Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Year songs

Hope you all have a Happy New Year and that we start to see some change...





Repulsive creature

Yesterday a certain repulsive creature (™ Piers Morgan) posted yet more tweets denigrating the Scots, something for which the creature has past form.  I won't name them, as they would clearly relish yet another mention.  How sad to feel so needy that you need to make such remarks about anyone.

The remarks in question were regarding how the nurse who has contracted Ebola has been transferred from Glasgow to London for specialist treatment.  This is being used to insult the Scots by saying that we are incapable of looking after the sick in our own country and are relying on England.  Another version of 'too wee, too poor, too stupid'.

If it were just this one individual that was making such comments we could dismiss it as just the rantings of a deranged mind.  Unfortunately there seems to be a fair amount of support for this view, judging by below the line comments on the story from various newspapers.  For example, there's this thread from the Guardian and this one from the Daily Mirror.  In them there are a vocal minority of people complaining that Scotland cannot cope with Ebola and is 'dumping' this case on England - just what you'd expect from the 'sweaties'.

Of course, the fact that the Scottish Government is simply following the agreed protocol with the UK government appears to have passed these people by.  It's not that Scotland doesn't have the facilities to deal with this case (it does), simply that the hospital in London is the one that has been designated for Ebola cases by the UK government, and in this case the UK government overrides the Scottish government, even though the NHS in Scotland has always been devolved, as Ebola is deemed a matter of UK security.  The union, after all, is still in place.

It certainly looks as though there have been failings in the screening process at Heathrow when a group of thirty health workers returned from Sierra Leone, since the nurse in question did say she felt unwell, but was cleared to fly after having her temperature taken repeatedly.  No doubt this will be investigated.

Nevertheless, this whole even has shown us that the persistent myth of Scotland being reliant on England (note that it's always England, not the rest of the UK) and being uniquely incapable of running itself is alive and well and more persistent than a hydra.  It's something we're going to have to fight very hard against if we ever hope to gain our independence.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Oil again

In yesterday's Guardian there was yet another story about the falling price of oil, this time telling us that Scotland would have been £15.5bn in debt if we had been independent.  It seems to be a subject of some fascination for the Unionist side, who seem to be in two minds about the whole referendum business.  On the one hand we on the independence side are constantly told that we lost the referendum, that we should get over it, that we should move on.  By and large the independence supporters have done this, although there is still a small group obsessing over electoral fraud.  Then we get stories like this one, along the lines of '... and anyway, you would have had a huge hole in your budget if you'd chosen independence'.  Well, a small majority of voters elected to stay in the union, so it's a moot point.  What's the point of bringing it up?  As it happens, it falls down on several grounds.

Firstly, had we voted for independence, we wouldn't be independent at this point.  The earliest suggested date for independence was March 2016, so we would still be under Westminster rule  It would still be Westminster's problem.

Secondly, independence was never really about the oil.  It's a nice to have, but it's not the be-all and end-all of the Scottish economy.  Scotland's GDP without oil is around 99% of that of the UK as a whole.  The bigger scandal is that the oil revenues to date have not been used to set up an oil fund, which would help to stabilise oil income in bad times such as this.

Thirdly, all this crowing about how the SNP got their figures wrong ignores that fact that the UK government's Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) also got the figures wrong (see page 113).  No-one allowed for Saudi Arabia persuading OPEC to maintain current levels of extraction, leading to a greater supply than demand, thus leading to the current low price per barrel.

The major point that they all miss, however, is that supporters of independence never thought that Scotland would be a land of milk and honey from day 1.   A large majority of us knew that there would be problems to be faced, and we still voted for independence.  For us it was about having the ability to face and solve our own problems in whatever way seemed best.  So yes, assuming that we had got immediate independence and that the price of oil fell to the current levels, there would have been a problem.  No denying it.  But there are a number of ways it could have been addressed, none of which would have necessarily involved the rUK.  It would have been for Scotland to decide.

Again, as with Saturday's stories in the Telegraph, I sense a great deal of fear from the Establishment.  Why else would they want to tell us about things that didn't happen if not to try and scare us off another referendum?


Sunday, 28 December 2014

Buttons

There are a couple of articles in the Telegraph yesterday guaranteed to raise the temperature of the most mild-mannered of independence supporters.

The first is by Christopher Booker and is short, but not sweet.  The second is by Bruce Anderson and is a much longer (and more tedious) read.

In both cases the same old buttons are pressed, looking for a reaction from the people of Scotland.  Interestingly they don't really get that reaction in the comments below, which are also pretty button-pressing in their own right.

So what are these buttons?

1. All Scots hate the English
Last September, when it seemed possible that the United Kingdom might be torn asunder, many people wondered why the Scots had become consumed with such bile towards the English (Christopher Brooker)
2. Scots are all subsidy junkies, living on benefits
Today, it seems as if the only political argument in Scotland is the struggle between the Nats and Labour for voters in the Central Belt, many of whom live on benefits, most of whom used to be unthinking Labour supporters. Enterprise Scotland, aspirational Scotland, hard-working Scotland: all are being ignored in a competition for the support of those who, if offered a job, would run a mile.  (Bruce Anderson)
As long as Scotland is part of the Union, the English are entitled to prevent the Scottish government from implementing crazy policies – because otherwise, England will have to pay the bills.   (Bruce Anderson)
 If the Scots were indulged with devo max, the Highlands would be blighted. The Scottish financial sector – still an indispensable part of the Scottish economy – would migrate to England, as would the great majority of entrepreneurially minded Scots. Anyone with any get-up-and-go would get up and leave. Under devo max, the English would find themselves subsidising Scotland’s ruination. (Bruce Anderson)
3. The SNP are a new form of Nazi party
Indeed, there might seem to be so little distinction between Labour and the Nats that they could easily join forces. As no one else is using the label at the moment, why not call themselves National Socialists? (Bruce Anderson)
There are no guillotines or concentration camps in Scotland. But even though most Nats have never heard of Rousseau, they are his disciples, behaving as if anyone who does not share their version of Scottishness is not a proper Scot.  (Bruce Anderson)
4. Alex Salmond is a joke, as is the Scottish parliament
But today much of that glory has departed. The Scots have turned in on themselves, becoming petty, sour and envious. Alex Salmond may have his absurd dreams of a Scotland that can somehow “go it alone”, disfigured by thousands of useless windmills, dependent on North Sea oil just when its value is plummeting and it is fast running out. But this once clever politician looked increasingly like little more than an inflated Third World bullfrog, as he presided over that joke of a “government”.  (Christopher Brooker)
5. Cybernats and intimidation
During the campaign, there was a great deal of physical intimidation. The moral intimidation continues, and so far, we have seen little in the way of counter-attack. (Bruce Anderson)
6. Too wee, too poor, too stupid
It is worth making a brief excursion into philosophical piquancy. In 1765, Jean-Jacques Rousseau met David Hume in Paris. A man of immense good nature sustained by a stoical Tory scepticism, Hume was one of the glories of the Scottish Enlightenment. Neither he nor his Edinburgh nor that Enlightenment could have existed without the Union. (Bruce Anderson)
 Although the dole junkies of the Central Belt would be consumed with rage, they would not be half-witted enough to vote for independence if there were no means of paying their benefit. If it should turn out that I am over-estimating their intelligence, let them go. (Bruce Anderson)
English politicians allowed themselves to be bounced into Gordon Brown’s vow, which amounted to giving the Nats all the devolution they asked for, even if that meant turning Scotland into a separate – and wretchedly governed – country. (Bruce Anderson)
The reason why the Scots have come to this pass is that their once-proud nation has become a sad provincial backwater. They have lost their self-respect. (Christopher Brooker)

And so on and so tediously on.

And yet, interestingly, you can detect a note of real fear under the rhetoric.  The patrician dismissal of Scotland as a poor country full of ignorant savages unaware of their own history sounds to me like people whistling in the dark, trying to comfort themselves from something they find pretty scary.

