There was an error in this gadget

Friday, 27 April 2012

Does Monetary Policy Matter?

"It will not be the case that the south will get the so-called wealthy states to pay. Because then Europe would fall apart. There is "no bail out rule", which means that if one state by its own making increases its deficits, then neither the community nor any member states is obliged to help this state" Horst Koeher, former German Finance Secretary, April 1992.

As everyone now knows, that particular clause of the Maastricht Treaty of 1993 which set up Economic and Monetary Union, has been ignored, just as the Growth and Stability Pact, which was introduced so that no single country would ever need to be be bailed out, has also been ignored right from the outset. The German people were deeply concerned that they would have to pick up the tab if their southern European neighbours overspent and ran up deficits they could not cover. The assurance given to the Germans by Herr Koeher may have been sincerely meant at the time, but it turned out to be meaningless. The eurozone is on the verge of collapse with Greece in dire straights and Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland deeply in debt and in the throes of austerity measures which are making life almost intolerable for large sections of their population.

Last year, Greece brought its debt down from 368 bn euros or 163% of GDP, by "forcing" the private holders of 206 bn euros of bonds, to accept an effective 74% loss on their loans. This then allowed a second bail-out by the EU and the IMF of 130 bn euros, on top of the 110 bn euros which had already been loaned. This means that by 2020 the Greek debt will still be 120% of GDP, despite austerity measures which at their worst, have caused families to give up their children into care because they cannot afford to feed them. Unemployment in Greece is 21% overall and is 50% of those under the age of 25 and despite those frightening figures, the Greek government intends to cut another 150,000 jobs in the public sector over the next three years. Despite the assurances from the EU bureaucrats that the euro will survive, Greeks are preparing for a Greek exit from the single currency. Some 16 bn euros have been sent out of the country since 2009 and bank deposits in Greece have fallen by 79 bn euros over the same period.

Greece represents just 2% of the eurozone's GDP but the fall out of the crisis in that country, together with the policies in their southern neighbours, has caused a contagion of the crisis in Spain, Italy and Portugal, with Ireland of the more northerly member states, suffering from similar problems. Spanish debt currently stands at 735 bn euros and this pushed borrowing rates to 6% in March this year, a rate which analysts contend is simply unsustainable over time. The Spanish government aimed to cut the deficit to 6% of GDP in 2011 but the actual figure was 8.51%. The aim is to cut the debt to 5.2% in 2012 and to 3% in the following year. The austerity cuts have created unemployment of 25% overall, the highest rate in the EU, and 53% of the youth of the country. In March Spanish banks borrowed 316 bn euros from the European Central Bank (ECB).

The austerity measures being forced through by the EU are now having some unexpected impacts on countries which were expected to not just cope, but to embrace the measures willingly, as the best way to deal with the problems of the eurozone. Despite the governments having signed up last month, to the German-inspired agreement to deal with the crisis, the populations in some of the member states have shown they are not as willing to accept austerity as their governments. Prime Minister David Cameron was castigated for refusing to sign up to the agreement, condemned for having "isolated the UK". Now, a matter of a few weeks after the agreement was supoosed to have been accepted by every other government in the EU, the Dutch government paid the ultimate price and collapsed last Sunday, after failing to get the austerity package through parliament. Fitch, the credit agency, threatened to down grade the Netherland's AAA status if it failed to cut the country's deficit from its current level of 4.7% to 3% by 2013. The Netherland's government intended to introduce another 14 - 16 bn euros in cuts, on top of the 18 bn euros it had already imposed; VAT was to increase from 19% to 21%, wages in the public sector were to be frozen, the pension age increased to 66 and the health budget cut so that every prescription was to cost 9 euros. On Saturday 21st April, almost 100,000 people demonstrated against the cuts in Prague, in the biggest popular demonstration since the fall of the Communist government in 1989.

