Friday, 27 June 2014

£750,000 Of UK Government Lies

The UK Government is reputed to have spent over £750,000 putting together a small booklet entitled, "What Staying in the United Kingdom means for Scotland", delivered to every household in the country. There was a considerable outcry when the Scottish Government published the White Paper, about the "waste of taxpayers' money", "use of government employees on SNP propaganda" etc. but as always, with the No Campaign, there has been not a single word raised in protest at the "waste of taxpayers' money" for the dissemination of UK Government propaganda. The White Paper produced by the SNP Government in Holyrood, has been widely condemned as being a propaganda exercise and no more than a campaign manifesto for the SNP. There is no doubt there is some justification in the criticisms made but they are as nothing compared to the blatant propaganda which has been produced by the UK Government, in the alleged guise of "public information".

There is a distinction between misinformation and out and out lies and, every political party and every government is guilty of disseminating both from time to time. Supporters and opponents will adopt whichever stand they deem to be appropriate in each case, with each highlighting those statements of the opposition, which are most obviously untrue. As an opponent of the UK Government's and Better Together's campaign for the Union, I regard it as an obligation to point out the most blatant attempts by both to mislead the Scottish people, by providing deliberately misleading information or, as in the case of their latest booklet, deliberately lying. The booklet starts by stating, "It's for you to decide and you should make your choice knowing all the relevant facts". Unfortunately, much of the content is far from being either relevant or factual.

"By staying in the United Kingdom, our economies grow together" That is no more than a statement of the obvious but what is not stated is that over the past thirty years, the Scottish economy has grown by at least 0.5% each year less than the rest of the UK, ensuring that Scottish economic progress has been greatly disadvantaged as a consequence of government policy. The current boom in London's property market is creating even greater imbalance, leading to speculation that interest rates will have to be increased much earlier than expected. Increased interest rates are the last thing Scotland needs at the moment. "Staying within the UK is the only way to keep the pound we have now" That is a lie. The UK Government may refuse to have a currency union but there would be nothing to stop an independent Scotland from using the pound sterling as its currency of choice. There would be disadvantages in doing so and it would not be the best option for an independent Scotland, but that would be up to Scotland, not the UK Government to decide.

"Putting up an international border with the rest of the UK would slow growth". That is not necessarily true as borders, of themselves, do not slow growth. In any case, who is talking about putting up economic borders? English jobs rely on Scottish trade just as much as Scottish jobs rely on English trade, why would either government put up borders? "By staying in the United Kingdom, your money is safe and goes further". Is that meant to be a joke? Did the banking crisis of 2008 not happen? Did the frauds of PPI and CPP not take place? Did RBS alone, not pay out £9 billion in compensation and, unlike the Icelandic Government, did the UK Governments of both Labour and the Tory/Lib.Dem Coalition fail to prosecute a single banker for the billions they cost the UK economy? Wonga and Barclays - AGAIN - are both currently under investigation for financial fraud. Is it just a coincidence that 51% of the Tory Party's total funding is provided by the City of London, that over FIFTY financiers donated over £50,000 each to the Tory Party in 2012?

"The United Kingdom's financial standing helps keep interest rates low. That means cheaper loans and mortgages." That is no more than a snapshot of the current financial situation. If the London property market is allowed to continue to distort the UK economy, the cost of consumer borrowing will rise much sooner than expected. The UK already has a massive balance of trade and balance of payments deficit and, as that gets worse, as it will do, the pressure on sterling will increase, raising the cost of borrowing. The above claim is a total distortion. "Staying in the UK would keep future energy bills for Scottish households up to £189 a year lower" That is an out and out lie. Scotland's energy situation is far healthier than that of the rUK and the greater the development of Scottish resources, the greater the advantages will be for Scottish consumers. Energy companies in the UK are ripping off consumers at the rate of £101 each year for every family in the country, an increase of 1,000% in five years. Ofgem has ordered a full-blown inquiry into the conduct of energy companies and for the UK Government to make such a claim beggars belief.

"State Pensions are more secure because costs are shared by 31 million people." this is another out and out lie because the security of State Pensions rely on a great deal more than the size of the population. Taking the rUK Government's argument to its logical conclusion, China's State Pensions would be the most secure in the world and Norway would struggle to pay any kind of pension at all. It is a measure of how little regard the UK Government has for the intelligence of the Scottish people, and the stupidity of their own advisers to advance such an argument in the first place. State Pensions are determined by not just the resources of a country but the way in which those resources are used. Spending £100 billion on Trident, a weapon system that will never be used, ensures UK pensions will never be as good as they could be. Scotland's defense expenditure is only ONE example of how a change in the use of resources can make a difference in the size of the State Pension.

