Friday, 24 April 2015

Disaster or democracy?

It has always been the case that politicians will attempt to highlight their opponents’ deficiencies.

There is nothing wrong with saying an opponent’s strategy would result in a poorer outcome, provided you explain exactly why that is the case.  It helps if you also tell the truth.

Politicians have always argued: essentially, that is the nature of the business – a conflict of ideas.  However, in relatively recent times the natural order of discussion and debate has largely been replaced by anger, aggression and lying.

We don’t hear politicians say of opponents, “Well, there is some merit in what they propose, but our party would do it differently, and here is why.”  Instead, we are now told anything other than one particular party’s policies would result in chaos, catastrophe and disaster.

There is now very little reasoned and objective analysis of politics in the so-called mainstream media – mainly London-based newspapers and broadcasters.  Instead, the more rabid comments and claims of politicians and commentators are reported as if they were fact.

The last couple of weeks have perfectly illustrated this decline in political debate and media behaviour.  Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s democratically-elected First Minister - someone who articulates moderate, centre-left social democratic policies – has been described by English newspapers as “the most dangerous woman in Britain”, with the right-wing, Tory-supporting Daily Mail carrying a photo of the SNP leader next to a banner-headline saying “How I’ll blackmail England for £148billion”.  We are supposed to believe Ms Sturgeon actually said she intended to blackmail England, which she did not.

Boris Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London, went as far as saying of Nicola Sturgeon, “You wouldn’t get Herod to run a baby farm, would you?”  Just for the record, Herod was the Roman-appointed King of Judea from 40 to 4 BC and was described by the Jewish Encyclopedia, published in 1906, as being “prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition”.  Herod was also the person who ordered the ‘Killing of the Innocents’, the execution of all male children in order to prevent the loss of his throne to a newborn ‘King of the Jews’.  Remember, Boris Johnson was talking about Scotland’s democratically-elected First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon is not Britain’s most dangerous woman.  She is not a threat to children, she does not want to blackmail England, nor would she commit any crime to further her own ambition, yet all of these assertions are reported as if they were facts.

We are also now becoming accustomed to British Unionist politicians and commentators given television airtime and newspaper column-inches to savage Scotland and what they claim is an ‘undemocratic’ attempt by Scots to influence the governance of the United Kingdom.  Some of the comments broadcast and printed, again mainly by London-based media, have been entirely based on ignorance and arrogance, not to mention massively offensive.

It is only a matter of months since the same British politicians and media were ‘love-bombing’ Scots, telling us how we are all one big family in these islands and that we should stay together and reject independence.  Now, though, Scots are being told not to get ideas above their station. 

Scotland decided – by a majority of 10% - to remain within the United Kingdom, the British Union of nations – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales.  However, what is absolutely clear is that England calls the shots in this union or family.

We are told it would be ‘undemocratic’ if Scots elected sufficient numbers of SNP MPs in order to maximise Scotland’s voice in the UK Parliament.  It would, apparently, be ‘undemocratic’ if Scots had sufficient power to even just influence the outcome of decisions taken in the House of Commons, decisions that impact on the lives of Scots as much as those in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

It is plainly ridiculous to assert the result of democratic elections would be ‘undemocratic’ if the outcome was not that favoured by the largest population-block.  Scots have every right to vote for whichever political party they wish: that is democracy.

Despite this democratic reality, British Unionist politicians and media create a parallel universe where anything other than their view and interest would be ‘undemocratic’, not to mention chaotic, catastrophic and disastrous.

The new political reality in Scotland reflects the fact many people are thoroughly sick of having Tory governments imposed on us by the electorate of England.  Many Scots have had enough of a Labour Party that has turned into a clone of the Tories and offers little more than a continuation of austerity, public spending cuts and other unwanted Tory policies.  Cameron or Miliband...what is the difference?

Even in Scotland, though, the reality of increased support for the SNP and rejection of the Blue and Red Tories is reported in constrained terms.  Most so-called ‘Scottish’ newspapers actually have their editorial policy set by head-offices in London, which results in Scots being presented with blatant lies attempting to advance the cause of British Unionist political parties and keeping Scotland in its subservient place.

