Early implications of the Budget 2015

Posted by Euan Bennet on 09/07/2015

Having read the actual budget document yesterday, I was surprised [not really] to see the front pages of the UK mainstream media proclaiming a “pay rise for all” without the appropriate caveats. Caveats such as “all, except for the young, the low-paid, and the sick”. The way the press have run with the “£9 living wage” announcement represents a very loose interpretation of reality – what was actually announced is next year the minimum wage will be £7.20 an hour, rising to £9 an hour by 2020. As long as you are 25 or over. For comparison, the Living Wage in Scotland is £7.85 an hour right now. Living wage employers in Scotland include the Scottish Government.

Of course, the mainstream media will never report that the only place any of these wages are enough to live on is some parallel universe where food and energy prices haven’t changed for the last seven years. The actual living wage is more like £10 an hour (at least). Until yesterday, this was reflected in tax credits paid to low earners. After yesterday, those tax credits are being cut, and cut hard:

I’m sure this family won’t miss that £1,357.22 a year. After all, it’s not like they need food AND electricity, is it? Image source.

As Wings over Scotland have pointed out today, even when the Daily Mail fudged and sugar-coated the numbers, they couldn’t hide the abominable transfer of wealth directly from the poorest in society to the richest.

Daily Mail says: Fantastic! Everyone is an average of £1,204 per year worse off!!! (Sincere apologies for the source)

The United Kingdom in 2020: economic apartheid

The figure below shows the distribution of income per household per week, in 2011/12. The figures are not adjusted for housing costs, but are adjusted to include social security.

See full ONS report 

Imagine you are towards the lower income end of this range – to the left of the median income line i.e. where most of the population is. We’ve already seen that the changes mean you would gain slightly in wages, but lose out by more than you gain when the changes to welfare are included. What does the Budget statement say about your situation? Let’s find out by cherry-picking some out of context quotes!

“The government believes that those in receipt of tax credits should face the same financial choices about having children as those supporting themselves solely through work.”

Sounds promising, so they’re appreciating that family social security is about making sure the children get the best possible start in life first and foremost then, right?

Wrong:

“The Budget will therefore limit support provided to families through tax credits to 2 children, so that any subsequent children born after April 2017 will not be eligible for further support. An equivalent change will be made in Housing Benefit to ensure consistency between both benefits. This will also apply in Universal Credit to families who make a new claim from April 2017.”

“The Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC will develop protections for women who have a third child as the result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.“

But it’s ok, they’re not completely heartless. Already have two children, and happen to become pregnant after getting raped? Simply prove it some bureaucrat and everything will be fine!

Ok, so they didn’t really mean that everyone should have the same choices for their children, in terms of welfare. Maybe they meant everyone should have the same choices if one parent would like to give up work to raise their children?

“Extending parent conditionality – From April 2017 parents claiming Universal Credit, including lone parents, will be expected to prepare for work from when their youngest child turns 2, and to look for work when their youngest child turns 3”

Oh. Well at least they’ll continue to support disabled children whose parents need to provide full time care, right?

“The disabled child premia in tax credits and UC will also continue to be paid to all children with a disability.”

That’s good. Except, as we’ve already seen, a family with one adult working at the minimum wage will be £1,357.22 a year worse off because their tax credits are being cut…

If you’re well off, you’ll be fine

“Combined with the increases the government has made to the personal allowance and the introduction of the Personal Savings Allowance, from April 2016 individuals will be able to receive up to £17,000 of income per annum tax-free, and separately invest up to £15,240 per annum through an ISA tax-free.”

“The government will achieve this by taking the family home out of inheritance tax for all but the wealthiest with a new transferable nil-rate band, introduced from April 2017.”

“First time buyers will be able to deposit £200 per month into their Help to Buy: ISA at participating banks and building societies. First time buyers will be able to open their Help to Buy: ISA accounts with an additional one off deposit of £1000 so that they can start saving now.”

I wonder how much of their £20,448.79 a year a family with 2 children will be putting in an ISA to make the most of the limit being increased. Or maybe they should be putting their money in a help to buy account so they have something to pass on to their children. All nice considerations to add in to the annual “heat or eat” decision!

But what about the welfare parasites?

Corporate welfare – £93 billion per year .

Image source.

Get this collected and the national debt will be gone in no time. Let’s see what the budget has to say about it:

“The government has asked HMRC to start a dialogue with business on how to improve the effectiveness of existing IR35 [tax avoidance] legislation. “

“The government will consult on the technical details of introducing tougher measures for those who persistently enter into tax avoidance schemes”

“The corporation tax rate will be cut to 19% in 2017 and 18% in 2020.”