We're going to see a lot more of this type of rhetoric in the first half of next year, during the general election campaign.  We need to recognise these button-pressing articles for what they are and not rise to the bait. The Establishment seem to be afraid of our independence, so we must be doing something right.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Early bloodbath

The Guardian has just published the results of a poll carried out on their behalf by ICM which, according to their headline, shows that Labour will be in for a bloodbath in Scotland come the May general election.  The poll itself shows similar figures to other polls recently, such as the one carried out by Survation for the Daily Record.

The results are interesting, because they show that there is now a similar pattern of voting intentions between the UK general election and for the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016.  A nice Christmas present for the SNP.

Pleasant as it is, I think it would be a mistake for the SNP and other independence-supporting parties to coast on this.  The fact that Labour are so far behind in the polls means that Mr Murphy will be mustering his troops and will fight as hard as possible to prevent electoral humiliation in May.  He's well known for not backing down from a fight, and I'm sure he'll make maximum possible use of all his resources.

The other factor that will come into play is time.  At the moment the election is five months away, and people are happy to speculate on what they will do, for their decision is not imminent.  However, as we saw in the referendum, the status quo has considerable inertia.  I've heard of quite a few No voters who went into the voting booth prepared to vote Yes but who, when the moment came, couldn't overcome the inertia and voted for what they knew.  I think, come May, that will also be a factor.  When it comes to the point, many people will be unable to overcome the habit of a lifetime and will put their cross against the Labour party they (think they) know.

The SNP, Greens and SSP need to fight the election campaign as if the polls showed Labour in a commanding lead, a dead cert to win their usual number of seats.  They need to persuade the voters that voting for Labour is not the only way to do what's best for Scotland, by keeping the Tories out.  After all, Scotland voted Labour last time, and we still got the Tories.

Come the New Year there is a lot of hard work in prospect.  Let's get ready to rise to the challenge.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Barrowlands

Today in The National there's an article celebrating the 80th birthday of the Barrowland Ballroom, aka the Barrowlands.  It made me come over all nostalgic - must be the Christmas fairy dust or something.

I studied at Glasgow University in my youth, and at that time the major rock concert venue in Glasgow was the Apollo (giving away my age there!).  I saw quite a few bands there, ranging from Adam and the Ants to AC/DC, and the atmosphere was always pretty special.  I stayed on in Glasgow for a few years after graduating, attending gigs at various venues, before moving to my current location.

The Barrowlands, however, is something special.  I've seen some of my best gigs ever there, and the atmosphere is like no other venue I've ever experienced.  It doesn't always happen, but sometimes there's a strange alchemy that turns a few hundred people into sounding like a stadium-full and feeling like one organism.

The venue itself is nothing special to look at.  It has a sort of seedy charm, with lots of glitter and neon, but it's never going to win prizes for the decor or facilities.  But when you get the right gig, none of that matters.

I learned my mosh-pit skills there, in the company of total strangers all as much into the music as I was.  You'll never meet them again, but for a couple of hours they're your comrades in arms.  I also gained my first mosh-pit injury there - a broken foot, sustained by landing badly while leaping around to the music of the Stranglers.  Such was the joy of the music, though, that I didn't really feel the pain until the next day.  The DMs, de-rigeur footwear for the mosh-pit, also helped by supporting my foot solidly.  Taking them off was the big mistake.

My best gig there?  Has to be Iggy Pop on 15th December 1988.  Two solid hours of manic moshing,  My T-shirt was literally dripping with sweat by the end, and my voice was hoarse from singing and cheering.  Other gigs have come close, but that one sticks in my memory.

My best gig so far, I should have said.   I continue to go there occasionally, and you never know, the best gig might be yet to come!


Christmas reading

Since I imagine there won't be a great of political news in the next couple of weeks, I'm planning to read a couple of books looking back at the referendum.  One is '100 Days of Hope and Fear' by David Torrance and the other is 'Alex Salmond: My Part in his Downfall' by Alan Cochrane.  Both are Unionists, so it will be an interesting contrast to my experience of the referendum. 

I must say I'm looking forward enormously to the Alan Cochrane book, judging by the comments left on Amazon.  I have a large bucket of salt standing by to complement my reading experience, given that Wings over Scotland has already exposed at least one lie in the book.  Should be fun - I do enjoy a good fantasy novel ;)

David Torrance is the man who wrote a biography of Alex Salmond, and is someone with whom Mr Salmond himself is less than impressed The Guardian appear to think that the book is pretty balanced, so I look forward to judging for myself.

I will be reporting back once I have completed my planned reading.  I've already read 'Disunited Kingdom' by Iain McWhirter, so will be comparing all three.

Meantime I hope you all have a lovely Christmas, however you choose to spend it.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Insurgent

Has anyone else noticed that the SNP are becoming referred to more frequently in the main-stream media (MSM) as the 'insurgent SNP'?

For example:

The National, 22/12/2014 [referring to Ed Miliband]
And once you factor Scotland into the equation - where Labour stand to lose a significant number of seats to the insurgent SNP - the odds lengthen even further against the opposition leader
The Spectator. 14/12/2013

James Forsyth: Insurgents are remaking British politics

The big parties have no answer either to the SNP or to Ukip. The consequences could be dramatic

The New Statesman, 29/12/2014

 As will the insurgent SNP and the wider nationalist movement. Under Sturgeon’s leadership, the party will move to the left, partly out of conviction (unlike Salmond, she is an unambiguous social democrat) and partly out of necessity. The 60,000 people who have joined the SNP since the referendum demand nothing less. In the new Scotland, where a young generation of writers, thinkers and activists define themselves by their constitutional radicalism, Labour faces forces that it can no longer control.
 The definition of 'insurgent' from Merriam-Webster is

1in·sur·gent

noun \-jənt\
: a person who fights against an established government or authority

Full Definition of INSURGENT

1
:  a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government; especially :  a rebel not recognized as a belligerent
2
:  one who acts contrary to the policies and decisions of one's own political party
Most commonly in recent years we have heard the word applied to Moslem fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, specifically members of the Taliban and  ISIS.

Now it's possible that all these journalists have forgotten how to look up the dictionary to find they really want, which is, I suspect, 'resurgent'.  I find this hard to believe though.  All these professional writers and sub-editors have failed to spot that 'insurgent' doesn't mean what they think it does?  

It's an interesting piece of positioning by the MSM, which will set up certain associations for their readers, a large number of whom do not support the cause of Scottish independence, bracketing the SNP with Moslem freedom fighters. 

Maybe I'm just paranoid and it's simply a further decline of the English language, like the increasing use of 'momentarily' to mean 'in a moment' rather than 'for a moment'.  Maybe I'm just a pedant at heart.  Let's see how common this becomes.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Oil tales

Currently we have a lot of stories in the press about the falling price of North Sea oil, which is currently worth around $60 dollars per barrel, down from $109 per barrel on average last year, and predicted to see a further fall next year before recovering.  This is one example.  Many of the stories are crowing about how this will blow a huge hole in Scotland's budget, given threatened redundancies of around 10% of the workforce, thus reducing the tax take from those jobs just when the Scottish Government is due to take over some of the tax powers currently controlled by Westminster.  It's all doom and gloom, with a side helping of schadenfreude.

There's all sorts of glee about how the situation would have blown apart Scotland's economy had we voted for independence.  However, as Wings over Scotland points out,  we would currently still be under Westminster rule, since independence would have taken at least 18 months to implement in practice, so the problem would still have been Westminster's.

However, let's assume that they're right, and that Scotland is at this point independent.  Just how much of Scotland's income comes from North Sea Oil?  The latest figures I can find (2012/13) show that it accounts for about 16% of Scotland's income from tax receipts.  So yes, it's a reasonable-sized chunk, but it's nowhere near the bulk of our income.  Also, the receipts will be less, not non-existent.

So there would be a problem.  The papers declare that Alex Salmond and his colleagues would therefore be facing an economic crisis.  Note the hidden assumption here, that Mr Salmond and his colleagues would be unable to cope and would immediately run back to Westminster to bail them out.  It's a variation on the 'too stupid' meme regarding the reasons why Scotland can't be independent.  We also get 'too wee' and 'too poor' with the heavy implication that Scotland relies on North Sea oil and nothing else for its income.

