Monthly Archives: April 2015

Coalition Anyone?

A week to go before the votes are cast and still both Labour and the Tories refuse to talk about coalitions, or any kind of informal deals. Which is strange, as all the polling evidence points to another hung parliament. This refusal on the part of the two main parties is both undemocratic and insulting to voters. How can people make a realistic assessment of how to vote if the main parties are desperately and deliberately concealing vital information from them? If companies deliberately withhold information from potential shareholders they can be sent to jail! But politicians seem to be immune to even basic standards of decency.

Jim Murphy was at it again this evening on BBC Scotland, refusing point blank to answer any question about coalitions or deals. He even had the effrontery to say he would talk about this only after the election. So much for trusting the voter! Murphy and Labour are not alone in this of course. The Tories follow the same line, though they claim (falsely) that Labour and the SNP have agreed on a deal of some kind. However the Tories refuse to say who they would be prepared to deal with and on what basis.

Paradoxically the only party to openly talk about a coalition is the LibDems. Which is unsurprising as getting into office seems to be the only remaining principle the LibDems have left. The recent nasty coalition between the LibDems and the Tories is without doubt the main reason why everyone else is terrified of talking about coalitions. The LibDems at Westminster seem to have achieved the rare feat of discrediting the whole idea of coalition government for most people.

The LibDem approach to all elections is also very dishonest and undemocratic. Their key pitch is that if you like our policies, then the more MPs we get elected, the more of our policies we can implement. Sounds reasonable, but a moments reflection exposes this claim as dangerous nonsense. Let us say, for example that the LibDems have six key policies and that a majority of their voters really like policies 1, 2 and 3, but either don’t like or are indifferent about the other three policies. However, once in power, the LibDems find they cannot implement policies 1, 2 and 3. Not only can they not implement them they actually vote for something worse. This of course is pretty much what happened in 2010. The LibDems have been rumbled, and big time. Voting LibDem is like signing a blank cheque – you have no idea what, if anything you will get, and worse, you have no idea how much it will cost you, in damages to the economy and society.

So, it is quite understandable if the other parties are loath to talk about coalitions, and most have explicitly ruled one out. However, to stick your head in the sand and refuse to even acknowledge that some kind of deal or arrangement with other parites will be needed to form and sustain a government is perverse. And, as I have argued above, undemocratic and demeaning to voters.

We have a right to know how the various parties will approach the consequences of a hung parliament, if this is what emerges on May 8th. Not just the smaller parties, but Labour and the Tories should be forced to come clean. So far only the SNP has made its position perfectly clear. They will not vote for, or support a Tory government, under any circumstances. They would vote against any money for Trident and would vote for anti austerity measures, reform of the UK constitution(what passes for this) and for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. A progressive alliance which would also be supported by any Green, Plaid Cymru and SDLP MPs. There should be plenty there for a Labour government to endorse. It is alas, most unlikely that Labour would vote to remove Trident, so the SNP would vote against this measure. But with the Fixed Term Parliament legislation, even if a government were to lose a vote, this would not in itself trigger an early election.

So we have a very good idea of what the SNP would support and what they would oppose. Alas, we have nothing from Labour about how they would seek to build on this Progressive Alliance of SNP, Green, Plaid and SDLP. Perhaps when it comes to decision time, Labour would prefer a Tory government. Who knows they might even prefer a Grand Coalition with the Tories, as happens in Germany? It would be nice and in the interests of democracy if we, the voters, were to know just what Labour plans to do in the event of a hung parliament. It is not too late Ed!

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The Madness of British Unionism

The current general election is proving to be one of the most interesting and entertaining elections in a long time. Certainly the most entertaining as the assorted Unionist parties try to outdo each other in incompetence and nastiness. The target of their increasingly venomous insults is the SNP in general and Nicola Sturgeon in particular. At least they now know who the leader of the SNP is! However their hatred of the SNP is at bottom, a barely disguised antithapy to any Scottish influence at Westminster.

The seemingly unstoppable rise of the SNP is generating an equally unstoppable descent into madness on the part of most Unionists. It is not just the gratuitous insults and caricatures. The real sign of madness is that the whole line of attack from both the Tories and Labour is counter productive in terms of defending their precious Union.

It is one of the delicious ironies of the election that it is the SNP which has moved on from the referendum and is campaigning on a platform of reforming the UK and anti-austerity. While the Unionists are still stuck in the past, refighting old battles. Neither independence nor another referendum are on the agenda for the next Parliament. The SNP has repeatedly made this clear. Yet all the Unionist parties want to talk about apparently is independence or another referendum.

