Campaigns

Time to stop playing games?

Yesterday morning, at about ten to twelve, the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, fired the starting pistol on the race to a second referendum on Scottish Independence. In truth, everyone in Scotland knew this was coming, and if there were those who did not, the announcement that the First Minister would be giving a major press conference in the run-up to the UK Government triggering article 50 would have been a major clue. Regardless of this, however, there was certainly some shock factor.

In the Yes Camp, supporters jumped into the air, finally able to start dusting off their old campaign gear, put stickers in the window and wonder – when exactly will it be? In the No Camp, the faux surprise of “wasn’t this once in a generation” is being pedalled out in typical broken record fashion. In a way, whilst expecting this to come, nobody was quite prepared for it actually happening. But now it is happening and there is a lot of work to be done indeed!

The Yes supporters have sprung into action, relishing the chance to set about it once more and already a campaign fund has raised tens of thousands of pounds to champion the cause for independence. With all the enthusiasm, though, it is easy to forget what exactly lies ahead and that is a campaign far grittier and far shorter than the previous one. By the first referendum, Scotland had been preparing for pretty much seven years and the atmosphere was one of optimism. In this case, the referendum could be upon us in as little as eighteen months and the atmosphere this time is one of a much more serious choice.

With Brexit looming, the political future of Britain has never been so uncertain – this hard Brexit will see the UK (including Scotland) wrenched away from the EU, dragged screaming out of the single market and will have EU nationals living in the UK fearing for their own futures. All this is despite the Scottish population voting overwhelmingly to remain within the Europe. So, for all those of you booing that “we voted ‘No’!” and that it was meant to be “once in a generation”, this is a totally different ball game – not least because we were told the only way to protect Scotland’s place in the EU was to vote “No”.

The road ahead for the UK is one substantially different than the one we were on in 2014; there are more potholes, bumps and obstacles to navigate and the passengers are becoming increasingly agitated that nobody up front seems to know where we are going. The UK government has taken so long to come up with its plan for Brexit, giving us little other than Brexit  means Brexit for so long, and has now decided to simply cut all ties and sail off into the North Sea. Not to mention the House of Commons and the House of Lords have spent so long rejecting each others proposals that we’re not entirely sure what Brexit will actually look like, other than sudden and poorly thought through. Oh, and Empire 2.0, yes! The Foreign Office seems to think that outside of the EU we can just scrape the Empire back together and once more Britannia will rule the waves!

God almighty.

But rest assured, Mrs. May is on the case as politics is not a game! That’s right, from the Government that brought you the Brexit Omnishambles, Empire 2.0 and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Boris Johnson, the news that politics is not a game and that we Scots should just let the grownups handle it.

If any of you were of the opinion, then that Westminster had learned its lesson from last time, then fret ye not, as they have done no such thing. Scotland is still too wee, too poor and much too stupid to make its own decisions. Most notably we shouldn’t be allowed to call referenda that the government deems divisive; and Mrs.May’s government is certainly an expert field when it comes to divisive referenda.

In essence, ever since the EU referendum, the Scottish people have been told to sit down and eat their porridge, mummy and daddy will handle things.

Scotland has tried hard to be mature about things in the face of all the fannying around too, searching for a solution that would allow Scotland to remain within the single market while the rest of the UK withdrew completely. Following the referendum, the Scottish Parliament voted to open Scotland’s first independent diplomatic mission in three hundred years, starting a dialogue with the EU regarding Scotland’s future in it. Scotland has been in talks with the EU and the rest of the UK offering solutions, ideas and compromise from day one in order to reach some kind of deal. Meanwhile the UK Government has stuck its fingers in its ears and run around the room shouting “la, la, la!” It’s no wonder the Scottish people are so fed up!

So, the inevitable happens, the Scottish First Minister sets out her plan to seek Section 30 approval, to give the Scottish Parliament the power to hold a referendum on Scottish Independence. Suddenly, Scotland is the one playing a political game. Nevermind that Westminster kept changing the rules, moving the goal post and ignoring whenever the Scots wanted to come up with a reasonable idea. Nevermind that the democratic will of the Scottish people was thrown out the window after the EU vote… Nope, Scotland is the one playing political games by deciding it wants to decide its own future. Don’t do that Scotland, that’s for the adults to decide, away and play with your bagpipes.

Even in setting out the plans for a referendum the First Minister has shown the maturity that May cannot, accepting that the political atmosphere has changed, that we need to be upfront about the challenges that would be facing us.

The First Minister is right, we need to accept that the future is not going to be all rosy, that there is a difficult choice ahead and that we owe it to the people of Scotland to be upfront. But we also need to reinforce the opportunities that are up for grabs – EU Membership, control of our own finances and natural resources, control of our own health, education, energy, trade agendas and so on.

Any Mrs. May is right as well. Politics is not a game and it’s time for Scotland to show the rest of the UK how it’s done; maturely, calmly and efficiently.

So let this referendum roll on, let’s put Scotland’s future back into Scotland’s hands!

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Time to get registered!

And neither did a third of Brits last time ’round!

Yes, it’s that time again, election time! Now we’ve had a couple of things like this recently; the elections to the European Parliament and the Scottish Independence Referendum in particular spring to mind. This time it’s the General Election, the big one! This time you are choosing a candidate to represent your constituency, and their party, in the British Parliament in London.

So, before we start in full, let’s have a quick run down of the facts, in case you’ve missed them already:

Firstly, Parliament is dissolved by the Queen. All the current Members of Parliament, MPs, become candidates. No more debates in the commons, no new legislation introduced, etc. Essentially, for four or five weeks, Parliament isn’t there, this has already happened and, to be honest, I can’t tell the difference!

