Friday, 29 August 2014

Different visions

There are now less than three-weeks until the people of Scotland take the most momentous decision in our nation’s history.

I’ve written before about how Scots have never before been asked our opinion on whether we want to remain within the British Union or restore our political independence.  Those of us registered to vote in the referendum on September 18th are the first people in 300 years to be allowed a say in shaping Scotland’s future.

If we reject the opportunity presented by independence, we will be telling London-based political parties to do what they want with our lives.  We will have turned down the chance to elect our own governments, run our own country and represent ourselves on the world stage.  We will have told the international community that we don’t consider ourselves to be a normal country, and that multi-millionaire Tories like David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnston will speak for us.

According to a poll carried out last week following a televised debate, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond comprehensively defeated Alistair Darling, Leader of the British Unionist ‘Better Together’ campaign. 

This close to polling day, the general public’s belief that Salmond and the pro-independence message triumphed over the British Unionists means the momentum is firmly behind a ‘YES’ vote.  Canvassing of real people, rather than opinion polls – have you ever been asked your opinion by a polling company – also shows ‘YES’ ahead, particularly in working class areas across the country.

In the past week I’ve spoken with groups of students and it was difficult to find anyone intending to vote ‘No’ in the referendum.  There were just two young people who stated they would back the British Union, with another handful who indicated they were still undecided on how they would vote.  The overwhelming majority are committed to ‘YES’ and to building a vibrant, independent Scotland.

For me as a supporter of independence, the most pleasing outcome of my discussion with the students was the number who had reached their decision to vote ‘YES’ after doing their own research, rather than simply reading leaflets produced by both sides.  Another significant issue to emerge was that young Scots do not trust the BBC or so-called mainstream newspapers.  The most common opinion voiced was that the media, in general, is biased towards the British Unionist side.  It was clear that young people are reaching their decisions on how they will vote based on the whole array of information available, and are rejecting the British Unionist propaganda spewed-out every day by mainly English-owned newspapers and the BBC.

Last week also saw the first of the official Referendum broadcasts from the ‘YES’ and ‘No’ campaigns.  The equivalents of Party Political Broadcasts ahead of an election, the messages were shown on BBC Scotland and STV.  General consensus appears to be that the British Unionist side blundered badly in a broadcast that has gone viral on social media under the heading of ‘Patronising woman’.

The ‘Better Together’ broadcast had an actress portraying a Scottish woman who has apparently been too busy to consider how she will vote in the referendum, unlike her husband whom, she tells us, never stops going on about it.  Then, in the space of two-minutes and over a cup of tea, she decides to vote ‘No’ - indicating that Scottish women don’t need to consider the issues affecting their lives and their country’s future: apparently that kind of thing is for men.  The British Unionist message was that women should just vote ‘No’ because they are busy and independence will mean things would change. 

Against the negative and patronising message of the ‘No’ campaign’s broadcast was the contribution from ‘YES Scotland’, which featured a range of people looking towards independence to actually deliver change...change for the better.

The first Referendum broadcasts perfectly summed-up the difference between the visions of the two campaigns.  The ‘No’ side wants to keep power in the hands of British Unionist political parties based in London, and they are prepared to patronise Scots while attempting to scare us into rejecting independence.  Meanwhile, the ‘YES’ campaign drives a positive message of how things can greatly improve for all the citizens of Scotland if we have the confidence to take control of our lives by reclaiming the full powers that only come with independence.

Ultimately, the greatest advantage of the ‘YES’ campaign is that we don’t need to speculate on Scotland’s future if we reject independence.  It will be a continuation of what we have now: governed by Tories we actually rejected at the ballot box; savage cuts to public spending; welfare policies such as the Bedroom Tax; thousands of families reliant on Foodbanks to stave-off hunger and 100,000 more Scottish children pushed into poverty; zero-hours contracts and wages so low people in work have to claim benefits to survive; nuclear weapons of mass destruction stored within 30 miles of Scotland’s largest city.  These are not scare-stories - they are the reality of Scotland, today, within the British Union.  If we reject independence we will be condemning ourselves and future generations of Scots to continued austerity imposed by London-based political parties.

