Small Man

Radio Scotland is interviewing an academic from Aberdeen, I think from the excellent Rowett Institute, who says that after a bout of exercise people have a bias towards low calorie food. Does Ian Small know about this? The interviewer didn’t ask a single question doubting the methodology or deductions arrived at, taking the whole report at face value when, as we know, that is no longer BBC Scotland policy. When a report comes in it is the duty of the management to challenge its provenance to make sure it meets the BBC’s high standards of analytical efficacy. What constitutes exercise? Specifically which foods did respondents prefer and how did you assess their calorie count? Did you also offer them an alternative high calorie option? What tests did you do on the pizzas to make sure they were high calorie and are they industry-recognised tests? Who validated the report? Was it peer reviewed? Mercy, the questions just keep coming. Mr Small is going to be busy.

And actually he is…because as you may have seen the Culture Committee at Holyrood is to ask BBC executives about their response to the Bias in Broadcasting report which is a victory I think for the BBC’s critics. The management sought to warn off Dr Robertson in heavy-handed fashion. Now a bigger boy is tapping them on the shoulder and asking the questions. That means hours of homework for Mr Small who may not be feeling quite so big today.

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Poor Wee Things

I met a Labour man recently who said the party made a big mistake electing Johann leader. Of course the ordinary members didn’t….it was the payroll and the unions – Labour’s institutions – that wanted her in place. What must they all think now? As time rolls on to the next Holyrood elections how is Labour faring now that we are in year seven of SNP administration?

The opinion polls are grisly. By rights, with the No side in the ascendancy and the public surely tiring of Salmond and his mob, the main opposition have every right to think that, like Labour in London, they should be ahead. Perhaps not by much but commanding the agenda, pushing the government’s nose in it and picking up the support. Instead they are further behind than ever, part of a collective failed opposition at Holyrood that can’t even count on its combined support to match the SNP in voting intentions.

Clearly Labour has pockets of support – note the Fife by election – but there is no sense of a pan-Scotland advance. It’s hard with Johann to work out if she’s doing badly because she has no profile or because she is so poor when she does appear.

I think the Grangemouth business was bad news for her. Labour’s overall behaviour over Ineos and Unite was poor and trade unionists across Scotland would normally look to a Labour leader to exercise steely resolve through a commanding presence and judicious intervention. Instead she was invisible and was eventually forced into the light and sounded defensive. As a masterclass in leadership it got nul points. How would a real leader like Dewar have reacted? For a start the whole media would have been briefed in detail how furious he was, that collars had been grabbed in private. He would have appeared on site grim-faced and stony and brought a sense that his very presence was the catalyst for a resolution. People of all affiliations listened to Dewar, at times of crisis he transcended the debate and held the ear of all sections of society. A reluctant voter, asked by him to back devolution in 1999, remained stoically doubtful but said: If you say it’s alright, I’ll vote Yes for you because you tell me to. That kind of reverence hasn’t been in the gift of Labour politicians since he died.

Then yesterday the dreaded First Minister’s Questions, where at times Johann has made her point convincingly, turned out to be another occasion when the shortcomings of the Labour leadership were exposed. It isn’t that Salmond is any kind of expert at this questioning business. I think he’s more comfortable asking rather than answering but Johann managed – Kinnock-like  – to mangle her opportunity. Behind in the polls, losing a by election and then, according to the Unionist narrative, losing the currency argument with the governor, Salmond was a quivering plate of potted meat awaiting a fork. And not only did Johann miss, she created what has become a campaign tool for the other side. “Wee things” like ending the bedroom tax and ditching Trident is a campaigner’s delight to rank alongside “the something for nothing society”. Within the hour her people said it was a slip of the tongue, just as something-for-nothing was wiped from the website.

It’s too late now but Johann isn’t working. It doesn’t matter how much they vilify Salmond and remember her personalised attacks on Sturgeon? Despite everything, it is she and Labour who are sinking. She must say to herself: Thank God for the referendum…it’s the only thing holding it all together.

