scotland

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19 October 2023 – and the need for an honest debate on the Scottish currency

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/06/2022 - 5:59pm in

Will Scotland hold the consultative referendum on its future that Nicola Sturgeon promised yesterday? Combined legal weight of opinion suggests that this is unlikely as the Westminster government opposes it and it is thought that the Supreme Court will side with them. Joanna Cherry QC MP and others disagree, saying that the Scottish parliament does have the necessary powers to proceed on this issue. Time will tell who is right: I am not going to judge on that one.

What I do know are three things. The first is that when a body of people in a defined geographic area have a different sense of political priorities to those from another area that seek to govern them then the resulting conflict does eventually usually lead to a parting of the ways because the tension of staying together eventually becomes too much for those seeking to hold on to power from a distance. The process of attrition becomes too wearing to continually tolerate. So, I do think that Scotland will, as Ireland did, regain its independence and without violence, I am sure.

Second, I am certain that Scotland can be a successful mid-sized European nation, which is what it would be after independence. If so many other countries of around 6 million people can survive in Europe so too can Scotland, very well. Those arguing otherwise have not got evidence on their side. The Scottish government was right to point this out in its very first publication that opened this round of debate.

Third, to succeed the Scottish government needs to be honest about the biggest issues. None is bigger than the currency an independent Scotland will use. I have little doubt it will be called the pound. The only question is whether that is sterling or a Scottish pound. On this one, I have no doubt. I set out the arguments here:

This issue killed the Yes movement last time. Honesty this time is essential. I hope there is the courage to do that.

The UK Has Been Captured by Conservative England

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/06/2022 - 11:45pm in

As Westminster waits on a no-confidence vote from Tory MPs, TJ Coles says the country is experiencing the tyranny of a Conservative minority

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The UK has a 68 million-strong population, yet its political path is being forged by the Conservative Party, that struggles to win 14 million votes.

It has been claimed that the UK has taken a rightward turn in recent years, but it would be more accurate to say that England has turned to the right, while the home nations – and even a few English regions – have clung on to progressive politics.

Indeed, although Wales voted to leave the European Union in 2016, it returned a Labour majority at the 2019 General Election, followed by a Labour majority at the 2021 Senedd Election. Meanwhile, Scotland consistently votes for the centre-left Scottish National Party (SNP), and Northern Ireland recently elected the social democratic party, Sinn Féin.

These parties stand well to the left of the ruling Conservative Westminster Government and would not be out of place alongside Europe’s social democracies.

It is England, therefore, that is dragging down the progressive countries of the UK. Politico’s poll of polls, a tool that collates all the current surveys of domestic voting intention, suggests that if we add up the support for left and centre-left parties in the UK (the poll excludes Sinn Féin and includes the Liberal Democrats), progressive parties have 62% of the potential vote share.

Labour stands on 40%, the Lib Dems 12%, the Greens 5%, the SNP 4%, and Plaid Cymru 1%. The right, by comparison, has just 38%: the Conservatives 33%, Reform 4%, and UKIP 1%.

The England Brexit Psycho-Drama

In 2010 and 2015 respectively, between 10 and 11 million Brits voted Conservative – not enough to give the party a majority in the former, but just enough to get it over the line in the latter.

As a result, successive Conservative-led governments adopted the policy of permanent austerity – from which Boris Johnson has distanced himself rhetorically, while (COVID aside) he still continues to carry out.

Concurrently, the Conservatives have slowly stolen the clothes of hard-right anti-EU provocateur Nigel Farage – who caused the Tories numerous headaches after 2010.

Fearing that the right-wing vote would be split at the 2015 General Election, David Cameron promised to hold the EU Referendum if he emerged victorious – settling the issue once and for all, he hoped, with Remain on the winning side.

Three years after the referendum, with Britain still in the EU and Parliament in paralysis, Brexit became a religion for a significant number of English voters.

By mid-2019, a majority of Conservative Party members said that they would rather see the party destroyed than lose Brexit. In order to retain these constituents, Johnson is now a political clone of Farage – waging a culture war against immigrants and liberals, trans people, students and standards of decency in public life.

Given the media’s focus on the Westminster psycho-drama, you could be forgiven for thinking that this state of affairs pervades throughout the UK. It does not.

Founded in 1905, the name of the secular party Sinn Féin translates from Irish-Gaelic to English as “Ourselves”. The party operates in two countries. It is a minority in the Republic of Ireland’s legislature (the Oireachtas) with 37 seats in the 160-member lower house (Dáil Éireann) and five out of the 60 seats in the upper house (Seanad Éireann, not including a recent resignation).

Sinn Féin seeks Northern Ireland’s reunification with the Republic of Ireland and – as such – it cannot be compared with too much precision to other UK political parties.

Sinn Féin recently won the plurality in the Northern Ireland Assembly (27 seats out of 90) and abstains from its seven out of potential 18 Northern Ireland constituency seats in the House of Commons.

