Tag Archives: Scotland

Scottish politics – the waiting game?

I have that this feeling that we are going through a very strange phase in relation to politics in Scotland. There is still plenty of activity going on, but it strikes me that there is as yet not a lot of substance behind all this activity. This is not a criticism, it takes time for all of us to adjust to the post referendum situation. And the unexpected paradox that it is the losing side, the pro-independence groups and political parties, that is the most energised and enthusiastic. It is great to see so many of our fellow citizens – well over a hundred thousand by now – join a political party. I am one of them, and the Scottish Greens now have one more awkward member to deal with!

It is not just the pro-indy political parties that have been re-energised by this post referendum surge. Many, possibly most, of the main pro-indy campaign groups have decided to continue their work. And they have seen an increase in members or activists. Witness the sell outs for Women for Indy and the most recent, the incredible 3,000 people who attended RIC’s latest jamboree in Glasgow. All the more remarkable in that this conference was held at the same time and almost in the same place as Nicola managed to attract 12,000 people to her final tour event!

At the local level there has been, if anything, an even greater outburst of activity. All kinds of groups, some longstanding and others relatively new, have been organising public meetings, conferences and conventions. More are already planned for next year.

Even the media it seems will not remain unscathed by this post referendum surge. The main pro-indy websites – Bella, Newsnet, National Collective, Wings etc – have all decided to not just continue, but in most cases to expand. This week we have even seen the emergence of a pro-indy newspaper – the National – albeit on a one week trial run. The times they are a changing! Or, have they already changed?

All this activity is great and most welcomed, and I am pleased to play my very small part in this movement. However activity on its own will not be enough. Sooner or later more will be needed. Before the 18th September, we could all focus on the one aim of winning a Yes vote. Details could be left a bit vague as the whole point of independence is that it will be for the people who live in Scotland to have the final democratic say on policies.

This is now no longer the case. While independence will remain the key aim for most of us, a referendum is now off the agenda, for at least a few years anyway. Policy will now be what matters. And there are plenty of issues demanding attention. Constitutional issues will still remain, as we await with baited breadth the proposals from the Smith Commission on how to strengthen the powers of the Scottish Parliament within the UK. As ever the economy will be the prime focus for most people. However this time around social justice is likely to become just as important an issue. Or perhaps the key issue will become how to manage the economy in a way that ensures social justice as an equally important outcome. There will of course be other issues that are likely to become important – fracking, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and its potentially devastating consequences for public services, such as the NHS, the EU and immigration to name but a few.

In all these cases the public will want to hear what the various parties and campaign groups have to say. In particular they will want detailed proposals which specify what action needs to be taken. Wish lists and demands are unlikely to suffice for much longer. And this is where things could become very interesting. With Nicola now formally installed as our new First Minister – congratulations and best wishes to her – and her new cabinet in office, we can expect some more details from the SNP as to what their proposals are. The Greens already have proposals in the public domain. The same should soon happen with the Labour party, once they have decided who they want as their leader and deputy. Though how much real scope for decision making they have remains unanswered.

The various campaigning groups will soon have to decide how far they want to go down the route of detailed proposals. A start was made at the RIC conference with their so called People’s Vow. Not that I am a fan of vows of any kind, at least not in current times. While the principles are admirable, the vow remains full of demands and promises to campaign, to demonstrate and to oppose this and that. The only positive item I could see was the commitment to prepare a people’s budget. It will be interesting to see who gets to write this “people’s” budget, and how far it goes beyond a list of demands.

Another Scotland is possible is the key message of RIC. This needs to go beyond a slogan and become a reality by detailing what needs to change and how these changes can be made and paid for. We need to put forward a vision of this other Scotland as a series of concrete examples of what will be different and how it can happen. And we need to take this to the people of Scotland in their communities and engage with them and convince them that this other Scotland is both worth striving for and achievable. The waiting time will soon be over.


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Nova Scotia – a model for Devo Max ?

With independence off the table for the medium term future,Yes supporters need to turn our attention to Devo Max. This is where the real battleground will lie in the short term – up to and possibly beyond the 2015 UK general election. The Unionists made solemn vows that a No vote would lead to greater powers for the Scottish Parliament. Some even talked about Home Rule and a Federal Britain. We must hold them to account on this.

Put forward a credible model now

However we must do more than just sit back and wait for the UK government to come up with something. This would be a great mistake. Whatever Westminster comes up with, however little and insignificant it amounts to, they and their friends in the media will present it as wonderful, powerful and unprecedented. If we are to counter this we cannot wait and then complain. We need to get in our counter proposals now. The key here is that it is the No voters that the Unionists need to convince with their offer. We still want independence but we are, let us not forget, the minority, so our views are of little import to the UK government. We need to get out into the public domain examples of what devolution of real powers looks like. This way all of us, including No voters will have a meaningful marker against which to judge the UK government’s offer.

