Money to burn

It appears that the Conservative Party may have been just a little bit naughty about their election expenses for the 2015 UK General Election.  According to Channel 4 news (is it the only decent news broadcaster in the UK these days?), large chunks of lolly were “accidentally” omitted from the spending returns of a large number of Tory candidates in marginal seats.  The Tories’ excuse was that this was believed to be national spending, though it appears that much of the money doesn’t appear to have been included in their national return either, due to “administrative” errors.  However, as we are talking of six figure sums involving large Union Jack bedecked battle buses and dozens of activists, you may need to be particularly inept to overlook them entirely.

 Currently, around 45 (opinions vary about the number) Tory MPs’ election expenses are being investigated by around 30 police forces.  Most appear to have asked for extra time to complete their investigations, though none (as far as I am aware) have given any indication of the length of time their investigations are likely to take, important because the longer it takes, the less chance there is of there being any real result.

In theory, the Electoral Commission could order a rerun of the 2015 election in the affected constituencies.  That would almost certainly mean a change of government as it’s unlikely voters would be as kind to the Tories as they were in the original vote.  However, the implications of a rerun are such that this seems a bit extreme for the Commission.  For example, would it render the decisions taken by the (now) illegal Tory administration invalid?  Or would the Labour party come to regret the number of times they abstained in crucial divisions on Social Security changes instead of living up to their status as official Opposition.

More likely is that the Commission would accept a Tory plea that the errors were simply mistakes and that there was no deliberate intention to defraud, resulting in slap on the wrist, a small(ish) fine and a promise to be better behaved little boys and girls in the future.  That’s especially likely if you think about why the two main UK opposition parties are not really taking as much advantage of the situation as you’d expect and aren’t making that much fuss.  Could it be because both Labour and the LibDems were more or less equally guilty, differing perhaps only on a matter of scale.

Labour battle busLibDem battlebus

Perhaps they’re all just naughty little boys and girls.

The Return of the Slave Trade

Now the election’s over, we can get back to business as usual on social media, with most postings slagging off the Tories for the latest round of austerity cuts (or proposed cuts), cutting the incomes of the poor and disadvantaged, while, at the same time, boosting the incomes of the deserving plutocrats.

But how can they do that?  How can they sleep at night?  Have they no conscience?  These and other similar questions are often asked, but what surprises me is that the obvious answer to all of these questions is being ignored.

But first, a history lesson.  Let’s go back a few hundred years to a time when the European nobles got a bit fed up fighting amongst themselves.  Problem was, wars too often resulted in an effective score draw and many of the peasants who formed the bulk of the armies got killed.  This meant that there weren’t enough left to tend the animals and grow the crops used to feed the plutocrats of the day.  Jolly inconvenient, eh, what!  To solve the problem, they started looking  further afield for people to fight and that’s when they discovered Africa.

In Africa, they found a land populated by strange animals you didn’t see in Europe, lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes and many more.  But best of all was an animal that looked almost like a human.  It stood on two legs, just like a human.  It had opposable thumbs, just like a human.  It could use simple tools, just like a human.  But best of all, they discovered it was able to look after crops and animals and could be used to replace the peasants with no need to pay them beyond a few drinks of water and the odd bowl of gruel.  But they weren’t really human.  I mean, they didn’t wear proper clothes and they couldn’t speak even one European language.

That was the viewpoint of the early European invaders.  The slave trade developed partly because they thought they were dealing with some sort of sub-human species, so treating them like animals was quite acceptable, because they were animals.  Europeans considered Africans were put on the world to provide a means of generating money and food for real (i.e. rich) people.  This was an attitude that persisted right up to the middle of the last century and, in some places, still exists today.  Even many of those who campaigned to end the slave trade did so on the same basis as we would today campaign to improve the conditions of pigs or chickens.

Now, of course, in most developed countries, people views have changed and such thinking is not considered appropriate.  People are no longer identified by their race or colour.  But it is in human nature to seek to differentiate.  There has to be an us and a them.  So how are people differentiated today?  The answer is, of course, money.  There are those who have lots and those who don’t.

