Independence can’t come too soon -Westminster ‘austerity’ is killing people

 

As last time, the SUWN will be campaigning hard for our right to run our own country AND for the policies that will bring in a fairer system when we have won that right. The change of flag needs to symbolise a complete change of outlook. This is an opportunity to redefine what makes a good society, and we will aim to ensure that social security is central to the Independence debate. An independent Scotland would open a wealth of possibilities. Instead of fighting a rear-guard action against a continuous onslaught from the DWP, we could be looking at the end of sanctions and computer-based assessments, and the future introduction of a Universal Basic Income. But we can’t take any of this for granted. If we want to see real change, we need to demonstrate what is possible now. We need to raise people’s hopes and expectations, so that when we win Independence we can’t be told to go back in the box and be satisfied with minor reforms. We must demand a real difference in Scotland that can also provide a source of hope beyond our borders.

The SNP has chosen to use Brexit as the trigger for a second referendum. We have argued that there was already ample cause  for another vote in the UK Government’s failure to implement the ‘Vow’, and that the Scottish Government’s inability to protect our most vulnerable citizens from the depredations of UK ‘austerity’ should have been a red line issue. But whatever your view on the EU – and we have activists who voted on either side of that referendum for a variety of reasons – we now have an opportunity to make real change here in Scotland.

In 2014, YES won massively in the schemes, but we were beaten by the higher turnout among more prosperous voters who feared that change might impact their comfortable existence. This time we need to ensure that the working-class vote is big enough to win us the freedom to create a better system.

You can find out more about  scottishunemployedworkers.net  by clicking here or you can visit there facebook page

NO to Benefit Sanctions, YES to Independence

30 March was called as a National Day of Action Against Sanctions by Unite the Union. As we fight sanctions outside the buroo every week, we thought this was an opportunity to do something different – so, we set up stall in Dundee City Centre to say loud and clear, with the help of the megaphone, ‘No to benefit sanctions, YES to Independence’ and the freedom to get rid of sanctions altogether.

We generated a good amount of interest (including with a big bunch of school kids), and if we didn’t get out as many leaflets as we had planned it was because people wanted to stop and discuss – to discuss Independence, and to discuss their personal experience with sanctions. We were able to give out advice on fighting sanctions too, including to two separate homeless guys.

I have pasted the wording of our leaflet below.

(Thanks to Chris, Duncan, Dave, Norma, Gordon and Jonathan)

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Today, across the UK, people are protesting against benefit sanctions. The UK Government is turning our welfare state into a system of control and punishment. If people on benefits don’t do everything they are told, then they can have their benefits stopped and be left destitute. Often this happens without them having done anything out of place. And just the fear of sanctions creates constant stress. The stories we hear from the people we help at our stalls outside Dundee Buroo would melt the hardest heart – and raise the gentlest person to indignant anger. Today’s protest says that this system is completely unacceptable.

Sanctions, like most of the benefit system, are reserved to Westminster; and the Tory government shows no signs of letting up on their attack on the welfare state. But we in Scotland have the opportunity to win the freedom to create a better system. With Independence we would no longer have to fight a rear-guard action against a continuous onslaught from the DWP. We could be looking at the end of sanctions and of computer-based disability assessments. We could be looking forward to the future introduction of a Universal Basic Income.

We want to make sure that welfare is at the centre of the Independence debate – to raise people’s expectations, so that when we win we can demand a real difference. We are campaigning for nothing less than a fairer Scotland, which would also provide a source of hope beyond our borders.

You can find out more about  scottishunemployedworkers.net  by clicking here or you can visit there facebook page

 

 

My glass is half empty

How different things could have been.

The day after the independence referendum of 2014, David Cameron could have emerged from 10 Downing Street to announce a root and branch review of the constitutional settlement between England and the other nations. Instead of English votes for English laws he would have announced a consultation on an English parliament and the transformation of Westminster into a true UK parliament, with clear separation of powers and with the permanence of all the national parliaments enshrined in law.

As the constitution started to evolve to formally recognise the UK as a partnership of four equal nations, the very idea of an election campaign against the UK Labour party based on “othering” one of those nations would have been dismissed before it began. After the Scottish people returned 56 out of 59 SNP MPs to Westminster, the British establishment parties would have had the good grace to accept that a party supported by fully half of the Scottish electorate, and the party of government in Scotland, could no longer be treated with contempt as a separatist protest group. The Labour party would have recognised the importance of working with the SNP at UK level to form a truly effective opposition to the Tories.