The BBC in Scotland, which during the Independence Referendum was little more than the mouthpiece of the British State, recently broadcast a ‘Leaders Debate’ in which viewers were presented with three Unionist politicians shouting over Nicola Sturgeon.  Apparently, this was the BBC adhering to its obligation to be an impartial broadcaster.

It really is remarkable that the SNP has reached unparalleled heights in terms of membership and public support despite being faced every day by blanket media coverage that opposes the party and its policies.  Recently, the creation of one pro-independence daily newspaper – the National – has provided an alternative view, but we remain very far from any kind of media balance.

With less than two-weeks until the UK Election on May 7th, it looks very likely that Scotland is about to flex its political muscles by electing a majority of SNP MPs.  This is despite the hyperbole, aggression and lying of British Unionist politicians, reported faithfully by British Unionist newspapers and broadcasters.

With a large group of SNP MPs at Westminster, Scotland’s voice will be heard, for the first time, in Britain’s corridors of power.  That is democracy in action.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Why vote SNP at the UK Election?

Nicola Sturgeon says this election – the UK Election on May 7th – isn’t about independence, and she is right.  Whatever the outcome, Scotland will not emerge as an independent nation. 

So why are more and more Scots saying they will vote SNP, the party whose core principle is the creation of an independent Scotland?

One reason is the credibility built by the SNP since it formed the government of Scotland in 2007 - the first four years as a minority administration and with overall control since 2011.  Led by First Ministers Alex Salmond and now Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP Government has proved itself financially competent and responsive to the needs of the people it serves.

Ill-informed or downright dishonest British Unionists claim Scots are provided with free higher education, free prescriptions and free bus travel for senior citizens all paid-for by English taxpayers.  However, the reality is that Scotland pays more to the Westminster Treasury than we receive back, and this has been the case in each of the past 34 years.

Free higher education, prescriptions and bus travel are fully-funded by revenue raised in Scotland and are delivered because the SNP Government has introduced legislation to make them happen.  The UK Government in London could have pursued the same agenda and delivered those services, free-of-charge, to people in England, but the Tory-Lib Dem administration chose not to follow that course. 

In Scotland, the SNP Government is delivering the moderate centre-left policies for which the people voted.  For that reason the SNP is trusted by increasing numbers of Scots.  It is almost unprecedented for a party that has been in government for eight-years to see its popularity grow, let alone soar, as is the case right now with the SNP.

So, people in Scotland are being drawn towards voting SNP because the party is already delivering as the Scottish Government and because the SNP is trusted by growing numbers of Scots.

However, no-one claims the SNP can form the UK Government, so why vote for the party at a UK Election?

Indeed, the Labour Party argues every vote for the SNP is actually a vote to re-elect David Cameron and the Tories.  According to Ed Miliband and Jim Murphy, every seat the SNP takes from Labour increases the likelihood of a Tory Government because reducing the number of Labour MPs would mean the Conservatives emerge as the largest party and, because of that position, would form the next government.

The first part of that assertion has been used by Labour at every election in recent times: Scots have repeatedly been told that we “have to vote Labour to keep the Tories out (or get the Tories out)”.  However, facts disprove this Labour mantra.

Scotland has voted Labour at every UK Election for the past 50 years, but for the majority of that time we have had Tory Governments imposed on us by the electorate of England.  The reality is that every person in Scotland could vote Labour, but if England votes Tory then Scotland will have a Tory Government.

The newer element of Labour’s assertion – that the largest party gets to form the government – is simply a lie.

There is no law, regulation or rule that says the largest party after an election gets to form the government.  That is why, following the last UK Election in 2010, then Labour leader Gordon Brown tried to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats despite the Tories having emerged as the largest party.  Had Nick Clegg agreed to Brown’s overtures, there would have been a Labour-Lib Dem coalition because, together, the two parties could have outvoted the largest single party, the Tories.

This time, even if the Tories again emerged as the largest single party, a combination of Labour and the SNP could outvote them.

Of course, there will be no actual coalition between the SNP and Labour – both parties have ruled that out.  It is unlikely there will even be what is described as a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement, where the SNP would agree to support Labour’s budget and back them in any vote of confidence.  The most likely outcome is one where the SNP would support a Labour Queen’s Speech, putting the party into government and Ed Miliband into 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister, and would then support or oppose a Labour Government on a case-by-case basis.