Now candidates basically campaign in their constituency, hoping to be elected on their party’s platform and possibly keep their job! There are some strict rules regarding campaigning and so on, but that’s for another time. For now, the Parliamentary hopefuls just have to try and present their party’s ideas as the best.

Now, part three – Election day then comes, and you totter down to your local polling station, cast your vote for your favourite party or candidate, and then head home.

The candidates are elected using a ‘first past the post’ counting system. In each constituency the candidate with the most votes, although not necessarily a majority of the votes, wins the seat. It’s not the best system in the world and serves the old-fashioned two-party system rather well, but, again, that’s something for another time.

Each constituency up and down the country then declares who has won that constituency’s seat in the House of Commons, that candidate then becomes the Member of Parliament for the constituency. Once all the constituencies have declared their new MPs the process of forming a government begins.

Generally this is quite a simple affair, whichever party is the largest party in the House of Commons is invited by the Queen to form a government. In the past, when the two party system was more pronounced, this was quite simply whichever party was commanding a majority of seats in the Commons, now it’s a little more complex given that we have seen one hung parliament in 2010 and we’re on course for another this time around too. But, you guessed it, that too is for another time.

What’s important for this particular article is part three, your vote. You see, if you’re not registered to vote by the 20th of April, you will not be able to vote in the election on the 7th of May. And that kind of sucks.

Now, odds are that if you’re not registered to vote by this point, you’re probably saying to yourself that you don’t care of that it doesn’t matter. You couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ve all had a moan about politicians, about bankers, about hospitals, schools, the roads, the price of petrol, etc. Each of these things, and a whole load more besides, are decided in the world of politics, by the MPs sitting in the House of Commons.

You might well think that it won’t make a difference, that you’ll just get the same old geezer who’s held your seat since before you were born, perhaps you’re right. But then again, if everyone thought that way, then of course this old guy’s going to get in, because nobody can be bothered to vote him out!

In 2010’s general election, only 65% of the registered population turned out to vote (29,691,380 voters), 35% of the population, therefore, did not vote. To put that into perspective, the Conservatives got 307 seats with 36% of the vote. Labour got 258 seats with 29% of the vote. Imagine the difference that extra 35% could have made! Imagine just what impact another 10,391,980 votes could have had on the outcome of that election.

Now, I will acknowledge that things in this country don’t work as they should, even the electoral system is outdated, but that will never change if people don’t stand up and vote for a party that will push for that kind of change. Every person in this country has a voice and is entitled to use it, but if you don’t register to vote, you won’t be able to use that voice.

So, how do you register to vote then? Well, you can get a form online or you can go down to your council offices and register there. It’s pretty hassle free! With the deadline coming up, it’s probably easier to go to your council offices and register there at the time. You can get more info on the Parliament’s website for voting here: http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/elections/register/

There is also some good news, if you’ve registered to vote before, for likes of the Euro elections or the Scottish Independence Referendum, the you don’t need to register again. However, if you’ve moved house since then you will need to register at your new address.

And even if your preferred candidate doesn’t win? You’ve still made a difference, because every vote your candidate gets is another bit of backing to try and push for change. Your vote always matters, use it!

If you need more persuading, go to About My Vote and find out more! http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/register-to-vote/why-should-i-register-to-vote

#YesBecause

The following is a status update I posted to facebook earlier this evening. There are a lot of reasons we’re being asked to vote one way or another but there’s one that I feel to be most important.

Before we get started, this is going to be a long one but as the referendum draws nearer and nearer and we come closer to making the biggest decision of our lives I feel that I should present my reasoning behind voting Yes. I’d ask that whether you’re voting Yes or No or if your completely undecided, please feel free to give this a read.

There have been a lot of reasons put down on the table for voting one way or another; from equality and prosperity vs. power and security, right down to “fuck it, it’ll be a laugh” vs. “no, dear, I like things the way they are.”

We’ve heard talk of currency, resources, NATO, the EU, North Sea Oil and Gas, Trident, the Queen, debt sharing, the Vienna Convention, companies telling us they’ll move south, companies telling us they’ll stay up here,… the list goes on and on.

Some of these reasons are monumentally confusing or beyond the understanding of normal folks, for example, the finer points of a currency union aren’t going to be readily apparent to those of us who aren’t economists and the finer points of debt sharing, EU membership, etc. generally require a lawyer of some description to hand.

At many points down the line it’s even turned into a battle of the politicians, “Oh Alex Salmond’s referendum!” Let’s face it, none of us really like the current crop of politicians on either side of the border, or anywhere for that matter. But, despite what the media might spout out every now and again, it isn’t about them – it’s about us.

This referendum seems to be about a lot of things, but the one thing it boils down to is democracy.

Within the United Kingdom, Scotland is represented by roughly 8.5% of the MPs in the House of Commons, which is, admittedly, a fair representation of the population share. However, Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom , for all of their similarities, are quite different entities; we tend to vote differently and we tend towards different policy areas. In Scotland, for example, a majority of people see the EU as a beneficial organisation and would opt to continue membership. However, if we go down south, a majority of voters would say that they want out of the EU.

This basically means that even if Scottish voters want to go one way, if the English electorate decide to go the other, Scotland is simply forced to do as the rUK wants. So let’s now turn to the matter of the EU: if there was a No vote but Scottish voters decided they wanted to stay in the EU and the rUK said they wanted out, Scots would be dragged, kicking and screaming, out of the EU despite wanting to stay.

I only use the EU as an example because it’s been in the news quite a bit recently, but the point remains the same for any other issue, Scotland 8.5% share of any vote (parliamentary or popular) can always be negated by England’s 88% share of such a vote. This, for two countries who are so culturally and politically different, is a situation that never ends too well.

