Sunday, 30 March 2014

Least Worst Prospect?

 "William Bain is certainly not a man anyone could accuse of complacency. The Labour MP for Lambhill in Glasgow knows estates like these are where many of the missing million live. Three times a week he knocks on doors to tell them why they should vote no. He says he's eschewing the big meetings and debates because, "You can do a debate and maybe get 20 or 30 people; a few hours of this and you'll have spoken to treble that amount"Observer 30/03/14

There is a very simple reason why the likes of Willie Bain of Better Together (or is it United with Labour - you can never tell with Willie) will not take to a platform and debate the issues in public, before audiences of 100+ these debates have been attracting, is simply because every time Better Together have, the before and after votes at these debates have seen a massive jump to 'Yes'.

The most recent big hitter on the Better Together side - The Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Carmichael - to publicly debate the issues saw 'Yes support' move from 58 to 75 in an audience of 140 people at the debate in his own constituency in Shetland.

Think about it: the Secretary of State for Scotland could not convince the electorate who put him into Westminster of the case against ending the Treaty of Union in September 2014.

One of the Better Together ' Senior Staff' is on record of saying - on the issue of their support for Better Together - it pays the mortgage.

The only thing that unites the troika in Better Together is their hatred for Alex Salmond and the SNP - without that they would be at each others throats in a flash. A situation we will see over the next few months as Better Together rapidly turns into a 'train crash'. The knives are out for Darling. Carmichael is quietly pushing Gordon Brown and his 'clunking fist' to replace him as leader of Better Together. Carmichael just does not understand the extent the Scots now despise Brown nor the open civil war this move would trigger in Labour's Scottish region. 

I do not think Jim Murphy would take kindly to his mortal enemy in Labour Party power games, let alone Murphy's fiefdom of Labour's Scottish region, being allowed to 'rule the roost' as 'big boss'. 'Big Boss' is Jim Murphy's role in Scotland (see Unite and the Battle of Falkirk), for him and his West Coast Blairite Labour Mafia - Darling was only just acceptable as a fence sitter in the Brown vs Blair war. The West Coasters would have preferred one of their own but Murphy avoids the firing line, he is a Chateau general, and his number two, Dougie* Alexander (Lab), is a light weight with a number of unpleasant skeletons in his closet. The largest skeleton being he is suspected of sticking the knife into his sister and ex First Minister, Wendy 'Big Brain' Alexander's back when she accepted Salmond's challenge, at Holyrood, to a referendum back in the early 2000's with her war cry of 'Bring it on'.

Better Together is lead by the least worst prospect, Mr Darling, and it shows.

*I was corrected, I got the wrong Alexander Brother .... but what is the difference?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Deep Thought ..

After reading the contrary articles posted on the Gruniad web site on the currency union / no currency union issue, while waiting for Noel Edmond's TV game show of the same name to be commissioned I read the equally amazing posts of hatred and disdain aimed at the 'sweaty Jocks' which accompanied them, I decided I had a great need to analyse just what Better Together's core policies are.

To this end I inputted all the data I had on Better Together pronouncements, the speeches of Chairman Al, the Jokes of Jim the Murphy and the Laments of Lamont.

I then fed all this data into a program I wrote running a combination of Chaos Theory, Foucalt's Phenomenon, Newton's zeroth law, a Lalland Scots bullshit filter and Schrodinger's Cat then waited as my poor tower struggled to unravel the question the program was designed to reveal - just what are the core policies of Better Together.

The computer ran hot, then cold, then hot again to the point I could see glowing points around the CPU. Just as I thought it was going to give me the computer equivalent of 'go forth and multiply' by crashing and burning the cooling fans suddenly dropped from their hypersonic squeal, to a high scream and eventually to a steady hum. 

A Deep Thought style screen appeared telling me my computer had an answer, was I ready and hoped I would not be disappointed with the calculation. I clicked Yes for the answer and this is what the computer revealed:

Better Together's Campaign is based on two, core policies and these are:

  1. See you! Jist dinae goan dae that, jist dinnae. Jist dae quhit yer telt - ye glaikit, scunnering, poxy wee Jock. Ma pals doon in Westmeenster ken better, jist shut it - richt!
  2. See yon bastirtin' Salmond - we jist hate him, say wae dae. Wan dae we're goan tae gie him a richt Timsoning, sae we are!
  Somehow, I was not as surprised as I should be.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Strathclyde Political Transport - a wing and a prayer...

The SPT has long been a bye word in Scotland as a prime example of Labour's attitude to the people of the West of Scotland and can be summed up in one word - indifferent.

In normal political wonk speak it is a transport Quango, in Labour speak it is an Arms Length Economic Orginisation (ALEO), to other Scots it means 'jobs for Labour's boys and girls', a trough into which Labour backs woods men and women can stick their snouts as a reward for doing what they have been told to do by the Labour West of Scotland Mafia style 'Dons'.

In the last few years the SPT has gained an unenviable reputation for out right corruption and misuse of public money as audit report after audit report shone a searchlight on what were standard SPT practices finally in 2010 Audit Scotland published a report expressing serious concerns about the misuse of public funds by the SPT organisation which included the giving of political donations to the Labour Party's Scottish Region.

The report also highlighted the additional payments made to councilors who were members of the SPT Board over and above the remuneration the councilors already received for being councilors (of which membership of an ALEO was considered part of their duty as a councilor for which they had already been funded) and the honorariums were provided to cover lost income for lay members of the board. This turned out to be common practice across most of the Labour created ALEO's in Glasgow and the West of Scotland and in many cases doubled the councilors income from the public purse. A nice little earner for Labour's back woods men and women.

All this before the issue of SPT jollies around the world by senior board members and SPT executives to look at other public transport networks; of which New York seemed to hold exceptional interest to SPT Board members and SPT senior executives, requiring many, repeated fact finding visits. These visits, in turn, ran up some fairly hefty costs and expenses which Audit Scotland, in 2010, indicated needed repaying.

A couple of Labour Board 'councilor' members were persuaded to fall on their swords and the executives concerned took early retirement, a lump sum and their voluptuous SPT Pensions before they could be sacked - apparently with the SPT board's agreement - which many of us believe was an excellent method of ensuring other SPT and Labour skeletons stayed well back in the cupboard, out of sight - avoiding the messy business of repayment of unjustifiable expenses by councilors. It was all those big boy SPT executives' fault mister - honest.

So today's sudden removal of a paid for advertising campaign on the Glasgow Subway, on behalf of Wings over Scotland (a pro-independence web site), is probably not much of a surprise to us longstanding, West of Scotland Labour watchers - the real surprise is it took SPT that long to find an excuse to dump the adverts.

Severin Carrell's hysterics in the Gruniad, as he churned a Labour press release as 'news' and Wings over Scotland as  'cybernatery', points the fickle finger of fate in the direction of Mr Murphy and his Blairite cohorts. For this Scot the evidence of just how terrified the 'No Campaign' must now be, to shoot themselves in the foot, over an advert on Glasgow's Subway is stark.

Then again Subway's and Scottish Labour have never, ever been a very happy association.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

A Break ... from anger and hatred

I had hoped after last weekend's hate fest in Edinburgh both in and outside the Tory Conference, the media and bloggers might give it a rest when Labour hit Perth - stupid really, but with out hope for change, there is no hope for a better future.

Yet what I have seen from the Scottish media and the bloggosphere over the last few days is the usual conflation between the SNP and the Yes Campaign, lead by the Labour Party's usual cheer leaders. The myth the 'Yes campaign' is not about equality, its is a hidden Tory plot, the Labour Party is to the left of the SNP - all the standard cries of denial we have heard from Labour, ever since they lost their hegemony over Scotland in 2007.