The change in language when discussing tax collection is very apparent when compared to how welfare is discussed in the document. Now it’s all about “dialogue” and “consulting” instead of making sure the super-rich pay their fair share. Though at least the Government are doing their bit to reduce corporation tax avoidance, by reducing the amount of tax to be paid.

Conclusion

It’ll take some time for a more detailed analysis to emerge, but it would be reasonable to expect that inequality in the UK has just taken a step change increase. The Budget was a direct transfer of wealth from the poorest in society to the wealthiest. Aspects of inequality are now going to become more firmly ingrained, and far from work being the route out of poverty, the changes to the welfare system are likely to mean more people become trapped in working poverty. Then there are the under-25s – a generation who are in danger of being left behind.

And the truly sickening thing? This Budget was announced to cheers and celebrations by our colonial masters.

Reverse Robin hood – the first true blue Tory budget in nearly two decades

Posted by Euan Bennet on 08/07/2015

While reading today’s UK Government budget statement I couldn’t help but be reminded of my final article before the Independence Referendum. I wrote it late on the evening of the 17th of September, and in it I tried to imagine realistic best- and worst-case scenarios following a (then hypothetical) Yes or No vote.

As it turns out, today I have to hold my hands up and admit that I was wrong. My worst case scenario predictions have already been surpassed. Here is what I said on 17/09/2014:

The realistic worst-case scenario: No

There is the temptation here to construct an unrealistic scenario. One such extreme example would be the Scottish Parliament being abolished, which would be within Westminster’s gift to do at any point. The realistic worst-case scenario is, in roughly chronological order:

  • No new powers for the Scottish Parliament. Or worse, the Labour proposals for further devolution are brought in, featuring no new powers, but new responsibilities without the means to fund them.

  • A Tory Government or a Labour Government at Westminster come 2015. Both have pledged that they will continue planned public spending cuts, austerity measures, punitive welfare reform, and confrontational foreign and immigration policy. Add UKIP to a coalition with the Tories for extra racism, sexism, and every other ‘-ism’ in your worst-case scenario!

  • An EU exit following the proposed referendum in 2017.

  • The TTIP opens up the NHS in Scotland to marketisation just like it already is in England.

  • 100,000 more children in poverty by 2020.

  • Another banking crash fuelled by the housing bubble that economic policy is currently reinflating.

  • More austerity, forever.

  • BUT enough money to build a new generation of nuclear weapons stored 30 miles from our biggest city

  • Scotland’s renewable energy potential left to one side while fracking poisons our soil and water.

Nine bullet points. Six of them (no new powers for Scotland, a Tory government, an EU referendum, permanent austerity, Trident replacement, and difficulties for the Scottish renewable energy industry) have already come to pass. Of those, it could be plausibly argued that the following surpasses my “predictions”:

  • “no new powers” has been surpassed by EVEL (and every amendment to Scotland Bill blocked by MPs for England)
  • Tory government, while not backed up by UKIP, is unconstrained by whatever meagre conscience the Lib Dems provided as part of the coalition, and today it looks like their assault on the poor has really been stepped up.
  • a 2016 EU referendum.
  • permanent austerity with added £12 billion cuts in welfare announced today.
  • Scotland’s renewable industry can barely be described as being on life support, following cuts to wave power research late last year, and cuts to wind subsidies this year. Meanwhile, licences for fracking are being handed out like free sweeties.

By my count, that’s five of the nine points in the worst case scenario that have been surpassed. Already. TTIP is still on the horizon but I’m sure we’ll hear more about that shortly. 100,000 more children in poverty by 2020 was the SCVO estimate based on cuts between 2008 and 2015. Given the cuts today, it’s probably safe to say that number will be getting revised sharply upwards once the dust settles from the demolition of the social security safety net.

Now what?

In my pre-referendum article I also suggested how we might go about preventing the worst. Here were my suggestions:

What we can do to prevent the worst-case scenario

  • Hope that it doesn’t happen.

  • Remember that day in 2014 when we held absolute sovereign power for 15 hours, and chose to give it away?

  • Regret voting No.

I had expected a feeling of powerlessness to grip the Yes movement had the vote been for No. Thankfully this was only true for a matter of hours on the 19th of September – I was astonished by the energy and strength shown by those on the losing side, and it certainly helped me recover from the crushing disappointment of the result. The response has been unbelievable, and of course culminated in the unprecedented UK election result on the 7th May. But we’re not done yet.

The way forward

Now we really do need to work together -Yes and No voters alike. If you are alarmed at the UK Government directly transferring wealth from the poorest to the richest in society, assaulting the social security that forms part of the basic function of the state, and generally making bad decisions, what do you plan to do about it? I would hope that everyone is re-examining their decision, whichever way they voted. Continuing the theme from the referendum campaign: what sort of country do you want to live in?

