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Monday, 9 July 2012

Let The Banks Fail

The Bank of England recently announced a new tranche of Quantitative Easing. Or, as the more watchful amongst us call it, Money For Mates because, although it's always sold as injecting cash into the economy to stimulate growth, QE almost always involves no physical cash at all and its main purpose is to bolster the balance sheets of our major banks. Thus far, the Bank of England has committed £375 billion to this programme.

Just for the sake of context, that's £375,000,000,000. Or, to put it another way, about three times as much as the UK Government spends each year on Pensions; three times as much as we spend on Health; more than four times what we spend on Education; and nine times more than our annual Defence budget.

The hope was that this would encourage banks and financial institutions to lend more. The evidence shows that this has not been particularly successful and that the banks have held on to as much of this new 'cash' as they thought they could conceivably get away with. 'Fine,' some will say, 'it's a price worth paying to prop up the banks. Banks failing would be a disaster.'

We might never get an accurate figure for the initial bank bailouts - totally separate from QE - but a reasonable estimate appears to be in the region of £1.2 trillion.

A total spend, over four years, on the banking sector of close to £1.6 trillion.

One wonders how much it might have cost to save the UK coal-mining sector and the jobs of around 100,000 men, thereby preventing the social and economic devastation of dozens of communities?

How about the British steel-making industry? Shipbuilding? Car manufacturing?

For how long could all four industries been sustained with £1.6 trillion and rising?

Of course, those workers had the misfortune to be in industries that were not centred on London and the south-east of England. It is clearly more acceptable to Westminster Governments (especially Tory ones) that the social fabric of Corby, Castleford, Consett, Cardiff and Cumnock be devastated before the millponds of Chigwell, Chobham and Chertsey should suffer a ripple.

Those workers in the traditional heavy industries of the last century contributed little to their downfall; the 'workers' in the banking sector were not only responsible for their own house of sand disintegrating but managed to take everyone else down with them.

The men of the mines, steel mills, shipyards and car production lines worked hard for a decent days pay. Those in the trading rooms and back offices were greedy, irresponsible bastards who gambled our money in pursuit of obscene pay cheques and million pound bonuses.

The rewards for the honest, hard-workers? Multi-generational unemployment with the prospect of positions in call-centres if their luck was in. For the bankers? Trillions of our money in bail-outs; jobs saved; business as usual; bonuses continued; and the manipulation of Libor rates.

But, of course, many cry, we couldn't let the banks fail, could we? Well, yes, we could.

Let's be clear. Retail banking would have survived. Properly run, it's a profitable business. That side of banking would have been saved.

Merchant banking. Casino banking. We could have happily let that fail. Sure some dealerships would have sold less Aston Martins. Powerboat sales would, no doubt, have plummeted. Some high-end restaurants would have struggled. But those who spent other people's money would have been jobless. Big deal.

But what about our deposits?

Well, unless you had more than £53,000 in the bank, you were covered by Government guarantees. In most cases, that guarantee would have covered you for individual accounts at separate banking institutions. Joint accounts with a partner would have been covered up to £106,000. These days the figures have been raised to £85,000 in line with European regulations, so even fewer of us fall into the affected categories. Of course, even if you tend to have more than that lying around in bank accounts, then you're also likely to have access to 'specialist' accounting or brokerage services to mitigate your risk.

The average Briton has around £2,200 in bank accounts, with one in four having nothing at all; the averages pushed up by those in the 95th percentile and above who have serious money in the banks. So forget all the guff that the banks were saved for our benefit - those billions were spent for those that already have the wealth.

The Tories always tell us that the market is king; that market forces must be allowed to decide everything. That's what accounted for mining, steel, shipbuilding and car manufacturing in this country. Well, let the markets decide what happens to the banks and withdraw the bailouts and the quantitative easing and let's see what happens.

But then, of course, the banks, the financial institutions, the big pension funds and other corporate investors ARE 'the markets'. They decided that towns throughout the Midlands and the North could be allowed to die. They're now voting that the City of London should survive.

Turkeys don't vote for Christmas - especially greedy, fat, bloated, corrupt turkeys.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Argylls Dead; But Irony Alive and Kicking

So, the cap badge remains but today the United Kingdom Government, Her Majesty's Government, effectively disbanded the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. At the same time, Her Majesty installed her grandson, William, as a Knight of the Order of the Thistle - the highest honour available in Scotland. Apparently.

Well, call me an old romantic but perhaps many in Scotland previously considered the highest honour available would be the opportunity to serve in the defence of Her Majesty's Realm alongside comrades drawn from the same part of Scotland; sharing the regimental history and all that military heritage we're told is an integral part of the positive case for Union; rather than having the good fortune to enter the world via the birth canal of Charles' concubine of the moment.

However, as Her Majesty's Government seems intent on denying young Scots that opportunity in the future, I look forward to the announcement of a compensatory apprenticeship scheme that focuses on medal and sash making - allowing us to keep up with the demand for honours amongst Liz's immediate family.

The British Army, in 1978, numbered around 160,000. By the time these new measures are fully in effect, it will have shrunk to around 80,000. During this transformation, Scotland's infantry regiments have been decimated - the reward for three hundred years of service to the Union.

Now, perhaps we should be thankful that the world is in such fine fettle that we no longer need such troop numbers. That would be a matter of celebration for all. But it's never that simple is it? In fact, for all the politician's talk about these changes being about the effectiveness of the military instead of cost-saving; it is indeed completely about cost-saving.

At the moment, we have just over 100,000 personnel in the Regular Army with 15,000 Reservists. A total of 115,000.

Under the new plans, we'll have the 80,000 Regulars and 30,000 Reservists. Or 110,000.

So the world isn't safer. The MOD has virtually the same amount of firepower to call on when the next Iraq blows up, it just gets it on the cheap! So, Syria and Iran should not take any comfort from these announcements - we might still be coming for you next!

Of course, we have other priorities requiring funding, so it may be a little harsh to criticise the Government. After all, aircraft carriers with no aircraft and upgraded weapons of mass destruction don't pay for themselves, do they?

Although in an age when we're constantly reminded that the real future threats to this country are from terrorist organisations and not other states, it's unclear what use Trident will be. Or aircraft carriers - even if they had planes on the deck.

Luckily an independent Scotland won't have Trident or aircraft carriers. So, perhaps, we might be able to pay for a few more actual soldiers (perhaps even reconstituting the Scottish regiments); hopefully making us safer from those dastardly terrorists.

Unfortunately not, it seems. As both The Herald and The Scotsman very helpfully told us this week, an independent Scotland would be particularly susceptible to a 9/11 style attack because we might not be able to afford the most sophisticated fighter aircraft. Funny, but I'm sure the Americans had the world's most sophisticated aircraft and air defence systems. Wonder what went wrong?

Because the Scottish quality(?) press can't be wrong. Can they?

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Inside Salmond's Mind: It's Obvious

We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. (George Orwell)

It is, perhaps, a measure of the gaps in my reading that I only came across this quote from Orwell yesterday. Almost immediately before I settled down to watch Newsnight Scotland last night, in fact, which featured a round-robin on whether Alex Salmond would attempt to insert a second question into the Scottish Government's 2014 Independence Referendum. Those involved - John Curtice, Lorraine Davidson, Kate Higgins and Alex Massie - embarked on tortuous journeys, filled with 'ifs' and 'buts', in an attempt to decipher what the First Minister's plans might be in this regard.

As I watched, Orwell's words continually nagged at me and, while I would never claim to be more intelligent then the panel assembled by the BBC, some self-evident and obvious truths are available for anyone to make a sensible determination on what Salmond's game-plan could be.

I should, in fairness, state at the outset that the conclusion that emerges has been my view for some months so it is possible that I have adapted the 'obvious' to fit my worldview but follow the logic and make your own mind up.

1. Taking Scotland's Temperature

Give or take a few percentage points, it seems clear that the electorate breaks down into the 20% who want to retain the status quo and the 35% who want Independence. I think we can assume, for the most part, that these represent the hardcore support on either side who won't waver.

That leaves the largest group as the 45% who want to see some increase in powers short of independence and which comes in a variety of flavours - Devo Max, DevoPlus, Independence Lite, Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA).

This is 'good news' for Salmond in the sense that 4 in 5 Scots reject 'more of the same' and want more power for the Holyrood Parliament. If the maxim holds that 'an electorate never demand less democracy', then those that advocate the status quo have more of a problem in converting those in the middle ground than a campaign demanding change....

2. Converting The Middle

In the context of the last 40 years of political chicanery around Devolution/Home Rule for Scotland, how many voters are going to be convinced by the promises of 'jam tomorrow'? Put starkly, the Unionist camp have to convince two-thirds of the 45% to trust them to deliver meaningful new powers to Scotland following a 'No' vote in 2014. Is that conceivable in an atmosphere where trust in politicians is eroded daily? Politicians, primarily, of the Westminster kind that is, with a recent poll showing less than 20% of Scots trust London to make decisions in the best interests of Scotland.

Those on the Better Together ticket could, of course, counter this problem by producing proposals for further devolution that are enticing enough for Scots to reject independence. And therein lies the real problem. The constituent parts of that campaign do not have a unified vision of a post-Referendum settlement. Whilst there is a slim possibility that Labour and the Lib-Dems could come up with a mutually acceptable prospectus, it is unlikely to appease Tories.

The outlook, then, is that there is unlikely to be a counter-proposal before the 2014 vote. If there is, it is likely to fracture that uneasy alliance who, two years out, don't even want to be filmed together...

