Since there is a fashion for remembering the two World Wars, I have started borrowing their phrases and idioms as I read the moving words of the troops. I find myself saying: Conditions here awful…mortars incoming…pipers cheered us up and suchlike. (It’s a harmless way of paying tribute and we’re going to get used to it as the WW1 radio project on the BBC runs for FOUR YEARS, replicating the duration of hostilities.) So today my phrase is: A good 24 hours at the front…

After the illuminating Treasury statement taking responsibility for all debt in all circumstances, my first newspaper of the day declared: Brian Wilson backs David Mundell.

Bullseye, Corporal! Dead centre! This is Brian’s Scotsman column taking the risky path for Labour of talking about the bedroom tax and attempting to make it the SNP’s fault. He says they could be paying out £50m to help those made homeless by the tax after their housing benefit is cut. By not doing so, they are condemning people to misery to back up their campaign against the Union.

Now I don’t pretend a political party isn’t cynical about how it goes about its business. I even remember a party that lied to parliament and the United Nations to justify an illegal war in which tens of thousands died. But when I check the government’s reaction to the bedroom tax, I find they first promised no SNP council would evict and then set aside £20m in discretionary housing payment which Swinney claimed was the legal limit available. So not the £50m which might be needed then.

(When it was discussed in committee two Labour MSPs refused to back it, presumably following Brian’s dictum about putting party interest before people.  Anti Bedroom tax campaigner Jim Buntin said: “Labour are supposed to be the party of the common people, standing up for the working class and fighting for social justice.  Today’s news has left a very bitter taste in the mouth.”)

However you may recall there were a good few weeks in which Labour, north and south, couldn’t decide how to respond to the iniquitous tax – introduced in 2008 in the UK when…was it Labour?…were in power. It became so farcical that when the tireless campaigner for social justice and nuclear missiles Jackie Baillie told the BBC Labour would scrap it, the party in London denied it. But, eventually Jackie was proved right in a unique epiphany in her career.

Then we found that when Labour called a vote in the Commons – calling for the tax to be scrapped, that is s.c.r.a.p.p.e.d. – 47 of their own MPs didn’t bother to turn up and the motion was lost by only 26. In other words they could have won an important moral victory. Ten Scottish Labour MPs were among the absentees, including the most vocal against the tax, Anas Sarwar.

Labour’s record in this affair is far from unblemished as some of their local authorities have issued eviction notices and social housing and homelessness are local government issues which appears to be why SNP members on the Petitions Committee voted against Mike Dailly’s plan asking Parliament to legislate against evictions.

But supposing the government could find that £50m. There is, first of all, the question Labour never stops asking when anything new is announced: Where is the money coming from? To that they have no answer I’ve seen. But what is the implication of  the Scottish government taking money from one source to plug this gap? In a way it’s subsidizing the London government’s iniquitous tax, smoothing its route as it carves a swathe through those reliant on housing benefit. Is that Scotland’s job? How Fluffy Mundell would laugh if he found his pernicious tax was being subsidized by the Nats.

Isn’t the real point of Brian’s piece that no government in an independent Scotland would get away with such a piece of cruel social engineering?  It would never be enacted by any government elected here. He eloquently makes the point that all Scotland can do now under devolution is ameliorate the effects of London policy by spreading its resources ever thinner. That’s what we want to escape…

And my suspicion is that the wider public view the bedroom tax as a Tory plan, much like the Poll Tax, which will have bad outcomes no matter how you try to stem the effects. So anyone tying his name to it, as in Brian Wilson supports David Mundell on the Bedroom Tax is the last thing Better Together need. That’s an association much of Scottish Labour is heartily sick of and is now showing signs of straining the No campaign. And it’s a tough ask to get the Scots to think the SNP is responsible for a tax introduced by Labour and ruthlessly enforced by the Tories.