However, many Sinn Féin supporters vote for the party’s left-wing social policies, not necessarily for reunification. The party’s manifesto pledges include injecting money into the health service, tackling the cost of living crisis by reducing consumer costs, building 100,000 homes over the next 15 years to tackle the affordability crisis, banning conversion therapy, and introducing a Bill of Rights.

The last several years in opposition have made Sinn Féin’s legislative victories all the more impressive. In 2018, it passed a bill in the Irish Dáil to increase the number of social and affordable houses. In 2021, a non-binding private members’ bill calling for 20,000 social homes a year to be constructed also passed. Similarly, in that year, a student renters’ bill enjoyed success. The Financial Times reports that the party’s focus on housing has led to its increase in support. It now leads the opposition in the Republic and is the leading party in Northern Ireland, though negotiations are still ongoing about the resumption of the Assembly after May’s election.

From Holyrood to Cardiff

The first elections to the Scottish Parliament took place in 1999, with Labour winning 53 seats and the SNP leading the opposition. In 2007, the pro-independence party beat Labour by one seat, and it has been the leading party in Scottish parliamentary elections ever since.

In 2016, Scots voted overwhelmingly for the UK to remain part of the EU – 62 to 38% – and as England has lurched to the right, Scotland has travelled in the opposite political direction.

Branded as the ‘Brexit election’, the SNP consolidated its support in 2019 – winning 48 of the available 59 House of Commons seats in the country – an increase of 13 from 2017.

Fearing a hard Brexit under Johnson, the SNP was given a significant mandate in Westminster and in Holyrood through subsequent Scottish elections.

Today, 16-year-olds can vote in Scotland – something for which Westminster refuses to legislate. In addition, anyone resident in Scotland, including refugees, can register to vote. By late-2021, more than 170,000 EU and other foreign nationals were registered to vote in the Scottish Parliamentary and local elections.

In contrast, Tory England is increasingly restricting the franchise, marginalising those already on the peripheries of the democratic system.

Echoing their Scottish counterparts, in 2020 the Welsh voted to expand the franchise to younger age groups.

The Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament, previously the National Assembly) is a unicameral assembly that has 60 seats and was established in 1999. Since its founding, the Welsh Labour Party has dominated, with consistently a quarter-to-one-third of the vote in constituency elections.

In the 2021 Senedd elections, Labour entrenched its support – gaining one seat and teetering on the edge of an overall majority, an impressive feat in both the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, by virtue of their proportional voting systems. The majority of people in Wales want Johnson to resign as Prime Minister, in line with the rest of the UK.

As polls and election results consistently show, the UK as a whole leans towards the centre-left – something that consistently converts to majorities for progressive parties outside Westminster.

Yet, the majority of people – and certainly those in the home nations – are forced to reckon with seemingly perpetual Tory rule, with its accompanying Brexit diversions and regressive economic policies.

Nevertheless, there is some reason for hope. There is a broad coalition capable of beating the Conservatives at the next election – if those involved can figure out a strategy for victory.

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A Nation Split on the Monarchy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/06/2022 - 9:17pm in

New polling by Omnisis for Byline Times shows a significant body of support outside England for an elected head of state

There are significant fissures within the UK about the future of the monarchy, an exclusive new poll commissioned by Byline Times can reveal.

Polling conducting this week by Omnisis shows that there is a significant body of support in Scotland and Wales for an elected head of state – with 44% of respondents in the former and 43% in the latter supporting the end of the constitutional monarchy. This compares to an England-wide average of 32% who support an elected head of state.

Comparative polling also suggests that respondents may have been influenced by the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which is being celebrated this week.

Back in February, Omnisis asked respondents whether they supported the presence of a monarchy in Britain, with 47% of Scottish and 48% of Welsh respondents saying that they did not.

However, it doesn’t appear as though Boris Johnson can count on a bounce in support thanks to the Jubilee.

This week’s poll suggests that, while 83% of people think that the Queen embodies ‘British values’, only 31% of people think the same about the current Prime Minister. Strikingly, among the 55-to-64 age bracket – typically a reliable constituency of support for the Conservatives – only 22% of people believe that Johnson embodies British values.

Even 32% of people who intend to vote for the Conservatives at the next general election believe that Boris Johnson – who was found to have broken the law during the ‘Partygate’ saga – does not embody British values.

That said, people still appear to be widely optimistic about the future of the monarchy, with 72% believing that it will still be in existence in 20 years’ time, and 73% saying that they will continue to support its position after the Queen dies. Once again, this sentiment is stronger in England (74%) than in the other home nations (66%).

While these divides have not yet opened into a chasm, the presence of an ideological rupture between England, Scotland and Wales could further fuel independence movements.

Scotland in particular is disaffected with Westminster rule, forced into a departure from the European Union against its wishes, and governed by successive Conservative-led administrations that it did not vote for.

It is perhaps of little surprise that the Scottish National Party has strengthened its position in recent elections, winning 64 seats at the 2021 Scottish Parliament election – one short of an overall majority (a tricky feat under Scotland’s proportional electoral system).

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that civil servants are working on a renewed prospectus for independence and has said she wants a second independence referendum to take place by the end of next year – though this vote can only be granted by Westminster.