3. Maintaining the Facade

Is there a real prospect of Better Together retaining any semblance of unity as late as October 2014? 

Cracks are sure to appear. As austerity really bites, there are bound to be Labour figures increasingly uncomfortable about a political campaign in league with the Tories. The Party, as a whole, may stay the course but who can seriously suggest that splinter groups will not emerge. Labour for Independence anyone? 

New scandals will have emerged in Westminster. The SNP will, of course, exploit these ruthlessly and Scotland will listen.

The 2015 UK General Election will be approaching. Will the Coalition survive the internal bickering? Perhaps, but all parties will be endeavouring to put clear water between themselves and their rivals and will inevitably lead to more problems in the No campaign creating opportunities for Yes Scotland to convert the one in three they need to entice from the 45%...

4. Salmond's Tactics

Salmond will continue to talk up a second question; not because it is his preferred option but because he knows it is the lure with which to tempt those who might be wavering on the Unionist side. Even if this causes small fractures within the No camp this will create internal pressures, making it increasingly difficult to maintain unity of purpose and consistency of message.As the 2015 UK election approaches even small disagreements will be exacerbated.

And, as everyone knows, Autumn 2014 has been chosen as the culmination of a 'feel good' year for Scotland - Homecoming 2014; the Glasgow Commonwealth Games; the Gleneagles Ryder Cup; and, yes, the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn. On such factors, votes can be decided...

5. The Clinchers: Ego, Ambition & Risk

Even the First Minister's staunchest supporters concede that this is a man partly driven by ego and burning ambition. Is this a politician who will be satisfied with the obituary 'the man who secured new powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament'?

Those who know politicians know that Alex Salmond could easily, when deciding to enter politics, have chosen a career within the Labour movement and he would have risen to high office - perhaps even the highest. His politics, on a whole range of subjects, could have been pursued within Labour. But he is consumed with a passion for Scottish independence. His ambition (and ego) will not allow him to throw that prospect away.

Clearly, offering a second question - based on polling figures - is almost resigning the prospect of that being the 'safe', 'fall-back' choice of the electorate. That would be a poor second choice for Salmond; a very minor victory. And would almost certainly end his leadership of the Scottish National Party.

Fundamentalists in the SNP - who have maintained discipline on a range of policies based on the prospect of winning independence - would revolt if, having taken them to the verge of independence, Salmond and his ministers chickened out at the final hurdle. This is not the legacy that Salmond wishes to leave.

The one question Referendum is, of course, riskier but it is a calculated risk and - as 2014 gets closer - I believe it will become less of a risk. More importantly, it is a risk Salmond's ego and ambition will not allow him to forego.

It will be one question. It's obvious. And now, it's been restated.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

It's A No-Brainer

I note with interest that one of Better Together's 'Real Scots' believes that the Union guarantees her 'hospital care'.

Not only does this raise serious questions about whether she has the appropriate political nous to appear in a political broadcast but also about the devious mendacity of those responsible for producing the launch video.

One day after the launch, we now know that 22 PFI hospital trusts are in serious financial difficulty, while the South London Healthcare Trust - set up by the Labour Government - is in imminent danger of going bust with health officials admitting it has a shortfall of £1 million each week. Although the men from the Ministry are sending in 'Special Administrators', they also accept that there may be job losses and reductions in service.

With the Tory-Lib Dem coalition continuing its privatisation programme which is handing over huge chunks of the NHS to Serco and Virgin Health, voters in England and Wales must really be scared about what services they'll be able to access in the future. Already in Dorset, Serco have decided that pre-natal ultrasound scans are unnecessary.

Labour, no doubt, will beg the electorate to oust the Tories and give them another opportunity to prove that the NHS is 'safe in their hands' but I'm afraid the record is unconvincing. Not only because of their enthusiastic embrace of PFI (which is now biting everyone in the ass) but because they have a shameful record of not repealing any vindictive Tory policies - including those inflicted on their paymasters, the Trade Unions.

Meanwhile, the NHS in Scotland is rolling along very nicely, thank you very much - publicly owned, operated and financed. Health, of course, being a devolved matter.

So, in whose hands is our NHS really safe? Westminster or Holyrood? The UK or Scotland? Better Together or Independence?

It's a no-brainer. Much like the some of the 'Real Scots' we've seen recently.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

12 Point Plan To Win Glasgow City Council

A variety of pointers will have been picked up by other political parties who may wish to emulate Labour's admirable success in securing a majority on Glasgow City Council in future elections.

1. Make threats against people who have the temerity to display SNP window posters on your 'patch'.

2. Promise to fix potholes in roads you have left to deteriorate over 40 years.

3. Harangue old ladies at their own doors by chastising them that the 'Nats have filled yer heid wi' rubbish'.

4. Promise free wi-fi for everyone.

5. Tell Rangers fans that the SNP are working hard to secure the Catholic vote.

6. Tell Celtic fans that Alex Salmond intervened with HMRC to try and get a 'sweet deal' for Rangers.

7. Tell both Rangers & Celtic fans that the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 is a SNP attack on over one hundred years of working class tradition by middle class Tartan Tories.

8. Claim the council elections are about local issues for local people while reminding everyone that you're all about protecting the Union.

9. Seek assistance from friends, like the Orange Order. Tell them about #5. Don't tell them about #6.

10. Work hard to get impressive postal vote results.

11. Make repeated spurious accusations against main opponent in period immediately prior to election. Ask more friends in broadcasting and press to help with this.

12. If any of the above is uncovered during or after election period, ask friends in media to ignore.

Conversations With My MP: Willie Bain

The social media revolution has, in my opinion (never humble), created a number of problems.

The first is that many of us can feel the need to be 'linked in' for too many hours in the day just to be sure we get that one 'micro blog' that will aid our current understanding or make us aware of ever-changing news stories.

The second is that it may be affecting our ability to communicate effectively 'offline'. It seems some of us prefer the anonymity and barriers of online discourse. Only today 'writer, commentator and broadcaster' David Torrance admitted he was uncomfortable during an unexpected real-world encounter with SNP MSP Roseanna Cunningham; perhaps because he feared she might challenge him on the subtle poisoning of minds against the SNP he accomplishes in the media utilising his 'reasonable, uncommitted man' schtick. But he's not the only one startled by real conversation. One can easily imagine hordes of online daters taking laptops to the bars where they meet up with potential mates in order to communicate satisfactorily.

Additionally, there are severe privacy issues; particularly amongst the young who so readily submit personal information, tastes, likes/dislikes, affiliations and photographs to the corporate owners of Google, Facebook, Twitter and a whole range of other networks. Information, incidentally, that then becomes the property of those corporations and can then be used in a variety of ways - aggressive, focused marketing being amongst the least worrying. We are not consumers of these services; we are being consumed by them.

On the plus side, it does mean we can interact more with those elected officials and opinion formers who deign to engage with the ordinary citizen - sorry, subject. Whilst I would not wish to discourage them from doing so, I am aware that there are dangers for those individuals who utilise social media platforms. My own MP found himself in a little difficulty recently when he tweeted about the Parliamentary Labour Party's long-held 'principle' that it would never support Nationalist motions in the House - presumably regardless of how that might benefit society, the country or, indeed, his own constituents. The now infamous Bain Principle entered the Scottish political lexicon and Oor Wullie had earned his place in posterity.

Since then I've had a number of exchanges with William Bain MP. Perhaps because he's MP for a constituency which is one of the most deprived in the country and also has chronically low educational attainment, I've always felt a slight condescension in his tone. Something along the lines of, "You can't possibly know more than me about anything, so listen carefully, I'll talk slowly, and explain to you how things really are in the world." Fairly standard Scottish Labour fare then, I suspect some of you are thinking. Of course, this overconfidence does occasionally mean they get caught out spouting rubbish.

Today's Twitter exchange was one of those occasions.

Another 'tweeter' had challenged Mr Bain about the absurdity of Labour councillors entering into local coalitions with Tories when he (Bain) constantly tweets about Tory cuts on local services and the damage they do.

I responded in both their timelines that the #BainPrinciple prevented Labour from supporting SNP motions and policies but not Tory ones.

Mr Bain's response: 'No, on @NewsnightScot last night, was some agreement between us on how badly Osborne is messing up Scotland's economy'

My default position with regard to BBC Scotland programming is to avoid their manipulation of news and facts, so I hadn't seen the programme and wasn't sure who had joined in this agreement. I tried to get some clarification.

'ScoLabour and Tories!?! agree that Osborne wrecking economy so coalesce in LA's to fight Osborne cuts?' was my tweeted question.

You can imagine my incredulity that Tories in East Lothian, Aberdeen, South Ayrshire, Falkirk and Stirling might support Willie's views on Osborne's management of the economy and that could be a conceivable point of unity that allowed them to keep SNP councillors out of administrations. Of course, I knew this wasn't the case (or his suggestion); it was classic political obfuscation and I merely wanted to flush out the real reasons. His response was interesting to say the least...

He didn't respond. Instead he waited for my next tweet when I was responding to someone else who had asserted that Speaker of the House John Bercow had commented that there was little difference between Labour and the Conservatives. I wrote ' Bercow makes a fair point, I think. Should both just form a Union Party.'

Mr Bain replied, 'I know how it feels to be a little sore after poor election results, but you're incorrect on this point.'

Ignoring the jibe about election results - mainly because I was perfectly happy with them - SNP win most seats, popular vote and increase lead over Labour from 2007 - I responded, 'Poor defence of Labour-Tory council collaboration. Nice you both have to deal with your CT cut in Stirling though'.

