Tuesday, 3 April 2012

"Better A Nutter Than A Nat"

There can be few who regularly follow current affairs, who will fail to recognise the reference here, but for the benefit of those who may not be aware, it is alleged to have been said by a Labour MP when faced with the prospect of a by-election in the aftermath of the Eric Joyce affair. I should declare an interest here, before making any further comment. I have known Eric Joyce since he was at school, in fact, I was a teacher at the last school he attended before being expelled for the well-publicised incident involving a female colleague, who had asked him to leave her classroom. Joyce forcibly expelled her from the room, to the amusement of some of the rest of the class and the great embarrassment of the teacher. That was the second school he had been asked to leave.

Eric Joyce attended the judo club at which I was one of the coaches and he was one of a group of young lads we had that made the club one of the most successful on the east coast of Scotland. He had the aggression that was necessary to make him a Scottish and British champion at the sport but which unfortunately, he failed to control on occasion outwith the sport. That particular group of young lads all had successful careers in later years, including Joyce himself. It was gratifying, both as a teacher and a judo coach, to see young people get ahead, although I was surprised when Joyce made his career in the services where self discipline is a given. Nevertheless, he obviously had talent to reach the rank of major and the Labour Party, at least the Blairite section of it, made use of the media attention he attracted when he accused the services of class distinction, something which had also been a given for as long as the services have existed. The rest is history, as they say.

That the immediate reaction of Scottish Labour was to be prepared to tolerate Joyce in office rather than face a by-election which the SNP would be odds on to win, speaks volumes for the level of disconnect that exists in Scotland, between the political class and the electorate. Joyce's suspension from the Labour Party came via Milliband rather than Johann Lamont, the person who should have reacted immediately. That Eric Joyce can choose to remain in office, despite having no official political support from any political party in the Scottish Parliament, speaks volumes about the system we have set up to govern us. However sorry and apologetic he may be for his behaviour, he should have no choice but to resign but as electors, we have absolutely no control over the people we elect, until the next election, when the political apparatchiks take over. South of the Border, there has been far greater adverse reaction to the fact that George Galloway slaughtered Labour in a safe Labour seat, and the only crime committed by the Gorgeous One, is he won an election.

The reaction of the English media to George Galloway's victory has finally brought home to the political elites, the degree to which they are despised by the ordinary voter and if Scottish electors could just for a moment, forget the so-called economic arguments, about which we have heard little else, since the idea of a referendum on Scottish independence was first launched, they could perhaps give some serious thought to the opportunities independence could provide, to rid ourselves of a political system and its beneficiaries that have become rotten to the core. Labour spent thirteen years in office, thirteen years during which whatever progressive legislation they enacted, was more than cancelled out by the sheer debauchery of the system they created. Thatcher may have spawned the notion there was no such thing as "society" but Blair, Brown, Mandelson et al became the living proof. No lie was too big, no depths were too low and no policy could not be spun, in order to defend the indefensible, from the Iraq War to the greed, dishonesty and out and out theft that followed the de-regulation of the banks.

Ordinary people have seen their pension schemes destroyed, their savings and investments plundered by a financial elite which was allowed to do almost as they pleased, as they paid themselves millions, frequently as a reward for failure. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has just published its report on the number of complaints it received last year. Barclays head the list with 146,316, followed by Santander with 138,225 and Nat West with 93,893. The rest are little better and the compensation that has yet to be paid to the public will amount to over £12 billion for PPI alone. Even that figure does not amount to the sums which will be collected in salaries and bonuses by those who head up these august institutions, while small businesses are being shut down by the thousands for want of finance and the construction industry is brought to its knees as the demand for housing dries up because lenders won't lend.

Who can forget the MPs' expenses scandal, other than the MPs of course? A few were prosecuted to give some appearance to the notion our political leaders were actually sorry for the legalised theft they had committed. Those who were found guilty were just careless with the paper work and not as cute as those who managed to pass off the front room in their sister's house as their main residence, trousering approximately £100,000 of taxpayers' money in the process, or were able to "flip" one of their houses four times in four years to avoid paying Capital Gains Tax. Of course none of the "guilty" ones, were government ministers like the biggest offenders, all of whom were able to claim "it was within the rules of the House of Commons". How many previous Ministers in successive Tory and Labour governments have done as Blair has done and feathered their nests by using the contacts they built up while in office? There may be nothing illegal about what they have done and it obviously causes them not a minute's thought but there is something distinctly tacky about the system that breeds such a perversion of public service.