All these articles tying Labour to the Tories -Wilson and Mundell, the Union Twins in Brussels David Martin and Struan Stevenson, Darling substituting for Cameron, BetterTogether itself – feed into the worries of the constituency which will win this referendum for Yes or No – the Labour Don’t Knows. And there’s one thing they DO know – they don’t like the Tories. (For interesting detail on housing benefit and who is responsible for what I point you to DougtheDug on the right)

Direct hit! Adding to frissons of pleasure this morning is the tripping up of the often sanctimonious Professor Jim Gallagher, a man who has now fully emerged into the sunlight after a lifetime as the eminence grise of devolution. He has sidled seamlessly from London government to Scottish, from Holyrood to Westminster, from university to think tank and from private business to the media always acting as what I call an agent of the British state. My favourite title held by him was the sinister Director General for Devolution. It was his job to join the wires under the bonnet to make sure home rule didn’t get too powerful and when Calman started he was at his side as adviser. When Holyrood processed Calman he was adviser to the committee then when the Scottish Affairs Committee inquired into “Separation” who was whispering into Ian Davidson’s ear, but Professor Gallagher. Forget the Secretaries of State, Gallagher has had more direct power over Scotland’s constitution over a longer period than any of them, flitting as he has between the inner cabals in London and Edinburgh. He is now officially and publicly adviser to BetterTogether which is at least an honest coming-out – a bit like myself. So it was a grand piece of research that turned up the bold prof’s previous statements on our EU membership

giving the game away. Last April he wrote: “It seems pretty likely that Scotland would be an EU member state, probably after an accelerated set of accession negotiations. Precisely what the conditions of membership would be is not quite so clear, though immediate requirements to join the Euro or Schengen agreement can surely be avoided.”

Boom!! Major devastation…That is the professor being the pragmatic thinking academic working through the likelihood of “Scots being snubbed by Europe…Scotland goes to end of EU queue…we’ll be outside…forced to join euro…”

He articulates exactly what every sane observer says when not whipped into line by Blair McDougall and what every Unionist MEP knows but must keep hidden from the voters – that Brussels will be compelled by a democratic Yes vote to organize for Scotland’s speedy accession. Thank you, Jim Gallagher, forever to be quoted as the only sensible commentator on Europe the No side.

(He did try to wriggle out when cornered by saying recent international interventions had changed things but even he knows that’s embarrassing for him. He wrote last April anyway and Barroso was on the BBC with his Scotland Out message the previous December.)

For you, Professor, the war is over! (Sorry, that’s bad taste.)

So as the Unionists falter, what is happening in dreamy, relaxed Britain, the mother’s breast of democracy in which we must all shelter? Well here’s a wee sample of news from the UK so beloved of Brian and Jim.

:Home Office officials are being rewarded with shopping vouchers for helping to ensure failed asylum seekers lose their attempt to stay in the country..

:David Cameron has called for an inquiry into claims the British helped plan the attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in which hundreds were massacred…

:Osborne says if the EU does not do as Britian says, the UK will quit…

:Warning that funds for poorer students could be cut by £200m…

Keep the home fire’s burning!


Amended defence orders…I do think the government is in trouble over tuition fees. It runs against EU orthodoxy and Scotland is already pushing the envelope by demanding the UK opt outs which Brussels loathes. There is a case in theory about exceptionalism in this instance but there will be a limit to what Brussels concedes.  The most that can be hoped for would be a phasing-out to limit the financial pressure. But it’s one of those areas where there will be no clarification until after a Yes. An issue to return to….

I recommend this to guide you

21 thoughts on “Duck!!

  1. The pro Union camp continues to undermine its own troops and damage itself with friendly fire. Long may it continue. Other than the constant barrage of twee comments uttered by various MSPs, the pro Scotland camp really needs to find ways better ways to use this to their advantage.

    Re vouchers for Home Office officials: What are the value of these vouchers? What exactly is the bounty the English government has placed on the heads of asylum seekers? Does it vary for different nationalities?

  2. The pro Union camp continues to undermine its own troops and damage itself with friendly fire. Long may it continue. Other than the constant barrage of twee comments uttered by various MSPs, the pro Scotland camp really needs to find better ways to use this to their advantage.

    Re vouchers for Home Office officials: What are the value of these vouchers? What exactly is the bounty the English government has placed on the heads of asylum seekers? Does it vary for different nationalities?

  3. “… an illegal war in which tens of thousands died.”

    This should probably be revised upwards, drastically. The misconception was brought home to me recently by John Pilger’s piece on PJ Harvey’s edition of the Today programme: (from about 1:40:45). According to Pilger, the figure is closer to a million.

    Excellent piece, as usual. Thank you.

