again and again, under the cloak of her “getting on with job” rhetoric, May is diverted and wastes time that should be spent preparing for negotiations with the EU.

But the EU27 have not been wasting time.  Note the news that the EU27 have agreed a common approach to the negotiations.  This didn’t come about by accident.  Compare with the UK, where May hasn’t got, and hasn’t even attempted to get, an agreed UK approach among the four UK administrations.

And in addition to all this, she has contrived to lose key people like Sir Ivan Rogers, the EU Ambassador, and two of her senior Downing Street advisers, and appointing idiots like Boris Johnson and Liam Fox to key positions in the administration has been the expected unmitigated disaster.  Combined with this is the aggressive attitude that has characterised May’s whole approach.  May’s attitude has been one of “they need us more than we need them” so they’ll jolly well have to do as they’re told.  Insults and threats have been the order of the day from the moment the result of the referendum was announced, further poisoning the relationship with Europe even before negotiations have really started.

This is not strong and stable leadership but the reverse, but people might nod along because it is called “strong and stable leadership”.  The truth is that if the UK had not wasted time with two new departments, a needless appeal and a needless election, they would be in a better position than now with more time to prepare for what they want to achieve and how they want to go about it.  More preparation would have helped to prevent the outcome from the now infamous dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker where it was obvious that May had precious little idea of what was required, but a hugely inflated sense of what she could achieve.  Only May is to blame for these delays, pushing the UK Government into a situation which it is supremely unqualified to cope with.  With this level of incompetence, what are the chances of an acceptable Brexit deal with the EU?

May is acting like a dictator and, like all other dictators, she has either to get a successful outcome in every situation or she has to have the authority (or the muscle) to override any and all objections.  She’s not there yet, but do you want to bet your future on the way she’ll eventually go?

This is the person that the Tories want you to support at GE17.  This is the standard of government that you can expect from a May-led Westminster administration and remember the Tories also want to make even the local elections all about Brexit and this Westminster administration.  This is what we need to reject before any more of the incompetence creeps over the border and infects Holyrood.

Be warned.  Vote Tory and you are voting for a continuing “strong and stable” Brexit shambles.

Trumpety, Trump

Was it only 11 days (as I write this) since Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States.  Somehow, it seems like much, much longer.  Since the inauguration, he’s been more sworn at than sworn in.  More column inches (or should I say centimetres as a good European, before it becomes a Brexit offence), have been written about him, in both print an electronic media, than any other president in history, most of it unfriendly and some of it downright abusive.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think much of him myself.  He doesn’t seem like the sort of guy normal folk could be friendly with.  Not the sort you’d meet in the pub for an after work drink.  Not the sort you’d invite to your Hogmanay party, unless, of course, you were Theresa May, who was desperate to invite him to a party she was throwing at Buck House, just as soon as she persuades Queenie to do as she’s told and open the door.

No, what concerns me is why Trump’s getting so much attention in the media.  You’d almost think the MSM had something to gain from it.

But wait.  In the last two weeks, how many stories have you seen about foodbanks, how many about cuts to someone’s Social Security benefits or sanctions imposed by DWP on some jobseeker who was a minute late for an appointment.  How much publicity has there been about the plan to close 24 Jobcentres in Scotland, 8 of them in Glasgow, and others all over the UK, leaving great chunks of the country with perhaps only one Jobcentre and thereby forcing claimants to travel many miles to appointments, increasing the cost and time taken for the claimant, not to mention the chances of being delayed and then sanctioned by a Jobcentre rep with a target to meet.  Even Brexit is not getting the treatment it was getting before the great Trump storm hit the headlines.

What we have seen is a shedload of anti-Trump rallies being held all over the UK, many with large numbers attending.  What demonstrations have we had about foodbanks, benefit cuts or sanctions during this time.  What demonstrations we had before Trump hit the headlines, have had much less publicity and, perhaps as a result, have been smaller.  It’s a pity that folks seem to have more interest in demonstrating against a situation in another country, which they can’t really change, and less in demonstrating against situations in their own country which they have at least some chance of affecting.