There is no doubt the profligacy of the governments of the stricken countries is to blame for the debts incurred but the failure to deal with the problems, both in the individual countries and the eurozone as a whole, is a consequence of the "one size fits all" monetary policy of the eurozone. There are those who argue that coming out of the single currency would be a disaster for Greece and, there is no doubt that a return to the drachma would not be a panacea for all the ills. For a start, the Greek debt, which is currently in euros would soar as the "new" drachma was devalued against the euro, but would the devaluation of the currency be any worse than the massive problems with which the country obviously cannot cope? If Greece had not joined the euro, it would not have been in the position to run up the massive debts it has nor would it have been able to borrow as much as it has, at such attractive rates. The contagion which has spread throughout the eurozone would also have been largely absent.

Despite all of this, all of it common knowledge throughout the world, Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond announces in a speech to the Institute of Directors in London, that, "Monetary policy is very important. But you can exaggerate the flexibility of monetary policy. Fiscal Policy in the modern world has primacy. It can set levels of (business) investment." What message was Alex Salmond trying to get across? He is right that the flexibility of monetary policy can be exaggerated, as the experience of those caught up in the problems of the eurozone can testify. Of course, a country which controls its own monetary policy, can make it as flexible as they need it to be and will obviously tailor their monetary policy to suit their own circumstances, not, as in the eurozone, have it dictated by the interests of more powerful partners. Of course, Mr Salmond was not talking about the eurozone, therefore his message made little or no sense.

Mr Salmond was speaking about the position that an independent Scotland, under a SNP-led government, would be in, with its monetary policy dictated by Westminster and using the pound sterling as its currency. The message he was trying to get across was that monetary policy did not really matter all that much and as long as Scotland had control of taxation, a Scottish government could do very much as it pleased as far as economic policy and the encouragement of business, is concerned. Taken in that context, his message was total nonsense and goodness knows what his audience of business people thought of it. It is a line the First Minister has pushed on several occasions over some time now. He has tried to sell the idea that Fiscal Autonomy was all that Scotland needed in order to be "really independent in the modern world", hence the nonsense that "Fiscal Policy has primacy". That idea was being floated long before the announcement that sterling was to be retained and it was on the announcement about sterling, that the Fiscal Autonomy claim began to make sense.

When the SNP first announced the party, if it formed the government of an independent Scotland, would retain sterling as the Scottish currency, it also announced the Bank of England would act as the lender of last resort. This came as a surprise to everyone, including the Bank of England and to ensure there would be no problems about the Bank agreeing to this, the Secretary for Finance, John Swinney said he would "give the Bank of England an assurance that an SNP government would act responsibly in its Fiscal Policy". He went on to emphasise that the SNP government would not be allowing the Bank to see the spending plans, or to have any say in their structure. That would hardly be necessary because the first time the spending plans were deemed to be "out of line" with Bank of England policy, the SNP government would be brought back into line rather smartly - or else. Fiscal Autonomy therefore, in the context of the Bank of England controlling interest rates in an "independent" Scotland and sterling being the currency of choice, would be somewhat meaningless, particlarly in light of John Swinney's promised re-assurance to the Bank of England on Scottish spending plans. It has been made even more meaningless after the announcement today by Alex Salmond that an "independent" Scotland will retain UK income tax rates.

The SNP has often claimed that once it had control of corporation tax, it would make Scotland more competitive by lowering the rate of tax, as Ireland has done. The EU has been putting Ireland under pressure for over two years, to bring its corporation tax more into line with the rates of other EU members, something the Irish have consistently refused to do. As the EU builds more pressure to create fiscal harmonisation, particularly in light of the debacle in the eurozone, it is highly doubtful if the EU would look kindly on an independent Scotland emphasising its "independence" by reducing corporation tax. That is not to say Scotland should be put off or even think of allowing the EU to dictate, but the SNP's history is hardly one of standing up to the dictats of the EU. When the potential pressure from the EU is added to the commitment to keep the Bank of England happy on fiscal policy, the SNP would appear to have boxed itself into a corner.