Many of you may remember that the minority SNP administration in Stirling were prevented from passing a budget earlier this year by the combined forces of Labour and Conservatives who then joined to propose and pass a budget with a 1% Council Tax reduction. This saved householders pennies each week but cost the Council millions of pounds. The Unionists did so, spitefully, in the belief that a majority SNP administration post-election would suffer politically in attempting to provide council services on a reduced budget and, no doubt, introduce service cuts.

His response was where he, metaphorically speaking, fell on his arse. 'STV voting system means coalitions more likely than not - up to cllrs to reach agreement based on local circumstances.'

This was a strange one. Throughout the election we heard cries from Unionist party activists that the SNP were fighting a national campaign while they were fighting on local issues. This despite a plethora of election leaflets being produced with slogans like 'Save the Union', 'Don't Split Up the UK' and similar. And, when questioned by the media about the Tory-Labour coalition in Stirling (when SNP and Labour policy locally are largely identical) Labour Group Leader Corrie McChord stated he couldn't work with the SNP. 'It's the big question of separation,' he said.

Well, Mr McChord (and Mr Bain), as a member of the SNP Dunblane & Bridge of Allan branch which is part of the Stirling council area, I can confirm we have no local plans to separate from either the UK or the rest of Scotland. So, the reason you can't work with the SNP locally is because of a national issue? Or could it be that in the run up to 2014, with the symbolism of Stirling Castle, the Wallace Monument and Bannockburn, it was decided Stirling could just not be in SNP hands?

I tried to point this out to the (Honourable) Member. "I understand that. Local 'circumstances' though according to Stirling Labour leader was 'separation'."

Hours later, I have received no response from my MP. I don't expect one either. I know he's a busy man and probably had to run off somewhere. With his tail between his legs. Labour 'principles' exposed yet again. The Bain Principle intact.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Future's Bright. The Future's Orange.

Sensibly, I hope, I've waited for the events of election day to settle a little before having my say. When you're passionately committed to one side or the other it's easy to be carried away by the elation of victory or the despair of defeat and write something you may think ill-considered further down the road. Especially when, as events unfolded on Friday afternoon, some people seemed unclear on who had won and who had lost.

In my opinion, the first important thing to acknowledge is that the Labour Party performed better in the Scottish local elections than many of us suspected they would. That 'many' includes, I should point out, a substantial number of Labour supporters and activists. The reactions of newly-elected councillors and activists at Glasgow's SECC confirmed that. As the counts progressed there was genuine delight and barely-disguised surprise.

The Labour Party's mantra at recent elections, particularly in Scotland, had been that there were 'lessons to be learnt'. These elections have shown, I think, that some have been paying attention. Clearly, in Glasgow, Labour out-thought and outmanoeuvred the Scottish National Party who, previously, had been universally acclaimed for the effectiveness of their campaigning and their electoral strategy. This time, though, the Nationalists missed a trick or two. Not, as many commentators have suggested in the management of expectation. I think both parties (at a national level) were careful to downplay predictions of success though undoubtedly some SNP supporters were bullish about the prospects of taking Glasgow. Rather, it was that the Labour Party understood more effectively the ramifications of Single Transferable Vote and how to get an even spread of support for each of their candidates. This meant, that in a number of wards, the SNP had a clear lead in first preference votes but still ended up getting only one councillor elected against three Labour councillors. This is something that must be looked at by the Nationalists in future.

Unlike some, I also make no criticism of the Nationalist decision to try and get three councillors elected in the Govan ward. It was always a risky policy (and they would have gained an extra elected councillor had they only shared their vote over two candidates) but, if they were ever to take control of the city, it was probably essential to get three candidates elected in what was assumed to be their Glasgow power-base. If they failed to achieve that success in Govan it was unlikely they would secure control of Glasgow regardless of other votes across the city.

Their other mistake in Glasgow (and I did write about this prior to the election in this blog) was to have Allison Hunter as leader of the SNP group. I know from speaking to others that Allison has many excellent qualities. Unfortunately these do not extend to effectively communicating SNP plans for Scotland's largest city. If the SNP were serious about showing how efficient and common-sense governance of Glasgow could, by extension, demonstrate their ability to do the same for an independent Scotland they should have chosen a figurehead that would at least have given them a fighting chance to win the election in the first instance. Hunter's public appearances in the lead up to the campaign and during it were hardly likely to inspire confidence. This must also be addressed. Loyalty to those who have provided sterling service to Party is admirable (and, unquestionably, Allison Hunter has) but when it compromises electoral success, it is misguided.

Football, it seems, may also have played a part in the Glasgow result. During the campaign I heard stories that some activists had 'reminded' voters that the SNP had pioneered the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which some 'supporters' believe tramples on their human rights by trying to prevent them spouting bigoted bile at each other. I hoped these stories were apocryphal. However, I was also made aware of others being 'reminded' that the First Minister had 'intervened' with HMRC on behalf of Rangers in their ongoing tax case. I was asked by one visitor to my door, during a lengthy discussion about the vote (my theory being that time spent trying to convert me was time denied to the task of converting others), which team I supported. Living in prime Celtic 'territory' in the East End of Glasgow, I wish I had had sufficient wits about me to answer disingenuously to see where the conversation would have gone. My truthful answer (Kilmarnock) didn't lead anywhere of interest other than some gentle ribbing about not following a 'real' football team. Of course, some of us used to get the same ribbing about not voting for a 'real' political party.

Many, of course, might see the football issue as fair game in Glasgow. Obviously these were local elections about local issues and some may think the Offensive Behaviour Bill and the Rangers tax case as legitimate concerns to voters. Certainly local issues contributed to results in Aberdeen (Union Terrace Gardens) and in Edinburgh (trams) to the benefit, it would appear, of the Labour Party.

The local issue, though, used by Glasgow Labour in a pre-election briefing to the Orange Order will raise many questions about Gordon Matheson, his team and the tactics they were prepared to use to retain power. On the Monday before the election, Matheson effectively prostrated himself (and his Party) before a meeting of the Orange Order and conceded his own policy of restricting marches was wrong. Presumably this volte-face was in Glasgow Labour's election manifesto - I'll search out a couple and check.

Hmmm, perhaps I didn't get the right leaflets through my door - nothing in these about a 'review' of policy on Orange Order marches.

Johann Lamont has made much political capital over the last two weeks by asserting that you learn a lot about the man by the company he keeps. Presumably, then, her warm embrace of Matheson on Friday at the SECC count means she is happy with the company wee Gordon keeps.

This is becoming a pattern where Labour are bent on supporting both sides of an issue.

Obviously we support anti-sectarian legislation but Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is flawed.

Obviously Salmond shouldn't have support of Murdoch; we want him to support us again.

Obviously we oppose Coalition cuts; we'd cut much slower than this.

Obviously we don't like nuclear weapons but it's a dangerous world out there.

Obviously we don't agree with lowering tax on super-rich but we won't support Nationalist motions.

Obviously we hate the Tories but we'll enter into coalitions with them.

Of course the SNP are anti-Catholic (to Celtic fans) and we support the Orange Order (to Rangers fans).

We are Labour. All things to all people. No heart. No principles. Other than the pursuit of power. And more Orange marches in Glasgow.

Labour voters; think about it. Is this the country you want?

Monday, 30 April 2012

In The Footsteps Of Giants

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
                            Margaret Meade

Later today, I'll go out and do some last minute leafletting on behalf of my local SNP candidate standing in the Glasgow City Council elections. It will be a small contribution to a much wider effort - not just in this ward, but across the city and throughout the entire country. Only through my recent acquaintance with Twitter, and by following a number of activists (of all parties) on there, have I understood the enormous amount of work that goes into these elections. I won't embarrass anyone by naming them but I have noted that some are consumed by their activism. They spend their days pounding pavements and on doors; braving assorted dogs and vicious letterboxes in Scotland's ever changing weather; attending meetings and hustings; and, perhaps most difficult of all, canvassing in the streets and shopping malls. Amazingly, many have the energy to spend their 'free time' on Twitter engaging in debate and trying to preach to even more of the unconverted. I salute them all.

Although I have voted for the Scottish National Party in every election in which I was able, it wasn't until last October that I actually joined the Party. This was due, in combination, to working for 15 years in London before returning to Scotland in 2000, and in positions that disqualified active participation in party politics. It does make me feel like 'less' of a member than many; that I've jumped on the bandwagon near the end of the journey. I wish to pay tribute, therefore, to those that have gone before.

Many, perhaps, having grown up with the main political rivalry in the UK being Conservative vs Labour will be unaware that for 250 years of our parliamentary system the main battle was fought between the Tories and the Whigs (Liberals). This situation persevered until relatively recently - the Labour movement emerging at the turn of the twentieth century; actually becoming the Labour Party in 1906; and first tasting power in 1924 as a minority administration.

Despite the enmity that has grown up in Scotland between the parties as the SNP have grown and replaced the Labour Party in their heartlands whilst standing on a broadly similar policy platform, it is, perhaps, right that we also acknowledge that the Labour movement made it possible for political parties of the Left and Centre-Left to develop in Britain.

Tory/Whig politics was effectively a battle between different strata of the ruling elite. Of course there was some crossover but the Tories were the party of the lesser landowners and the Church, while the Whigs represented larger landowners and the business classes. Only the emergence of Labour gave the working men and women of this country a real stake in the political process.

