Change is coming – but when?

I remember the days when August was the month of grouse shooting (I am old), when what we thought of at the time as newspapers were full of stories about landed gentry from the south of England coming up to Scotland to see how many they could “bag”, when there was a race to see which restaurant in London would be the first to serve Scottish grouse to their diners.  Oh, the good old days!

Now August is the month of GERS, Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland, for those who may still think it has something to do with football (oh,no, not that old joke again).  This is now the month that the BritNat media and politicians look forward to being able to show exactly how wee and how poor Scotland is and how stupid the Scots are for thinking that there is any chance they could survive as an independent nation.

Before we go on, let’s get an old chestnut out of the way.  For those who delight in telling us that GERS are the Scottish Government’s own figures, sure the report is produced by the Scottish Government, but the majority of the data on which the report is based comes from Westminster/Whitehall, so no way is this a Scottish Government report.

Each year, virtually the same figures are produced which show that Scotland only exists thanks to the largesse of the English taxpayer.  Thanks, guys.  Of course this may not be the whole story, or even any part of the story.  We know the report is full of errors, with many figures produced by guesswork, often not very intelligent guesses at that.  For those interested in the figures, have a look at my blog from 2017.  The numbers might be a bit old, but, unfortunately, the basic arguments haven’t aged as much.  For those really interested in the figures, have a look at Richard Murphy’s blog, which gives much more factual information than I ever could.

However, looking at the history of the Scottish deficit, in 2013, the approach of the Scottish independence referendum gave Westminster a bit of a problem.  On one hand, they want to continue to portray Scotland as a basket case which, they believed, would suppress the popularity of independence in Scotland.  On the other hand, Westminster didn’t want to tell the English taxpayer that they were handing vast sums to Scotland, which would certainly encourage the BritNats to demand that they get rid of the burden that they believed Scotland represented.

So what to do?  Obviously believing that Scottish independence was the more pressing problem, Westminster went for Plan A.  But to show that Scotland had a continuing high deficit when the overall UK deficit was starting to reduce has had a surprising side effect.  As you can see from the graph, it has cause the Scottish deficit, as a proportion of the whole UK deficit, to

GERS graph - Scot share of debt
Thanks to Richard Murphy and Wings over Scotland for the graph

increase to the point that it represent close to 60% of the total. In fact, adding the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish deficits together, they represent way over 100% of the UK total, meaning that, at least according to these figures, England is in surplus and are subsidising all the rest of the UK.  Thanks, guys.

The total deficit for the UK, excluding England, is £35.5bn (Scotland £12.6bn, Wales £13.7bn, N.Ireland £9.2bn), while the corresponding figure for the UK as a whole is £23.5bn, which implies an England surplus of £12bn. (By the way, no GERE report is produced to show comparative England figures.  I wonder why?).  Of course, when I say an England surplus, I really mean a London and the South East surplus, as the regional figures show that nearly all the other regions in England run deficits as well.  The latest figures, from 2018, show London with a surplus of £34.4bn, the South East £20.4bn, with all other regions in deficit, with the exception of the East, which has a small surplus.  (These are based on the ONS figures, but will be close enough to show the trend).

The report has made people think of a number of questions, apart from the obvious one:

Why does the Scottish Government believe that this load of shite represents anything close to the current financial position in Scotland, even as a part of the UK, never mind as an independent country?

Only the Scottish Government can say.  I only wish they would.

Others have asked:

How can a country with only 8.3% of the population generate 55% off the deficit?
though that question could perhaps be better expressed as
How come so much of the UK’s revenue comes from London and the South East?
That’s a harder question to answer, but it’s probably based on the desire of successive Westminster governments to concentrate activity there.  Westminster governments like to have all the activity around them and to hang with the rest of the country.

But I have another question to add.  Over the last five years, the UK deficit has significantly reduced, from about £90bn in 2014-15 to £23.5bn in 2018-19.  During that time, the Scottish deficit has reduced by only about £1.4bn, while the other countries have had even smaller reductions, so that means   Now, about 40% of Scottish spending is actually spent by Westminster on Scotland’s behalf, almost all of it in and around London.  That being the case, my question is:
What has caused this sharp increase in the London and South East surplus over the last few years and why, at a time when the cost of public services in London and the South East is reducing, is this reduction not reflected more fully in the results for Scotland?
I’ll leave you to mull over that, but it may be caused by a huge increase in the revenue in these regions, at the expense of the other parts of the UK, or it may be caused by a significant improvement in the cost of delivering services, including those which are charged to Scotland, or it may be something else altogether.