The SNP already recognise that the first past the post electoral system doesn’t deliver fair representation of the views of the Scottish people. Knowing that the fear of almost permanent Tory rule was a big motivator for many Scots to vote for independence, UK Labour would have also realised that change was essential and they, together with the SNP and the smaller parties, would have begun to seriously campaign for proportional representation in all future Westminster elections.

When the Brexit referendum bill was passed by the UK Parliament, it would have been blatantly obvious that the larger electorate of England could not be allowed to overrule the wishes of the other three nations. The pleas of all the devolved administrations to provide for a “double majority” before the UK could leave the EU would have been accepted without question. And lo and behold, if that small and sensible change had been made, we wouldn’t be facing the looming disaster of Brexit right now.

The BBC would have reviewed their coverage of the 2014 independence referendum and concluded that the metro-centric view is not sustainable. They would have immediately moved to strengthen their coverage of the nations and the English regions. The Scottish Six (and equivalents for the other nations) would have immediately become a reality. UK political programming such as Question Time would now be taking as much care in balancing the national representation on their panels as they currently do with party representation.

See how easy this could have been? A little respect and humility is all it would take for people like me to recommit to the United Kingdom. To this “British at heart” woman, all the above just sounds like common sense. It represents the bare minimum that any of us should expect in a political union of nations, and if events had in any way resembled my hypothetical wish list then I might find myself now supporting its continuation. In fact, if events had unfolded in this way then I doubt we would be even be asking the question again.

Instead what we have now is a United Kingdom with deepening divisions. We have a Prime Minister who has shown herself incapable of joint working and compromise even within her own cabinet. For all her nauseating talk of a “deep and special partnership” with the European Union, the reality is that May’s United Kingdom doesn’t do partnership. The UK feels further away from understanding the concept of partnership with other countries than ever before, so who seriously thinks that a UK based on mutual respect and partnership between the four nations is still even a remote possibility?

We have “English votes for English laws”. We have the convention that the UK government doesn’t “normally” legislate on devolved matters lying in tatters. We have all four nations of the UK being dragged out of the EU on the most extreme terms despite two of those nations voting decisively to stay. We have the leaders of the devolved nations being all but shut out of the Brexit process. What does “taking back control” really mean? I can’t avoid the conclusion that the end game is to take back control over the constituent parts of the UK, and when the reality of that hits it will hit hard, and it will hurt.

Usually a “glass half full” person, my optimism ran out very soon after Theresa May took hold of the reins of power. The Tory government is presumably not forever, although right now it feels like it,  and May’s premiership is most certainly not forever (it may not even stay the course of Brexit). But don’t be fooled into thinking we can sit tight and hope for the return of a fairer United Kingdom in the future. All the evidence is that the future will be too late. If we want to preserve the best of what we have, we must act now to refill our glass.

You can follow Sylvina Tilbury on twitter @caorach or at her blog newscotblog.wordpress.com

Featured image glass half full creative commons

Some thoughts on “Britishness”

I miss being British. There, I’ve said it.

I miss being British. I was brought up British, not English. We in my family never really described ourselves as English. Although I was born in Lancashire I never felt particularly Lancastrian either. My family’s from all over so I didn’t grow up with the local traditions and dialect that I’m envious of in others.

I grew up believing that to be British meant to identify with and belong to the British Isles. I was brought up near Liverpool, with its large Irish community, and not far from the Welsh border. The place I grew up couldn’t have felt more different from Anglo-Saxon middle and southern England. My part of the world had influences from all over the UK, hence we were “British”.

But outside of England, I now know being “British” means something quite different. Almost everyone I know in Scotland sees the term “British” as suggesting a recognition and identification with the political construct of the British State. Since moving out of England I’ve also realised that many English people have an infuriating tendency to use the terms British and English interchangeably. This will not be news to my Scottish friends, but discussing this just now with my southern English husband has brought us close to falling out!

The conflation of these two concepts of Britishness and Englishness, which has become de rigeur among most UK politicians, has the effect of trampling over the rich diversity of these islands. We were told yesterday by Theresa May, channelling Margaret Thatcher, that we are “four nations, but one people”, but that’s simply not true. We are four nations and many more groups of people. Within England, regions like Cornwall and Yorkshire increasingly recognise their distinctiveness, and in Scotland we have huge variations between the cultural and linguistic heritage of different parts of the country.

Instead of celebrating this diversity, the British establishment increasingly seeks to suppress it. The largest group – the English – has fully adopted the label “British” and anyone from elsewhere in the UK who doesn’t identify with this anglicised view of Britishness is labelled a “nationalist”. I find this deeply depressing and as a result I’ve resolved to call myself “English”, although truth be told I still don’t feel it.