I’m sure the budget today will cause protests and demonstrations in numbers. Another outlet for protest is to join and campaign for a political party that opposes austerity. Coincidentally, in Scotland all of the anti-austerity parties and groups are pro-independence. Here is a list of the most well-known parties:

http://www.snp.org/

http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/

https://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/

http://www.new.solidarityscotland.org/

Politically, the priority of the anti-austerity movement should be ensuring a majority of MSPs come from these parties after the next Scottish elections in 2016. A related objective is the further extinction of the Labour Party in Scotland. We’ve completed phase 1 – reducing them to one MP this year. Phases 2 and 3 (Holyrood in 2016, and Council election in 2017) should be continued as methodically as Phase 1 – by offering a real alternative to voters and campaigning on a positive basis for anti-austerity policies.

There are also a number of groups who have continued since the referendum. This is by no means a comprehensive list:

Women for Independence: http://www.womenforindependence.org/

The Scottish Left Project: http://leftproject.scot/

Common Weal: http://www.allofusfirst.org/

Become the media

Another welcome development since the referendum has been the scales tipping slightly back towards some sort of plurality in the media. News outlets now include:

Common Space: https://commonspace.scot/

NewsShaft: http://newsshaft.com/

The National (also available in print!): http://www.thenational.scot/

These are a welcome addition to previously unoccupied niches, and offer a slightly different approach to those provided by the established websites:

Wings over Scotland: http://wingsoverscotland.com/

Bella Caledonia: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/

Newsnet Scotland: http://newsnet.scot/

Another referendum?

I’ve noticed people talking about a second referendum more and more recently. A more detailed look at that is for another day, other than to say that there will be another referendum when the people demand it. Given the surge in party memberships, campaigning groups, and media voices, it’s likely that in any new referendum the Yes campaign would be starting from a much higher baseline than it did last time. Many of the lies and scaremongering employed by the No campaign will no longer work.

Times are going to get very exciting indeed.

The Smith Commission

Posted by Euan Bennet on 22/10/2014

The Smith Commission on the “future of devolution” is inviting responses from the public here: https://www.smith-commission.scot/have-your-say/. You have until 5pm on the 31st of October to make a contribution. I would urge everyone, especially those who voted No in the expectation of more powers, to make a submission and tell them what you want to see. Below is my own submission. I don’t expect my wee contribution to have much of an impact, but if you don’t have your say you can’t complain if the eventual decision falls far short of your preference! And if enough people demand the same things, maybe we can achieve a miracle and actually secure meaningful reform.

My Submission to the Commission

Dear Commission members,

I appreciate the opportunity to engage in good faith with your process as a member of the public. I hope you are able to take all views expressed by the public into account, and in doing so you recognise that these issues are too important to be the exclusive preserve of politicians and political parties.

Let me begin by saying that for any settlement short of Scottish independence, I believe all powers with some limited exceptions should be held by Holyrood. This is what was explicitly promised by all major party leaders in the week before the referendum. Anything less than this will prove, in the long run, to be unacceptable to all of those that voted yes and many of those that voted no and will therefore be ultimately unworkable.

It has been clear for some time that the present system of asymmetric devolution is not a stable settlement. The only realistic solution to this is to return all powers concerning Scotland to the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Parliament would then devolve back power on shared issues such as defence, foreign affairs, currency etc.

I believe that the Commission should hold true democratic accountability for the United Kingdom as its core aim. Anything less than this will not last, as recent history has shown.

The Commission has an opportunity here to use a bit of joined-up thinking and solve several long-running issues simultaneously. Here are my suggestions:

1) The Scottish Parliament becomes responsible for all powers except defence, currency and monetary policy. All money raised in Scotland is spent in Scotland by the Scottish Parliament. Needless to say this includes the Crown estate and oil and gas revenues, both of which are determined on a geographic basis. This is what was previously known and understood as “Devolution Max”, or “Full Fiscal Autonomy”. This level of responsibility is normal for constituent parts of unitary states, therefore it is hard to argue against it being appropriate within a Union state.

2) Repeat 1) for the Welsh Assembly – reconstituted as a Parliament. Northern Ireland is a slightly different case, so I make no suggestion here.

3) The House of Commons becomes the English Parliament. This solves the English Votes for English Laws issue that has been much discussed at Westminster recently, as well as solving the West Lothian Question. The English people should be consulted on electoral reform for their Parliament and offered the choice of proportional representation.

4) The House of Lords becomes a ‘federal’ chamber of sorts. It should be reformed to be wholly-elected, possibly through indirect elections such as the systems used in the Senates of e.g. France or Germany. It should contain representatives of each nation in the United Kingdom, in such proportion as one nation cannot outvote all the others combined (e.g. 5 from England and 2 each from Scotland, Wales, and NI as the basic multiplier numbers).

