Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Defence and foreign affairs. But what about the other two?


Remember what we were promised: the modern equivalent of Home Rule, as close to federalism as is possible consistent with being in the UK. "Let's call it devo-max". The maximum possible devolution.

So. We shouldn't really be expecting the Smith Commission to list powers that are to be devolved. That would be an insanely ponderous way to proceed. It will simply give us the (much smaller) list of the powers to be retained, presumably.

It'll be quite exciting. Things like broadcasting, welfare, corporation tax, income tax, vat, national insurance, alcohol tobacco and fuel duties, climate change levy, insurance premium tax, vehicle excise duty, inheritance tax, capital gains tax, tax on oil receipts, immigration, consumer protection, regulation of the professions, financial services, regulation and funding of political parties, public borrowing and lending, anti-money laundering regulation, control of drugs, data protection, regulation of elections, regulation of firearms, entertainment and film classification, betting gaming and lotteries, freedom of information, lieutenancies, provision for business insolvency, competition, intellectual property, import and export control, sea fishing, product standards and safety, weights and measures, telecommunications and wireless telegraphy, posts, research councils, assisted areas, electricity, oil and gas, coal, nuclear energy, energy conservation, road transport, rail transport, marine transport, air transport, social security, child support, occupational and personal pensions, war pensions, employment and industrial relations, health and safety, job search and support, abortion, xenotransplantation, medicines medical supplies and poisons, public lending right, government indemnity schemes, judicial remuneration, equal opportunities, control of weapons and timescales and time zones are amongst the currently reserved matters which will most obviously be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood. No-one could claim doing otherwise would be "impossible". They are clearly within the competence of a parliament in control of all affairs within its territory: "home rule". Equally, we have to accept, defence and foreign affairs will remain reserved.

No. The two exciting ones, the only ones about which there is any real doubt, are ordnance survey and outer space. Only two but what a dilemma! Which way will the Smith Commission jump? It must have been a fascinating tussle back and forward between the two sides. What a debate there must have been. I think we'll get outer space (counterintuitive, but it's about launching into it from here, not owning it) but they'll keep ordnance survey.

Anyway. Only one more sleep till we know.





*Source: Scotland Act 1998, Schedule 5 for the list of "reserved matters":

