Monday, 30 March 2015

Equal rights

At the conference this weekend the SNP voted for positive discrimination in the form of all-women and balanced shortlists for the General Election in Scotland in 2016.  The debate on the subject was heated at times, and is still generating heat on social media.

I voted against the motion.  I understand why people want to do it.  They want to be seen to making an effort to promote women, so that the gender balance of politicians is more reflective of the population at large.  I agree that this needs to be done.  However, I don't think forcing all-women or balanced shortlists is the way to go about it.

Why don't women want to put themselves forward as candidates for political office?  I think that the main culprit is the role that is given to girls pretty much when they're born.  It has been proved that parents and school praise girls for being quiet, doing as they're told and putting the needs of others before themselves.  Boys are praised for being active, noisy and independent.  Is it any wonder, then, that by the time they reach adulthood most women don't see the role of politician, whether at local or national level, as one that is for them?  In my opinion, this is the root of why we don't see nearly enough women as candidates for office.

Forcing all-women shortlists runs the risk that men of talent will be overlooked, and that some candidates may not be the best available for the job.  There is also a risk attached to parachuting female candidates into a constituency for the sake of having them, as they may then lose the seat to a better known local male candidate from another party.

What's the solution?  Obviously we can't fix society overnight.  We can try to change things so that girls are also encouraged to play to their strengths rather than to fit into a pre-made stereotype, but that will be very slow at best.  In the meantime I think that political parties in general should be looking at training their female members to be assertive, confident and to be unafraid of challenges. Not every woman will want to do this, but I think such training would boost the numbers and would be a better solution than trying to force the issue with shortlists.

Positive discrimination is still discrimination, and two wrongs don't make a right.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

There's a first time...

I spent this weekend at the SNP Spring conference at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow.  It's the first SNP conference I've ever been to, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

The venue itself is a bit soulless, but it's one of the few in Scotland that can hold the 3,000 delegates and member visitors who attended.  My branch is fairly large, so we sent a total of 29 delegates, each of whom were free to vote as they wished on thee many motions that were put before the conference.

The two days were split into various sessions, with intervals between each to allow you to visit the exhibitors' stalls attached to the conference and which represented various SNP branches as well as causes that wish to attract the attention of the SNP delegates.

In the morning on day 1 there was a welcome to Glasgow by Humza Yousaf, which was very amusing and went down well with the packed hall.  There were also quite a few ladies swooning, as Mr Yousaf appears to be regarded as a bit of a pin-up.  Various motions were then debated, which was interesting for me both for the various subjects and to learn about how the voting procedures work.  None of the motions were particularly contentious, and most were passed by acclaim.

The main event of day 1 took place in the afternoon, which was a 50 minute speech by Nicola Sturgeon.  It was not one of her best speeches - I would describe it as workmanlike - but it hit all the right notes with the crowd and was rapturously received.  Her speech was at pains to address the demonisation of the SNP by the mainstream newspapers by extending a reassuring hand of friendship to the rest of the UK, promising that, if successful in the General Election, they would be using whatever power they had to try to make things better for the whole of the UK, not just for Scotland.  There were also a few manifesto-like announcements, such as a pledge to raise the top rate of income tax to 50% for people earning more than £150,000 per year, to abolish zero-hour contracts and to halt the privatisation of the NHS in England.  She also pledged to abolish the House of Lords, which will send a shiver of dread down the spine of many of the current incumbents of the House of Commons, who seem to regard a Lordship as an entitlement at the end of their career.  Ms Sturgeon doesn't have the natural charisma of Alex Salmond, but she is held in great affection by the SNP membership.

 Day 1 ended with more debates on motions, a couple of which proved more contentious than those earlier in the day.  At the end I found myself felling very tired, as for each motion you have to take in all the information the speakers provide, both for and against, consider the facts and make a decision on how to vote.  The tiredness was something that I didn't expect.

