Johnson’s attitude towards Scotland is one of unlimited contempt

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/01/2020 - 8:09pm in


Politics, scotland

Boris Johnson has replied to Nicola Sturgeon's formal request for a referendum on Scottish independence:

The reply is worrying for a great many reasons.

Forst, it is because of the absence of reasoning supplied. It is not sufficient to say that the future of Scotland was determined by the comment of an SNP leader encouraging people to vote in 2014. But that is the only actual reason given for rejecting this request. Johnson knows that's a ridiculous argument, but he uses it anyway.

Second, to argue that to deny the people of Scotland a vote is to uphold democracy is absolutely absurd: it is very obviously the opposite of that.

Third, it is also very obviously true that Scotland has not stagnated as a result of the actions of the Scottish government in the last decade: what they have had to deal with is the dramatic fallout of a succession of Tory governments in London each of which has been determined to deliver policy intended to make Scotland stagnate.

And the demand for unity is, in the circumstances, so crass - and so betrayed by the abysmal behaviour of Tory MPs towards the SNP in Westminster - that there is not a person who could take it seriously.

The letter is, then, notable for the absurdity of what it does say.

But what is not said? Everything really. There is no suggestion as to how the grievance that so many feel in Scotland will be addressed. Similarly, there is no discussion of how devolved power issues will be addressed under Brexit. Nor is there an explanation as to how the budget crisis Scotland faces because Westminster is not going to announce new fiscal policy until March can be tackled in future. There is, in fact, nothing said, at all.

The only possible conclusion from this is that the policy of this government towards Scotland in general and the Scottish government, in particular, is to display unlimited contempt. It's as if the colonial; era was back and it's time for the natives to learn their place and be grateful for it.

This is not going to end well.

It has, most especially, not to end well for Johnson.

And the bizarre thing is that any thinking person knows that he is on the wrong side of history here. Scotland cannot be held in a Union against its will forever. And the more that Union is imposed the greater the will to leave will be.

So the real question is why Johnson is setting himself up to fail? Or is to simply that he already thinks his time in office will be limited - because there is little doubt he will bet bored of being prime minister in a while, just as he got bored of being Mayor of London - and he thinks it will be for others to sort out the mess? The classic FTSE CEO attitude, in other words. I have a suspicion this may be the case. But the cost to the country of his indifference is going to be enormous.

Sargon of Gasbag on How the Norf Went Tory

A few days ago Carl ‘Sargon of Akkad’ Benjamin put up a video, in which he presented his idea of why the north of England and the midlands went Tory. It was based on a cartoon from 4chan’s Pol Board, and so presented a very caricatured view of the north. Sargon is the extreme right-winger, who personally did much to destroy UKIP simply by joining it. This ‘classical liberal’ – meaning libertarian – with his highly reactionary views on feminism and racism was too much even for the Kippers. His home branch of Swindon wanted him deselected when the party chose him as the second of their two MEP candidates for south-west England, and the Gloucestershire branch closed down completely. And according to Sargon, the ‘Norf’ went Tory because Blair turned the Labour party from the party of the working class throughout Britain into the party of the liberal metropolitan elite, and turned its attention away from class issues to supporting Islam, refugees, radical feminism and gay rights. This conflict with the social conservative values of working people, and particularly northern working people. As a result, they voted for Johnson, who had the same values they had.

The strip depicts the northern working class as Norf F.C., a local football team. They have their counterparts and rivals in Sowf F.C., a southern football team, and in the Welsh and Scots. The north is presented as a region of fat skinhead football hooligans, poorly educated, and suffering from scurvy and malnutrition, but who love their families, their communities and their country. In the strip’s view, these communities were traditionally Labour. But this changed with the election of Tony Blair, an Oxford educated lawyer, who took over the party. Under his aegis, it no longer was the party of the working class, but instead had a lower middle class membership. These were over-educated officer workers, who turned it towards Communism with the election of Jeremy Corbyn. They supported racism witchhunts, gay rights and flooding White communities with coloured immigrants, and were pro-EU. They despised natural, healthy patriotism. The result was that when Boris appeared, despite being an Etonian toff they recognised themselves in him. He would do something about Brexit and immigration, and would attack the radical left who support Muslim rape gangs and wanted to chop off their sons’ genitals. And who would also put the ‘bum boys’ in their place. It led to the massive defeat of the Labour party, and in particular ‘Communists’ like owen Jones and Ash Sarkar of Novara media.

I’m not going to show the video here, but if you want to see it for yourself, go to YouTube and search for ‘How the Norf Went Tory’, which is his wretched video’s title.

To Sargon, Corbyn is a friend of Hezbollah and Hamas, and to show how threatening the feminists and LGBTQ section of the Labour party he shows various radical feminists with T-shirts saying ‘White People Are Terrorists’ and a trans-activist with a baseball bat and the tattoo ‘Die Cis Scum’, referring to cis-gendered people – those who identify with their biological gender. The over-educated lower middle class people he sneers at are graduates of gender studies, who work in McDonalds, or have submitted to what he describes as ‘office serfdom’.

It’s very much a simplistic view, but there’s much truth in it as well as great deal of distortion. Let’s go through it.

The UKIP View of the North

Firstly, it represents very much the UKIP view of events. The academic study of UKIP, Revolt on the Right,  found that its members were poorly educated, working class people in the north. They had socially Conservative views, hated the European Union, resented immigration, particularly Black and Asian, and felt abandoned by the traditional parties. He is also right in identifying the change from working class representation to middle class representation with Blair’s leadership. Blair didn’t like the working class. He wanted to get the votes of the swing voters in marginal constituencies. As Sargon’s video acknowledges, he supported the neoliberalism that had devastated the northern economy and which made so many northerners hate the policy’s architect, Maggie Thatcher. Within the party, Blair sidelined working class organisations like the trade unions in favour of courting and recruiting business managers.

The Labour party was keen to represent Blacks and other ethnic minorities, women and gays due to its ideological commitment to equality. This policy became particularly important after Thatcher’s victory in 1979, when it appeared to some that the White working class had abandoned the party. I’ve also seen books published in the ’70s lamenting the right-ward movement within the Labour party due to its membership becoming increasingly middle class, so this trend actually predates Blair somewhat. However, it acquired a new importance under Blair because of the emphasis his administration place on BAME rights, feminism and gay rights. In my view, this was partly as an attempt to preserve some claim to radicalism and progressive values while abandoning socialism and the working class.