But they seem to have forgotten a couple of things.  Firstly Mr Salmond is not unacquainted with economics in general, and oil economics in particular, given that he was an oil economist with RBS before he became a politician.  We also have John Swinney, a man who has managed to balance Scotland's budget every year while in the role of Finance Minister.  I think between the two of them they would find a way to cope with the problem. There is also an assumption that the Scottish Government would deal with the situation by taking exactly the same decisions as Westminster.  I don't think that's a valid assumption, but we can't know for sure.

Why is the price of oil falling?  This article from the Economist explains it.
Four things are now affecting the picture. Demand is low because of weak economic activity, increased efficiency, and a growing switch away from oil to other fuels. Second, turmoil in Iraq and Libya—two big oil producers with nearly 4m barrels a day combined—has not affected their output. The market is more sanguine about geopolitical risk. Thirdly, America has become the world’s largest oil producer. Though it does not export crude oil, it now imports much less, creating a lot of spare supply. Finally, the Saudis and their Gulf allies have decided not to sacrifice their own market share to restore the price. They could curb production sharply, but the main benefits would go to countries they detest such as Iran and Russia. Saudi Arabia can tolerate lower oil prices quite easily. It has $900 billion in reserves. Its own oil costs very little (around $5-6 per barrel) to get out of the ground.
So really there is nothing the UK or Scottish governments can directly do about it.  Nevertheless, all the stories push this as Scotland's problem when in reality it's Westminster's problem as things stand, thus following the Unionist agenda.  Sounds to me like Westminster fears another referendum on independence and is keeping up the propaganda.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Zombie killers

There have been a flurry of stories and commentary following Jim Murphy's election as leader of Labour in Scotland.  In them it's becoming evident that inaccurate information is repeatedly being presented as fact.  Here are some examples.

Cameron’s argument was fair but its timing was crazy. It seemed to jeer at the yes campaigners when they were still smarting from defeat. Scotland had indeed got away with constitutional murder. Having sought independence and won enhanced autonomy, they still wanted all the goodies of union. They wanted the full Barnett formula subsidy and legislative power to influence England’s domestic administration and budget. But this is what Cameron had promised, with no mention of strings attached to make it palatable to English Tories.
Myth: Scotland is subsidised by England through the Barnett formula
And so on. By this test, is David Cameron sleepwalking into a breakup of the United Kingdom, something not even Vladimir Putin wants to see – though fellow-nationalists, Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage are big fans – as he seeks to handle the Scottish (not to mention the EU) dimensions of policy for tactical party advantage?
Myth: Alex Salmond greatly admires Vladimir Putin
Myth: Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage are politically equivalent

We also find the story of Jim Murphy having to abandon his 100 towns in 100 days tour during the referendum because of organised intimidation by Yes supporters leading to him being 'egged' rearing its ugly head once more in connection with reporting of his election as leader. In fact the egg-thrower was a disgruntled passer-by who objected to having his question ignored.

And on it goes.  These stories are basically zombies, and no matter how many times they are refuted with links to the facts, they just keep shambling on, like the Walking Dead.

These stories are going to be repeated over and over during the general election campaign, and need to be challenged every time they emerge.  So, if you fancy a bit of zombie-killing, take part in comment threads and collect a set of links that you can use for refutation.  Just think of them as loaded shotguns that you can use for the necessary head-shot ;)



Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Referendum retrospectives

Three months past the referendum and we now have retrospectives of it appearing right on schedule.

Last week I bought and read Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won A Referendum But Lost Scotland by Iain Macwhirter.  It's an interesting read which manages to be pretty well-balanced given that Mr Macwhirter was a Yes voter, albeit one who was persuaded to it rather than one who was a Yes supporter from the off.  He examines the mistakes made by both sides in the referendum and discusses the unexpected outcome, whereby the 'losers' on the Yes side are moving from strength to strength while the Unionist 'winners' appear to be disintegrating into in-fighting within parties and trying to put one over on the other parties.  I thoroughly recommend this one, although I suspect Unionist readers might find it a little less appealing.

Meanwhile the Guardian have been running a two-part retrospective entitled 'The real story of the Scottish referendum' written by Severin Carrell, Nicholas Watt and Patrick Wintour.  You can read part one here and part two here.  Unsurprisingly this is written very much from a Unionist perspective.  The title is a bit of a giveaway for starters, as is the fact that it's in the Guardian, still cheerleading for the Labour party.  Also there's the fact that Unionists 'plan' while Alex Salmond 'plots' - no bias there then.  In general the tone is very much of approval of the actors in the Better Together campaign and disparaging of those in the Yes campaign.

The articles contain the results of interviews with some of the key players, and are an interesting insight into what was going on behind the scenes of the Better Together campaign.  It has revealed that David Cameron's linking of EVEL with more devolution for Scotland was something he was strongly advised against, but which he went ahead with anyway, to the dismay of the Better Together team.  It also shows that the Queen's so-called off-the-cuff remark to a member of the public, saying that she hoped the Scots would think very carefully about their decision ,was nothing of the kind, instead being a carefully calibrated deliberate act.  So much for the much-vaunted neutrality of the constitutional monarch. 

Both publications point out the major weakness of the Yes campaign, the currency question.  I personally thought we should have gone for our own currency ultimately, using the pound in the short-term while this was set up, either formally or informally.  I understand the insistence on the currency union (they didn't want to frighten the horses), but it was the Achilles heel of the campaign.

I have no doubt we will see more of these retrospectives appearing in the near future.  They will be invaluable in helping us to plan for the next referendum.




Monday, 15 December 2014

Rat joins sinking ship

This cartoon from Martin Rowson in the Guardian nicely sums up the current situation of Labour in Scotland.  It comes as a nice contrast with the hagiographic Guardian editorial suggesting that Jim Murphy is the answer to the Labour maiden's prayer.  For example
The second thing that Labour needs to do is to show that it is the party of the deprived, the exploited and all those who want a fair deal. Mr Murphy’s speech put that front and centre on Saturday too — and his own life story embodies it. This also means reaching out as much as possible to the many traditional Labour voters who voted yes to independence in September, beguiled by SNP talk of Scotland’s distinctive fairness.
So there we are. All of us Yes voters are idiots who were fooled by the SNP and their talk of fairness.  Because we're clearly just too stupid to have understood and thought about the issues, so we just need to be told what's good for us and go back to obediently voting Labour.

Mind you, Mr Murphy's elevation has not been universally welcomed, as can been seen in this piece from the Independent for example.

Meantime, in the Scotsman we have the fascinating story of Jim Murphy going for a run.  Now there's incisive journalism for you.

You've got to hand it to the man though - he is media-savvy.  And that's the reason why I don't think we should underestimate him.  He's the man who turned one egg into a four-day media scandal, citing it as evidence of a Yes conspiracy to silence him, to the point where it is now reported as fact every time the incident is mentioned.  The truth of the matter is that the man who did the egging, one Stuart Mackenzie, was simply annoyed that Mr Murphy ignored his question, so went to a nearby shop, bought the eggs and had at it.  His lawyer was at pains to point out that Mr Mackenzie was not part of any conspiracy against Mr Murphy.  You won't see that mentioned in any story referencing the egging though.

Mr Murphy appears to be a ruthless operator who does whatever it takes to make things go the way he wants them to, and I think he will do whatever it takes to carve himself out his own fiefdom in Scotland.  All non-Labour supporters need to fight against this.  As the Guardian said at the end of its editorial, game on.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

New brooms

To absolutely no-one's surprise Jim Murphy has been elected as leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, together with Kezia Dugdale as his deputy.  The full result for the leadership contest were
Jim Murphy 55.77%

Neil Findlay 34.99%
Sarah Boyack 9.24%

Mr Murphy was first choice for the Parliamentary labour party and the membership, while Neil Findlay was the first choice of the unions, as expected.  Perhaps not quite the ringing endorsement Mr Murphy was hoping for, but he was nevertheless considerably ahead of his nearest rival.