So what does this all mean for Scotland?  Do we (and by we I mean the Scottish Government) really believe the GERS figures?  Do we really think a country with such large resources cannot stand on it own two feet?  Do we really think that Westminster have been making the best decisions for Scotland?  Do we really think PM Johnson won’t take every chance to prevent the loss of UK income that Scottish independence would mean?  Do we really think he’ll wait for several years before taking action?

Don’t we have to make our move now?


Is there a real plan B?

With Brexit fast approaching and the increasing likelihood of a no-deal exit, there is much discussion about the current state of the independence debate and how close we are to a second referendum.  Though we are still behind in the polls, though Johnson and Hunt are doing their best to change that, it has become tantalisingly close and many independence supporters point out that, in the last referendum, support for independence increased from 25% at the beginning of the campaign to 45% at the end.  True, of course, but it was all about winning and we didn’t.  No matter how many lies were told by BritNat politicians, no matter how many pensioners were frightened by threats of losing their pensions, no matter how many scare stories were printed in the BritNat MSM, no matter how much the BBC and, to a lesser extent, STV twisted the facts to convert every story into SNPbaad and no matter how many rules the No side broke, they won and we lost.  Many supporters were convinced we were cheated out of the win, but no one who could do anything about it complained.  So we are where we are.

So what now for Scottish independence?  How far have we come since the disaster of September, 2014 (don’t tell me it wasn’t a disaster) and where do we go from here?  Perhaps if progress was measured by the number of times it gets mentioned by our politicians, we would be independent by now.  At every PMQ in Westminster, Ian Blackford tells Treeza that Scotland has a way out, though, unfortunately, no one seems to be able to find the door.  So many MPs and MSPs have threatened an independence referendum but are we any closer than we were then?  Or are the SNP in danger of becoming the party who cried wolf?

We have seen some small steps potentially supporting independence.  The announcement of the Scottish investment bank, the expansion of Scottish business offices abroad and the continued contact with senior political figures in the EU and elsewhere are all good, as is the planned introduction in Holyrood of framework legislation for a referendum, but though they are actions that should make the transition to independence easier, they don’t bring independence any closer.  In a statement in the Scottish Parliament earlier this year, Nicola Sturgeon outlined what might trigger a referendum.  She promised us a referendum sometime before the expiry of the mandate granted to the Scottish Government in the 2016 election, two years from now, but only if Brexit had happened by then.  It appeared that only if Scotland were dragged out of EU against our will could we even think of asking the people what they want to happen.

In the 2016 SNP manifesto, being dragged out of the EU against our will was considered just one example of something that would trigger a second referendum.  However, since then, and I don’t know how or when this happened, it now seems to have become the only valid reason.  Nothing else seems to be good enough.  That every promise made by the BritNats in 2014 turned out to be a lie isn’t good enough.  The lack of respect shown to our elected representatives in Westminster isn’t good enough.  The removal of powers from Holyrood isn’t good enough.  The fact that Scottish opinions and concerns are routinely ignored by Westminster isn’t good enough.  Nothing other than Brexit is good enough.

But what happens to this plan if Brexit doesn’t go ahead or if even more extensions are requested by the UK and granted by the EU?  Does that mean independence delayed further, or even indefinitely?  Although some mention has been made of other circumstances which may prompt a referendum, the lack of any serious discussion about the other options may make it difficult to convince the sceptics that these are real fears and not just something invented when the ‘real’ problem (Brexit) no longer justifies a referendum.

Then we have the problem of the Section 30 order.  At the time of IndyRef1, my opinion always was that agreeing a Section 30 order as a condition of going ahead was always going to be a hostage to fortune.  This wasn’t demonstrating the sovereignty of the Scottish people.  This was going along with the unionist idea that Holyrood could do nothing without Westminster’s approval.  And so it has turned out.  Now, umpteen Tory ministers, including Theresa May and both her potential replacements, have stated, unequivocally, that Westminster will not agree to a Section 30 order unless a variety of conditions are met, with some even going as far as saying that it should never be granted, including those who are supposed to be standing up for Scotland, like tRuthless Davidson and Fluffy Mundell.  One of the ongoing mysteries of the Scottish independence debate is what makes Scottish BritNats even more extreme than their Southern cousins.  Is it because they are closer to the action or because they are just desperate to demonstrate their allegiance to their English masters by keeping Scotland as Westminster’s cash cow?  If the latter, it must be a blow that recent opinion polls have shown that a large majority of English voters would be happy to dump Scotland if that was the way to ensure that Brexit was delivered.  You would have thought that must have really hurt, but it seems only to have encouraged the Scottish BritNats to shout the same tired comments even louder.