Sargon Doesn’t Understand Class and Communism

Sargon also doesn’t understand either what Communism is. He seems to believe in the rantings of the contemporary right that it’s all about identity politics and changing the traditional culture from above. That’s one form of Marxist politics coming from the ideas of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. But traditional, orthodox Marxism emphasised the importance of the working class and the class structure of society. Marx’s theory of Dialectical Materialism held that it was the economic base of society that defined ideology, not the other way around. Once the working class came into power and socialised the economy, the ideologies supported and created by capitalism would disappear. Gramsci’s ideas about changing ideology and culture became fashionable in left-wing circles because it was believed that the working class was actually in decline as society changed. Demographers noted that increasing numbers of people were becoming lower middle class. Hence the movement on the left towards that sector of society, rather than the traditional working class.

Corbyn More Politically Committed to Working Class

Yes, Corbyn also supported anti-racism, feminism and gay rights, but these had been key values of the left since the 1980s. I remember then how the Labour party and leading figures like Michael Foot and Ken Livingstone were vilified as Communists and Trotskyites, and how the party was caricatured as standing for Black lesbians. There were all those stories circulating in the Scum, for example, about how radical teachers in London schools had decided that ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ was racist, and insisted children sing ‘Baa Baa Green Sheep’ instead. Corbyn does come from a privileged background, but his views and the Labour manifesto are far more working class in the sense that they represent a return to traditional socialist economic policies than Blair’s. And certainly far more than Johnson’s and the Tories.

I have to admit that I’m one of the over-educated officer worker types Sargon sneers at. But I never did gender studies, not that I’m sneering at it or those who studied it. My first degree is in history. And I am very sure that most of the legions of graduates now trying to get any kind of paid work have a very wide variety degrees. I also think that many of them also come from the aspirant working class, who went into higher education in order to get on. Also, if you were interested or active in working class politics in the 1980s, you were exposed and took over the anti-racism and anti-sexism campaigns. Ben Elton was notorious as a left-wing comedian in the 1980s, but he defended the working class and ethnic minorities against the Tories.  It was not the case that the White working class was viewed with suspicion as a hotbed of racism, although sections of it, represented by such grotesques as Alf Garnet, certainly were. But it was that section of the working class that the Scum and the Tory party addressed, and so it’s now surprise that they see themselves represented by Boris.

Their belief in Boris is ultimately misplaced, however. Boris will betray them, just like he has betrayed everyone else.

He isn’t going to get Brexit done. He is going to continue with his privatisations, including that of the NHS, and dismantlement of the welfare state. The people in the northern and midlands communities that voted for him are going to find themselves still poor, and probably much poorer, under him.

But the lessons for Labour should be that there should be no return to Blairism. 

David Rosenberg and many other left-wing bloggers have argued from their own personal experience that the way of winning working class voters back to Labour and away from the far-right is through the hard work of knocking on doors and neighbourhood campaigning. This is what Blairism didn’t do. Jones showed in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class that it was Blair that turned away and demonised them, and simply expected them to continue voting Labour as they didn’t have anywhere else to go. And it was the Blairites and Tories, who viewed the White working class as racist and vilified them as such. Although it also has to be said that they also courted them by appealing to their patriotism and their feeling of marginalisation in an increasingly multicultural society. And the fact that Jones took the trouble to attack this refutes Sargon’s attempt to present Jones as a ‘Communist’, who was against their interests.

Yes, you can find the misandrists, and the anti-White racists and extreme gay and trans rights activists in the Labour party. But they’re an unrepresentative minority, who are going to be controversial even in their own small circles. Attempts by the Tories to magnify their influence are deliberately deceptive in order to stop people from believing that the Labour party means to do anything for ordinary working people. Just as Sargon has tried to do in his video.

Winning back the working class from Boris does not mean a return to Blair and attempting to turn the party into the Conservatives 2.0. But it does mean returning to working class activism, representation and continuing to support real policies to benefit the working class, whether Black, White or Brown, Christian, atheist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or whatever.

And that has to be a return to genuine socialism.

Labour’s federal plan for Scotland is very bad news for anyone with an interest in a prosperous Scotland

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/01/2020 - 8:07pm in

The Guardian has reported that:

Scottish Labour is considering backing a second independence referendum in a dramatic reversal of policy by the party leader, Richard Leonard.

Party sources have told the Guardian that Leonard will raise that possibility at Labour’s Scottish executive committee on Saturday, where it could also discuss demands for it to split formally from the UK Labour party.

Leonard told his shadow cabinet on Monday he wanted to hold a special conference in May to decide Scottish Labour’s position on a fresh independence referendum, where he would present proposals for Labour to back a federal UK.

Let's just discuss the politics of this, and not the rights and wrongs of independence, per se.

First, given Labour has exited Westminster for all practical purposes as far as Scotland is concerned, this makes sense. Scottish Labour as well now concentrate on Scottish politics, where it still has some representation.

Second, given how dire Labour's result was for Scottish Labour to think to it can do better with its own policies might also make sense. Even Richard Leonard has got as far as reading the runes correctly on this.

Third, this is a spoiler by Labour. The Tories say no to independence. The SNP says yes. So Labour triangulates and says the middle ground looks like an option. It's classic stuff.

But the question is, will it work?

The fear for the SNP is it might: in a three-way vote federalism might win.

The hope for the Tories is it might let them cut the SNP largely out of Westminster and cut the block grant but let Johnson say he kept the Union together.

The gain for Labour would be hard to assess: they reduce their chances of forming a government at Westminster and nothing right now is going to get them back into office in Scotland, nor will that change for a long time to come, I suspect.

So what for the people fo Scotland?

People often opt for compromise. Labour is playing on that hope. But this will be a dire compromise for Scotland. Economic policy would remain with the currency in Westminster. So whatever else is said, Scotland will not have its own central bank, or its own currency and its own control of its own economic and fiscal policy. Under federalism Scotland will remain a glorified council. And as a result federalism will offer no gains to Scotland at all. The chance of prosperity that indp0ednence would bring is lost. Instead, all it offers is a downside: Scotland will be treated as responsible when it will not be, and marginal, which it will become to an even greater extent than at present.

