Headless Chickens

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is a theory of unintended consequences. We have to hope the No side are suffering under its effects otherwise they are doomed to ricochet off the sides of fate like one of the Sochi athletes in the Metal-Tray Downhill Helter Skelter. (Britain got bronze)

First David Cameron, proudly gripping a lectern emblazoned with the name of what is now Scotland’s only official pro-Union university – Glasgow Caley- told us he loved us (I paraphrase) and we shouldn’t leave because the people of Britain were our family and were pleading with us not to desert them. This brings to mind his declaration of loyalty to the NHS when he underwent the transforming trauma of losing his young son and numbskulls like me fought back the instinct to blub. Now I weep at the idea I fell for it as I see the NHS sold off to Mitt Romney.

It was a brave but forlorn effort by a lightweight politician moulded on the Blair template but Merry England’s response was shorn of the passion for their country that Canadians displayed to Quebec in the nineties. The truth is that nobody cares enough about Britain to get on the streets with flags unless there’s a Royal carriage surrounded by Redcoats with a Red Arrows fly-over trailing politically correct pink vapour streams. Anyway, with austerity and welfare cuts evaporating what’s left in the British purse, a Royal parade today would probably end with George and Priscilla, or it is William and Camilla, being dragged from the wagon by the mob and guillotined at Smithfield Market.

Cameron’s appeal was met with one of those embarrassing moments where we know we’re supposed to do something but nobody knows what and we look at our shoes. Asking an English guy to give us a call and talk us round?! As if…Wanker…

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It was at least an appeal to goodness, like when Christian Aid come round with an envelope for African orphans. What followed was like a scene from the Krays where the sinister bloke in a suit smiles at your face and intones: “Alright, Jock, my boy…know what I mean? You’re asking for more time to pay…I’m here to tell you the game’s up. You try that trick again and you get this…” Cue knuckle-duster. Not only did the gang leader come himself, he brought some heavies from the other mob AND he had a bent copper alongside. Message – you can’t win. Run off and tell your boss Alex.

Did they intend to juxtapose two utterly contrasting events? Did they really say in Number 10 it was a case of Good Cop, Bad Cop or was it just a mix-up? Are they serious or are they playing at politics without knowing the rules?

Then one of their thugs lets it be known – down the manor – that the rules have changed. If we don’t do as we’re told, the previous deal is off and even if we deliver our side, we’ll be denied. There will be no acceptance of a Yes vote unless we concede to them in advance. We must not only accept being shut out of our own currency and central bank but if we don’t capitulate in the talks, they won’t recognise our sovereignty. My impression was there would be no pre-negotiation. Now it’s coming thick and fast, position after position declared without consultation. Take it or leave it. Did I misread the Edinburgh Agreement or are we really dealing with political thugs?

Then tonight I read that there will be no combined offer of extra powers from the Unionists, the ones who said: Don’t vote for Salmond, we’ll give you what you want instead. Davidson is the latest one to make it explicit that while the Unionist gang can agree on telling Scotland what it can’t do they have no agreement on what it can. They have a real facility for being negative and threatening and are utterly devoid of the positive gene, almost as if they know how to put the boot in but when the time comes, they look around hopelessly for someone with first aid.

They combine to form Better Together, they bark in the Commons about shared values, they issue dire warnings together at Holyrood but when Scotland asks them for their collective, authoritive alternative, it dissolves into a dissembling mess. Unionism had one chance in this game, having blown their first golden chance at a second question. It was to work closely – as they are on denying us access to our own currency – to pull together a joint credible offer of more powers. They have now blown that too. The only thing they agree on is that Scotland must be constrained, strapped and chained and put to work to their benefit. When it comes to showing combined initiative and leadership to come up with something positive for Scotland to give us a sign of progress, they are split, confused, unprincipled and intellectually crippled.

The truth is there are no shared values, no shared vision, no cohesion, no agreement -only that Scotland must remain their domain for to set us free to soar would reveal them for the callow, self-interested, anti-Scottish, London-centric careerists they are.

