Monday, 17 February 2014


“My hunch is that poking Scotland in the chest while telling it what it can't do won't help the No's”

Billy Bragg – 12th February 2014

Considering that’s the view of a passionate, patriotic (in the finest sense of the word) Englishman, it makes you wonder what the reaction among voters in Scotland to George Osborne’s scolding lecture will be in the weeks and months ahead.

The First Minister’s response this week was measured and positive – and although many Scottish voters would be tempted to respond “Aye do you think…” to the “No you can’t” diktat from the unionist parties, he opted for the “Yes, we can” message.

Let’s consider Osborne’s track record as Chancellor and credibility. He promised that the UK would keep its AAA credit rating – failed.  Reduce the deficit? – failed.  We are meant to believe that Mr Osborne is omniscient in economic matters, especially when it comes to the issue of a currency union – and of course, he is guided by the most impartial advice the civil service can provide. A view provided by the mandarins will inevitably incline towards caution, as change is always suspect and the status quo is the default preference at all times.  Was the UK Chancellor correct on this occasion? Let’s consider the report from Professor Christine Bell of Edinburgh University.

Legally under international law the position is clear: if the remainder UK keeps the name and status of the UK under international law, it keeps its liabilities for the debt.  The UK took out the debt, and legally it owes the money.  Scotland cannot therefore ‘default’.   It can be argued that international law does, however, contemplate that on dividing, the two resulting states.”

Some economists have been making dire predictions that Scotland ‘defaulting on the debt’ is irresponsible – and ignoring the  actual response from the Yes campaign which is to set out a reasonable negotiating point – that if assets aren’t to be shared, then why should liabilities?  Why is a Scottish government not allowed to its negotiate in the event of a “Yes” vote ? That, in effect is the position of the 3 main unionist parties – to deny the right of elected representatives to secure the best deal for Scotland in the event of a “Yes” vote – a blatant denial of the democratic right of the Scottish people to determine their own future. “

Just consider what has actually happened last week –  the Tories, Labour and Lib-Dems position as articulated last week is to state clearly and unequivocally that there will be no reasonable negotiations around our joint economic interests  in an attempt to bludgeon voters into voting “No”.

In a nutshell, the Better Together message boils down to – there’s no point in voting “Yes” because it’s not going to work ( because we say so) and there’s no possibility of an alternative future. There’s no such thing as political will, there’s no point in expecting your elected representatives to articulate and fight for the possibility of change and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the political and economic systems in one of the most unequal countries in the western world. The fact that those who are articulating the “no change” message have a personal stake in business as usual as the system has worked very well for them (Westminster MP’s) gives them not a moment’s pause.

I watched the first in the “Scandimania” documentaries last night, where Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall travelled around Norway and expect he’ll be accused of pandering to the “Yes” campaign by showing a small successful country that’s made good use of natural and human resources to support a society that looks fairly decent – not perfect, but sustainable. One of the more depressing aspects of the nay-sayers is the petty sneering at our Scandanavian neighbours whenever the prospect of a different society in Scotland is discussed.

I fully expected the big red panic button to be pressed in the run up to September 18th, but am curious as to why now – presumably to halt any sense of momentum in the “yes” campaign, but all this has done is give people time to discuss and consider why there is No Future. The conventional wisdom is that negative always beats positive and that fear always beats hope – that’s tired old politics and my next post will be on how that’s the politics of self-destruction for the unionist parties in Scotland who may find they are destroying their own hopes in order to Save the Union. It’s still in the balance for the referendum, but voters will wonder why in future elections should they vote for parties that are insulting their democratic right to express an opinion, and insulting their intelligence at the same time.



Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A Just Scotland

I’ve been meaning to blog for a good while now on the issue of what makes a Just Scotland, as well as reflecting on the journey many people in Scotland have made and are making from the Labour Movement towards supporting Independence. This was very much on my mind recently - as many of you will know, our Convener of Govan SNP, Steve Butler, sadly passed away in December after a very short illness.

Steve was the Constituency Officer Manager for Jim Sillars, and so when I joined the SNP on the back of the 1988 Govan By-election and the Anti-Poll Tax campaign I got to meet him for the first time. I was aware of his background in the trade union movement and am proud to say he was my mentor and someone whose values I shared.

Steve became a good friend and colleague and his contribution, and kindness to many people will never be forgotten.  A typical story about him comes from when he was covering the polling station in Priesthill in 2011.  A conversation with the local Minister resulted in him helping to repair the church organ. He believed in action and his many small acts of assistance were as big a contribution to his community as a lifetime of political debate and activism.

For the wider political picture  I would recommend an interview with a young Steve Butler from 1975 -  with an equally young Christopher Hitchens for the New Statesman, which sums up a lot of Steve’s political thoughts …………..” Steve Butler, a young shop steward from Rolls- Royce in East Kilbride, told me why he had left the Labour Party in Glasgow and signed up with the Nationalists (for whom he hopes to become industrial organiser). ‘Self-government would be a step towards socialism,’ he said. ‘I used to identify with people like Foot but since they took office I’ve given them up.”

Anne McLaughlin reminded me of this interview and has also written a very moving tribute and in blogging it would be remiss of me not to direct you towards that at …

When I first heard of Steve’s sudden illness, I had just attended two meetings organised by the STUC as part of its campaign “A Just Scotland”, which is looking at the significant challenges facing Scotland, as part of its approach for the Referendum campaign.  The comparisons with other countries as part of this process gave plenty of food for thought.

Senior Trade Unionists and Academics made rational and measured contributions.

Among the key findings I noted were ;

(1) The infamous IFS report does not suggest that an Independent Scotland would have less money to spend, and should have compared an Independent Scotland with Scotland in the UK, and not Scotland v the UK.

(2)  More importantly, they state that the key issue in terms of finances is one of demographics - an issue that remains whether YES or No is successful.

(3) Income Inequality - the UK has one of the highest gaps in Europe

(4) If all workers not in receipt of the Living Wage, were to be paid it, there would be increased income tax revenues of £550m.

(5) Only in 9 out of the last 69 months have real wages risen.

(6) Workers whose pay and conditions were covered by collective bargaining in 1979,have gone from 81% in Scotland to 23%.

(7) Trade Union membership in Scotland now stands at 32.3% of workers, in Sweden that figure is 69%

These are fascinating statistics, and demonstrate the real challenges the country faces, and the STUC should be thanked for facilitating these events. 

It does however reveal key weaknesses in the Better Together armoury.  As John McInally of the PCS put it.........."if No means more cuts,  austerity, and more privatisation then Scotland will leave the UK.  “ As Ed Miliband has just confirmed that a future Labour government in Westminster would still sing from the same austerity hymn sheet that hits the poorest hardest then what was a concern has just become a reality – a No vote means more of the same with NO possibility of change. That is only tip of the iceberg – and I’ll address that in a future blog post, but at the moment it’s sad to reflect how far the Labour party has moved away from its roots and fails to recognise the opportunities for real change through supporting workers rights and building a new dynamic in an independent Scotland.

The key message that trade union activists recognise is that employment law affects pay, conditions, and the wider economy including welfare. A Fair Work Commission, and a National Convention on Employment and Labour Relations would be a good place to start on addressing these challenges. That opportunity is there to be grasped, and increasingly many people are participating in shaping and discussing what makes a Just Scotland and what is our Common Weal and thinking outside narrow tribal party interests. A YES vote isn’t a vote for the SNP , it’s a vote for the possibility of change and for opening the door to new opportunities. A NO vote is a vote for more of the same diet of austerity and squeezing of public services that hasn’t served the workers of Scotland well in the past decades.