Category Archives: UK

Corbyn and the EU

It is only to be expected that the new leadership of the Labour party will need a bit of time to flesh out their policies on the main issues facing the country. However the sloppiness of thinking on the issue of the prospective EU referendum is deeply worrying. Corbyn and his inner team will not commit to campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU and this line seems to be based on rather flimsy reasoning.

Corbin himself has stated that he cannot say how he will vote until the Tory government finalises the details of its reformed package. To do otherwise would be to give Cameron a “blank cheque”. A further reason for voting to come out of the EU has been put forward by others in the party, namely that Cameron may succeed in eroding workers rights as part of his deal with the other EU countries.

Both of these approaches seem to be to be not just flimsy, but counter productive. The argument that a possible erosion of workers rights should cause people to leave the EU is simply farcical. In this putative case leaving the EU does nothing, absolutely nothing, to stop this erosion of workers rights. Worse, by leaving the EU completely, it allows our nasty Tory government the space in which to legislate for even greater erosions of workers rights. Leaving the EU will not in itself make a  blind bit of difference to the actions of our current Tory government, which let us remember will remain in power till May 2020.

The “blank cheque” argument is superficially more reasoned, but only superficially. Campaigning to leave the EU is a major, major decision and leaving the EU will be a complex process with considerable consequences for the UK and its citizens. To contemplate doing so, simply on the basis of a disagreement over elements of a renegotiation package is just irresponsible. It must be emphasised that whatever Cameron manages to achieve, if anything, only lasts as long as the Tories remain in power. A future Labour government in 2020 could easily and quickly reverse these changes, assuming they have even been brought into force by then.

Given the parliamentary arithmetic, it may not be possible to vote down any package that Cameron succeeds in reaching with the other EU states. So, it may not be possible to stop these changes, including any erosion of workers rights. But they can be overturned after the 2020 election. They can only be overturned after that election. Leaving the EU in the meantime does nothing to alter that and if the only reason for leaving the EU was opposition to these specific changes in workers rights, does that mean that Corbyn and Labour will be campaigning in 2020 to rejoin the EU? It simply does not make sense.

Of course it may be that Corbyn and those publicly contemplating a No vote, actually want to leave the EU. Which is fine, but they should have the courage of their convictions, and come out openly and say why they want the UK to leave the EU and how this move would benefit British workers. The heart of Corbyn’s appeal was that he was not like the other contenders and would not hide behind meaningless spin. So it is time for Corbyn to come clean and stop hiding behind “blank cheques” and come clean and share with all of us what he really thinks about our membership of the EU.

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Corbyn – What next?

Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn and his team for their stunning and overwhelming victory in the Labour leadership election. The size of his victory was greater than expected. This makes it all the more pleasing that Corbyn won such a big victory on an anti-austerity and anti Trident platform. But how much can Corbyn achieve?

Winning the leadership election may turn out to have been the easiest part  of his challenges. Some of these face any non Tory leader. A uniformly hostile media, a nasty majority Tory government and the mass ranks of big business and finance. Still these can be overcome, just look at the success of the SNP here in Scotland. Performance in the Commons, especially at PMQs, will generate lots of media noise. However, outside the Westminster bubble, this will not count for much. To put it in boxing terms, Corbyn just needs to remain standing to achieve a victory of sorts.

The main challenges to a successful Corbyn leadership will come from within the party he now leads. He faces two substantial challenges and he needs to win both of them, if his project to transform the Labour party is to succeed. The first is perhaps the most difficult. This is what to do about his fellow MPs, almost all of them hostile to him as leader?. Most of the current front bench team have already resigned or made it clear they will not serve under Corbyn. This leaves Corbyn with an apparently insurmountable problem – how to form a credible Shadow team?

For even if some of his opponents do agree to enter the Shadow cabinet, what line will they take? Who among Corbyn’s opponents can now credibly front an anti-austerity economic programme? Or to fundamentally oppose the government’s whole approach to welfare? And what about Trident? If they are to now adopt a fundamentally different policy they will need to come up with some pretty convincing reasons for doing so, and soon. Otherwise we could find ourselves with the ridiculous prospect of senior members of the Shadow cabinet advocating a different set of policies from the leader.