I want to see all the nations of these islands working together as equals. Even with all our differences, we do collectively have a different psyche from many of our European neighbours. Lots of people feel the same way, and many of them believe this means that the 300 year old political union (with its 100 year old addition) must continue in its current form or close to it. I disagree.

Sometimes a thing has to be dismantled in order to be repaired. I want to reclaim my British identity, but first the concept has to be separated from the stranglehold of the British State.  Left to its own devices the British establishment will never move out of its comfort zone so we have to make it change. Each nation of these islands must regain its sovereignty. Borders must be redefined where they naturally fall, and the locations of those natural borders are becoming clearer by the day.

Once that has happened, we can then build a new relationship between the peoples of these islands. And those of us who wish to be can be unapologetically British again.

You can follow Sylvina Tilbury on twitter at @caorach and at her blog page newscotblog.wordpress.com

the featured picture of Union Jack from google creative commons

How this northern English lass became a Scot

I moved to Scotland from North Yorkshire back in 2007 with my husband and one year old son after securing a job working for Highland Council. Here I attempt to recall my first impressions of Scotland as a place to live and how my connection with our new home developed over the years. I hope it may shed light on how some English people on both sides of the border may be feeling about Scotland and the prospect of independence.

It all started in August 2007 at the Thistle Stop Cafe near Fort Augustus. While I was busy with my son in the baby changing room, I received a phone call offering me my dream job. I’d had my fill of English local government and the endless quest to cut staff and salaries to the bone. The job was just for one year, but it was a lifelong dream of mine and my husband’s to live and work in the Highlands. We aimed to use the year to start and build up a business that could then sustain us.

Why the Highlands? I grew up in a very British, English family (father from Lancashire, mother from East Yorkshire) that loved Scotland the way most English people love Scotland: the love of the beautiful wild open spaces, the remoteness, shortbread, kilts and the soft West Highland accent. The love that declares that “real Scotland” doesn’t begin until you get north of Perth. So many childhood holidays were spent up here and I grew up loving Scotland too. My husband, from southern England, was less familiar with the country but just as fond of what he knew. He was keen on hill walking and climbing, and we both harboured a dream of buying a small croft somewhere out west, starting a B & B business and achieving some level of self sufficiency. So far so naive, and so very very English.

Well the year came and went, I really loved the job and was delighted when the council made it permanent. We bought the one house we could afford – a shockingly bad steading conversion that really needed gutting and starting again, but in a beautiful remote location near a loch. It was one heck of a steep learning curve. We found that Scotland didn’t just have a different legal system in a quirky, slightly stubborn kind of a way (in England we tended to think that Scotland is really just like England in most ways but different enough to cause mild annoyance and extra difficulties). No it’s different, full stop. High street solicitors sell houses. You don’t exchange contracts & complete, you conclude the missives. You suggest a date for concluding the missives when you make your offer. You frequently end up in a sealed bids situation because everything is priced “offers over” (becoming more common now south of the border, but almost unheard of in my neck of the woods 10 years ago). And that’s before you even start on the wider legal system if you’re unlucky enough to need it. No magistrates courts, but sheriffs courts. A bizarrely titled person called a Procurator Fiscal. Now I understood why my Postgraduate Diploma in Law, gained when I was flirting with the idea of a career change, was not valid in Scotland!

This was 2008, a year after the SNP had won the Scottish elections to form a minority Government in Holyrood. I was confused by Scottish politics. I wasn’t sure of the role of the Holyrood parliament, except that it was an extra layer of government in between Westminster and the front line (something that had been rejected in England a few years earlier). I was vaguely aware there had been a changing of the guard from Labour to the SNP. My English mum couldn’t stand Alex Salmond. I wasn’t at all keen on the brash new minister for health with a weird fishy sounding name, Sturgeon or something. I was aware of complaints from those around me about the SNP’s centralising agenda, and a feeling that even the most intangible concepts of history and cultural heritage were being boiled down to their economic value. These are mere scraps of memory, completely ill informed, and without going back to research what was going on with SNP policy at the time I couldn’t tell you whether any of it was true. The point is I was poorly informed about Scottish politics and not all that interested.

I was interested in how it affected me personally though. The steady reduction in prescription charges from £5 to £3 to zero was welcome. The GP’s surgery that was recommended to us was like something from another era, run by a married couple who took as long as they needed with their patients. Yes sometimes this meant a wait of half an hour or more, especially if they had been called out on an emergency home visit, but you knew if you needed that time yourself one day you would get it. The experience of having my second child in Scotland was hugely positive. Suffering for a second time from postnatal depression I found the support I received from my health visitor and other health professionals second to none. There was nothing I can think of that didn’t seem to work better here than down south.