We all know that Trump’s election influence what happens in the UK, particularly as Theresa May appears to be happy to offer everything and sign up to any deal Trump suggests in her panic to get something to show that Brexit is not going to be the disaster many have suggested.

So, all those involved in writing, talking or demonstrating against Trump might like to wonder whether they’re being encouraged by the MSM to forget about domestic issues that are a bit of an embarrassment for the UK Government and spend all their collective energy in other ways to let the government off the hook.

Think on it.

Getting out of hand, Brexit style

It was David Cameron’s idea.  I suppose a lot of the Tories’ really bad ideas can be traced to Davie.

“I know how we can get rid of those nasty UKipper Little Englanders for good.  They are dead against the EU, but we can adopt their policies and their language and replace them with good solid Tory Little Englanders who will also be dead against the EU, but, at least, they’ll be our Little Englanders and, if push comes to shove, they’ll vote for us.  We’ll have a referendum on staying in the EU and, when we win, that’ll put UKIP’s gas at a peep and get rid of them as a threat for a generation”

You would have thought he could have learned a lesson from Scottish devolution.  Remember when George Robertson (now Lord Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie) told us that devolution would kill nationalism stone dead.  I wonder how that worked out, George.

Unfortunately for Davie, he had reckoned without a number of factors.

Firstly, he forgot the mainly right-wing media’s history of rubbishing the EU at every turn, pandering to a Little Englander agenda, spinning every EU decision in as bad a light as possible and making up stories if they couldn’t get a real one.  Straight bananas anyone?  Were the media likely to support remaining in the EU?  No chance, and that’s how it turned out.

Secondly, he forgot the years of effort our right-wing media have put into telling us that all foreigners are awful.  Foreigners who might make decisions that we Brits would have to pay attention to are awful, but foreigners who want to come to the UK because we have bombed their countries back into the Stone Age are even worse, much, much worse.  The media tells us the immigrants (they’re not refugees, of course) are only coming over here  to steal our jobs, occupy our houses, use up our NHS resources and take advantage of our benefit system.  All just because we and our American pals have bombed their house, killed their neighbours and generally destroyed the area they used to call home.  What sort of reason is that to want you and your family to move somewhere safe and liveable.

Thirdly, he forgot that the Brexiteers could invent largely illusory benefits to be gained by leaving the EU and, with the help of the media, these “benefits” would be the ones that would stick in voters’ minds.  I’m sure everyone remembers the £350M/week to be spent on the NHS.  Unfortunately, putting it on a bus turned out to be much easier than putting it on the NHS.

Fourthly, he forgot to have a list of benefits for staying in the EU.  Always going to be a hard sell because of the first factor, it was made much worse by the Remain crew virtually completely confining their arguments to trying to rubbish the Brexiteers’ claims.

And lastly, he forgot the attraction to many of returning control and decision-making to the UK Parliament and the UK courts.  With years of rubbishing the EU behind them, people have been conditioned to believe that the EU isn’t democratic because we don’t always get our own way, that we pay a fortune into the EU and get almost nothing back and that every EU decision is stupid and anti-British.  Mind you, this makes what happened shortly after the referendum even less understandable.  But more of that later.

So, much to everyone’s surprise, the outcome was a win for Brexit, something no one in Government wanted, not even the Brexiteers, who, it turned out, were only trying to engineer a sufficiently close result to give the UK a bit more leverage in subsequent negotiations with the EU.  To complicate matters further, of the four countries in the UK, only two, England and Wales voted to leave, while the other two, Scotland and Northern Ireland, voted to stay, as did Gibraltar.  The differing and often conflicting expectations of each country are creating real problems for Theresa May, who replaced Davie as PM after he decided there were better (and more lucrative) things he could do now that the referendum wasn’t going to plan.

