Thursday 24 January 2013

A Statement of the bleeding obvious.

Obviously the big news of the week is David Cameron's speech on Europe. The latest major poll on Independence only confirms what we all knew already.

But, just to put the boot in a bit further to the SNP, I want to make a brief point about where they stand now on Europe.

They  suggest that the best chance of Scotland staying in the European Union is to vote for Independence in 2014. This is a logical absurdity.

Scotland's current exports to the EU are approximately £9bn. Our exports to the rest of the UK, £45bn.

On any view then, if we have an important single market then clearly that single market is with the rest of the UK.

And if we then vote  for separation in 2014 and then in 2017 the rest of the UK votes  to leave the European single market then, at that point, joining (or remaining in) the European Single Market would not be an option for us either. For we'd have to choose between an open border between the location of our overwhelmingly dominant export market or.............well actually we'd have no choice at all..

So if the rest of the UK voted in 2017 not to be part of the European Union then neither could we be part.

Only we wouldn't have had a vote in that process at all. Except for the vote in 2014 to entrust our future to others

And most ironically, had we had still had a vote in 2017 the (rest of) the UK would have been less likely to vote (for us) to leave the European Union.

Still, at least we'd have our own flag and anthem.

Even if we otherwise have virtually no control of our own affairs.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Timing is everything

Any accidental death is a tragedy. 

As with the events of yesterday in Glencoe however there is something that strikes a particular chord with the Scots when that accidental death is in our hills or mountains.

It's difficult to explain why, but undeniable that, had four people died yesterday in a car accident or in a house fire it would not have been the universal front page news that the Glencoe deaths have proved to be.

It may simply be that the hills and mountains are such a part of the definition of Scotland that death there has a particular resonance. Virtually every person in Scotland has gone hill-walking at some time and even those who no longer do will have friends or relatives who still participate. And we're all aware that there is a degree of danger in our wilderness so that perhaps when tragedy strikes it subconsciously reflects all our deepest fears.

And there was a particular pathos about those following the news yesterday for after the initial alert it deemed for a time that things were not as bad as first feared only for them ultimately to be much worse.

But some of you will be aware that in the aftermath of the event I became involved in a bit of a twitter storm over the remarks made by the First Minister.

It was not what he said, that was on any view unobjectionable.

It was that he felt it incumbent on himself, within a very short period of the deaths being confirmed, to say anything at all. 

Michael Moore did not issue an immediate,unsolicited, press statement; nor did David Cameron or indeed either the Constituency MP or MSP. Or the responsible Cabinet Minister. Only the First Minister did. Did these others not also regret the deaths? More likely they had a proper sense of decorum.

So why did Eck do that? Because he hoped that his name would be associated with any initial reporting of the event. In which, to be fair, he largely succeeded.

Now there are only two possible explanations for this.

Firstly, that those bereaved would be particularly consoled by the words of Alex Salmond. Even I don't think he believes that.

Or, secondly, that no event, no matter how tragic, was out of bounds in pursuit of the promotion of his own self importance.

For pointing this out I have been subject to the usual cybernat abuse including the interesting suggestion that I'll be deported from an Independent Scotland! And then, just as I was getting my head round that, I was faced with they yet more alarming suggestion that, come 2014 "we'll get rid of the lot of you."

Most revealing of all however was the suggestion that for attacking the Leader of the SNP I was "an affront to Scotland."

Fair enough. At least we all know where we stand. Bring it on.

Sunday 13 January 2013


Yesterday afternoon, in the absence of any football, I took myself off to see Les Miserables. 

It was the first time I have been to the cinema on my own since I saw Polanski's Tess in, I am horrified to find on checking, 1979.

Les Miserables suffers from not featuring Nastassia Kinski. Were it not for that omission I would commend it unconditionally. It is a great, great film.

I suspect its plot is well known to most readers but I'll shy away from spoilers in respect of the fate of specific characters and instead write a little about the context of the second half of the film, the failed Paris Insurrection of 1832, for it has lessons for current Scottish politics.

In 1830, France had a minor (by French Standards) revolution when the last of the absolutist Bourbons was overthrown in favour of Louis Philippe and the institution of something vaguely approaching a Constitutional monarchy.

Now for some people this was not nearly enough change. The problem was that, keeping largely the company of the like minded, they completely lost sight of the fact that their opinions were nothing like the majority opinion, or at least the majority opinion of those politically engaged at all. So, when they took to the barricades they found themselves largely in their own company and the whole thing, years in the plotting and planning, was all over in forty-eight hours.

And at the end, while most of the plotters slunk quietly off into the night, no doubt muttering about the ingratitude of those on whose behalf they had sought to act, a few diehards determined on "liberty or death". Regrettably, most found themselves in receipt of the latter option.

Now, we are fortunate in the United Kingdom, or the mainland part of it at least, to live in more peaceful times, but the danger of talking only to those of like mind and ignoring the rest, just as did those on the 1832 barricades, seems to me to be an increasing difficulty for those who are advocates of Scottish separatism.*

Over the Christmas Holiday period a number of columnist supportive of but not engaged with the Yes Campaign wrote about the disastrous outcome of a potentially overwhelming No vote.  They didn't wish for this outcome, far from it, but they recognised it as a possibility. Instead however of being given pause for thought as to why their friends might be thinking this way, most of the Nationalist diehards continued to be in complete denial about this being even conceivable.