When writing this piece it took a good while to dredge out of my memory my political viewpoint at that time. My first vote in Scotland was the general election of 2010. I voted for Danny Alexander of the Liberal Democrats and was actually pleased when they formed a coalition with the Tories. I felt that the Tories would be competent (yes, really!) and the Lib Dems would bring a social conscience to temper their worst excesses. Actually I think we are now discovering that the second of these was true, if limited in its effect. Then we had the Scottish elections and the AV referendum in 2011. As I had always supported the Lib Dem position on proportional representation I voted Yes to AV, figuring that any change was better than none. Amazingly I can’t actually remember who I voted for in the Scottish Parliament elections but it was either Lib Dem, Greens or the SNP. I know I was mighty confused by the d’Hondt system and really didn’t understand the distinction between the constituency and the list. I also wasn’t particularly bothered who formed the Government.

By 2012 austerity had arrived in Scotland. The local government cuts that I thought I’d escaped from had followed me north. Jobs were under threat and my own job was feeling less and less secure. So when the opportunity arose to work for a private company in Wales I took it. I didn’t want to leave Scotland but this was a chance too good to miss so we decided to give it a go for a couple of years.

After a while the job was working out well so we bought a house in Wales and rented out our Scottish home while we decided what we were going to do long term. As time went on I was more and more glad that we hadn’t sold up. I could go into all the reasons why I didn’t like living in Wales but it’s not relevant as the only actual problem with Wales was that it wasn’t “home”. Without me even noticing at the time Scotland had become my home, and it took us moving away for me to realise it.

Meanwhile in the political world, austerity was really starting to bite and I was beginning to take an interest. I had always had a strong interest in social justice, in fact this was my main reason for gaining a postgraduate law diploma a few years previously. (I actually started that diploma with worthy intentions of working for a law centre and helping people fight the system, before realising far too late that I couldn’t afford to complete the training on the kinds of training salaries offered by the third sector or high street firms.) So I began taking a deeper interest in the worrying developments in areas such as welfare reform and immigration control, and at the same time I became aware of political events in Scotland and began to follow Scottish friends’ social media posts on the subject.

It became apparent very quickly that the media in Wales and the wider UK was not reflecting the reality of the independence campaign in Scotland, which was largely about the desire for a fairer and more decent country. Looking back over my posts at the time I can see that I was initially looking at things as an interested bystander, willing the Scots to make the right decision and hoping that the debate would have a positive influence on politics elsewhere in the UK. For example, take this comment on an article I shared from February 2014:

“Everyone currently outside the main debate – English, Welsh and Irish alike – should read this excellent summary. Please do read it. As an English person who loves Scotland (and in my heart it will always be home) I am with them all the way. I hope they make the right decision for Scotland, and for the right reasons.”

So much of what was being said in the mainstream media about the independence case just didn’t ring true. People were being told that voting for independence would bring austerity max and the SNP-led Scottish government was being criticised heavily on a daily basis. But as someone who had been driven to leave their public sector job to move south to the relative safety of the private sector, I’d been struck to find the public sector in Wales in an even more parlous state. I began to see how much Scotland had been protected from the worst effects of Tory imposed austerity and I was hugely frustrated by the number of people in Scotland who seemed totally oblivious to this.

It was especially galling to watch and hear the Labour party being so critical of the Scottish government, and the economic case for independence, when I was living in Labour-run Wales which had everything wrong with it that they complained about in Scotland and then some! Except that in Labour-run Wales it was more correctly ascribed to austerity being handed down from Westminster. And as Scotland had been catching up on the austerity front, the rest of the UK had most certainly not been standing still. Welsh local government cuts were off the scale in comparison!

I started to see and feel so much optimism coming out of Scotland that I desperately wanted to be a part of it. I looked on in envy as I saw friends organising local “town hall” events and campaigning for independence. By late 2013 it was already patently obvious that the independence debate in Scotland was not going to ignite a UK-wide desire for change as I had initially hoped it would, and as a family we started to think seriously about going home. When my mother very sadly died from cancer I knew that it was now or never: life is there to be lived and I felt I was treading water. I somehow managed to get my bosses to agree to me working from home in Scotland, the Welsh house went on the market and we made preparations to return north. We made a few visits back to Scotland that year before making the move permanently and how things had changed! The atmosphere was amazing. Politics was everywhere – open, inclusive, hopeful politics. People like me wanted change and I found myself fitting right in. We finally moved back to Scotland in mid 2014, I got stuck right into campaigning and, of course, voted Yes on September 18th.

I’ve never looked back. The change the referendum brought to Scotland was positive and permanent. Since the referendum I’ve joined the SNP and become ever more vocal and active in support of independence. Knowing from experience how things are elsewhere in the UK, I’m still so frustrated when people don’t realise how much the Scottish government is shielding them from the worst effects of the Westminster Tories. Too many Scots don’t seem to know how fortunate we are and that in time, without fundamental constitutional change, we will run out of options.