There is nothing to be feared about independence: it is the normal status of nations around the world.  Of all the countries who have re-taken their independence from Britain, not one has subsequently wanted to change its mind and return to rule from London.

Independence is simply being a normal country: it gives us the power to shape our nation and our lives.  We should grasp that opportunity with both hands on September 18th.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The British Union - lying to us for 300 years

Scotland’s membership of the British Union was founded on a lie, so we should not be too surprised that those currently defending the position remain strangers to the truth.

The British establishment version of the story still maintains that Scotland was bankrupt when England came calling in 1706 with plans for a British Union.  It is correct that many Scots nobles had lost fortunes through backing for the Darien Scheme of 1698 to 1700, but the country of Scotland actually had a relatively prosperous economy - one contemporary writer noted economic growth of 2.5% in the year prior to the Acts of Union.

The Darien Scheme was an attempt by wealthy Scots to copy England’s imperialism by establishing a foreign colony.  They chose the area of Darien on the Isthmus of Panama. 

Had the Scots nobles not been blinded by their vision of the great wealth they expected to accrue from their colonialist ambitions, they might have stopped to ask why the all-conquering Spanish had left Darien alone.  Essentially, the area was swampland.

A great deal of money and many Scottish lives were lost in the failed attempt to establish a colony in the Americas, but the financial losses belonged to individual investors in the Darien Scheme, not to the nation or exchequer of Scotland.

However, the failure of Darien did play a major part in the subsequent union between Scotland and England.  From the perspective of ordinary Scots, the union with England was marked by treachery.  Aristocratic members of the Scottish Parliament – there were no democratically-elected MSPs in 1707 – voted for Scotland to join a British Union, but as news of the decision spread across the country, ordinary Scots rioted in opposition.

The members of the Scottish Parliament who sold-out their country were motivated by self-interest.  The fact Scotland would disappear as an independent nation mattered far less to them than the accumulation of personal wealth.  Many of the Scots nobles who backed union with England were the same individuals who had lost fortunes trying to emulate the English colonialist model through the Darien Scheme

The most highly-paid of the Scots nobles willing to sell-out their country was the Duke of Queensbury, acknowledged as being largely responsible for the successful passage of the Act of Union through the Scottish Parliament: he received from the English the sum of £12,325, broadly equivalent today to £1,718,000.  In all, England made payments to 30 Scottish Earls, Dukes and Lords to buy their support for union: the total figure paid was equivalent to around £3m today, which means Scotland’s independence was sold for little more than the £2.7m tax-free lump sum paid in 2008 to disgraced former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Fred Goodwin on his resignation.

The people of Scotland did not want a union with England, but they were never asked their opinion.  The union went ahead because the votes of sufficient numbers of Scots nobles were bought by the government of England.  Scotland was not bankrupt nor did it need bailed-out by England.  The money paid by the English in 1707 went straight into the private bank accounts of 30 individual Scots nobles.

Today, 307 years later, the Union of Scotland and England is still portrayed as being between two equals, but from the very beginning the reality indicated otherwise.  The true outlook of the English ruling class was made clear shortly after the Union, when Britain’s First Lord of the Treasury, Robert Harley, asked the new British Parliament, “Have we not bought the Scots, and may we not claim the right to tax them?”

Within the British Union, Scotland has never been an equal partner with England.  In 1707 the English parliament believed Union was simply the most convenient, and least bloody, means of removing a potential enemy on its northern border.  In ‘buying’ Scotland, England concluded a deal it saw as a ‘win-win’ – not only was a historic enemy pacified, but Scots were now to be at the call of London in England’s foreign wars.

Lies and misrepresentation have been at the very core of the British Unionist case since its inception, and remain the principle tactic of its contemporary defenders, the representatives of London-based political parties united in opposition to Scotland re-taking its independence.

