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.

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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.)

Referendum: a definition

According to the Chambers Dictionary (11th edition) on my desk, a referendum is: “…the principle or practice of submitting a question directly to the vote of the entire electorate.”

I like this article in which Revd Stuart Campbell points this out while asking why unionist politicians insist on the SNP administration clarifying it’s policy position on everything from EU membership to the colour for the First Minister’s door at Bute House.

Meanwhile, Scottish voters await clarification on why, despite the Scottish government committing itself to renewable energy, the Coalition in London decided that everyone in the UK – including Scotland – must pay somewhere in the region of £200 extra per year on their electricity bills for new nuclear power stations when (a) the Scottish government has said none shall be built here because (b) with such a huge abundance of natural resources (tide and wind), the people of Scotland don’t need them.

In addition to an existing installed capacity of 1.3 Gigawatts (GW) of hydro-electric schemes (dams), Scotland has an estimated potential of 36.5 GW of wind and 7.5 GW of tidal power or, more simply, 25% of the estimated total capacity for the European Union, never mind the bonus of up to 14 GW of wave power potential or, 10% of EU capacity. (Source: RSPB Scotland, WWF Scotland and FOE Scotland (February 2006) The Power of Scotland: Cutting Carbon with Scotland’s Renewable Energy. RSPB et al.)

In short: why stay in the Union?  Please clarify.

What is to be done about the Unionist bias in public broadcast services?

By which, I mean the BBC.

When Jabba the Huh? asked Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about how Scotland would have handled the bail-out of the banks during the economic crisis of 2007, you’d have been forgiven for expecting an answer that contained financial detail and a comparison with how other small nations actually had to deal with exactly that problem.

Unfortunately, Brian Taylor/ his editors/ BBC policy in general, determined that the headline to the interview – which lasts half-an-hour and which most people will not have time to watch in full – is posted on the BBC website should read: Sturgeon says an independent Scotland would have relied on UK for RBS bailout.

This is not what was said. At all.  Rather, the headline should have read: An independent Scotland would have worked with rUK on RBS bailout.

To paraphrase, the explanation given by Nicola Sturgeon included the real example of the Fortis Bank. It needed taxpayer bailout. It operates out of three countries: Belgium, Lumenbourg and the Netherlands. Politicians from the three countries met, agreed what would be a fair ratio for each to contribute and did so. Easy.

Here’s another example. This time from the UK. It’s no secret that the US Federal Reserve paid out $600bn to help in the bail-out of both RBS and HBOS. If US taxpayers felt more than a little cheated that they wee paying out for banks with headquarters in the UK, we can understand why. We are not talking small sums of money here. These negotiations would not have been easy but everyone acted together. Why? Because these banks have operations across many nations such is the nature of international finance from which – if we are to believe the economists – we all benefit.

The crucial question perhaps would have been: How much would an independent Scotland have had to pay? Well, at the time of its failure, RBS had its headquarters in Scotland. That does not mean that Scotland alone would have been expected to cough up the entire sum as the funds from the US demonstrate. 90% of RBS’ UK operations are in England. This means that Scotland would have paid 10% and England 90% of the sums involved for the UK share of operations.

The international nature of finance explains why Alastair Darling had to not only arrange to spend your money on bailing out so-called UK banks but financial institutions like AEG too – based in New York. The choice available to politicians at the time was bail-out all banks or bail-out none. Rather than having taxpayers go to pay for their groceries and finding that there’s no money to pay in theri accounts, politicians not unreasonably decided to use our money to protect our money. How they went about doing that – and may be expected to that again in the future – is a different debate that has as much to do with our continuing delusion of living in a representative democracy as it does with economics.

The crucial point is that the BBC is a public broadcaster. When reporting news or, in this case, broadcasting an interview as part of a commitment to detailed analysis of the news, the least that can be expected is that the story and the headline accurately reflect what was said. It is not only pro-union voters who pay licence fees. It is not only pro-independence voters who object to perceived bias in the BBC’s coverage of Scottish politics. There is a responsibility to explain the issues clearly – if not also succinctly – that voters who are as yet undecided may obtain the facts.

If, as this article points out the BBC is not only going to post fake headlines but when complaints are made (a) fail to acknowledge a mistake has been made and (b) cover-up this ‘mistake’ by manually changing the time-stamp on the story which automatically records any further edits, then questions should be asked.

Fortunately, one of the negotiated elements contained in the current draft of The Scotland Bill, is that the Scottish government will be able to have input on broadcast appointments .ie. BBC Scotland will no longer be able to ram its staff to the gills with unionist Labour Party supporters and thereby control the bias on the editorial controls.

However, I don’t think this change is necessary. Scottish taxpayers contribute 8.3% of UK revenues. It’s safe to assume that they also contribute around that share in TV license fees. Why then is Scotland’s share of BBC spend at less than 3%? How about we stop paying the license fee? If enough of us in Scotland did that, the BBC would have to take notice and so would the other broadcasters? With such comprehensive and unbiased reporting as this item, it’s a fair bet that our licence fee money could be better spent. Can you imagine Cathy, Krish or Jon laying into Mark Thompson (or Brian Taylor himself) about public value in public broadcast? That’s an interview I would pay to watch.