Labour, in turn, owe their emergence to other radical movements, amongst them the Independent Labour Party, Fabian Society, Social Democratic Federation and the Scottish Labour Party and a number of these organisations would amalgamate to become the Labour Party we know now. As one might expect, given our nation's commitment to radical, progressive politics many of the main protagonists in this movement were Scots - Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald and James Maxton. All were committed to Home Rule for Scotland. Without diminishing in any way the three great Scots already mentioned, the fourth member of that illustrious group, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, is perhaps the most interesting in a number of ways.

Perfectly naturally, Hardie, MacDonald and Maxton turned to socialism after experiencing poverty; Hardie and MacDonald actually living through it whilst Maxton witnessed it in the pupils he taught. Cunninghame Graham, though, was born into a wealthy family. His early childhood was spent on the family's Finlaystone estate in Renfrewshire before he left to attend Harrow. When he returned to Scotland as a 31 year old, he had already travelled extensively - primarily in Argentina, Mexico, the United States, Morocco and Spain - and indulged his sense of adventure to the full.

Interested in politics, he entered Parliament three years later as the MP for NW Lanarkshire. Despite entering the Commons as a Liberal, he supported a radical programme including the abolition of the Lords; votes for all; provision of free school meals; nationalisation of key industries including mining; disestablishment of the Church of England; and an eight hour day for workers. Unsurprisingly, it didn't take him long to be suspended from the House after showing disrespect to the Lords. He later became the first MP ever suspended for swearing ('Damn!') in the House. His commitment to the poor, the unemployed and to civil liberties and free speech were well known. Indeed, he was imprisoned for six weeks in 1887 after being arrested and beaten at Trafalgar Square's 'Bloody Sunday' protest in support of civil rights in Ireland. A third suspension wasn't long in coming. Whilst protesting about working conditions, he was asked by the Speaker to withdraw his remarks. His famous response, "I never withdraw."

Becoming increasingly radical, Cunninghame Graham formed, first, the Scottish Labour Party with Keir Hardie in 1888 and then the Independent Labour Party (again with Hardie) five years later.

His own parliamentary career ended in 1892 when he failed to win the Glasgow Camlachie seat standing as a Scottish Labour Party candidate but the light never dimmed. His commitment to Scottish Home Rule (shared with Hardie, MacDonald and Maxton) only intensified and, in 1928, he helped establish the National Party of Scotland. When the NPS merged with the Scottish Party in 1934 to become the Scottish National Party, Cunninghame Graham became the first President of the Party.

It is, perhaps, fitting that a Party often derided by opponents as being insular, parochial and anti-English should elect as its first President a man born in London of Scots-Spanish heritage; whose first language may even have been Spanish; who married a woman half French, half Chilean; and whose outlook was so international in perspective.

As those of us in the Party know, that outward-looking and inclusive attitude prevails to this day. Opponents who continue to use this line of attack will soon discover that they do so only to their own detriment.

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham continued to live a full and varied life and I recommend that all modern day SNP supporters should examine it further and get a sense of a man who could truly be described as a 'father' to our Party. His friend, G. K. Chesterton, wrote of him that while he would never have been allowed to become Prime Minister, he instead "achieved the adventure of being Cunninghame Graham." Another friend, George Bernard Shaw, claimed that was "an achievement so fantastic that it would never be believed in a romance."

We truly do walk in the footsteps of giants and every step that every activist takes in the next few days and in the next two years, takes us one step closer to realising the dreams of those giants. I salute them, just as I salute all of you.

For Scotland.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

"Alec, there's been a Murdump"

After almost five years as Scotland's undisputed champion, Alex Salmond faces what are perhaps, thus far, his most difficult times as First Minister. Even so, it seems inconceivable that these will threaten his position at the head of the Scottish Government or his own Scottish National Party. They have been leapt on, though, by his opponents to try and penetrate his hitherto impregnable defences. Since 2007, he has commanded the centre of the Holyrood ring, swatting off the attacks of other parliamentarians with equal measures of brilliance, badinage, bluster and mastery of his brief.

At today's First Minister's Sparring session, however, Mr Salmond seemed slightly less assured than normal. He still probably emerged as a 'points winner' over the challengers - L.D. LabTory - but there were none of the knockdowns we've become accustomed to seeing whenever he enters the arena. Unsurprisingly, given his past record, it's taken a combination of two of the world's most feared marketplace maulers to force the nationalist champion on to the ropes, albeit temporarily one assumes.

It's probably an exaggeration to call it a perfect storm but the 'Tycoon Typhoon' has rained a little on what many suspected might be Salmond's triumphant, two-year, ticker-tape parade to Independence. Indeed, in recognition of this moment, any future difficulties in the SNP camp might be greeted by the plaintive cry, "Alec, there's been a Murdump."

So cutting through all the accusation and innuendo what, if anything, has the First Minister been guilty of?

Let's dispose with Donald 'The Evidence' Trump first. There probably never was an issue for the First Minister to concern himself with in 'Windgate' anyway but that is almost now immaterial as 'The Donald' single-handedly destroyed his own credibility as a potentially hostile witness.

Most opposition figures assumed, no doubt, they'd never encounter anyone within the Parliament building so convinced of their own infallibility as the FM. Mr Trump, however, takes self-satisfied and self-assured to a whole new level. Apparently he considers himself a world authority in a number of areas. That might explain why - when he has the finances to seek the assistance of the world's best - he also seems to be self-coiffured.

Trump seemed to think the Committee Room was actually his boardroom during shooting of The Apprentice. He would deliver his verdicts (my golf course is great; windpower is shite; McConnell lied; Salmond lied; I've been duped; no-one will invest in Scotland. Again. Ever.) and walk out without being challenged. Indeed, when his dubious timeline of events was challenged by Patrick Harvie, one of the businessman's advisers leapt to his defence, 'This is not the Trump Inquiry', he bleated.

When he then desperately conflated 'Windgate' and the decision to release Al-Megrahi (claiming they were the 'same kind of thinking') one wondered if he was losing his faculties. When he claimed that Al-Megrahi was seen jogging in a park last week, one stopped wondering. It also revealed Trump's tenuous relationship with the truth and rendered the rest of his submission almost worthless. Admitting he had no proof for any of his claims, no written undertakings, that he had embarked on a billion pound project with no demonstrable assurances he proclaimed 'I am the evidence.' In that case, Mr Trump, the verdict must be 'Not Guilty'.

The Murdoch/BSkyB imbroglio is potentially more damaging for the First Minister. Even here, though, there is little clear evidence of any wrongdoing. Admittedly, much of the issue is down to individual interpretation of some third party email correspondence and how one imagines that stacks up with the statements of the various parties and the personal judgements one has of the people involved. Invariably what this will mean is that political opponents will try to believe the worst of Salmond and supporters will accept his explanations. The verdicts of the uncommitted will likely not to be known until Autumn 2014. By that time more pressing issues are likely to have assumed centre stage.

It does seem clear to me, even as an SNP and a Salmond supporter (not always the same thing), that some vague undertaking was made to give support - or, at least, not be unsupportive of - NewsCorp's attempted takeover of BSkyB. I have little doubt that it occurred to the First Minister (widely recognised as the sharpest operator in UK politics) that this would not damage the chances of securing some Murdoch-media support for the Scottish National Party - whether that was explicitly voiced or not. I have few qualms about that. Regardless of what they are currently saying publicly, even in the wake of the phone-hacking allegations, all other political parties would gleefully accept the implied support of The Sun in advance of an election. Anyone claiming otherwise is lying.

Even assuming the worst - that the mutual back-scratching was explicitly voiced and agreed - my criticism of Salmond would be muted. This was, let us not forget, regardless of how Opposition leaders try to confuse the issue, before the Millie Dowler incident had become publicly known. Though some will claim it is still 'supping with the Devil', it is still a Devil that all parties were keen to sup with. The real outrage in all of this - particularly from Labour - is that Murdoch chose the nationalists over them.

There are still, though, unexplained elements. Portrayed, as it has been, by Salmond detractors as a sordid 'quid pro quo' arrangement, it remains difficult to see what NewsCorp believed they might get out of the deal. Exactly what influence did they believe Alex Salmond might have with the ConDem Coalition?

Were Jeremy Hunt, Vince Cable and David Cameron going to usher through a deal on the say-so of the SNP leader? Were the regulators at the Competition Commission and OFCOM beholden to Alex Salmond? The answers to both of those questions must be an unequivocal 'No'.

If we were talking about the starstruck directors of a Scottish SME, I might concede that Salmond could convince them that he had enough 'pull' in Westminster to help their cause. This, however, as everyone knows is one of the most sophisticated, politically-savvy corporations not only in British terms but worldwide. NewsCorp had to know that the First Minister would be relatively useless to them in their bid to take control of BSkyB. That strongly suggests to me that there was no 'quid pro quo' arrangement of the type alleged by the Holyrood opposition parties.

Where then is the benefit to NewsCorp? What's the skinny? Here's my assessment.

Gallons of ink have been expended on how influential mass-market newspapers are in determining elections. Although there are still some who believe 'It's The Sun What Won It', the majority are now inclined to believe that they are followers rather than leaders - skilled at picking up on prevailing moods and siding with, rather than selecting, election victors. This view is supported by studies showing voting patterns of those who read and those who don't read newspapers.

Is it not simply the case that NewsCorp, News International, and The Sun have seen how the political cookie is crumbling in Scotland? They have chosen the party they believe will win. Not only in the upcoming local elections but in the Referendum of Autumn 2014. They wish to be associated with winners. This is what the anti-Independence parties find hard to stomach.

And if, in News International's mind, that places them advantageously in the marketplace post-Independence, then they have their 'quid pro quo'.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

I Confess...