A further difficulty may well come from the actions of those who continue to refuse to work with Corbyn.  Will they just retire gracefully into full time constituency work and keep their mouths shut when it comes to commenting on Corbyn’s leadership? Or will they be constantly sniping and attacking from the sidelines. There will be plenty of outlets in the media all too delighted at the prospect of the likes of Burnham, Cooper, Kendall et al trying to destroy Corbyn from within.

The biggest challenge facing Corbyn though will come from the general membership of the party. This is also his greatest chance of success. The hundreds of thousands of people who voted for him are his only route to long term success. Are they up to it? How many of the 180,000 people who paid their £3.00 to vote for Corbyn, will now become full members of the party and put in the work to make Corbyn’s victory the beginning of a process of fundamentally changing the party?

Without their continuing support Corbyn has no chance of changing Labour, let alone winning in 2020. But this is the really difficult part. It requires dozens and dozens of people in constituencies up and down England to become activists, attending branch meetings and standing for election for branch offices. Corbyn needs these people on the ground in every constituency reminding their Labour MPs or prospective MPs that the party has changed. In particular these new members and the old ones who voted for Corbyn need to be prepared to challenge and hassle and question those MPs who did not vote for Corbyn. They are after all the minority now. The clear majority of the party has spoken loudly and clearly in favour of major changes in policies. The membership now needs to make sure that the party’s current MPs respect this majority.

If Corbyn can persuade the majority of those who voted for him to become themselves activists in branches and constituencies, then he has a real chance of winning, not just within the Labour party, but in 2020. For all the talk about only winning from the centre ground is a bit of nonsense. It clearly ignores what has happened in Scotland and to a lesser extent in Wales.

More importantly it ignores what has happened in England. There the Tories have become about as nasty and right wing as it is possible to go. Yet the media somehow present them as representing the centre ground of opinion. In this of course they have been supported by a weak and supine Labour party which seems to have forgotten what it was about. Offering the public a Tory lite platform was never likely to win over disgruntled Tories, nor to enthuse potential Labour voters. Which is exactly what happened in England in the recent general election.

It is also worth noting that according to most surveys of opinion, on most economic issues Corbyn’s policies are more in touch with the general public than the Tory party. I wish Jeremy Corbyn all the best in his challenges. There is only a little that he can do himself, the rest depends on all those who voted for him in impressive numbers. Can they go the extra mile and begin the daunting task of transforming the Labour party?

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Calais and Aspiration

The attempts by migrants and asylum seekers to enter the UK is not particularly newsworthy in itself. Getting into the UK illegally is not an easy feat and the Channel ports and the tunnel would seem to be the most obvious place to make an attempt. The recent and ongoing crisis in and around Calais must seem small beer to some of the other countries in Europe that continue to bear the brunt of welcoming migrants. Despite the best attempts of our media, most would be migrants do not want to come to the UK. Only relatively small numbers out of the large and growing numbers of migrants end up by Calais.

Unfortunately this is enough to create a mini panic within the British establishment. How to keep the buggers out seems to be the dominant line. Never mind the humanitarian suffering behind all these movements or what is causing hundreds of thousands of people to undertake the dangerous journey of travelling half way round the world. Much simpler to just unremittingly focus on portraying them all as untrustworthy scroungers who must be kept out at all costs.

What I find particularly fascinating about the media and political response is how it relates to the celebration of aspiration as a positive virtue to be encouraged. Now if the thousands of people who are camped in and around Calais are demonstrating one thing, surely that is aspiration. They want to improve their lives and are prepared to undergo all kinds of unimaginable suffering and dangers in order to achieve this. Allied to a large dose of aspiration, these would be migrants have also demonstrated endeavour and determination in spades.  All the kind of things that our media and UK political parties constantly praise as key British values. We should therefore be welcoming with open arms the prospect of more young people full of aspiration, endeavour and determination. Exactly what the UK needs to meet the challenges of competition from China and the rest of the world.

