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.

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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.

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.

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.

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?

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?