Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Scottish National Party Election Strategy

I must admit to being a bit, well more than a bit really, unsettled by the latest pronouncement from the Scottish National Party that it will allow ineligible candidates to stand under an independence banner with the support of the SNP.  If they want to amend their constitution to allow new celebrity members to stand then that is a matter for them, but if they are to support candidates from other parties who have been prominent in the independence movement and expect them to take the SNP whip then that is a different story.

It is, and has long been my opinion that every voter who supports the aims and ambitions of the Scottish Socialist Party should have the opportunity of going into the polling booth and placing their cross against the Red Star of the SSP in every election where we have a candidate.  No 'ifs' nor 'buts', we should be sailing under our own flag all of the time.  If we fail to gather sufficient support from the electorate despite having the best raft of policies then so be it. It means we must work harder to get our message across. We can't blame the electorate for our own failings.

But the latest plans of the SNP look like a giant step towards a social democratic one-party state within a capitalist framework and I'm not sure that such a one-party state led by the SNP and packed with the great and the good of independence minded celebrities is a price worth paying for our independence.  We should be thinking long and hard before we get our people involved.
We were useful in the referendum campaign and I held my tongue because the end was, in my own opinion, great enough to justify the means, but does everyone remember the howls of protest from the SNP when we were excluded from the Smith Commission despite being represented on the Yes campaign board. Neither do I, but if you lie down with dogs then you get up with fleas and we should remember that duplicity for a long time before we get involved in supporting them given their record of failure to support us.

We have our own vision of independence and it doesn't coincide with theirs except at the most basic level.  That is what we should be standing for and campaigning for.  We should not be looking for scraps from the SNP table

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Scottish Independence Referendum and the Currency Debate.

There seems to be a lot of nonsense being talked about the Scottish currency in the event of a vote for independence so I might as well get in my tuppence worth (assuming the new currency will have tuppence as an expression of currency). This is the situation as I understand it but I don't claim to be an expert. It's not really as difficult as the NO campaign would have us believe.

Plan A.
We keep the pound in a currency union with the remainder of the UK. The benefits of this in terms of transaction costs have been explored at some length but I have been asked to try to explain what transaction costs are.
For the most part they are that portion of your money which is stolen by the money changers when you convert from one currency to another, just as they do when you go on holiday but on a much more massive scale when you're buying and selling between two countries. In a currency union these costs would be eliminated.
The drawback is that you lose control of your monetary policy (the amount of money circulating in your economy) as a lever of policy. That means we will only have the same control over our monetary policy as France and Germany have in their particular currency union and they manage well enough. That doesn't seem to be all that scary because the economic interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK (except London) are broadly similar. We would retain control of our fiscal policy (the power to tax and spend according to our own social priorities).

Plan B.
We keep the pound without a currency union. Because the national debt has been incurred by the UK in support of the united currency, if we are, as the NO campaign seems to think, effectively kicked out of the united currency it seems unlikely that we would be required to assume part of the united currency's accumulated debt. If we don't share the asset it is grossly unreasonable to ask us to share in the liabilities of the currency union. The UK Government have already conceded that it would accept responsibility for the national debt should we vote YES, but we understand that this was only to re-assure the financial markets to keep their own credit rating up. That's not the Scottish Government's preferred option. They would rather have a currency union and accept a share of the debt.
We are told that if we do not share the debt then borrowing on the world financial markets would become difficult, but we already know that Scotland would have a triple A rating. The markets have said so. Even if we were to renounce the debt, interest rates depend on how much risk is involved for the lender. There is little risk in lending to an oil rich, stable democracy with a massive balance of payments surplus. International finance are no fools and they will recognise our renouncing of the UK's debt burden as a one off in peculiar circumstances and since the UK government has assured markets that the debt will be repaid they wont worry about lending to Scotland. It's just another scare story.
All of this is made clear in the Scottish Government's White Paper. It's not called Plan B but it is, and it's there for anyone to see who's interested and geeky enough, but lazy, bought and paid for journalists can't be bothered to look so they keep shouting that there's no Plan B. It's just another scary lie.
They like to talk about a Plan B because it implies the possible failure of Plan A, so Salmond will never refer to it as Plan B. He's old and wise enough to realise that Plan B is a term coined by the NO campaign to imply failure of the best option and a degree of uncertainty about planning itself. He's a consummate politician and since Plan B is a NO campaign term he will not accede to their terms. He knows that if you control the terminology then you control the debate and he will end up debating on the opposition's terms. So he will never use the expression 'Plan B' however desperate the NO campaign are to get him to utter the words. Language is important and all of us who are old enough remember the cheer that went up in the house of commons when Thatcher after years of calling it the Community Charge eventually used the words 'Poll Tax'. It was the beginning of the end.

