Sunday, 20 December 2015

Swedish Dreams

Politics disappoints. Just when you thought that the politicians had understood a good idea - for example, the idea that we would head toward a Scandinavian social model, with a tax system that captured a wee bit more from people with more, to redistribute it to those with less - you find that they have not. This week's Scottish Budget is a case in point.

Kevin Hague, in his chokka blog demonstrates the point. Mr Hague, who is not in favour of independence but is good at maths (an unusual combination), shows the effect of a one penny increase in income tax. He calculates that a person on a £14,000 salary would take home just 65 pence less per week as the result of the tax rise. Meanwhile someone on £60,000 would take home £9.50 less. That looks like redistribution, doesn't it? People with more, paying more?

Yes, the Scottish Government is hobbled by the idiotic rules that mean that they have to put a penny on everyone's tax bands. They can't do what they say they would like to do which is to increase tax for the better off and leave it as it is for people on lower incomes.

But all through the independence debate we heard the dreams of Sweden. Of building a nation based on a more Scandinavian model, where we all contribute more, and where those with more contribute a lot more.

The SNP is riding on a wave of immense political capital. It would win next May's Holyrood elections even if it were to introduce a policy of boiling poodles. And it could signal to the electorate - including its  middle class, middle income supporters (amongst whom, me) - that yes, everyone has to pay a wee bit more if we want to build the Scotland that we dream of; a fairer, finer, land where people in need, children in poor families, and older people in fuel poverty, can get the help they so desperately need. The Government could have stood up to the cynicism and selfishness of Osbameron me-me-me politics by signaling that Scotland can be independent in thought (and taxation) even if we cannot be independent in law.

But they didn't. Thus we wake, disappointed, from our Swedish dream.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Tax Stupid

Westminster's system of taxation is byzantine. Its complexity allows Facebook, Starbucks, Google (yes, the host of this blog...) and others to dance around the system, paying next to nothing whilst taking profits from all of us.

The system appears even stranger when it comes to Scotland.

This week, John Swinney will publish his budget for next year. This should be an opportunity to tackle poverty in Scotland - to find new and better ways to help people in need. The, excuse me, bleedingly obvious thing to do is to vary tax rates such that people on higher incomes or with greater accumulated wealth put a wee bit more into the communal pot to help out those with less. Simple redistributive taxation.

But Mr Swinney can't do that. Thanks to the recommendations of the Calman Commission (2009), converted into law by the Scotland Act 2012, our Scottish Government has to change all the rates of tax if it wants to change one. These devilish details are in the small print, the stuff that most folk find too boring to read, but in essence they mean that if Mr Swinney wants to add a penny to the tax paid by someone on a high income...he also has to add a penny on the tax paid by everyone on a low income. You can find out why this does not work here and here.

So under the current rules, Scotland can do almost nothing to tackle the blight of poverty. Westminster has, yes, given us powers to change income tax, but it has bound us up like a turkey for Christmas in rules which make those powers meaningless. Rules hidden in the detail that voters will not read - so that Osbameron can continue to crow that "Scotland has the power to alter taxation" even if what he means is "We've stuffed the Scottish turkeys again. Hurrah."

When will Westminster stop treating us like children?

Friday, 4 December 2015

Dear No

Dear No Voter

Do you see, now? After this week’s vote in the House of Commons?

No, I don’t mean one vote on Syria. I mean the pattern.

I know that you voted for the best, for Scotland, for you and for your family. You will have thought about it a lot. Mebbe you thought of it as an ego trip for Mr Salmond. Mebbe you wondered about the pound or your pension. Mebbe you listened to Better Together, saying it would never work.

But what you really did was you voted No, positively. You positively chose to stay with Westminster. You positively chose to stay, therefore, with the two threads that have run through Westminster throughout your lifetime – neoliberalism, and Empire. All of the three main parties espouse these two lines. Neoliberalism means cutting back on Government, on taxation, on support for the poor. And Empire, the idea of Great Britain’s place among the world superpowers; GB with the A-bomb, with the power to strike wherever it wishes.

By voting No you positively chose neoliberalism and Empire. 

The vote to bomb Syria is not your specific choice. Mebbe. But you chose that pattern of voting, that style of politics that Westminster has stuck to, and will stick to, throughout all of your life.

Mebbe it’s time to think again. 

To allow Scotland to walk away from the dreadful dance of Westminster. Mebbe, in hindsight, that would have been better. Bairns, not bombs.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

I want to vote Yes. Now.

I don't want the Scotland I know and love to be part of a Westminster War. This is not our, Scotland's, war. It is Osbameron's war. It is the Bullingdon Bombing Club bullying the public and the Opposition into a war that will kill us all, morally if not mortally.