One can see why this suits the Tories, at least in the short term. They have only one MP in Scotland, and face little real prospect of improving on this. The Tories can afford in electoral terms to write off Scotland.  Furthermore, the last thing they want is any discussion about the deliberate mess they have made of the economy in the name of austerity. Nor are they keen on discussing ways to reform the way the UK works. More democracy, an end to patronage, real decentralisation etc are pretty much anathema to the Tories, the real party of privilege. Their demonisation of Scots may, just, work in terms of increasing their vote in England, but only at the cost of enormous damage to the Union. Many non SNP supporters will rightly be appalled and insulted by the Tories vicious attacks on Nicola. Worse, the almost out of hand rejection of any Scottish influence at Westminster, calls into question just what is the role of Scottish MPs to be in the Tory view of the UK?

Labour of course are in the opposite situation. They have always relied on a large contingent of MPs from Scotland to make up the lobby fodder for the party in Westminster. Scottish Labour MPs can always be relied upon to put the interests of Labour at Westminster before the interests of their constituents in Scotland. Alas for Labour, they face the prospect of losing much, if not most, of this contingent on 7th May. Their rather pathetic attempts to stave this off, are proving just as off-putting to most Scots as the Tory party’s.

Labour has indulged in its own spot of trying to demonise Nicola and the SNP. But as can be seen from both parties’ manifestos, there is much in common between Labour and the SNP on the economy, NHS and reforming the UK. Yet Labour cannot on any account admit this. Hence their repeated lie about how it is the largest party that gets to form the government. Denigrate your opponents and tell lies, this seems to be the core of Labour’s campaign in Scotland. No wonder it is not working. Everyone knows that Ed Milliband needs the support of 323 MPs to become Prime Minister. And it matters not one whit where these 323 MPs come from.

The real difficulty for all Unionist parties is that the only way to secure the Union in a stable way is to reform the UK into a federal state with a proper Parliament for England. But how many people in England really want this?

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Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland?

The SNP has come out in favour of Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA) for Scotland as the next step in reforming the UK and securing more powers for Scotland. Unionists, and in particular, Labour, are strongly opposed to FFA. Why this virulent opposition to FFA by Labour? Part of their opposition seems to come from their ingrained habit of opposing anything the SNP proposes. Their other objections seem to betray some strange ideas about FFA and about economics.

Much of Labour’s opposition is based on a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS). This report purported to show that in the year 2015/2016, Scotland would have a deficit of £6.6bn. Now it is important to remember that this report describes the current situation, ie Scotland’s financial position within the UK. This £6.6bn funding gap is therefore the product of our membership of the UK. Not much of a benefit for over 300 years of Union! Quite why Labour would want to be boasting about this is a bit of a mystery to me.

As this £6.6bn gap is the current situation, FFA will not in itself make any difference to this figure. Taxes will continue to be collected and public spending will continue to be spent. FFA will eventually provide some much needed clarity about exactly how much revenue is collected in Scotland and just how much is spent here. But FFA will not in itself change the numbers. If there is a £6.6bn deficit now, there will continue to be a £6.6bn deficit with FFA.

The key issue is what, if anything, to do about this £6.6bn? The whole of Labour’s opposition seems to be based on the claim that all of this £6.6bn has to found by raising taxes and/or cutting public spending. But this claim is just nonsense. We just have to ask where does the missing sum come from at the moment. It is not some gift or subsidy from the rest of the UK. The UK government continues to run an enormous deficit, not to mention the growing national debt. To make the books balance the UK government has to borrow. It is worth noting here that the IFS, in its report, stated that FFA would mean that the Scottish government would have to borrow if it’s spending were greater than it’s revenues. In other words just like the UK, and just about every other country in the world.

The Scottish share of UK government borrowing is relatively small. As FFA means that Scotland remains part of the UK, why does Labour want Scotland to be excluded from future UK borrowing? FFA could include specific powers for Scotland to borrow on its own account, but Labour does not seem to be propsing this. It seems that Labour’s opposition to FFA is based one one of two scenarios.

The first is Labour has given up on all this pulling and sharing of resources across the UK. This was the cornerstone of their anti independence campaign. By pulling and sharing we were all better together. But not now it seems. Scotland is to be cast adrift, financially speaking. With not even the powers to borrow on its own account.

The other scenario is that Labour now regards the deficit as so important that it has to be resolved at all costs, primarily through massive cuts in public spending. This of course is exactly the position of the Tories, and would put labour fair and squarely in bed with them once again. Presumably it will not just be the Scottish share of the deficit that has to be resolved. The rest of the UK will no doubt also have to endure its share of these massive cuts.

Returning to the IFS study, we must remember that it is an estimate based on the continuation of current UK policies. As such it tells us absolutely nothing about what might happen if FFA were introduced and different fiscal policies were in place. The whole point of FFA is that it will be Scotland which will get to decide which mix of revenue raising and spending policies to pursue. I guess at bottom, Labour’s opposition to FFA shows that they simply do not trust us, the people who live in Scotland, with this kind of responsibility. Shame on Labour!

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