This week will have frightened some, as it was intended to do. Many more will have opened their eyes to the deceit and metropolitan arrogance of Britain’s ruling elite – with Labour at its core – and without realising it yet, will have moved closer to Yes. I doubt if that is the consequence they intended.

I heard it on the BBC

Did you see Newsnight? They did a report at the top of the programme about Cameron getting real about the referendum and making a speech to invoke the spirit of the Olympics to wake up Britain to the risk of independence. But they used Alan Little to do the job of correspondent and he really hit it hard, pointing out how Downing Street was rattled, the polls were closing, Better Together was failing because it was too negative and Darling wasn’t up to the job. Cameron has a dilemma because of 59 MPs he only has one in Scotland and the Coalition is hated. At last some realistic hard-hitting journalism from the BBC, telling like it is.

I hear there was a move to appoint Little the BBC’s referendum corr but it was opposed by vested interests in the newsroom. On this basis, they made a mistake. He was right in form and hard-hitting. And he got a story Newsnight in Scotland doesn’t have – or at least aren’t doing. Yet, you know what, this has the sound of some ice-breaking, like the realisation is dawning that things are changing and once we start to hear that message on the BBC, the skids are under the No lot and they know it. If the tenor of Little’s report is right and if this is how the BBC reports from now, the ground is beginning to shake. Cameron suddenly gets it, he beings to implore the rest of Britain to help him and how long before their case against monetary union collapses? The logic is, as he gets rattled, he starts conceding. The more the previously reluctant BBC bites his legs, the more he will squeal. This report had a new tone, a sense of change, of panic of fear that maybe the Scots really are going to do it. Once that gets around, everything changes. And the worse the No message has been, the more difficult it is for them to claw their way back by being nice and conciliatory. Who’d believe them now?

This morning on Radio Four James Naughtie appeared giving his view on the Cameron speech and struck a totally different tone to Little. He sounded as if he was downplaying it and far from the No side getting rattle, he said them polls were still far apart and it was interesting how two BBC London-based correspondents could sound so different on the same story. Also they had Tessa Jowell – brought up and educated in Scotland – and rather imploring us not to vote for our own government “because she had a Scottish background”. This is a constant theme…MPs with tartan ties and peoples saying: But my wife is English. IT DOESN’T MATTER….it’s not about where you come from…it’s about those of us living here deciding to take control of our own affairs – all of them and keeping those unions and associations we, and they, choose. And didn’t Sturgeon give a pasting to Naughtie…poor Jim is no match for her and you know, it puzzles me why he is doing all the political interviews when there are experienced Radio Scotland presenters in the same studio. It’s a big assumption that a man who has lived in London for 30 years and wallowed in Westminster culture can really ever catch up with the rapidly moving scene in Scotland and it’s nuances. It’s not working for me, fine broadcaster that he is, he sounds a bit overwhelmed and retreats into  rambling upsums of the situation as he sees it, a clear sign he is stuck for a rejoinder…as he was years ago when he berated John Prescott for revealing details about a colleague only to be told by Prescott: “But that’s what you do…you ask people like me to dinner and then write about the private stuff we tell you…” words to that effect. Jim went silent and blustered something like: “Oh, come on now….”

This is going to get hot and I’m not convinced it is going to be the glory gig Jim anticipated.

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.

Scaring the Investors

You may remember George Osborne and assorted Unionists warning that uncertainty drives away investors…looks like they were right. Another Cabinet minister, this time Vince Cable, is saying just that. Only it isn’t Scotland they’re worried about, it’s Britain.

Foreign investors are shunning the UK because of the looming danger of a No vote, not in our referendum but Cameron’s European referendum. They told us we were worrying the money men, now it turns out they’re doing it themselves, with the major difference that this time there are names to be added in…no more anonymous “business leaders are telling me” code for nobody in particular.

Companies including Ford and rival Nissan – which both have manufacturing operations in Britain – have publicly warned they would reconsider their future in the UK should it choose to leave the EU.