The form of the Scotland Act 1998 means that the mechanism for achieving point 1) is simple: remove the relevant areas from the list of reserved matters. Where the Commission wishes powers to remain on the reserved list, they should have clear and accountable reasoning for each power to stay reserved.

Doubtless there are many details to arrange within my brief outline sketched above, but many areas are outlined in greater detail by the Scottish Government’s own submission (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0046/00460563.pdf). At a philosophical level, any of these details will become less complex if it is remembered that the Union between Scotland and England is intended to be a partnership. If the Union is a partnership then it is time that it started acting like it, for the benefit of everyone in these islands.

Finally, I would like to remind the Commission of a few things. Firstly, that 44.7% of those who took part in the democratic decision to remain in the United Kingdom, do not want to be part of the United Kingdom. In the years before the referendum, “Devolution Max” as defined above was by some distance the most popular constitutional preference of people in Scotland. The latest opinion poll on the matter returned similar results, showing support for “Devo Max” at 66%, with 19% opposed. Support for control of taxation was at 71%, while support for full control of welfare was at 75%. Support for the control of all oil and gas revenues from Scotland’s waters was at 68%, with 21% opposed.

Should the Commission fall short in delivering these powers, it is not just the 44.7% who have expressed a preference for leaving the United Kingdom that they will alienate: it will be a clear 2:1 majority of the population of Scotland. This salient fact should be at the front of the minds of the Commission members as they consider the options. Members should ask themselves if alienating the United Kingdom from two thirds of voters in Scotland is likely to be a sustainable solution. I would suggest that it is not.

I wish you luck in reaching a conclusion that satisfies all the people of the United Kingdom.

Kind Regards,
Dr Euan D. Bennet

What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen?

Posted by Euan Bennet on 17/09/2014

I’ve already written over 20,000 words on this blog partly as an attempt to collect my own thoughts. For the most part, not many other people have read them. That’s ok. One post went weirdly viral and has been read nearly 74,000 times. That was unexpected. It wasn’t even my best article. I don’t know if anyone has decided to vote Yes as a result of reading what I’ve written, but I do hope those who have read it were encouraged to think analytically about their decision, consider the evidence instead of campaign rhetoric from either side, and above all make an informed choice.

I have nothing but contempt for the way the Better Together campaign has conducted themselves. The disregard that they hold for voters, demonstrated by the Patronising BT Lady video has this week been overtaken by leaflets from the Labour Party which actually contain the line “If you don’t know, vote No”. How is that democratic? How is that going to help citizens to make an informed decision about the most important choice they will ever make? The people behind the Better Together campaign, and anyone involved with that campaign who has used lies, misinformation, and fear in an attempt to bully voters into voting No, will have to live with their actions. I do not know how those people will be able to go forward with a clear conscience, and I hope they regret their behaviour for the rest of their lives. Yet I will still work for a better Scotland for everyone, including them. Our revenge will be the laughter of our children, as the saying goes.

The low-resolution certainties

Much has been written and said demanding “certainties” from the Yes campaign, demands which are curiously not mirrored when it comes to the No campaign. Let’s take a look at what we can be certain about if one steps back far enough and considers the basic facts dispassionately.

Over the last week or so I have come to realise that at a certain distance there are four basic facts that matter, and everything else is just details:

  1. Scotland is self-sufficient in water
  2. Scotland is self-sufficient in food (or for pedants, it has the capacity to be if necessary)
  3. Scotland is self-sufficient in energy (which includes renewables so this is true forever [or at least for the rest of the Sun’s main sequence life, pending future technological developments])
  4. Scotland is an exporting nation

The first three points ensure our future supply of basic commodities (a trio which is the envy of many other countries); the fourth point ensures that we have the capacity to thrive economically. I could add in loads of other points such as our education level (three Universities in the World top 100, etc etc) but everything else can be included somewhere in the four points above.

Here are the crucial points in the low-resolution certainties

If we vote No tomorrow, the benefit of these resources remains in the hands of an out-of-touch, elitist, unaccountable, unrepresentative, pseudo-democratic Parliament over which the people of Scotland have just 3.6% influence. The direction of travel over the last 35 years has been that this Parliament has abused these resources to enrich the few, to the detriment of the many. Travel in this direction has accelerated in recent years, and this acceleration is set to continue.

If we vote Yes tomorrow, the benefit of these resources will transfer to the people of Scotland, who will elect governments to act in the peoples’ best interests via a representative and proportional Parliament over which the people have 100% control. The direction of travel over the last 15 years (since the Parliament was restored) has been to ensure the resources benefit our whole society, within the very limited constraints the Parliament can work within, and this is set to not only continue but accelerate after independence.

What is the best and worst that can happen?

