Tuesday, 9 July 2013
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
I thought of doing a blog on the media response to minimum pricing for alcohol, but since nothing much has changed in their approach since last October, I’ll just re-run this blog from 2011.
But a couple of points -
The ‘penalise the moderate drinker' argument is bollocks – I’m a moderate drinker, I know a lot of moderate drinkers, and none of them will be penalised. Dependent of their choice of tipple, it will either cost them nothing or very little. And if it did result in them – and me - cutting down to low moderate, it would be no bad thing.
The ‘the desperate ones will get it somehow, so price won’t make a difference’ is also bollocks. Addiction, i.e. alcoholism, is a problem for a minority, and as I know from my Glasgow childhood, the desperately poor alcoholic will drink anything – methylated spirits, aftershave, etc. But Scotland’s main problem with alcohol is uncontrolled, excessive social drinking as a lifestyle choice – and it is a choice, especially among the young. Low prices increased this form of drinking and higher prices will reduce this kind of drinking – the evidence is clear.
No one, least of all Nicola Sturgeon, has ever suggested that minimum pricing is a total solution: it is one approach among a complex set of measures, but one that will yield immediate and very tangible results.
I spent fourteen years in the alcohol industry at senior level and worked with them for well over a further decade or more in consulting and training. I know the sophistication and power of their PR and marketing departments, and despite a superficial gloss of “support for encouraging responsible drinking” and token financial support for the councils on alcoholism, etc. their top priorities are volume sales and profitability, and anything that impinges on either will be resisted.
Bluntly, the booze merchants will support any measure. especially the much touted ‘education to change drinking habits’, so long as there is no chance of it actually changing drinking habits and reducing sales of alcohol.
Minimum pricing will change behaviour, it will reduce consumption, it will reduce volume sales, the booze business knows it will – and they will fight it tooth and nail.
MORIDURA BLOG Sunday, 2 October 2011
THE BOOZE – and “a nice glass of rosé after work”
The Herald and The Scotsman are both panicking about the SNP Government’s measures to combat the twin – and related – Scottish curses of alcohol abuse and sectarianism. Show me a violent bigot and I’ll show you a drunk. They are caught between a rock and a hard place – they must pretend to condemn alcohol abuse and sectarianism, but are terrified that the SNP’s measures might actually succeed in addressing these these ancient evils, because both abuses operate against the Scottish people developing a real national consciousness and democratic will for freedom and independence.
The enthusiasm with which both papers last week seized upon a ‘spontaneous’ demonstration’ - complete with large and elaborately crafted anti-SNP banners - by a small group of old firm ‘fans’ who wanted to protect their right to bellow out sectarian chants - in the name of freedom of expression and sport, God help us – was contemptible.
And today, we have The New Sunday Herald, with an ambivalent front page – Canning the drinks ban – which develops into a thinly-disguised attack on the SNP’s legislative measures to combat cheap booze promotions by supermarkets. Jackie Baillie, Labour, that stout defender of the rights of of Scottish people to have WMDs on their doorsteps and to be protected from any measures that might really help them to stop destroying themselves with cheap hooch, appears rapidly on the scene, accompanied by her sister-in-arms in these matters, Mary Scanlon, Tory, both anxious to shift the attack on alcohol abuse from minimum pricing – which will work - back to the booze barons preferred measures, empty exhortations to behave better (called ‘changing behaviour’) – which manifestly has never worked, and never will work.
Both these women are their party’s Spokeswoman for Health, rather as Tony Blair is Peace Envoy for the Middle East.
The Sunday Herald also wandered into the streets with a camera and picked entirely at random six young Scots who are against the legislation, who all ‘like a nice glass of rosé after work’, or its equivalent, and feel they are being unfairly penalised by the legislation.
They even managed to find a nurse who seemed to be against the legislation, although her views are rather confusing – if reported accurately – since her opening remark calls for ‘an overall ban on low booze prices’, but she feels that ‘it’s ridiculous and might extenuate (sic) other problems in the NHS …” and concludes with The Scotsman’s, The Herald’s, the Tory and Labour spokeswomen for Health’s and the booze business and supermarkets’ favourite solution – ‘dealing with the root cause, by educating people from school level.’