The Constitution
  • the Crown, including succession to the Crown and a regency, the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the continued existence of the High Court of Justiciary as a criminal court of first instance and of appeal, the continued existence of the Court of Session as a civil court of first instance and of appeal, the hereditary revenues of the Crown, other than revenues from bona vacantia, ultimus haeres and treasure trove, the royal arms and standard, the compulsory acquisition of property held or used by a Minister of the Crown or government department,
Political parties
  • the registration and funding of political parties.
Foreign affairs etc.
  • international relations, including relations with territories outside the United Kingdom, the European Union (and their institutions) and other international organisations, regulation of international trade, and international development assistance and co-operation.
Public Service
  • The Civil Service.
Defence
  • the defence of the realm, the naval, military or air forces of the Crown, including reserve forces, visiting forces, international headquarters and defence organisations, trading with the enemy and enemy property.
Treason
  • treason felony and misprision of treason.
Financial and Economic Matters:
  • fiscal, economic and monetary policy (including the issue and circulation of money, taxes and excise duties, government borrowing and lending, control over United Kingdom public expenditure, the exchange rate and the Bank of England);
  • currency (coinage, legal tender and bank notes);
  • financial services (including investment business, banking and deposit-taking, collective investment schemes and insurance);
  • financial markets (including listing and public offers of securities and investments, transfer of securities and insider dealing);
  • money laundering (the subject-matter of the Money Laundering Regulations 1993, but in relation to any type of business).
Home Affairs:
  • misuse of drugs (the subject-matter of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, sections 12 to 14 of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 (substances useful for manufacture of controlled drugs), and Part V of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 (drug trafficking) and, so far as relating to drug trafficking, the Proceeds of Crime (Scotland) Act 1995);
  • data protection (the subject-matter of the Data Protection Act 1998, and Council Directive 95/46/EC (protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data);
  • elections (elections for membership of the House of Commons, the European Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, including the subject-matter of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002, the Representation of the People Act 1983 and the Representation of the People Act 1985, and the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, the franchise at local government elections);
  • firearms (the subject-matter of the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1997);
  • entertainment (the subject-matter of the Video Recordings Act 1984, and sections 1 to 3 and 5 to 16 of the Cinemas Act 1985 (control of exhibitions), the classification of films for public exhibition by reference to their suitability for viewing by persons generally or above a particular age, with or without any advice as to the desirability of parental guidance);
  • immigration and nationality (nationality, immigration, including asylum and the status and capacity of persons in the United Kingdom who are not British citizens, free movement of persons within the European Economic Area; issue of travel documents);
  • scientific procedures on live animals (the subject-matter of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986);
  • national security (including interception of communications, official secrets and terrorism (the interception of communications; the subject-matter of the Official Secrets Acts 1911 and 1920, and the Official Secrets Act 1989, except so far as relating to any information, document or other article protected against disclosure by section 4(2) (crime) and not by any other provision of sections 1 to 4, special powers, and other special provisions, for dealing with terrorism);
  • betting, gaming and lotteries;
  • emergency powers;
  • extradition;
  • lieutenancies (the subject-matter of the Lieutenancies Act 1997);
  • access to information (public access to information held by public bodies or holders of public offices (including government departments and persons acting on behalf of the Crown)).
Trade and Industry
  • business associations (the creation, operation, regulation and dissolution of types of business association);
  • insolvency (in relation to business associations, the modes of, the grounds for and the general legal effect of winding up, and the persons who may initiate winding up, liability to contribute to assets on winding up, powers of courts in relation to proceedings for winding up, other than the power to sist proceedings, arrangements with creditors, and procedures giving protection from creditors, preferred or preferential debts for the purposes of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985, the Insolvency Act 1986, and any other enactment relating to the sequestration of the estate of any person or to the winding up of business associations, the preference of such debts against other such debts and the extent of their preference over other types of debt, regulation of insolvency practitioners, co-operation of insolvency courts);
  • competition (regulation of anti-competitive practices and agreements; abuse of dominant position; monopolies and mergers);
  • intellectual property (including copyright, design right, trade marks, patents);
  • import and export control (the subject-matter of the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939, prohibition and regulation of the import and export of endangered species of animals and plants);
  • sea fishing (regulation of sea fishing outside the Scottish zone (except in relation to Scottish fishing boats));
  • consumer protection (regulation of the sale and supply of goods and services to consumers, guarantees in relation to such goods and services, hire-purchase, including the subject-matter of Part III of the Hire-Purchase Act 1964, trade descriptions, except in relation to food, misleading and comparative advertising, except regulation specifically in relation to food, tobacco and tobacco products, price indications, trading stamps, auctions and mock auctions of goods and services, and hallmarking and gun barrel proofing. Safety of, and liability for, services supplied to consumers, the subject-matter of the Hearing Aid Council Act 1968, the Unsolicited Goods and Services Acts 1971 and 1975, Parts I to III and XI of the Fair Trading Act 1973, the Consumer Credit Act 1974, the Estate Agents Act 1979, the Timeshare Act 1992, the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992, and the Commercial Agents (Council Directive) Regulations 1993);
  • product standards, safety and liability (technical standards and requirements in relation to products in pursuance of an obligation under [F16EU] law, the national accreditation body and the accreditation of bodies which certify or assess conformity to technical standards in relation to products or environmental management systems, product safety and liability, product labelling);
  • weights and measures (units and standards of weight and measurement, regulation of trade so far as involving weighing, measuring and quantities);
  • telecommunications and wireless telegraphy (including internet services, electronic encryption, the subject-matter of Part II of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 (electromagnetic disturbance));
  • posts (the subject matter of the Postal Services Act 2000);
  • Research Councils (Research Councils within the meaning of the Science and Technology Act 1965, the subject-matter of section 5 of that Act (funding of scientific research) so far as relating to Research Councils, The Arts and Humanities Research Council within the meaning of Part 1 of the Higher Education Act 2004, the subject-matter of section 10 of that Act (research in arts and humanities) so far as relating to that Council);
  • designation of assisted areas (the subject-matter of section 1 of the Industrial Development Act 1982);
  • Industrial Development Advisory Board;
  • protection of trading and economic interests (the subject-matter of section 2 of the Emergency Laws (Re-enactments and Repeals) Act 1964 (Treasury power in relation to action damaging to economic position of United Kingdom, Part II of the Industry Act 1975 (powers in relation to transfer of control of important manufacturing undertakings), and the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980).
Energy
  • electricity (the generation, transmission, distribution and supply of electricity, the subject-matter of Part II of the Electricity Act 1989);
  • oil and gas (including the ownership of, exploration for and exploitation of deposits of oil and natural gas, the subject-matter of section 1 of the Mineral Exploration and Investment Grants Act 1972 (contributions in connection with mineral exploration) so far as relating to exploration for oil and gas, offshore installations and pipelines, the subject-matter of the Pipe-lines Act 1962 (including section 5 (deemed planning permission)) so far as relating to pipelines within the meaning of section 65 of that Act, the application of Scots law and the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts in relation to offshore activities, pollution relating to oil and gas exploration and exploitation, but only outside controlled waters (within the meaning of section 30A(1) of the Control of Pollution Act 1974), the subject-matter of Part II of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 so far as relating to oil and gas exploration and exploitation, but only in relation to activities outside such controlled waters, restrictions on navigation, fishing and other activities in connection with offshore activities, liquefaction of natural gas, and the conveyance, shipping and supply of gas through pipes);