Finally, Omnisis asked respondents to guess who the Queen would vote for at the next general election, if she chose to vote (by convention, the Queen does not vote). 52% of those surveyed said that she would vote Conservative, 22% thought Labour, 11% thought the Greens, and 8% said the Liberal Democrats.

This is perhaps surprising, given that Boris Johnson unlawfully prorogued Parliament in 2020 and potentially lied to the Queen, while his staff members partied the night away on the eve of her husband Prince Philip’s (socially distanced) funeral.

The full tables and methodology can be found here

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Scotonomics – next Monday

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/06/2022 - 5:05pm in

I share this. The links in the Tweet are live, and with a referendum back in focus what we’ll be discussing has growing relevance:

Lord Geidt has highlighted the absence of ethics in No.10. The absence of ideas in politics will, however, be harder to solve

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/06/2022 - 4:58pm in

I am not sure that the No.10 ethics adviser, Lord Geidt, intended to yesterday set himself up as the person to bring Johnson down, but it seems he might be just have done that. His challenge to Johnson, in which he asked how Johnson’s fixed penalty notice could be considered compliant with the Ministerial Code of Conduct was appropriate.

Johnson, of course, ducked and weaved in response. Effectively he said this was none of Geidt’s business. In his own mind, no doubt, Johnson thinks his recent gutting of the Code is in any case retrospective.

It is thought possible Geidt will resign as a result of the difference of view. Whether he does, or not, matters little. What Geidt has already successfully signalled is that even in No.10 there are people questioning Johnson’s fitness for Office. More MPs are likely to send letters calling for a change of Tory leader as a result. Johnson might face a confidence vote as early as next week.

The widespread feeling is that Johnson will win that vote. It is presumed that the 140 MPs holding some position in government will vote for him. He only needs 180 to win. But he will be seriously damaged by the vote. If he goes to the next election having suffered such a blow his chances of winning are very low. No leader can win the country when their own party has expressed serious doubts about him.

But, what then? Lord Geidt, as ethics adviser, offered no clue. Nor will anyone else. We would be in limbo, facing multiple challenges, with a prime minister intent on wreaking havoc and no mechanism, barring an unlikely Opposition win in a no confidence vote in the Commons, to stop him.

If evidence was needed that we need constitutional reform, this is it.

If evidence was also needed that it is the time for the Opposition to say what that reform might be then this is also it.

But Labour considers to dither, its one big idea in the form of the windfall tax now stripped from it.

Even when discussion on this issue of constitutional reform is the one big thing that it can contribute to the growing debate on the Union in Scotland, it still can’t say what it thinks.

Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Wes Streeting are all, apparently, writing books right now. It’s hard to imagine what they might be saying. I hope there is more substance to their arguments than current political debate suggests.

As we enter a long weekend of rather uncomfortable wallowing in nostalgia, which would appear to be what we are now best at as a result of too much time under Tory governments, it would be good to think that someone in Westminster other than Caroline Lucas and the SNP knew what they wanted. But in the other, largely English and Welsh parties that thinking is hard to discern.

Lord Geidt correctly spotted an absence of ethics yesterday. Tory MPs could, if they wish, address that issue. The absence of ideas looks as if it will be harder to solve.

Constitutional Culture Wars: Johnson’s Next Divide-and-Rule Campaign?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 8:53pm in

AV Deggar considers how the Vote Leave coalition may react to emboldened separatist forces in Scotland and Northern Ireland

This month’s local elections left Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party with a bloody nose, losing almost 500 seats across the UK – their worst performance in a quarter of a century.

As well as losing symbolic English councils like Westminster and Margaret Thatcher’s beloved Wandsworth to Labour, across the border in Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) romped to victory, adding a further 22 councillors to their record 2017 total.

The shockwave became seismic a few days later, when Sinn Féin was confirmed as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly – becoming the first Irish Republican party to top the polls in the history of the nation.

Mid-term malaise, the ongoing ‘Partygate’ saga, the cost of living crisis and disenchantment with Boris Johnson have all been mooted as contributing factors to the Conservative Party’s local election collapse. While all are valid contributors, it is the Brexit effect that has intensified discontent in the regions where Remain majorities persist.

Johnson’s hardest-of-all possible Brexits has galvanised the independence movement in Scotland and has aided the cause of Irish reunification. In the process, the Conservative and Unionist Party has nurtured its ideal bête noire in the ongoing culture war – the treachery of the separatists.

Nationalist Flashpoints

Before the counting had finished in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, the President of Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald, stated that her party would seek to hold a border poll on the integration of Ulster with the Republic of Ireland by 2027.

Although Unionist parties still represent the largest bloc within the legislative assembly, the biggest single Loyalist presence, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), experienced a decreased vote share in every constituency in Northern Ireland.

A major part of the DUP’s fall from grace was its confidence-and-supply partnership with Theresa May and later Johnson’s governments, which propped up successive Conservative regimes at Westminster but ended with the Northern Ireland Protocol and a border down the Irish Sea.