On the 'Yes side' there are equal cries of anger and hatred around 'Labour lies'. A problematical engagement with Labour's narrative, when even with the the full weight of the British Establishment media propaganda the polls are showing they are losing the war, even if they consider the are winning the media battle.

To use a historical analogy the 'Yes Campaign' is fighting its key battle over prepared ground, drawing Labour and the No Campaign it fronts into prepared ambushes, getting them to fall into prepared staked pits, overall denting what should be an all powerful enemy's ability to fight the battle they want. There are occasional head on, disrupting attacks from the Yes Campaign but, like Bruce, it is clear the real need is one where the 'No Campaign' is ground down by its own efforts, increasingly frustrated, demoralised, so it turns in on itself, as it has no one else left to blame.

Tactically the comparisons between Edward the Second's march on Bannockburn - full of arrogance, sense of superiority, angry at being challenged, their right to rule being questioned, the certainty of crushing the Scots is seen in the method of David Cameron and his, Labour lead, No Campaign compared to quiet certainty of people actually behind the Yes Campaign and their use of Alex Salmond as cover to deflect the attention from what is actually going on - bears a small comparison. Like Edward the Second, the fascination of the No Campaign and its aim is focused on the narrow front of destroying Salmond in some De Bohun like attack. The rest of the 'Yes campaign' is to be ignored, what use is the ordinary, independence supporting Scot, party less, excommunicated from Westminster, without this 'extraordinary leader' seems to be their angle. In this they misjudge what is happening in Scotland on the ground, amongst the electorate, as the polls show the No campaign sliding towards defeat in September.

This brings me back to the anger and hatred being shown by supporters of Yes to Labour.

What part of we are winning, keep the heid, lay off ad hominen attacks on the No side, keep your sense of humour and positive mind set as by letting yourself be sucked into the anger and hate game you are engaging the opposition in a battle only they can win, are you not seeing. Get annoyed by all means but reply in a way which highlights the No Campaign's hypocrisy, inability to address the issues they raise, the emptiness of their threats, mock them and damn them with faint praise but let us not fail and fall short by indulging in anger and hatred.

Labour is facing a dystopian nightmare of their own construction in Scotland - a fundamental reality: they have lost and are continuing to lose the support of the people of Scotland by their unwillingness to address the real concerns, needs and expectations of the Scottish Electorate. The failure to listen to the likes of Henry McLeish, let alone the comments made by Alan Grogan in today's packed fringe meeting can have only one end result, the destruction of Labour's remaining hegemony in Scottish Councils.

So let go the anger and hatred over hurts you believe the Labour machine has inflicted on the Yes support this weekend - that road allows the whole Cybernat nonsense to be revisited and us to be deflected from what we need to concentrate on - getting the positive message about Scottish Independence and a why a Yes vote is essential for the good of all Scots, no matter their political persuasion, age or ethnic origin.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Better Together Shop - Labour Devo Policy day

Electorate: This is the Better Together Shop?

Ms Lamont: Indeed it is, sir what can I do for you today?

Elec: Do you have any Labour Scottish Region Devolution Policies?

Ms Lamont: None, sir, none at all!

Elec: No polices at all?

Ms Lamont: Not much call for them around here, sir, in Labour's Scottish Region. The Better Together Shop just sells look alike Tory Policies in London Labour wrappers.

Elec: Surely you have a policy for what happens on a 'No' vote?

Ms Lamont: Nope! We will wait for head office to send us some.

Elec: What about on a Yes vote?

Ms Lamont: I'll have a look, sir, Your in luck, here's one on Rudolph Hess.

Elec: I said 'Yes' ....

Ms Lamont: Mr Murphy says there is no need for a policy on a Yes vote because he is going to ensure it never happens ...

Elec: So you are, in fact, screwed; are you not?

Ms Lamont: Not if we keep saying a Yes vote is never going to happen ...

Elec: So you think we are a few slices short of a full loaf?

Ms Lamont: Aye, that's about it ... it usually works in Scotland.

Elec: What about in 2007 and 2011?

Ms Lamont: They were just 'blips', London's told us to tell you, they were just blips. We are going to win in September and then go on as usual, so what's the point of Scottish only policies - eh?

Elec: Really?

The door slams leaving Ms Lamont as vacant as the shop premises.

Overload ...missing what is important ..

There are times when even the most devoted follower of the Scottish independence debate suffers from overload. I thought I had developed an effective bullshit filter which operated effectively to prevent most of the noxious comment from either side of the debate effecting me unduly.

The arrival of the Tory phantasm to Edinburgh and its over weaning media and press coverage tested my filter system to destruction but the fall out from Andrew Marr's train crash interview with Alex Salmond pushed the system past overload and into failure. I found myself, at first, screaming internally at Marr's self satisfied ignorance then the system failure warning went off as the media on both sides started making much of it as talk of who was bullying who diverted the public gaze from what was actually said and headed into the standard 'stairheid rammy' in the usual Guardian / Newsnet blogo-sphere.

Even an excellent round of golf in my club Winter League on Sunday (41 points, net six under, 2nd place, 1.2 handicap cut - thanks for asking) could not un-bung the severe case of cerebellar constipation this all had induced.

It is now just Tuesday and at last I can begin to clear my system of all the crap, hubris and detritus - give myself a brain wash and take stock of the weekend.

The Tory Conference - spoke to itself. In many respects it did not even manage to talk to its own supporters in Scotland. The set pieces were fundamentally about how evil , daft, megalomaniac and generally insane Alex Salmond is for taking on the vested interest of the UK Parliament at Westminster. How dare he suggest Westminster is not up to the job and he could do better. The Scottish Tory Party will show him how wrong he is by doing all the things like end free prescriptions, student fees, council tax freeze which the people of Scotland so hate and feel oppressed by and make Scotland just like the North of England. There's the motivation to vote 'No' - a fine economic success to persuade Scotland of the Tory arguments for the Union. Sadly many folk seem to miss this key message as they banged on about how empty the conference centre was or how the Tories tried to fill the hall with locals or just how vacuous Ruth's speech was tied up with ad hominem attacks. The blogo-sphere was strong on anger, bile and detestation and short on getting the important message out.

The message the Tories sent out, this weekend, told us Scots in no uncertain terms, a 'No' vote means Scotland being reduced to an economic wasteland like the North of England, a state of affairs Scotland suffered in the 1980's, as resources and finance continues to be sucked south into London and the SE to prop up the failed and failing 'austerity project' of the Tories.

As to Mr Marr. Alex Salmond managed to draw out a clear example of bias in a BBC political commentator, in full view of the UK public. Salmond understood that simply leaving it out there, as a viral You-Tube video would do much more damage to Marr and the BBC than any outburst of outrage. His spokesperson made it clear he accepted the cut and thrust of debate and had made his point clearly. Sadly the outcry has shifted the emphasis from Mar's statement, his attempt at bluster and his loss of control of the interview to a polar argument which is about the individuals concerned, bias and bullying rather than the failure of the BBC to hold one of its top journalists to account and the particular journalist's failure to back down when he had been caught out peddling an unsubstantiated, personal, political view as factual comment.

Quietly, in the background, missed in all the muck slinging, one of the 'No campaign's' constitutional experts - Professor Brown - has started getting his knickers in a twist as to what is the actual constitutional status of the the UK Parliament at Westminster is on a 'Yes vote' in September and just what the impact a 'Yes vote' will have on the May 2015 Westminster election. The article in the Telegraph demonstrates just how confused Professor Brown is on the matter and unclear where sovereignty will lie. The argument for a continuing UK Parliament is weak. The Prof accepts there will have to be an exclusion of MPs from Scottish Constituencies from what will be sovereign English and Welsh Acts, Bills and statutes with regards to post 'yes' negotiations, prior to the Scottish MP's exit in March 2016. As what will be English and Welsh issues make up the majority of the work in the run up to March 2016 - just what is the point of Scottish MP's anyway? This is a position the good professor is left struggling with and concedes the May 2015 election could just be for English and Welsh (with NI) constituencies rendering the ten minute bill he was commenting on unnecessary and even moot.