If we accept the above as objective fact (and people are entitled to disagree, as long as they provide some basis for disagreement) then we can ‘zoom in’ a bit and look at some of the details. The following is a personal prediction, crystal ball free, of the different scenarios. Treat it as an exercise in thought-provocation. Caution: may contain traces of hyperbole:

The realistic worst-case scenario: Yes

The problem with the entire Better Together campaign at low-resolution is essentially the existence of the Edinburgh Agreement. The signing of this internationally-recognised document binds both the Scottish and UK Governments to work in the best interests of the people of Scotland, regardless of the result. Everything else is just details. In principle one could construct a worst-case scenario where the UK Government refuses to recognise the Edinburgh Agreement, but such a decision would make them an international pariah as well as making it abundantly clear that democracy in the UK is dead.

Alert readers will already have realised that this worst-case scenario is exactly what the Better Together campaign have spent the last three years putting forward. That saves me some time here. I don’t think we need to spend any more time on dealing with an argument with such a non-existent premise.

In my opinion, the realistic worst-case scenario after a Yes is that everything stays the same. That saves some time as well.

What we can do to prevent the worst-case scenario

“Vote Yes for change” is a self-fulfilling prophecy: the movement that will have led to the Yes vote is not going anywhere, that much is abundantly clear. I have realised over the last week or so that my previous plan of ‘campaign for a Yes vote, then step back from politics and have more time for other hobbies’ is pretty much out the window now. I want the change described by the Common Weal book! I DEMAND that this happens as soon as possible, so that our society improves and everyone benefits! To paraphrase Gandhi, we WILL be the change we want to see! That being said, let’s bullet point how to avoid things staying the same:

  • Maintain the energy and appetite for change that is evident in the Yes campaign, and translate this into widespread and continuing engagement in political process. This is likely anyway because the reason we are seeing the tremendous level of engagement is because people realise their vote and voice counts for something this time, and they also realise that after independence their vote and voice will count every single time.
  • After the first independent elections, we will continually hold the first Government to account and make sure they keep their promises. In the devolved Parliament, governments have by and large delivered on their promises (most notably the minority Government during 2007-2011 which passed 86 out of 96 headline manifesto commitments despite being a minority government).
  • If the first independent government does not deliver the change that the engaged post-Yes campaign desires, then we will organise and ensure that we get the change we need at the second election. This may involve direct action, i.e. standing candidates of our own.

The realistic worst-case scenario: No

There is the temptation here to construct an unrealistic scenario. One such extreme example would be the Scottish Parliament being abolished, which would be within Westminster’s gift to do at any point. The realistic worst-case scenario is, in roughly chronological order:

  • No new powers for the Scottish Parliament. Or worse, the Labour proposals for further devolution are brought in, featuring no new powers, but new responsibilities without the means to fund them.
  • A Tory Government or a Labour Government at Westminster come 2015. Both have pledged that they will continue planned public spending cuts, austerity measures, punitive welfare reform, and confrontational foreign and immigration policy. Add UKIP to a coalition with the Tories for extra racism, sexism, and every other ‘-ism’ in your worst-case scenario!
  • An EU exit following the proposed referendum in 2017.
  • The TTIP opens up the NHS in Scotland to marketisation just like it already is in England.
  • 100,000 more children in poverty by 2020.
  • Another banking crash fuelled by the housing bubble that economic policy is currently reinflating.
  • More austerity, forever.
  • BUT enough money to build a new generation of nuclear weapons stored 30 miles from our biggest city.
  • Scotland’s renewable energy potential left to one side while fracking poisons our soil and water.

What we can do to prevent the worst-case scenario

  • Hope that it doesn’t happen.
  • Remember that day in 2014 when we held absolute sovereign power for 15 hours, and chose to give it away?
  • Regret voting No.

The realistic best-case scenario: No

As far as I have seen, newspaper editorials have constructed a best-case scenario here where we get a federal UK within months if only we are good little boys and girls and vote No. This is wishful thinking that is borderline delusional, as anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention will realise. The realistic best-case scenario after a No vote is as follows:

  • The ‘more powers’ pledges are not delivered. Instead, a post-Yes movement across the UK grows in voice arguing for true reform and federalism.
  • The post-Yes movement puts forward candidates at elections across the UK. The first-past-the-post system makes it difficult to build parliamentary support.
  • Eventually after mass demonstrations and protests, Westminster agrees to prepare a timetable for a discussion, to see what kind of debate they want to have about giving power to the people.
  • All of the worst-case scenario stuff still happens, because while the post-Yes pan-UK group is mobilising, either the Tories (with added racism) or Labour are in power from 2015.