With less than four weeks until the people of Scotland vote in the Independence Referendum, the pro-British Union campaign is asking us to vote ‘No’ on the basis of outright lies.  In leaflets currently being delivered to every household in Scotland, Labour’s Scottish Leader Johann Lamont is asked four questions, the answers to which are supposed to convince us to reject independence.

The first questions is: “What will the currency be in an independent Scotland?”  On behalf of the Tory-funded ‘No’ campaign, Labour’s Ms Lamont replies, “No one knows but it won’t be the pound.  It would have to be the Euro or a separate Scottish currency.”

In reality, the pound is a fully-tradeable international currency: any country can use the pound as its currency without permission from the UK Government or the Bank of England.  If an independent Scotland chooses to continue using the pound, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent it.

Question 2 to Johann Lamont in the ‘No’ leaflet is: “What will happen to pensions if Scotland votes ‘yes’?”.  The Labour MSP replies, “At the moment the pensions of 1 million Scottish pensioners are guaranteed by the UK-wide welfare system – risk and reward shared across a population of 60 million and not just 5 million people.”

However, despite the ‘No’ campaign’s attempt to imply senior citizens might not get their state pensions in an independent Scotland, the UK Department for Work and Pensions stated in January 2013: “If Scotland does become independent this will have no effect on your State Pension, you will continue to receive it just as you do at present.  Anyone who is in receipt or entitled to claim State Pension can still receive this when they live abroad.  If this is a European country or a country where Britain has a reciprocal agreement they will continue to receive annual increases as if they stayed in Britain.”

Question 3: “If Scotland goes independent will be better off because of the oil revenue, as the price of oil will keep rising?”  Johann Lamont’s response: “No. Oil prices are volatile, they go up and down and as supplies diminish it becomes more costly to extract.”

British Unionists have been lying about Scotland’s oil wealth since the resource was first discovered in the 1970s.  The McCrone Report (1974) for the UK Government detailed how wealthy and successful an independent Scotland would be with control over North Sea oil fields.  Successive Tory and Labour governments designated the report as ‘secret’ and hid it in Westminster’s vaults.  It only came to light in 2005 after a Freedom of Information request from the SNP.  In addition to expanding fields in the North Sea and west of Shetland, it is known recoverable oil deposits exist off the Ayrshire coast.  Exploration of the west coast fields was blocked by the UK Government in the 1980s because the oil lay beneath routes used by nuclear submarines sailing to and from the Faslane Naval base on the Clyde. 

The last question in the ‘No’ leaflet asks Johann Lamont: “Is Scotland better off as part of the UK?”  The Labour Leader in Scotland replies: “Scotland receives over £1,200 more per person than other parts of the UK.”

The figure quoted by the British Unionist campaign is accurate, but what they fail to mention is that tax receipts show Scotland sends £1,700 more per person to the UK Treasury in taxes than people in other parts of the UK.  That’s a £500 per person loss to Scots.

Remember, these issues are the ones the British Unionist campaign has chosen to highlight in the leaflet being delivered to every household in Scotland.  They clearly believe these are their best arguments.

If the case for the British Union is so strong, why have its supporters been lying to us for 300 years?

Friday, 15 August 2014

It's happening

I’ve campaigned for independence all of my adult life.  Over the years there have been some dark times as we battled to build support against the full might of the British establishment, its political parties and media.  There were days when I’ve trudged through snow to deliver leaflets and stood at street stalls in torrential rain.  All of it will have been worth it to see Scotland retake the status of a normal independent nation, giving us the powers we need to build a better, fairer country.

I have to admit to feeling a wee bit excited this week when the postman delivered my polling card - just seeing in black-and-white that, after all of these years, I will get the chance to vote for independence.  Not once in over 300 years have the people of Scotland had the chance to have their say on whether or not we wanted to be part of the British Union.  We are the first people in three centuries to have our say.  Even to an old political hack like me, that is an exciting opportunity – to be able to play a positive and active part in shaping Scotland’s history.