It amazes me the professor appears to have no knowledge of neither Lord Cooper's clear statement on the issue of  'the limitations of UK Parliamentary sovereignty' in McCormack nor Lord Hope in the UK Supreme Court's ruling in AXA vs the Lord Advocate (2012) which supported Lord Cooper's judgement that the sovereign supremacy of the UK Parliament is in fact limited by law. As a result of the UK Supreme Court judgement other legal experts are stating the 1998 Scotland Act can only be interpreted within law, is limited and can not be held to be constitutionally binding having no real constitutional force as it is forfeit to 'the considered will of the people of Scotland which is paramount' and protected for 'all time' by article 19 of the Treaty of Union (1706). Some experts now claim the UK Supreme Court ruling on AXA leaves UK Parliamentary Bills, such as the Welfare Reform Act (2012), open to legal challenge in the Court of Session where a bill of the UK Parliament can be shown to be contrary to the will of the Scottish people as represented by majority Scottish elected representatives at Westminster and Holyrood. The UK Supreme Court ruled it had no power to set aside any Act, Bill or statute of the Scottish Parliament which reflected the considered will of the people of Scotland. This is a clear expression of the legal limitation of UK Parliamentary sovereignty.

I wonder how long it will be before Professor Brown comes round to the contention I have made on a 'Yes vote' which means returning the sovereign powers to the original parliaments of the two realms which make up the British mainland?

Friday, 14 March 2014

What we can learn from the NHS in England?

The problem, as I see it, for the NHS in England is it no longer knows whether it is fish or fowl. 

Is it patient focused or market driven? 

Is it co-operative or competitive? 

Is its job to deliver health care improvement or simply sticky plaster people back together to stop them falling apart? 

Is its job to pick up all the old folk who can not get a care package and bed block wards because the councils do not have the funds to meet actual care and health need in the elderly?

I have been involved in NHS England as a clinician, a clinical governance auditor and as a care process developer and implementer from 1987 until my ill health retirement in 2005. The problem does not lie in the NHS clinical and clinical support staff at Mid Staff's or where ever else, as has been spun by the current NHS England minister, but the constant politicking and bickering of the vested interests - Government, BMA, RCN, NHS Managers association and all the rest who have their sticky fingers in the NHS England pie whether for cash or gongs. They have ALL lost the plot as they busily defend their own little empires at the expense of the service they claim to wish to preserve. 

Mid Staffs was a result of mismanagement by a Trust looking for political 'brownie points' who failed to maintain the correct levels of staffing across their Trust to meet the criteria. A Trust who placed inexperienced and under qualified nurses and doctors in clinical decision making positions beyond their competence, which resulted in unnecessary patient deaths and iatrogenic damage and in turn all to meet UK Government set benchmarks which has little to do with patients' needs and expectations and everything to do with making UK Government Ministers look good.

The problem with the overall leadership and management culture of the NHS in England, from the top down, can be described as introverted, ineffective, inefficient, obstructive, negative, without a clear aim or objective as to what NHS England is supposed to be, do and deliver for the people of England.

My last job was working for a Scottish rural health board under the previous Labour / Liberal coalition in Scotland. My brief was to examine the declining provision of NHS Dental care in the board area and suggest possible solutions. This involved me in meeting with all the Dental GP's in their practices to assess the standard of provision, listen to their concerns and gain an indication as to whether or not they would continue with NHS provision. I also sat with the District Dental Officer, Board Member responsible for dental issues and the Board CEO to discuss the Scottish Government requirement, available additional funding. As a result I wrote a 10,000 word report with recommendations for the Board with a copy to the local MSPs.

The problem was the recommendations did not fit in with what the CEO wanted to do and I discovered three year's later, when I played golf with the board member responsible for dentistry, the Board had never seen my report and the gentleman was not best pleased after he had quizzed me on it. The CEO took early retirement around six months later - probably just coincidence. The opportunity to create something different and effective in terms of delivering NHS dentistry to rural communities was lost as the £1.5 million funding went on 'NHS dental premises' which are under used - just as my report suggested they would be - and the hospital the unit is linked to is about to be replaced by a new hospital on the edge of town which negates the reason for the new dental building in the first place. The decision by the CEO had little to do with health delivery benefits to a rural community but fitted in with top down Labour / Libdem PFI new build policies: his close links with the local Labour Party clearly had no impact on his decision. He even tried to buy me off by offering me the vacant local Chief Dental Officer role.

My research on the NHS in Scotland since 2007 indicates, to some extent, the service has reduced the worst excesses of politically driven 'bench marking' and vested interest system since Ms Sturgeon took hold and is thinking more about patient needs and expectations in a more joined up delivery of service and greater co-operation between the vested interests, who appear less defensive of the boundaries between them.The real concern is whether those 'new habits' have been firmly enough imbedded. Then again the major shift in the previously 'laisse faire' attitude at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary suggests a maybe they are. My own experience of NHS Scotland, in a rural area, is rather than trek 54 miles round trip to see my consultant he arranged to see me (and other of his patients) at a GP surgery 7 miles from my home. When I required a CAT Scan rather than going to Glasgow, I was scanned in one based in an articulated trailer which came to the local hospital.

It is a while since I have perused the draft constitution for an independent Scotland but it is important for us all the NHS in Scotland is clearly defined and protected in a Scottish Constitution. There is a need for consultation across all the parties involved but I would suggest the following as a starting point to prevent the loss of direction which has occurred in NHS England courtesy of political meddling and vested interests:

NHS Scotland Aims:

  • To deliver cost effective medical care within a defined government budget, free at the point of delivery, to the people of Scotland
  • To deliver Dental and Optical care in a manner which ensures and encourages maximum access by all Scottish people
  • To work closely with all other Scottish Agencies and NGO's in regards to the long term care and support of the mentally ill, elderly, disabled and terminally ill
NHS Scotland Objectives:
  • To ensure NHS Scotland pursues internationally agreed standards of 'best practice' at all times both in its clinical and management practices and delivery
  • To measure patients realistic needs and expectations to ensure NHS Scotland is achieving its primary aim of effective medical care
  • To encourage all staff and clinicians to review their own and their department's performance in an objective and open manner
  • By openly sharing review, satisfaction and performance measurement, at all levels, seek to continually improve and develop NHS Scotland for staff, clinician and patient's benefit

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

You have been warned!

The case for a Yes vote.

Be aware, the positiveness of the contributors maybe found to be disturbing as will the factual accuracy.

If you do not like a positive message with a vision for the future which does not rip Scotland's social fabric to bits, do not click on this link ....... you have been warned.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Are Scottish Tories truly Thatcher's Children?

Thatcherism leaves everything to market forces - even public services - as is seen in the current, expensive rush by Cameron and his cohorts to privatise as many of Whitehall's public service and backroom functions as quickly as possible.; So quickly are these privatisations  happening no consideration is being given to whether it is either cost effective or cost efficient to actually do so. Duncan-Smith's socially calamitous rush to drive 'scroungers' from state benefits by marketisation of benefits has seen  DWP costs rise by an estimated £612 million for little if any cost benefit or cost efficiency. In the real business world the Welfare Reform Bill 2012 would be deemed a flop, given its over £0.5 billion cost (and rising) with no cost reduction in sight in the next three years and ditched before it swallowed even more money.

