The Spirit of the 45 Rebellion: Continuing the Inclusiveness

Saturday was a very late start for me – the product of an inconveniently late Friday night until 4am, when I knew that I had (for one last time) to be at the Marchmont stall for 11 the following morning. Instead, I woke at half eleven, groaned, rolled out of bed, and was at the bus stop just after midday – but some bizarre bus delays (I choose to blame the Edinburgh trams…for no good reason) meant that all trace of the stall was gone by the time I reached the Meadows just before 1pm. It was disappointing to miss it (even before I heard about the quantity of cakes that had been on offer) as it was an opportunity for a last ‘thank you’ party for those who had helped at the Marchmont Stall over the year (and sometimes longer), with the table covered this time not with leaflets, badges and stickers, but instead with membership registration forms for the Scottish Socialist Party, the Green Party and the SNP.

This idea, to offer people the membership forms if they wanted to sustain their political engagement, had been conceived on Tuesday night at the mobbed meeting in the Argyll Bar cellar – and of course that was long before the true scale of the post-result membership expansion had become clear: all the Yes political parties had doubled in size. But we all know about gym memberships – you pay your membership fee and sign up, then feel morally vindicated that ‘you could’ participate if you got the time, but will probably not do so for several years. As much as many of these people had been non-party Yes activists like myself, is there not a danger that these new recruits are just padding?

Well, later in the afternoon on Saturday I went to the Newington Yes Shop, for (another) ‘thank you’ party. A variety of Yes activists (over 40 at any one time) crowding into the tiny shop for a last gathering. (Fortunately I arrived a little less late for that event – sandwiches, if not cakes, were consumed aplenty.) It was anything but a wake. There I talked with Sally and Alison of the Greens/English Scots for Yes, and asked how things had been going: they had had their regular Green Party meeting on the Thursday night, where they normally had about 35 people turning up. Instead, they had had to move to a larger venue…and even then there was not enough room for the more than 400 people that had come along. So these new party members (as someone said ‘it is unlikely that they believe in ‘No’ if they just joined the Greens) seem to have got past the first ‘gym membership’ stage: they have actually gone along and tried out the weights.

But the SNP’s gain in membership since the announcement of the result has, of course, eclipsed everything. On the day of the Referendum, they had 25,000 members – which meant that at that point they already had more members than all the Scottish political party memberships combined. But SINCE the result was announced, an additional 40,000+ members have pushed them over 69,000, making them larger than the whole UK-wide LibDem party membership – so the SNP is now the third largest UK political party.

There is a sense of agitation since the 19th September, a rising power, looking for a new direction and outlet – but will it find one in time, before it starts to dissipate? In addition to the two events on Saturday that I had known about, there had apparently been a further one, spontaneously organised through Twitter (damn it, I’m probably going to have to get on that last social media horse after all…): between 1 and 3pm a party of a couple of thousand had taken place outside Holyrood. As has become standard, a wag observed ‘The BBC – of course – were not in attendance.’ And part of that disillusionment is manifesting in the surge to consolidate the pro-Indy social media (including the wonderful Dateline Scotland – see them on YouTube) as permanent fixtures, with crowd-funding activities that no doubt bring a warm glow to the heart of Wings Over Scotland’s Stuart Campbell. asa variation on Jello Biafra, Don’t Bemoan the Media – OWN the Media.

The media are an important component in providing an environment within which the Yes attitude and philosophy can thrive – the only newspaper to come out for Yes, the Sunday Herald, has just this weekend reported that their sales are up 111% on last year, in sharp contrast to all other newsprint. (The historian Tom Nairn once said “Scotland will never be free until the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post.” – so it is perhaps unsurprising that this publication was one of only three – with the Scotsman and the Financial Times – that actually came out in open support of a No vote..and it is somewhat bitterly appropriate that this week it is celebrating a century in print.) So alternative media outlets are required to help sustain and grow that community – it would be hard to maintain a Yes perspective against the grinding day-to-day onslaught of BBC Scotland’s Winston Smith-type output. But within these media, there has to be a direction – short-term realisable objectives. Clearly, the Daily Record’s front page ‘Vow’ of the three Westminster leaders for ‘more powers’ for Scotland two days before the Referendum, fell apart within 24 hours of the result being declared, and there needs to be a regular holding to account for each date that fails on Gordon Brown’s ‘exciting timetable’. Also, there is a gearing up towards the Westminster general election…but that is almost 9 months away, and that is a long time to sustain people’s energy or anger at betrayal.

