Saturday, 31 March 2012

Make me vote “YES”.

It’s time to fuel the independence debate. The polls vary with a trend increasingly in favour of independence, but it’s broadly working out at 40-20-40 as a YES-Undecided-No vote in this spring of 2012.

A full 60% of the electorate waits to be convinced on the benefits of independence. Some never will be. Looking at the results of the last referendum on devolution where over 70% of those who voted supported the motion, the question is how to get there again; how to even exceed that number.

Those sitting on the fence need a convincing argument, they need a positive message that the parties of a Union persuasion cannot match. Across the entire British Isles the electorate is fed up and feeling disenfranchised, less so in Scotland perhaps due to the stability of Holyrood, but the feeling persists at various levels. It can be no other way as we live under the same umbrella social-political system.

That level of dissatisfaction was most recently expressed in Bradford, the electorate is certainly ready.

Vague promises are unlikely to work for much of the 60%, they’ve all heard it before. For many, apathy rules and there is no incentive to vote.

Telling the 60% that they’ll be better off in a future Scotland is unlikely to work, it will continue to be hard to get the message out against a hostile media.

Informing this tranche of the electorate that they are wasting vast swathes of their resources through bad government at Westminster might have an impact; again the message will struggle to gain traction against media spin.

A leaflet campaign might work, but it too will fight against the London dominated media. Leaflets often end in the bin, frequently unread.

Any message that is promoted on behalf of Scottish independence must resonate, it must be visible in as many homes as often as possible, and it must be clear, concise, brief and understandable. Above all it must be a message that Westminster can’t match or usurp, that the mainstream media will find difficult to undermine. It should be one that is already fundamentally a Scottish government policy. If such a message can be found and used it will force the opposition to fight on Scottish ground and it will make those who might dismiss independence examine all the issues.

One possible solution to achieve widespread dissemination might be to put it on fridge magnet, get it into every home. Every time the fridge is opened the message is seen at some level.

It will make even the vast majority of the 60% consider the “YES” vote. It will destroy the ability of any “dirty tricks brigade” to be effective.

In discussions with individuals, in reviewing government policy, in examining the national accounts and looking at what might be affordable or what might not be, to me, the answer appears clear and obvious. The answer already being promoted.

Before declaring the answer, people in Scotland need to know what they’re voting for. People in Scotland need to know that they will not simply get a “mini-me” Westminster system in Scotland. They need to know, and it needs to be a foundation of the referendum that there will be transparency at all levels of government, that the nation will have a balanced budget, that any debt the nation assumes will be for fixed reasons and have a set pay off date.

Furthermore, Scots need to know that their government will never allow the situation that presently exists in Westminster or Washington, where generations of children are born indebted. They need to know that this incredibly resource rich land of ours will be there for all our children, they will have a secure start.

To know all of these things, and more, Scots need to be motivated to accept the information that will make it possible. Scots fed on a diet of BBC misinformation and Union spin must be put into a position where they are ready and willing to accept information that may be contrary to what they’ve been spoon fed and accepted for generations. They must want to find the truth.

This tool and a key to our future appears to lie in the policy of Scotland’s government to push for a fuel price regulator.

The independence platform states Scots would be over £500 a year better off after independence. It would be appropriate to use some of that £500 to cut taxes on fuel, to put money back in the national pockets from day one, to stimulate the economy and truly provide the energy to kick start all our tomorrows.

With government data showing each Scot travels over 8,000 km/year, and knowing that most is by road - 77%, then we have about 1.81 billion liters of fuel consumed. If fuel duty was cut by 50p a litre the cost to the Scottish government in lost revenue would be about £775 million a year. That’s approaching to £200 per person in direct tax cuts every year. About half of what we overpay right now, or less than half of the defence under spend in Scotland.

It is very affordable.

The fuel duty cut could be reflected in two ways, a 40p per litre cut at the pump and 10p per litre put into a ring-fenced green energy development fund. Invest in our universities as they work for tomorrows’ technology.

The effect of an immediately apparent 40p tax cut linked to a fuel duty regulator would be inescapable. Industrialized life requires energy. The cost of haulage would drop significantly, bringing the haulers’ in on the side of independence. The cost of energy to the manufacturing sector would drop making our country more competitive, business would be inclined to support independence. The motorist will see an immediate benefit; the motoring public will have concrete reasons to support independence.

Westminster with its insatiable and spiraling need for cash cannot match this policy without accelerating the destruction of the social framework through budget cuts to such an extent that it is possible a form of political anarchy would prevail. At the very least it would be a wake-up call in London.