This leaves me pondering a question - just how happy are Scottish Tories with the extreme Thatcherism seen for example, in action, in the works of Mr Duncan-Smith. I have been chatting to a few I know, some pretty high up in the Scottish Tory circles of power and most are finding their party loyalties being stretched pretty taught over Better Together's current strategy. Many find their London bosses sit and flit appearances in Scotland and ever more ludicrous scare stories increasingly embarrassing and are saying they can, personally, no longer defend them. I was left with a sense many I spoke to think a Yes vote is now very likely (they still do not like the idea, mostly for ideological reasons) and they are now waiting to rebuild a 'Scottish Tory Party' they feel comfortable with and can live with - I am left with a sense it will be an old fashioned, 'One Nation' style of Tory Party.

What are my grounds for thinking this is the case?

Scotland has a 500 year tradition of welfare run at first by the Church of Scotland, funded by the parishes on whom its provision was a legally binding contract. Some 'Scottish Tory' parishes may have resented this obligation, a few are recorded as trying to avoid this obligation; until fined in the Court of Session and threatened with 'reset' if they failed to maintain the Parish fund at the correct levels.

Deep in the Lowland Scottish psyche lurks this Calvinistic imperative that we are our brother's keeper - even among traditional Scottish Tories. In the Highland's it was a fundamental part of the Clan system prior to the land enclosures and clearances of the 18th and 19th Century. Even then most of the big landowners not only provided free passage to emigrants to Canada, the Caribbean or Australia but, as in the case of the 'Tory' Lord Selkirk, also supported the families until they could stand on their own two feet in projects like his Red River Settlement, in what is now Manitoba. There are a few exceptions the worst being the benighted Duke of Sutherland who had his men burn the roof poles and drive his tenants out onto the shore's edge a more Thatcherite approach of sink or swim. So Toryism in Scotland had a patrician edge where the people were still looked after up to a point. In modern political terms many of Scotland's old 'Tory' landowners would now be seen as social democrats / liberals.

The slide of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party parallels the rise and rise of Thatcherism / neo-liberalism and its rejection in Scotland when Scots voted to have their parliament returned. The rise of Holyrood brought a rapid decline in respect for the UK Parliament at Westminster, as predicted by the last Scottish Viceroy - Lord Forsyth - and his further contention that Scottish devolution meant the end of the UK Union and a further rejection of the UK wide Tory Party seems to be playing out.

Scottish Tories, I know, have sympathy with a less strident Toryism. It is a more social democratic Toryism which saw them support the SNP minority government at Holyrood on many occasions between 2007 and 2011. Even now this 'Scottish Toryism' raises its head within the party splits over Ruth Davidson's leadership style. Elder Scottish Tory statesmen have gone as far as joining with the Libdems and more sane Labour MSPs to try and change what they see as Cameron's suicidal refusal to consider a well defined devo-max proposal. Long standing, big Scottish Tory donors have jumped ship to the Yes side and are now seen behind the pro-independence group - Business for Scotland.

Yes, Scotland has Tories but they are more Alex Douglas-Hume / Harold MacMillan style Tories than Thatcherites. Scottish Tories are increasingly uneasy about the drift from 'One Nation' Toryism, for full on 'Thatcherism'. While Scottish Tories may well loathe the idea of independence, on long standing political grounds,  a large majority of their support will vote 'NO' in September, I would suggest they will gain more credibility during the negotiating the process of dissolution of the UK Parliament, on a Yes vote, than Labour or the Libdems will.

At least they will have taken an honest position as opposed to a clearly, self interested position manifest in the other two Westminster Parties - most Scots will forgive them for that.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Alexander brothers and the currency union myth

During the week we have seen the false 'love bombing' of Cameron turn into the misdirected 'Blitz Krieg' dive bombing by the two Alexander's, who are basically saying Scotland is too stupid to have its own currency without a UK Government at Westminster running it. The problem for both of the 'Alexander Brothers' is they have been aiming at a target which is unimportant to the independence debate at large, on a subject which is of only technical interest given the £Scots will continue to exist whether inside or outside a Sterling Union - just as it always has, since its introduction into Scotland in 1412. The money markets are expecting the £Scots to quickly increase in value in the first 48 months to be worth £1.20 Sterling; if a free floating currency on independence. This is hardly reflected in the press and media barrage we see from the usual Unionist sources with their increasingly hysterical 'scare stories'.

I spent a bit of time reading an interesting article in Money Week this morning where the authors calculated the total debt currently being run by the UK Government - not just the current 'recognised debt' but all the promissory notes the UK Government has currently agreed in terms of public, pensions, military and other spending over the next five years. Their figures are calculated from reputable international financial analyst sources - Bloomberg, Deutches Bank and the like. The sums do not make good reading for the UK Chancellor and his Treasury Officials: according to Money Week the total indebtedness of the UK state is currently 900% of GDP which is as high as Greece and only slightly behind the Wiemar Republic's 913% which lead to the rise of Hitler.

According to the most recent OBR figures the UK debt to GDP ratio is 75%, this is projected to rise to 95% for England and Wales (with NI) if Scotland exits the Union and stays in a Sterling currency union. The comparative figure for Scotland's debt to GDP ratio after a 'Yes vote' is between 45 and 50% depending whether Scotland is in or out of a Sterling currency union.

Money Week is not saying, but it is hinting, that investors in London need to be thinking about shifting investments out of the City - if for no other reason than to put their finances off shore in gold or other hard investments, beyond a panicking England and Wales Parliament with a Chancellor seeking to reduce cash, gold and other fiscal asset transfers out of Sterling as the actual Westminster debt - no longer backed by £2 trillion North Sea asset, without 25% of its foreign exchange earnings and a Scottish Sterling surplus - seeks to fund its commitments against a rapidly devaluing pound and rising Westminster Government borrowing costs. This is what 'no currency union' actually means for post 'end of Union' Westminster. Look at what is happening in Greece and Argentina in terms of civil unrest, financial division, scapegoating of minorities and an increasing right wing electoral voting preference - now compare this with what is happening in England right now.

This direct comparison can no longer be ignored - the UK Parliament at Westminster is in the thick and steaming and has neither the wit nor the political ability to think their way out the mess which decades of neo-liberal austerity, subsidising and propping up the 'City' at the expense of the rest of the UK, has inflicted on the UK as a whole.

The total debt of the UK is 900% of its GDP
- just think about this carefully and what it means.

It is not surprising that Alex Salmond is calm about the present 'no currency union' claim from Westminster because for Westminster to actually follow this path is economic suicide for England and Wales. The relative total debt of England and Wales (with NI) would quickly rise above the 913% of GDP which brought the Wiemar Republic crashing to the ground. This has a direct impact on Scotland as it would effect 70% of our immediate export market, made worse by a £Scots which will strengthen, backed - as it is - by substantial physical resources, products and modern transferable skills that the rest of the world will still require. This scenario will be our 'New Zealand' moment, comparable to the New Zealand agricultural industry being shut out of the UK over night on EU accession. It will not be easy, there will be short term losses, company failures while new markets are established but an independent Scotland's more balanced economy will be better placed to survive and then prosper, than England and Wales, as a result of a Sterling crash the 'no currency union' scenario inevitably creates.

The reality is the World Money Markets have made very clear to Osbourne and Alexander (x2) they want a 'currency union'. As all the recent reports on an independent Scotland's fiscal position make clear, Scotland is a good and safe place to invest, Money Week is suggesting the same is not necessarily so, with regards the City of London in a post independence England and Wales and a no currency union scenario. Money Week has a track record of reading the economic runes pretty well over the last decade so they are worth taking note of.

Can Osbourne ignore the markets continuing concerns about the actual state of the UK's Government's current and future England and Wales indebtedness and cut off his nose to spite his face by refusing a currency union on a Yes vote in Scotland? 

Only time will tell, but I would suggest Osbourne and the current UK Parliament are playing fiscal Russian Roulette with Sterling where only one chamber is empty.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Independence Debate - an English whine fest ...

