Friday, 31 October 2014

Goodnight sweet prince

And so another wall in Labour's Scottish house collapses, with the announcement by Anas Sarwar that he is to resign as deputy leader of Labour in Scotland.  An estate agent would have a job on their hands selling this one in its current state - 'fixer-upper, requires extensive rebuilding work'.

Mr Sarwar's announcement was made at Labour's Gala Dinner in Glasgow last night, at which Ed Milliband made an appearance.  Now I may be being cynical here, but I don't think this is a coincidence.  I would suspect that Mr Milliband has told Mr Sarwar to move aside, possibly with the offer of a shiny bauble of a job at Westminster.  Mr Sarwar has not distinguished himself as a strategic thinker over the last few days, what with his attempts to 'heal the rift within the Labour party' and his apparent belief that there would be nothing wrong with two MPs being leader and deputy leader of Labour in Scotland.

So now Labour has two internal elections on its hands.  I don't pretend to understand the arcane process by which people are elected to these positions, but it does mean that the outcome is somewhat unpredictable.  Jim Murphy is clear favourite to win the leadership position, probably helped by his relatively high profile.  However, to fulfil his stated ambition of becoming First Minister, he will be required to resign as an MP and seek election to the Scottish Parliament, since only an MSP can be First Minister.  This will require finding him a 'safe' seat somewhere and possibly persuading the incumbent to retire from politics.  All very doable, I'm sure. With regard to his deputy, so far I have seen Kezia Dugdale and Jenny Marra suggested, but it's a case of watch this space to see who declares their candidacy.

The fly in the ointment to these plans is the announcement of a new Ipsos Mori poll which, if sustained at the General Election in May, would see Labour left with four seats in Scotland, with the SNP on 54 and LibDems on one.  While this is cheering news for the SNP, I wouldn't write Labour off just yet.  After all, the new leader and deputy would have around 5 months to turn Labour around, and that can be a long time in politics.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Gala Dinner

This evening Labour held a Gala dinner in Glasgow.  By chance we managed to get hold of the menu...

Starters

Mushroom Soup
The finest wild mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed on...compost

Hundred-year old Labour egg
Well past its sell-by date and bit suspect

Main Course

Steak Tartare 'Murphy'
A lot of mince, garnished with a raw egg

House Burgers
Flipped as many times as you like

Jurassic Pork
Tender cuts of cold shoulder

Kippers
Served with purple broccoli, in the European tradition

Steak
Only available cooked blue

Dessert

Bombe Surprise
Prepared and served by Johann Lamont

Jam Roly-Poly
To be served tomorrow

Drinks

Red Bull
Irn-Bru
Bitter Lemon
50 Shades of Earl Grey


Nicola Sturgeon@Corn Exchange, Edinburgh

Last night my other half and I went to see Nicola Sturgeon at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh, on the opening night of her tour of Scotland since becoming the next leader of the SNP.  My other half likes to make sure we get to these things in plenty of time, so we ended up sitting in the front row.  Not that we had a choice - the stewards were very officious in making everyone fill up each row from the front backwards, and you didn't get to sit wherever you wanted.  Somewhat annoying, as the view we had wasn't the best.

The gig was a little late in starting, as there were still people arriving and being seated at 7pm.  It was a full house, as you can see:



After a short introduction Ms Sturgeon, small and elegantly dressed in her usual style, walked onto the stage to huge cheers and the first standing ovation of the evening.

Her speech covered a wide range of topics and put great emphasis on her intention to lead the Scottish Government on behalf of all of the people of Scotland and not just those who supported independence in the last referendum.  However, she has not given up on the ultimate aim of an independent Scotland, but sees that more work is needed to persuade a majority of people that this is what's best for our country.  She reflected on the referendum and singled out Patrick Harvie as someone she had very much enjoyed working with during this.

She covered the SNP's intention to work constructively with the Smith Commission and said that they would be endeavouring to get the maximum possible powers from this, on the basis that the more powers the Scottish Government has, the better they can do for Scotland.  She also made a commitment to keep the Scottish NHS as a public service.  She talked about the EU referendum and her intention to table an amendment to any legislation for this, requiring all four home nations to return a vote to leave rather than just a simple majority, citing the fact that Gordon Brown had promised the people of Scotland that we would be as near to a federal nation as it was possible to be as the basis for this.  At the end of her speech she received another standing ovation.


Next came a Q&A session, where any member of the audience was invited to put a question to Ms Sturgeon.  One person asked whether a large increase in SNP representation after May would be grounds to trigger another independence referendum or a unilateral declaration of independence.  Her reply was that one of the keystones in the last referendum was the Edinburgh Agreement, which gave legitimacy to the referendum and would have been essential in forming new relationships at home and abroad in the event that Yes had won.  Any future referendum would also have to have the same legitimacy, or it would be very difficult for Scotland to break away.  There was a question from a 14-year old on Alex Salmond's intentions for his next move (he hasn't made up his mind yet) and another from a chap on a specific issue he was having with the NHS.  In the latter case Ms Sturgeon asked him to provide her with more details so that she could have the matter investigated.  Most of the questions came from SNP members, but there was one from a member of the Scottish Greens (this wasn't an event for SNP members only - people were encouraged to bring along non-members as well).

The Q&A session came to an end, and there was another standing ovation.  Most people started to leave after this, but Ms Sturgeon came out into the auditorium and was happy to meet and talk to people, as well as posing for pictures with those who wanted them.

I wasn't in a great position to get pictures, but here are some of Ms Sturgeon in full flow:






As we were leaving there were a number of stalls where people could sign up to their local SNP branch, which seemed to be pretty busy.  There was also an official SNP merchandise stall, with proceeds going to party funds.  I bought the official tour t-shirt:





There is a lady from my local SNP branch who makes gorgeous indy bracelets like this:

She also makes saltire bracelets and SNP colour bracelets, all for a very reasonable price.  She had almost sold out by the time I got there, so I've put in a request for a saltire one from the next batch she makes.  Again, the money goes towards SNP funds.

All in all it was a very interesting evening, and I think those attending the other dates on the tour are in for a very enjoyable time.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Is it just me...?

Reading the papers over the last few days I have become increasingly convinced that Scotland has moved to a parallel dimension, a kind of looking-glass world in which nothing is what it seems.

The leadership contest for the Scottish Labour party for one.  When Johann Lamont resigned, lobbing grenades as she went, one of her points was that Labour in Scotland is controlled by London and has no autonomy in deciding policies better suited for Scotland, thus rendering the leader's position untenable.  A few days later and we find that the person being touted as the preferred choice for next leader is Jim Murphy, an MP and member of Ed Milliband's shadow cabinet.  Furthermore we have Anas Sarwar declaring that he intends to continue as deputy to the new leader, and that it would be absolutely fine for Labour in Scotland to have two MPs in charge.  Now I may be missing something here, but wouldn't that prove that Ms Lamont was right about the control resting with London?  Mind you, we Scots are not genetically programmed to make political decisions, so what would we know?

Then we had John McTernan in a bizarre article in the Scotsman, in which he declares

ROUTED in their homelands. A leader so beleaguered he has had to resign. No credible domestic policy agenda. In danger of irrelevance in Scotland at the next General Election. These are disastrous times for Scotland’s party.

I mean, of course, the Scottish National Party. I have just described the parlous state they are in.