  • coal (including its ownership and exploitation, deep and opencast coal mining and coal mining subsidence);
  • nuclear energy (nuclear energy and nuclear installations, including nuclear safety, security and safeguards, and liability for nuclear occurrences);
  • energy conservation (the subject-matter of the Energy Act 1976, other than section 9).
Transport
  • road transport (the subject-matter of the Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Act 1952, the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 and the Transport Act 1985, so far as relating to public service vehicle operator licensing, section 17 (traffic regulation on special roads), section 25 (pedestrian crossings), Part V (traffic signs) and Part VI (speed limits) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995, and the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995, regulation of proper hours or periods of work by persons engaged in the carriage of passengers or goods by road, the conditions under which international road transport services for passengers or goods may be undertaken, regulation of the instruction of drivers of motor vehicles);
  • rail transport (the provision and regulation of railway services, excluding the promotion and construction of railways which start, end and remain in Scotland, rail transport security, the subject-matter of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, the subject-matter of the Railway Heritage Act 1996);
  • marine transport (the subject-matter of the Coastguard Act 1925, the Hovercraft Act 1968, except so far as relating to the regulation of noise and vibration caused by hovercraft, the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1971, section 2 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 (prohibition on approaching dangerous wrecks), the Merchant Shipping (Liner Conferences) Act 1982, the Dangerous Vessels Act 1985, the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, other than Part I (aviation security), the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992, the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, the Shipping and Trading Interests (Protection) Act 1995, and sections 24 (implementation of international agreements relating to protection of wrecks), 26 (piracy) and 27 and 28 (international bodies concerned with maritime matters) of the Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Act 1997, navigational rights and freedoms, financial assistance for shipping services which start or finish or both outside Scotland);
  • air transport (the regulation of aviation and air transport, including the subject-matter of the Carriage by Air Act 1961, the Carriage by Air (Supplementary Provisions) Act 1962, the Carriage by Air and Road Act 1979 so far as relating to carriage by air, the Civil Aviation Act 1982, the Aviation Security Act 1982, the Airports Act 1986, and sections 1 (endangering safety at aerodromes) and 48 (powers in relation to certain aircraft) of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, and arrangements to compensate or repatriate passengers in the event of an air transport operator’s insolvency);
  • other matters (the transport of radioactive material. technical specifications for public passenger transport for disabled persons, including the subject-matter of section 125(7) and (8) of the Transport Act 1985 (Secretary of State’s guidance and consultation with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee), and Part V of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (public transport), regulation of the carriage of dangerous goods);
Social Security
  • social security schemes (schemes supported from central or local funds which provide assistance for social security purposes to or in respect of individuals by way of benefits requiring persons to establish and administer schemes providing assistance for social security purposes to or in respect of individuals, or make payments to or in respect of such schemes, and to keep records and supply information in connection with such schemes, the circumstances in which a person is liable to maintain himself or another for the purposes of the enactments relating to social security and the Child Support Acts 1991 and 1995, the subject-matter of the Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme, National Insurance, Social Fund, administration and funding of housing benefit and council tax benefit, recovery of benefits for accident, injury or disease from persons paying damages, deductions from benefits for the purpose of meeting an individual’s debts, sharing information between government departments for the purposes of the enactments relating to social security, making decisions for the purposes of schemes mentioned in the reservation and appeals against such decisions);
  • child support (the subject-matter of the Child Support Acts 1991 and 1995);
  • occupational and personal pensions (the regulation of occupational pension schemes and personal pension schemes, including the obligations of the trustees or managers of such schemes, provision about pensions payable in relation to a Scottish public authority with mixed functions or no reserved functions, or persons who are or have been a member of the public body, the holder of the public office, or a member of the staff of the body, holder or office, the subject-matter of the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971, where pension payable to or in respect of any class of persons under a public service pension scheme is covered by this reservation, so is making provision in their case for compensation for loss of office or employment, for their office or employment being affected by constitutional changes, or circumstances arising from such changes, in any territory or territories or for loss or diminution of emoluments, or for benefits in respect of death or incapacity resulting from injury or disease);
  • war pensions (schemes for the payment of pensions for or in respect of persons who have a disablement or have died in consequence of service as members of the armed forces of the Crown, the subject-matter of any scheme under the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act 1939, sections 3 to 5 and 7 of the Pensions (Navy, Army, Air Force and Mercantile Marine) Act 1939 or section 1 of the Polish Resettlement Act 1947, the provision of pensions under the Naval, Military and Air Forces Etc. (Disablement and Death) Service Pensions Order 1983.
Regulation of the Professions
  • architects (regulation of the profession of architect);
  • health professions (regulation of the health professions governed by the Pharmacy Act 1954, the Professions Supplementary to Medicine Act 1960, the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, the Medical Act 1983, the Dentists Act 1984, the Opticians Act 1989, the Osteopaths Act 1993, the Chiropractors Act 1994, and the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1997);
  • auditors (regulation of the profession of auditor).
Employment
  • employment and industrial relations (employment rights and duties and industrial relations, including the subject-matter of the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969, the Employment Agencies Act 1973, the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, the Employment Tribunals Act 1996], the Employment Rights Act 1996, and the National Minimum Wage Act 1998);
  • health and safety (the subject-matter of Part I of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the Health and Safety Commission, the Health and Safety Executive and the Employment Medical Advisory Service);
  • job search and support (the subject-matter of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944, and the Employment and Training Act 1973, except so far as relating to training for employment).
Health and Medicines
  • abortion;
  • xenotransplantation;
  • embryology, surrogacy and genetics (surrogacy arrangements, within the meaning of the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985, including the subject-matter of that Act, the subject-matter of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, human genetics);
  • medicines, medical supplies and poisons (the subject-matter of the Medicines Act 1968, the Marketing Authorisations for Veterinary Medicinal Products Regulations 1994 and the Medicines for Human Use (Marketing Authorisations Etc.) Regulations 1994, the Poisons Act 1972, and the Biological Standards Act 1975, regulation of prices charged for medical supplies or medicinal products which (in either case) are supplied for the purposes of the health service established under section 1 of the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978);
  • welfare foods (schemes made by regulations under section 13 of the Social Security Act 1988 (schemes for distribution of welfare foods).
Media and Culture
  • broadcasting (the subject-matter of the Broadcasting Act 1990 and the Broadcasting Act 1996, the British Broadcasting Corporation);
  • public lending right (the subject-matter of the Public Lending Right Act 1979);
  • Government Indemnity Scheme (the subject-matter of sections 16 and 16A of the National Heritage Act 1980 (public indemnities for objects on loan to museums, art galleries, etc.));
  • property accepted in satisfaction of tax (the subject-matter of sections 8 and 9 of the National Heritage Act 1980 (payments to Inland Revenue in respect of property accepted in satisfaction of tax, and disposal of such property).
Miscellaneous
  • judicial remuneration (determination of the remuneration of judges of the Court of Session, sheriffs principal and sheriffs, members of the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, and the Chairman of the Scottish Land Court);
  • equal opportunities (including the subject-matter of the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995);
  • control of weapons (control of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction);
  • ordnance survey (the subject-matter of the Ordnance Survey Act 1841);
  • time (timescales, time zones and the subject-matter of the Summer Time Act 1972, the calendar; units of time; the date of Easter);
  • outer space (regulation of activities in outer space).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Haud me back