Of course, the question then, is why vote SNP to put Labour into power, why not cut out the middle-man and just vote Labour?

In Scotland, Labour is now widely distrusted because the party stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the toxic Tories during last year’s Independence Referendum campaign.  Labour’s policies on a UK-wide basis are almost identical to those of the Tories.  Put simply, more and more Scots do not want a Labour Government, either in Scotland or across the UK.  However, worse even than Labour (the Red Tories) is the Conservative Party (the Blue Tories).

Scots want to prevent a Tory Government in London from being able to impose its will on us even after we have rejected them at the ballot box – but electing Labour would simply be replacing one Tory agenda with another.

However, a UK Labour Government requiring SNP support to remain in power would need to take onboard the moderate, left-of-centre agenda of the Scottish party.  As Nicola Sturgeon has put it, the SNP would be Labour’s “backbone and guts”.

A large group of SNP MPs at Westminster would exert strong influence over the UK Government and would, for the first time, ensure Scotland’s voice is heard in London’s corridors of power.

The reality is that if the Tories or Labour formed the UK Government on their own or with Lib Dem/UKIP support, we would be bombarded with further devastating cuts to public spending and services: austerity would remain the only game in town.  However, with the SNP influencing a Labour Government – providing “backbone and guts” – Scotland could direct UK policy onto a more progressive agenda, including modest increases to spending that would create jobs and alleviate the grinding poverty caused by relentless austerity.

So, why vote SNP at the UK Election on May 7th?  The SNP has proved itself in government: the SNP has earned the trust of the people: the SNP would lock the Tories out of government: the SNP would drag a Labour Government away from Tory policies and would insist on an agenda that meets the needs of the people, including an end to Westminster-imposed austerity.

Friday, 10 April 2015

What is the point of the Labour Party?

The latest opinion poll for the UK Election, published by YouGov on April 10th, is quite remarkable: it records the highest-ever rating for the SNP and the lowest-ever for Labour.

This comes with less than four-weeks until polling day and after Labour’s leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, was supposed to neutralise the SNP surge by taking-on Nicola Sturgeon in two televised debates.

The reality is that Ms Sturgeon again emerged as the most credible politician amongst party leaders, as she had the previous week when pitted against David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and others.

In the STV and BBC Scotland debates, Mr Murphy came across as downright dishonest, which, of course, cannot have helped his party’s already-plummeting poll-ratings.

Any reasonable observer must surely now be questioning what is the point of the Labour Party.  Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and now Jim Murphy have made clear Labour will adhere to spending cuts and austerity measures proposed by the Conservative Party.  Prior to the dissolution of the UK Parliament, Labour MPs, including Murphy, voted with the Tories to impose a further £30bn of cuts, including £12bn earmarked to be slashed from the Social Security budget (which the right-wing London-based parties now call ‘welfare’ in an effort to stigmatise anyone who finds themselves having to claim a state benefit).

While thousands of women, men and children remain dependent on foodbanks to stave-off hunger, the Labour Party has committed to joining with the Tories in spending up to £120bn in building and maintaining a new system of nuclear weapons of mass destruction.  This is what Labour leader Ed Miliband said during the week regarding his party’s position on the UK‘s nuclear missiles: “Our position is continuous at-sea deterrence, like the Conservative Party; renewing Trident, like the Conservative Party; multi-lateral disarmament, like the Conservative Party.”

The UK currently has four Trident submarines, each of which carries 16 nuclear missiles.  Each missile has the killing-capacity of 8 Hiroshima bombs (the atomic bomb dropped on Japan by the United States).  The Hiroshima bomb instantly killed around 80,000 people.  Many more died from the long-term effects of radiation sickness. The final death toll was put at 135,000.  Based on the Hiroshima deaths, the UK currently has the capacity to kill almost 9-million people, and the Labour Party is committed to join with the Tories to ‘upgrade’ the nuclear missile system by spending another £120bn.

Of course, Labour and Tory parties would also continue to use the Clyde as the base for the UK’s nuclear weapons of mass destruction, just 30 miles from Scotland’s biggest and most-populated city.

So, just what is the point of the Labour Party if it offers no alternative to the toxic Tories?