In May 2011, Professor James Mitchell, wrote in Perspective in The Scotsman, that the SNP's problem "is one of linguistics, rather than conception" as it strives to persuade its members and supporters, that its position on independence has not really changed. I wrote a response which stated that it would take more than mere lingusitics to explain the volte face that had taken place on the currency. That is a year ago and in that time, the problem with linguistics faced by the SNP, has grown arms and legs.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

What Makes Us Scottish?

The Identity Survey carried out by YouGov, to find out what identifying features make Scots, English and Welsh people proud of their country and natiionality, has caused some commentators to re-consider at least some of their preconceptions. For example, the survey showed that Scots are not as thirled to the monarchy as was thought, provoking the suggestion that the SNP may have to re-think its policy on the monarchy. I think that is hardly likely, on the basis of a single survey, but perhaps, it will give Unionists some pause for thought because if Scots were as attached to the monarchy as they (the Unionists) like to argue, even a single survey would have shown more support. What was interesting was the reaction of a whole range of people who were asked what they felt made them Scottish.

On Scotland Tonight, Pat Kane emphasised the culture of the people, which is perhaps not surprising given that he is a musician, with a degree in English literature, while Humza Yousaf decided that food was important and plumped for chicken tika masala. Perhaps like Robin Cook, he considers it to be the new national dish. Of one thing we can be sure, that is that the world at large has no problem with identifying Scots because there is no other country which has the tartan, pipes and the kilt in the combinations that we have. The problem with identity is with some Scots themselves, many of whom seem to be terrified to emphasise their identity in case they are accused of being Nationalists. The writer James Kelman, recently wrote that he intended to vote "Yes" in the independence referendum but quickly added that not only was he not a Nationalist but that he disliked nationalism. He is one of a long line of Scots, prepared to preface their voting intentions or, their dissatisfaction with some aspect of the present political arrangement in the UK, with the qualification, "I am not a Nationalist but....". It is only one aspect of the infamous Scottish cringe, where any expression of being Scottish must be preceded with an apology.

I have never had that problem, probably because my Scottish ancestry has been traced back several generations on both sides of the family, therefore I can satisfy two of the condition in the survey, required by 52% and 73% respectively, viz. that both parents and myself, should have been born in Scotland  in order to be considered Scottish. On my mother's side, the McGregors, I had an ancestor John McGregor who has been traced to the Atholl Braes where he worked as a dry stane dyker in 1760. The Fairlies have also been in Perthshire for generations, back to the 1750s, working in the Glenshee area as weavers and stockmen. Other family names include Stewart, McGillivray and Robertson. What that does is make me very comfortable in my own skin, born in Perthshire of a long line of men and women who were also born in Perthshire. It doesn't make me particularly proud to be Scots, I just am Scots. I am proud, however, very proud, of many of the achievments of the people of Scotland in medicine, education, science, engineering and a whole host of other areas where Scots have contributed to the betterment of mankind. There are other areas such as the slave trade or our well known fondness for the drink, of which I am anything but proud but unlike some, I see no reason to be forever apologetic for them or, to see our national "failings" as reasons why we cannot be independent.

The apparent obsession with identitiy in this country, the regular need to measure our "Scottishness" against our "Britishness", stems from the fear in the UK establishment that if "Scottishness" is allowed to become too dominant, the ties which allegedly bind us to the whole idea of Britain will become so threadbare they will cease to be effective. Thus, any lessening of Scots' devotion to the monarchy will obviously lessen our feelings of "Britishness" and weaken the UK. The other problem is that thrown up by the use of the words Nationalist and Nationalism. The dictionary defines a Nationalist as someone who favours independence and the interests of his own country or nation, but opponents of Scottish independence use it as if it is synonymous with imperialism - the domination of other nations - or chauvinism - the extravagant and exaggerated pride in one's own nation together with a contempt for other nations. Scotland has never been an imperialist nation and while we micht hae a guid conceit o oorsels, we are not contemptuous of others. If we were, the reception we invariably receive when travelling abroad would be entirely different from the kind of welcome we are shown. As I have pointed out before, Unionists rarely use the word independence, preferring the much more pejorative separation or divorce.

