Tag Archives: Scotland

#ScotRef

Posted by Euan Bennet on 14/03/2017

When I heard that the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, would be making a speech yesterday morning I assumed (like many others, apparently) that it would be along the lines of “one last chance for compromise, etc etc” before the UK Government triggered Article 50 to begin the process of leaving the EU. I suspected that I was very wrong within the first few moments of the press conference, and it was confirmed a few minutes later as the FM announced her intention to seek first the Scottish Parliament’s, and then the UK Parliament’s approval for a Section 30 order. This would transfer the power to the Scottish Parliament to be able to hold a legally-binding independence referendum between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019. The timing is key, as it must be once the terms of the Hard Brexit were are being dragged towards are known, but not too late to avoid the damage that Hard Brexit will cause.

The full text of the First Minister’s speech can be read here, and the speech itself plus questions from the media can be viewed here.

I wrote last year that people in Scotland now had to choose which Union they wanted to be a part of – either the UK or the EU. If you need a snappy sound-bite explaining how the two Unions are different, riddle me this: why is it that the Scottish Government must ask permission from the UK to hold a vote on independence, but the UK Government did not have to ask permission from the EU to hold a vote on leaving the EU?

Nicola Sturgeon demonstrated two things yesterday: 1) some actual political leadership in outlining a plan for dealing with the turmoil ahead once Article 50 is triggered, and 2) that she has meant every word that she has said on the subject since the 24th of June last year. The metroparochial media bubble had convinced themselves, and by extension Westminster, that the FM was “only bluffing”, that “she doesn’t want another referendum because she’d lose again”, and that “she doesn’t actually want independence, just another grievance to pursue”. They failed to consider that the FM was serious about delivering her party’s manifesto commitment, and protecting the interests of the people of Scotland.

The referendum campaign starts now

Yesterday saw some frantic scrambling around by the UK Government who by all accounts were caught completely flat-footed. It also saw some frantic scrambling around by the media who managed to trot out a bunch of reheated scare stories about independence would be the worst thing ever and anyway, “Sturgeon shouldn’t be allowed”. Perhaps it’s some residual immunity from the apocalyptic fear bomb that was dropped on us in the final week of the 2014 indyref campaign, but I’m finding the desperation quite funny. Metaphorically, the smell of fear is overwhelming. Anyone with any grasp of how numbers work can see how different the situation is now compared to pre-2014. When the 2014 referendum was announced support for independence was trending at around 28-30% in opinion polls. After recording an actual vote of 44.7% in favour of independence at the end of a campaign of scaremongering and negativity, recent opinion polls have shown independence support at around 48-49%. One much-touted poll last week was split exactly 50/50 among those “certain” or “likely” to vote. Now that a vote is back on the agenda the starting point of support requires a far smaller shift in percentage terms than would have been needed last time round.

That said, the fact that the fear and negativity has already begun means that it’s going to be a very long 18-24 months. Supporters of the UK Union have literally nothing else to support their arguments. All of the key arguments of the 2014 referendum are now dust in the wind, thanks to the subsequent actions of the UK Government. The hardest thing for supporters of the UK Union to grasp right now is that it is the UK Government’s actions which have brought us to this point. In 2014 the UK Government pitched in with lots of support for the No campaign from the civil service, especially the Treasury.

This time around they will be dealing with multiple crises: not only the Brexit negotiations and a campaign against Scottish independence, but potentially also a growing constitutional crisis in Northern Ireland. Added to that the possibility of a movement in England and Wales agitating to call off the Brexit process, the extent of the omnishambles created by Westminster is such that even a vile separatist such as myself is moved to feel pity for the civil servants who will have to do the actual work of managing it.

The Wild Card – what will the EU do?

I was entertained yesterday by the people depicting the possible scenarios during Brexit negotiations.

Theresa May: We want a trade deal, and in exchange we’ll guarantee access to our waters for other member states’ fishing fleets.

EU27: Sorry Mrs May, 90% of your waters are in Scotland, and given the coming independence vote those are not your gift to give. What else?

TM: Erm, well there’s our renewable energy resources – let’s make a deal with those!

EU27: Scotland is the only part of the UK that exports energy, Mrs May please stop trying to negotiate with things that aren’t yours.

TM: Can I interest you all in some Innovative Jam?

