Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Poor Evidence

When Mrs Thatcher came into power in 1979 she, with Sir Keith Joseph, introduced a set of policies which are now known as ‘neoliberal’. The core idea was to cut back on government and reduce tax for the wealthy to encourage them to invest more in business. The wealth would ‘trickle down’ to the poor.

Westminster governments since then have all followed the same policy. Whether they were Tory or Labour, they continued to believe that government should be cut back – and that tax on income was bad for the country (they meant, bad for votes…)

So by now, 38 years of neoliberal policies later, you’d expect to see some pretty good results. You know, evidence that wealth had in fact trickled down.

The data on wealth and income inequality from the Office of National Statistics goes back to 1978. The key measure is the ‘Gini coefficient’

The Gini coefficient is a measure of the way in which different groups of households receive differing shares of total household income. A higher Gini coefficient means greater inequality of household incomes, a lower Gini means more equality.

In 1979, when Mrs Thatcher came into power, the Gini coefficient for non-retired households in the UK was 24.5. Since then it has risen steadily, and in 2014-15, the last full year of data, it was 33.2. That is more than one third (35.5%) more inequality than at the start of the neoliberal experiment.

Failure. The neoliberal experiment failed. Wealth did not trickle down. It floated up. (You don’t need statistics to tell you this. Spend an afternoon at one of Scotland’s busy foodbanks and you’ll see the real human suffering behind the Gini data.)

You would think that decent, honest politicians would admit the failure. Confess that Tory and Labour neoliberalism has not worked, and admit that they are looking for an alternative.

Wrong. Brexit Britain is built on neoliberal policies. The ‘Singapore’ model is low tax, little government and little welfare. And a ‘Hard Brexit’ means more austerity because (a) Scotland will lose its currently relatively generous EU grants and (b) the UK will lose businesses, and thus tax income, to the EU.

In heading for Hard Brexit, the Tories are not only condemning people in Scotland to more and deeper poverty. 

They are also fighting the failure of their 38-year experiment.

Brexit and the Bomb

The Tories may or may not be the Nasty Party, but they certainly cost a bomb.

The Financial Times analysis today suggests that the Brexit bill will be €100 billion. This is the beginning of negotiations, so you can expect that figure to drop, a bit. But it is now up there with Trident, the real bomb, whose replacement (another costly Tory promise) is £100bn.

The Trident estimate is at the start of the process, so we can expect it to rise. Overall, on these two items alone the Tories will spend £200 billion.

No wonder the Tories are making no promises about taxes (expect them to go up) or pensions (expect them to fall.)

The Tories are the Costly Party. Only vote for them if you are feeling rich. Very, very rich.

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.