We have twice sent our young men and women to fight and die in wars, equipped with inferior weapons and protective gear, while billions have been wasted on equipment that never even saw service. In October 2011 the Valient Jetty project was four years late and £90 million over budget, while the Afghan War is costing over £4.5 billion a year. The replacement for Trident is likely to be delayed for at least five years while in April 2011, it was announced the replacement costs for the aircraft carriers being built had increased by at least £1 billion and could very possibly reach £2 billion. The cancellation of the Nimrod MR4 went through at the last defence review, although it was already nine years overdue and almost £800 million over budget, having cost over £3.6 billion in development costs. Nowhere is public money wasted more than in the NHS. As early as 2007, the government was warned that its planned £20 billion IT system would not work but it was not until the end of 2011 that it was finally cancelled and only after £12 billion had already been spent on it. The cost of medical negligence in Scotland has risen to horrific heights, with over £49 million paid out in 2010/11 but how many heads have rolled as a consequence? Is anyone, responsible for the billions of public money that is wasted, made to pay for the wastage they have caused? How many of the politicians who are ultimately responsible for the colossal waste of public money ever resign from office or are sacked, since Ministerial Responsibility is now so much out of fashion? The report on the death of Alison Hume, the lawyer who died at the bottom of a mine shaft, while Strathclyde's firemen stood at the top debating whether or not Health and Safety regulations would allow them to save her, is highly critical of Strathclyde Fire & Rescue, a misnomer if ever there was one. I am bound to ask, what kind of men would do that? And before someone takes me to task as never having been in the position to make a valid judgement, I have been and can't think of a single man with whom I served, who would have been able to live with themselves for having been willing to take such an order.

Can we be sure that a Scottish government of an independent Scotland would be any better? I have been highly critical of the SNP over its policy on the EU and am even more critical of them for the way in which they have attempted to dissemble and spin, just as the Unionist parties have done, to sell their (SNP's) version of independence. No matter how many powers have been given over to the EU through the various Treaties, the SNP still calls it "independence". Now, the party is trying to tell the Scottish people that even if sterling remains Scotland's currency after "independence", even if our monetary policy is dictated by the Bank of England, that still means we will be independent. It is a complete nonsense of course and devalues the whole concept of being independent, something that a growing number of Scots are beginning to realise as they simply refuse to be treated as fools.

We are told the First Minister is particularly exercised by the attempt of Westminster to impose injunctions made by the English High Court, on the Scottish court system. The Sunday Herald carried a lengthy piece in which Alex Salmond is quoted as saying, "Scotland's legal system and institutions are part of the very bedrock of our nation and identity, and they have served us well for centuries. They are one of the pillars of Scottish nationhood..." "Until we are independent it is vital that there is no more erosion of our legal autonomy..." "Scotland's legal independence must be protected...." I couldn't agree more but last year, when I petitioned the Scottish government, writing several letters to Kenny MacAskill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, to change the law on Duty of Care to Third Parties, he refused. I wanted the Scottish Government to change the law to allow those groups who are currently given immunity from prosecution, to be held accountable to those who have been wronged, either by negligence or wilful wrongdoing on the part of employees of public authorities. I was referred to a 2005 judgement of the House of Lords which stated, "child abuse is a serious social problem and Health Care Professionals (HCPs) play a vital part in combating the risk....it is best attacked by relieving HCPs of legal proceedings....Uncompensated, innocent parents pay the price but that is a necessary price.." Even in the case of such an appalling judgement as this, it seems the SNP is prepared to go only so far to protect "Scotland's legal independence".

Independence per se will give no guarantees of a better system and society but at least it will give us the opportunity to build them. The SNP offers Scots an alternative to the Unionist parties with all their collective baggage, their record in office and the corrupted systems they created. But there are signs that where they think it is possible to get away with it, the SNP will be just as guilty of spin and sophistry, not least in the dilution of their own raison detre of independence. We have been lied to so often and on so many occasions and over so many years, by Unionist politicians, who appear to have no intention of changing their behaviour, that a heavy price will be paid by any political party which thinks it can carry on as before.

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