To illustrate how farcical things get at Holyrood, I read a piece on today’s papers how Labour was making an official complaint that the SNP was using government money to create a Wee Things hashtag and to fund stickers displaying it. How much is that then? £3.50p? The party that said getting rid of nuclear weapons was a “wee thing” is complaining about sweetie shop expenses in the SPADs office. Labour should be known as the Poor Wee Things from now on.

Ian Lang, millionaire landowner and Lloyd’s name, now Lord Monkton, defender of the poll tax and responsible for gerrymandering local government, joins the ranks of the true Britnats with his silly and hurtful suggestion that a free people choosing their own democracy, sullied the name of the war dead. He demonstrated how it is the British state he loves, not Scotland. And as I watched this parade of grotesques from the elephant’s graveyard, every one a Unionist clown, it occurred to me that this does nothing but good for the independence cause. It reminds us that Tories who profess to care about Scotland are really dedicated to Britain and that Labour people claiming to be socialists are self-aggrandising opportunists and that we will better off without any of them.

 

 

BBC: Balance the Bias

It looks like BBC Scotland is compounding its overreaction to the Bias in Broadcasting report. It is now embarked on a course of forensic examination to challenge the detail of the UWS work in an attempt to claim that it is wrong to suggest bias in favour of the No campaign. The letters currently going out give some detail of the areas they object to – the first time the BBC has publicly acknowledged to licence-fee payers what its concerns are.

“It took us several days to review the research available to us within the report and when doing so we identified a number of inaccuracies within it. In addition we would also question the methodology as well as the fundamental validity of the conclusions it reached. 

It is our view that the report consistently fails to support its contentions with factually accurate evidence; for example there are several substantive factual inaccuracies within the references it makes to Reporting Scotland news output. We are also concerned, for example, with the inclusion of a number of non-referendum stories within the data outlined in the report. 

We also believe that the report failed to define terminology used within it; for example ‘fairness’, ‘insulting language’ etc. or whether any account was taken of what the BBC’s own Editorial Guidelines or the Ofcom Broadcasting Code have to say in this respect.

The report concludes the authors have “evidence of coverage which seems likely to have damaged the Yes campaign.” Our strongly held view is that there is no evidence whatsoever, as contained within the report, that supports this contention. It is no more than an assumption, based on the report’s findings which, themselves, we contest.”

Previous descriptions of their concerns were put in the public domain via the letter sent to Dr John Robertson, the author, from the head of public policy Ian Small, a letter seen by Dr Robertson’s university colleagues. This is a change in tactic after the PR mistake of replying to all correspondents with a standard letter of rebuff advising them where to make complaints. Dr Robertson, I understand, is not for backing down and stands by his research and is ready to counter the BBC’s assault on his work. In the meantime some questions arise.

Who drew the BBC management’s attention to this research since the news department did not report it? Or did the news department not report it because it was asked not to by management – a serious breach of editorial rules?

Does BBC Scotland routinely check the methodology and credibility of academic reports? Or is this the only time this has happened? If so, is it just a remarkable coincidence that the report they decide to challenge is critical of the BBC itself?

Will all academic studies which come across the BBC’s desk be subject to the same credibility check from now on and if not, why not? Does the BBC take at face value all other research from other sources or only research pointing out BBC shortcomings?

One of my correspondents said he was interviewed by a pollster asking about bias in BBC news coverage. Why is the BBC commissioning survey data on this subject if they are convinced they are treating both sides equally? And if they now have that data would they like to publish it? It is after all paid for by the audience who have a right to see it. It may well back the view that there is no perception of bias in which case it would be interesting given most peoples’ views. But how revealing would it be if it turned out to support Dr Robertson’s contention of bias? The BBC should be asked to publish this polling material. (If any of you do write in, don’t be fobbed off with claims it doesn’t exist. I know of a case where a national newspaper asked for listening figures from the year 2005 when Jeff Zycinski became head of radio in order to compare them with up-to-date listening figures. The BBC press office was instructed to tell the reporter than the data didn’t go back that far…a blatant untruth…RAJARS as they are known, which measure audiences, have been going since 1992. Who would instruct such an untrue statement to be released?)