However, in the interests of getting my point across I am going to make it worse… Remember how I said we Scots had 8.5% political representation in the commons? That should boil down to being able to hold 8.5% of our politicians directly accountable to the electorate, yes? Nope.

You see, the United Kingdom is a fundamentally undemocratic country, under current guidelines the United Kingdom, as a non-EU member state, would be refused entry to the EU because it’s so undemocratic. I am talking, of course, about the House of Lords. Half of our legislative body (the Upper House) is made up of wholly unelected members, most of whom are quite incredibly removed from normal society.

Many of the members are appointed by the party in power in the House of Commons, which effectively allows the party controlling the Lower House to gain control of the Upper House. There are also a number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords – various Dukes, Earls, Counts, etc., who gained their seat in parliament by inheritance… How wonderful it is to live in a modern democracy!

Add to this the fact that there are over twenty Church of England bishops in the Lords. This means that every time a law is voted on, a single religious group (and not one with a huge following in Scotland) is getting preference over all others to input and vote on that law.

So, once we account for the Lords, the proportion of our Westminster politicians that Scots can hold accountable at the ballot box is roughly 3%.

Yeah, you read that correctly, we can hold about 3% of our politicians directly accountable. For a country that claims to be a beacon of freedom and democracy, that’s a pretty damned poor show. Not really democracy at all then…

But we do have a means by which we can change this. On September 18th, I will be voting Yes for one reason; to make sure that 100% of our country’s politicians can be held directly accountable to the electorate. This is a state of affairs that so many people in so many different countries would take for granted, but in Scotland we have been robbed of it.

A Yes vote means that every time we Scots vote in a general election, we get the governments we vote for. It means that when we don’t like a government we can chuck them out via the ballot box. It means that when we, as a nation, make a decision to move in one direction we will be able to do so.

In short, we will, for the first time in the history of our country, have the power to shape our future in the hands of the people who live here instead of in the hands of the privileged few or those in another country.

That’s why I am voting Yes, for democracy.

An Air of Optimism?

I posted an article earlier on the BBC’s IndyRef Debate that took place last night, but it was mostly a synopsis of the debate itself. The debate, whilst interesting, was long and complex and I felt it needed a bit of a post of its own; but what I am most interested in is something entirely different. I’m interested in the reaction it got and in the discussions and thoughts that came about as a result of it.

I’ve complained in the past about what is seemingly a decline in student interest in politics, with more and more students refusing to debate politics in case they offend anyone. With the referendum debate coming along, I’d have thought things would pick up a little bit, but still there seemed to be very little interest in general. 

As you can imagine, then, I was quite nicely surprised when I hear that the SRC had organised a live screening of the BBC’s debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond in the Queen Margaret Union. I was also quite impressed by the turnout; as I arrived in the bar is was already buzzing with conversation. The SRC had even set up a table with voter registration forms, encouraging as many people to register and take part as possible.

As I said in my last post, the crowd was firmly with Alex Salmond. By the end of the whole thing, the “No” supporters, if there were any left, were being very quiet.

The reason for this, in my mind, was quite simple; Alex Salmond put across an argument of optimism. He didn’t talk at length of scare stories in the BT fashion, instead he spoke of great opportunities and the chance of a better future. “The No campaign have nothing positive…”

Salmond received cheers from both the studio audience and the audience of students in the bar all the way through, and the cheering and clapping only got louder as more and more people took to the idea of optimism over pessimism. In contrast, the support for Alistair Darling was intermittent and seemed quieter and more reluctant each time – his scare tactics may have been wearing a little thin with the audiences.

The end of the debate was met a return of the buzz of conversation, the press jumped in with their camera and began asking some of those present some questions. I caught one chap in a “Yes” badge saying something that many of us are thinking: “Currency, for me, is a non-issue.”

Okay, it’s maybe not a complete “non-issue”, however he raised an important point; no matter what happens, even if we end up having to use the pound unofficially (like the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, Gibraltar, Ireland before the Euro… etc) we’d still have a currency, even if it’s just in the short term. What ever happens, it’s not like we’ll be left without a currency. And the idea that we should give up the biggest political decision in our history for such a comparatively small matter is ludicrous.

Alistair Darling said during the debate that “every country’s starting point is currency”, much to the dismay of those watching. The starting point for every country is surely democracy? I would have thought a Labour man would know this, but apparently not. And it was things like this that began to turn people off.

Salmond mentioned his contingency plans for a currency, but maintained that he was doing his job as First Minister to fight for what he believed to be the best option. Fight for second best, and you’ll get second best.

The final polls out of the debate said it all really, 71% of people said Salmond won the debate with only 29% thinking that Darling was the winner. And it was all down to the optimistic approach of the “Yes” side of things, because the atmosphere in the bar afterwards was not one of concern or fear, it was one of optimism.

I sincerely feel that this is what was being felt up and down the country after the debate finished, people in Scotland are beginning to grow weary of the scare tactics of the No campaign, they are growing to the idea of taking our own future into our own hands.

The message of hope over fear is one that is being embraced by more and more people, the idea that we should be ready to take that chance and control our own affairs. And if this air of optimism sticks about then we may just be able to take that chance.

And what of student politics then? More and more students, even those reluctant to talk politics are beginning to open up, ask questions and get involved in the discussions and more and more of them are responding to the positive messages of the Yes campaign.

Young people don’t want to be told “you can’t” and students certainly don’t want an environment, much like that of the UK, where they are less and less likely to have a good job at the end of their studies. Students are naturally optimists (we have to be, otherwise we’d go insane) and I think more and more of them are sympathising with the Yes side.

I do hope to see more and more students get involved in the last three weeks before the vote. Students are the future of our country in many ways, let’s hope they choose to become an optimistic future.