So what’s this got to do with the slave trade, I hear you say.  Well, while 15th century Europeans thought Africans were inferior because of their colour, 21st century rich toffs think poor people are inferior because of their poverty.  They believe superior people will find a way to become rich and only inferior people will remain poor because they’ve not got the capability to become rich.

Do rich people think poor people are some sort of sub-human species?  A step up from cattle, pigs and sheep, perhaps, but still only fit for tending crops and looking after animals (or whatever the 21st century equivalents are).  Might that explain why Tories don’t seem to be overly concerned about the impact of the cuts on poor people?  After all, if you decided to (e.g.) reduce the amount of grazing your cattle have, you might be worried if it impacted the profit to be made, but you wouldn’t be overly worried about the impact on the cattle’s quality of life.

There are still a few quite significant differences between poor people and animals.  Two of the more significant are poor people can vote, animals can’t and poor people have human rights, animals don’t.  Until this changes, there is always the danger that some poor people might get really annoyed about something and prevent the plans of rich people going ahead.  However, alive to the danger, we’ve seen the Tory government take the first steps to resolve these two problems by firstly changing the voter registration system, resulting in large numbers of poor people losing the right to vote; and secondly, proposing to replace European Human Rights with a British version, which will undoubtedly provide fewer rights than the European one.  And who will bet against this being only the start of a significant program to remove even more rights from poor people.

But surely that can’t be right, I hear you say.  Surely our government doesn’t really think of the bulk of the population as some lower form of being.  Well, just think of what has happened since the Tories (effectively) took power in 2010.   Their rhetoric has been to demonise the unemployed (shirkers don’t contribute to the wealth of rich people) and to describe the disabled as a drain on society (many of them don’t contribute to the wealth of rich people).  Their actions have added to the misery of the poor and disabled by cutting ESA, introducing the bedroom tax (though the fact that this was first introduced by Labour is a timely reminder that not all rich people are in the Tory party) and Work Capability Assessments, and freezing other benefits or making them much more difficult to claim.  All actions which further disadvantage the already disadvantaged.  Would normal human beings do that to fellow humans; to people they considered as their equals?  I think not.

All the actions of the government point to the inescapable conclusion that rich people (remember the government are nearly all rich people) consider themselves a higher class of being and, by inference, consider the poor as a lower class who don’t deserve the same level of consideration.  Who then can argue that poor people are not the slaves of the 21st century?

Respect, the Referendum, and the Union

Ever since the result of the independence referendum was known, the unionist mantra has been to demand that Yes voters, particularly the nasty SNP types, should respect the result.

“The Scottish people have spoken”, they say, “so you must respect the will of the Scottish people “.

However, it soon became clear that the Unionist argument would have been more accurately expressed as “you respect the result of the referendum because somebody should”.  Because ever since the result was known, the Tory government and the unionist media have shown clearly that they have absolutely no intention of respecting the result, a result obtained by Scots making a judgement between two offers, one for independence and one for remaining in the Union.   Unfortunately (for us), the Union offer turned out to be smoke and mirrors. In fact, it was so smoky and mirrored that it gave smoke and mirrors a bad name.

Only hours had passed when David Cameron, a signatory of the now world-famous Vow, had announced his intention to introduce EVEL, the well-named scheme to deprive Scots MPs of the opportunity to vote on bills which supposedly only apply to England, but, as it turns out, also includes bills with a knock-on effect on the Scottish block grant.  This was followed by the infamous Smith Commission, which reduced the concept of “Home Rule” to the ability to design street signs and little else.  Scottish Labour, presumably on the instructions of their bosses in London, were particularly keen on making sure the Scots got nothing.

Worse was to follow when the Scotland Bill, (very) loosely based on the outcome of Smith, came before Westminster.  Tories, and often Labour too, few of whom could be bothered to attend the debates, would turn up at each division to vote against any sensible increase in the powers being offered to the Scottish Government.

In the meantime, in May 2015, we had an election to the UK parliament.  Respect the result of the referendum, the Unionists said.  It’s time to move on, they said.  Scots voters, obviously so impressed by the concept of “respecting the referendum result”, turned out in numbers and elected 56 SNP MPs out of 59, leaving the Unionist parties, Labour, Tories and LibDems with a rump of 1 MP each.  Funnily enough, no one in any unionist party suggested that we should respect the result of the General Election.  The SNP haven’t got a mandate, they bleated, because they got less than 50% of the vote (true, it was a mere 49.97%).  The fact that the Tories got elected in Westminster with only 37% of the vote seemed to have escaped their memory.  For Unionists, the will of the Scottish people should only be respected when they get the right answer.  Otherwise, they should be ignored … because they’re just … WRONG … obviously.