"In 2008, we were able to provide Scottish banks with support worth more than twice Scotland's national income" Had we not been in the UK, would our banks have been in the disastrous position they were in? UK banking de-regulation in common with those in other western countries, caused the financial disaster, allowing the banks to almost destroy the entire economy. The money to bail out the banks was BORROWED, creating the biggest debt mountain for the UK taxpayers, the UK has ever faced, which is hardly something about which to boast. The banks have learned nothing, they still commit fraud, pay out ludicrous salaries and bonuses to bankers, some of whom should have been jailed, instead of being given seats in the House of Lords, which has become the biggest standing joke of a second chamber in the Western World.

"Staying in the UK is worth £1,400 every year to each person living in Scotland". Why not £1,600 or £1,900 or £2,500 or any other fictitious figure, in fact, why not just pick a number, double it, then treble it, subtract a banana and add an orange? This nonsense does no more than debase the debate to the point where the majority of people will simply switch off. We are being asked to decide the future of our people and nation on the basis of a piece of tawdry and meaningless arithmetic, presented be even more tawdry politicians who can't even be trusted to count their own expenses. "Scotland benefits from public spending that is around 10% higher than the UK average". Scotland receives an annual grant from the UK Government, a grant that is being reduced, and chooses to spend that grant on public services to a greater extent that the rest of the UK. The fact Scots choose to spend our own money on items such as free prescriptions, is then used by the UK Government to suggest that is another reason to stay in the UK, despite the fact the same UK Government denies those advantages to the people in the rUK. We are to be bribed by our own money.

"An independent Scotland would need to create new public institutions, which would be complex and expensive" This ludicrous argument has already been shown to be a pack of lies created by The Treasury, by Professor Dunleavy of the London School of Economics, the man on whose research the arguments were supposed to be based. The figure of £2.5 billion produced by The Treasury has been admitted as being a figment of some official's imagination and a more realistic figure has been set at £250 million. Many of the departments already exist, others would not be needed and none would be as expensive as those used by the UK Government.

"The UK is more able to protect Scottish interests in areas like agriculture and fisheries". Surely the biggest lie of them all. The Scottish steel and fishing industries were sacrificed by Ted Heath as part of the entry fee to the then Common Market. Previous blogs have given far more detail but the fishing industry alone has lost over 100,000 jobs as a consequence of the Common Fisheries Policy CFP, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of tons of fish which have been dumped at sea in order to meet quotas that do nothing to either protect fish stocks or create a healthier industry. The Scottish steel industry was one of the best in Western Europe and Ravenscraig Mill, at the time of its closure was the most efficient and largest mill in Europe. Its workforce had been reduced from 13,000 to 770 and its closure led to the closure of another four steel factories in the Lanarkshire area, with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

This ridiculous piece of government propaganda is currently being pushed through every door in Scotland at the cost of £750,000 of taxpayers' money. It is a tissue of lies from start to finish and an insult to the intelligence of the Scottish people.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Who is Funding Better Together?

On the 8th of May this year, Chris and Colin Weir wrote to The Scotsman and The Herald, appealing for participants in the referendum debate to "respect other views on independence". It was a very dignified letter, and given the nature of some of the recent comments that have been made publicly about their donation to the SNP and the Yes Campaign, it was a damn sight more restrained than their critics deserved. The Weirs wrote of some of the abuse they have suffered at the hands of those who support the Union and Better Together. Since the publication of their letter, hardly a day has passed but there has been further reference to their donation, either in the letter columns of the press or in leader columns in Unionist journals such as the Daily Mail.

The prize for the most snide comment must go to Tory MSP Alex Johnston, who said, "While it's the right of every individual to do whatever they wish with their money, the SNP are clearly taking advantage of these people....It simply leaves me a bit uneasy." His faux concern cut no ice with the Weirs who said, "The only "targeting" has been by an MSP who chose to express his "concern" for us by implying we have been at best naive, and, at worst, duped. Would he, we wonder, have felt the same concern had our contribution supported his cause?" The answer to that is an emphatic "No", and I have searched in vain for Johnston's equal concern for J K Rowling and her donation of £1 million to Better Together. Suddenly Unionists, supporters and media, are concerned about the size of donations - the Weirs have given £4.5 million - that individuals can give to political parties or political causes. The Mail, with equal faux concern wrote, "This is a democracy and it is legitimate to look at matters which may influence our political process." Another of the usual suspects in one of his regular diatribes against Scottish independence wrote, "It is simply not right that one large donor should be allowed to finance in such great part, a political party, or one side in a referendum. In truth it is an affront to democracy."