As pure politics go there is only one winner in this, and that's Labour. They help the Tories on the way.

For Scotland this looks like very bad news. By and large Scotland has realised that this is what Labour is for it. I hope that they will appreciate that this is the case here as well.

Sajid Javid’s contempt for the required due process of government in Scotland

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/01/2020 - 10:14pm in


Budget, scotland

I reproduce this from a press release issued by the Chartered Institute of Tax in Scotland this morning:

Commenting on the tax implications for Scotland of an 11 March UK Budget date, Alexander Garden, chair of the Chartered Institute of Taxation’s Scottish Technical Committee, said:

“A UK Budget on 11 March leaves MSPs with just a few days to react to changes made at Westminster and to agree what the rates and bands of Scottish Income Tax will be ahead of the start of the new tax year in April.

“This matters because if MSPs fail to reach agreement – a scenario that could be seen as highly plausible in a parliament of minorities – Scotland would revert to the UK rates and bands of tax set by Westminster, effectively foregoing its ability to set its own income tax rates.

“There remains the chance that Derek Mackay could choose to go it alone and outline his plans before 11 March, but in this situation, he would be constrained by not knowing the true extent of Scotland’s fiscal picture.

“None of these scenarios are appealing and mean we are facing a Scottish budget process that will be conducted at breakneck speed, with little room for manoeuvre”.

Scotland has its own tax rates, but they are set as variation from UK rates.

What Sajid Javid is revealing is his contempt for the required due process of government in Scotland, as if he is indifferent to it.

No wonder support for independence is growing.

Early days of a better nation: why progressive politics and Welsh independence are now inseparably linked.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/01/2020 - 9:49am in

Among the twenty-four inscriptions that line the walls of the Scottish Parliament, one – attributed to Alasdair Gray but, as he freely admitted, borrowed from the Canadian poet Dennis Lee, seems hugely apposite to the position of we in Wales who still have faith in progressive politics: “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”.

It is particularly appropriate in Wales today, following the crushing win for Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party at Westminster and the second electoral thrashing in less than a year suffered by Welsh Labour. Almost before the final election results were declared, Johnson was declaring that a way must be found for the M4 Relief Road – subject to possibly the longest-running political controversy in Wales – to be built, after the Welsh Government’s decision not to go ahead with the scheme.

One can argue the merits of the decision not to build the relief road endlessly – but the point is that it was a decision taken in Wales, by the Welsh Government, making use of the devolved powers it indisputably possesses; there is no question of a grey area here. And it needs to be taken in context with other key decisions taken by Westminster using its legitimate powers; not to proceed with the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, or to electrify the railway between Cardiff and Swansea: both Tory election promises in 2017 but subsequently binned, and both cited as examples of the contempt in which Tory governments in Westminster hold Wales as part of the growing groundswell of support for independence.

And then there is Brexit. Wales voted – narrowly – for Brexit in 2016; but opinion polls since then have shown a larger swing back towards Remain than in any other part of the UK; and, moreover, there is compelling evidence that those who identify as Welsh were far more likely to vote Remain than those who identified as British; it was English retirers who shifted the balance. With the rise in national sentiment in Wales, that seems to be as strong an indication as we are likely to get that Wales has become a Remain nation.

And the political implications of Brexit for Wales are clear; it represents a substantial power grab by Westminster that will crucially undermine Brexit. As part of the legislative process leading to Brexit, the Welsh Government has agreed that many powers currently devolved to Wales relating to EU matters will effectively be taken back to Westminster for a period of five years, insofar as they affect the single UK market; and that includes crucial areas of policy like agriculture and the environment. The guidelines for how those powers will operate are currently being drafted by officials without any democratic scrutiny. Quietly, with the collaboration of a Welsh Labour Government in Ty Hywel, the devolution settlement is being rewritten as a series of protocols between officials. There is no democratic scrutiny.

The ambiguous position of Welsh Labour become abundantly clear when it used its votes in the Senedd to vote down a Plaid Cymru motion that no part of the Welsh NHS should be subject to a trade agreement negotiated by Westminster; partly on the intellectually feeble grounds, according to one Welsh Minister, that the vote would be “misrepresented on social media”. There is obviously a dilemma; the NHS is devolved, trade agreements are not. But it is surely significant that on this massively important and emotive issue Welsh Labour took the side of Westminster.

By the same logic, Wales will be powerless to resist the imports of chlorinated chicken, or to oppose any measure that Westminster deems necessary to get its trade deals outside the EU. Drakeford and Welsh Labour have thrown in the towel before the fight has started.

Taken together, it is clear that Wales is facing a dedicated onslaught on its devolved settlement. And that matters because during his Welsh Labour leadership campaign, Mark Drakeford talked repeatedly of erecting a “bulwark of socialism” in Wales against austerity politics in Westminster; but, quite obviously, you cannot do that if you do not have powers. And all the evidence to date is that Labour is not prepared to defend those devolved powers.

But without those powers there is no way in which Wales will be able to resist Westminster’s agenda; Drakeford’s bulwark of socialism appears to be wholly imaginary.

So the logic appears relentless; it points firmly towards moving towards independence within the EU as the only option that would allow us to preserve a progressive agenda in Wales – to “take back control” as it were. The choice appears stark: for Welsh politics to be relegated to being no more than a talking shop with the big decisions being taken in a Westminster that shows no inclination to respect Wales, or to become an independent state within the EU, with a guaranteed seat at the top table. Boris Johnson’s determination to attack devolution and to ensure that the big decisions are taken in London means that there is no real prospect of a middle way; solutions such as a federal United Kingdom with looser political links and real autonomy for the constituent nations, just aren’t on the agenda. When Boris Johnson talks up the Union, he means control in London; a Union made up not of equals, but of supplicants.

And, as a powerful piece in Nation.Cymru argued today, there is no point in waiting for a Labour government across the UK. That piece argues that Labour must start arguing for independence; but with Labour’s history – starting with the fact that Mark Drakeford was elected as Welsh Labour leader barely a year ago with a substantial majority on a platform that firmly placed Labour’s approach in opposition to independence – it’s hardly likely.

Which brings us back to Alasdair Gray. The future of Wales lies in demonstrating that we can do better than the failing politics of Westminster; that we can be more optimistic, more forward-looking, more honest, more humane.