There may be issues with people crossing the border from England in order to fill up vehicles, but this would not be an issue for Scots as those revenues would also accrue to a future independent exchequer.

Air and sea fuel duties could also be adjusted, it would assist in rebalancing the current requirement for most international travel to route through England, it may even lead to resurgence for almost forgotten hubs like Prestwick airport, the only consistently fog free airport in the UK. Even the cost of concessionary travel for disabled and elderly should reduce perhaps by as much as 25%.

The base calculations show that the benefits which would accrue to an independent Scotland were she to implement such a proposal, would be immense. There should be little downside that would not quickly readjust any potential hole in national finances as the engine of productivity truly begins to hum again. With an economic boost such as this, demand will be stimulated, growth encouraged, jobs created, unemployment reduced and the welfare bill lowered.

There will of course be cries of “vote buying” and “electoral bribery” in the union press. Expect it to be a literal cacophony. The response is simple, it is what Scotland needs, it is what Scotland can afford and it will help Scotland’s poor and middle class families most. It will be the first compassionate and constructive act of an independent legislature, it will be tied to an indexed linked fuel price regulator, and it will last at least seven years before review.

It needs to be a focus point of the referendum campaign. It, or something like it, needs to be on the table to fully engage an entire nation.

We need to put our leading economists to work, now, to definitively project what such policies would mean, where they can lead this great nation of ours, and to uncover any other strategies that might be there to help us better the lives and prospects of our children.

Potential Fridge Magnet Design.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Intergovernmental Agreement on the Scotland Bill. A step to full independence.

Yesterday there was a news item, buried on budget day and spun by the Unionist leaning press as a capitulation by Holyrood / Alex Salmond (insert as appropriate) that the SNP had agreed not to obstruct the Scotland bill. This is presently only an agreement in principle, but it should be anticipated to progress in good faith.

In the event good faith goes AWOL, the Scotland bill can be stopped in its tracks at Holyrood on the basis that negotiations have been in bad faith, an almost unchallengeable stance.

The spin from the London centric media after the announcement, decrying Alex Salmond as capitulating over the bill is functional until the thinking individual comprehends that the transfer of powers is one way only – Westminster to Holyrood.

It’s the only aspect of the bill that makes it even remotely palatable. It remains as described by the SNP leadership a “missed opportunity”, and one that can be appropriately exploited over the course of the run up to 2014.

This transfer of powers from London to Edinburgh is also notable as it was announced while the House of Lords were still tabling amendments to the bill. Few if any of the Lords amendments have been good for Scotland, most are concerned with repatriation of powers to Westminster or ensuring a single party could never again get an overall majority at Holyrood.

When the Lords weren’t focused on the majority aspect at Holyrood they appeared to be expending most of their energy in attempts to modify Scotland’s constitution in such a manner that Scots could never again be viewed as “worrisome” for the ermine clad brigade. The incumbents of the second chamber did not seem to consider such tinkering might actually be beyond their remit.

The agreement in principle between Mr’s Salmond and Cameron, for such is what it fundamentally is, also implies that during the course of at least this Holyrood administration there will be no more attempts at power grabs by Westminster. That such an agreement appears in the course of the Lords deliberations declared loudly the irrelevance of the Lords to this process.

The Lords might object, they may cause the bill to fail in a fit of umbrage, but in doing so they will remove the gunpowder from the Unionist press broadside, a broadside that would be guaranteed to be effective if the SNP refused the bill.

If this were Chess, it might rightly be considered that the Independence movement just caused the opposition to sacrifice the queen and barely gave up a pawn.

The pawn potentially being sacrificed is the upset that will be caused by the announcement amongst more "hard core" nationalists, those who will react predictably to the initial media reporting without waiting for all the data to arrive.

The current Scottish government has one primary focus, the betterment of Scots and Scotland. Their flagship policy in that respect is independence, it has been since 1931. The government are aware there are some amongst its supporters who may react quickly but the ministers at Holyrood also know those people will vote for the end game, independence, regardless.

In the longer term these individuals might lose their party allegiance, but the SNP is putting everything into the 2014 referendum, not the 2016 elections, and a win in 2014 should see everything forgiven by 2016 anyway.

The SNP will, after all, have achieved the only true goal these presently upset "hard core" nationalists care about, they will have delivered independence.

In the short term, the run up to 2014, Alex Salmond’s government loses nothing while gaining much from this agreement in principle. It removes the distraction of the Scotland bill from the debate without sacrificing any of Holyrood’s autonomy. It wins substantial new powers of various degrees of worth, none of which it is forced to use. It gives nothing back to London.