BBC IndyRef – Post Debate Thoughts

After the first debate a few weeks back, broadcast on STV, my hopes weren’t particularly high. Would Alistair Darling harp on and on about currency and nothing else? Would Alex Salmond simply roll over and leave his traditional “on the offensive” style at the door again? Thankfully, for the most part, no! Alex Salmond was on the war path as we’re used to seeing him and Darling did actually manage to talk about one or two issues besides currency.

As the referendum draws closer and closer everyone around Scotland is getting interested and involved in the debate, both campaigns have kicked it up a notch at the media is in full swing. This ‘referendum fever’ was clearly visible this evening as the debate was being shown live in the Queen Margaret Union, one of Glasgow University’s two student unions.

As I stepped into the usually sports orientated “Champions Bar” the crowds were already gathering, securing their seats and the place was buzzing with conversation. However, it wasn’t the latest football match, university studies or any kind of standard student chat – it was all politics. Listening into conversations as I wound my way to the bar was most interesting, there was quite a healthy turnout for the “Yes” side – a number of badges, stickers, even a baseball cap. The No voters (there were a couple) were somewhat quieter.

The SRC (Students’ Representative Council) had set up a table with voter registration forms, encouraging people to vote and get involved. The media were there too, well, one lassie with a notepad and a fairly expensive looking camera… I did feel a little outclassed.

As the debate kicked off one or two flags came out, a few Scottish ones, a Union flag and, for some reason I never did find out, an Australian flag – I’m sure the fellow had his own purposes.

Alex made his opening statement first and spoke quite passionately about about the NHS, Scotland’s public services, our old and vulnerable. He spoke of imposed Westminster policies “we could not stop the ‘Bedroom tax’.” He spoke of Trident and the desire to rid Scotland of Nuclear weapons and of his desire to see the money that is poured into Trident used for better purposes such as schools and our NHS.

His opening statement was met with applause and a couple of cheers in the bar.

Alistair Darling’s opening statement was the usual “No thanks does not mean no change.” He spoke of currency, of oil still being a “volatile” resource. He finished up by telling people not to trust Alex Salmond and that the UK was about sharing risk and reward. As he concluded his statement, the Union was overcome with thunderous silence. First blood to Salmond then, and it was to remain that way throughout.

Both leaders were quizzed on various topics throughout the evening and currency came up, somewhat inevitably. The first question from the audience in Kelvingrove Museum was; “Would we be financially secure in an independent Scotland?”

Alex Salmond went straight into it and, to the delight of the audiences, talked about the other options. He mentioned both an independent Scottish currency as well as an unofficial use of the pound. However he went straight into his idea that a formal currency union was within the best interests of both parties involved. Mr. Salmond was also keen to point out that as First Minister it was his job to fight for what he believed to be best for Scotland, “if we fight for second best, we’ll get second best.”

Having addressed the issues of a plan B, although still reaffirming his plan to push for a “mandate from the Scottish” people to share the Pound, Alex Salmond received a fairly positive reaction from the audiences.

The debate moved onto the subject of oil, to the great relief of the audiences, who’d had their fill of currency arguments. Darling, however, was not quite out of the woods on this one either. He continued to peddle the old argument that oil was too “volatile” and that we were risking our children’s futures on it, he then proceeded to tell us that all official estimates were far too optimistic and that we should take his word for it. However, much to the joy of the crowds (who by this point seem to have had enough of scaremongering), Alex pointed out that Alistair Darling’s own figures, when he’d been Chancellor of the Exchequer, were short by roughly five billion pounds.

In response to oil being “one big gamble on our children’s future”, Mr. Salmond pointed out that Scotland’s economy was only 15% dependent on oil, compared to Norway’s 20% dependency.

In what looked like an attempt to gain some ground back, Darling moved back to talking about currency, to an audible groan from the audience. He compared the idea of an informal currency union to that of Panama (the same Panama that was virtually untouched by the Banking Crisis), saying “I wouldn’t want to spend six minutes in Panama!” Neither the audience at Kelvingrove nor the one at the QMU were amused by that statement to say the least. He also described the pound as a “rotten option”, a great vote of confidence for the UK’s “strong economy” from the head of Better Together.

Despite the First Minister providing a plan B and plan C (mention of informal use of the pound and a separate Scottish currency) Alistair Darling, upon prompts from Mr. Salmond, could not provide a single plan B of his own.

Talk then shifted to things such as public services, most notably the NHS. The First Minister was keen to point out that the Scottish Government has “operational control” of the NHS which meant that it could not be forced to privatise it, however it does not have financial control. Essentially the Scottish budget is dictated using the Barnett Formula which uses public spending in England to determine how much money goes north. Continued slashing of public spending down south means less money is sent to Scotland. Mr. Salmond put the point across that public sector cuts in England are putting “tremendous pressure” on our NHS. Only with independence can Scotland maintain its healthcare system.

Mr. Darling’s response to this was garbled at best; he tripped over his words and repeated the same points over and over again that Scotland would not be forced to privatise the NHS due to the Scottish Government maintaining operational control; however he seemed to be missing entirely the idea that cuts to the Scottish budget would put strain on the NHS.

Salmond was quick to point out that the Scottish budget had been slashed by 8% under the Tory government and that continued Westminster imposed austerity was the biggest threat to the NHS. Mr. Darling decided to pull the currency card once more, saying “currency risks are the real threat to the NHS”. The audiences weren’t having it.

The same kind of thing happened with regards to welfare, with Salmond pointing out that the Scottish Government is already spending £50 million to offset the effects of the Bedroom Tax. Both audiences grew more and more uncomfortable as a Labour politician stood in front of them effectively defending Tory cuts.

