Dominic Hinde: And Now For Something Completely Different

It is an irony not lost on Patrick Harvie and others in the Scottish Green Party that the independence referendum has given Green politics and its sympathisers a place in the Scottish media few had been willing to provide until now.

The hustings, news reports and general media scrum around the referendum has meant that green ideas have reached new audiences. Sitting somewhere between the newspaper-quoting dogma of the SNP and the Lenin-quoting independence far left, the opportunity to articulate a particular Green vision for Scotland has been priceless to both the Greens themselves and people who share their vision an ecologically and socially sound Scotland.

An epiphany for many people, including the press, has been the realisation that the general green agenda is not just about the environment as traditionally understood, and that the vision for Scotland expressed by both the Greens in Holyrood and the likeminded groups of people around Scotland in the environmental, technology and maker movements would not have everyone reverting to the dark ages. For all its embracing of renewables and talk of community empowerment, mainstream Scottish politics still occupies a very narrow and unenterprising zone that can be both deeply conservative and unwilling to tackle the root causes of the country’s problems. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tug of war between the UK and Scottish governments over oil.

Given the SNP and UK parties’ fondness for oil, the green economy would focus instead almost entirely on renewables. There would be a transition plan to make sure that the jobs provided by the oil industry did not suddenly vanish and an emphasis on putting the profits from renewable energy into the hands of communities instead of multinational energy companies. Together with plans for land and tax reform, this would mean lots of small local energy companies paying back into the communities that built them. This is already the case on places such as North Harris in the Hebrides.

There would also be huge decentralisation, with power handed to regions and individual cities in a more conventional European model of democracy. Whereas the SNP have centralised public services, green Scotland would seek to open up more rural areas of the country, increase economic diversity and stop depopulation. This could mean growth for places such as Fort William, Stornoway, Wick and Dumfries that are currently largely forgotten about by politicians and not considered important enough to break the dominance of the Central Belt.

In economic terms, this might lead to lower levels of overall growth than an oil-intensive economy concentrated in the North-East would, but it would also more evenly spread economic benefits across the country.  Likewise, the Scottish banking sector could be broken up into a series of regional banks and become less reliant on the volatility of international markets.  A line often trotted out by Better Together is that Scotland is too small to support its own banks, but both Denmark and Sweden weathered the banking crisis by separating their assets into domestic and overseas investments on a fundamentally different model.

Similarly, the debates around currency are given more prominence than is reasonable given its impact on the economy. As Kirsteen Shields, a law lecturer at Dundee University, has said, the idea that economics is used to define sovereignty shows a very narrow frame of reference. The Greens favour an independent Scottish currency, and organisations such as the New Economics Foundation suggest that local currencies could have serious economic benefits. The state of the world economy only becomes a serious issue when your material interests are interwoven with the fate of investment markets.

Instead, investment in Scotland’s internal assets could well be as productive in green terms. Time would be called on the landowners who still dominate Scotland, with agreement about replacing council tax with a land value tax, or LVT. LVT is similar to asset taxes in Denmark that prevent people banking their wealth in property and sporting estates without developing either.  This would guarantee a huge increase in the amount of money flowing to local councils to pay for schools, transport and community facilities as well as allowing communities to more effectively manage land.

Socially things would change substantially, with more of a Nordic-style welfare system that facilitates childcare and shared parenting beyond subsidising private nursery costs for working mothers. Instead of having to nervously wait for unemployment and housing benefit to be paid into your bank account when looking for work, the government would attempt to introduce a guaranteed basic income and provide services to help people find work instead of hitting them with financial penalties. Lessons from across the North Sea show that facilitation of jobseekers and people staying at home makes both economic and social sense.

With green economics Scotland would probably start to look very different too. At the moment many of the homes and buildings that pop up are constructed quickly and cheaply by private developers, with people often being an afterthought. Housing is often used instrumentally in the Scottish economy as a means of fuelling construction booms – a key platform of SNP policy at present. There is famously one new development on Glasgow’s South Side supposedly built with the proceeds of drug money and signed off by the council as part of their hands-off regeneration strategy which will, in the words of one planner, ‘become the slums of tomorrow’.  Changing some aspects of how and why Scotland builds would not even require independence, just a change of direction in Scotland’s two big political parties.

