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Showing posts with label Johann Lamont. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Johann Lamont. Show all posts

Thursday, 30 January 2014

The formidable powers of an independent Scotland that Johann Lamont thinks are “wee things”: Scottish Labour’s nadir at FMQs

Scotland doesn't control the currency or interest rates at the moment. Neither does UK - they're controlled by Bank of England. We won't control them under a currency union either, but we'll have more influence than we have at the moment, as an independent country, a partner in a currency union.

ECONOMIC LEVERS: Excise duty, air passenger duty, VAT, capital gains tax, oil and gas taxation, national insurance, income tax, corporation tax, competition law, consumer protection, industry regulation, employment legislation, the minimum wage, energy markets and regulation, environmental regulations.



We'll be able to set the minimum wage, abolish the Bedroom Tax (not just mitigate it). We will be able to transform childcare.



Bur all of these things - which we can only do with independence - are, to Johann Lamont, "wee things".

The prospect of this woman and her cohorts leading  even a devolved Scottish Government is not to be contemplated.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The IFS FMQs – Lamont and Salmond deconstructed – and a transcription question.

JOHANN LAMONT: Presiding Officer, this week the Institute of Fiscal Studies – a respected independent think tank often quoted by the First Minister – said that because of falling North Sea oil revenues and their(sic) ageing population, an independent Scotland would face significant tax rises or public spending cuts.

Now, I don’t suppose any of us really here (sic) imagine that we’re going to get an answer. But with a cock of the head and an indignant sideways look, could the first Minister tell us why the IFS is scaremongering like this?

This is the Leader of the Opposition, Herald Debater of the Year, in the Scottish Parliament, asking her first question of the First Minister of Scotland. The first part is factual as far as it goes – the IFS report did say this, among many other thing.  Johann Lamont reads this directly from notes, with occasional fleeting glances up to try and make it look just a little unscripted.

The next part (highlighted in red by me) doesn’t even pretend to be a genuine question, and indeed the loaded question is preceded by a laboured scripted insult that foreshadows the total lack of respect for the Parliament, the proceedings and the office of First Minister of Scotland that sets the tone for much worse to come.

Despite JL’s pessimistic forecast, those “of us really here” did get an informative response from the FM, although since he had not accused the IFS of “scaremongering”, it was impossible to answer the question as framed.

ALEX SALMOND: Well, I thought we’d do as the IFS report itself indicates – we decrease the Scottish tax base by growing the economy and generating extra revenue.

COMMENT: What the FM is doing is answering the question a responsible Leader of the Opposition should have asked, namely

Given the two stark alternatives the IFS Report offers, of significant tax rises or public spending cuts to close their forecast fiscal gap, does the FM accept they are the only alternatives, and if he does, which would he choose, and if not, what alternatives does he see? Or does he in fact reject the IFS forecast?”

This would have been a focused and hard-hitting question, allowing the FM no real point of retreat, and it is the question the Parliament and the electorate want an answer to. Alex Salmond recognises this, does not retreat from it and spend the next twelve or so minutes answering it - despite a torrent of abuse and irrelevancy from Johann Lamont - because he recognises his duty to inform the Parliament and the electorate even if Johann Lamont (or her scriptwriter) doesn’t.

ALEX SALMOND: I do not know if Johann Lamont is aware of this, but on the model that the IFS were using – it’s called the R model -  it suggests that the United Kingdom will be in deficit for every one of the next 50 years - for the next half century - and then indicates that UK Governments will have to raise taxation or reduce expenditure to meet that sustained position - that’s what the model tells you.

I think, instead of looking at that, what we should be looking in Scotland is how we change the circumstances of this country by using investment to grow the economy, to generate more jobs, more revenue and to give us a sustainable future.

JOHANN LAMONT: The IFS is just asking us to look at the real world. Why would we bother with all that malarkey when we can just make things up as we go along? But presumably, how we’ll deal with an ageing population – we’ll all just get younger under independence. £300,000-worth of Oil of Olay for each man, woman and child.

Because of course, the IFS said that even in their most optimistic of forecasts, income tax would have to go up by 8p or VAT rise to 27 per cent to fill the fiscal black hole.

Now - chuckling at his own jokes, as he likes to do, and selectively quoting lines that suit his argument. Selectively - I’m sure that he is looking for them right now - selectively quoting lines that suit his argument, could the First Minister tell us why the people of Scotland should believe him rather than the evidence of their own eyes?

ALEX SALMOND: Let’s talk about what is agreed in the IFS report. Page 9 – which confirms that Scotland pays more tax per head than the UK at the moment. Or Page 11 – which confirms that currently Scotland is in a stronger fiscal position than the rest of the UK.

I’ll quote you exactly

“the average revenues raised per person in Scotland (£11,079 in 2013–14 prices) were higher than for the UK as a whole (£9,342 ... )”.

So, the IFS has validated an argument which I have brought to the chamber many times, from the “Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland”- the GERS forecast, that Scotland more than pays its way in the United Kingdom at the present moment. And that, if we take the last five years, has amounted to many billions of pounds which could have been invested in Scottish public services, or alternatively could have lowered the rate of borrowing, or a combination of both: and because of our position with the United Kingdom, these resources haven’t been available to the people of Scotland.

Now, our case is a simple one: and that is instead of not having those resources available, why not invest in the economy? Why not grow productivity - grow our exports - make sure we have growth in the economy, which generates more revenue, and then we will not be able to have the dreadful future forecast over the next 50 years for the UK by the IFS’s own forecast, which says that it will be in deficit for the next 50 years?
Now, Johann Lamont says that in an independent Scotland we are going to change the age structure of the country. How would we do that?

Perhaps we could do it by allowing young Scots who want to work in this country to have the opportunity to stay in Scotland - or perhaps we could do it by not kicking out the country,  the many skilled young people who come to study at our universities, desperately want to work  for a time or permanently in Scotland, but are kicked out by the Borders Agency -  wouldn’t help to change the age structure of the population? Of course, these things must be right because they are controlled from London and Johann Lamont backs control of immigration policy from London which of course, would consign us to that prospect.

And the central forecast of the IFS, which has been taken from the Office of National Statistics, postulates population growth in Scotland of 4% over the next 50 years. The population of Scotland has grown by 5%over the last 10 years but, what the IFS does tell us, if we remain trapped in the policies governed from Westminster, then we’ve got a very poor prospect indeed for Scotland. If we grow the economy and put the investment in, we have a bright and certain future.

JOHANN LAMONT:  Another of the First Minister’s tricks is to go on and on answering a question that he wasn’t asked. And only – only the First Minister, when the IFS says that in its most optimistic forecast, income tax would have to go up by 8p or VAT rise to 27 per cent to fill the fiscal black hole, only the First Minister could say that the IFS validates his position. It does not.

Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if convicted Enron executives across the United States were, at the moment, planning appeals, saying, “I know we fiddled the figures, but Alex Salmond has taken it to a whole new level.” With every – with every – with every - with every economic paper the First Minister publishes, Fred Goodwin must feel a day closer to redemption; each prospectus – each prospectus must make Bernie Madoff spit out his prison breakfast in admiration.

So, feeling free – feeling free – feeling free to quote the former Labour chancellor in a falsetto voice, or digging up a blog he was trawling through last night or - some more selective quotes like the last few we got there, can the First Minister just explain to this to us - why is it that the fiscal black hole the IFS exposed actually doesn’t exist and there is nothing to worry about after all?

COMMENT: This is pathetic stuff from the Debater of the Year, especially the part I have highlighted in red.  (Had the FM said anything like this to the Leader of the Opposition, the media would have been loud in their condemnation.)  Additionally, she ignores the inconvenient fact that the FM has not challenged the IFS figures yet, nor has he said the gap doesn’t potentially exist. In so doing, she walks into the elephant trap set for her. That’s what comes of following a bad script regardless of how a dialogue has actually unfolded – Johann expects the FM to follow her scriptwriter’s prompts. The Vulcan Death Grip duly arrives on cue …

ALEX SALMOND: Can I point out to Johann Lamont that I quoted from the IFS because I do think it very helpful in agreeing the current position. The IFS backs the Scottish Government figures -  GERS figures - in showing that Scotland more than pays its way within the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] Well, I hear from the Tory benches that it’s not true. I have quoted one quote already; the quote on page 11 points out that

“Scotland exceeded revenues by £1,550 per person”

Now,  that is a direct quote from the IFS, and therefore let’s agree that over the last five years – over that period - Scotland has more than paid its way within the United Kingdom.