Plan C
We use our own currency. However much I would like that to happen it seems unlikely, but if push comes to genteel jostle then it's got to be done. It may involve a longer wait for its full benefits to show but it'll be worth it in the long run.

That's my offering. Good luck with it.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Glasgow Airport Rail Link

 It is unfortunate that plans for the Glasgow Airport Rail link seem to be back on the agenda. We have made our reservations on these proposals clear on many occasions but would like to take this opportunity to once again look at the problems associated with this scheme.

We fully understand that the scheme would create many jobs both in the construction phase and in the enhanced passenger throughput for the airport, but construction firms tend to use their own on-book skilled labour force so we believe that the benefit to the people of Renfrewshire would be minimal. In return Renfrewshire would suffer all of the social, environmental and economic costs involved in making sure that travellers from Glasgow can get to their flights without ever having to set foot in Renfrewshire. It makes little sense. We also believe that the rail link would be vastly uneconomic unless heavily subsidised in its day-to-day operation and we are unsure what contribution the airport authorities would make towards both the construction and the running of this service designed to enhance the profitability of the airport.

We believe that if such a project has to go ahead, and we are not convinced that it must, especially when every environmental group is campaigning to reduce air travel, then there has to be a radical re-think of the whole thing from the bottom up. It is our belief that any proposed new line should go from Glasgow to Braehead, increasing the footfall to that centre which seems to be a priority for Renfrewshire Council. The line should proceed from there to Renfrew, which would increase the access infrastructure of the largest town in Scotland without a railway station and enhance the economic activity and employment in that area. It should then enter the airport from the Inchinnan end.

This would mean that all of the prospective jobs in construction and in the airport would be maintained and would be of some benefit to Renfrewshire and its people. It would also make the line more useful and might, through increased use, reduce the need for public subsidy.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Reaction Formation and Councillor Terry Kelly

Reaction formation is believed to occur when someone finds an idea in themselves so especially threatening that they deal with it by enthusiastically embracing its opposite, and so it is with the New Labour Party and Socialism.
The stand-out in this field is Councillor Terry (TKMax) Kelly of Renfrewshire District. There is a strong suspicion that Councillor Kelly is a closet Socialist, despite his support for Blair's Government, his support of the selling off of council housing to a private limited company and his latest aberration, the stigmatising of a foodbank user who dared to criticise the policies of the Cameron government. Still, on his blog, he claims to be a socialist. How can this be ?
The councillor runs the most vile, hate-filled blog it has been my misfortune to read. It is filled with spiteful venom and really obnoxious, and often has a special place for the Socialists. But Terry claims to be a socialist and although I do not know him personally, I'm told by those who do that he's 'ok'. So it's difficult to believe that a vile hate-filled, spiteful, venomous, obnoxious person could charm the voters, could they ? Unless they were modelled on Blair. I believe the explanation is that Terry is reacting to his own shame at allowing his own Socialism to be sold down the river for a place at the council table and a pay of around £460 per week. But he says he's a socialist and how could anyone think one of Tony Blair's New Labour people would tell a lie ? I mean, I'm sure that if they live long enough, maybe four or five hundred years, Tony Robinson and the Time Team will find those weapons of mass destruction, right ?
So he embraces all of the Tory policies with enthusiasm, attacking foodbank users, manipulating Renfrewshire's assets for tax avoidance and promoting big business at the Braehead Shopping Development. He gets into bed with Cameron's Tories to fight against independence with more vitriol than the Tories themselves. Nothing is too right wing for Terry, because we believe he has to do it to cover up his embarrassment and shame at having sold his Socialism for a paltry portion of silver and a small sliver of power. Ashamed of his own cowardice he has to try to be a bully, but he's not scary enough. That he has to be obnoxious, and to lose all respect among decent people is a very small price to pay when you have already committed the major act of betrayal of your community and working class heritage, and you can always pass off anger at yourself as strong commitment to principle if you are loud enough.