There comes a time in the lives of many young men when they must embrace the truth at the core of their being. If he has been particularly adept at hiding his secret, this can be a devastating moment for the woman in his life. Even though we live in a more accepting age, her initial anger is likely to turn to introspection.

Did I deliberately ignore the signs? Is it something I did? Or didn't do? Why wasn't I enough to make him happy? Those nights when he disappeared down the pub with his 'friends' start to take on a new meaning. It was a 'tradition' he said. But who gets that excited about Monday nights?

So, okay, I'm gonna to say it.

My name is Jock. And I am a football fan.

I admit it. Watching twenty-two other men chase a vinyl bag filled with air around a grassy rectangle can make me lose my sense of perspective from time to time. Those times are limited though; it only happens when I watch it. Even if I have no particular interest in either of the teams it can induce euphoria, awe, frustration, anger, disbelief, joy, bewilderment, depression, selective hearing loss and a sense of wonder at the athletic possibilities of the human form. When I actually care about the teams involved (Kilmarnock, Tottenham Hotspur or Scotland) that's when I can really go daft!

However, as someone who has other interests, I have occasionally fretted about whether I shouldn't be expending that time, energy and emotional investment in something more 'worthy'. When mixing with political acquaintances, business associates or just some of my more 'cultured' friends, my obsession with football isn't likely to feature on my internal 'A list' of discussion topics. That's a lie. It is and it does. It always does but I self-discipline.

Golf is normally 'allowed' and, even as a five-handicap player and a qualified coach, I have to concede that, as a pursuit, it is equally pointless. Rugby too, in certain circles, is acceptable despite being a quite brutal, almost gladiatorial, contest where thirty extravagantly-shaped individuals pound each other into exhausted submission. Don't get me wrong, I love rugby. Fancied myself (quite literally, some might say) as a schoolboy stand-off/inside centre but why should rugby be kosher dinner-party conversation when football isn't?

That's why, I suppose, I have yet to throw in my tuppence worth on the Rangers situation. There are other reasons. As a supporter of a 'provincial' club, I have a default setting of antipathy towards both Glasgow giants and I did worry that this would influence any comments I might make. On reflection, however, it is precisely supporters like me who should be heard. The alternative is to leave the field to Rangers and Celtic fans who have even greater personal stakes and entrenched views.

Well, after the SFA panel announced their adjudication late on Monday night, it's become increasingly likely that Rangers will be forced down the path of liquidation-NewCo. Potential investors seem to be backing away, with only Bill Miller the American tow-truck tycoon left standing. As his plan always involved some strange liquidation-NewCo/CVA-ExistingCo hybrid anyway, the die seems to be cast. The question now is what happens from here.

The £160,000 fine imposed by the SFA now seems the least of their worries. It is dwarfed by the implications of the twelve-month transfer embargo. Especially when those senior players, universally lauded for taking pay deferrals (not cuts) earlier this year, desert the sinking ship in the summer using the release clauses they negotiated in return for their selfless act. Most will end up in the English Championship with perhaps only goalkeeper Allan MacGregor winning a transfer to a top Premiership club.

Reduced to playing youngsters, it would be interesting to see how Rangers fared - especially starting from minus ten points as will be suggested at next weeks SPL vote. Kids under pressure from day one, playing against seasoned professionals and with a demanding support on their backs are not the ingredients for a successful campaign.

The seventy-five per cent reduction in league generated fees plus the loss of income from UEFA competition - both over a number of years will also hit hard - making it more difficult to retain any high earners who can't find alternative employment.

Taken together, it seems that the best option might indeed be that seemingly accepted by manager Ally McCoist last night. Abandon the SPL and their penalties; start again in Division Three and work their way back. The youngsters will be under less pressure and the club, even with substantially reduced income, will be financially dominant in the lower leagues and should progress quickly.

The problem remains, certainly, of how the rest of the SPL will cope financially. Primarily, their great rivals, Celtic. Despite Peter Lawell's protestations (no pun intended), the Old Firm do need each other. Their huge supports are only energised by the rivalry of the other. Does he seriously believe that 67,000 will turn up at Celtic Park every week to watch the Hoops canter to a league title devoid of the glory of beating Rangers? Crowds will inevitably drop in the east end of Glasgow. And if Sky pull out of Scottish football, Celtic take another massive financial hit.

Conversely, attendances might even rise at other SPL grounds as a number of teams start the season with second place and European qualification a distinct possibility. The trend of some provincial clubs losing a percentage of home supporters when the Old Firm visit is also well established. The thought of paying to see your club well-beaten, often via dubious refereeing decisions, whilst being exposed to sectarian chanting is not a pleasant experience for many. Might games against Dundee United, Motherwell and Hearts become more attractive when the stakes are, potentially, higher?

Can we find any other positives?

In the absence of Rangers for at least three seasons, will Celtic cut their cloth accordingly, meaning a levelling off of Scottish football and creating more meaningful competition?

Lower league clubs will certainly benefit financially of hosting Rangers supporters (though those supporters are notorious for deserting in droves when times are hard, see attendance figures in early and mid-eighties for evidence of that).

Will Rangers return to the SPL a more humble and reasonable animal?

In their absence, might a more equitable and democratic voting structure be established in the top division?

Will all clubs take a more responsible view of club finances?

Could Sky be convinced to hang around and document the rebirth of Rangers as they climb back up the ladder?

Or will, as many of us fear, Scottish football sell its soul, forego all credibility and demean the competition even further by finding a solution for even a destitute, NewCo Rangers to remain in the SPL? The world watches...

Monday, 23 April 2012

Democracy, Corporate Media and Internet Freedom

"The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed" is a quote often attributed to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Propaganda Minister in Nazi Germany. It is also often claimed that he was referring to Nazi disinformation techniques when making the statement. In fact, the 'quote' has been paraphrased from the following:

"One should not as a rule reveal one's secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous."

I give the quote in full not to have a dig at the English - to Goebbels the term would presumably have been synonymous with British and he could just have easily applied his assessment to any of the Great Powers - but only to demonstrate again, if proof were needed, that truth can be twisted by history's winners and by those in authority.

The big lie being pushed at the moment is that we still have a mainstream media that safeguards the health of our democracy.

The first part of the lie is that we even have a 'mainstream' media. Let's look at the definition of mainstream. Most dictionaries define it as 'the prevailing current of thought, activity or influence'. Consider the media that you are exposed to everyday. Can you seriously claim that it embodies your 'prevailing current of thought', or of those you know? No, what we now have across the developed world is a 'corporate media' which is a different animal entirely.

The 'corporate media' do not do mainstream. What they do is operate within a narrow band of acceptable corporate interests; that narrow band of interest sitting comfortably with those of our major political parties. In effect it means we receive all our 'corporate-mainstream' news within a pre-determined and controlled range.

Anyone who still listens to radio (by actually using a radio) will know that, in the UK, the FM broadcast band spans from 88 - 108 MHz. If Conservative party policy can be said to be at 96MHz and with Labour positioned at 100MHz, that means we are only exposed to a range of opinion and ideas covered by 4MHz while four times that amount of relevant information is denied to us. It is precisely because they are in thrall to the same corporate interests that we see so little difference in policy. Labour were unelectable in this 'brave new world' until Tony Blair ditched the progressive, social democratic policies of the past. He created a party so akin to the Conservatives that even Margaret Thatcher could rest easy in the knowledge that Blair was 'one of us'.

That's why we have seen Labour distance themselves from the unions (though not their money); ditch their opposition to nuclear weapons; continue the previous administration's sell-off of publicly-owned utilities; introduce tuition fees for the ConDems to later multiply; attempt to introduce an ID card surveillance society; embrace foreign conflicts and the never-ending War on Terror against the wishes of the electorate; and raid our pension funds whilst bailing out the bankers with trillions of our pounds and ineffectually regulating utility companies who have introduced the term 'fuel poverty' into our lexicon.

How many Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters thought they were electing MPs who would turn over the National Health Service to private companies who would insist that twelve-week foetal scans were unnecessary? How many thought that, having fought Labour's ID card bill, those same parties in power would be introducing their own draconian attacks on our civil liberties? How many thought the Government would embark on stringent austerity measures while continuing to spend hundreds of billions on conflicts abroad, upgrading Trident and throwing good money after bad to the IMF? Who knew they were going to spend billions more of our money to upgrade infrastructure in industries that have long since been privatised - when do their corporate friends who were sold the 'family silver' take responsibility for the costs as well as the profits of these enterprises?

Those who do not believe that our national Government have sold out to corporate interests have not been paying attention. Admittedly, it is made more difficult to remain aware when the 'corporate media' attempt to obfuscate what is really happening. Where is the outrage in our 'free press' who are meant to be the guardians of our democracy? How many in the media are warning about this creeping corporate influence? Is Government now merely a tool to divest us of our incomes for corporate gain?

As I've stated before in these pages, when corporate interests merge with those of the Government's we have Fascism. It is not a statement I make lightly but it seems to me the only deduction one can currently make.

All of us, then, must become the 'mainstream' media. On social networks, blogs and alternative news sites we must share information and hold the authorities to account, if others will not. It also means that we must resist any government moves to clamp down on internet freedoms.

We will only ever get the democracy we deserve. If we give it up through apathy not only will we have ourselves to blame but our children and grandchildren will rightly join in the condemnation.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Why I'll Be Watching The Bahrain Grand Prix

Let me be completely upfront from the start. I am one of those who will sit down at lunchtime and watch the Bahrain Grand Prix. What's more, I will feel no pangs of guilt about doing so. Let me explain why.