Everyday I scan through media sources across the internet looking for Scottish referendum related articles, many are so biased, inaccurate and laughable and are variants of the too poor, too wee, too stupid Scotland message.

The BBC's whiner in chief Mr Peston is at it today with yet another scare story about EU regulations and where banks have to have their head quarters - more doom and gloom for Scotland apparently as RBoS will have to move their HQ to the City of London, from Edinburgh - according to Mr Peston. Let us put aside the massive cost to a bank which is on the breadline and losing money hand over fist or the legality of any such claim by Mr Peston as the RBoS operation in Edinburgh is regulated under the 1845 Banks Act (Scotland) which allows it to print £ Scots against Sterling deposits at the Bank of England but which it could no longer do if HQ'd in London and ponder why has Mr Peston 'suddenly' found out about this potential fly in the ointment.

Mr Peston has told us before he has a 'special relationship' with politicians and senior civil servants in the UK Treasury. These 'sources' who were his trusted informers for his media appearances and articles on HBOS which many think helped trigger the 2008 crash or his sources for his outburst over the possible buy out of BoS from HBoS by a Scottish/Chinese partnership when the Llyod's / HBOS deal initially stalled. A deal which both Darling and Brown were not keen to let go ahead because as a stand alone the Halifax was Northern Rock mark 2 and unpalatable to Lloyds Bank no matter what sweeteners Brown and Darling threw at them. On that occasion Peston came up with a whole load of insider stuff which could only have come from the UK Treasury and even claimed he had 'Scotched the deal' leaving Lloyds the only possible suitor for HBoS. Mr Peston has form for doing the UK Treasury's dirty work for them.

I was almost getting interested until Peston repeats the lie about Standard Life leaving Scotland on a 'Yes vote'. In doing so ignoring completely what the CEO of Standard Life is actually on record of having said, completely misrepresenting Standard Life's actual position - similar to the claims which caused Standard Life to drop five points in an hour after the last dose of BBC hubris on the subject. It was this point I decided I smelled a big fat rat. Peston had rather over-egged his case in his glee at putting one over on the Scots with what I suspect is a UK Treasury supplied scaremongering job. Probably bodged together from some of the wreckage from this weekend's 'Dam Buster' raid which ditched after being shot down by the Standard and Poors report on an independent Scotland's economic fitness.

Mr Peston's alter ego at the Guardian is one Severin Carrell, a journalist who also likes to post anti-independence press releases from Whitehall as fact. Over the last couple of days he has posted a 'Yes vote' is stagnating article (sadly the survey Carrell based his article on was branded an outlier by Prof Curtis, the Unionist's favourite 'Stato'). Today's is some nonsense about the SNP over-estimating the value of the oil and gas left in the North Sea in which he attempts to conflate the UK Treasury's OBR unit with the IFS report (which was by and large positive about Scottish independence) to prove his point. In the meantime he fails to point out 'Salmond's over estimate' is based on the UK Oil and Gas Industry's figures and the UK Treasury projections (before being OBR'd). It clearly passed Mr Carrell by that Mr Salmond created the model by which these figures of oil and gas estimates are created when working as a senior analyst in oil and gas at RBoS. The model Mr Salmond created remains the oil and gas industry standard to this day.

In the comments below Mr Carrell's juxtaposition of fact and fable there are the normal stream of angry English posters on send, telling the Scotch they will be stuffed on independence, Sterling is England's (either not knowing or understanding Sterling is actually the UK Union's currency), without London we will all die and or come whimpering back to London and even more crass and ignorant stuff carrying on along the 'Subsidy Jock' line. Meanwhile as a thread running through all these posts is: you are only doing it because you 'Jocks' hate us English. The anger and fear of many of the 'Sod Off Jock' brigade is palpable and barely hidden by their braggado while propped up by the ignorance of what a 'Yes vote' will actually mean to them.

Sadly it is clear that 'down south' all they have left as weapons to save the Union is to either shout us Scots down or put us Scots down, on every possible occasion. This only goes to show after 307 years the English who consider themselves the UK's sole and rightful heirs (as represented by Westminster politicians, London and the SE 'City folk') still do not understand us Scots nor what makes us tick.

They do know how, exactly, to tick us off.

First Minister Alex Salmond, New Statesman speech, London, Tuesday 4 March 2014

"This is the second time in the last eight days that I’ve been next door to the UK Cabinet. Last week they paid a flying visit to Aberdeen while the Scottish Cabinet was in Portlethen a few miles away. This week I’m here in the heart of Westminster.

And once again, I’ve been hoping that David Cameron might join me – I thought we could maybe have a debate...

However it’s a pleasure be back in Westminster to deliver this New Statesman lecture. I hope you’ve all had a chance to look through this week’s special issue, and I hope it’s given you some flavour of the vitality of the debate currently taking place in Scotland.

I want to start tonight’s speech by emphasising one point which the media, and UK politicians, sometimes lose sight of.

If we vote YES in September then Scotland will become independent in more promising circumstances than virtually any nation in history.

In fact, nobody really doubts that an independent Scotland could be successful.

Even David Cameron once put it well:
Supporters of independence will always be able to cite examples of small, independent and thriving economies … such as Finland, Switzerland and Norway. It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country.”

David Cameron omitted to mention that Finland’s GDP per head is nearly 10% higher than the UK’s; Switzerland’s is 50% higher, and Norway’s is 85% higher.  But his basic point was well made.
This consensus reflects Scotland’s underlying economic strength. We would be among the wealthiest nations in the OECD. Scotland has contributed more in taxes, per person, than the rest of the UK for every single one of the last 30 years.

Standard and Poor’s, the ratings agency – which for the duration of this speech I’m rechristening Standard and Rich – joined the consensus last Thursday, noting “In brief we would expect Scotland to benefit from all the attributes of an investment-grade sovereign credit characterised by its wealthy economy (roughly the size of New Zealand’s), high-quality human capital, flexible product and labour markets, and transparent institutions”.

However, the current balance sheet is only part of the economic story. We should also look at the potential of the country.

We have more universities in the world top 200, per head of population, than any other country on the planet; we have huge expertise in engineering and life sciences; an astounding cultural heritage; immense energy and natural resources; and a skilled and inventive people.

So there’s no doubt – none whatsoever – that Scotland could be an independent country. The question the people of Scotland will answer on 18 September, is about whether we should be an independent country. 
That’s essentially a choice between two futures – the real choice I’m going to talk about this evening. With one, Scotland is part of an increasingly imbalanced UK – with high social inequalities, growing regional disparities, and more often than not governments we didn’t vote for. With the other, we have the powers we need to create a better country, to build the Scotland we want to see - the Scotland we seek. 
I want to start with the letter sent recently by 27 Church of England bishops, blaming the rise in foodbanks on “cutbacks to and failures in the benefits system”.

The letter struck me for two reasons. The first is that when I packed boxes alongside volunteers at the Edinburgh South foodbank just before Christmas, the Trussel Trust told me that in 2011 they had one foodbank in the whole of Scotland. Now they run 43.

50,000 people in Scotland have used them in the last nine months.

The second reason the letter struck me was the strength – the unusual strength - of the language used by the good bishops. It’s been reflected also in some of the comments recently made by the Archbishop of Westminster, now Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

It’s 25 years ago this month that leaders of Scotland’s three largest churches joined together to condemn a UK Government policy as “undemocratic, unjust, socially divisive and destructive of community and family life.”

That letter was written on the eve of the introduction of the poll tax in Scotland. It expressed perfectly the widespread anger about the tax, which commanded support from only 10 Scottish MPs out of 72. 
The poll tax became a totemic issue in Scotland - the supreme example of a policy imposed upon us in the teeth of massive public opposition. And one reason why the Scottish people endorsed devolution so overwhelmingly in 1997, was to stop anything similar ever happening again.