During the Scottish leaders’ debates, Jim Murphy excitedly pursued an answer from Nicola Sturgeon on whether or not the SNP would vote for ‘fiscal autonomy’ if it was offered by the UK Parliament.  Ms Sturgeon, of course, said her party would support such a proposal.  Murphy immediately said Labour would vote against Scotland receiving ‘fiscal autonomy’, despite this concept actually representing the ‘devo-max’ promised by Labour if Scots rejected independence in the recent referendum.

‘Fiscal autonomy’ would see Scotland control everything except Defence and Foreign Affairs, which would still be the responsibility of the UK Government in London.  With ‘fiscal autonomy’ there would also be an end to the Barnett Formula, the method currently used to determine the amount of money Scotland receives every year in a block grant from Westminster.  It was for this reason that Jim Murphy asked his question.

Labour claims that, based on UK Tory Government figures, withdrawal of the Barnett Formula would result in a £7.6bn deficit for Scotland.  Therefore, the argument put forward by Murphy, Miliband and British Labour is that the SNP plans to vote for something that would leave Scots worse-off and would require higher taxes and cuts to services to balance the books. 

The British Unionist coalition – Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP – along with London-based right-wing newspapers, tell us that Barnett is the mechanism that delivers financial largesse from England to the subsidy-junkie Scots.  Actually, such an opinion could only be expressed by someone who either does not understand how Barnett works or who is wilfully lying.

In reality, the Barnett Formula is designed to ‘harmonise’ levels of government spending across the UK, which is another way of saying ‘reduce spending in Scotland’.  This happens every year, irrespective of need in Scotland.  It is also the case that the cost of providing services north of the border is often significantly higher than in England, partly because of the disparate nature of our population-spread.  Therefore, providing the same level of service in Scotland can cost more than in England; so, what appears to be higher per-head spending in Scotland does not necessarily mean we are being better resourced than England, but Barnett still cuts our funding every year.

The assertion by Jim Murphy and Labour that there would be a £7.6bn ‘blackhole’ in Scotland’s finances with ‘fiscal autonomy’ and the removal of Barnett would only apply if everything else remained the same, such as Scotland continuing to pay for the Tory-Labour nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

The reality is that Westminster’s own figures for last year show Scotland paid £400 more in tax per person to the UK Treasury than anywhere else in the UK - the 34th year in a row this has been the case. 

UK Treasury figures also reveal Scotland’s total revenue for 2013/14 was calculated at £54bn, with total expenditure on devolved areas of government being £40.8bn.  This, then, shows a surplus of around £13bn.  It is only when UK spending ‘on behalf of Scotland’ is included that the figures begin to dip into the red.  For example, the UK Government charges to Scotland £3bn a year for the military (most bases are located in England), £3.1bn to service debt run-up by Westminster, and £2.5bn for ‘domestic and international services’.  There are also charges made against Scotland for ‘non-identifiable’ services, which can include the offices of government departments in London and costs in relation to secret services such as MI5 and MI6.

This represents the ‘blackhole’ in Scotland’s finances to which Jim Murphy and the Labour Party currently refer in their election campaigning.

The arguments put forward by people like Jim Murphy and Ed Miliband are downright dishonest, and Labour’s policies are Tory policies.

On the basis of its actions, Labour deserves its lowest-ever poll ratings and deserves to be wiped-out in Scotland at the election on May 7th.  They have no-one to blame but themselves.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Sturgeon storms the Leaders' Debate

Nicola Sturgeon emerged the clear winner from the ITV Leaders’ Debate.

Scotland’s First Minister was concise, articulate and persuasive as she presented her vision of a progressive political agenda that would deliver higher living-standards and a better quality-of-life for everyone, not just in Scotland but across the entire UK.

The SNP leader argued for an end to Tory-Lib Dem cuts (Labour has confirmed its policy agenda also would focus on continued austerity) and, instead, for investment to stimulate the economy and create jobs, which, of course, would result in increased revenue for the Treasury through tax receipts and National Insurance contributions.

This moderate left-of-centre philosophy was echoed during the television debate by Leanne Wood of Welsh Nationalists Plaid Cymru and by Natalie Bennett of the Green Party. 

There can be no doubt that the three female party leaders completely outshone the males – David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage.  The men represent political parties stuck in the past: they haven’t realised that more and more people no longer accept their tired old agenda, which argues for no change – we are just supposed to continue re-electing them, even though history shows their policies have failed in the past and are not in our interests.