Even the CBI, firm Unionist adherents, say an exit from the EU would put Britain’s global future at risk. The director general, John Cridland, said continued EU membership was crucial for Britain’s global economic future. “A large majority of CBI businesses of all sizes are clear: the UK is best served inside a reformed EU, rather than outside with no influence. The single market is a great British success story and has been an engine for jobs and growth in every corner of the country and across the continent.”

Even the American and Japanese Embassies have let journalists know they have concerns, both representing major inward investment countries.

The Guardian quoted Neil Rami, chief executive of the inward investment agency Marketing Birmingham, saying foreign investors were telling him they were worried about the uncertainty.

“It is making them nervous and reticent. One of the reasons why businesses like Jaguar, Land Rover and Deutsche Bank have chosen to invest and grow in Birmingham is because it offers them quick and direct access to important European markets. By pledging a referendum and putting EU membership in the balance, we lose a major string to our bow and potential investors will look elsewhere.”

Where are all those reporters who brought us with relish news that nobody would invest in Scotland because of the referendum and companies would leave and why does a story aimed at damaging the independence side make a headline when harder evidence that the Union and it’s referendum, doesn’t?

This is what Vince Cable said when asked if investors were asking about the EU referendum: “The answer is yes. What I say as a government minister is that the risks of us leaving the EU are very, very low … and I just try to reassure foreign investors.”

This is now a point of pressure on Better Together – one leader of their own side, a member of Cabinet, makes clear that the Union under the Coalition is likely to lose foreign investment because of its approach to the EU making a Yes vote the best guarantee of staying in. And we’ve still to hear from Labour on what they will do about a referendum. There is in this another example of unraveling as words they thought would aid their case rebound and by implication cast doubt on everything else they are saying.

We are part of the world’s largest single market – an economic zone larger than that of the USA and Japan combined with a total GDP of around £11 trillion.  It has 500 million people and enables free trade with 3.5 million jobs in Britain linked, directly or indirectly, to other Member States. No wonder they’re keen to scare us we might be thrown out but perhaps they should assess their own strategy first. A little fear on the No side might be healthy for them. (I wonder how many of those Better Together donors are also anti-EU?)

The Real Britain

What differentiates each side in the referendum debate is attitude towards Britain rather than Scotland. We say pretty similar things about Scotland and express the same feelings whether unionist or nationalist. It’s when we think about the meaning of Britain that we find the deepest divergence of opinion.

Most people seem to have a fairly benign attitude towards the concept of Britishness whatever petty grievances they harbour. I do not. I keep my deepest resentment for the British state, that nexus of institutions, people and mentality that entrenches inequality, salutes the class system, conspires in war and protects its own. It doesn’t seem to matter very much who is in power, the overall results are similar – politicians with a conventional, compliant, establishment-minded viewpoint who see themselves as the guardians of all knowledge and authority, something the population dispensed with sometime in the 1980’s.

When we needed a left-leaning government we got a repeat of two years of Tory spending policy, two international wars, complicity in torture, the harshest crackdown on civil rights in the post-war era and abuse of executive power. When Blair needed support to save face in the aftermath of Iraq war and the Gilligan affair he found it in a former Diplock judge in a classic establishment stitch-up. Perhaps the biggest lie in politics is the claim of Labour to be a radical party of the left. Their record in office – which contains notable advances on early learning, tax credits, minimum wage and devolution – shows them in reality to be wet Tories in awe of corporate muscle, American foreign policy and reckless capitalist economics while pushing away the unions and chasing the establishment rewards of titles and lobbyists’ hard cash.

We are in the process of uncovering some of the darker secrets of the Blair and Brown years, things we guessed at or speculated but have been unable to confirm but, as ever, it seems the establishment is working diligently to delay and diffuse on behalf of their Labour cohorts.

The Gibson Report is one such meek and self-serving operation which started out as an attempt to uncover the grisly truth about British involvement in torture and rendition and which will now be handled by the compliant Intelligence and Security Committee which spoon-fed the security chiefs ahead of their public appearance by informing them of the questions in advance.

