Sunday, 31 March 2013

Illiberal Britain - is 'Yes' the answer?

There is a growing awareness across the UK that Westminster and its media lackeys are illiberal and sustain a world which only exists within the confines of Whitehall the threat of change comes from neither Westminster politicians or itself serving media.

A review of the self same media and politicial mixes attitude towards the major upheaval of the Scottish referendum in 2014 reveals their complete introversion and detachment from the everyday concerns of the people who make up the UK.

They view what is happening in Scotland through their peculiar Westminster prism. The vote for independence is all Salmond's doing (the Westminster fascination for celebrity over cause), the Scots are too stupid to make the break (Westminster's denial they can be wrong in any way or form), Scotland is too poor (denial of the sizable positive impact of Scottish exports and economy on sterling), and too small (the idea that Scotland with the population the same as Greater London could survive outside of Westminster's orbit just does not compute).

What is actually happening in Scotland is a repossession of ideas which are important not just to Scots but to many across the UK. A restatement of the importance of social democratic / liberal political concept and action which is seen in the very different approach in Scotland to the NHS or on the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh on Saturday in the anti-bedroom tax marches which saw over ten thousand Scots marching against inequity.

The SNP are popular in Scotland because they are social democrats and their policies chime with the Scots sense of who they are and what is important to them. The vote on independence will be won on a social democratic political ground long deserted by Westminster in its rush to the right of the political spectrum.

It can be argued that UKIP are now moving into the ground which used to be inhabited by 'one nation' Tories in England, yet the same Westminster bubble inhabitants tried to sell UKIP as a UK wide phenomenon. UKIP has less than 0.3% of the vote in Scotland where New Labour now represent the right of Scottish politics and are seeing their popular vote share decline.

Westminster has failed as a parliament. It is guilty of pursuing political vanity for its own self measured ends and because there is no written constitution the UK electorate has no method, bar wrecking the place, to bring it back to its senses. Declining voter turn out is a direct result of this sense of powerlessness felt amongst the UK electorate and increasing dislocation and rejection of what are considered to be 'London' centric Westminster policies.

The best hope for the future of a more liberal democracy in England is for Scotland to vote to end the Union in 2014. The problem remains; the English electorate would still only have four right wing, neo-liberal parties to vote for in 2015 and no written constitution to give them any real ability to hold the new English Parliament in check. The West Lothian question would be solved in this instance but the democratic deficit between Westminster and the English regions would remain along with it all the growing tensions currently hidden by the politicking around the 2014 Scottish referendum.

Without Scotland just who will Westminster then 'scapegoat'  after 2014 to deflect the English regions from Westminster's failed economic strategy of 'London first'?

Friday, 29 March 2013

Scotland and the UK - too late and too little from the Guardian?

Scotland and the UK: state of the union

This editorial in the Guardian reeks of a final  'Jam Tomorrow' appeal to us Scots .... can anyone see the 'Millicleggeron' giving up the powers required to let devolution in England work, let alone the creation of a federal / confederal UK parliament? Just where will they put the 1000's of unelected lardships - or will the English system retain them for Engaland alone?

This same editorial pap was peddled prior to 1979 - Sir Alex Douglas-Home anyone?

Here's how it is; devolution 'jam tomorrow' can not be delivered until austerity ends - 2018 at the earliest. In the meantime between 2015 and 2018 the NHS and Welfare system in Scotland will be dismantled and privatised under Westminster as the earliest any English Devolution Bill can come into force will some time after 2020, that's if they can get round the central constitutional problem raised by the Treaty of Union.

A new UK union treaty (required for a federal / confederal solution) can only be agreed between the English and Scottish sovereign parliaments as it is out with Westminster's legal and constitutional powers to change the nature of the current union. (Lord Cooper 1953; McCormack vs The Lord Advocate)

In the same four years (minimum) an Independent Scotland would retain the NHS as is and reform our Welfare system to suit our sensibilities while building a firm economy to support them for now and the future.

In the last quarter the swing to 'Yes' was 5% and the 'poll of polls' gap is down to 10%. The growing likelihood of a Cameron 'win' in 2015 increases the likely support for a 'Yes' in 2014 to 51%.

