More great reading

On the day that Scotland’s First Minister announced he would not be attending the Open at Muirfield in protest at the golf club’s men-only policy (yes, readers of the  21st century, you read that correctly), it was no small pleasure to discover this blog – SF Mistress – completely by accident.

I’m looking forward to spending a good few hours reading about books in my favourite genre that don’t feature a current/ former assassin/ special forces/ master criminal dude out for revenge against a vastly superior/ evil/ nefarious enemy but instead are thoughtful, well-written, undiscovered literary treasures.  Did I mention that this is a blog dedicated to books by women?  That’s right, I didn’t need to because it doesn’t matter, you just want to discover books that may have escaped review elsewhere.

(And when I spell-check this blog, I realise that this is not only the only time I will probably ever write about golf but very likely the only time that Scotland’s leading politician will appear in a blog post about women writing science-fiction… weird)

Tax equals citizenship

Let’s take a random self-made millionaire.  Let’s call him Tony.

Tony began his life with nothing.  His parents worked hard all their lives but never earned more than the minimum wage.  Tony had an older brother who grew up resentful, scorned school, bunked out, tried to make money the ‘easy’ way and is now serving time as a convicted drug-dealer.  Fortunately, Tony was sufficiently younger than his brother that he acted on his mother’s advice, paid attention at school and despite the distractions of his family losing their home as they struggled to keep up with mortgage repayments, Tony kept at it and won a place to university.

Though Tony received a full student grant, the money was not enough to pay for his rent, utilities bills, books, clothes and food, let alone the travel back to see his parents during recess.  Tony kept a part-time job going even as he struggled to fulfill all his study commitments.  He graduated.  Tony didn’t get a first class degree but he did graduate.

Entering the world of work, Tony found that without public school connections and without a wealthy father’s social network, he could not get the plum jobs that would have paid best.  Tony did not give in but worked for experience as much as for a regular salary.  There were challenges along the way: he got ill from stress and had to take some time off work, he was burgled and thanks to being mis-sold insurance and PPI, Tony lost a lot of what he’d worked for.  Tony kept working and as he gained experience, he developed an idea for a business.

In his personal life, there were ups-and-downs.  Tony rarely saw his brother who was now regularly getting lifted by the police.  Tony had been in-and-out of relationships but had recently found a soul-mate in Sharon.  It was Sharon who gave Tony the courage to try something different and together, they began their beverage company, supplying to trade initially before opening their first takeaway venture.  Though the banks offered little help and appeared at times to be charging for doing nothing more than receiving Tony and Sharon’s hard-earned money, the food and beverage company expanded.

One day, Tony is asked by his accountant, ‘Would you like to pay less tax?’

Tony looks at Sharon: they’ve always dreamed of that holiday in Asia, that cottage in the south of France, being able to take things a little easy and haven’t they worked for it?  Yes, they say.  When the accountant shows them how much they can avoid paying, they are at first shocked but then, having taken into account the fees for this service, they look at each other and ask themselves that one big question: ‘Haven’t we paid enough already?’

Tony and Sharon think no more of it.  They are invited to business functions where they can network and help their business opportunities grow.  They are invited to the sort of posh soirees that Tony had missed out on university because he had to work at his part-time job.  They donate money to charity.

One day, they see their names among a list of those deemed ‘morally repugnant’.  Though their tax affairs are supposed to be kept confidential, a government minister is saying that these are the sor tof people to blame for the economic malaise in the country.  Tony is outraged.  He has worked for his wealth and never exploited anyone?  Or has he?

Tony’s education – and his key to escaping the poverty that had blighted the lives of his parents – was paid for largely by the State.  When Tony fell ill, healthcare was always available and always free, provided by the State.  When Tony was burgled, the police did not issue him an invoice and when the burglar was caught, charged, sentenced and imprisoned, the State didn’t charge for that service either.  The Health & Safety regulations that added what sometimes felt like unnecessary cost to Tony and Sharon’s business have actually served to stop untold numbers of customers serving writs against them for food poisoning.  Trade regulations have ensured not only that his suppliers deliver exactly what was ordered but provided a means to ensure that trade customers paid him (reasonably) on time such that he could manage his finances and grow his business.  Other regulations ensured that when Tony’s business needed electricity for the ovens, that energy was there at the flick of a switch.  The roads that carried orders to his business premises and carried business away are funded and maintained by the State.   When, after a long day, Tony returns home to Sharon and they shut the door on their 8-bedroom city centre property, who is it that ensures they can sleep safe at night and not live in fear of someone trying to take from them unlawfully what they have earned fairly?

In paying taxes, we state very clearly that we are a part of a community in which we are actively engaged.  The success of Tony and Sharon’s business may be down to their hard-work but what made that possible if not co-operation with countless others who share their goals?  What made Tony’s dream possible is the countless unseen others who make our streets clean by sweeping them, who keep us healthy by ensuring a running supply of water or who work in hospitals, who toil at sometimes meaningless, repetitive tasks that must be done if any of us, let alone a small elite, are to enjoy the base necessities and comforts that ensure we do not suffer in a Hobbesian nightmare, red in tooth and claw.

