All for Brexit’s Wedding

A Modern Political Fable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Memories of the way we were

“Memories light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories of the way we were”
(with apologies to Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch)

Memories are defined as the ability to recall the past: to have a store of experiences you can bring back to help you understand the present.  Memories can also help to shape the future based on past experience.  Remembering what turned out well and what turned out badly, what worked and what didn’t, allows you to build on previous successes and avoid previous failures.  So memories are useful.

Of course, memory can play tricks on you.  Memories can come back wearing rose-tinted glasses.  Most of us remember that, in our childhood, summers were a long series of sunny days, full of games with friends, picnics and trips to the beach.  Summers were so much better then.  Nothing ever went wrong.  If only there was a way to make summers in the future more like those in the past.

That can be applied to countries as well.  There are those who want to create a better future by building on the successes and avoiding the failures of the past.  There are those who believe that the way to success is to recreate the past in all its rose-tinted glory.

No, it’s not Scotland I’m talking about.  Most Scots have a clear understanding of the sort of country they want Scotland to be and they’ve long since got rid of those rose-tinted glasses.  Most Scots want to live peacefully in a country which develops friendships and mutually beneficial trading relationships with other nations.  They want to live in a country where the needs of the many takes precedence over the greed of the few.

Scots don’t want a Scotland that makes the poor and disadvantaged even more poor and disadvantaged. They don’t want a Scotland which treat the disabled as if they were parasites. They don’t want a Scotland which only benefits the rich, the so-called “wealth creators”, whose talent is only to create wealth for themselves. They don’t want a Scotland which only treats the sick who can afford to pay for treatment. They don’t want a Scotland which attacks or invades other nations. They don’t want a Scotland which takes part in illegal wars. They don’t want a Scotland which hosts nuclear weapons or threatens other countries with using them. They don’t want a Scotland which builds aircraft carriers that, even if they had any planes, could only be used attack other countries. And they definitely don’t want a Scotland which acts as poodles to a United States of America led by Donald Trump.

Unfortunately, Scotland is part of a union whose government seems to want all of these things

Tory Governments have long memories. They remember the times when the map of the world was almost all pink. They remember the times when Britain ruled the world, when Britain ruled the waves, when Britons never, ever, ever were going to be slaves, and they don’t really understand why things have changed. They yearn for the times when Britain had an empire. They don’t understand why things can’t be like they were in Victorian times, or even in the time of Henry VIII. In fact, they remember Henry VIII so well that they’ve decided to give him a starring role in their latest attempt to destroy the future for everyone in the UK, except the rich, of course, while reducing the Commons to an irrelevance and virtually annihilating the devolved parliaments and the devolution agreements which created them

The only thing wrong with the Tories’ memory is that it’s only a long term memory. They suffer from short term memory loss. They entirely forgot the promises they made to Scotland in 2014. Do you remember the vow? They obviously don’t. They entirely forgot that the Scottish Parliament was going to be positively deluged in shiny new powers after Brexit. Or at least they forgot that the powers were going to be transferred to Westminster first so they could be “sanitised”, or changed so they work only to London and the South-East’s advantage, and to make sure that the few, if any, of the powers that are eventually transferred to Holyrood would not be of any benefit to Scotland.  They will prove to be yet more examples of powers not intended to improve the government of Scotland.  Only pretend powers that fool some people into thinking the Scottish Government can make things better by using them, but, in reality, only a trick, only there to provide something that can’t work except as a means for Unionists to claim that the Scottish Government are rubbish and aren’t fit to run a country.

So what sort of future do you want?  One built on a respect for the past, using our knowledge to construct a better future for all our citizens, or one imagined through the rosy glow of the Tory spectacles where, when the glasses are taken off, the benefits are seen to be going only one way, and it sure ain’t towards you.

You decide.

Democracy, Tory style

No government, no matter the size of its majority, can expect a completely problem-free period in office.  For one reason or another, all governments will face a number of mini or maxi crises during their period in power.

For example, what happens when you don’t win an election that you expected to win and it mucks up all your plans to convert your country into a tax haven for the very rich.  Do you talk to the opposition and come to an agreement about the policies you’ll put before your parliament and give up on all that tax haven nonsense?  Well,  not if you’re the Tories, you don’t.  You just pretend you really did win, say it will be business as usual, then sneakily try to change the rules to make sure the result doesn’t matter.

We have already been given a good idea of what democracy in Scotland will look like if the Tories get their way and if we hang around long enough as a part of the UK to allow it to happen.