Seen as a dislocation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, the DUP opposes the Protocol, which protects the integrity of the EU single market without the need for a hard border on the island of Ireland, but does not allow goods to move unrestricted from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

While 54 out of the 90 newly-elected members to the Stormont Assembly are pro-Protocol, the DUP has confirmed it will not enter into power sharing until there is “decisive action” on it – meaning radical modification or total repeal. 

Obligingly, the UK Government has been threatening to renege on its responsibilities under the Protocol since September 2020, admitting that it would break international law in the process.

The sabre rattling has become deafening in the past few days, with the UK Attorney General approving a withdrawal from large chunks of the Protocol, and the Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership hopeful Liz Truss threatening to scrap it altogether – possibly precipitating unrest in Northern Ireland and a wider trade war with the EU.

Similarly in Scotland, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon backed by her Scottish Green partners in government, has committed to holding a second referendum on independence by 2026, and preferably before the end of 2023.

After 15 years in power and winning 11 elections at Holyrood and Westminster, the SNP’s grip on power is unassailable. With a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, another plebiscite on independence is inevitable. Granting IndyRef2 is within the gift of the UK Government at Westminster alone, and denying Scots a second vote would be unjustifiable.

Outside of the ongoing cost of living crisis, the biggest headache for whichever flavour of Conservative administration fights the next election will be constitutional – and could be cynically weaponised to become their best asset at the ballot box.

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A Wedge Strategy

What we know today as ‘culture wars’ have existed as a fixture in the US political mainstream since the Richard Nixon era as ‘wedge issues’ – social sticking points that have the potential to split or enforce a polarity of opinion. ‘God, guns and gays’ is a perfect example.

Typified by Ronald Reagan advisor Lee Atwater, and practised to this day by Johnson stalwart and on-off Conservative election consultant Lynton Crosby, wedge strategy has been rebranded for the digital age, where a largely unregulated social media and compliant client press permits contentious issues to be extruded to their most sensationalist apogee.

Wedge strategy found its ultimate expression in UK politics in the build-up and aftermath of the Brexit referendum in 2016, when polemic issues like immigration melded with British hyper-nationalism and Europhobia – largely confected and driven by right-wing voices in the conventional and digital media.

As Byline Times has shown on numerous occasions, the pernicious role of the media in the EU Referendum result cannot be overstated.

In 2015, pollster Ipsos MORI showed that just 1% of the British population believed that the EU was “the most important issue facing Britain today”, alongside the likes of “overpopulation” and “morality”. A month before the Withdrawal Agreement was signed in 2019, 57% believed that Brexit was the country’s largest concern. People who hadn’t given a passing thought to the EU were now burning blue and gold flags in the streets. The politically disaffected and unengaged had become radicalised.

Cutting across traditional ideological lines and the broad-church coalitions of Westminster parties, internecine hostilities fractured party and populous alike. Allegiances and priorities were reformatted to align with Leave or Remain tendencies, exacerbated by the parliamentary gridlock that meant Brexit sucked in all the political oxygen for three and a half years, exhaling only toxins into an already poisonous political atmosphere.

The Brexit wedge became a coverall for the damage that was being wrought on wider society – five years of swingeing austerity became 10 before Brexit was “done”. Health inequalities rose, the wage gap increased, state spending per child sank, general poverty skyrocketed, homelessness soared, the public sector shrank to its smallest size since World War Two, libraries and youth clubs were replaced by foodbanks and community kitchens. The fabric of the nation was shredded, only noticed by those whose lives were ripped apart at the seams.

Whether sought or unsought, wedge strategy and populism based on cultural mores had acted to mask the socioeconomic rot setting into British life, as well as creating a valuable new adversary, an ‘othered’ target for the basest forces of jingoism. In the shared enmity for the EU, a powerful new reactionary coalition was formed that could be periodically reactivated with the same Pavlovian inputs, and for similarly destructive ends.

A Rhetoric of Betrayal

In the coming years, the ‘treason of separatism’ may well become the primary wedge issue around which to reassemble Brexit’s reactionary core, reuniting a cross-party consensus against a common foe and papering over the cracks of economic hardship.

Whichever moniker is used to describe those advocating Scottish independence and Irish reunification – separatists, secessionists, mutineers, insurrectionists, traitors – it is likely that these nationalists will be painted as wreckers and turncoats, Confederates seeking to implode the Union from within in an act of self-harm that strikes at the very heart of British identity.

The mode of attack is already tested, and the precedent has been set for the rhetoric of betrayal to pervade public discourse. Boris Johnson’s repeated use, and defence in 2019, of calling a law that would compel him to seek further time to agree a Brexit deal “The Surrender Act”, was the perfect trial balloon for inflammatory speech. While he was implored to moderate his tone, a Parliament with no punishment for intemperate language relies on self-censure – something that has not been forthcoming.

With multiple once-in-a-generation crises unfolding concurrently, a Government which occults its failings behind the blame of others, needs both an enemy and scapegoat – with the casting of Scottish and Irish nationalism as treason, it can have both, with all of the collateral damage that demonising an enemy within could entail for British society.