Now, to bring us right up to date, we had the Scottish Parliament elections just a few days ago.  Respect the result of the referendum, the Unionists said.  It’s time to move on, they said.  However, once again, Scots voters chose to ignore the siren calls of the Unionists and voted for a third term for the SNP with an increased number of constituency votes and an increased  share of the votes.  For a variety of reasons, including the so-called tactical voting effect and the virtual collapse of the Labour vote, on this occasion the SNP did not get a majority in Parliament, despite their increased vote share.  The collapse of the Labour vote allowed the Tories to overtake them for second place and the kudos of being the official opposition.  This allowed the Tory media, including the BBC, to claim the election as a triumph for the Tories and a disaster for the SNP and allowed an overexcited Ruth Davidson to claim that she had a mandate to say no to a second referendum, despite the huge difference in the number of MSPs and share of the vote..  In all the excitement, many people didn’t even notice that the Tories had  a lower vote share than Labour, 22% to Labour’s 22.6%.

Breaking news.  The appointment of Ken Macintosh as Presiding Officer slightly reduces the gap between the SNP and the rest, but makes no material difference to the current parliamentary challenge for the SNP.

Breaking news 2.  Very impressed by my (new) local MSP, Clare Haughey, who took the oath today with calmness and aplomb.  A great start.  She’ll do Rutherglen, and the Scottish Parliament, proud. Gon yersel, Clare.

So what have we learned about the attitude of the Unionist parties post referendum.  We know now that the Unionist desire for all of us to “respect the will of the Scottish people” and move on only applies when the Scottish people give the right answer and, in any case, only applies to the Scottish people.  So, it applies for the referendum result, but doesn’t apply when the Scottish people deliver an overwhelming mandate to the SNP, such as in the 2015 and 2016 elections. It only applies to Scots   It doesn’t apply to anybody else.  So when Unionists totally ignore the promises made about what would be delivered following a No vote, this is not disrespecting the will of the Scottish people, this is just … politics?  Others might describe it more like taking the piss, but I wouldn’t use such phrases myself.

Do we think they’ll change?  Does anyone think they’ll change?  Of course they won’t.  Only independence can take us away from the malign influence of the Westminster Tories, and it can’t come soon enough.

 

When the tactical gamble fails

We’ve seen a lot of talk on social media about regional list voting for the Holyrood election.  See also here  (https://wordpress.com/post/angryweegie.wordpress.com/221).  All the smaller parties of the left say they support independence and the main argument being addressed to SNP supporters by  all of them is that a vote for them will be more likely to secure additional pro-indy MSPs than a vote for the SNP because of the operation of the D’Hondt system of voting used for Holyrood elections.

Of the minor parties, only the Greens are likely to figure in the new parliament in any significant numbers, as RISE and Solidarity are barely showing in the polls and are unlikely to pick up many, or even any, seats.

However, I have a number of issues with these tactical voting suggestions.

To become the official party of opposition, as has been suggested as a possibility by several Green supporters, the Greens would have to increase the number of regional votes by more than 400,000 from the 87,000 they gained in 2011, an almost impossible task.  The possibility of increased turnout compared to 2011 would only increase that figure.  More realistically, they may gain a few more votes and a few more seats, a larger number of additional seats if more voters are persuaded to switch to the Greens on the list, but a smaller number otherwise.  Given that their campaign strategy has almost entirely targeted the SNP, it is very likely that any increased Green vote would be balanced by a corresponding reduction in the SNP vote, so it’s much more likely that any additional seats won by the Greens would be at the expense of the SNP, so no pro-independence gain there.  Worse that that, a significant reduction in the SNP vote is more likely to allow the bigger parties, Labour and Tories, to gain extra seats, based on the much larger number of votes they will attract, compared to the Greens.