 Eh?  Since when could gaining 57,000 new members in a month be described as a 'parlous state'?  And he's clearly missed the recent polls showing voting intentions for the next general election, in which the SNP are leading in Scotland.  He also says
There is no electoral victory available by moving to the Left of the Labour Party
I'll just leave that one there shall I?

Next we have David Cameron stamping his feet over the £1.7 billion pound bill the UK has been sent by the EU, telling us all that there's no way the UK is going to pay it.  Is this the same David Cameron who told Scotland it would be an international pariah if it gained independence and didn't take a share of the UK national debt, since it would make it a debt defaulter.  And now he's proposing to default on this bill. Part of the Better Together campaign was that the UK means pooling and sharing of assets and risks.  This is the same thing writ large - pooling and sharing within Europe, where better-off countries help out the less well-off.  But apparently that's different. 

Finally we have Stephen Gough, the Naked Rambler, losing his case at the European Court of Human Rights, where he claimed that his being arrested and jailed in Scotland for hiking in the buff violated his human rights.  He lost his case, but the thing that struck me as very strange was that one of the grounds on which he put forward his claim was article 8 - the right to privacy.  This article also covers matters such as the right to freedom of expression, which I assume is what he was claiming had been violated, but when I heard on the radio that he was claiming his right to privacy had been breached my brain give a little sigh and decided the world had finally gone mad.

I think I need to go and lie down for a bit.  Maybe normal service will have been resumed when I get back up.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Next!

It looks like Mr Cameron's position as leader of the Conservative party is becoming increasingly unstable, mainly over the £1.7 billion bill that the UK has been handed by the EU, with instructions to pay by December 1st.

The bill comes about as the EU needs more money to pay for overspent budgets.  A new calculation has been made, based on estimated use of drugs and prostitutes and also on the fact that the UK economy has seem some growth.  This calculation doesn't apply just to the UK though.  There are a few other countries, such as Holland, who have been presented with a similar bill. 

The first issue that this gives Mr Cameron is that, politically, he can't be seen to meekly pay up.  It would not play well with his party nor with the public, who are increasingly agreeing with the UKIP stance on such matters, ie that we should not be a member of the EU.  However, he has not been particularly successful in his negotiations with Europe, so getting the bill reduced will be a challenge.  Furthermore, if he refuses to pay it, according to Mr Barroso he will be taken to the European Court as a debt defaulter (and wouldn't that be ironic, given his stance on Scotland not taking on UK debt if it gained independence).

The second issue is that it appears that Mr Cameron was the last to know about the demand.  There he was, discussing weighty matters with the other EU leaders, but no-one thought to mention it to him.  Even members of his government knew about it a week before he did.  This doesn't paint a picture of a dynamic leader with his finger on the pulse.  Indeed, it makes him look increasingly isolated.

Aside from the matter of the EU bill, Mr Cameron's party are facing a by-election in Rochester, brought about by the defection of Mark Reckless from the Tories to UKIP.  Currently it looks like UKIP will win quite easily, which is not good news for Mr Cameron either, as his party are very worried by UKIP and its potential to split their traditional vote come May.

Increasingly it's looking like Mr Cameron has had his day.  There have already been rumours of backbench plots to have him removed, and even joggers scare him now.  The real worry for the rest of us is that it's likely that his replacement will be a much more hard-right politician, in order to fend off UKIP.
 
Interesting times ahead!

Monday, 27 October 2014

We have always been at war with Eurasia

It was reported yesterday that Anas Sarwar tried to to heal the rift between Scottish Labour and Westminster.  He did this on Sunday Politics during an interview, in which he distanced himself from the criticisms of UK Labour made by Johann Lamont.

When asked about the event which sparked Ms Lamont's resignation he declared
I can only tell you what I know which is that Ian Price resigned from his position as general secretary and I think we should respect his position.
 Now it has been pretty well established that Mr Price was sacked from his job - the newspapers are unanimous on this point, and it wouldn't be hard to check - all they'd have to do is ask him.  So why is Mr Sarwar now saying that Mr Price resigned?

He may genuinely believe it's true.  Perhaps someone told him this was the case.  Scottish Labour members do have form for parroting things and, when challenged on them, declaring 'that's what we've been told'. He was educated at Hutcheson's Grammar School however, a private school with a good reputation, so you would think that critical thinking would have been on the curriculum.

He may be trying to ingratiate himself with the UK Labour leadership.  He's one of the leading candidates to take over the leadership of Labour in Scotland, and it would appear that an essential qualification will be to be in good standing with the big boys at Westminster.

He may be trying to discredit Ms Lamont in an attempt to limit the damage her revelations have done to the party in Scotland.  According to the latest poll of polls on Scot goes Pop, voting intentions for May 2015 are

SNP 42.0% (+3.2)
Labour 26.1% (+0.3)
Conservatives 16.0% (-3.4)
Liberal Democrats 6.0% (-1.8)
Greens 4.7% (+1.8)
UKIP 3.7% (-1.7)

 This was before Ms Lamont's revelations, so it's not hard to imagine a further slide for Labour in the next series of polls.


It may be a combination of any or all of the above reasons.  Whatever it is, it seems like a clumsy attempt to rewrite history.  I don't think the Ministry of Truth will be calling on his services any time soon.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Labour Inferno - last reel of the disaster movie

The fallout from Johann Lamont's resignation continues, with allegations that Ms Lamont was barred from speaking out against the bedroom tax for a year while Ed Milliband made up his mind on what he thought about it.  Leaving aside the picture at the top of that article, which is flattering to neither of them,  seriously?  It took Mr Milliband, leader of the party supposed to represent the interests of the working classes, 12 months to make up his mind on a tax that only adversely affects the poor?  There, in a nutshell, is what's gone wrong with the Labour party.

It also illustrates why Ms Lamont was such a poor leader.  It's been said often that she was reluctant to become leader, as it's not one of her natural talents.  That then leads the the question of why she stood for leader in the first place if she didn't want the gig.  However, she won the election, mainly on the basis of endorsements from two of the three electoral colleges rather than the rank and file Labour members.  One rather suspects she was given the job mainly because she was the candidate most likely to shut up and eat her cereal, who would not rock the boat and upset the UK Labour leadership.  A natural leader, told by Mr Milliband to keep quiet on something like the bedroom tax, would have gone ahead and said what they thought anyway, on the basis that's its better to seek forgiveness than permission.

I have seen a few tributes to her that mention that she gave Alex Salmond a run for his money at First Minister's Questions.  I can't say I agree with this.  She always stuck to a pre-written script, generally delivered in tones of faux outrage.  Quite often, any attempt to go off-script would end in gaffes and spluttering incoherence.  It was not inspiring.

The next question is now who is going to succeed Ms Lamont as leader of Scottish Labour?  As of this morning there are 12 candidates on whom odds are being offered - obviously the odds on that link will change.

Current favourite is Jim Murphy, although I can't see that one happening, not when he has a Shadow Cabinet position and a fat expense account to play with.  He is clearly part of the 'One Nation' strand in Labour, and I can't see him going for autonomy for Scottish Labour, even though he was one of the two to originally suggest the idea.  Stranger things have happened though.  Somehow he always makes me think of Norman Tebbit, although I can't quite put my finger on why.