In a very bold move, Mr. Darling told the First Minister that he resents the Yes campaign “using scare stories”. It was safe to say that the student audience was somewhat perplexed by this one.

For me, however, the highlight of the night was about to come up. One audience member stood up and asked the question; “If we’re Better Together, why aren’t we better together now?” Had the gentleman in question been in the QMU that evening, I think he’d have had one or two drinks bought for him.

Mr. Darling, rather taken aback, waffled on about the UK being the only way to protect jobs in things such as shipbuilding – jobs which have disappeared over the past few decades under Westminster rule. He began stuttering and tripping on his words, but never quite got around to answering the question. Mr. Salmond jumped in pointing out the number of jobs that Scotland has lost due to Westminster imposed cut backs, the number of foodbanks that have appeared in the last couple of years, our crippled welfare system, and that the only way to get a chance at saving what we hold dear is to vote for independence.

The final part of the debate was the cross examination. I’m not going to talk too much about this section, because it’s usually just a shouting match. However, one point did come up that was of interest; Alex Salmond asked Alistair Darling to name three new powers that Westminster would grant Holyrood in the even of a “No” vote. After a couple of minutes of Darling desperately weaselling his way around it, the audience had given up on him. The cross examination was most definitely a Salmond victory.

After a brief audience question and answer round, both parties made their closing addresses. Alex Salmond pointed out that very few countries get this opportunity, to vote, peacefully, for their independence. He urged the Scottish people to take this “great opportunity”. He spoke of risks and opportunities, but of one guarantee; that we always get the governments that we elect.

Now the debate was certainly a long affair, at about 90 minutes, most of which did feel a lot like Déjà vu, however it is on BBC iPlayer, and I would recommend you give it a watch. However, more interesting was the reaction of the audience. There were a few claps for what Darling had to say, but by the end, most of his support in that bar was very quiet, even in Kelvingrove, the audience was firmly with Salmond.

The last debate had been a poor show from the First Minister, especially for those who know of his usual flare. This time, he came out all guns blazing. But it was a positive message he was conveying and the people were with him for that. On the other side, Darling was being seen by the viewing public to be on the ropes, with nothing positive to give us, and for that he suffered.

Polls out just after the debate say that 71% of people believe the First Minister to have won the debate. It was certainly something like that in the Union. If I had one word to describe the atmosphere in the QM after the debate it would be “optimistic”.

People respond to optimism and many of them are beginning to tire of the scare stories and blackmailing of the No side. Last night’s debate was proof enough of that.

Scotland Yet

This is a video that popped up in my facebook feed a few days ago, it’s certainly a bit of a long one at about 94 minutes, but whether you’re Yes, No, or somewhere in between, it’s a really good video, so I’d recommend you give it a watch.

The video is made up of a number of interviews from people from all walks of life in Scotland; with the likes of the journalist Lesley Riddoch, founder of the Common Weal project Robin McAlpine, members of RIC, National Collective, and the Bus party. The video addresses a number of points on independence and, okay, it is a “Yes” video, but it does more than simply try to promote a “Yes” vote – it makes you think and talk.

Much like the Bus Party, which gets quite a bit of time in the video, the whole thing gets your mind going and forces you to ask questions, look into things and, most importantly, talk about the issues.

Enjoy.

For the last time, it’s not about Alex!

“Alex Salmond is behaving like Kim Jong-Il” – A. Darling MP

 

It seems, to me, rather unfortunate that, in the process of debating the most important political decision in our country’s history, we are always dragged back to one issue. “I don’t like Alex Salmond, so I’m voting ‘No’.” It seems a key argument being used by a large number of people intending to vote “no” in September and is of constant annoyance to those on the Yes Campaign, many of whom, myself included, do not like or vote for Alex Salmond or the SNP.

This has been a back and forth for as long as the debate has been going on, with the various blogs, websites, and news sources that back a Yes vote constantly having to retaliate and try to convince people that it’s not just about Eck. With all that’s been said on the matter I reckoned that I’d just leave it, surely people were beginning to get the message now and surely there are enough posts saying the same kind of thing. However, a number of my friends (and some bloke I ended up chatting with in a pub yesterday) seem to be ardent “No” voters on this very premise.

So, I’m going to try my level best to dispel this myth.

This referendum is not about any one party, least of all any one man; it’s about us. The referendum in Scotland is about how we choose to rule ourselves, about getting the chance to elect our own governments and make the decisions that affect us in country we live in. In shortest terms, it’s about democracy.

If we take a look at the wider Yes movement, we see a great many organisations campaigning for a “Yes” vote, for example;Yes Scotland(non-Partisan, grass roots campaign), Radical Independence (Socialists/Far-Left), the Scottish Socialist Party, the Scottish Greens, Teachers for Yes, Academics for Yes, Yes LGBT, Business for Scotland, National Collective (Artists and Creatives), Labour For Independence… the list goes on and on, and the SNP are only one of that list.

The wider Yes movement is perhaps the biggest grass-roots campaign in British political history. Yes Scotland, the official campaign for Scottish Independence was set up at the announcement of the referendum as a non-partisan campaign supporting independence. It has sprouted many local branches run by volunteers from all kinds of political affiliations, it’s views are very simple: Scotland can and should be an independent country. It doesn’t endorse any particular SNP policies and was not behind the White Paper.

Then there are the massive number of campaigns that have popped up around it too. Labour for Independence, set up by Labour Party activist Allan Grogan, is made up wholly of members of the Labour party or people who are Labour supporters – given the political landscape of Scotland, I don’t think many of them vote SNP. The Radical Independence Campaign is a hard-left campaign for a socialist Scotland, not exactly your garden variety SNP supporters. Business for Scotland and other centre-right groups made up of members who would ordinarily vote Tory have sprung up looking for a Scotland that helps businesses (outside of London anyway…). And let’s not forget the other parties supporting independence; the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party.