We’ve heard at some length what the upside of tactical voting is, but what’s the downside.  Two possible outcomes could be either an SNP minority government, like 2007, or, if the numbers allowed, the unionist parties could form a coalition to outvote the SNP, even with the support of the smaller parties, allowing a unionist majority, with Ruth Davidson or Kezia Dugdale as First Minister.

An SNP minority government, depending on the Greens (or any other party) to pass legislation is obviously weaker as the other party’s priorities would have to be taken into account. No matter what you say, there are many issues where the Greens (and the other minor parties) disagree with the SNP and that would leave the SG open to “blackmail” to get its legislation passed.

A unionist coalition government, controlled from London, would be a disaster for Scotland and would set back the possibility of another referendum for years, perhaps even for decades.  It’s too horrible to contemplate, so I won’t.

The negative reaction in the media if the SNP failed to get a majority would far outweigh any positives to be gained from having a (slightly) larger number of pro-independence MSPs, even assuming that the Greens and the other minor parties can truly be described as such.  The largely unionist press would have a field day (or is that a field five years), giving them the opportunity for even more “SNP-bad” articles, leaving the SNP government largely on the defensive and making it very difficult to work to achieve the increase in the proportion of YES voters needed to secure a YES result in a second referendum.

The SNP is the only party I trust to stand up for Scotland, above all other issues. The Greens campaigned for YES in the referendum, but is it their highest priority?  Or, even worse, was it simply a tactic to increase their profile. In either case, my personal view is that they would sacrifice independence for issues closer to their heart, so I don’t see them as SNP lite.

Independence is my priority , but I just don’t see the tiny advantage in having a few  additional pro-independence MSPs having any real effect. The media will still run with a largely pro-union message, and would do so no matter how many unionist MSPs there were. So how would the independence message get more air/print time?  And considering the possible downsides, who amongst you would want to take the risk.

Both votes SNP.  SNP 1+2.  You know it makes sense.

Are you feeling lucky?

 

It’s the wheeze that just won’t go away.  Like the proverbial bad penny (or after inflation, the proverbial bad fiver), you just can’t get rid of it, no matter how many folk point out the arrant nonsense.  It’s the “tactical voting on the list” wheeze.  This is the idea that SNP supporters should vote for their SNP constituency candidate, but vote for one of the smaller (allegedly) pro-independence parties on the list to maximise the number of pro-independence MSPs.

Last week has also seen the rise (excuse the pun) of  the “predominate party problem”, the new version of an old anti-SNP meme, the one party state.  It’s strange that in UK politics, Labour or Tories can have majorities in successive terms of government, sometimes quite large majorities (eg. Blair in 1997), and no one thinks there’s a problem, but, in Scotland, if the party with a majority in Holyrood seeks a second term with a majority, conferences have to be held to try to find out where the voting system has gone wrong.  (Thinks) Does this only apply to the SNP.  I don’t remember this argument being used when the Labour/LibDem coalition campaigned for a second term.

We are in the latter stages of an election campaign, so it’s not surprising that the parties are trying to put out messages to attempt to attract voters in the hope of increased representation (or in a couple of cases, some representation) in the Holyrood parliament.  All the major parties are encouraging supporters to vote for their constituency candidate and to vote for the party on the list  What else would you expect?   However, uniquely, SNP’s message of both votes SNP, what might be thought of as a fairly normal “vote for me” message,  is considered by many, particularly those in the media, as a “bad thing”.  Suggestions have even been made that the SNP should encourage their members to vote for another independence supporting party on the list.  It’s even rumoured that Labour and LibDem activists have been telling voters that it’s illegal to vote SNP on the list if you’ve already voted for an SNP constituency candidate.  Naughty!  Naughty!

Of course, all of these suggestions are based on the “fact” that the SNP will win a Holyrood majority from constituencies alone, so there’s no need for them to win any list seats.  Cleverer people than me (look at Wings over Scotland or Scot goes Pop) have already debunked that argument, so I won’t go into it here, except to say that even though the polls are showing a healthy lead, a week is a long time in politics and it would only take a couple of points change for that majority to vanish.

Now let’s get straight that no one can complain if you vote for the party you would like to win the election.  If you think the Rise, Solidarity or Green manifesto is a truly attractive and inspirational document and one that even Dostoyevsky would be proud to have written, go ahead and vote for them, though, if afflicted by such thoughts, scheduling an appointment with your doctor shortly after may be a wise precaution.