"Scottish" Labour's "submission" to the Smith Commission can be read here.
"It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for a derogation to allow a lower rate of fuel duty to be charged in remote rural areas of the Highlands and Islands - but only there and only in principle, mind - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself".
For what more could we possibly ask? For what more could anyone reasonably hope?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

At last, a timetable

To be fair, it's just brilliant finally to get a guaranteed timetable for the delivery of Scottish Home Rule and an undertaking from those who have solemnly promised to deliver it that they will do so and that they won't let the grass grow under their feet.

Deliver. Grass won't grow under our feet. Finally. Just brilliant.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It seems we're all agreed



So, as highlighted in the last post, we have been promised "home rule", "nothing less". Home rule/devo max means that we have control of all our affairs bar our currency, defence and foreign relations. And just as I accept we lost the referendum, I expect the No side to honour that commitment.

And on reflection, why on earth would they not? I have reminded myself of the "arguments" made against independence over these last two years. I don't think I've missed anything major out:

  • Won't be able to use the pound
  • Hate Alex Salmond
  • Will be kicked out the EU
  • Will have to use the Euro
  • Won't get into NATO
  • Not proper independence
  • Proud Scot, proud Brit
  • More liable to attack from international terrorists
  • More liable to attack from outer space
  • Won't get the BBC
  • Guards and snarling Alsatian dogs at Gretna
  • Complex warships only ever built in Britain
  • Jobs will go at Faslane
  • Food will be dearer
  • Eddie Izzard etc love us
  • Will have to drive on the right

Of all those "arguments" against independence - of every last, blessed one of them - there's only one that could possibly apply to honouring the commitment to home rule. And as I've said, ad nauseam now, I accept we lost. So I'll accept too the fact that what we'll be getting, for now at any rate, is not "proper independence".

So. We're all agreed then?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Over to you, No voters



My side lost the referendum. I was at the count. It was entirely, and quite upliftingly, fair. Anyone saying otherwise is wrong. The "Shock and Awe" campaign may have been (was) untruthful, bullying, and unfair. The actual vote was, however, entirely fair. And, to repeat, we lost. Not by a huge amount. But we lost and that's enough.

So. It's over to you now, No voters. It's over to you to hold your representatives to account. One reason for the disasters that befell us after 1979 was, I understand from talking to those who remember, that everyone got fed up. We were tired. We just sat back and waited to see what was done to us. Anyone pointing out that we'd been promised an alternative offering in the event of a No vote (or a not high enough Yes vote) was told by opponents of any change to "move on" and embarrassed into a weary and sullen silence as what was done was done. It could happen again. We'll be told to accept defeat and accept what they choose to do to us, as if the two things are one and the same. Move on. Stop going on. Forget it. Let us take care of it now. That is just what the current opponents of any change want us to do. But we'll regret it if we do. We mustn't. You mustn't.


Gordon Brown's promise in relation to "substantial" "new" "powers", the one that the BBC led with for days just before the vote, the one that I know swung many voters behind No, just as intended, was very, very explicit: "nothing less than a modern form of Scottish home rule" ("Scottish independence: Brown’s home rule timetable" , "Brown takes charge as Cameron backs his plan for Scottish Home Rule" , "Scottish independence: Gordon Brown pledges new Home Rule Bill" , "Gordon Brown unveils cross-party deal on Scottish powers" , "Scotland: Gordon Brown could be the winner in the event of a no vote" ).

As I am perfectly entitled to do, I will continue to try to persuade people that we need independence but entirely accept the outcome of the referendum. I lost. So, until we all decide otherwise, Home Rule it is.

The current buzz synonym for home rule is "devo max". Home rule/devo max means that the Scottish parliament is entrusted with responsibility over all our internal, or home, affairs, leaving the UK government with the rest. This is the unionist view (with which I disagree but, as I say, I lost) of the "best of both worlds". So, the "devo max" proposals promised would leave the UK government in charge of:
* monetary policy and the pound.
* defence
* foreign affairs and relations

The Scottish government would be in charge of its current areas of responsibility plus income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax, Crown Estates, excise duty, energy, broadcasting and so on. We were promised "nothing less".

As I say, then, over to you No voters of goodwill. We'll need your help. I'm tired.
 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A friend wrote to me this morning.

A friend sent me an email this morning. Can't remember when I last got such a thoughtful and cheering message. I don't know if the polling companies think they're picking this kind of thing up. I doubt they are.

    "Morning David

    Thought I should let you know that as Karen and I will be on a flight to Paris (TL long fun with a dash of strategy meeting weekend away) on Thursday morning ........  we won't be able to vote........

    [David picks himself off the floor after swearing at the screen....]

    In person.

    But have signed our postal ballots and both stuck a cross in "yes".

    Both remain nervous about it.  But willing to keep our fingers crossed and hope we, as in Scotland, can work it all out and make it a success.

    I wanted to let you know that if it hadn't been for your intervention and us looking at material via some of the links you sent us then I reckon we'd both have stuck to our risk averse roots and voted no.  So, as I know you are genuinely passionate about this, I wanted you to know that you are personally responsible for our two yes votes.

    Exciting times.  You'll be pulling an all-nighter on Thursday I expect.

    Cheers

    Mark"

(Names changed. Otherwise, as written).