While all political parties might exaggerate their potential achievements before an election, the difference between what they promise and what they deliver is generally small enough to allow them to explain it away before the next election, or they won’t get re-elected.  However, in the case of the 2014 referendum, the difference between the promises, like the Vow, like “don’t leave the UK, lead the UK”, like all the rest, and the delivery, no you can’t get home rule, but you can get EVEL to reduce the status of your MPs to second class, would have made chalk and cheese embarrassed.  Of course, the difference here is they thought there would never be another one.  As one after another of the proposed transfers of power from Westminster to Holyrood was voted down in Westminster by both the Tory and Labour MPs (including the Scots), they just laughed at us for believing them.

Following the result of the EU referendum, the Tories have now given us the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, or the Great Repeal Bill as it’s more commonly known.  The Government propose to make the Great Repeal Bill subject to the so-called “Henry VIII rules” which would allow them to make whatever changes they like after the bill is passed by Parliament by the use of “statutory instruments” with no parliamentary scrutiny.  Effectively, it becomes government by proclamation.  This means that the Government is free to make any changes it wishes to EU laws being transferred into UK law.  While some of these changes will be benign, for example to change a reference to a European institution into one to a British equivalent, there will be nothing to stop the Government introducing changes which fundamentally alter the original EU law,  or remove it altogether.  The Tories have promised they won’t do that (honest, they have), but is there anyone in the UK who really believes they won’t take the opportunity to make changes to any EU laws that they would rather hadn’t been introduced.  What are the chances of workers’ rights, environmental regulations, consumer rights or trading standards coming through the process unscathed?  Would that be no chance, or perhaps less than that?

Looking at what the Great Repeal Bill doesn’t say, it tells us what political life in Scotland is going to be like following Brexit.  Powers will all be reserved to Westminster, even in areas which are currently devolved, such as farming and fishing.  Trust us,  they say.  We’ll sort out the details later.  Unfortunately, later, the Government will be able to change the rules in any area without consulting the Scottish Government (or any of the devolved governments).  They will be able to overrule the Scottish Government, even in areas of devolved responsibility.  They can take back powers, reduce the Scottish Government to an impotent shell or even close it down altogether, though even the Tories may consider that a risk too far.  Trust us, they say.  We’ll sort out the details later.  But who is brave enough to forecast just how far the Tories will go to rid themselves of the annoyance that the Scottish Government represents.  Devolution was never intended to create Westminster’s conscience, Westminster’s Jiminy Cricket.

But aren’t the Tories a democratic party?  Surely, whatever they might do, can’t you always depend on the Tories to act democratically?  Well, if anyone still thinks the Tories are committed to democracy, just think for a moment about the replacement Scottish Tory MEP and the reason for there being a need for one.  When Ian Duncan, Scotland’s only Tory MEP, tried and failed to win a seat at Westminster in Theresa May’s snap election, his efforts to get into the UK government looked to be over.  But ignoring the verdict of the electorate (doesn’t that ring a bell?), Duncan was given a peerage and appointed to the post of Deputy Scottish Secretary, under Fluffy McFluffyface.  As a Peer, Duncan couldn’t retain his position as an MEP, so he had to resign from Europe and that meant a replacement was required.  The expected replacement should have been the person who came second in the ballot for the Tory list for the EU election, but the Tories (or do I mean Ruth the Mooth) decided to ignore the result of that ballot as well (surely not another one?) and instead gave the job to Baroness Mobarik, who was third in the ballot, and who then had to take leave of absence from the Lords to take up the position.  And this was just a relatively unimportant internal ballot.  How many more times will the Tories just ignore the result of an election because they don’t get the result they wanted?

For their latest trick, even though they have no Commons majority, the Tories plan to push through a rule that says the Government (even a minority government just like today) will always have an effective majority on all Public Bill Committees (formerly called Standing Committees), those which debate bills and have the power to alter them.  Currently, the makeup of Public Bill Committees is required to reflect the relative number of MPs in the Commons for each party, which means a minority government would not have a guaranteed majority in committees.  The change means the Tories will be completely in charge of the content of all bills brought before Parliament.  Pity they hadn’t thought of this idea before they offered a £1.5bn bribe to the DUP.  They could have spent the money on something more important, like offering tax rebates to their mates.

Theresa May had called the election to give her a big enough majority to steamroller all the Brexit changes through the Commons with no real opposition.  When that didn’t work, she’s now changing the rules to give her the majority that the voters refused to provide.  So we see that, if they don’t get the “correct” result from the electorate, the Tories are quite happy to ignore the result and make up their own.  That’s Tory democracy!  Or do I mean Tory dictatorship?

What’s next, I wonder?  Perhaps, next time, the Tories will just miss out the inconvenient part of an election, the asking the voters part, because, if you can give yourself a majority by ignoring the views of the electorate, why bother asking them in the first place.

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.

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.