  4. With regards to ‘Amended defence orders’, my support for EU membership for an independent Scotland is lukewarm. The prospect of Scotland being forced to charge hefty tuition fees or allow her universities to be swamped by hordes of free-loaders from the rUK (without the minor barrier of language that may limit numbers of students from other EU countries) cools it still further.

  5. The problem with Scotland having two governments (as claimed by a former SoS) is that ordinary people can be misled as to who is responsible for what (and by responsible I mean holds the funding).This has allowed people like Wilson to make statements which are entirely misleading but are accepted by gullible people who don’t know any better.Westminster could fix this in the blink of an eye if it had the political will and that surely is the point.
    Thanks Derek.

  6. Regarding your final note about tuition fees, it should be noted that all EU countries other than England have very low fees or none at all. So while the EU will insist that Scotland doesn’t discriminate against rUK students based on their nationality (so long as the rUK is still part of the EU anyway), I find it inconceivable that the EU wouldn’t help Scotland find a solution that allows us to keep the universities free for all.

    I think what’s important is to be creative about it. For instance, when Denmark was being overrun by Swedish medical students, they changed the admittance criteria to make it a bit harder for Swedish to get accepted. I wrote a wee blog post about last night:

  7. I think the last option: That the EU stomps on London for charging such high fees, is certainly the best one. And since the UK is looking to leave the EU anyway…

  8. Not to worry about rUK students. The way the Tories’ Mr Gove is going, they won’t have the qualifications to enter Scottish Universities.

    In addition the way the English Universities are going, soon they will be offering a guaranteed 2:1 or first class for your £9000 a year. Why bother with the possibility of a 3rd or worse if you study in Scotland?

  9. macgilleleabhar

    I see yet another “Strategic withdrawal” midst the ranks of the foe as Anne McGuire joins Frank Doran in full retreat…….. er sorry planned redeployment ?

  10. We are told that UK students are discriminated against because we don’t give them free education but we charge their students exactly the same as they charge our students. Why not agree to let their students in free provided they let ours in free?

  11. Because they’ve got ten times as many students as we have Andrew.

  12. “They don’t like it up ’em Mr. Mannering” I’m sure Corporal Jones was a WW1 vet.

  13. Picking up on Thomas Widmann’s note above that EU countries charge little or no tuition fees, policies similar to Scotland, why does England choose to be different and charge substantial fees?
    Bankers are awarded mega bonuses; Home office officials are awarded shopping vouchers.Has a sort of Officers and NCOs ring about it.
    On a serious note: Scotland could charge £9000 tuition fees and so be aligned with England, per term. and then pay the Scots students an attendance salary to a maximum of £9000? That’s the House of Lords scam eh, scheme isn’t it so it should be “legal”?
    A voucher attendance scheme for the House of Lords appeals. Fifty quid signing in fee per diem, then vouchers valued at £30 per hour for attendance up to a maximum of 8 vouchers per day. Vouchers non-transferable. Turnstyle entry and exit installation necessary for validation.
    Voucher system open to tender from bona fide retailers, and eh, entrepreneurs.

  14. Brian Wilson’s and Labour’s call for £50 Million to be handed out to mitigate the bedroom tax is the usual willfully ill informed “get the SNP” campaign which he and the rest know will never be examined and taken apart by the compliant and useless mainstream media in Scotland.

    I must say seeing Brian Wilson who used to sell himself as a hard line anti-Tory campaigner praising Scotland’s only Conservative MP for suggesting Scotland should use scarce public service funding to mitigate the effects of a tax that Mundell’s own Tory pals brought in gives me the dry boak.

    Here are some facts about the legal limit John Swinney was talking about.

    Benefits are a reserved matter under Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998.
    Under section F1 benefits are defined as providing assistance to or in respect of individuals and under the interpretation paragraph section of F1 it refers specifically to housing benefit.
    “(c) in relation to their housing costs or liabilities for local taxes.”

    Therefore the Scottish Government is not allowed to involve themselves in direct benefit payments for any housing tax arrears.

    Currently the Department of Work and Pensions has provided a total of £13.5 Million for Discretionary Housing Payments to Scottish councils this year which can be used to help those facing bedroom tax cuts. Councils are allowed to top this up by 150% from their own funds. The Scottish Government has got round the benefits ban by providing their £20 Million to the councils without any ring-fencing but this allows the councils to use this money to top up their Discretionary Housing Payments by the 150% allowed.