And as for the real Socialists, he hates us worst, because we are a constant reminder to him of his shame and betrayal. We are the open sore that just wont heal, we wont go away no matter what he does. We haunt him like a bad dream of what he believes but dare not admit because were he to come out of the closet as a socialist by action rather than just words then his leader, Councillor McMillan, would dispense with the services of his court jester as quickly as you can say Gulf War, and then he's off the gravy train.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Tories and the Great Pension Release Stunt

I've been thinking long and hard about the release of pension funds that the Tories announced in the budget. It's unlike the Tories to trust working people with large sums of money when they could leave it in the hands of their fat cat cronies in the City to continue to rip us off with fees and charges on money that's locked into their wallets. What, I ask myself, could the motive be ? Well, I'm no Robert Peston but I can tell you what I think.

The Tories are in trouble. Not economic trouble, with the support of the Lib Dems they have the brass neck to screw the poor to bail them out of that. They are in political trouble. One of the problems that all governments face is that the economic cycle lasts for about 8 years, despite Gordon Brown thinking you can abolish boom and bust. That's just the way it is, You can stretch it or shorten it but not by much. But the parliamentary cycle only lasts for 5 years. If you come into government at the wrong time you are in political trouble come the next election.

Osborne came into government at the start of the downturn and 4 years later he has an upturn. Exactly as anyone who knows about these things would have predicted irrespective of any government action. But growth is very weak and the brakes he put on the economy by restricting the incomes of those who have to spend 100 % of their income every week means that consumption, which fuels growth, can't accelerate the economy to the extent that real cost of living issues will have been solved by the next election. Basically the upturn will be too slow for voters to feel better off by the time they go to the polls.

Now if you're a Tory chancellor then you can't just go giving money to poor people who will spend it, so traditionally, to pump up growth by consumption he would resort to fiscal easing, or as it is better known, printing money. But that's been tried and the ailing banks just kept the money to shore up their ailing balance sheets. It didn't make its way into the consumption side of the economy so the effects of the multiplier weren't produced. I suppose I should really try to explain the multiplier but it's complicated. So imagine you have £100 and put down a 10% deposit on a piece of furniture. You can produce £1000 of consumption from £100 of cash. That'll do as an explanation for the moment I think.

In any case, another round of printing money would have a very bad effect on the UK credit rating. It's already under severe threat, so as an option, that would have to be a last resort. So in the pragmatic way that the Tories always adopt in a crisis he has looked around to see who has money he can get his hands on. Releasing the pension handcuffs will produce significant tax revenue in the year of the election but it will have the added, and perhaps more important effect of injecting massive consumption into the economy. The effect on inflation he can brazen out because inflation is starting from a very low base, and a bit of inflation in the system will help consumption as well. People will be more inclined to buy now if they think things will be more expensive in the near future, and it is obvious that a lot of the released pension money will be spent, bringing into play the multiplier. And a lot will go into 'buy-to-let' property fuelling a house price boom and there's nothing like your property value rising to bring UKIP voters back onside. It'll be a price bubble of course, but as we all know, in a price bubble it's only the last fool in the chain who suffers, but it might not burst before the election.

So this act of generosity to workers by the most elitist chancellor in living memory is, as far as I can see, no more than a political stunt to try to get the Tories back into power with a majority government at the next election, and if they have to wreck the pensions industry to do it then so be it. Thatcher did it with the coal industry for the same reasons, but the miners were the enemy. Osborne is so desperate he will do it to his friends. He's in real trouble and his generosity is no more or less than a very destructive election stunt. There were many other better ways to act against the rip off artists of the pension industry, but they wouldn't have been quite so politically expedient.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Scottish Independence. A Guide for My Friends Down South

We need to talk. If we're going to divorce then there needs to be an orderly transition. But some of my English friends don't seem to grasp the fundamentals, so I'm going to try to explain why Scotland has to vote 'Yes' in the upcoming referendum and hope that they will understand and support us.

It has nothing to do with hating the English. They've been our neighbours since before time was measured and we live in harmony with them most of the time, but we're different. The real problem is that my English friends can only see me through English glasses. They ascribe to a completely different, a fundamentally different set of norms and values to those that prevail north of the border and it affects their vision as my life experience shapes mine.

English kids are brought up with heroes who represent State and Empire. From Drake, Nelson and Kipling to Churchill, the Union Jack and the Royal Family, a sense of Englishness is rooted deep within them from their early years. They ingest it with their mother's milk and it lasts all of their lives. State and Empire are so deeply rooted that when Scotland becomes independent it might be the first country to become independent of Westminster without a shot being fired. No doubt someone wiser will correct me.