I have pointed out to Johann Lamont that I don’t think that the population structure of this country is a given; I think the population structure of this country would be enormously improved if we didn’t refuse young Scots an opportunity to work in their own country and if we allowed other skilled people, many of whom we have educated, to work in Scotland. That, to me, would bring about a substantial, important change in the sort of challenges facing all European economies that the IFS was indicating.

Now, I have got substantial admiration for the Institute of Fiscal Studies, unlike Westminster politicians, including Alistair Darling, who’ve dismissed  various reports of the IFS, or the Deputy Prime Minister, for that matter, who accused them of  - this is Nick Clegg’s distorted nonsense

“taken the highly unusual step of attacking the ... Institute for Fiscal Studies, describing its methods of measuring the fairness of the coalition's controversial spending review as ‘distorted and a complete nonsense’.”

That’s exactly why I have pointed out that on the basis of the IFS report we can now be reasonably certain that the arguments that we have been putting forward about Scotland being in a stronger fiscal position than the rest of the UK are actually validated over the last five years.

What happens over the next 50 years will depend on the policies that are pursued in this country, and that in turn, will depend as to whether we’ve got control of the policies that pursued in the country. Therefore I say let’s get control of these economic levers, let’s increase productivity, increase our exports,  invest in our economy. Let’s grow the Scottish economy and move forward to that better future.

JOHANN LAMONT: The First Minister is not just guilty of selective quoting,  he’s guilty of selective thinking. The problem with the First Minister is he says that the IFS is helpful, but only to the extent that it agrees with him. Now we know the back benchers are only helpful to the First Minister when they agree with him:  he really ought to look at the whole of the IFS study and take it on board.

Just like when he started his campaign, the First Minister is going to the cinema on Tuesday. What is he going to see—“Historic Day V” or “Honey I Shrunk the Fiscal Gap”? If the First Minister is to be believed, we won’t just be a new country after independence – he’ll  invent a new arithmetic, while in every other country in the world, the choice is between tax rises or cuts in spending. Alex Salmond will have you believe  we are the only country- the only country where the future is this: how big a tax cut can we give to big business and how much more can we spend on good things? Isn’t the case that at the very heart of next week’s white paper and at the heart of everything this Government does, is this belief  - that if the First Minister and his colleagues say something confidently and often enough, no matter how wrong it is, the people of Scotland will be daft enough to believe it?

ALEX SALMOND: Let me try another quote from the IFS. Johann Lamont will say is selective, but this is what they say, which I think actually underlines the points that I’ve been making. They acknowledges that there are

“…factors in the report are inherently uncertain and could also evolve differently if Scotland were independent rather than part of the UK; in addition, they could be substantially affected by the policies chosen by the government of an independent Scotland.”

Now, that is basically what I am saying.

Johann Lamont says you have to take the choices between cutting spending and increasing taxation. That would be the choice, if that is the Labour Party’s position, according to the IFS/OBR analysis, with a deficit for every single one of the next 50 years. We  know now, if Johann Lamont’s got any influence, what exactly the policy of the next Labour Government’s going to be, on that particular argument.

I don’t think – I don’t think that Johann Lamont is in a particularly good position either to talk about economic advisers or the real world. Fred Goodwin was the economic adviser to Alistair Darling, not to me. The current economic adviser to the Labour Party is the Rev Paul Flowers. I do not think that that’s going to give us a tremendous indication of what the future should hold.

And in terms of the real world at present – what’s happening in the real world at the present moment – is that Labour figure after Labour figure is saying exactly what they think of the Labour Party’s current coalition with the Tories. For example, the Labour Party chairperson, Labour activists “simply can’t stomach” working alongside the Conservatives in the No campaign. In the real world, key Labour figures like Alex Mosson are coming out in favour of the Yes campaign. That’s what’s happening in the real world.

And as the white paper is launched next week, then that campaign will be reinforced. Why? Because this party - this Government has ambition for this country. We think that we can invest in the future, grow our economy and give all our people a decent future.


This interchange at FMQS was a particularly egregious example of the arid style of questioning and interaction used by Labour Party Holyrood opposition leaders throughout the life of both SNP terms, and must be one of the low points intellectually for Scottish Labour. The model adopted by Johann Lamont and her advisers is to seize upon the last statement by any public body or organisation - UK Government or independent – then present a loaded question encapsulating a simplistic summary of that point, framed in such a way that it is impossible to answer rationally without agreeing with a false premise, then accusing the FM of avoiding the question, and going into broken record mode for subsequent exchanges, regardless of facts and information offered.

All of this is larded with contrived bon mots and stilted jokes of such poor quality and wooden delivery that the perpetrator would be jeered off a beginners’ comedy club stage. (Somebody at the Herald thinks otherwise, and considers it debate of a quality warranting an award.)

The outcome however – apart from being game set and match to Alex Salmond – was to offer an invaluable insight into the essentials of what the IFS actually did say, which was in essence that the UK had got its component nations into deep economic shit and massive debt by mismanagement of just about every sector of the British economy, regulation of banks and profligacy over defence and foreign wars and nuclear weapons, and that Scotland, if it remains in the UK, will be in a little more trouble than rUK.

The IFS made it abundantly clear that this scenario did NOT have to unfold if Scotland achieved its independence and did things differently from the failed UK model. For that at least, we are indebted to Johann Lamont for acting as a clumsy feed and prompt to our First Minister.

The above analysis represents what I set out to do in offering the transcription. After I started to laboriously transcribe the FMQs Lamont/Salmond interchange from the FMQs video, I realised belatedly that there might be a Hansard equivalent in Holyrood with the spadework already done, and was pointed by a Twitter follower to the Scottish Government online transcription.

But in comparing the part I had transcribed with the Holyrood online version to my surprise I found that the transcribers had ‘tidied up’ what was actually said, presumably in the interests of grammar, syntax and clarity.

I didn’t like this at all, since I think the essence of politicians lies in exactly how they choose to express themselves, and I see significant potential dangers in such approaches, no matter who is responsible for them, politicians or civil servants.

It is common with minute taken of live meetings to tidy up syntax and correct misleading facts in the context of a subsequently jointly agreed minute, but I hope such an approach is not taken with Hansard or Holyrood. I therefore reluctantly reverted to my hard work, now with the additional burden of checking my version against the Holyrood official transcript. I didn’t like what I found.

By the time I had finished, it was evident that the re-wording of what was said in the Holyrood transcript was quite significantly different at various points from  actual words used. I would observe that in most instances, they do not change the sense of what was said, nor do they distort it in any way, and on occasion the changes added to the clarity of what was said, in sequence and emphasis, which one might argue is desirable for an informed electorate. (In many cases. the changes were simply contractions– such as “we’ll” “haven’t” etc. – being expanded to “we will”, “have not” etc. which is the exact reverse of current best practice in writing and speaking, which is to use contractions as closer to real life speech.)

But there were examples that left me uneasy – I won’t itemise them, and if you want to find them, do your own homework!

But that doesn’t alter the fact that the changes represent either what the transcribing civil servant thought the FM or Johann Lamont should have said – or, more worryingly, what the FM or Johann Lamont thought they would have liked to have said – not what was actually said. I think the potential dangers of such an approach to reporting the Parliament are significant for any democrat, regardless of party or affiliation.

Quite simply, I think there are only three  possible explanations, given the nature of the changes. The two most likely are either a zealous and well-meaning civil servant or aide, perhaps acting on a standard brief, using their own judgement to re-word - or politicians involved taking the opportunity to tidy up and alter what they actually said to make it read better.

The third possibility is that the transcribers have used in part the politicians’ original notes and scripts prepared before FMQS instead of what they actually delivered on the day.

I think this matters, and someone should look at it.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Johann Lamont and Gary Robertson interview – Sunday Politics Scotland

LETTERS 30th Oct 2013 "TV interviewers must do better" John Kelly

I took issue with John Kelly on a number of observations and facts, and sent a letter to the Herald setting out my core point. It wasn’t published, probably because the Letters page was full of much more topical and vital material on subsequent days, so I have no complaints about the Herald’s priorities and editorial decision.

