Friday, 28 February 2014

Scotland's oil

Only Scotland could be afflicted by a plague of oil.

Every country that has discovered oil beneath its soil or waters has reaped huge financial benefits, except Scotland.  Of all the oil-producing nations in the world, only Scotland has seen a fall in the living standards of its people. 

Since oil-fields were discovered 40 years ago in the Scottish sector of the North Sea, the resource has generated around £300bn for the Westminster Treasury.  Successive UK Governments squandered the wealth. 

Norway, which discovered oil in its sector of the North Sea at the same time as Scotland, has used the resource to ensure Norwegians have one of the highest standards of living in the world.  In addition, Norway has invested part of its oil wealth to produce a sovereign fund that currently stands at around £600bn: profits and taxes from the oil and gas industry increase the fund by £600m a week.  Scotland, whose oil wealth has been managed by Labour, Tory and now Tory-Lib Dem Governments in London, has no sovereign fund and currently has growing numbers of its citizens dependent on handouts from foodbanks.

Just a few months ago, the Tory-led Westminster Government (and its British Unionist partners in Labour and the Liberal Democrats) told us an independent Scotland was economically unviable because the oil in the North Sea was running out.  When professionals in the oil industry revealed that, in fact, there are around 24-billion barrels of oil still to be extracted from fields in the Scottish sector of the North Sea (with a wholesale value of around £1.5trillion), the British Unionists changed tack.  Last week we had Tory Prime Minister David Cameron telling us that an independent Scotland was too wee to manage such a vast amount of oil.  Perhaps Mr Cameron should take a trip to small, independent Norway and explain to them the ‘logic’ he applies to Scotland.

Oil is a finite resource, so of course it will one day run out, but successive British Governments have been predicting the end of Scottish oil almost since the day it was first piped ashore.  In the 1970s Labour and Tory governments told us it would be long-gone by the late 80s.  In fact, not only are there vast quantities still to be extracted from the North Sea (taking anything up to another 40 years) oil fields have also been identified west of Shetland and potentially in the Firth of Clyde.  The fields off Ayrshire were identified in the 1980s but exploration was halted by the Ministry of Defence in London because the oil lies beneath channels used by the UK’s nuclear submarines heading to and from the Clyde base at Faslane.

Back in the mid-1970s, at the time we were being told Scottish oil was running out, Labour and Tory governments in London also started the ‘subsidy-junkie Scots’ line, which claimed the people of Scotland were reliant on handouts from English taxpayers.  The line was enthusiastically taken up by the British media and still forms part of the anti-independence argument today.  However, even 40 years ago British political parties knew the ‘subsidy-junkie Scots’ line was a blatant lie.

In 1974, as support for the SNP grew, the then Labour Government sought a paper from Whitehall civil servants that would expose Scottish independence as unviable and hole the SNP ship below the waterline.  The task of producing the paper was given to a Scot working as an economist in the Treasury, Professor Gavin McCrone.

The professor carried out an investigation and duly presented his paper – ‘The Economics of Nationalism Re-examined’ – but it was not what UK Ministers wanted to read.  The Labour Government classified the McCrone report as ‘secret’ and buried it in the Whitehall vaults.  Its contents only became public 30 years later in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by the SNP.

In 1974, as Westminster political parties told Scotland we were an economic basket-case dependent on financial handouts from England, they knew the opposite was the case.  The McCrone report included the following clear statements:  

·         “What is quite clear is that the balance of payments gain from North Sea oil would easily swamp the existing deficit whatever its size and transform Scotland into a country with a substantial and chronic surplus.”

·         “The country [Scotland] would tend to be in chronic surplus to a quite embarrassing degree and its currency would become the hardest in Europe, with the exception perhaps of the Norwegian kroner.”

·         “An exchange rate of £1 Scots to £1.20 sterling within two years of independence therefore seems quite probable.”

·         “An independent Scotland could now expect to have massive surpluses both on its budget and on its balance of payments and with the proper husbanding of resources this situation could last for a very long time into the future.”

·         “Thus, for the first time since the Act of Union was passed, it can now be credibly argued that Scotland’s economic advantage lies in its repeal.”