Taking a long-term view of the built as well as the natural environment can produce better outcomes for all.  Good quality housing is an effective way of improving the quality of people’s lives whilst helping the environment. Instead of yuppie flats and suburban estates Scotland could look forward to high-quality modern tenements and an end to the tyranny of private landlords and insecure tenancies.  Walk down Leith Walk in Edinburgh and the sportscars parked in the bus lanes across the street from credit-brokers and short-lease flats remind you that Scotland is not a poor country, just a dysfunctional and unequal one.  In a country that has managed to combine the worst aspects of council housing and private renting, it is a tempting prospect for anyone under forty for whom a secure home is often a worry. Small increases in private wealth are a blunt instrument compared to the high prices and poor quality of huge swathes of Scotland’s housing stock, whilst public buildings need to be designed for the people who use and work in them.

The vision of a decentralised but interconnected and just society where quality of life trumps the endless pursuit of growth and people gain more control over their own lives is one that everyone can buy into. The real question is whether Scotland’s political class will relinquish the power to let it happen.

Dominic Hinde
@DominicMHinde
National Collective

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Dominic Hinde: And Now For Something Completely Different
National Collective

Strong medicine


Strong medicine


When we came up with this flyer idea last January, we decided that on balance it was perhaps edging a wee bit on the aggressive side. But in the light of today’s comments from Eddie Bone and the deputy leader of UKIP, and the findings of the recent Future Of England survey, it seems suddenly more appropriate. What do we think, folks?

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The McCrone Legacy

As readers of this site will be well aware, 40 years ago the UK government economist Professor Gavin McCrone analysed the effect of North Sea oil on the finances of a notional independent Scotland, which at the time seemed a real and possibly even imminent prospect. His assessment was so alarming to Westminster that its findings had to be kept secret from the Scottish public for over three decades.

With the information suppressed, Scotland remained in the UK (and was even refused modest devolution despite voting for it in a referendum), resulting in the imposition of a series of Conservative governments elected on English votes, beginning with Margaret Thatcher’s turning-point victory in 1979.

thatcher79

Ironically, we have Mrs Thatcher’s government to thank for the collation of the data which demonstrates the true state of Scotland’s finances within the UK, in the shape of the GERS figures (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland).

The data was subsequently collected into the Scottish National Accounts Project, which provides the figures (Excel document) for the following analysis. What it reveals provides a surprisingly unambiguous statement of Scotland’s financial condition, and one which is agreed across a broader political spectrum that you might imagine.

The chief difficulty in establishing Scotland’s position relative to the UK is that when ascribing income and expenditure to individual parts of the UK, a number of estimates and presumptions have to be made. For example, defence spending or foreign affairs are essentially non-geographic in the Scotland/UK context, and so spending in these areas is generally apportioned on a population basis.

North Sea oil presents a particularly sensitive issue, and the presentation of the data has been fudged for political reasons, obfuscating the reality by producing figures on an economically meaningless per-capita basis as well as the proper geographic basis which would in fact be the case upon independence.

The prominent feature of the UK data is the regularity of annual deficits. There’s nothing unusual in this – rather, it’s the norm among developed western economies. What’s more concerning, however, is the rapidly growing level of debt in recent years.

The red line on the following graph represents the UK debt as calculated from the data, and accurately reflects the known position. The debt has grown from about £98bn in 1980 to £1.2 trillion in 2013. In this graph, debt is shown as a downwards line. (Such graphs are more commonly shown upside-down, with the mounting debt depicted as a rising line, which is psychologically less alarming.)

graph1

Scotland’s share of this debt – on the “pooling and sharing” basis presented by Labour as a benefit of the Union – naturally follows an identical trajectory, and can be seen marked by the red line in the graph below, with only the values on the vertical axis different. It’s grown from £8.2bn in 1980 to £99bn in 2013.

graph2b

The orange line, however, shows the equivalent effect of using the data specific to Scotland. It begins with the same population-based share of debt in 1980, namely £8.2bn – although, as noted in this article, Scotland had already been outperforming the UK for decades before that.

Even with that unfavourable starting point, it can be seen that the debt is replaced by a credit balance for several years before moving back into debt in 2003/4, with the debt since rising to almost £70bn in 2013. This is a significant improvement (of £29bn) on the position calculated by a per-capita debt share.

But this doesn’t accurately represent Scotland’s true historic fiscal position. Within the annual expenditure ascribed to Scotland is a share of the cost of servicing the UK debt (ie paying interest on it). GERS allocates a population share of UK interest payments, rather than calculating a separate Scottish figure.