It’s a flippant example, but it does show an idea of the opportunity that the other 27 member states will surely see. We’ve already seen MEPs from other member states make comments in a personal capacity along the lines of “if the UK wants to play hardball, so can we”. It’s been well-reported how lacking the UK Civil Service is in trained negotiators for the diplomatic challenges ahead.

It’s probably unlikely that the EU will come right out and guarantee Scotland’s status as a member state should we vote for independence, but anything can happen once negotiations begin. I would certainly expect the Scottish Government to continue their work in communicating with other member states and EU institutions to raise Scotland’s profile. The EU knows fine well that when the UK Government enters negotiations, they will not speak for all of the UK.

The key principle

In the run-up to the 2014 referendum I wrote about my key motivations for supporting a Yes vote. I was very pleased to see the First Minister touch on very similar themes in her speech yesterday. This part really spoke to me:

What Scotland deserves, in the light of the material change of circumstances brought about by the Brexit vote, is the chance to decide our future in a fair, free and democratic way – and at a time when we are equipped with the facts we need. It is – above all – about informed choice.
We know that Brexit has made change inevitable. The option of ‘no change’ is no longer available. However, we can still decide the nature of change. Having Scotland’s referendum – at a time when the terms of Brexit are known – will give the Scottish people a choice about the kind of change we want. And it must be a choice for all of us.
I know there are some who want me to rule out a referendum completely or delay the decision until much further down the line. I understand why some take that view. And of course these views weigh heavily on me. But so does this. And this, for me, is a key consideration.
If I ruled out a referendum, I would be deciding – completely unilaterally – that Scotland will follow the UK to a hard Brexit come-what-may, no matter how damaging to our economy and our society it turns out to be. That should not be the decision of just one politician – not even the First Minister.
By taking the steps I have set out today, I am ensuring that Scotland’s future will be decided not just by me, the Scottish Government or the SNP. It will be decided by the people of Scotland. It will be Scotland’s choice. And I trust the people to make that choice.
I’m probably going to refer back to this speech repeatedly over the next couple of years. It was a good one.
Links
If you’d like to read more about the Scottish Government’s plans, the page to keep an eye on is https://www.ref.scot/
If you’d like to contact, support, or join a pro-independence political party, they can be found at:
If you’d like to get involved with a non-party-political campaign group, here are some off the top of my head that are still running (N.B. I’ve kept this list short for now – no doubt many more groups will be re-formed shortly)

Full Blown Hard Tory Brexit

Posted by Euan Bennet on 09/02/2017

Imagine the EU Referendum last June had resulted in the opposite result: 52% Remain to 48% Leave. Now imagine that yesterday the “Remain” Government of the UK had announced that the UK was joining the Euro, the Shengen area, and giving up all other special opt-outs that the UK enjoys as an EU member state, and that they were railroading the bill enacting this through Parliament without scrutiny in a way that hasn’t been seen in over 100 years. Imagine if the Government had threatened the House of Lords with dissolution should they not “do their patriotic duty” and approve “the will of the people”.

Imagine the outrage. That an agenda held by a small minority of citizens should be so forcefully imposed without scrutiny and under threats to both the Executive and Judiciary branches of the Government.

Of course that scenario is far-fetched, but it is the equivalent in the opposite direction of what will now be forced upon all citizens regardless of whether they voted Remain or Leave.

Last night the UK Parliament voted to allow the UK Government to trigger Article 50 and begin the formal process of leaving the European Union. In the process, not one amendment was accepted – these amendments ranged from guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens to live and work in the UK, to commissioning a full Treasury report into the likely economic impact of the decision, to requiring the agreement of the Joint Ministerial Committee (made up of the leaders of the UK, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish Governments) to the final deal. Not a single amendment.

The Brexit bill can be found here.

What MPs voted for last night has been described so often as “handing the Tories a blank cheque” that that phrase now qualifies as a cliche. The Labour Party made a lot of noise last week about how they would be voting in favour of the Government bill, but only after extracting concessions. In the event, they extracted precisely zero concessions… and then voted for the bill anyway. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been attracting mockery for an ill-advised tweet after the Government won the vote, including from the First Minister of Scotland:

corbyn_sturgeon

The fight starts now? Seriously, Labour? I thought the Labour Party in Scotland had monopolised most of the stupid to go around in their Party, and for context today they are probably STILL saying “we are for a strong UK in the EU” with their head buried in the sand. Perhaps it’s contagious. The fight starts now. AFTER you’ve allowed the Tories to get permission to do whatever they want. Aye, very good mate. To quote Hardeep Singh Kohli – “Jog. The. Fuck. On.”.