The BBC really need to win this or they will not only be guilty of bias but of overreacting and making themselves looks very silly. The trouble is that all they’ve got is an attempt at undermining the university work when what they really need is their own internal assessment of the first year of output. Only then will they be able claim a victory. First they must get enough voices to agree the UWS work is not good enough and then they have to prove their own programming was not biased. This they can do by repeating the exhaustive work carried out by Dr Robertson and reviewing all of their early evening news output for the year in question and doing so under the professional eye of an independent adjudicator. If they don’t trust John Robertson, why should he trust them? They cannot claim they don’t have the base material – it’s all in the archive.

Meanwhile it would be helpful if the MSPs started to wind up another inquiry into the operation of BBC Scotland and tease out why they are so scared of Dr Robertson’s work and if there has been interference in editorial decision-making over his report.

By the way…there’s another issue of bias underway…BBC Scotland is taking keen interest in the latest House of Lords pantomime which of course is entirely one-sided, like the Scottish Affairs Committee. We already heard Ian Lang on Radio Scotland this morning – not debating of course, one doesn’t do on-air debates – and no doubt there will be equal time for an SNP person tomorrow but how do they cover a debate in which every overblown, self-important anti-democratic windbag says the same thing? Personally I’d ignore it. Does any Scot care what unelected party placemen say about anything – apart from the forelock-tuggers awaiting their own ennoblement. I’d say Darling and Tavish first…any others?

Who’d want to share anything with this lot?

Third post of the day and me with young children to put to bed!

My position has not changed…I thought Carney was measured and fair, giving benefits (which as I said earlier he rushed through at the start but that wasn’t what the mainstream media types were after) and he gave an objective assessment of potential obstacles and compromises. The only question I have about his effort was in trying to compare the Eurozone with the UK. He missed the key point about the problems with the euro – that it was attempting to tie together disparate economies with totally different approaches to tax and spend. The northern part has worked extremely well and guess how much the euro has varied in value throughout the crisis? Next to nothing. It is rock solid and arguably safer than the pound. It was the countries in the south which created the problems and that is completely different to Scotland where as even he admitted there is almost total integration. He made the case for monetary union.

The media as ever fell for the briefing line. Remember, the papers yesterday before Carney spoke were full of government briefing that the governor would warn the Scots of the dangers. The dupes dutifully complied, including the London-based BBC. Carney would show his speech to Downing Street or the Treasury and they would sign off on it beforehand so they knew the content. So the briefing began and the journos simply waited till he hit the button they had been told to prepare for and bingo! they’ve got their story. Sad to see the BBC falling for it and Peston’s analysis all based on poor wee Scotland failing to pay its debts and having to be bailed out by London and England, didn’t pause to ask himself who ran up one of the highest sovereign debts in the world, currently heading for £1.5 trillion pounds…and who has balanced the books over the last seven years in Scotland? A real contrast with Brian Taylor on Radio Four who gave a seriously measured and balanced analysis minus the London twist.

Metropolitan superiority on show tonight…even on liberal-minded Channel Four where Matt Frei (ex-BBC) ended up taunting Swinney with: Why should WE pay for Scotland’s debts? We? We? Surely you are British, Matt, and this is a shared Union and even after independence, there will be rUK taxpayers in Wales and Northern Ireland? But then they like the Scots, don’t really count, do they? Not like the London-based English elite. He seemed to assume that it’s him his Anglo-centric chums who pay for everything. Thank you, Matt. Thank you. You are playing my tune. Funny how a programme so committed to a bleeding heart support for every minority on the planet turns into a raging hotbed of establishment bigotry when it comes to Scotland.

I thought Carney laid out almost word for word what is in the White Paper and poor old Alistair Darling is showing why he has gone down as the (second) worst Chancellor in history by declaring that a monetary union which he himself endorsed is a non-starter. They keep asking what the alternative is. Wouldn’t they get a shock if Salmond told them it was our own currency and we were out of sterling. How fast do you think they can back-pedal? A bucketload of metropolitan arrogance and automatic assumptions of self-justification from the British media tonight – enough to make even Don’t Knows say: If that’s what they really think of us, time to get out.