To summarise all of that, the Yes movement is a very intricate and diverse tapestry of different ideas and visions, the visions of the SNP are only one part of that tapestry. All, however, share a common idea that Scotland would be better as an independent country.

So, you may be asking yourself, why is it, then, that I only ever hear about Salmond? Why is he the one people on the news are bigging up? Well, it’s mainly down to one reason, a reason which Ian Hamilton Q.C. summed up quite nicely:

“Referenda, or referendums, are quite uncommon, so the press seem to think that this is a fight between the SNP and the other political parties. It’s nothing of the kind.”

 He is quite right here, of course. Most of our big political decisions are ones fought out between two parties or groups of parties, the prime example being elections. A whole host of options are thrown at us by the different parties and then we are asked to vote on them and decide. And the big decisions in Parliament, such as NHS reform, are always fought out there, we don’t get a say and it’s between the parties anyway.

Now we come to this odd situation of a referendum, we haven’t had one in quite a wee while and they generally don’t happen all too often either. Add to this, now, the idea that this is the biggest political decision Scotland has ever, or likely will ever, make. Surely such a big decision has to be a battle of party politics, because we know that the ordinary people are never involved in politics!

I will grant you that the SNP are the ones who called for a referendum, but to be fair nobody else was ever going to do it. However, in this case it is the ordinary people who are running the show, debating, campaigning, canvassing, etc. The party political side of things will still rain on in Holyrood, but that’s only because nobody has changed Johann Lamont’s speech since last year. But out on the streets, it’s the people who are doing the leg work, everyone on the Yes side of things has dropped their party affiliations and political differences to work for one thing.

So, with the vast number of normal people giving up their time, wondering around, asking questions, organising meetings and other events, surely we should notice that this really isn’t about the SNP, much less big Eck? Well, once again, Ian Hamilton Q.C. sums things up for us.

“It suits the ‘No People’ to bring in this element of confusion; ‘Oh, if you vote yes that means you’re SNP.’ It’s nothing of the kind.”

This is rather unfortunately true and, I don’t want to sound all conspiracy theorist here but, the mainstream media are primarily based down south – the BBC has a substantial amount of government funding – and it ultimately suits them to have the Scottish people vote “no”. Better Together, being made up of the biggest parties (and the UK Government) have been able to play on this spectacularly and have allowed the media to churn out story after story relating to “Alex Salmond’s campaign for independence.”

Yes, this is a huge abuse of power on the part of the media and Her Majesty’s Government, but there’s an issue for another time.

What I have noticed over the past few months as the debate has heated up is that those who intend to vote “no” are, for the most part, not entirely politically savvy. Now before you blow your tops, I am not saying that they are all stupid, I am simply saying that the majority of those I have spoken to haven’t really read much into the debate – most of them just want to stick to the status-quo because that’s all they’ve known.

But there is another reason, put very aptly by the bloke in the pub I mentioned earlier who said to me, “I just go by what I see on tele.” And there it is again, the mainstream media are, in order to protect their own interests, perpetuating this “element of confusion” which convinces the politically apathetic (sadly much of our population) that a vote for independence is a vote for Alex Salmond.

It has meant that, in order to get the other side of the story, one has to look into other sources like the vast number of blogs and websites that have sprung up around the campaign. Whilst the writing on some of these is excellent and truly thought provoking, it’s quite unlikely that you’re ever going to really convince someone who is quite politically apathetic to actually go and look at these sites.

And why are these sites never promoted in our mainstream media? Because the vast majority of them do not support or endorse the SNP. The all offer a different take on independence and, god forbid, should anyone ever see these sites, they might realise it’s not about Salmond after all.

This debate is about something much bigger than Alex Salmond or the SNP. It’s about you, it’s about your children and it’s about every generation of Scots to come. So guys, if you’re about to tell somebody that you’re only voting “no” because you hate Salmond, do a bit of reading first.

And regarding our source of the day, Mr. Hamilton?

“I haven’t been a member of a political party for quite some time, and before that it was the Labour Party, not the SNP.”

Letter To Ed Miliband

The following is a letter I have sent to Ed Miliband through the “Unlock Democracy” Campaign that seeks to see an elected Upper Chamber in the United Kingdom’s parliament.

Mr Miliband,

I am writing to you today regarding your promise on Lords Reform. I am saddened that this government has not been able to reform the House of Lords, but I have faith in the Labour Party to be the ones who strike a blow for democracy. The General Election is nearing and it is my firm belief that Labour, if it truly holds its traditional values dear, should include a reform of our country’s upper house in its election manifesto.

Labour have traditionally been the party that have fought for the representation of the working classes, the ordinary folks of this country, and they have done a spectacular job in many regards, but one has been left out. More than half of our legislature is wholly unelected and out of touch with the common people of this country. The House of Lords is made up of appointed members, many of whom have vested interests, be they party political, financial, or otherwise. What’s more, they have absolutely no popular accountability.

In our day and age, to have an entire house of our legislature made up of unelected peers is quite unacceptable. Our country considers itself a beacon of democracy to the world, yet how can this be when those who propose, amend, and vote on our laws are either appointed to suit the interests of those in power or simply assume their seats by birth-right or having chosen the “correct” religion?

Mr. Miliband, I am sure you know and feel, as I and many others up and down this nation do, that there is something inherently wrong with our upper house. As the leader of the party of the working classes it should surely be within your best interests to make sure that we have an upper house that can be truly representative of and accountable to the electorate. It is, after all, the very basis of a democratic society that the people as a whole, not the privileged few, who decide who is and is not fit to write our laws.