As a Scottish nationalist, no-one would expect me to do anything other than support pro-democracy movements wherever they are in the world. Bahrain is no different and, accordingly, I wholeheartedly support the Shiite majority in their fight against the Sunni elite for greater political freedom and respect for human rights. I am as concerned about these issues as any of the people calling for the race to be cancelled. Indeed, I am certain that I am more concerned than many of them.

I have a real problem with Ed Milliband, Douglas Alexander and Yvette Cooper calling for the race to be called off. Where have they been on this issue for the past twelve months? Why have they been opportunistically latching on to this issue in the last week or so? Have I missed something or were all three not intimately involved with our previous Westminster Government? The same Westminster Government that enthusiastically sold the Bahrain Government the very tools it now uses to suppress the protesters they now claim to be so concerned about.

Let's be clear. Twenty-four high-powered racing cars screaming around a racetrack in the desert does not bolster or legitimise the Bahraini regime. What does bolster the regime are self-proclaimed 'ethical' Governments who are prepared to sell oppressive regimes the means to carry out their repressive actions. By trading with any given country - particularly when it involves armaments - our Government effectively gives them our stamp of approval, legitimises them.

When Labour were in power, were Bahrain's rulers any less repressive? Did they call for the Grand Prix to be cancelled in any of the years between 2004 and 2010? If not, why not? The 2011 race was called off but that was initiated from with Formula One not the Government.

I am frankly sickened by Governments and officials who will happily trade with any number of dubious regimes but who are happy to use sport as a means to an end. If that was to punish or moderate the regime, I might have some sympathy but it is not. These empty words and empty condemnations are used only to bolster their own ethical credentials; the problem being, of course, that their previous actions reveal those credentials to be as worthless as their current empty and manipulative pronouncements. Anyone who actually believes that those three care a jot about ordinary Bahrainis should check the back of their heads for buttons.

There is an argument to be made about whether all links (including sporting ones) should be cut with regimes such as the one in Bahrain but I will not hear it made by such hypocrites.

The media should also be examining their own involvement. Although there was reasonable coverage of the problems in Bahrain last year when the whole Arab world seemed to be on fire, where have the reporters been in the last twelve months? In some senses, the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain should be thankful that the arrival of the F1 circus has catapulted them back onto the front pages and into the public consciousness.

I am no admirer of Bernie Ecclestone. Nor do I have any reason to demonise him. I am certain, however, that these three Labour Party opportunists will once again be willing to afford him any leeway he asks for should he deposit another £1 million in their coffers.

Friday, 20 April 2012

What Do You Really Know About The Bank of England?

There's a lot of confusion about how the Bank of England operates. That's not entirely surprising because, frankly, you're not meant to know.

To make it simple to understand let's imagine we've wiped the slate clean and we're starting up a brand new economy. There is no National Debt, there's no money in circulation, and you are the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Prime Minister has just popped through from Number 10 and told you of his plans to build roads, schools and hospitals. Along with all the other Government expenses for this month, he's going to need £1 billion pounds.

You sit confused for a moment - it's your first day in the job after all - until a helpful civil servant passes you the phone. It's the Governor of the Bank of England and he's happy to lend you the £1 billion. It's a great deal too because he's only going to charge 1% interest. Problem solved, you do a little jig then sit back and flick on the telly to watch Jeremy Kyle - you want to keep in touch with how ordinary people live.

Let's keep it simple from now on, just so we all follow the thread.

The Bank of England deposit £1 billion in the Government coffers. To do so cost the Bank of England approximately £1,500 in printing costs. So, for a £1,500 investment, the Bank is now owed £1 billion pounds by the Government (ie. taxpayers). Plus 1% interest.

The Government contracts with various companies to carry out the works and distributes the money to them in payment. These companies, in turn, distribute the money in wages to their employees. There is now £1 billion in circulation.

To pay back the Bank, the Government collects various taxes from the workers and businesses. Eventually they collect the £1 billion back in and pay their debt to the Bank. Everyone's happy.

But wait! The Bank is still owed £10 million in interest. Unfortunately the Government has used all the money in circulation which it collected as taxation and has nothing left to pay the interest charges. What to do, what to do.....

Not to worry, the Bank has an answer. We'll lend you the £10 million at 1% interest. And, of course, for the next part of your programme, you're going to need another £1 billion this month. We'll lend you that too. At 1% interest. Ad infinitum.

I urge anyone who doesn't believe me that this is exactly how the Bank of England and the Government operate to do their own research. It isn't an unusual system. It is how central banks and governments operate the world over - with very few exceptions and perhaps we'll deal with those exceptions in another blog; you might just spot a connection between the countries that don't operate this system!

But it gets worse. Despite some legislative sleight of hand (particularly in 1946 and 1977), the Bank of England has always been a privately-owned corporation and remains so to this day. Regardless of what anyone tells you, it is not Government owned and never has been. Again, do your own research.

So why do our Government operate under such a system? They are legally able to print their own money, interest free. Thus they could print £1 billion for a one-off cost of £1,500 with no-one to make repayments to and no interest charges. What effect do you think that might have on your taxes? On the economy? On the National Debt?

They toil under the same system in the United States. For Bank of England read Federal Reserve - another privately-owned, profit-making corporation. Two American Presidents suggested that the Government should start printing their own debt-free money - Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.

I'll return to this subject at a later date. For those that are interested, it'll give you some time to do that background research.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Reasons To Be Fearful

Living in one of these new housing estates that are isolated from local services, I drove to the bank this morning to pay some bills. Returning to my car, I find that an intermittent, yet recurring, engine fault means I will be immobile for about ninety minutes if previous experience is any guide. Sitting in the car, with notebook and pen, I get a close up look at a part of the local area that I rarely pay much attention to. It is a fairly non-descript part of Glasgow. Neither particularly impoverished nor affluent.

Parked in a sidestreet about two hundred yards from the main drag, I can see a number of things. Forward of me, I can watch the vehicular and pedestrian traffic stream along the shopping area and across the junction an imposing church with what seems an unusually tall spire. In this street, handsome sandstone tenement residences with little of the soot-blackened facade that used to be so common - these buildings look pristine; as if they have very recently been sand-blasted. There is a tastefully refurbished community centre. And a modern doctor's surgery directs a steady stream of souls to the chemist on the corner. There is a small, relatively-picturesque, wooded park immediately to my right and behind me - where bollards mark the end of this dead-end street - there is another open space (concrete this time) which is a hive of activity where a well-known developer constructs new housing.

When I re-walk the length of the street (both sides) later, to get some fresh air and stretch my legs, virtually every parked car is more up-to-date than my own and all have correctly-displayed and current tax discs. This is not broken Britain.

But look at the people. There is no obvious confidence. No apparent pride. Few walk tall with their heads in the air and their eyes forward.

I watch them closely from behind the lightly-tinted glass. Though I hesitate to use the words, these are the only ones I can find...

I see people who look destitute and downtrodden. They look poor. It is clear that a substantial number have fought, are still fighting, losing battles with drugs and/or alcohol. The majority look unhealthy - some emaciated, some morbidly obese; those that fit into some acceptable middle ground are notable only because of their scarcity. Some are - again it is the only word that conveys what I see - mis-shapen; as if they have been carelessly thrown together by a mischievous God. Most are smoking and with the window down I can hear many breathe with a laboured wheeze as they shuffle past.

They are poorly dressed. Tribal football uniforms are what many of them will consider their contribution to style. One particularly crude zebra-print, 'puffa' jacket, with the white segments now no more than a memory, is especially eye-catching. Crude amateur tattoos abound. There are broken veins on many faces which already suffer the indignity of a particularly sickly pallor. Shouted greetings to acquaintances across the street are unashamedly punctuated with obscenities. There is casual littering and carefully considered hawking up of phlegm, both of which fight for pavement space with the dog shit left behind by their aggressive-looking terriers.

Many have babes in prams and pushchairs while some carry and some harry pre-school toddlers along the street. Their offspring are not spared in the casual torrent of swear words that colour their conversations. Scant consolation is taken from the realisation that the children tend to be better dressed than the parents. Still, I wonder, what chance for these future adults?

When the rare vital or attractive individual chances by, I stare - perhaps for too long. The males, no doubt, take me for a copper or some other snooping authority and glare back. The females, avert their eyes and hurry past.

It is a singularly depressing experience.

I watch one moderately plump mother carry her toddler down the street towards me, stop twice in a hundred yards, place her child on the ground and re-adjust the brown cords which are threatening to part company with her fleshy hips. As they get closer, I can hear that the child is crying. No agonised tears. Just the tired, fitful sobbing that kids sometimes do. From her soothing words, her ruffling of her son's hair and her kissing of his forehead, her love is obvious. But the child cries on and, sitting there, I want to weep with him. And nearly do.

I want to weep because I fear for where this is all heading.

In one of the wealthiest nations in the world, we have permitted to develop a permanent underclass. Rather than take meaningful steps to address this, Westminster governments - of all stripes - would prefer to pursue unachievable, perpetual growth. Untold billions are available to bail out the bankers who sold them this vision of ever-increasing prosperity then tried to make it so via exotic and illusory financial instruments. Untold billions are available to upgrade our nuclear arsenals with ever more sophisticated weapons whose sole purpose is to kill millions of human beings at a stroke. Billions more are available for foreign wars - some of which are clearly illegal while others are merely ill-defined and ill-conceived. We spend vast sums intervening in other conflicts in support of those elements we've just fought against in our previous wars. It really is the politics of the madhouse.