What do the Tories want?

It’s become clear with the Prime Minister’s kow-towing to President Trump, and the Government explicitly saying it repeatedly, that a trade deal with the USA is a high priority. Leaving aside the technical point of how weak the UK’s negotiating position is with anyone, particularly a US President whose slogan is “America First” and who has espoused at length his strategy of only making deals that favour the USA and disadvantage the other parties, what would be required to compete with US companies?

  • Deregulation of workers’ rights. This has been a long-time goal of certain parts of the Tory party anyway, and I suspect it was a major motivation for many of the Brexiteers in the party.
  • Deregulation of food standards and safety. This includes many different areas, from chemical additives to animal welfare issues. The USA has significantly fewer regulations than there are in Europe.
  • Access for US companies to buy up parts of the Health Service. The current piecemeal privatisation happening in England is only the beginning.

What about the wider goals?

  • CONTROLS ON IMMIGRATION, to quote the famous Labour mug. Yesterday the UK Government snuck out an announcement that they were ending a programme for taking in lone child refugees – they had previously committed to taking 3,000 unaccompanied children in to save them from starvation, slavery or sex trafficking, but have decided to shut the doors to these most vulnerable humans after taking in only 350.
  • A European tax haven. This is not just a goal of the Tories, but given that the financial sector might just prefer to move to an EEA nation when the UK rejects the four freedoms, how else will they desperately appeal to them to stay?
  • Repealing human rights. The Tory plan is to replace the current (EU-driven) human rights laws with a “British bill of rights”. Given all that we’ve already witnessed, would anyone like to bet that a society with the Tory version of human rights would be a desirable society to live in?

 

Further implications

In my opinion, starting last night the UK set out on a truly dangerous path with no clear plan other than to let the incompetent xenophobes in the UK Government make things up as they go along. Factually, this is where we now stand:

  • The UK Government has effectively ripped up the Good Friday Agreement which is an international treaty that safeguards the peace process in Northern Ireland.
  • The UK Government has effectively forced the potential end of the United Kingdom by all but guaranteeing a second Scottish Independence Referendum, in which every single one of the winning 2014 No campaign’s arguments have been systematically dismantled by… the UK Government.
  • The UK Government has demonstrated that they would rather cosy up to a US administration whose actions are consistent with those of a fascist coup, than choose the path of diplomacy and rule of law that the European project is founded upon.
  • The UK Government has demonstrated a casual disregard for at least 48% of voters and the majority of all citizens, and intend to pursue an extreme agenda favoured by a far smaller minority.

 

Closer to home

A reminder: Every part of Scotland voted to Remain in the European Union.

result_map

We are now being dragged against our will into some sort of Europe’s North Korea dystopian future. If that’s not a “material change in circumstances” then I don’t know what is.

There will now certainly be a second Scottish Independence Referendum. And frankly, if we don’t vote for independence under the circumstances of , then we never will. And if we don’t vote for independence to choose a different path for our country, we will deserve absolutely everything that is coming to us – and that is NOT going to be pleasant.

Time to get the Yes campaign up and running again… Let’s do this!

 

 

 

What happens next?

Posted by Euan Bennet on 24/06/2016

This morning the First Minister of Scotland made a statementclick here for the video.

At about 5am this morning I posted an attempt at dark satire on Facebook:

I’m given to understand that UK political discourse now fashionably features extreme, even provocative, language. So let’s try and join the bandwagon:

The UK Government can take my EU citizenship from my cold dead hands.

That’s how we express things now isn’t it? In Europe’s North Korea, living in the prequel to Children of Men.

I actually checked with Greg, who I watched the full results with, before posting it in case it was too extreme, but it does kind of sum up how I feel about the result and what I want to happen next. I am extremely encouraged by the First Minister’s response to the result, and with the Scottish Green Party launching a petition to #letscotlandstay in the EU, we know that a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament will support exploring every option to make sure people in Scotland retain our rights and protections as EU Citizens.