We are, all of us, rising to the occasion in a wonderful, inspiring fashion and the world is watching as we do so.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The limits of power


[Scene: the court of King Henry VIII of England. Enter a messenger]

Messenger [bows]: Your Majesty.
The King: Good messenger. What news bring you of the "substantial" "extra" "powers", promised me by my loyal noble lords and barons of counsel?
Messenger: Good and exciting news, majesty.
The King: Good. Speak.
Messenger: Majesty. Your loyal noble lords and barons of counsel, having deliberated long and carefully, propose the following. That your majesty establishes (at his expense - they wanted me to make that bit clear) a new arm of his exchequer. That arm shall be tasked with collecting exactly the same amount of tax currently paid by your majesty's subjects (no more money at all - they wanted me to be very clear about that too)...
The King: But what's the point of...
Messenger: Hang on. Collecting exactly the same amount of tax currently paid by your majesty's subjects in a new and exciting way.
The King: "New and exciting"? How so?
Messenger: It shall be a more "transparent" way, majesty. 
[Pause]
The King: What?
Messenger [nervously]: Emm...transparent. I think it was something to do with that. Yes. I'm sure. Yes. I remember now. "Too much power over how the money is spent and not enough transparency and accountability over how it is raised".
[Pause]
The King: "Accountability"?
Messenger: Yes.
[Pause]
The King: Can I just have a moment?
[Pause]
The King [slowly, carefully, with cold menace]: In what sense is "accountability" a "power"? Is it not, in fact, a limitation on power?
[Pause]
Messenger: Emm...
[Pause]
Omnes: To the stake! Burn him!
Messenger [as he is carried out by the mob]: No! Hang on! There was something about air guns* too!

[End]

*Some later texts read "road signs". Scholarly opinion is divided.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reaping the whirwind

The tweet from Louise Mensch is in itself instructive of course. But it just reflects the view that we already know is widely held across England: we are ungrateful whingers who are over-subsidised by the rest of the UK. That's not an accurate understanding of the economic reality but as I've said before I don't blame the voters in the rest of the UK for believing it when no-one tells them otherwise (apart from honourable exceptions like, bizarrely, Richard Madeley).

What's important is how that view will inform the reactions of English MPs, if there's a No vote, when they are called upon to give us the "extra" "powers" we've been offered by Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson. Will Labour, Tory, UKIP candidates, fighting over seats in a close election campaign, feel that it's only fair to honour that pledge? That their hands are tied? In the face of a vengeful electorate? Will they hell as like. They will cleary, obviously, without doubt, listen to the howls from their constituents and tell us, in unambiguous terms, that we must be joking and that, if we are not, we can bugger off.

The only surprising thing for me is that Better Together didn't see all this for themselves. Well, mystery solved. They do. They just don't care.





Thursday, September 4, 2014

The British get-out

We all have to remember that this is the level of sophistry we are up against. It's like something out of Yes Minister.

The British government absolutely, resolutely, unequivocally stands by its claims that it has made no contingency plans, whatever, for even the possibility of a Yes vote. A bizarrely reckless approach you might think, as the value of sterling plunges and the markets round on the Treasury following simply a single, relatively good-for-Yes opinion poll. A claim that stretches credulity you might think. Yet that's what they say. They wouldn't lie would they? They must have no plans.

Ah! But cue Sir Humphrey:

"There are plans and plans. We may have made contingency plans about contingency plans", explains Sir Nicholas Macpherson.

You may remember Sir Nicholas. He's the Treasury official, and friend of Alistair Darling's, who said he couldn't recommend to any British government that it enter into a currency union with an independent Scotland.

I think I can now see how this will go. On 19 September, Sir Nicholas will explain to the hastily assembled press conference that although he stands by his claim that he can't recommend a currency union, he of course sees that a union of currency is vital.


Though while we may very well think that, and for the moment at least, Sir Nicholas couldn't possibly comment.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Our currency options in a nutshell


"The Treasury case against a post-independence currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK has been dismantled as 'misleading', 'unsubstantiated' and 'the reverse of the truth' by one of the world's leading economists. Professor Leslie Young, of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, accused the UK Government of relying on a 'lurid collage of fact, conjecture and fantasy' in making its argument." (The Herald, 23 March 2014)

In the video above, Crawfurd Beveridge explains, in three minutes and 36 seconds, patiently, succinctly and in a straightforward way (if I can understand it, you will) why the Nobel prize winning economists and others on the Scottish Government's Fiscal Commission Working Group came to the conclusions they did about an independent Scotland's currency and about why, after a Yes vote and whatever they say now, the British government will agree to a currency union.

He explains that the Fiscal Commission group comprises "four very eminent economists, two Nobel prize winners". They thought that there were in fact "lots of options" for Scotland: "You could have your own currency. You could have a currency that's pegged. You could make it free-float. You could go and join the euro. You could do sterlingisation. They're all very, very serious options." The Fiscal Commission experts "analysed them every which way from Sunday" (I believe he must have spent some time in the US) not just from the point of view of Scotland but of the rest of the UK as well. The "overwhelming conclusion" was that, in the interests of both sides, there ought to be a currency union. But didn't George Osborne say there couldn't be?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Is this referendum different?

"The Numbers Game: Politics & Polling in the Independence Referendum."

Here's an excellent film on the use of opinion polling in the referendum campaign. It features James Kelly of the Scotland Goes Pop site which provides by far the best, most informed and most up to date comment on the polls and polling evidence.

One of the intriguing aspects to the referendum campaign has been the wide variance in the results reported by the different polling companies: Panelbase, Survation and ICM reporting very different results to the outlying YouGov (though even YouGov recently reported a big swing to Yes). But there's also a further, specific oddity that I've seen some are beginning to comment on. 


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Green Yes


The Scottish Government has published a document setting out five "key gains" that independence would bring for the environmental movement. (There's more detail later but in summary):
  1. We can place the environment at the heart of a written constitution
  2. We can have a nuclear free Scotland
  3. We will have access to the support and funding we need to protect and enhance our natural environment
  4. We will be represented in the EU and have the opportunity to drive the agenda
  5. We will have a stronger voice on the global stage
Better Together's tiresomely predictable response has been to claim that, unlike any other country that wants effectively to tackle the various environmental challenges that face us all, Scotland doesn't need and certainly shouldn't get any further powers to do so. It needs only a change in "political will". We just need to try harder with the limited powers that we have. Why? Well, just because, obviously.