    Nowhere in all their shouting do the the Labour party propose how they would get round the fact that benefits are a reserved matter under Schedule 5 and that the councils are already at the limits of their allowed funding for Discretionary Housing Payments. £13.5 Million + £20 Million which uses up their 150% own funding allowance.

    Either Labour don’t know the law or they do know the law and are trying to get the SNP while at the same time bringing false hope to those on the receiving end of the bedroom tax.

  15. Thanks, Derek, for another excellent piece. Brian Wilson is proving to be a professional contortionist. A double act with Mundell however will certainly entertain the troops.

  16. So Brian Wilson wants us to be double taxed. We pay taxes to Westminster, who give us some of it back (The block grant) they then tax us again (The bedroom tax) which we are supposed to find out of the block grant. He must think we button up the back.

  17. Missed your posts for couple of days Derek – great stuff which always brightens my day. Vouchers to Officials – loved Jimbo’s comment about “bounties” . I wonder at times how low can this UK Government stoop, and then I recall their previous track record and I realize I’m being naive.

  18. “However you may recall there were a good few weeks in which Labour, north and south, couldn’t decide how to respond to the iniquitous tax – introduced in 2008 in the UK when…was it Labour?…were in power.”

    If this is a reference to the “bedroom tax”/”spare room subsidy” (pick your pejorative) then Derek’s calendar is a bit out of date. The Welfare Reform Act and its “under occupancy penalty” was 2012, and a Lib Dem/Conservative thing. Labour did amend Housing Benefit in 2008, though. Generally, both amendments were socialist – the idea of state awards according to need, rather than private individuals claiming public assets for their own benefit. The SNP’s move to halt council housing sales is the same thing. This isn’t your home, it’s a state asset provided according to need. All parties seem to be on the same page there.

    For student tuition fees, the EU is primarily concerned with discrimination by member states against other member states, it’s a lot more relaxed about what happens within a state. So as two EU states, Scotland might have to find a way to reduce rUK demands (as Thomas Widmann has shown Denmark has successfully done), or change its approach to funding universities. Remember that Scottish universities already charge fees for non-Scots students, and this is a useful source of income. Scottish universities tend to charge at the top-end of the scale, so the English contribution could be worth up to £36 million a year (4,000 x £9,000), though probably a bit less.

    • HI
      You’re right.I conflated the tory penalty with Labour’s similar restriction on Housing Benefit for tenants of PRIVATE landlords, the Local Housing Allowance in 2008 to provide an incentive for those on Housing Benefit to find cheaper accommodation. It was awarded according in part to the number of bedrooms required by the claimant, so was a kind of bedroom tax for the private sector and is the forerunner of today’s Bedroom Tax.

      • Derek,

        Just for clarification on the history of the “bedroom tax”

        The “Bedroom Tax” was originally brought in by the Conservative Government in 1989, (Schedule 3 to the Rent Officers (Additional Function) Order 1989), for those on benefits renting in the private sector and then modified by Labour with the 2008 Local Housing Allowance rules. The main change Labour made was that rent was based on average rent in an area rather than on an individual property. The principle was the same as the Tories current “Bedroom Tax” in that Housing Allowance was only paid for a certain number of rooms dependent on family size.

        The “Bedroom Tax” as we know it now was simply an extension of this scheme to those on benefits in public housing but the major change was that it was also made retroactive where existing tenants lost benefit if their house was larger than their family size allowance as defined by the legislation. Originally those on benefit already in accommodation when the private sector rules came into force in 1989 and 2008 kept their original benefits until they moved address.

        So in brief:
        The idea that housing benefit was dependent on your family size versus the size of the accommodation was brought in for private tenants in 1989 by the Conservatives.

        It was kept and modified by Labour in 2008 to be capped at the average rent in an area and was not based on the rent for an actual property.

        The idea of the original legislation was then extended by the Tories in 2012 to public housing tenants and made retroactive for existing tenants not just for new tenants.

        An interesting question which is never answered is will Labour also repeal the legislation for private tenants on housing benefit as well as public tenants?

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