I’ll just leave some links here for those motivated to join a pro-EU rights party in Scotland, in alphabetical order.

Scottish Green Party

Scottish National Party

Scottish Socialist Party

At the time of writing I am not aware of the positions of the other political parties in Scotland. I have seen members of the Conservative Party saying that we should accept the result and go along quietly with what follows (of course they would say that). I assume UKIP are saying the same.

I don’t know if the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats have expressed a view regarding Scotland’s future status. For both of those parties their next move on this could either save them from political extinction or hasten it – and I am not optimistic about them saving themselves.

 

 

People of Scotland, it’s time to choose: one Union or the other?

Posted by Euan Bennet on 24/06/2016

Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU? The people have spoken, and the answer was

Remain in the European Union: 16,141,241 (48.1%)

Leave the European Union: 17,410,742 (51.9%)

 

result_map

The results by council region

This striking results map shows at a glance that the UK is now more than ever a Union in name only.

Scotland only

Remain a member of the European Union: 1,661,191 (62.0%)

Leave the European Union: 1,018,322 (38.0%)

Every single council area in Scotland voted Remain, some overwhelmingly (67% in Glasgow and 74% in Edinburgh), and some were a wee bit closer (Remain win by 119 votes in Moray). Watching the map of Scotland turn uniformly yellow as the night went on was very pleasing. The country is united, as the saying goes.

The Disunited Kingdom

The absolute opposite applies to the “United” Kingdom.

England only

Remain a member of the European Union: 13,266,996 (46.6%)

Leave the European Union: 15,188,406 (53.4%)

The only Region of England to vote Remain overall was London (59.9% Remain). Check out how the other English Regions voted.

Wales only

Remain a member of the European Union: 772,347 (47.5%)

Leave the European Union: 854,572 (52.5%)

Wales man, what on Earth happened there? Even with UKIP’s vote shares there in 2014 and 2016, I still expected Remain to narrowly win. Show’s what I know!

Northern Ireland only

Remain a member of the European Union: 440,437 (55.8%)

Leave the European Union: 349,442 (44.2%)

The vote in Northern Ireland seems to have split along Unionist (Leave)/Republican (Remain) lines. I’m not really in a position to comment in detail on the unique situation in Northern Ireland. Suffice it to say they, London and Scotland tried our best – but collectively we were still outnumbered by the rest of England and Wales.

So it’s an overall Leave then

Facebook is full of people expressing their disbelief at this result. I’m oddly calm today – maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet. More likely it’s because I’ve been anticipating this for nearly two years.  I was one of the raving Yes campaigners during the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum who wouldn’t shut up about Better Together’s dishonesty on EU membership.

BTlies.jpg

This image has been doing the rounds all night, and rightly so.

Looking at the direction of travel politically of the UK as a whole (driven by England [and Wales, as it turns out]) my view during the IndyRef was that the real danger to EU membership was with a No vote. The trouble is, at the time there were no guarantees either way. For me as I’ve discussed before, the primary driver for a Yes vote was the better democracy that would have resulted from it, with everything else following.

I complete understand people who voted No based on the premise of wanting to keep EU membership. Whether they agreed with me or not, voters all made their decision based on the available information, and why would they listen to vile separatist bloggers like me over the UK Government and official No campaign assurances that the “only way to guarantee EU membership is to vote No”?

A material change in circumstances

In 2014 voters made their decision based on the information available at the time. Last night the available information dramatically changed. Voters in Scotland can now choose: either stay in the UK, or stay in the EU. Both are no longer an option.

I truly hope that every No voter who based part of their decision on the EU membership is willing to re-evaluate their decision. Those voters for whom this changes their mind about Scotland within the UK will be welcomed with open arms into the independence movement. Nobody benefits from saying “I told you so”. We voted in 2014, promises were made if we voted No (not just on the EU membership), and every single one of those promises have been broken. Those of us on the Yes side in 2014 will only persuade a majority of people to support our view that Scotland should be an independent country by positive encouragement and welcoming all to the cause.

Last night’s result was the starkest reminder ever that Scotland’s voice does not count as part of the United Kingdom “Union of Equals”. As a consequence our country faces being dragged out of a true Union of Equals against our democratic will. In 2014 I argued that one of the main constitutional reasons Scotland should be independent was that 60% of the time over the last 50 years we’ve had governments imposed on us that we soundly rejected at the ballot box. Functionally this time is no different: but it is more serious, and far harder to refute the fundamental differences in outlook after a binary choice vote as opposed to a multi-party election.