I don't want the Scotland I know and love to be part of Westminster. Not when we are facing a generation of Tory terror. (It will take at least that long for a reasonable Opposition - the scrag end of Labour, and, with luck, a new socially-concerned opposition party - to form itself in England.) We are belted in to 20 more years of Osbameron.

But we are not belted in. We could be free. We could walk quietly away from Westminster and its wars, and build a Scotland that is at peace with the world. 

We could vote Yes. 

I want to do that. Now.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Bairns not bombs, Mr Cameron

David Cameron has announced the results of his 'strategic defence and security review.' This is a misnomer. It should have been called his 'shoot first, talk later' review.

Because Westminster just took £178 billion of your money, and poured it into guns, bombs, tanks and drones. None of these are to be used for 'defence.' These are weapons of attack.

The attack is in both directions. It is an attack on a region of the world that is reeling under years of war, war sparked off by messrs Bush and Blair and then fed with firepower manufactured by Europe's 'leading defence suppliers', in the anodyne expression used to describe them. Britain has continued to export arms to the Middle East right through this conflict.

And it is an attack on the poor. Because where else will Osbameron get the £178 billion than by raiding funds that could have gone to health, housing, education and care for older people? It is the poor who will suffer as Osbameron tries - as fruitlessly as all his predecessors - to bomb the Middle East into submission.

Worse, he is handing two victories to Daesh. His military strategy will mean more martyrs to the cause across the Levant (and, naturally, 'collateral' deaths among the region's women and children.) And the grinding domestic poverty in the backstreets of Britain will manufacture more young men and women who believe that death is better than hope.

How stupid are our politicians? On these measures, about £178 billion stupid. Imagine the social good you could do with £178 billion! That is one and a half times the whole NHS budget! Twice the education budget!

Bairns, not bombs, Mr Cameron.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A Tale of Two Cities

Travel from Glasgow to London - it only takes a few hours - and you experience the strange governance of the British Isles.

In rainy, blustery, Glasgow people were leaving their homes as I headed to Central Station for the train south. Homes where the average rent according to is £634 per month.

In London people were talking about house prices. Not surprising - in south west London rents are now averaging £2,373, almost four times as much as in Glasgow. Purchase prices are more dramatically different: average purchase price for a home in Glasgow is 10 times the figure for a semi-detached home in south west London.

Friends told of how their son, on a decent graduate wage, cannot afford to live anywhere in London, of property developers selling 25 square metre micro-flats for prices in the hundreds of thousands of pounds as a "first step on the property ladder." I heard people discussing the property boom brought on by Crossrail.

How do you govern this economically bipolar country from a gilded parliament surrounded by homes whose average value - £1.4m* - has risen by 250% in the last 10 years?

The answer, of course, is that you don't. You focus on the nearby - on the City of London, on the Home Counties, on the safe neighbourhoods. Which then makes it easy to dream up a scheme like Osbameron's tax credits wheeze.

House prices are a thermometer under the tongue of the British economy - an economy now utterly divided into London and the rest. There is no way that Westminster can unite this Queendom.

* Source: prices for semi detached homes in London SW.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Tax Test

Dear Nicola

It's November, and here in Edinburgh it is cold, wet and windy. Last night I walked past three people sleeping rough just up the road from Harvey Nics. A wee reminder - in the form of a kick in the ethical ribs - that there is lots more to do on poverty.

And what a great time to do it, Nicola. You are going to win a landslide victory next May. Frankly, you have so much political capital that you could propose we all paint our teapots pink and you'd still get in; we'd be out there next day with the candy-coloured paint and the brushes.

Yes, you are starting to move, or be moved; the land reform policies will open up Scotland's acres to more productive, better shared use; but that will take time - 20 years? 50 years? And your focus on education is the right one - better schools and schooling focused on the poorest people will help - but again, that's for the next generation of schoolkids, maybe 15 years away.

We need impact, now. Impact on as many of the causes of poverty as you and all your advisers can lay their hands on. And if that means defying Westminster and working outside the to-be-signed Scotland Act, then #naefear - go ahead and defy them. Yes to better benefits, yes to extra nutrition for kids in school, yes to employment projects, yes to more cooperatives, yes to forcing power companies to cut charges for the poorest people, yes to social housing and yes to a nationwide programme of insulating homes.

Yes to it all, to a full scale war on poverty in Scotland.

And yes to paying for it from taxes.

This is the tax test, Nicola. Are you willing to give up a wee bit of your party's political capital -  to drop from 'Galactic Scottish Superstar' to 'Comet Commander' - for the sake of the war on poverty? 

You would lose some voters (although you would win others) were you to announce that you will raise the taxes of the better-off in order to fund a war on poverty. But that is the proper way to fight the fight; to signal to everyone in Scotland that poverty, and exaggerated wealth, are unacceptable. To put into action your own words about the damage that the wealth gap inflicts on Scotland.