And there does seem to be some anger and disappointment – most particularly from No voters. There has been a surprising number of encounters with what are being referred to as ‘hangover Nos’ – they vote No then the next day they feel sick and realise with the victory that it was not the result that they wanted and that they have done the wrong thing (sometimes even before ‘The Vow’ started to come apart at the seams). Frustrating though that may be for those of us who wanted a Yes and therefore voted Yes (as opposed to No – there is a clue in there), we have to build something that includes them for the future. Going down the Referendum line, we need almost another 5% in order to win – and beginning with hangover Nos and incorporating them is a good place to start.

Back to Sally at the Newington Yes Shop: she is fingering her ‘45’ badge, saying she is not so comfortable with it – she had originally been very glad to have that badge of identity as being part of the 45%, but now feels that it was like a stage in grieving, and now it is time to move on. For one thing, she felt that the ‘45’ identity alienates those who did not vote Yes but want to be part of the future of the group that did. We agreed ‘45+’ might be much better (if less catchy and punchy), and maybe that was the way to go. It is a fair point – the branding of the post-Referendum Yes identity has to be done carefully, and as inclusively as possible. As I wrote before on an earlier post, some of the No voters (many of whom were taken in by the Daily Record) just don’t know they are Yes voters yet – and a taste of that post-1979 disillusionment will do them a world of good.

Towards the end of the party at the Newington Yes Shop, I was stunned to see a familiar figure on the far side of the room: my old friend (former Scottish History Professor at the University of Edinburgh) Owen Dudley Edwards. Back when I was president at the students’ union in Edinburgh, Owen and I had gone on anti poll tax demonstrations, where he had shared some of his personal stories about Gore Vidal and many others (see also my earlier Jim Sillars post for his perspective on possible routes to independence). To my great and pleasant surprise, he had apparently been regularly staffing the Newington Yes Shop, just as I had regularly been staffing the Marchmont stall (albeit in my case for only the last couple of months, during my 50 Days).

Suddenly, it all fell into place – Irene on the Marchmont stall had turned up one day wearing a ‘Scottish Academics for Yes’ design t-shirt, which I was very keen to acquire a copy of. The next day she came back from the Newington Shop bearing one for me, and said she had asked an academic there if it was Ok for her to wear such a t-shirt, as she was not an academic herself. The academic in question had replied that of course it was OK: just because one wore a Black Sabbath t-shirt, did not mean you were a member of the band. Suddenly, the wit of that academic’s response – even though we had not spoken for some twenty years – was recognisable as pure, unadulterated Owen.

I asked him about attacks on the Newington Yes Shop, and he told me of the ‘Nazi’ graffiti that had been sprayed upon it from its opening day. As we talked, and the wine flowed, there had been some intermittent flute music, prior to an acapella rendition of Hamish Henderson’s 1960 Writers Against Apartheid protest song ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ (which seems to be emerging as the post-Referendum Yes anthem, after its international tour de force by the South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony a couple of months ago). After a lull, the music started up again with a piper, and Owen made to leave, but grabbed my forearm as I was turning away and pulled me close so that I could hear his words over the bagpipes: “I’m SO glad you’re involved in this.”

I was touched, and genuinely felt the same to hear that he had been involved so deeply in the campaign – but instead of reciprocating, I said only one thing as a farewell.