I am so proud of this country. I’m proud to call it my home and to have been made so welcome. After nearly 10 years living here I feel I’m starting to get under its skin. Yes it’s wild, beautiful, rugged, and romantic, as every Scot knows. But it’s so much more than that. It’s edgy, it’s irreverent, it’s inventive, it has a wicked sense of humour (in every sense). And it’s been stifled for far too long by a political union that’s no longer working. Scotland is now a part of me, I’m a part of Scotland, and I’m determined to see this through.

You can  follow Sylvina Tilbury on Twitter at @caorach and at her blog newscotblog.wordpress.com

Featured picture by Brave you can follow Brave on twitter at @Defiaye and at defiaye.com

Armed With Paper

 

 

 

 

Armed with Paper

 

Strong prisons can have paper bars

Creating books with empty memoirs

And blackout ceilings of Latin Decrees

Where only the poor are cut off at the knees

 

Exempting only inmates of bloodied Titles

Conversations translated with bias subtitles

On a malleable foundation of benefit hate

Privilege redefining the disabled sick fate

 

Knowledge is power so they increase the security

Plunging Internet light into controlled dark obscurity

Foreshadowed by brandings breathing in an enclosure

Ninety Nine will fall when One controls the exposure

You can follow Defiaye on twitter at @Defiaye  and at the website Defiaye

“The Trump Card” – How the EU is countering US escalation on Iran

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Now I have a confession to make about my political leanings on the EU. I am a eurosceptic. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has read any of my other writings or previous analysis on the intersection of racial identity with the “European ideal”. But it is nonetheless where I stand on the line between bat shit crazy Brexiteer and EU high romanticism. The details of my Euroscepticism we shan’t go into much detail – save to say that it should be noted as the context which frames the argument in this short piece. The main premise of my polemic is that it is the EU that has maintained a crucial geopolitical peace. And I nor do I mean peace on the continent of Europe but the prevention of cataclysmic war in the Gulf. A war that would make the tragic but resilient battle for Iraq’s soul appear mere child’s play in its effects.
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EU member states have done more the past month to stop the slide to another Gulf war than the combined political influence of the Anglosphere. For on coming to power in January of this year, the Trump administration sought to escalate tensions and fulfil the policy aims of the last 8 presidents of the US – which is militarised regime change in Iran and not to the benefit of the Iranian people. Interestingly it was President Obama who broke with the usual course of US policy direction deciding that it was logical and advantageous to American interests to see an Iran woven back into the political and economic network of the “international community” than relegated to a “resistance economy” outside it.
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As Trump took the US back to a more familiar attitude of blaming Iran for all that is wrong with the middle east while ignoring its de facto ally status fighting ISIS; the EU and its member states did something very few expected. It resisted by on one level making it clear that it collectively believed in the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the Iran Deal. But additionally, its member states started flying to Tehran like drones from the hive of Brussels to make deals with the Iranians much to the irritation of the White House.

Although ignored in Washington and the wider dominant US political class, it was clear to Europeans that Iran was not the main source of instability and terrorism in the region.

Europe’s industrial powers have shown great enthusiasm for closer trade ties with Iran since the JCPOA, a nuclear agreement between Iran and the Group 5+1 (Russia, China, the US, Britain, France, and Germany), came into force in January 2016. These deals meant several things. Although ignored in Washington and the wider dominant US political class, it was clear to Europeans that Iran was not the main source of instability and terrorism in the region. Indeed Iran uses proxies such as Hezbollah and is fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad but compared to the transparent interference of Turkey in expat communities in Europe and the exportation of Wahhabist ideology from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, this misbehaving is seen as next to nought.
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Added to that, the role of Iran and it’s special forces and trained allies as the only effective fighting force against ISIS on the ground is fully accepted by the EU member states even as they maintain their NATO position and solidarity with the US. Reality rests it seems in Europe.
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The final point is that the EU is crafting its own definitive foreign policy far exceeding the constraints and political difficulties of the common security and defence policy. Federica Mogherini, an Italian politician and the current High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has repeatedly told members of the press that Europe “does not see any need to undo the JCPOA. It’s working and we believe in its implementation.” This could be, partially a Europe spitefully scorning the US for its president’s previous statements on NATO – or simply a symbol of a renewed sense of collective confidence in what a European policy should be regarding the Gulf states.