Lord’s Foulke’s, Forsythe and Wallace with Scotland’s other ermine clad incumbents who are antagonistic towards Holyrood’s aspirations and continue to debate the issue look foolish in the extreme. David Cameron just pulled the rug from beneath them so quickly that as of close of business after the announcements they still hadn’t realised they were standing on floor boards.

Not only has Holyrood reduced the Lords to an irrelevance, but Edinburgh and not London [regardless of the news spin] has defined the game. Holyrood has set the rules. Holyrood has the next move. The Westminster queen in this strategic chess game has been sacrificed and after only half a dozen moves the opposition is seriously wondering how to save the game.

Expect the SNP to simply abstain from passing the Scotland bill when it reaches Holyrood again, which would mean the Unionists forcing it through - and they must or lose all credibility. The Scottish Government can abstain on the premise that the bill is totally inadequate and a missed opportunity to do more for Scotland, even as they take the high ground and allow it pass. There is no downside for the Scottish administration here.

The bill contains many new powers, some will be used and some are unlikely to be used. No one should expect the tax powers to be implemented, there’s simply no advantage to using them and they look to be obsolete by the time of the referendum. What the agreement on tax powers does do is it moves the independence process forward. It forces HMRC to separate Scots accounts and we get a true fiscal picture for the first time. It simplifies the process post referendum.

The SNP will strongly suspect we're being undersold on our tax credit status to the Union, but have to agree with GERS as a basis. Now GERS will be substantially more accurate.

In the lead up to the big debate, with the polls showing £500 would comprehensively settle the issue no matter the dirty tricks brigade - that alone is a pot of gold just uncovered at the end of the rainbow.

There are borrowing powers included in the bill, of almost three times the original proposal. These borrowing powers are incumbent upon the UK treasury to underwrite, and as a share of the UK debt are insignificant. Debt is rarely a good thing but these borrowing powers do give Holyrood the opportunity to add anywhere up to ten thousand semi permanent jobs to the Scots economy as the nation’s infrastructure is improved.

It really is difficult to see a downside to this agreement in principle. The real game has now begun, the pieces are in play, London is down a Queen and it’s Edinburgh’s move.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Scotland's Blank Cheque to London

In the dialogue for the upcoming referendum, there’s been much noise from those of a Unionist or London centric persuasion of the benefits of the present political arrangement. Three centuries into this forced marriage and Scotland is still waiting to discover those benefits that have accrued to her. Tangible benefits, not simply feel goods for some.

Scotland is effectively being requested to write a blank cheque in the referendum. Scots are to promise all current and future revenues to London in return for the unspecified “gift” of “powers” at some unspecified later date. We might be allowed a few more ways to decide how we wish to spend that portion of our own money which is returned to us.

However, Westminster is unwilling to put its money where its mouth is. If London is serious, or if it is honest, it will enact the changes now and enshrine them in a way they cannot be altered without a subsequent Scots referendum. They will enshrine them in such a way that any future proposed power grab by Westminster would require a vote of the Scots people.

Scotland’s present blank cheque should at least buy these guarantees. That it cannot do so at the current time shows the full value of these promises. All Scotland is asking the UK government is, that in return for all tax receipts, upwards of 
£50 billion, that the UK treats us fairly. This refusal of respect from Westminster after countless billions sent south has been stunning in its scope.

The blank cheque going over the border around budget time brings thoughts of exactly what the present draft our nation issues every week gets us. What exactly does Scotland receive in return for the money?

Mr. Osborne said this week, "What you will see on Wednesday is a Budget for working people, a Budget that shows Britain can earn its way in the world, a Budget that says Britain is not content with being in the second rank of economic powers”. That was clear enough, we get to be in an unequal partnership that’s created a second rank state – but it’s got aspirations. Our blank check buys us entry to a second class state.

Then there is the main budget projection itself. Effectively it’s another net loss for Scots working class families, there’s nothing there to significantly enhance the lives of most in our nation. We are witness to an elimination of tax credits, to be replaced in two years by a “Universal Credit” system. That won’t put food in the mouths of Scots weans tomorrow, and by the time it finally arrives we may well have said our last goodbyes to the Union. Effectively Osborne, Cameron, Alexander and Clegg have initiated a two year tax raid on the poor while pandering to the rich with a 10% tax reduction.

Based upon the black hole that is the fiscal drain of UK government policy, where aircraft carriers are commissioned without aircraft and the coastguard decimated in the name of putting Britain first, it is self evident our blank cheque is used for the purchase and perpetuation of incompetent London based governments. 

