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.