Anas Sarwar is next up.  Best known as an MP for succeeding his dad into the position, his major claims to fame are for abstaining from the vote to repeal the bedroom tax (he had previously criticised the SNP for not mitigating its effects) and for sending his son to private school.  Very New Labour.  There is talk of him standing on a joint ticket with Kezia Dugdale, with Mr Sarwar then leading Scottish Labour at Westminster and Ms Dugdale as deputy leading the MSPs at Holyrood.  Ms Dugdale is something of a rising star in Scottish Labour, although the reasons for this are not readily apparent to an outsider, other than she is a career politician and knows how to play the party game.  She herself has the next best odds of becoming the Scottish Labour leader.

Gordon Brown is next up. While I'm sure Scottish Labour would love him to lead them, I'm not sure it would happen.  His attendance at Westminster is abysmal, perhaps due to his attempts to develop himself a role on the world stage, which must take up a fair amount of time.  I think he would view Holyrood as too small a pond for his statesman-like experience and mighty intellect.

Jackie Baillie is in the frame, the Dolores Umbridge of Scottish Labour, as is Mags Curran, alleged backstabber to her BFF Ms Lamont.  Ms Curran, like Jim Murphy, is currently part of the Shadow Cabinet and has a fat expense account.  She also seems to adore Ed Milliband, judging by the picture that was circulating on Twitter last week, so would be unlikely to rock the boat of One Nation Labour.  There's also the fact that she has been given the job of finding out why their core support overwhelmingly voted Yes in the traditional labour heartlands of Glasgow and Lanarkshire, which suggests she's one of the 'in' crowd.

There are quite a few other names in the frame, including Alastair Darling, Henry McLeish, Jack McConnell, but the odds on them are quite long.

Meantime, Labour continues its slow death in Scotland.  Its current position reminds me of the final reel of a bog-standard disaster movie, full of explosions and the slow collapse of previously solid buidlngs.  The only question is, will there be a hero along to save the day, or are we going to get an interesting twist, where everyone dies?  I shall be watching with interest.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Back to obscurity

Johann Lamont has announced she is stepping down as leader of Labour in Scotland, citing interference from London Labour HQ as the main reason for this.  The final straw appears to have been the removal of Scottish Labour general secretary Ian Price without her being consulted.

It has been obvious for some time that Ms Lamont's tenure was insecure.  She was conspicuous by her absence in the latter stages of the referendum campaign, and has not been much more visible in the month since. There have been rumours of briefings behind her back at the Labour Party conference the Scottish Labour Executive members being lobbied by a senior colleague for her removal and Jim Murphy being touted as her replacement.  Looks like it's business as usual for the Labour Party then, who have a bit of a reputation for backstabbing and betrayal.  Indeed it sometimes seems they're more interested in their own internal politics than in the national ones.

Ms Lamont complains that

This has been orchestrated by people who do not understand the politics they are facing. Scotland has changed forever after the referendum.
 I think the change actually started long before the referendum, but she's right on this score.  The Scottish Electorate, having had a taste of what's possible, are not going back in the box.  Labour is in decline in Scotland, while the Yes Alliance parties are growing at a phenomenal rate.  However, I think Ms Lamont's party is about to reap what it has sown.

Throughout the referendum campaign, there was a strong thread from the Labour side on how Scotland becoming independent would be to abandon the working classes elsewhere in the UK, and that change could only be achieved by sticking together as one country.  She cannot now say, as she does, that

the Labour Party must recognise that the Scottish party has to be autonomous and not just a branch office of a party based in London
Sorry, but if solidarity of the working classes is to name of the game, that's exactly what the Scottish party is.  If it's not, one of your main arguments for staying together is undermined.  Scotland is different and therefore independence is the logical extension of that.

In the Daily Record article there is mention of of Ms Lamont being 'loyally quiet', and of her being overruled by the Westminster MPs.  This reinforces my own impression of her being a weak leader.  A leader doesn't remain 'loyally quiet' and does not allow themselves to be meekly overruled from elsewhere on important issues.

I have no doubt this will be something of a relief to Ms Lamont, who strikes me as someone who is not a natural leader, to the point where I wonder why she was elected leader at all.  If she was the best candidate Labour had, they are in dire straits indeed, and the future looks bleak.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Will he, won't he?

Last night on BBC Question Time, Alex Salmond was asked whether he would be standing for a Westminster seat at the General Election - and he did not rule it out.  Mr Salmond currently represents the Banff and Buchan constituency as an MSP, and at the time of his resignation he offered to continue to serve as that area's MSP.  However, the Parliamentary constituency that overlaps with Banff and Buchan is Gordon, which is currently held by the LibDems, and the sitting MP, Sir Malcolm Bruce, is standing down at the next election, hence the question.

Given the current polls on General Election voting intentions, it looks as if there will be a greatly increased number of of SNP MPs after the next General Election, to the point where the SNP may hold the balance of power in a hung parliament.  It would therefore make sense to have someone of Alex Salmond's calibre leading those MPs.  I don't think such a grouping would enter formal coalition with any of the major parties, but the SNP have experience of running a minority government, and so are familiar with the approach of taking each piece of legislation on a case-by-case basis.

If this does come to pass, we would be in a situation where Nicola Sturgeon is leading the SNP in Scotland and Alex Salmond leading the SNP MPs in Westminster.  They have made a formidable pairing as First Minister and Deputy First Minister over the past two terms in Holyrood, and would I think, give Scotland a much stronger voice in the UK between them.

Mr Salmond is the Marmite of politicians - people either love him or loathe him.  But however you feel about him, he stands up for Scotland first and foremost and will continue to do so, whether at Holyrood or Westminster.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Talking 'bout my generation

 In today's Guardian Martin Kettle has written an article comparing the current political situation in Scotland to that in Ireland between 1916 and 1922.  His thesis is that the Easter Rising and its consequences were the product of a generational shift, given the young age of the Irish people who led the revolution. He then compares this with the referendum, his proposition here being the strength of the pro-Independence campaign on social media, which he clearly thinks of as a young person thing, indicates that Scottish Independence is also the result of a generational shift.  He also points out that those who voted No were most likely to have got their information from the mainstream media rather than online and that these people were more likely to be from the older generation.  This is fine so far as it goes. 

Looking at the breakdown by age group, though, we see that age groups from 25-54 were more likely to have voted Yes, which kind of breaks his thesis and suggests that, while social media was a big factor in the Yes campaign, it wasn't the whole story.

I think that the age groups most likely to have voted Yes are those who have experienced life both before devolution and after it and, having experienced both, have decided that it's but a short step from devolution to independence.  Having seen what can be done with a devolved parliament, they were more likely to see an independent parliament as the next logical step and one that they could take with confidence.

Certainly the increase in membership of political parties seems to bear this out.  At my local SNP branch meeting I would say that the spread of age groups pretty much matches the Yes-voting age groups, and there are a fair proportion of older people attending meetings.  I don't believe my branch is unique in this regard.

On a completely unrelated note, I see the Kelpies have won an engineering award.  They are an awesome sight as you drive down the M9, so I'd say the award is well deserved.  Photographs don't do them justice though, so go and see them!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Be a nation again

If we're to become an independent country, one of the first things we need to do is to normalise the idea of Scotland as a country.  For a large part of the world, Scotland is simple one part of the United Kingdom, a province if you will.  We need to change that so that the idea of Scotland as a country seems obvious, normal, natural.