Prior to the Union of 1707, Scotland had only one main enemy and that was England, caused by that country's determination to subjugate us over a period of over 300 years. Our battles with the Danes and Norwegians were for the purpose of self-defence and our troubles with Ireland were a direct consequence of the policies of James VI and I, as he furthered the imperial policies of England. Scotland played a major part in the building of the British empire but again, it followed the Union of the Crowns then the Union of 1707, driven by the expansionist policies of England. Since 1707 our culture has been derided to the point where the Gaelic language has almost ceased to exist and we live in a country where the majority of our people cannot even pronounce the names of our own mountains and glens. It is only recently that Scots has been recognised as a distinct and separate language from English. Born into a family where agriculture played a prominet role, I spoke Scots as well as standard English from the earliest age, so that both were encouraged in my own children from the outset. When teaching, I made a point of speaking to the students in the day-to-day language they used themselves. On one occasion one young lad told me, "You dinnae speak snobby like ither teachers Sir", a rather sad indication of the way in which Scots had come to be regarded as the language of "the lower orders". The image of the taciturn Scot did not happen by accident.

Despite that, the survey showed that 67% of Scots were either very proud or fairly proud of their language while 29% were either not very proud or not at all proud. What does that say about our country when 29% of of us are ashamed of our language, the language in which Burns was able to forge a reputation that is recognised throughout the world. The survey also shows that a total of 20% of Scots were not proud of Ben Nevis, which may have meant no  more than that they were totally indifferent to it. That was the problem of the survey in general; some of the questions asked made little or no sense. What was the point of asking if people were proud of our country pubs or were those questions simply thrown in to disguise the real nature of the survey - to identify those things which make us British? Significantly, only 61% of English respondents had any pride in the flag of St George while 24% of them associated it with racism. Unfortunately 10% of Scots associated the Saltire with racism although 84% were proud of it. The pressure to be British is unrelenting, with surveys such as this constantly measuring and re-defining which mores and attitudes can be said to be Scottish and which are British. The Olympics will provide limitless opportunities to wave the Union Flag and proclaim our "Britishness". God help any Scot who is perceived to be less than totally committed to the flag, the Union and Britain.

Would the survey have told anyone what it is that makes us Scots? It may have given them some idea of some of the things we regard as being important such as being born in Scotland or having Scottish parents. However it would also tell them there is little colour prejudice in Scotland as only a total of 13% of respondents thought that being white was important to be considered Scots and that it was far more important (83% of respondents) that people considered themselves to be Scottish, whatever their country of origin. To me, the encouraging thing about the survey is that the majority of Scots still consider themselves to be Scots rather than British, a total of only 5% seeing themselves more British than Scots, particularly given the welter of propaganda to which we are subjected to convert us to the concept of Britishness. That may also encourage the SNP to stop pandering to those who are determined that we remain part of Britain.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Nato - In or Out?

Given the remarkable discipline that has been shown by the SNP in recent years, it is certain that the discussion about whether or not the party should continue its opposition to NATO membership, has been initiated by the party leadership. Under no other circumstances would the fact that National Council was to discuss the policy, have seen the light of day before June. The softening up process of the membership has begun and will continue until the leadership pushes through the change of policy. It is a high risk strategy but the leadership has pushed through every other change of long-held SNP policy positions, banking on party loyalty and the fear that any breaking of the ranks will be exploited by the Unionists. Any suggestion that the SNP no longer stands for independence, is met with the kind of response that greeted the publication of the Economist magazine cover last week, but open support for NATO will certainly cause some party members to question their continued commitment to the party.