“Europe does not see any need to undo the JCPOA. It’s working and we believe in its implementation.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault recently show his country’s support for the expansion of economic relations with Iran and was among the first of the EU member states to condemn Trump’s travel ban. In January Ayrault told a meeting of Iranian-French business leaders that the Iran nuclear deal had “opened a new era” that had already led to a major expansion of relations between the two countries. He also said that protecting the Iran nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – was “extremely important” for Paris.
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In fact, Iran has already signed deals with French companies Total, Renault and Airbus and five memoranda of understanding (MoU) were also signed between the two countries. The biggest included a document of cooperation on development of Mashhad Airport, a document on the construction of a bioethanol factory in Kermanshah, and two more documents in the field of fisheries with the aim of producing caviar and technology transfer for advanced surgery.
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Another MoU was signed between Alborz Chamber of Commerce and a French company on holding aviation training courses and pilot training for Iran and regional countries. Peugeot, which pulled out of Iran in 2012, will once again return to the nation to modernise a Khodro factory near Tehran. It’s expected to produce 200,000 vehicles a year starting in 2017. In all, up to 20 MoUs have been signed and counting.

Iran and Sweden signed five Memorandum of Understanding to develop ties and cooperation in IT and telecommunication, mining and industry areas.

Iran and Sweden signed five MoUs to develop ties and cooperation in IT and telecommunication, mining and industry areas. During his visit to Italy, the Iranian President Rouhani began a serious charm offensive to reboot the two countries’ relations in political, economic, cultural, tourism, scientific and technological fields. This was mirrored in success by his trip to Italy, which has gone on to sign a total of 14 MoUs and a cooperation roadmap for joint cooperation.
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Moreover, last October the former German economy minister, now foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel visited Iran with representatives of over German 100 firms, including Siemens and Volkswagen. During the delegation, 10 MoUs were signed between Iran’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance and Germany’s Minister of Economy and Energy, covering a wide range of areas for cooperation including project financing, mutual investment, joint ventures, banking and insurance cooperation, infrastructure in oil, gas and petrochemical sectors, renewable energy, railway, environment, roads and urban development, automotive, airlines and technology transfer. German car manufacturers and train companies have followed.
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The pouring on of investment into Iran is not a benefit because we must worship at the feet of capital or believe in its automatic ability to bring freedom and human rights. Inside Iran, there are various centres of power vying for influence and authority alongside the undemocratic authority of the supreme leader. I remain convinced that by ensuring that a reforming force such as Rhouhani is successful in developing and diversifying Iran’s economy; the West can have a more constructive and equal relationship with a country that has long been treated with scorn and unfair disdain. These economic relationships are the first attempts by the EU to desire to be seen as an honest broker in a region scarred by imperial interference and unrealised dreams of dignity.
You can Follow Robert J Somynne on twitter at @RobertJSomynne  and at his blog robertsomynne.blogspot.com

 

GERS might comply with the rules but so what when the rules are biased?

My attention was drawn yesterday to a blog by Graeme Roy of the Fraser of Allander Institute, which claims to be ‘Scotland’s leading independent economic research institute’ and is based at the University of Strathclyde. Graeme Roy, who admits he worked on preparing GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland, which has been the subject of some discussion here of late) for seven years until 2014, write defending the criticisms I have raised of it, without ever explicitly saying so.

It may be worth starting by recalling what my first (and continuing) criticism of GERS was. I said in a blog that estimated data from the London (which I made clear was the Westminster government) was of little use in deciding the future of Scotland. In that case it’s important to note two things Roy says. They are both in this one paragraph:

In short, GERS estimates the contribution of public sector revenue raised in Scotland toward the public sector goods and services provided for the benefit of the people of Scotland. It’s important to remember that GERS does this taking Scotland as a mini-UK, and the constraints and protections that the current constitutional arrangements bring.

I could almost finish at this point. First, Scotland is not a mini-UK: it is a separate country within the UK. In that case GERS is prepared on an inappropriate basis. And independence assumes the current constitutional arrangements will change.  My claims are, therefore, correct as a matter of fact. But having entirely conceded my argument Roy goes on to defend GERS in ways which do not anyway, in my opinion, make sense, so I will continue.

My main concern is this claim:

It’s a National Statistics publication. This means that the statistics – and how they are presented – have been independently judged to be methodologically sound and produced free of political interference.

In what follows I wish to make clear that I respect what Roy has written, and the integrity of his motives in doing so, and his stated beliefs. I am quite sincere when saying that I believe he sees no problems in making a number of assertions with which I will, however take issue. Nor, I stress, is it the case that in saying these things that I am questioning the integrity of those preparing GERS. What I am saying is that they are working sincerely within a system  which , first of all, imposes political interference as a matter of fact and which is not as independent as Roy would like to claim, albeit entirely honestly.