Is this the best choice for Labour in Scotland?  That remains to be seen.  At the moment his election would tend to give credence to Johann Lamont's parting shot of their party being seen as a branch office by London.  He is making all the right noises about putting Scotland first, but whether that will be permitted is a different question.  It looks like his first priority will be to try and win back the Labour Yes voters in order to prevent a rout at next May's elections.  I wonder what he will pull of of his bag of tricks to achieve that?

As for Kezia Dugdale, I'm told she's seen as the best and brightest new talent in the party.  I can't say I've seen much evidence of it so far, but perhaps her elevation, which will see her facing Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister's Questions will show us why.  Mind you, she does admit to being nervous of this.  Ms Sturgeon is a formidable politician, so it will be interesting to see what Ms Dugsdale's A-game looks like.  In the meantime Ms Dugdale's regular column in the Daily Record doesn't lead me to believe she is any sort of original thinker.

So, the lines are drawn for the general election in May.  Let battle commence.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

You homeopath!

There was a story in the National today that NHS Lanarkshire is being attacked because it has decided to stop referring patients to the Centre for Integrative Care in Glasgow, also known as the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital (GHH).  This has come about after a four-year appraisal by NHS Lanarkshire and will save money.  However, many people are upset that they will no longer be referred there and that NHS Lanarkshire have ignored their representations.

I will be upfront here.  I think homeopathy is nonsense. It has never been proven to have any effect other than that explainable by the placebo effect, and homepathic medicines contain no active ingredients, merely the 'memory' of active ingredients that the water once contained, but which are so diluted that no trace of the original substance remains.  Of course, if it was effective, presumably the water also contains the memory of all the other substances that it has ever contained.  Think about that next time you're passing a sewage works. 

So confident am I in my opinion, that I will happily take an entire bottle of any homeopathic remedy anyone cares to nominate.

Now I don't think homepathy should be banned.  I do think, however, that it is not something that public money should be spent on.  If people want to take homeopathic remedies then they should be free to do so, but they should pay for them themselves.  The money save by NHS Lanarkshire can be spent on scientifically proven treatments which will do a great deal more good than 'special' water.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Complicity

In the wake of the Senate intelligence committee report on the use of torture by the CIA, Scotland's Lord Advocate has instructed Police Scotland to review it in connection with their investigation into the use of Scottish airports for 'rendition' of suspects.

The Senate report reveals that the CIA inflicted pain and suffering far beyond what was legal and included techniques such as
weeks of sleep deprivation, slapping and slamming of detainees against walls, confining them to small boxes, keeping them isolated for prolonged periods and threatening them with death. Three detainees faced the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding. Many developed psychological problems
Let's just think about this for a minute.  There are some degrees of pain and suffering that are legal in the US?  A quick look at Wikipedia tells us that
"torture" means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
There's a nice weasel phrase in there 'other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions'.   I'd be interested to know just what that means.

It would appear that permission to use Scottish airports for rendition flights has to come from the UK government rather than the Scottish government.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Responsibility lies with the UK Government, who state that permission for rendition flights would only ever be granted if the UK government was satisfied that the rendition would accord with UK laws and our international obligations.
 The government at the time was the Labour government.

Torture is illegal in the UK, so to allow rendition flights here, certain officials are either knowingly complicit or adopted a 'don't ask,. don't tell' stance on the matter.  The outcome of the police investigation must therefore be a subject of some worry for members of the government at the time.  Let's hope those who were responsible are not allowed to get away with this.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

New tricks

In today's Guardian Polly Toynbee has written yet another article telling us that voting Labour is the only way to beat the Tories, regardless of whether you support Labour's policies or not.  She seems to think that, even in Scotland, there is no alternative to voting Labour, whatever they may have done in the referendum.  In saying this she is typical of the metropolitan elite, who have no conception of what politics is like post-referendum in Scotland.


Would she be shocked by the fact that Labour are teaming up with the Tories and Libdems in order to try and prevent SNP winning any seats at all costs?  They are doing this to the point where they are encouraging their supporters to vote Tory if that candidate has the best chance of keeping the SNP out.  Would that be too much of a stench for her to ignore?  Would she be shocked that Tory activists are joining the Labour party to help with Jim Murphy's campaign?  Still OK with the stench?  That's one mighty strong nosepeg there Polly.

Of course there is the fact that the way Scotland votes has rarely made a difference to the government we get, as was comprehensively proved during the referendum.   We voted Labour in the last election and still got Tories.  If Labour get in this time around, it'll be because England voted for them.  The Scottish votes would make very little difference.

Ms Toynbee's article goes on sounding the same old dog whistle - vote Labour to beat the Tories.  Never mind policies that they believe in, that they are making out of conviction, just vote for Labour it'll be fine.  Well, the dogs have got wise to the dog whistle.  They are no longer responding with Pavlovian obedience but are finding things out, thinking about things and making their own decisions.  Unlike Labour, it would appear, you can teach the old dogs of the Scottish electorate new tricks.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Getting ready for May

Alex Salmond has now officially declared his candidacy for the Gordon constituency in the coming General Election in May, to absolutely no-one's surprise.  Before the campaign has even begun he is already polarising opinion.  Independence supporters are looking forward to seeing him back at Westminster, striking terror into the hearts of the mainstream parties, while Unionists are pouring cold water on the idea that he will even win the constituency, much less have any influence.

I welcome the pourers of cold water to be honest.  They correctly remind us that the election is 5 months away, and a lot can happen in that time.  I also think it's a good reminder to supporters of independence parties that we can't take anything for granted and that we need to fight the election as if we were a long way behind in the polls.  Every vote will count and we must not be complacent about any of them coming our way.

Mind you, if the Labour party don't up their game it could well be an embarrassing defeat for them in Scotland, especially if they're going to treat us like complete idiots.   Margaret Curran, in a speech to Labour's MPs and election candidates, said that 'even Nicola Sturgeon would want the Scots to vote Labour to get rid of the Tories'.  Oh well, that's it then.  No need to think, just do what Ms Curran says, she wouldn't lie about Ms Sturgeon would she?
 
Really Ms Curran?  That's the best that you can do?  1/10 must try a lot harder.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Trumpton

Our favourite (for which read only) Scottish UKIP MEP has called for a spoof Twitter account, @Trumpton_UKIP, to be banned.  He also called for his 9,000 Twitter followers to block/report the account.  Upon which the account gained another 11,000 followers.

The chap who set up the account said on Facebook today:
“It struck me that most Ukip supporters, or ‘Kippers’, were reminiscing about a Britain of their youth that was more like the classic kids show Trumpton than the reality I remembered, so I chose to start Trumpton Ukip and pretend the Mayor and Mr Troop had defected to the people’s army."
 Troll party does not like to be trolled it seems.  And on that note, I'd like to dedicate this song to Mr Coburn.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Taxi!

Today Scotland's new drink-driving limits come into force, reducing from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml.  This reduction effectively means that if you are driving, your best bet is not to drink at all.  Cue expressions of outrage about the 'nanny state' and infringement of personal liberty.  There are also, however, many people supporting the measure, and calling for the rest of the UK, which has the highest drink-driving limit in the world now, to follow Scotland's lead.

I'm not against people drinking.  I enjoy a glass of red or a G&T as much as anyone.  However, since I passed my driving test I have made it a rule never to drink when I know I'm going to be driving afterwards.  If I'm driving the next morning, I'll stick to two drinks at most.  Judging by the comments on the Guardian article linked above though, that seems to be a very hard thing for a lot of people to do.

British people generally tend to have a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol.  We can see it every weekend in our towns and cities, where people are getting absolutely out of their heads on alcohol.  It's used as a social lubricant, but people seem not to know when enough is enough.  It's used as an excuse for bad behaviour which people don't want to take responsibility for.  People boast about how much they had to drink the night before and how bad their hangover is.