However, I thought my more extended analysis of the Lamont/Robertson interview might be worth setting out here.


Reading John Kelly's letter I wondered if he watched the same Sunday Politics Scotland broadcast as I did.  The anchorman was not Andrew Kerr, as stated by Mr. Kelly, but Gary Robertson, a highly experienced television and radio journalist and expert political interviewer. In just over eight and a half minutes, while allowing Johann Lamont every opportunity to answer questions and make her case, he managed to reveal the gaping holes and contradictions in her position on welfare and benefits, and a misleading an inaccurate campaign leaflet distributed in the Dunfermline by-election by Labour.

It is not the purpose of daily newspapers to hold our elected representatives to account - that is the job of the electorate and, where appropriate, the law. The role of newspapers and the media in general is to tell the truth to power by informing the electorate of the facts that politicians often do not wish the public to know. One of the most powerful tools for doing that is the televised political interview.

A television interviewer’s job is not to act as a a chat show host, allowing his or her celebrity guest to use the 'interview' as a platform for their unchallenged views or as a party political broadcast - the interviewer's role is to explore with penetrating questions the contradictions inherent in all political policy and to elicit answers to questions that the politicians do not want answered, or at least make it starkly evident that the politician is either unable or unwilling to give such answers.

Reading John Kelly's letter I wondered if he watched the same broadcast I did. The anchorman was not Andrew Kerr but Gary Robertson, a highly experienced television and radio journalist and expert political interviewer.

Robertson, on the Grangemouth crisis, asked: "Had you been in Alex Salmond's position, would you have been compromised by being a member of Unite?"and also Lamont’s position on the central role of Stephen Deans in the dispute and police involvement over emails.

She denied seeing the emails, and tried to move away from the issue, denying that the shambles in Falkirk was over the manipulation of candidate selection. It patently was.

Robertson's question on the Dunfermline by-election victory margin and its significance produced an extended reply, with only one minor query from Robertson, and the observation that by-elections rarely change anything, adding that an IpsosMori poll showed 57% electorate support for the Scottish government, and that they seemed to be doing well. Lamont said it "didn't feel like that" to her. Robertson put all his questions briefly, courteously and concisely and Lamont was given every opportunity to respond, which she did at length.

Robertson went on by saying that Labour had said what it was against - independence and the bedroom tax ("eventually") - but what was it for, what was it pro? He interjected - as any competent interviewer would - to try penetrate vague generalities that came in response, asking "What are the issues you are for, then?" Lamont simply persisted with a recitation of problems - all without offering a single policy or what Labour would do about them.

Robertson then moved to the contradictions inherent in the election leaflet put out in Dunfermline, and Lamont's own position on welfare, the welfare budget and her Cuts Commission, contradictions between Labour’s and their key policy adviser Professor Midwinter's views on welfare, council tax, and his position that it was an inefficient use of public funds.

In just over eight and a half minutes - while allowing Johann Lamont every opportunity to answer questions fully and make her case - he managed to reveal the absence of any coherent Labour policy, and gaping holes and contradictions in her position on welfare and benefits.

Gary Robertson did his job superbly well – perhaps that is what really bothered Mr. Kelly.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Independence, Grangemouth – and facing economic realities for YES

Grangemouth – and I mean the town, not just the plant – is saved. Can anyone not celebrate that? The answer unfortunately is yes – there are those who welcomed the good news with less whole-hearted enthusiasm. I am not among them – I am wholly in tune with the mood of the returning workers – ranging from infinite relief to ecstatic joy - at least as captured by this clip, which of course some will argue has been manipulated by the ever-Machiavellian BBC – the Union’s not-so-secret weapon. etcetera, etcetera.

The  Sunday Herald (27th Oct 2013) offered excellent coverage of the events leading up to the closure crisis and the subsequent deal, and Iain Macwhirter wrote an objective analysis that doesn’t duck the patent facts that many other commentators have avoided – that Unite the Union (aided by a chorus of ill-informed Labour and left-wing politicians and alternative media commentators) made an ass of itself and endangered, not only the livelihoods of their members, but the entire Grangemouth community and the Scottish economy. The management don’t smell of roses either …

I’d plan to say a lot more than this, but decided that, after the resignations of Stephen Deans, it would be counter-productive.


Was the management blameless?

Clearly, no.

Is it a good thing that the fate of hundreds of workers and a key part of the Scottish economy is in the hands of a global company with one dominant shareholder?

Again clearly, no.

Have trades unions - and specifically Unite the Union - a vital role to play in Scotland and in an independent Scotland?

Absolutely and unequivocally YES

Monday, 12 August 2013

Saturday, 20 April 2013

What is Truth? (Pontius Pilate): Labour’s Truth Team and video

Scottish Labour’s strange little black propaganda video has made its appearance on YouTube, timed for the Scottish Conference. I don’t know who did the voice over, but it is a very strange voice indeed, modelled roughly on the voiceover in trailers for crap American series on repeat channels – a kind of mid-atlantic, pseudo-portentous growl. Impossible to determine the nationality of the perpetrator – could be a Scot trying to expunge all traces of Scottishness. Clearly, Scottish Labour didn’t trust an honest Scots voice to talk about truth …

The graphic mode is funereal, in the BetterTogether style of Repent_End_Union_is_Nigh! All that’s missing is the lugubrious Alistair Darling. Only the first point, on the currency deserves any attention – the rest is beneath any serious analysis. (It says a lot about Scottish Labour’s ideas of the intelligence of Scottish voters –perhaps the most catalysed, sophisticated electorate in the world right now.)

"For many years now, the pound sterling has been a millstone round Scotland's neck" “Sterling is costing jobs and prosperity” Alex Salmond 10th Nov. 1999

These quotes are over 13 years old. It was in the last millennium – the last months of the 20th century.

Since then, we’ve had 9/11, governments have come and gone, dictators have risen and fallen, the disastrous Republican US/Labour UK wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were started with a bang and are now ending with a whimper, and from 2008 onwards, the world economy and the world’s banks have gone into near meltdown, the British economy is a basket case, due in significant part to the Blair/Brown Labour Government’s mismanagement of the economy and the regulation of the banks, and the Tory/LibDem Coalition Government’s misconceived attempts to handle the shambles left by Labour, Europe has major problems with monetary policy, and the Arab Spring continues, creating major uncertainties for the Middle East and the world.

Economist, bankers, political theorists, academics and governments across the globe have hastily revised just about everything they thought they knew about monetary and fiscal management and investment.

But Scottish Labour relies on 13-year-old last century, last millennium quotes by Scotland’s First Minister to allege a contradiction over the SNP’s present policy over Scotland’s currency after independence!

It is a measure of Scottish Labour’s failure of imagination, failure of basic economic or political understanding and failure to adapt to the world we now live in that they are reduced to such Fox News-type negative campaigning and propaganda.

Political leaders failing to change their minds in the light of the vast changes to political and economic circumstances over this turbulent period would truly remarkable, branding them as dinosaurs, doomed to extinction by forces beyond their understanding or control.

That would be a fair description of the Scottish Labour Party, as exemplified by this misconceived initiative and video, dragging the very concept of Truth into their gutter.

Let’s look then at Alex Salmond’s current position on a Scottish currency, and the quote that encapsulates that pragmatic position -

Retaining the pound under independence is something that I believe is in the interests of Scotland.”

A fuller discussion of the issues can be seen in this June 2012 video. (The FM also discussed this issue at the Brooking Institution very recently.)

Here’s what I said last year on the currency question, as a rebuttal to criticisms advanced of the FM’s position.. The essence of the argument is still much the same, but heavyweight economic commentators have since then suggested revisiting the commitment to sterling and reconsidering a Scottish currency launch, in the light of rapidly the changing economic climate. -


This is an attempt to talk the language that the average voter might begin to understand, so a warning shot to the ravening hordes of PPE graduates and professional economists – don’t try to bury me alive in complex conflicting arguments and academic references which have more to do with the political axe you are grinding than economic facts – haul your wagon to one of the many learned journals who publish this kind of thing, and have fun quarrelling with your peers over arcane theories.

1. Scotland is not going to be become independent, but if it does, it won’t really be independent if it still has sterling as its currency.

