Friday, 17 March 2017

Perfect, Prime Minister

Scotland has the perfect Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister who has briefed her Ministers not to respond to the Scottish Government's detailed alternative proposals to keep Scotland's place in Europe. She and her government treat the Sewell Convention with the utter contempt it deserves.

The Prime Minister who, yesterday, said 'yes' to a referendum for Scotland, but managed to make it sound like a 'no.' What she actually said - as GA Ponsonby shows in this blog - was "now is not the time." She repeated the phrase five times in the interview with Robert Preston.

Theresa May was definitely not chanelling Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady would have said "No. Not Ever." By saying "now is not the time", Theresa has done two things. She has incensed half of Scotland - because how dare an unelected Westminster leader dictate how and when Scotland can have its moment of democracy? And she has left us all beleiving that, OK, not now, but definitely later; she has given us a yes to #ScotRef.

She has simultaneously achieved the seemingly impossible: to sound like an Imperial Master, and yet to accept Nicola Sturgeon's timetable. As David Allen Green, head of media law at Preiskel & Co LLP, pointed out in Tuesday's Financial Times,

"Nicola Sturgeon, and her Scottish National Party government seem to have done something quite remarkable. She has somehow created a check and balance from constitutional thin air....Scotland’s First Minister appears now to have real political power, and she is seeking to exercise it. She has done this by setting different parts of the current constitutional arrangements against each other." 

Theresa May has also, possibly, saved the Scottish fishing industry. Think about this from the Brussels standpoint. David Davis is about to enter negotiations with the EU. Various EU states would love to get their hands on Scottish fishing waters - the Netherlands and Spain amongst others. So it was, until this week, an ace that Davis could play in the negotiations. For example: 'give us passporting rights for the City of London, and we will stop claiming the entire North Sea as an Exclusive Economic Zone.' In other words, Davis would sell the fish to keep the City.

But now the sensible, tough Brussels negotiators can say to Davis; "it looks more and more likely that Scotland will become independent. Your Prime Minister has said that Scotland can have a referendum...even if 'now is not the time'. We expect to welcome Scotland back into the EU. So you, Monsieur Davis, cannot use Scotland's fish as a bargaining chip."

The movement toward independence for Scotland has a contrary ally in Theresa May. But this is where the irony ends. Because this is also Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party. Leader of the party that has left one million people in poverty in Scotland - poverty created by the Tories' focus on the rich, on the City and on the low-wage, low-tax, low-welfare Northern Singapore that they dream of, post-Brexit.

Now is not the time for the referendum that will free Scotland from the neoliberals at Westminster. But that time is nearly with us, and soon we will stand free.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Confidence Trick

Theresa May is a skilled politician. She knows how to win power, and to yield power.

She is confident that the Tories will win the next election, and the one after that. In those elections, Scotland is meaningless - its single Tory MP a toothless man in a beard. Labour too is meaningless, lost in its self-flagellation.

She enjoys power, so it is no surprise that, as she announced yesterday, she will be grabbing it back from the Scottish people and our Parliament. When power returns from Brussels it will stop in Westminster, where she can control it. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can go hang.

(In the process, she has also hung out Mr Mundell. He had clearly not been briefed about Theresa's speech to the Scottish Tories when, this week, he said that Scotland would have a more powerful parliament after Brexit).

Theresa knows that a week is a long time in politics. The two years since the Vow is an eternity, and anyway that was a Vow made by three men who are now, politically, dead. She is not, you may be sure, waking up at night to worry about devolution of power to Scotland.

Brexit has shone a laser light on the democratic deficit in Scotland. The Sewell convention is meaningless. The Vow was just a newspaper gimmick. And now, like it or not, Holyrood will be reduced to setting the price of parking tickets, and little else; less power than a Parish Council.

Time for Scotland to wake from the Tory nightmare, and win back its independence. Time for a new Referendum.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A House of Cardboard

Holyrood is a cardboard parliament. A single puff of wind from Westminster is enough to blow it over. Three stories evince its weakness:

Yesterday, Angus Robertson MP asked a key question: would decision making powers on agriculture and fisheries be returned to Scotland after Brexit? He said: "with Brexit ending the role of Brussels in these areas will all decisions about agriculture and fisheres be made at Holyrood, yes or no?"

Theresa May gave a humbug reply about discussions going on with the devolved administrations; not a yes and not a no.

Why is the SNP harrying poor Theresa about this? Because the Tories have stolen an EU phrase - the 'unified market' and stuck it onto the UK. Theresa tells us that Scotland will do much better if it is within the unified market of the UK than in the (much larger) EU. It's an odd way of twisting the facts, and as an argument was neatly dissected by Alastair MacIver in an article last November in the Herald

Dr MacIver argued that in order to create a 'unified' UK market there would have to be one unified authority that decided how our potatoes should be packaged or when our fish should be caught; it is exceedingly unlikely that the unified authority would be Holyrood. Westminster would of course retain these powers over agriculture, fisheries...and the regulation of everything else in the new low-tax-no-welfare Britain.

