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.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Red Tories

Imagine the scene. It is November, 2020. England has Brexited and immigration controls are in place.

You are the boss of a small software company in Shropshire. Your latest computer game, Zombies on Mars, has gone viral and you urgently need to recruit games animators and developers. No-one in London seems to wants to work in Shropshire, so you plan to recruit people from Spain, Poland and Germany.

These people, post-Brexit, need a visa to work here.

You apply to the new Ministry of Work. They tell you that the 2020 quota for software engineers has now been filled and that you must reapply in January 2021 and 'join the queue.' 

You complain to your Member of Parliament. How can you grow your business if you cannot recruit these people? She replies that it is 'our Government's duty to ensure England's jobs go to English people.'

The Ministry of Work website says that there are still visa places available for;
  • Dog Groomers
  • Ball boys (tennis courts)
  • Polo pony Stable Assistants
  • Golf Caddie drivers
  • Beaters and Gun-porters for Hunting and Game Estates

If you enjoy golf, polo and shooting, you can employ anyone. But if you want to run a business, you are throttled by the Ministry.

The light starts to dawn. You now live in a planned economy in which a central government body is controlling the flow of the one resource that all businesses need - people. 

The Ministry of Work becomes increasingly powerful, for it dictates how the economy will function. Lobbyists work hard to persuade the Ministry to favour their industry, and senior civil servants are offered sexual services (provided by migrant sex workers) as part of a widening scandal of corruption.

As part of the government's Northern Powerhouse programme, the Ministry of Work announce that unemployed people 'who do not hold British passports' are to be moved to northern England where they will be employed in vast new factories to make golf balls and 12-bore cartridges. People refusing to move will have their benefits cut off, and if they continue to refuse will be moved by the police.

Amnesty International publishes photographs of the new 'factories' and reveals that they are surrounded by razor-wire. Amnesty compares the camps to the Gulags.

Welcome to the planned economy of Stalin's England. The Ministry of Work is now in control and she or he who runs it, runs the economy. As Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang pointed out in '23 Things they don't tell you about Capitalism', controlling the supply of labour controls the economy by controlling wages; 'Wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than by anything else.'  ['Thing 1', page 5]

This is, finally, the supreme irony. The Conservative Party is now the party of the planned economy, the party that tells you what you can do and where you can do it. The party that will be faced with a choice between visas for care workers and visas for stablehands...and will favour the horses over the nurses every time. These are the real Red Tories.

Back in Shropshire it only takes the boss a few minutes to work out that the best thing she can do is relocate her firm to Scotland. In newly-independent Scotland there is free movement of labour, and open access to the vast market of the EU.

This is the independence bonus, the huge boost to Scotland that will come when England Brexits and an independent Scotland Remains. Let's get there.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Ground Zero, Faslane

Now you know how it feels to live in uncertain times. The nervousness created by a shift in the established order. The worry of a new warlord in our nearest neighbour due west of Glasgow. The fear of the imposed, extreme, policies - the anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-migration policies of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump in the White House, with his finger on the nuclear button. The nuclear button that would fire Trident warheads from submarines based in Faslane - be clear, it is the US that controls 'our' bomb. Meaning that Faslane, and thus Scotland, would be obliterated in the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) retaliation.

We in Europe are not used to these levels of unease, of nerves.  We have allowed ourselves to get richer at the expense of the world's poor - both at home and abroad. We have felt comfortable with that wealth when, in fact, it was riches built on a false premise. Abandoning the masses whilst the few enrich themselves is fun (for the rich) for a while, but as Brexit and Trump have shown us,  eventually 20, 30 or 40 years later the poor get back their voice and either by vote, by revolt or by war overturn the established order.

Feel glad that in the UK and USA this revolt has come by vote; in too many other places - the Levant, north Africa - it has come with a bullet or a bomb.

Until now we have been the ones exporting the uncertainty, supplying arms to regimes around the world that use them to supress, to kill and to ensure fearful, compliant populations. 

Arms trade, Scotland, source

Now we're getting a spoonful (no more than a spoonful - our lives are still going to be comparatively comfortable) of that medicine back.

What can Scotland do? We're a wee country with no power, little influence and a lightweight (in comparison to the USA) economy.

There is much we can do.  Scotland can be a model for tolerance, decency, peace and the environment. We're already showing ourselves to be more international, and much more tolerant, than the voters of England. Scotland is building a sustainable, green future for itself, despite the hollowing out of the sustainable energy business by Westminster.

Now we need to take the next step. We must become a country of peace. A country that converts its arms manufactures - which still employ more than 12,000 people in Scotland - into factories for products that conserve energy, feed people or improve science.  We must, absolutely must, get rid of the weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde, handing them back to England so that she may store them in a more appropriate location, such as the Thames.

We can only reach that state of peace if we rid ourselves of Westminster. An independent Scotland can be a wee beacon for good, in a world that is Trumped.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Vote Right

Scotland is a tiny, poor, meaningless appendage on the edge of Britain, whose tenement-born population are condemned to Tory rule for the rest of their lifetimes.

That's the depressing picture this morning.

Westminster now has the most right-wing government in a generation. Amber Rudd and Jeremy Hunt have made racism OK.  The mainstream media, controlled by a handful of right-wing barons, will take up this theme and soon we will have lynchings in the streets. Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere, who between them control 60% of UK print media, will (ironically, in Murdoch's case) bang the no-foreigners drum.

As the excellent Dr Tanja Bueltmann has pointed out, they - the barons and the Tories - are shining their Tory-blue spotlights on 'foreigners' and 'immigrants' in order to distract our attention from the bigger issues.

The bigger issues are much, much more important than the bash-the-migrants distractions of the Tories. They are as big as the millions of refugees fleeing wars created, in part, by Westminster governments. As big as the poverty that affects 220,0000 children in Scotland, or that means poor Scots cannot warm their homes this winter. As big as climate change.

The people of Scotland did not vote for this right-wing mess. Scotland's view will be ignored while Westminster plunges into the Dark Ages of a 21st century Fortress Britain.