In a speech in Aberdeen Vince Cable admitted the North Sea Oil and gas sector is mainly in Scottish waters and is important to the UK economy as a major contributor. In 2011-12 Scotland produced enough energy from reusables to be self sufficient and supplied most of the 30% UK output. Wednesday saw IDS being sent home from Scotland with a hard slap for his Welfare Reforms. On the same day New Labour tried to grandstand on the 'Bedroom tax' at Holyrood and their spokesperson, Ms Baillie, was sent home to think again by Ms Sturgeon.

The 'Editor' of the Guardian wish to believe Severin Carrel's propaganda pieces for New Labour and 'Better Together' is clear in this patronising piece of journalism. The reality is this discussion should have been undertaken in 2007 when the SNP first took control in Holyrood. Instead New Labour, in the shape of Brown and Murphy, decided to 'slap Holyrood down' with all sorts of illegal adjustments to the Scottish block grant and cancelation of leading edge projects to 'show who was boss'.

The main progenitors of 'austerity' are all but empty husks in Scotland, Better Together's campaign falls to bits day after day with self inflicted disasters, Darling is increasingly seen as just another 'Toom Tabard' and New Labour's leader in Scotland's silence on things Ms Lamont claimed to hold dear, such as the removal of Trident and keeping Scotland's long tradition of free University education, is deafening.

There is a massive democratic deficit not simply between Scotland and Westminster but also Wales, Northern Ireland, the outer regions of England and Westminster. The solution to this breakdown and democratic deficit is not in the centralised, neo-liberal, fascist and plutocratic parliament at Westminster, as these turkeys will not be voting for Christmas very soon, but has to be from the outside.

The start of real political reform at Westminster will only occur with ending the current Union. The future could well see a Council of the British Isles, including Eire, to agree common measures and approaches within the EU and elsewhere. A British Isles Council which will gain more respect and world influence than being tied to the USA's coat tails, as Westminster's policies currently allow.

This is the vision of many of us Scottish 'separatists', a more democratic British Isles than we have at present, where sovereign states work together for their common good and whose internal politics meet the needs and expectations of their own electorates.

Waiting yet another decade for any form of pseudo political change and crack plastering just does not cut it. If Westminster was serious about devolution reform it would have allowed the Full Fiscal Autonomy option in the 2014 Scottish referendum with an accompanying UK White Paper detailing their UK wide plans. It did not, this tells me all I want to know about Westminster's devolution intentions or their real lack of intention.

Jam Tomorrow? No thanks, we got a decade of Thatcherism last time this line was fed to Scotland which created levels of poverty and unemployment in Scotland we are still trying to deal with and resolve.

There is an increasing sense amongst us pro-independence wonks that Cameron knows the 'gemme's a bogey' and is doing all he can to ensure a 'Yes' vote in 2014 for his own party political ends. It is clear David Milliband does not wish to be the Prime Minister of 'just England' and is 'offski'. What chance US citizen 'Senator' David Milliband within the next decade?

Thursday, 28 March 2013

New Labour - ever rightward is the Milliband cry.

The neo-liberal right is dead, long live the neo-liberal right .......

The fallacy of this article defending David Milliband as the 'king New Labour never had' is it is based on the political position that an ever rightward shift of UK politics is inevitable, with out any regard to the increasing apathy shown by the electorate to politics and politicians at Westminster.

There is now a sizable constituency which does not have a party that represents their views in England. They are the increasing section of the electorate who do not bother to vote because a 'right wing' UK government is inevitable. Now this move ever rightwards may make sense to Blue Labour wonks in their quest for 'power' but is increasingly disenfranchising for the UK electorate.

The logic is assinine, it is a logic that says that New Labour must chase the Tories ever rightwards and forces the Tories to move ever rightwards in their quest to 'deal with' the perceived problem of UKIP. Independent political analysis of the present Westminster parties have their policies rated to the 'right of the Nazis' and by implication the UK is now suffering from a fascist style of governance, by default, which is increasingly plutocratic in its basis with the rich protecting the rich.

Meanwhile in Scotland it is increasingly clear the only way we can avoid the imposition of this neo- fascist governance is to 'get out of Dodge'. The Governing party in Scotland is centre left. The right in Scotland is now the home of New (Blue) Labour, the Limpdems and the Tories - both of the latter are now in the political endangered species category in Scotland. UKIP has a 0.3% electoral presence in Scotland.