·         “Britain is now counting so heavily on North Sea oil to redress its balance of payments that it is easy to imagine England in dire straits without it.”

For 40 years successive UK governments – Labour, Tory and Tory-Lib Dem – have pocketed every penny of the billions-of-pounds generated by Scotland’s oil.  Throughout those four decades the same British Unionist parties, and a compliant media, have told Scots we are too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern our own country.  They lied to us in 1974, they have lied to us for 40 years and they are still lying to us.

David Cameron’s message of last week regarding Scottish oil was that a country as small as Scotland could not cope with administering such a vast resource.  The reality of Norway over the past 40 years proves the Tory Prime Minister was lying.

Cameron’s line, supported by his British Unionist partners in Labour and the Liberal Democrats, was that Scotland should reject independence and, instead, should allow Westminster to continue banking the billion-pound cheques generated from Scotland’s natural resources in the North Sea (and west of Shetland and in the Firth of Clyde).

Oil would only form part of the economy of an independent Scotland, but it would be a very lucrative part.  As an oil-rich nation of just 5-million people – not unlike Norway – Scotland could be transformed from a country of high unemployment and poverty (and foodbanks) to one where every citizen enjoys a greatly-enhanced quality of life and standard of living.  That is not empty pro-independence rhetoric.  The provable data is there for everyone to see in the shape of vibrant, independent Norway.

Also now there for everyone to see is the McCrone report – the paper that revealed just how successful an independent Scotland would be, and which British Unionist governments in London buried for 40 years.

Friday, 21 February 2014

More and more Scots reject Unionist message

There is a common theme emerging from recent anti-independence initiatives: the ‘No’ campaign’s so-called big-hitters don’t like being questioned on what they have to say.

Tory Prime Minister David Cameron held a press conference at the Olympic velodrome in London, at which he urged people in England and Wales to phone friends and relations in Scotland, with the message that we should reject independence.  At the end of his speech Mr Cameron took two questions, one of which was about flooding in the south of England.

That was followed by Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne jetting into Scotland for a few hours: just long enough to tell us that he (and his British Unionist colleagues in Labour and the Lib Dems) won’t let us use the pound if we vote for independence.  Of course, Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander have no power to prevent an independent Scotland using the pound: it has been Scotland’s currency for 300 years and belongs as much to us as it does to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Osborne also threatened to deny Scotland a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom after independence.  Personally, I don’t favour a currency union, but if an independent Scotland elects an SNP Government and it pursues such an accommodation, it would be in the interests of a UK government to agree, not least in terms of balance of payments figures and international transaction costs.

Osborne left Scotland without taking questions.  Actually, there is a video on Youtube showing the Tory Chancellor disappearing into a car as STV’s political editor, Bernard Ponsonby, chased him down a street, trying to ask a question about the British Unionist united front against the right of Scots to use the pound.

Then, in what might have been a scene from a low-budget horror movie – Day of the Political Living Dead – up popped former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown to frighten Scots about their future pension provision if we vote for independence. 

Mr Brown recently described himself as “an ex-politician”, which must have come as a surprise to the people of Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath who elected him as their MP in 2010.  Brown has made very few appearances in the House of Commons since that election, but he is still supposed to be representing the interests of his constituents.

Normally, someone who has held high political office would be shown a little respect, however grudging, but Gordon Brown will forever be remembered for failure.  This was the Chancellor who declared he had ended “boom and bust”, just before the British economy crashed through the floor.

As Prime Minister, Brown then told the House of Commons that he had “saved the world”.  It was a slip of the tongue: he meant to say he’d saved the banks, after they caused the implosion of the UK economy.  In ‘saving’ privately-owned banks, though, Brown and his Labour Government spent billions-of-pounds of public money (our money) and borrowed billions more in our name.  The result of which is that Britain is now one of the most indebted nations in the world, and ordinary men, women and children are continuing to pay for covering the debts of private banks, while the bankers themselves still take home six-figure salaries and bonuses.