Despite the obvious problem, the Scottish Government continues to say they will ask for a Section 30 order and several senior SNP figures are on record saying that a referendum can never go ahead without one.  Taken at face value, all Westminster has to do is continue to say no and that means a referendum cannot happen.  There is an argument that it would be illegal to refuse to grant a Section 30 order, but this has never been tested in court and the Scottish Government don’t seem keen to try.  Perhaps something that could/should have been done sometime in the last five years?  The suggestion has been made that a Section 30 order is not required, that it’s only confirmation that both parties will accept the result no matter what, but again, that’s not been tested in court, so it would be subject to legal challenge if a referendum was held on that basis.

You might have thought that defining a legal basis for a referendum under any circumstances might have been a priority for the Scottish Government, but this hasn’t happened.  Indeed, over the three years since the EU referendum, much more time has been spent on Brexit, effectively trying to save England from itself, than has been spent on independence preparation, much to the displeasure of an increasing number in the Yes camp.  If the campaign either to cancel Brexit or at least, put the question back to the people, was to reach a successful conclusion, it would blow away the current justification for an independence referendum, but that doesn’t seem to worry the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government would no doubt argue that we haven’t yet been taken out of the EU, so we must wait until it actually happens before acting.  While logical, such a delay is not a no-risk option.  There will of course be a significant time period between the announcement of a referendum and its taking place, to allow for organisation, campaigning, etc., and during this time, it is naïve to imagine that the UK government will simply sit on their hands, waiting for the referendum to take place.  This will be a period of unfettered Westminster control, without having to worry about EU interference.  So Westminster can do whatever it likes.  We must always remember that Holyrood is a devolved government, depending on Westminster for the maintenance of such power as it wields (‘Power devolved is power retained’).  The period between announcement and occurrence provides Westminster with the ideal opportunity to introduce legislation to delay IndyRef2 or even prevent it going ahead altogether.   Who believes that they wouldn’t take the opportunity to throw spanners in the works.  These could be small spanners, such as taking as long as possible to complete anything they have to do, or they could be medium-sized spanners, like introducing legislation to remove Holyrood’s ability to even hold a referendum, or they could be very large spanners, such as dissolving Holyrood all together.  And the more time Westminster gets, the worse the outcome is going to be for the people of Scotland.

So what now?  What next steps should Yes supporting Scots do?  Should we give up on the SNP, who seem reluctant (to say the least) to put the question to the people, unless, of course, the question is Brexit.  I accept and understand that we don’t want a neighbour whose economy has tanked, especially a neighbour that we do a lot of business with, though not as much business as the BritNats would have us believe.  But surely the priority is independence.  Once independent we can make our own decisions.  If we want to help out the rUK, we can do that.  But it will be our decision, not Westminster’s, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll even get a bit more gratitude than we do now.

But if we give up on the SNP (and don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind), who do we support to make independence a reality?  Could it be one of the ‘British’ parties, headquartered in London?  Anyone who expects the Tories, Labour or LibDems to support Scottish independence needs to seek medical help.  And the same goes for those who think the UK could become some sort of federal state.  It will never happen, because it would mean Westminster giving up some real authority to the federal parliaments, something they will never do.  And please don’t even think of bringing up the current devolution settlement as an example of  Westminster giving up powers.  The devolution settlement was designed to fail.  It was designed to make sure the SNP could never get into power.  It was designed to demonstrate that Scotland were incapable of self-government.  The SNP’s success in the Scottish Government comes despite the devolution settlement, not because of it.

What about the Greens.  They already support independence, so that must make them a better choice than the ‘English’ parties.  Unfortunately. their support base is too small to think that they could ever form a government in Scotland, at least in my lifetime.

So that leaves us with the SNP as the only option to create the political conditions for self-government.  We might all wish they would get their collective fingers out, stop focussing on Brexit, it’s really someone else’s problem, then tell the elected representatives to stop abusing people who have different opinions on any subject, we can do without it.  All the conditions for IndyRef2 that have been talked about have happened.  We know we’re leaving, we know Boris is going to be PM.  What more do we need?   The UK’s direction is obvious.  If there’s a plan B, now would be a good time to reveal it.   Waiting only provides Westminster the opportunity to destroy Scotland.  We need to go quickly before Boris has time to completely screw us.  We need to go now.