Let me deal with the second issue first. I am afraid that I have little confidence in almost any claims of professional objectivity. I have long challenged the accountancy professions claim to be objective when it comes to standard setting and enforcement. It patently is not. In fact there’s strong evidence it does not even understand the law and instead construes it to its own advantage. Economists are no better: I always remember with amusement the claim that an economist once made to me along the lines of “Of course I am objective; I accept all the assumptions of neoclassical economics”, to which I fell about laughing, largely because the absurdity of what he’d said was clearly not apparent to him. And when it comes to government statistics the standards are set by one civil service organisation for another civil service organisation and since all such organisations will call upon the same broad pool of talent and operate in the same broad way for the same broad administrative structure, financed in the same broad way it is hardly surprising if there is a convergence of opinion on what is acceptable.  The fact that there is a peer review process does not alter this: peer review is almost always designed to reinforce the status quo. I stress I am not saying that the statistics are not prepared in accordance with a standard, but just as winners write history, it’s a fact that prevailing power elites write rules to reflect their priorities without always realising that they have done so. As a result saying GERS is acceptable because it meets the standards set by Westminster who quite clearly want Scotland to be treated as if it is part of the rest of the UK is no comfort at all. It just says that’s the standard that’s been met. It does not say if the standard is appropriate.

And this is the problem Roy faces when claiming there is no political interference in GERS. He seemingly fails to note when doing so that he has made, and noted, two massive political assumptions i.e. that Scotland is just a part of the UK when it would not have its own parliament if it was, and second that Scotland can survive on UK based data and does not need its own economic data despite the fact that it has devolved economic powers. That’s not an objective assumption. It’s actually an assumption that is, in my opinion, contemptuous of the whole idea that Scotland has the right to exercise discretion by denying it the data it needs to both decide upon appropriate actions and then appraise outcomes. This is a Westminster assumption and is implicit in the data available to prepare GERS.  However good the statisticians who prepare GERS are they can’t overcome this fact and they should, I suggest, recognise that fact, but Roy does not.  In that context the claim Roy then makes that GERS must be right because it looks remarkably like the UK as a whole is, to say the least, mildly absurd. If the data GERS produces for Scotland is an abstraction from that for the UK as a whole the only thing that would be surprising is if it did not look like the UK as a whole. Roy seems to miss this obvious point.

So how might this happen? Roy believes what he has said, I am quite sure. But he has made assumptions that I think are are political and so subjective without realising because, I suggest, they are, to use George Bernard Shaw’s definition, the assumptions of a reasonable person. Reasonable people adapt themselves to the ways of the world. Roy is doing that. So too, of course, are those who establish the standards for statistics with which GERS complies. And if you do comply with the ways of the world you rarely realise that is what you are doing precisely because complying seems so normal you do not even realise it is a choice. There is just one problem though: as Shaw also noted, unreasonable people seek to adapt the world to their ways. As a result he suggested all progress is dependent upon the existence of unreasonable people.

I am, I readily confess, unreasonable on this basis. I was told, endlessly, that I could not have and did not need country-by-country reporting. Now it is to be required worldwide.

And I was told automatic information exchange from tax havens would not happen in my lifetime. It is underway.

Time and again HMRC have said I am wrong on the tax gap, but the feeling that it may be them that is wrong is now becoming widespread.

In fact the whole tax justice agenda has been a story of being told that existing data is just fine by a power elite, whether it be politicians, governments, their agencies or professional bodies that claimed we really did not understand just how well the system was working and to leave them in peace. But we did not, and demanded new data anyway, and we now know we were right to do so.

It is my suggestion that the story in Scotland is the same. GERS was created by a Westminster power elite so suit their purpose. It cannot now meet the needs of Scotland, however much it complies with the statistical standards created by that same power elite. I don’t apologise for saying so. I reiterate: Scotland needs its own data. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say so, but many apparently do. I don’t apologise for upsetting them.

Which leads to me to my final question in this blog (which is not aimed at statisticians, but politicians), which is why making this suggestion is so contentious? Could that be because some people do not believe Scotland is a country worthy of its own data? And could it be that they really do not think it should have the information it needs to make informed decisions? That’s perfectly possible, but if that’s what they do think then I have to ask why do they also think they have the right to suggest they should govern from Holyrood, whether Scotland is independent or not without the data that will increasingly be required to do so?

The question is a serious one. My suggestion is that those so wedded to GERS that they cannot see what their devotion implies are actually not fit to make the necessary judgements that holding office in Scotland would seem to demand. I would presume that a demand for better data for Scotland would have universal appeal amongst anyone who aspired to office in that country. That it does not suggests to me that some are quite determined that in principle Scotland should not have the information its politicians need to govern. At a quite deep level that’s worrying because it implies that not only are some opposed to independence but that they have not even embraced the idea of devolved power in which, however, they make the appearance of partaking.