In addition to the constitutional angle there is the political angle. Politically the direction of travel of Scotland could hardly be more diametrically opposed to that of England (outwith London). The Leave vote won the referendum yesterday where the main focus of the campaign was on reducing immigration. Scotland needs MORE immigration, for goodness’ sake! Our problem for the last 3 centuries has been too much EM-igration! Not only that, Scotland now has a Scottish Government and a vast majority of Westminster MPs who were elected on an anti-austerity platform. David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister but do any of the candidates for the Tory leadership (and unless an unlikely General Election is called and an even more unlikely Labour victory occurs, our next Prime Minister) seem likely to give us less austerity given that the pound just crashed through the floor?

At what point is enough, enough?

During the 2014 independence referendum I debated with people who wanted to vote No to stay in the UK and help reform it for everyone. My view was that the UK had already proven itself unreformable and that it was futile to tie ourselves to the direction of travel that England (mainly) was choosing, when with less than 10% of total votes we had hardly a hope of affecting anything.

If ever there was clear evidence of Scotland trying to influence a progressive choice for the UK as a whole, and failing, then it was yesterday. Yesterday was a major turning point: the cliche in Scotland to explain Labour’s electoral annihilation is “I didn’t leave Labour, Labour left me”. After yesterday it would be fair to say “Scotland isn’t leaving the UK, England & Wales are leaving us”.

In 2014, Scotland was asked to vote No and be part of something bigger than ourselves. 55% of voters did.

In 2016, 62% of voters in Scotland voted to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We now face a clear choice: Which Union do we want to stay in?

What price are we willing to pay to stay in the UK?

Referendum differences and one similarity

Posted by Euan Bennet on 23/06/2016

I’ve left it a bit late to restart the blog for this vote, and perhaps that’s an indication of how engaging the referendum campaign has been. I’ve been appalled at the two official campaigns, and it’s only been relative fringe voices on either side that have presented anything in a tone worth paying attention to. I already had a pretty good idea of how I’d vote, but very little has been said or done by the campaigns to either make me reconsider or harden my resolve.

Several of the usual media suspects have lately attempted to equate this referendum with the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, and in particular the Yes campaign with the 2016 Leave campaign. I haven’t seen any evidence for their assertions, so it’s probably just a sneaky way of flogging the dead “Scottish Nationalists are racist: there’s no evidence for that, but it’s a fact” horse that the media loved to trip out regularly during our referendum. The tone and content of the Yes and Leave campaigns could not be more different. The prospectus for independence was a 650-page Scottish Government textbook. The prospectus for leaving the EU is a lie on the side of a bus, Boris Johnson promising to apologise on live TV if it causes a recession, and Lord Farage joining the UK Government. Casual observers might notice a difference in rigour.

The tone and content of the official No and Remain campaigns have been startlingly familiar however. Project Fear 2.0 has been rolled out promising all the same apocalypses that were supposedly going to befall Scotland. Though mercifully we were spared the “attack from space” scare story this time. Once again I was bemused by those in power essentially telling voters “vote for us or we will punish you in these varied and extensive ways”. Not exactly a good tactic for winning people over to their cause.

However, the point of this blog was to try to avoid the emotional aspects which undoubtedly play a part in any big decision. Let’s look at some evidence.

The difference between Scotland in the UK and the UK in the EU

The question of “how can you support one Union but not another?” has come up a few times. My answer is that the UK Union and the European Union are fundamentally different creatures, down to their DNA.

Scotland in the UK is in a position of having power devolved from the centre of a Union state that behaves as if it is a Unitary state. Power devolved is power retained: Westminster is the final arbiter of the powers of the Scottish Parliament. We can see this in the paltry offering of further devolution that has materialised since 2014 – a settlement that failed to meet low expectations, especially when compared to the desperate campaign promises made by the political leaders of the No campaign. Every single amendment proposed by MPs representing constituencies in Scotland was voted down and rejected by the UK Parliament.

