An interesting take on Scottish, UK and international politics that hopefully stimulates a little debate on topics where there is too little debate.



"Post hoc ergo propter hoc"

jim murphy

SNP praised Ireland’s competitive tax rates, their VAT now hiked to 23%; not such a good idea now? #NoAnswersfromSNP.

While Alex Salmond is in China building diplomatic and trade links, Fiona Hyslop is not long back from the US and Canada building cultural links and Stewart Stevenson has been in South Africa highlighting Scotland’s world leading climate change legislations: Jim Murphy MP is sneering at Ireland’s economic misfortune. No wonder he never stood for leader of the Scottish Labour Party - that’s not leadership. 


The ‘question’ he poses could be put another way:

Jim Murphy praised the UK’s economic policy under Labour, UK VAT now hiked to 20%; not such a good idea now? #NoAnswersfromJimMurphy.


I’m pretty sure that he, like me, would not see Labour’s tax and spend policies during their time in government as justification for the Tories hike in VAT. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: low corporation taxes were not the cause of Ireland’s economic problems just because they came before the fall. Indeed, evidence showed that before the current economic crisis, low corporation tax helped boost Irish economic growth and actually boosted tax revenue.


Unfortunately Jim Murphy is not interested in engaging in a serious debate about Scotland’s economy: he is only interested in distracting attention from the Scottish Government’s plan for nearly £13 billion worth of investment in large infrastructure projects.  What else would you expect from Labour? There Scottish leadership campaign has, however, highlighted their number one policy – if the SNP is for it, we’re against it. 



“ The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie… but the myth, …the cliches of our forebears… the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought…

President John F. Kennedy, 1962. Just watched Diomhair, a BBC Alba documentary on how successive UK Government’s have lied and hid the truth in order to undermine the argument for Scottish independence. To this day, unionists play on fear, myths and cliches to fight independence: this quote from JFK has never been more prescient. 



Labours 5 Point Plan for Jobs

Labour have announced a 5 point plan to create jobs and Margaret Curran has launched a tartan version. The ‘PlanMcBrit’ has only one point within the current powers of the Scottish Government which in itself is interesting. But the point itself is a contradiction in terms: it calls on the Scottish Government to increase capital expenditure on infrastructure projects AND increase funding for colleges.

Muddled seems to sum up Scottish Labours thinking just now. The Scottish Government is set to see a 36% cut in it’s capital budget by 2014 but has vowed to continue increasing this in order to support economic growth. In order to do this it has in part moved money from day to day spending to capital budgets. So where is the extra money for more college funding going to come from? Scottish Labour cannot have its cake and eat it. If it has a secret plan to find money for extra spending in Scotland why doesn’t it share it with us all?

Of course, if we had the increased borrowing powers the Scottish Government is calling for (or ffa or independence) this wouldn’t be such a problem. Don’t hold my breath on Margaret Curran acknowledging this anytime soon though.



Wee country with a big voice or part of a big country with a wee voice?


President Obama is in Australia this week and the talk is of the shift in the axis of world influence to the Pacific. However, the real story should be his comments on the crisis in the Eurozone and how this signals a realignment of influence in Europe. In particular he praised Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy for their effort to resolve the Eurozone crisis. Indeed, this shift was acknowledged by the Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf who said in relation to the crisis:

"The time for too little, too late has passed. What is needed, instead, is ‘too much, right now’. Power brings responsibility. Germany alone has the power. It is up to it to exercise the responsibility"

From the appointments of EU technocrats as Prime Ministers of Italy and Greece and the role Germany played in developments in these countries, we can further confirm Germany is in the driving seat of the EU. Angela Merkel made it clear at her party conference this week the direction of travel she wants to take the Europe: “The task of our generation now is to complete the economic and currency union in Europe and, step by step, create a political union”. Little by little, the falacy of UK influence at ‘the top table’ is being eroded, as the Tory-led UK Government further isolate us from the centre of gravity.