IDS was in Scotland yesterday trying to sell his policy behind the closed doors of a £543 a pop seminar. He was outed, he did not get the sound bites he hoped into the Scottish media, he was reminded he had no democratic foothold to impose on Scotland, having only one Westminster MP in Scotland, he ended up looking a complete buffoon by the end of the day. In the Scottish Parliament the Tories voice in Scotland (New Labour) came serially unstuck with an attempt to grandstand on the 'bedroom tax' as Jackie Baillie was taken forensically to bits by Nicola Sturgeon. Even BBC Scotland's Newsnicht could not resurrect the Baillie's car crash as her interview there ended up going down hill all the way.

Today, Better Together's pal in Northern Ireland, their First Minister has declared;

"We can't understand that reasoning (on the refusal to give NI corporation tax rate control) because we think it sends a message to the people of Scotland. What, effectively, you are saying to the people of Scotland is that if you want more fiscal autonomy than you have at the present time the only way to have it is through independence. I think that is the wrong message for the government to be giving to the people of Scotland." 

The idea that left of centre policies can not get you elected in the UK is a fallacy - the problem for England is there is no party promoting left of centre, social democratic policies that voters can vote for. This is the fundamental weakness of the argument above for the ever rightward drift of Westminster politics. There are the Greens in England and then a big gap until you hit the main Westminster Parties

Yesterday I posed the idea that Cameron, Clegg and Milliband want Scotland out of the Union - today I am growing increasingly certain. Mr Robinson has made clear there is no 'jam tomorrow' if you stay within Westminster's increasingly fascist orbit.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Cameron Wants Scotland to say 'Yes'?

After the SNP success in 2007 the then New Labour Government should have seen the writing on the wall. It was clear as they moved ever rightward their vote share in Scotland shifted to the SNP. Instead of seeing 2007 as a warning about their future electoral hopes in Scotland they chose instead to play the clumsy Brown's 'British Card' and cut Scotland's pocket money, kill off some leading edge technology development, to show the Scots who was still boss. The end result of this failure to engage with the people of Scotland was the SNP outright majority in 2011 - a failure the MacMilliband Party in Scotland remain in denial over.

If Westminster were at all interested in the political reform of the UK they would have allowed the 'devo max' option in the 2014 Scottish referendum. Instead Milliband, Clegg and Cameron made clear such an option would be over their dead bodies (a situation which may come to a political pass after September 2014). The gap between 'Yes and NO' for 2014 has closed to 10% but the swing is all going the 'Yes' vote's way. Scots see what the Westminster of the three Tory Parties is doing to health, education and welfare in England and want none of it for Scotland.

The time for a UK wide solution to Westminster's self interest has been lost. The opportunity to create change was missed with the removal of the Devo-max option from the Scottish referendum. You could not have had devomax in Scotland with out breaking up Westminster's UK hegemony and reducing it to being England's parliament with agreed common interest such as Defence, Finance/ economics and Foreign Affairs being suceded to a federally constituted 'Council of the British Isles'.

This could only be achieved by breaking up the current Union, in the first place, as the creation of a federal entity is outside of Westminster's legal and constitutional powers. Such a change from a unitary parliament to a federal agreement can only be established between the sovereign governments of England and Scotland under the terms of the 1706 Union Treaty, which created Westminster as it currently exists.

The question is would the sovereign people of Scotland or England vote to enter this new federal union given the antipathy stirred up by the current UK Government about 'scrounging Scots'?

This is the corner Blair, Brown and now Cameron have constitutionally painted themselves into - increased devolution (devo-max for Scotland) breaks Westminster's hegemony and forces it to do something about the democratic dissonance in England. If Scotland votes 'No' in 2014 the pressure to reform Westminster does not go away, it will become greater as suceding more powers to Scotland will simply drive the same wish in England's regions.

The best solution for Westminster is for the Scots to go, the current political status quo remains at Westminster and neo-liberal, London centric policies will continue to be sold as the 'best deal for England'. The Westminster politicians will continue to rely on the apathy of the English electorate to keep them in the way they have become accustomed.