The idea that there is some pure, unalloyed version of independence in the complex interdependent world we live in is fantasy, as it is in individual life. Independence includes the right to decide with whom we cooperate, with whom we form alliances, when we cooperate and when we walk away, and whether that cooperation and those alliances are on trade, on economic controls, on defence, or in cultural, social, humanitarian and sporting policies and joint ventures.

And to forestall yet another ludicrous unionist old chestnut, our present membership of the UK does not already give us such sovereignty – it involves the surrender of the right to decide, the surrender of the sovereignty of the Scottish people on all but the few devolved matters the sovereign UK deigns to permit us to exercise some control over.

It might be nice at some point in the future to have an independent Scottish currency, Equally it might be appropriate to remain in sterling, or to join the euro, or join some other currency union as yet unknown. What will be even nicer is that the sovereign Scottish people will make that decision – nobody else.

2. Alex Salmond really wanted to join the euro: he was wrong on that, therefore he is wrong on this.

Resisting the urge to laugh at the utter naivety of this argument, I will simply say that what anybody said about the euro, about economics, about international banking and finance over four years ago is now almost completely irrelevant in the light of the economic and financial chaos that has engulfed the world. With the exception of a few prophetic voices crying in the wilderness, nobody foresaw it in any meaningful sense, least of all the economic and political theorists. Great fun can be had by selectively picking quotes of yesteryear, but it contributes nothing to an adult debate.

3. An independent Scotland would not have any influence in a currency union with the UK, much less a seat on the MPC, and would be wholly at the mercy of the Bank of England on monetary policy, and since the B of E is invisibly controlled by the UK (sic) Government and the Treasury, Scotland’s financial independence would be an illusion – the control of fiscal levers and policy would make no difference.

First, a few facts -

Currency unions exists all over the world, and can be one of three kinds – informal, formal, or formal with additional rules. They are entered into to maximise economic efficiency in a geographical region.

Scotland doesn’t need permission to use sterling – it is an internationally tradable currency, like the dollar, and if an independent Scotland continues to use it, it de facto has entered into an informal currency union with rUK.

To take the arrangement beyond the informal would require negotiated agreement with rUK. Such an agreement could only be reached during the wide-ranging negotiations that will take place after the YES vote in autumn 2014. The present UK Government is not going to enter into such negotiations, formally or informally, in the lead-up to the referendum when it is fighting for a NO vote. To do so would be to admit, de facto, that Scotland was likely to become independent. (Johann Lamont more or less did just that at FMQs.)

(If sensible politics and diplomacy were a feature of the present UK Coalition Government and Opposition, there would probably be confidential discussions taking place right now. Regrettably, there is little evidence of anyone in the Coalition Cabinet, or in the Scottish Office, or the Holyrood Opposition capable of the sophisticated approach that this would demand. There are undoubtedly such people in the diplomatic services. But to use diplomats would involve acknowledging that Scotland is likely to become an independent country.)

The Bank of England is the Central Bank of the United Kingdom. Gordon Brown gave the Bank of England operational independence in monetary policy in 1997, and it became responsible for setting interest rates through the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee, independent of Government.

The members of the MPC are the Governor of the Bank of England, two deputy governors, the Bank's Chief Economist, the Executive Director for Markets and four external members with financial expertise directly appointed by the Chancellor. A representative from the Treasury also sits with the Committee at its meetings. The Treasury representative can discuss policy issues but is not allowed to vote.

Its role is to set interest rates, to issue banknotes (Scotland still issues its own) and to contribute to “protecting and enhancing” the financial system. It has the right to use a process called quantitative easing to ‘print money’ (which is not printing more banknotes!) usually in crisis situations such as the recent banking collapse. The MPC does this by electronically creating new money to purchase assets, thus increasing the national debt. (Between March 2009 and January 2010, the MPC authorised the purchase of £200 billion worth of assets, mostly gilts – UK Government debt) This injects more money into the economy.

An independent Scotland will have full control of every aspect of the financial measure – fiscal levers – necessary to run the Scottish economy, raise taxes, etc.

If it uses a currency other than its own - e.g. the euro, sterling, the dollar – its interest rates would be set by the central bank of that currency. Scotland would therefore be subject to the monetary controls and monetary policy of that central bank.

The strength of a currency depends on the economic performance of the country issuing it, and the perception of that country, its currency and its economic performance by other countries. This determines the exchange rate, normally defined against the dollar.

For a newly independent Scotland to launch its own currency in a favourable world economy would have been a bit of a gamble: for it to launch its own currency in the current chaotic economic climate, or to join the euro would be lunacy. Sticking with sterling is the prudent, sensible option, either informally or within a currency union with rUK. This is not the time for macho posturing, indeed there is never such a time …

For the Bank of England and rUK not to accept the reality of an independent Scotland, with full fiscal control, using sterling, without having an observer equivalent to the present UK Treasury advisers would be illogical. Lyndon Johnson’s memorable phrase of “better inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in” comes to mind. Since the criteria the chancellor uses for selecting the four independent special advisers is unknown to me, I can offer no advice other than to say that a special adviser with an insight into, and special knowledge of Scotland’s finances would make sense.

A currency union beyond the informal also makes sense to any objective adviser.

As for Johann Lamont’s nonsense about consulting the Bank of England or the UK Treasury in advance, I refer to my comments above. Expect no objectivity from them until we have a decisive YES vote and negotiations have commenced.

Friday, 19 April 2013

A fiscal vacuum exists between Anas Sarwar's ears on rationale for tax powers

Is this intellectual vacuity what Scottish Labour has to offer? A great Brewer wind blew through the space between Anas Sarwar's ears, the echoing space where his economic policy brain is supposed to be, on Scottish devolved tax powers.

The Brewer Rottweiler grip forced him into a repetitive loop of meaningless stock phrases, devoid of anything remotely resembling economic grasp or content. The economics of cash and carry don't translate to a nation, Anas.

Still, he should be grateful that there was no Swinney or Hosie to have him for a late night snack. This man is Deputy Scottish Labour Leader and an MP in the raddled old Mother of Parliaments, Westminster - the one that he and his Tory/LibDem allies want us to remain dependent on.

No, INDEPENDENT and independence are the words Scots will settle for in just over 500 days, Anas.

There is also the little matter that Scottish Labour can produce papers for more powers to Johann’s wee hearts’ content, but they can’t deliver them unless Labour is in Government after 2015, and almost certainly not even if they were after a NO vote. Devo Zilch will be the dominant theme in that horrific eventuality, perhaps even Devo Minus.

POSTSCRIPT - The Johann Lamont Radio Scotland interview

Friday, 28 September 2012

ALEOs, externalisation and Glasgow City Council – a blog from 2010

In all the hoo-ha about how hard up GCC is because of the council tax freeze, remember this – a blog from 2010. Since then, of course, we’ve had the scandal of the commonwealth Games development and the astronomical profits of property speculators while small businesses and house owners were crushed and evicted by GCC, and there have been some egregious final settlements made to former employees of GCC. That’s where at least some of the council tax went …


Economists use the concept of externalities to describe the impact organisations make upon the society that they operate within. An organisation’s responsibility is to itself and to its own objectives but in the process of discharging this responsibility, it creates an impact on others, positive or negative. If that impact and effect was part of the organisation’s intention – part of its business strategy – that’s fine, but if it was simply an unintended consequence of its pursuit of its objectives, then problems can arise.

An externality is the effect of a transaction between two individuals and a third party who has not consented to, or played any role in the carrying out of that transaction. MILTON FRIEDMAN

For example, a mining company has an environmental impact, a chemical company may pollute the rivers or the atmosphere, a growing company may force smaller companies out of business – the negative examples can be multiplied along familiar lines.

The negative impact of organisations on people and communities can be considerable. A large company that becomes the dominant employer in an area can destroy the entire community if it pulls out. A dominant company can drive down the price of the goods and services it procures, forcing small suppliers into reducing their margins to dangerous levels.

An organisations can engage in practices and processes that are actively dangerous to the health and safety of those it employs and to the external community. Such effects were common in the early stages of the industrial revolution, and they were still occurring in the late 20th century, and will still occur in the 21st century, especially in third world or economically vulnerable communities. (The disaster at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal in India is still one of the worst examples, and of course, Chernobyl.)