What we can do to achieve the best-case scenario

  • Hope that someone else makes it happen.
  • After post-No mourning period, regroup the Yes movement and join with e.g. English&Welsh Green Party, NHA party to seed grassroots movement for change.
  • Try not to be too badly affected by all the stuff in the worst-case scenario.
  • Remember that day in 2014 when we held absolute sovereign power for 15 hours, and chose to give it away?
  • Regret voting No.

The realistic best-case scenario: Yes

This is summed up here: www.allofusfirst.org. 50+ papers about how we can transform society. There is a book in lay-person language which is available from the website which I cannot recommend highly enough. Bullet-pointing the highlights:

  • Childcare is transformed to be brought in line with the best in Europe, creating 35,000 new jobs and allowing a fundamental shift in parents’ options
  • Universal Basic Income (a.k.a. Citizen’s Income) ends poverty
  • A transition to a high-wage, productive economy redistributes wealth throughout our society more equally, and increases tax revenues without even changing the tax bands
  • A transition to a 30-hour working week means people will become happier, more productive, and less stressed. Time to participate in society and culture means life becomes more fulfilling.
  • Our renewable energy potential is fully realised, securing our energy supply forever.
  • Power is devolved to the lowest level that is sensible, creating a new politics. Voter engagement is transformed into more people standing to represent their communities in councils and Parliament, meaning decision-makers are more representative.
  • We can ensure equality for all.

What we can do to achieve the best-case scenario

  • Vote Yes tomorrow.
  • Join the post-Yes movement and help the self-fulfilling prophecy deliver the change that is possible.
  • Never regret it.

Conclusions

My favourite quote from the campaign is from Robin McAlpine: “If you want certainty, get a digital watch. If you want a better country, roll up your sleeves”.

If you vote Yes tomorrow, please make sure you are comfortable with the worst-case scenario and are prepared to work for the best-case scenario.

If you vote No tomorrow, please make sure you are comfortable with the worst-case scenario, and are prepared to work for the best-case scenario.

Be fully aware of what the scenarios are in all cases.

It really is that simple. Another Scotland is possible, we just have to put a cross in a box tomorrow and then get on with the job of creating it.

Vote Yes.

Health – the Glasgow Effect

Posted by Euan Bennet on 28/08/2014

Still reeling from my post from the other day going viral – over 20,000 views yesterday and already over 8,000 today – not entirely sure what I did right. Thanks everyone who read it and shared it! Just a quick post today because this video was posted in the comments and it touches on some stuff I’ve been thinking about recently:

Back in May 2014, Wings over Scotland posted an article about an academic study which tried to explain the Glasgow Effect – that is, why Scotland and Glasgow in particular have such poor health and life expectancy indicators when compared to the rest of Europe.

The study was carried out by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health in 2011, and can be found here: click here to read the GCPH report. This is an academic study which analyses possible causes for the divergence in mortality rates between Glasgow, Scotland, and Europe. It’s a very detailed report which uses research techniques to measure the likelihood that each considered factor contributes to the effect. Page 61-64 show the summaries of all the (17) factors considered. Page 72 shows the simplified diagram of factors combining. 

The report identifies vulnerabilities, triggers, mechanisms and outcomes. Explanations are grouped into ‘upstream’, ‘midstream’, and ‘downstream’ categories. For example, poverty and inequality are upstream, but drug overdoses are downstream.

The report found that the most likely trigger for mortality divergence starting in 1980 is ‘political attack’.

A factor in the political attack found in the report is the stress of powerlessness mentioned in the video. Coincidentally for the mortality divergence beginning in 1980, the previous year had seen a majority of 52% vote Yes to devolution, but the result overturned by the disgraceful and anti-democratic ‘40% rule’.

The report mentions that the first point of divergence of Scottish mortality rates, in the 1950s, cannot be easily explained. Coincidentally, 1949 was the year that the Scottish Covenant was delivered to Westminster; a petition calling for a Scottish Parliament, signed by over 2 million people out of a population of 5.1 million. It was ignored. 

Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. Scotland’s mortality rate diverged from the rest of Europe in 1950 after our democratic will was ignored. It diverged again, further, after our democratic will was ignored for a second time. Though the subsequent ‘political attack’, to use the words of the report, will surely have accelerated that decline. If there is a No vote next month, then that is the greatest expression of powerlessness yet. A No vote says that we are happy to leave the power in someone else’s hands instead of taking it for ourselves. The ‘political attack’ that will follow will eclipse what was seen in the 1980s, whichever party is in power at Westminster

Conclusion

Independence doesn’t guarantee an improvement in our health and mortality, but it at least gives a chance to tackle the root causes instead of just futilely treating symptoms. A No vote, based on past evidence, will make things worse.

