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.


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.