It is my sincere belief that the people of this country have had their fill of Tory policies that benefit only those in established wealth and power; I believe that the public will give Labour its mandate to take Britain forward in 2015. Public support for an elected upper house is at an all-time high and still growing. By pledging to reform this country’s upper house, Labour would be striking a very real blow in the name of those it seeks to represent.

That is why I am asking you, as an ordinary person with a real desire to see change for the better, to make a referendum on a reformed upper house a manifesto pledge for the upcoming election. Please, help us make our country a real democracy – one that we can be proud of.

Yours Respectfully,

James Howard Whittle

If you want to get involved, you can go to http://unlockdemocracy.org.uk/pages/1517 and write to the leaders of the three main parties. But don’t stop there, publish your letters, send them to a paper, send them to your local MP.

Sorry for the absolute silence from me recently, I promise, more posts on their way in the next week!

Tory Victory Prospects Drive Up “Yes” Votes

The most recent Survation poll conducted by the Daily Record shows a closing gap between “Yes” and “No” voters and even shows Yes overtaking No under the prospect of a continued Conservative government.

Yesterday evening, the Daily Record publish an article detailing the results of a poll it had conducted with Survation. The monthly poll has been used to track support for Independence and has shown a steadily narrowing gap between the two sides of the campaign. The survey, which took results from 1004 people, showed that currently 39% of people intend to vote “Yes” with only 44% of people saying they will definitely vote “No”, this is up from last month’s Survation poll placing Yes at 37% and No at 47%. When the undecided voters were removed, the Yes vote stood at 47% and No at 53%, requiring only a 3% swing to give Scotland its independence.

These numbers are, themselves, not very exciting; the gap has been narrowing for quite some time now, although a 3% swing is quite a nice margin, it’s nothing new. What is new, however, is that when voters were asked how they’d vote if they knew that David Cameron and the Conservatives would be elected in 2015 the results changed quite dramatically.

In this case, the yes vote rose to give Yes a backing of 44% compared to 38% who said they’d still vote No. Again, removing the undecided voters, we now get a majority of Scots backing independence with 54% saying Yes and 46% saying No.

Survey Graphic from Daily Record

This really is a stunning leap forward as it’s the highest figure for Yes yet published. It’s also, incidentally, the first time anyone has actually thought to ask that particular question. “What if you were certain that David Cameron would still be PM after the next election?” Despite the Yes Campaign banging on about being able to shake ourselves free of unwanted Tory governments, no official poll to date has asked that question – at least not one that’s had it published.

And is another Tory government certain? Well, it does look that way. And yes, I would say that now, wouldn’t I?

But it does look that way for a few reasons. Not least of all because a large number of people simply don’t see Ed Miliband as PM material. It’s hard to argue with that when he’s taken so long to get his act together. He also does look remarkably like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit.

Whilst the Labour Party have been trying very hard to move away from the Blairist New Labour, they’ve had some trouble convincing the electorate that they could actually pull it out of the bag. They’ve also made clear their position that they’d keep a number of Tory cuts to welfare and public services in place. Understandably, this has a number of people a little upset with Labour.

Labour are also refusing to promise an in-out referendum on Europe unless Brussels started draining more powers away from the UK, which doesn’t seem too likely at this stage. Meanwhile the Tories are promising such a referendum in the middle of their next term should they be re-elected. Given the results of the recent European Parliament elections, this is what the English electorate want.

It doesn’t help either that Labour have been seen to be in bed with the Tories over independence for quite some time. This has invariably hurt their reputation on both sides of the border. When discussions within the Labour Party arose surrounding the idea that they should have steered clear of the Tories’ Better Together campaign and started their own Labour based campaign for the union, the feeling was a resigned “it’s too late.”

Labour has tried very hard over the past five year term to revamp itself and become more attractive to the electorate, and it will doubtless continue to do so throughout the next five years. However, it seems unlikely that they will beat the Conservatives to power in 2015. Whilst they have been neck and neck at times in the polls, they are slipping just shy again.

Nobody thought that the coalition would last, but it has. And let’s not forget that it’s been quite a while since a party held the government benches for only a single term.

As awful as it feels to be predicting a Tory win in 2015, that’s the way it seems. Now I’d love to see a Labour victory and give Ed a chance to act on some of his good old fashioned lefty policies – the renationalisation of the railways for one… God Scotrail piss me off sometimes! But unless something big happens soon, I think that the Tories will be holding onto the government benches in 2015. I do, however, strongly believe Labour will be there in 2020.

The point, though, still stands. We will end up with a Tory government in 2015, and if we vote No, we’ll be stuck with them. Not only will we be stuck with them, but we’ll be stuck with whatever crap they decide to inflict upon us and all the other subsequent Tory governments to come.

My advice for the best course of action? Vote Yes in 2014. Vote Labour in 2016 in our shiny new independent parliament!

Anyway, regardless of my grim predictions for the next election; it’s a very interesting result for the Yes side indeed. And with the gap narrowing, with 97 days left to go, Scotland is well within our grasp!

 

Link to the Daily Record’s article: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/bombshell-daily-record-poll-shows-3678091

The Simple Argument For Voting Yes

Image Credit - yesscotland.net

The Prize is a Better Country

Good evening readers! I know I said that this would likely be going up at the weekend, but as it happens, I have time now, so I might as well get on with another bit of Yes based rambling. The main reason for this is that, as I said in my last post, a number of cinemas across Scotland are now refusing to show Independence Referendum related campaign material following complaints from people watching the films. The number one reason for such complaints is that people are sick and tired of being bombarded with material from both sides, many of them are likely confused by the sheer volume of “facts” and “information” being thrown at them. Another reason was when I discovered just how many of my close friends intend to vote “no”. In response, I felt it would be a dashed good idea to put up a very simple reasoning behind why I am voting “yes” and why I believe that you should too.