The difference between the levels of public services in Scotland compared to England will continue to be peddled on some strain of 'English subsidy to Scotland' while the truth will be without an independent Scotland in sterling, sterling would plummet like a stone within two years, according to a UK Government Report, £1 Scots would be worth £1.20p sterling. This would increase the costs in England of food, drink and energy and is another reason the 'Bank of England', which is partly owned by Scotland, would not be pressing for Scotland to be booted out of Sterling anytime soon.

I am increasingly coming to believe, that for reasons of internal politics within England and to avoid the growing pressure to reform the Westminster political system, the three Tory Parties at Westminster are praying Scotland votes 'Yes' in 2014, whilst saying otherwise.

Monday, 25 March 2013

A UK 'Fit for returning heroes'? Beveridge is no more ...

Sadly the English electorate are waking up, some decade too late, to the neo-liberal monster that was Blair and is New Labour and their Tory bedfellows.

There is evidence that all the current Tory Party is doing is following the logical policy track begun by New Labour to bring to the end Beveridge's social advancement program of 1942 and the White Paper of 1944 which brought the UK's welfare state and NHS into existence in 1948.

It was not the Tories who sold off much of the English NHS estate to the banks via PFI - that was all New Labour's doing. It was not the Tories who increased the gap between the richest and poorest in the UK to levels not seen since the 1850's - that was New Labour's doing.

It was not the Tories that bottled out on a reformation of the NHS in England in 2000 that would have made it fit for purpose in the 21st century and instead created an even bigger hodge podge of NHS Quangos with overlapping responsibilities that came to its inevitable conclusion in the Mid Staffs disaster - that was New Labour.

The Tories are merely dotting the 'I's and crossing the 'T's to New labour's 'The NHS is safe with us' policies. The same is true for Welfare, Pensions and Benefits.

The BMA are not looking that clever either as they have been well and truly stitched up this time in their surprise this 'Government' did not keep its promise to them over future GP service delivery and procurement contracts.

Is it any wonder that in a IPSOS / MORI poll in Scotland taken between the 20th and 22nd of March 2013 that 60% of Scots want Holyrood to take control of welfare policy in Scotland, as they already do with health, and 61% think Scotland should retain all taxation raised in Scotland (including oil and gas). Further 50% of Scots polled now think Scotland should negotiate directly with the EU rather than via Westminster.

Sadly the electorate of England do not have the option the Scots have in September 2014 of saying this far and no further by voting 'Yes' to end the Union but the English electorate do have the best part of two years to create an alternative to the neo-liberal dominated parties playing 'Buggins turn' at Wesminster. there are voices / bloggers out there - Keith Ordinary Guy, Katy Anchant, Black Triangle (A black triangle was worn by the 'workshy' in Nazi concentration camps) who are awake to the dangers of the growing plutocracy at Westminster, their policies for 'cleansing' the UK's benefit and health system and are looking for people in England to wake up and start doing something about a Westminster out of tune with the people of the UK as a whole.

Waiting for New Labour to come to their senses is not going to work, ask Micheal Meacher MP. New Labour are doing backroom deals with the Tories then sitting on their hands when it comes to a vote on the removal of Union rights from Civil Servants or on retrospective legislation to make the illegal removal of benefits, legal.

The simple way to ensure England hurtles back to medieval work, health and welfare conditions is to do things the New Labour way and simply sit on your hands. UK Uncut are at least taking action - maybe it is time more 'folk a bed in England' did the same as this could well be your Agincourt moment of the 21st Century or are you just going to let Westminster walk all over you and lay waste to England?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Welcome to Galloway

Sometimes it takes the visits of friends who have never been to this part of Scotland to remind yourself just how lucky you are to live in area of pretty much unspoilt rural beauty.

Their amazement at seeing deer from the car window, red kites and buzzards spiralling over head or the sunlight sparkling on the 'Devil's Threshing Floor' at high tide. The handsome beach at Brighouse Bay, the more intimate one at Carrick or the hidden gem at Mossyard. All of this is reachable from my front door in 15 minutes by car - all of it part of 'hidden' Galloway.

Thirty minutes to the back of the house are the Southern Uplands where you can tramp the delights of Glen Trool or the heights and ridges behind. Maybe you will stop at Clatteringshaws and vist just one of many 'Bruce's Stones' that are scattered across Galloway marking where the great man of Scottish independence fought some guerilla campaign or another against Percy, the 'King' of Galloway or the Commins as he hacked his way to the Scottish crown. In border lands between the enemies, such in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, motte and bailey castles abound like a bad case of chicken pox - the finest example being at the Haugh of Urr.