In January of this year, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Sewell convention "does not give rise to a legally enforceable obligation". In other words, the entire basis on which power is handed to Holyrood is not legally enforceable. Holyrood has no power; it is a house of cardboard. If Westminster were to decide to pursue another of its wars in the Middle East, or to plant weapons of mass destruction in Scotland, or to hammer the poor, then Holyrood is powerless to stop it. Forget the Vow, folks, you now live in a world in which your parliament might as well pack its bags and go home.

Time, past time, for Scotland to step away from its destructive neighbour, and build a parliament of rocks and steel, not cardboard.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Sneaking Out

Who do we really care about?

Family, friends, vulnerable people, children...?

Let's start with the children. The most vulnerable children. Kids without parents, living as refugees just across the 'hard border' that separates England from France.

Last year Lord Alf Dubs negotiated an agreement with the UK Government that would allow a number - he had pitched for 3,000 but this was diluted in the final version -  of lone children from the Calais refugee camps to be allowed into the UK.

It was a huge battle for a very small victory.

And then yesterday The Minister for Immigration, Robert Goodwell (Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby) shuffled out a written statement declaring that just 150 kids will be allowed into mighty Britain. The statement is designed to baffle with waffle. It is hard to spot just the numbers, but read paragraphs four and five carefully and you'll see the maths. 'We've let in 200, and we are going to let in 150 more.'

Mr Goodwell happened to release his statement on the same day that Westminster voted for the Tories' Hard-Dream Brexit. This is not an accident. He knew that no-one would notice.

This is sneaky politics. In other words, it's business as usual at Westminster.

It uses a technique known as a 'Shock Event.' Professor Heather Cox Richardson has written a clear guide over on Facebook. Brexit is a Shock Event. We are hypnotised by Brexit, we talk about it all the time, and we divide along traditional fault lines over Brexit, with racism or at least anti-immigrant sentiments being the guideline. While we are staring into the darkness of Brexit, the government pushes forward with its real agenda, led by the Minister Against Immigration, Robert Goodwell.

The sneaky Tories have abandoned hundreds of orphan refugees to their fate. One NGO says that it cannot trace one third of the 179 children it was tracking, and Save the Children Fund has reported in its blog that more lone kids are going missing as they hear the rumours about changes in the UK laws. There are 5,100 child refugees and asylum seekers detained in France, according to the well-researched data at the Global Detention Project.

What is to be done? Lobbying, pressure, writing to MPs, donating to the tiny volunteer-led NGOs that are working with child refugees in France. 

But finally the people of Scotland will have to decide. Do we want to be bound to this Parliament of sneaks and rogues, for ever more?

Finally, a selection of organisations you might like to help:

Save the Children Fund
Dunkirk Legal Support Team
Help Refugees
Refugee Youth Service
Calais Migrant Solidarity
Global Detention Project



Friday, 3 February 2017

Scotland, for £8 a week

The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood passed its budget yesterday. Thanks to the Scottish Greens, the SNP was able to make a coalition majority in favour.

To do so, the SNP agreed a Green Party amendment, meaning that the 360,000 people in Scotland who pay the highest income tax rate (40%), would pay £400 more per year than people on the same wage in England.

That's just under £8 a week.

£8 a week, to live in Scotland.

You'd pay that, wouldn't you?

The argument against this tiny tax-hike is that people with money will move away, taking their businesses with them.

Really? Is there any evidence of that?

In France, around the same number of tax payers (342,942) pay a much heavier tax, the ISF (Impôt Solidaire sur la Fortune). It's based on wealth, not income, and aims to tax the 1% wealthiest in the land. The rate is variable, depending on the amount of wealth you hold, but the average payment is just over €15,000. The French government earns €5.22 billion from this tax. Much more than the £29 million that the tiny shift in Scotland's taxation will raise.

Wealthy people in France don't leave the country because of this tax. In 2015 around 10,000 more people paid the ISF tax than the year before. French business is not collapsing. Entrepreneurs are not leaving the country in droves.


Er, because France is a good place to live. It's worth staying there because the food is better, the social services are better, the TGV (largely) runs on time and the sun never stops shining in Cannes.

Raising tax does not drive people out of the country, if the country is a good place to be.

So yes, as Scotland will show, people on higher incomes will stay in Scotland, pay the £8 a week and contribute a wee bit more to making Scotland a better, fairer, place to live.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Contempt of Parliament

Three stories last week illustrated the Westminster view of Britain.

In the Supreme Court the Westminster government made plain - for anyone who still had any doubt - that the entire farrago of the Scotland Act, the Vow and the Smith Commission was just an exercise in duplicity. The Sewell Convention was only "a political restriction upon Parliament's ability to act, no more and no less than that" and in no sense any "qualification or inhibition upon parliamentary sovereignty" - [Richard Keen QC Advocate General for Scotland (i.e. Westminster's point person on Scottish Law), with comment from The Lallands Peat Worrier].

