Saturday, 30 June 2012

Paying for schools and hospitals

At least three English health trusts are on the verge of bankruptcy. Despite services already having been scaled-back and staff numbers reduced, the nightmare scenario of hospital closures looms large.

In reaction, the UK’s right-wing media points the finger of blame at incompetent managers in the public sector. Newspaper articles and television bulletins have featured so-called ‘experts’ telling us that hospitals run by the private sector would not have allowed such a financial situation to develop. The reality, however, is very different.

The reason some English health trusts are experiencing severe financial problems is because, over the past ten years or so, they embarked on programmes to deliver new hospitals, and funded the construction and maintenance of the facilities by using the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) or its replacement, Public Private Partnership (PPP).

Those of us who live in North Ayrshire are well aware of PPP deals. The North Ayrshire Council Schools PPP Project is notorious within local government circles. However, for those not aware of the situation, I’ll summarise as briefly as possible: the previous Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council decided to build four new schools – St Matthew’s Academy, Saltcoats; Arran High School; Greenwood Aacdemy, Dreghorn; and Stanley Primary School in Ardrossan. The capital value of the schools, when new, was put at £80m, but the total value of the contract signed by the Council was £380m, which includes maintenance for a 30 year period – that’s £10m every year.

North Ayrshire Council only ever had one credible and viable bid for its Schools PPP Project. Two bids were submitted, but one was from a company that had no office, no accounts, no history of involvement in building or maintaining schools, and which claimed to be a subsidiary of a well-established Singapore-based corporation - the corporation denied any involvement.

The company behind the second bid also listed three ‘referees’ who, it claimed, would vouch for its credibility: all three people subsequently confirmed they had not agreed to be referees and they had not been aware their names were used in this context. Meanwhile, the bid submitted by the company comprised largely of pages downloaded from the web sites of other organisations.

All of these facts were brought to the attention of North Ayrshire Council, and at the first Key Stage Review of the bids submitted for the PPP contract, the local authority’s own external advisors referred to the ‘second bid’ as “materially non compliant”.

However, the Council maintained – and apparently still maintains – that this bid provided ‘genuine competition’ for the one that was finally awarded the £380m contract. In reality, there was no competition. North Ayrshire Council only ever had one viable and credible bid.

Four months ago, at the February meeting of North Ayrshire Council, SNP councillor Tony Gurney rightly challenged the then Labour administration over the cost to local taxpayers of the Schools PPP Project. In response, the then Leader of the Council, Labour’s David O’Neill, pointed out that the Chief Executive of the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT), Mr Barry White, had indicated his belief that North Ayrshire got a good deal from PPP.

Cllr O’Neill made reference to Mr White’s opinion because the SFT is the SNP Government’s replacement for PPP and PFI. The significance we were all supposed to appreciate was that even the man charged with implementing PPP’s replacement felt North Ayrshire Council’s PPP Project had been a good deal.

Perhaps, though, Barry White’s endorsement was not as impartial as it might at first have seemed.

Prior to taking up the post of Chief Executive with the Scottish Futures Trust, Mr White was at one time a Project Director with an organisation called Partnerships UK, which acted on behalf of the UK and Scottish Governments in overseeing PPP deals: it was Partnerships UK that sanctioned the North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project.

Back in 2001 a Scottish Executive briefing on PPP read: “Partnerships UK’s transaction team works with a large cross section of Whitehall government departments, devolved administrations and public bodies to provide support ranging from detailed involvement as a co-sponsor on a particular project to occasional ‘spot’ advice on a particular PPP topic through a helpdesk service. The helpdesk service is there to be used by all public sector bodies, and anyone in Scotland requiring ‘spot’ advice, or more information on this service, should contact Barry White”.

Mr White has also worked for a company called Skanska, one of the biggest beneficiaries from PPP contracts funded by public sector money. When he joined Skanska in 2004, the company said, “Prior to Partnerships UK, Barry was a Director of Morrison plc, setting up the company’s facilities management business and developing and implementing the organisations strategy to move into the PFI marketplace.”

Even today, as Chief Executive of the organisation tasked with running the Scottish Government’s replacement to PPP, Barry White is on record saying, “We are absolutely ecumenical about the funding mechanisms that are used and it is not our role to have an ideological opposition to particular schemes. PPP schemes brought a number of benefits by transferring risk to the private sector and by allowing more schools to be built quicker than would otherwise have been the case.”