In fact this claim doesn't just spectacularly miss the point. It highlights a sixth, and quite possibly most fundamentally important, "key gain" from a Yes vote for the Green movement in Scotland. Come independence, I'll vote Green. And I am far, far from being alone. There is an enormous reservoir of sympathy for the aims and aspirations of the Green party amongst Yes voters and activists. But for me, and the SNP voters among them, the priority at present is to gain independence, to get control of the powers that we think we need to act effectively, as we decide. It's anecdotal of course (and if anyone knows of any study on the likely political make up of the first independent Scottish parliament, please post a link in the comments). But ask yourself: does it ring true from your own experience? Does it sound right? Anecdotally, have you heard those who currently vote SNP say they'd vote Green come independence? If you haven't, ask them. In fact, then, independence is not just about making available the full range powers that a normal independent country has. It is, I'd suggest, likely to lead to a reshaping of the political landscape in a way that will hugely boost the will to act. It'll enhance both the power and the will.


But even if all that is entirely wrong, the identified gains are clear. Dr Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth Scotland says:

Saturday, August 9, 2014

When they do, you laugh.

You have a friend and you decide to go into business together. You set up a company and you both get shares in it. You work away for a few years, both of you putting in lots of time and effort on growing the business. Through your joint efforts, the company builds up a client base and a reputation that allows it to grow. It does ok but it has to borrow money from the bank to fund its activities and to allow you to pay yourselves. Business becomes a bit stagnant and although you keep your heads above water you have the nagging doubt that you could be doing so much better. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How to drive a soft bargain

Negotiator A: Well. Thanks for coming to today's negotiation. Before we start, I just wanted to say that although my Plan A is to demand £1,000, my Plan B is that if you say no then I'll take £500.

Negotiator B: I see. Thanks.

Negotiator A: OK. So. I'll kick off, shall I? I demand £1,000!

Negotiator B: No.

Negotiator A: What?

Negotiator B: No.You just said you'd take £500.

Negotiator A: Did I?

Negotiator B: Yes.

Negotiator A: Bugger.

Negotiator B: So £500 it is then?

Negotiator A: I suppose it'll have to be now.

Negotiator B: I think it will.

[Pause]

Negotiator B: [Briskly] Well! That was quicker than I expected. Would you like a lift home?

Negotiator A: No thanks.

Negotiator B: Fair enough. I expect you'll want a bit of time on your own.

[Pause]

Negotiator B: You did go to negotiating classes, didn't you?

Negotiator A: [Indignantly] Of course I did!

Negotiator B: OK, OK.

[Pause]

Negotiator B: Who was your tutor?

Negotiator A: Alistair Darling.

Negotiator B: Aaahh!

Negotiator A: What?

Negotiator B: Nothing.



 



 




Monday, August 4, 2014

The British Government's sterling claims: a "'lurid collage of fact, conjecture and fantasy"

"The Treasury case against a post-independence currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK has been dismantled as 'misleading', 'unsubstantiated' and 'the reverse of the truth' by one of the world's leading economists. Professor Leslie Young, of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, accused the UK Government of relying on a 'lurid collage of fact, conjecture and fantasy' in making its argument." (The Herald, 23 March 2014)

George Osborne says there won't be a currency union. The Scottish Government has made its position clear as to why it says that, assuming a Yes vote, it would clearly be in the UK's interests as much as ours to have a currency union. The unnamed UK minister, Philip Hammond, says that of course there will be a currency union as does (or to be scrupulously fair, did) Alistair Darling and as does the Nobel Prize winner Sir James Mirrlees of the independent Fiscal Commission working group .  The British government doesn't want us to vote Yes so of course it will say, now, that it won't agree to currency union. But what will it do after we actually have voted Yes? How can we know whether it is Mr. Osborne who is right or Mr. Hammond, Mr. Darling and Sir James Mirrlees? Those claiming there will obviously be an agreement (like Mr. Darling and Mr. Hammond) cite a common, mutual interest in having one, after a Yes vote. If only there was an independent, expert economist who could give a view.

 

Well there is. And boy is he unhappy.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

But what if it IS broke?


"I am quite happy with the way things are..."
"I'm swaying towards a 'No' vote. I don't feel that Scotland somehow needs to be fixed, we don't feel broken."
So say two members of the "Times 10 Referendum panel" who have not yet decided how they are going to vote in the referendum*.

But when we decide how to vote, we should surely look beyond our own, immediate circumstances. We don't need to be saintly about it. Wealth inequality is not just a problem for those at the bottom of the ladder. As the Nobel prize winning economist, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, argues, wealth inequality damages not just the social fabric but the economic well-being of a country. In a bravura performance in Troon last week, Robin McAlpine reminded us of how the Jimmy Reid Foundation's work and modelling has shown that taking workers out of low into medium pay could lead to a 30% increase in tax revenues without tax rates being increased at all. In simple terms, from our own self-interested points of view if nothing else, if it is broke, we'll want to fix it.

So. Here's an extract from the edition of the Evening Times, published the same day as the Times piece. The speaker is Julie Webster, the co-founder of the Greater Maryhill Foodbank:
"I have worked in social work for 20 years, so I am pretty hardened but we had a family come in on a Tuesday at 3pm having not eaten since the ­previous Friday.

There had been a problem with benefits and because it was a Bank Holiday weekend the mum had no money for food for her or her two children.

I watched the mum pick up and put down can after can, wondering what she was doing, before I realised she was looking for one with a ring pull.

She ripped the top off and starting eating the beans with her hands, she was so hungry. At that point I had to go to the toilets and have a cry."

