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.

A bridge too far? Are Unionists right … or wrong?

Hip, hip, hooray, the day arrived when the Queensferry Crossing was officially opened and in a few days time traffic will be streaming across this fantastic new connection between the Lothians and Fife, allowing any required remedial work to be done on the current Forth Road Bridge with no inconvenience to the many thousands who travel regularly over the bridge at the moment.  Eventually, the Queensferry Crossing will be designated a motorway and traffic will be able to cross at motorway speeds, with public transport and non-motorway traffic being returned to the Forth Road Bridge.  The last couple of days have seen thousands walking over the bridge, taking the one chance before it’s closed to pedestrians for ever.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the thousands as, in common with most raffles I get a ticket for, my name didn’t come up.

The new bridge and, more particularly, the funding for it have been the subject of considerable controversy.  Originally suggested by the Tories in the late 1990s, the project was cancelled by Labour just as soon as they could, when they and the Lib Dems took office in Holyrood in 1999.

There the situation stood until 2007.  Despite warnings by FETA (not the big cheese, but the Forth Estuary Transport Authority) that the Forth Road Bridge was not designed for the volume of traffic using it and various well documented maintenance issues like corrosion of the cables, Labour refused to authorise spending the money on a new bridge, despite having the cash available.  In fact, during their period in office, Labour actually returned money to Westminster because they couldn’t think of anything to spend it on.  I, and lots of others, I’m sure, could have helped them out with ideas.  Still, it wasn’t altogether a bad thing as it did mean that Jack McConnell got a peerage for services to Westminster.

In 2007, everything changed.  When the SNP took control of the Scottish Government, they almost immediately conducted a review of the case for a new bridge and, by the end of the year, announced that they were going to give the go-ahead for the construction of the bridge.

Cue an outpouring of “support” from the Unionist parties.  Danny Alexander (remember him?) accused the Scottish Government of using taxpayers’ money to fund an SNP vanity project.  MSP James Kelly, at the time Scottish Labour’s insightful (or do I mean incompetent) infrastructure spokesman (OK, I am joking … about insightful) also called it an SNP vanity project, as did Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens, while MPs at the time, Alistair Darling (Lab), Malcolm Forsyth (Con) and Ming Campbell (LD) all described the bridge as a waste of money.  I won’t repeat what George Foulkes said about it, but I don’t suppose he remembers anyway.

BBC were quite happy to repeat that it was an “SNP vanity project”.  They alternated between this and “cut price bridge” because the SNP Government seemed to think they could deliver the bridge for less than half the £4Bn that Labour had claimed it would cost.  And to make matters worse (for the Unionists), it turns out they were right.

Vanity projects were in.  Practically everything the Scottish Government proposed was described as an SNP vanity project by one or other of the Unionist parties, Gaelic road signs, scrapping university tuition fees, Borders railway, even the Edinburgh trams, a project which was actually run by the (Labour controlled) Edinburgh Council.

Of course, insults were not the only problem faced by the Scottish Government.  The decision had been taken to use public funding, but there seemed no end to the effort made by Westminster to raise problems.  Gordon Brown, a “proud Scot but”, was the man in charge of the money at Westminster and he was determined to do everything possible to prevent a Scottish Government run by the evil SNP from claiming credit for such a major piece of infrastructure.  Various attempts to get Westminster funding were thrown out.  Borrowing powers were rejected and even a request to bring forward Scotland’s capital grant was knocked back by Brown, who instead suggested that the Scottish Government could cut back on services to allow them to save up to be able to afford it.  A typical Unionist plan.

Despite Westminster’s best efforts and without even a penny contribution from them, building work began in 2011, with a contractual completion date of June, 2017, though, unfortunately, Transport Scotland told everyone the bridge would be complete by December, 2016, providing the opportunity for all the Unionist media to be able to claim repeatedly that it was “months late”.  The media were less keen to say that construction was £250 million under budget.  To put that in context, I have compiled a full list of Westminster funded projects completed under budget in the last 10 years.

                                ?

Don’t you think that’s an impressive list?

Now the bridge is complete, there’s a concerted effort by the Unionist media to try to write the SNP Government out of the history of the bridge.  We find it described as a “triumph of British engineering” by both the BBC and Sky (is that a step up from SNP vanity project or a step down?), with no mention of the Scottish Government’s role, built using public funds with no mention of where the funds came from, and worst of all, a BBC commissioned radio programme charting the history of the Forth bridges, starring BBC’s favourite politician (now Ruth has gone into hiding), the great growling beast that is (you’ve guessed it) Gordon Brown.

It’s hard to imagine the BBC could have delivered a bigger insult to those involved in building the bridge than using the man who did more than anyone to try to prevent it being built.  I suppose it won’t be long before we see Monica Lennon describing, in breathless terms, the challenges she overcame in pushing the SNP into funding this wonderful new, Labour inspired construction.

Following on from the British triumph, we’ve had a procession of proud Scots but rubbishing the idea that there’s anything for Scots to be proud of.  They’ve pointed out the use of materials sourced from elsewhere  (how can you think it’s Scottish when the steel came from China) and the involvement of “furriners” in the design and construction (how can you think it’s Scottish as the design involved Danes).  It’s only a bridge, they said.  You can’t be proud of anything Scottish, they said.  It’s too wee, there were queues when it opened, they said.  It should have been a tunnel, they said.  It’s not as long as that one in Hong Kong, they said.  But what they really said was: “We think it rubbish because it’s Scottish and because it was built by an SNP government” and “Scotland are too wee, too poor and too stupid to ever complete a project like this on their own”.

OK.  So we all know that it’s not sensible to have an overwhelming belief that nothing your country does can ever be wrong.  But is that really worse than an overwhelming belief that nothing your country does can ever be right?  And do those who hold to the latter belief still consider themselves Scottish, or are they just Britnats who haven’t yet outed themselves.

Finally, in answer to the opening question, “A bridge too far … are the Unionists right or wrong?”, the answer is undoubtedly wrong.  The Queensferry Crossing is an impressive Scottish bridge, conceived in Scotland and brought into existence with the help of friends and partners from other countries.  Praise for the bridge has come in from all over the world, but only in Scotland are there people so determined to denigrate everything that happens in their country that they are lining up to tell everyone how useless it is.

Sad, sad people.

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.

Trumpety, Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think on it.

Who spent the money?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.