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.

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