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Local Elections 2022: A False Dawn? Labour’s Success in London Masks its Deeper Problems

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 9:23pm in

Labour’s local election performance spells danger for the party, argues Sam Bright

I awoke this morning to a frenzy of jubilation on social media – from London-based Labour activists, celebrating the party’s historic electoral success in the capital.

“A new dawn has broken, has it not?” one posted, seemingly referencing Tony Blair’s 1997 General Election landslide.

Labour has undoubtedly seen some remarkable results in the capital, following yesterday’s local elections. Wandsworth, Barnet and Westminster councils have all fallen to Keir Starmer’s party, after years – even decades – of Conservative rule.

However, with the Labour Party, there must always be a caveat.

“London will be even more clearly a one-party fiefdom,” says elections expert Professor John Curtice. “But outside London, as compared with 2018, when the seats were last contested, it looks like Labour’s vote is actually down slightly.”

Indeed, Labour went into the night expecting to lose seats overall in England outside London, and that appears to have been the case.

The so-called ‘Red Wall’ is a consideration here – the bloc of former industrial Labour seats that flipped to the Conservatives in 2019. The seats contested yesterday were last fought in 2018, and so Labour’s relatively stable showing in the north has been interpreted as the party improving its performance from the last general election.

But this analysis neglects several important factors.

Primarily, Labour lost three consecutive elections prior to 2019, even though it retained the bulk of its Red Wall seats. Theresa May’s Conservatives won a narrow majority of seats in 2017, with the assistance of the Democratic Unionist Party, even though Labour’s support climbed in some former industrial areas.

To interpret Labour’s performance, we therefore need to look both beyond London and the Red Wall.

The party’s decline as an electoral force has coincided directly with its demise in Scotland. In 2005, Labour won 41 of the 59 available Westminster seats in Scotland and 39.5% of the vote share. At the 2019 General Election, however, the party won a solitary seat in Scotland – Edinburgh South – and 18.6% of the national vote.

Though the results of this year’s elections in Scotland are behind England, the polls suggest that Labour will replace the Conservatives as the party of opposition, while the dominant Scottish National Party (SNP) will largely maintain its position.

Labour’s path to power runs through Scotland – either in the form of mass Labour gains, or a pact with the SNP. The latest Britain Elects general election polling tracker has Labour 30 seats short of a Westminster majority, with the Liberal Democrats winning 18 seats and the SNP on 55.

In fact, if Labour doesn’t make up significant ground north of the English border – or agree a deal with the SNP – Starmer’s party would need to win North East Somerset from Jacob Rees-Mogg (who currently has a 36% majority) in order to walk into Downing Street as the single party of government.

Camping in the Fortress

Labour’s performance in these local elections presents another danger: the risk that the party will become further entrenched in its ideological heartland – London.

Over recent years, Labour’s support has fortified in diverse, liberal metropolitan hubs – particularly in the all-consuming capital. Roughly a-quarter of sitting Labour MPs represent a London constituency, despite the capital only accounting for some 13% of the UK population.

As described by Maria Sobolewska and Robert Ford in Brexitland, by 2015 Labour represented 67 of the 75 seats in England and Wales where the white population share was below 75%. These MPs also carried overwhelming local support, boasting an average majority of 30%. 2015 was the first election in which liberal identity groups outnumbered conservative identity groups among Labour voters – signalling the direction of travel within the party towards a more urban composition and outlook.

Labour has a problem in towns and rural areas – and these local election results do not show a marked abatement of that trend. As the Fabian Society pointed out in a 2018 report, 61% of surveyed people in rural England and Wales said that Labour does not understand people who live in the local area, compared to 45% in ‘town and fringe’ areas and 39% in urban Britain.

“Labour’s association with cities leads to an association of Labour with urban snobbery towards rural areas – a sentiment that was shared almost unanimously by participants in all focus groups,” the report stated.

In the south-west, for example, the Liberal Democrats have been mounting a charge against the Conservatives, logging big gains. This will act to Labour’s benefit overall, stripping the Tories of seats. But Labour’s concentration in London risks skewing the party’s mindset even more towards the beliefs embodied by the capital – a place that is ostracised from the rest of the country and therefore poses a danger to the progressive movement.

London is more liberal, more diverse, better educated, more wealthy (and more impoverished) than anywhere else in the country – a political and demographic outlier.

The non-white British population constitutes 55% of the capital, compared to just 20% in the second most diverse region, the West Midlands. Statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics in 2020 suggest that, of the 50 places with the highest disposable incomes in England and Wales, 41 were in London. The capital also has the highest rates of poverty in the country. If London’s impoverished formed a city of their own, it would comfortably be the second-largest in the UK.

If, in the hysteria of its electoral successes in the capital, Labour further absorbs the ideological composition of London, it will continue to alienate towns and rural areas – or, at the very least, it will not be able to recover these seats in sufficient numbers to win a general election.

Taken as a whole, this year’s local election results merely uphold Labour’s direction of travel since 2010.