Moving towards independence is not an easy option. Welsh Nationalism needs to avoid the hubris, intolerance and governmental incompetence that has characterised the SNP in Scotland; but, nevertheless, the logic of the situation is overwhelming. Brexit and Tory government in London mean both economic trauma and political emasculation for Wales. And you cannot fight the one without opposing the other.

It’s time for GERS to go

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/12/2019 - 7:36pm in

If I presume my Twitter timeline to be a reflection of what is happening in some areas of debate, then dispute on the usefulness of the Scottish government’s GERS statement is raging again. GERS stands for Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland. It is also the nickname of Rangers Football Club which is, of course, traditionally supported by unionists. I have commented before that I do not think this a coincidence. It betrays the original Conservative government objective for this statement when it was first created in the 1990s, which was to undermine the case for independence.

The GERS statement has been redefined since then. And I recognise that the methodology did improve.

And it is entirely true that the statement is now produced by the Scottish government itself. Unionists do as a result claim that if a nationalist government produced this data it has to be true.

No one does this more so than a blogger called Kevin Hague, who I see (because it’s been drawn to my attention) has been having one of his periodic goes at me, whilst simultaneously producing great quantities of data which he suggests proves his case that Scotland is going to hell in a handcart, with or without independence.

I am not writing now to knock Kevin Hague. I have little taste for his style of debate. And I can’t be much bothered to engage with a man who has stated (correctly) that GERS provides no indication of what the financial state of an independent Scotland might be, and then proceeds to base all his argument on the fact that it does. No one can win in direct argument against someone capable of being quite so illogical: they will persist with their illogicality come what may.

Nor am I writing now to address, yet again, the obvious failings in GERS as it stands. I have already done that on many occasions and nothing has, as yet, changed. So I suggest starting here, and here, and searching for more or following the links in those pieces if you want to know why GERS:

a) Understates Scottish income, by design;
b) Overstates Scottish expenditure by design;
c) Is prepared on an accounting basis that breaches fundamental rules of accounting;
d) Is based very heavily on non-Scottish data that was not designed to facilitate GERS;
e) Could not be made more accurate without there being a political will in Westminster to produce better quality Scottish data, which political will does not exist. Go back to my opening comment on the name to see why.

Instead I want to make clear why the arguments that Kevin Hague, and those with similar mindset promote are so irrelevant to this debate. This requires a little explanation.

The first thing to note is that Hague et al are technicians. They take data they are given and process it. They do not question it. They look for a seal of approval - in this case that of the Scottish government - and declare that is good enough for them and that anything that they might do as a result is sound analysis. I regret to say that this shows remarkably little understanding of almost any aspect of accounting or economics, although I admit that the economics profession is dominated by those who are similarly uncritical.

To be clear, no data has the objective quality that Hague et al apparently presume GERS has. All data is deeply subjective. What data we collect, how we collect it, how we process it and how we then publish it are all matters determined by subjective judgement. So, as I have pointed out, a decision has been made to not collect data on all the income attributable to Scotland. And expenditure that no one in Scotland has decided should be incurred has been attributed to it. These are subjective decisions. They distort the reporting. I stress, I am not arguing subjective decision making is wrong: it is a necessary fact of life. But when reviewing any data we have, then, to remember why it was collected; what the constraints are and what use it was intended to serve.

In this context the current political setup in Scotland has to be born in mind. The reality is that whilst Scotland has a parliament and has devolved responsibility for some issues, such as education and health, it has limited real revenue raising powers. In particular, some taxes are wholly outside the scope of devolved powers e.g. taxes on companies and wealth as well as national insurance and VAT (for now). Even the tax powers that are devolved are largely confined to making variation to rates, rather than to making any significant changes to tax base. Scotland is, then, very largely (by which I mean, for almost all practical purposes, entirely) dependent on funding supposedly supplied to it by the Westminster parliament, whatever the appearance might be.

What I am suggesting in that case is that whatever the veneer might look like, the Scottish government is for all practical purposes actually a devolved spending authority at present. Its ability to alter its revenue is simply too limited to alter that fact. And the constraints on its powers to intervene in the economy are so tight that it has little real chance to alter the economic well-being of the country if UK national economic policy is set to harm it, as it has been for many years.

And this fact (for fact it is, even if the SNP like to play along with the idea of limited devolved powers on revenue) means that the truth is that the Scottish government has about as much economic autonomy at present as an English country council. Indeed, given that English local authorities might raise more of their revenues themselves (albeit, again within heavy centrally imposed constraints) Scotland may have less autonomy.

In that case what is GERS for? It’s essentially about showing three things. One is, by implication, the fact that the Scottish government is required to balance its budget. That is a legal requirement. Second, it is about then suggesting that Scotland does raise some taxes, although the actual figure is deliberately understated. And then, thirdly and most importantly for some (who happen to effectively control the process), it is about suggesting that Scotland is a burden on the rest of the UK and should be immensely grateful to England in particular for subsidising it so heavily.

In other words, GERS indicates that a management obligation - a supposedly balanced budget, that is designed to very largely remove all fiscal power from Holyrood - has been delivered. And it is designed to show that there is a deficit in Scotland on the basis of the arbitrary estimation of income and revenue arising in Scotland that is used, that is then intended to feed directly into the political narrative that Hague et al use.

That the outcome is absurd is apparent. As I noted last August, it is simply impossible that X% of the UK national deficit is produced by Scotland. If an accounting system produces such a ludicrous claim then it safe to say that the accounting system is wrong.

My point, then, is to ask why it is so wrong. How can it be that such a misleading statement is still in use?

Firstly, let’s be clear, that’s because it very much suits the UK government to make the SNP look bad. When there is no foreseeable chance of a Conservative government in Scotland for a long time to come, and every chance that there will be a Conservative government in London for at least five years, it’s reasonable to presume that the bias will remain.

Second, it is unfortunate that as yet the SNP has not called GERS out for this reason. Instead of promoting it as reliable, as it has, it should be highlighting all its deficiencies and all the issues that should be reappraised to make it useful, it it is ever to achieve that status. But so far they will not do that.