The only thing missing from the nightmare scenario was crazed latte drinkers, driven mad by caffeine.
The Sunday Herald, with no sense of irony, called this ‘sample’ of public opinion VOX POP. Well, I suppose a ‘nice glass of rosé ‘ is as close to pop as you’ll get from a supermarket’s alcohol shelves.
This randomly selected group must be congratulated for standing alone against the consensus of the BMA, the nursing profession, the police, health workers, alcohol and harm reduction workers, etc. who supported minimum pricing and control of price as a desirable and significant move to combat alcohol abuse.
I will find it hard to sleep tonight, thinking of the sad plight of of those unable to afford a nice glass of rosé after work because of this legislation, not to mention those other oppressed Old Firm consumers of rosé at Ibrox or Celtic Park, no longer able to brandish a wee bottle of Mateus on the terracing or bellow out sectarian songs as they wave the flags of nations other than Scotland.
And I will spare a tear for the directors and senior managers of Tesco, crouching round an oil lamp, down to their last few million pounds, as they weep inconsolably over the 0.3% impact on their profits, and desperately try to think up new ways to circumvent the law and democratic government.
Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Illegal voting, illegal campaign spending, both sides bending the rules to meet their own advantage in a referendum?
A forecast of things to come in the Scottish 2014 referendum? No, Glenn Campbell describing the two Canadian referendums on Newsnight Scotland’s Canada feature last night.
Jacques Parizeau, the leader of the unsuccessful nationalist campaign for independence in 1995, for Quebec Premier chillingly said they were beaten by money and the “ethnic vote”. The latter, Canadian government fast tracking of immigration applications to pack the electorate has no relevance to Scotland, but big money will certainly swing behind the UK unionist campaign, and from very dubious sources once it gets its act together.
The military/industrial complex, the armaments companies and their complicit politicians and M.O.D. people headed for the revolving door to lucrative directorships and consultancies have a lot to lose if Scotland achieves independence. And there are a lot of right-wing industrialists with a primitive, neo-conservative, not to say neo-fascist agenda with big bucks to put behind the unionist campaign.
The fascinating thing about the current Scottish climate is that the non-SNP independence-supporting left, together with a significant sector of the trades union movement are now alive to this risk, and this poses a real problem for the Labour Party at UK level, and a painful dilemma for Scottish Labour. I have been arguing that this is one reason why the SNP will have to think again about their deeply misguided attempt to sanitise and justify NATO membership for an independent Scotland. A YES vote cannot be delivered without this crucial constituency of left of centre, social democratic values.
The spectre of the Canadian Clarity Act hangs over the Scottish referendum – here’s what I said in November 2011 -
EXTRACT – November 2011 blog
Here are what I consider some essential facts about Quebec, its referendum, Canada and the Scottish/UK parallels, with quotes from Alan Trench, with the intention of pointing my readers towards his vital extended observations and arguments. Devolution Matters
BRIEF CALENDAR OF EVENTS
The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, a centre right party with roots going back to 1867, were the government of Canada from 1984 to 1993, when they lost out to the Liberals, who replaced them in government.
In 1994 the Parti Québécois (PQ) won the election in the province of Quebec, the largest province of Canada by area and the second largest administrative division. Since they are a party advocating the independence of Quebec, this had similar repercussion to the SNP winning the May 2011 elections in Scotland.
They launched a campaign that led to a referendum in 1995, with a badly-worded and confusing question, which produced a very narrow No (just over 1%) to independence.
The federal government promptly launched an aggressive programme to promote the idea of the federal government in Quebec (roughly equivalent to the UK government promoting the UK in Scotland) which led to a major political scandal, Sponsorgate, that eventually brought down the Liberal Government, who were replaced by a Conservative minority government in 2006.
However in the period between the referendum and the fall of the Liberal Government – 1995-2006 – a number of interesting things happened in the legal and constitutional areas.
The federal government mounted a challenge through the Supreme Court to the Quebec Government’s right to unilaterally secede from Canada, but they didn’t get the result they had hoped for.