Political columnists have had their say on SNP defence policy over several months, as fear that a "Yes" vote in the referendum would mean the removal of Trident from the Clyde, despite hints from Angus Robertson MP, SNP Defence Spokesman, that some kind of deal might be possible. Few if any of those commenting on the SNP's opposition to NATO and nuclear weapons, have displayed any real understanding of the strength of that opposition, because they have very little knowledge of the history of the party, which has been re-written almost on a weekly basis. Southern commentators know absolutely nothing about the party and perceived wisdom in Scotland is that the SNP achieved little or nothing until the appearance of Alex Salmond who is deemed to be the sole architect of the party's current success. This completely ignores the political achievments of the party in the 1970s and also ignores the first ten years of Salmond's term of office, when the SNP did little more than tread water. The poisoned chalice that John Swinney inherited in 2000 after Salmond demitted office, did not appear by accident. Earlier on this blog under the heading, "The SNP Should Stop Playing Games" I suggested there were more than a few in the current leadership of the party, who would be quite happy to settle for less than the restoration of sovereignty and the re-establishment of the Scottish nation/state. I believe that that is now more evident than ever. England's problem is that they have no alternative site for Trident and they will make every threat imagineable, create as much fear of independence as possible, in their efforts to force Scotland to keep Trident where it is. The fear must now be that if the SNP drops its opposition to NATO, it will also drop its opposition to Trident.

If, at any point since the start of Salmond's second term of office, the party leadership had said, "We are not going to be able to achieve independence in the current climate, therefore we are going to have to take whatever we can get along the way, until we can achieve the ultimate goal. This may entail accepting reforms that are a great deal less than we want but we see it as a step in the right direction. We might never achieve independence but we will push to get as much as we can," there would have been a lot less distrust of what the leadership has tried to do. Instead, no matter how how much control was surrendered to the EU, it was still independence. The decision to retain sterling and give the Bank of England control of monetary policy, will still be independence according to the leadership. We have been told we will have a "seat at the top table" in the EU and have a member in the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, so that we could influence decisions. It is now being suggested that our opposition to nuclear weapons will allow us to influence other NATO members when we take our seat at yet another "top table". Have those who peddle this tripe taken leave of their senses or are they just being dishonest, in the hope that the rest of us have taken leave of ours? Others peddle the "gradualist" argument, every surrender of political control is presented as gradualism at work. As I tweeted, after 305 years, how gradual do we want to be?

The SNP opposed membership of NATO because it was a military alliance with a "first strike nuclear policy". The party totally opposed the presence of nuclear weapons on the doorstep of the most heavily populated part of Scotland and more than a few of us were arrested demonstrating against that presence. Scotland's disproportionate war losses go much further back than the First World War. Fontenoy, Ticonderoga, Tel-el-Kebir, Mafeking, Loos, Somme, Ypres, St Valery, Alamein, Tobruk, Crete, Sicily, Normandy, Burma, Hook these and many more can all be found on the battle honours of one Highland Regiment, the Black Watch, and it epitomises the contribution made by Scotland to the almost continuous wars fought by Britain. The SNP were determined that an independent Scotland would never call on its young men and women to make that kind of sacrifice again and it should not be forgotten that Alex Salmond condemned NATO's intervention in Serbia in 1999 because it was done without UN sanction.

Some commentators have already conceded that an independent Scotland could stay outside of NATO like Ireland or Switzerland, neither country being bullied and threatened in the way it is forecast an independent Scotland would be, if it had the temerity to stay outside the Alliance. The threats of course are all supposed to come from England, which would lose its place on the Security Council, or the USA just because it can. Alternatively, Scotland could be a member of NATO without the nuclear presence, like Norway and Denmark but the pressure to retain Trident would be immense if membership of NATO was accepted. Harry Reid in The Herald, argued the Labour Party under Blair, finally ditched Clause Four, without the sky falling in but that ignores the fact that the Labour Party had paid absolutely no atttention to Clause Four for many years before it made the reality official policy. It also ignores the fact that Labour under Blair was no longer Labour and there was little left that was worth voting for by the time he left.

The strategy of the SNP leadership is to sell the idea of an independence which changes little or nothing, from the currency, Bank of England control of the economy, the monarchy, membership of the EU and its continued destruction of fishing and agriculture, open borders, social union and BBC TV - musn't miss East Enders - continued cooperation on defence matters with use of military bases and now membership of NATO. In the months before the referendum, is there much more the SNP can concede, will independence leave Scotland as nothing more than a client state?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

What Has Scotland Got From Olympics?