Day 2 began with a closed session, where various matters relating to the party constitution were debated.  Pete Wishart produced a barnstorming speech on one of the motions, and received a standing ovation, something which apparently has never been seen before when debating constitutional matters.  The main debate was regarding action on equality in shortlists for elections and provoked passion from both proponents and opponents.  The motion was ultimately passed, but there was considerable discussion throughout the day on the subject even after the vote.

Again there were more debates on various motions, again not greatly contentious, which was probably a bit of a relief after the rigours of the closed session.  John Swinney then gave a speech regarding the finances of Scotland, and listed many projects which are being brought on on time and on budget, for example the new Queensferry crossing.  As might be expected the speech was interesting but somewhat dry, with its recitation of many facts and figures.

After these were complete Alex Salmond was due to do a Q&A session in one part of the hall while the main stage was prepared for the afternoon's programme.  However, after a standing ovation of several minutes he took to the main stage at the insistence of the crowd and was in very good form.  He was, of course, promoting his recent book (see my previous review elsewhere on this blog) but was happy to take questions from members on the audience on whatever topics they wished, which he answered with his trademark dry wit.

The afternoon session consisted of more debates and a speech by Stuart Hosie, in which he said that, in the case of a minority Labour government, the SNP would expect to be consulted on the Queen's speech before lending their support to it.  This has provoked uproar from representatives of the Labour party, who reject the notion of the SNP as 'kingmakers'.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out after May 7th.  The speakers at the conference were at pains to point out that nothing is being assumed by the party executive about the number of MPs the party might have after the general election, although any number greater than 11 would be the best result ever for them.  The message for the General Election is that there is a lot of hard work to be done in the next 39 days in persuading people to vote for the SNP.

All-in-all the conference was a great experience, although after two days I'm in need of a serious rest.  I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity to go, whether as a delegate or a visitor.  The only letdown really was the food, which was mediocre at best and very, very expensive.

Friday, 27 March 2015

And we're off...

... to the SNP conference this weekend.  Should be an interesting one, given that the SNP have just won two council by-elections (Glenrothes West and Armadale & Blackridge) by margins which are pretty much in line with what the polls are reporting for General Election voting intentions, which is good news.

I hope to be able to blog while there.  Watch this space...

Monday, 23 March 2015

Can I speak to a human?

Yesterday Jim Murphy appeared on Sunday Politics, where he was grilled by Andrew Neil on why Labour is doing so badly in Scotland and why his leadership has made no discernible difference to the polls.  His reply was like when you phone up a helpline, only to be met with a robotic voice at every turn.  The result is frustrating and you don't get your enquiry sorted out.

Mr Murphy basically repeated the same three soundbites over and over.
1) The biggest party gets to form the government
2) Vote SNP, get Tory
3) The SNP were responsible for bringing down the Labour government in 1979

This last is clearly Mr McTernan's latest wheeze for trying to get the lumpen proletariat back onside.  Labour in Scotland still refuse to learn the lesson the electorate are trying to teach them.  People have had enough of politicians simply mouthing their latest sound bite, regardless of the question they've been asked.  That's the old politics.  Instead people want to hear politicians tell them what they are going to do with power if they are given it.  They want to hear about policies for the future, not ancient history (and inaccurate ancient history at that).  They want to hear about co-operation, not the Bain-principle based Labour politics of recent years.

Labour in Scotland are simply repeating all the old moves, all the old chat-up lines and hoping they will work now as they have in the past.  A bit like a middle-aged man having a mid-life crisis, and with about as much success.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Book review

The Dream Shall Never Die: 100 Days that Changed Scotland Forever by Alex Salmond

I've just finished reading the above title, which mainly consists of Alex Salmond's diary of the 100 days leading up to the referendum, along with his views on events since then.

