Double-take

Have had to do a wee bit of my own investigating tonight, after seeing an article on the IB (International Business) Times website which opened with the line:

‘An independent Scotland WOULD NOT BE ABLE to keep the British pound sterling under a Labour government in Westminster, the shadow chancellor Ed Balls HAS SAID.’   (my emphasis)

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"Balls to a Sterling Zone!"

Now that’s a pretty major change from the repeated cries of “highly unlikely” that we’ve been hearing for months. That’s what we’d call a definite answer. Ed Balls actually stated that?

But I read through the article, two or three times to make sure, and although there are numerous lines quoted from Mr Balls, there didn’t appear to be one that backed up the opening line of the piece.

I commented on the article stating as much, and tweeted the UK IB Times twitter account.

No response.

So I looked up the author, Shane Croucher, on Twitter. I tweeted him the following question from my personal account:

‘@shanecroucher Do you have a quote from Balls stating that Labour categorically wouldn’t allow indy Scotland to join £zone? None in article.’

I was pleased to see a little notification icon at the top of my phone screen a short while later, telling me he’d replied. To be honest, I was hoping he had nothing, but this is what he said:

‘@andy_c_n From the article: “The only way to guarantee the pound is to stay in the UK.” ‘

But… that’s not “Scotland can’t use the pound if Labour are in government”, is it? That’s the same old “highly unlikely” rhetoric we hear day in, day out. And I replied to Croucher saying as much:

‘@shanecroucher That’s not the same thing. They’ve all been saying that for ages. Thanks for reply though.’

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My twitter conversation with Croucher

So it will be interesting to see if the article is amended, as at the moment, it just looks like Project Fear spin. I’ve archived the original version here, just in case.

With such an important referendum coming our way, it’s not really on to either be making mistakes like this, or to deliberately misrepresent people’s words. It’s not for me to accuse Croucher of being deliberately misleading though, and this is the first time I’ve ever come across him.

The photo’s at the top of the piece give the impression that it is not an altogether objective piece, however: Ed Balls, assertive and commanding; Alex Salmond, looking like he’s praying.

This demonstrates just how careful we all have to be when reading what our media puts out there.

Question everything you read and, if there are loose ends, try to get to the bottom of it.

Update: Author replied to myself and someone else who had tweeted him:

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So, if we take him at his word, we must now conclude that an editor deliberately changed the word ‘suggested’ to ‘said’ for reasons known only to themselves. Although I’m sure we can hazard an educated guess as to why…

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A Cautious Smile…

With polls starting to show a swing towards Yes, it’s becoming clearer than ever that when people actively engage,  when they find out what Yes Scotland’s positive vision is actually about,  they are more likely to declare their intention to support independence come 18th September. 

This has already been demonstrated through polls from many debates held at schools, colleges and universities around Scotland,  where pre and post debate polls almost always show a swing towards support for independence. The attendees hear both sides of the argument and can see what independence is really about, not what Project Fear and their chums in the media have been telling them it’s about. 

Many of us spend a lot of time batting back what Project Fear throw at us,  and whilst it’s important that we don’t simply allow them to get away with this mudslinging unchallenged,  the positive arguments for independence speak for themselves and people are beginning to see that. 

That the swing in the polls started to come after the publication of the Scottish Government’s white paper,  ‘Scotland’s Future’, is no great surprise. People wanted facts and they got them. At least, those who have read it have.

Some have criticised the white paper,  describing it as more of an SNP manifesto than an independence instruction manual. But independence doesn’t come flat-packed from Ikea – of course the party that has brought us to this point is going to have their own version of how independence should begin.  Whether or not you agree with specific policies is not the point – that’s what elections are for. That’s democracy,  and that’s what everyone under the Yes Scotland umbrella is trying to improve for every single person in Scotland,  regardless of political persuasion. That’s why Yes Scotland campaigners come from every (decent) party: the Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party, the SNP, Labour (sorry Johann, you certainly don’t speak for them all), the Lib Dem’s (ditto, Mr Rennie), and even a few Tories, apparently.

Others have criticised it for not containing enough in the way of detailed projected costings.  I dare say that even had the white paper been as thorough as the most meticulous quantity surveyor’s report, listing the cost of every individual paperclip and elastic band required by an independent Scotland’s civil service,  the opponents of independence would merely have told us they were rubbish anyway.  That’s been part of their tactic throughout the whole campaign: talk everything down and then change the subject when questioned.

There are some voters who we’ll never convince of course, but I’m not going to slag them off. They’ve made up their minds for whatever reason and are sticking where they are.  I’m the same with my determination/stubbornness to promote independence. Most of us think we’re right,  after all. 

But it’s a pretty childish and futile exercise to criticise their stance imo, although I’m happy to hold my hands up and admit that I haven’t always stuck to such a noble line by any means.  I do try,  but sometimes the temptation has gotten the better of me -something I’m always conscious that I have to work on.