Nationalists can expect little by way of fairness or objectivity from the Unionist camp, when it comes to discussion of the referendum on independence. The arguments in favour of remaining a part of the Union of the UK, have amounted to no more than a series of scare stories. Anyone who has doubts about independence for Scotland, will search in vain for any positive reason to remain part of the UK, as the scare stories about independence become increasingly ludicrous. The Daily Mail as the main cheer-leader for the Union, carries more than its fair share of this type of story but Hamish Macdonell's piece on the London Olympic Games on Monday 9th April, must be one of the worst.

We were told from the day and hour that London made its bid for the Games, that they would be for the benefit of the whole of the UK, both in terms of the share of contracts in the lead up to the Games and the legacy of participation in sport in which all corners of the UK would share. The original estimates for the cost of the venture were thought to be way over-optimisitic, but anyone who questioned them, was attacked by the London media, the Games organisors and Government supporters, all of whom were adamant that their estimates were correct. That the first assurance, that all corners of the UK would benefit, has been shown to be nonsense, is well established and accepted by everyone outside the usual London clique. The second assurance, that participation in sport would increase, has also been shown to be false but perhaps the most fanciful assurance of all - that the original estimates of costs were correct - are now no more than a sick joke.

According to Macdonell however, the only people guilty of questioning the estimates, expressing concern that not all parts of the UK were receiving equal benefit, are Nationalists in Scotland in general, and the SNP in particular. Macdonell offers no evidence to back up his accusations but his article is littered with assumptions such as, "For Scottish Nationalists, this clear cut issue (cheering UK athletes) is not quite so straightforward. They don't like the idea of a British team in the first place. Add to that the difficulty of cheering an English athlete..." Macdonell goes on, "So confused will they become indeed, that many nationalists will probably just opt out of the whole shebang..." "It is easy to see them retreating to their Saltire-covered basements to watch endless re-runs of Braveheart..." This man passes as a serious journalist but produces this kind of mean-spirited tripe on a regular basis.

According to Macdonell the Unionists have produced the "Jessica Ennis Test" which states that any Scot who cheers on Miss Ennis is British at heart and will take their Britishness into the polling booth with them and vote "No". This chimes with the Norman Tebbit infamous "cricket test", which caused him endless grief. It is also redolent of the pressure to which we were all subjected, when it became mandatory to support ENGERLAND in the world cup, on pain of being "anti-English" if we chose to support any other team. Andy Murray became persona non grata for suggesting he would support "Anyone but England". Murray would seem to have been rehabilitated to such an extent, according to Macdonell, that "The Nats may find it difficult to watch Andy Murray, wearing a Union flag across his chest..." It would appear, according to Macdonell, that only Scottish Nationalists have ever queried the costs of the games or any of the other assurances that were given, "because they have such a narrow, warped view of Britain". The headline of the article says it all, "Gold rush could save the Union", as the Olympics are being turned into a campaign for the preservation of the Union.

What is the reality of the Games? First of all, the original estimates of costs of £2.3 billion were farcical, as the actual costs are now over £12 billion and, according to a survey carried out by Sky Sports, could reach £24 billion. This last figure is disputed by Locog, the Games Organisor, which claims they are still within the agreed budget of £9billion. They are supported by Seb Coe but there have been so many underestimates, as well as omissions from the costs, that taking anything said by anyone associated with the organisation of the games is taking a chance of being bitterly disappointed. The cost of security was originally to be no more than £282 million, to employ 10,000 guards, but has now soared to employing 23,700 guards at a cost of £553 million. The original estimates did not include £1.13 billion for police for anti-terrorism work nor did it include the £6.5 billion to upgrade the transport systems, nor the £500 paid to tube drivers at a total cost of £6.5 million, nor the "London Ambassadors" to greet tourists at £3.5 million, nor the £11.5 million for the Torch Relay, right down to the £335,000 spent on a single sculpture.

