Saturday, 4 October 2014

Better Together? Really?

If you voted ‘No’ in the Independence Referendum because you wanted to see public spending and services slashed, further attacks on the poor and tax cuts for the rich, then you must be very happy.

On the other hand, if you voted ‘No’ because you believed we are “Better Together” and that Scotland remaining in the British Union would allow us to have “the best of both worlds”, then you might, by now, have realised you were conned.

You could be one of the people who had intended to vote ‘YES’ until you changed your mind when former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a speech promising extensive new powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament and that he would “ensure” those powers were quickly delivered after a ‘No’ vote.  You, also, were conned.

Brown is a backbench Labour MP: he has no authority to promise anything and no power to deliver.  ‘YES’ campaigners pointed-out this major flaw in the ‘Brown saves the Union’ stories that newspapers and broadcasters were only too happy to carry in the days before the referendum.  ‘YES’ campaigners also warned the ‘vow’ of more powers, made by the leaders of the three main British Unionist political parties, would not be fulfilled after a ‘No’ vote.  Throughout the two-year-long referendum campaign, ‘YES’ supporters explained that rejecting independence would hand power back to the Tory-led Government in London, which would result in further austerity and savage cuts impacting most heavily on the already-struggling poor.

What has become absolutely clear since the vote on September 18th, is that Labour’s Gordon Brown did not ‘save the Union’: he simply saved the political career of Tory Prime Minister David Cameron.  Of course, the London-based Unionist party leaders have ignored Gordon Brown’s pre-referendum promise of maximum devolution, which this week saw the Labour MP in the humiliating position of asking Scots to sign a petition calling for the powers he previously said he would “ensure” were delivered.

In the days since the referendum we have seen conferences from the Tories and Labour.  Both reaffirmed their commitment to forcing the poor to pay debts run-up by multi-millionaire bankers and financial speculators in the City of London. 

At the Tory conference, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced his plan to “eliminate the deficit” by partly imposing a further £3bn of cuts to welfare spending.  The Tory faithful cheered and applauded a move that will inflict additional pain on the poorest members of society.

Osborne also announced tax cuts for the rich and the raising of tax allowances, which will benefit the highest earners by four-times as much as the poorest.

The Labour conference tried to portray the party as different to the Tories, their recent partners in the anti-independence campaign, but we know that Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls is committed to retaining austerity measures and Tory spending levels.  In addition, Shadow Secretary for Work & Pensions, Rachel Reeves, a former Bank of England economist, has stated a Labour Government would be tougher on welfare than the Tories.  Ms Reeves told the unemployed, “If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forgo your benefits.”  So, Labour would continue to punish the poor for the crimes of the rich, while the unemployed would be forced into destitution if they refuse a job, however inappropriate or unsuitable the offer might be.

Is this really what British Unionists meant by as being “Better Together”?  It’s certainly what a ‘No’ vote has delivered.

Meanwhile, the Tory and Labour conferences made clear that Scots should not hold their breath waiting for the promised ‘significant additional powers’ for the devolved Scottish Parliament.  Labour said they would stick to what they said during the referendum campaign, but, like their ‘star’ performer Gordon Brown, they are not in power and cannot deliver anything.  Of course, Labour tells us they will be in power after next May’s UK Election, but the latest English opinion poll shows the Tories ahead.  So, what is Labour’s ‘Plan B’ for Scottish devolution if they don’t win the Westminster Election and the Tories are returned to power?  Come on, Labour...what is your ‘Plan B’?

For the Tories, the party’s Scottish Leader Ruth Davidson made their post-referendum position perfectly clear when she told conference that devo-max was “a non-starter”.