 

“Owen, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

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Scotland’s Economic Prospects In and Out of Union, and the Death of the Post-War Dream

At the end of my first day back on the stall, an individual approached the stall wanting to know our reasons for voting Yes. It soon became clear that rather than undecided, he was a ‘No’ voter, so as my colleagues packed up tables and diminishing numbers of leaflets in the background, I continued to talk to him. Although ‘No’ supporters are ‘high risk’ in terms of time investment (and there is always the danger of them simply being a deliberately time-wasting troll – but for that they usually pretend to be undecided), this is also part of winning the potential peace if we get a Yes vote, and if at least some concerns can be alleviated amongst the more rational and less headstrong of them, then the smoother that transition might be. We don’t want ‘Project Fear’ to reap its own harvest of further fear in the wake of an actual ‘Yes’, having spent its entire campaign trying to create uncertainty about the future of a much wealthier (per head) independent Scotland, without turning any scrutiny to the massive uncertainties of remaining tied to a UK economy that is going down the pan with an ever increasing debt mountain (and punishing the poor and disabled on its way down).

It appeared, from his account, that he had been swayed to ‘No’ by the arguments of a variety of economists. I suggested that he look at Joseph Stiglitz’s analysis, but wanted to use it as a prompt to get a particular article on the economy up on this blog.

Others elsewhere have noted the degree to which the UK’s economy continues to decline, thus starting to raise the possibilities of further cuts than those already waiting in the wings after a ‘No’ vote. Others elsewhere have run the numbers for what Scotland’s net surplus contribution to the UK has been over the last thirty years (£222 billion). For further figures on Scotland’s longer term pre-oil overpayment, I refer the interested to Business for Scotland: http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/scotlands-century-of-lost-wealth/ and also for figures predating Ireland’s break from the UK to ‘The Historical Debt’, an article on Wings Over Scotland that reprints figures from a 1960s (pre-oil) publication.

The Financial Times (February 4th) has noted that Scotland would start with better finances (10.9% better, to be precise) than the UK from day 1 of independence. This – like many reports – also makes the flawed assumption that the expenditure plans of the Scottish Government would remain the same as currently (i.e. devolved rather than independent), whereas the lack of burden of UK –spending plans currently not directly benefiting Scotland would also be lifted. If you like, this is the dividend savings of self-government – freed of supporting infrastructure projects elsewhere in the UK with no direct Scottish benefit (particularly London-centric ones, such as the Olympics – see earlier blog for the tourism impact on Scotland that year) such as HS2 (which Scotland will pay £4.8-7.9 billion towards, despite it stopping 150 miles short of the border), the replacement for Trident (£250 million per year for Scottish taxpayers, currently £160 million per year for the current model), shares of the £3 billion Westminster refurbishment (never mind the £60 million per year currently paid to running Westminster and the Scotland Office – and that is without the imminent 10% pay rise announced for MPs) and the £4.2 billion London sewer upgrade (perhaps related to the preceding item in the list – who can say?). They also do not take account of export duty and VAT currently lost to Scotland via payments through port of exit (for duty) and head office location (for VAT).

The proposed budget in the SNP’s Scotland’s Future manifesto includes £800 million per annum on defense, in order to set up a Scottish military. There are also the opportunities that come from paying for a Scottish rather than London-based civil service – and from closing tax loopholes (£2.8 billion currently estimated to be lost in Scotland by HMRC) partly through replacing the horrifically complicated UK tax system with a transparent and efficient one with fewer loopholes.

All of these are positive opportunities to save vast amounts of money as well as expand our activities and pay towards an oil fund. But there is a rising political pressure (undoubtedly a vote winner with those in the UK that are outside of Scotland) to scrap the Barnett Formula, which (if replaced by an average system for all), will leave a hole the size of 30% of the Scottish block grant. This should also be viewed against the alternative, whereby the Scottish Government Budget allocated from 2011-2016 is planned to drop by almost 10%. Where, of the 42 nations analysed, the UK’s pensions are not only the worst in Europe (see previous blog) but 39th out of 42 in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Mexico, Indonesia and South Africa are the only countries that come lower in pensions).