The Supreme Court held that -
Quebec did not have a unilateral right to secede from Canada, either under Canadian or international law.
It did have a right to hold a referendum
Providing a clear question had been put in the referendum and providing it produced a clear vote in favour of independence, the federal government would be compelled to enter into independence negotiations which it would have to undertake in good faith, i.e. no stalling, or attendance at the negotiating table but with a refusal to discuss the terms of independence..
This left hanging the question of what constituted a clear majority. (It seemed that the Supreme Court thought that 1% was not enough, but no figure was recommended or specified.)
The Canadian Government responded to the Supreme Court judgement by introducing a bill – Bill C-20 – which was enacted as The Clarity Act in 2000, defining the conditions under which it would enter into negotiations on the independence of Quebec. Effectively, it put this decision in the hands of government, rather than the courts, and this politicised the issue. What infuriated the Quebec independence party and most Quebecers was the requirement that all ten provinces of Canada be involved multilaterally in the negotiations. (Roughly equivalent to the argument that all four parts of the UK be involved in negotiations on Scotland’s independence.)
Quebec promptly responded by passing its own Act, asserting the sovereignty of the Quebec people to assert their right to self-determination under international law, and arguing that any dispute that arose between the Clarity Act and the Quebec one should be resolved by the courts.
Alan Trench, in his blog Devolution Matters comments trenchantly as follow -
“What in a Canadian context looked like a rather aggressive and partisan move would look ten times as much so in a UK context. And that in turn would invite the SNP to question the outcome of any referendum if they wished. Far from bringing ‘clarity’, it would risk bringing yet further confusion and rancour to the debate.
“The second issue is to ask at what stage a ‘clarity provision’ should be included. There is clearly some pressure to include it in the Scotland bill. That sort of provocation would be a good way of ensuring that the Scotland bill did not get legislative consent from Holyrood, forcing the UK Government either to drop the bill or impose it regardless of the Scottish Parliament’s opposition.”
The Canadian experience will have been closely studied by Alex Salmond and his key strategists, and we can rely on them to draw relevant inferences from it, while clearly recognising the key constitutional and historical differences and the limits of the parallels that can be drawn.
We can also rely on the fact the the UK Government under Cameron and Osborne - a shaky Coalition comprising a LibDem Party in a state of utter demoralisation and electoral irrelevance, and a deeply-divided and accident-prone Tory Party (Cameron has already lost Coulson and Liam Fox in scandalous circumstances and may lose Theresa May) that may not survive much longer – will be highly aware of the Canadian experience and will inevitably draw all the wrong inferences from it, and be at least as cack-handed as the previous Canadian Conservative government was.
What is certain is that the Canadian experience will significantly shape our great debate over the next couple of years. Scotland could conceivably be dealing with a different UK Government in the lead-up to the referendum.
Wednesday, 4 April 2012
The UK political establishment – an arse with three cheeks? Coalition plus fake Labour Opposition? George Galloway thinks so …
Last night’s Newsnight addressed some vital questions about the giant rotten borough that the United Kingdom has now become, using as a springboard for the discussion the fact of George Galloway’s bombshell victory in Bradford, which caught Labour, the Coalition and the Westminster Village media pundits by surprise.
Jeremy Paxman had as his guests George Galloway, Will Self, Diane Abbott and Mark Field. The programme centred around Galloway and Will Self – Abbott and Young effortlessly demonstrated the utter irrelevance of Her Majesty’s Coalition Government and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to the reality of life in this Disunited Kingdom.
There was no LibDem, since they now don’t matter in any real sense, although Will Self oddly seemed to be representing a kind of LibDemmery – “I voted for them – I wouldn’t say I backed them!”.
Diane Abbott, probably a rich woman now from her long, cosy occupancy of a well-paid media sofa with Michael Portillo on the Andrew Neil show, still fancies that she somehow represents the ordinary people of England in these desperate economically and socially challenging times, living in that strange fantasy political dreamland inhabited by other rich Labour people. Mark Field effortlessly epitomised the other party of privilege, private education and wealth, oozing the easy charm that cloaks the brutal realpolitik of the Tory Party.