My main complaint is that the smaller pro-independence parties seem to be targeting their campaigns at taking votes from the SNP, but not at soft Labour, LibDem or even Tory voters.  What’s wrong with that, you may ask?  Well, in a situation where we are (allegedly) trying to convert voters to an independence way of thinking, so increasing the number of YES voters for the next referendum, this doesn’t get us any more potential independence supporters, it just shuffles the existing ones.  If the smaller parties were really committed to independence, given that they know they can’t win, would they not be more interested in attracting that extra support.  Their current tactics can only benefit the parties themselves, but not the independence movement.  Surely that can’t be the reason.  Surely they’re not really putting party advantage first, but saying that they’re only thinking about the independence movement.  Surely not.

So how do we resolve this problem?  How do we vote to be sure that we support a party committed to independence?  What party do we know that will always put Scotland first and who we can be sure will take the earliest chance to call another referendum, one that we will win.  I have a plan … Both votes SNP … SNP 1 + 2.  You know it makes sense.

 

 

Oh what a lovely war

Here we go, here we go, here we go
Here we go, here we go, here we go-o

But perhaps the chanting was all that was missing from the ‘debate’ at Westminster last Wednesday. We had the ohs and ahs from the terraces (or the benches) when someone, most often someone from the home team, executed a clever (verbal) manoeuvre; there was the usual barracking of players on the away team by the more numerous home support, the away team captain Jezza being especially singled out for treatment; and the crowd responded to near misses at either end with huge roars of appreciation.

Not unexpectedly, the balance of play favoured the home team.  They had more of the ball and their play showed a greater degree of organisation.  By contrast, the away team were so disorganised that sometimes you would almost have got the impression that some of the players were kicking in the wrong direction.  Indeed, Benn, one of the away forwards, was applauded by the home support for one particularly impressive intervention, which only served to put the away team on the back foot, much to the dismay of Jezza, the captain.

At this point, I ought to say that the group of Scottish players on the left wing of the away team certainly demonstrated much more skill and cohesion than the rest of the team, but unfortunately, despite it looking as if they could cause the home team some problems, their contribution was limited as they saw so little of the ball during the game.

All in all, it was no surprise when the home team eventually triumphed, though the 66 penalty misses by the away team contributed to the scoreline having a much more one-sided appearance than seemed likely at the start of the game. The home crowd certainly appreciated the victory, celebrating it with cheers and applause, though, thankfully, no foot stamping, as recent comments seem to suggest the main stand at the Westminster arena may be in need of some very expensive restoration.

To get back to the real world, we had a debate about whether Britain should join in the assault on Syria, where nobody listened to anything anyone else had to say, where everyone had made up their mind in advance, and where the result, that we had decided to join the game of seeing how many people we could blow up, some of whom (hopefully) being terrorists, was a foregone conclusion, especially after Corbyn allowed a free vote and it became obvious that a significant number of Labour MPs would vote with their Tory bedfellows.  The excitement that greeted the result seemed at odds with the seriousness of the action that the result permitted, but the Tories particularly obviously felt that they had saved their leader from going down in history as a Tory leader who had failed to start a war, or at least join in someone else’s.

So now we can expect the media to be full of reports of the successes of our ‘brave lads’, no doubt with a count of numbers of terrorists killed, though whether the count will be detailed enough to identify those terrorists who were under 5 years old can only be, at the moment, the subject of speculation.

Still, Cameron will be pleased.  He’s got his diversion from problems at home and he no doubt expects that no one will notice the continued, or even increased (war has to be paid for, you know), austerity and even if they do, they’ll think it a price worth paying to ‘keep us safe’ and to increase the sales, and profits, of the arms manufacturers, not to mention reminding everyone that Britain is still a world power who can murder Jonny Foreigners with the best of them.

With a little help from our friends?

The end of the world as we know it.  That seemed to be the general reaction to the Westminster Government’s decision to implement EVEL, English Votes for English Laws, a new process by which a committee of English or English and Welsh MPs get to debate bills defined as “English only” or “English and Welsh only” matters,  and amend them as they see fit.  Surely only fair say the Government and the MSM political pundits.  It’s only giving the English (or English and Welsh) what the non-English nations already have through their national Parliaments/Assemblies.  Strangely, it does give the Welsh two bites of the cherry, so I suppose they’re bound to be pleased.