If you’re undecided or a “no” voter, I beseech you read on. Show you have the strength of character to listen to the opposing view once in a while, show that you have the character lacked by our politicians.

So what is this very simple reasoning? Well, it was actually in the Sunday Herald a few weeks back – to quote them; “The Prize is a Better Country. It’s as Simple as That.” Frankly, the Sunday Herald said what most of us are thinking and very well too, it gave a sound and simply argument that the politicians, in all of their debates, questions and arguments, could not. This basic stance has been the reasoning behind my desire for Scottish Independence from the day the SNP got into government in 2007.

There are many fears about Independence that have been put about, most of which have some basis. For example, what currency would we use? This is a burning question that even I have wanted answers on. We were told point blank by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a currency union was out of the question, only to have his answer crumble to pieces under scrutiny from various financial lawyers and institutions. Secondly, the United Kingdom is quite powerless to stop Scotland continuing to use Sterling after independence outside of a formal currency union.

What about the European Union? From various polls, surveys and various elections, Scotland can be seen to be much more pro-Europe than England. We are told then that in 2017 we will be subject to an in-out referendum on Europe during which Scotland may well be dragged out of Europe unwillingly. Then we are told that Scotland, independent, would have to reapply for EU membership (i.e., get the boot upon Independence and have to renegotiate entry). This has been shot down by a number of legal experts and leading EU politicians. Scotland outside of the EU would cause more hassle than good given how much trade, money and resources flow between Scotland and the rest of Europe, there is also no real legal precedent for removing part of an existing member and forcing negotiations for re-entry.

My point is this, there have been many scare stories spun by Better Together, most of which unravel quite easily. This is not mentioning the lies cast out by No Borders and a certain Chief Secretary to the Treasury. That is not to say that an independent Scotland would have no worries, to say that would be callus and downright stupid. We will face uncertainty and dilemmas along the way, but these are nothing in comparison to what we face as part of the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom is currently the 4th most unequal country in the developed world. Now, that might just sound like a slogan that someone with dreadlocks and a colourful tee-shirt came up with, but it’s rather sadly based on cold hard numbers. We just need to look at the recent news of the number of billionaires residing in London, the increasing wealth of our richest people; follow this with a quick glimpse at the inner city streets and high-rise blocks in Glasgow and Dundee – just quick glimpse, mind, wouldn’t want to make you feel too uncomfortable, would we?

For the decades since the discovery of North Sea oil and gas, Norway has been putting money into an oil fund to save for a rainy day. Currently this oil fund is valued at over 853 billion dollars. That’s $853’900’000’000 in the pocket of the Norwegian Government to provide for its people as and when the time demands it. The United Kingdom, after hiding the true projected size and values of the oil fields for fear that the Scots might actually want a piece of it, proceeded to set up no such oil fund and squandered the money away, with Scotland seeing not so much as a drop of it.

As for the Scots mooching off of the English, for each of the past 33 years, Scots have contributed more money per head in taxation to the United Kingdom treasury than any of the other constituent countries. A Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland report in November of 2011 showed that on average, Scots produced 9.9% of the total tax based income of the United Kingdom, this is despite Scotland only being home to 8.3% of the total population of the United Kingdom.

The fact is, that whilst the UK is currently the 4th most unequal country in the world, an independent Scotland – should it use its resources properly – would stand to be the 8th most wealthy country in the world. That’s not a bad wee leap, eh? I do apologise, enough numbers.

You look at Europe, in the UK, there’s uncertainty there. Wealth and income inequality, increasing austerity measures… well there’s almost certainty there, but not in a very reassuring manner. At best, remaining in the UK gives us the status-quo, which is not something I particularly like. At the worst, Scotland voting “no” could be seen as a mandate for the Westminster government to begin stripping powers from Holyrood and destroying much of what we have fought so hard for already.

People tell me that they have concerns about independence and ask why should they vote for it if there is so much uncertainty. The truth is that there is more uncertainty on the side of Better Together than they’d let on. Independence comes with many questions, but one thing is certain with independence: We will have the chance to change our country for the better.

We will be given a chance to say no to nuclear weapons, no to foreign wars, no to further rightward leaning governments, no to austerity, no to increased privatisation of our essential services, no to increasing wage gaps and wealth inequality. We will be given the chance to say yes to free heath care, yes to the European Union, yes to a peaceful and prosperous Scotland.

What’s more, we will be saying no to a government where we, as a nation, are represented by less than 10% of the representatives, that sits hundreds of miles away in a city a world apart from our country. A government where, no matter how Scotland votes, England will always have an overwhelming majority with no kind of accountability to the Scottish People.

Instead we will be saying yes to a government based close by, in our land, where 100% of the representatives are voted for by our people. A government where all the representatives can be held to account by the Scottish People and that can be changed should we not like it.

It really is as simple as putting the future of Scotland into the hands of the People of Scotland. A Better Country, as Simple as that. In around 100 days, we shall be faced with the most important decision that we, as a country, will likely ever make, and I do sincerely hope that we do not shy away from the challenge through fear of the unknown.

I shall leave a link to the Sunday Herald’s editorial at the end as it argues this case to a far greater degreee of eloquence than that which I could ever hope to.

If you’ve read this far, especially if you’re undecided, wavering, BT, or even a Yes supporter, I thank you heartily and ask that you take a moment or two to share this article, comment your thoughts and generally make your opinion known. But once again, thank you my dear readers. Have a wonderful weekend.

[ Link to Sunday Herald Editorial, 04/May/2014; http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/sunday-herald-view/the-prize-is-a-better-country-it-is-as-simple-as-that-why-the-sunday-hera.24133829 ]