Entrepreneurs have two major concerns – one is to be able to take commercial risks without destroying entirely their own security and economic viability, and the other is to be allowed to focus on the central purpose of the venture without being deflected by external consequences that are not central to the business purpose, especially those that relate to morality, legal compliance and social values.

Business is essentially amoral – morality and legality are constraints imposed on it by a society that it of necessity must operate within, and the dynamic balance of these forces is the essence of capitalism in a free society. Organised crime is simply a business that elects to ignore these constraints.

That is not to say that entrepreneurs, business managers and directors of companies are amoral, or lack a moral compass, but that the very nature of business is without malice or pity, and the moral individual must operate within that context. All too often the individual moral conscience becomes subordinate to, or is crushed by the demands of the organisation.

When businesses are small, and a sole proprietor or family dominates, the business activities can and usually will reflect their personal ethics and morality, and concepts of equity and justice can prevail. In rare cases, that ethical basis can survive the growth of the company if the values of the founder or founders – or indeed the founders themselves – are still present, and some great British companies managed to preserve such an ethos until comparatively recent times. Altruism has existed and does exist in business, but it often has a hard time …


Entrepreneurs protected themselves against the first risk - destroying entirely their own security and economic viability in commercial ventures – by getting the concept of the limited company on to the statute books. The company or corporation became a legal person, distinct from its owners and directors, with almost all of the legal protections an individual person has under law, and a limit set to its liabilities – the limited liability corporation.

Without that legal protection, there can be little doubt that we would not have had the industrialised world that we know today. An entrepreneur could set up a venture and take risks, supported by investors in the company - the shareholders and venture capitalists – and fail occasionally without destroying his or her own capital and financial security, going into personal bankruptcy and losing everything. Legal safeguards were set up to prevent abuse of this immunity by entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs protected themselves against the second risk - being deflected by external consequences that were not central to the business purpose, especially those that relate to morality, legal compliance and social values, and not being allowed to focus on the central purpose of the venture – by insisting that it was the job of government and society to impose morality and social values upon them by legislation and regulation. This was the first externalisation, releasing the organisation from the need to establish its own morality and values and leaving them free, within the regulatory constraints, to pursue their business objectives. Thus was the balance to be maintained between the legal protection of the limited liability company and the needs of the society it operated within.

The company, in essence, could be amoral but have its morality imposed by society and be constrained within limits acceptable to that society.

But this ideal rested on an assumption that proved naive and false from the very start, namely that the limited liability company would not be able to influence the legislative constraints that they operated within. In fact, from the earliest days, companies have sought to influence, and in an increasing number of instances, subvert the very legislative process that was meant to constrain them.

The most spectacular example of this has been the insidious, relentless and inexorable growth of the military/industrial complex, a threat defined and named by President Eisenhower in 1961.
This has proved to be a cancerous growth that has perverted our values, our politicians, our democracy and our world.


The results of externalisation in America have been evident for well over a century – explosive industrial and commercial expansion delivering enormous wealth and prosperity to some and utter misery, poverty, sickness and death to others. Initially, the exploited were the immigrant population and the ill-educated lower classes, but then, faced with the growth of organised labour and labour protection legislation at home, exploitation tended to shift to America’s colonies (which of course it always denies having) in Latin America, in its offshore islands, and in many other parts of the world. In this, they were simply following the brutally exploitative model of British imperialism, whilst coyly rejecting the idea of an American empire.

(The continuing American hatred of Castro’s Cuba stems, not only from  real ideological or strategic beliefs, but also significantly from the burning resentment of American big business and American organised crime at losing a population that could be exploited with minimal risk and effort.)

But closer to home, the events leading up to the financial meltdown that followed the near-collapse of Northern Rock had already signalled that all was not well with our notional democracy, and the regulation of big business.

Maggie Thatcher began the process in the 1980s that involved widespread deregulation, externalisation and outsourcing of business, and we entered the era of the short-time temporary contract, of cleaning contractors who didn’t clean - killing hospital patients while their directors grew fat on the proceeds - of railways where the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing and trains crashed with alarming regularity, of an exploding housing market where essential workers couldn’t afford to live within commuting distance of their place of work, of the destruction of entire mining communities – the list goes on.

Industry, notable the financial sector, were allowed to lobby, bribe and bully the Westminster government and our elected representatives, and to negate or at least emasculate the regulatory authorities designed to keep each industry in check. A government and the regulators turned a blind eye while the banks and the financial industry gambled with the security and the lives and hope of millions of ordinary citizens. The concentration of power – by acquisition – in the newspaper industry and the media also led to distortion of objective journalistic values and to the impotence of government in the face new Citizen Kane’s in their Xanadus.

Revolving doors carried senior civil servants into top jobs in the industries they had been so recently responsible for controlling. Regulatory bodies were – and are - packed with industry representatives, neutering attempts to limit the worst excesses. Our own elected representative were either lobbying themselves or acting as pimps for the professional lobbyists. And of course they were also ripping off the taxpayer by inflating their expenses or actively falsifying them.

A new generation of politicians, drawn at a much younger age from the offices of the party machines and from PR companies, or straight from university, saw politics as a career and a route to enrichment rather than a calling.

They knew nothing, had done nothing, had achieved nothing  and were, figuratively speaking, nubile adolescents eagerly awaiting their imminent ravishment and reward by the hard-eyed men and women of big business.

And so we come to Scotland, and to the great city of Glasgow


Scotland, a little nation of over five million people at the northern end of Europe, had nonetheless punched well above its weight for centuries, in culture, in learning, in innovation and invention and had made a crucial contribution to the industrial revolution. It was no stranger to the huge forces of industrial and commercial change that swept across the globe: it had experienced the cruel impact of the shift from the land to the city, from an agrarian society to a mechanised one, and its people had felt the iron hand of capitalism.

The abandonment of personal responsibility by their leaders, in very early forms of externalisation – an externalisation of responsibility and values - driven as always by rampant greed, from the Highland clearances to the dispossession of the lowland cottars had brought misery to hundreds of thousands, and the great workshops of Empire in the ancient city of Glasgow exacted a terrible price from the ordinary people, producing amongst other evils disease, death and malnutrition in the worst slums in Europe.

The clan chiefs unforgivably broke the bonds of faith, blood and absolute trust to enrich themselves (with a few honourable exceptions) and most of them reap the benefits of their ill-gotten gains to this day. The lowland landowners were little better, and both highland and lowlands leaders were prepared to ruthlessly suppress any attempts by the people they were exploiting and oppressing to obtain justice.

(The ‘Big Factor’, John Campbell, Chamberlain of the Duke of Argyll’s estates in Mull and Tiree, was so hated by his former tenants that emigrant communities in America and Canada celebrated his death (1872) in ‘uninhibited style’ with singing, bonfires and drinking.)

We must never forget that this, in the main, was done by Scots to Scots. There are those who are still doing it to this day, and their betrayal is all the greater because they know their history. They still see their noblest prospect as the high road to England, specifically Westminster, and once there, Scotland becomes almost an embarrassing memory.

In our own time, Scotland was devastated by Maggie Thatcher’s destruction of large parts of our industrial heritage. Her cynical and ill-judged attempt to pilot the hated poll tax in Scotland cost her party dear, and ultimately brought her down as Prime Minister. The Tory Party has been a negligible force in Scotland since that time.

But of course Scotland had been, for over half a century, a Labour fiefdom, nowhere more powerful than in Glasgow, one that was propped up by the ineffectual Scottish Liberal Democrats, whose utter betrayal of the ideals and principles of liberalism continues under Tavish Scott, in the name of unionism.

The  revelations followed Steven Purcell’s tragic collapse and resignation show something deeply suspect in the heart of the administration of Gleschu - the dear green place - by the Labour-dominated City Council.

ALEOs and Glasgow City Council

The responsibilities of Glasgow City Council are as extensive and complex as one would expect from the requirements of governance of one of the major cities of the United Kingdom, a city of 620,000 souls. The governance of this great city is entrusted by its electorate to elected councillors, and they represent the democratic will and control of the people of Glasgow over how their city is run.

Ideally, those running for office would see the role of councillor as a vocation, not as a career ladders nor as a route to personal wealth. Power would be sought unselfishly to serve the people.