It’s little more than two-weeks since the referendum, when we were promised more powers and a better life within the British Union, if we just said ‘No’ to independence.  In the short time since, we have already had both the Tories and Labour commit to further austerity alongside cuts to public spending and services.  We’ve seen UK forces join another ‘war’ in Iraq; we’ve seen the London-based UK Government make clear it would overrule the Scottish Parliament to allow potentially dangerous, unwanted and unnecessary fracking in Scotland; we’ve had the UK debt continue to rise, which, of course, increases the amount apportioned to Scotland; we’ve seen an announcement that already inadequate benefits will  be frozen for a further two-years, which represents a real-terms cut when seen against the rate of inflation; we’ve had plans to scrap Human Rights legislation; we’ve had distancing from promises of maximum devolution of powers to Scotland; we’ve had continuing privatisation of the NHS in England, which negatively impacts on funding made available to Scotland through the block grant; and we’ve seen a continued increase in English support for the far-right UK Independence Party. 

So, is this what British Unionists meant by us being “Better Together”?  Again, it’s certainly what a ‘No’ vote has delivered.

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Referendum

That was the referendum, then, and a majority of Scots voted to remain subjects of the United Kingdom rather than citizens of an independent Scotland.

I’ve campaigned for independence all of my adult life, so the result was not what I wanted.  Friends have said I must have been “disappointed” with the outcome, but disappointment wasn’t what I felt last Friday morning when British Unionists secured victory.  I was, and remain, angry.

I’m a democrat, so I accept the will of the people as expressed through the ballot box.  My anger doesn’t stem from people not voting ‘YES’, but from the demographics of the vote and the reasons many Scots decided to vote ‘No’.

A post-referendum poll, carried out by the company owned by British Union supporter Lord Oakshot, revealed that 73% of pensioners voted for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.  In contrast, 71% of first-time voters aged 16 and 17 voted ‘YES’.

Areas with high levels of unemployment, poverty and deprivation tended to vote for independence, while more affluent communities where residents, in the main, enjoy a high standard of living, supported continued membership of the British Union.

The young and the poor had the courage to vote for a new country with all the powers necessary to radically transform Scottish society.  The young and the poor had a vision of a better, fairer country where hope and opportunity are available to everyone.  The young and poor wanted change and were prepared to see a different approach to government, one where meeting the needs and aspirations of ordinary men, women and children are the primary consideration.  Broadly speaking, the old and the wealthy said ‘No’, you can’t have it.  That is why I was, and remain, angry.

The ‘No’ campaign’s ‘Project Fear’ served its purpose: it scared thousands into thinking that Scotland becoming a normal independent country was fraught with danger, despite the contrary evidence of every other normal independent country in the world.  Because of their role in the deception, the BBC will never again be trusted by thousands of Scots. 

Many pensioners voted ‘No’ because they believed the British Unionist lie that their pension would not be guaranteed in an independent Scotland, even though the UK Government had already confirmed there was no danger to pensions if Scotland voted ‘YES’.  In fact, the statement from the Westminster Department for Work & Pensions could not have been clearer, saying: “If Scotland does become independent this will have no effect on your State Pension, you will continue to receive it just as you do at present.”

British Unionists continued to lie about State Pensions, including as pensioners were entering Polling Places to cast their vote.  To their shame, Labour Party activists were heard telling senior citizens they would lose their pension if they voted for independence.

It’s a very hollow victory that had to rely on frightening old people, particularly when there was nothing to fear.  The reality is that an independent Scotland, with a social democratic government almost guaranteed, is more likely to offer higher pensions and better welfare provision for our senior citizens.  Meanwhile, the State Pension within the UK is currently one of the lowest in Europe.

Another core lie from ‘Project Fear’ was aimed at people who are currently doing relatively well in terms of employment and income.  According to the British Unionist campaign, hard-working couples and families would see their taxes and mortgages rise if we voted ‘YES’.  This was based on the totally false premise that an independent Scotland would have to raise tax levels to pay for outgoings, and would have to pay more to borrow money on the international markets.  In fact, massive savings on national spending could be made in an independent Scotland – not least the billions-of-pounds currently committed to upgrading and maintaining the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system. 

