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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Unacceptable Face of Capitalism

Ted Heath coined the phrase over forty years ago and two events within forty eight hours might, just might, be the start of people actually beginning to understand what it means. I have no sympathy for Fred Goodwin, something which I think I have already made clear but interestingly enough, it is not just his own "class" and fellow Knights who are expressing sympathy for the man. Some are upset that this may set a precedent, which could mean that some of them may be targeted next or, that in order to receive the big K in the first place in future, it will be required to do something useful, other than simply seek and find favour, with the government of the day.

There are other ordinary, decent people who feel sympathy for the man, because they see him as having been made a scapegoat for the entire banking industry. They argue, with justification, that Goodwin was not the only one at fault and wonder why the Chairman of RBS and the head of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) are not also being stripped of their titles. It is a good point and if any organisation deserves to be pilloried, not just for its failure to regulate the banks but for successive failures such as the collapse of Equitable Life and a whole plethora of completely useless pieces of legislation, it is the FSA. Ironically, the current head of that organisation - about to be abolished - Hector Sants, argues that Goodwin and his management colleagues in the banking industry should be banned from ever holding posts in the industry again. He should apply that also to his management colleagues in the FSA.

To watch  Ed Milliband and the Labour Party dance on Goodwin's grave makes me want to throw up. The hypocrisy of that collection of sorry individuals should be thrown right back in their faces. Milliband sat in the Labour cabinet, as did many of his colleagues, which set up the system by which Goodwin et al were rewarded. They built that system which rewarded not just mediocrity but failure, and have sat in stony silence while the man who led them throughout eleven years of toadying to the rich and powerful, has himself used the system, since leaving office, to join the rich club to which he pandered. Those who condemn the humiliation of Goodwin on the grounds that it is "political", somehow forget his elevation was political, as are all the other elevations.

The other significant event is the decision by Stephen Hester to forgo his share bonus of almost £1 million. As the man given the task of turning around the Royal Bank, on an annual salary of just over a million, his rewards seemed scant, compared to those "earned" by others in the private sector or even some of his colleagues at the Royal Bank. The pressure which moved Hester to give up his bonus, an example already set by his own Chairman SirPhilip Hampton, eventually proved to be too much and whether it leads to others  at the bank, such as John Hourican - set to receive £4 million bonus - to make a similar sacrifice. has yet to be seen. Now it is being seen as the growth of an "anti-business" attitude, being deliberately fostered in the UK, something which is causing real concern. Others, including the Prime Minister, see it as the end of the crony capitalism which saw chief executives and directors, rewarded out of all proportion to their contribution, by committees of their peers set up specifically for that purpose. As the gap between rich and poor in this country has widened, as people have witnessed the destruction of their pensions and the withering of public services, so the revuslion has grown, at not just the way in which the rich rewarded themselves but also the way in which it was rubbed in the noses of those who were made poorer or unemployed to make it happen.

Is this the end of the madness of the greed culture? I doubt that, unless we now see a similar backlash against the ludicrous rewards enjoyed by the sporting "heroes" of professional soccer. It is the irony of ironies that many  of the same people who have been howling for the scalps of Goodwin et al, not only see nothing wrong with paying Wayne Rooney or John Terry, more in six months than most of them will earn in a lifetime, they also pillory the owners of any club which refuses to spend that kind of money. No one ever said that football fans were rational, especially when it comes to affairs of their be-loved clubs, but surely now there has to be some sanity brought back into professional sport, before many of the clubs go the same way as the banks. Perhaps the demise of a Manchester United or a Rangers is what is needed.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Muddied Waters and a that!

The media has been exercised this week, over what has been the charge that Alex Salmond has "muddied the waters" of the "Great Discussion" on the referendum. Never mind that the media has been quite happy to let pass, the endless haverings of opponents of Scotland's independence, those who love nothing better than to portray Scots as a nation of subsidy junkies. On Sunday past, on BBC's The Big Question, it was even suggested that had it not been for the civilising hand of the Union, there would have been no Scottish Enlightenment, that our baser instincts would have been allowed to surface and that Scotland, alone of the smaller nations in Europe, is incapable of running our own affairs. Why that should be so is never explained, after all, who needs an explanation for what are deemed to be self-evident truths?

And they were fellow Scots, as the programme came from Edinburgh, and included the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party. It was she who suggested the Enlightenment was the product of the Union and, if that is the best she can produce over the next few months, the one Tory seat they hold in Scotland, for the Westminster Parliament, is almost certainly on borrowed time. Those sentiments are as nothiong of course, compard to the hysterics emanating from England, with Osborne's, "you will not be allowed to issue bank notes" to Hammond's "you will have to pay for the removal of the nuclear weapons on the Clyde" to the PM's "you will not be automatically allowed into the EU and you will be forced to use the euro"  Boom! Boom! How do you like them apples?

We can afford to laugh at all of that of course, because it is just so much drivel. However, we are not immune ourselves from the drivellers. At the moment I am enjoying crossing words with the cybernats on the Tartan Army Message Board (TAMB), where Alex's mantra is as the word of God. He who questions that word, is not welcome and any suggestion that the "muddied waters" could be made clearer, for the sake of the debate, you understand, is howled down. Thus, according to one TAMBer, independence means any Union from which the Scots can extricate themselves, irrespective of the conditions of membership and that during the term of that membership, considerable damage might be done. The EU is acceptable, because Scotland can come out if we want, and that would mean we are independent, but the UK is not, because for some reason, we are not independent, despite being free to leave it when we want. Are they confused? Not according to them, because Alex has it all sussed.