The Government in London seem perfectly happy for this state of affairs to continue, the more aloof we remain from Europe, the happier their backbenchers. Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary has accused the Government of ” a tendency to empty chair those meetings that seem to be on the periphery of our interest”. Whilst UK Ministers are in the building but not in the room, Scottish Ministers are battering the doors down to no avail. In her speech to the SNP Conference Elin Jones AM (an impressive candidate for leadership of Plaid Cymru) talked of her experience as Welsh Agriculture Minister and of how she and Richard Lochhead (her Scottish counterpart) would often have to fight with UK civil servants to even sit in the second row at EU meetings. The low regard with which the UK Government holds the EU is only matched by the passion of Scottish Ministers to stand up for Scotland in Europe.

In David Cameron’s speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet this week, his pandering to the right-wing Daily Mail-esque set was summed up in his blast at the EU: ”It’s the pointless interference, rules and regulations that stifle growth not unleash it.” Rather than reinforce the UK’s committment to the EU and attempt to bring public opinion on side, this serves only to reinforce the negative assumptions the public already have about the EU. In fact, for all it’s faults, the EU does a lot of good. Some examples of community laws currently being scrutinised by the UK Parliament include: a regulation to enfore the UN Firearms Protocol; a directive to create a single portal of business registers across Europe; and a Commission Report on animal testing for cosmetics. Not exactly Eurocrats gone wild? Furthermore, the EU also spends money right here in Scotland to create jobs and support businesses. As Alyn Smith MEP welcomed two days ago, €1.9 million is set to be spent in Scotland business spaces and community hubs, potentially creating 76 jobs. There are many areas of the EU that are not perfect but there are far more advantages to membership that disadvantages.

Reform of the EU is the real myth of UK politics, every politician likes to say ‘the EU must reform’ but very few can, or do, ever acheive this. David Cameron peddled this line in his speech this week, calling the Eurozone crisis “An opportunity, in Britain’s case, for powers to ebb back instead of flow away”. It should be pointed out at this point that the EU only as power over economic matters, specifically trade, competition, agriculture, fisheries etc. In terms of foreign affairs and defence it is only a conduit for cooperation of soveriegn nation states. So what powers does David Cameron want back? On this point politicians are particularly vague, none more so than those in Government. Moreover, how would you get these powers back? David Cameron need look no further than his Deputy Prime Minister who made a rare valid point in his speech to the European Parliament earlier this month:

"[I] feel that it is right to caution against returning to the EU’s founding texts without first seeing if we can meet these objectives through other means. Our priorities are stability and growth – and they are urgent.

To sit around tables for months on end, agonising over this article or that one, becoming engulfed in endless institutional introspection, would be a huge political distraction from the economic task at hand.”

For the first time in a long time “I agree with Nick”. We only have to look at the failed EU Constitution project and the lengthy (and costly) Treaty of Lisbon that was born from the ashes to realise that reform isn’t easy. The problem is there seems to be a growing Eurosceptism across all three main UK parties so the call for reform and repatriation is becoming louder, just as the current crisis makes it even less likely.

Reform, however, is not what is on the lips of Scottish politicians. Instead we have a pointless argument over whether an independent Scotland would even be a member. I say pointless for two reasons: firstly there is no legal precendant for this particular form of enlargment; and secondly there is no logical reason whatever the legal position, for Scotland not to have expedited membership. Nonetheless, let’s leave this argument to the lawyers and begin to debate what sort of member we want to be.

As the mythical power and influence of the UK ebbs away, the case has never been stronger for Scotland to be a wee country with a big voice and not part of a big country with a wee voice.

I welcome all comments and suggestions below. Let’s have a serious conversation about Scotland in Europe, not a distracting discussion on the legalities of membership.



The Referendum Debate: State of Play

A quick glance at the Scottish Politics pages tells us that the debate over the independence referendum is alive and kicking. George Osborne has said ‘uncertainty’ over the referendum is damaging investment in the economy and Ruth Davidson is on message with her ‘colleague’ George, questioning Scotland’s future membership of the EU. Even Brian Taylor is blethering about the legality of the referendum. But that’s just the problem: the debate is over the referendum not independence. 