What wasn’t planned (I don’t think) was that the language used by the Brexiteers, anti-EU, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee would effectively give permission for the public to speak, and sometimes act, in the same way.  The weeks after the referendum saw a substantial increase in hate crimes, mainly in England it appears, with foreign UK residents and even visitors being harassed, abused and even physically attacked.

So where are we now?  Brexit means Brexit; a phrase that’s been on almost everyone’s lips over the last few months.  So said Theresa May when asked for a full explanation of the UK Government’s strategy for negotiation with the EU.  The Government refused to tell anyone what their negotiation strategy would be on the basis that they wouldn’t reveal their hand in advance of the negotiations themselves.  However, many unkind people suggested it more likely that they were keeping it a secret because to reveal their strategy would have shown that Brexit means Brexit was all of it.  For a government of a party that prides itself in its organisation, it is almost unbelievable that they could have been so complacent, so sure of victory, that they didn’t even bother to think what they would do if the vote went against them.

Not only did the UK Government refuse to tell the public what their strategy was, but they initially refused to allow Parliament to debate the terms.  It was their intention to use the Royal Prerogative decide on the timing and strategy, without involving parliament until after the decision had been taken.  Many were unhappy about this and, as a result, a small group decided to go to court to force the Government to seek parliamentary approval for both timing and strategy before triggering article 50.

When the court’s decision came down, that approval of parliament is a requirement, there was an astonishing outpouring of bile from politicians, the public, and, in particular, from the media, especially the right wing press.  They had insisted during the EU referendum campaign that they wanted to bring decision-making back to the UK to prevent the nasty foreigners in the EU Parliament and the European Court making decisions for us.  Now we had an example of English judges in an English court applying English law and deciding that the UK parliament (you could even say the English parliament) should have the final decision on the Brexit terms.  Wasn’t that what the referendum was all about?  Wasn’t that what 17m people voted for?  But no, many were distinctly unhappy, even incandescent with rage.  How dare these unelected judges try to overturn the will of the people they said, apparently unaware (or not caring) that the judges had only decided that Article 50 couldn’t be triggered without a vote in Parliament.

But their disagreement with the verdict was not the most worrying aspect of the coverage.  What was most worrying was not he fact that the media were annoyed, but it was the tone of the way they covered the verdict.

d-mail-judges      First we had the Daily Mail printing photographs of the judges and calling them “Enemies of the People”, describing one as a Europhile (how awful), one as someone who has made a lot of money through an association with Tony Blair (now that is awful) and a third as an openly gay ex-fencer (what can be said about such a comment in 2016). The Daily Mail weren’t the only ones to print photographs of the judges as the Telegraph did as well (a so called quality paper).  Short of printing the judges’ home addresses and explicitly calling for members of the public to sort them out, what more could they have done to stir up trouble.

sun-judges        Well, what they could have done what the Sun did, describe the group of people who took the action as rich foreigners (a bit ironic when printed alongside a photo of a woman married into one of the richest families  in the UK, or is it only British women that are allowed to be rolling in the stuff) and printed a photograph of one of the group specially darkened down to make her look really, really foreign.

two-faces  Compare the photo from the Sun on the left with the (nearly) identical one in the Times on the right.  I suppose it’s not really surprising for the Sun to do this as another article in the paper described how the proportion of white people living in some English towns has allegedly reduced over the last 20 or so years.  When did the Sun become the house magazine for the Ku Klux Klan?

Cheered on by politicians and the media lying about the court case, pretending that the intention was to overturn the result of the referendum, the situation got really out of hand.  Death threats and other abusive remarks were scattered around like confetti, aimed at anyone perceived to be on the “other side”, because anyone on the “other side” was an “enemy of the people”. ( It must be true, I read it in the Daily Mail).  People were said to be in hiding for fear of attack.  Politicians (mainly UKippers to be honest) called for the judges to be sacked for applying the law and for judges in future to be chosen by the government.  Bang goes the impartial judiciary then.  Who needs it?  It was perhaps indicative of the way things are going that the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, when finally forced to make a statement, refused to condemn the attacks on the judges.  I thought that the Lord Chancellor was supposed to be on the side of the judges, not the lunatic fringe of the press.  Perhaps she’s on the side of the judges in the same way Fluffy Mundell is on Scotland’s side.