The complaints about the cost of the games have been endless and certainly not confined to Scottish Nationalists. In January 2012, the Weymouth local paper, the Echo, carried a headline, "Portland Library to Close", followed by an article bemoaning the fact that Weymouth and Portland will host the sailing events but have just closed the only public library. The Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons, have raised concerns that the Games Stadium will become another White Elephant like the Dome. On the 4th of this month, Jules Boycoff wrote in the Guardian, "..private funders have disappeared, leaving the Government holding the fiscal bag.." "The National Audit Office has announced that public-sector funding has almost tripled while private-sector contributions dwindled to less than 2%." The Olympic village, originally envisaged as the centrepiece of London 2012 regeneration plan, was to be financed by the Australian developer, Lend Lease but the credit crunch caused them to abandon the project in Spring 2009, leaving the Government to pick up the tab. In August 2011, the development was sold to the Quatari ruling family's property company, at a loss to the taxpayer of £275 million. The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, hailed the transaction as a "fantastic deal".

And what about Scotland, have we had our share of the contracts; is Macdonell's charge that the SNP are just whingeing justified? On January 8th this year, The Herald on Sunday published an article by Judith Duffy, which looked at the "benefits" Scotland has received, compared to what was promised. Of the public-sector spend of £2.6 billion which has already taken place, Scotland's share has been £1 million. That's right, £1 million out of a total of £2.6billion or 0.04%. There has already been £114 million of Lottery funding re-directed from Scotland to the Games, although the Government allowed a "one-off" "Olympic funding" of £16 million to the Scottish Government in December 2011. The Games organisers claimed to provide an economic stimulus for the whole of the UK, generating £7 billion in contracts. Scottish Enterprise claimed 4200 Scottish firms registered to compete for Games-related supply chain opportunities. To date, 117 Scots firms have secured 158 contracts. Aberdeen-based First Group have a contract to run buses to the Games, worth £20 million while Glasgow-based Aggreko won a £37 million contract but overall the distribution of contracts to Scotland has been more than just disappointing.

The claim that tourists will also be attracted to Scotland as a consequence of the Games, has yet to be proved. Visitors to the UK for the purpose of viewing the games are thought to be unlikely to venture north to Scotland in great numbers, although there may be some visitors from the South of England, who will come north to move away from London to avoid the Games. In other words, Macdonell's article was no more than the usual rant by a Unionist intent on making unsubstantiated claims, to undermine the case for independence. Obviously, his professional reputation matters little to him.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Words Do Matter!

Do words matter all that much? Of course they do; the old adage "The pen is mightier than the sword" can only be appreciated when one reads the words of the great thinkers, philosophers, poets and writers that frequently attach themselves to great causes. The causes can be those concerned with freedom, either of the individual, a people or entire nations; alternatively they can be about ideas and society in general. Words can be used to enormous effect, to hurt, encourage, praise, denigrate, lie, dissemble or even tell the truth. The National Movement has been ill-served recently, by some SNP members, who either have no perception of the meaning of their utterances, are totally insensitive to the feelings of others or are too stupid to appreciate what the Unionists would make of their words. There have always been sick people who made sick jokes about road deaths, facial disfigurement or the misfortune of others. I never did get the humour and have not a clue what makes people like that tick. Fortunately, until the advent of the internet, their so-called humour tended to be inflicted only on the unlucky few to whom they could actually speak. This engine can now give them a world audience, which means the hurt they cause can be multiplied a thousandfold.

Only Annette Valentine and Lyall Duff can explain what possessed them to put their sick comments on the internet, but their SNP membership did not CAUSE them to do so. There is no causal connection between their party membership, their commitment to the cause of independence and their latest comments. What I would say however, is that the views most recently expressed by Duff, in particular, are unlikely to have been aired as an isolated example and, the question the SNP should be asking is, how the hell was he ever adopted as a candidate? Valentine's transgression was less serious perhaps, but no less hurtful for those afflicted with a cleft palate. The fact it was made at the expense of people who are extremely self-conscious about it, is far more important than any damage she may have caused the SNP's campaign and, if she fails to be re-elected as a consequence of her own stupidity, it will be just reward.