One other thing: Royal Bank of Scotland is not a Scottish bank.  It was, at the time of the bail-out, a public company with an FTSE listing.  Following the taxpayer bail-out, it retains a public listing but is to all purposes, a public asset while the UK Treasury maintains 83% ownership.  On a related note, The Bank of England is not an English bank and though made independent of direct government control in 1997 by the then Labour government at Westminster, it remains a public asset.  As a public asset, Scots tax payers own 8.3% of the total.  Bank of the UK, anyone?

The SNP is not the only pro-independence party in Scotland

Surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  It’s too easy to believe The Labour Party’s claim that it is the best party for representing working interests in Scotland, until you actually pay attention to the names on your ballot paper and then do a wee bit of reading.  You will have to read and most likely online, picking up scraps from comments like this one because you won’t find much mention of these parties outside of election time.  For the BBC and almost every other news media outlet, that in the referendum debate at least, the choice is Unionist vs SNP.

This is plain daft.  Just as there are multiple parties supporting Unionisim, there is more than one political party espousing independence.  The Scottish Greens have 2 MSPs and therefore take part in our national politics on an elected basis.

As John Macallion writes in this article, the struggle for a fair wage and good working conditions – the class struggle – has always been one of socialism and nationalism.  he writes: “The 1787 massacre of striking Calton weavers by British soldiers near what was then Glasgow is generally recognised as marking the beginning of an organised, effective Scottish labour movement.

How did The Labour Party get it so wrong in Scotland that they have ended up on the side of the millowners?  After all, the general strike of 1820 was united behind the slogan “Scotland Free or a Desert”.

Those who get most of their news online will have been surprised that on the evening of 14th March, the BBC Scotland team failed to report what was on the BBCnews website, namely that The Labour Party had officially lost its majority for the first time in over forty years.  Surprised?  The last time they visited, I made my parents watch the BBC news and then Channel 4’s news back-to-back.  The difference surprised them.  Channel 4 was showing news items that were genuinely ‘new’.

Does The Labour Party/ BBC really think it is fooling anyone?  Further instances of the BBC failing in its public duties such as this, this and this appear to be hardening voter’s intentions in favour of independence if recent polling figures are in any way accurate.  In short, of those polled with definite voting intentions, support for independence is up by 6% since May 2011.

In short, the long association between The Labour Party and the BBC – though undeclared – is actually starting to look like it is hobbling the Unionist cause.  A report on a recent poll by Age Scotland revealed that older people have lost trust not only with politicians but with the traditional print media they should be able to trust to conduct the referendum debate in an informative manner.

In reporting aspects of the referendum debate, the default mode of the BBC is to question SNP politicians and then cut back to studio for unedited comment from either a Labour politician or a journalist espousing the official Labour Party stance as with Newsnight Scotland last night.  In failing to seek the informed opinions of other pro-independence political parties, the BBC appears to be continuing to frame the SNP as a single-issue party which can be dismissed at the time of referendum and failing to report that there is a growing consensus within Scotland of the need for political change.

Fotunately, some voters in Scotland are already aware that they can vote for independence in 2014 without having to support the SNP, let alone be a party member.  Even if you’re a Labour/ LibDem/ Tory voter who cannot stand Alex Salmond – and a few have made their views known at my workplace – you can still vote for independence in the referendum.  Again, as a few at work intend to do.

Beyond the refendum and back in the land of ordinary elections, both the Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish Green Party (2 MSPs) both support independence and a greater say for the Scottish people in Scottish affairs.  Did I mention The First Lady of Scottish politics, Margo Macdonald?  A former member of the SNP, she now sits in our parliament as an Independent (but remains pro-independence and despite the assumption that an SNP majority would stifle debate, has still been able to wring concessions from the Scottish government).

Next time you’re watching the news then, ask yourself this: where are the other voices of the modern Scotland in Scotland’s debate?

How the available numbers work in favour of Scottish independence

[First published as ‘Why independence for Scotland is almost certain’ on my other blog]

It’s the nationalist’s referendum to lose. Senior Conservatives know this and as they know that Labour will be hobbled by the loss of 50 MPs voting in a parliament for which they have been given no mandate to vote on English/Welsh affairs, it’s plain to see why David Cameron has appointed a Thatcherite to advise him on Scotland (Andrew Dunlop previously advised Thatcher on deploying the poll tax a year earlier in Scotland than in England).

Simply put, the mechanics of voting will come down to the peculiar borderland that lies between the scientific rigour of the statistics used so far and the emotional nature of belief.

Assuming that the polls presented through the mainstream news media (MNM) are not only honest outcomes but devoid of question bias, there appears to be consistent levels of support for independence at around 38%. Given that many who speak in favour of independence for Scotland face being called ‘racist’ and ‘scum’ to their faces or behind their backs by work colleagues**, neighbours and some family members and yet continue to adhere to the ideal of democratic liberty, it’s a fair bet that on the day of the referendum ALL of these people will turn out to vote.