We are three weeks into the campaign, we have seen the Scottish Government publication on the referendum, but are we any further forward? One would think the holding of a referendum on whether or not Scotland should be independent, would be simple and straightforward but so far, we have debated the following
1) How many questions there should be
2) The form of words to be used
3) What the words mean
4) Who will be allowed to vote
5) If we go for Dev/Max, who will be responsible and who will have most to gain/lose
6) How we determine how we get devolution

That is before we touch on the currency, defence, the EU, the euro and so on. Now Alex has decided that even if Scots vote for independence, they will still be in the United Kingdom. At first glance, his reasoning appears reasonable as the Union of the Crowns, preceded the Union of the Parliaments by over 100 years, and until Scots decide otherwise, we will still share the monarchy. It is when we look at the normal understanding of what the United Kingdom means and people's perception of what the United Kingdom is. To the rest of the world, the term United Kingdom means Great Britain, it certainly does not mean the Union of the Crowns and international recognition is the one factor we cannot afford to ignore. In an attempt to make independence sound as cozy as possible and create the mirage that as  little as possible will change with independence, Smart Alex is in danger of creating a quagmire, which is totally unnecessary.

Still here Michelle?

Three weeks into the campaign and the threat of the mass exodus of celebrities from Scotland has begun, if Scots have the gall, the temerity to vote for independence. Well, there is one threat, but it comes from someone who made the same threat in 2007 - and that threat was to leave if the SNP won a majority in Holyrood and became the government. The SNP did not win a majority of seats but did form a minority government and, by any standard and compared with what went before, did rather well. Did the celebrity leave? Not a chance but she did get her share of publicity for making the threat, which was probably the intention in the first place.

Would we miss her? I suppose those who consider themselves friends might do but as her circle of friendships seems to be ever more centred in London and the South East of England, her friends may actually see more of her - despite her having lost an alleged six stones in weight. Does her presence and opinions actually matter that much to us? There might be those who see her as a role model of sorts; Alan Sugar seems to like her a lot and has her sit in judgement on those to whom he may be prepared to offer a job. Those who compete to be Lord Sugar's Apprentice, certainly display those qualities which a certain type of business magnate seem to admire and consider essential to succeed in business. The contestants tend to be strong on mendacity, ruthlessness, self-promotion, selfishness, arrogance and an almost unlimited capacity to give me the boak. Is it significant that our very own celebrity is considered eminently suited to judge whether or not the candidates for Lord Sugar actually measure up? Rod Stewart has a slightly less flattering opinion of her.

There is no doubt she has been a great business success and Scotland needs to encourage people with her kind of drive but according to a Guardian article at the end of 2010, her company employed 42 people in Scotland and 1,200 in China. She has threatened to take her business to London but of course she will hardly close the outlets which sell her products, unless spite really does get the better of her and she is prepared to lose a market because Scots decide they want to be independent. So, how much money will she be prepared to lose? Note a lot I suspect. Anyway, do these people who travel under the collective title of "celebrity", of various standing from A to Z, really believe they matter so much to the rest of us, who see more to life than hanging on the generally vacuous utterings of those we are told are "celebrities", actually give a toss whether they go or stay? They are generally surrounded by those who are prepared to feed their vanity to the point they begin to believe their own publicity and lose all sense of reality.

She has raised the ire of some of the cybernats, who delight in attacking anyone who disagrees with the mantra produced by SNP HQ, but outside of this piece and a few others that may be written, not all of them necessarily critical, she will be largely ignored. Scots have much better things to do than pay much attention to the utterings of someone whose lifestyle may not be altered one jot by independence, because independence will give them some hope that their country can finally reach its potential and alter their own lifestyles out of all recognition. Go if you must Ms Mone and feel free  to hold any opinion you like on the question of Scotland's independence, but kindly keep your threats for those who might be interested.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Should Fred lose his knighthood?

In a word - "Yes". He should never have been awarded one in the first place. To give the man an award "for services to banking" merely underlines what a total farce the whole honours system in the UK is. Brian Wilson, ex Scottish Labour MP and long-standing opponent of not just independence but devolution, recently wrote a condemnation of the entire system, pointing out quite justifiably, how it is class based and a means of maintaining the class structure in the UK. It never ceases to amaze me how all those self-styled left wingers in the Scottish Labour Party find their voices to oppose the corruption at the heart of the British political system, only after they have retired from the self-same system that paid them all so handsomely for so many years. I don't know what sickens me more, those who receive the awards, the ones at the very apex of the class structure, or the Labour members who watched for years in silence, while their politcal masters did their best to fill the House of Lords, with those one-time doyens and champions of the working class - the trade union leaders.

A distinction has to be made here, between those who are given the awards and "honours" at the bottom end, the long-serving firemen or dinner ladies, a point made by Wilson, and those at the top end who get the lordships and knighhoods. It is a ludicrous system that rewards those with the deepest pockets or who have worked hard to ensure that the establsihment is preserved - the heads of department in the civil service. There is something intrinsically worthwhile in rewarding people who give selflessly of their time and effort with no expectation of personal gain or even recognition and, if the system did not already exist, it would have to be invented. That is entirely different however, from the mechanism that rewards the biggest party donors or civil servants who have done no more than their job, knowing that so long as they preserve the "system" and keep their noses clean, a "K" will come with the pension. Unfortunately, in this country, it is the same system.

We will now have to observe the machinations of the Forfeiture Committee while it sits in judgement of Sir Fred, knowing that whatever it decides, will do nothing to clear the stink of hypocrisy. For a man who enjoyed the sobriquey "the shred" for his ability to shred the careers of the thousands he made redundant, allegedly would listen to advice from no one and created the biggest financial loss in British business history, driving the world's fifth biggest bank into administration, to receive a "K" for "services to banking" must rank as the greatest irony of all time. But what of those who created the environment and structure that permitted Sir Fred to shred lives, ride roughshod over his contemporaries and - despite siren words of warning - allow his vanity to destroy Scotland's biggest bank? What of Brown who created the financial system that made the banks untouchable or Blair who did so much to perpetuate the Thatcher creed of greed and self-promotion? Is Goodwin to stand alone in the firing line as Blair amasses a personal fortune and Brown goes down in history as the Chancellor who abolished "boom and bust"?

To its credit the SNP has always turned its back on having its party stalwarts rewarded with seats in the "British" House of Lords. In an independent Scotland another structure will have to be created. In the meantime, we have to thole what is there and while the entire nest of privelege could do with being "shredded", Sir Fred will do for a start.