There are now less than five-weeks until the historic referendum, at which we decide whether to take control of our country or allow power to remain in the hands of London-based politicians for whom we did not vote.  The referendum is not an election, we are not voting for the SNP or Labour: we will make one simple decision on September 18th – we will decide who is best-placed to run Scotland.

There are only two options: we vote YES for independence and government in Edinburgh formed by politicians we in Scotland elect – or we vote No, which is for continuing in the British Union and government in London formed by politicians we in Scotland continually reject at the ballot box. 

I have faith in the people of Scotland: I know we are more than capable of successfully running our own country.  Already, when asked, Scots say they believe the current devolved Scottish Parliament is more likely to act in Scotland’s interests than the UK Parliament in London.  The current SNP Scottish Government has shown Scotland can take a different and better approach to areas that fall within its limited responsibilities.  We no longer pay a tax on ill health because the Scottish Government chose to abolish charges for prescription medicines.  Scottish students do not pay the £9,000 annual tuition fees their English counter-parts have to cough-up – again, that is because Education is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament and our government – elected by the people of Scotland – chose not to impose further financial burdens on young adults seeking to secure academic qualifications.  Both of these examples are fully-funded from Scottish spending: contrary to claims made by the British media and some Unionist politicians, English taxpayers have not contributed to financing Scottish Government policies.

Since 1999 and the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament – albeit one with limited powers – Scottish Governments have run our health service, the justice and court system, much of our transport, local government, planning and environment policy.  Unfortunately, crucial areas of government affecting Scotland are still administered by London-based politicians, such as David Cameron and George Osborne – taxation, the economy, the financial sector, foreign policy (including sending young Scots to kill or be killed in wars).  Independence is simply completing the powers of the Scottish Parliament, transferring to Edinburgh all of the powers we need to transform our country from the low-wage, high-unemployment, austerity-driven economy of the UK to the Scotland most of us want to see – delivering hope and opportunity for all of our citizens, with sustainable, well-paid jobs and a progressive system of taxation where the wealthy pay their fair share.

Probably the most dishonest aspect of the British Unionist ‘Better Together’ campaign – and there are many such aspects from which to pick – is the demand that the SNP in general, and Alex Salmond in particular, spell-out exactly what every policy will be in an independent Scotland.  The reality is that, after we vote for independence in September, Scotland will remain in the British Union until March 2016 while negotiations with Westminster and the EU are completed.  Two months later, in May 2016, we will elect MSPs to the first independent Scottish Parliament.  From those MSPs the first government of an independent Scotland will be formed...and it might not be the SNP.  It will be for us, the people of Scotland, to decide who we vote for in May 2016.  How can the current SNP Government give ‘guarantees’ about what policies will be implemented in an independent Scotland when we might elect a completely different party to form the government?

That is the whole point of independence – it returns to us, the people of Scotland, the power to decide who runs our government and what policies we want implemented.

Independence is simply being a normal country – governing ourselves at home and representing ourselves on the world stage.  Let’s grab the opportunity of independence and build a better future for our children, their children and generations still to be born.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The aftermath of the 'great' debate

The latest co-ordinated love-bombing from English ‘celebrities’, telling Scots not to vote for independence, featured some people of whom I hadn’t previously heard.

Maybe that is my problem: perhaps I should know who these ‘celebrities’ are and what they have done to earn their ‘celebrity’.  What I definitely can’t work out, is where they got their deep understanding of social and political issues in Scotland. 

Before reaching a considered opinion on Scotland’s constitutional future, the ‘celebrities’ presumably analysed our place within the British Union and how decisions taken by Westminster governments impact on the people of Scotland: no doubt they also considered how Scotland hasn’t voted Tory for more than 50 years but for the majority of that time we’ve had Tory governments imposed on us by the electorate of England.  I’m not sure if the ‘celebrities’ believe in democracy, but voting for one political party and having another imposed on you is not a tenet of the democratic process.

