Thursday, 11 December 2014

Not a Party

Scotland and Catalonia are struggling with the same issue.

In Scotland, according to the Herald, the SNP is moving away from suggestions of a Yes Alliance of the pro-independence parties. The two smaller parties - Scottish Socialist Party and the Greens - are reported as saying that "the SNP have decided they are not open to that kind of arrangement."

In Catalonia Artur Mas the President of the Generalitat, and of Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya announced his "route plan to independence" with the idea of presenting a joint list at decisive In-Out elections. He proposed that the party list (here, we vote for a list of candidates from a specific party, with proportions of that list actually getting seats depending on the votes cast) should be made up not of politicians but of noteworthy people. 

Sr. Mas' idea has been rejected by the second largest party here, ERC, led by Oriol Junqueras. The two are talking, but there is little chance that ERC will agree to Mas' proposal.

What's going on? Why can't these politicians agree on this one apparently straightforward topic; independence, or not?

In a healthy democracy (yes, I know that democracy is just the least worst system for running a country) political parties are about power and vision. The collective of members and supporters has a vision. In order to get the power to make that vision they form a party, and get themselves elected. We've had that here with the creation of Podem, a fast-growing new party that grew from the civil protest movement here.

At the centre of the vision it's all very clear. SNP, Greens, SSP, Convergència and ERC all want independence for their two countries. 

But it's tunnel vision: at the edges it's all blurry. 

Do you want independence with a side order of dismantling capitalism? Then vote for the SSP. Do you want independence in a moderate, mildly conservative state? Then vote for Convergència.

If the vision meets at the edges then parties merge. This has happened when Tory defectors have a vision shared with UKIP. In their case a vision through the bottom of an empty beer glass.

Why can't the nationalist parties agree? Because their vision does not meet at the edges. And, yes, because of personal agendas, personal egos and lust for power, all aspects of the soft underbelly of democracy and all necessary aspects of why it's an imperfect system.

And for us, the voters? We need to see the vision of our politicians - the stuff in the centre of the tunnel and all the blurry edges. This was why Scotland's white paper on independence was so important. It was the whole vision of a political group - including the detail at the edges. Now there are differences. The SNP, Greens and SSP share the same central vision - independence - but have different edges. 

I want to vote for an entire vision - edges and all - and that means a party. Repeat after me: "democracy is the least worst system of government..."

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Don't Read if you are Poor

A clear, well-argued paper from the OECD shows why poverty is bad for your economic health.

Federico Cingano and Michael Förster explain in straightforward terms what happens when countries allow their poor to get poorer. They show that increasing income differences (the overall measure is called the "Gini Coefficient") by one Gini point lowers GDP per capita growth by 0.1%. The cause? Mainly, lower educational achievement amongst the poorest people; more inequality means that poorer people spend fewer years in school, and that means lower literacy and numeracy. Poor people are not reading.

And where does Scotland come in all this? 

Guess...and you'll be about right. In the UK "...the cumulative growth rate would have been six to nine percentage points higher had income disparities not widened..." over the last 20 years. Our unique position as the European country with the widest differences in income - i.e. the worst wealth gap - has been bad for all of us, not just the poor people who have suffered as a result. 

Scotland, as we know from SCVO amongst others, suffers  from some of the worst poverty in the UK; the Scottish economy is being held back as a direct result.

Time to take Scotland out of this stranglehold on growth.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

St George Slaughters the Poor (Again)

The most significant number in yesterday's Autumn Statement by Chancellor George Osborne was "£13.6 billion."

This is the amount he intends to cut out of the UK economy if the Tories are reelected in 2015. He means to take all of this in 2015-6. 

This is a typical political strategy; get yourself elected on populist policies ('Google Tax!', '£15m to repair church roofs!') and then suck out of the economy sixty times more than you won from Google, Starbucks and Amazon.

These cuts* will affect Scotland disproportionally. They will be targeted on welfare and thus at Scotland's higher proportion of poor people; welfare spend is expected to be at least '... £1 billion a year lower than forecast at the Budget...' said George yesterday. And the cuts will mean big reductions in staff numbers for Civil Service jobs.  Because the Scottish economy depends more than the English on public sector jobs, we will be harder hit.


There is one other announcement that did not hit the headlines. Our George, he who would not countenance Scotland using its own oil wealth, has created a '...Sovereign Wealth Fund for the North of England so that the shale gas resources of the North are used to invest in the future of the North.'  