In one of the most telling of these protestations, the nearest I saw to any concession of potential defeat was the assertion on one Nationalist website that "everybody" agreed that the losing side, whichever it was, would get at least 35% of the vote. This despite the fact that there has never been a single credible opinion poll ever which has ever given the Yes side 35% of the vote.

Now, even I think they might get that, although I think it extremely unlikely, but to get yourself into a mindset that "everybody" agrees, when patently everybody does not, shows the danger of only listening to those you want to hear.

We saw the same with the demonstration last September. I'm sure those who were there had a great time but patently the numbers were pretty unimpressive. Instead however of analysing why, the response was to make exaggerated claims as to the numbers present. That's all very well if you're engaged in a bit of propaganda but it's fatal if you come to believe it yourself.

But the most telling thing of all are the increasing attacks on Better Together for being too negative. How we fight our campaign is up to us and the only test of whether it is being successful is in how it is moving the polls. And that, on any view, has been solely in one direction. Nobody, and I mean nobody, will have their opinion changed by one campaign attacking another campaign. We'll decide our tactics aren't effective only when they cease to be effective.

That will be determined in the polls, not in the comments section of Newsnet.

Still, at least we can all console ourselves that the failed insurrectionists of 2014 will face not death but mere political ignominy. Unless of course some have already decided it might be better just to slink off into the night.

I wonder what's happened to Eck's paving bill?

*Footnote. I concede that separatist is a pejorative term and one which I have generally shied away from. But "Unionist" is also a pejorative term and one which I object to since I'm not a Unionist, I'm a Devolutionist, as indeed are the vast majority of the "Better Together" team. So, if the Nationalists want engage Nationalist against Devolutionist fair enough. But, if they want to decide, unilaterally, how we're to be described then, again, let's let the people decide which is the more accurate description of their side,

Monday 7 January 2013

A Word about Taxes


Cynics can  go to the declaration of interest at the end.

A Word about Taxes

So, here is a question.

Suppose, just suppose, you were the Chancellor of the Exchequer or (since for once on this blog this is a constitutionally neutral question) the Finance Minister of an Independent Scotland. And suppose, just suppose, that you proposed to collect an additional £1752 per annum taxation from someone earning £60,000 per annum.

Who would you think could most readily meet that cost? The person without dependents or he or she with two children to support?

I defy anyone, from the far right of UKIP  to the far left of the SSP not to respond that (faced with that narrow question)  those without dependants would surely be more readily able to come up with the dosh.

And, for the avoidance of any doubt that group in between encompasses the leadership of all of our major political parties.

Yet the opposite outcome is precisely what has happened with the Child Benefit changes and while my own Party has been loud in our denunciation of these we have also been conspicuously reticent in making any promise to reverse them.

This is not about the taxation of the poor, for, notwithstanding some of the protestations in the Tory press, nobody earning £60,000 per annum is "poor"; it is all about fair taxation.

And it exposes a hole in our political discourse.

What would have been "fair" if one was minded to raise taxes on those earning more than £60,000 per annum (as I certainly am) would have been to increase their marginal tax rates. But any increase in blunt percentage terms of any level of direct taxation is deemed to be political anathema. So, instead, one group of reasonably well off people have been singled out for special treatment; those with children.

And thus we end up with the events of today.

In Margaret Thatcher's first Budget the basic rate of Income Tax was cut from 33% to 30%. Now, it would be easy for me to range off at this point into an attack on how her administration then successively cut that rate until by 1997, albeit under John Major, it had fallen to 23%. To blame it all on the "evil Tories". Except that in 1997, my own Party was elected on a specific pledge that this rate would not rise, and indeed then proceeded to cut it further to the 20% the Tories re-inherited in 2010.

However, my real message is not that it is wrong taxes have fallen, for in reality, under Thatcher/Major, no more than under Blair/Brown, they have not fallen. It is rather that,  for reasons of political  opportunism, we (all of us, for all of my readers will have some affiliation) have steadily moved away from transparent and transparently fair taxation (too high or too low is a legitimate debate) to essentially random taxation based on what the politicians believe they can get away with.

Now, to some degree, I understand the Realpolitik here. I remember 1992. And I also remember, on the other side, the shameful doing my Party handed out to the SNP in 1999 over their infamous "Penny for Scotland".

But at some point, surely, somebody has to call a halt to this madness. It cannot be the case that the public discourse proceeds on the basis that direct taxation, except on the very wealthiest (the Tories might say not even then) can only move in a steadily downward direction. And that additional or replacement revenue can only be raised by disguising it as something else (this year Child Benefit Cuts; last year removing the index linking of Tax credits; the year before.............tuition fees).

Surely at some point someone has to make the argument that a contribution to the civilised society must be returned to being on the basis of each contributing "according to their abilities" rather than by reason of accidental circumstance? Whether that accidental circumstance be by virtue of participating in higher education, or by being in need of long term care or indeed while having dependent children.

I'd like to end with a rousing call to arms but I struggle to do so for politics is politics but nothing, nothing, would cheer me up more than the Eds announcing that we'd restore universal Child Benefit but that the price would be that all those higher rate taxpayers paying 40% would now be paying 42%. They might even make a profit.


*Declaration of Interest. I do pay some 40% tax and I don't have any weans.