It means adding a penny or two to higher rates of tax, and tackling wealth held in real estate. These will not be enough, and no doubt your economics team can come up with more and better. Those clear signals to wealth - yes, you can be wealthy but you must pay your share -  are as important in building a fairer society as your education programmes for poor kids. Link that new tax income to immediate, visible, demonstrable success in the war on poverty and you will bring us all with you.

Take the tax test, Nicola. Show us what you can do, now.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

How To Run a Country

  1. Abandon the poor, especially poor people living north of Watford.
  2. Create a ruling elite and pack them, unelected, into the House of Lords.
  3. Devise a cruel new law to make poor people, poorer.
  4. The unelected elite reject the law.

Welcome to Britain. A mediaeval democracy.

(PS. The Wee Ginger Dug has just penned a much funnier version of the same idea.) 

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Constitutionally Out of Touch

It's a strange thing, a constitution.

Over here the constitution is a mallet from Madrid, bashing in the heads of anyone who dares to suggest that the Catalans might be allowed to vote for independence. And this week in Westminster, constitutional rules are passed after a three hour debate which consigns Scottish MPs and all their voters to the dustbin. An EVEL way to treat constitutional government.

I will leave it to my honourable friend the Lallands Peat Worrier to pronounce a legal opinion on EVEL. But one cannot help but be amazed at just how out of touch the Tories and Spain's right of centre ruling Partido Popular are in their respective parliaments.

For the last three years more than a million people have taken to the streets and coastline of Catalonia to protest against Madrid's continuous dismissal of Catalan opinions. Opinions expressed calmly and politely in the voting booth. Madrid has used the machinery of the state to dismiss decisions taken in the Catalan Parliament, the Generalitat, and then to threaten its politicians in the Constitutional court. Last week, Madrid passed legislation specifically designed to ban from office politicians and civil servants who defy their kangaroo courts.

The Prime Minister announced the day after 45% of the people of Scotland had voted for independence that they should forthwith be punished by becoming second class citizens under EVEL. In "Project Fear", Joe Pike makes the unlikely claim that this was the only time that Alastair Darling swore during the Referendum campaign. Cameron's announcement was driven by the same strategy as that of the Partido Popular; knock back the lefty nationalists, refuse them, and they will go back into their holes in the hills.

Tories and PP are out of touch. Westminster has no political interest in Scotland because it is focused exclusively on the interests of Chipping Norton and the City. The Bullingdon Club boys have no idea of what life is like for the "ordinary hardworking families" of their fetish phrase; they have never experienced life in an "ordinary hardworking family" because daddy was something in the City and paid for first Eton and then Oxbridge. In Madrid the Partido Popular have the imperial view of three hundred years ago when the city was capital of everything from the Caribbean to Tierra del Fuego and of all the seas to El Peñon.

Only a truly out of touch party could dream up EVEL, the Bedroom Tax and the tax credit cut. So out of touch that they will leave the poor (who did not go to Eton and Oxbridge) to starve and beg at foodbanks so long as they can carry on claiming their expenses and flipping their multiple homes.

But this type of constitutional rot cannot go on forever. Eventually, in Catalonia and in Scotland, the people will decide to overturn their Imperial Masters and build their own countries, with their own constitutions. Constitutions that we can respect, that protect the weak and that limit the powerful. Constitutions that cannot be dismissed in a three hour debate or a kangaroo court. Constitutions for us.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Poor Angus

"Ye poore and ye dispossessed in the county of Forfarshire, writes ye Lorde Lieutenant, are starving. One hearth in three is living on less than three groats a week. Ye womenfolk and ye bairns are nae mair than bones, says milord Lieutenant."

If you had come across that in a 15th century tome written by the good Monk Bladderwick of Restenneth Priory you might not be surprised.

But this is a description of now. Of the brilliant, rich, productive, cultured 21st Century.

The 21st Century is brilliant for some, and bloody awful for others.

A new report (featured in The National today) shows that in Angus (Forfarshire, as was) more than one in three jobs are paid less than the Living Wage. This is rural in-work poverty. Women are almost twice as likely as men to be paid below the Living Wage across the UK outside London, and 60% of young people age 18-24 are earning less than the Living Wage. People working in hotels, restaurants, shops and agriculture or fishing are all likely to be earning less. Put these factors together and you end up in one place, the county of Angus.

This is in the context that Scotland is doing better than the rest of the UK in reducing under-Living Wage jobs. In 2014, 19% of jobs in Scotland were below the Living Wage - compared with almost 26% in Yorkshire or the East Midlands. The Scottish Government has done well to promote the Living Wage.

But it is time to stop. Time to adjust our Scottish economy so that poor working people in Angus, East Renfrewshire and the rest of Scotland earn a decent wage. 

As always with poverty the fight is against a many-headed Hydra - education, legislation, tax and fiscal changes, benefits changes... It's a complex task requiring a clear political focus on poverty over a long period.  Westminster can't be bothered; Angus is a very, very long way away and anyway, their Tory votes are won in the South East (see map, above).