The faux outrage being expressed by the usual crop of Unionists, led by the Daily Mail, over the use by Mike Russell of the term "liberation", is something else again. Russell called for the "liberation" of Scotland from the Union; cue a collective attack of the vapours from the ususal suspects. Anyone who watches football on the TV will be well aware of the feigned injuries, in every match, the rolling around in "agony" of the over-paid, so-called stars of the modern game. The slightest contact by an opponent on any part of the body, is inevitably followed by hands thrown up to cover the face, then the total collapse to the turf as if all feeling and control of every limb had been completely destroyed. The rolling around, first several turns one way, followed by an equal number of turns the other way, accompanied by appropriate paroxysms of apparent agony, as evidenced by much screwing up of the face, will cease only after the referee has produced at least a yellow card but preferably a red one. The Unionist camp is rapidly approaching the point where it will have as much credibility as some of the "stars" who allegedly play our national sport. They are becoming a laughing stock as they assiduously seek the next scare story or the next affront, that will allow them to feign injury.

The Daily Mail gave us ample warning that it would oppose independence for Scotland with every means at its disposal and it has certainly kept to its word. Every day brings another scare story about what independence will mean for Scotland and almost every piece simply reeks with hypocrisy, as figures are manipulated or distorted to show how much worse off the people of Scotland will be. Every word uttered by a member of the Scottish government, every action by Ministers or ordinary SNP members, is presented in the worst possible light. Unionists regularly speak of "the cost of divorce", "separation" is inevitably preferred to "independence"; Nationalists are accused of seeking to "rip or tear Scotland out of the UK" and Armageddon is regularly predicted as the paper gleefully reports every promise of retribution on the newly independent Scottish nation/state, even to the ludicrous threat that we would be in danger of having our airports bombed by the Westminster government.

I have made this point before but I think it is time Scots started to take much more seriously, the way in which the English press and, unfortunately some of our own Scottish press, tend to portray Scots as subsidy junkies. Far too many of the modern SNP have tended to concentrate on the economic arguments for independence and, while they are important, they should not be allowed to become the most important. We set ourselves up to be ridiculed if our opponents see the whole debate dominated by questions about whether or not we are going to be better off. The argument should be turned around on the Unionists who argue we "cannot afford" independence. They should be asked at every opportunity to explain how it feels to believe they are living off the backs of English people less fortunate than themselves. More importantly, they should be asked to explain why they think that situation should be allowed to continue. They should be asked to explain what their demands do for their dignity and self-respect - if they have any.

There was a time when the words Paki or Chinky were not meant to be derogatory, pejorative or racist by the majority of Scots. My parent's generation used the term "nigger" to describe a colour and any black dog had a good chance of being called Nigger, as was Guy Gibson's black labrador. No one would dream of using any one of those words now, unless they intended to be racist or derogatory. Interestingly, Taffy and Mick or Paddy are thought to be derogatory but Jock is not. There was a time when Jocks was used to describe Scots soldiers and was more often than not used by the men themselves, although I always tended to see the term as being slightly condescending with connotations of class consciousness, when used by officers in Highland regiments. When Colin Mitchell - "Mad Mitch" - spoke about his Jocks after coming out of the Crater district in Aden, the term was laden with pride and affection.

Now, the term is more often than not used as a term of derision, as in "whinging Jocks" or "subsidy-junkie Jocks" and if that terminology were used of any other racial group - as in "whinging Paki" there would be an outcry, with the Daily Mail leading the charge. Recently when I tweeted about this, Thomas Lazarowicz said he did not think there would be many people would see "Jock" as racist and perhaps he is right, it won't be considered racist unless Scots become offended by its use. I intend to be offended each and every time I see or hear it used in that fashion. I also intend to be offended every time I read of another scare story in the Daily Mail or every time I see another attempt by journalists to re-write the history of the National Movement. Words and their mis-use is too important to be allowed to go unchecked.

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.