This means that the Scottish figures are misrepresented by including too large a share of the UK’s debt repayments. Scotland is being made to pay for the UK’s proportionately-higher deficit, not just Scotland’s own. Fortunately, the data enables us to rectify this and calculate a fair share of the UK debt interest. This is shown as the yellow line on the graph below.

graph3

The cumulative debt so calculated for 2013 is only £3.8bn, compared to the £99bn with the UK’s debt shared across the whole country. In fact, we see that Scotland has been in credit since 1982/3 and right up until 2012, only dropping into a modest level of debt in 2012/13. During those 30 years of credit an independent Scotland would have paid no debt interest at all, because it would have had no debt.

But this still understates Scotland’s true fiscal position. What does a country do when it has a credit balance? It invests it for a return (as with Norway’s fabled $1 trillion oil fund). How much positive income would this generate?

A 4% return on the credit balance (similar to that produced by Norway’s fund), would be a reasonable, even slightly conservative, estimate. If we factor that into the figures, along with the absence of UK debt interest payments, it leads to an accumulated surplus of over £63bn in 2013, shown by the green line.

graph5

This figure is slightly below the £68bn produced by the pro-Union economist Professor Brian Ashcroft last year.

“I estimate that Scotland’s share of UK debt interest amounted to £83 billion at 2001-12 prices. Subtracting this from total estimated Scottish spend of £1,440 billion we get a debt interest adjusted estimate of spend of £1,357 billion. This means that Scotland was in overall surplus by about £68 billion“.

Yet this figure still doesn’t necessarily reflect the true position. Scotland has accrued, on its own account, a substantial credit, while the UK has accrued a substantial debt. The UK services that debt, paying interest to creditors at rates which have varied over the years. Scotland has been a de facto creditor of the UK, because its credit balances have offset overall UK debt.

The effective rates paid by the UK (and therefore earned by the creditors) can be calculated, year on year, from the data, and therefore we can apply those rates to the calculated Scottish credit balances, to determine our fair return on those surpluses.

Those calculations produce the final result, depicted by the blue line below.

graph6

The credit balance reaches £207bn in 2013. Scotland would been in fiscal surplus every year since 1982/3, with the single exception of 2009/10. Just as McCrone predicted, it would have become “a country with a substantial and chronic surplus”.

Therefore, using only figures provided by the UK government and some very reasonable and modest assumptions, we can answer the question “What has it cost Scotland to be part of the UK since 1980?”

The answer is the difference between the red line (a cumulative debt of £99.2bn) and the blue line (a credit of £207.8bn, very close to the £222bn calculated by the independent body Full Fact last year). That is to say, Scotland has lost a massive £307bn since 1980 through “pooling and sharing” its resources with the UK.

While the numbers sound astonishing, they’re entirely consistent with what Professor McCrone predicted way back in the 1970s. Unlike almost every other UK government body across that period, up to and including the current OBR, he got his sums right.

The Norwegians have made their wealth work for them. They retained their wealth in their economy rather than giving away over £300bn to someone else, and made the money work for them, generating more wealth. They avoided the ravages of wholesale deindustrialisation and high unemployment in the 1980s, and the credit crisis of 2008. They’ve spent their money looking after their citizens, both in the present and by investing for when the oil runs out.

Although the biggest of the boom times in oil are now past, an independent Scotland would still, according to some extremely learned experts, have the opportunity to produce surpluses. There are decades of healthy oil receipts left, and a renewables potential that could come to dwarf them.

Scotland might never catch up with Norway, but will shortly face the opportunity to at least start travelling in the same direction, and free itself from a UK that’s currently got its foot jammed on the throttle and its wheels pointing straight at a brick wall.

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Homage To Catalonia

Long distance relationships aren’t easy. But distance can provide the time and space to reflect inwardly and quietly about ourselves. To reflect on the things that really matter. To reflect on what a new identity might look like and ‘to see oursels as ithers see us’. This cautious contemplation suits the Scottish way of things.

Over the last twelve months, I’ve reflected on a personal homage to Catalonia. I’ve met new friends and observed another independence campaign.