An independent Scotland could take that fight to the Hydra. It will require the brave hearts of all of Scotland.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Taxing problem

How difficult is it to tax companies?

Facebook paid just £4,327 corporation tax in 2014 according to an analysis of their accounts by the BBC. Global profits for the company were £2.9 billion. 

That £4,327 is meant to be a transfer from wealth to poverty, taxing those with money to help those without. 

It is not. Rather, it is a footling expense, less than the director's dining room will consume in a week's wine bills. The accountants who massaged the figures to avoid tax will have been paid many times more.

So again, how difficult is it to tax companies?

If it is easy to hide profits then we should go after turnover. Start from the assumption that profits are 15% of turnover and tax Facebook at that level; pay first, then come and argue. 

Facebook's profits should help the poor; poor people need Facebook's money. But to tackle the multinational giants requires multi-national action, as the EU have discovered. 

It can be done, but not with the fawning Osbamerons at Westminster.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Poor on Details

We create poverty in many ways. We create it by getting richer - because poverty is a relative measure; the OECD define "relative poverty" as earning less than half the median income. We create it when we vote for neoliberal parties - as we have done since Mrs Thatcher came into power; in that period the UK's wealth gap has grown at double the rate of other OECD countries.

And we create it by law. The details of the law. The kinds of details that you and I don't read, but that trip up poor people every day. The details in documents with names like "draft Tax Credits (Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates) (Amendment) Regulations 2015" where you will find the phrase "in paragraph (2), for '£6,420' substitute '£3,850'."

This specific document cuts the level of income at which people get tax credits. It sounds and looks arcane. But a 19-year old single mother in Glasgow working 16 hours a week on minimum wage will lose £2 a day, starting 6 April 2016. A family with two children working 24  hours a week at £8 an hour will lose £28 per week - a wee trolley full of shopping (figures from CPAG Scotland.) 

That wee empty trolley is why the Trussel Trust gave 117,689 people in Scotland a three-day emergency food pack in 2014-15. As CPAG points out, it is the details in the legislation that count; the new legislation makes it more likely that some people will get over-payments of benefits...meaning that they will find, one week, that no benefits are paid at all or worse that they must repay benefits. That's the week when the weans go hungry and everyone has to traipse round to the food bank.

The ivory towers of Westminster are a long way away from Robbie and Donna and Aileen and Maddie and Neil who are trying to work, look after the weans, and survive. But the stroke of a pen in London, a line in a "Draft Statutory Instrument" that neither Robbie nor any of the others have heard of will wreck their lives, starve their children and leave hundreds of thousands of others in Scotland too poor to eat. 

Westminster is poor on the details.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Carry on Catalonia

The Catalans have voted Yes. Just, but definitely Yes to independence.

The sums are straightforward, as is the direction of travel;

There were two groups with a clear manifesto pledge to go for independence; "Junts pel Si" (Together for Yes) and CUP ("La Candidatura d'Unitat Popular", or Popular Unity Candidature). Junts Pel Si won 1.6m votes and CUP won 335,520 votes. With the proportional system here that meant that Junts Pel Si won 62 seats and CUP 10 in the Generalitat, the Catalan parliament. Thus the parliament is now controlled by pro-independence parties.

Other parties were, to varying degrees, against independence. But there was one group formed from the Green party and various others that stood on a manifesto pledge to let Catalonia decide its own future. Called "Catalunya Si que es Pot" (Catalonia Yes you Can), this group won 364,823 votes. This group was neither clearly Yes nor No.

To decide which side won the argument I am going to deduct from the total 4m votes the 364,823 Catalonia Yes You Can votes. That leaves 3.7m people who voted clearly either "Yes" or "No." On that basis Yes won 52% of the vote and No won 48%.

A clear win, just, for independence. Now starts the negotiation and the gaming.

And back to Scotland; it's your turn next.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Funny fear

A brief note to say that the Catalan version of Project Fear is now playing precisely the same script as we saw in Scotland.

Vilaweb, the Catalan online news platform, has just reported that the banks, yes, the banks, have released a note saying that if Catalonia goes independent, they will withdraw their offices and their credit. Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes. The note could have been photocopied from that released by Project Fear just before the Scottish Referendum a year ago.

Prior to that, and true to the Scottish script, Obama said that Spain would be better together. That followed David Cameron and Angela Merkel saying the same thing. Remember Obama/Hollande/Merkel saying that of Scotland, anyone?

And Brussels has said that Catalonia would have to leave the EU. Yes? Really? After all that hard work to keep Greece in they would chuck out the most popular city in continental Europe, and a European regional economic powerhouse? I could use a rude word, but I will not.

Watch out for the next step in the Scottish script; a Vow.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Freedom Road

A brief update on the situation here in Catalonia, on 11 September, Catalan National Day.

