Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Warning: Hot Plate

What is it about folk when they are told they shouldn't do something they do it anyway? The classic is when a waitress puts down a  plate in front of you and says, watch out those plates are hot. You have to touch it, don't you? Ouch.
I'm watching with interest  today's wee scenario about the EU referendum and thinking about the hot plate touchers out there. The EU came up a lot when we had our Women for Indy stall out in the glorious St Nicholas square in Aberdeen, home of the sandwich stealing kebab fuelled shitehawk, and latterly the indy ref campaigners. 

Dog sized Shitehawk of St Nicholas

Two things were guaranteed to be mentioned by folk voting no or leaning towards voting no coming up for a natter. They were:
"What about staying in Europe, they might not let us in, you know! What a disaster that would be!"
"What about the pound, they winna let us use it, you know"

Of course, with the former, it seemed easy. We would just tell them that we had a bigger chance of being out of Europe if we stayed in the UK because there would be a EU referendum and most probably enough of the English population would vote to come out, meaning that we'd all be dragged out too. We said it so much, there were days when I felt like a dolly with a pull string at my back. For info my little internal recording also had:
"It's our BBC too"
"You do know Scotland already has its own NHS"
"It's in rUK's interests to have us use the pound"
"There's no Devomax on the ballot paper, so if you vote No you've no guarantee" (HA!), and
"Watch out Mrs, that seagull's just made off with your kid's ice-cream"

And so it comes to pass. Nicola Sturgeon issues a request to the UK government that all four of our "valued" dysfunctional  "family" members have to agree to come out of the EU or it shouldn't happen. It only seems fair given that we are all equal partners and all that. If any of us votes No to leaving Europe, then we stay as we are.  Within hours, David Cameron makes himself "absolutely clear" (copyright Anas Sarwar): There is one vote, and if the majority of the UK vote to come out, then all four countries must leave. End of story. Shut yer face. Get back in your box.

So we could have to have new passports after all, you people who had an ill-informed paddy about that one(that was one of erstwhile MP Lib Dem Christine Jardine's favourites as she did the Better Together panel rounds in my constituency) . Oh and no farming subsidies, massively restrictions on trade to European countries, a massively restricted fishing area for our fishing fleets, all our thousands of ex-pats living in Spain and Portugal miserably flooding back home to the rain and the bottom of the housing ladder and a great proportion of our EU workforce having to pack their suitcases leaving skills shortages in their wake.

Next time someone who sounds like they know what they are talking about tells you something, maybe dinnae touch the hot plate anyway?

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Monday, 27 October 2014

Dear Lord Smith

Dear Lord Smith
You have asked the public to submit their own proposals to your commission on further devolution for Scotland. Before I get into the detail of my own personal submission I would like to make the following three observations:

1. In your submissions form our your website anyone can submit without providing you with their postal address and date of birth. This surely means that you will be getting submissions from outside the Scottish electorate. I am concerned that a great deal of submissions are from people who were not eligible to vote in the referendum which has prompted this commission.   
2. Last week you came to my home town of Aberdeen with a view to getting the view of the general public on devolution. I noted that you did not go anywhere other than a business forum at Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce. Most of the general public of Aberdeen are not familiar with or are members of this institution. I ask you, why did you not hold public meetings in Aberdeen in local communities to get views from the general public rather than just the business community?

3. Again with a view to gauging public opinion you have on your website asked for submissions but with a very large list of very specific and complex guidelines. It my view that the vast majority of the general public have been dissuaded from writing to you because of these rather hard to follow guidelines which ask an ordinary person to give advantages and disadvantages of powers and costings involved. You should not have to have an indepth of economics or politics to make a public submission. it is my view that you accept and count every submission that people have taken the time to send to you, regardless of how basic it is.

4. Similarly your commission has said publically that they will ignore any proforma submissions. Many groups have tried to deal with the issues raised in my point 3 above by helping people to submit by issuing checklists or proforma letter that they can read, add to and sign if they agree with. The reason they have done so is to help those who have found it too difficult to write the kind of submissions that you say you will accept, which, in my view, ask the general public to have a very sophisticated knowledge of constitutional and fiscal issues. The general public are not politicians. We elect politicians. It is my view that you should accept all submissions regardless if they are signed proformas or checklists.