It's interesting to compare this with similar diary-based books by David Torrance (100 Days of Hope and Fear) and Alan Cochrane (Alex Salmond: My Part in his Downfall).  Both of these survey events from a No-voting perspective (although Mr Torrance tended to get butt-hurt when people wanted him to represent the No side), whereas Mr Salmond's book is, obviously, from a Yes-voting perspective.

The thing that comes across from Mr Salmond's book most strongly is his interest in people.  He can talk to anyone, from the Queen to a single mother living in a council flat, and will be equally interested in what both have to say.  The book is full of anecdotes about the many people he met during the referendum campaign and the stories they told him.  This is a striking contrast to the offerings Messrs Torrance and Cochrane, both of whom name-drop constantly.  Indeed there are copious footnotes in Mr Cochrane's book, most of which are explanations of who all the names dropped belong to.

Mr Salmond's book gives some explanation of how he came to believe in Scottish Independence and has brief references to his political career prior to the referendum.  Again, contrasting with the other books, where the Union is simply assumed to be the best option without any explanation of why this should be the case.

The book does capture the feeling of how it was to be involved in the Yes campaign, and the two passages referring to the 19th September and his resignation still evoke strong emotions six months on.

There are brief references to the business of government at Holyrood, and I have a strong feeling that there is a lot of story there which I hope we will be told at some point.

Finally, it's clear from the book that Mr Salmond is by no means finished as a politician, and I think we can look forward to some interesting times if he is elected to Westminster in May.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Limp lettuce

Today I saw the election leaflet being put out by our local Labour MP in pursuit of his re-election.  I was amazed by the lack of manifesto-related content in it.  The only policy mentioned (twice) is that Labour will abolish the bedroom tax if elected.  The rest of the leaflet was filled with vague claims that he has been standing up for the voters of our constituency in Westminster (but no details as to how) and a list of local charities and causes that he has supported.  All in all, I've seen more information on a limp lettuce leaf.

The abolishing of the bedroom tax is laudable but is not going to play as well up here in Scotland as it will in other parts of the UK, as the Scottish government has been protecting Scots from the effects of it by putting aside money to pay for it.  But why is there no mention of any other policies in the leaflet?  It's not that Labour doesn't have a manifesto for 2015 - there's a copy of it in full technicolour on their website.

I think the answer lies in Jim Murphy's whirlwind of policy announcements in the last few weeks.  It was noticeable that all the matters that he pronounced upon were devolved matters that are dealt with with Holyrood.  It looks like Johann Lamont wounded Labour in Scotland deeply with her parting shot, and now they're in a position where they are trying to avoid the suggestion of being a mere branch office run by London like a person having a sneezing fit when the plague's in town.

Having to campaign on the UK Labour manifesto kind of gives the lie to Jim 'I've got complete autonomy' Murphy's position, so the Scottish candidates find themselves between a rock and a hard place.  The latest poll from Survation is not going to cheer them up any either, since it shows a slight increase in the SNP's lead over Labour as far as voting intentions are concerned.

I'm not sure that Labour in Scotland can get themselves out of the trap they're in, since they seem to be hamstrung whatever they do.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The dream will never die

Just had a copy of Alex Salmond's book delivered to my Kindle.  Will be interesting to see how it compares to the diaries of Messrs Torrance and Cochrane.  Review will be provided once I've read it.

Monday, 16 March 2015

And you can stick your lawnmower...

Today Ed Milliband announced that he is definitely not going to enter a coalition with the SNP, no way, no how, no sirree bob!  I'm sure the voters in England will be feeling a great sense of relief at this announcement.  The voters in Scotland?  Not so much, since most were aware that the SNP have repeatedly said that they will not enter a formal coalition with Labour, although other supportive arrangements might be on the table.  It's not as if the SNP have made any great secret of it after all.