Our blank cheque also buys Scots a bundle of debt, some 125 billion, if a conservative estimate of our share is accurate, and billions more by the time we choose to stop writing the cheque. If the conservative estimate is wrong then it’s three to four times that number. In simple terms, this is about £24,000 per man, woman and child in Scotland, it could be as high as £80,000. Scotland writes the cheques, Scots cover the checks, and we are capable of doing it, yet still we owe for another’s profligacy, and they want more.

The blank cheque we send south also pays for the benefits system; a system which Scots can afford better than any other constituent UK nation, yet our poor and reliant are seeing those benefits reduced, eliminated, or in the case of closing job-centers in Glasgow simply made more difficult to access. 

Our blank cheque will make certain that our disabled will be denied even if they are terminally ill, if some individual arbitrarily decides they might live six more months. The terminally ill are rarely productive; they are dealing with closing out their lives. Our industries and business will be forced to retain terminally ill employees to their mutual injury. This part of our cheque buys us what can only be considered as a purchase of state sponsored sadism.

Our blank cheque buys us our NHS and our Police, with other services that we require, except the proposals by the Con-Dem government in Westminster, ostensibly to reduce public debt, will decimate the Barnett formula, effectively forcing Holyrood’s hand into following suit. When the Barnett formula is replaced after the referendum, if we stay, there is currently no mention of joint negotiations as to the future level of need. Scotland will get what Westminster decides it requires. On present form, based on military expenditure, that number will be somewhere between one half and two thirds the funds required, and substantially less than is sent south.

Our blank cheque buys Scots unemployment, from the mining, fishing and steel industries of the past to the defence of the realm today. It buys us the inability to create and craft policies for implementation that can be put forward for the better governance of ourselves, for the betterment of our lives and communities and in an effort to ensure a productive future for our next generations.

One area the proponents of the UK are constantly upbeat about is defence, it may have held water a century ago, but is no longer a credible argument.

The Navy normally provides a minimum coverage of a frigate or destroyer fulfilling the role of Fleet Ready Escort (FRE) in order to be able to respond quickly to a potential threat at home or abroad. However, slashed Defence budgets and the war in Libya have meant there hasn't been a vessel available in the UK since the start of October.

To put this in perspective, at the time of Union in 1707 there were three Scots navy ships dedicated to ensuring Scotland’s waters were safe, our blank cheque to Westminster is currently buying Scotland about a 2 billion defence under-spend and poorer naval coverage than at the time of Union.

Scotland does require protection and response vessels; three full time ships would be a minimum with one on each coast constantly available for fisheries and rig work. London demanded we throw another few billion in addition to our blank check, courtesy of a tax raid on Scots oil, even though this stifled investment, cost jobs and stalled a full industrial sector recovery. Westminster can’t even protect the assets laying the golden eggs.

The blank cheque is still not enough for London: it needs additional cash on top. Not content with mortgaging our children’s futures there’s a very real possibility that our own may be in more jeopardy. The previous pensions raids, increasing our pension age and changing tax allowances or thresholds may not be sufficient as the chancellor eagerly eyes the biggest cash cow left, what remains in our pensions is ripe for another plucking.

More than our already blank check is demanded as we see our lottery funds raided, sports programs in Scotland are set aside as cash is funneled to London’s Olympics, an Olympics already over budget by a factor of five. Eight thousand million pounds over budget and Scotland gets a projection of depressed tourism this summer in exchange.

There are also many things we know our blank cheque doesn’t buy. That cheque drawn on the community and realm of Scotland doesn’t protect the lands we own from being sold out from under our feet. Witness the Crown Estate, our absentee landlord in England as Westminster’s own MP’s recently called it, selling the land below Stirling Castle; land held in trust for generations to be managed on our behalf. The people of Stirling had to basically buy their own land with emergency funds.

Our blank cheque also doesn’t buy protection from the worst excesses and mayhem perpetrated in London. There is no protection from items like the Poll Tax or Austerity or from near criminal relaxation of financial regulations leading to a banking collapse. It doesn’t even buy us an ability to discharge disgraced, morally contemptible or lawbreaking lawmakers.

In 2014 you can vote against independence, you can vote No, you can vote to continue sending your blank cheque south into a black hole that doesn’t do real accounting practices on top of the above.

If you do vote against independence, if you vote to keep rule through the vacuum of a demonstrably ethically, morally and fiscally bankrupt construct, Westminster, how will you explain it to your grandchildren?