The fact that this "affront to democracy" has been going on for years, as the Tories have raked in millions from their wealthy supporters, as has the Labour Party from the Trade Unions, has never bothered these people before. There was a similar outcry from the same group when Sir Brian Soutar, Sir Tom Farmer and other wealthy individuals, decided to donate substantial sums to the SNP before the last Holyrood elections in order to create "a more even playing field". The Mail has continued with its "concern", exclaiming, "It is certainly concerning that a random selection of lottery balls may have a huge effect on a referendum that will decide this country's fate." The reek of hypocrisy is quite overwhelming, all the more so because it is so overt and there is never a cheep about the rewards regularly doled out in the annual Honours List _ God, if there was ever a misnomer that is it - for hard cash.

It just so happens there is another "cash for honours" stink in The Mail today, as this guardian of the country's values and morals divulges that two-fifths of Lib Dem donations came from just three men, all of whom have only recently been made peers. Quelle surprise! Businessmen James Palumbo, a night-club owner, made a peer in 2013 has donated £1,004,757 since 2004; Rumi Verjee, owner of Domino's Pizza made a peer in 2013, has donated £1,156,326 since 2010 and Raj Loomba described as a "clothing tycoon" made a peer in 2013, has donated £361,597 since 2008.

In February this year, it was announced that private health firms with Tory links have been given NHS contracts worth £1.5 billion. Circle Health was given £1.36 billion in health service work while its investors gave the Tories £1.5 million. Care UK received contracts worth £102.6 million while its Chairman John Nash was made a Peer and donated £247,250 to the Tories. Circle Health's parent company, Circle Holdings plc. is owned by a series of hedge funds, 29% owned by Landsdowne Partners, founded by Sir Paul Ruddock who gave the Tories £692,592. The list of Tory donors with connections to health care companies and fund managers goes on and on and since the Tory health reforms, profits in Circle Health have gone up from £64.6 million in 2010-11 to £170.4 million in 2011-12. Care UK has allegedly been given a string of NHS deals, including prison health care, worth £62 million and its healthcare revenue soared by 63.2% from £189.7 million in 2012 to £309.5 million in 2013. Fifty City of London donors gave the Tories in excess of £50,000 each and over 51% of all Tory donations come from the City of London.

Since the last general election in 2010, Labour has had £60 million and the Tories just under £45 million from their main donors, with Labour's biggest single donor, the trade union Unite, giving £11.9 million and whose 1.42 million members donate £3 each. On the 10th July 2013, Ed Miliband said, "I am proud that Labour has links with ordinary working people. David Cameron is bankrolled by a few millionaires."  However Len McKluskey, Unite's General Secretary doubted their members would pay £3 each voluntarily, stating, "Milliband is taking a gamble by abolishing affiliation fees. We won't be affiliating 1.3 million members, more like 50,000". In April this year, he threatened to disaffiliate Unite from Labour if Labour loses the general election in 2015. Labour's connection to working people is at best tenuous and in the vast majority of cases, is anything but voluntary.

But what does any of this have to do with funding Better Together? There is an element of truth in the charge that the Yes Campaign is a front for the SNP, despite the denials this is so. There are far too many similarities in policy positions for it to be otherwise, but it is certainly equally true that Better Together is just a front for the three Unionist parties,. Tory, Labour and Lib/Dems. Cameron, Milliband and Clegg never miss an opportunity to attack the idea of Scottish independence and pour scorn on the very notion of Scottish people choosing to end the Union of 1707.. Complaints have been widespread about taxpayers' cash being used to fund the publication of the Scottish Government's White Paper but again, not a cheep has been heard from the same people about taxpayer's money being spent -£750,000 to be exact - by the Scottish Office on its own publication of the case against independence. The entire British Establishment is geared to oppose Scottish independence and the £4.5 million donated by Chris and Colin Weir, pales into insignificance compared to the tens of millions pumped into the Westminster parties by their respective paymasters.

Whatever donations are being given to the Yes Campaign, the few pounds by ordinary people concerned to see their country independent, when added to the donations from the Weirs, will not be buying peerages, either for themselves or for the Weirs. The same cannot be said for the doyens of the British Establishment, the bankers, fund managers, business tycoons, TU leaders who have all trod a well worn path to the House of Lords and who are currently financing Better Together. The one establishment institution not yet mentioned is the BBC. No one, with even an ounce of integrity now tries to deny the BBC has taken a quite overtly hostile stance to Scottish independence. Scotland's estimated contribution to the BBC is £300 million per annum, so that is another sizeable chunk of revenue that has been placed at the disposal of Better Together, for which it does not even have to account. When the column inches from Scotland's hostile press, put at the disposal of the British Establishment for nothing, are taken into consideration, Better Together could not begin to calculate the amount of cash it is spending on this campaign, or that is being spent on its behalf. That it has to make an issue of one sizeable donation to the Yes Campaign, speaks volumes about just how worried Better Together is. And so it should be.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

How Much Will Independence in Europe Cost Scots?