Within weeks of the election David Cameron announced the inquiry to be led by Gibson. He repeatedly rejected suggestions at that time that the ISC should conduct the investigation, telling MPs: “I do not think for a moment that we should believe that the ISC should be doing this piece of work. For public confidence, and for independence from parliament, party and government, it is right to have a judge-led inquiry.” He added: “That is what we need to get to the bottom of the case. The fact that it is led by a judge will help ensure that we get it done properly.” That is the opposite of what has happened as the establishment realizes how damaging to it the torture issue is.

Typical of the duplicity of the British was their courting of Gaddafi and intense behind-the-scenes talks to release Megrahi while condemning the Scottish government for doing so. There is the co-operation between MI6 and Gaddafi’s intelligence agencies and the UK’s involvement in the rendition of two Libyan opposition leaders and their families to Tripoli in 2004 back into the hands of the regime who tortured them , and any role Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, played in authorising those operations. He has denied any wrongdoing, although MI6 is reported to have confronted him with documentary evidence that he personally authorised the agency’s involvement in the Libyan rendition operations…a Labour Cabinet minister. I smell more state collusion is the statement from the retiring head of the FBI Robert Muller that more arrests are expected over the Lockerbie bombing. Really? We were told as soon as anti Gaddafi forces took Benghazi three years ago that they would search the files and find the evidence that Libya brought down Pan Am 103. Since then, nothing. Speculation and visits by the Lord Advocate, but not a shred of evidence let alone a suspect. Odd, don’t you think, that if they wanted an arrest they had in their hands Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s security adviser who would surely have known the truth? But then, he was MI6’s link man in Tripoli with whom they exchanged Christmas greetings and rendition victims so they couldn’t put him on trial. If the UK conspired with the US over the war in Iraq, does that indicate it would also conspire over Lockerbie? Are they so close that they are indistinguishable or isn’t that exactly what has been proved by Edward Snowden revealing the mass collection of private data….

There have been allegations of MI6 and MI5 involvement in a series of other operations in Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Bangladesh, as well as Guantánamo Bay and Afghanistan, which have resulted in terrorism suspects suffering severe mistreatment. In some cases – the most notorious being that of the British resident Binyam Mohamed – the allegations have been found to be true, while in others the government has paid sums totalling several million pounds in order to settle compensation claims out of court…the British state at work.

Meanwhile, even as further and deeper benefits and budget cuts are announced with pride – at the same time as the government boasts of recovery – we find that British officials  “lost their nerve” in tackling tax avoidance by global corporations and have presided over a £35bn tax gap as they pursue easy prey such as small businesses and individuals, the easy meat.

In a report that highlighted how the Treasury is owed missing tax payments of £35bn, the public accounts committee added that HM Revenue and Customs has left the state with another multibillion pound shortfall by failing to gather £2.6bn of an expected windfall from Swiss banks. How easy is it to savage those with no voice but to bend the knee to the corporate kings who make their own rules and decide how much they will deign to pay in taxes…

To me this is the British state, no matter which party is in power, self-serving and contemptuous of the people it is supposed to serve.

PS When will we get the report of the Chilcott Committee four and a half years since it started?

Seeing the Light

The next nine months will concentrate minds on Scotland’s chances post independence but it must surely mean a similar scrutiny of the developing UK after a No vote. I say “developing” but that contains an irony because on a battery of comparisons it seems Britain may actually be in the category of developing nation. That term we normally apply to primitive economies struggling to put themselves on an upward curve aided by financial transfers from richer countries so a more appropriate phrase might be undeveloping country since in the UK’s case it has been developed but is now showing signs of unravelling into a threadbare and worn out curiosity.

And simultaneously research shows how this relative decline in the British state presents an opportunity to draw Labour voters away from a traditional affiliation to the UK and to express their real feelings about the possibilities opened up by Scottish independence. If the research is accurate, many Labour voters are already eyeing independence as an appealing prospect but can’t get over the mind-set that it is a concept owned by the SNP, a party to whom they don’t owe allegiance.