Just last week, during an evidence session to the Scottish Parliament’s Education & Culture Committee, Labour MSP Neil Bibby (West Scotland) asked Mr White: “You talk about the differences between the new scheme [the Scottish Futures Trust] and the historical PPP/PFI projects. Am I right in saying that the SFT recently won an award for the best promoter of PPP? If so, do you agree that the SFT is a form of PPP?”

Barry White responded: “You are right that the SFT won an award; that shows the progress that we are making. In fact, we have been delighted to win three awards, one of which was for the best central or regional Government PPP promoter, which we won against international competition. That shows that we have a pipeline of work involving colleges, schools, hospitals and roads projects that are forging ahead at a time when it is important to do that for the market. So if we use the term ‘PPP’ in its broadest sense, you are right that we promote PPP.”

Mr White’s organisation – the Scottish Futures Trust – will oversee projects given the go-ahead by the Scottish Government under Phase 3 of its ‘Schools for the Future’ programme, including a new North Ayrshire campus to accommodate a merger between Ardrossan Academy and Auchenharvie Academy, should the Council’s current submission be successful.

The main difference between the Scottish Futures Trust and Public Private Partnerships is that a cap is applied to the profits private companies can make from building schools and hospitals for the public sector. However, while the cap may prevent health trusts from subsequently plunging towards bankruptcy, it won’t stop private companies from filling their bank accounts with public money, just not to the exorbitant levels previously seen.

Overall, it seems few lessons have been learned from the notorious North Ayrshire Council Schools PPP Project. It also seems that councillors and officials have forgotten how local authorities funded the building of schools and council-houses before the introduction of ‘get rich quick’ schemes, such as PFI and PPP.

The Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) still exists and still makes available funding to public sector bodies. Loans from the PWLB come at low-interest, can be repaid over 50 years and, ultimately, the money goes back into the public sector. So why are councils and health trusts using PFIs, PPPs or the SFT?

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Seeing through the British Unionist propaganda

Representatives of British Unionist political parties could hardly contain themselves last week when an opinion poll indicated support for Scottish independence had slipped by 4 per cent. According to the Unionists, this finding showed the people of Scotland were turning away from taking control of their own country.

Now, there are a number of qualifications that go with every poll – the numbers taking part, the demographics of the polled group, the question asked, who is paying for the poll and so on. On this occasion the poll was for two News International newspapers (the Times and Sun) and the question asked was the one favoured by the SNP for the 2014 referendum – ‘Do you agree Scotland should become an independent country?’ So, did the Unionists have a point?

Well, yes and no. Yes, they were factually accurate in highlighting that the poll showed a drop of 4 per cent in support for independence since the same group were asked their opinion in January, but the latest survey came slap-bang in the middle of the biggest and longest example of pro-British Union propaganda we have experienced in 25 years. It has been impossible to escape British Union flags in newspapers and on television, while gushing stories about how we all love the British monarch and good old Britannia have been pumped into our homes (and brains) for weeks on end. Given the British Union indoctrination taking place while this latest poll was being carried out, the most remarkable feature of the recorded fall in support for Scottish independence is that it was not much bigger.

Many professional pollsters consider a difference of 4 per cent as being statistically insignificant - some put the figure at 3 per cent and others use 5 per cent. Whatever level is accepted, a fall of 4 per cent in the Times/Sun poll, against a backdrop of wall-to-wall British Unionist propaganda, tends to suggest a very strong core level of support for independence. Despite the best efforts of the British establishment and the very loyal British (mainly English) media, very few people polled were swayed away from supporting Scottish independence.

Of course, it was because of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, with all of its Union Jack waving and promotion of that illusory concept of Britishness – not to mention the impending London Olympics, where it will happen all over again – that the British Unionist political parties wanted the independence referendum held this year. It is also the case that one of the reasons the SNP favour autumn 2014 for the referendum is because we will be competing as Scotland in that summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. A good result for Scottish athletes, not to mention a few Saltires being hoisted aloft as Flower of Scotland rings out to welcome Scottish success, might just add a few more votes to the pro-independence campaign, so the argument goes.

However, as the recent Times/Sun poll suggests, the number of people likely to vote on the future of their nation based on what flags they see being waved on their television screens, will be very small. Thankfully, most people will consider our constitutional future in much greater detail.

Over the next two years the Yes Scotland campaign will set out the benefits of Scotland re-taking its political independence. Meanwhile, the anti-independence campaign, to be launched in the next couple of weeks, appears to have progressed little beyond the traditional Unionist mantra of Scots being ‘too wee, too poor and too stupid’ to govern themselves. Uniquely amongst all the peoples of the world, we will be told only the Scots are incapable of running their own country. Not for us the normality of independence.