Why give the Unionists ammunition?

Alex Salmond is an arrogant sod, which is nae bad thing when leading a country. However, his arrogance can be a definite drawback if it leads him to treat the Scottish electorate with the type of disdain with which we have been treated for years, by the Unionists. When questioned about the SNP's decision to continue using sterling after "independence", he dismissed the question by claiming that the "Chancellor would bite the hand off us to continue to use the pound." He also claimed that 67 countries throughout the world shared their currency in exactly the same way. They do nothing of the kind and if Salmond did not know that, he should have been better advised by his advisers. But the man was a professional economist.

Now that the currency genie is out of the bottle - it has certainly taken the Unionists a heck of a long time to release it - it is not going to be returned. We are going to hear a great deal about it before the referendum because it has now been identified as one of the SNP's weak spots, and Salmond would do well to remember that peddling a series of half truths and in some cases, out and out lies, may be accepted by Nationalists but it is not going to be accepted by those Scots who have still to be convinced that independence would be good for them. We have been lied to for generations by the Westminster parties, about the true wealth of Scotland, about the size of tax revenues taken from Scotland, about the true level of expenditure in Scotland and the true value of the oil in the Scottish sector of the North Sea. We now know about the McCrone Report and how it was kept secret for thirty years, by successive governments, therefore the economic argument could be much more easily won than it was in earlier times.

The SNP has yet to explain why it intends to retain sterling after independence and simply pointing to the examples of Australia and Eire is not going to be sufficient. I could make a good argument for retainig the use of sterling as an interim measure in order to allay any fears over financial stability in the immediate aftermath of independence so why can't the SNP? The electorate is going to be very suspicious if the party continues to refuse to explain and will be outraged when it finds out that Salmond is so contemptious of them that he is prepared to lie about currency unions throughout the world, as an explanation of why the SNP intends to hold on to sterling. I use the word "lie" advisedly because to me it is inconceivable that Salmond would not have prepared an answer if he was asked about the currency, therefore either, he has been very badly advised or, he chose to lie.

It is perfectly true there are currency unions in other parts of the world, some of them, such as the countries in French Polynesia or old French African colonies, of many years standing. Then there are the more recent versions such as the eurozone but they are not all the same and they most definitely do not all follow the kind of relationship that would exist if Scotland retains sterling after voting to be independent. Currency unions can be informal where there is no common monetary policy but where the currency being used is the same and may even be pegged to another currency altogether. This is the kind of arrangement used in New Zealand and its dependent territories, where the New Zealand dollar is loosley pegged to the US dollar. India, Bhutan and Nepal have a similar arrangement with the rupee which is allowed a "managed float" against the US dollar.

That is a far cry from the system which prevails in the eurozone, where the arrangement is formal and the monetary policy followed is common to all member countries. The current crisis will ensure the level of control will be stepped up and the drive to control the Greek budget is being stepped up almost daily. Scotland has lived with the currency union that is the sterling area for years, we know how much control Scotland has had. Until the latest crisis, the SNP argued that we would have a seat on the governing committee of the European Central Bank (ECB), which would ensure that Scotland's interests would be safeguarded. What kind of dream world is that? Critics are now reminding the SNP that if an independent Scotland retains sterling, the Bank of England will simply ignore Scotland's interests - as if they were ever considered in the past.

That is the reason that Salmond's claim that the other currency unions are all the same is just so much nonsense. It is also the reason he is going to have to treat the Scottish electorate with a bit more respect, or pay the penalty.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Scotland and Defence

Scotland's contribution to the Union of the UK has been enormous and, few would argue that the contribution has been well in excess of our population size or even resources, even prior to the discovery of oil. We don't always like to admit it but we did more than our share of empire building and the one part we do like to claim, our contribution to the Enlightenment, has been universally recognised. There is one very specific area however, where we consistently punched above our weight and not always to our own advantage. That was in the area of war, for which we had an international reputation in Europe long before the Treaty of Union in 1707. Since then, that reputation has been enhanced considerably.

Despite that history of martial achievment, it is one area of policy in which the SNP has been weakest, with contradiction after contradiction littering policy statements, particularly since 1990. Prior to that, the party policy was reasonably straightforward, highlighted by opposition to nuclear weapons which obviously entailed the removal of nuclear weapons from Scottish territory. At first that meant opposition to Polaris, which brought the party into conflict with the White House as well as Westminster, leading to the nefarious activities and later replacement, of Funkhouser as American consul. The present policy calls for opposition to NATO membership, which chimes with the long-standing opposition to nuclear weapons. So far so good and there would appear to be a consistency in policy, with which few party members would quarrel, but which obviously puts the party into direct conflict with the rest of the UK. Unfortunately, while retaining its overall policy position, the SNP has occupied some strange policy positions along the way.

Scottish war losses were greater than those of any other part of the UK, bar none. This is accounted for in part by the fact that Scots have always contributed a higher than proportinate number of recruits to the defence of the UK. Nelson may have said, "England expects..." at the battle of Trafalgar but 25% of the men who crewed the UK ships were Scots. In WWI Scotland suffered 20% of UK casualties, despite having only 10% of the population; 27% of all Scots who were mobilised were killed as opposed to 12% of the UK as a whole and Scotland's losses were 1% of the total population as opposed to 0.7% of the UK. In WWII, the same pattern applied, with Scots suffering over 13% of the UK losses despite the population having fallen to just over 9% of the UK total. In Korea 25% of the total losses were Scots and we provided 25% of the troops sent to Iraq in the opening days of that war. The suspicion arises therefore that those casualty figures did not arise by accident and Wolfe's dictum, as he tried to persuade Westminster to recruit from the Highlands of Scotland in the aftermath of the civil war of 1745, "They are little mischief if they fall..." has been followed ever since.