Brown’s failures led to defeat for Labour at the 2010 Westminster Election and ushered in the current Tory-led UK Government.  Under David Cameron and a Cabinet of multi-millionaires, a wave of brutal cuts has been unleashed against the public sector and the poorest members of society.  The economic collapse that happened under Brown and Labour has provided the cover for the Tories to do what they always do in government, protect the rich and hammer the poor, while privatising public assets that belong to you and me.

Gordon Brown was also the man who sold much of Britain’s gold reserves when the price was at a 20 year low.  Brown sold our public gold for $300 an ounce, bringing-in a total of £2bn.  Shortly after, gold rocketed to $1,920 an ounce.  Today, the amount of gold sold by Gordon Brown would be valued at around £12bn.

All of which prompts the question, why would we want to listen to Gordon Brown?

Doubts grew over the suitability of Mr Brown to be lecturing Scots when it was revealed the subject of his public pronouncement was pensions in an independent Scotland.  The former Chancellor and Prime Minister entered the referendum debate to scare-monger that Scots would not get their ‘British’ pensions if we vote for independence.

This is the same Gordon Brown who as Chancellor of the Exchequer raided private pension schemes, resulting in reduced pensions for private sector workers.  To be exact, Mr Brown, in his first budget (1997), removed tax credits on share dividends paid in relation to private pension schemes.  This resulted in financial benefit for the Labour Government, at the expense of pension funds.  What actually happened as a result of Gordon Brown’s actions was best described by Terry Arthur, a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries, who explained, “What happened in 1997 represented an enormous and ongoing raid on the assets of UK company pension schemes.  My research shows it would be very hard to justify an impact of less than £100bn - and even £150bn may still be a conservative estimate.”  Just for clarity, Gordon Brown, who came to Scotland last week to lecture us on pensions, stole between £110bn and £150bn from the pensions of British workers.

At least Gordon Brown was prepared to be interviewed following his scare-mongering intervention of last week.  It was, though, a very short interview with a reporter from STV news.  Mr Brown didn’t like the questions, so he took off his microphone and walked out.  Again, the clip appears on Youtube, for anyone who wants to watch it.

Cameron’s ‘phone a friend’ initiative and the threats of Osborne, Balls and Alexander backfired.  Scots do not appreciate politicians attempting to bully them, particularly London-based politicians representing parties the people of Scotland rejected at the ballot box.  Gordon Brown’s lack of credibility, particularly on the issue of pensions, compounded the belief that the British Unionists are very out of touch with feelings in Scotland.  Support for independence grew after the contributions of Better Together’s supposed ‘big hitters’.

Gordon Brown couldn’t care less about the truth in relation to ‘British’ pensions after Scotland retakes its independence, but Scots have a right to know what will actually happen.  State pensions will be paid in the same way, but by the Scottish Government rather than Westminster.  Accrued pension rights will continue to be honoured after independence.

In addition, public sector pensions will also be paid in the same way.  In fact, some public pension schemes are already administered by the Scottish Government.

After we retake our independence, private sector pensions will operate as before, with the Scottish Government ensuring suitable protections are in place for final salary occupational schemes.

Independence offers Scots full control over the type of pensions system we want, and UK Government figures show that, in Scotland, pensions and other forms of ‘social protection’ take up less of our tax revenues and national wealth than is the case for the UK, meaning an independent Scotland will be able to afford better pension provision.

Independence is simply being a normal country.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Lying liars and their lies

Almost the entire British Unionist campaign against Scottish independence is built on lies and scare stories.

So extreme are the lies now being trotted out by Unionist politicians and newspapers, it is becoming difficult to tell them apart from jokes.  Last week a web site suggested Scots would not be allowed to use any British oxygen that might drift across the border from England.  Yes, it was a pro-independence website and it was a joke at the expense of the Better Together campaign, but it wasn’t that different from some of the ridiculous stories and lies that the anti-independence campaign has actually produced.

Yesterday (February 19), ‘Tame Jock’ Danny Alexander, Lib Dem UK Treasury Minister, claimed Scottish mortgages would rise by £5,200 a year if Alex Salmond “reneged” on Scotland taking its share of UK debt after independence.  British Unionist newspapers and broadcasters gleefully reported the story, despite there being not a shred of truth in the claim.