According to the British Unionist political parties, Scotland would be an economic basket case without the support of England: Labour will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories and Liberal Democrats in attempting to prevent Scots from being able to govern ourselves at home and represent ourselves on the world stage.

The Independence Referendum campaign will completely expose the Labour Party in Scotland. We know the Tories are anti-Scottish, we can see all around us the evidence of how damaging to Scotland are the policies of the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government, but the reality of Labour’s position in the ‘No to Independence’ campaign is that they would rather see the Tories continue to govern Scotland from London than an independent Scottish Government elected by the people of Scotland.

The Labour Party in Scotland can no longer even claim to be putting first the interests of Scots when they are prepared to side with the Tories to deny us the powers we need to transform our country, powers that only come with independence.

The Independence Referendum will be the first time Scots have ever had the opportunity to voice our opinion on whether or not we should remain within the British Union or restore to our country the political powers stripped from us with the union of the parliaments of Scotland and England in 1707. No ordinary Scots had a say in that union: we were sold into control from London by the so-called Scots nobility, the group poignantly described by Robert Burns as “such a parcel o’ rogues in a nation”.

At the launch of the ‘No to Independence’ campaign, and over the next two years, the modern-day equivalent of those “parcel o’ rogues” will unite to argue Scots should not be allowed to govern their own country. This time, however, we will have our say. This time, ordinary Scots will decide our country’s future. All the state-sponsored, British Unionist propaganda can’t mask the reality that Scots are more than capable of running our own affairs and of governing ourselves in a normal, independent country.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Ardrossan Academy

Just after the recent North Ayrshire Council Election, I wrote an article for the3towns in which I said, “I’m glad that...sufficient numbers voted for the SNP to allow the party to form the Council administration. I’m glad Labour is out of office.”

The article continued, “Having said that, the SNP now has to put behind it the euphoria of electoral success and get on with the very serious job of running North Ayrshire Council. We, the people of North Ayrshire, have waited a very long time for a change of administration at Council headquarters, and we now want to see evidence of that change.”

I then cautioned, “The worst thing that could happen would be for the new SNP administration to simply pick-up where Labour left off”.

Sadly, that seems to be exactly what has happened.

Most local people will have been shocked to discover the SNP-run Council plans to merge Ardrossan Academy and Auchenharvie Academy – the story was revealed in the3towns last Monday (June 11). The man who will front the Council’s application for Scottish Government funding to build a new ‘super-school’ is Ardrossan SNP councillor Tony Gurney, the new administration’s Cabinet member for Education.

Before I go on, let me make clear I have the highest regard for Tony Gurney, as an individual and a councillor. But I strongly disagree with the plan to close Ardrossan Academy, and that is not to misrepresent what is proposed. The Council call it a merger and say no decision has been taken on where the new school will be located. However, with acres of Council-owned land at Auchenharvie, it is likely the new school would be built in Stevenston. That means what is actually being proposed is a new, bigger Auchenharvie Academy – it will have a new name, though – and the closure of Ardrossan Academy, with its prime site sold-off for residential development.

Of course, the SNP administration could revisit the crime of its Labour predecessor and build the new school on Laighdykes playing fields. Don’t even think about it!

In statements supporting the proposed merger of the two schools, Council officials wax lyrical about enhanced facilities and improved educational attainment for pupils. Have these officials ever visited St Matthew’s Academy, the ‘super-school’ built to house pupils from the merged St Andrew’s Academy and St Michael’s Academy?

Before St Matthew’s Academy was built, the Council trotted-out the same lines about ‘state-of-the-art facilities’ and how pupils would reap the benefits. The reality is a school of poor construction - certainly not worth anything like the millions-of-pounds it’s costing local taxpayers – and a substantial decline in educational attainment. For years, St Andrew’s Academy hovered around the top of North Ayrshire schools in terms of exam pass-marks, but the merged St Matthew’s Academy doesn’t come close.

This is not about our children’s education, it’s about money. Currently the SNP Scottish Government is handing-out millions-of-pounds for new schools, and North Ayrshire Council officials want a piece of the action. However, to get some of the money, the Council had to have a plan for a new school.

Merging Kilwinning Academy and Irvine Royal Academy was considered, but rejected. A much better idea, officials believed, was using the Council-owned land at Auchenharvie and merging the adjacent school with the similar facility in Ardrossan. Be under no illusion, this idea was born of unelected Council officials.