It reminded me of the old joke about the man who wanted to borrow his neighbour's lawnmower, since his front garden was getting a bit overgrown.  As he walks down his path on his way to his neighbour's house he suddenly remembers that he borrowed his neighbour's hedge-trimmers a few months ago and has never returned them.  As he gets to his neighbour's gate he remembers that he also borrowed his neighbour's drill last month and it's still in the shed.  On the way up the path he then remembers that his neighbour also lent him a hammer last week and he hasn't returned that either.  As he approaches the front door he imagines what his neighbour will say when he asks to borrow the lawnmower, imagining that he'll probably be reproached about all the things he's borrowed and not returned.  He rings the doorbell, full of trepidation.  His neighbour opens the door and says 'Hi George, what can I do for you?'  And the man replies 'You can stick your lawnmower up your arse!'

That's Ed Milliband, that is.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Weakness is strength

Yesterday the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figure for last year were published.  They show a worse position than previous years, mainly due to the falling price of oil.  Scotland saw its revenues per head fall but, interestingly, the tax take rose, amounting to some £400 per head higher than elsewhere in the UK.  So, not the best of years for Scotland, but all countries expect to have good years and bad years. 

Needless to say, Unionists have been doing quite a bit of crowing about this, claiming it as definitive proof that Scotland could never survive as an independent country, since it clearly needs subsidies from the rest of the UK.  However, it doesn't seem to occur to them that this state of affairs has come about under the management of the Union, so is hardly a ringing endorsement.  Scotland is a country rich in natural resources and human capital, and any other country starting out with those advantages would be very, very happy.

And yet we also have the other side of the coin going on at the moment.  Over the last few days we have had quite a few articles threatening mayhem if Labour should do any sort of deal with the SNP after the election in order to get into power.  Yesterday at Prime Ministers Questions (PMQs) there was a particularly ill-tempered exchange between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, in which Mr Cameron challenged Mr Miliband to definitively rule out any sort of deal with the SNP, while Mr Miliband scorned Mr Cameron over his reluctance to take part in a head-to-head debate.

So, on the one hand we are incompetent, stupid, totally unsuited to run a country, but on the other we are to be feared if we return a large enough bloc of MPs with Scotland's interests first and foremost in their sights.  The barbarian horde at the gate almost.

So the question from the referendum remains.  If we are 'too wee, too poor, too stupid', why are the UK so desperate to hang on to us?  Surely it would be better for their bank balance to let us go.  The answer is, I think, twofold.  Firstly they need our natural resources and exports to prop up the economy.  Secondly, a successful independent Scotland on their doorstep would not play well with the electorate in the rUK.  If they saw a small, prosperous nation taking care of its people as the Scottish government does now, there would be questions asked about why it couldn't be the same in rUK, and that's a risk they are not prepared to take.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Book review

I've just finished reading 'Alex Salmond, My Part in his Downfall' by Alan Cochrane.  This takes the form Mr Cochrane's diary over the period of the referendum campaign, finishing pretty much after the referendum itself.

It's a much better read than David Torrance's effort.  Although I don't agree with many of them, Mr Cochrane is not short of an opinion or two and quite happy to share them, which makes for a far more entertaining read.  He's definitely a Unionist (with a capital U), but not a fan of any particular party, although he does spend some time wondering if he should become a Tory.  With regard to politicians, he either likes them or regards them with contempt, but it doesn't relate to which party they're a member of.  For example, he likes Nicola Sturgeon but doesn't think much of Ruth Davidson, despite the Tory leanings.

He reserves special venom for Alex Salmond (unsurprising, given the title of the book), but he never tells us why he loathes Mr Salmond so much.  One can only assume some terrible incident from the past, involving a snubbing perhaps.

The diary also gives you some insight into life chez Cochrane, and it's clear that he loves his family, both immediate and extended (in most cases).  He also often complains about being constantly broke, then in the next entry recounts a dinner at an expensive restaurant with his family or some political contact - might be a bit of a clue there, along with the fees for the private school frequently mentioned, one feels.