The results of the EU elections were a major disappointment to the SNP as they effectively destroyed the notion that UKIP has no support in Scotland, albeit the poll was a derisory 33.5%. Of much greater importance however, are the results of the polls which preceded the elections, showing that over 30% of Scots would like to leave the EU and over 60% would like a referendum on Scottish membership, whatever the result of the independence referendum. These results contradict the persistent claims by the SNP that Scots are overwhelmingly in favour of EU membership, although the claims continue as the SNP and Yes Scotland make the EU an important issue in the independence campaign.

I am told frequently that the issue of the EU can be decided after the vote on independence,  - as can everything else for those who think nothing should be allowed to distract from getting a Yes vote. Unfortunately issues such as EU membership, currency and a number of others are seen as important by Scots in general and for many, will persuade them to vote either Yes or No. They will also determine not only the kind of independence we will have, but whether in fact that what is on offer is actually independence at all. What follows is not about whether or not membership of the EU denies Scotland sovereignty, I have made my views on that very plain over many years. It is about how the SNP has committed a major error by making the EU such an important part of the independence campaign and an effort to persuade people to recognise that error. The attacks on UKIP were a major mistake and have already been acknowledged as such, but that is only part of the problem. The major error occurred by making false claims about Scots' enthusiasm for membership of the EU, because it has given Better Together an opportunity to attack the concept of independence when it was totally unnecessary.

By making false claims about the ease with which Scotland would gain/keep membership of the EU, the importance of the EU to Scotland in terms of jobs and future economic prospects, in short by stressing the need for EU membership to the point where it can be argued that without it, a Scotland independent of the UK could not survive, the SNP has given Better Together another weapon to use in their battle against independence. As in all its arguments, Better Together has to do no more than suggest an independent Scotland will have great difficulty in gaining membership as a "new" state because other members may raise objections, for the "Undecided" to see yet another "uncertainty", another "problem", another "risk". The SNP has made membership of the EU a "must", an "absolute necessity" for an independent Scotland to be a success, whereas the truth is that Scotland could survive more easily outside the EU.

In its eagerness to show that an independent Scotland would be  a worthwhile acquisition for the EU, great emphasis has been placed by the SNP, on the contribution Scotland would make, in terms of the fishing grounds, the oil and gas reserves and the renewable energy technology we will provide, to say nothing of the fact we currently have a balance of payments deficit with the EU and are a Net contributor to EU coffers. As a Net contributor and a member which takes more goods and services from the EU than they take from us, just what are the great benefits Scotland has received and more importantly, what great benefits is Scotland likely to receive in the future? For a people which seems to be obsessed with "How much will it cost us?" or "How much will I gain from independence?" surely Scots should be asking what the EU is worth to us or how much it will cost us. To date, we have had nothing but some vague notion of the jobs it provides, with not a word said about the jobs it has cost or its total failure to live up to expectations, as the euro has been on the verge of collapse since 2008.

The fishing industry has always been far more important to Scotland than to other parts of the UK and the EU. In 2013 fish landed by the Scots industry was worth £429 million, a drop of 8% since 2012, but accounted for 87% of total UK catch and 37% of total allowable catch in the EU. There was more fish landed in Shetland than in the whole of England and Wales combined. Despite the volume of fish landed by Scottish boats, Scotland receives only 41% of the UK's European Fisheries Fund and between 1.1% and 1.4% of total EU fisheries funding. Fishing has suffered more than any other Scottish industry, with the possible exception of steel, from a combination of neglect and EU bureaucracy. In 1973, just after the UK's entry to the then Common Market, there were 1,800 boats and by 2007, the figure had shrunk to 697, as a consequence of decommissioning, quota restrictions and the loss of fishing grounds, in short the Common Fisheries Policy.