Currently we have a political climate that demonises the poor, to the extent that a welfare agenda that saves £6 million by Ian Duncan Smith with a benefit cap in its first year, yet costs £120 million to implement, is presented as legitimate or beneficial. Where, under the pretense of eliminating the DWP estimated £1.2 billion of benefit fraud, cancer sufferers assessed as able to work, while benefit overpayments due to error are £1.4 billion (DWP estimate) and dwarfed by the £16 billion of unclaimed benefits both go unaddressed. And figures for tax avoidance are estimated between £30-120 billion, yet that is not a priority. Labour’s complicity in the welfare cuts (even promising to go further) and the privatisation of the NHS in England and Wales dragging NHS (Scotland) down the same route of a privatized health service through corresponding funding cuts paint us a picture of the future of health and welfare within the UK that is increasingly bleak. This is the Death of the Post-War Dream, as the Westminster government ties its people into nuclear energy companies with ridiculous guaranteed tariffs when we have our own burgeoning energy resources, nuclear weapons sit on the Clyde as a ghost of Empire that are entirely redundant for us in the modern age, and not tackling but creating more poverty when we could seriously address it as a priority which it has ever been for Westminster.

Our priorities are not those of the SE of England, and they are the ones who determine the government of Westminster – NEVER us. And for that reason, we cannot expect to ever receive an equitable deal within the Union – that is simple politics. If we take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, we can avoid continuing as the rich nation held in poverty by its neighbor, and be what we can be.

 

“Even excluding North Sea output ….Scotland would qualify for our highest economic assessment” (Standard and Poor’s, global credit rating agency, February 27th 2014)

 “An independent Scotland could expect to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK” (Financial Times, February 3rd 2014)

‘No Future’: Go back to your Constituencies and Prepare for Power(s)’?

That paraphrased quote above (substituting ‘Power(s)’ for ‘Government’) comes from David Steel, during the heyday of the SDP-Liberal Alliance in 1981. Sadly, it was an exhortation which proved to be woefully over-optimistic. (Incidentally, David’s wife apparently supports ‘Yes’ – which is nice.)

Many people write about the prospects waiting for us after a ‘No’ vote. Some ‘nervous undecided’ are looking for a reason to vote No, for a guarantee that something more will come, in lieu of the original DevoMax ‘second question’ which came out of the Scottish Government’s consultation exercise, but David Cameron insisted on removing from the ballot paper. In this respect, the absence of any agreed package on offer gives a great boon to the No campaign, as they can talk about the idea of ‘more powers’, without any need whatsoever to define and agree what those powers would be…leaving it up to the relevant sector of the electorate to project on to that conversation what they think or want it to mean.

Polls have noted changing preferences amongst people in Scotland for what powers should be devolved to the Scottish Government – the 2014 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey noting a 10% increase on the previous year for those wanting all powers (41%), and 29% (down 3%) wanting only defence and foreign affairs reserved to Westminster. When asked about the specifics in another survey last year, 60% wanted to see welfare (eg benefits, pensions and things like the so-called bedroom tax) under Holyrood, 53% control of oil revenues, 52% taxation (e.g. income tax, corporation tax) and only 35% Defence (e.g. Scottish regiments, nuclear weapons). But control of welfare, taxation and defence is not on offer from any of the Westminster parties – although it appears that some combination of these elements is what members of the public mean when they talk about ‘more powers’…and, more dangerously, may actually think that is what Westminster representatives mean when they talk about more powers coming.