Today I will be with at least 500,000 other people on the Via Lliure - a mass civic protest that will occupy 5km of Barcelona's arterial Merdiana avenue. Everyone will be carrying a coloured card arrow and, at 17:14 we'll turn the Meridiana into a sea of colours.

Some quick explanatory notes:

Why fourteen minutes past five? 

Because 1714, or 17:14, was the year in which Barcelona was defeated after a long siege, the Spanish War of Succession ended, and represents the end of Catalunya as a state. 

What does Via Lliure mean? 

The official title of the event is "Via Lliure a la República Catalana" which is translated directly as "Free Route to a Catalan Republic." But the "via" and "lliure" have double meanings - "Via Lliure" can also be translated as "having the right to a way" or "right of way" or "open road", so it is a clever slogan, implying that Catalans have the right to an open road toward independence.

What are all the colours?

Each colour represents an element in the construction of an independent Catalun state.
Yellow: democracy
Blue: land and territory
Red: solidarity/cooperation
Light Blue: global cooperation
Green: diversity
Dark green: sustainability/environment
Purple: equality
Brown: justice
Pink: innovation
Orange: culture and education


Is there a vote?

Yes, there are elections in Catalunya on 27th September. The Catalans were refused the right to a referendum, so cleverly have used the regional parliamentary election as a plebiscite, grouping two pro-independence parties under one banner (Junts Pel Si / Together for Yes). One other party, the CUP, is also pro-independence.

Who will win?

The opinion polls, just as before the Scottish Referendum, are indicating a very, very close vote. The latest appears to show a slim majority for Yes.

And if Together for Yes win?

Junts Pel Si has a manifesto pledge to move through a clearly defined 18 month process to an eventual Unilateral Declaration of Independence for Catalonia.

Project Fear, Catalan version

The tactics used by Westminster to frighten the Scots have been copied and built upon by the government in Madrid. Probably for the same reasons; their private polling is showing a majority for Yes, or at least a close draw. Just as in Scotland, the government has had other leaders, including the unpleasantly cynical David Cameron, tell the Catalans that they will be forced out of the EU (this, from Mr Cameron, was dismissed here instantly as an untruth.) Pensioners, as in Scotland, have been told that they will lose their pension. Politicians - like poor tragic Magrit Curran - have told us that their relatives down the road in Tarragona will be "foreigners." To add the the sense of fear, the Minister of Defence has said that so long as "everyone does their duty" he will not bring in the army. This is in the context that the Madrid Government is trying to demonstrate that declaring independence would be breaking the law. In other words, 'declare independence and we will bring in the army.' Project Fear on steroids.


To follow the action, check #ViaLliure11S

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Death, by David Cameron

Reyaad Khan, aged 21 from Cardiff, was killed in Syria by a Royal Air Force drone on 21st August. With him were two others including Rakib Amin from Aberdeen, also a UK citizen.

At 15:30 on 7th September, Mr Cameron stood up in the House of Commons, starting his statement in the most cynical way possible: " let me update the House on what we are doing to help address the migration crisis in Europe and, in particular, to help the thousands of refugees who are fleeing Syria." His Britain, he went on to say,  "is a country of extraordinary compassion, always standing up for our values and helping those in need."

Then he dropped the bomb: 

"Today, I can inform the House that in an act of self-defence and after meticulous planning, Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision airstrike carried out on 21 August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqa in Syria. In addition to Reyaad Khan, who was the target of the strike, two ISIL associates were also killed, one of whom, Ruhul Amin, has been identified as a UK national. They were ISIL fighters, and I can confirm that there were no civilian casualties.

We took this action because there was no alternative. In this area, there is no Government we can work with; we have no military on the ground to detain those preparing plots; and there was nothing to suggest that Reyaad Khan would ever leave Syria or desist from his desire to murder us at home, so we had no way of preventing his planned attacks on our country without taking direct action."

He followed this news with a long statement about the legal justification for this particular death penalty.

What view can we take of this? Government secret services - whether or not they were agent 007 - have long murdered and kidnapped people who represented a threat to their country. Is a knife in the back, or poison in their tea, much different from a missile fired from a "remotely piloted aircraft"? Objectively, so long as other people are not killed in collateral damage, they are not. But Westminster is engaged in a "war on terror" - a deadly tautology - and war has rules designed precisely in order to limit the barbarity of our armed forces. 

These rules are built on historic wars - lines of armed men facing each other across no-man's land.

Today we have remote wars. David Cameron's pen starts the process and an RAF pilot in a bunker in North London ends it, pressing the button that fires the missile from the drone.

Our ethics,  our rules and our laws have not caught up with remote, automated, robot wars where Governments sign the death warrant by decree, in secret and in this case, against the specific will of a Parliament. 