If you've ever signed up for an account on a website, you'll know you are very often asked to select which country you're in from a list.  Here in Scotland we normally only have one choice - United Kingdom.  It's a standard list of countries.  I think we need to get Scotland included in the standard list of countries.

The source of the standard country list is the International Organisation for Standardisaton (ISO).  Country codes are covered by ISO-3166-1 and subdivisions of countries are covered by ISO-3166-2. Scotland is currently covered by ISO-3166-2. The standard website drop-down list comes from ISO-3166-1.

I haven't been able to find anywhere the criteria used for including a country in one or other of the standards, but it might be possible to make a case for Scotland to be included in ISO-3166-1 as we have our own parliament, especially if we get anything close to DevoMax as a result of the 'Vow' (ever the optimist!).  We also have the fact that our sports teams are often competing as Scotland, separate from the other three nations in the UK.

Now it may not be possible for us to be moved to ISO-3166-1 while we are still governed in any way bu Westminster, and I have a feeling any such move might be opposed by allies of Westminster, but it's got to be worth a try, no?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pensions are safe?

Yesterday the Scottish Daily Express ran with the front page headline 'Scots set for pensions shock'. The story itself was about how people are not saving enough towards their pensions and questions how many people will be able to manage on an annual income of £6,011 per year.  On Saturday they also ran a story about how the state pension pot would be 'empty within a year' and how the think tank who produced the research was advising that pensions would have to be reduced to basic subsistence levels.  Reduced?  Does anyone really think that the current levels of a maximum of £113.10 per week is a life of luxury?

It's not so long ago that the No campaign were assuring Scots pensioners that their pension could only be guaranteed if Scotland stayed in the Union.  They were told that if they voted Yes, they would lose their pensions altogether.  In a large part it explains why people in the pensioner age-group voted overwhelmingly for No, and I don't blame them for that.  Pension levels in the UK are not generous, and the prospect of destitution would have loomed large for many pensioners if what they were being told was true.

Yes another example of the lies that were told by the No campaign.  I hope they're proud of themselves.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Indyref 2

Many people have been wondering how long it will be before we get another referendum on independence for Scotland.  I'm beginning to think that the answer is May 2015.

There was an article in the Scotsman on 18th October which states that the Orange Order have announced that they will be mobilising their membership to campaign to save the Union at all costs.  As I understand it, this means their members will be canvassing, leaflet dropping and campaigning for all of the pro-Union parties, including Labour, in Scotland in the run up to the General Election in 2015.  The implication of this would seem to be that they will back whichever of the pro-Union candidates in a given constituency that they think most likely to win the seat.  I'm not sure that all of the pro-Union parties are likely to welcome this move.  It's a bit of a double-edged sword, like having an aged relative at your wedding, the one who paid a big chunk of the reception costs but who insists on making offensive remarks about everyone and then saying 'What? I'm just being honest'.


Meantime, in the Sunday Herald, each of the candidates for the SNP's Depute Leader sets out their case for being elected, and two of them make reference to the wider Yes movement and the possibility of fighting the next General Election on a joint platform.  This would be for more powers, and making sure that the 'Vow' is implemented with the best possible outcome for Scotland.  Again, it would seem that all three parties would campaign for the Yes candidate most likely to win a given constituency.  The appetite for change and the grassroots movement are all still there, so it will be a case of whether a joint platform is possible without in-fighting.  We shall see.

So, if the above situation comes to pass, we pretty much have a rerun on our hands.  A lot may happen between now and May, especially given the timetable that the Smith Commission is supposed to be working to, but it will be interesting to see how this one turns out, given that a percentage of No voters are now regretting their choice in September. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Lordly Benefits

One of the recurrent themes in the referendum was that certain people would be expecting a seat in the House of Lords as a reward for winning a No vote.  How likely is this?

There are several ways of becoming a member of the House of Lords.  Since 1999, the right of hereditary peers to pass their membership down through the family was ended, but there are several ways in which membership can be obtained:
  • Recommendation by the House of Lords Appointments Commission
  • As part of a Dissolution Honours list
  • As part of a Prime Minster's Resignation Honours list
  • As part of a Political List
  • On an ad-hoc basis
  • If you are an Archbishop or Bishop (limited to 26)
  • If you are a former Speaker of the House of Commons
Of these, regular attendance is expected only of those Lords who were appointed as part of a Political List.

As you can see, there are several routes by which those involved in the No campaign could be appointed.

Why would people want to be members?

There is the tradition aspect, where becoming a Lord and getting a title is seen as the apogee of social success.  There may be people who see becoming a member of the House of Lords as continuing to serve their country, given that part of the duties involves scrutinising legislation and holding the government of the day to account.  There may also be some who see it as a means to getting an income (more information can be found here).

In principle I don't have a problem with there being a second parliamentary chamber.  It provides a necessary check on the government of the day, and is a common model of governance.  Where I do have a problem is that (a) the members are unelected and are often the result of patronage and (b) there is no limit that I can find to the number of members.  In many ways it seems to be a kind of benefit system for the political elite - the same ones who are by and large so savagely against benefits for the unemployed and disabled.

To remedy this, I would make the following changes.  Firstly I would insist that working peers are elected and are paid a salary.  The election could be done as part of the General Election, with one ballot paper for the MP and one for the Lords representative, so that we don't add to the number of elections we have to hold.  Secondly, I would still allow peers to be appointed by patronage, but these would not have voting rights and would not be entitled to expenses or daily allowances.  I'd allow this because getting a title still seems to be important to the elite, but I don't see why they should expect to be allowed to live from the public purse simply for vanity, especially since many ex-MPs go on to lucrative directorships.  Thirdly I would place an age limit on being an elected peer.  I was going to say that this could be set at 10 years past the retirement age, but the way things are going most people would be dead well before this age.

Ideally I would be in favour of abolishing titles and lordships altogether, but this would at least be a step in the right direction.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Gordon explains

In today's Guardian there is an article by Gordon Brown, in which he explains his objections to English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) being inextricably linked to more Scottish Devolution.  His argument rests on the basis that the Union is paramount and is to be preserved at all costs, although he doesn't really explain why that is.  He then goes on to discuss why EVEL will make second-class MPs of Scottish MPs and, in the longer term, of Welsh and Northern Irish MPs as well.

His article appears to be somewhat illogical.  For example, he says

Taken alongside the Conservative proposal to devolve all income tax decisions to the Scottish parliament, Scottish MPs would find themselves excluded not just from ordinary English lawmaking but from some of the most controversial and sensitive decisions a parliament can make – on income tax and the budget.
 Well, yes.  If the Scottish parliament has responsibility for all income tax decisions in Scotland, why would we need to have input into income tax decisions for the rest of the UK?  Any why would we want input into English laws when we have our own legal system?

Similarly he says

Chaos would follow: for, once Scotland and then Wales and Ireland became exempt from contributing to UK income tax – but still benefiting from it through Barnett formula allocations...
Isn't the Barnett formula about redistributing income from all taxes, not just income tax?  Therefore if responsibility for income tax is devolved in total, but not for corporation tax, National Insurance, inheritance tax, VAT, and so on surely we need to retain the Barnett formula or something similar to ensure distribution of the income from these other taxes?