Watching the English by Kate Fox examines this topic, amongst many others.  Her conclusion is that we are a negative politeness culture, by which she means that socially we are a culture which prefers to ensure that other people are not imposed upon or inconvenienced by our actions.  Because of this, when we partake of drink we tend to go a bit overboard in the opposite direction.

I have never understood the need for people to try and work out how much alcohol they can have without being over the limit.  That may be because I don't feel the need to have alcohol to have a good time.  Many other people, however, do seem to feel they need alcohol in a social situation.  If that's you, make your local taxi company happy this Christmas and book them to take you to and from your festive parties.  Sláinte!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

I'm OK, who cares about you?

Yesterday George Osborne gave his final Autumn Statement as Chancellor before the General Election in May.  In it he intends to cut public spending to levels not seen since the 1930s.  Mind you, given the proliferation of foodbanks, the modern day equivalent of soup kitchens, I'm not sure why anyone is surprised by this.

Mr Osborne says that the cuts are necessary in order to bring down the deficit.  The deficit which has grown under Mr Osborne's watch, despite swingeing cuts to the income of the poorest.  Meanwhile MPs have awarded themselves.a 9% salary increase this year - under protest of course.  Don't see many of them turning it down however.  Those horses have got to be kept warm somehow, and moats don't clean themselves.

The only fly in the ointment of these grand plans, however, is that huge cuts to public sector jobs means less tax coming in.  Add this to the increases in zero-hour contract jobs (it's all growth you know) and you have a downward spiral.  Fewer jobs means less in tax receipts leading to more job cuts.  Mr Osborne tells us that he intends to ensure that multi-national corporations pay their tax in the UK.  Yeah, good luck with that one.  Oh, and he's tinkererd around with stamp duty, which is a political move to try and neuter Ed Milliband's proposed mansion tax.  It's not really going to affect most people though, since getting on the property ladder is not an option for a large number of people.

Mr Osborne himself is a trust fund baby, so probably wonders why everyone doesn't just live off their investments like he does.  The trust fund owns a 15 per cent stake in Osborne & Little, the wallpaper-and-fabrics company co-founded by his father.  Pretty apt for a chancellor who's simply papering over the cracks.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

As you were

Today Lord Smith, he of the Commission fame, confirmed that, while his report said that the Scottish Parliament would be made permanent, in fact it can still be removed by Westminster at any time.  Well colour me surprised.  Was this not what we'd all been saying anyway?

He also discussed corporation tax, in the context that it was expected today that George Osborne would announce that this tax would be devolved in Northern Ireland. Apparently devolution of corporation tax was discussed at length in the Smith Commission meetings but
"Civic Scotland, and I mean the STUC (Scottish Trades Union Congress), employers' organisations like CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and others, and even the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), of which I am a member, a large number of these organisations were saying: 'Do not tinker with corporation tax, it will lead to strange behaviours and in the end you will regret what you are doing.'
Quite what those strange behaviours would be is anyone's guess.  Probably not as strange as some things that politicians think up on a regular basis mind you.

He ended with
"We talked about it at great length and eventually decided it is not something that would be in the interests of Scotland to have as a power."
I think there's a bit missing from the sentence and it should read
"...would not be in the interests of Westminster for Scotland to have as a power"
Still, what's a few words between friends?

Back in your box

There is a story in the Herald that Nicky Morgan, the UK Equalities Minister, has been rebuked by the Speaker of the House of Commons for apparently implying that she didn't have to answer a question because the MP asking it was Scottish.

The MP was John Robertson, who represents Glasgow North West, and he asked Ms Morgan about a policy to allow people without formal teaching qualifications to be allowed to teach in English schools, only to be told that she noted that he was a Scottish Member of Parliament asking about English matters, but she would answer the question anyway .  The full exchange can be found here.

If legislation is put in place for EVEL, we may expect to see this sort of thing happening more often, where Scottish MPs will have no right to put questions on policies that do not directly affect their constituents.  In this case it was education, which is entirely devolved.  However, there are many subjects which do not directly affect the Scots, but which may indirectly affect them through the Barnet Consequentials, and it's worrying to think that Scottish MPs may not have the right to ask questions on those topics either.  It effectively reduces Scottish MPs to a second-class status.

English Votes for English Laws is a great soundbite, but is fraught with difficulty at the practical level.  Personally I would solve this by Scotland getting its independence, leaving England to sort out its own constitutional matters.  However, until that happens, we need to fight for our MPs rights to full and equal status with MPs from the rest of the UK.




Monday, 1 December 2014

No, no, no, no...yes

Yesterday, in the Sunday Post, Jim Murphy was quoted as saying that Labour are now the party of Yes, while SNP are now the party of No.  I'd like to dedicate this song to him.


Exit, pursued by a bear

Gordon Brown will be confirming later today that he is standing down at the next general election in May.  The question is, will any of his constituents or his fellow MPs notice?  His attendance at Wesminster has been infrequent, to put it politely.

At the last election, Mr Brown was elected with a huge majority over the SNP in second place.  I think, however, that the result is much more likely to be a close-run thing this time around, although a lot will depend on who is selected to take his place.  That one could get interesting.

He's announcing this on the same day that Nicola Sturgeon gave a speech stating that she has tasked her advisers with looking at ways to make Scotland more competitive and a more equal society.  Professor Joseph Stiglitz will remain as an adviser to the Council of Economic Advisers, chaired by Crawford Beveridge, while he former chief medical officer, Sir Harry Burns, would be looking at inequality.  Lots of major league talent there.

Ms Sturgeon also gave an interview to the Financial Times in which she stated that she intends to run a business-friendly administration.  This is a canny move, since business will be the foundation of Scotland's future prosperity.  Certainly some reassurance was required, since her previously-announced land reforms have raised a few eyebrows in the corporate world.  Labour, however, will not doubt be highly critical of this, mainly because anything the SNP does is ipso facto wrong.  They will not, however, be found suggesting an alternative, as is their wont.

All in all, looks like we have some interesting tales to come this winter.

(No bears were harmed in the making of this post).

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Fol-de-rol

I think I've finally worked out who UKIP really are.  They're the Typical Internet Troll Speech party.  Let's take a couple of examples.

This week UKIP's Scotland chairman, one Misty Thackeray (How troll-name is that? And I'm not making it up either), launched an attack on the new Scottish daily paper, the National. He accused the paper of being 'slavishly pro-SNP', thus demonstrating he hadn't actually read it, since it explicitly stated on Monday that it intends to hold the SNP party to account in the same way as all the others, even though the paper is pro-independence.  Mr Thackeray then further compared Yes supporters to fascist street thugs of the 1930s, compared Nicola Sturgeon's tour to the Nuremberg rallies and went on to describe the National as 'McPravda'.  Slightly cliched mixed metaphors there, but the gist is clear.  So far, so standard troll.

Then we had David Coburn, Scotland's one UKIP MEP declaring that, if UKIP hold the balance of power after the general election, they would ensure that the Smith Commission proposals were ignored and a new constitutional agreement put in place which would include Scotland.  Clearly he has spent a lot of time day-dreaming about this, but you've got to find something to do when you're an MEP who refuses to actually do any work on the grounds that their party rejects the EU and all it stands for.  Happy to take the salary though.

Now that we know they are not UKIP but TITS, we can do the right thing and ignore them until they go back under their bridge.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Just stop it

Today Gordon Brown well raise himself up on his hind legs to give a speech to an audience of Labour councillors (does he ever give speeches to non-Labour party members I wonder?).  In this speech he will say that
politicians in Scotland must stop obsessing about constitutional change and focus on improving people's lives
He will also be saying that Labour are the only party who can tackle inequality while defending Scotland's place in the Union.

Of Glasgow's 7 MPs, 6 are currently from the Labour party.  Given that Glasgow as a whole voted Yes, you'd have to think that those MPs might be feeling a tad insecure about the next general election.  Hence Gordzilla is wheeled in to rally the troops, a bit of an irony given that's it's widely known that he himself is stepping down at the next election.  So much for fighting for those extra powers, eh Gordon?