#PatronisingBTLady – it’s time to get angry

Posted by Euan Bennet on 27/08/2014

This video is genuinely the latest campaign broadcast from the Better Together campaign. Not surprisingly, comments are disabled on YouTube. It’s difficult to know where to start when listing what is wrong with it, but Logic’s Rock and Furcoatnaenicks have had a good shot at it. Women for Independence are reporting a surge in support after the video was broadcast. Take a look at their own video and compare & contrast the approaches:

Thankfully, the internet being the internet, the Better Together video was instantly ripped into tiny shreds by the hilarious and creative people of Generation Yes. A meme template was created and shortly afterwards the tag #PatronisingBTLady was trending UK-wide. 

PatronisingBTLady_LadyAlba

With apologies to Lady Alba

PatronisingBTLady_children PatronisingBTLady_defence_welfare

Why Patronising BT Lady is bad

As much as I enjoyed the responses and joined in the meme creation, there is a very serious side to this video. A great deal of focus was given to the shocking way that the video patronises 51% of the population, and rightly so. Within the scope of this blog however, the video is pretty much our Bete Noir. 

The sub-title for this blog is “applying scientific rigour to the facts and figures of the independence debate”. In nearly all of the posts I have used classic scientific techniques like ‘examining the evidence’ and ‘past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour’. I have tried to set out the facts as they are established and examine the conclusions that can be made based on the evidence – in short, I’ve shown my working.

The patronising Better Together video actually disgusts me, because the underlying and explicit message from it is “don’t think, just vote No”. They don’t want people to make an informed decision. You should ignore “the man on the telly”. You shouldn’t even discuss it with your partner or children. Just go with your gut feeling and BE AFRAID OF CHANGE. Don’t ask what will change after a No vote. Don’t examine what the No campaign are saying. Stay in your comfort zone and don’t try to think. Back in your box, you fucking prole.

This attitude makes me so angry. In my day job I have had the opportunity to teach science to children of primary school and secondary school age, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students. It’s a very rewarding challenge. My number one priority for any student is to encourage them to think for themselves. True understanding can only come when you conceive of an idea or a concept in your own mind – no one can force you to understand something. 

The referendum is the biggest decision that has ever been made by people in Scotland. For the first time ever, a democratic decision will be made about the way our country is governed. For ANY campaign group, let alone one of the two main campaigns, to advocate a message such as this of “don’t engage, just vote based on fear”, is an absolute disgrace. It says everything we need to know about the attitude of those campaigning for a No vote. They just want to keep us in our place. How DARE the Yes campaign try to improve our country?! How DARE we get above ourselves and ask if this is the best we can achieve?

PatronisingBTLady_TV

This is what Better Together wants everyone in Scotland to do. Back in your box. Don’t even try to make things better.

The oil comment – pedant alert

A line in the video that bugged me for pedantic reasons rather than the intellectual insult of the rest of it, was the line “oil will pay for it all – so you can rely on oil for everything, can you?”. Literally no one in the Yes campaign has ever said that was the case. The case spelled out in the White Paper, and the message taken out onto the streets by all the groups campaigning for a Yes vote has consistently been that oil is a bonus, NOT the basis of the Scottish economy. In the posts on this blog the only times I have mentioned the word oil is in sentences like “and I haven’t even mentioned oil and gas”. 

Conclusion

Throughout the campaign I have asked No voters to explain why they are voting No. I have yet to get a coherent answer. In one particularly special case, a long-time friend refused point blank to engage with me because he “knows I’m a Yes supporter” and  “there is no way I’m going to read all that [my brief case outlining my reasons]” before deleting the conversation.

Based on the existence of the Patronising BT Lady video, these are the people the No campaign are relying on. They want the future of our country decided by the apathetic, disengaged voters who the tame media have managed to keep uninformed. They want the uninformed to force the rest of us to, as Greg says, “legitimise our corrupt, undemocratic, quasi-democracy”. The No campaign want to use your fear of the unknown to endorse a system that is elitist, sectarian, war-mongering, unequal, human rights-abusing, child-abusing, and above all unreformable. They want you to turn down your one opportunity to build a better country.

Are you going to let them have their way?

 

(It is likely that…) Independence will bring a bigger dividend than even the Yes campaign predict

Posted by Euan Bennet on 26/08/2014

This is a piece that I’ve had the idea for for a while. Some of the “hidden” benefits of independence have been discussed elsewhere, such as the fact that £billions of defence spending allocated as “in Scotland” actually never comes near Scotland. That’s been quantified in the White Paper as a defence spend of £2.5billion will be £1billion less than is currently allocated, but about £1billion MORE than is actually spent – regardless of the purpose that’s an extra billion quid a year stimulating the economy. On top of that we will actually have proper defences for the first time in years, and kick Trident the fuck out of here.

Speaking of Trident, that’s another £160 million per year saving for Scotland – not including the planned £100billion replacement cost that Westminster is immorally choosing to spend a fortune on when 25% of children live in poverty.