There is also a strain of hypocrisy in the article.  He says

Everything that has been said since that fateful morning has confirmed that the central Tory proposition is the reduction of Scots’ voting rights in the Commons – an issue material to the referendum that should have been announced before, rather than after, the vote.
 Remind me again who it was that brokered and announced the last-minute Vow?  The Vow that was made after many people had cast their postal ballots?

Really the logical solution to the EVEL problem is the setting up of a separate English parliament, keeping Westminster only for those matters to be managed for Britain as a whole, such as defence and foreign affairs.  But this appears to be a solution that Mr Brown doesn't like either.

He discusses how federated nations like the US and Australia are managed and goes on to suggest

So there is a way forward that can keep the UK together, one that recognises the sizes of each nation and region and is founded on both a sensitivity to minorities and self-restraint by the majority.
 Yes, I think we've seen how much sensitivity and restraint there has been by the majority over the past 307 years.  Can't really see this working, given that English MPs outnumber MPs from all the other home nations put together, and can therefore pass into legislation anything they like, regardless of the views from the other nations.

He then goes on to say
 But it could also involve changes in Commons committee procedures that would recognise an English voice on English issues without undermining the equal status of MPs – while enthusiastically supporting more powers for Wales, Northern Ireland and forms of devolution that meet the distinctive needs of English cities, counties and regions.
I'm confused.  He says that the Union should stay together under one parliament but then goes on to advocate devolution for English regions as well as the other home nations.  Which is it?

Overall the article strikes me as ill-thought out special pleading from a senior Labour figure who sees their grip on power slipping away and who is desperate to cling on to it at all costs.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Gordon rides again

Yesterday Gordon Brown hoisted himself to his feet and made another speech on devolution, this time presenting 'his' petition calling on the government to deliver on the 'Vow'.  This must have been a treat for the people of Kirkcaldy - they're not used to seeing him in the natural habitat.of the UK MP and now they've had two appearances in a week. 

The speech mainly aired his concerns that more devolution for Scotland is being linked to English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) and the reduction of the voting ability of MPs from Scottish constituencies.  His argument runs that the 'Vow' made no mention of these things, and that to deny Scotland the powers (not actually) promised in the 'Vow' would be bad faith on the part of the government, and would also make Scottish MPs effectively second-class citizens at Westminster.

Now I've heard a lot of talk about how Gordon Brown is a highly intelligent and politically astute operator, and I've no reason to disbelieve this.  So in that case, why didn't he see this coming?  Or was he so focussed on saving his beloved North Britain for the Union that he didn't bother to think it through?  He's now doing a fair impression of a man who's teetering on the edge of a pit full of sharpened stakes, pin-wheeling his arms in a desperate attempt not to fall in and take his entire hunting party with him.

Part of his concern is, of course, that reduction in the voting rights would disproportionately affect Labour, as Scotland has in the past returned a majority of MPs from this party.  As I've observed before, Labour really needs to wake up to the fact that this is by no means guaranteed at the next UK General Election.  And possibly this tells us a little about why he's in his current dilemma - assumptions.  He doesn't seem to have recognised the fundamental change to the political landscape that has occurred as a result of the referendum, and is now rather like the dinosaurs, wondering what that huge explosion was.

I believe it's traditional for ex-Prime Minsters to be offered a seat in the House of Lords at the end of their careers.  I think, however, if Gordon Brown continues to harass the government on this, his ermine cape might just be up the Swannee.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Gender Agenda

With Nicola Sturgeon becoming the leader of the SNP the Scottish Parliament, for the first time, finds itself with female party leaders in the majority (three women, two men).This is also a first for the UK as a whole.

Nicola Sturgeon had a very good mentor in Alex Salmond, and it shows.  She has some of his mannerisms, and has also learned to have all the facts at her fingertips before she goes into a debate.  She doesn't allow herself to become flustered under aggressive questioning (something that many male politicians find difficult) and doesn't allow her opponents to get away with not answering her questions.  She can come across as very earnest and without much humour at times, but in my experience that's not uncommon among women who have reached the top in what are traditionally regarded as male careers, since they've had to work harder to prove themselves and to be taken seriously.  Typically the Scottish Sun's headline was 'First Mini Stur: Nicola’s baby hopes revealed' - as if a woman's reproductive status is the only significant thing about her.

Ruth Davidson comes across as very intelligent and likeable, although I find her politics detestable.  She seems to be a good debater and is generally well prepared, unsurprisingly given her background in journalism.  Her main weakness is, I think, that she is not a constituency MSP but a list MSP, but then given the unpopularity of the Tories in Scotland there are few seats where she could be guaranteed to win.

Johann Lamont, while she may be a good constituency MP, is a weak leader.  She does not prepare well (saying 'but that's what we were told' does not get you off the hook) and often doesn't appear to understand the details of what she is discussing. This is quite surprising given her background as a teacher.  However, I have the impression that her classes may have been somewhat like this.

The Scottish Parliament as a whole started out with a very good gender balance, but this seems to have stalled since 2003.  While I agree that more needs to be done to get more women involved in politics, I am not in favour of a quota approach.  This is because I think that your MSP should be the best person for the job, irrespective of gender.  I don't think that gender should be the first criteria in choosing a candidate.

More needs to be done in getting women involved at the grassroots level and, as they gain experience, moving up to positions of further responsibility.  I think one way of doing this is for female politicians to get involved in mentoring younger women.  This approach would not solve the gender imbalance issue in the short term, but should work well for the longer term.  We also need to educate girls in particular to get out of the habit of thinking that politics is 'too difficult' or 'boring' or 'only for men'.  This is not only a problem in politics, but for many other career paths as well.  At least with now having three female party leaders in the Scottish parliament we can't day we are short of positive examples.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

There he stood, the hero of the hour.  Tasked by the leaders at Westminster in the final week of the referendum campaign with doing whatever it took to save the Union, Gordon Brown came up with the Vow.  He staked his reputation on Westminster delivering extensive new powers to Scotland to a strict timetable of his devising.  It was enough to persuade the undecided and the waverers.  The ones who wanted more powers for Scotland but the security blanket of the Union.  The ones who wanted the best of both worlds.  The ones who wanted to believe that Labour still had Scotland's best interests at heart.

There he stands, his reputation in tatters.  It took all of nine hours for David Cameron to renege on Mr Brown's promises by linking any new powers for Scotland to 'English votes for English laws (EV4EL)', something that was never mentioned in the Vow.  The strict timetable is being treated more as a set of guidelines.  Mr Brown has been reduced the hi-jacking someone else's petition calling on Westminster to keep its promises on more powers.  The final humiliation must be that in the debate in the House of Commons yesterday on new powers for Scotland, none of the three leaders of the Government and Opposition bothered to turn up, and the debate itself was mainly about EV4EL and various other digressions.  This the same Gordon Brown who was praised by the Unionists for his statesman-like qualities during the referendum campaign, but who now sees the trap into which he and his party have been led.  The epithet applied to King James 6th &1st seems apt for him - 'the wisest fool in Christendom'.

I almost feel sorry for him.  Almost.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Independence Diet

Like many people in Scotland, I'm overweight.  Like most overweight people, I'm trying to do something about it.  It's not easy though.