Politically this is the equivalent of a childish smack in the face for the SNP; just because the SNP proposed a similar Sovereign Wealth Fund for Scotland it can't have it. Ya boo to you. Culturally, it confirms what we already knew; Scotland is simply a colony of England, whose resources are to be sucked out of her in order to prop up the English Exchequer. 

But its real impact is social. Money from oil and gas licenses could be used in Scotland to help the poor and to develop our economy. That's OK for Yorkshire, but not for Scotland.

One day, St George, the Dragon will bite you back.

*There is more on the cuts in a Financial Times analysis here:  This uses OBR figures from, er, page 149 of their report (so not what you'd call the headlines...) to show that spending on local authorities, transport and other areas important to Scotland will have to fall from £147bn in 2014/15 to £86bn in 2019/20 to meet the Government's own targets. A lot, lot more than they will earn from taxing Google et al...

Monday, 1 December 2014

Devo Fudge

The scene: a modern office, Edinburgh. There is a large round table in the centre of the room. 11 people are seated around it.

Adam: ... So yes, yes we're OK about letting Holyrood run everything, election-wise.
Bob: Really? Everything?
Linda: 16 year-old voters? Numbers of MSPs? Constituencies?
Adam: Yeah
Linda: Political parties...
Adam: Yup
Linda:... And donations to the parties, Adam?
Adam: TAKES PHONE CALL IN HIS EAR BUD. Uh-hu. Da (or however you say 'yes' in Russian)
Adam: Well obviously not the donations, Linda.
Bob: So not everything, then Adam.
Adam: Yeah, like I said. Not everything. Obviously.

The same room, some time later...
Adam: George says it's OK for the Jocks to run their own income tax
Bob: [sotto voce] I wish you wouldn't keep saying 'Jocks' Adam. It's not helping us to build a consensus.
Linda: That's good news. We'd like to control income tax. You do mean it this time don't you, Adam? Income tax. The stuff workers pay?
Adam: Yeah, whatever.
Linda: So we'll be able to raise or lower rates? Great! We can finally tax the folk on high incomes!
Adam: Sure, go ahead...
Adam:... 'Course, depends what you mean by 'income'.
Bob:  It sounds like you are being verbally imprecise again, Adam. I've told you about this before.
Maggie: What's this about 'income', Adam?
Adam: Obviously we can't let you kilties define what you mean by income. Obviously.
Linda: So you mean we can raise the tax...
Jean: ...but if we do you'll just change the definition of 'income'...
Adam: Yeah, and stuff like allowances. Starbucks asked us specially. I spoke to their guy in Liechtenstein just now...
Linda: ... So we're not really in control of income tax.
Adam: You got it, Linda

Paragraph 95 is the killer app in the Smith Commission report. Labour and Conservatives must have been laughing up their sleeves when they slipped that one in. Because it says that increases or decreases in income for the Scottish Government will be reflected in adjustments in the block grant to Scotland, 'indexed appropriately.'

These are weasel words. Smith might mean that the block grant will be adjusted proportional to inflation, proportional to Westminster cuts, or inversely proportional to Scottish Government income.  At least two of these possible meanings are detrimental to Scotland. The last is the worst, because it means that if we raise more income (e.g. through a land tax) Westminster will simply knock it off our block (Barnett) grant. A zero sum game.

And the LibLabCons have, once again, shoved Scotland into the Naughty Corner. By focusing on income tax they've made what looks like a concession but is on fact a political A-bomb. Income tax is the one that gets the voters out of bed. They don't get excited about the Aggregates Tax or even Corporation Tax. But income tax is a vote winner or loser. Which is why Smith handed the hottest potato, income tax, to the Scottish Parliament and kept the real money-spinners including oil and gas revenues with Westminster.

As today's The National ( points out it's an attempt at a stitch-up.  Without control over all the levers of tax and benefits Scotland will be unable to manage its economy. There will be lots of political noise, people shouting at each other about taxation, but no real economic action.

At the May 2015 election we've got an opportunity to tell the LibLabCons that we're not having it. Vote in enough SNP MPs and we could push through Devo-Max, not the Devon-Fudge that my Lord Smith has offered us.

The strategy is simple to say and hard, hard work to deliver. All of us, everyone who supports independence for Scotland, will have to be out there chapping doors, listening to people and winning them over to our cause.