What in the name of God do we think we are doing?

It is broke. We need to fix it. We can fix it. And once we've agreed we must fix it, we all owe each other a duty to spend some time and put some proper, responsible and honest thought into how.



*Scotland edition, published June 28 2014, at page 32

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Record high


Today's poll in the Daily Record records Survation's highest ever figure for Yes at 39 (+2), with No at 44(-3) and undecideds 17 (unchanged). The swings are from their poll last month. So that's a five per cent drop in the gap between the two sides in about five weeks. Excluding the undecideds, the figures are currently Yes 47 and No 53. 

John Curtice comments that various "manoeuvres by the No side" over the last few weeks "came in for criticism in respect of their accuracy, wisdom and/or effectiveness". Better Together do seem genuinely to think that rather than consider things and make their own minds up, voters are going to be directed by (of course admirable) foreign heads of state, (of course talented) minor celebrities or (of course very good) writers of children's fiction. I'd crawl over burning coals to vote Democrat rather than Republican, think John Barrowman's lovely and have read almost one Harry Potter book. But I'll be voting Yes, thanks.

And interestingly most of the swing to Yes is from women voters. The Yes side has always said that women are either considering things more carefully than men, or simply waiting till nearer the time to decide, rather than less likely to vote Yes as a result of gender. Stephen Noon has pointed out that that was the pattern in the 2011 election where the polls suggested the gender gap started off at 17% and come the vote was down to only 3%. Survation now report it at 10%, their lowest figure ever.

And if people think that the Tories are going to win the next election? It's Yes 54 and No 46.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Crystal balls

There's another Institute of Fiscal Studies Report out today. Leave aside the fact that the whole point of independence is to give us the powers to address the challenges identified by the IFS in a way that contrasts completely with the British government's plans for our futures. Just forget the SNP's transformative childcare proposals, encouragement of skilled migration to boost the tax take and so on. Leave all of that to one side.

Every IFS report is based on the projections of future oil prices, years and decades ahead, issued by the Office of Budget Responsibility. Helpfully, Alistair Darling is on the record as describing how the the British government uses the OBR in a way that renders it "not just...part of the Government but...part of the Conservative Party". In any event, the British government has been woefully inept at predicting oil prices in the past, as a matter of demonstrable historic fact:


It has also regularly been out of step with the estimates of industry itself and a host of other organisations:
"Current projections from a wide range of organisations are largely upward. The ITEM Club forecast price rises over $130 a barrel; as does the Department for Energy in the UK. NIESR, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the US Energy Information Administration all forecast rises above $110 a barrel. The UK Government’s newly formed OBR – which Alistair Darling accused of being a front for the Conservative Party – is isolated in predicting a price fall."

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pensions: a well-informed, impartial man quietly explains.


Anyone who is worried about their pension, or that of anyone they know, in an independent Scotland owes it to themselves (and, frankly, to all the rest of us) to set aside the time to download, save and listen to this (alternative link here). The speaker is Neil Walsh, who’s the Pensions Officer of the Prospect trade union. Prospect is "the union for professionals". Its members are engineers, scientists, managers and specialists in areas as diverse as agriculture, defence, energy, environment, heritage, shipbuilding, telecoms and transport. Neil Walsh knows his stuff. You can find on YouTube clips of him speaking to members of his union on developments in relation to civil service pension reform, their pensions and pension entitlements.

This link though is to a recording of a tele-conference that he conducted for the union’s members, dealing specifically and at some length (it's around an hour) with the implications for pensions of a Yes vote in the referendum. Prospect is a UK-wide union and is entirely neutral on the referendum question. It has no stance, no position to argue or defend. What you’ll hear in the recording, then, is an independent expert with no axe to ground calmly and rationally addressing all the issues from the perspective of the 140,000 members of his union.

You'll do well if you hear a clearer, more reasonable, more informative or more balanced assessment of anything between now and September 18th. If you are worried about pensions, listen to what he says, please, as soon as you can. Or download the clip, or bookmark this page, and listen to it later.

I'll be blunt: you'll have failed the rest of us if you vote without doing so.

Tak!


Scotland and Poland have had a long, friendly and fruitful relationship, running through the centuries. In the 1600s, there were an estimated 30,000 Scots living in Poland. They came from Dundee, Aberdeen and elsewhere and settled in Krakow, Lublin and towns and cities throughout Poland. There were Episcopalians, Catholics, Calvinists. There were soldiers and traders. And they were welcomed by the Poles and allowed to thrive and prosper. King Stephen gave a Royal Grant in 1576 granting citizenship and assigning a district in Krakow to Scots immigrants. The evidence of the connection in the form of Polish surnames and place names is particularly poignant. Wanda Machlejd was a runner during the Warsaw Uprising; she was also the great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great granddaughter of a mercenary soldier called "MacLeod" who have arrived in Poland from Skye in the 1620s. 

Now, wind forward a few hundred years.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

No Borders - new depths

Here's an email from Great Ormond Street Hospital about one of the cinema adverts run by the weird, sinister and creepy "Vote No Borders" organisation, about which Great Ormond Street had to complain and which was then pulled. I'm sure it's ok. I'm sure Great Ormond Street Hospital didn't have anything better to do that day.

If you are forcing both Great Ormond Street Hospital and the London School of Economics to take time away from their normal business to complain about you misrepresenting them, might you not benefit from pausing and taking a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror?