Firstly, you need an incentive to go on a diet.  Maybe you decided not to go and see a movie with your friends because the cinema is on the first floor and you couldn't manage the stairs.  Maybe you saw the most gorgeous outfit, but you couldn't have it because they don't make it in a large enough size.  Maybe you've developed some medical issues.  Whatever it is, there will be a trigger.

So you tell your friends that you've decided to lose the weight.  Some will be supportive, but some will tell you that you're fine, that a little extra weight suits you, so why bother?  Nevertheless, you're determined that this is it, you're going to be that skinny person.

Maybe you go along to a diet club, where they tell you how to manage your calories. Maybe you go to a gym, where they give you a weight reduction exercise programme.  In both cases they lie to you.  The diet club tells you that you can eat what you want, never have to be hungry and still lose weight as long as you stick to their programme.  The gym tells you you will lose weight without sore muscles or having to spend loads of time in the gym. 

Eventually you run out of steam.  The diet is too restrictive or the gym takes up too much of your time.  Your friends persuade you that a chocolate biscuit or a cake or a curry won't do you any harm, and you succumb, thinking that you can always go back on the diet on Monday.  Your own brain subverts your efforts, because brains like to stick with what they know. 

To lose weight successfully, you have to accept that you will be hungry at times, or that you will have to spend more time than you'd like at the gym.  You also have to accept that it's not a time-limited thing, that's it's a permanent lifestyle change.

What has this to do with independence? The parallels are quite striking.

First of all, we need an incentive.  This time around there really wasn't a strong incentive for most people, the ones who haven't really thought about independence or who don't see anything wrong with the status quo.  The next referendum therefore really needs some strong reason to trigger it.  Maybe a Tory-UKIP coalition wreaking havoc with their policies, or England voting to leave Europe while Scotland votes to stay in.  Something on which people will have strong opinions.

Next we need to be realistic.  This time around the No campaign painted the blackest picture possible, while the Yes campaign erred a bit too much on the sunny side.  We need to tell people that in the short term after they vote for independence, there will possibly be pain. There will be negotiations to be had, and they won't all go our way.  We will need to develop relationships with other countries, not all of which will be supportive.  We need to reassure people that short-term pain will be long-term gain.

Finally we need to show them the picture of Scotland at the end of the process.  It needs to be a realistic picture though.  A Scotland which is a successful, prosperous nation, but not one that is without problems.  To show otherwise would be like me thinking I can look like a supermodel once I reach my target weight.  Lovely dream, but it's not going to happen!


Monday, 13 October 2014

Smith Commission Submissions (Part 3)

Today I have been reading the last of the party submissions to the Smith Commission, that of the SNP.  Declaration of interest here - I am a member of the SNP.

The basic principle of the SNP submission is that all powers that are not explicitly reserved to Westminster should fall under the control of the Scottish Parliament, and that the onus should be on Westminster to prove their case for retaining whatever powers they wish.  This is the opposite approach to the other parties, who are considering devolution from the point of view of granting more powers to the Scottish parliament and retaining those which have not been explicitly devolved.

Most of the arguments presented were well-rehearsed during the referendum campaign, so there are few surprises in their submission.  There is discussion of the Vow (complete with quotes from the leaders of the Unionist parties) and what the SNP take this to mean.  They also present the results of a survey showing the level of support by the Scottish people of various further powers.

There is a clear strand throughout the document of Scotland becoming much more of a partner to Westminster rather than a subsidiary by, for example, obliging Westminster to take account of the views and positive suggestion of the Scottish parliament with regard to reserved matters.  There is also a clear intention to give Scotland more of an identity within the community of nations, by allowing Scotland to have its own voice on matters within its own devolved competence.  This, I assume, is a first step towards eventual independence, by normalising Scotland as having a voice independent of Westminster, thus making eventual independence a much less drastic-seeming step.

In all the SNP's proposals are wide-ranging and in this regard very similar to the Scottish Greens and more extensive than those of Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives.   I somehow doubt that the other parties will agree to all of the SNP's proposals, since they take Scotland far closer to independence than the others would be prepared to countenance.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of the Smith Commission.  I think the SNP will be disappointed, but I also think the other parties may well be obliged to concede rather more than they propose to.  I shall watch this particular space with interest!


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Hope Over Fear, George Square, 12/10/2014

Some pictures from the Hope Over Fear rally today





Gives you some idea of the attendance.  There were some excellent speakers and bands.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time, lots of smiles and hugs :)

Smith Commission Submissions (Part 2)

Today I have read the submissions from the Scottish Labour party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

The first thing that springs to mind when reading the Scottish Labour submission is 'buzzword bingo'.  'Pooling and sharing' features heavily, and we get the usual soundbites such as 'hardworking people'. Their contention is that social union is incompatible with independence.  Oh, and it only took until page 7 for them to to put the boot into the SNP, so they've beaten the Conservatives on that score.

I liked this quote:
 Without economic and political union, a genuine social union is all but impossible.   Far more likely is a race to the bottom on tax and workers’ rights, ultimately leading to the erosion of welfare and pensions. The sharing union underpinned by political union, economic and social union – is the ultimate safeguard and guarantor of the Welfare State.
Hmmm, have they reviewed their own party's record on this when last in office?  And have they noticed what has happened under the Con-Dem government?  Best use of irony I've seen so far.

Most of the paper consists of a discussion on tax powers and devolving power to local authorities.  There was a paragraph Housing Benefit that kind of gives the game away though (my italics):
We are in favour of devolving Housing Benefit. This is the largest single benefit paid in Scotland after the state pension – amounting to £1.7 billion a year.  We will use this power  to abolish the Bedroom Tax, ensure secure funding for the provision of social housing and reduce abuse by unscrupulous private landlords.
So apparently Scottish Labour expect to be in power after the next Holyrood General Election.  Glad we sorted that one out.

To sum up. Scottish Labour suggests that most powers remain with Westminster, with some tinkering around the edges of devolving some powers.  And in their paper, they excoriate the SNP for their centralising tendencies.  There's a bible quote about this - 'And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?'

And so to the Scottish Liberal Democrat submission.  On the surface they are pitching for home rule.  Most people would equate this with Devo Max (ie all powers at Holyrood, with the exception of defence and foreign affairs).  However, this is not what they are proposing.  Points, though, for widening the debate to include 'home rule' for the other home nations too.

They discuss at some length how they have been working for a federal Britain for 100 years.  Their progress towards that goal so far would make an arthritic snail look speedy, so obviously they're not in a rush to get this done.

They do overtake the others in one respect though - SNP bashing begins on page 6.

I was slightly bemused by this paragraph:
A useful contemporary illustration of the benefits of a United Kingdom which is of particular interest to me can be found in the remarkable success of Team GB in the London Olympics and Paralympics. The unity of support from the whole of the UK underpinned these successes and was the focus of the celebrations which followed them
I don't remember celebrations following the Olympics - maybe I was asleep or something?

To be fair to the LibDems, their fiscal proposals are more radical than those of Labour, but stop short of allowing oil revenues to be retained in Scotland.  Clearly this would be a step too far.  However, they do propose setting up an oil fund at UK level, which is some progress at least.  The caveat being 'when conditions permit', which are some nice little weasel words slipped in to allow a get-out clause.