Financially, the UK Treasury gathers almost all of the taxes collected in Scotland (about 88% before the referendum, now it’s about 85% off the top of my head). The Scottish Parliament has limited tax-raising powers, and still none of the important macro-economic levers such as corporation tax, duty, and social security. Westminster decides how much money is spent in Scotland based on a formula that translates how much spending has been done in England. No reference to what might be needed in Scotland. No agility to respond to changes in circumstances quickly. The Scottish Parliament is responsible for about £30 billion in spending, with Westminster spending the rest (another £50-60 billion) on our behalf.

The UK in the EU is a member state of an umbrella organisation that can legislate on matters that member states agree should be legislated on at a European level. Member states have “vetoes” over policy areas and indeed the UK has used vetoes in the past on issues such as immigration. Power is shared between the member states but ultimately still lies with the member states themselves.

Financially, the UK and other member states pay a “subscription fee” to the EU. This fee has been a big focus of the referendum campaigns. Putting it in context it amounts to between 0.5% and 1% of UK Government spending per year. Considering the fiscal multiplier attached to it, it seems to be a sound investment. The UK has in the past negotiated a “rebate” meaning effectively the other member states pay part of their fee. Some of the membership fee goes into funding the EU itself as an organisation, but a lot of it comes back in the form of funding and grants for a variety of projects. It’s actually an incredibly effective mechanism for redistributing wealth from Westminster to outlying parts of the UK.

One of these things is not like the other

Hopefully it’s obvious just how fundamentally different the UK and EU Unions are. There is a world of a difference between the relationships with power, and money, of each Union. There is also the fact that the EU was founded to preserve peace through diplomacy and shared economic development, while the UK emerged from feudalism straight into bloody imperialism. I would propose that there is evidence of both outlooks continuing to this day – though only one of those is a good thing.

The similarity (singular) between the 2014 and 2016 referendums

The only common link that I can see between the two referendums is the unacknowledged heart and core issue of the EU referendum, which was also the core issue of the Independence referendum (though it was only acknowledged and talked about by the Yes campaign): the issue of power, who holds it, and how it (and they) relate to the voters.

My number one reason for campaigning for Yes to independence was essentially as a super efficient mechanism of electoral reform. At a sweep we would have transferred power over the many important Reserved policy areas (energy, macro-economic  powers, welfare, foreign affairs, defence…) from the medieval sham democracy of Westminster to the proportionately-elected modern European parliament of Holyrood.

This time round the proposition from the Leave campaign is “Take Back Control”. Superficially the slogan bears a resemblance to some themes of the Yes campaign – but that doesn’t excuse so -called journalists from conflating the two. If we ask “ah, but Take Back Control for whom?” then the answer gets to the heart of the matter.

Presently the (imperfect) European Union functions a voluntary Union between member states, with an executive that can pass laws on issues that member states have agreed should be shared across the Union. The power to pass these laws ultimately rests with the European Parliament, consisting of 751 MEPs elected by proportional representation by voters in all member states. The power to propose laws (N.B. not pass) is partly with the European Commission, made up of one individual per member state. These individuals are nominated by their (democratically-elected) member state Governments, and their appointments have to be approved by the (democratically-elected) European Parliament.

So a democratic Parliament has the power to pass laws affecting all member states, but only on matters that member states agree should be legislated on at a European level.

By voting Leave and “Taking Back Control”, the powers that are currently shared with the other Member States will return to Westminster. The power will entirely rest in the hands of the least democratic Parliament in Western Europe, and far from having “unelected EU officials” passing laws (a popular outright lie from the Leave campaign) power will be passed to the House of Lords – a bona fide unelected chamber (the only one in any Western democracy) of 825 illegitimate lawmakers. Who would I trust more to make the decisions that are currently shared and rigorously debated by 28 Member States? That’s a simple answer for someone who believes in voters having the power to influence lawmakers.

Final point – international trade

We’ve heard a lot about how much trade the UK has with the EU compared with the rest of the World. Various figures have been bandied around, with no indication if they are remotely comparable – I suspect several apples and oranges situations have been used. However, the Leave campaign always talks about how we can trade more with the RoW than with the EU. That might be true, but today I realised I had a very strong gut feeling that what they mean by that is “we can sell more weapons to the rest of the World”. I don’t have any particular evidence so it’s just speculation, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if the growth in trade the Leavers are aiming for would be driven by arms deals.

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.