If anyone in the Scottish cabinet reads this, please start a conversation with Nicola before it’s too late.  Please remember that SNP are the party of independence.  We elected you to bring us independence, not to sort our Brexit.  For God’s sake, start the independence process NOW.

Vile cybernattery – a discussion

Along with tens of thousands of other independence supporters, I took part in the Glasgow march last Saturday, an event full of good spirits that passed off with no serious problems, save the small number of unionists who shouted abuse at the marchers as we passed through George Square.  Disappointingly, there was only a very small official SNP presence, a trend that seems to have accelerated since 2014.  However, the vast bulk of folk left the event energised and excited, ready to get stuck in to the next phase of independence campaigning.

The following morning, everything changed.  We were presented with an article in the Herald written by Neil Mackay which characterised marches as a waste of time, something in which only the extremists, the cybernats, would take part.  More worryingly, the article contained quotes from Angus Robertson, Alyn Smith and Stewart McDonald, appearing to support this point of view.  Even worse, both Angus and Stewart tweeted other comments, attaching the Herald article, as an attempt to justify their point of view.  There was also a follow-up tweet from Mackay on Twitter which said that SNP top brass had described cybernats as “cowards”, “weird”, “creepy”, “snarling”, “vicious”, “poisonous” and “vile”.

Now, while I think Neil Mackay’s article, and his tweet, might have contained at least a little ‘poetic licence’ (some might call it lies), there has been no attempt by anyone in the party hierarchy to dissociate the SNP from these remarks.  While I certainly hope the remarks aren’t true, they do come on top of quotes from other SNPers, such as Mhairi Hunter describing people in the party that she doesn’t like as trash.  Comments such as these are particularly unfair to the huge majority of independence supporters who never tweet abuse.  The use of the catch-all “cybernat” has come to mean any independence supporter saying anything on Twitter that a BritNat doesn’t like, so cybernat effectively means any of us, myself included. 

 Why the SNP wants to take ownership of a problem which can be reasonably applied to any and all political parties is a mystery to me.  If they want to hold themselves to a higher standard of behaviour than everyone else, that’s a strategy that’s bound to fail as virtually no one will be aware that they’re doing it.  Is it sensible to provide ammunition to opponents of independence, allowing them not only to repeat the comments, but to point out that the party accepts they are true?  Think of examples from the recent past when members of the party were suspended or expelled because unionists complained about something they’d written or done.  Grousebeater and Michelle Thomson come immediately to mind where no attempt was made to support a member of the party accused unfairly by opponents.

What particularly annoys me is the lack of response from the SNP to obvious lies from unionist politicians, the most recent example being the total lack of response to David Mundell’s lie when he described the No side’s argument from the first IndyRef that a vote for Yes was a vote to leave the EU as an SNP myth.  They also seem to have completely ignored Michael Gove’s threat that Westminster would retain part of the Scottish Government’s budget so the Tories can decide what to spend it on.

These examples, however, are just the tip of the iceberg as far as the lack of response to unionist “mistakes”.  Are these not the sort of comments that the SNP media team are supposed to respond to?  Have they just gone to sleep or are they too frightened to argue with Tories?  In fact, without the efforts of the much maligned cybernats, many unionist lies and many cases of unionist abuse would go unanswered.

However, no matter how much I would like to see the SNP do better, I’ll still vote for them in the Euro election as I can’t see that there’s any choice if you don’t want Brexit.  Votes for Greens, LibDems and Change UK are wasted as none of them stands a chance of electing an MEP.  What I’m saying is when will the time come when the SNP get back the fire in their collective bellies, start challenging the lies of their opponents and start documenting the advantages of independence.  Surely, to convince people to support independence, the best way is to show them how much better off they’ll be under independence than under the current pathetic Westminster government.  Get your fingers out, SNP.

Are We in the Last Chance Saloon?

As I write, the Brexit cliff edge beckons.  There’s only two weeks to go until the UK makes the biggest mistake of its 218 year history by closing the door to the rest of the world.  At this stage, no one, including the UK Government, in fact, especially the UK Government, has any idea what’s happening now and even less what’s going to happen after we leave.