Despite those figures being common knowledge among Nationalists, when Westminster decided to abolish the historic Scottish regiments under the most recent army reforms in 2004/5, the SNP campaigned strongly to have them retained. The Highland regiments in particular have proved popular recruting agents for the British army and in common with the recruitinng policies throughout the UK, recruited from what became known as their "recruting areas" such as Tayside and Fife for the Black Watch and Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland for the Gordons. As the casualty figures mounted for those regiments, so the loss of life in their recruitment areas were higher than in other parts of the country. In WWI approximately 50,000 men served in the Black Watch which suffered 28,000 casualties with over 8,000 killed. Only the Royal Scots, which had 12,000 killed suffered a higher casualty rate. Despite being questioned strongly, the SNP could not, or would not, explain why they would campaign to retain regiments which had been used with such devastating effects on the lives of Scotland's young men.

They have found themselves in a similar corner on the question of the removal of Trident from the Clyde, which has been party policy since ever nuclear weapons were introduced to the most heavily populated area of Scotland. It has always been party policy to reduce the amount of defence expenditure in an independent Scotland, but during the latest round of defence cuts imposed by Westminster, when it was proposed that Scotland would lose two of its three air bases, the SNP campaigned for the retention of all three. Westminster has repeatedly used the threat of job losses in the defence industries such as shipbuilding or civilian jobs at the military bases such as Faslane, as an argument against independence, despite Scotland suffering severe losses in all those areas as a consequence of defence cuts in recent years. Instead of the SNP highlighting those cuts, to highlight the hypocrisy of Westminster's claims or to explain that the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland would save in excess of £2 billion per annum, they have either remained silent - increasingly their reponse to other major problem areas such as the definition of independence - or have compromised their long-standing position on defence.

The Defence Secretary, Philp Hammond's, threat to charge Scotland for the cost of decommissioning Faslane and the Trident base should be treated with the contempt it deserves. Faced with the possibility of finding an alternative base somewhere in England, Westminster has suddenly wakened up to the contribution Scotland has made. Scots were never asked if they wanted this prime target placed close to our greatest population centre in the West of Scotland, we were simply expected to accept it just as we were expected to accept the use of Scottish regiments during two world wars. Suddenly Westminster is going to have to explain to the population in whichever part of England gets the honour of playing host to a weapons system that is retained so that the UK can keep its permanent place in the Security Council of the UN, just how important it will be for them to allow themselves to become a prime target if there ever was a nuclear war. After all, look at the jobs it will provide. This is one area where the SNP should stand by the principles on which its defence policy was founded.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

What has the Euro done for Ireland?

Despite Ireland having complied with every cut in public expenditure, every tax rise asked for, done more to satisfy the conditions under which the international bailout plan was granted and generally been more successful in turning around her almost fatally damaged economy than any other country in the Euro Zone, Ireland could still end up as a major casualty of the currency union.

It is now admitted that Ireland should never have joined the euro in the first place as none of the conditions for entry were met satisfactorily, if by that is meant with enough room to spare in order to ensure the new currency would be a success. Academics in Ireland, as well as not a few of her politicians, argued strongly that the long term consequences for Ireland would be very detrimental to her whole economic structure. That advice ran counter to the mood at the time and the fantasists in Ireland, as in other countries like Greece, had their way. The sceptics were right of couse and the outcome for Ireland has been a disaster.

I am always reminded of the old Irish saw about the travellor asking for directions in Ireland and being told, "Well I wouldn.t have started from here" every time the discussion gets around to asking, "What does the country do now?" Unfortunately the country is ~"here" and "here" has to be the starting point but again unfortunately, the Irish are not masters of their own destiny, as far as the Euro is concerned. If the Irish government and their economic advisers were to be brutally honest, they would tell the Irish people that the Euro cannot be saved in its present structure and if, the Irish want to continue with membership of the currency union, they will have to be prepared to give up what little sovereignty they have left.

The loss of its credit rating may make the French, and other governments whose credit ratings have just been downgraded, think seriously about the Euro and what they actually want from it. The economic and political elites in the EU have always known the end game and what it meant in terms of loss of sovereignty. What they could never agree upon, was the route that would best take them there without causing the populations in the members states to take to the streets. The collapse in Greece, the problems in Portugal, Spain, Italy and other countries which have been preparing their citizens for entry to the Euro but are not yet members, such as Hungary, have had to watch while their citizens took to the streets anyway. The reality of membership of the Euro Zone, for those countries least prepared for membership, hit home harder and much more quickly that the elites were prepared for.

Any honest assessment of what membership of the Euro means has never really changed. What it means, what it has always meant, is the creation of the United States of Europe. For the euro to work, as it was argued by the Euro fanatics, it means the member countries must ensure their various economies work and function as one. Anyone who needs an example needs just to look at the UK and the currency union that is sterling. If there are parts of the currency union which are far enough away from the centre, as to need special help because they are incapable of competing, have fewer resources, have less economic and political power, that help must be given. If it isn't, there will be economic consequences, leading inevitably to political consequences.

Regional policy went through various phases over a fifty year period but none were successful enough to bring Scottish productivity levels, output levels and growth levels up to the same levels as the South East of England enjoyed. Despite transfer payments from the centre to other parts of England, the same scenario applied, with all the economic consequences that that entailed. Transfer payments are simply taxes collected at the centre and spread to other parts of the country which are deemed to need special help for whatever reason. That system is a consequence of centralised control, which if it was not applied, would have other consequences which would be equally unpalatable for the less favoured regions of the country.

Apply that system to the EU and the centralised control, which allows for transfer payments to the less favoured regions/countries is what is missing. Seventeen countries cannot have one monetary policy but seventeen different tax regimes. Fiscal or tax policy is supposed to complement monetary policy, not compete with it and, now that the Euro elite have been forced to finally admit to what is required to make the Euro work, they are desperately scrabbling around trying to find a way to introduce the required changes. Centralised taxation is a must, as is centralised control of the various budgets. The Euro Zone already has centralised control of monetary policy ie interest rates and money supply so, what would be left if they addedd tax and budgetry control? The answer is nothing.