5. I find it extremely odd that you have not appointed any experts from our European partners who already live in a federal structure. I would feel much more comfortable with this exercise if it were jointly headed up by, for example, an architect of or expert in federalism from Germany, which has benefited greatly from its federal structure and can look objectively at our situation.
Now onto my own submission.           
In the referendum for Scottish Independence in September 45% Scots voted for full autonomy and independence. My own view is that many more would have if there hadn't been a breach of the purdah period by the leaders of the three main UK parties of Liberal Democrats, Conservative and Labour in appearing to offer the electorate of Scotland the promise of Home rule if they voted no. It is my understanding that the Scottish Government were legally bound by this period of purdah in which it was forbidden to make any new offers to the people of Scotland. The UK government agreed to abide by this, but were not legally bound. They broke electoral purdah and this "Vow" announced by Gordon Brown MP and given substantiation by the three main leaders and most superficially the UK Prime Minster, David Cameron, had a dramatic effect on the outcome. There should never have been an announcement of new powers in this period, as this was undemocratic. If we take the Lord Ashcroft exit poll from 18 September, there is evidence that a further 25% of NO Voters voted  that way because they believed the so-called ‘Vow’. Many people who were thinking of voting yes, decided in the last two days to vote no because they believed that this Vow meant Devo-Max which is widely understood to mean all decision making powers coming to the Scots government with the exception of defence and foreign affairs. Any commission which ignores this will have to answer to those people.

In my view your Commission has only one real option and that is to publish a recommendation that this Vow of maximum devolution be honoured in full.

I believe that these powers will allow Scots to govern themselves according to their particular geographical and social needs and make the most cost effective use of tax generated in Scotland. We should have ‘powers for a
purpose’. These powers should enable the Scottish Parliament to create jobs and tackle inequality, it needs more than control over one or two taxes. It needs control over the range of taxes, both personal and business. It needs control of key economic levers like employment policy. It needs control of welfare policy and the minimum wage. The package of powers that is agreed needs to reflect the fact that interactions between different powers matter as much as the individual powers themselves.

The powers which I recommend be devolved to the Scottish government can be done so without adversely affecting the rest of the UK. Scotland already has many of institutions in place that can manage them, most specifically, its own Parliament, its own legal system and its own NHS and Education system. This is the only reference I am going to make to costs as I am not an economist.

I would also like to remind you that your commission is about devolution for Scotland and not federalism for the United Kingdom as a whole. It is unfair to deny the English, Welsh and Northern Irish population a chance to vote on their own future in this area. We Scots have had two years in which to debate, hold public meetings and read up on the ins and outs of our political future. I ask that considerations of UK Federalism not muddy the waters of your commission. This a wider debate to be had by the UK electorate and not behind closed doors.

I would now like to outline the powers that I think Scotland not only should have, but that have already been offered during the last week of the referendum campaign. I believe all of the powers outlined above should be included in an enhanced  Devolution settlement for the Scottish Government. As a combination they will allow Scotland's economy to grow and the people of Scotland to be best served by government whilst still remaining part of the United Kingdom. I would add further that failure to honour this vow, or promise will have major repercussions for the stability of the UK and the political union between the four countries in that Union.

1. Broadcasting: This is important to promote Scottish content and competition, and allow The Scottish Government to implement program of Scottish involvement and increase basic tools required to grow film, TV media industry. A specific news and current affairs media to cover Scottish issues, politics and  events as well as world news.  I have long since had concerns that the political coverage of the UK government policies leads to a false knowledge of issues for the Scottish general voting public. For example a leaders' debate at General Election time will see those leaders debating NHS, Education and legal issues. These are all devolved in Scotland and we have separate policies . We need our own political programmes and main evening news programme which does not cover just Scottish news but has the remit of the main evening news. Devolved broadcasting will also a provider of jobs keeping broadcasting talent in Scotland.

2. Representation in EU committees: We need Scottish representation at the table on all committees and commissions in the European Union. Many EU landlocked countries have higher representation on Fisheries Commission than Scotland who has a large fishing industry. Scotland should also be guaranteed consultation between Scottish Government & UK Government on future EU negotiations so that we have an equal say on developments.

3. Control over  welfare, benefits & pensions: The Scottish Government are best placed to decide on welfare and benefits policy in line with specific needs of Scottish residents. They should also be managing Scots pensions which will be administrated in line with the age and circumstances of the Scottish population and paid for by Scottish taxes.