But it seems that aspiration is only a good thing if it is British citizens who are doing the aspiring. Others are most clearly not welcome at all. Underlying the nasty language of the opposition to these would be migrants is a barely disguised racism and narrow nationalism. Of the British variety of course. What is especially sad about this, but all too predictable, is the alacrity with which the Labour party has joined in this attack on migrants. What the response from the British establishment in both the media and political parties shows, is that nationalism of the worst possible kind is alive and kicking in the UK. It is telling that it is the SNP, along with the Greens, who have made a more positive response, accepting that the UK should be willing to accept its fair share of the migrants arriving in Europe. Yet it is the SNP that continues to get accused of narrow nationalism. The nasty nationalistic response of the British establishment is but further proof of how unreformable the UK has become.

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Opposing Austerity

Last weekend saw various marches and demonstrations across the UK against the Tory government’s further austerity plans. Pretty substantial ones in London and Glasgow by all accounts. All very good in a way, but what does it achieve? Richard Seymour has a very good, short piece on his Lenin’s Tomb blog on this, which you can read here. I am very much in agreement with Richard on this. Opposing austerity is relatively speaking easy. Write a few letters or articles, blog away about how nasty and self-defeating austerity is, and of course go on any number of marches and demonstrations. However stopping austerity is an altogether harder nut to crack.

The big problem is that the battle against austerity was lost decades ago. Ironically, as Simon Wren-Lewis points out, the one place were the austerity bandwagon has failed is in the economics profession. See this article for details of how the academic world views austerity. Alas, the same cannot be said for the world of politics and public opinion. The austerians have successfully won the battle of public opinion. The majority of people agree that the two Ds – debt and the deficit – pose a real and existential threat to the survival of our country. The image of the UK as a big family which has overspent and misspent on its credit card has struck a chord with most people. The fact that this is economic illiteracy is irrelevant. This view, backed up by just about all of our media has almost obliterated alternative views.

In this task, the right has been immeasurably helped by the complete failure of the both Labour and the LibDems to mount any kind of sustained opposition to the “austerity is needed to save our country” message from the Tories and their allies. Even worse, these two parties have either explicitly or implicitly acknowledged the key message that some degree of austerity is necessary. If all you have to offer is austerity lite, you might as well vote for the real thing and get it over with.

This is the real challenge which faces the left across the UK, and in the rest of Europe it must be said. We urgently need to find ways to challenge and replace the dominant neo-liberal consensus in the media, the mainstream political parties and most of all with the public. While the odd march and demonstration will continue to play their part in this, the real work needs to be done elsewhere. The various strands on the left, including the Greens and the SNP, Plaid etc, need to develop an alternative story as to how we got into this mess and how to get out of it. The ingredients are there – financial deregulation and the over mighty power of banks and other financial institutions for one. However as yet no simple to convey and simple to understand alternative story has made it regularly into the media and into popular perception.

It would be good if the Labour party were to become part of this counter attack on austerity. But the omens are not good. Previous Labour governments did little or nothing to anticipate or prevent the crash. Government spending did not cause the crash. However the lax attitude of Labour governments, bordering on the irresponsible, did create the regulatory framework which allowed the crash to happen. All this means that Labour are unlikely to be part of any solution. The party still seems to be in thrall to big finance and the precious role of London as a world financial centre. God bless them, they seem all to willing to admit to overspending, which they didn’t do, but unwilling to admit to favouring the rich and big business.

This is where we need the more creative and economically aware people on the left to get involved in developing an alternative and popular story. A lot is already being done and available via our exciting alternative media – Bella, Newsnet, Wings, Common Space etc. However in large measure these outlets are preaching to the converted. How do we get our message and our alternative story out into the parts of the population that the Sun et al manage to reach? And onto out TV and radio programmes?

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Will the SNP 56 change England?

The return of 56 SNP MPs to Westminster has generated much comment on just what they can hope to achieve. 56 is a lot in Scottish terms, but still a small minority in the grand scheme of things at Westminster, where they make up less than 11% of the total. Most, if not all, the focus has therefore been on what they can achieve for Scotland. Or more accurately what they will not be able to achieve for Scotland – stopping Trident, reversing austerity etc. However there is another aspect to the increased presence of SNP MPs at Westminster – their potential to change attitudes and perceptions in England.