Meanwhile Ireland, meets all the tasks set it to qualify for the continued aid, knowing that it won't mean a toss because the Euro cannot work as it is currently set up. If you were an Irish politician, would you relish telling the Irish people that they fought for eight hundred years to throw off the shackles of English/British control and now must relinquish their hard won freedom to Brussel's control? Or would you just continue to pretend that even if there is centralised tax and budgetry control, Ireland will still be independent? Meanwhile, back in Scotland what about fiscal autonomy? More to follow.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Is the SNP deliberately creating confusion?

We are only a week into the referendum campaign and impatience is already beginning to show. It was always a certainty that the cybernats would get peoples' backs up and that the usual drivel about Scotland's "subsidies" from the English taxpayer would be done to death within the first few days. The level of ignorance among English voters is only on a par with the level of duplicity and arrogance of their political leaders and opinion formers. McKenzie, Paxman, Roberts et al should be given wall to wall coverage in Scotland because their superciliousness, to say nothing of their ignorance of Scottish affairs knows no bounds. The level of ignorance of some of the English electorate is really quite frightening.

When teaching, we used to have a wee laugh at the attempts of some of the first year pupils to fill in blank maps, when it became plain some of the wee souls did not know the difference between the land and the sea. They were 11 and 12 year old kids and even then, my Geography colleagues expected much more from them. But their mistakes were as nothing compared to the ignorance of the male contestant from "The Only Way is Essex", currently appearing on Celebrity Big Brother. Never having come into contact with too many Essex girls, I had to take the word of others that generally they were pretty thick. No matter how thick they are, can they really be any worse than Kirk, who was asked to fill in six countries on a blank map of the world? He also had to fill in  Essex on the map of the UK, the only part he got right. At least he will be able to find his way home. He put South Africa on the farthest east coast of Russia, Australia in Canada and hadn't a clue where America was. Some of his comments about the very little of current affais they discussed, were dire.

Bearing all of that in mind, at what level is the debate about the referendum on independence, going to be held? The Scottish electorate needs to be told not just the question about independence, but what independence means, what Devo/Max means. Instead, the debate between the politicians and the pundits has managed to go no further than who has the right to organise the referendum, with charge and counter charge taking us forward not a solitary inch or should that be centimetre? The Prime Minister has the legal right to organise the referendum and he is the only one who has, while the First Minister most definitely has the political mandate to do likewise, while the Prime Minister and his party have almost no political mandate at all in Scotland. Of course that last statement is not strictly true because even if they had no Scottish seats at Westminster and without proportional representation, they would have almost none in the Scotltish Parliament, they would still have a mandate in Scotland because we are part of the Union of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. The SNP has been very good at the rhetoric that paints the Tories as usurpers but legally and politically it doesn't take us very far. The Tories still form the government and Scotland is still the governed, whether we like it or not.

This confusion suits the SNP fine and Salmond will allow it to continue as long as it fulfils his purpose - which is to avoid explaining what independence means for as long as possible. At some point, Salmond is going to have to explain what independene means and what it will mean to use Sterling even in the short term, although the "short term" is likely to last for a long time. Salmond and those who now form the government with him, all supported the UK's (and Scotland's when the time came) membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). When the ERM blew up, they supported the Euro and Scotland's membership of it. That enthusiasm has been tempered somewhat to the current position for membership "when the economic conditions are right", all of which simply signifies that they either have no idea what membership of the Euro would mean for an independent Scotland or they see some "advantage" in membership that has escaped the rest of us. Since they steadfastly refuse to explain their reasons, we just don't know. Some people have already expressed their dismay at the way the debate is being conducted and are already "sick of it". Imagine if the Scottish people were to deny themselves freedom simply because they were scunnered with the process of having to vote for it.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Human Rights in Independent Scotland

  One of the favourite arguments of Scottish national;ists is that Scotland will be a "better place" when it is independentx, which in many ways, is simply a counter to the usual Unionist argument that Westminster has been a "civilising force for good" in Scotland. It is as if without Westminster's guidance, Scots would still be eating their bairns. The Brit/Nats among us seem to revel in the thought that added to all the other "good" reasons why Scotland cannot be independent, the "too wee, too poor, too stupid" variety, it is always worthwhile to have another reason in reserve. "The Scots would soon fall prey to their historic bigotries; Highland v Lowland, Catholic v Protestant" can always be relied on and, whenever James McMillan, the Scots born composer is given space, he can equally be relied on to play his part as the stereotypical bigot. There can be few Scots as good at the self-loathing bit as Mr McMillan, who seems to find nothing worthy of admiration in the country of his birth.

However, we cannot ignore the sectarianism and religous bigotry that has been such a blight on our history and despite the Scottish Enlightenment that did so much to put Scotland on the world map, in terms of science, medicine. engineering, philosophy, education and so on, there have been darker periods when Scotland and the Scots showed the darker side of our character. We were very good at burning and executing witches and per capita, Scotland burned more witches, during the witch hunting periods of the 16th and 17th centuries, than any other country in Europe. That is all behind us and an independent Scotland would be one of the most civilised countries in the world, with a passion for human rights and a commitment to civil liberties that would be second to none - or would it?

Many of the people who are in government in Scotland today, under the leadership of Alex Salmond and holding down ministerial posts in his cabinet, were among the most ardent and passionate advocates of human rights and civil liberties when, as members of the '79 Group in the SNP they were seen as radical and progressive. The passion and rhetoric flowed from them in a steady stream, as they espoused the cause of every trade unionist fighting for workers' rights or every non-payer of the hated poll tax or every human rights activists in ever oppressive regime in the world. There was none more passionate, more radical or more progressive, to say nothing of more cabable of  left-wing rhetoric than Kenny MacAskill. It looked as if Mr MacAskill had held on to his compassion in government, when he released Megrahi, who was diagnosed as dying of cancer and whose demise was thought to be imminent. MacAskill took praise and condemnation in equal measure for his action but, give him his due, he stuck to his guns and released a man who was found guilty of the greatest mass murder in Scotland's history.