Rather than make a concerted attempt to elevate the poorest, we continue to reward the richest. Rather than give those at the bottom of the ladder a stake in our society, we allow those at the top to stretch further into the distance.

We make university education an even greater financial risk. We sell off our National Health Service to the highest bidder. We give access to our political leadership to those who can pay the most. We pay private companies to declare the sick and ill fit for work.

Fascism is when the interests of corporations and Government merge. Can there be any doubt that this is where we are inexorably heading? Was Orwell correct in predicting sectioned-off inner-city reservations fit only for the 'proles'? We are already seeing American style gated communities. How long till someone suggests our own Israeli-style Walls to cordon off those we see as less-deserving; just as we have seen it suggested in the past few days that they not be allowed to vote?

Since 1979 there has been a sickness at the heart of our democracy. Despite changes at the top - of personalities and political parties - that sickness has only intensified. Britain, it seems, has chosen its path. Scotland has the opportunity to choose another way. And it must. And it must be chosen by as many of us as possible.

Scotland for most of the past century has voted for more progressive politics than our neighbours. Social democratic principles are more ingrained here than in the southern half of our island. It is time for all of us to come together and provide that example of progressive social democracy that I know we can be.

Labour supporters must throw off the baggage of New Labour - that distortion of a once proud Party of principles and social justice. We know that many of you reject the war-mongering, neo-Conservative values that the London party has adopted. It is time for you to be brave enough to reject it publicly.

Liberal Democrats must distance themselves from those in your Party who have decided to bolster a Conservative assault on our societal well-being, our freedoms and our most cherished institutions. You too must return to the principles that you hold so dear.

Together we must first win the chance to govern our nation in a way of our choosing. Then we must renew it. Make it once again the nation that could justly claim to be one of the driving forces of universal Enlightenment and the invention of the modern world.

Let us not waste this opportunity. Let us not have to comfort ever-increasing numbers of weeping children. Let us not have to admit that all we did was wept when we had the chance to roar.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A History Lesson: Why Section 30 Powers Might Not Be Required

Henry Ford was clearly an exceptional individual but hopefully few would agree with his "history is bunk" assessment. One might be more tempted by Graeme Shankland, "A country without a past has the emptiness of a barren continent" or Cicero's '"To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child".

As in many things, though, if we want to get the best take on any given subject we normally have to turn to a woman.

"The past reminds us of timeless human truths and allows for the perpetuation of cultural traditions that can be nourishing; it contains examples of mistakes to avoid, preserves the memory of alternative ways of doing things, and is the basis of self-understanding" - Bettina Drew.

As well as self-understanding, history can also help us to understand others and their motivations. This is especially true in how they 'use' history. We all know that history is written by the winners and that is why so many have misappropriated the 'lessons' of  Darien in their trumpeting of the glories and benefits of the Union of 1707.

Indeed, Unionists have displayed a particularly schizophrenic attitude to history during the current constitutional debate. In one breath they deride Nationalists that their support for Independence is tied up in a romanticised Scottish history of Braveheart, Bannockburn and Burns' 'parcel of rogues'. In the next they will talk about the 'rescue' of Darien and the 300 years of shared history since and how it would be diabolical to consider throwing that away.

This always suggests to me that, in Unionist minds, 'good history' started in 1707 and everything before was 'bad history'.

It is perhaps appropriate at a time when the UK Government moves ever closer to imposing the 'Big Brother' State that we also remember Orwell's history lesson, "He who controls the present, controls the past."

This is particularly relevant to the current debate when we are constantly reminded that the UK Parliament is sovereign. Despite devolution, we are told, Westminster remains the ultimate authority. Any powers granted to Holyrood are merely largesse granted by the real power in the land. This is why David Cameron, Michael Moore and their adherents believe they have some control of the Constitutional process. Holyrood has no authority, they remind us, to hold a binding referendum (let us ignore for now that all referenda in the UK are advisory and not binding) and in order to do so will require a transfer of power from London - the fabled Section 30 powers. In order for us to provide this, Westminster continues, here are our conditions for your referendum.

This ignores a simple Constitutional truth. In Scotland, the people are sovereign - the Westminster Parliament is not!

Many commentators will attempt to deny this. It is a myth, an anachronism, a fallacy. And in any case, sovereignty was assumed by Westminster at the point of Union. All nonsense, but "He who controls the present..."

Unfortunately, for Unionists, ordinary Scots are increasingly taking control of our present and reclaiming our past.

Just as England has its own 'constitutional' documents - The Charter of Liberties; Magna Carta; The Bill of Rights 1689; - so does Scotland - the Declaration of the Clergy 1309; Declaration of Arbroath 1320; Claim of Rights 1689.

The three Scottish documents above (along with others) formed the basis of Scottish constitutional law at the point when the Union was entered into. They affirm that the Scottish people are sovereign. The Treaty of Union does not change that position and the Scots Parliament - even as they entered the Union - were not empowered to relinquish that sovereignty. Every child knows that Scotland and England continue to this day to have separate legal systems. Therefore, any Statute enacted by the Westminster Parliament impinging on Scottish constitutional matters can only have force for as long as the sovereign Scottish people give it their consent.

This position was essentially confirmed in MacCormick v Lord Advocate. Although MacCormick and Hamilton lost their case with regard to the appellation to be applied to the  monarch, Lord President Cooper did state obiter (an aside to the main ruling) "The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctly English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish Constitutional Law."

He went further and acknowledged that the Union was a joining of equals and not the subsumption of one Parliament by another, "I have difficulty in seeing why it should have been supposed that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament."

In effect, the Westminster Parliament has, for three hundred years, assumed the consent of the sovereign Scottish people to be governed. We can withdraw that consent at any time. Indeed, some would argue that every election is an expression of the sovereign will of the Scottish people. In that case, in 2011, we effectively withdrew that consent with the election of a Nationalist majority government. If the SNP emerge from the upcoming local elections having improved their standing as Scotland's dominant political force, the Scottish people have re-affirmed that they see their sovereignty being centred on a party who reject the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament.

The constitutional supremacy of the Scottish people was acknowledged in 1997 by no less a personality than the arch-Unionist himself. In trying to warn of what he saw as the folly of enacting Devolution, Michael Forsyth's view was that the Scottish Parliament could pass an Act of Independence "and it would be so." The reason that Forsyth has been such an opponent of a Scottish Parliament is precisely because he understands the Constitutional position.

So, where does this all leave us? Constitutionally, it means that Holyrood does not need the granting of Section 30 powers. For political reasons, it would be beneficial to the SNP leadership and, perhaps, even advisable. However, if the conditions demanded by Westminster start to dilute or subvert the Scottish democratic process, it should be refused.

As well as our extant Scottish Constitutional Law, legal precedent and a number of international treaties to which the UK is a signatory, would support the result of a referendum independently managed by Edinburgh assuming international norms of probity and fairness were applied. No doubt, there would be legal challenges but they would be overcome. Undeniably it would make post-Independence negotiations even more fractious than they might otherwise be. But Westminster should be wary of pushing Scotland and the Scottish people into a corner. History has provided enough lessons of what happens then...

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Road To "Nonsense"

Yesterday, a stooshie erupted on the calm, reasoned medium that is Twitter as elements within the Scottish Nationalist twitterati exchanged views on the use of such terms as 'Quisling', 'traitor' and 'anti-Scottish'. It seems there was a feeling amongst a self-selected group of reasonable and responsible Nationalists that some effort should be made to silence more excitable contributors in what is often referred to as the 'Cybernat' community.

On the face of it this doesn't seem to be a contentious issue - no SNP supporter would want the movement's standing in the wider community undermined by offensive posting directed at journalists and supporters/activists/elected representatives of other political parties. However, political debate is often heated and, since it concerns issues that go to the very heart of how we perceive ourselves and others, it is always likely to inflame passions. Nowhere is that heat more evident than in Scotland where there exists real animosity between the SNP and the Labour Party.

The reasons for this are not hard to find. Many mainstream commentators have pointed out the resentment of the Labour movement towards Nationalists for challenging them in what they saw as their patch. The Scottish electorate have, for at least fifty years, espoused politically left of centre, social democratic principles and the Labour Party saw themselves as the natural expression of that sentiment. Scotland, to a large extent, was their fiefdom. The idea of a realistic challenge to them was unthinkable. Whether they exhibited such a tendency is debatable but electoral realities meant they could take Scotland for granted.

This changed as they faced increasing competition from the Scottish National Party from the late 1960s on. Although SNP electoral success fluctuated throughout the next 40 years they did establish themselves on the same political landscape as Labour with the added appeal of speaking to a resurgent Scottishness. Labour were being pushed and they didn't like it. And they started biting.

Despite allegations from Labour about 'Tartan Tories', it was in fact they who moved to the right on the political spectrum as they sought to re-establish themselves as the party of government in Westminster and in response to the challenges posed by Thatcherist ideologies. This lurch never sat comfortably with their Scottish base and allowed the SNP to make further gains in traditional Labour seats.

We all know how this Nationalist momentum developed and with the electoral successes of 2007 and 2011 the Labour attacks have similarly increased in both ferocity and spitefulness. It should surprise no-one that eventually Nationalists would respond in kind. We now have two parties who should be occupying fairly similar terrain at each other's throats - perhaps precisely because of that basic similarity in outlook. The SNP acts as an unflattering mirror for Labour - a constant reminder of the Party they should be.