All-in-all an entertaining read which gives plenty of insight into the unseen side of the referendum campaign, including the gossip.  Definitely worth a read, even if you're a Yes supporter.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Breaking up

This weekend we have seen Ed Milliband up in Edinburgh, addressing a special conference of the Labour Party, more or less pleading with the Scots to vote for him.  Why?  Because he's a nice guy, because we shouldn't take any risks, because he will force politicians to take part in TV debates for our entertainment (you didn't think it was for our edification (haha) did you?).

I am irresistibly reminded of the opening scene from Spaced.

Meanwhile we have the fragrant David Hamilton, Labour MP and unreconstructed Scottish male.  In his speech at the special conference he attacked the SNP by way of criticising Nicola Sturgeon's hairstyle and height.  This was swiftly followed up on Twitter by plaudits from the more Neanderthal elements of his party.  Really boys?  Let's not bother engaging with the issues, the important thing
is that we criticise a woman's appearance for not confirming to our stereotypical notions.  Way to go on alienating the female vote there lads, and on eve of International Women's Day too.

As ever, Twitter's response was swift and funny.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Please, please (me)

Today Ed Miliband is making a speech to the special Labour in Scotland's party conference in Edinburgh.  In it he will say the following:
The Tories can wreak havoc in Scotland without winning a majority,
They can do it simply by being in government as the largest party. It would mean a Tory decade for Scotland: 10 years of David Cameron in Downing Street; 10 years of injustice; 10 years of unfairness; 10 years of attacking everything we hold dear in our country.
My, the recent Ashcroft poll really has got them wetting their knickers.  And what is their response?
'Vote SNP, get Tory.'  Nary a mention of policy, or reasons to vote Labour, just threats and misdirection.

The misdirection has been expertly debunked over at Wings over Scotland, who have demonstrated that the line about 'the biggest party gets to form the next government' is true if the Tories win a majority (in which case how Scotland votes is irrelevant) and not true if they don't.  The threat is kind of diluted by the fact that Labour endorse most of the Tories pro-austerity policies, so cuts are likely regardless of whether it's a red or blue government.

So, why isn't Mr Miliband's speech giving us a preview of their manifesto policies, thus giving us a reason to vote for them?  I think Johann Lamont's parting shot about Labour in Scotland simply being a branch office is at the root of this.  It's noticeable that the many policy initiatives that Jim Murphy has been spraying around can only be implemented by Holyrood, not Westminster.  More nurses?  Devolved to the Scottish parliament.  Drinking at football matches?  Devolved to the Scottish parliament.  Tuition fees?  Devolved to the Scottish parliament.

In other words, Mr Murphy is not permitted to set different policies for Labour in Scotland for a UK General Election.  This makes sense, as we are voting for the Westminster government.  However, Labour in Scotland want to avoid any appearance that they are given their orders from London, and Mr Miliband coming up to Edinburgh and announcing policy would give exactly that impression.  Thus they are reduced to bleating 'Vote SNP, get Tory'.  As a reason to vote for any party, that's a poor one.

Really Mr Miliband's speech appears to boil down to begging the Scots to vote for him so he can fulfil his lifetime ambition to be Prime Minister.  You can practically hear the tears as he sees his support melting away in Scotland and there seems to be nothing he can do about it. 

Friday, 6 March 2015

It's frothy man

Today there is a very amusing article in the Daily Mail by Max Hastings entitled 'The terrifying prospect of the Scots ruling England is now all too real'.  Apparently this is a nightmare scenario.  The article rapidly descends into frothing-at-the-mouth madness and is quite funny.  It does, however, also reveal a few things about the Establishment which are interesting.