Third, and worse, the SNP through its Growth Commission, has actually produced an endorsement of both GERS and the role of Holyrood as a devolved government that it imagines continuing well beyond independence as a result of the policy of sterlingisation to which they still seem to adhere, whatever good work Tim Rideout has done.

Fourth, then, it has to be understood that GERS seems to suit a mindset prevalent across the SNP / Tory divide that does, whatever is said in public, still seem to the think that austerity policies, based on externally imposed financial constraints created by London and imposed through the use of sterling will deliver. I can’t explain why the SNP wants to subscribe to this view, but it appears it does. It will not only seriously harm the case for independence if it continues with it, by guaranteeing that the SNP will have to play on Hague et al’s economic playing field if debate is to take place around such issues with existing SNP policy still in place, but it would also guarantee that Scottish well-being would be seriously harmed by an SNP government committed to such a policy if independence were to be achieved. I hate to say that, but the failure to challenge the culture of economic dependence on London implicit in GERS makes the SNP a massive threat to Scotland post independence right now. I hope for more enlightened times.

That enlightenment would require a number of matters to be appreciated. Let me list them, again.

First, if Scotland was independent - and that is the scenario I am really most interested in - GERS is of absolutely no consequence, even as a starting point.

That’s because Scotland should, if it has any sense and any chance of real independence, have its own currency from, in effect, day one of being an independent state.

And it should have its own foreign currency reserves - which it could create by issuing its new currency which people would want to buy with their existing currency - providing Scotland with its reserves in the process.

And then it would want to run a deficit, because a growing currency with a need for currency to keep its economy turning needs a government that is willing to run a deficit to inject funding into the country. The likes of a Scottish Green New Deal will, in any event, require this.

After which, Scotland will both need and have a proper accounting system of its own in place at this time. This would be essential: no country can run without one. And the key fact is that international law not only supports this process, but it is increasingly intended to support its effective delivery.

So Scottish imports and exports would really be tracked, with VAT being accounted for. That is not the case now: there is no real idea what is happening on this issue.

And Scottish residence for tax law would cease to be as arbitrary as it appears to be right now, with Scottish tax authorities still not really in control of this process.

Whilst trade in Scotland will have to be properly recorded as such, with sales, expenses and profits all being properly locally recorded for declaration to the Scottish tax authority.

And because international tax law would apply, Scotland could challenge the transfer pricing abuse that is not monitored in the flows out of Scotland to England now, where overpriced PFI, loan charges, interest and rents flow south without any control at all.

Instead, rents would be taxed in Scotland, come what may, whilst interest charges might well be as well: those charging interest in Scotland might be required to account for them in the country as well.

The reestablishment of a real Scottish financial services sector - meaning that profits from this activity which are now recorded in London would flow back to Scotland - would also help.

And the result would be that the correction of the current mis-statement of Scottish financial income, noted by John Christensen and Nick Shaxson, would seriously change the balance of payments with the rest of the UK. Scottish finances would look very different as a result. What is now arbitrarily allocated to England will be Scottish again.

I am not saying there will be no deficit: I see no reason to desire anything but a deficit. But the point is that instead of accounting as a local authority, in a currency over which it has no control, and with no powers to really require that Scottish sourced income be recorded in Scotland in some quote crucial areas, Scotland would account as a nation, and have the power of a nation to enforce its own rules. And it would have its own currency.

And that is a scenario so unlike GERS as to make comparison meaningless.

Three final thoughts then as to what this implies.

First, the SNP needs to announce a plan to replace GERS as being no longer fit for purpose, come what may.

Second, the SNP needs to embrace the idea of its own currency and running deficits post-independence.

And third, it needs to make clear that its vision of Scotland post-independence is not as a continuation of what is happening now, or why bother? Playing with GERS suggests that somehow not much will really change, and that is a serious mistake.

Accounting is, then, deeply political. GERS is a statement about Scottish dependence. Of course those who want to belittle the country love it. It’s time Scottish nationalist politicians of all allegiances realised that and got rid of it.

Charlie Brooker Latest Celeb To Push Anti-Semitism Smears on Have I Got News For You

Well, the election’s over and Boris in power with a massive majority. John McDonnell has resigned and Jeremy Corbyn is hanging on to oversee things until the party elects a new leader. But the Beeb still knows where its priorities lie: pushing the anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn and his party as hard as they can. And once again the vehicle for it was former satirical news quiz, Have I Got News For You.

This time the mugs making the smears were the guest host, Charlie Brooker, and comedian Phil Wang. Reading off an autocue, Brooker made a joke about Labour denying the Holocaust. He quoted someone saying the party was ‘in denial’ before quipping, ‘Well, at least it wasn’t about the Holocaust!’ Laugh? I thought I’d never start. Later on Wang made a joke about Jeremy Corbyn defending Nazis. Which isn’t funny either. The Beeb can’t claim the jokes are satirical, because they don’t parody reality. Corbyn isn’t an anti-Semite and has never defended Nazis. Quite the opposite. Nazis don’t get themselves arrested protesting against apartheid in South Africa. They supported White rule there. They also don’t protest against the lack of content for Jews on television, or the redevelopment of Jewish cemeteries. Nor do they attend meetings addressed by Holocaust survivors. This last point was lost when the Conservative press and Jewish establishment collectively lost their minds at Corbyn nodding in agreement when a Holocaust survivor said that the Israelis were treating the Palestinians like the Nazis had treated him. How dare he! Anti-Semite! But Nazis don’t give any attention to Holocaust survivors, because they try to pretend it either didn’t happen or was far smaller than claimed.

Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani tweeted footage of Brooker’s joke, commenting

As minorities face rising abuse and violence every day the BBC producing this stuff is deeply disturbing. Perhaps the licence fee isn’t worth it after all.

Very true. Boris’ victory has emboldened racists, and the media seems to be joining in with ITV misrepresenting Stormzy’s remark about racism in Britain.

Simon Maginn commented

Imagine being Charlie Brooker.
Successful, feted, admired as a fierce and uncompromising critic of lies and bullshit.
Then he goes on some crappy BBC ‘comedy’ show and delivers a Labour Holocaust-denial ‘gag’ and BOOM! he’s just another dumbo cog in the dumbo BBC smear machine.