The problem for Labour is that the SNP are now to the left of them and are a real electoral threat in May.  Nicola Sturgeon's speech outlining the Scottish Government's legislative programme for the coming year contained some interesting proposals (eg on land reform) and was widely seen as being several steps in the right direction.  She has also committed to using whatever powers the Scottish Government has to improve the lives of everyone in Scotland.  Point two of Gordon's theme is therefore already being addressed.

Thus, the only differentiator that Labour has is that it is a Unionist party, which gives it something of a dichotomy when addressing the Scottish electorate, given that a large percentage of them (and growing, if the polls are to be believed) are in favour of independence.  Falling back on the rhetoric of 'pooling and sharing' really isn't going to play well with that section of the electorate.

As for 'obsessing about constitutional change', I assume he means 'pursuing independence for Scotland'.  If so, why would the SNP, a party founded on the pursuit of Scottish Independence, give that up?  It's not as if they can't both pursue independence AND try to improve people's lives.  Or maybe it's Labour who can only do one thing at a time?

All this 'you lost, get over it, move on' stuff is really a giveaway that the traditional political parties were given the biggest fright of their lives by the referendum, to the point where they are terrified of another one.  After all, they didn't win this one by a huge margin, so the outcome of the next one is in no way guaranteed to be the one they want.  But however, much they hate it, constitutional change is coming, it's really becoming just a question of when.

You're not welcome

David Cameron, it would appear, has been forced by Angela Merkel to step back from his wish to place a cap on the number of immigrants from the EU to Britain.  He is now therefore talking of draconian measures such as deporting immigrants if they haven't managed to find a job within 6 weeks and to deny them access to in-work benefits (eg tax credits) and social housing for 4 years.  If an employer did similar things there would be a good case for the employee to sue for constructive dismissal.

He's clearly doing this to try and win back UKIP voters, but, as usual, it's soundbite politics that clearly haven't been thought through.

Firstly, if such measures were brought in, it's not hard to imagine that the other EU countries might bring in similar laws applying to UK citizens.  As ever with Tory propaganda, there's an underlying assumption that UK citizens are somehow different from any other EU citizen, and are therefore to be welcomed wherever they go.

Secondly, many of the EU immigrants who come to the UK are taking up jobs that UK citizens won't do, often because the pay is extremely low and the working conditions atrocious.  So, of course, the only way that people can survive is to claim benefits such as working tax credits to bring their income to a basic minimum level.  If such benefits are to be removed, it's likely the jobs won't be done. 

All-in-all, EU migrants are going to be made to feel about as welcome as  a tarantula at an arachnophobes convention.

It is, of course, a scandal that jobs with such pay and conditions exist, and that must be tackled, although it's not likely to be done by a government full of millionaires.  Their thought process is something like 'I am a millionaire, I got there by my own hard work, so these people are clearly just not trying'.  This mindset even exists in people who come from rich families, who didn't earn that money themselves and who were given every advantage that money could buy when growing up.

The Smith Commission report does not contain any real discussion of new powers over immigration for the Scottish Government, so the assumption has to be that this is (yet another) matter that is reserved to Westminster.  This is something I think the Scottish Government should press for.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Lord Smith reports 4 - Financial responsibility

Now a consideration of the third section of the Smith Commission report, which covers strengthening the financial responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.

Not really much new to say on this that hasn't been covered extensively by the mainstreeam media and many of the pro-indy media as well.  Basically the Scottish Parliament gets to control income tax rates and bands, but only for earned income.  The actual money will still be collected by HMRC and will be remitted to the Scottish Government, concomitant with a reduction in the block grant for that amount.

We will also get part of the VAT receipts from Scotland returned to us.  Why part I wonder?  It would be better to assign all of the Scottish VAT receipts to Scotland surely? Most other taxes remain reserved to Westminster, meaning that most of Scotland's income from its resources will still be swallowed up by Westminster.

Throughout the document it is stated that the Scottish Government will be expected to pay any additional costs caused by the devolution of powers.  There is also this lovely little sting in the tail:
The UK Parliament would continue to have a reserved power to levy an addtional UK-wide tax if it felt it was in the UK national interest.
There's no mention, however, of the Scottish Parliament being consulted if this was the case.  So, hypothetically, if Westminster decided on another military adventure and needed cash for this, they can impose a UK-wide tax to pay for it and as far as I can see, we don't get a say in it.  Nice.

So, to sum up, this report is woefully short of the Devo-Max/home rule that voters were promised at the end of the referendum campaign, and does not represent any meaningful transfer of power.  Neverthless, it's still regarded as a step too far by some of the UK political parties, who are already raising questions about some aspects.

Summing up in one sentence?  All fur coat and nae knickers.

Lord Smith reports 3 - Economy and social justice

On to section 2 of the Smith Commission report - Economy and Social Justice.

Really we can sum this up in one sentence - almost everything is reserved to Westminster, other than a few minor powers,  So, more tinkering at the edges then.  More window-dressing.  I also note that for most of the minor powers that have been devolved, the cost of these is to be met by the Scottish Government.  Whether this will cost us more that it currently does remains to be seen.

There was one new power that was interesting in this and that was paragraph 65, which says:
The power will be devolved to the Scottish Government to allow public operators to bid for rail franchises funded and specified by Scottish Ministers.
 But, of course, the franchise has just been awarded to Abiello, so it'll be at least five years before we could possibly benefit from this, maybe even 10.  That's a very long time in politics.

There are possibly plans to devolve powers over abortion limits and new reproductive technologies, but apparently this needs to be further discussed.  Not sure why.  Maybe they're afraid we'll be genetically engineering the new independence-minded Scottish race?  I can see how that might be scary to the Westminster elite.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Lord Smith reports 2 - Constitutional Settlement

I've now had a chance to read the actual Smith Commission report.

There are three main 'pillars' in the heads of agreement:
1. Constitutional settlement for the governance of Scotland
2. Economy and social justice
3. Financial responsibility

Let's take a look at the first of these.

1. Constitutional settlement for the governance of Scotland

Glad to see a statement that 'It is agreed that nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose'.  I did wonder if they would put something in about the 'settled will of the Scottish people' having been expressed, thus preventing further referendums.

The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament are to be made permanent under UK legislation and the Sewel convention (ie that Westminster will not pass legislation affecting Scotland on devolved matters) will be respected.  This sounds great, but anything that is the result of UK legislation is reversible, since no UK parliament is bound by agreements made by their predecessors.  I don't think we can take this to mean our parliament can never be abolished.

The Scottish Government will have control over Scottish parliamentary and local authority elections, but will not have control over political parties, for example in terms of donations.  Evidently our imperial masters will brook no interference with their branch offices.  The Scottish Government will also not be allowed to hold general elections for the Scottish parliament on the same day as UK, European or local council elections.  Not sure what difference that makes - maybe someone can enlighten me?

The Scottish Parliament will have powers over the number of MSPs (constituency and list) and over the franchise, but any such legislation must be passed by a super-majority of two-thirds of the Scottish Parliament.  This is intended, I think, to prevent any real change to these things as they are now.  However, that could get interesting depending on the results of the 2016 elections, especially if the SNP retain their current levels of electoral popularity.

The report goes on to outline greater co-operation between the Scottish and UK governments, and outlines proposals for Scottish ministers to be consulted on European matters prior to policy decisions being made, for example.  This is all very well on paper, but I suspect that for all the fine words it will be very much business as usual, with Westminster dominating proceedings and ignoring anything it doesn't like or which doesn't fit with the policies it wants to pursue.

There are several paragraphs on the management of the Crown Estates, which are to be devolved in the first instance to Scottish Government control, and, where desired, further devolved to local authority control.  As the Crown Estates includes the North Sea oil reserves, this is quite interesting, especially as this control is given subject to the caveat that it is not detrimental to the wider UK interests.  It doesn't specify what these are in any detail nor what would happen if the UK government felt these interests were being encroached upon.