Preparing for Change

Is Mark Carney trying to out-Swinney John Swinney?  He was preternaturally cautious and sober, the poker player from Hell as he delivered his SCDI speech today (See below). It was a technician’s rundown of the potential upside and the obstacles of monetary union and what is needed to make it work. From an amateur’s point of view I thought his opening remarks on this issue, which he ran through at indecent pace, summed up why it’s probably the best option for the Scots.

It reduces costs between markets and there is no currency conversion implications; it reduces uncertainty and evens out borrowing costs and encourages investment; it represents and encourages integration and it aids mobility of people and money.

Sacrifices will be required and that means convergence of debt and borrowing criteria, something already spelled out in the White Paper and, far from being a brake on independence I regard it as imposing discipline on spending ambitions – remember Scotland won’t always have Swinney in the Chancellor’s chair.  It is also what countries around the world are used to and without it you end up like the Eurozone with countries lying to each other about their debt and revenue and breaking the rules such as they are.

It would immediately calm those headless chickens in the money markets if they could see a new country tied into a fiscal and monetary regime of another with a track record of paying up and not defaulting. It was interesting to hear Iain Gray on Radio Four this morning – doing a pretty good job, I have to admit – moving as quickly as he could away from the issue at hand which is our preference for monetary union on to the propaganda campaign ground of asking: What’s your alternative plan? This is the game laid out by Better Together – pretend we will not agree to union and force them on to the back foot by demanding they answer our question which is in reality irrelevant. Deflect and distract.

But do you know what the real gain was from today? It wasn’t the detail and technicalities of monetary union and shared currency or even if it is the best option for Scotland. It was seeing the Governor of the Bank of England standing up in Edinburgh and telling us how a currency might/might not work in an independent Scotland. This is the stuff of nationalist dreams…like the British Prime Minister coming to Edinburgh to sign an agreement to recognise our independence in the event on one single Scot more than the No side voting Yes. These are momentous and historic times. What these events do is normalise the concept in the public imagination of our country becoming independent. It is no longer a pipe dream…no longer an idea to be scoffed at and dismissed. It is mainstream. It is bringing London’s big guns to Scotland to meet the elected Nationalist leader of our country and treating him as an equal.

The next step is to realise they do this because they have to face up to the real possibility that the Union is about to end and provisional plans must be put in place. They are bowing to the will of the Scottish people. They won’t concede anything until they absolutely have to but ask yourself a question: Is this how an aloof and disinterested state behaves when it is convinced it has nothing to fear or nothing to plan for because it has the result in the bag? Or are these the practical and on-going steps of a government and its institutions preparing for ground-breaking change, no matter how hard they try to resist it?

Governor: Currency Union Yes

I am writing this on Wednesday morning ahead of Mark Carney’s speech in Edinburgh. I will listen to it and judge it against his words made before he left his last post as Canada’s banker which, as I explain below, sound at times remarkably similar to what the Scottish government is proposing in monetary union.

Whatever you read into his words today, as Britain’s Bank Governor, Mark Carney is historically and by repute, a great believer in monetary union, citing it as one of the pillars of Canada’s economic success.

In his last speech as Canada’s central banker he said: “Canada’s monetary union has the essential elements of an effective currency union: an integrated economy, fiscal federalism and labour market flexibility.”

Scotland and the rUK have developed a closely aligned economy built up throughout the modern era and while, like Canadian provinces, output varies, the economy is highly integrated. Carney also points out that during the recession and its aftermath, the importance of interprovincial (think Scotland-England) trade was clear. For example, the increased demand from other provinces for Quebec’s goods and services significantly offset international exports lost as overseas business dried up.

Although there is one exchange rate for Canada as a whole (as there would be in a UK sterling zone), price differentials across the country yield different real provincial exchange rates. When higher energy prices stimulate production and investment in mineral-rich Alberta, extraction, construction and labour costs there rise. This increases the real Alberta exchange rate, making goods and services from the other provinces, including Quebec, more competitive. As a result they are better value and interprovincial trade (again Scotland-England) is boosted, spreading benefits throughout the economy. If you read Scotland for Alberta, he signals that a second oil boom for example would bring benefits consequential for England.