This is a story of Westminster lies. Of economy with the truth. Of purposeful deception of the people of Scotland.

We were told we would get power to run our country, or at least to run some elements of our country...and now we are told that in any circumstance that the Westminster government deems not to be 'normal' we will lose that power.

Brexit is not 'normal'. Would a sudden economic collapse, or a war breaking out in the Baltic, or a 'terrorist threat' be 'normal'? The Westminster government and its Coalition predecessor sold us on a Vow, then on the Smith Commission, then on the Scotland Act.

All of it was just a load of make-believe.

Meanwhile, Twitter lit up with Theresa May's £995 leather breeks. A silly season story. But one that shows how Westminster leaders think. They think that it is OK to be photographed relaxing in ostentatious wealth. For the price of her trousers, Ms May could have fed 100 families at the Trussell Trust foodbanks, or provided a person in need with four months of Disability Living Allowance.

Ms May's trousers illustrate the gap between people and power. Ms May has no conception, no care, no interest in how a hungry person would view the self-indulgence of £995 trousers.

And then there was the data from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showing that there are 13.5m people in Britain living in poverty, of whom 960,000 live in Scotland. Almost a million people in Scotland living in poverty, with more than half of them in working poverty. Working hard, but on incomes so low that the family lives in poverty. The proportion of people - one in five - who live in poverty has not shifted in the last ten years.

Looking down from the Elizabeth Tower at Westminster, our Imperial Masters fail to see all of this. For them, the poor, the families surviving on foodbank hand-outs, and anything north of Hadrian's Wall are of no interest.

Scotland is too wee, too poor to receive anything other than the contempt of Parliament.

It does not have to be this way. 

We could have our own Parliament, led by a government we can believe in, by politicians with an ounce of empathy alongside the blather. We could have an independent Scottish Parliament, built on social inclusion, social justice and as much honesty and empathy as we can hope for, from politicians.

We could be independent.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Top Down

Dear Elites

You got us into this bloody mess. Now fix it.

It was you, the comfortably wealthy, the private-school educated, the home-owners with the Volvo for the weekend cottage, the beneficiaries of Westminster's obsession with The City and finance. You who supported the neoliberal politics that first Margaret Thatcher and then all of the main political parties espoused. You who decided that 'immigration' was suddenly a big enough issue to vote Leave. You, who read the Daily Mail or the Telegraph,  who watched the hypnosis of Sky, your news intake controlled by Nondoms and aristocrats. You, whose brothers across the pond voted for the right-wing hawk who will Trump us all.

And now you can't step back from your cliff-edge. You have created a monster that is bigger than all of us, the fear-monster of foreigners at the picket-gate. So you add to your neoliberal austerity a regime of migrant control and visas. Government cuts, and, by the way, no visas for the Polish plumber or the French lorry driver or the Catalan software engineer, so your economy is under a double yoke with no real government spending, and no way for businesses to expand and grow.

I'm talking to you, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. And all your cronies in the UKIP-Tories.

But hang on, old chap. 

I too went to a private school. I own two cars. I live in a nice house in the country. I have a (fairly) regular wage, food on the table, a comfortable job. I use social media owned by tax-dodging multinationals (yes, this blog is on a site owned by Google...) I, in an earlier life, voted for Tony Blair thinking that he could bring fairness to Britain.

I am part of the elite. I am part of the problem.

I, we, made the mess we are in. All of us in the comfortable classes, the blog-reading classes, the 'Just About Managing' JAMS...we got it wrong. We did not stand up and shout when we were favoured with lower taxes, even though we knew, if we had given the maths a moment's thought, that less tax meant less help for the poor. We did not protest loud enough, or in big enough numbers, when Westminster took us into its stupid wars in Libya and the Levant. We thought it broadly OK that the government of the day should privatise services previously thought essential - rail, water, telecoms, health, transport.

We have built the monster that is neoliberal, racist, Brexit Britain. We must slay it.

How? By changing us, first. By recognising that people in poverty are more important than a penny off income tax. By realising that our private schools are the nurseries of a permanent elite, and thus that we must close them or convert them into truly 'public' schools. By not buying that extra bottle of chilled Prosecco and giving the money to a foodbank instead. By reading more, and more widely, than the madness of the Daily Mail or the bias of the BBC.

And then by changing  our government. Scotland has shown that it can be done, kicking out the Red and Redder Tories and replacing them with politicians who don't get it all right all of the time, but at least move the ship of the Scottish state in the right direction.

Changing the government of England is very hard to imagine in our lifetime. And while that government is led by the elites of England it is not going to let the rabble of Scotland build the society that the people of Scotland want.

Dear elites, there are two clear conclusions. The elites of Scotland - me, you - must stand alongside the poor and fight for a socially just, international, welcoming Scotland. We must stand up for an independent Scotland, free to build the society its people want. A society built by all, for all - not just for us in the elite.

The elites of England will have to decide for themselves whether they want more Prosecco or less poverty. I hope, for their sake, that they wake up and vote for the latter.