Now let’s do the sums for the other side of the argument. If, for the sake of simplicity, we generously assume that no-one else among the currently undecided will be persuaded of the arguments in favour of independence in the next couple of years and that there are no voters claiming to be in favour of the status quo in return for a quiet life while yet hoping for independence, we are left with potentially 62% of the electorate voting in favour of no change at all.

A majority? Well, no.

To get that 62% to turn out to vote, the Unionists have to pitch a strong, positive case. We know from the outcome of the 2011 Holyrood elections that it is positive politics that most motivates people to go out and vote, regardless of the weather or the TV schedules. Unionist politicians have yet to make a cohesive case, sometimes even within their own parties (Johann and Ed, Ruth and David, we’re looking at you).

If, rather than contesting that 16/17 year olds should be allowed to take part in a referendum in a country where we reach the age of legal majority two years earlier than in England, if rather than contesting whether there should be one question or two on the ballot paper, if there had been no arguing over the date despite a clear manifesto commitment from the SNP to hold the referendum in the latter half of the parliamentary cycle, the Unionists had instead insisted on an amendment that sought compulsory voting for the entire electorate, the weight of numbers may have worked in their favour. They did not. Oops.

Mandatory or compulsory voting is applied in democratic nations across the world. It works. No-one can claim that they didn’t get a chance to have their say in Australia or Brazil, Ecuador or Luxembourg.

This is where things get to what Sir Alex Ferguson calls ‘squeaky bum time‘ for Unionists. The last referendum to be conducted in Scotland produced a turn-out of 50.7% (according to The Electoral Commission) and this was to decide whether the alternative vote should be used in Westminster elections, arguably an issue of as much importance to Scots who are Unionist but don’t vote Labour as the forthcoming independence referendum. Just over half. People knew what was stake – democracy itself because let’s face it, the current system only helps The Big Two – and yet nearly half the electorate did not turn out.

While there is no doubt that more voters are likely to turn out for the independence referendum, 38% represents a significant majority out of that 50.7% of voter turn-out (around 75% in favour). With 2,500 people joining the SNP in the first months of 2012, it is likely that the 38% of Scottish voters in favour of independence will grow in number.

We should be in no doubt that the closer we get to the day of the referendum, the more shrill will become the doom-laden myths, particularly in ‘trusted’ news sources like the BBC, leaving Scots with no room at all for complacency. However, there is light among the gloom of the MNM’s obsession with talking down our country and that is this number: to get back to parity with pro-independence voters, the Unionist parties are going to have to persuade 38% of voters to actually go out and vote ‘no’. Twice.

This will be no easy task for the Unionists. As we have already seen, the STUC has already backed the SNP’s stance on how the referendum should be formulated and presented to voters. Party affiliation can therefore be no guarantee of voter loyalty among the Unionist parties and it’s not one question for which they have to present a strong positive case but two. For the Unionists to win on both counts, they are effectively going to have to persuade nearly 30% more of the Scottish electorate to get off its arse and down to the polling stations (assuming the nationalist’s retain their 38% share of the vote).

With these figures, a committed 38% in support of independence need do just two things to be free: first, remember to check on the months leading up to the referendum that they have not magically ‘disappeared’ from the electoral role and second, actually turn up at their polling station on the anointed day.

(** Yup. Real nice walking in on someone describing you in these terms – despite my English accent and English grandparents – and just for the record, I’m not a member of the SNP as I reserve the right to change my mind. After all, I was a pro-devolution unionist before I worked in England but that’s another story).

Where are the book reviews?

In short, I will continue to post them here and on my other blog.

The reason for resurrecting a blog that had previously served as everything bookselling related (that I was personally interested in) is so that friends with links from other blogs can still point toward the book content.  Also, as my friends in England still look at this blog, I thought it would be a great place to answer those questions that folk outside Scotland may have about the independence referendum.  As is obvious to anyone who’s slightly informed about the debate, the BBC – the public broadcaster – is doing a very poor job of informing people in Scotland about developments.

While working in England, I was prompted by questions from work colleagues to research more about my own country.  The more I read, the more I despaired.  Why did I not know these things before?  On returning to Scotland – to be married, to come home, to take part – I’ve discovered that it’s not just me that knows so little about the true picture of Scotland.  Last week, I walked in on a colleague calling me ‘racist scum’ behind my back.  Embarrassed silence ensued.  Apparently, the desire for fully representative democracy is now ‘racist’, at least according to a Scot who has never lived outside Scotland.  For the record, two of my grandparents were English.  Not one but two ancestors were present at The Relief of Lucknow.  Also, Labour is not the only party to have an MSP from a non-white ethnic minority in The Scottish Parliament at HolyroodHumza Yousaf represents the SNP for Glasgow.

The idea that supporting Scottish independence is in any way racist will be the very first myth I’m going to lay to rest.

On this blog, I will not only continue to blog about Scotland but will continue to blog about books, my other passion.  I will also reblog items by others as I find things of interest.