He was even then focused on the differences between a successful union with integrated economies (Scotland and the UK) and the fragmented Eurozone experience, cited by Unionist critics as a downside of the SNP plan. He pointed out how different productivity and national debt in Mediterranean countries contrasted with the more fiscally prudent north and created imbalance.

“Since the euro was introduced, Spanish competitiveness (as measured by GDP) has fallen by about 30 per cent relative to Germany. During the same period, the Alberta exchange rate moved even more dramatically, rising 40 per cent relative to Quebec. Spain is experiencing a balance of payments crisis with large current account deficits, funded in part by foreign purchases of real estate and inflows to the Spanish banking system. When these dried up, domestic activity collapsed. There are few institutional mechanisms within the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) at present to offset the shock.”  But in Alberta’s case, a rising tide had lifted all boats. “That is because the Canadian monetary union has what Europe does not: a single financial market; a flexible, national labour market; and significant fiscal transfers. These smooth the adjustments brought about by the large shifts in relative prices.”

And, echoing his words, here’s what the SNP White Paper has to say. The UK is Scotland’s principal trading partner accounting for 2/3 of exports in 2011, whilst figures cited by HM Treasury suggest that Scotland is the UK’s second largest trading partner with exports to Scotland greater than to Brazil, South Africa, Russia, India, China and Japan put together

There is clear evidence of companies operating in Scotland and the UK with complex cross-border supply chains

A high degree of labour mobility – helped by transport links, culture and language

On key measurements of an optimal currency area, the Scottish and UK economies score well – for example, similar levels of productivity

Evidence of economic cycles shows that while there have been periods of temporary divergence, there is a relatively high degree of synchronicity in short-term economic trends. Sounds to me like Carney’s prescription for Canada can be applied to Scotland.

The White Paper goes on: Where financial resource was required to secure financial stability, there will be shared contributions from both the Scottish and Westminster Governments based on the principle that financial stability is of mutual benefit to consumers in both countries.

This will reflect the fact that financial institutions both in Scotland and the UK operate – and will continue to operate – with customers in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and their stability will benefit all concerned.

Scotland will play our full part in protecting the financial system on these isles, taking responsibility for activity within Scotland as part of joint action across the Sterling Area.

The Scottish Government recognises that a sustainable fiscal framework is important no matter the currency arrangement. However, it is particularly important in a well-functioning monetary union to avoid significant divergences in fiscal balances.

That is why such a monetary framework will require a fiscal sustainability agreement between Scotland and the rest of the UK, which will apply to both governments and cover overall net borrowing and debt. Given Scotland’s healthier financial position we anticipate that Scotland will be in a strong position to deliver this.

 

I’m sure those with trained economic eyes will be able, as ever, to read different outcomes into all this. But I have to say, in reading the White Paper and the Carney speech, they chimed with me, even in the jargon of the market, as broadly similar, at times remarkable so. And it’s worth remembering as the SNP asks for representation on the Bank of England, that in Canada the provinces are all represented in the management of the Central Bank, although not in the interest-setting area. That is because they are recognized as having a share in the bank and its assets and with their own direct interest in the currency.

Two other thoughts. Carney points out that from the mid-1990s onwards, successive Ottawa governments ran more than a decade of surpluses, cutting the government debt-to-GDP ratio from almost 70 per cent in 1995 to 22 per cent in 2008. As a result, Canada’s net debt relative to GDP went from being the second-highest ratio among the G-7 countries in 1995 to the lowest. Britain has one of the highest. What were Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling doing at the Treasury?

Also I liked Carney’s view on where real investment should go – into human capital echoing I think the strong stand taken on education by the SNP, notably on free tuition. “In a rapidly shifting world, only sustained education, ingenuity and investment can maintain competitiveness. This means we must continuously invest in our workforce. With technology and trade transforming the workplace, the need to improve skills across the spectrum of work has never been greater.” I wonder if Mark’s a secret Yes man?