Which brings us to the current strife. The SNP is, by common consent, the most formidable electioneering machine in Scottish politics. Not only that but it is now the biggest party in Scotland, well financed and operates with remarkable discipline throughout the country.

Perhaps then, with the horses having been spooked by recent events involving Bill Walker and Lyall Duff, some may feel they should attempt to clamp down on social media platforms such as Twitter. Unfortunately such efforts tend to take on a life of their own and boundaries are ever more restrictively drawn. The Labour Party found this when removing 82 year old Walter Wolfgang from their Brighton Conference in 2005 for shouting the grave insult "nonsense" as Jack Straw talked about the Iraq War. I would not wish to see the SNP get into similar difficulties.

Similarly, I do not wish to see the SNP brought into disrepute by gratuitously offensive haranguing of opponents. Let's be clear, opponents of Scottish Nationalist policy are not Quislings, traitors or anti-Scottish. That does not mean, however, that some of our opponents do not exhibit behaviours or voice opinions that are clearly anti-Scottish - a term I have used myself from time to time. I have never accused anyone of being a Quisling or a traitor but I am somewhat bemused by the horrified response of some when they are used.

Let us examine what they mean. They are effectively used interchangeably and most people will be familiar with the concept of a traitor. Quisling, named for Vidkun Quisling who collaborated with Nazi forces occupying Norway, in its modern usage is normally used to describe politicians who favour the interests of other nations or cultures over their own. Are we seriously denying that these exist? Is the word to be 'banned' merely because of its Nazi connotation?

Presumably the same prohibition will be placed on Gauleiter which I recall being used by someone recently. Again to howls of protest and faux outrage.

Censorship is a slippery path. Let us step carefully.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

BBC Video Furore - Neil Fails

Far be it from me to become a paragon of balance in relation to biased media coverage of the Independence debate but I can't get agitated about the BBC College of Journalism videos that others are so exercised about. Featuring senior BBC figures - Brian Taylor, Nick Robinson, Stephanie Flanders and Andrew Neil - talking to aspiring journalists about the issues, there aren't many areas that I would care to make much of a fuss about. That's not to say that I don't think the BBC, particularly in our Scottish coverage, haven't been guilty of unbalanced reportage - I've written about that very thing previously - but in this instance I remain relatively relaxed about the whole thing.

Brian Taylor, I feel, gives a reasonably cogent analysis of SNP thinking and tactics on the referendum. The only point where I disagree with Brian (and I could be wrong) is on whether Alex Salmond and the SNP actually want a second question on the ballot paper. I know it has become accepted wisdom that the nationalists would like the 'fallback position' as Brian describes it. My intuition is that Salmond wants a one-question' referendum, just as his public statements suggest, and that the second question is being used as a distraction for other parties to concern themselves with.

We know that there are Liberal Democrats, in particular, and some Labour members who see some form of DevoMax/Plus/Lite as their preferred option but who are currently curtailed by party discipline from explicitly expressing that. Goodness, even Cameron has hinted at undefined further powers for Scotland but only after we reject Independence. As we get closer to October 2014, I see that discipline breaking down and all sorts of options being bandied about by the 'united' Unionist campaign. These divisions will be exacerbated by the looming UK General Election and the back-biting will start. I really find it hard to envisage the anti-Independence parties presenting a convincing united front in the lead up to the Referendum. By common consent the sharpest operator in UK politics, Salmond will then start to pick them off.

Nick Robinson made some slightly laboured (no pun intended) remarks about voters in Billericay being worried about post-independence Scottish border controls. While I am certain that Scots voting in the referendum will take due cognisance of the concerns of voters in Essex, I am also certain they'll forgive us if it's not at the top of our priorities.

He also suggests the UK Government could appropriate the term 'Yes' for their own campaign as a measure to deny its 'positive' use to the Nationalists. My only response to that would be that the only politicians who have been given any specific mandate from voters about the Scottish constitutional position are the SNP. No other party has specifically campaigned on the issue and won power either in 2010 or 2011. With that in mind, it seems that the SNP have clearly won the right to frame that debate in whatever terms they wish. If they wish to make it a 'Yes' campaign and a 'Yes' referendum question, I believe the rest will just have to put up with it. This means that the most interesting contribution from Robinson was his statement that Unionist analysts have deduced the wording of the question can make as much as 8% difference to the result. No wonder Westminster want to wrest control of the process. This should be vigorously defended. It is Scotland's referendum and it must be made in Scotland. Let us never forget that the London Government has previous form for subverting Scottish will in a referendum.

Stephanie Flanders dealt with economics and seemed to me to present figures and statistics that didn't actually aid understanding. Never having seen the information presented in the form Flanders employed, I couldn't shake the feeling that some subterfuge was going on. I, though, make no claims to be an economics expert and others may have viewed those differently. In general her presentation (in terms of its wording) was fairly neutral, though I question whether she actually apportioned North Sea assets into the Scottish figures as she claimed.

Which brings us to Andrew Neil. Probably what I would expect from the BBC Political Department's token Tory - a spiteful attack on Scottish independence with equal measures of disinformation and scare stories.

It's never been difficult not to take Neil seriously but his cringe-worthy recent 'adverts' for his BBC political shows have just made it easier. He clearly has a tenuous grasp of Scottish history and has therefore adopted the Anglo-centric view of Darien, ie. Scotland was bankrupt, England bailed us out; which is always a major fail. Or, perhaps he knows more Scottish history than I give him credit for and has decided to use this version that ignores the destructive interventions of the English navy in order to pander to his paymasters in London. In any event, anyone using Darien as an argument against Scottish independence reveals the weakness of their argument. The rest of Neil's presentation re-iterates that weakness.

The UK will still exist, he tells us, as the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That's a total of one kingdom in the Union. Curious logic. But again maybe Neil's education is not as extensive as he believes it to be.

He also reveals a lack of understanding of how the Bank of England operates. I can't really blame him too much for this because so few others understand that either. What he (and others) fail to realise is that the Bank of England operates as a private, profit-making enterprise lending money to Government to be repaid on a principal plus interest basis. Despite legislative sleight of hand in 1946 and 1977 it remains just that - private and profit-making. So private, in fact, that it is exempt from providing the same shareholding details that other organisations are required to reveal as well as being protected by its Royal Charter and the Official Secrets Act - a story for another day.

What this means, however, is that rather than there be some doubt about whether the BofE would be prepared to act as a 'borrower of last resort' to an independent Scotland - as Neil asserts - its shareholders would be delighted by such an arrangement as it meant more profits for them. The other point Neil ignores, conveniently, is that despite it's name the BofE is as much Scottish as English. It is the central bank of the United Kingdom, not of England. This is equally true of sterling and any suggestion an independent Scotland would be disallowed from using a freely-tradeable reserve currency, if it chose to do so, should only elicit snorts of derision.

Neil then reveals his and the British establishment's petty and vindictive response to the possibility of Scottish independence by claiming that the 'gloves really come off' in post-referendum negotiations. It makes one suspect that his nickname 'Brillo' refers less to his hairstyle than his abrasive qualities. It is the nature of Brillo pads though that when employed for any length of time they become clogged up with shit. Neil has now worked at the BBC for over 20 years.

Nuff said?

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Positive Case For Union

It is perhaps time to hunt down the mythical beast. Like Big Foot or The Yeti, we hear a lot about the 'positive case for the Union' but none of us have yet seen it. Despite a veritable conveyor belt of anti-Independence politicians assuring us they are about to reveal these arcane secrets, it seems that none of them have yet been given permission by the Grand Wizard to reveal the self-evident truths of the Westminster Lodge.

So, I'm going to do my damnedest to do their job for them. In the interests of informed debate (rather than scaremongering) it might be helpful to both sides. Using the various pronouncements of the 'Positive Case' Parties and other commentators and experts, here's what I can come up with. I'm also determined not to be facetious. So even where I can see huge arguments against any particular point, I'll let it stand for others to decide if this 'manifesto' cuts it.

1. The UK has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. We are major world players. Scotland wouldn't be.

2. The UK has one of the world's biggest defence spends. We are major world players. Scotland wouldn't be.

3. The UK has 29 votes in the Council of the European Union. Scotland would only have 7 if allowed to remain a member.

4. The UK was able to borrow the money to refinance failing banks. Would Scotland?

5. Scottish shipyards were able to competitively tender and win some orders from the Royal Navy.

6. Scotland virtually breaks even in terms of contributions made to and payments made from the UK Exchequer.

7. Remaining in the UK will protect some jobs at HMNB Clyde.

8. The UK is a nuclear power. Scotland wouldn't be.

9. We have 300 years of shared history.

10. Our soldiers fought and died together against Frenchmen, Spaniards, Germans, Hungarians, Jacobites, Italians, Swedes, Indians, Russians, Native Americans, Americans, Dutchmen, Poles, the Irish, the Swiss, Sierra Leonians, Sri Lankans, Turks, Danes, Norwegians, South Africans, Egyptians, the Burmese, Canadians, Uruguayans, Argentinians, Maoris, Bulgarians, Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Chinese, Persians, Abyssinians, Afghans, Zulus, Sudanese, Tibetans, Nigerians, Austrians, Somalis, Arabs, Jews, Japanese, Romanians, Finns, Thais, Indonesians, Vietnamese, Malayans, Koreans, Kenyans, Cypriots, Iraqis, Yugoslavs, Liberians and Libyans. Independent Scots probably won't.

11. We're stronger together, weaker apart.

12. We share the risks and rewards.

Scotland, it's over to you.

NB: I'm happy to add further positives to the Unionist case should anyone wish to give me them.