We’ll return to that. But first, the emerging critique of Britain as it crawls, slowly and painfully from recession – at least on some measures – is that it is inflexible and therefore lacking the ability to do anything other than genuflect to the City of London, is class-ridden so that social mobility is blocked (witness even John Major) and mercilessly pursuing a cuts agenda targeted on the low paid and the vulnerable.

Education is a key monitor of national performance and lays the foundation for so much else in society yet the latest PISA  results http://www.oecd.org/pisa/  show Britain stagnating as a mid range  nation with teenagers lagging  behind their peers across the world as improvements stall in reading, maths and science with no improvement recorded in the basics of learning. Among those moving further ahead despite spending less than Britain are Slovenia and Estonia, two newly independent small nations. The UK was in 26th place for maths, 23rd for reading and 21st for science. Ambitious countries should not be scrambling to stay mid table.

Or there is the World Economic Forum report on competitiveness has Britain doing well in some categories but what about the balance as of the national budget as a percentage of GDP at 140 out of 144 nations…of gross national savings at 123…government debt at 136…national imports at 107…soundness of banks at 97…. ease of access to loans at 82? And does the UK sitting at number 55 for women in the labour market strike you as progressive?  For more on this read the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/britain-now-developing-country-foodbanks-growth.

Meanwhile food banks, as clear an indicator to poverty and stress as can be imagined are a growing feature of society. In July, the welfare minister Lord Freud said: “The provision of food-bank support has grown from provision to 70,000 individuals two years ago to 347,000. All that predates the [welfare] reforms. As I say, there is no evidence of a causal link.” Yet an inquiry into the growth of food banks by the government has been delayed. Why? And when Alistair Carmichael spoke to MSPs he said there was a link between benefits cuts and food banks but also claimed it was simplistic to say the cuts led to them multiplying. (This sounds like the same tortured responses he gave to Nicola Sturgeon in the STV debate). Now household debt is rivaling sovereign debt and heading for £1.5 trillion.

So Britain, although by no means a basket case and with most of the features of a safe and modern nation compared to most others, is far from the gleaming model of prosperity and opportunity the government would like to present when held up against a possibly independent Scotland. And it may be that the point is being consumed by Scots yet to decide their vote in the referendum.

Work by two Scotland-based academics and published by the London School of Economics http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/archives/38240 finds that the referendum result is more uncertain than opinion polls may suggest. They say: Labour affiliates are an important component with regards to the referendum result, and there appears to be a noticeable discrepancy between the party’s message and those who identify with it. Labour affiliates are not negative about the performance of an independent Scotland on the whole, but these assessments are not translating into actual constitutional preferences, perhaps partly because they see the term ‘independence’ as one that belongs to the SNP.

The suggestion is that far from believing the relentless message from the leadership about failure and doubt, Labour supporters have a different and more positive outlook for their country as a separate nation but haven’t equated that with a Yes vote yet because they regard it as something SNP people do, not them. If that’s true we are entering different territory in which there potentially is a majority for independence but it is being blocked by a traditional way of thinking about party allegiance. It may also explain why Labour is so dogmatically averse to rational debate about the possibilities of independence to the extent that they cannot bring themselves to use the word and have a policy vacuum on what they would do after a Yes vote. But it also means there is a prize awaiting Yes campaigners who can inch Labour doubters away from historical resistance to the SNP and who can be brought to recognize change as the wish of a much wider front across society, not just of Salmond and his party.

The point is reinforced by another finding that only 14% of Labour affiliates were in favour of independence in 2012, but 26% believed that ‘all decisions’ should be made in Scotland. This is not a new phenomenon in opinion polling and shows that the term independence is a loaded one. These voters are effectively calling for independence of their country’s government but they don’t want to call it that. That could mean they are only a paper wall away from becoming Yes voters.

|Then this: Labour identifiers have become more positive about independence on average between 2011 and 2012, taking up a position just below the neutral point. This is potentially significant to the outcome of the referendum as almost 38% of Scots identified themselves with the Labour party in 2012.