The Catalan campaign for home-rule after over 300 hundred years of union with Spain is well documented and has gained in populist support following the economic crash of 2008. There is a growing belief that the comparatively rich Catalan State of 7.5 million is propping up a flailing and inept at best, or corrupt at worst (depending on your political standpoint), centralist government in Madrid. Last 11 September, on the National Day of Catalonia, a 480-kilometre (300 mile) ‘human chain’ of linked arms stretched across the ancient Via Augusta from the French border on the Pyrenees down to Alcanar in central Spain. Seemingly every motorway flyover, railway sidings, or rock-face is suitable canvas for ‘independencia’ or ‘liberta’ graffiti. Barcelona balconies proudly cascade with red and yellow stripes and star flags. This is the via Catalonia, or Catalan way.

Catalonia boasts year-round sunshine, historic and cosmopolitan cities, and internationally renowned cuisine. Yet Catalans look on with envy at the choice facing Scots this September. Earlier in April, after months of constitutional debate and seven hours of debating a Parliamentary motion, Spanish MPs voted overwhelming to deny a referendum vote on Catalan independence with the Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, warning that a referendum would be “an economic disaster” for both Spain and Catalonia. Catalan authorities plan to press ahead with a regional referendum in the autumn of 2014 regardless. Meanwhile Rajoy, anticipating the winds of change across the North Sea, is lobbying against prospective EU membership for an independent Scotland.

When visiting Catalonia, I am frequently asked about the Scottish Referendum. It is unusual to find dissenting pro-independence viewpoints amongst Catalans. At times, and with the ignorance of an outsider, it can seem a bit of a blinkered world view. This is a country still weighed down by the living memory of a military dictatorship, civil war and economic ruin. There is strong anti-Spain sentiment in the press and media, in a way that I’m relieved and proud we haven’t much tread (aside the unfortunate colonists and settlers arts debacle) regards anti-England in the Scottish context. Thatcher, the bedroom tax, and even the lop-sided BBC weather map do not equate to decades of Franco. He banned their language, murdered their poets and separated families. Progressive and positive politics in Spain will require forgiveness on an entirely different scale.

One of the most positive outcomes of a Yes vote in Scotland would be to let go of our own underdog mentality. For me, waking up to a Yes vote on 19 September will not herald in a Caledonian honeymoon but the beginning of reconciliation and greater understanding between former constituent parts of the UK. If we aim high, we must lessen the gap between have and have not, and commit to relationship-building with those on all sides of the IndyRef debate.

Relationships that last are about responsibility; taking the decisions that affect us most locally, taking the initiative to change unjust laws and policies; not waiting for handouts, put downs and naysayers. We know this to be true in Scotland because we have had the experience of devolved government and political maturity for nearly sixteen years. The Scottish Parliament – designed by Catalan architect, Enric Miralles, and bearing striking resemblance to the Santa Caterina market in El Born, Barcelona- has housed our national coming of age.

The world will be watching Scotland this 18th September. Watching most closely and cheering from the side-lines will be the Catalans. Homage to them, and the many others seeking the right to self-determination, means engaging in the debate, registering to vote and casting a vote in the ballot box whether a yes or a no.

Some relationships last, some don’t, but we are forever different as a result of the experience. The people of Scotland will be forever different as a result of the present independence debate. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about recently when daydreaming in the pine forests of Gaia, northern Catalonia; smelling the scented drifts of thyme and rosemary and listening to the cowbells of cattle gently passing by the start of a new season. And that is why, in order to be better together in our constitutional relationships, I’ll be voting Yes to Scottish Independence in five weeks’ time and supporting my Catalan friends to take the long, pragmatic road to ‘Si’.

Jemma Neville
@jemmatweets
National Collective

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Homage To Catalonia
National Collective

Gordon Brown is a liar


Gordon Brown is a liar


This is what goes on behind the closed doors of invitation-only events run by the No campaign. Here, the former PM and self-proclaimed “ex-politician” lies through his teeth (again) to a Fife audience in June, presumably hoping they’ve by now forgotten his incompetent reign as Chancellor – the massive pensions raid, the cut-price sell-off of the nation’s gold, the ending of the 10p tax rate and all the rest, and the calamitous economic crisis he bequeathed to the nation:

Apparently oil revenues will be the sole source of money for an independent Scotland. No taxes at all. Apparently they’re only “£3 billion a year”, even though they’ve in fact NEVER been as low as £3bn since the Scottish Parliament existed and most sensible projections put receipts for the next few years at an average of at least twice that.

oilprojections

It’s heartbreaking that some Scots will decide the future of their children’s country on the basis of such utterly shameless, brazen, cynical, tribal, self-serving dishonesty. We don’t trust ourselves to say any more on the subject than that.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

The lost treasure of the deep


The lost treasure of the deep


Sir Ian Wood quoted in the Scotsman late last year:

“A radical overhaul of the North Sea oil industry can deliver a £200 billion injection to the economy over the next 20 years, a major report has concluded.

Oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood has led the biggest independent review of the North Sea oil and gas industry in its history, and said yesterday that production could increase by four billion barrels over coming years if major changes to the operation of the oil and gas sector are made.

Such changes would put the UK in a ‘stronger position’ to extract nearly all of the estimated 24 billion barrels still remaining underneath the North Sea.”

Unfortunately, since then there’s been a cataclysm.

“A leading oil industry figure has claimed that the Scottish government’s predictions for North Sea oil recovery are up to 60% too high.

The figure of 24bn barrels is quoted in the White Paper as an estimate from industry body Oil and Gas UK. But Sir Ian Wood [...] claimed there are about 15bn to 16.5bn barrels of recoverable oil left, and that the figure from the White Paper is 45% to 60% too high.”

Wait, what?

Sir Ian Wood’s report in February can be read in full here. It references the 24bn figure at least six times. In itself that seems rather conservative, because a footnote on page 5 of the document says that the UK government’s own Department of Energy and Climate Change puts the “high case expectation outcome” at 35bn barrels:

35bn

We know the oil industry – which cares solely about profits, not politics – thinks the future is bright, because it’s just undertaken record investment of billions and billions of pounds in the North Sea. Just days ago even the staid Sunday Post was talking of a “new oil boom” as the equally-Unionist Press & Journal enthused breathlessly about spectacular new discoveries, and the potential for more in areas that are currently off-limits due to UK government policy.

So we’re a little mystified about how Sir Ian has suddenly managed to not only arrive at such a gloomy assessment, but also misplace a whopping 8 billion barrels of oil between his own report in February (which he’s disingenuously trying to pretend was actually the Scottish Government’s) and now – coincidentally at the exact same time he’s decided that he needs to come out in favour of a No vote.

None of this is really the point, of course. Everyone knows oil is a finite resource, and that a plan is needed for the day when it does run out, even if that day is still 40 or 50 years off. Other oil-rich countries have dealt with the issue by creating huge oil funds, something the UK government (almost uniquely in the world) chose not to do.

“Thanks to petroleum riches, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is minting money. The challenge? How to spend it all.”

But Scotland has been given a second chance. It’s well-placed to cope despite that UK failure, being blessed with enormous renewables resources and decades in which to use oil money to exploit them. We can see the problem coming a long way down the road, and we have all the tools needed to address it, but they’re currently in the hands of incompetents who are interested only in bleeding the oceans dry and blowing the proceeds on weapons and wars and more tax cuts for the rich.

Westminster has wasted the last 40 years of oil money with nothing to show for it, but it doesn’t have to be allowed to waste the next 40 as well.

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Janice Galloway: This Is An Opportunity Like No Other

Let’s start with the facts.

I was born 1955 in Saltcoats and spent my childhood yearns in The Swinging Sixties. This term is a slogan, not a Fact. I was there, and Saltcoats never swung. My upbringing stressed the importance of 1) reining oneself in; 2) the pressing obligation to develop self-doubt and openness to shame; and 3) a sidelong appreciation of human absurdity. Refrains as reinforcement were common, the top three being 1) Who do you think you are? Princess Bloody Margaret? 2) I suppose you think you’re special? (with or without the optional ending “you with your nose in a book?”) and 3) Who asked your opinion? You’re not entitled to an opinion: you’re entitled to shut up. Gleaned from having only just survived the war, large families, life-endangering work and stoutly defended class divisions, these refrains were not open to question any more than were the Laws of Physics. They were crucial training in the survival skill of knowing one’s place in a hard world. And one’s place was wee.

Putting your head above the parapet was asking to be shot down while ambition was a sure way to tempt fate. Those whom the Gods love die young etc. Don’t draw attention.Teaching your children not to expect too much was for the ultimate good of all. My mother’s exhortation - stop reading books all the time; you’ll get funny ideas – was a warning sprung from love. By turns a domestic servant, mill worker, clippie, newsagent, cleaner and dinner lady, my mother’s work had been circumscribed by type. Reining in expectations was insurance against disappointment. When her regrets hit home (all the more as she aged), she blamed herself, her marriage and, most of all, Scotland. It was the place’s fault. It never occurred her own sensation of weeness was a frame of mind: not at all. It was bound up with the country’s literal size.