I have edited both of them out from my first clip selection: nothing they said mattered – they were the straight men, so to speak in the harsh social comedy duos of the stand-up comics, Galloway and Self, there as foils for the main action. (The full clip follows below.)
The discussion had a delightful opening sequence. Paxman, after a measured and calm introduction, then went for George Galloway in his normal, simplistic attack mode, which relies on politicians being polite and submissive in response, and relying on the advice their image consultants and spin doctors careful crafted for them, which of course results in them being eaten alive.
Interviewees who rely on their own experience, intellect and force of character therefore come as a rude shock to Paxman – one recalls our own First Minister, Alex Salmond reacting with tolerant amusement before demolishing Paxo, and I remember one Welsh academic who ate him alive some years ago by not playing his game.
Having floored Paxman and kicked him around the canvas a bit to demonstrate who was boss, George Galloway then made some vitally important observations, prompted by Will Self’s rather despairing but accurate analysis of the limits of Galloway’s real influence on the political process.
I would summarise the core of the discussion as follows -
Conventional three-party politics are breaking down in the UK, driven by distrust in UK political institutions caused by scandals on expenses, banking, cash for access, cronyism, corruption in the media and police and the manifest economic, foreign policy and social incompetence of two successive governments.
The growth of alternative forms of direct political action – “new ways of doing politics that don’t involve the political parties” - in the form of demonstrations, alternative media groups and campaigning organisations such as 38 Degrees.
The gross inequalities in UK society, and the actions of successive governments that have widened them, rather than narrowed or eliminated them, coupled with active discrimination against the most vulnerable in UK society, and discrimination in favour of wealth and privilege.
The limitations and relative powerlessness of such groups to influence really big issues and legislation, still dominated and controlled by the Parliamentary system and the three big parties plus the unelected House of Lords.
Both Jeremy Paxman and Will Self – albeit driven by very different motives – forced George Galloway to acknowledge what his limitations had been - and would be - in the Parliamentary system. He was compelled to defend his low voting record in his previous incarnation as an MP for Bethnal Green, in the opening acrimonious exchange with Paxo, by acknowledging that his vote wouldn’t have mattered, and to admit to Will Self that the same would essentially apply to his new position as Bradford MP.
Will Self referred to the phenomenon of political clan politics in Bradford – Bradree or Braduree, as good old Tammany-style politics, then telling said that there was a Braduree system operating at UK level – the political class offering sinecures in a closed loop. Galloway’s response referred to a parallel universe of privilege, wealth and private education, using the affable Mark Field as his example, saying he “might be from Mars to the streets of Manningham”. He defended himself against accusations of ethnic politics by citing the fact that the University ward of Bradford West - ethnically diverse and reacting to real issues rather than ethnic politics - had voted for him. But, asked by Self how he was going to reverse the policies, he said he could not reverse them but would “speak out” for his constituents. Will Self’s gentle rejoinder was that he would essentially be “sideswiping” Parliamentary politics as a lone MP.
Voices crying in the wilderness do matter, but only democratic politics changes things – that’s my firm view. One has only to look at CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, now just past the 54th anniversary of its founding. It pains me to say it – and others feel strongly that I shouldn’t say it – that despite the huge efforts and personal sacrifice of thousands of people, often at the price of their safety and liberty over half a century, CND has achieved essentially nothing, in terms of its core aim – nuclear disarmament.
Each of the three major UK parties remain committed to WMDs, to Trident and the so-called ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent as a central plank of NATO.
The UK and the world has remained at risk of nuclear Armageddon since the start of the atomic age on 6th August 1945 – just after my tenth birthday – when the Hiroshima bomb was dropped, followed three days later by the Nagasaki bomb, indiscriminately killing, burning and maiming hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children and leaving a lethal legacy for many more.
In contrast, the independence of Scotland will achieve unilateral nuclear disarmament for Scotland, and may well force the reluctant rump of the former United Kingdom into abandoning their nuclear folly. This can only result in a reduction of nuclear tensions globally, and may well serve as a beacon of sense to the rest of the world.
This, when it is achieved – as it must be achieved, and will be achieved – will have been achieved by the ballot box, by the will of the Scottish electorate engaged in democratic politics and by the Scottish National Party.