Nova Scotia as a working model of Devo Max

There are many possibilities for Devo Max all the way to full fiscal autonomy. But as long as they remain theoretical, academic options, they are not likely to capture the interest or the imagination of the general public. Especially No voters. Instead I suggest that we put forward real life examples from other countries. I would propose the Canadian system as a good example to recommend. I have chosen Nova Scotia to illustrate this for obvious reasons, though the basics apply to all Canadian provinces. This has the advantage that most people in Scotland and the rest of the UK will be pretty familiar with Canada. Not the details of course, but Canada as a friendly, successful and stable country. One that used to be part of the British Empire to boot. This makes it that bit harder for Unionists to reject outright the Canadian system. If it works for Nova Scotia and for Canada why not for Scotland and the UK?

What powers does Nova Scotia have?

Very substantial powers is the short answer. The following brief summary is taken from the Nova Scotia Finance and Treasury Board. You can access the page here. Basically Nova Scotia raises revenues from; income tax, corporate tax, sales tax, taxes on petrol, user fees and royalties from offshore petroleum production activities.

In the case of income tax, corporate tax and sales tax, both the federal and provincial government set their own rates. The Harmonized Sales Tax for example in Nova Scotia is 15% – a federal portion (5%) and a provincial portion (10%). It is also interesting to note that most taxes in Nova Scotia are collected and administered by the Canada Revenue Agency. So there is no need for unnecessary duplication of beaurocracy.

Just to be clear, we do not need to become advocates for any particular form of devolution. But I do believe that we need to do all we can to ensure that the wider public is aware of how extensive devolution is in other successful countries. Canada is just one example. It does have a nice ring to it though. Why should Scotland not have the same economic powers as Nova Scotia?



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Why did UKIP do so badly in Scotland?

This should really be the big question for our political pundits in the media. Given the astonishing success of UKIP in England and Wales, why did they poll so poorly up here in Scotland. For make no mistake about it, a miserly 10% in a 30%+ turnout is very poor. Across the UK, UKIP came first with nearly 28% of the votes cast, and in Wales the party won 27% of the votes to finish a narrow second behind Labour. While in Scotland UKIP finished fourth and only narrowly won the final seat. This seems to me to be a quite remarkable differential. In England and Wales, UKIP’s share of the votes was almost three times its share in Scotland. Surely there must be something that explains this significant difference? You would have had to look long and hard to find anything in the way of analysis of this differential in our not so wonderful media. Our dearly beloved BBC Scotland chose to lead its phone in programme with why did Scotland vote UKIP?, not why did UKIP do so poorly, or even why do the LibDems continue to face wipe-out in Scotland? No, once again the BBC decides in its wisdom to give even more free publicity to UKIP, which remember finished a poor fourth in Scotland.

The roll of the media, and in particular the BBC in promoting UKIP before and during these elections is yet another nail in the coffin of that once well respected organization. We had to endure almost blanket exposure to Nigel Farage and his motley crew. This may or may not have been justified in England and Wales, but there was simply no excuse for this free publicity in Scotland.  Would UKIP have even come close to winning the sixth seat in Scotland if the Scottish Greens had been given the same amount of airtime? There is indeed something rotten about the power of the BBC in Britain.

As for the other results in Scotland, no great surprises. The SNP did win the popular vote, less that is forgotten is all the media coverage devoted to UKiP. The SNP’s success in remaining the most popular party, even after seven years in government is a remarkable achievement and worth of more than passing note. While Labour has recovered from the very poor showing last time around, there is still little sign of them making a serious challenge to the SNP in any national election. The Tories stood still, quite an achievement in a way, given the success of UKIP and the decline in the Tory vote elsewhere. And of course the poor LibDems continue on their seemingly endless decline into obscurity and irrelevance. The Greens increased their share of the vote by  only 1%. Very disappointing for them, but perhaps understandable given the way UKIP were allowed to dominate the airwaves.

Where does all this froth leave us with regard to the independence referendum? Not much the wiser really. An election with a turnout of only 34% can never be much of a guide as what might happen in the referendum where the turnout is expected to be double or even higher. The votes cast in this election only prove two things in my view. One, that Scotland really is different from the rest of the UK. Secondly, only a minority of people care the proverbial 4XXXX about the EU. This above all, perhaps should be the key lesson from these elections. Harping on about the EU, and how dreadful it is, does not seem to generate much response from the majority of the public.  A Yes vote is still there to be won.