Small meant weak. Easily crushed. As a working class royalist, the thing she valued most about the British Empire was its bigness. Inside it, she felt blessed with trickle-down glory: without it, she’d have been smaller still.

My education left me a bit stranded as well. History, stories, poems, songs and books at primary school gave the impression the bulk of it, even in my country, was about other places. History was full of great stories about those places nonetheless. “Doing” the Battle of Hastings in P6 led to my writing a very bad play and a bleak first novel, both set during the Norman invasion of the flaxen-haired Angels of Bexhill-on-Sea. Only in my version, Harold won. Best of both worlds – on the side of the Angels and ultimate victory. Bugger being wee.

At 18, I cast my first vote following the traditional rules of affiliation: council-house-mining-background Labour. If a monkey stood for Labour round here, the monkey would get in, my mother laughed. Haha. Landladies along the front with guest houses voted for the Tory monkey. That was how politics worked. The Highlands and Borders voted Liberal to dissociate from the Central Belt as much as anything else, but also because Liberals were trustworthy on the grounds they’d never have real power. These voting patterns, like the refrains, were Facts.

At 19, I wrote a letter to the local paper supporting their showing of a scandalously sexy art film and my sister gave me a black eye for giving her a red neck. I also started University where the loss of my music teacher (a dedicated Englishman who said “There’s nothing stopping you: you can be good at this if you want to”) proved very difficult indeed. I suffered a serious depression. Fallout. Graduated at 22, I became a teacher myself in a giant secondary school in Ayrshire and – surprise! – I loved it. Teenagers were ingenious, cheeky, raring to go: teaching them was fun. But the job was changing. Every five minutes, the job was changing. The most important thing, increasingly, was assessment. I got depressed again, but it was only when my mother died that I had the nerve to leave without another job to go to. Thinking I was Princess Bloody Margaret and funny ideas from books – I knew, I knew. But I did it anyway. I told none but those who worked beside me and hid in Glasgow.

It was years before my sister found out from a newspaper, I was writing stuff. She did something exceptional. She phoned. If I thought I was ‘It’ I had another think coming, she said. Do you hear? I felt 11 again and almost wept. But I was not 11. I was 37 with a baby and she didn’t know my address. I hung up. Keeping night terrors at bay, aware I owed a baby something worth having, I read a lot about child development. Alice Miller and Piaget and Blake and Duras – lots. Multiple guilt complexes, a tendency to depression and a fierce requirement for obedience, it turned out, was a shit way to bring people up. Novels, poetry, plays. The importance of permission. There’s nothing stopping you.

Now, my son is a man with a job of his own, and my notions of possibility are practised. The present referendum was surely an opportunity for interesting debate. The No campaign would seize the chance to denounce centralisation, undo the ghastly Blair make-over, present a case for electoral reform and new thinking. Better still, they’d defect. Who’d have thought the tactics they chose instead would have been so small-minded? Ideological interpretation presented as Fact, belittlement of aspiration, and an old refrain to blend seamlessly with those of my childhood: There’s no going back, short-arse. Don’t say you wereny warned. Who’d have thought?

Here’s another fact. Uncertainty is what most of us meet and deal with every day. I am not terrified of financial risk if that is the cost of gaining more credible social justice. Wealth is not the only thing (no, really) that most people wish to prioritise: the financial future is unpredictable in general. Imagination would have made a powerful difference to the No lot’s credibility. Or care. Anything but cheap shots and a kind of “it was only a joke” shrug. Maybe I am sentimental, but I hoped there would be a trace of the UK spirit my mother had loved from their rhetoric. I am still waiting.

Years after the ghastly rhetoric of “trickle-down” economics (a theory beloved of Mrs Thatcher, the Conservatives in general, Republican Presidents, banks and big-government Neo-cons world-wide) I had thought what was worth saying was obvious. How about a difference for my son’s generation of twenty-somethings? Something to encourage the public-spiritedness of the kids I remember teaching in the Garnock Valley? How about small government where nothing that swindles the public is too big to fail? Or politicians who live not only close enough to see and experience the effects of their policies first hand but are reachable by bus?

The most unassailable fact here is that there is no such thing as the status quo. Check Heraclitus: everything changes, nothing stays still.