Currently, it seems as if the country is being governed by a combination of the weirdly named European Research Group, who hate Europe, and the even more weirdly named Democratic Unionist Party, who are probably the least democratic party in the UK.  In fact, seems as if the UK Government are prepared to give away pretty much anything the DUP ask for just to keep their votes.   So much for taking back control.  And talk of making better trade deals without the interference of the evil EU has turned out to be just that, talk.  Ask Liam Fox if his deal making is going to plan .

What the Brexit debates have shown, at least to anyone who has been paying even the slightest attention, is that the UK Government has no interest in Scottish opinions and that SNP voices are routinely either ignored or abused (and no, I’m not talking about Ross Thomson here).  Treeza walks out every time Ian Blackford stands to speak (is she frightened of him?) and Tory back benchers either try to drown out any SNP speech, to the extent that even the Speaker feels obliged to tell them to shut up, or they walk out on-mass, preferring a visit to the bar to bothering with the debate.  Scottish Tories are the worst of the worst.  They seem to have no interest either in their constituents or in Scotland.  They seem to believe that they have been elected to ignore the former and rubbish the latter.   I won’t list all their insults and their demonstrations of ignorance about Scotland and Scottish history, but their latest effort shows clearly what their main objective is, as they try to persuade the UK Chancellor to scrap the Barnett Formula and reduce the proportion of Scottish taxes returned to the Scottish Government because “they will only fritter it away” on things the Tories don’t approve of, like free tertiary education, decent social security payments, free meals for school children and free care for the elderly, when everyone knows it should be given to their rich pals.

Labour are just as bad.  Remember the Bain Principle, that Labour would never support any action proposed by the SNP, even if it was something they really agreed with.  However, under Corbyn, Labour have adopted a new strategy.  Whereas they used to treat SNP amendments as an opportunity to get pissed on cheap Westminster alcohol, knowing they would be abstaining when it came to the vote, now they simply sit on their bums in the chamber while voting is going on, still abstaining, but staying more sober.  The impact on the Westminster bars must be considerable.

Surely by now, anyone who cares about Scotland’s place in the UK must realise that there is no chance of the UK ever becoming a union of equals and of Scotland ever being treated fairly in Westminster when English representation is so much bigger that they can even outvote the three other countries put together.  Westminster is the de-facto English parliament.

The Brexit debates have prompted much discussion about a date for a second IndyRef, particularly as several recent polls have shown independence ahead of all possible Brexit outcomes.  There seems to be four “popular” options for the timing of a referendum, two of which can be described as the “audacious” options and two as the “cautious” options.  Let’s look in more detail at the options.

Audacious 1
We make an announcement as soon as the EU and the UK Government reach (or don’t reach) an agreement and the full horror of the impact of the exit terms becomes apparent, so the referendum can be announced on or before the Brexit date of 29th March.  This is the option favoured by a large number, maybe even a majority, of Yessers.  In fact, most would probably prefer an even earlier date, tomorrow, say.
*  Pros: Announcing a new independence referendum will energise the huge number of supporters becoming frustrated at the lack of action
Cons: A short independence campaign may not provide sufficient time to convert enough Noes to Yes to give a winning result.

Audacious 2
As we have an existing mandate, with a pro-independence majority in both Holyrood and Westminster, we need to hold the referendum after Brexit but before the end of the current Scottish parliament in 2021 when the mandate expires.
*  Pros: It makes use of the existing mandate, not guaranteed to be available after the 2021 election and it prevents upsetting voters who voted for independence last time not turning out because their last vote was “wasted”.
*  Cons: Free of EU control, it gives Westminster time to introduce rules to handcuff the Scottish Parliament and make another IndyRef difficult, if not impossible.  Not making use of the existing mandate can create difficulties among those who voted SNP on the basis of the pledge to bring forward a referendum if  (e.g.) we were dragged out of the EU against our will.  Will all of these people be prepared to give the SNP a second chance?

Cautious 1
We should wait for some time after the 2021 until people have more direct experience of the full horrors of Brexit foisted on us by the lunatic fringe of the Tory party, when they will realise that they can’t escape the disastrous impact that Brexit will have on their lives.
*  Pros: The problems brought on by Brexit will have impacted the lives of the majority sufficiently for those who voted no last time to be encouraged to look favourably at the option of independence.
*  Cons: By that time, Brexit will have been in place for several years and will have started to become the accepted norm, so we may be in the same situation as in 2014, that some will be reluctant to risk independence.  It also gives Westminster even more time to act against Holyrood to prevent a second referendum.