56 MPs, though a minority, nevertheless represents a quite significant visual presence in the chamber. Particularly if they sit together and turn out in numbers to support each other, as seems to be the case. Such a presence is difficult for the media to ignore completely. The print media will probably try to, unless it is to highlight something they regard as improper behaviour, clapping for example. However the broadcasters will find it more difficult to ignore this presence. Angus Robertson will get two questions every week at PMQs, while there will be SNP members on every select committee. TV and radio will find it very difficult to simply not show this in their reports. The SNP should also find that one of their number appears much more frequently on Question Time and other discussion programmes.

The question then is what effect might this increased visibility have on people and politics in England? The Tories are unlikely to be impressed by anything the SNP do or say, so they can be discounted. Their voters may react differently and more positively, but in the end Tory voters or UKIP voters are most unlikely to change their votes due to anything the SNP say or do. This is not the case though with the Labour party or their voters and potential voters. The same may be true for the remaining and potential LibDem voters, assuming they can ever recover. I suspect that it will be the broad swathe of Labour and LibDem voters who are most likely to be impressed and surprised by the increased coverage of the SNP.  What might impress them?

The first surprise will probably be that the new Scottish contingent looks and sounds a lot like them. A variety of Scottish accents will be heard, but all will speak in ways that will be clear and understandable to everyone across the UK. Taken as a whole, the SNP group is probably more reflective of the country than either Labour or the Tories. They represent a better  balance in terms of gender, age and previous experience.

A particular and in many ways the stand-out example of this is that there are no Oxbridge graduates in the SNP group. Unlike Labour, which seems to have been taken over by an Oxbridge and London elite, at least at its leadership level. Many Labour members and voters may begin to ask why the Labour party has allowed itself to become dominated by such a narrow and restricted base.

The most important difference of course will be in the political message that the 56 will articulate with clarity and passion. They will challenge the Westminster consensus on austerity, immigrant bashing, punishing the poorest etc. They will also vigorously oppose the attempt to revoke the Human Rights Act. In general they will put forward a more positive alternative. Not based on the narrow individual aspiration that Labour seems to have borrowed from the Tories. But a positive vision that is more collective, people working together to improve the public services that benefit all of us. Dare I say it, a kind of pooling and sharing of resources. But one that involves the rich and better off contributing a bit more, and finally challenging the damaging dominance of the UK economy by an out of control financial sector, that only seems to benefit London. And only some Londoners at that.

While the SNP will of course continue to present the case for independence, during the life of this parliament they will also argue for more powers for Scotland within the UK. This too is likely to strike a chord with many people not just in England, but in Wales and Northern Ireland too. For greater powers for Scotland can be presented in the context of fundamentally changing the UK into a Federal country.

There is thus every possibility that many Labour voters will begin to ask why the Labour party is not more like the SNP in terms of its progressive and challenging policies. This will take time and any change will come too late for the current Labour leadership contest. But five years is a long time in politics and if the SNP get the coverage their numbers merit, their presence and actions can only be a positive force in England.

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Election 2015 – Initial Reflections

So no coalition then! The final result was a big surprise to just about everyone. Some joy in the big SNP vote and dismay and fear in the overall Tory win. There will be time to pick over the bones of the election, but here are my initial thoughts on what happened and what might happen next.

1. The size of the SNP win was almost unbelievable. Surely they could not win 56 seats in Scotland and wipe out not just Labour but also the LibDems? But they did, all but one Labour and LibDem survived the onslaught, alongside our statutory Tory MP. The scale of the victory was a bit surprising, but the victory itself was never in doubt.

There were early indications of the coming tsunami immediately after the referendum. Way back last September there was an impromptu public gathering in the centre of Dundee. The meeting was taken over by ordinary members of the public who, possibly for the first time in their lives, stepped forward to speak out at a public meeting. Their message was almost 100% anger and bitterness, especially against Labour. Their call was to join the SNP or at least vote SNP.  All such comments met with rapturous applause. Now Dundee was a Yes city, so such a response was maybe to be expected, but it soon became clear that this simple message – join or vote SNP – was to be repeated and shared across the whole of the country.