But life – and politicians – ain’t always like that …

An elected councillor can expect to earn a minimum of £16,234 per annum, and has pension rights in addition to this. This is about two thirds of the average wage and in itself is unlikely to attract an ambitious and able person who is not driven by an altruistic wish to serve his or her fellow citizens, and is even less likely to persuade someone to give up a higher rate of remuneration to seek election.

However, anyone who was driven by money and career considerations would already be highly aware that the potential earnings are very much higher. The great British public were duly shocked when the Telegraph exposed the true level of earnings of honourable and right honourable members of Parliament, made up of expenses, expenses fiddles and extra-curricular activities of various kinds, including directorships, consulting, and other nice little earners too numerous to name.

The Glasgow electorate – not easily shockable after generations of corrupt administration – might just be beginning to see what is going on by the light that the Herald (belatedly, but God bless them for doing it now!) has been mercilessly shining into the earnings activities of their councillors.

And they may be coming to grips with the acronym that represents a nice little earner – the ALEO, or Arms Length External Organisation, which should really be ALEGO, Arms Length Governance External Organisation. I suppose ALEGO was too close to A LEG OVER, with its related concept of screwing the electorate. Or is it related to that old Glasgow chant about the Eely Aleo?

So what are the ALEOs? They are external organisations set up by Glasgow City Council to run departments and functions and deliver services to the people of Glasgow that were formerly run by Glasgow City Council. They are given a considerable degree of freedom of decision and action, but have at least one board member who is also a councillor, to ensure that they remember to whom they are ultimately accountable – the people of Glasgow.

Here’s what Glasgow City Council says about the principles of governance in a paper relating to ALEOs by its External Governance Committee on 26th May 2009.



Governance has been defined as the means by which an organisation ensures that the level of direction and management of the affairs of the organisation are satisfactory, aligns corporate behaviour with the expectations of  the public and maintains accountability. The process of governance therefore involves the clear identification of responsibilities, accountabilities and adequate systems of supervision, control and communication. Fundamentally, governance is about how the organisation ensures that it is doing the right things, in the right way, for the right people, in a timely, inclusive, open, honest and accountable manner.  


The Council has statutory responsibility for the delivery of a range of services and it meets
this through its operating structures and its governance arrangements.


ALEOs are therefore a manifestation of externalisation – outsourcing – and of shuffling off the inconvenient need to run departments, deal with real people and with trades unions - in other words, of reducing, if not avoiding real responsibility for doing what Glasgow City Council is elected to do. A fig-leaf of residual control and accountability is provided by the external director or directors appointed from the ranks of councillors – and perhaps friends of the Labour Party.

It goes without saying that the above is not the rationale used by Glasgow City Council to justify the helter-skelter multiplication of ALEOs.

It was, of course, no part of justification for the setting up of the ALEOs to provide a nice little earner for councillors or others, nor to regard the ability of the new external directors, in the City Council’s own words (from the extract above) to

… ensure that the level of direction and management of the affairs of the organisation are satisfactory

… align corporate behaviour with the expectations of  the public and maintains accountability

(provide) … clear identification of responsibilities, accountabilities and adequate systems of supervision, control and communication

… ensure that it (the ALEO) is doing the right things, in the right way, for the right people, in a timely, inclusive, open, honest and accountable manner

as rather likely to be compromised by their need to protect a healthy supplement to their council salaries and to stay on the right side of their new board members. The eternal question cui bono? always has a familiar answer in Glasgow – Who dae ye think, Jimmy?

The potential of corruption in government is ever-present, and it is not McCarthyite to say that the facts revealed by the Herald give grounds for grave disquiet.

Whit’s goin’ on Jimmy, eh? There’s somethin’ no’ right here, ah can smell it fae here …

Friday, 2 March 2012

Jim Murphy looks foolish on who leads for Labour on the Union – “BBC will pick the Labour Leader for the referendum debate”

Even by Murphys' standards, this was a bummer. "The BBC will pick the Labour Leader for the referendum debate" Goad help us a' ...

His persona, one of slimy charm coupled uneasily with old-guard Scottish Labour bluster fails miserably, as it did in the lead-up to Scottish Labour's 2011 disaster at the polls. I wish he would lead the anti-independence campaign.

Some media commentators refer to Murphy as a Labour 'big beast'. He reminds me of the sad, mangy lion in the old Wilson’s Oswald Street Zoo in Glasgow when I was a child. Wilson's Zoo

Big beast my ****. I almost prefer the unctuous, pompous Douglas Alexander. At least wee Dougie has some intellectual candlepower flaming between his ears.

FMQs 1 March 2012–That Murdoch meeting! - amd The Megrahi Case

Friday, 27 January 2012

Part Two of the BBC Scotland referendum debate - 25th January 2012 - Burns Night. More clips from the debate

Part Two of the BBC Scotland referendum debate - 25th January 2012 - Burns Night.

Johann Lamont MSP - Leader of Scottish Labour Party

Nicola Sturgeon MSP - Deputy First Minister of Scotland

Lord Wallace of Tankerness - Advocate General of Scotland - UK LibDem/Tory Coalition

Lesley Riddoch - journalist, broadcaster and commentator

Note: The Advocate General is the British Crown's legal representative/watchdog in Scotland. It is a political appointment.

Jim Wallace - Baron Wallace of Tankerness - is a former LibDem politician who was in coalition with Labour in the Scottish Parliament. He is currently an unelected Lord, represents a party with 5 MSPs in Holyrood, and the junior partner LibDems in the UK Tory-led, Tory-dominated Coalition Government.

If a UK general election were held tomorrow, the LibDems, deeply discredited and unpopular across the UK, would be wiped out as they were in the 2011 Scottish election.

The Scottish Passport question - asked genuinely by a member of the audience - is actually one of the other scare stories of the UK - borders, checkpoints, Hadrian's Wall, and passport problems. At least the panel recognised the irrelevancy of this point.


Two members of the audience tell it like it is - on unionist negativity and scaremongering, and the centrality of the nuclear questions and WMDs.

"He looks like a relic, he talks like a relic, he doesn't talk like young people - and they want an end to this" Addressed to the hapless Baron of Tankerness, who did himself no favours with his lamentable performance in this debate.

I feel sorry for Jim Wallace - branded as "a relic" at 58 years of age. I'm a helluva lot older than he is, but I hope I'm not a relic, and if I am, I hope I'm still a relevant relic to young people in Scotland, because they own the future.

Saor Alba!

The referendum debate–clips from the second part–25th January 2012

Part Two of the BBC Scotland referendum debate - 25th January 2012 - Burns Night.

Johann Lamont MSP - Leader of Scottish Labour Party

Nicola Sturgeon MSP - Deputy First Minister of Scotland

Lord Wallace of Tankerness - Advocate General of Scotland - UK LibDem/Tory Coalition

Lesley Riddoch - journalist, broadcaster and commentator

Note: The Advocate General is the British Crown's legal representative/watchdog in Scotland. It is a political appointment.

Jim Wallace - Baron Wallace of Tankerness - is a former LibDem politician who was in coalition with Labour in the Scottish Parliament. He is currently an unelected Lord, represents a party with 5 MSPs in Holyrood, and the junior partner LibDems in the UK Tory-led, Tory-dominated Coalition Government.

If a UK general election were held tomorrow, the LibDems, deeply discredited and unpopular across the UK, would be wiped out as they were in the 2011 Scottish election.

Jim Wallace, raising yet another unionist scare story about trade with England, appears oblivious to the fact that Scotland and England are in the EU and are part of a free trade, common market. He is unable to give any examples of his imagined ‘barriers’, and resent being told he is spreading scare stories under the guise of ‘debate’. Nicola patiently tries to educate him, but the Baron is excited and approaching incoherence by this point.


A plummy-voiced lady in the audience raises an inaccurate scare story about "being forced into the euro by Germany". This is patent nonsense - no sovereign state can be compelled to join the euro - that decision will be Scotland's alone, and will only be taken if economic conditions are judged to be favourable. Such primitive fear tactics have been characteristic of the woeful case advanced for the Union.