It is also the case that an independent Scotland would have a diverse and successful industry-base, including food and drink with a turnover of more than £13bn every year; life sciences - £960m in 2011; creative industries - £5bn; manufacturing with annual exports of £15.4bn; tourism, employing 200,000 people and contributing £3.1bn every year to the economy.  Then, of course, there is Scotland’s oil reserves – the largest in the European Union – which are projected to generate £34.3bn over the next five years (and that is without the new massive field identified west of Shetland).  Given such a vibrant situation, the likelihood is that an independent Scotland could trade on the international markets from a much stronger position than the UK.  However, sufficient numbers of hard-working couples and families were conned into believing their standard of living would be damaged if they voted ‘YES’.

There is, of course, another section of the British Unionist campaign that would have voted ‘No’ irrespective of any evidence showing independence would actually have led to an improved standard of living for them and their families.  The Orange Order and its offshoots believed they were voting to defend a culture and a Union with England that they perceive gives the Protestant faith supremacy over others, particularly Roman Catholics.

It is a very hollow victory that had to rely on the scum who brought violence and sectarian bigotry to George Square and surrounding Glasgow streets last Friday.

The bottom line is that the British Unionist victory in the Independence Referendum was secured on lies, fear and sectarianism.  As polls showed the ‘YES’ campaign ahead just days before the referendum, the three main British Unionist political parties panicked and promised increased powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament, if we rejected independence.

The offers from the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats were different – they couldn’t even agree on what to bribe Scots with ahead of the vote.  However, once the referendum result was announced, the London-based parties quickly united to renege on their ‘more powers’ vow.  We now know there will be no significant additional powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament.  In addition, some English MPs have publicly spoken in terms of ‘punishing’ the Scots for having the temerity to even contemplate re-taking our political independence.  One English Labour MP went as far as suggesting any further referendum on Scottish independence should be made illegal.

Many Scots believed the leaders of the London-based political parties when they made their vow promising increased devolution for Scotland within the United Kingdom.  Those Scots were conned.

Since the referendum result was announced just over a week ago, membership of the SNP has soared to over 60,000 and is still rising, that’s an increase of 40,000 in a matter of days.  Other pro-independence parties – the Greens and Scottish Socialists – have also seen large increases to membership. 

I am not alone in my anger over how the British Unionists secured victory in the referendum.  There are thousands of Scots determined to maintain the pro-independence momentum that saw almost half the country vote ‘YES’.  Huge sections of Scottish society have become politically aware and engaged because of the independence campaign and are determined to continue the fight to restore to Scotland the status of a normal independent nation.

British Unionists will find their victory of last week was built on very shaky foundations.  The ‘YES’ campaign, the biggest, most-motivated grass-roots movement Scotland has ever seen is not going away.  People are already organising local groups across the country to keep the momentum going. 

Scotland will be an independent country.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Independence - it's the real thing

Scotland is within days of re-taking our independence.

My old friend Jim Sillars brilliantly summed-up what will happen on Thursday (September 18th), saying, “The referendum is about power.  Between the hours of 7am and 10pm, absolute sovereign power will lie in the hands of the Scottish people.  They have to decide whether to keep it or give it away to where their minority status makes them permanently powerless and vulnerable.”

It is for us – those registered to vote in Scotland – to decide who is best-placed to run our country.  That is the only thing we will decide in the referendum.  We have two choices: a ‘YES’ vote means we believe the people of Scotland are best-placed to govern our own country; a ‘No’ vote hands that power to London and whichever government the people of England decide to elect.

Jim’s statement reflects the fact that, for the 15 hours the polls are open on Thursday, absolute power is in our hands: we are free to decide our future.  For the first time ever, ordinary Scots will be the sovereign power in the land: for the first time ever, we are being asked our opinion on whether or not we want to restore our national independence or remain part of a British Union.  For those 15 hours the people of Scotland are powerful.  If we vote ‘YES’ we retain that power.  Voting ‘No’ hands the power back to London-based politicians like David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

Despite the best efforts of the anti-independence campaign to convince us otherwise, the referendum is not about Alex Salmond or the SNP.  Personally, I think Salmond is by far the most effective and astute politician in Europe, not just Scotland.  His deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, isn’t far behind.  However, we will not be voting for Salmond, Sturgeon or the SNP on Thursday.