Brooker is popular and has received massive critical acclaim. This is for his harsh, scathing attack on poor television in books like Dawn of the Dumb, and for Screenwipe. This last was his TV series in which he made vicious comments about various programmes while screaming at the screen and miming masturbation. He then moved to creating thought-provoking Science Fiction television with his series, Black Mirror. This was a series of tales showing the chilling possibilities in computer technology and our media saturated culture. It was greeted with critical acclaim. But Brooker seems to have thrown that away by making a stupid joke about Corbyn and anti-Semitism. But as Mike says, perhaps that’s a contractual obligation of people fronting the show by the Beeb.

Tom London also criticised it, making the point that he was Jewish and that these jokes are damaging Britain’s Jews

I am Jewish
There is NO proper evidence that Corbyn is an antisemite because he is not one
The people who pushed the incessant, relentless propaganda that he is have
Undermined democracy
Done huge damage to relations between minorities
Harmed Jewish community.

Ah, but that doesn’t matter to the Beeb. They’re the establishment, and all they care about is protecting the existing neoliberal order from attack from people like Corbyn’s Labour party. Left-wing Jews like Tom don’t count. Because they’re the wrong kind of Jews.

Mike also makes the point that while some may like the right-wing propaganda HIGNFY is spewing forth, others don’t, and it may not be long before the programme’s axed. Artdecolady tweeted

HIGNFY is really unfunny now, and I think it might be because I always thought they were on my side, but it’s now clear they’re not. Charlie Brooker made a really pathetic joke about the Holocaust and the Labour Party. To think I used to like him.

Sometimes it’s funny, but I’ve also gone off it. It used to be hilarious when it started back in the 1990s. Perhaps it’s simply because the novelty’s worn off. But there’s something more to it. I gave up watching it completely a few years ago because of the constant propaganda. The attacks on Corbyn are just part of this, but it was also pushing the lie that the Maidan Revolution that ushered in pro-Western government in Ukraine was a popular uprising, rather than a coup backed by America and the country’s own domestic Nazis. It was organised by Victoria Nuland of the US state department and the National Endowment for Democracy, which is the independent organisation to which the American state has outsourced this kind of operations after the CIA caused too many scandals with their activities. But ordinary peeps in the West can’t know this, and you’re an evil conspiracy theorist if you do.

The Scots comedian Frankie Boyle was very critical of Have I Got News For You. He saw it very much as part of the political establishment akin to similar shows in some of corrupt Balkan states. In an interview with Richard Osman at the Edinburgh television festival the other year, Boyle recalled how he had been in Romania watching a show like HIGNFY on TV. Politics there, at least at the time, was very corrupt and the media and television programmes rigged to present a pro-government line. The supposedly satirical show was no different. A government minister was in the front row as the comedian went along, and there was a piece of banter between the two. Everything was very chummy, and showed that the show wasn’t in the least opposed to the government. Rather the opposite, in fact. When Boyle remarked on this, he guide and translator said, ‘But it’s like programmes in your country!’

‘No, it isn’t!’ replied Boyle. Which was answered by

‘Yes, it is! Have I Got News For You!’

The show’s been running for nearly 30 years. Perhaps it’s had its day and should be cancelled before it outstays its welcome.

But Mike concludes that if it is, then this will only provide Boris with a pretext to privatise and abolish the Beeb.

Worst of all is the probability that Boris Johnson will use this as part of his excuse to axe the BBC’s status as the UK’s public service broadcaster and remove the requirement to pay the licence fee.

Still, the BBC did its best to ensure the Tories won the general election, knowing that this would be on the cards.

The Corporation’s bosses really are like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Charlie Brooker becomes next celeb to end his career with a ‘joke’ about Labour and anti-Semitism

They did, but my guess is that they won’t care, because the top managers and the people in the news department responsible for this are no doubt counting on getting new jobs with the private broadcasters that will replace it. 

The failing English elite can’t get its head around Scottish independence, let alone the economics that supports it

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/12/2019 - 10:11pm in

The FT says in an editorial today that:

The die is cast. Parliament has backed Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement, putting Britain on course to leave the EU on January 31. It is now clear that the future of the UK union itself will move centre stage next year. The Scottish National party, armed with electoral gains this month and the argument that Brexit is a material change to the UK’s constitutional make-up, wants a new vote on independence. Supporters of the union must make the case for its survival.

All the usual arguments are rolled out, including this:

The economic case for independence has, however, weakened further. Brent crude was at $100-plus a barrel before the 2014 referendum. Today it is $65. That makes it all the harder for Scotland to fund itself without the sizeable net budgetary transfer it receives from the UK. The annual Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland review found Scotland ran a notional budget deficit of 7 per cent of output in 2018-19, even after including a share of North Sea revenues. The type of Brexit Mr Johnson is targeting would reduce the future UK-EU relationship to a trade deal. If Scotland then broke away but remained in the EU this would create a hard border between it and England, causing further economic harm.

First of all, it's hard to see how harm could be caused by being in the EU when the FT considers that to be to the benefit of the UK as a whole. Second if, as is inevitable, rules to handle Northern  Ireland being outside the rest of the UK for trade purposes can be developed and functional there is no reason why they could not also be applied to Scotland.

Second, though is the more important question of selecting inappropriate evidence. It is well known that I have long been a critic of GERS. There are numerous reasons for being so. As I wrote in August this year:

It is important to remember that this data is now published by the Scottish government. It was not always. It began life in the early 1990s as a deliberate exercise to supposedly prove that Scotland was not a viable independent state. Now the Scottish government says of it:

The aim of GERS is to enhance public understanding of fiscal issues in Scotland. The primary objective is to estimate a set of public sector accounts for Scotland through detailed analysis of official UK and Scottish Government finance statistics. GERS estimates the contribution of revenue raised in Scotland toward the goods and services provided for the benefit of the people of Scotland. The report is designed to allow users to understand and analyse Scotland's fiscal position under different scenarios.

GERS captures the entire public sector in Scotland and includes activity by each of the constituent sub-sectors of the public sector: central government, local government and public corporations. In addition to providing an analysis of aggregate expenditure and revenue, the report contains a detailed breakdown according to individual expenditure and revenue components.

That, in my opinion, is a generous interpretation, and in some respects just wrong. I have not seen the data as yet, but I have no doubt that I was right to have created the term CRAp to describe it. That means ‘Completely Rubbish Approximations’. And that is what GERS is.