Johann Lamont thinks that Alex Salmond's long commitment to the independence of his country, and his belief that Scotland could handle its own affairs better is some kind of nostalgic romanticism and harking back to the past. Exactly the reverse is true - the SNP is about the future of Scotland, and it has been highly specific as to why independence will make that future a better one, economically, socially, educationally, culturally.

In fact, the nostalgia for "300 years of Union", the lack of any vision except a vague internationalism and the utter void of policy, values or vision at the heart of Labour and Johann Lamont's leadership is the thing most in evidence in this debate.


Thursday, 26 January 2012

Referendum debate - votes for 16-17 year olds? - Not if Wallace and Lamont can stop them!

16 and 17 year olds can marry, enter the armed forces, have children - but they can't vote in the referendum, to help determine the future of their country, Scotland - the future that is in their hands.

The UK government, the Advocate General and the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party don't want them to vote - except in an AV referendum that nobody asked for and nobody wanted, the campaign for which was one of the dirtiest in a long time, and in which the Coalition 'partners' - Tory and LibDems fought like ferrets in a sack.

Anyone who thinks that the law isn't politicised in the UK should listen to Jim Wallace in this debate. An unelected Lord, a member of a party with 5 MSPs in Scotland - a party that, if there were a general election tomorrow, would be reduced to a rump in the UK - Lord Wallace is the legal watchdog of the Crown in Scotland.

And we know what he's watching for ...

First half of referendum consultation debate on BBC1

Here is the first half of the 25 Jan 2012 debate - it took ages to upload and process. You’ll have to wait till tomorrow for Part 2 and last.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Lamentable Labour and lamentable Lamont – and a master class from Alex Salmond in the economics of independence

This lamentable performance from Johann Lamont, with its laboured scripted one-liners and prepared insults, demonstrates why Labour is unfit to govern Scotland, and indeed has been for a very long time. She has learned nothing from the disastrous mistakes of her predecessor, Iain Gray, and seems locked in the same style and script.

The contrast with the First Minister's responses is painful. Alex Salmond delivers a master class in the economics of dependence on the UK versus the freedom from constraints that would come with independence, which would deliver the economic tools to liberate Scots from the economic stagnation and now near-collapse that Labour and now the Coalition have wreaked upon the UK.

The inherent contradictions built in to the dependency relationship between Scottish Labour, UK Labour and the Tory-led Coalition are evident every time Johann Lamont opens her mouth.

The Scottish people have recognised this in the May 2011 election, Scottish trades union members clearly must have recognised it also. UK trades union leaders are facing up to it, with some of the most damning indictments ever delivered by trade union barons against a Labour Party Leader and Labour Opposition, the voters of England recognise it.

But as yet, Scottish trades union leader cannot find the courage to speak up for their members, for severing the political link with Labour, for ending the political levy, and most of all, for throwing their weight behind the independence of their country.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

An open letter to Johann Lamont

Dear Johann Lamont,

Congratulations on winning the leadership of your party in Scotland. I hope that your win gives you a clear mandate among all Scottish Labour supporters, and that it is perceived as a valid mandate to lead the main opposition to my party, the SNP, who received a very clear mandate to govern Scotland last May. It is vital that your mandate is seen in this way not only by Labour supporters but by the Scottish Government, by the SNP, by the other opposition parties and by the Scottish electorate.

The only way to ensure this is to publish as soon as possible the full, detailed breakdown of the votes cast in the leadership election, in the interests of transparency in Scottish politics. (I am confident that you will wish to do so, indeed, by the time this blog comes up, you may already have done so.)

I listened to your acceptance speech closely, because as a committed SNP supporter, voter and party member, I believe that the existence of an effective opposition in any Parliament is vital to democracy. I was a Labour supporter for most of my life, and I will never return to Labour because of the depth of the betrayal of all my hopes and expectations over decades by the Labour Party as constituted up until this election.

But I do believe that you, and at least some in the Scottish Labour Party want to make a new beginning and to place the interests of Scotland first. You outlined in your acceptance speech a vision statement for Scotland. Few Scots of any party would disagree with the bulk of its content, and for that reason, it could have been made by any party leader, at any time, in almost any country.

I don’t want to appear to suggest that it was an empty ‘motherhood and apple pie’ statement – I do believe that you are committed to these ideals and broad objectives, and so am I. And I am delighted that you and Scottish Labour appear to have rediscovered your Scottishness.

But given this consensus on what we all want for Scotland, it is evident that what gives our respective parties their identity is the means by which these objectives are to be achieved. If my memory serves me accurately, you and other members of the Labour Party have accused the SNP of stealing your vision. That was unfair and inaccurate – we have closely similar visions because we are both social democratic parties, committed to a strong, effective public sector and a vibrant, entrepreneurial private sector.

In a certain kind of Scotland, the SNP and the Labour Party could recognise a shared vision while differing vigorously on key aspects of achieving that vision. We both recognise that the Tory vision as presently exhibited in all its uncaring, incompetent awfulness, is inimical to the interests of Scotland, and indeed the peoples of the UK. The LibDem vision has been badly – perhaps fatally – compromised by their poisoned and supine alliance with the Tories in Coalition.

But there is a great yawning gulf between your vision as outlined today and the Scottish National Party’s vision, and that gulf is created by your commitment to keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom. At this moment, this profoundly mistaken policy – the only real one you have at the moment – is main barrier to your achievement of Labour’s new Scottish vision.

The reasons for this are plain to see, and the Scottish electorate understood them plainly last May, and voted accordingly. I accept that not all of that vote was a vote for Scotland's independence, but it was decisively a vote for Scotland holding all the economic levers necessary to transform Scotland, indeed the the pressing need at the moment is to have them to enable Scotland to survive the cold, cold global wind that is blowing.

But there are other great barriers between us while you and Scottish Labour are committed to the UK – they are nuclear weapons, i.e. weapons of mass destruction, foreign policy and the unelected, undemocratic House of Lords, now perceived by many Scots as the lucrative bolthole for failed politicians, including Scottish Labour politicians.

While Scottish Labour is committed to the UK, it will be seen by many Scots as the party that supports illegal or dubious wars that kill the flower of our young servicemen and women, the party that is committed to ruinously expensive WMDs that endanger Scotland by their presence - and pose an ever-present threat to world  peace - and the party that is committed to the undemocratic House of Lords, whatever hollow statements about reform, never acted upon, may say.

A great watershed in Scotland’s history is approaching – the referendum on Scotland’s independence – a pivotal moment in our history that will shape Scotland and the other three countries of the UK for a generation and perhaps for ever.

As we approach that fateful day, it is vital that all parties with a core shared vision for the people of Scotland approach the great debate that will be continuously conducted from now on with objectivity, with facts, with some degree of mutual respect, with the common objective of allowing the Scottish electorate all the information they need to make their great choice.

That need not – and will not – inhibit vigour in debate, but if we can draw on the great intellectual political and social traditions that have always characterised Scots and Scotland, we can offer Scottish voters a real, rational choice.

I wish you and your party well in this new and critical era. I cannot of course wish you electoral success in local elections next year, nor in the referendum when it comes.

from one Weegie tae another – awra’ best,

Peter Curran

Scottish Labour Leadership Results
December 17, 2011 2:59 pm

Leadership result:

Deputy Leadership result:

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Print media, Johann Lamont,Labour and the Referendum

A documentary on BBC4 last night – Page One: Inside the New York Times by Andrew Rossi - on the New York Times and the future of newspapers made riveting viewing. I missed the first half hour of it, but it is repeated at 3.25 am on Thursday morning, so I’ll record it and catch the missing 30 minutes. It is a must-watch for anyone who cares about media in a democracy.

For me it clarified and reinforced the points I have made over the last few years about the importance of the BBC, media and especially print media. Some comments from a recent blog on this topic -

I can say that I would have had no existence as a blogger, commentator or YouTube poster without the mainstream media. The relationship, whether I or anyone else likes it or not, is a symbiotic one.

Had the nationalist movement been reliant on NewsnetScotland and the army of bloggers like me, it would not remotely have been enough. The online community, vital though they are to our democracy and freedom of expression, would have had only marginal impact of they had not had the televised and print media to react to, to clip, to deride, to criticise, to comment on. And capable though many online commentators are, few, if any, can match the professionalism and the resources that professional journalists and commentators can bring to the debate.