Fifteen years from now I hope my generation have more time to read, talk to people we don’t know in the street, teach or learn abroad. We might form a community choir, work for the political party or pressure group of our choice – if we hang onto it that long, we might even volunteer for the NHS. In the blink or an eye, our children’s children will be in charge of the tough stuff. What do we want to pass on?

This is an opportunity like no other. There’s nothing stopping us. Yes. Yes, Yes.

Janice Galloway
National Collective

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Janice Galloway: This Is An Opportunity Like No Other
National Collective

The other one’s got bells on

An alert reader drew our attention to a piece in the Telegraph on Monday.

“The pro-UK Better Together campaign said it plans to “turn majority support into a majority vote” by contacting every household at least three times over the next month and every undecided voter at least four times.

Up to a million postal voters will be contacted and more than 25,000 activists will be working to mobilise support for No ahead of polling day. The campaign will also be using advertising on websites such as Facebook to reach 500,000 undecided women.”

Lordy, where to start?

Firstly, ARE there 500,000 undecided women? Most polls are putting the undecided figure at around 10-15% now, which would mean that of a 4m-strong electorate there’d be a MAXIMUM of 600,000 undecideds altogether, assuming a 100% turnout. At least 83% of undecideds being women seems a bit of a stretch.

We haven’t even the heart to mock the “25,000 activists” line again.

So that leaves us with contacting every household in Scotland “at least three times” between now and the referendum, which by our sums is 28 campaigning days away. Let’s crunch some numbers on that, shall we?

There are 2,372,780 households in Scotland, according to the last census in 2011. The number is increasing so it’s probably more now – let’s up it just a tiny bit to 2.4m to keep the figures neat.

For “at least three times”, let’s just say exactly three times, which gives us 7.2 million individual contacts. By far the quickest and most efficient way to contact people is by telephone, so for the sake of calculations let’s say all the contacts will be phone ones.

phonebanks

A mindbogglingly generous estimate of the highest number of phonebank operators “Better Together” could deploy at any one time would be 1,000. (In fact we’d be amazed if they could get a thousand people out at a time on ANYTHING, on the streets or on phones or both. The most they’ve ever been able to verifiably muster is a couple of hundred, with half of those being shipped in from Manchester or Newcastle.)

Which means each operator would have to make at least 7,200 phonecalls in 28 days. That’s just over 257 calls per person per day. In reality it’s far more, as lots of people will be out or engaged and you’ll have to try them more than once, but some will also be committed No voters who won’t take up much time, so let’s allow an average of a tight three minutes per voter.

That means every phonebank operator would have to work 13 hours a day, not including lunch or toilet breaks, seven days a week from now until September 18.

Except that most people aren’t in for 13 hours a day – they have to go to work, or college, or shopping, or whatever. Realistically your window for catching most people at home, assuming you don’t want to harass them at 11 o’clock at night, is more like three hours – say 7pm to 10pm.

257 calls a day in three hours takes the time per call down to 42 seconds, including dialling and ringing time – perhaps 30 seconds max of actual conversation. That’s barely enough time to introduce yourself and either find out the person is already a No voter or be told to go and take a running jump, let alone change a Don’t Know’s mind with compelling arguments about invasion from North Korea and whatnot.

But wait – as we see from the image above, BT’s phonebanks are only actually operating Mondays to Thursdays. So those 42 seconds plummet to 24, leaving the conversation time, optimistically, at 12 seconds per call.

“Hello, I’m from ‘Better Together No Surrender Thanks’ and I’m just ringing you up about the independence referendum. I have to go now, bye!”

We’re going to stop there before it gets any sillier. But bless them. It’s nice that they’ve still got the energy and imagination to make up completely laughable cobblers for the media to print unchallenged after all this time. We look forward to the next one.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

How Scotland will be robbed

As we’ve already noted this morning, today’s newspapers “reveal” something this site told you nine months ago – that a No vote in the independence referendum will see Scotland punished with a massive cut to its budget.

bowlertwats

But some voters still don’t really know what the “Barnett Formula” is or how it works, so it seemed worth putting together a concise step-by-step guide to how it’ll be used to steal billions of pounds from Scots, should they vote next month to leave control of their affairs with Westminster.

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1. The Barnett Formula is the system used to decide the size of the “block grant” sent every year from London to the Scottish Government to run devolved services. It’s currently a little over £26bn, and being reduced annually under the coalition’s austerity programme.