If this was an SNP idea, why was there no mention of it in their election manifesto and leaflets? The SNP fielded two candidates in Ardrossan – Tony Gurney and John Bruce – and both were elected. Would they have been elected in Ardrossan if they had told us they planned to close Ardrossan Academy? Of course they wouldn’t.

The reality, though, is that the SNP didn’t plan to merge Ardrossan Academy and Auchenharvie Academy. It is an idea that was initially developed under the previous Labour administration – although officials claim the merger plan was only formulated in February of this year, just three months before the election.

This crazy idea was developed by Council officials and was considered by the previous Labour Executive. Had Labour been returned to power on May 3rd, they would have brought forward the same plan. Sadly, the SNP has simply picked-up where Labour left off.

Only people who do not live in the area, and who know very little about local towns, could develop a plan to merge secondary schools in Stevenston and Ardrossan. Possibly this was thought up by the same unelected Council officials who devised Ardrossan’s polling arrangements on May 3rd – sending residents of Laird Weir to vote at St Peter’s Primary School (passing the Whitlees Centre Polling Place on the way), while those from Greenacres and Knockrivoch were told to vote in Saltcoats.

There is a significant difference between the roles of Council officials and councillors, or at least there is supposed to be. It’s called the ‘member/officer dichotomy’. In simple terms, members (councillors) formulate policy and officers (officials) carry it out. If we are being asked to believe SNP councillors formulated the policy to merge Ardrossan Academy and Auchenharvie Academy, then either they did it before May’s election and didn’t tell us, or there has been an incredible coincidence involving councillors and officials independently thinking the same thing at the same time since May 3rd.

In reality, this is an example of the ‘member/officer dichotomy’ in reverse – officials have formulated the policy and councillors are carrying it out.

Many people voted SNP on May 3rd because they wanted change in North Ayrshire. After 30 years of Labour administrations, local people wanted to see things done differently. Everybody and their dug knew it was officials that actually ran North Ayrshire Council and the Labour administration just did what they were told. With the election of SNP councillors and the formation of an SNP administration, we hoped things had changed. Sadly, it would appear they haven’t.

Ardrossan Academy has had a presence in the town for 130 years: no unelected official should have the power to destroy that historical link and the councillors we elect should make sure it doesn’t happen.

No data I have seen shows a link between larger, merged schools and improved educational attainment. On the contrary, the example of St Andrew’s Academy and St Michael’s Academy merged into St Matthew’s Academy shows the opposite. How will pupils of Ardrossan Academy fare when they are being bussed to school in Stevenston (and if they live less than 3 miles from Auchenharvie their parents will have to pay the bus fares)?

We voted for change on May 3rd and we wanted that change to be for the better. I certainly had high expectations of the new SNP administration, if only they were prepared to put local people first and stand up to the unelected Council officials who had previously bent Labour councillors to their will. My fear was the SNP might simply pick-up where Labour left off. Sadly, that seems to be exactly what has happened.

I don’t want Tony Gurney to be remembered as the man who killed Ardrossan Academy after 130 years. I don’t want the SNP to be the party that removed secondary education from Ardrossan.

However, if SNP councillors will not stand-up to unelected officials and their damaging ideas, then local people will have to do it. Saving Ardrossan Academy is a battle worth fighting. For the school’s pupils and the town of Ardrossan, it is a battle that must be won!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Secrets and lies

Speaking from London, Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party, last week told Scots we must shun the opportunity to become a normal, independent nation.  Just for good measure, Mr Miliband also told us to support England at the Euro 2012 football tournament.

What is it with English politicians that they think they have the right to dictate to Scotland?  Oh yes, that’s right, they do have the right to dictate to Scotland.  While our country remains just a region of the UK, we forfeit the right to fully govern ourselves.  Within the UK, ultimate power over Scotland rests with the UK Government, even one made up of politicians we rejected at the ballot box.

Under the terms of the Scotland Act (1998), which established the Scottish Parliament, Westminster has the right to overrule any decision taken by MSPs, and can even abolish Holyrood.  Of course, it is unlikely Westminster would ever take such a decision – if it did, Alex Salmond would call the Independence Referendum for the next day – but that does not change the fact: the current devolved Scottish Parliament is answerable to the one in London.