Cautious 2
We should seek a fresh mandate in the 2026 Scottish election, with a specific manifesto pledge to hold an independence referendum within a year (say) of the start of the parliamentary session.
*  Pro: It provides the opportunity to get an indisputable mandate for independence that Westminster might find hard to ignore.
Cons: As before, it gives Westminster time to act against Holyrood and many voters may think Brexit has been in place too long to change.

Don’t let us forget that there are two other possibilities which have been pretty much ruled out by the Scottish Government but still could come back into play, UDI, which might be considered as the nuclear option, and the Margaret Thatcher option, that if a majority of pro-indy Scottish MPs are elected to Westminster, that would be enough to trigger independence.  Pity we hadn’t pushed for that in 2015.

Re-reading this before posting, I almost wish I hadn’t written it as it crystalised my own thinking that the SNP were depending too much on the failure of Brexit and on developing a reputation as a safe pair of hands, and, as a result, independence was taking something of a back seat. The years since IndyRef have seen caution as the watchword and the excitement that characterised the run-up to 2014 isn’t front and centre as it was then.  The Scottish Government have concentrated for too long (in my opinion) in trying to save the rest of the UK (mainly England) from the Brexit problems they’ve brought on themselves and not enough time on independence.  We even had the ludicrous situation that the BritNat parties were talking more about independence than the SNP.  Is that right?  Even many of the comments made by Nicola about independence in her speeches seemed more aimed at what the grassroots could do and were not really saying that the party would be leading from the front.  Recently, there has been talk about how Brexit is making the case for independence stronger, but talk without action is in danger of making the SNP into the party who cried wolf.  Perhaps the Spring Conference will bring more clarity.

Think folks, while there are dangers in going too early for independence, there may be even more dangers in waiting too long.  Strike while the iron is hot.  Grasp the nettle.  Take the bull by the horns.  Etc.  Etc.

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.


To rail against injustice


At the end of last week, Westminster decided that, over the five years from 2019 (known as Control Period 6 or CP6), the Scottish Government should be given £3.6bn for the development and maintenance of the Scottish rail network.  Sounds like a lot of money, doesn’t it?  After all, as the Westminster tells us, it is a 20% increase on the previous five years (or CP5).

But the Scottish Government are not happy with the settlement as they believed they should be getting £4.2bn.  So, what’s the justification for their claim?

Well, first of all, there’s inflation, which eats up about 12% of the increase.  So just to keep up with inflation, the CP6 requirement would be £3.36bn.  That means £3.6bn settlement represents only a 7% real terms increase, not the 20% figure that Westminster are keen to talk about.

Perhaps the comparative figures for England and Wales can shed some more light on the Scottish figures.  During the current 5 year period (CP5), Network Rail were given £24.5bn for development and maintenance of the network in England and Wales and this has risen to £34.7bn for the next 5 years.  That represents a 42% increase in gross terms and a more than 26% increase in real terms, dwarfing the Scottish figures.  Actually, the difference is much worse that even these numbers suggest, as the much higher population density in England and Wales means Network Rail can get a much higher level of income from passengers than is possible in Scotland.

Historically, the proportion of Westminster rail spending going to Scotland has been 11.17% of the UK figure, based on the size of the network in Scotland compared to the level of population.  This was put forward by the Office for Rail and Road (ORR), the independent rail body, as part of the original settlement when spending power on rail networks was devolved in 2005.  As can be seen from the figures, the settlement of £3bn for Scotland for the current period represented 12.2% of the England and Wales figure or 10.9% of the UK total, whereas the proposed settlement of £3.6bn for 2019 represents 10.4% of the England and Wales figure or just 9.4% of the UK total.  Perhaps you can see now why the Scottish Government are unhappy.  Their requested figure of £4.2bn for CP6 would have been 12.1% of the England and Wales figure or 10.8% of the UK total, similar to the CP5 figures, though slightly lower.

It seems as if the Scottish Government are justified in their expectation of additional funds.  The reduction of £600m appears to be part of a deliberate decision by Westminster to reduce Scottish rail funding from the historically agreed 11.17%, based on the size of the network, to a figure closer to a population share of 8.4%.

Yet another blow to “pooling and sharing”?  The broad shoulders of the UK again seem to have developed a distinct slope when it comes to returning money generated in Scotland to the Scottish Government for devolved matters.

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.

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.