Firstly, the SNP position is that Scotland should enter a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom following independence and should accept a proportional share of the UK’s accrued debt.  No-one in the SNP, far less the party’s leader Alex Salmond, has suggested otherwise.

The only mention of Scotland not accepting part of the UK’s debt arose after the three main British Unionist parties – Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat – united to say they would not allow an independent Scotland to share the pound in a currency union and would deny Scots access to the Bank of England.  Rightly, the SNP pointed out that the pound (sterling) and the Bank of England are assets of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.  If the UK Government, in negotiations after Scots vote for independence, were to deny Scotland its rightful and proportional share of UK assets, then Scotland would be well within its rights to correspondingly reduce any liabilities, such as accrued UK debt.  The whole issue only arose because of the threats issued by British Unionist political parties: the SNP, meanwhile, stuck to its position that an independent Scotland would be willing to accept its fair share of UK debt.

Secondly, Alexander’s claim that Scottish mortgages would rise was based on an independent Scotland ‘defaulting’ on its share of UK debt, which, he asserted, would result in Scotland having to pay more to borrow on the international money markets.

Danny Alexander is a UK Treasury Minister, so he must know that the UK continues to borrow, hand over fist, from the markets, and that UK mortgages have not risen despite Britain losing its AAA credit rating, which means it has to pay more for the money it borrows.  His entire story was based on a lie.

Thirdly, according to the first analysis paper on Scottish independence published by the UK Government, if Scots vote for independence in September, the Scotland created by that decision will be a new state.  The UK position is unequivocal: an independent Scotland would not be a continuing state, it would be an entirely new state.  The analysis paper goes further: it argues that an independent Scotland created as a result of this year’s referendum would not even be the re-establishment of the Scotland that existed prior to the Act of Union with England in 1707 – it would be a new state.

If we accept the UK Government’s position, then, as a completely new state, an independent Scotland would have no debt.  A new state cannot be forced to accept debts or liabilities stemming from earlier membership of another state.  The UK accepts this, which is why the UK Treasury has already stated that all existing UK debt is its responsibility.  Clearly, therefore, an independent Scotland could not ‘renege’ or ‘default’ on debt belonging to another state, the UK.

Despite the UK Government’s own stated position, the SNP still says an independent Scotland would be prepared to accept a proportional share of UK debt, even though, legally, that is something it does not have to do.

That is the truth, but the lying British Unionist liars continue to lie, which is why we continue to see headlines like the one in the above photo.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

This is Britain

At the last UK General Election, in May 2010, the Tories finished 4th in Scotland, polling just 16.7%.  Famously, Scotland has more giant pandas than Tory MPs (2 pandas – 1 Tory).

However, while Scotland remains part of the British Union, it is the people of England who decide which party (or parties) form the UK Government.  So, despite being soundly rejected by the people of Scotland, the Tories are currently imposing there right-wing policies on us.

As part of ‘austerity measures’ targeting some of the poorest people in the country, the UK Department for Work & Pensions is imposing soaring numbers of ‘sanctions’ on the out-of-work.  If someone is ‘sanctioned’ they instantly lose their income...all of it!  Sanctions can last for anything up to 3 years. 

Sanctions have been imposed for various reasons, including being unable to attend a Jobcentre appointment – even where the unemployed person was attending a job interview.  Others report sanctions being applied against people because they could not use computers or e-mails and were therefore considered to have breached their Jobseeker’s Agreement by not doing enough to find work.

Of all sanctions applied to claimants of Jobseekers Allowance in the past year, 93% were imposed for first ‘offences’.

In total, 51,775 sanctions saw lone-parents stripped of their benefits.

One-in-five new sanctions have been imposed on people with disabilities.

In the past 12 months, 1,309 sanctions were imposed on people signing-on at Saltcoats Jobcentre.  That is 1,309 local people who instantly found themselves without any income.

North Ayrshire has some of the highest levels of unemployment and poverty in the country.

All of this is the result of policies being imposed by a London-based government that the people of Scotland rejected.

By the way, bonuses for bank ‘high-fliers’ rose last year by 64%, according to the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph.  Bonuses for UK bankers paid more than €1m now average almost four times their salary.