I am selecting from the report so best you read it yourself for your own analysis but I think it’s also interesting that many Scots don’t differentiate in their minds (greatly) between independence and devo max which to me confirms the historic mistake of the Unionists to block a second question on more powers. Even if they do now come up with some formulation for powers, their case is immediately shaky because they turned down the chance to put it directly to the people in the referendum. The problem they now have is convincing Scots that whatever they say, either separately or collectively, we will still be at the mercy of a British general election and a hostile English electorate after a No vote.

 

Worries in Wongaland (2)

More news from the “independent, highly-respected” Institute for Fiscal Studies this week, those people Unionists love to quote when it comes to laughing at Scotland’s inability to run it’s own economy without subsidies from English taxpayers.

Only this time the wonks at the IFS are doing the nationalists’ job for them by pointing out how it’s the whole of Britain that is broke and heading for sustained austerity as public budgets are increasingly slashed down to 1948 levels, the year of Trueman’s New Deal, of the Palestinian exodus and legislation to bring in the National Health Service. Britain is heading backwards into a twilight world of pay-as-you-go, privatised services with the only the flimsiest safety net left for those lacking the IQ of Boris Johnson. Without the resistance of a serious political opposition alternative the UK, the mighty alliance of the “greatest Union in history”, is creating a winner-takes-all society with the beneficiaries predominantly in London and the South East and where living standards are lower than three years ago and where those who can no longer keep up with rising costs are normalising the use of food banks.

Is this all the result of the need for austerity and the balancing of the books? Or is it more properly called an ideological typhoon under the guise of austerity allowing Britain’s most right-wing government ever to knock away the props of the welfare society and with it the consensus that has underpinned British society for 60 years? They began by talking of a lack of fairness in welfare and the need to simplify, always a word to watch when it comes from the mouth of a politician – the poll tax was also a simplification of local taxation. The state of the national accounts was used to justify reforms and won public support as Duncan Smith compared the benefits available to claimants with net pay of the employed. His PR team – paid “independent” civil servants all – sent selected cases to the Telegraph and the Daily Mail of ridiculous scroungers claiming for disability while water skiing etc and the public-funded campaign against the disabled, their rights and income, was under way. Never mind that fraud and error account for 0.7% of total benefit spending, £1.2bn of the £166.8bn budget in 2012/13. But money doesn’t just get overpaid. The amount underpaid through error was higher than that lost through fraud at £1.4bn.

You have to hand it to the Tories – they know the British people well and understand their deeper instincts, appealing to a base, white, acquisitive and atavistic impulse on immigration, militarism, welfare and imperialist triumphalism. Just what the Liberals are doing by endorsing this, and in the case of Clegg boasting about it, will be one of the mysteries to unravel after the next General Election in 2015. And yet an opinion poll  Guardian/ICM poll after Osborne’s autumn statement puts the Tories up two points and Labour down (the Lib Dems too). The British public are buying the idea that the books have to be balanced even though 70per cent say they have not benefitted (82 per cent of Scots), suggesting they agree with the spin that this is a full-throated economic uplift, not just a consumer spend and housing bubble, but it just hasn’t washed up on their shore yet. They therefore think that the posh boys Cameron and Osborne are more trustworthy on the economy than the two Eds, probably the key motivator for voting preference while outside Scotland the economy consumes all political discourse. The state of the parties has Labour ahead by a mere five points, a distressing state of affairs at a rough midway point in the parliament when the government is wrestling with debt and deficit problems and the public report feeling personally the pinch of relative poverty. If British people don’t turn decisively to Labour at a time like this, why not? Could it be that the reason the British aren’t piling in behind Miliband is that he simply hasn’t anything to say which sounds like a credible alternative. While he offers a plan to cut energy bills – a reasonable if legally flawed stab at populism, too easily dismissed as gimmickry – Balls is long on analysis and bluster but short on solutions. Together they are not cutting it. Miliband lacks the bearing of a leader and consistently performs poorly in surveys of opinion. He seems to me to be inoffensive and probably fine as International Development Secretary but will not bring over the swing voters among Lib Dems and Tories to make enough of a difference. Balls was a mistake from the outset because he was damaged by a long association with Gordon Brown whose time at the Treasury is now viewed as a tragic waste of time and national resources. It is also true, I think, that voters respond better to a bore (Darling) as Chancellor than an overheated braggart. You wouldn’t want him as your bank manager, would you?