Information is power. Scotland must have the information it needs. Without it, whether within or without the UK it will not have the power to shape its future. And that is no minor issue

You can follow Richard Murphy on twitter at @RichardJMurphy  or at his blog  TaxResearchUK

Been up to much?

 

 

It’s been a busy few days up here both personally & politically.

I’ve spent the last two days either wielding a paintbrush or gardening whilst desperately trying to keep up with the news – it’s hard being a politics junkie and having a life at the same time – so tonight I’m squishing two blogs together.

Yesterday May ventured north to Glasgow & East Kilbride (I am aware there’s a difference) She came, she saw and well that was about it to be honest.

She had a captive audience at the Department for International Development whose applause may have looked more spontaneous if their manager hadn’t been caught on camera telling them to applaud ((at 4 mins 30)

She could have visited HMRC also in East Kilbride, but then it’s due to be closed along with the site in Cumbernauld with 2500 to lose their jobs.

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She praised work being undertaken by the University of Glasgow in combating the Zika virus,unfortunate that Anton Muscatelli the university Principle has described Brexit as disastrous. Doubly so as the project she referred to whilst receiving £1 million from the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Funds also received £10 million from the EU, funding which will dry up after Brexit.

This was part of 12 minutes of soundbites which included gems such as Brexit would bring the UK together (tell that to Northern Ireland), Britain would be an unstoppable force (I bet the colonies felt they had been steamrollered at times) and that the UK is one of the greatest forces for good in the world – second largest arms seller in the world.

As per usual no questions were taken from the press.

Later she met Nicola Sturgeon in Glasgow – not in a secure Scottish Government building but instead a hotel room. (?!) And again it sounds like not a lot of substance was said. The promised powers outed all weekend by the media were non-existent.

And again no questions were taken from the press, in fact she was sneaked out of a backdoor.

This amazes me, if we are to believe the Scottish Conservatives May is only second in popularity to Ruth *most popular Scottish politician* Davidson, so why not go out and meet her adoring public in Glasgow. Let one of the Yes cities show how much they no longer want a referendum, how they have returned to Britannia warm embrace.

So what was yesterday about? Because it seems a pretty pointless exercise. Is it just a UK tour (she did Wales the other week) so she can say she’s spoken to the devolved administrations? If so she’s left it a bit bloody late. It’s not like this referendum hasn’t been sign-posted from the minute Scotland voted to stay in the EU.

Of all the parts of the UK she needed to be in yesterday, Northern Ireland would seem to be the most in need of attention. Something the Irish press are keen to point out.

May is juggling a lot of balls right now, and even with my limited juggling skills (yes I can juggle, just) I know you have to keep your eyes on all of them.

And then we come to today and the Section 30 vote in Holyrood..

So in summary:

  • Tory Amendment to derail the bill defeated: 31 to 97
  • Labour amendment for Federal UK defeated: 28 to 100
    • A non-starter at the best of times
  • Green amendment to include 16-17 year olds and EU citizens in referendum franchise passes: 69 to 59
    • yes that’s right, Tories, Labour & LibDems voted together against those listed above having the right to vote on their future in Scotland
  • Lib Dem amendment fails: 28 to 100
    • something about uncertainty, federal blah, blah,  who knows, who cares
  • Bill as amended passes: 69 to 59.

The Scottish Parliament shall now request a Section 30 order from UK Government.

It then took SEVEN minutes before the Governor General said No. However as he is the monkey and not the organ-grinder I shall wait for Theresa May’s response to a formal notification. She’s been obfuscating all this last week with “Now is not the time.”

We don’t want one now (actually I do, but luckily I’m not in charge.) We want it in 18 months time once we see the results of the Brexit negotiations. An informed choice – which would be a nice change.

Of course, if Westminster does give a flat-out refusal against a democratically elected government, then it might go to court. It could be the European Court of Human Rights which would be worth it just to see the Brexit Bunch foaming.  (Now it’s time for your regular reminder we only have devolved governments thanks to the Council of Europe.)

And if this week wasn’t exciting enough, tomorrow May sends the letter that will start Article 50, so that brand new pound they launched today will probably be worth 90p by the end of the day. I notice she’s picked up the Trump habit of having the document signing recorded.

Have I missed anything? Oh yeah they’ve found another shit-tonne of oil off Shetland.

Featured image from @raiphsays

You can follow Simone Charlesworth on twitter @cee4cat and at Mewsing Out Loud