4. Control over all domestic expenditure: The Scottish Parliament should be responsible for all domestic expenditure. The Scottish Government should be in control of all Scottish institutions and spend according to their particular needs in any particular time. The Scots government is best placed to know where money should be allocated and how budgets should be set for their already devolved health service and education sectors to name but two.

5. Full control over the  regulation, collection and spending of taxes. In short Scotland should have full fiscal autonomy.  The Scottish government must be in control of setting, collecting and spending the revenues from the following taxes: Income Tax, National Insurance Corporation Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Air Passenger Duty, Betting & Gaming, Fuel, Alcohol, & Tobacco Duties , Excise Duties, Vehicle Excise Duty Climate Change Levy and Scottish Oil & Gas tax revenues. Personal taxation helps The Scottish Government address poverty via progressive tax system. Full control of tax raising and spending allows The Scottish Government to tailor economic policy to suit unique make up of Scots economy, provide incentives to grow and reduce burden on struggling businesses. All tax generated in Scotland must stay in Scotland excepting an agreed amount which will go to the UK treasury to pay our share of reserved areas such as foreign affairs and defence.

6. Borrowing powers: A Scottish government framework for public finances must include the necessary borrowing powers. This will allow the Scottish government to manage any temporary deficit year on year so that there is minimal impact on public spending. Additionally Scotland should take on their share of UK debt up until the point at which fiscal autonomy comes to Scotland. From that point forward Scotland will only be liable for debt which Scotland itself accrues.

7. Representation at the Bank of England: Scotland should have representation (as should NI and Wales) in the setting of interest rates and monetary policy.

8. Scots Legal System must be allowed to deal the following areas which are currently reserved: This would include: business associations, insolvency, competition, customer protection, regulation of architects, health professions and auditors, employment and industrial relations, employability policy, including responsibility for setting the minimum wage, health and safety, and equal opportunities. The Scots legal system is already in existence, so this would have no cost implications. Scots law should deal with corporate law and employment law. There is no reason for this to be reserved.

9. The ability to devolve power further to local councils: The Scottish Government should be able to decide which powers are devolved down to local council level to encourage control over diverse types of areas  to be held at local level and get more communities involved governance. Scotland is a diverse landscape with local councils each facing different challenges which require local differentiation.

10. Control over immigration and visas for residency in Scotland: The Scottish government should be able to issue visas to immigrants who can assist in growing Scotland's economy. They should have control over who works and pays tax in Scotland. This could, for example, include allowing foreign students who have graduated from Scottish Universities to stay in Scotland in order to work and grow the economy or allow targeted immigration to address any skills shortages.

11. Research funding and control: Devolved research councils would allow the allocation of research funds to be distributed fairly amongst Scottish universities and institutions and take into account the specific research needs of the country (e.g: oil and gas, renewable energy).

12. National debt: The Scottish government should take its share of UK debt accrued up until the point at which it assumes fully devolved economic powers. After the implementation of devo max Scotland should only be responsible for the debt that Scotland alone incurs.

13. Ability to determine the status of our essential services and suppliers: The status and regulation of Oil and gas, Coal, Nuclear energy, Renewable/green energy, ,postal services, Electricity, Road transport, Rail transport, Marine transport, and Air transport should be the responsibility of the Scottish government, which can manage those institutions in accordance with the needs of the Scottish economy and people.

14. Control and regulation of the Crown Estates. The Crown Estate has a fundamental misunderstanding of the needs and interests of local communities and indigenous industries on the Scottish coast. At worst, it behaves as absentee landlord or tax collector which does not re-invest to any significant extent in the sectors and communities from which it derives income. 

15. Elections and franchise arrangements: Administration of all elections and determination of franchise terms and electoral systems. Our recent referendum allowed 16/17 year olds to vote and this was very successful and allowed a key section of society to become politically engaged and have a say in their future. The UK does not look likely to follow this lead, but we would like to continue this enfranchisement of this age group.

16. Referendums: Currently Northern Ireland have the right to hold referendums without agreement by the UK government on issues. Scotland should be given the same right. This reflects our different situation and, it must be said, political views. 

Lord Smith, I'm sure you know the importance of the commission you have been asked to head up. There are many commentators and members of the public who believe that it is a smokescreen and a waste of time. It is the opinion of many that the UK government deliver a mere fraction of what the vast majority of Scots would like.  I have, myself been criticised for being naive in taking the time to send you my own submission. I dearly hope these people are proved wrong. If you want to preserve the Union, you must understand that Scotland needs to be in control of her own domestic matters and have full fiscal autonomy.