Nor have our geopolitics. Because this new killing - Amnesty International called it a "remote-controlled summary killing from the sky" -  will mean more hatred, not less. More bombings, not less. More refugees to be turned away by Westminster, not less. And that in turn will mean more arms trade by Britain into the Middle East, not less. Meaning more deaths, and more hatred, and thus more arms for eternity.

It is time to break this cycle. To take an ethical stance on robot killing. Above all it is time to stop the arms trade that supplies both sides - the summary killers of Daesh and the summary killers of Westminster.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Mea culpa

I voted for the Tony Blair Labour party in 1997. 

Mr Blair took Britain into Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. His government, under Blair's Defence Secretary George Robertson also signed up for extraordinary rendition, allowing the CIA to use UK airports to abduct people to torture - the subject of John le Carré's desperate and brilliant "A Most Wanted Man." 

These wars destabilised a region already on its knees after a succession of wars supported by Westminster; the bombing of Libya in 1986 with the collusion of Margaret Thatcher and the 1991 Gulf War under her successor John Major.

The warmongering continues. Westminster licensed for export £537m in arms to the Middle East and North Africa region in the past 12 months including the grenades that maim and the bombers that kill. These are the weapons that are driving people into the waters of the Mediterranean.

And now there are 13 million refugees from Syria, some of whom want to escape the horror by coming to Europe. Half of these people are children, as this week's news dramatically underlined.

This is me. This is us.

I am to blame for the refugee crisis. Me, and the 13.5 million other people who voted for Tony Blair in 1997. We supported a government, another government,  that created death, destruction and a space for anarchy in the Levant. We, all of us who voted for Westminster, created this situation. 

Now we must take action. 

We must provide a home for the people whose homes our bombs have destroyed. It may only be for a while - most refugees want to get back home - but we must open our borders, provide secure routes to safety and share our enormous wealth with these people.

And then we must turn against the Westminster that creates war. We must have a government that creates peace and dialogue, not war, destruction and death. And if Westminster cannot manage that, then Scotland must.

Monday, 31 August 2015

45 Lords a-leaping

You are the PM of a sceptre'd isle. The plebeians are revolting and a few in the faraway North have had the temerity to call for independence.

How do you remind them that whatever they do the Establishment will win? 

You appoint 45 Lords and Ladies who will leap to the Establishment tune.

Osbameron's new Lords are there to remind us all of the natural order of things. The Establishment has wrapped itself in ermine and the SS Great Britain will steam on, bearing slightly to the right, into the Sargasso Sea of neoliberalism. The Lords and Ladies are the compass that will keep the good ship Britain on course while you build your bank or your trading house.

The message from the Lords is that there ain't nothing we, the people, can do. We can protest, we can sing revolutionary songs and we can parade through the streets, but we remain the commoners, the cannon fodder for low wages and in-work poverty. 

This is how politics has been for years; "Aw, politicians, they're a' the same." The politics of distance, of a properly ordered class structure in which those at the top who know would lead those many at the bottom who don't. 

How does that leave the people at the bottom of the pyramid? Frustrated, at least, despairing of any change, certainly, and abandoned. 

(A quick test of abandonment; how often have you spoken to a Lady or a Lord? Or been consulted by one? Or seen one at a public meeting you attended? And yet these same Ladies and Lords are taking decisions on your behalf every day.)

The PM's appointments to the Lords are Westminster politics abandoning the people. Worse, they are a propaganda move. These appointments, at this time of a resurgent democracy across Europe, are designed to put the lid on dissent, to break our spirits; the people and their votes do not matter a jot to the unelected crème de la crème.

But now we live in a different time. With the Referendum in Scotland we woke up and felt a changing wind in our faces. We don't have to carry on in the same rotten carcass of a ship. 

When Scotland is independent we can build a new boat, a hand-crafted Scottish longboat built by the people for the people, and set a new course toward a functioning democracy.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Triple Lock: Westminster

Calais, Corbyn and cocaine: Westminster is caught in a triple lock.


In Calais  there are between 1,000-5,000 refugees waiting for a chance to cross the Channel while living in conditions that would have looked good in the Dark Ages. This is a humanitarian question linked to the humanitarian question faced on both sides of the Mediterranean where refugees from Syria and the Daesh wars are getting to anarchic Libya and then risking their lives to reach Italy. 

Calais is just 20 miles from England. It is not some far away place with a difficult to pronounce name. It would be easy, terribly easy, for Westminster to help out. Basic humanitarian aid would suffice - latrines, clean water, blankets, simple housing. Irrespective of whether or not you think it is "right" that more than a thousand men, women and children are camping out in Calais, you could help, Osbameron. But you don't.

Why not? Because you are locked into a debate about migration with the right wing of your party and with UKIP, scared stiff that if you are seen to help the Calais migrants the voters in those precious marginals will slip across the border to UKIP.


