Is That It? (2)

I was a bit worried about what Labour might do. I worried before the question was set because it was clear they could adopt Devo Max as a principle, “insist” on its inclusion as a third option, meanwhile start working on the detail to suit themselves and over the last couple of years run away with the polling and benefit from the oxygen of anticipated referendum victory and even a chance of winning at Holyrood again. They blew it.

Today was the chance to retrieve that loss by astounding us all with the scale of their ambition and rewriting the No campaign by shoving a pie in the Yes face. They blew it. Again.

Labour is pathologically inept. It is now the living embodiment of Johann…conservative, parochial, backward, deferential and unqualified for its role in public life. Not only is the level of their offering restricted, it makes the fundamental campaign error of being incoherent and therefore too complicated to sell on the doorstep. Is income tax devolved or not? How much? At the top end or at the bottom? Or both? Can the upper level go up AND down? Do other rates have to rebalance? How much will it raise and what will it be spent on?

A policy you can’t describe is a failure. What does it say to Labour voters whose incomes have fallen, or to those whose benefits have been cut or who can’t afford to eat? We’re fiddling around with some parts of income tax and we’re getting an extra £1000 a year from the 100 Scots earning more than £100,000…so that’s the Celtic squad taken care of.

Welfare is what Labour voters would liked to see in the hands of the Scots but that has been cherry-picked to include the bedroom tax which as been effectively neutralised anyway. Leaving almost the full range of benefits in the hands of the Tories is a vote-loser. Corporation tax would have been a logical adjustment – it’s already mainstream as an idea in Northern Ireland – but Labour’s timidity in  differentiating Scotland gives the game away…they are resolutely British first. The same applied to air passenger duty. It’s a no-brainer for developing tourism, one of our biggest industries. So it would create an anomaly in the UK but aren’t anachronisms what the Union is all about? This is low level stuff in terms of the UK economy and in terms of the debate – it’s like control of air guns – but still they flunked it. This is a package defined by what it doesn’t offer rather than what it does. Not only does this miss the target, it wont even be part of a united Unionist package before the referendum, adding to the sense of confusion and lack of commitment they offer. I am a relieved man today.

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Boys of the Old Brigade

Steadily shoulder to shoulder, steadily blade by blade

Marching along, singing a song, like the boys of the old brigade

 Eyes right! There goes Labour in lockstep with their political allies the Conservatives upholding the ultimate power of the British state to block a movement for democratic change. Try to exercise your rights – enshrined in the preamble to the UN Charter – for self-determination and the people’s party knows where its allegiance lies. The party which was founded on working peoples’ rights and campaigned for self-determination and freedom from domination by economic super powers in countries from Nicaragua to Palestine, stamps its foot and salutes in loyalty to the chocolate soldiers of vainglorious Britannia. Respect and progress are aspirations for people around the world who offer them no threat but closer to home when it means they might lose some control, the imperial mind prevails. And we discover it was all brought together by a Labour MP, Alistair Darling.

It is today as clear as it has ever been that the differences between Labour and Tory are Chinese walls, paper-thin and translucent, slid around into alternating positions to confuse the viewer and all the time flimsy enough to push your hand through. Joining in a loose arrangement to resist independence while working openly to create a new devolution settlement, would have been the right thing to do. Instead they formally joined Better Together, are led and dictated by Britain’s most right-wing government ever, casually setting aside their claims to moral outrage at the evisceration of working family incomes, the heartless treatment of the unemployed and the impoverishment of the disabled in order to fight, not for democracy, but to uphold the self-serving British state to which they belong.

You can find confirmation in the names and “occupations” of the Better Together funders, almost exclusively moneyed, corporate and mercenary individuals, by instinct Labour-haters who donate millions to the Conservatives. It’s just that they hate the Nationalists more.

How clever would it have been for Labour to have run its own anti-independence campaign based on what could have been a more socialist Devo Max script, leaving the hated Tories and their Coalition fags the Liberals to be arms-length makeweights…working on the same principle, they could have quietly demurred from the united sterling threat and said while it may be difficult to construct a currency union, they didn’t want to do anything that might damage a future Scotland and the interests of the rUK. It could await the referendum outcome and the election of a Labour government. That would have left Labour with a foot in Scotland’s camp. The only reason there was a need for “clarity” on the issue was the implied refusal by Osborne that didn’t make clear he meant it. We must now assume – for the purposes of the referendum – that he does mean it.

Why does Labour have to wrap itself inside the Union flag beside him? The answer comes partly in Ed Balls remark: Welcome the real world…That is, in his mind, aimed at Salmond and the SNP but in the typical mistake of the English supremacist he confuses the Nationalists with the Scots. This kind of bravado plays badly in Scotland where anyone from outside picking a fight and attempting to lord it over the Scots gets the sullen stare…name and number quietly filed. You can see the same anti-Scottish contempt in the commentators – we had two examples last night on television in Simon Pia and John McTernan where their loathing of the SNP and specifically Salmond is visceral. They know that Salmond is head and shoulders above anything Labour has to offer, he has overturned their applecart of domination and patronage and they hate him for it. So when they think their side has stolen a point back as they do over the currency, their glee is unconfined. They lack the perspective to see that their reaction is not widely shared beyond the Labour laager, otherwise why did the Scots vote for Salmond, why is the SNP out of sight in the Holyrood opinion polls and why have cruised their way into a seventh year in office? The cold reality is that the Scots look to the SNP as guarantors of Scottish interests – not independence, it is true – but, minus the constitutional status, it is the nationalists who best express what most Scots feel which is a self-assured national pride and an flinty reaction to British superiority being shoved in their face. Scottish Labour is being smeared by the London party bosses and their friendly commentators as agents of the Tories, helped by Miliband joining the ranks of Labour leaders grateful to Margaret Thatcher. It is very difficult to ‘stand up for Scotland’ when you are marching in time with the people most associated with destroying your country’s interests.

