Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Carmichael and Darling Do The No Side No Favours

Monday January 13th's copy of the Daily Mail carried a piece under the heading, "At last, No campaign makes a positive case for keeping the United Kingdom intact." It also carried a side bar under the title, "Darling calls for an end to cyber attacks", in which Alistair Darling warned that the "referendum campaign will get more nasty" and called on Alex Salmond to crackdown on so-called Cybernats. It was written in the customary style of the anti-independence Mail, with the headline bearing little or no relationship to the content, much of which covered a speech to be given that day by Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary.

The substance of Mr Carmichael's speech was that Scotland gets more back from the UK than it puts in and his argument covered not just the difference between what Scotland pays in tax and what it receives in public spending. That argument has been done to death and the government's own returns show that Scotland has consistently paid more in tax than it receives, although the opponents of independence continue to claim the opposite. Mr Carmichael attempted to show there was more to the contributions from the UK, the intangibles for which we are expected to be grateful. Unfortunately, some of them are so intangible as to be almost invisible. He makes the ludicrous assertion that, "We get the benefits from natural resources like North Sea oil, but are able to manage the volatility in production and price as part of a much larger and diverse economy made up of 60 million rather than just five million." 

Of course, he ignores, as he must, the thirty odd years of lies about the true worth of oil revenues, while successive Labour and Tory governments used the resource to restructure the English economy, allowing the Scottish steel, shipbuilding and manufacturing industries to go to the wall with little, if any, alternative employment for the thousands of Scottish workers made unemployed. He made no mention at all of the Scottish fishing industry, which has lost over 100,000 jobs since Ted Heath used it as a bargaining tool - just as he used the Scottish steel industry - to gain entry to the then Common Market. When we look across the North Sea to Norway and consider the enormous success they have made of the oil in their sector of the North Sea, Mr Carmichael's argument looks even more ludicrous.

By contrast, the opening lines in the report of the Fiscal Commission set up by the Scottish Government, states, "By international standards, Scotland is a wealthy and productive country. Even excluding North Sea oil output, GVA per head of the population in Scotland is estimated to be 99% of the UK average and the highest in the UK outside London and the South East. However, over the past 30 years, Scotland's economic growth rate has lagged behind that of many of its peers." Between 1995 and 2002, Scottish economic growth was 1.9% per annum as opposed to the 2.7% achieved by the rest of the UK over the same period. In every year over the past 30 years, economic growth in Scotland has been 0.5% lower than the growth rate in the rest of the UK. So much for the advantages to be gained from being an integral part of a market of 60 million.

Mr Carmichael's very own fairy story soared to unbelievable heights when he said, "You'll find no grandiose flights of fancy here only the very facts of our United Kingdom: our banks are safer; we have greater financial protection for savers and pensioners, greater levels of competition delivering cheaper mortgages and insurance for families and businesses." Where was he when our major banks would have collapsed but for the bail out with taxpayers' money? Is he unaware that RBS is still 81% owned by the UK taxpayer and only government intervention stopped the payment of bonuses that would have doubled the salaries of staff, and that the bonus culture among banks and financial institutions in the UK is still alive and well and that UK bankers seemed to have learned nothing? Has he never heard about the mis-selling scandals of PPS and CPP and the estimated £9 billion in compensation it cost UK banks?  Did the whole financial crisis simply pass him by? Mr Carmichael should be given as much air time as possible if this is the kind of piffle he intends producing; it might do little to enhance the arguments from the No side but at least it will be entertaining.

Not so entertaining, is the charge by Alastair Darling that the referendum campaign is likely to get nastier and, laying the blame for that at the door of the so-called Cybernats. I cross swords with some of them on a regular basis because one accusation by Darling is certainly true, they cannot stand anyone who opposes the SNP or comments unfavourably on SNP policies, believing as they do that the party can do no wrong and any criticism, however justified, undermines the arguments for independence, as if Scots who have yet to be convinced of independence, are incapable of seeing through a spurious, stupid or simply false argument all by themselves. The less able and nastiest among them rarely, if ever, attack opposing arguments, relying completely on personal attacks, some of which would earn a quick crack on the jaw if delivered face to face. In their defense, some of them are not the brightest and personal attacks on perceived enemies of independence, is as much as they can offer.

The same excuse cannot be made for some of the people on the No side, whose regular contributions via the popular media, including TV and radio, are just as venomous as anything produced by the Cybernats. There are several newspaper columnists whose personal attacks on Alex Salmond in particular, are an absolute disgrace, but of far greater importance, is their relentless flow of bile and venom directed at the whole idea of independence and those Scots who believe in it. These people are educated, successful in their field and have sometimes held high political office. They are perfectly capable of making their case without the carping, frequently childish and more frequently bilious nature of their offerings. Alan Massie is a regular columnist for The Scotsman, who makes no secret of his lack of support for independence but his arguments are never reduced to personal abuse. Nationalists may disagree with his opinions and sentiments but they can hardly complain about the way in which he presents them.

The same cannot be said for Michael Kelly and Brian Wilson, whose columns in The Scotsman rarely rise above the lower levels of journalism, in the way they produce a relentless flow of not just anti-independence, but very often what comes across as anti-Scottish, sentiment. Neither has any problem with independence for every country in the world, with an especial fondness for Eire, but the very thought of independence for Scotland is met with nothing but derision. Neither ever makes a positive case for the Union of the UK, they are too busy scorning the idea of Scots emulating other small European countries by taking control of their own affairs. But even messrs Kelly and Wilson are amateurs at the game of Scot-bashing, compared to the likes of John MacLeod of the Daily Mail, whose poisonous outpourings on independence and the SNP put even the worst of the Cybernats in the shade. MacLeod normally refers to Alex Salmond as the Head Haggis, rarely if ever, the First Minister. He and the other Daily Mail reporters who normally cover Scottish political affairs are in a class of their own. These people have far greater access to the news and air waves than the Cybernats and before Darling and others in the No camp, call for control of a handful of Nationalists with limited access to social media, let them turn their attention to those who poisoned the debate on independence years ago. And pigs might fly.


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