The debate over - shock, horror - Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity manifesto is the key to the second of Westminster's triple locks. Westminster is locked into the belief that the only treatment for the economy - for any economy, Greek, German or English - is austerity. Cut and cut and cut until the State is bled of all its powers of intervention and the free market can have its head. Don't consider who suffers - it is always the poor - but focus on the numbers, the magical £12 billion that Osbameron believe to be our overspend. Do not, above all, do what Mr Corbyn suggests and tax the rich because then they will all jump ship, possibly moving to a shack in Calais to evade an increase in income tax.

Why are the mainstream parties in Westminster locked into austerity? It is hard to explain, but it is beginning to feel like a 594-person mass hysteria (yes, that's 650 MPs less our lovely #SNP56).


The Summer Silly Season story of stories is called Sewel. A Lord of the Realm caught snorting cocaine...whilst hanging around naked with prostitutes. You could not make it up. But along with the knighting of Lord Better Together it has shone a useful light on Westminster's third lock - the House of Lords. 

The House of Lords is an anachronism, a spit in the face of democracy. It is ridiculous verging on weird that the future of the people of Scotland should be decided by a bunch of charlatans in ermine selected for their safe, on-side views by Blairaq and Osbameron.

But the Commons and the Lords are padlocked locked together in Westminster. And not just for the sexy bondage sensation it seems to give them. The Lords hold the key to the safe, ensuring that whatever we commoners decide can be nudged and tweaked and adjusted so that it fits with the capital needs of the great British empire.

Westminster is truly trapped in its triple lock. People in England, just like people in Scotland, Wales and Ireland suffer as a result.

Time for an independent Scotland to release the people of Britain from the gargantuan padlock that is Westminster.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Northern Lights

More maths for the summer. 

Building on last week's post about progressive taxation, the economics team at Late but in Earnest (me) have been trying out the Swedish taxation system on Britain.

Sweden is reported to have the highest rates of tax in the world. Which completely undoes the argument put forward by the Tories that "if you tax people heavily they will leave the country." Have you seen evidence of mass emigration from Sweden? No.

Our team of economists (me, again, with a slide rule and a strong coffee) have simplified the tax system in Sweden by taking the key middle rate - 51% - on all income over 629,200 Swedish Krona (approximately £46,100.) Apply that rate to the UK's wealthiest 10% of households and you raise an additional £9,506 million (£9.5 billion). This would pay for three quarters of the £12bn "funding gap" that Osbameron claim to be able to see.

You could go one further.

Most of the top decile live in London and the South East of England. The poorest people in the British Isles live in the North, in Scotland, in Wales, in Ireland. So you are transferring wealth from Mr and Mrs Top Decile of Kensington to Ms Poor of Easterhouse.

This is what happens between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. Catalonia, which generates a surplus, pays out to eleven other "autonomous regions" across the Iberian Peninsula, starting with Extremadura.  This has been going on since Franco died (1975.) Catalans have been paying Extremadura, Andalucia and the other poor autonomous regions for more than 35 years. As Patrícia Gabancho points out in L’autonomia Que Ens Cal és La de Portugal ("The Autonomy we should have is that of Portugal"): Despite this, the poor regions have stayed poor.

In the British Isles wealthy regions have been contributing (modestly, considering their income) through their tax to support social services for poorer regions. Again, despite years of tax transfers, London is richer than ever while Easterhouse and so many other areas of Scotland remain poor.

In an independent Scotland the better-off burgers of Kilmacolm and Auchterarder would contribute through their income tax to the poorer regions of our new nation state. The danger is that they would pay tax but that the poor regions would stay poor.

So how would you persuade Mr and Mrs Auchterarder that their money is actually making a difference? Is there not a danger that Auctherarder would declare itself independent, to break away from the taxes imposed by Holyrood?

We could - to steal an idea that is becoming common in the charity and philanthropy field - focus on impact. We could use that money to build productive wealth (better schools, new factories, workshops, business start-ups...) in our poorest regions. Productive wealth that would create jobs, salaries and thus more income tax receipts.

Westminster has completely failed to grasp this simple idea; tax wealth and use the money to build a better educated population, jobs, and productivity. Do that and you get a fairer society (like Sweden) and a wealthier, happier society.

Scotland can tax better than Westminster. Catalonia can tax better than Madrid. 

But only when we are independent.

Gabancho, Patrícia. L’autonomia Que Ens Cal és La de Portugal. 1. ed. Palestra. Barcelona: Editorial La Mansarda, 2012.