I would disagree with this paragraph:
As internationalists we believe that, as part of the UK, Scotland benefits from a prominent role on the world stage: represented at a permanent seat on the UN Security Council; part of one of the leading members of the European Union, G8 and NATO; reserved positions on the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Through the UK, Scotland is able to have meaningful impact on issues as diverse as climate change, the fight for international justice, the operation of the global trading system and arms control. Scotland’s voice is louder through the UK than it would be alone: we have the weight to argue our case and fight for a fair deal for ourselves and others. Even in non-political international organisations, such as those concerned with sport, science or culture, the combined weight of the United Kingdom will always be greater than the sum of its parts
 Frankly, under this arrangement, Scotland has no voice at all, as has been seen, for example, with a meeting on GM crops at EU level, where Scotland's views were famously overlooked because the representative in question had brought the wrong notes with him.

Again, the LibDems' proposal suggests devolvement of more power to local authorities.  In itself, this isn't a bad idea and is worth considering.  However, I do wonder about the fact that the three major parties are all hugely in favour of this.  Could it be something to do with the fact that they are more likely to have control at council level than at Holyrood level?  Time will tell.

Their division of powers into three tiers, namely reserved, devolved and partnership seems quite complicated and would likely keep lawyers in the style they have become accustomed to.

(I'm slowly losing the will to live at this point - can you tell?).

There is a proposal for the institution of 'burgh councils', which would seem to be yet another tier of local councils below the larger district councils, these to be established where there is demand from local communities and to be funded by either by a share of the council tax or of local business rates.  Yet elsewhere in the paper the LibDems tell us they are not in favour of fragmentation into smaller units at the UK level.  A bit of a dichotomy there I think.

All in all, the Scottish LibDems have put together a comprehensive paper which does contain some good ideas.  How many people will actually read it all the way through, however, is a different question.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Smith Commission Submissions (Part 1)

All the major Scottish parties submitted their proposals to the Smith Commission by the deadline of Friday 10th October.  They are all available for viewing on the Smith Commission website.

I have made a start on reading the documents.  There's only so much political documentation I can read at a sitting, so today I have read the proposals from the Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish Green Party (I'm going by the party names on the website - there's another discussion to be had about whether there is, in fact, a Scottish Conservative party.  Maybe another post.)

The Scottish Conservative party's proposals are based on those of the Strathclyde Commission and are striking in that the only two areas they appear to consider are money and influence.  There are extensive discussions on taxes and National Insurance, mainly justifying why the UK should retain overall control of the money while tinkering at the edges of allowing the Scottish Government to make policy decisions.  One of the most amusing parts is where they declare that National Insurance should be retained at the UK level because it would be too difficult for companies to have to deal with two different agencies in collecting this tax.  That's the multi-nationals that operate in numerous countries telt then - obviously having to deal with one more country's tax authorities would just be the final straw.

There are also extensive discussions on how the Scottish parliament should be run, including plans to ensure that all committees have an Opposition MSP as chairman, and how senior Civil Servants based in Scotland should be forced to serve part of the career in one or more UK Departments of State.  Presumably so they can drink the Unionist kool-aid?  Who knows.  They are also very keen on devolving powers away from the Scottish Parliament to local authorities and individuals (I'm assuming they mean elected mayors and police commissioners by this).

The most amusing part comes on page 11, where, after doing so well, they put the boot into Alex Salmond and the SNP specifically.  It kind of gives the game away, that their proposals are really to try and hamstring the SNP, their bitterest enemies it would appear.

Striking by their absence is any mention of energy policy, transport, media, equality and human rights, land reform and immigration.  All these and more can be found in the submission of the Scottish Green party.   Their proposals are wide-ranging and would see far more extensive powers granted to the Scottish Parliament, including the ability to have a voice in international affairs on behalf of Scotland where appropriate.  They also make mention of TTIP, something conspicious by its absence from the Conservative party's proposals - clearly an oversight and I'm sure something they will be happy to share their views on if asked.

I am impressed by the Green's paper, and would be happy to see more of them in the Scottish Parliament.  Certainly the picture they paint is a very appealing one.

That's all for today.  Tomorrow I will read the proposals from Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.






Friday, 10 October 2014

Weekend events

There are a couple of events on this weekend that we will be attending.

On Saturday there is a Power of the People Rally in Livingston Square, Livingston (opposite Debenhams).  There will be live music, speakers and a Christmas present collection for charity.  All profits are also going to charity.  Things will be kicking off at 1pm

On Sunday there is the Hope Over Fear Rally in George Square, Glasgow from 12 noon - 5pm.  Again, there will be lots of speakers and live music, and it's intended that it should be a fun family event.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Smith Commission

The Smith Commission is looking for submissions from ordinary members of the public for ideas on the new powers for Scotland in the wake of the referendum.  Anyone can send in their ideas to haveyoursay@smith-commission.scot and I think it's important that as many people as possible send in their thoughts and ideas.

I sent my views this morning.  This is what I said:

As a Yes voter, I am in favour of independence.  I think that decisions affecting the people of Scotland are best decided by the Scottish government, as it is more likely to have an understanding of local Scottish issues. 

However, as this is not currently an option, my favoured option would be for DevoMax, ie Scotland retains all revenues raised in Scotland and pays Westminster for agreed common services such as foreign affairs and defence.  I would say, however, that in the case of common services, there should be Service Level Agreements attached to the payment schedule, for example, agreed response times by the defence forces to any reports of incidents by the Scottish Government.

I would also suggest that there should be a UK level common fund, to be run by representatives of all four home nations.  This committee would consider applications for assistance, whether for deprived areas or for special projects, on a case-by-case basis and award funds accordingly.
 The deadline for submissions is October 31st, so there is still time for you to let them know your views. Do it!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Fearful Victors

Today I witnessed an interesting exchange between some Yes voters and No voters on Twitter.  The No voters were demanding that the Yes voters should accept the verdict of the referendum.  They called the yes voters 'sore losers' and 'childish', and told them they should be 'working towards making things better'.  The Yes voters were also told that they should not be taking over public spaces by holding rallies, and that by doing so they would destabilise Scotland.  I'm paraphrasing, but this is genuinely the sort of sentiment being expressed.

For people whose side won the referendum, the No voters seem to be a pretty fearful bunch.  They seem to be terrified of the thought of the Yes side continuing to campaign for an independent Scotland.  I wonder what it is they fear.

Do they fear the unknown?  It's a possibility.  Humans tend to like sticking to what they know, even if what they know is not a good situation.  They have strategies to cope with the known, and human brains like to stick with well-trodden paths, as it takes less energy.  Another referendum would mean No voters having to think about the issues of Westminster rule vs Holyrood rule, and I think in most cases it leads to cognitive dissonance, which is an uncomfortable feeling that people prefer to avoid.

I tried asking one of the No voters the following: if the situation had been reversed, and Yes had won by 55%, would they have continued to campaign for a United Britain?  They vehemently denied they would.  I think either they were lying or they are very rare amongst No voters.  But even asking this question seemed to frighten them.

I think one thing we need to work on is getting people more familiar with what it is that Holyrood can or can't do.  For example, today it was announced that the Dutch company Abellio has won the franchise to run Scotland's railway services.  Of course there was much derision from the Unionist parties.  Many people seemed to think that the Scottish rail services should have been nationalised, and that the SNP were simply showing that they are 'Tartan Tories' by awarding the franchise to a private company.  What they don't realised is that the SNP government had already extended the existing franchise as much as they could, and that they had no option but to award the new contract.  Nationalising the rail services is not possible under the Railways Act 1993, which does not permit government-owned companies to bid for franchises.  As the awarding of rail franchises is a reserved matter to Westminster, it's not possible for Holyrood to act outwith the terms set out in the Act.