In January 2009, the Aberdeen Press and Journal wrote, "In case any proof were needed that the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy is one of the most damaging political schemes ever to affect a UK industry, some facts about its impact on every single household will help. Pressure group The Taxpayers' Alliance has calculated that the policy costs every family £111 a year in higher taxes and lost business and puts £186 per year on the average food bill. As the north and northeast of Scotland has witnessed, the impact on jobs has been severe. More than 9,000 directly in fishing and up to 90,000 have been lost from onshore dependent industries. This is before the baffling phenomenon of throwing away tons of dead fish has even been considered," in a world where millions are starving and many Scots rely on food banks.

Despite claims that the situation has improved in recent years, in December 2013, The Scotsman carried the following headline, "Scots Fishermen face a tidal wave of red tape". and in the Spring 2014 edition of The Scottish Fishermen's Federation News, Bertie Armstrong, Chief Executive of SFF said, "Paradoxically, if the only consideration for a newly separate Scotland was fishing, the industry would probably be best served by being outside the EU and the tight constraints of the CFP"

When Ted Heath was negotiating entry to the Common Market, the British Steel Corporation was producing 20 million tons of steel a year, with plans to increase that figure to 40 million. He was told by the bureaucrats in Europe that not only would they not tolerate a single company producing 40 million tons of steel every year, they demanded a reduction in the current capacity of 20 million tons, because the anti-monopolistic powers in the Common Market ruled that no single company could produce more than 10 million tons a year. So sensitive was this information that Heath slapped a D Notice on it, so that it could be kept from the British public. From that time on the death knell was sounded on the Scottish steel industry, which in the 1970s was employing over 27,000 directly and many thousands more indirectly. When Ravenscraig was closed in 1992, its workforce had already been reduced from its maximum of 13,000 to a mere 770, but that led to the closure of another four plants and the loss of thousands of other jobs, directly and indirectly employed in steel. At the time of its closure Ravenscraig was the largest mill in Western Europe and the most efficient of the five remaining mills in BSC, expending 2.5 man hours per ton of steel, compared to the average of 6.5 in other BSC plants.

These are only a couple of examples of the jobs that have been lost so what about the current situation and the "massive importance to jobs" that the SNP and Yes Scotland claim for the EU? The Scottish Government's own figures show that in 2011, of the top ten countries with which Scotland traded, seven were in the EU and three were outwith the EU. More significantly however, the value of the trade with the seven EU members was £9 billion while the value with the three non-EU members was £5 billion and the largest single market in the EU worth £2.7 billion was with the Netherlands, which is currently one of the poorest performing economies in the euro zone. The Government figures show that between 2006 and 2011, Scottish trade with the EU increased by 35% whereas outwith the EU it increased by 29% but the crisis in the euro zone, the unemployment levels in Spain (29%) Italy (20%) Portugal (15%) Greece (27%) and even France (10.2%) has reversed that pattern. Given the austerity measures which are likely to continue in order to reduce the chronic debt burdens in those countries, the prospects for the foreseeable future are hardly encouraging.

In 2012 there were an estimated 2,100 foreign owned firms in Scotland employing an estimated 290,000 workers and with turnover of £87 billion. Contrary to the picture painted by the Europhiles, over 60% of those firms were owned by firms not in the EU. In the past five years Scotland has been more successful in attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) than any other part of the UK, but in 2012 almost 53% of that FDI was provided by only three countries, the USA, Japan and Norway, none of which is in the EU. Ruth Lea of the Arbuthnot Bank group states, "It would seem that for all the vigorously promoted benefits of being in the EU's single market and Customs Union, they do little if anything, to offset the more obvious attractions for UK exporters of exporting to growing markets rather than exporting to sluggish ones." Ms Lea goes further by pointing out that over the past decade, UK exports have increased by 76%, growing by 45% to the EU but by over 100% to non-EU countries. All the UK's high performing trade relationships have been with non-EU countries, mainly outside any preferential trade deals. The SNP and Yes Scotland cannot simply ignore that kind of evidence, that membership of the EU, which is pushing ahead with closer integration to control the fiscal policies of member states, is hardly the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow which is being presented to the Scottish people.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, the rise of the right wing in the EU must be confronted for what it is. The SNP did much to promote the presence of UKIP at the European elections, then reacted in horror at the thought of "the right" actually winning the largest share of the vote in England and Wales, using that victory to suggest Scots had an even better reason to vote for independence. If the victory of UKIP is a good reason to reject the UK, the victory of the National Front in France and Golden Dawn in Greece, is an even better reason to reject the EU. They are only the tip of the right wing iceberg in the EU, where Fascist politics is never far from the surface, yet the only response from the SNP has been total silence. In the final 100 days of the campaign, there is still time to persuade Scots to take a more realistic look at the EU and what it means to an independent Scotland. The threat that we might find it difficult to get in, is actually no threat at all.