Knees up, knees up…

Maybe its because I’m a scrounger, that I love London town…

“The Capital” is back in business, big time. Business is booming, mortgages are pouring out and debts are building, bubbles are forming and people are spending. Tax receipts are zinging into the Exchequer and without them, Britain would be in an even worse state than we are. So thank you, London. I think that is the expected response from those already accustomed to falling on their knees and imploring our benefactors for the hand-out. The gap between Them and Us is getting wider so we’d better practice doffing our cap as well as we kneel and proffer the begging bowl – not easy but we’ll manage.

It’s one thing to observe the surge and splurge in a place so feather-bedded that you’ll hear her professionals say they missed out on the bankers’ austerity-driven recession. “Never noticed it, mate.” But what I find galling is the coke-line of subsidy on which so much of this wealth is predicated. (What follows is a classic example of nationalist grudge and grievance).

There is famously £14.8billion for Crossrail with £4.7b directly from central government. While the Greater London Authority provides over £7b, the authority itself is 75 per cent funded by British taxpayers. Another investment arm, Transport for London, is also taxpayer-supported. There is business investment too but unscrabbling the Crossrail mosaic of partners reveals a hefty transfer of general taxation from all Britons to bankroll 21 kilometers of rail track for those travelling on an east-west axis in one British city. Crossrail is costing four times the annual budget of Birmingham. It is just under half of the entire government budget for the whole of Scotland…for a railway line.

This being London, the pathological obsession with property tracks the construction of each kilometre of rail. We read of houses near the line spiralling in value by 27, or 35 or even 57 per cent. London is a hub of economic activity, but it is also a hothouse of inflation because as costs increase, so demands for higher incomes produce another distortion – London Weighting.

Nothing characterises the disfigurement of Britain’s economy so crudely as a straight subsidy into the pockets of earners in one geographical area. Adding tax pounds raised by low earners in Glasgow or Huddersfield to the pay packets of higher earning professionals, many of them economic migrants to London, adds insult to injury to the North-South divide. To create an entrepot in one corner of the country and stand by as it draws in talent and resources from places in dire need of more not less energy is now a sad fact of non-metropolitan Britain. But to ask the rest of us to subsidise directly its excesses with a bank account bung is asking too much. The subsidy underwrites inflation, ensures that everything will be dearer and adds another notch on the ratchet easing Britain apart.

The public aspect of the subsidy to Londoners has been revealed as £110m a year, with a whopping £45m spent in the Department of Work and Pensions alone, this the department trying to save money for the nation from benefits claimants.

One of the highest recipients of the additional payments is the £6600 to each member of the Metropolitan Police, £4200 in the prison service and £2700 in the Ministry of Defence.  In the private sector it is less generous, ranging up to just under £5000. London derives huge benefit from the efforts of its people but it is a mistake to think it isn’t based on the collective foundation of general taxation provided by all.

Remember it is the Scots, in Daily Mail World, who are the scroungers, benefiting from taxes raised in England and sent north because we can’t provide for ourselves.

London has done imperiously well and every single taxpayer down there deserves to reap the benefits of their work. But they should pay for themselves as well as take top dollar in salary.

To be fair, the Mayor is on the case and is seeking improved tax powers so he can raise and keep more of London’s revenue. Good for Boris. I hope he succeeds and to help him Mr Salmond should be pointing out how this is exactly how Britain should operate with a series of powerful regions and city states setting their own standards and taxing accordingly, just as Scotland should if there should be a No vote. Salmond should seek common ground with the Mayor for a re-writing of the tax and spend rules of the UK and instead of allowing the screw-tighteners at the Treasury to dictate our fiscal policy, set the new units free to compete for investment and jobs through their own different tax structures. As part of the alliance Salmond should demand the phasing out of London Weighting to bring prices down and force realistic pay rates. If pay needs to rise let London’s own taxes fund it, not ours. Is Boris the free marketeer he likes to pretend or is he the scraggy-haired scrounger reliant on shovelfuls of Olympic gold and Crossrail subsidy? We could find out.