In June of 2011, I opened correspondence with Kenny MacAskill, in his capacity as Secretary for Justice in the Scottish government, to try to persaude him to change the law on Third Party Duty of Care. It was my third attempt to get the SNP to cahnge this law. It is not generally known but in Scotland, the law does not provide that third parties are owed a duty of care by local authorities or those employed by them. What that means is that there are certain victims of negligence, mendacity or wilful wrong-doing on the part of public authorities or their employees, who are denied any redress through the courts because the guilty parties enjoy immunity. The granting of that immunity has created a whole series of unintended consequences, sometimes tragic in their outcomes, particularly in the area of child protection. My case is well known, has had widespread publicity not only in this country but also in the United States, where no such immunity for psychiatrists and public officials exists, and needs no further comment here. But what does require comment is the attitude of the Scottish government, particulary if the present incumbents want to continue to persuade us that an independent Scotland is going to be somehow "better."

Rather than argue that there are good reasons why immunity for public authorities and their employees, in the field of child protection, can be justified and, providing those reasons, MacAskill referred me to a House of Lords judgment of 2005, in itself an odd referral from a Nationalist with ambitions for an independent Scotland, which stated, "child abuse is a serious social problem and Health Care Professionals (HCPs) play a vital part in combating the risk...it is best attacked by relieving HCPs of legal proceedings...Uncompensated, innocent parents pay the price but that is a necessary price.."  I told MacAskill I considered that to be an appalling judgegment and asked him three times if the SNP agreed that innocent parents should be victimised in this way. Three times he refused to answer. I also asked him three times how many parents is he prepared to see victimised before he considers the price to be too high. Three times he refused to answer, despite having it pointed out to him there are over 2,500 families in the UK who have had their lives blighted by the uncontrolled actions of public authorities and their employees.

The leader of the local authority involved in my case was SNP and since then has become a MSP and currently sits in Salmond's Cabinet. His name is Bruce Crawford. His lies contributed in large part to the cover up by the local authority and more importantly, to serious disruption and upset in my family. His conduct was made known to the SNP at the time and in my book Unbreakable Bonds, he is mentioned by name, therefore his conduct is in the public domain. It would seem that such conduct is perfectly acceptable in a Cabinet Minister, so long as it is an SNP Cabinet Minister because there would be immediate calls for his resignation if he belonged to any other polticial party.

My attempts to have the law changed in this respect have been covered in newspaper articles in Scotland on Sunday, Perthshire Advertiser and the Scottish Review, as well as in the newsletters of British False Memory Society, FACTion and Safari, all organisations who fight the cause of those who have been falsely accused. As a consequence, I have had contacts from Cornwall, Canada and the United States, as well as other parts of Scotland from parents who have been caught up in the hell created by child protection.
It is a cause that at one time, would have been adopted with relish and passion, by messrs MacAskill and his friends in the '79 Group. As part of the establishment, they obviously see things differently but it does not auger well for individual rights in an independent Scotland. Oh to be a Libyan.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Is Alex Salmond losing his grip?

Alex Salmond gets a pretty easy ride from the media in general. There is no doubt he is able and can usually come away with the quick sound bite or one liner, which says very little but which seems to satisfy the media's need for rapid fire responses. I have yet to make up my mind whether it is the calibre of some of the journalists who are sent to question him or, this is less likely, a sympathy for the cause he is championing. But the SNP has been wide open to attack on their policies on the EU and the currency and yet, have been allowed off the hook time and time again.

In the old '79 Group days, Group members adopted a technique which attacked their opponents personally, rather than the issue under discussion. The "claque", a group of young party members, dressed alike, carrying the same brief cases, the same hairstyles, the same red ties, followed their leaders around, ensuring they were in the hall to mock and shout down Group opponents, whenever the leaders rose to speak. Alex was good at the mockery bit and, there are distinct signs of it in his dealings with opponents both inside and outside the Scottish Parliament. The "claque" is also still there in the form of the "cybernats", SNP supporters who inhabit the internet sites attacking personally, anyone who disagrees with the SNP. Personal abuse is always the first line of attack and several media pundits and journalists have been on the receiving end, to the point where they have seen fit to mention it.

Joan McAlpine, The Scotsman columnist, recently elected MSP and personal assistant to Alex Salmond has been filling the news media this week - for all the wrong reasons. She claimed that pro-Union parties, opposed to the SNP's plans for a referendum were "anti-Scottish". The opposition saw an opportunity to put the boot in and Ms McAlpine has had a rather uncomfortable week. Given the opportunity to clarify things, she made a bad situation worse by first of all claiming she had been "quoted out of context" always the first port of call for politicians who have put themselves in an uncomfortable position. Then she claimed she was not directing her remarks at individuals but at the party leadership, who must be something other than "individuals". Her reason, according to her "clarifying statement was  that, "they should not be ganging up against Scotland's democratic right to decide our own future" That suggests the opposition have no right to oppose.

Now to be honest, if she had given it some thought, there are plenty of examples where the actions and behaviour of the opposition parties in Scotland, and their colleagues in England, have had consequences where it could be said they were anti-Scottish - the consequences that it. If the opposition politicians knew what they were doing, then they could be accused of acting in a way which had anti-Scottish consequences. If they didn't know or understand what they were doing, they could have been accused of being both stupid and anti-Scottish. Unfortunately Ms McAlpine seemed to take cold feet and panicked, denying she said it at first and even worse, on "Call Kaye" on Saturday morning when asked if the MP or MSP from Labour who was in the studio or on the line, was anti-Scottish, she refused to answer, making herself look rather daft. This is the second time in two weeks that Ms McAlpine has let her guard and the party down by ill-judged remarks. Will Alex be having a word?

Scotland and Ireland.