Tory leader David Cameron and Labour’s Ed Miliband spent the programme telling us how different they are, but even a cursory glance at their policies shows that either man as Prime Minister would mean continued cuts to public spending and to desperately-needed services, and ongoing privatisation of the NHS in England. 

Both men stared into the camera – that’s what their public relations teams have told them to do – as if they were speaking directly to us, the viewers sitting at home.  However, this practice comes across as creepy.  Questions in the studio were asked by either the presenter or a member of the audience, and it is common courtesy to address answers to the people who asked questions.  The Tory, Labour and Lib Dem PR-driven election strategy was to ignore questioners – because they only have one vote – and try to speak to the vast television audience – because they have millions of votes.  It is a cynical practice, but viewers aren’t daft, they know when politicians are trying to use them.

As for the other right-winger on the panel, UKIP’s Nigel Farage, the man is an idiot. Quite simply, he plays to the prejudices of the less intelligent, those who are willing to believe that every problem in the UK is caused by the European Union and foreigners.

On more than one occasion Farage shouted that politicians are all the same – apparently except him.  Politicians are not all the same.  Those on the right of the political spectrum – the men on last night’s panel – all come from very wealthy backgrounds and represent the interests of big business, the banks and financial institutions.  Farage, himself, was formerly a stockbroker in the City of London.

Nicola Sturgeon is a working class woman, raised in a council house in North Ayrshire, an area with one of the highest levels of unemployment and deprivation in the UK.  Nicola isn’t theorising when she talks about the negative impact grinding poverty has on people – she witnessed it first-hand as she grew up.  Her home town is Dreghorn, which forms part of Irvine (new town), and it wasn’t by chance that the Proclaimers included the line “Irvine no more” in their song Letter from America, which tells the story of Scotland being de-industrialised by the right-wing Tory Government led by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

Nicola Sturgeon believes politicians should be putting in place legislation that builds a stronger, fairer country, where everyone is afforded hope, opportunity and dignity.  The agenda she articulates resonates with the public because people have had enough of remote and elitist, London-based politicians who tell us there is no alternative to cuts and austerity.

Have a look at social media following the ITV Leaders’ Debate: see the number of posts from people in England, bemoaning the fact they can’t vote for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

Even Sky News on Friday morning was stating as fact, “everyone knows the SNP will be hugely influential in the coming election”, a reference to opinion polls continuing to show the party on course for a landslide victory in Scotland.  A large number of SNP MPs could hold the balance of power in the UK Parliament and would mean Scotland’s voice being heard for the first time in London’s corridors of power.

That is not to say there will be a UK coalition government involving the SNP: there won’t.  The SNP has a long-standing policy that it will not facilitate the Tories gaining power...over anything. 

Nicola Sturgeon has made absolutely clear that the SNP will use its likely power in the next House of Commons to prevent David Cameron and the Tories from forming a government.  However, this has not stopped the deeply dishonest Labour Party from continuing to lie by claiming every vote in Scotland for the SNP is a vote to put David Cameron into 10 Downing Street.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

A large block of SNP MPs is likely to support – on a case by case basis – a Labour Government.  However, such SNP support would be conditional on Labour abandoning its policy of copying the Tories.  If a future Labour government needs the support of the SNP, Ed Miliband will have to move onto the more left-of-centre, progressive ground described in the Leaders’ Debate by Nicola Sturgeon.

To receive SNP support, Labour would have to abandon austerity and start investing in people: Labour would also have to end its support for spending billions-of-pounds on nuclear weapons of mass destruction while thousands of children in this country rely on foodbanks to stave-off hunger.

In short, voting SNP and returning large numbers of SNP MPs to the House of Commons is the only way of us receiving the changed agenda most of us say we want – and it will have the added bonus of dragging the Labour Party back to the moderate left-of-centre position it once held, before Tony Blair and Gordon Brown turned it into the Tory-clone New Labour.

In Scotland, we are fortunate to have a major political party articulating an agenda that puts first the interests of the people, and, in Nicola Sturgeon, we have a leader now recognised across the entire UK as being head-and-shoulders above anything the London parties have to offer.