Indeed, there is a further convenient muddying of the waters, as the implementation of the Calman Commission (under the Scotland Act 2012) will only be completed in 2015 – so they can avidly promise ‘more powers’ without having to do anything further, as the schedule for the legislation passed 3 years ago means that ‘more’ is coming. So the stunt of the political leaders signing a ‘guarantee’ of more powers on August 5th of this year can simply be fulfilled by the rest of the powers already scheduled to be enacted in 2015. Specifically, this does not mean more control over money – merely the requirement to collect a percentage of tax. This requires the construction of a Scottish HMRC to collect the tax, with the additional costs of hundreds of millions per year coming from the Scottish budget, and the resulting squeeze threatening cuts in services if Scotland stays with the Union…which actually means a loss of powers, in terms of financial freedom for the Scottish Parliament to choose to spend its budget as it desires, because it will have a portion of its budget already externally allocated in order to pay for these tax costs straight away. Of course, a Scottish equivalent of HMRC would need to be established as part of the process of independence, but the difference of controlling all the requisite economic levers and operating them in a connected rather than ‘silo’ fashion would enable the costs to be offset by the benefits directly accrued (as well as being able to be absorbed within the surpluses from Day 1 that the Financial Times has already indicated will be present for Scotland on February 3rd of this year – more on this separately). Without independence, establishing this new tier of bureaucracy simply means more cuts – in addition to the cuts Westminster already have planned.

Beyond this, is Westminster really likely to do anything about granting any more powers beyond the Scotland Act 2012? Professor Gavin McCrone (he of ‘the 1974 McCrone Report’ fame) told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland on 3/8/2013 that a No vote could simply result in such proposals being shelved: “There is a danger that people in Whitehall will just put the files away and say ‘well, we don’t need to worry about that any more’. And if that’s the case I think it would result in quite a bit of disillusion and disappointment in Scotland”.. Certainly, the 1979 experience, where the devolution referendum was famously preceded by a promise from the Tories to offer a ‘better’ devolution package, resulted in just such a shelving. And the Quebec Referendum of 1995 (the acknowledged model that Westminster is following with its ‘No’ campaign) also featured promises from that No campaign of further devolution if people voted No – promises which failed to materialise after the narrow victory for ‘No’.

Douglas Alexander, a former colleague on the University of Edinburgh’s Student Representative Council (where his portfolio was accommodation), has said that any further devolution will only come after another commission on constitutional change like Calman, which took ten years to decide on and fully implement its schedule (assuming it will deliver according to plan). And even within that, although the recently-announced Conservative proposals for further devolution also include setting tax rate bands and air passenger duty, this hardly delivers control over the necessary economic levers to grow the economy.

Fundamentally, the likelihood of anything beyond the Scotland Act 2012 being countenanced by the Westminster parties seems highly unlikely: they refused to allow a second question on the ballot paper (which they would have won easily); they had the opportunity to introduce more powers (or even announce a commission) in the long run-up to the vote (which would have weakened the campaign for independence far more than their regular Whitehall interventions have done), but were reluctant to do anything (even down to including such proposals in the Queen’s Speech) about it while in government; the minimalist proposals (which do not change any of the areas that Scotland already has control over) put forward by the different parties have often been opposed and subsequently watered down by their Westminster centralised headquarters (as happened with Calman and Labour’s DevoNano proposals announced this April). The Scottish branches of the Westminster parties know that there is no broad support for what is seen as giving anything ‘more’ to Scotland across London’s parliament, and as such it seems highly unlikely that any powers would be forthcoming: the Scottish groups might argue for it, but they can be flatly refuse by their larger London siblings. Remember, any increases in devolved powers (unlike their much easier cancellation) have to be approved by a majority of Westminster MPs (many of whom appear to think that the amount of devolution currently existing is too much), otherwise they simply will not happen, regardless of how many ‘pledges’ are signed by politicians.

This is one reason why commentators – including Andrew Neil – have commented on the greater likelihood of punitive reprisals, rather than more powers to the Scottish Parliament, in the wake of a ‘No’ vote. Even the meagre ‘powers’ already scheduled to come to the Scottish Parliament as a result of the Scotland Act 2012 could be cancelled at Westminster’s whim, either by the current government or the one that gets elected in 2015 (as – again – was demonstrated all too clearly by the House of Lords revoking one power from Holyrood unilaterally in December 2013). There are no guarantees with devolution: Holyrood exists solely at the pleasure of Westminster, and could be closed down tomorrow should the UK government so decide.