It’s worth repeating the phrase used by Scotland’s church leaders 25 years ago - “undemocratic, unjust, socially divisive and destructive of community and family life.” 

Last April, the bedroom tax came into force.  It is affecting more than 70,000 households across Scotland – 80% of which include a disabled person. It was opposed by more than 90% of Scotland’s MPs.
It’s part of a package of welfare reforms – again opposed by more than 90% of Scotland’s MPs - which have seen the growth of foodbanks, and which the children’s charities have forecast will see tens of thousands more children born into poverty by 2020.

However, these policies are exacerbating social trends which have prevailed over generations.  The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development reported three years ago that since 1975, inequality among working-age people has increased faster in the UK than in any other member country.  Even before the current government came into office, Professor Danny Dorling calculated that the UK was the 4th most unequal country in the developed world – it hardly seems likely that the position has improved!
And regional inequalities have grown alongside social inequalities. The UK now has the highest levels of regional inequality of any country in the European Union.

The UK Government’s Business Secretary, recently called London “a kind of giant suction machine, draining the life out of the rest of the country.”

Now, I’m much more moderate in my views than Vince Cable -  London is one of the great world cities; much of its success is to be celebrated.

And the economic gravitational pull of London is nothing new. This building was constructed at the end of the 19th century, because the Institution of Mechanical Engineers -which had been based in Birmingham since 1847 - decided it needed a London headquarters.

But London’s influence is infinitely stronger now.  And it’s impossible to deny that the attraction of capital and talent to London is now one of the defining features of the UK economy. 

A recent report by the Centre for Cities noted that 80% of private sector job creation was taking place in London.

Prof Tony Travers of the London School for Economics has said: “London is the dark star of the economy, inexorably sucking in resources, people and energy. Nobody quite knows how to control it.”
David Cameron argued before he became Prime Minister that “an economy with such a narrow foundation for growth is fundamentally wasteful and unstable.”

Yet his record is weaker than his words. A couple of years ago the Institute of Public Policy for the Regions published a report – “On the Wrong Track”.  It found that public spending on major transport Infrastructure amounted to £2,600 per head in London– and £5 per head in the north east of England.
I’m First Minister of Scotland – meaning all of Scotland. If the government I lead were responsible for such massive disparities, we wouldn’t stand a chance of re-election.

There’s a growing realisation that wealth and opportunities are too concentrated, geographically and socially. UK Government policies are working for too few, and denying opportunities to too many. Britain is imbalanced.

When I sat across the road in the Westminster chamber, the redoubtable Eric Heffer, MP for Liverpool Walton, used to sit on the backbenches just behind me. Eric hadn’t always favoured devolution, but the experience of Mrs Thatcher’s government had changed his mind. And whenever I made speeches, I used to hear Eric’s growl behind me “Remember Alex – Liverpool’s coming with you!”

I’m not suggesting that we take up Eric Heffer’s offer, but it’s interesting that in the last year we’ve seen a real determination from councils and cities in the north of England to see a prosperous and empowered Scotland as an opportunity rather than a threat. 

The Association of North East Councils and Cumbria commissioned academic research which found that“the prospect of further autonomy for Scotland is also stimulating a new interest in the North East, Cumbria and Scotland to work more collaboratively together.”

We’re now seeing a practical expression of that as Local Authorities in both countries, working together,  begin to explore how best to promote business, tourism and transport links.

This “Borderlands” initiative, as it is known, highlights the practical cross-border co-operation which would continue and would be strengthened by Scottish independence – when the nations of these islands share a partnership of equals based on our many areas of common interest.

And after Scottish independence, the growth of a strong economic power in the north of these islands would benefit everyone – our closest neighbours in the north of England more than anyone.  There would be a northern light to redress the influence of the dark star – rebalancing the economic centre of gravity of these islands.

There are those who worry that Scottish independence would leave an “England … entrenched in conservatism” as Helena Kennedy puts it in her New Statesman article.

However it’s worth noting that since 1945, there have only been two elections – in 1964 and the first of 1974 - where the largest party would have been different if Scotland had been independent. Those two governments sat for a total of 26 months.

Independence would have relatively little impact on the arithmetic at Westminster – although it would, finally, provide the definitive answer to the West Lothian question. Scottish MPs would no longer vote on policies primarily or entirely concerning England.

Indeed, Scotland would be more influential and valuable as an independent nation, than we can be by contributing 9% of Westminster’s MPs. We wouldn’t always get things right – sometimes the rest of the UK would learn from our mistakes – but we would exert a powerful and positive influence through example – the beacon of progressive opinion.

And independence would address a profound democratic deficit in Scotland – not a passing inconvenience, but a debilitating disconnect at the very heart of politics.

I’m 59 years old. For more than half of my life, Scotland has been ruled by parties with no majority. At the last four UK elections, the Conservatives in Scotland have won 0, 1, 1, and 1 seat respectively. 
That isn’t an abstract point of constitutional theory. It affects the wellbeing and prosperity of individuals and communities across the country. The Conservative Party have lost every General Election in Scotland since 1959 but have succeeded in ending up in government for 31 of the last 55 years.

I spoke earlier about the bedroom tax. It’s a good example not simply because it’s unjust – though it is – but because it’s a policy which could never have been passed by a parliament with Scotland’s interests at its heart.  It is driven primarily by rising rental and housing benefit costs here in London and south-east England, not by increases in Scotland. And although 60,000 people in Scotland will be penalised unless they move into single-bedroomed accommodation, we currently have a supply of just 20,000 single-bedroomed homes for social rent. In many parts of the UK, the bedroom tax is unpopular - in an independent Scotland, it would have been unthinkable.

Because of devolution, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP have been able to work together in the Scottish Parliament to mitigate the impact of the bedroom tax. As a result, nobody will face eviction in Scotland this year, solely as a result of the tax.

But we haven’t abolished the bedroom tax, because the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have the power to abolish the bedroom tax. Instead, we’ve had to develop a very expensive framework of measures, to cancel out the consequences of a policy which nobody in Scotland could ever have come up with in the first place. Wouldn’t it be better for us to have responsibility for our own welfare system instead?

And the bedroom tax is not an isolated example. Scottish MPs have voted against the welfare benefits uprating bill, child benefit means-testing, cuts in capital spending, Royal Mail privatisation and many more coalition policies. But despite that, all of those policies have been or will be implemented in Scotland.
When people voted overwhelmingly for devolution in 1997, many of them thought it would address the democratic deficit in Scotland. However devolution has dramatised, not ended, that democratic deficit.
That’s partly because of the contrast people now see between the record of the Scottish Parliament and the record of the Westminster Parliament.

There’s a contrast of approach. In the north east of Scotland last week, the UK Cabinet – on its third visit to Scotland in a century – jetted into Aberdeen and jetted out, without any engagement with the public. The Scottish Cabinet, on our 26th public meeting outside Edinburgh in the last six years – advertised in the press to encourage as many people as possible to come along to ask us questions for more than an hour.
There’s a contrast of language. In some of the rhetoric that gets used in the debate emanating from Westminster, people are labelled – they’re termed “strivers” or “skivers”; “shirkers” or “workers”. That language scarcely features in Scotland.  There’s a shared recognition that society isn’t divided between skivers and strivers – one group who pay in and another who take out. Everyone contributes to society, in different ways and at different times; and everyone needs public support, in different ways and at different times.

And there’s a contrast in policies. Successive Scottish Parliaments – and this is the parliament as a whole, rather than any single party - have legislated for progressive purposes. We have promoted social justice alongside economic prosperity. Indeed, we see social justice as essential to sustainable economic prosperity.
The first Parliament introduced world leading homelessness legislation. The second parliament tackled Scotland’s health inequalities through the ban on smoking on public places. The third parliament reintroduced free university tuition and unanimously passed the most ambitious climate change targets in the world. This parliament is seeing world leading action to address Scotland’s relationship with alcohol, and legislation to expand and transform early years education and care.