Before he does have a word with Ms McAlpine, Alex may ponder on his own gaffe, one which is potentially much more embarrassing than anything Ms McAlpine did. On a visit to Dublin this week Salmond made the comparison between Scotland being "bullied" by Cameron and Osbourne and Ireland's fight for independence. Only he will have any idea why he made such a stupid mistake because any Scottish politician, with any sense of history, never mind knowledge of the subject would know to stay well clear of that kind of involvement. First of all it was an insult to his Irish hosts, whom no doubt he was trying to impress. Secondly, Salmond was born and brought up in West Lothian therefore he must have seen an Orange Walk or two or three. Has he ever wondered why they are so prevalent in Scotland? Has he ever asked himslef why there has always seemed to be such animosity towards independence among the Irish immigrant population in Scotland. Cardinal Tom Winning did much to allay some of the fears of the descendents of the Irish immigrant population but he could do nothing to change the hsitory of the two countries and their historical relationship.

Seamus Mallon, the one time leader of the SDLP reminded Salmond, that Scotland had done its share of the "bullying" in Ireland, that Scots aloud themselves to be part of the Plantations in the north and Scottish regiments have usually done several "tours" in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. As a Nationalist it has always dismayed me, the part Scots palyed in the subjugation of Ireland and Salmond got off lightly. Perhaps he has been getting away lightly for so long, he just got careless, but in Ireland, that can sometimes be very unpleasant.

What is wrong with SNP policy?

That may be a strange question to come from someone who left the SNP in 1990 - in the huff according to my critics - and has seen the party win an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament; but the reason I left is why I think the party's policies are wrong. When I left the SNP the party had just committed itself to "Independence in Europe" an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, a misnomer and even a lie. I had battled throughout the 1980's to convince the party that commitment to membership of the EU was a big mistake as we were just beginning to witness the development of the Euroepan Union as it was envisaged by the founding fathers in the Treaty of Rome. But I lost the argument and despite strenuous efforts by friends and even some critics, to persuade me to remain inside the SNP, I felt too strongly that the ever increasing march of centralisation in the EU, would be damaging to Scotland and, that the arguments and the debate deserved a wider audience. Party discipline would have ensured I could not take that debate to the Scottish people therefore it was better - both for the SNP and me, that I leave.

Once upon a time when the SNP actually stood for Scottish independence, the membership card carried the legend that the party stood for the "restoration of Scottish sovereignty". I believe that is no longer the case but its disappearance has gone largely unnoticed even by the membership and certainly by the chatteratii in Scotland. Having failed to notice its disappearance, the significance of that disappearance has gone equally unremarked upon. The fact that the resoration of sovereignty is no longer one of the stated aims of the party is good because, in that at least, they are being honest, although they never cease to talk the language of nationalism and freedom. I have argued for as long as the debate has gone on that Scotland can either be independent or it can be a member of the EU, but it cannot be both and, much to my initial surprise, even the architect of the slogan, Jim Sillars, now agrees with me and has come round to my way of thinking.

What is Sovereignty?

Sovereignty is not simply an abstract concept, it has practical applications. A claim to sovereignty is a claim by some representative authority in the name of "the people" to exercise a monopoly of law-making and law-enforcement in a designated territory. In an increasingly interdependent world, soverign states have accepted specific treaty obligations and limitations to their law-making rights. But the EU goes further by requiring member states to cede a general right of law-making on a permanent basis, to EU institutions. It is now accepted that EU law is superior to Scots law and in any conflict between the two, EU law will always be supreme.

Sovereignty is a legal as well as a philisophical way of describing the right of a people to govern itself, to determine its own priorities within the constraints imposed by its external environment. Increased interdependence may change the balance of advantage and disadvantage in any "self-determined" act, but it cannot make the principle of self-determination or self-government superfluous. At any level of integration or interdependence, a community of people must ask itself how important it is to retain the right to make its own choices between the options with which they are faced.

The membership of the SNP decided in the 1980s that the best way to combat the word "separatism" was to join the Euroepan Economic Community, as it was then, an act which they believed would immediately take the sting our of the charge that the SNP wanted to isolate Scotland. In the event, it didn't and each and every new centralisation of powers in the EU has been welcomed by the New SNP. Of course, the other side of that coin was the currency and nowhere has the policy of the SNP been as wooly or dishonest as in its choice of currency for the new Scotland.

Choice of Scotland's Currency?

When I left the party, I was interviewed by every TV and radio station in the country and explained my reasons, emphasising that I believed the introduction of a single currency would be another dilution of state control and, that the EU would use the imposition of the single currency - an economic measure - in order to further its political aims, one of which is the creation of a United States of Europe. I still have a tape of an interview about my departure, in which Alex Salmond, who had just been elected as leader of the SNP and who was one of the strongest supporters of both the EU and the single currency, states, "No serious politician in Europe is even thinking about introducing a single currency." Unbelieveably, the interviewer let him away with it. That blatant dishonesty has been a hallmark of SNP policy on the currency since then.

What is just as  unbelievable is that the political journalists in Scotland have allowed Salmond to get away with this type of nonsense - until now. Fiscal autonomy became the new holy grail, as the party attempted to persuade the Scottish people that control of their taxes, would amount to independence. That little gem was prior to the announcement that the SNP, or at least its leadership, had decided that the currency in the new "independent" Scotland would be sterling, but only until such times as a referendum could be held in which the Scottish people would choose the Euro. There was no question that that would be the choice of "the people". No where and at no time, has there been any mention of Scotland having its own currency, despite stalwart attempts by the "cybernats" to argue the policy is that sterling would be only an interim measure. Equally, no where and at no time, has there ever been any mention of what would happen if the Scottish people suddenly had an attack of self-awareness and decided to vote against joining the Euro.

Needless to say, all of this pre-dated the crisis in the euro zone. Now entry to the euro will only be "when the economic conditions are right" and after a referendum. It is not so long ago that Salmond decided of his own volition, that the Scottsih people would no longer be given a referendum on membership of the EU itself, something which had been party policy for years, therefore a promise of a referendum on the Euro has to be viewed in that light. The first condition is a nonsense because the economic conditions will never be "right" because any policy that undermines Scottish control of its own economy means that Scotland will not be independent. Any country which gives control of its currency to any body outwith its own borders is effectively giving away its independence, which is something the SNP continues to deny, even in the face of the current debacle in the Euro Zone and the total lack of independence of its member states.