What confuses me is the real objective of the media.  It certainly appears that they are trying to stir up trouble, even encourage violence, but to what end?  What would they hope to gain from such a situation?  Should there be violence, would they sell more copies, or is there some other advantage?  Or is this nothing to do with the media, but more to do with the owners of the media.  Do the mega-rich types who own most of the media in this country have a plan to turn the situation to their advantage?  Will civil unrest allow them to make changes which will benefit them and, by implication, disadvantage the rest of us.

It’s difficult to see how this will all turn out, but it’s hard to imagine that Brexit is going to benefit the UK economy, the relationships with our neighbours or the UK culture.  If only someone could think of some way that we in Scotland could avoid all the problems the UK will be facing over the coming years.  Any ideas?

How to win a referendum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who spent the money?

With the publication of the GERS figures, somewhat earlier than usual (does that mean they are even less accurate than normal?), we have the usual Unionist orgy of doom-laden descriptions of the “black hole” in the Scottish finances, clearly demonstrating that Scotland couldn’t possibly support itself without the help of those nice people from Westminster.  All of this is pretty standard stuff and probably by now is pretty much ignored by many Scots.  However, there are a couple of points which all the Unionists have failed to notice, probably because thinking of doom-laden statements tends to occupy so much of your time that you probably haven’t the time to read the report and think of what it really says.

Firstly and something which has been mentioned by many, GERS says more about the failure of Westminster than it does of the failure of Scotland.  Westminster have had over 300 years to make sure that Scotland, as an integral part of the UK (you will notice that I didn’t say “valued part of the UK”), has a strong economy and, using their own figures, they appear to have failed.

Secondly and perhaps less thought about, is this.  Every year, the Scottish Government gets a grant from Westminster through the Barnet Formula to finance the responsibilities that Westminster have generously allowed it to have.  This is a fixed proportion of total UK Government spending on these devolved responsibilities, though the actual amount reduces year on year as UK Government spending is impacted by the current austerity drive.  This grant represents the maximum amount that the Scottish Government can spend, because they are not allowed to spend more than is allocated via the Barnet Formula.  Despite that, the so-called black hole seems to be forever increasing.  Why is this?

If the amount allocated to the Scottish Government is a fixed proportion of UK Government spending on devolved matters and the Scottish Government cannot spend more than that, who is responsible for the extra spending that causes this black hole to get bigger.  Obviously, it can’t be the Scottish Government, so who else makes spending decisions for Scotland that could affect the Scottish deficit?

For all you who said Westminster, award yourselves a gold star.  Westminster makes the majority of decisions that affect Scottish spending reported in GERS.  If Westminster decides to spend more on defence (did someone mention Trident), Scotland has to pay a part of that.  If Westminster decides to go to war (did someone mention Iraq or Syria), Scotland has to pay their share.  Fair enough, you might say, as these things affect the whole country.  But if Westminster decides any expenditure at all is in the national interest, such as London Crossrail or the upgrade to the London sewerage system or the high speed train link from London to Birmingham or the London Olympics  (is there a trend here), then Scotland has to pay a share.  Strangely, it appears that a London based government always thinks that money spent on London benefits the whole country, but doesn’t feel the same way about money spent on other parts of the country.

So, all in all, it’s obvious that the majority of decisions affecting Scottish spending are made by Westminster and if Westminster decrees, then Scotland must pay a share whether they want to or not.

So you decide.  Is the current so-called black hole in Scotland’s finances the result of the Scottish Government’s profligacy or Westminster profligacy?  I don’t think it’s a hard choice.