This article has only dealt with more powers – and not the detailed ‘No Future’ that has already been laid out for us by the Westminster Government, and zealously endorsed by their opposition rivals with unseemly haste. And perhaps that detail – with or without any tweaks to devolution – is more of a concern in the wake of a ‘No vote.

 

“[It is] fraudulent to give the impression that if there is a No vote Scotland will still get greater powers. The prospect of further powers is ridiculous.” (Tam Dalyell, Sunday Times, 4/8/2013)

‘No-stradamus’ – Looking into a ‘No Future’: Turkeys Voting for Christmas?

There are a few specific threats coming that a ‘No’ vote will render unavoidable. One is the further cuts that the coalition government have planned. Of the 6 billion pounds cut to Scotland’s welfare budget, 70% have yet to be applied by their 2016 deadline. The Child Poverty Action Group estimate that a billion of those cuts still to come will directly affect children, pushing a further 100,000 of them into poverty in Scotland by 2020.

Another is the end of the Barnett Formula. This is frequently presented as Scotland getting a higher per capita spend, even although Scotland (along with London and the SE of England) is one of the three parts of the UK that contribute above the average – which means that Scotland gets less back than it puts in by £500 per capita. This means that the Barnett Formula, which calculates the Scottish Government’s block grant on the basis of expenditure elsewhere in the UK, is politically popular, and supported by all facets of Westminster. It has been indicated that a review of Barnett will not be implemented before the next general election, and that it will involve a reduction of the funding received by Scotland to be replaced by a ‘needs-based formula’. The degree of cuts envisaged range from a conservative £4 billion, but on a per capita basis the ‘£1,200 extra’ often cited equates to a £6.4 billion cut.

A third is the reduction of the numbers of Scottish MPs, which has often been tied in to any further devolved powers, along with the end of the Barnett Formula. From 1885 until 2005 (when a readjustment of Scottish MPs was made in the wake of the establishment of the devolved parliament) the representation of Scottish MPs was over 10%, reaching a high of 12% during the inter-war years. The 2013 review will reduce the number of Scottish MPs from 59 to 52 for the next general election: this 8.67% representation amongst the 600 in Westminster is almost down as low as the 8.06% level when the Union of the Parliaments first took place. This means an increasing marginalization of a Scottish voice, at the same time as fiscal strength of the Scottish Government is damaged through ongoing welfare cuts, the ending of the Barnett Formula and paying for the setting up of a Scottish HMRC.

A conservative estimate will put the ongoing loss at more than £10 billion to Scotland, from these advertised changes, as a direct consequence of a ‘No’ vote – a cut that we do not need to take at all. This is what the choice of dependence means over independence – to be weaker collectively than we would be standing on our own two feet.

So are we going to be turkeys voting for Xmas?

Because there is an alternative.

On Monday February 3rd 2014, the Financial Times (not exactly a supporter of Scottish independence) produced an item on the financial situation of an independent Scotland, using UK government figures, and concluded that every individual would be almost £1,400 a year better off from Day One. They demonstrated that the Scottish Government would immediately have some £7 billion a year on top of the existing Scottish budget of £64 billion – and that was conservatively assuming that the government of the newly reindependent state would retain the UK government’s existing spending priorities.

 

“An independent Scotland could expect to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK” (Financial Times, February 3rd 2014)

“On 18th September, 2014, between the hours of 7am and 10pm, absolute sovereign power will lie in the hands of the Scottish people. They have to decide whether to keep it, or give it away to where their minority status makes them permanently powerless and vulnerable. So where do we stand at one minute past ten, at 10.01?” (Jim Sillars, March 2014)