Only re-taking our political independence will allow Scots to live in a normal nation, where we govern ourselves, take decisions in our interests, and represent ourselves on the world stage.  Most people take such rights for granted.  In the UK, however, we are told allowing Scots to govern themselves in an independent nation would be ‘disastrous’ for us.  Even in the second decade of the 21st Century, the British Unionist argument hasn’t moved much beyond telling Scots we are “too wee, too poor and too stupid” to govern ourselves.

Of course, the British Unionists can only get away with such distortions and lies because they control much of the information that feeds into what passes for debate on our nation’s future.  In the early 1970s the Conservative Government led by Prime Minister Edward Heath commissioned a report into what an independent Scotland would look like.  The purpose of the report was to spike the guns of the Scottish National Party, which was growing in support, mainly thanks to a campaign proclaiming oil found in the North Sea was “Scotland’s Oil”.

A UK Government economist, Professor Gavin McCrone, a Scotsman, was given the task of investigating the issue of Scotland’s potential independence, and delivering a report showing the oil would make little difference - Scotland would still be an economic basket case, dependent on hand-outs from the benevolent English through the British Unionist parliament in London.

By the time Professor McCrone’s work was complete, the Tories had been defeated at the 1974 UK General Election.  The McCrone Report was therefore presented to a Labour Government led by Harold Wilson.  However, instead of finding independence would be ‘disastrous’ for Scotland, McCrone’s research showed an independent Scotland would have budget surpluses so large as to be “embarrassing”.

Other findings concluded that the currency of an independent Scotland “would become the hardest in Europe, with the possible exception of the Norwegian Kroner” – Norway had also discovered oil in its sector of the North Sea.

In addition, the McCrone Report made clear an independent Scotland would be much wealthier than England, which meant that, in order to maintain spending levels in England, our southern neighbour would have to borrow heavily from the independent Scottish Exchequer, a situation Professor McCrone said “could last for a very long time into the future”.

Scots were not told of the McCrone Report’s findings.  Instead, the then Labour Government of the UK marked it ‘Secret’ and buried it in Whitehall’s cavernous files.

Today, we only know the contents of Professor McCrone’s work because the report was finally released in 2005, following a Freedom of Information request submitted to the UK Government by the Scottish National Party.  In the intervening 30 years, successive UK Governments have continued to tell Scots we are subsidy junkies and our country is an economic basket case, dependent on hand-outs from London.

We continue to hear the same lies from Westminster politicians.  There is more oil still lying under the North Sea than the total extracted since it was first discovered in the 1970s, yet British Unionist politicians still trot out the line that it’s running out. 

Westminster Government’s have stolen Scotland’s oil wealth every day since the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Dennis Healy, ordered the McCrone Report to be buried in Whtehall’s vaults.  Today’s British Unionist politicians – Tory, Labour, Lib Dem – know the same situation exists: without the oil wealth lying in the Scottish sector of the North Sea, the UK would be even more of an economic disaster-zone than is presently the case.

London-based politicians don’t want Scotland to remain part of the British Union from some sort of paternal feeling towards Scots: the reality is they know that without Scotland’s wealth, UK plc would be stuffed.  If Scotland really was an economic basket case, as we have been told for the past 30 years, Westminster would have cut us adrift long ago.

Do you think I’m being harsh?  Do you think things have changed?  Do you believe we can now trust politicians in London?

Tory MP Dominic Grieve, the UK Government’s Attorney General, has just blocked the release of Cabinet committee papers dating from 1997 and 1998.  The papers were from the time of the previous Tony Blair-led Labour Government and relate to issues involving devolution for Scotland.

Two Freedom of Information requests were submitted, asking for the cabinet committee papers.  Both requests were refused by the UK Government.

Following an investigation, the Information Commissioner ruled the papers should be released.

Dominic Grieve, however, has exercised a UK Government veto and the papers will remain secret.  Mr Grieve said, “My decision to exercise the veto in this case was not taken lightly but in accordance with the Statement on Government Policy on the use of the executive override.

“In line with the policy, I have both assessed the balance of the public interest in disclosure and non-disclosure of these minutes and considered whether this case meets the criteria set out in the Statement of Government Policy for use of the veto.

“I consider the public interest falls in favour of non-disclosure and that disclosure would be damaging to the doctrine of collective responsibility and detrimental to the effective operation of Cabinet government.

“I have concluded, in light of the criteria set out in the Government’s policy, this constitutes an exceptional case and the exercise of the veto is warranted.”

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The monarchy

This weekend sees the official Diamond Jubilee celebrations, commemorating 60 years since Princess Elizabeth became “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”.