Alongside that, we have adopted policies to support economic growth – cutting business rates, promoting Scotland abroad, giving co-ordinated and innovative support to infrastructure and to key sectors of the economy. We have higher employment, lower unemployment and lower economic inactivity than the rest of the UK.

That doesn’t mean we’re perfect, or never make mistakes. It simply reflects the fact that members of the Scottish parliament – of all parties – have worked together to reflect the values, tackle the priorities and promote the aspirations, of the people who voted for them.

That’s why there is a clear majority of people in Scotland who want the Scottish Parliament to have control over welfare and taxation. I believe that over the next six months, that view will translate into clear support for independence.

It’s interesting to look at the most recent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey findings. They show that 62% of people trust the Scottish Government to work in Scotland’s long term interest. For the UK Government, the figure is 32%.

That helps to explain why the occasional visits by Westminster politicians to Scotland are being received so badly.

In the last three weeks people in Scotland have seen an array of approaches from the UK Government – what they apparently call their “Dambusters” strategy. We were lovebombed from a distance by David Cameron, then divebombed at close range by George Osborne. The UK Cabinet came to Aberdeen but chose not to meet members of the public.

I believe George Osborne’s speech on sterling three weeks ago – his “sermon on the pound” – will come to be seen as a monumental error.

It encapsulates the diktats from on high which are not the strength of the Westminster elite, but rather their fundamental weakness.

In contrast, we will seek to engage with the people of England on the case for progressive reform.
George Osborne referred to Scotland as a “foreign” country seven times.

Yet the Chancellor must know that the Ireland Act of 1949, negotiated after infinitely more difficult circumstances than we have, specifically states that Ireland is not to be regarded as a “foreign country”.
Scotland will not be a foreign country after independence, any more than Ireland, Northern Ireland, England or Wales could ever be “foreign countries” to Scotland. 

We share ties of family and friendship, trade and commerce, history and culture, which have never depended on a parliament here at Westminster, and will endure and flourish long after independence.

George Osborne’s speech was also mistaken in its economics – totally misrepresenting the size of Scotland’s financial sector, and offering facile and misleading comparisons with the Eurozone.

It was counterproductive in its politics- a day-tripping Conservative minister saying “no” to Scotland before flying back to Westminster again.

And it contradicted the best interests of the rest of the UK. His proposed policy would impose transaction costs on English businesses; it would remove Scotland’s substantial oil and gas and whisky exports from the sterling balance of payments; and by laying sole claim as the continuing state to the public asset of the Bank of England, it would see the UK Government take full responsibility for the liability of the £1.6 trillion national debt.

The New Statesman this week carries an online article from David Scheffer –professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, who served as a US Ambassador-at-Large during President Clinton’s administration. Professor Scheffer points out that “nothing in international law requires Scotland to pay one sterling pound of UK debt if the rest of the UK is deemed the continuator state in this way”. 

Scotland has already indicated that - with agreement - we would service a proportionate share of the debt. Any reasonable approach to negotiation would propose a share of assets and liabilities. That is simply the right thing to do.

For the Chancellor to put the rest of the UK potentially in a position of being landed with all of the UK’s gargantuan national debt is at best reckless and at worst totally irresponsible.

Of course once the current campaign bluster is done with, the UK Government will return to the commonsense reason set out in Clause 30 of the Edinburgh Agreement – that is that following the referendum, both sides will accept the result and act in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

But the current dambusters rhetoric has betrayed an attitude as antiquated as it is unacceptable. From the myopic perspective of the Westminster Elite, Scotland is last among equals.

And over the next few months each and every time we hear another of these lofty interventions, telling us all the things we can’t do, it will elicit a clear response in Scotland – the days of governance by Westminster dictat are over.

There is a second future available to the people of Scotland. One where we use the powers of independence to transform our country, rather than mitigate other people’s mistakes. So don’t let them tell you we can’t build a better country.

So if we take childcare as an example. Two weeks ago, our Children and Young People Act was approved by the Scottish Parliament.  It will see a major increase in childcare provision – to 600 hours a week - for many 2 year olds and all three and four year olds.

It’s an important step, but one which falls well short of our ambitions for childcare.  Those ambitions – for transformational change – can only be achieved with independence.

That’s partly because independence allows us to choose different spending priorities. We can decline to finance the madness of a new Trident programme, and invest in our future instead.

But most importantly, only independence allows us to benefit from the success of our policies.
We’ve led a sustained drive to increase women’s employment over the last 18 months. The female participation rate is now higher than in any other country in the UK, having increased by over three percentage points in the last year – 74,000 women.

Using 2012 figures, getting female participation in the workforce up to the same levels that they have in Sweden, would require an increase of six percentage points or so. The scale of that increase translated into employment would generate around an additional £700m a year of tax revenues.

The problem is, under current arrangements, the overwhelming bulk of these revenues go straight to the UK Treasury in London. And I see no sign whatsoever in George Osborne’s conduct over the last month – or over his whole political career, or indeed his whole life – that the first thing he would do with £700m of new revenues, created by a Scandinavian-style transformation of childcare policies, is to give these revenues back to Scotland to fund the policy that made it possible.

Retaining that revenue in Scotland is what will make that transformation in childcare affordable and sustainable. With devolution, we bear the financial cost of our social investments; with independence, we receive the full benefits.

The second example is population. Back in November, the UK Government welcomed warmly a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which was about as damning a criticism of its own policies as is possible to imagine.

Like last week’s report from Standard and Poor’s, which found Scotland’s wealth levels to be comparable to Germany’s, the Institute for Fiscal Studies recognised Scotland’s current economic strength.
Like last week’s report from Standard and Poor’s, which found Scotland’s wealth levels to be comparable to German’s, the IFS report recognised Scotland’s current economic strength. The IFS report recognised that Scotland has had a lower budget deficit than the rest of the UK over the last five years. It made it clear that our debt to GDP ratio on independence would be lower than the UK’s.

However the IFS also predicted that Scotland’s population might only grow by 4% in the next 50 years, while the UK’s might increase by more than 20%. That’s the main reason it was welcomed by the UK Government.

This is part of a problem that goes back generations. Scotland’s population has increased by just over 10% in 100 years – from 4.8 million to 5.3 million - while the population of England has increased by almost 60%
In recent years, successive Scottish Governments - not just this SNP one - have worked to address that by attracting people to study and then work.  Until UK Government policy changed, we had some success. The ten years from 2001 to 2011 saw Scotland’s highest population growth in a century. In fact, we saw higher growth in ten years than the IFS is predicting in the next 50, which is perhaps a lesson in why you should take population forecasts with an even larger pinch of salt than economic forecasts.

However, any reasonable person, reading that report, would draw the conclusion that Scotland starts from a position of economic strength; and that our long-term demographic challenge can be tackled.
The UK Government’s approach is quite different. It seems to be suggesting that it will do nothing at all about Scotland’s low population growth – in fact, it will pursue immigration policies which make the problem worse.

In other words, the UK Government’s vision for Scotland, if we stay tied to Westminster rule, seems to be one where Scotland – energy-rich, resource-rich, talent-rich Scotland - eventually becomes dependent on the rest of the UK, at some unspecified point in the future, because we haven’t been able to address a problem that was a century in the making, and which we have decades to sort out. 

How can that possibly be a positive vision of Scotland’s future?

And it raises the obvious question:  why would anyone accept that future, when instead, we could choose to change it?

Ladies and gentlemen, choosing to change – to seize opportunities and to meet challenges. That’s at the heart of this debate.

