Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Rape of Logic

The "rape clause" is abhorrent. It requires women claiming Child Benefit for a third or subsequent child to prove that the child was conceived by rape. Introduced by George Osborne in 2016, the clause was spotted by the SNP's Alison Thewliss MP, who has led a growing campaign to have it scrapped.

The rape clause means that a woman claiming Child Benefit will have to relive her rape each time she changes​ her claim or circumstances, when she moves home or work or has her benefits reviewed. 18 years of remembering and reminding officialdom of the violent event that changed her life.

It will be poor women who will suffer most. Women of wealth can avoid the trauma of proving rape by simply not claiming the benefit. But women with less wealth or none need the £2,500 a year, the money that was meant to help them and their children. When you remember that there are 500,000 women and girls living in poverty in Scotland you get an idea of the scale of the problem.

The rape clause attacks the poorest women. It was imposed on them by David Cameron and George Osborne, then the alpha males of the Tory party, so like the subject it touches it is about male power over women.

But the rape clause runs against Tory logic. Isn't the Tory party, the party of the traditional family? The party of the family has ensured that traditional families whose children are conceived in a loving, caring relationship are less well off. It's a tax on larger loving families. What was George thinking of? Going against the traditional family values of the Tory party?

George, like David and now Theresa May, has an utterly cynical, selfish view of power. Ethics, or a moral line in favour of the family, just don't appear on his mental map. Selfish power, weilded through the neoliberal policy of screwing the poor to soak the rich, is his primary interest.

And Theresa May's announcement of elections in June is in the same, cynical, power-building line of thought. Theresa wants a dominant position for her right wing neoliberal Brexit branch of Tory politics, so she is grabbing the chance to crush the weakened Labour party.

This is the degrading state of Tory politics at Westminster. Selfish, greedy Tories dominating a parliament that has lost any sense of caring for people in need. A Tory parliament that defies its own beliefs, its own logic, to hit poor women who have been raped.

Scotland must free itself now from the shackles of cynical Tory power. At the local and now General elections vote till you boak. And sign the Scrap the Rape Clause petition.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Prawn and Ships

The European Union's Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, was interviewed in yesterday's La Vanguardia, the leading Catalan newspaper. Asked by Anna Buj of La Vanguardia about Brexit, Ms O'Reilly said: 

"People have the right to no surprises at the end of the two years of negotiations, and as far as possible they should know how the conversations are going." [I am translating back into English from the Catalan, so this is not a precise quote, but you get the gist.]

When Anna Buj asked whether people would be able to have easy access to information on the negotiations, Ms O'Reilly said:

"It's interesting: Michel Barnier - the EU's chief Brexit negotiator - has said that the negotiations will be very transparent, while the Prime Minister, Theresa May, says the reverse. In recent months she has been saying that the negotiations will be in private and that there will be sanctions against anyone who leaks information. Transparency will be used as a tactic during these negotiations because in the UK many politicians are strongly in support of Brexit, some want a hard Brexit and everyone will be following the negotiations closely. If they see compromises being offered in areas that they don't like, they will put pressure on the Government. Transparency will be a challenge for the British Government."

We are at the start of two years in which we, and everything we have and do, are topics for negotiation by Westminster. Scottish fisheries, Scotland's renewable energy, her oil, her industry, her population, her worker's rights, her financial system, data protection...all of these are topics that David Davis and Theresa May will throw into the negotiating pot. I, and the other 1.2 million Britons living in the rest of the EU, are pawns in this game, with no vote, and no influence over outcomes that will shape our lives, forever.

Despite Michel Barnier's promise of transparency, we can be sure that much of these negotiations will take place without our knowledge. We will not know for thirty years what actually happened, and even then we can expect that all sorts of back-room cloak-and-dagger stuff about armies and spies and secret exchanges will not be released, ever.

So it comes down to our confidence in the government at Westminster. How much will they bother about Scotland, in Brussels? Will they hand over our prawn and ships in exchange for passporting rights for the City, or market access for Toyota cars?

Well, yes. Because the interests of Westminster are aligned with the City and big business. The City of London has had a lobbyist inside the House of Commons since 1571, and you can be certain that companies in everything from financial services to private health are wining and dining and quietly, subtly, persuading the Government to favour this or that profitable end. 

You can also expect a lot of shiny, bright lights during the negotiations. War with Spain over Gibraltar is just the first of many, amplified by a willing media led by Murdoch's Sun-Sky media empire, and by the Barclay twins' Telegraph. These bright lights are designed to distract you from what is really going on.

There is one politician whom I trust to fight hard for our interests in Europe: Nicola Sturgeon, our First Minister. She has played a blinder so far, outflanking the blundering Westminster government at every step. Lang may her lum reek. 

But even Nicola Sturgeon will have a tough time playing any significant role in these talks. Scotland is too wee, too poor to be of the least interest to Westminster. We, our industry, our fisheries, our oil and our people, are just chips to play for. Holyrood, with the collapse of the Sewell Convention, cannot intervene.