Finally the Scottish Government gets a consultative role on broadcasting, mail and telecommunications, transport, energy and renewables.  There are no new powers devolved, however, so this is pretty much useless.

So, this seems pretty much a damp squib.  Some tinkering at the edges and some fine sentiments expressed, but not really the major powers we were promised.

Next up, I will take a look at the Economy and Social Justice section.




Lord Smith reports

Today we are due to receive a report on the heads of agreement from the Smith Commission on new powers for the Scottish government.  It seems to be the worst kept secret ever, since the results have been coming out in dribs and drabs all week, and last night the Guardian had a full article on it.  More comment to come on this once I've read the report for myself.

Meanwhile, it appears that Scottish Labour is in despair...

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Spycatchers

One of the major stories today was the finding of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) that an internet company, widely identified as Facebook, was partly to blame for the death of Lee Rigby because it did not report a conversation held by one of his killers and a known terrorist leader during which Michael Adebowale (one of the murderers) was said to have stated 'We should kill a soldier'.  On this basis, new powers are being proposed in the name of prevention of terrorism.

Yet again out fearless leaders display their complete ignorance of how the internet works.

Point one: millions of conversations take place on Facebook every day.  Monitoring every single one of them would be impossible, leaving aside the fact that it would be a gross breach of privacy in any case.  It's is believed that Facebook does have some sort of keyword search of conversations, although not many details are known about this.  Evidently, if this is so, the conversation containing the phrase above did not trigger an alert.

Point two: I'd imagine a phrase along the lines of 'I'm going to kill...' isn't that uncommon on Facebook.  'He forgot our 6 month anniversary, I'm going to kill him when I see him'.  'I really hate Martians, I think we should kill them all.'  In 99,.9% of cases when people say they are going to kill someone, it's hyperbole or an attempt to impress someone, and the threat will never transform into reality.  With 20-20 hindsight, it's easy to see how Michael Adebowale was making a real threat, but at the time it could just as easily have been bravado.  If Facebook had to report all threats to kill, the security services would quickly be overwhelmed.

Point three: The threat itself was very vague.  'We should kill a soldier'.  No more detail than that has emerged.  What would MI6 be expected to do with this information?  It's not against a specific individual and has no reference to time and place.

Point four: it would be hard to prove that it was Michael Adebowale who made that threat.  I'm not disputing that his account was used, but there is no way of proving that he actually had that conversation.  Another example of this appeared today, when Rachel Johnston, sister of Boris, had to apologise for apparently calling David Cameron an 'egg-faced cunt' on Twitter.  She claims her Twitter account was hacked.  It's much more likely that she left a phone/tablet/laptop lying unattended with her Twitter account logged in, and some prankster friend decided to take advantage of it.

All-in-all, this is a knee-jerk reaction, leading to soundbite politics to make it appear as if the government is taking a stand against the forces of terrorism.  Of course, we wouldn't be under threat of jihadist terrorism if our government hadn't decided to indulge in illegal wars, but you won't hear that mentioned.

We need to be vigilant and take a stand against any further invasion of our right to privacy, and the government needs to learn that it can't intrude into every aspect of our lives.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Taxing matters

The first details of the agreements made within the Smith Commission appeared today, and it would appear that Labour has dropped its opposition to devolving all income tax raising powers to the Scottish Government.  This has evidently been done with gritted teeth, as many of their 'big beasts' are opposed to it.  The main grounds for objection seem to be that this reduces the power of the Westminster Chancellor, will lead to Scottish MPs having diminished power in Westminster and that it is a Trojan horse for full fiscal autonomy, leading ultimately to the breakup of the UK.

They're almost certainly not wrong in their conclusions, but they are the party with the most to lose with the breakup of the UK, due to their traditional reliance on Scottish MPs.  So why have they agreed to this?  Mainly because they are panicked at the recent polls showing record levels of support for the SNP and falling support for Labour in Scotland.  This reeks of 'let's offer the Jocks anything they want and maybe they'll go back to voting for us again'.  The end result merely makes them look opportunistic, which I fear is not going to make them any more electable.

The Smith Commission report is due on Thursday.  It will be interesting to see what other areas of compromise there have been.

Monday, 24 November 2014

The National

Managed to get hold of a copy of the new daily paper, The National, this morning.  No easy task, since Sainsburys were having a problem with the barcode for it and as a result were reluctant to sell it to me, as apparently their policy is not to sell the item if the barcode isn't recognised.  However, some firm insistence with customer services, and I purchased my copy as they removed all the others from the shelves.  This was at 8 o'clock this morning, and a friend tells me that he was in Sainsburys about half-an-hour ago and there were copies back on the shelf, so I'm hoping this means they have the issue resolved.  Meantime we called the number to report the issue (0141 302 7300) and managed to sort out an online subscription as well.

First impressions are that it's very similar in style to the Sunday Herald, starting with Scottish news, moving on to UK and then world news.  There is also a business section and a sports section. These contained an interesting mix of stories, along with some opinion pieces.  None of the big names from the Sunday Herald appear to have contributed, but this may change over time.  No letters section today, but they intend there to be one from tomorrow onwards.

All-in-all I thought it was a decent paper, with some depth to it and not filled with entertainment and celebrity-related non-stories.  I will certainly be reading it for the rest of the pilot run this week, and I would recommend it if you haven't made up your mind to buy it yet.

Oh, and a cryptic crossword would be nice :)


Smart moves...and some not so smart

In a bold move Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, has offered to stand as a candidate for Berwick-upon-Tweed at the General Election in May.  The thinking behind this move is that if she does so, the SNP would then be standing in constituencies in both Scotland and England and would therefore have a UK presence electorally speaking.  This should then entitle Nicola Sturgeon to participate in TV debates with the other parties, since the excuse currently used to exclude her is that the SNP is not a UK-wide party.  I'm not so sure that it will work, as strict adherence to the rules doesn't appear to be the forte of the current broadcast media, but it's nevertheless worth a try.

Meanwhile, over at the Labour leadership election, there is a report that the voting of Labour MPs and MSPs will be made public by Scottish Labour, so that we will be told which of the leadership candidates each person voted for.  They are doing this, apparently, 'to encourage transparency'.  This strikes me as disingenuous at best and a slippery slope at worst.  I cannot think of any reason that this would be useful, other than to try and force MPs and MSPs to vote for the 'right' candidate.  It's certainly a violation of the principle of the right to a free vote in a secret ballot, the very foundation of any democracy.  I hope this is not a sign of Labour in Scotland's future direction, although they have been showing some authoritarian tendencies in the recent past, mainly in order to win votes in 'swing' constituencies.  Really not a smart move by Scottish Labour.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Exit, stage left?

I have now seen from two sources (Sky News and the Sunday Herald) that Gordon Brown will be stepping down as an MP at the next General Election.  Interesting timing on this story.  It surfaces on the day that the SNP were holding a rally at the Hydro (full to capacity) and RIC were holding their conference (also full to capacity) and in the week that the Smith Commission is due to present its preliminary report (Thursday), the latter being something that Mr Brown staked his political reputation on with promises of near-federalism.  Watch this space...


A house divided against itself

The meltdown in the Labour party appears to have now spread to the London branch.  This time the bone of contention is a tweet made by Emily Thornberry of a picture of a house in Strood draped in St George's cross flags and with a white van parked outside.  She has provoked considerable protest over this tweet, which has been described as 'snobby'.

Ms Thornberry herself subsequently removed the tweet and has apologised for any offence caused, saying that she didn't intend to do so.  Quite what she did intend to do is open to question.  Her major mistake, however, was to forget that her tweet was made to the public at large and not just to whatever audience she thought would see it.

Her resignation has been met with some puzzlement outside the UK, where people can't understand what's so bad about tweeting a picture of a house covered in the national flag of England.  Really it's all about class.  It's about someone perceived as middle class poking fun at the working classes.  Most other countries are not cursed with a class hierarchy, hence the lack of comprehension outside the UK.