This is exactly where masochistic Unionist politicians want the debate to be: they failed at stopping a referendum, now they’ll try to discredit it by any means. Masochistic because in order to discredit the process, they are in danger of making themselves sound relentlessly negative. Just a quick look at the Twitter accounts of Tom Harris MP and Lord Foulkes shows just how obsessed they have become. This dog-whistle politics does them no favours and is not the path back to government, far less winning a no vote in the referendum. Tom Harris’s already slim chances of becoming Labour leader seem to fade with every nationalist baiting Tweet: it’s unstatesmanlike and it’s getting embarrassing. I must add, however, that Anas Sarwar has shown that this negativity will not necessarily be the future of Labour politics.

I must be sounding like broken record now but it’s not to late for us all to raise our game. 



Another picture “Wot I Made”. Winnie Ewing is a legend because in spite of the support and popularity she had in the SNP and outwith, she never sought high office, she remained a ferociousness constituency parliamentarian. It seems appropriate to mention her just now soon after Eilidh Whiteford MP made her complaint against Ian Davidson MP. Winnie wasn’t welcome at Westminster in 1967 as the only Scottish Nationalist, least of all a Scottish Nationalist woman. 


Another picture “Wot I Made”. Winnie Ewing is a legend because in spite of the support and popularity she had in the SNP and outwith, she never sought high office, she remained a ferociousness constituency parliamentarian. It seems appropriate to mention her just now soon after Eilidh Whiteford MP made her complaint against Ian Davidson MP. Winnie wasn’t welcome at Westminster in 1967 as the only Scottish Nationalist, least of all a Scottish Nationalist woman. 



Is this really the best our politics can be?

I was going to write a piece today about the ‘corrosive negativity’ of Scottish Labour politicians and how this, and their failure to articulate a positive alternative to the policies they oppose, is why they have lost two Scottish elections in a row. It was all typed out, it even had a clever corruption of a ‘future fair for all’. But it didn’t sit well with me. As angry as I was that Jim McGovern MP branded the SNP a “racist organisation” last Friday and before that when Ian Davidson MP talked about giving a female MP “a doing” without so much as a slap on the wrist, I just could not lower myself to the standard of debate Labour are setting. But, alas, it is the “CyberNat” that is the bogeyman of Scottish politics. For it is not our Honourable Members of Parliament that must abide by the highest standards in political discourse but ordinary members of political parties and assistants to MSPs. Enough. Many of the people being branded as “CyberNats” are politically engaged and passionate young people even if their passion does lead them to say intemperate things sometimes.

Let’s get real though, for as long as there has been public discourse there have been loony’s, nowadays on chatrooms, forums or the comments section of the Scotsman. The difference is, now our MPs  - and even those aspiring to be First Minister - engage them in conversation on Twitter. In the real world even Jim McGovern MP bates the SNP with his ‘racism’ jibes and references to the Scottish ‘Executive’. Is this really the best our politics can be? As a first step may I suggest Mr McGovern withdraws the insulting language he used last Friday. He need look no further than his own words for advice:

"Seriously, I hope I have the good sense and humility to know when I am wrong, although I will certainly have the courage of my convictions when I know I am right. The people of Dundee West would expect no less" (HC Deb 24 May 2005, c597)



Will the Member for Glasgow South take an intervention?