Will it make a difference?  Stats tell us that Scottish votes decided the outcome in less than 5% of Commons divisions, but the other side of that coin is that the English got their own way in more than 95% of the votes.  However, the Tory government thinks that’s not fair enough.  They think that the English should get their own way more often. Is that maybe 96% of votes; or maybe 98%; or maybe even 100%?

Do Cameron and his mates really worry that the evil (note spelling) Scots might decide anything at all?  That seems to be the case as even the Scottish Affairs Committee is stuffed with English MPs, presumably because the Tories can’t countenance the possibility that the Scots might get their own way, ever.  So the English deciding what’s good for the Scots is OK, but the other way round is so awful that rules have to be introduced to make it impossible.

But what are these “English Laws” that the Tories want to keep pure.  Some suggestions have been made, such as HS2, a rail line which will only go from London to Birmingham initially and maybe, in another 20 or 30 years time, to Manchester and Leeds.  Obviously, nothing to do with Scotland, so why should Scots have any say in whether it goes ahead.  Surely,it’s only fair that it’s decided by the English themselves.  Except, of course, when it comes to paying for it.  Then the Scots get to play a much bigger part. And when I say bigger, I mean BIGGER.  Not just the under 5% that applies when voting.  Oh no. When it comes to paying, we Scots get an almost 10% share.  Shouldn’t that make us feel good.  Zero% of the deciding, but 10% of the paying.  Of course the observant among you will be able to spot the difference between HS2 and the Borders Railway.  That’s right, one is funded entirely by the Scottish Government and one also has a contribution from Westminster.  Can you spot which is which?  Is this a case of taxation without representation?  Well, we know where that led

Of course, EVEL creates other issues.  What about the great offices of state?  Since the beginning of the last century, several Scots MPs (and several Welsh) have held one or other of the major offices of state, Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary or Foreign Secretary.  Could EVEL signal the beginning of the end as far as non-English holders of these positions.  How can someone lead a government or a major government department when barred from taking part in debates for perhaps half of all bills brought before Parliament?  How could someone bring a measure before the House when unable to speak in its defence?  So if you believed that the occasional Scottish (or Welsh, or Northern Irish) PM would be enough to keep Scotland in Westminster’s thoughts, looks like you’re destined for more disappointment.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, the rule that the Speaker can arbitrarily decide (and no one can challenge that decision) that any bill before the House is “English only” doesn’t apply to Scottish matters.  Oh no.  Not only is the Scottish Affairs Committee full of English MPs, and not only do some English Tory MPs think that Scots shouldn’t be allowed on committees dealing with reserved matters (yes I do mean you Alberto Costa), but the fate of the Scotland Bill currently going through Parliament is entirely dependent on the good offices (or otherwise) of the majority English Tory MPs.  English Tory MPs get to decide what Scots can and can’t do.  English Tory MPs, who mainly don’t even listen to the debate, drift out of the bar at division time and vote against Scots’ wishes.  And don’t expect much help from English Labour MPs.  They mainly find that the bar stools are too comfortable or too difficult to get off to be bothered to vote, but when they do, they are just as likely to vote with the Tories as they are to oppose the Tories.  Opposition is a long word, so perhaps I’m being unfair to expect many English Labour MPs to understand it.  Scottish Labour MPs, of whom there are a very, very small number, seem to inhabit the same voting world as his (oops, gave the game away) English colleagues.  Don.t expect Scottish Labour MPs to vote for Scotland.

However, all is not lost.  Though things may look bad in the Commons, bills still have to get through the Lords.  Surely we can depend on the Scottish Lords and Ladies (and there are many) to set aside party posturing and stand up for Scotland.  In some cases, I admit, standing up may prove to be just a little tricky, but you know their heart is in the right place.  With the likes of Lord McAvoy,  Lord Robertson, Lord Reid, Lord Watson and not forgetting the incomparable Lord Foulkes on our side, how can we fail to improve on the nasty little can of worms that is the Scotland Bill.  Or  am I just dreaming?