(It’s surprisingly hard to actually find out the size of the block grant, as it doesn’t appear to be published openly, but we can deduce it by matching the figures in this Freedom Of Information response from the UK government to Table 8 in this report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies.)

The Formula is designed to rebalance public spending (which is focused heavily on London and the South-East) and reflect the higher costs of providing services in Scotland, where the population is much less densely concentrated than in England.

But it’s hugely unpopular with the English public, which has been conditioned by years of media coverage to believe that it represents a “subsidy” from England to Scotland – “extra” money which is then used to give Scottish people privileges not granted to English citizens, like free prescriptions and university tuition.

A poll conducted by the Sun in February this year found that only 13% of English people agreed with the (loaded) proposition that “It’s worth continuing to give Scotland a higher proportion of public spending to keep it in the UK”, with 60% opposed.

sunpolleng

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2. The reality is that the subsidy is in the other direction – Scottish tax receipts, thanks largely to North Sea oil, more than pay for the higher spending provided by Barnett. Impartial UK research organisation FullFact calculated that over the last three decades the subsidy from Scotland to London has been of the order of billions of pounds every year:

“If we look at how Scotland’s total tax receipts since 1980 compare with the UK’s, we can see that Scotland has contributed – as Mr Salmond notes – a surplus £222 billion in today’s prices.”

(The only way of manipulating figures so that Scotland seems to get more back than it pays in is to attribute oil revenue to the entire UK rather than Scotland, ie cheating.)

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3. As a result of English resentment of the Formula – however misplaced – politicians of all parties are under enormous pressure to end it, and have made a variety of veiled and not-so-veiled promises to do so.

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4. Until now, however, it’s been politically impossible to abolish the Formula, as such a manifestly unfair move would lead to an upsurge in support for independence. In the wake of a No vote in the referendum, that obstacle would be removed – Scots will have nothing left with which to threaten Westminster.

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5. It would still be an unwise move for the UK governing party to be seen to simply obviously “punish” Scotland after a No vote. But the pledge of all three Unionist parties to give Holyrood “more powers” provides the smokescreen under which the abolition of Barnett can be executed and the English electorate placated.

The block grant is a distribution of tax revenue. The “increased devolution” plans of the UK parties will instead make the Scottish Government responsible for collecting its own income taxes. The Office of Budget Responsibility has explained in detail how “the block grant from the UK government to Scotland will then be reduced to reflect the fiscal impact of the devolution of these tax-raising powers.” (page 4).

But if Holyrood sets Scottish income tax at the same level as the UK, that’ll mean the per-person receipts are also the same, which means that there won’t be the money to pay for the “extra” £1400 of spending currently returned as part-compensation for Scottish oil revenues, because the oil revenues will be staying at Westminster.

(Don’t take our word for any of this. Listen to Labour MP Ian Davidson explaining how his own party’s devolution plans will lead to a “cash squeeze” on the Scottish budget.)

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6. Holyrood’s only options to make up the shortfall will then be to either substantially increase income tax rates in Scotland (impossible to do in reality, because people would simply move to England in huge numbers), or cut its spending by over £7bn to recoup the losses.

£7bn is almost 30% of the entire current block grant. It would be politically inconceivable for Westminster to slash the Scottish budget so savagely under the current constitutional arrangements, but by giving Holyrood “power” over taxation it can be portrayed as simply forcing Scots to take responsibility – a hard position to argue against, no matter how unfairly the dice have been loaded in the process.

What’s more, the UK parties will also still be able to truthfully claim that they’re not altering the Formula itself – it will still apply to whatever small proportion of income tax revenues remain at Westminster. (Although in the case of the Tory/Lib Dem versions of “more powers”, that will be zero.)

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We’ve explained the political motivations behind the move at length before. The above is simply the mechanical explanation of how it will happen if Scotland votes No. The “if” is not in question – all the UK parties are united behind the plan.

A gigantic act of theft will be disguised as a gift. The victories of devolution will be lost, because there’ll no longer be the money to pay for them. Tuition fees and prescription charges will return. Labour’s “One Nation” will manifest itself, with the ideologically troublesome differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK eliminated.

And what’s more, it’ll all have been done fairly and above-board, because the Unionist parties have all laid out their intentions in black and white. They’ll be able to say, with justification, “Look, you can’t complain, this is exactly what we TOLD you we’d do”. They’re counting on the fact that people haven’t really examined their plans. It might be an idea for voters to remedy that oversight before it’s too late.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

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