Brexit has shown us that Scotland is just a midge on the back of Imperial Britain. We are not worth consideration, and we are going to be the losers in Brexit...until we are independent. Then we can stand up and decide for ourselves how we want to work with Europe and the rest of the world. 

Then, we will be a sovereign people. Only then.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Perfect, Prime Minister

Scotland has the perfect Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister who has briefed her Ministers not to respond to the Scottish Government's detailed alternative proposals to keep Scotland's place in Europe. She and her government treat the Sewell Convention with the utter contempt it deserves.

The Prime Minister who, yesterday, said 'yes' to a referendum for Scotland, but managed to make it sound like a 'no.' What she actually said - as GA Ponsonby shows in this blog - was "now is not the time." She repeated the phrase five times in the interview with Robert Preston.

Theresa May was definitely not chanelling Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady would have said "No. Not Ever." By saying "now is not the time", Theresa has done two things. She has incensed half of Scotland - because how dare an unelected Westminster leader dictate how and when Scotland can have its moment of democracy? And she has left us all beleiving that, OK, not now, but definitely later; she has given us a yes to #ScotRef.

She has simultaneously achieved the seemingly impossible: to sound like an Imperial Master, and yet to accept Nicola Sturgeon's timetable. As David Allen Green, head of media law at Preiskel & Co LLP, pointed out in Tuesday's Financial Times,

"Nicola Sturgeon, and her Scottish National Party government seem to have done something quite remarkable. She has somehow created a check and balance from constitutional thin air....Scotland’s First Minister appears now to have real political power, and she is seeking to exercise it. She has done this by setting different parts of the current constitutional arrangements against each other." 

Theresa May has also, possibly, saved the Scottish fishing industry. Think about this from the Brussels standpoint. David Davis is about to enter negotiations with the EU. Various EU states would love to get their hands on Scottish fishing waters - the Netherlands and Spain amongst others. So it was, until this week, an ace that Davis could play in the negotiations. For example: 'give us passporting rights for the City of London, and we will stop claiming the entire North Sea as an Exclusive Economic Zone.' In other words, Davis would sell the fish to keep the City.

But now the sensible, tough Brussels negotiators can say to Davis; "it looks more and more likely that Scotland will become independent. Your Prime Minister has said that Scotland can have a referendum...even if 'now is not the time'. We expect to welcome Scotland back into the EU. So you, Monsieur Davis, cannot use Scotland's fish as a bargaining chip."

The movement toward independence for Scotland has a contrary ally in Theresa May. But this is where the irony ends. Because this is also Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party. Leader of the party that has left one million people in poverty in Scotland - poverty created by the Tories' focus on the rich, on the City and on the low-wage, low-tax, low-welfare Northern Singapore that they dream of, post-Brexit.

Now is not the time for the referendum that will free Scotland from the neoliberals at Westminster. But that time is nearly with us, and soon we will stand free.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Confidence Trick

Theresa May is a skilled politician. She knows how to win power, and to yield power.

She is confident that the Tories will win the next election, and the one after that. In those elections, Scotland is meaningless - its single Tory MP a toothless man in a beard. Labour too is meaningless, lost in its self-flagellation.

She enjoys power, so it is no surprise that, as she announced yesterday, she will be grabbing it back from the Scottish people and our Parliament. When power returns from Brussels it will stop in Westminster, where she can control it. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can go hang.

(In the process, she has also hung out Mr Mundell. He had clearly not been briefed about Theresa's speech to the Scottish Tories when, this week, he said that Scotland would have a more powerful parliament after Brexit).

Theresa knows that a week is a long time in politics. The two years since the Vow is an eternity, and anyway that was a Vow made by three men who are now, politically, dead. She is not, you may be sure, waking up at night to worry about devolution of power to Scotland.

Brexit has shone a laser light on the democratic deficit in Scotland. The Sewell convention is meaningless. The Vow was just a newspaper gimmick. And now, like it or not, Holyrood will be reduced to setting the price of parking tickets, and little else; less power than a Parish Council.

Time for Scotland to wake from the Tory nightmare, and win back its independence. Time for a new Referendum.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A House of Cardboard

Holyrood is a cardboard parliament. A single puff of wind from Westminster is enough to blow it over. Three stories evince its weakness:

Yesterday, Angus Robertson MP asked a key question: would decision making powers on agriculture and fisheries be returned to Scotland after Brexit? He said: "with Brexit ending the role of Brussels in these areas will all decisions about agriculture and fisheres be made at Holyrood, yes or no?"

Theresa May gave a humbug reply about discussions going on with the devolved administrations; not a yes and not a no.