Time is running out for Labour. Will Ed offer a serious alternative to Cameron’s people-crushing crusade or will he wilt and hope to appeal to the huge swathe of voters in the Thames Valley corridor  and the Home Counties generally by offering himself as the nice Tory, the mild version with the feel-good factor? Here’s what Polly Toynbee says in what is now her routine tone of desperation at Labour’s failure to catch on.

As economic news improves without people feeling better, voters will be in no mood for a belt tightening that Labour must explain is excessive. Spell out what Osborne’s cuts mean, in nurses, police and care homes, with creeping public squalor in streets and parks: sports centres, libraries and Sure Starts shut; schools bereft; everything saleable privatised, only to be snatched up by other countries’ state-owned concerns. Food bank poverty will worsen as the “hardworking” are increasingly the benefit-dependent “scroungers”, as the working poor need more credits and housing benefit to bridge the gap between rising rents and cost of living.

I hope Ed’s listening, Polly. Why not recommend he reads the nationalist agenda for Scotland where there is institutionalized opposition to austerity (outside Unionism), they are investing in early years and in police, without privatisations or scrounger rhetoric  and with infrastructure investment and anti poverty cohesion programmes.

A Labour government would, no doubt, be generally a better thing for Britain than the callous, ideological Tories but you have to admit, it is a prospect devoid of excitement. I detect no soaring hopes and high expectations for a changed Britain under Labour in which public investment sets a benchmark for the whole of society and generates the sense of collective purpose and pride any rich and sane country should have. The Unionists’ favourites, the IFS, have stuck it to them this week with a bald and coruscating look at the reality of Britain’s finances and the certainty of ever-rising budget cuts and poverty. You may doubt Scotland’s ability to cope with the epic downturn in economic circumstances but doesn’t it make the daunting leap much easier when you hear  the wolf pack at your back.

No Change Please…We’re British

Here’s a happy thought for Yes campaigners. They have already won the argument against the Union…the problem is they still haven’t convinced the Scots. It may be that this formulation of apparently contradictory effects is the reason the polls so far are stuck in neutral and a sense of gradual movement is hard to detect.

Take the first part of the equation. Is there a rational person – as opposed to the determinedly committed – who still says Scotland can’t do it? It isn’t so long ago, in the pre devolution age, that a belief in Scotland’s almost total ineptitude was the conventional view. We were totally and hopelessly dependent – and weirdly untroubled by it – on the British Establishment whose agents we respected in the shape of a Scottish Office, often including unelected pantomime toffs – Lords  Glenarthur, Mansfield, Sanderson or Strathclyde, anyone? Devolutionists were a rag tag of ne’er-do-wells and the disenfranchised fed up with opposition. As for the dangerous dreamers of the SNP…

But since Scotland has demonstrated, rather than postulated a confident capacity to legislate in it’s own interests and move in a divergent direction, it is only flat-earth ears who say it can’t be done today. Largely unnoticed the official line has been changed by the facts and is now a completely different formulation that says: Of course Scotland can do it but is it worth it? That’s a completely different proposition based on reality. A binding agreement (on the face of it) is signed by the British state to guarantee that independence if there is a simple majority.