But Scots kids learn about missionaries like Livingstone and Park who, while deeply involved in expanding the Empire in reality, are presented as spreading Christian values in savage worlds. Their heroes are Helen Crawfurd, John Mclean, Willie Gallacher, Jimmy Reid, Mick McGaghey and others who led ordinary people in a struggle against the state to improve the lives of people. (It's just occurred to me that many of my English friends will never have heard of Helen Crawfurd. She stood with the women of Glasgow when they defied the English tanks in George Square in Glasgow in 1919. But it probably didn't make the papers down there). But back to the point, Scots kids are taught that if they have good luck it is a gift given to them so that they can improve the lives of others as well as their own. It's a universal duty of care and share taught to our kids, which doesn't always last forever but is sufficiently deep rooted to make us different. I know that this view is controversial, but please don't tell me an anecdote about a Scot you met who didn't ascribe to these values, I know as many of them as you do, and there are many. But producing an anecdote and trying to pretend that it overwhelms a mass of solid statistical evidence as presented in social attitude surveys is a particularly Tory strategy which might fool Sun readers but is really quite shallow. If I deserve abuse then I'm sure I deserve a better standard of abuse than that.

In Scotland we try to be a more compassionate, caring set of people. Put on one side all of the debate over how much money we get from the Barnett formula. That can be interpreted by either side to get the result they want. Instead look at how we spend the money we get. It is used in the main to improve our society as a whole, to improve the lives of those who need it, students, the disabled, the elderly and others who in England are regarded as a drain on the economy, as welfare junkies.

Look at the social attitude surveys and year after year you will see that we have completely different aspirations for our society from those that prevail down south. We integrate our immigrants to the point that they don't ghettoise themselves, they become part of our society recognising that our national social values are those to which all caring people can aspire. I know that in England they feel excluded in the same way as Scots often do. We don't always understand your ways just as much as you don't always understand ours. Kindness to strangers is an inherent part of our national character.

My English friends believe that the economy will be the deciding factor in the referendum, but they couldn't be more wrong. The economy and the currency come only half way up the crucial factors according to respectable independent polling. It's really more about the psyche of the Scots people. We're different by choice. It's a set of values instilled in us from childhood. And it's not something we want to change. We want our children to have those same values when they grow up. We don't aspire for them to be rich, only to be comfortable and free of the worry of daily financial struggle. That means a welfare system that provides not just a safety net but a platform, it shouldn't be the miserable existence some would wish on them should they fall upon hard times. That's a sacrifice Scots taxpayers are prepared to make which English taxpayers seem to resent very deeply. We don't want to fund a clinging to the last vestiges of Empire by maintaining a grossly over-large military and a nuclear capability which impresses nobody in the world, but allows us to intervene in all sorts of foreign wars so we can claim a seat at the big table. We'd rather have peace and eat with the staff.

I don't blame my English friends for not understanding all of this. They can't possibly understand because their whole lives has been dominated by the values of the society they were reared in just as mine has. Their views of Scotland have been peddled to them by a right wing media because they recognise that the social values we have in Scotland are a danger to the obscene wealth of their owners. So they have been fed stories of whingeing Jocks and subsidy junkies to the point where they really believe it. They have been encouraged to believe that our much valued social housing is an affront to their property values. Housing for them is sold as a competitive sport hence the ludicrous concept of a housing ladder that leaves their kids homeless or burdened with debt. We fight hard for our social housing but our views have been suppressed and ignored by various Governments and media consisting of Tories of all shades.

And the bottom line is this. If Jesus Christ himself came up to encourage us to vote 'No' in the referendum then I would guarantee that if he had an English accent then he would be sent homewards to think again and the 'Yes' vote would increase. We just wont be told that irrespective of whether we vote Yes or No, if Cameron doesn't like it then we are stuck in the status quo. We wont be told that the pound is non-negotiable. If the pound is strong then we have suffered the hard work and austerity that has made it strong along with our English cousins. We have made a proportionate contribution to its strength, so we wont be treated like that … not any more. We're not a colony of the Empire and we wont be talked down to or partonised any more.

The economics are important but not crucial or anything like as important as the English politicians think they are. It's all about pride. There's a feeling abroad in Scotland that it's our time, our opportunity to build the kind of society we want for ourselves without the English Government that we didn't elect coming along every five years with the wrecking ball and setting us back on our heels again.

So I hope my friends down south can understand that it's not about dislike or malice, it's only about difference. You have your way and we have ours, for better or worse, completely and incommensurable paradigms, and if you can't help us in our hopes then at least don't hinder us. We can do this on our own but we can do it so much more easily with your co-operation, and you would end up with a very good friend and neighbour, and you never know when you'll need a friend.