If you like your history a bit older then there are sights in Galloway that are prehistoric with the flat costal strip abounding in Pictish 'cup and ring' marker stones, 'cist burial chambers' at Cairn Holy or our mini Stone Henge on the Machars above Wigton. A bit closer to home, historically, is the ancient celtic abbey at Whithorn with its links to Ireland and Lindisfarne and the early Christianisation of this part of Scotland. The early church's influence extended on to the building of abbeys at Glen Luce and Dundrennan. In the 20th Century history left its mark along the coast at Garlieston where much of the 1944 D-day 'Mulberry Habour' concept was tested then built.

Famous folk? We have a few. The great physicist Maxwell Clerk, Einstein's inspiration, is buried at Parton. The originator of the Blue Water United States Navy, John Paul Jones, came from above Rockcliffe and spent a night in Kirkcudbright Tolbooth on trumped charges put by Lord Selkirk's factor - a slight he repayed in a later USN raid on Selkirk's House on St Mary's Island. At Queenshill and Barcaple, William Neilson, the discoverer and developer of the 'hot blast' furnace which provided much of the iron and steel of the industrial revolution, saw out his days. At the turn of the 19th Century Scottish painting's 'Glasgow Boys' were often to be found in Kirkcudbright where E. A. Hornel made his home at Broughton House which in turn established a mini 'St Ives' phenomenon which saw the likes of E.A. Taylor, Charles Oppenhiemer and Jessie King move into the town and the 'light' still attracts artists and photographers to this day.

Looking for something more exciting? For mountain bikers there are the forest runs at Dalbeatie and Kiroughtree or a whoosh down the longest zip wire in Scotland at Laggan Farm. For cyclists there is the Kirkcudbright Criterion run by the local Rotary Club. Golf? there are many beautiful nine hole gems like Gatehouse to decent eighteen hole courses at Kirkcudbright or championship standard courses at brighouse and Stranrear.  If you are less energetic there is Kirkcudbright's Traditional Jazz Festival at the end of June or Wigton's Book Fair in September. For the youngster's  there is the adventure playground at Cream of Galloway (plus organic ice cream /  food by the bucket) or a smaller less adventurous option at Cocoa Bean where the youngster's can also have a go at making their own chocolates - maybe just head for one of the many sandy beaches or into the hills.

So what is the point of plugging Galloway? Apart from the fact I love living here and get fed up with folk asking why I moved here? I do have an alterior purpose, to advertise a friend's holiday home which sleeps four, takes dogs not far from Twynholm (birth place of David Coulthard). If you want to find out more why not E-mail her @  Larglea.

Monday, 4 March 2013

'No' and what it means to NHS Scotland

I live in Scotland where since 2007 the NHS model has seen the removal of 'competition' within the NHS and direct Scottish Government action on poorly written PFI contracts, especially in the case of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where it impacted on cross infection control. Further due to a change in how performance in NHS Scotland is now measured performance targets are increasingly linked to patient experience and not 'outputs'. The system is not perfect, no measurement system ever is, but at least NHS Scotland would be recognizable to Mr Beveridge's original 1942 idea of a NHS service, the White Paper of 1944 and the NHS Act (Scotland) of 1948.

Having worked in the NHS on both sides of the border all I can say of this latest plan for NHS England is it does not have patients needs and expectations at its centre. The chance to achieve that principal aim was lost when New Labour failed to back Sir Liam Donaldson's proposed reform of NHS management and delivery in the late 1990's. His aim was to take a proven UK created, world recognised and effective quality assurance management model and apply it to the NHS in England. The system was already in place in Sweden's equivalent of the NHS and proving highly effective at improving responsibility for delivery at all levels while  holding all levels to account for their activities. In other words the Swedish had used the model to create a coherent and accountable public health care system with patient's needs and expectations at the centre.