(It is worth noting that Scotland and the Scottish National Party’s massive victory were treated as a footnote in the analysis offered by this programme.)
Galloway, a flawed, brilliant populist politician, a formidable orator, albeit one who has dissipated his talents, perhaps a bit of a political carpetbagger, nonetheless has his heart in the right place, and has the right human, international values.
He summed up the political system of the UK in his own inimitable way as an arse with three cheeks – The Tories, the LibDems and the Labour Party.
But it should be remembered that Galloway very recently was prepared to stand for election to become a pimple on one of those cheeks – the Labour Party in Holyrood.
Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Given the extraordinary statements made by the Orkney and Shetland MSPs in recent days about the stance of their respective constituencies if Scotland becomes independent, it seems relevant to look at their mandates in the last election – May 2011.
POPULATION AND THE ELECTORATE
Using 2010 figures, the population of Scotland is 5,222,100, that of Orkney 20,100 and of Shetland 22,400. The combined populations, 42,500, represent 0.81% of the Scottish population.
At the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, Liam McArthur, LibDem MSP was returned as MSP for Orkney with 2,912 votes, representing 35.7% of votes cast. The turnout was 8,152 from an electorate of 16,535 = 49.3% (In the 2007 election, McArthur polled 4,113 votes, representing 47.5% of votes cast.)
At the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections, Tavish Scott, LibDem MSP was returned as MSP for Shetland with 4,462 votes, representing 47.5% of votes cast. The turnout was 9,391 from an electorate of 17,586 = 53.4% (In the 2007 election, Scott polled 6,531 votes, representing 66.7% of votes cast.)
In combination, Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur received 7,374 votes out of 17,543 votes cast, i.e. 42.03%
They received 7,374 votes out of an electorate of 34,121, i.e. 21.5%
Their 7,374 votes represents 17.4% of the total population of Orkney and Shetland, and represents 0.14% of the population of Scotland.
Between them, Scott and McArthur received 10,644 votes in the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections but only 7,374 votes in 2011, a loss 3,270 votes, equalling 30.7% of their support.
Anyone can play games with election statistics in a democracy, especially when the lamentably low turnouts in British elections are taken into account. The bottom line is that both were re-elected and now represent their respective constituencies in the Scottish Parliament.
But given the lamentable performance of the LibDems overall in the Scottish election of 2011 and the present record of the LibDems in Coalition Government, the major decline in support for both Scott and McArthur in their own constituencies and the above statistical analysis, it seems to me an act of folly and arrogance to make such radical claims and threats as those they have made this week on behalf of the people of Orkney and Shetland.
Purely on the basis of a narrow mandate they secured last May - without as far as we know any wide ranging consultation with the total electorate - they have effectively threatened to opt out of Scotland, a nation they have been party of since the 15th century, at a crucial moment in its history.
The SNP and the Scottish Government, bluntly, have been less than impressive in their responses to this, and yesterday's statement SNP admits Shetland and Orkney could opt out of independent Scotland and Liam McArthur - Angus MacNeill authorised or not, astonished a number of people, including me.
I hope a wider and more representative range of voices from the people of Orkney and Shetland may be heard soon.
Saturday, 22 October 2011
Monday, 25 July 2011
And we see these few rising as if by magic into power and influence, and forming, with the millionaires who have accidentally gained huge riches by the occasional windfalls of our commerce, the governing class. Nothing is more disastrous than a governing class that does not know how to govern. George Bernard Shaw - 1910
100 years after GBS wrote these words, the 2010 General election threw up the ConLib Coalition. He would have recognised them for what they are - the 21st century manifestation of his description of 1910.
A confused electorate in England threw them up - now they should throw them out. But what will they get in their place? Tories Mark II - the god-awful Labour Party?
Scotland took the real choice open to it in May 2011 and chose their ain folk - the Scottish National Party.
Soon they will make an even more historic choice in a referendum, and will be free of the “governing class that doesn’t know how to govern” - the Labour Party - 13 blighted years, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories - almost 15 incompetent, disastrous months.