All that is left to the No Change brigade is to show how devoid they are imagination, inspiration, belief and pride by running down Scotland’s prospects to make independence appear too risky. For me the proof that they are finished in terms of argument is two-fold. One, they are now reduced to hiding the truth. This comes in the form of allowing their leader to duck out of the one major head-to-head event of the entire three-year campaign which could have commanded total national attention and revealed the true divide between the sides…Cameron versus Salmond live on television across the United Kingdom. I still find it jaw-dropping that this has been dismissed as not being the role for the leader of the United Kingdom, a man who will fight tooth and nail for Union and whose sole political skill is presentational. Editors have allowed him to slip out of this in another demonstration of supine complicity by a media still exhibiting 1950s deference to the British state.  I suspect this may become unsustainable though as the polls tighten and the London media which does have the balls to take on Downing Street starts to get frightened of the outcome. Backed by hysterical backbenchers, it is entirely possible that cowardly Cameron will be pleading for a pop at Salmond before voting day.

Second, London’s refusal to take up Brussel’s invitation for clarification on the attitude the institutions will take and the approach we can expect to our membership is the kind of sleight of hand the same brave Scottish media would have lambasted Salmond for. They did after all make a mockery of Salmond not having asked about membership when the freedom of information row was filling their pages. But now when there is a clear course of action to enlighten the voters, they shrug with indifference. Where is Catherine Stihler when you need her?

Taken together these two denials of openness and democratic choice, along with the unsubtle failure to be honest about currency union, demonstrate they have nothing to gain from revealing the truth while protesting it is Salmond who won’t give answers. That hypocritical ruse is their only cover left.

While the uncritical media dutifully report the remarks of a self interest player in Spain, knowledgeable voices are getting through to offer clarity on the real story of EU membership, the latest the unrivalled EU expert John Palmer.

Even the much vaunted, by Unionists, IFS figures confirmed that Scotland was in a better economic position than Britain and it is only looking years ahead and only if all British government estimates are accurate that a budgetary squeeze kicks in by which time Scotland can act to step up economic activity and head off demographic changes.

I know many will believe the claims that Scotland still can’t make a success of independence but where are those arguments convincingly made? Increasingly it is the Alistairs who make wild assertions and unsubstantiated claims, not their opponents who now point to the Independence Bible (it’s Sunday) to make their case in the knowledge the Nos have nothing to counter it with. Do you hear cogent arguments made by ordinary Scots apart from a weak and generalized: We’re probably better together?

But why isn’t opinion turning? I think the problem is a large percentage of Scots who aren’t applying logic at all. It isn’t that they are following the detailed debate as such, it is that they have no concept of their country as anything other than what is has been throughout their lifetime, a part of Britain that used to be something special and with plenty of off-the-shelf history but not a place that could conceivably equal other countries. They see Scotland as not a country at all but the way it is seen from London, as a region with history and some differences but, like all subsidiary units, not an equal for the founding nation. It leads to disbelieving outbursts accompanied by furrowed foreheads about “Scotland…a nation. Don’t be ridiculous” sometimes followed with “I’ll emigrate if that happens”.  They have been consumed by the British message and have allowed it to demolish what remained of their separate sense of national worth. It is the total success of Britishness which has supplanted their national identity, reduced it to a leisure activity (sport) and rendered them unable to envisage Scotland for what historically and legally it is, a nation like all others which merged in alliance with a bigger neighbour and now may want to rearrange that relationship to suit modern needs. They are not listening to the argument, as is their right, and they probably don’t listen at election time either preferring to believe nothing will change so why bother.

I doubt if many people really do believe the argument that Scotland is better off in Britain, a point daily being dismantled by reports showing personal debt approaching £1.5 trillion – equalling sovereign debt. Families are borrowing to pay utility bills while bankers earn 35 per cent pay rises to £1.6m a year. The government subsidises mortgages for the rich and has to be stopped by the Bank of England before another bubble is created – guess where?

But my No cohort doesn’t connect any of this to their own country or their own vote. It is something that happens to them and they can’t change.  They won’t see either the desperate Tory and Lib Dem moves to begin campaigning for continued EU membership because the polls show a real possibility of the UK voting us out.

Yes campaigners can argue all they like but I wonder how many of the Don’t Knows are actually Don’t Cares and Won’t Cares, people for whom there is no political message that gets through and for whom the idea of Scotland as their country is as relevant a flight to Mars.