Another “independence dividend” that has been mentioned is not having to pay our £60million share every year towards keeping Westminster MPs and Lords in the manner to which they have become accustomed. There are now 850 unelected Lords, each of whom claims an attendance allowance of £300 per day just for turning up to drink subsidised booze and sleep in the debating chamber – and that’s on top of all of their other public-funded expenses.

Then there is the debt repayments. This gets a bit complicated but it’s explained well here – £4billion a year.

What’s that total then? Over £5.2billion per year in savings already, plus £1billion extra economic stimulus compared to now. Not a bad start, but let’s look deeper.

HS2

A lovely future saving would also be Scotland’s share of HS2 – a joke (in international terms) of a model train set that is not going to come within 400 miles of Scotland, yet if there is a No vote we will pay an estimated £4.8billion towards its construction

But since that’s planned future spending, I won’t include it in the total.

VAT – hidden in plain sight

VAT is, of course, one of the major economic powers that is currently retained by Westminster. It is a major source of revenue for the Treasury (£87.7billion – over 13% of total revenue in 2013/14). Some of this tax is rightly allocated as “Scottish” revenue by the UK Treasury, but a great deal of it isn’t: as explained here, an unknown amount of VAT is allocated according to where the Head Office of the company paying it is located. In a great many cases, that means London.

Export duty

In the UK, export duty is calculated based on which port the exports leave from. To take one example, a lot of the £3.9billion of international whisky exports every year are shipped from ports in England – therefore the export duty is not allocated as Scottish, even though the product is legally protected as made in Scotland!

Pensions

To explain this, all that is really required is an image. I’ll add a few words below, just in case.

Image credit: Business for Scotland. Beware the Bogs of Ireland!

The stark difference in life expectancy means that Scottish pensioners are effectively subsidising South-East England pensioners by dying early. A low life expectancy means many people in Scotland are dying either before retirement or not long after retirement. A high life expectancy means people generally live longer after retirement – 14 years on average in SE England. There is no pension “pot” despite what the No campaign are claiming – pensions are funded out of general taxation. Pensions will be more affordable in Scotland than the UK average. At the moment we are being forced to pay as if we have the UK average life expectancy when in fact we really don’t – in some parts of Glasgow male life expectancy is less than that in Gaza.

Civil Service

Now we’re into uncharted territory. The civil service – the people who actually run the country – has hardly been talked about during the referendum campaign. Under devolution the Scottish Government has its own civil service who work on Devolved matters. The UK civil service is responsible for all Reserved matters. See here for a great graphic showing what these are.

The UK civil service in 2013 employed 448,840 people. 

After independence, the Scottish Civil Service will expand to take on the new responsibilities – all powers, rather than the limited powers that they have under devolution. This will bring a) some savings to the Scottish budget, and b) even more significantly, a large number of jobs instantly created in Scotland, with the associated knock-on economic impact of that.

How do we estimate this?

On wholly reserved matters, let’s assume a population share of 8.6% of the civil service is working on Scotland’s “share” of their department. We can also assume that the same number or fewer jobs will be created in Scotland for the new civil service departments after independence. Let’s consider the “big three” departments for Reserved matters, based on a median civil service salary of £22,850 (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/facts-about-civil-and-public-services/):

Department

Number of UK jobs

Number for Scotland

Average total cost of salaries

Work and Pensions

104,890

9021

£206 million

HMRC

72,740

6256

£143 million

Ministry of Defence

49,100

4223

£ 96 million

 

By the time the numerous smaller departments are added in, the total cost on salaries alone will be over half a billion pounds. Remember, we are currently paying this already under the Union, for nearly all of these jobs to be supported in London. The independence dividend is the chance to build a streamlined, efficient civil service based in Scotland. Even if no improvements were made in efficiency, we are still talking about nearly 20,000 jobs created instantly in Scotland from the big three departments alone, with more than £400 million extra investment in the local economy.

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember when considering the costs and financial aspects of the debate is that we already pay for everything at the moment, and then some. If on day one of independence, we continue to do things exactly as they are at the moment, then we’ll be starting off with savings of over £6billion per year (as a pessimistic estimate) and beyond that, extra investment in our economy of over £2billion per year. This is even before considering borrowing powers, oil and gas revenue, and Crown estate revenue – the impact of each of these individually will dwarf the total estimates I’ve made here.

The choice we face in the referendum is: do you want this money to stay in Scotland and be spent on our population? Or do you want our vast wealth to continue to be squandered on propping up the mega-wealthy and major London infrastructure projects?

Edit 10:15am on 28/08/2014: replaced “export tax” with “export duty” for clarification.

Edit 14:25pm on 28/08/2014: added some links for Trident running/replacement costs.