When we do not pay a fair level of taxation, when we find ways to avoid paying a reasonable amount of tax proportionate to our level of income, we state that we do not wish to have this security.  Perhaps wealthy tax dodgers should be logged by the police so that when are in need of funds that are not readily available in our society, we might instead knock on these tax dodger’s doors and insist with threats that they give us what we need?

The State is not some Orwellian nightmare peering over your shoulder; it is simply the definition a larger community that reaches beyond the estate, the village, the town or the city where we live.  When we pay our taxes, we declare our participation in a society that will – without written, contractual guarantee – care for us if we should stumble, catch us when we fall but help boost us as we climb.  It will do this for our children too.

Of course, the opposite is equally true: if citizens are paying their taxes, if they are participating in society to the best of their ability then governments had better ensure that they deliver.  If the politics of austerity is a blunt refusal to participate in a social contract by cutting those services that ordinary citizens have paid for, what right does David Cameron have then to criticise those who avoid paying their full share of taxes?

The currency of an independent Scotland

It’s a debate that always gets a little heated: unionists who understand that Scotland would be better off as an independent country are also intelligent enough to know the consequences of not letting Scotland keep Pound Sterling would only pose challenges to Scotland in the short-term*.

In this brilliant article, George Kerevan concisely outlines the four currency options available to Scotland.

In its current form, the euro has but weeks – maybe months – but won’t make it to Christmas, so let’s say that Scotland has three options on future currency given that before joining the euro under existing terms, there’s a two-year ‘proving’ period anyway.

Though it’s called The Bank of England, it is in fact The Bank of the United Kingdom which is to say, the central bank of the UK – independent of control by the government in Westminster – is 9.3% owned by Scottish taxpayers.  This is the reason why the current Scottish government insists it will be able to have a say on the board of The Bank of the England.  If Scotland is told by the Westminster government or by The Bank of England that it cannot use the Pound Sterling, we will be taking that 9.3% with us.  Yes, we will.  Whose oil do you think underwrites the value of ‘your’ central bank?  Still fancy negotiating?  Where do you think you’re going to park your subs?  Portsmouth?

Scotland holds a very strong hand though you would not know it from watching the BBC or reading any newspaper.  Yes, we do.  International law regulates the management of currencies as much as the ownership of natural resources.  Financial markets take care of the rest and as we’ve seen over the past four years… they go with the money.

* By forcing Scotland to either create her own currency, unionists acting out of spite risk capital flight north to Edinburgh where a central Scottish bank could set its own interest rates.  Given that the SNP are already known to want much lower rates of corporation tax (which I suspect is the main area of difference with the Scottish Greens), can you imagine how aggressively a modern Scotland would be drawing business from The City of London?

The very best option for unionists – and  England – is to encourage Scotland to keep Pound Sterling.  But this option is not the best for Scotland – certainly in the long-term.  The Bank of England would set interest rates and as guarantor of that currency, Scotland would not be able to offer lower, more competitive interest rates that would encourage business north to Edinburgh.  The more I watch Tories, Labour and Liberals alike spout nonsense in the Westminster parliament during ‘debates’ on Scotland, the more convinced I am that Jim Sillars may be right: let’s go for short-term pain, set-up our own currency and then watch the land south of our border struggle to make ends meet.

Most people desiring an independent Scotland, want to attain their political and economic independence within a framework that is best for both Scotland and England.  Alex Salmond has stated that his goal is for Scotland to be a friendly neighbour rather than a resentful tenant.  As with a lot of things in language, the clue is not only in the words themselves but in the gaps between – as with everything else, it’s the thought that counts.

Ed Milliband finally gets the point…

…sort of though to give him his due, he is trying.  Very trying.

In a speech was in the words of Juliette Jowit of The Guardian supposed to “chime with a summer of celebrations in which people around the UK are celebrating under different national flags: the union flag for the jubilee, the Olympics and the Paralympics, and the cross of Saint George for Euro 2012”, Ed Milliband gave a keynote speech in which he said that if Scots vote for independence, they will not be British.  Aw, bless.

I really wish that Ed – and indeed the editors of The Guardian – would read the comments that follow the article.  English people are remarkably relaxed about the break-up of the political union of the UK.  This shouldn’t surprise them because in a previous article published by The Guardian surveying people’s attitudes to Britain not only do a mere 19% of Scots define themselves as British but far fewer English people than I expected, in fact, just 52%.

Ed – to repeat – this is about the break-up of the political union of the UK.  After Scottish independence, Scotland and England will still share a monarch and Scotland will still therefore be part of the UK.  It’s United Kingdom, Ed not ‘United Parliaments’ which is why, following assurances from the SNP, HRH is remarkably relaxed about the whole referendum.  You don’t need to be a politician to understand this.

On the issue of the political break-up, I would like to say that Alan Cumming (@Alancumming) performed a blinder on Question Time last night.  With the BBC’s habit of planting unionist stooges in the audience, it’s rare to finish watching this program feeling that what should have been said has been said and Alan’s timing was immaculate.  Right as the live program was drawing to a close, Alan not only landed a good ‘un on that numptie Melanie Phillips but then turned and asked Johann Lamont why with her social democratic beliefs was she siding with the Tories?  Brilliant.  See it again here: Question Time, 7th June 2012 at Inverness on iPlayer.