In 2019, Labour’s share of the vote increased in just 13 seats – 2% of all House of Commons constituencies. These seats were characterised by a relatively large number of black and ethnic minority voters, a significant number of professional workers, relatively high levels of deprivation, situated in or around large cities – especially in London. 

In short: Labour gained votes in London, lost some votes in other cities, and haemorrhaged support in all other areas. The continuation of these trends in 2022 – albeit with a modest uplift in support relative to 2019 – shows that Labour has not become a potent electoral force.

An Opportunity

We must also keep in mind the scale of Labour’s task. To win the number of seats needed to form a majority at the next election, Labour must increase its number of MPs by more than 60% – a feat that has never been achieved by any major party.

Yet, to stand a fighting chance at the next election, Labour must resist its retrenchment to London. Its path to victory runs through the north, and it must quickly establish how to win over Scotland – or how to align with the SNP without alienating England.

However, in this regard, the Conservatives may present Labour with an opportunity. Boris Johnson’s ‘Partygate’ antics, and the prevarications of Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross – first calling for Johnson to resign, before backing the Prime Minister – looks set to give Labour a firm foothold in Scotland.

Additionally, it seems likely that the migration of ‘Blue Wall’ seats to the Liberal Democrats will prompt the further dilution of Johnson’s flagship ‘levelling up’ agenda.

“The Government is evidently letting politics drive levelling up,” Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said in an interview for my book, Fortress London.

Burnham notes that, since the Conservative Party’s loss to the Liberal Democrats at the Chesham and Amersham by-election in June 2021 – a model Blue Wall constituency – the Government has stretched the scope of levelling up beyond the Red Wall, increasingly applying the term to the south as well as the north. 

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“Without being cynical, levelling up is the right theme – but it has got to be done in the right places and in the right way – and not so broad that it becomes meaningless,” Burnham told me. “If anything, we’re in retreat from where Johnson was a couple of years ago. The question is how far in retreat.”

In other words, in order to stem its losses in the south, the Government may diminish or even dispense with its pledge to invest disproportionately in former industrial areas – instead redirecting funds to the Home Counties.

On this front, Labour must be ruthless. It must pore over the Government’s plan and expose its contradictions – showing unequivocally that Johnson’s sloganeering will not provide economic sustenance to the midlands or the north. And Labour must develop a compelling alternative agenda – speaking to the cultural conservatism and the economic radicalism of voters who are increasingly disenfranchised with mainstream politics.

Above all else, Keir Starmer must realise that Labour has entrenched its support in London for the last decade – and has lost four consecutive general elections. The party’s success in the capital will generate a lot of noise, but the next election will not be won in London – and, right now, it appears that the party’s former heartlands are still not willing to hand Labour the keys to power.

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High CO2 Levels and Poor Ventilation Raise Concerns for Children’s Health and COVID Risk

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/04/2022 - 7:15pm in

In Scotland, parents and politicians alike are calling for air filters to improve school ventilation – as classrooms show higher than recommended levels of CO2

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As children pack their schoolbags and head back to lessons after Easter, parents have expressed concern that pupils in Edinburgh are studying in classrooms where CO2 levels exceed recommended safety limits – and are therefore at risk of COVID-19 transmission, Byline Times can reveal. 

Scottish Government guidance states that CO2 concentrations in most classrooms should not exceed 1,500 parts per million (ppm) – reduced to 800ppm in music classrooms and gyms. 

The UK maximum is higher than other countries, some of which recommend 800ppm. The Lancet has published a study finding that schools are “chronically under-ventilated”, impacting children’s health and concentration.

A report commissioned by Edinburgh City Council, and undertaken by Edinburgh Napier University – titled 'COVID-19 Mitigation In Schools' – found that some classrooms had CO2 levels as high as 2,810ppm, while one music room had concentrations of 1,990ppm. 

The research took place between November 2020 and February 2021 across nine out of 123 primary schools. More widely, the Scottish Government asked local authorities across the country to assess CO2 concentrations in learning, teaching and play spaces. 

The report concluded that “from the data presented... most of the schools monitored demonstrated periods where the maximum recorded CO2 concentrations exceeded threshold values identified”, with the exception of two schools. 

All the rooms in one school had levels between 1,863 and 2,810ppm. In a second school, all but one room had levels between 1,560 and 1,862ppm, while a third school had three classrooms where the levels were 2,001ppm, 1,620ppm and 1,999ppm respectively.

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Edinburgh City Council confirmed that it has purchased portable CO2 monitors for all its schools and “is currently working on a programme to install fixed CO2 sensors across all learning and teaching spaces in schools”.

The concern is that while schools with CO2 monitors can now tell if levels are too high in the classroom, they have few options to reduce levels. The report noted that “leaving the window open all the time, even when no pupils are inside, helps keep the levels down, but is insufficient when the number of pupils in a classroom is too great”.

A local authority worker and trade union activist, who wished to remain anonymous, told Byline Times that there are “nowhere near enough CO2 monitors in schools” and the recommended responses to when levels are too high are not being followed. 