You might not have been aware of the celebrations, given how low-key they are and how little they have been reported by the media. Then again, you might be holding a street party to give special thanks for Her Majesty’s unstinting and selfless devotion to us mere mortals.

I tried. Honestly, I tried to write an impartial sentence that simply reported the facts, but I am a republican and I’m afraid impartiality gave way to an expression of my republican views, hence the sarcastic tone evident in the previous paragraph.

To be fair, though, this is an ‘Opinion’ column and therefore the expression of an opinion is exactly what is required. Some people will agree with the opinion, others will not. Opinion columns should take a particular view and should generate differing reactions, so here goes:

I despise the elitist idea of monarchy. I believe there can be no place in a democratic society for an unelected, hereditary head of state who owes their position of privilege to nothing more than the fact their ancestors were the biggest murdering rogues of their time.

I cannot begin to imagine why one human being would obsequiously bow or curtsy to another, nor why someone would expect others to kowtow to them in such a manner.

In a country where people’s lives are being devastated by unemployment, poverty and deprivation, I believe it is an obscenity that one family, whose members are already multi-millionaires, continues to live extremely cosseted lives funded from the public purse.

So, there you have it: just a small sample of my anti-monarchy, republican beliefs. You might agree with them, you might disagree. The point is, though, I make no pretence of impartiality. I am a republican and the views I express in this column will attempt to articulate a republican position.

However, the BBC is a publicly-funded broadcaster, which has the following clause within its Charter:

“Impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC's commitment to its audiences. It applies to all our output and services - television, radio, online, and in our international services and commercial magazines. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.”

On the BBC recently, have you noticed a range of views being appropriately reflected in relation to the monarchy? How about even one view expressing anything other than whole-hearted support for the Queen and her family? Any balance, at all?

Even on news bulletins, where we are supposed to be presented with facts rather than opinions, virtually all BBC, ITN and Sky reports have promoted the Diamond Jubilee as something to celebrate, while support for the Queen and her family is taken as a foregone conclusion.

Broadcasters in the UK are obliged to report facts: they are supposed to be impartial and should not take sides in particular arguments. That is not to say they must give equal airtime to different views, but they should not promote one side over another. Newspapers – hard-copy or online - are different, they can be partisan, supporting a particular cause or political party, but television and radio stations are supposed to avoid such bias.

Incidentally, did you know the BBC has played an active part in co-organising a celebratory Diamond Jubilee concert? How is that for “considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected”? Can we expect similar backing in the future from the BBC for a pro-republic rally or even a concert in support of Scottish independence? Don’t hold your breath.

To be honest, I feel no personal ill-will to Mrs Windsor and her family: I don’t know them, so it would be irrational to have any personal animosity towards them, which reminds me of a statement made by then Scottish Socialist Party MSP Carolyn Leckie while being sworn-in as a Member of the Scottish Parliament: Carolyn said, “Why would I swear allegiance to the Queen? I mean, I don’t even know the wummin.”

The Parliament’s swearing-in of MSPs is a classic example of how all-pervading is the influence of the British establishment, and how the monarchy is not the benign entity we’re told it is. Despite being elected to parliament by the people of Scotland, MSPs are required to swear an oath of allegiance to ‘Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors’. Any MSP who holds republican views and declines to swear the oath of allegiance to an unelected monarch is barred from taking their seat in parliament.

In 2003, like other republican MSPs, I prefaced my oath-taking by stating my allegiance was to the people of Scotland, and therefore I took the oath under protest. I basically let them know I didn’t mean a word of the oath I subsequently took.

Think about that: in a supposed democracy, where candidates have been elected by the people, those candidates would be barred from office if they did not swear allegiance to a London-based monarch who considers the people of Scotland to be her subjects. There is no debating the point: no oath of allegiance to the Queen (and her hangers-on), no seat in the Scottish Parliament.

The monarchy and forcing people to swear allegiance to something in which they do not believe, are anachronisms: there is no place for such things in a modern, democratic country.

Having said that, we should be under no illusions about who actually runs Scotland. It isn’t the Westminster Government and it certainly isn’t the Scottish version. Scotland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are run and controlled by the British establishment, a small elite group of faceless bureaucrats, civil servants, senior military personnel and members of the royal household.

The Queen is the pinnacle of the British establishment, and the BBC is its mouthpiece. They are two strands of the same organisation, which is why the loyal BBC tells us we all love Her Majesty. We can’t have the people thinking dangerous thoughts about creating a democratic republic, now can we?