The oldest national flag in the world

Now, I didn’t know this but it turns out that the flag of St. Andrew, also known as Bratach nàiseanta na h-Alba or more simply The Saltire, is ‘the oldest flag in the world…’

Now, I didn’t believe the person who told me but they refined their remark to mean that Scotland’s flag has been in continuous use for the longest period of any flag in the world.  How did this conversation come about?  Well now…

Unionists are using the Diamond Jubilee as an excuse to wave their rag in our faces and given the wall-to-wall coverage by those who’ve taken to calling what was previously known as a ‘meritocratic democracy‘, a ‘constitutional monarchy‘, I’ve been wondering when my fellow Scots (and English Republicans) are going to get around to having their own little tea party.  It was rather cheering then to note that the bunting in Kinghorn is not coloured by the unionist rag but is formed of The Saltire.  I was talking about this phenomenon with a work colleague who argued that the bunting should be made from the flag of Union.

My argument was this: the royal family in England have their own flag, the Royal Standard (for which the Queen uses a slightly different version here than is seen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).  The Union flag was devised to celebrate political union (the Act of Settlement in which Scottish and ‘English’ being earlier), surely to show loyalty to what many in Scotland consider a foreign monarch, Unionist Scots should be offering their own national flag in support if they’re not going to wave the royal standard?  My colleague (correctly) pointed out that the Royal Standard is used to denote the Queen being in residence and I agreed: what better way to indicate her rule in all the parts of her kingdoms than to exceptionally have the Royal Standard flown across the territories?

We were both corrected by someone who had overheard us and who had some expertise in heraldry: the correct flag to be flown during jubilee celebrations was the respective national flag of each of the kingdoms .ie. flag of St. Andrew in Scotland, flag of St. Patrick in Northern Ireland, flag of England and the flag of Wales.  The wee village of Kinghorn had therefore got it correct*.

The current design of the Union rag dates from 1801 and is therefore not even as old as the Act of Union.  Perhaps the use of The Rag has become common only for propaganda/ TV purposes.  Just think of how those long view, pan-and-scan shots would look to the world’s media if they showed four different flags across the British Isles…. folks might even be given the idea that there were four countries taking part in the Jubilee.  While I could be asking how the UK got its name, I prefer to play the game of spotting which businesses here in Scotland are flying The Saltire and the Lion of Rampant of Scotland.

* When I thought about the conversation later, I realised that I’m actually glad that so many people got it wrong.  First, The Saltire remains something we can use post-independence without having to think about the last time it was waved enthusiastically.  Second, as supporters of independence, we get to see which businesses are no longer going to receive our custom.  Third, like the wearing of certain football colours, it makes it really easy to spot the numpties

The scores are in…

…and when I asked Rose to guess how many independently-organised Jubilee street parties were held in Scotland, she guessed to within 2*.

In England and Wales, there were 9,500 street parties.  In Scotland, there were just 40 not including the 20 organised by the Orange Order and funded by the Labour Party-controlled Glasgow City Council (which will come as a big surprise to traditionally the biggest block of Labour supporters, Glasgow’s Catholics).  Let me put some real number context in there for you…

For every street party in England, there was 0.004 street parties in Scotland or, one crisp at the bottom of the packet in Scotland left to go soggy in the gutter – OK, none because really, no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t round up a figure like that to anything approaching parity.  How about we try something else?  There was one street party in England and Wales for every 6,000 people living there but in Scotland, there was one street party for every 125,000 people living here… Now, I’m not saying that we’re tight or anything but can you imagine the look on the face of the poor sod asked to make sandwiches?

In other news, the British Nationalists led by Alistair Darling (remember him?) are looking for money to finance the ‘let’s keep having the Tory-LibDem government in Westminster tell us what to’ campaign.  They’ve promised to never use the word ‘no’ in their campaign and they won’t call themselves ‘unionists’ but given that the UKIP, English Defence League and BNP are all against Scottish independence, it seems that the former Labour Party chancellor has been wearing some stonking beer goggles.  How else to explain getting into bed with those nutters?

(*  Rose guessed 42 and laughed.  She was trying to be funny.)

The Great Divide

Nothing highlights just how out-of-touch are those that claim to rule over us than this news article in today’s Guardian.  I’ve been unemployed and am fully aware that if searching for a job is itself a full-time occupation, I can’t imagine how difficult searching for work must be in the current economic climate.  But this?  It is no exagerration to say that the conditions these folk were made to endure so that some parasite could have a little boat ride down a river, put the modern British state into the same slave-market economy as Rome two thousand years ago.  No-one made these folk work at the point of a sword (or to really challenge assumptions, the barrel of a Nazi German rifle) but how are employment prospects served by making people work a fifteen -hour shift, unpaid, without access to proper sanitation for 24 hours on threat of losing the benefits they receive?