Part of the success must also go to Nicola Sturgeon, who was probably the star of the campaign, and not just in Scotland. As the election drew nearer, the support for the SNP grew even larger. To win just over 50% of the vote on a high turnout was incredible. To win 56 out of 59 MPS is down to the absurdities of our First Past the Post election system. FPTP is inherently unfair and undemocratic, and every so often produces really exceptional results. Interestingly the SNP oppose FPTP, while Labour supports it. Perhaps time for Labour to think again about this one?

2. While the SNP ran a very positive campaign, Labour in Scotland ran a truly awful campaign. Their two key messages to the Scottish electorate boiled down to a) vote Labour to stop the Tories, and b) SNP are bad, bad and even badder. I know they had more things to say, some quite positive, but these other messages were continually drowned out by the above two claims. Both were ludicrous and everyone knew they were.

Firstly, in 2010 Labour played the same card, vote Labour to keep the Tories out, and Scotland by a large majority did. And what happened? The Tories still got in, admittedly with the support of the LibDems. However the key lesson that Scottish voters learned from 2010, was voting Labour did not guarantee a Labour government at Westminster. Only English voters can do that. Repeating a failed mantra from five years ago was a not particularly bright idea.

Secondly, constantly claiming that the SNP are bad and not to be trusted was a incredibly stupid line to take. The SNP was and is very, very popular in Scotland, witness its electoral success in 2011. It is also respected and trusted by very large numbers of Scots, including voters of other parties. In large measure due to their record in government in Scotland where they are widely seen as both competent and caring. Then of course we have the Nicola factor. The most popular party leader by far, and yet Labour try to portray the SNP as bad, bad, bad. Truly dreadful stuff, and who advises Labour on these matters?

Labour in Scotland were also not helped by Labour in England who ran a mildly austerity-lite campaign, which never succeeded in inspiring anyone. Jumping on the anti-SNP bandwagon did them no favours neither in Scotland nor in England. Not a very good show by Labour in England.

3 The LibDem wipe-out was a just reward for a party that betrayed its roots and its electorate. Putting party prestige and ministerial posts before the needs of the country in 2010, condemned them utterly and not just in Scotland. They were elected in 2010 primarily on an anti Tory and anti austerity platform, which had more in common with Labour. Yet within days they had sold out to the Tories and signed up as willing supporters of economic polices that have led to the worst and longest recession ever. And in return they got a few crumbs and nothing of substance, no electoral reform, no steps towards that federal nirvana they keep talking about. The ultimate talking-shop, that is what the LibDems have become.

4. The Tories remain toxic in Scotland. They continue to make little or no progress in their attempts to win back popularity, even in former Tory voting parts of the country. Their current leader, Ruth Davidson, continues to get rave reviews in the media, but has failed almost as much as her LibDem and Labour counterparts. No great surprise there, as our media is overwhelming right wing and keen to talk up the Tories in Scotland. Ruth Davidson, much like her predecessor, Annabel Goldie, is a well enough liked person, but I suspect that both failed to realise that we were not laughing with them, but laughing at them.

A brief word about the Tory campaign in England. This was a disgrace. Their economic and social policies are reactionary and based on a lie – see this excellent series by Simon Wren-Lewis for confirmation of this. Alas their anti-Scottish rhetoric and campaign went beyond disgraceful. Racism, pure and simple, is what the Tories in England descended to in their desperate attempt to cling onto power in England. Truly the nasty party is alive and kicking.

5. Despite my abhorrence of the Tories, I recognise that their victory is perfectly legitimate, even in Scotland. Last September Scotland voted by a clear majority to stay in the UK. Part and parcel of that decision was accepting that it is the electorate across the whole of the UK which gets to decide who forms the government. This was a UK general election and the Tories won an overall majority. No grounds for complaining now. It is true that the Tory vote share across the UK was only just over 37%. But if you add on the 12% who voted UKIP, the right wing bloc won almost half of the votes. The Tory majority comes from the iniquities of FPTP,  but we all know this can happen. If you don’t like FPTP, vote for parties that favour real PR.

6. The election confirmed in a stunning way the extent to which the UK has become an ever more disunited kingdom. Despite their victory overall, the Tories have become effectively an English party with minority support in Scotland and Wales and none in Northern Ireland. On the other hand, Labour remains dominant in Wales, while the SNP are now even more dominant in Scotland, building on its success in 2011. Northern Ireland has always had its own parties and its own political system. The UK appears more broken than ever after this election.