“We need to do more to protect people,” they said. “Local authorities are following the guidance, but we are still seeing outbreaks even when guidance is being followed, as it doesn’t go far enough.”

They confirmed that COVID-19 rates remain high in Edinburgh’s schools. A Freedom of Information request found that, between 21 October and 6 December last year, 3,097 pupils tested positive for the Coronavirus.

A council spokesperson told Byline Times: “The monitoring did identify the maximum CO2 levels in some classrooms exceeded the 1,500ppm upper limit and recommendations were made, including raising awareness of the importance of ventilations in classrooms, and giving guidance on the best strategies for ventilating spaces. Training and revised guidance was subsequently provided to school staff.”

The Fight for HEPA Air Filters

One Edinburgh parent, Sam Gajewski, has been advocating for schools to install HEPA Air Filters to reduce CO2 concentrations and therefore COVID-19 transmission.

More than one academic study has recommended a combination of “dilution methods” – such as opening windows – alongside “filtration methods” – such as air filters – to reduce COVID-19 transmission. A 2020 study found that “ventilation strategies associated with lower school incidence included dilution methods alone (35% lower incidence) or in combination with filtration methods (48% lower incidence)”. 

However, despite the growing body of evidence, Gajewski’s efforts have been met with resistance – with schools, local authorities and the Scottish and Westminster Governments promoting ventilation via open windows, instead of filters alongside open windows. 

In email correspondence seen by Byline Times, Gajewski's school assures him that the Scottish’s Government’s guidance is that air filters should only be used in “exceptional circumstances”. The Health and Safety Executive states that “air cleaning or filtration is not a substitute for good ventilation, but where poor ventilation cannot be improved, these systems can reduce airborne Coronavirus in a space”. 

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government told Byline Times that “expert advice is clear that air cleaning devices should not be used as a substitute for ventilation”. 

But Gajewski considers this a form of 'gaslighting' as it ignores that no one is calling for filters to replace natural ventilation. Instead, he and a range of MSPs are arguing for a combined approach.

Oliver Mundell, Conservative MSP for Dumfriesshire, told the Scottish Parliament: “There is scientific evidence for [filter's] efficacy and, therefore, we are talking about an addition to what is happening – it is a belt-and-braces approach.”

Byline Times has also seen correspondence between Gajewski and Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government’s curriculum unit. In response to an email to the local authority about introducing HEPA air filters into schools, Gajewski was told that the council’s “current approach is to prioritise natural ventilation” and that “there is currently limited evidence that air cleaners are an effective control measure to prevent COVID-19 spread”. 

This is disputed by Gajewski and by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie who, in a debate on school ventilation, said: “Irish Government’s expert group on ventilation said that stand-alone high-efficiency particulate air filter devices might be useful in reducing airborne transmission in spaces with insufficient ventilation". Rennie also cited recommendations from Canada and Australia, questioning why filters are "discouraged in this country”.

The letter from the curriculum unit simply pointed to ​​the guidance for schools which “contains a range of mitigations, such as use of face coverings, ventilation and distancing requirements”.

Labour MSPs have raised the issue of air filters in Holyrood, with Michael Marra calling the area of school ventilation “a serious policy failure by the Scottish Government to date” and calling on the Government to “to ensure that local authorities have funding available to install at least two HEPA filters in each classroom in Scotland”. 

Marra pointed out that, in the summer of 2021, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “announced there was to be a ventilation inspection programme, backed by £10 million of funding for remedial action”. However, Marra argued that “what happened next was not a ventilation programme but CO2 monitors being installed in some – but far from all – classrooms”.

The local authority worker told Byline Times that they have been campaigning to install HEPA air filters for 18 months, to no avail. “The Government says filters are not efficient but they are used in healthcare settings and they have long-term health benefits when it comes to respiratory disease," they said. "Opposition MPs and trade unions should be campaigning to bring these in.”

The World Health Organisation has said that HEPA air filters “can be effective in reducing/lowering concentrations of infectious aerosols in a single space” but should not replace natural ventilation. 

A spokesperson from Edinburgh City Council told this newspaper: “The outcomes from the monitoring and subsequent recommendations from Edinburgh Napier University helped inform the council’s ongoing approach to ventilation including highlighting areas for further investigation/action.

"As a direct outcome of this work, the council purchased portable CO2 monitors for all schools to support the return of schools in April 2021. This was in advance of any Scottish Government requirement for CO2 monitoring in schools.”

The monitors, the council explained, are smart and linked to a central cloud-based platform so its teams can monitor the data produced.

A Scottish Government spokesperson told Byline Times: “We have made an additional £5 million available to local authorities to improve ventilation in schools and early years settings. This funding is helping councils to work towards having a CO2 monitor in every learning, teaching and play space. Monitors are either already in place or are awaiting delivery for almost 95% of those spaces and all 32 local authorities have confirmed they will move to a 1:1 ratio before the summer holidays.

"Only a very small percentage of problematic spaces have to date been identified by local authorities as being problematic and remedial action has been, or is being, undertaken by councils.”