Which is one reason why Balls’ speech this week is a more tricky task than Osborne’s as Labour voters look to him not just for clarity but surely too for an alternative. Simply saying No – as with independence itself – isn’t enough. It’s easy to write off an opponent’s thesis by saying it won’t work but if you represent a party with aspirations to run Scotland and creating a new working model, you can hardly brush aside questions about what currency solution might fit. The Tories have no such ambitions but when a Labour figure comes to tell Labour voters why they can’t use their own currency, they’ll expect to hear what he thinks might work. Without it, Labour find themselves in a position of awaiting a vote which might make us independent and with only one policy in place – that there will be no currency union. They are blocking the very thing they would want to campaign for post a Yes vote. Clever…

I’m not fond of military allusions but there is something bellicose about this pan-Unionist front in which the British brothers-in-arms lay down the law to us and imply they will do everything they can to wreck our economy. The only way to currency union is to vote No, said Labour’s Ian Murray, oblivious to democratic desire or national aspiration. It didn’t take him long to get into Westminster bully mode. We are being threatened and the Scots have to be aware that this is the first of many joint humiliations the new British alliance will attempt. Some stoicism may be needed as we discover who are friends are and how it is glaringly obvious now that when Cameron says he cares, he really means he doesn’t give a shit.

Personally I think this type of British bluster will scare a section of society which has always been Don’t Know but was likely to go to No as it doesn’t have the stomach for anything that might offend England or take £5 out of their savings account. But if this is the start of a long campaign of We All Agree You Can’t Have This And You Can’t Do That, then they misjudge us.

I confess to a sneaky sense of pleasure that the true face of Westminster has been revealed unvarnished and unspun so we can see who the Tories’ friends are. It has dispelled the notion that this is Scotland against England or against the Tories. It is now explicit that this is Scotland against the whole machinery of British government and all the Unionist parties are in this together, resolutely against Scotland unless  we do as they say. It must be salutary for Labour voters to watch Johan Lamont and think what she really represents.

I also have a frisson about the currency because I never liked the idea of the Treasury having oversight of our accounts. We have learned not to trust them in their manipulation of information about Scotland and I prefer using sterling without them. Remember, our balance of trade is in surplus – theirs isn’t. They run a huge current account deficit, as in importing more than they export, so they have to borrow overseas to fund the difference. And that deficit gap is the highest among the western democracies and getting higher. Remove Scotland’s contribution of say £50billion from ou North Sea and whisky exports and the rUK’s deficit mushrooms – probably doubles to such an extent that their creditors will question whether they will be able to repay. That’s when the charges go up and your credit rating comes under pressure. But the opposite happens in Scotland where our trade surplus acts to strengthen our currency and make us an even healthier prospect for lenders.

Also, on this mechanical economical stuff, can we dispense of the po-faced moralists who say ‘Scotland can’t default on its debts’? WE DON’T HAVE DEBTS. Britain does and only weeks ago confirmed its liability for all of them in all circumstances. There IS a moral obligation to volunteer to take a share of liabilities but only if we get a commensurate share of the assets. And since they are not our debts, who in the world community is going to say ‘naughty Scotland’? Unless they are contacted by the Foreign Office first, of course. It certainly won’t be the markets who take the moral high ground. They would have concerns about a country not paying its debts and therefore potentially not paying them back, but that does not apply to debts we did not run up. Instead they would see a rich country with a massive resource base and a ledger book bereft of debt. The only debt Scotland would need I think is a fund to buy the currency when its value was under threat. But that money can easily be afforded because of the profit Scotland would have on Day One of independence, as described by the FT.

It’s up to the SNP to decide their next move but they can’t go on for seven months denying what is now obvious – there isn’t a voter who will buy that. The trick about campaigning is being able to move, to be nimble. I think the simplest idea is to keep the pound – now there’s a slogan…It’s Scotland’s Pound – and that is reassuring for many and I’m not sure how much information voters will demand on how it actually works, since they don’t today. We say no to the debt in return and lose – probably – British support for our entry to the EU. The tit-for-tat they have started will go on down the line. We still have the nukes.

The other good thing is that since the three Unionists United parties can come together to deal with the currency it is axiomatic they must do the same with their plans for further devolution. It is no longer enough for each party to make an individual offer, as they have shown they can work effectively together in what they see as the national interest, it means they can do the same for their Devo Max plans. And, as John Curtice was pointing out, if we have clarity of currency, can we have it now on the BBC, Europe and every other contentious area or will their answer be: Oops…didn’t think of that.

The Dad’s Army of British clout is in Blackadder mode and marching itself towards a cliff edge. It’s all getting a great deal more interesting. Oh! What a Lovely War…

 

 

 

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.