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Equal Marriage Bill passes in Scottish Parliament

Its-time-for-equal-marriageYesterday was a very good day for Scotland and for our parliament. There was by all accounts a very good and very civilized debate on the Equal Marriage Bill, aka Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill. The good news is that this bill passed its first reading by 98 votes to 15 with only five abstentions. This is probably an even larger majority than anticipated, which only adds to the good news. There were many good speeches in favour of the bill and I would like to single out one, that by Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Conservatives, who gave a particularly moving and eloquent speech, which you can see here. I do not often agree with Ms Davidson, but on this issue she spoke for most of us.

This decision is welcome, not just for those most directly affected by the measure, but for all of us, regardless of our sexuality or gender. For yesterday was a wonderful opportunity for our MSPs to send out a clear and unequivocal message about the kind of Scotland we want to live in. They did this with flying colours and the message is simple – Scotland will be a country which treats everyone equally. If we have to change the law to make equality a reality, then we will do so.

The debate was also important in that it demonstrated to all that our MSPs are capable of debating sensitive issues in a civilized way. The opposing voices were heard and able to put their case. This is important for parliament needs to reflect the range of opinions in the country as a whole. MSPs tend to have a poor image and reputation. While some of it may be justified, when push came to shove, enough MPS were able to demonstrate their competence.

The debate was also important as it dealt with an issue which has always been separate in Scotland. The bill was about changing Scots Law, in many ways the cornerstone of Scotland as a separate entity. So it was good to hear people like Ruth Davidson acknowledging the independence that our country already has. Next up is to extend our independence to cover all of the key issues that affect us. Equality is more than the right to same sex marriage, important though that is. The fight against other forms of inequality – of income, of life expectancy, of health, of life chances – are just as important to making Scotland the kind of country we can all be proud to live in. For this we need full independence.

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Why Switzerland?

Flag-Pins-Switzerland-ScotlandNow that I am back in Switzerland for our annual holiday, it is a good time to reflect on the possible links between Switzerland and Scotland. At least as far as the referendum on Scottish independence is concerned. For the continued existence of Switzerland must be a galling afront to the members of the Better Together campaign. These Unionist are forever asserting that Scotland needs to be part of a bigger country – the UK – in order to prosper. Yet never a word is mentioned about Switzerland and how it continues to survive and prosper as a small independent state.

Switzerland is like Scotland a relatively small country in both landmass and population. In fact Scotland is almost double the size of Switzerland in area – 78,000 square km to 41,000 square km. On the other hand Switzerland has a much larger population – almmost nine million to Scotland’s five million plus. Overall not much between the two countries. The current constitutional set-up in Switzerland only dates back to 1848. Even its formal origins only go as far back as 1291, when the three very small Alpine cantons came together in a defensive league. By then Scotland had existed as a successful kingdom for some 400 years. Yet Switzerland is undoubtedly very rich and successful. It is also on the whole a country admired throughout for its contributions to peace and harmony in the world. How does Switzerland manage all this, all on its own?

Switzerland does not appear to have much in the way of natural resources, certainly nothing like the oil and gas from the North Sea. Its main strength seems to have been its location – as a transit zone for trade between Italy and Germany. It has since become famous for various industries – watches, chemicals in particular – and of course banking and tourism. In addition many international organizations have their headquarters in Switzerland. The Red Cross, FIFA and UEFA are just a few examples. Even the UN has a substantial presence in the country.

Perhaps its status as a small independent state is a key reason why Switzerland is so attractive to international bodies and to international companies? Perhaps Unionists might like to reflect on this before lecturing us all with yet more Better Together assertions.

But the biggest challenge to all Unionists is why Switzerland exists at all? After all the country is made up of three major language groups – Germans, French and Italians. Why on earth do these three groups not know that they would each be much better off by joining Germany, France and Italy respectively? Surely it is obvious that with the support of three of the biggest and most powerful countries in Europe, the various Swiss peoples would feel much more secure and prosperous? Alas for our Unionist friends this is all too obviously not the case.

In fact the exact opposite may be the reason for Switzerland’s continuing success. As a small independent state, its citizens are able to decide for themselves what is in their best interest and not have that decided for them in Berlin or Paris or Rome. And each language group can still participate in the relevant social and cultural unions that continue to bind them with German, French and Italian speakers everywhere. So in reality, it is the Swiss who get the best of both possible worlds. They have their political and economic independence and get to share in the wider social and cultural world of their fellow language speakers.

Sounds like a very good deal to me. Independence offers all Scots similar benefits as the Swiss enjoy – the right to decide for ouselves what is in our best interest and at the same time to continue with our social and cultural links with people in the rest of the UK and indeed in the wider English speaking world. Independence = Better For All.

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