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North Loses Out as Government Replaces EU ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/04/2022 - 7:04pm in

Sam Bright and Tom Robinson calculate the reductions in UK regional development spending, compared to the equivalent EU scheme

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A UK Government fund designed to replace EU regional development grants will leave the north of England tens of millions of pounds worse off while maintaining or even increasing funding to wealthier southern areas, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

Oxfordshire will receive a 12% funding boost, funding for Hampshire and west Surrey will remain the same, while Berkshire faces a cut of just 4%. Meanwhile, Leeds will see a funding cut of 43%, Manchester 35%, Liverpool 34%, and the north-east of England 37% overall.

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the largest per-person recipient of EU funding in England, also face a cut of 38%, from £214.4 million during the last three years of the EU fund to the £132 million planned for the next three years of the UK Government scheme.

The Shared Prosperity Fund, part of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda – intended to reduce the disparities between different parts of the UK – will hand out £2.6 billion over the next three years, falling significantly short of the £1.5 billion per year the UK received from the EU to help its most deprived areas.

The 2019 Conservative manifesto promised “at a minimum” to match EU funding post-Brexit.

Under EU rules, funds were allocated according to an area’s deprivation in relation to the EU average. The new rules attempt to replicate this model, but also guarantee a minimum of £1 million for every borough and/or district in England.

The fund’s spending allocation has also ignited a row between the UK’s devolved nations and Westminster.

The Scottish Government has claimed that it will receive £337 million less over three years than it would have under the EU. The Welsh Government, meanwhile, has claimed that it is “facing a loss of more than £1 billion in un-replaced funding over the next three years”.

In a written statement, Welsh Minister for the Economy, Vaughan Gething, said: “The Welsh Government proposed an alternative formula which would distribute funding more fairly across Wales according to economic need, but this was rejected by the UK Government.”

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has stated that the UK fund would only match EU funding in 2024/25 – once remaining EU funds had been distributed – noting that previous EU grants had “ramped up and down”.

However, the Financial Times has reported that English regions will receive £78 million less in real terms than under the EU deal, even when the UK Government scheme ramps up in 2024/25.

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Levelling Down

Levelling up is one of the key policy planks of Boris Johnson’s Government, linked to the UK’s departure from the EU.

Brexit has been viewed as a rebellion among former industrial areas in the north of England, the midlands and north Wales – protesting against their relative deprivation compared to more affluent areas of the country, in particular London and other metropolitan hubs.

However, two-and-a-half years after Johnson won the 2019 General Election, there appears to have been little movement on the agenda.

The Government launched its levelling up white paper in February, sketching out the scope of its ambitions. Yet, ministers were criticised at the time for failing to match their grand rhetoric with funding commitments. In a recent report, the Institute for Government think tank concluded that the Government’s 12 levelling up missions – stipulated in the white paper – will not have a positive impact on regional inequality.

The Institute said that “only four of the 12 missions are clear, ambitious and have appropriate metrics – outcomes the Government will measure to demonstrate progress towards its 2030 target”.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has been accused of distributing levelling up funds to further political ends.

Analysing the Government’s four existing levelling up schemes, the Guardian found imbalances and irregularities – not least that Mid Bedfordshire, an area partly represented by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, has received £26.7 million in funds despite being one of the fifth most affluent areas of the country.

Likewise, the constituency represented by Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid will receive £15 million despite being one of the wealthiest areas in England.

This situation appears to have been replicated in the case of the Shared Prosperity Fund, with some Conservative-dominated areas escaping the worst of the Government’s cutbacks. Indeed, Oxfordshire – set to receive a levelling up funding boost – has six parliamentary constituencies, four of which are represented by Conservative MPs.

Raw funding has also been lacking, with Johnson planning to spend less on English regional development than either of his immediate predecessors, Theresa May and David Cameron, according to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

The Byline Intelligence Team recently revealed how the Conservative Government has been encouraging repressive regimes – including Saudi Arabia – to invest in regional development projects in the UK, as a means of furthering the levelling up agenda, and potentially as a way of avoiding central government spending.

“Levelling up is about addressing deep structural challenges over the long-term and the white paper sets out a clear blueprint on how we will reduce regional inequalities,” the Government said, in response to the Institute for Government's levelling up report.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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The Tory’s approach to fraud is undermining the UK

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/01/2022 - 6:39pm in

My article in The National yesterday was tweeted by them using this, slightly worrying, image:

As I concluded:

Once fraud is accepted as normal in a society, as is becoming the case in the UK right now, it becomes very much harder to get rid of it. Scotland will, however, have the chance to reset its approach to this issue when it becomes independent. If its economy is to work then; if business and the people of the country are to be protected from fraud; if there is to be fair competition and if all taxes are to be collected at that time then a very strong policy on corruption will be required. The reason is simple. Keeping fraud to a minimum gives a country a competitive advantage over neighbours that do not. Westminster may be indifferent to fraud but Scotland must never be. And by not being so Scotland will win, handsomely when the Tories are, right now, literally choosing to be losers.

Staggeringly, the Tories do not seem to appreciate that, which shows how out of touch with their roots they are.

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