Yours faithfully

Gillian Martin

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Thursday, 23 October 2014

You Can Fall but you Must Not Lie Down: Why We Need to Submit to the Smith Commission

Folks, We need to submit to the Smith Commission. I know. It seems pointless. It very probably is. Time after time we’ve seen the Establishment lie to us, the governments renege on promises, expensive public inquiries be set up (Hello Leveson! Hello Hutton!) just for the Government to do sweet fuck all when the recommendations get published.  I, like many of you I'm sure, think of these things like slush funds for lawyers. The government keeps the populace happy by looking like they are actually taking their views and outrage into account by setting up and inquiry or a committee and the eyes of a thousand lawyers sparkle as they go into a daydream montage of new cars, saucy ladies lying on yacht decks, champagne corks popping and water-skiing somewhere Caribbean and exclusive. Kind of like a 1980s Duran Duran video. Good luck to them I say- I only wish I’d had my conscience surgically removed and studied law instead of a stupid dumbass touchy feely arts degree that meant I had to work as a receptionist for 2 years after graduating because you don’t get job ads for post modernists, philosophers or poets in the papers. The day the government wants to set up inquiries into how the German post-war artists and filmmakers worked through the collective national guilt of the war years through their work, I’m cashing in, though. Similarly I can do a good line in providing evidence to an enquiry on how the “Male Gaze” is the only gaze relevant in Western cinema and until this changes women will only ever be portrayed as “The Other”. But until then I’ll have to make do with driving an 8 year old Mini, not being able to afford to go on holiday and shopping at Lidl whilst friends of Leon Brittan get all the cushy jobs.

 Fiona Woolf
Has nice dinners with the Brittans
who aren't involved in anything dodgy...

Yes, the Smith Commission is probably going be a big pile of diversionary pants, and the Conservative and Lib Dem government have probably already decided over a cup of tea and slice of Dundee cake (it is about Scotland after all! Pass the shortbread!) what they are going to give Scotland in the way of more powers. It’s probably going to look like power, but will in fact be the constitutional equivalent of a scam email from someone pretending to be a Nigerian prince.

So why bother submitting your ideas on what Scotland should be given by way of new powers? Why take the time to read the guidelines, do a bit of research and spend a couple of hours putting a letter together in the full confidence that it probably will end up in what an old boss of mine used to call File Number 13 (i.e: the bin)? Because, my friends, they don’t want us to bother. That’s why.

The guidelines to your submission tell you all you need to know. They have made it look difficult. You have not to write “a shopping list” of powers. Rather your submission must give reasons why the powers you want are necessary and beneficial. They would also like you to outline cost implications. Yes, you, an ordinary person are being asked to give a fiscal report. You heard right. Away and eat your cereal and don't bother your wee head about it.

But man, they need to be flooded with submissions from us ordinary folks. They need to be inundated. Because the numbers of submissions will be a matter of public record. They don’t give us so called DevoMax, we point to how many people demanded it. The legions of us who voted Yes and the  folk who genuinely voted No in the mistaken belief that we were being offered something better (OK, OK…I know…) we need to represent our views. Even if it’s just for the SSP, Scottish Greens and SNP to point to them and say “Look! It’s the People it’s not just us that are going to hold you to account”.

So here’s my take on this. Don’t just submit to the Smith Commission, publish your submission. Blog it, post it on facebook, Tumblr whatever. Make it public. Email it to friends and say, I’ve done the leg work, take this and adapt it for your own submission if you find it too daunting to start from scratch. Do what us Indy Quines in Aberdeen are doing. Set up a stall somewhere in your local main drag, get volunteers with clipboards, print off hundreds of copies of the letter, with a checklist of powers that folk can fill out, put their name and address to and sign. If you have funds, post them off for them.

Six thousand people have submitted already but it has to be more. At the very least it needs to be the 1.2 million who voted Yes who submit. Call me naïve if you want to but I want to quote my hero Dougie McLean here from a song that has got me through the past month:

“ You can fall but you must not lie down”


You want a public consultation- you got one, Lord Smith. Brace yourself, chum.

You can see our letter here. Indy Quines: A Sample Letter to the Smith Commission  Please copy it, or take it and adapt it and send it to , or write your own. But do write, you don’t have to be an expert on fiscal policy, just a person with a vote and a person that will not lie down.

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