During last week’s televised debate on independence, Alistair Darling tried to laugh-off Scotland’s democratic deficit by pointing to First Minister Alex Salmond and saying, “I didn’t vote for him, but I’m stuck with him.”

Of course, Darling knew his point was fatuous, but British Unionists have no credible answer for why Scotland should have Tory governments imposed on us after we have clearly rejected them at the ballot box.  This can only happen while we remain part of the British Union. 

As for Darling not having voted for Alex Salmond, the Labour MP doesn’t live in Salmond’s Gordon constituency, so he couldn’t have voted for him.  Darling, of course, meant he had not voted SNP but Scotland has an SNP Government.  Scotland voted overwhelmingly for the SNP at the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election, resulting in a landslide victory for the party and returning them to power with an overall majority.  That is why we have an SNP Government and Alex Salmond is First Minister.  The British Unionists really do seem to have a problem with this democracy thing.

Actually, I didn’t watch the two-hour Salmond-Darling debate on STV – the Darling comment mentioned above I saw on a news clip.  I’ve never believed the confrontational style of television debates serves any constructive purpose.  Two or more politicians trying to shout over each other and score political points does not tend to enlighten viewers.  Quite the contrary, people dislike the bickering and switch-off.  STV would have better served the public, and the debate, by devoting one-hour each to in-depth interviews with Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling.  Viewers could have listened to both sides given time to set-out their plans and provide detailed answers, and then decided which they felt was more credible.

Possibly for the reasons described above, STV’s much-hyped debate appears to have made little impact on the referendum or the public’s views: both YES and No voters stayed at the same level, according to an ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper, while amongst ‘undecided’ voters there was a 2% swing to YES.

On the morning following the television debate, a friend of mine posted on Facebook and succinctly cut through the politics and media coverage of the independence debate.  Irene Lundy is an Ardrossan mum of four: her 17 year-old son Gavin has been playing a leading role in the pro-independence ‘Generation YES’ youth movement.  This is what Irene wrote:

Last night I watched the debate about independence and saw two men struggling to get their message across.  But this whole thing isn’t about Alex Salmond or Alistair Darling or any other politician.  It’s not about them, it’s about us.

I support independence and I’ll vote Yes in the referendum.  I’m not a member of a political party.  I’m voting Yes because I think it’s right that people should run their own country and take decisions for themselves.  I think that we need to make the better country we want for our children and their children.  When I look around the world I see that normal countries are independent, so I suppose it comes down to whether or not you believe Scotland should be a normal country.

I’m very proud of my 17 year old son Gavin who has been playing a leading part in Generation Yes.  Gavin isn’t a member of a political party either, he did his own research and decided to campaign for independence.  Unlike Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, Gavin has been knocking on doors and speaking to real people.  He’s been answering their questions and persuading them that independence is right for them.

Gavin has also been representing the Yes side in debates and has been winning them, even against experienced politicians, and that’s because he really cares about the future we make.  He doesn’t make political points or read out what parties want people to hear.  He speaks about the real life things that we can make better for everyone by running our own country and taking all the decisions for ourselves.

At Garnock Academy in Kilbirnie Gavin debated against a Labour MSP.  At the start of the debate a poll was taken and the result was Yes 30%, No 70%.  Another poll was taken after Gavin and the MSP had spoken.  This time the result was Yes 54%, No 46%.

At St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats Gavin’s opponent was a North Ayrshire Labour councillor.  At the end of the debate the poll was Yes 70%, No 30%.

I’m very proud of Gavin and the huge amount of work he is putting in towards making Scotland a better place to live.

Rather than concentrating so much on claim and counter-claim made by career politicians, we should be listening to people like 17 year-old Gavin Lundy who is arguing for independence, not from a party-political perspective but because of the real opportunities it presents for us to build a better life for everyone in Scotland.

Perhaps we should also bear in mind the words of Gavin’s mum, Irene – “this whole thing isn’t about Alex Salmond or Alistair Darling or any other politician.  It’s not about them, it’s about us.”