Ms Thornberry herself was brought up in a council house, so evidently started her life as part of the working class.  Having become an MP she will now be perceived as part of the upper middle classes.  I understand that Ms Thornberry likes to post pictures of buildings in the UK on her twitter feed, and one could charitably assume that she simply saw the house, thought it was interesting and posted a picture.  However, this does bring into question her political judgement, given that this was on the day of the Rochester-Strood by-election.

The real damage for Labour is that people have interpreted the tweet as showing how out-of-touch the metropolitan elite are with ordinary people.  Personally I have no problem with people flying flags from their house.  I myself have two saltires up at the front and back of my house.  If English people want to fly their national flag, they have every right to do so.  The Labour party, however, have a real problem with this.  For the middle classes nationalism of any kind is something to be embarrassed about.

As we saw in the referendum, the Labour party are great believers in the union, and decried Scottish nationalism as a bad thing.  They want to see class solidarity throughout the UK.  And now they appear to have an MP who practises class solidarity, the kind that is amused by the 'little people' and their quaint nationalism.

If the Labour party is to survive, it needs to go away and have a think about itself.  It needs to decide what it's for and who it represents.  Until it does this, it will continue to have these internecine wars, much to the detriment of its chances of being elected.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

New media dawn

Monday sees the launch of a new daily newspaper, the National.  it comes from the same stable as the Sunday Herald and will be reporting from a pro-independence standpoint.  There has been some sneering about the publishers of the Sunday Herald cynically jumping on the bandwagon of independence and exploiting a gap in the market.  This is quite possibly the case.  Nevertheless, I think it will do well, as there are currently no other daily papers operating from this standpoint, and I think there are still large numbers of people who like a daily physical newspaper rather than just reading the news online.  The first run will be of 50,000 copies, so it may be hard to get on Monday.  I shall certainly be trying to get hold of one.

This week also saw a taster from the team who will be producing The Scottish Evening News, which will be a broadcast news bulletin tackling major news stories from a Scottish perspective.  This first taster was on the subject of TTIP.  It was an interesting watch, although fans of Dateline Scotland may have trouble at first, as you keep expecting a joke.  The channel is due to launch in spring 2015, and on the evidence of this first taster, it will be worth waiting for.  You can support the project here.  All funds raised will be used to keep the project free of shareholder control or advertising.


Friday, 21 November 2014

50-50

Today saw the announcement of Nicola Sturgeon's new Scottish cabinet.  For the first time, the cabinet has an equal divide between the genders, 50% female and 50% male.  Ms Sturgeon said that this demonstrates the Scottish government's commitment to equality and gender balance, and it certainly sets a great example.

Labour's spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, offered her congratulations and welcomed the fact that there was a 50-50 split between the genders.  She then promptly made it all about Labour by demanding that the new cabinet begin supporting Labour policies on social justice in order to tackle the problems the previous cabinet have left behind, as if Labour's policies are the only possible solutions.  Indeed some might say that some of their policies when last in office were the cause of some of the problems.  Labour, of course, could have gone 50-50 on these when they were last in office.  They did not.  When (if) they are next in power, they could even try phoning a friend.   Sadly they have precious few of those left in Scotland.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A piece of history

With her election as Scotland's First Minister yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon made a little bit of Scottish history by being the first woman to hold the post.  It's a job she has worked towards all her life, and I look forward to seeing what she will do.

She had a rival candidate in Ruth Davidson, who stood as a Unionist candidate against her.  The votes were cast as follows:
Nicola Sturgeon 66
Ruth Davidson 15
Abstentions 39

The current make-up of the Scottish Parliament is as follows:
SNP 64
Labour 38
Conservatives 15
Liberal Democrats 5
Scottish Greens 2
Independent 3
No party affiliation 1

I would guess that the SNP and Scottish Greens voted for Nicola Sturgeon, while the Conservatives voted for Ruth Davidson, meaning that the Labour MSPs pretty much abstained en masse.  My, those groups are sour.

Speaking of which, Kezia Dugdale wrote a column in the Daily Record filled with bile and spite, entitled 'Queen Nicola Sturgeon must put people before her party'.  Now I could be wrong, but do I detect a slight hint of jealousy here?  There are comparisons to Margaret Thatcher and demands for Ms Sturgeon to implement policies that the Parliament she leads does not have the power to do.  Ms Dugdale is apparently one of the bright young things in the Labour party in Scotland, in which case I can only pity them for the lack of talent in their ranks if this is the best they've got to offer.

Ms Sturgeon herself hopes that her success will inspire other girls and young women by example, showing them that anything is possible if you have the talent and determination to make it happen.  Time will tell on that score, but it's certainly a positive thing for them to see.

We saw during the referendum that Ms Sturgeon is no shrinking violet and will not be a pushover for her opponents.  This can only be good for Scotland generally, whether in seeking more powers for Holyrood or, when the time is right, independence.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Coming to a manifesto near you

Survation have just released the results of a survey on behalf of Progressive Polling which asked 1002 SNP voters what policies would be more likely to make them vote Labour.  The respondents were people resident in Scotland aged 16 or over who had declared an intention within the last year to vote for SNP at the next General Election or Scottish General Election.  The headline results were
  • A policy of a mandatory living wage would make 37% more likely to vote Labour

  • A commitment to permanently abolishing tuition fees for university education in Scotland would make 30% more likely to vote Labour

  • Promising to decommission the Trident nuclear weapons system would make 30% more likely to vote Labour

  • A policy to re-nationalise Scottish rail services would make 27% more likely to vote Labour

  • Promising free nursery places for children from the age of 12 months would make 21% more likely to vote Labour

Let's take a look at these policies.

Decommissioning of Trident
A bone of contention within the Labour party in Scotland.  Neil Findlay this week talked of his intention to get rid of Trident, which was fine until it was pointed that Ed Milliband is in favour of retaining it and would therefore overrule this.  Jim Murphy is known to be in favour of retaining it, while Sarah Boyack is supports a similar position to Neil Findlay.
Verdict: highly unlikely to be on the Labour manifesto.

Mandatory living wage
The Scottish government are currently paying all staff working directly for them the living wage.  However, a proposal by Labour to ensure that paying the living wage be made a condition of all public sector contracts was defeated, citing concerns that this would breach EU law and leave public bodies open to legal action.  The Scottish government did agree that companies bidding for public sector contracts should be assessed on their willingness to pay a living wage.
Verdict: A possible area of weakness for the SNP, so a good candidate to be on the Labour manifesto

Permanent abolition of tuition fees
Scottish students currently pay no tuition fees, and Nicola Sturgeon has declared that she will never support bringing them in.  Labour's policy in Scotland was, until recently, that free tuition was not economically viable and tended to favour the economically privileged.  However, Kezia Dugdale is apparently hopeful that Labour can change their 'direction of travel' on this one, providing that there is 'sufficient funding was also available to widen access and to reduce the student drop-out rate in the country'.
Verdict: A possibility for the Labour manifesto, depending on the outcome of the leadership election

Re-nationalise the Scottish rail services
This surfaced over the recent award of the franchise held by ScotRail to the Dutch company Abellio.  To be fair to the Scottish government, they don't have a choice on this, as the 1993 Railways Act specifically rules out awarding the franchise to any company directly owned by the UK taxpayer.  This would therefore require the Labour party to promise to amend the law at UK level to allow this.  I suspect this wouldn't play well with the shareholders in the Home Counties, whose preferences seem to play a large part in Labour's policies.
Verdict: Probably not a candidate for the Labour manifesto

Free nursery places for children from 12 months
The most recent statement I can find on this was a speech by Johann Lamont in early October in which she ruled out making all childcare free, although she did announce plans to make it more affordable by capping the cost and offering free childcare for women who want to go to college to gain job-related skills.  Kezia Dugdale's name pops up again in relation to a visit to Finland to see their system of childcare, which apparently enthused her.  The policy could, of course, change depending on the outcome of the leadership election.
Verdict: Something around childcare likely to be included, but unlikely to be quite this radical.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, influence this has as we get closer to the General Election.

(The underlying data tables for the survey can be found here)