The referendum asks just one question: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’  The question could just as easily have been: ‘Should Scotland be a normal country?’  That is what independence means – Scotland becoming a normal country.

Independence is the normal status held by nations around the world.  It is not normal for one country to be governed by and from another, even when that relationship is erroneously described as a ‘union’, even where the ruling country allows the other some limited power through devolution.  Have you ever heard of a country celebrating ‘Devolution Day’?  Countries celebrate ‘Independence Day’. 

No fewer than 60 countries have re-taken their independence from the UK, and not one of them has ever subsequently wanted to give up their independence and return to control from London.  Ask our near neighbours and fellow Celts in the Republic of Ireland if they would like to end their independence and rejoin the British Union: the response could be as short as two words, with the second being “off”.

London-based British political parties, working together under the ‘Better Together’ campaign, have previously referred to their role as ‘Project Fear’: they admit to having tried to frighten Scots into rejecting the normal powers of independence, powers that others countries take for granted.  Incredibly they have even portrayed Scotland’s vast oil resources – worth around £1trillion – as being some kind of burden.  Only Scotland, it seems, would be afflicted with a plague of oil.

Over the past few days, ‘Project Fear’ has used the phrase ‘shock and awe’ to describe its campaigning as we near the referendum.  ‘Shock and awe’ was, of course, the phrase used to describe American and UK bombing of Iraq in the illegal war of 2003.

The new version of ‘shock and awe’ is designed to blitz pro-independence Scots into submission and accept rule from London.  The British Unionist plan is to regurgitate every scare-story they’ve ever come up with – everyone from banks to bra manufacturers are going to run away to England if Scots re-take control of their own country; the oil is going to run out by October, if not before; there will be border guards at Gretna and they’ll shoot you if you have red hair; you won’t be able to watch the Only Way Is Essex (is that actually a threat); your auntie living in Blackpool will become a foreigner (even if that were true, which it isn’t – what is wrong with foreign people?); and supermarkets will hike up their prices (except the ones who say they won’t hike up their prices, and the ones who say prices could actually come down after we re-take our independence).

There is no positive case for Scotland remaining within the British Union, which is why the anti-independence campaign has resorted to scare-stories and lies in an attempt to frighten Scots into accepting continued control of our country by London-based politicians and political parties.

As ‘official’ polls have shown ‘YES’ and ‘No’ running neck-and-neck, the British Unionist parties have promised ‘more powers’ for Scotland if we reject independence.  Except that the promise quickly fell apart when the leader of the Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling, confirmed what was offered is not, in fact, more powers.  It’s simply the very limited devolution proposals they had already set-out months ago.

Only independence gives us full powers over all aspects of our lives – powers over taxation, the economy, employment, welfare, foreign policy and defence – all of which are currently administered by a London-based government Scotland rejected at the ballot box, and all of which would remain administered by that London-based government if we reject independence on Thursday.

The referendum is about who is best-paced to govern Scotland.  A ‘YES’ vote delivers independence and we, the people of Scotland, then elect governments of our choosing.  With independence we will always get the government for which we vote.  A ‘No’ vote hands power back to London and retains the position where, at Westminster elections, Scotland has voted Labour for the past 50 years, but for the majority of that time we have had Tory governments imposed on us by the electorate of England.  Currently, we have a Tory-Lib Dem UK Government running our country, despite the fact those parties finished third and fourth in Scotland at the last UK election in 2010.

I’ve campaigned for independence all of my adult life.  I will be very proud to place my ‘X’ for ‘YES’ in response to the question: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’  Of course Scotland should be a normal country.

We took the first step towards home rule in 1997 when we voted for a devolved Scottish Parliament: independence completes that journey by returning to Scotland the full powers of a normal independent country.

Independence – it’s the real thing!  Let’s make it happen for Scotland.