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.