What we want to do is to build a better future; to use our natural and human resources, to create a fairer more prosperous country. And the fundamental truth at the heart of the case for independence is that the best people to do that- the best people to make decisions about Scotland’s future – are the people who live and work in Scotland.

At the start of this speech I referred to the letter sent by Scotland’s churches 25 years ago. I want to end with another voice from Scotland’s postwar history.

One of the finest Scottish political speeches of my lifetime was the Glasgow rectorial address given by Jimmy Reid in 1972. He spoke about the alienation felt by many people in society. He described it as “the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the forces of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their destinies.”

It’s a speech which still resonates today. If anything, its relevance has increased over the decades.
Independence on its own won’t address alienation – although it will give us the powers to do so.
But one truly wonderful thing about the debate happening in Scotland now, and the vote on 18 September, is that it is fundamentally a time – not for alienation – but for engagement, for hope.

Because this referendum isn’t about politicians. It’s not about me, or David Cameron - and it’s not even about David Bowie. It’s not about Standard Life, and it’s not about Standard and Poor’s.  It’s not about the press and it’s not about the broadcasters, or the elites in London or  Edinburgh. It’s about the people, the people of Scotland.

Adlai Stevenson once referred to a moment before presidential elections when people became reconciled to the requirements of the modern age. That moment of supreme clarity and often of fundamental reassessment he called “the liberal hour”.

On referendum day, all of the people of Scotland, not just for the first time in 300 years but the first time ever, will be truly democratically sovereign. Everyone will have an equal say in making the decision.
And there will be a moment for everyone in Scotland, on referendum day, when they stand in the polling booth and take the future of their country into their own hands.

This moment of opportunity, this moment of engaged sovereignty; this moment of clarity, and for many of reassessment, will come on 18 September. Let’s call it Scotland’s Hour.   Because on that moment - and I believe from then on - Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands." 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Bodyguard of Lies

1. The biggest lie: Scotland has been legally and constitutionally subsumed by England in the UK Parliament

This is biggest lie on which much of the Better Together campaign hangs and is predicated on:  Scotland was subsumed by England at the time of the Treaty of Union. This is a lie which was given provenance by Bagshotte and other mid 19th Century 'Constitutional experts'. The Treaty of Union makes clear the sovereign parliaments of both Scotland and England were temporarily suspended by the Treaty of Union and lent their parliamentary sovereignty severally and jointly to the UK Parliament at Westminster. This a very different position to the one claimed of Scotland being subsumed.

The point of lending anything is at some point you may well ask for it back. Further as Lord Cooper pointed out in McCormack versus the Lord Advocate in 1953 the constitutional implication of this joint lending is that neither original parliament's legal and constitutional practices are dominant in the UK Parliament each remain inviolable and unique. The assumption of the superiority of only English legal and constitutional practices in the UK Parliament is in error and contrary to the Treaty of Union which preserves Scots Law and constitutional practice for all time - where 'all time' means exactly that. Thus the singular constitutional concept of the 'Crown in Parliament' has no legal or constitutional equivalent in Scots Law and constitutional practice as 'the considered will of the people of Scotland is paramount' not the Scottish Crown nor the UK Parliament. The issue of the importance of the 'considered will' was recently tested in AXA and others vs the Scottish Parliament and others (2012) in the UK Supreme Court. The UK Supreme Court agreed with Lord Cooper stating the UK Supreme Court did not have the authority to set aside any bill, act or statute of the Scottish Parliament which reflected the people of Scotland's considered will.

The protection offered by the Treaty of Union to Scots Law and constitutional practice was evidenced in Blair and Straw's attempt to spring Megrahi as a part of Blair's 'Deal in the Libyan Desert' with Gaddafi. To this end Blair and Straw rushed a prisoner transfer bill through Westminster then sought to apply the bill in Scotland for Megrahi's release. The Scottish Law Lords made clear this attempt to spring Megrahi by means of an English Law Bill was 'ultra vires' (outside the law) as Megrahi was prosecuted, convicted and held under Scottish legal jurisdiction and could only be transferred or released in accordance with the provisions of Scots Law. Once again demonstrating the myth of the superiority of the 'Crown in Parliament' is just that - a myth.

2. The Scots are subsidy junkies dependent on London and Westminster / Scotland's too poor, too wee, too stupid...

Too poor?

It is better if I just direct you here on the subject of too poor.

Too wee? 

Well Malta manages OK, as do Iceland and Greenland we could also chuck Luxemburg or the Principality of Monaco - if we compare ourselves with more equal population sizes there's Norway, Denmark or New Zealand - see too poor link.

Too Stupid? 

Scotland produces more graduates per head than most other EU nations, our principal universities are world renowned and in the top 200 in the world. We are world leaders in research and development of reusable energy technology and its applications and our specialist oil and gas extraction and recovery companies and consultants have a world wide market for systems they designed and put into use in the North Sea worth over £6 billion in foreign exchange to Sterling in 2011-2012. (see also 'too poor') In fact Scottish folk and companies are still leading the way in commercial and industrial innovation and entrepreneurship - just as we always have done - Fibre Optical digital computing? That'll be Heriot-Watt University. CAT Scanning? Edinburgh University Medical School in the 1970's  - the list of devices, products, systems we use or rely on on a daily basis which have started life in Scotland and are still being developed, are numerous. Damn - nearly forgot Chamber's famous dictionary ....

3. The Union of the Crowns


It just never happened. In case I am not being clear:

There never was or has been a Union of the Crowns as part of the Treaty of Union or at any time before or since.

One head, two separate crowns, two separate realms, two separate legal systems, two separate constitutions (Scotland has a basic written constitution in the form of the 1689 Claim of Right which is more of a contract between the Scottish Crown and the people telling the Scottish Crown just what it can and can not do and it can be booted out if it breaks the contract).

4. The Treaty of Union was signed because Scotland was bankrupt

Nope - this another 'porkie' which has been trotted out so often it has taken on a patina of truth. Scotland only went into rapid economic decline after the Treaty of Union was signed. There are a lot of reasons why the Treaty of Union was signed but Scotland being 'bankrupt' was not one. In the decade prior to the Union, Scotland's economy, according to Micheal Lynch in his 'A Short History of Scotland' (EUP), was growing at around 2.8% per annum based custom and duty returns ( a rate of growth Scotland has never reached as part of the UK Union). The Burgh's recovered their losses over Darien rapidly via burgeoning international trade. The Jacobite Lords had used money they had been given by London as bribes in the years after the 'Glorious Revolution' and recouped their losses from the same source as they were paid not to support a King 'over the sea', a king who they did not have much time for, thinking James 7th venial, ignorant and small minded. It was only the Tory Lords who were in the 'poop', as the Burghs were starting to look at calling in the mortgages the Tory Lords had taken out with them to invest in Darien - the new middle class wanted their cash back or the Tory Lord's estates in lieu. The Church Estate went along with the Lords Estate for its own benefit. Having been persecuted and run ragged by James 7th it was happy to go along with any plan that would prevent the Catholic Stuarts ever getting back on the throne of Scotland. The Treaty of Union ensured Hanoverians, good protestant Hanoverians, ones who could not meddle and were not allowed to meddle with the Reformed Church of Scotland in any shape or form would be on the throne.

The Lords and Church Estates signed up to the Treaty of Union for that good and grand esoteric logic - self interest.

So if you take these four basic lies which are recycled on a daily basis in one form or another just what have the Better Together campaign have which has any substance? Any substance at all?

The answer is 'not at lot' the Better Together Campaign's bodyguard of lies only have power if we either believe them or fail to challenge them at every turn and in so doing allow them to have 'power'.

(Churchill is claimed to have said - "In war, the first victim is the truth which is so precious, it can only be protected from its fate by a bodyguard of lies".)