The problem of this model for the NHS in general, at all levels of vested interests, is it requires all fiefdoms and empires to be broken up and the focus moved from the Secretary of State for Health's current political demand, for example, to that of patients' determined needs and expectations. This fundamentally changes the power cascade from top down to bottom up and reduces all vested interest control and inputs to the same value as the patient. The very apotheosis of Blairite and New Labour policy and politics. Systemic failures in Donaldson's proposed model for NHS England would go to the top where true accountability lay.

In Mid-Staffs the patient complaints would not have been dismissed in Donaldson's proposed model but would have acted as a driver to correct the issues causing the front line problems and put in place revised systems to prevent (as far is humanly possible) the same errors occuring at a future date. These problems and their effective solutions would then have been notified to all other NHS Trusts in England creating the prevention of possible problems occuring in the other trusts.

The bottom line was the implementation of Donaldson's model, in full, would have created the opportunity to save NHS England over a £1 billion in pay outs of out of court and court settlements for negligence and malpratice at 1996 figures.

Instead NHS England was given a fudge by New Labour which was simply smoke and mirrors and jobs for the boys and girls in the new 'NHS Quangos' while the vested interests carried on as before. More top end cost for little improvement in meeting patient's determined needs or expectations of NHS England. The Quango which was set up to patrol 'Clinical Governance' has been shown to have demonstrably failed in its core purpose of ensuring patient safety and best practice on numerous occasions. They gave Mid-Staffs a clean bill of health right in the middle of the unfolding disaster. NICE is notorious for shutting the stable door well after the horse has not only bolted but turned up in a Tesco burger.

Blair got his 'headlines' about NHS England improvement, patients' needs and expectations continued to be ignored while the plans for the marketisation (aka privatisation of NHS England) went on a pace starting with PFI and its effective selling off of hospital buildings and the land they were set on to the private sector. The cost of which is going to rise to all four NHS entities across the UK, with the downgrading of the UK's triple A rating, by a further estimated 33% over the period of the current contracts. In Scotland that will be an estimated £10 billion more lost to frontline patient care funding, on top of the current cut backs to Scotland's pocket money from Westminster which are already squeezing the NHS Scotland budget. The Red and Blue Tories at Westminster will then use the outsourcing of NHS activities in England to 'private companies' as an opportunity to reduce Barnet NHS consequentials to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - even further.

A 'yes' to Scottish independence looks increasingly to be the only way to preserve NHS Scotland in its current form.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Sectarianism or fair criticism?

Most commentators in the Latinate world saw Ratzinger as a stop gap Pope, a safe pair of hands, a conservative solution in the hopes that by the time he had moved on the Catholic Church's much publicised indiscretions would have been safely buried in the library at St Peter's. The new Pope would have been able to carry on as if the 'blip' had never happened.

The reality is the Catholic Church's abusive side has become more apparent whether in Ireland, Europe, USA or South America as the Catholic conservatives have increasingly been exposed as hypocrites of the first degree whether it is in dealing with wide spread child abuse or the active homosexual element in their priesthood. Their ultimate ignorance was the attempts to blame the children as the author's of their own abuse, they were the one's who lead the priests and nuns astray - this was not only a moral failure but a theological failure and a scriptural abuse, "Suffer the little children to come unto me".

The growing contempt for Catholicism across the UK has less and less to do with 'sectarianism' and more and more to do with the Catholic Church's declining moral basis, of its serial denial and failure to address its adminstrative structures are no longer fit for purpose whether in the Vatican or in the Bishoprics. The Catholic Church at the top can claim and teach what it likes but without integrity, at every level below, the message is meaningless, hollow and an only an echo of what it once may have been. This has its mirror in the UK electorate's growing contempt for the Parliament at Westminster and for many of the same reasons.

I am a Scot and like the majority of modern Scots consider school, religion or football team are only of social interest and not a matter of life and death. For the record I went to Craiglockhart Primary School then George Watsons, I am an aetheist and I support Hearts. One of my friends is a Tibetan (one of the Dalai Lama's right hand men in Nepal), another friend is a Catholic Priest in Coatbridge, my cousin went to Heriots and supports the Hibbees - self justifcation? 

No - just reflecting the social mix of modern Scots because I sense am the norm, rather than the exception. I believe Scotland is about its civic ideals of fairness, opportunity and care for the community which operate outside the 'welfare establishment' of any church, often in spite of religious dogma and self interest, and cross over religion's self perpetuating barriers to aid in the creation of a real community.