Full story at Wings, here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Direction of travel


Reading and comprehension: 
Paper 1
Question 1

The following is an extract from a police interview. The speaker is a witness to events immediately preceding a road trafffic accident in which someone was seriously injured. Please read the extract and then answer the question at the end, giving reasons for your answer:

"I was stopped at some traffic lights. The lights turned to green and I started to move off. As I did so, this coked-up boy racer came zooming past me. He was already doing about 50 and looked like he had his foot down. He just missed some pedestrians. He was laughing like a maniac and didn't seem to know where he was or what he was doing. I was terrified. I remember thinking 'Jesus! He's going to hit someone!' I carried on for a bit and sure enough a few minutes later when I caught up with him I saw he'd collided with that bus."
What, do you think, the police will feel are the crucial bits of this account? What is the most important and relevant information that it contains?

1. The witness was travelling in the same direction as the other car.
2. Something else.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"...I've awaited your coming and dreaded it"

 

George Taylor: Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally really did it.
[screaming]
George Taylor:
You Maniacs! ...Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!
Earlier today, UKIP came first in the European elections in the UK as a whole, becoming the first party other than Labour or the Tories to win a UK-wide election in a century. In Scotland, it came fourth. In the rest of the UK, it got nearly a third of the vote. In Scotland, it got around a tenth. Its result in Scotland is far behind its worst result in England. Throughout the UK, it got the largest number of MEPS of any party: 23. In Scotland, it got the lowest possible number of MEPs, other than no MEPS at all: one. Of UKIP's current 393 elected representatives, Scotland is responsible for a total of precisely one. 96.79% of  UKIP's 4,351,204 votes were cast outside Scotland. Even if every single one of those who voted for UKIP in Scotland had not done so, and even if every single one of them had actually voted for a different party, UKIP would still have won.

More votes were cast outside Scotland for UKIP than there are electors in the whole of Scotland.

Early this morning, Professor Vernon Bogdanor told David Dimbleby on the BBC's Vote 2014 programme that in his view there is a 50/50 chance that in five years time Britain will not be in the European Union. Earlier in the same programme, Tory MEP Daniel Hannan predicted to Dimbleby that there will be joint UKIP/Tory candidates for the UK general election in 2015, in eleven months time, with the intention of ensuring that the right-wing, anti-EU vote is maximised. Professor Bogdanor said there will be de facto pacts between the Tories and UKIP to ensure that the anti-EU vote is not split. Between them, UKIP and the Tories took 51.44% of the UK-wide vote. Labour took less than half of that: 25.40%.

50/50. 51.44%. Less than half. Eleven months time. It's soon going to be too late.

Vote Yes.

Friday, May 23, 2014

"What will it take to be too much? When is enough enough?"

video
Carolyn Leckie in simply breathtaking, stunning form. (Click here if the video above is not viewable, to see it on YouTube)

Anyone who views themselves as at all left of centre and who is swithering about which way to vote: watch this. Watch this and after you have stopped applauding pass the link on to anyone you can think of.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The process of doing ourselves proud

First off: a confession and declaration of interest. I'm in favour of Scottish independence and, from the start, have been optimistic that we'll get a Yes vote. The reasoning is simple enough. I genuinely and sincerely believe that the facts, the economic facts, are on our side. But just as important to the argument, I believe that most people are unaware of these facts. Why would they not be? I was, until I decided to read up and investigate. Until the SNP came to office, it's not been in the interests of anyone in a position to do so to publicise or highlight them, to argue against the presumption that we are a basket case of subsidy junkies. That's why suddenly opponents were falling over themselves to claim no-one was saying we couldn't afford to be independent. That's precisely what they've been saying (or at the very least a belief they have been happy not to dispel) for most of my life. So, I think most people don't know that Scotland's GDP per head is higher than the UK's, that we've paid more tax per head than the UK in each of the last 30 years and more, that that excess greatly exceeds the extra public spending per head that we get back, that we're one of the wealthiest countries in the world and so on. I think that when they learn the true position, they'll want to vote for independence.

But I'm not an idiot. I know that of course that's not enough.They need to decide they want to find all this out. If enough people still don't know the facts come the vote, we'll lose. They'll need to believe my side to some extent, or they won't bother. They won't believe that there's anything worth finding out, that what they have always assumed to be true might, even just might, not be. And you would, wouldn't you, expect that people, jaded by and inured to political scandal after political scandal, would turn off and either not vote at all or refuse to engage in the debate and, so, never hear from people like me, asking them to look at the facts and consider the evidence? That's been Better Together's big bet. I'd suggest it explains their reluctance to take part in debate at all (with every meeting I've read about where a before and after vote has been taken recording substantial movement to Yes). But I always thought this wouldn't, in the end, work. What made me confident that Better Together were underestimating the electorate?

Punching above our weight


What, as Wings asked this morning, do Better Together actually have left?:
"No currency union: gone.
Your pensions at risk: gone.
High cost of borrowing: gone."
Well, to be fair, a couple of things. Primarily, it seems, maudlin, sentimental (though increasingly belligerent) paeans to an imagined but never-actually-existed-and-certainly-won't-now Britain about which increasingly desperate, far-fetched and outlandish claims are made. (Did we really give the world "Christian civilisation"? When?).

But anyway, there's another trope they bang on about: international influence. "We punch above our weight". Now, there's not enough room on the internet to do justice to all the fascinating psychological implications of equating "influence" with looking for big people to hit to demonstrate to everyone that you're not small at all oh no there that showed them do you want some too do you do you? And there are most certainly limits to what comprises permissible, or sensible, punching. But in any event, is it punching that gives you influence in today's world? How do small countries who don't punch people get on? Countries who don't threaten to punch people, don't want to punch people? Can they have no ambition to play any part, in concert with others, in creating a better, more stable world? Does realpolitik condemn a nation of, say, five and a half million people to choose either to opt out of world affairs altogether, to be buffeted around by the disturbances created by others, or hook itself up with a belligerent partner and go on a spree punching? Well let's see. Let's pick on someone smaller than us.