So, before we see anything let me remind those who will get excited by this (and I am sure some graphs will be coming our way) of just why I think this.

First, this was and to some extent remains a Unionist exercise. The short name says it all, and is not, I am sure coincidence. No one puts expenditure ahead of revenue in the name of an accounting document. It was done here for a reason, and it was to make a point that is still repeated. I will treat it with more respect when it is renamed.

Second, this is very largely UK based data. It is simply an extrapolation of that data to Scotland in most cases. And UK data is prepared for UK purposes. The result is that the inherent reporting bias in it, recently referred to by the Tax Justice Network, for example, is not removed. Large amounts of economic value created in Scotland is not reported there as a result.

Third, GERS is not intended to show how an independent Scotland would perform, and does not. For the sake of the independence debate it is almost irrelevant.

Fourth, GERS reflects a lot of spending Scotland would not incur. It would not have a nuclear deterrent, for example.

Fifth, as I have argued many times, the accounting is biased and theoretically utterly flawed. When accounting it is vital that all estimates are prepared consistently and on the same basis. GERS has not been. Income is estimated on the basis of that arising IN Scotland but spending is estimated on the basis of that arising FOR Scotland. So, only taxes paid in Scotland are included. But expenditure in England (mainly), Wales and Northern Ireland is also charged to Scotland when Scotland is deemed to benefit from it. But the tax paid to generate that expenditure is not taken into account. The system is, then, inherently designed to show a deficit. This is why the Scottish government claim about it is wrong.

Sixth, no one really has a clue about the level of Scottish imports and exports, including services, because as yet the data to check these does not exist. And since this data might significantly impact GERS, and any other debate on the Scottish economy, that leaves a gaping hole in the estimates that nothing can fill.

Seventh, even now Scotland has a tax authority we know it is having difficulty identifying Scottish resident people and their tax liabilities. And that is for easy taxes. On VAT, corporation tax and many other taxes the figures are stabs in the dark, especially as much Scottish added value is recorded elsewhere.

To base an argument for or against independence on data that was not intended to show the financial position of Scotland if it was independent makes little or no sense.

But let me suggest too that the FT should consider the Tax Justice Network paper noted above. Written by Nick Shaxson and John Christensen it looks at how UK regional accounting data (i.e. that for all regions and not just Scotland, but of which GERS is really an abstract) is likely to be seriously wrong. As they note:

A 2017 article in the Financial Times, entitled “Why London deserves a thank you note from the rest of Britain,” argued:

London “is definitively the cash cow that allows [politicians] to promise the high quality public services all parts of the country crave.... Official estimates show that “In 2015-16, average Londoners paid £3,070 more in tax than they received in public spending . . . if London was a nation state, it would have a budget surplus of 7 per cent of gross domestic product, better than Norway. . . . the idea that London sucks the life out of other parts of Britain is absurd.”

Supporting this view, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) presents regional data for Gross Value Added (GVA,) showing London’s per-capita productivity at 179 percent of the UK average, while West Wales & the Valleys are at just 63 percent. While other studies suggest that the true picture is less stark after adjusting for workforce, housing, industry mix and other factors, this has not dented the conventional view.

They then argue, convincingly, that this is wrong. Their argument is that the financial power of London extracts talent, investment, and most importantly income through the extraction of rents in the firm of excessive interest and literal rent charges that are recorded in the south-east of England as income and which are shown as deficits in the regions, including Scotland for these purposes. As they conclude:

A simplistic approach to addressing Britain’s regional economic imbalances, on the above analysis, would identify parts of the financial sector as extractive, then seek to shrink such parts, in the name of regional rebalancing. It may indeed be possible to consider how and which parts of the financial sector may usefully be made smaller, and regional and national cost-benefit analyses conducted of various strategies for doing this.

However, a more nuanced approach would recognise that many of the more extractive sectors, and more broadly those forces that represent the ‘gravitational pull’ of investment and resources and effort and talent away from the regions (and from poorer parts of London) towards the parts of London and its hinterlands that represent the ‘winners’, are frequently inseparable from one another. Useful and productive lending and investment, for instance, are entangled with leverage techniques and securitisation, which contributed to the global financial crisis and may do so again.

Measuring these effects will be difficult, requiring innovative new ways for identifying financial extractive mechanisms, or other gravitational effects. For instance, might one estimate the scale of wealth extraction via excess market power and put this in a regional context?

If this were done a very different view might emerge. I believe that they are right.

Nonetheless the FT concludes:

The UK prime minister is right to refuse Ms Sturgeon’s calls for a new referendum in 2020.

It adds:

This newspaper firmly supports the United Kingdom as one of the most successful political marriages in history. But the argument that Britain’s departure from the EU changes the constitutional situation is legitimate. If parties that unequivocally support a new independence referendum win a majority under Scotland’s proportional system in the 2021 election, the case to grant one may become unanswerable. Before then, if it is to preserve the UK, the government must do all it can to persuade Scots once again to vote No.

Let me assure the FT economic argument will not do that: the data does not make the case.

More important though is the fact that the FT does not understand that Scotland thinks like another country. And that is what will be insurmountable.

What is remarkable is that sometime soon England will really face the end of its Empire. Northern Ireland and Scotland, at least, will leave the Union. As a political economist it's impossible not to be fascinated by this. As an observer of the failing English elite it's as fascinating to watch their failure to come to terms with it, as the FT evidences. For Scotland, at least, it brings hope. For Ireland it's more complicated. But I believe it too will get there. We live in interesting times.

Trust in Beeb Falls Below 50 Per Cent

A few days ago Zelo Street put up an article commenting on a letter Joel Benjamin sent to the Beeb’s Director-General complaining about the corporation’s massive pro-Tory, anti-Labour, anti-working class bias. Benjamin had taken the step of writing to Tony Hall directly because he didn’t trust the Corporation’s complaints service. He stated that it was

a private contract administered by criminally negligent outsourcing company CAPITA. Experts in dull, pro-forma response letters, which fail to address the complainants concerns and a symbol of much that has gone awry at the BBC and in neoliberal, corporatist Britain. 

He also listed the following specific examples of the Beeb’s bias towards the Tories.

To which Zelo Street added a few more of their own.