The details:
Taxation in Sweden (see and combines county and municipality taxes. Rates for 2015 were:

  • 0% from 0 SEK to 18,800 SEK (£0-£1,377)
  • Circa 31% (ca. 7% county and 24% municipality tax): from 18,800 SEK to 443,300 SEK (£1,377-£32,479)
  • 51% (31% + 20%) from 433,900 SEK to 629,200 SEK (£32,479-£46,100)
  • 56% (31% + 25%) above 615,700 SEK (£46,100)

Monday, 3 August 2015

Catalonia is not Scotland

This has been a hot summer here in Catalonia but the autumn looks hotter. There is a major demonstration planned by the pro-independence movement on 11th September, elections to the Generalitat on 27th September, and then Spanish national elections at an as-yet undecided date before the end of the year. "Junts pel Si", the grouping of political parties in favour of independence, is on a roll and has built lists headed by celebrities (Lluís Llach, the Catalan protest musician - like an older Billy Bragg - will head the Girona "Junts pel Si" list) for the 27th September election. 

Catalonia is not Scotland. Both countries contain millions of people who want their nation independent, but that desire is driven by different issues.

In Catalonia the emerging issue is governance. Not "how should we be governed" because that is relatively clear: just as in Scotland, Catalonia has its own Parliament. But rather "why are we being so badly governed by Madrid?"

The conservative Partido Popular led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy appears to take every opportunity to pick a fight with the Catalans. He has of course said that he will never let Catalonia go. But he and his Government have also used the Constitutional Court (the ultimate court for questions relating to governing the country) to bash Catalonia. The 12 judges to the Court are selected for nine year terms by the Congress of the Deputies (the house of parliament, who select four judges), by the Senate (the upper house who select four more) with the remaining four selected by the executive branch of the Government and by the Judiciary. The court is politically conservative and the cycle of past Governments and Senates and their selection of judges means that it is especially conservative at present.

On Friday, the Constitutional Court delivered yet another anti-Catalonia judgement, deciding that Catalonia should not receive €700m that the Catalans say they were promised in 2010 by the previous (Socialist Party) Government. This follows judgements against last year's attempted referendum and against two recent attempts by Catalonia to revise its relationship with Spain, both of them supported by a majority of voters in Catalonia.

And now the governing Partido Popular has made one more, nastier threat. The Justice Minister - whose surname, in a cruel twist of irony, is "Catalá" - has threatened to use Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution - a threat repeated on Friday by Mariano Rajoy at his end of term press conference -  to close down Catalonia as an "autonomous region." In bashing the Catalans with this especially heavy stick he can be certain that the Constitutional Court will support him.

This serial beating by Madrid of Catalonia has had one result: more and more Catalans want independence. Friends who would have accepted a negotiation and revision of the power share between Madrid and Barcelona told me at the weekend that they are now decided on independence.

This is about governance. How should a metropolitan centre govern its outlying nations? Is this a colonial relationship - like the relationship that Westminster has with Scotland - or is this total control? Madrid wants total control and will allow no negotiation on the issue. As a strategy for governance it could prove fatal.

Catalonia is not Scotland. But then again, perhaps it almost is.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Suffer the Children

You wake up this morning as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Your dream - to "balance the books" by filling a £12 billion gap between Government spend and Government income.

You have a choice, Chancellor.

Take £12 billion out of welfare? The impact assessment by your civil servants says that will hit 330,000 children from low income families.

Or put £12 billion onto taxes?

If you decide, Chancellor, to use progressive taxation to fill the £12 billion gap, you might start by boosting the taxes of high income households. There are 2.7m households in the UK in the top decile for household income - with average annual earnings per household of £102,366. With two taxpayers per household, that is £51,183 per person. These folk pay the higher tax rate, 40%, on all income over £31,786.

That 40% tax on those households currently raises £41.4 billion (see "Maths" below).

Raise that tax to 52% (on all income over £31,786) and you raise £12.4 billion, and balance your books.

There is your choice, Chancellor.

Suffer the children? Or ask the wealthiest 10% to pay a wee bit more in tax?

That is the choice Scotland will face at the next Holyrood election. If we want better welfare provision, we're going to have to pay for it. 

I'd vote for a Scotland that stopped the suffering of children, and started taxing for a fairer society.

The Maths:

Calculation  Top Decile 
Households in the top decile by income                              2,670,000
Average household income  £                             102,366
Number of tax payers per household 2
Average income, per person  £                               51,183
Pay 40% on income over  £                               31,786
Pay 40% on  £                               19,397
Which is, per person  £                                  7,759
Totalling, all taxpayers  £               41,431,992,000
Funding Gap  £               12,000,000,000
So percentage increase in tax taken, to meet £12bn funding gap: 29.0%
That % increase on 40% 11.6%
So, raise the 40% rate to: 51.6%
Let's call that 52%, which is payable on  £                               19,397
Which is  £                               10,086
Totalling, all taxpayers  £               53,861,589,600
Which raises an extra  £               12,429,597,600

In practice, of course, the 40% rate applies to many more people. It would also apply to most of the people - another 2.6m households - in the ninth decile, so the £12 billion would be shared amongst more people. A tax rise from 40% to 47.5% would probably do it.