Why is the SNP harrying poor Theresa about this? Because the Tories have stolen an EU phrase - the 'unified market' and stuck it onto the UK. Theresa tells us that Scotland will do much better if it is within the unified market of the UK than in the (much larger) EU. It's an odd way of twisting the facts, and as an argument was neatly dissected by Alastair MacIver in an article last November in the Herald

Dr MacIver argued that in order to create a 'unified' UK market there would have to be one unified authority that decided how our potatoes should be packaged or when our fish should be caught; it is exceedingly unlikely that the unified authority would be Holyrood. Westminster would of course retain these powers over agriculture, fisheries...and the regulation of everything else in the new low-tax-no-welfare Britain.

In January of this year, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Sewell convention "does not give rise to a legally enforceable obligation". In other words, the entire basis on which power is handed to Holyrood is not legally enforceable. Holyrood has no power; it is a house of cardboard. If Westminster were to decide to pursue another of its wars in the Middle East, or to plant weapons of mass destruction in Scotland, or to hammer the poor, then Holyrood is powerless to stop it. Forget the Vow, folks, you now live in a world in which your parliament might as well pack its bags and go home.

Time, past time, for Scotland to step away from its destructive neighbour, and build a parliament of rocks and steel, not cardboard.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Sneaking Out

Who do we really care about?

Family, friends, vulnerable people, children...?

Let's start with the children. The most vulnerable children. Kids without parents, living as refugees just across the 'hard border' that separates England from France.

Last year Lord Alf Dubs negotiated an agreement with the UK Government that would allow a number - he had pitched for 3,000 but this was diluted in the final version -  of lone children from the Calais refugee camps to be allowed into the UK.

It was a huge battle for a very small victory.

And then yesterday The Minister for Immigration, Robert Goodwell (Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby) shuffled out a written statement declaring that just 150 kids will be allowed into mighty Britain. The statement is designed to baffle with waffle. It is hard to spot just the numbers, but read paragraphs four and five carefully and you'll see the maths. 'We've let in 200, and we are going to let in 150 more.'

Mr Goodwell happened to release his statement on the same day that Westminster voted for the Tories' Hard-Dream Brexit. This is not an accident. He knew that no-one would notice.

This is sneaky politics. In other words, it's business as usual at Westminster.

It uses a technique known as a 'Shock Event.' Professor Heather Cox Richardson has written a clear guide over on Facebook. Brexit is a Shock Event. We are hypnotised by Brexit, we talk about it all the time, and we divide along traditional fault lines over Brexit, with racism or at least anti-immigrant sentiments being the guideline. While we are staring into the darkness of Brexit, the government pushes forward with its real agenda, led by the Minister Against Immigration, Robert Goodwell.

The sneaky Tories have abandoned hundreds of orphan refugees to their fate. One NGO says that it cannot trace one third of the 179 children it was tracking, and Save the Children Fund has reported in its blog that more lone kids are going missing as they hear the rumours about changes in the UK laws. There are 5,100 child refugees and asylum seekers detained in France, according to the well-researched data at the Global Detention Project.

What is to be done? Lobbying, pressure, writing to MPs, donating to the tiny volunteer-led NGOs that are working with child refugees in France. 

But finally the people of Scotland will have to decide. Do we want to be bound to this Parliament of sneaks and rogues, for ever more?

Finally, a selection of organisations you might like to help:

Save the Children Fund
Dunkirk Legal Support Team
Help Refugees
Refugee Youth Service
Calais Migrant Solidarity
Global Detention Project



Friday, 3 February 2017

Scotland, for £8 a week

The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood passed its budget yesterday. Thanks to the Scottish Greens, the SNP was able to make a coalition majority in favour.

To do so, the SNP agreed a Green Party amendment, meaning that the 360,000 people in Scotland who pay the highest income tax rate (40%), would pay £400 more per year than people on the same wage in England.

That's just under £8 a week.

£8 a week, to live in Scotland.

You'd pay that, wouldn't you?

The argument against this tiny tax-hike is that people with money will move away, taking their businesses with them.

Really? Is there any evidence of that?

In France, around the same number of tax payers (342,942) pay a much heavier tax, the ISF (Impôt Solidaire sur la Fortune). It's based on wealth, not income, and aims to tax the 1% wealthiest in the land. The rate is variable, depending on the amount of wealth you hold, but the average payment is just over €15,000. The French government earns €5.22 billion from this tax. Much more than the £29 million that the tiny shift in Scotland's taxation will raise.

Wealthy people in France don't leave the country because of this tax. In 2015 around 10,000 more people paid the ISF tax than the year before. French business is not collapsing. Entrepreneurs are not leaving the country in droves.


Er, because France is a good place to live. It's worth staying there because the food is better, the social services are better, the TGV (largely) runs on time and the sun never stops shining in Cannes.

Raising tax does not drive people out of the country, if the country is a good place to be.

So yes, as Scotland will show, people on higher incomes will stay in Scotland, pay the £8 a week and contribute a wee bit more to making Scotland a better, fairer, place to live.