‘(a) the use of newspaper columnists, editors and press hangers-on in paper reviews, allowing the press to mark their own homework and therefore perpetuate right-wing bias,(b) the blatant use of the BBC’s Sunday Politics by veteran presenter Andrew Neil to push climate change denial, and (c) Neil and political editor Laura Kuenssberg, along with Robbie Gibb, orchestrating a resignation from the shadow cabinet live on the Daily Politics just before PMQs to the benefit of the Tories…(d) Ms Kuenssberg effectively taking dictation from Vote Leave’s Matthew Elliott over the campaign breaking electoral law, (e) Refusal to discuss the misbehaviour of Cambridge Analytica, to the extent of having Carole Cadwalladr shouted down during a paper review on The Andy Marr Show™, (f) a whole string of instances where the Question Time audience has been infiltrated by Tory plants, and (g) loading panel shows with right-wing pundits and other hangers-on.’

Benjamin particularly resented the Beeb’s dismissive attitude towards criticism. He wrote

Instead of BBC management being responsive to public criticism this election, licence fee payers were subject to Francesca Unsworth, the BBC’s Director of News and Current Affairs – publishing a letter in the Guardian – framing complainants as peddlers of “conspiracy theories” in the wake of a highly visible series of self-ascribed “mistakes,” each, coincidentally, benefitting Boris Johnson and the Conservatives, whilst harming the Labour opposition. Despite the pushback to Unsworth’s article, you then chose to to double down, blame licence fee payers, and cry conspiracy

He also remarked that the Corporation’s bias was

clearly unacceptable, yet a natural consequence of a broadcaster answerable not to the public, but directly to an increasingly brutalising, fact free, and tone deaf Government, that ultimately wants the BBC abolished. In this context, your servile, pro-establishment political coverage looks to fee payers like feeding Conservative crocodiles, in the vain hope the BBC get eaten last.


But what is also remarkable is the extent to which people share this dissatisfaction with the Beeb. Zelo Street reported that a poll by YouGov at the start of this month – December 2019 – had found that trust in the BBC had fallen to 44 per cent. 48 per cent, on the other hand, distrusted the Corporation. This was a marked drop from October, when 51 per cent of respondents to the survey trusted the Corporation, and 41 per cent didn’t.

The Street remarks that not everyone will share Benjamin’s views and his wider analysis, but they may understand his frustration, particularly at the Corporation’s refusal to listen to the people that actually support it by paying the licence fee.

He also warns that the Tories are determined to inflict further damage on the Beeb in order to create an utterly compliant media landscape. And if that happens, Hall and the rest of them may find themselves out of a job. Unless they actually start listening to their critics, and realise that there is a problem.

Now I dare say that many of those, who distrust the Beeb come from the Right. People who think that the Beeb really is biased against the Conservatives, because Johnson tells them it is while running away from interviews, his comments echoed and supported by the right-wing press. I’ve come across complaints from those on the extreme Right, who despise the Corporation because it generally supports multiculturalism, feminism and gay rights. Which in their view makes it anti-White and anti-British.

But the Left have every reason not to trust the Beeb. Joel Benjamin and Zelo Street are right: the Corporation has been massively biased. And not just in this election either. One commenter to Zelo Street’s post reminded readers how the Corporation was also biased in the referendum on Scots independence.  They were. I remember how Nick Robinson was so dissatisfied with Alex Salmond’s very full answer to a question on the effect independence would have on the Scottish financial sector, that it was progressively cut down during subsequent news bulletins with Robinson claiming that Salmond had made an unsatisfactory answer. Finally it disappeared altogether, and Robinson claimed the-then leader of the SNP hadn’t answered it. Which is a piece of newspeak worthy of Orwell.

I despise the corporation’s political bias and its knee-jerk contempt for its critics. Any and all criticism of the Corporation is met with the same response: that the Beeb is criticised for bias by both Left and Right, with the implication that the Beeb isn’t biased and it’s all somehow in the critics’ imagination. But studies cited by Benjamin in his letter show that isn’t the case. And in some of the recent instances of glaring bias, the Beeb tries to excuse them by claiming that it was all a mistake.

This won’t wash. Not any more.

The Beeb does make some excellent programmes. But I’m sick and tired of its massive political bias to the point where I’d happily see nearly all their newsroom sacked. Johnson has said that he’s considering decriminalising nonpayment of the licence fee. And the Tories and their donors, particularly Rupert Murdoch, have been clamouring for the Beeb’s privatisation for nearly four decades.

The Beeb may soon find it needs all the help it can get. But it’s rapidly losing them on the Left, and may well end up regretting this.



Scots Government Considering Nationalising Railways

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/12/2019 - 11:14pm in

But only in Scotland, of course. Today’s I carries a piece by Chris Green, ‘Scotrail may be nationalised after franchise cut short, reporting that the Scottish government is considering nationalising the rail contractor. Here’s a snippet from the article

The public sector could soon take over the running of Scotland’s railways after ministers decided to terminate the current ScotRail contract with Abellio three years early.

Abellio has been operating the service since 2015 and its contract was not due to expire until 2025, but it has faced growing anger over cancellations, overcrowding and delays.

The Scottish Government announced yesterday that it had activated a break clause in the contract, meaning that it will come to an end in March 2023.

The decision clears the way for a public sector bid for the franchise, which would honour a commitment made by the SNP ahead of the last Holyrood election in 2016.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson told MSPs that after examining the Dutch firm’s plans for the remainder of the contract, he was “not satisfied” it would provide value for passengers.

Mr Matheson said that the current franchising system had “failed” and called for the UK Government to devolve total control over the railways to Scotland, which would allow for full nationalisation.

The article goes on to report that the Tories are accusing the SNP of trying to duck out of its own failure in awarding the contract to Abellio in the first place. It also says that changes to rail franchising system were recommended by the Williams Review commission, but the government’s response has not been published. It also gives the response of Abellio, which states that it has invested more than £475m in train services, added 23 per cent more seats and created more than 500 jobs. This is supposed to be the greatest investment in trains and stations in over 150  years.

I hope the Scots go through with it and nationalise the service. This would show the rest of the UK that nationalisation really is a realistic long-term option. Failing railway companies in England have been nationalised several times over the past decade or so, but they’ve always been handed back to a private contractor. But the problems continue. It’s time that this ended, and we had a proper, nationalised railway.

Bring back British Rail!