It starts by outlining how the No vote won the referendum and how polls are showing a potential tsunami of SNP MPs following the coming election, thus possibly leading to some sort of arrangement where Labour and the SNP form a majority.  Mr Hastings says
If this sounds a nightmare scenario for the English people, and indeed for everybody with a head on their shoulders throughout the UK, it is the way events could turn out if the polls are right, and the two left-of-centre parties emerge dominant at Westminster.
Firstly Labour is a left-of-centre party?  Many people would say that Labour have not been left-wing since the advent of Tony Blair and his hingers-on.  I suppose from a Tory point-of-view they are more to the left than the Tories.  But we shall let that one pass. More interesting is this.  During the referendum campaign we were repeatedly love-bombed, told that we were part of one big happy family and that it would be tragic if that were broken up.  Scotland voted No and remained part of the happy family.  Except there seems to be a hidden addendum.  We are part of the family so long as we're not in charge and just do as we're told.  In our case that would be to vote for Labour as our civic duty to maintain the (nominal) two-party state.

Mr Hastings continues:
Alex Salmond, almost a broken man last September following his referendum defeat, now intends to take a Commons seat because he sees himself as power-broker in the new parliament.

It is hard to imagine that the SNP, which espouses policies to the left of Miliband, would help David Cameron to remain in Downing Street, even if the Tories win more seats than Labour.

We thus face the bleak prospect of five million Scots determining the fate of almost 60 million people in the rest of the UK
Why bleak?  Aren't we all equal in the UK since we voted to remain in it?  Ah, we were supposed to shut up and get back in our box.  Somehow we seem to have missed the memo.

Nicola Sturgeon would name her price for supporting Labour, which would include a dumper-truck of English taxpayers’ cash to fund the Scottish socialist dream
Ah yes, have to shoehorn in a 'subsidy junkie' reference - it's not an article on Scottish politics without it.
How on earth has it come about, in a few months, that the referendum which was supposed to silence debate about the UK’s constitution for a generation, today appears instead to have triggered an avalanche?
A string of factors, some blameworthy and others mere accidents of our times, have come together. It was, of course, a mistake for Cameron to agree to hold a Scottish independence referendum
Really?  They want to silence debate about the constitution?  Isn't that a revealing turn of phrase.   And they accuse the SNP of being Stalinists.
Throughout the western world, electorates are fragmenting, becoming harder to manage or predict as voters abandon lifetime loyalties to big parties, and instead cherry-pick policies and factions that look pretty on that night’s supper table.

Hundreds of millions of European voters reject governments that promise them balanced budgets, affordable welfare systems, the politics of prudence.
In other words, electorates are just voting fodder.  No need for thinking, just pick your tribe and stick with it.  We know best, don't worry your pretty little heads about a thing.
They cling instead to past entitlements and established privileges, heedless of new economic realities. This is what has happened in France and Greece — and could happen to Britain in May.
 And there's the cherry on top of the cake.  Nice bit of transference there regarding past entitlements and establishment privileges.

 The Establishment are shitting bricks, and I make no apology for the phrase.  They can see their cosy way of life, based on a nod and a wink and the old boys network crumbling, and the prospect absolutely terrifies them.  We're obviously doing something right.

Cat amongst the pigeons

Lord Ashcroft's second poll results were announced on Wednesday evening, and they have put the cat well and truly amongst the pigeons.  This time in Scotland his poll was of constituencies which were strongly No voting in the referendum, and included those of people like Mags Curran, Jim Murphy and the Alexanders (Dougie and Danny), and the results are extremely bad news if you're a Labour, Tory or LibDem MP in Scotland.  If his findings are replicated at the poll, the Scottish political map will be a sea of yellow.  Even Jim Murphy's seat is by no means guaranteed.

Total panic seems to have ensued.  There are several grassroots campaigns being launched to steer people into who to vote for keep the SNP out. Labour have resumed their usual in-fighting and back-stabbing over how to fight the election, specifically on where their scarce electoral resources should be deployed to try and shore up their vote.  Meanwhile all they seem to be doing in baaa-ing the 'Vote SNP, get Tory' slogan.  Can't see how that'll work.  After all, we see from the past the 'Vote Labour, get Tory' is frequently the outcome.