There was a time when the only people that discussed the finer points of constitutional referenda were legal academics at obscure Quebec universities: not now.  No, the champion of fairness in referenda is now none other than the Honourable Member for Glasgow South and would-be Scottish Labour leader Tom Harris. Mr Harris has made it his personal mission to challenge every aspect of the SNP’s plans for the independence referendum and spoke on the subject in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Amongst a raft of issues he has with the referendum is the plan to reduce the voting age to 16, he said the following on the matter on Tuesday:

"Nor does the SNP manifesto feature a commitment to lowering the voting age for the referendum, yet that seems to be exactly what the SNP is planning, since it clearly believes that the chances of the people endorsing their plans for independence would be less if the existing franchise were used. The SNP will, no doubt, point to its long-standing commitment to joining Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador in the group of nations where 16-year-olds vote. Polling suggests that younger people are more likely to support independence, so who can doubt that a one-off reduction in the voting age for one specific event can be anything other than the most cynical move to get the “right” result? If the SNP really cared about enfranchising younger people, why has it made no progress towards lowering the voting age for local authority elections, over which it does have legislative control?”

It is the last section of this quote that I take most issue with. Firstly, it is factually incorrect: the Scottish Parliament does not have legislative competence over the voting age for local government elections. To be precise Schedule 5, Part II, Head B, Section B3 of the Scotland Act 1998 reserves “The franchise at local government elections” to Westminster. 

Secondly, votes at 16 has been SNP policy for a number of years and when the Health Boards (Membership and Elections) Scotland Act was passed in 2009, it included votes for 16 and 17 year olds in the pilots for health board elections. Where the Scottish Government has the power to enfranchise 16 and 17 year olds they have, contrary to Mr Harris’s assertion. 

Was Tom Harris deliberately misleading Parliament or did he really not have a grasp of the Scottish Parliament’s legislative competence? Answers on the back of a stamped addressed envelope please! 



Dodge One Alcohol Act, Get Minimum Pricing Free

The Alcohol Act, which, amongst other things, has outlawed ‘irresponsible’ alcohol promotions in off-licences has now came into force in Scotland and already the supermarkets have dodged it. Instead of a ‘3 for £10’ offer on wine, each bottle is now £3.33. This has meant the price of alcohol in supermarkets has actually came down.

This is unfortunate but not unpredictable. In reality, it should be one of a range of measures, including minimum pricing, that will help reduce alcohol related issues in Scotland. This measure alone, as anyone with an ounce of retailing sense will tell you, will reduce bulk buying. If you have a bottle of wine at half the normal price you may buy one, if it is on buy one get one free you will buy two regardless of whether that’s what you want. As such, consumers are more likely to drink more when they’ve bought more. 

This measure will reduce bulk buying so the next step has to be to introduce minimum pricing to reduce overall consumption. As the table above shows, our consumption of alcohol has gone up dramatically since 1960 whilst the price has dropped just as dramatically. There is no simple solution to Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol but these measures will help. 

The supermarkets may have dodged the law this time (even though these measures are commercially unsustainable) but they can’t dodge minimum pricing.



Why Cardinal O’Brien Is Wrong

Cardinal Keith O’Brien of the Catholic Church has said marriage equality would “shame Scotland in the eyes of the world”. The Bishop of Paisley Bishop Tartaglia said:

"Marriage is an institution which does not owe its existence or rationale to governments or legislatures.

"Governments do not have the authority to say what marriage is or to change its nature or to decree that people of the same sex can marry."

The Bishop misses the whole point: same-sex marriage is about equality and tolerance not acceptance or non-acceptance. It is about the equality of legal rights and duties not morality. Morality is for the individual to determine based on their beliefs (or non-beliefs). in one respect the Bishop is right: the government cannot set what is moral or immoral, only what is legal and what is not.

The changes proposed do not require any religion to perform gay marriages but it allows those who wish to approve of them and perform them to do so if they wish. Surely that is an extension of religious freedom? As much as the Catholic Church is allowed to refuse to recognise same-sex marriage and rail against gay immorality so to can other religions perform gay marriages and preach tolerance?

Cardinal Keith O’Brien is wrong because marriage equality will not shame Scotland - it will make us a beacon of hope and tolerance for gay couples across the world. Changing the words ‘civil partnership’ to ‘marriage’ may not make much practical difference but it sends a massive signal about what sort of society the ‘independence generation’ wants to live in.