Johann Lamont at the moment looks like the favourite to win the Scottish Labour leadership contest. It’s either her or Ken MacintoshTom Harris is naewhere.

On Monday night, Glenn Campbell interviewed her on Newsnicht.

If I had to choose from what is available, I would choose Johann Lamont, because I think I see a kind of integrity there, the kind that has always existed in the Scottish Labour Party, but which usually gets buried alive in that self-serving sea of mediocrity and careerism. (I’m talking about the Labour politicians and the union leaders, not the long-suffering Labour voters and lay party and union members utterly betrayed by them for over half a century.)

Let me say that she is not First Minister material, but that would not deter the Scottish Labour Party if Scotland were ever unfortunate enough to have them in power again in Holyrood. After all, London – i.e. UK – Labour elected Ed Miliband, who is not Prime Ministerial material.

The long-running gravy train that is the Scottish Labour Party doesn’t want a people’s choice – they want to foist a candidate on the people who will stoke the boiler, oil the wheels and grease the rails for the high road to Westminster for its politicians, and to safe party sinecures for its union officials.

But if they do elect Johann, they may find that she is not as committed to that auld conspiracy against the electorate as they hope – she shows distinct signs of being a realist, and being her own wumman. However, her priority is to get elected, so she must be circumspect for the moment, as she reads the wildly conflicting signals from senior Labour figures such as Alexander, Murphy and Harris, who show signs of beginning to hedge their career bets as the prospect of an independent Scotland becomes ever more real. The strange noises being made around the Scotland Bill and devo max illustrate this clearly. (I do not include Henry McLeish in this. I respect him, and I think Scotland matters more to him than career, more perhaps than anything else. )

But on Monday night, she was pretty evasive and obscure, sent signals on devo max, but was caught flatfooted by Glenn Campbell on two questions –devo max, and the $64,000 question – could Labour deliver their objectives more easily in an independent Scotland?

She revealed more by what she didn’t say than by what she said, but my judgement is that she is keeping her options very much open on this possibility, having taken her cue from Alexander, Murphy, Auld Uncle Tam Harris and all … She is “not going to let Alex Salmond define devo max”. He agrees with you, Johann – he has been trying to get Labour and their Tory and LibDem pals to define what they mean by it for some time now, and ideally participate in a cross-party discussion about it.

As for the smooth lizard on the rock, Macintosh – who Kens?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Labour ducks in a row again, Tom Harris and minimum pricing for alcohol–Bob Doris and Jackie Baillie

Tom Harris MP has yet another outing on television, this time as the first of the three Scottish Labour leadership candidates to be interviewed on Newsnicht.

But before I address the content, let me indulge my pedantry -

Glenn Campbell opens with a phrase and a sentence construction that is all over the media like a rash – the may be … but construction. It seems to open almost every political analysis these days, and if it isn’t opening one, it’s closing one. Glenn’s example is -

“It may have only just begun but already …” What Glenn is referring to is the Labour Leadership contest. There is no may about it it, Glenn, it has already begun.

The word may indicates a possibility that contains alternatives – Prince Charles may become king, but then again, he may not. But this would be wrong – “Elizabeth the Second may be queen but she is an old lady …” There is no may about it, she is the queen.

Tom Harris may become Labour leader, but he may not. The disjunctive coordinating conjunction but is all you need to make your point, Glenn. “It has just begun … but already …”  You could have used the admittedly lengthier construction of “Despite the contest having just begun, already one party member ..” or alternatively “Although the contest has just begun, already one party member …”

Remember Dean Martin -

You may be king, you may possess

The world and its gold

But love won’t bring you happiness

When you’re growing old

Dino isn’t addressing a king or a rich man – he’s exploring future alternatives and offering good advice for choosing between them.



Glenn Campbell explores Uncle Tam’s candidacy with him, and attempts to find out what he’s all about, with as little success as previous interviewers. (Isabel Fraser successfully exposed the vacuum at the heart of all of the three candidates’ policy thinking, but couldn’t fill it.)

In his intro, Glenn signals the blandness of, and lack of differentiation between the candidates. He picks up with a previous comment from Tom Harris in the Isabel Fraser group interview that Labour could cease to become relevant in the next few years. (It has in fact been irrelevant for decades – it just took the Scottish voters a long time to notice it.). Uncle Tam replied lugubriously that it couldn’t be any more serious, in fact, he sees this internal party election as a watershed event. He’s probably right, but of course his remarks serve to talk up the importance of his involvement in this historical moment – as an essentially marginal Labour figure, threatened, as all Scottish Labour MPs are by independence, he’s hoping for a political lifeboat to carry him to either a fully independent or a still devolved Holyrood, and despite unionist protestations, either outcome would suit him nicely.

He is throughout refreshingly and brutally frank about the failings of Scottish Labour and the campaign – he can afford to be because he was not part of it, whereas his two opponents were, something that hangs uneasily in the air of cosy consensus they try to generate.

What are the right decisions – what is the key to the party’s survival?” asks Glenn. Policy and structure “doesn’t really matter at the moment” replies Tom – “We’re deciding who is going to lead the Scottish Party …” And Tam is not interested in being the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party – he wants to be First Minister, and he sees this as the key perception that voters should have of the candidates – who can stand up to Alex Salmond?

What makes you different and better than the others in this contest?” If Glenn had put that question to an American candidate in a leadership contest, they would have seized the opportunity to talk policy and character differentiation with both hands. But Tom retreats into coy blandness - he modestly confesses to good communication skills and the ability to sell a vision of Scotland to voters – he can “portray a positive vision for Scotland within the United Kingdom”.

All this PR, spin doctor, media man stuff reminds me of marketing men addressing harassed front end sale people in commercial organisations, to be met with cries of “Never mind the gloss and spin, the product is crap – what are you going to do about that?” There is a scene in the film version of Barbarians at the Gate, (see final YouTube clip) the story of the RJR Nabisco takeover in the 1980s, when James Garner discovers that the new product, a cigarette that is going to save the company, tastes of shit. Cognitive dissonance is literally in the air as the senior executives try to convince themselves that everything is OK with the brand …

What’s Tom’s big idea? It appears to be to abandon the unemployed and those on benefit, and presumably the poor, the disabled and all the other inconvenient parts of society that demand our compassion and our help, and focus on people in jobs, shoving them up the social housing list. All of this will be achievable as part of the union with a strong devolved Parliament – and of course the inevitable concomitants of that – war as the operating principle of the state, nuclear weapons and WMDs based in Scotland, lunatic foreign entanglements, and power, wealth and influence – and Scottish resources and revenues - drained to the South East of England.

But Uncle Tam will still be in a job – the Uncle Tams of this world always are …

The three ducks were all in a row again in STV’s new Scotland Tonight programme, which I was unkind about on its first outing, but which has improved in leaps and bounds since. There was little that was new – more vacuity, more equivocation, more self-justification. But the battle lines are clearly drawn as follows -

TOM HARRIS: You two ****** it up in the last Parliament and the election campaign …

JOHANN LAMONT/KEN MACINTOSH:  Naw, we didnae – there wis just a perception that we ****** it up …


We had what may now become a recurrent media phenomenon last night – the same topic with the same spokespersons running twice – once on Scotland Tonight and once on Newsnicht. It must be something to do with neutrinos and the speed of light. But if you had only watched the first programme, Scotland Tonight, feeling that the second, Newsnicht,  was redundant, you would have missed important differences

Bob Doris gave his impression of a killer shark, eyes glittering coldly, homing in on his prey.  Jackie Baillie gave a formidable impression of his prey, waiting pluckily but apprehensively to be devoured. Jackie, of course, has no defence – her position is deeply flawed, intellectually, arithmetically and morally.

But Newsnight Scotland highlighted two key points missed by Scotland Tonightone, that supermarkets won’t experience a windfall by minimum pricing if it actually works, since sales will fall. (Exactly how this will translate in money will already be the subject of frantic analysis by the supermarket bean counters – the media will take a long time to get round to it.) Two - the 45p figure is out of date and will be revisited on the re-run of the model, as Nicola Sturgeon has been explaining all over the media.

And of course, Labour and Jackie Baillie’s argument over supermarkets profiting is fatally compromised by their opposition to the Tesco Tax. The Scottish voters can smell hypocrisy a mile off, and Labour, the Tories and the LibDems reek of it.