The tactical voting campaigns are, I think, a bad move.  Labour voters being told to vote Tory in order to keep the SNP out?  I can't see that it will sit well with people who vote according to family tribal loyalties.  It also puts Labour in a logical conundrum.  Surely if you tell your supporters to vote Tory, it negates your slogan of 'Vote SNP, get Tory'?.   If you're going to tell people to vote for a Tory MP, that will give the Tories an extra seat if enough people do it. Labour have been caught in a very neat trap, and they didn't see it coming.

The prospect of  a Grand Coalition between Labour and the Tories has been mooted again, this time by Gisela Stuart, Labour MP for Edgbaston.  For Labour that really would be the death knell, not only in Scotland but also in England and Wales.  It would prove that there really are very few differences between Labour and the Tories and that all that both parties are interested in is power.  That wouldn't really harm the Tories, since they have never pretended to be anything else, but Labour would be finished.

So, in Scotland the general election seems to be turning into a rerun of the referendum, with SSP and Scottish Greens being encouraged to lend their vote to the SNP at UK level, and the Better Together parties encouraging their supporters to vote for whoever has the best chance of beating the SNP.  It will be interesting to see whether Yes or No win out this time.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Nothing to fear

Yesterday in the Guardian there was another story about how the Scottish Government is about to invade all our privacy by setting up a centralised identity database, effectively bring in identity cards by the back door.  This is Severin Carrell's second go at turning this into a drama - you can read his first go here.

Essentially the story is this: The Scottish Government are looking at adding postcode information to the existing NHS database, which is generally regarded as the most reliable database which covers the Scottish population.  The proposal is then to use this database to allow people to access government services online.  The database will be used for identity verification.  So, if you want to use a service, a query will be sent to the NHS database which will send back a Yes/No answer.  The queston will be 'Does the information this person has supplied match the information that you have?'  The minimum possible data will be shared between organisations.

The database will also be used by HMRC (A UK organisation) to identify Scottish residents for the purposes of the devolved taxation proposed by the Smith Commission.

The Scottish Government are holding a consulation on the proposal, and the document outlining it is here.

I listened to Morning Call on BBC Scotland on this subject this morning.  I am amazed at the hysteria this has produced.  So, as a professional database programmer, here are some answers.

'Hackers could get in and see my medical records!'
If a hacker were to get into the database, it would be most likely by social engineering rather than by technical means.  Assuming that the database has been built on an enterprise level database, technical hacking would be very difficult.  Not only would they have to crack the database, they would also have to pass through the network unnoticed.  The odds of that happening are pretty low, unless they have gained access to compromised accounts.  As this database already exists, the risk will be no greater than it is now.

'Anyone from the long list of organisations could see my data!'
No, they could only see what they were allowed to see.  Just because data exists in a database, it doesn't mean that anyone with an account can see it.  I have previously set up a database with a special technology which means that even if you give the command 'show me all of the data on this topic', the database itself will restrict you to only the data you are allowed to see and there is no way round it.  In this case it  looks like most organisations will only be allowed to ask if the data they have from you matches the data in the database, and it will be a simple yes/no answer.  It won't tell you how the data is different.

'What's to stop someone who works from the council looking at my information even if they don't need it?'
Database access is generally audited, so the database administrators can see who has been accessing what data.  Also, databases can be restricted to show only some of the data to a particular database user.  Essentially, however, this problem exists now.  Adding a postcode to the NHS database isn't going to change that.

'The Scottish Government will be able to find out everything about me!'
Got a Tesco Clubcard or a Morrisons Match and More card?  Private companies know far more about you than the Scottish government will, and those companies can mine their data to make inferences about your life.  They will also sell that data on.  If you're not worried about Tesco or Morrisons knowing about you, why would you be worried about this?

As a database professional, this does not worry me.  I do think, however, that a consultation is necessary to make sure that everyone is aware of the uses to which the data will be put and what safeguards will be put in place.  That is the minimum we should expect in a democracy.