Despite years of predicting that the Euro could not work without centralised control of taxation, so-called Euro sceptics like me were ignored or even pillioried as "narrow nationalists" or even on occasion, "racists". The Euro fantasists have been forced to finally admit it and the talk in the EU is all about how the Euro can be made to "work" and how soon the member states can get control of not only the taxation but the budgets, of the weakest member states. For the SNP to even contemplate joining such an organisation, under such conditions, merely emphasises just how little the word "independence" means to the current leadership. and how far the leadership has taken the party from its raison d'etre.

For seventy years it was argued, with complete justification, that London's control of interest rates was detrimental to the economic interests of Scotland. Rates were inevitably set with the inflationary pressure generated by the economy of the bloated South East of England in mind. As soon as inflation became a problem in South East England, rates were raised, rates which frequently strangled at birth, any hope of an economic revival in Scotland. Nothing about the economic structure of the UK has changed, therefore the use of sterling by an "independent" Scotland is a nonsense. The latest announcement by Osbourne, that Scotland would "not be allowed to print bank notes" is absolutley breathtaking in its arrogance but what is equally breathtaking is the response from a spokesman for John Swinney, Finance Minister in the Scottish Parliament, who said the Chancellor was being "churlish". If that doesn't frighten the London establishment to death, nothing will.

Even now, there is still no indication the SNP is thinking in terms of a separate Scottish currency (I am pretty sure I know why but more of that below). The party is still talking in terms of keeping sterling until we can join the euro. There is no need to have a currency union with England and it should be perfectly clear, both from our already chequered experience of 300 years of  Union with England, to say nothing of the total debacle of the Euro Zone, that a currency union can only be detrimental to Scotland's long term interests. If Scotland is to flourish as an independent country then we must be just that - INDEPENDENT. The scare stories will abound, our credit rating will drop, we won't be able to service our debt, the oil cannot sustain us, despite having sustained the entire UK since it was first discovered and so on.

To allay fears of the international financial world, a Scottish government could stabilise a new currency by pegging it to sterling, the euro, the US dollar, in short it could be pegged to any currency that would suit best. Yes, it is true, we would have no control over the economic policies of the country to whose currency we are pegged but we would have control over our own and or if, the "peg" ceases to be appropriate, we change the peg. That is a freedom we will be denied in any currency uniuon. It is inconceivable that a country with the oil and natural resources an independent Scotland would have, would not enjoy a credit rating at least the equal of the current rating of the UK and, as the economy developed, the ability to service whatever debt we had would become easier.

The SNP have yet to be asked and the party leadership has made no attempt to explain why, the SNP has given no consideration to a separate Scottish currency or, if it has, it has failed to publish its reasons. This means the party has allowed itself to be cornered into the position where the Chancellor can be seen to tell Scotland it will not be allowed to print bank notes and the only response the SNP can muster is one that emphasises our perceived weakness.  What independent country would allow itself to be told it could not print its own bank notes? What putative Chancellor of an independent country would allow himself to be dictated to in that manner?

The answer is one who does not believe his country will be independent. The SNP leadership's special assistants are currently canvassing well known "celebrity" supporters, asking them to put their name to a paper calling for Devo/Max. The only political party which is pushing to have a third question included on the ballot paper for the referendum, is the SNP. There is nothing in it for the Unionists to have a third question added, particularly since they claim to believe the majority of people in Scotland will vote against independence. It is only in the context of increased powers being granted by Westminster to the Scottish Parliament that the timidity of the SNP leadership makes sense. Does the current leadership of the SNP actually want independence? I believe the answer is "No". By his own admission Alex Salmond is an economic nationalist, which broadly speaking means that he sees the reason for Scotland to be independent is an economic one, the economic betterment of Scotland. When he came before the Election Committee of the SNP, which interviewed those who wished to stand as Parliamentary candidates, I asked him, "If you could be certain that Scotland would be worse off with independence, would you still be a Nationalist?" He answered honestly and said, "I would have to think about that. I don't know that I could be as committed as you". That explains a lot.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Why this blog?

Having a bit of time on my hands, and a long term interest in current affains, as well as a need to bring into the public domain some of the injustices perpetrated by the establishment in Scotland, in the name of child protection, I decided to turn my hand to writing regular comment. I spent over fifteen years writing the Spectator column in the local paper, commenting weekly on anything that happened to take my fancy that week or any time really, hence the name Spectator.

This blog will be written from the perspective of a hard line, uncomprimising Scottish Nationalist at a time when we could be entering one of the most important periods in my lifetime. Having spent over 35 years in the SNP between 1955 and December 1990, when I left over policy differences over the EU, my political commitment to the cause of Scottish independence has been life-long. I believe we could be in a period where we have the conditions for the "perfect storm". The SNP has an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament, despite the voting system having been drawn up with the intention that such a thing could never happen. The Lib/Dems are deeply unpopular as a consequence of having gone into coalition with the Tories and, Labour and the Tories each have new female leaders.

While we like to pride ourselves on having moved on from the time when women were considered to be inherently inferior to the male species, it is still a fact that any woman who aspires to do well, particularly in politics, will be set different hurdles and certainly be asked to mount higher hurdles than her male colleagues. At the moment neither leader gives the impression of having either the charisma or the ability to mount those hurdles and, thus the SNP has been presented with the best opportunity it has ever had, to take the Scottish people to independence. I do not feel confident that the party has the commitment to do that. I have known the party leadership, at its various levels, for well over thirty years in many cases and I know the history of the individuals involved. Some of them are what I would call Nationalists, with an inherent capacity to see the unfolding of events from a "Nationalist" viewpoint, while others are "economic Nationalists" by their own admission whose commitment to the freedom of Scotland no more than skin deep and would cease as soon as they believed it might cost them. Yet a few others are not Nationalists at all, believing that Devo?Max, as they call it now, is as far as Scotland needs to go to satisfy their ambitions for the country. I intend to comment regularly on all of that.