This is just one example, but I think if we start the process of gradually educating people about what the Scottish parliament can or can't do, this might be enough to tip the balance next time.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Get over it

I heard an interview with Alastair Carmichael on Radio Scotland last night, in which there was some discussion of the referendum result.  In it he said that Nicola Sturgeon must publicly accept the outcome of the referendum and should not be making statements implying that there might be another referendum on Scottish independence, as this broke the terms of the Edinburgh agreement.  Having read it, it does not appear to me that the agreement explicitly rules out another referendum.  It merely says
 "The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the  light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom"
 (Discalimer: I am not a lawyer!)

Now given the Ms Sturgeon has committed to work with the Smith Commission, I would say that she is holding up her end of the bargain.  Time will tell whether the UK parties will do the same.

However, I do think that this is somewhat disingenous of Mr Carmichael, given the Vow, which was clearly not in the spirit of paragraph 29 of the agreement.

It's something we Yes voters hear a lot - Scotland said No, move on.  I think this is indicative of the level of fear we induced in Westminster.  They want to hurry us along, telling us we should get over the No vote and get back to business as usual.  The problem is, that's not going to be possible for a substantial minority of the population.

Last night I attended my first SNP branch meeting.  We were told that normally there would be half-a-dozen or so people at these things.  Last night there were seventy.  And those seventy were not sitting quietly, keeping their heads down.  There were lots of ideas and opinions put forward, to the point where the meeting simply ran out of time.  Another is being arranged for a fortnight's time, to allow for further discussion.  Does that sound like people who want business as usual?

Getting another referendum will be more difficult than the last one.  I think Westminster will realise that they are not guaranteeed to win another referendum, and will be very reluctant to permit it for that reason.  However, as we have two elections coming up in close proximity, followed by a referendum on EU membership, it's not difficult to imagine a cirsumstance in which another referendum on independence might become inevitable.  This is what I want to work towards.


Monday, 6 October 2014

A Taxing Problem

I see there has been some harrumphing in the MSM regarding Alex Salmond's announcement that the Scottish Parliament will be bringing in legislation to prevent the use of the updated Electoral Register to pursue unpaid Poll Tax debts.  Most of them seem to be conflating arrears of Poll Tax with arrears of Council Tax, and are bandying around a figure of £425 million owed.  This seems to be a deliberate ploy to make Mr Salmond look as if he is condoning local tax defaulters of all stripes, which is another handy stick to beat him with.  They are cheerfully ignoring the fact that it is, in fact, illegal to pursue historic Poll Tax debts if no previous attempt has been made to collect it, as the debt is more than 20 years old.  Mr Salmond explained this in exacting detail to Councillor Jim Gifford of Aberdeenshire Council. They are also not mentioning the fact that Poll Tax debts in England and Wales were written off some years ago.  Still, what's sauce for the goose is definitely not allowed for the gander.

Elsewhere, the LibDems are having their party conference, and have been discussing the devolution of tax-raising powers to the Scottish Parliament.  They are in favour of devolving income tax in its entirety, along with Housing Benefit, agreeing with the Tories and much to the dismay of the Labour Party.  The Labour party oppose it, as they think it would undermine any future Labour government's authority at Westminster.   They're right to be worried, but not for the reason they think.  They still seem to be taking for granted that the Scottish Electorate will return a large majority of Labour MPs to Westminster, same as it ever has.  I think they may well be in for a shock.  Not only have many Labour voters been disgusted by their party supporting the Tories during the referendum campaign, they will now be made to look grasping and greedy in their miserly approach to new powers to be devolved.  This really isn't going to play well in Scotland.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Food Banks

Yesterday our local food bank had a donations day at a local school.  We took them some tinned foods, jams, biscuits and teabags, and it looked like a large number of people did the same, as it was very successful.  We intend to continue donating as and when we can.

I don't have a problem with helping people who are less fortunate than me.  I have a job I enjoy for which I am very well-paid, to the point where I pay tax at 40%.  I don't have a problem with paying that level of tax - it's only fair that I contribute more to help those who have less.  I do have a problem with food banks though.  They make me angry.

They make me angry because I live in 21st-century Scotland, and there should not be anyone who cannot meet their own basic needs for food and shelter.  Many of the people using food banks are doing so because of benefit sanctions and delays in benefits.  However, there are substantial numbers of people using them who are working, but who cannot earn enough to feed themselves and their families.  How have we got into a situation where having a job does not mean you are earning a living?

We seem to be regressing to Victorian levels of poverty, even to the point where we have a strong implication of 'deserving poor' (those who are working for low wages) and undeserving poor ('benefit scroungers').  We now have the prospect of old-fashioned 'outdoor relief' according to the most recent Tory party conference, where there was a proposal to institute pre-paid electronic cards which would allow recipients only to buy pre-determined basic food items.  Give it a few years with any colour of Tory in power and I'm sure we'll see the return of the workhouse.

The pre-paid electronic card is an idea from America, where it is known as the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly 'food stamps'.  This is run by private contractors. There is a rumour that Asda will be running the contract for these initially in the UK, a company whose parent is the US company Walmart, who have experience in this area.  Indeed Asda have already been running such a scheme in partnership with Birmingham City Council.  This would be the same Asda who told Scots that independence would result in higher prices for groceries, which I'm sure is coincidental.

The idea behind the card is that people who are in need of it cannot be trusted to spend actual money on the 'right' things.  The card will only be permitted to be used for goods from a pre-determined list.  In America you can buy orange juice, for example, but only certain brands.  This is quite ironic, given that the Tory politicians who are behind it are also behind the idea of getting rid of the Human Rights Act, on the basis that no-one should be allowed to tell them what to do, least of all Europe.

I'd like to think in an independent Scotland we would address the issue of low wages and unemployment in a way that would mean we would not need food banks.  Certainly there were proposals to institute a fair minimum wage.  It's one reason why I will continue to campaign for an independent Scotland.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Sign up Saturday

Today is Sign up Saturday, when the Yes Alliance parties (SNP, Scottish Green, Scottish Socialist Party) will have stalls out where you can sign up for membership.  If  you want to work towards a better Scotland, why not come along and join the party of your choice?  If you can't make it, you can sign up here:

SNP
Scottish Greens
Scottish Socialist Party

Go on - you know you want to!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Tory Party Conference Songs

Iggy and the Stooges - I Got a Right (The Human Rights Act/Bill of Rights)

The Rheostatics -  Bad Time to be Poor

Abba - Money, Money, Money

Kula Shaker - Hush (No more Facebook or Twitter for you if we don't like what you say!)

Turbonegro - Hobbit Motherfuckers (Because they are...?)

Lesley Gore - It's my Party (Because Dave was soooo upset that we might be going...)

Alice Cooper - Who do you think we are - Model Citizen (Key line - 'We don't care')

Beastie Boys - (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)

Latin Quarter - Modern Times

Alice Cooper - Elected (What it's all about - listen to the outro ;) )


Harp Twins - It's my Life (Bon Jovi) (best match we can think of for privacy)



(with the kind assistance of Fangs Mandatory and kevq)