7. What is perhaps more worrying from a Unionist perspective, is that these results seem to reflect a persistent and growing divide on policy issues between England and the Celtic parts of the kingdom. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, anti-austerity parties won substantial majorities. While England continues to elect pro-austerity parties. Clearly there are significant differences across England, but as a country the majority in England seem willing to continue with the Tories’ unnecessary and unjust austerity policies.

This divide in policy preferences probably extends to other key issues such as the NHS, education and housing. It may also extend to our membership of the EU, with pro-EU majorities in Wales and Scotland. Not sure where all the Northern Irish parties stand on the EU.

7. What next? Given all the differences in results and policy preferences exposed by this election, something has to change if the the UK is to survive. While I remain convinced that independence for Scotland is the way forward, this is not likely to happen anytime soon. Therefore it is in my interest to make the UK a more effective and responsive state, for as long as Scotland remains part of the UK. This can only mean a move towards a Federal UK. Already some people from both Labour and the Tories have begun to talk about this. An interesting take on this can be found here, where John Denham writes about the need for an  English Labour party. Who would ever have thought it. Changing times indeed!

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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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General Election 2015 – Groundhog Day!

The closer the election gets the more the debate gets stuck in a seemingly immoveable groove. It’s getting to be a bit like the film Groundhog Day, only this time every morning we get to hear the same tired old patronising insults. At least as far as Scotland is concerned. All the Unionist parties are at it. They seem to be collectively unable or unwilling to get beyond their Project Fear mode of operating.

Labour for example is still churning out the lie that only the largest party gets to form the government at Westminster. That Jim Murphy & Co are stuck repeating this lie is further evidence that Labour treats us as if we are a bunch of idiots. We need more journalists to challenge the likes of Ed Miliband to confirm that if Labour has less MPs than the Tories, but could form a government with the support of other parties, he would just stand aside and let David Cameron continue as Prime Minister.

Then we have Labour MP Rachel Reeves boasting that the Labour party is not the party of people on benefits.  She went out of her way in an interview to stress that, “We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work.” Now the really, really sad thing about this is that Rachel is probably telling the truth here.  Labour no longer wants to represent the poor and disadvantaged it seems. Much better to just insult lots and lots of people. Not to mention insulting the memory of countless thousands of Labour party stalwarts who did think it was their job to represent all working people, including those who became unemployed and had to rely on the welfare state.  Seems the Labour party has decided that the only way to get elected in England is to insult and cast off as the new untouchables the millions of people who continue to suffer the ravages inflicted on them by our nasty coalition. Does this mean that Labour is now just as nasty?

Unionists and it seems most of the media in London are equally happy to indulge in a bit of repetitive insulting. Only this time it is Scots who have to bear the brunt of their ire. How dare we presume to have any kind of influence over the next UK government. Or even worse, God forbid, actually become part of the next UK government. While the Tory party is the most vocal in this almost daily repetition of anti-Scottish bile, neither Labour nor the LibDems are immune from this. All three Unionist parties are determined to rule out any kind of post election co-operation with the SNP at Westminster.

It is all so depressing and shows just how hollow were all those protestations of love coming from the Unionist parties before the referendum. The truly unexpected follow-up from the referendum campaign is that it is the Unionists who are stuck in referendum mode. The Yes campaigners have accepted the result and want to move on. To move on to reforming the UK, if that is possible, and to building a progressive UK wide alliance to bring an end to all this unnecessary austerity, which has caused so much damage to the economy.

One would have thought that the Labour party would want to be at least part of this, if not actually leading. What would be more natural than for the Labour party to be trying to build a progressive coalition with the support of other parties across the UK? But no, it seems that Labour remains trapped in its very own Groundhog Day. The SNP must be opposed and derided at every opportunity and at all cost. Even if the cost includes more Tory rule and more suffering for the poor and disadvantaged. Yet again, if the likes of Rachel Reeves represent Labour thinking, the party hardly deserves to be part of any king of progressive alliance.

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