As it always has been, it’s those caught in the middle of the debate that we have to continue striving to get our message across to. Those who have yet to decide one way or the other are,  in my own possibly rather naive opinion, more likely to come to us than to go to No. We do have the only positive vision in this debate. We are the ones seeking to make a change for the better,  and most sensible people are realising that we’re nothing to do with the negative, narrow-minded anti-English campaign that ‘Better Together’ have so desperately tried to tar us as. And they’ll continue to see that in increasing numbers,  unless BT stop banging that tired old drum anytime soon,  which let’s be honest,  doesn’t look at all likely. Any campaign that is prepared to dub ITSELF as ‘Project Fear’ is frankly never going to be one based on positivity and honesty.

So, we’ve now got just under eight months to work on completing this swing.  50%+1 might well be all we need to begin our story on this planet as a modern, open and forward-thinking democracy, but who wants to get to polling day on such a knife-edge?

Every single vote we can possibly get counts. That includes those who are currently undecided, and equally as important,  it also includes those who are less likely to vote at all. 

The disaffected among us have a real opportunity to make their vote count, to feel like citizens who matter and become involved in the decision-making processes that will guide our shared future.  The are so many people who don’t feel that way at the moment,  and feel completely disenfranchised by the very structure of the UK’s frankly antiquated and elitist parliamentary system. They have the chance to say “You know what,  I want my voice to actually be heard”, and that’s one of the major benefits of becoming an independent country, with a more modern and representative democratic system. EVERYONE will have a better stake and a louder voice. That’s what I’m fighting for.

This Week’s Charts…

Harriet Harman has today WARNED us that if we become independent (not “GO independent”, as her party colleague and former English teacher, Johann Lamont, said yesterday during FMQs!), our minimum wage will be at risk of being cut, despite the Scottish Government’s pledge to at least increase it in line with inflation (’Scotland’s Future’). Harman claims that this is what happens when a smaller country competes with one with a larger economy:

“The danger is that, as with corporation tax, if you start competing against a larger economy, you reduce the cost of wages.
“There is a question mark over whether there would be a race to the bottom. Of course there would be.”

Leaving aside the fact that Scottish companies already compete with others in the rest of the UK, as well as the rest of the world, I decided to have a snoop around to find out what national minimum wages are like around the world.

The UK, with its current minimum wage of £6.31 per hour (…or £5.03 per hour if you’re aged 18–20 …or £3.72 per hour if you’re under 18 and finished compulsory education), comes in at reasonable sounding No.10 in the National Minimum Wage charts. So obviously all of the other countries above the UK in this chart are larger, with bigger economies? That would only be logical, given Harman’s wise words, wouldn’t it?

So let’s have a look at the NMW Top 10 (some music to listen to in the background as we count them down)

Staying at number 10, the UK, with a minimum wage of £6.31 an hour, or (US)$10.02…
A new entry at 9, the Netherlands, with $10.99…
Over two years at number 8, it’s Ireland, with $11.09…
New Zealand clinging on at number 7, with ‘We’ll Ensure You Don’t Work For Less Than $11.18 (Kiwi Mix)’…
(hope you’re listening to the backing track!)
Number 6 is Teeny Wee San Marino, earning a minimum of $11.49…

And now it’s time for the world’s NMW Top 5…

Belgium keeping the 5th spot, with $11.69…
In at 4, it’s the biggest country above the UK, it’s France, with $12.22…
Monaco sneaking in at number 3, with $!2.83…
At number 2, it’s the 170th biggest nation on Earth: Luxembourg! $14.24…
Which means that for the 500th week running, it’s Australia’s Men (and Women) At Work, with their smash hit, ‘We Come from a Land Down Under – Where the Minimum Wage is $16.88’!

Roll end credits. (you can stop the music now if you want)

So there we have it. Harman’s insistence that an independent Scotland will be unique in its inability to compete effectively in the world, unlike the countries listed above, which all have bigger national minimum wages than even the mighty UK, is frankly tosh. Only one of them (France) is of comparable size to the UK, both in terms of population and economy. The rest are SIGNIFICANTLY smaller, and some of the smallest nations on the face of the planet.

So, here’s a wee suggestion for Harman’s little speech/interview.

Thirty years on: an invaluable lesson for this year’s referendum.

The release today of Thatcher government papers from 30 years ago shows an absolutely staggering contempt for the people of Scotland, with the government attempting to secretly cut billions from Scotland’s block grant over a few years. And not just cut it – cut it and attempt to cover up the fact. And in the midst of the disembowelling of Scotland’s heavy industries.

That George Younger, the then Scottish Secretary, appears to have managed to ‘hold back’ the desired cuts, seems to be less down to his own disagreement with the fundamentals of the proposals and more down to fear for his own neck if it ever got out.

The Barnett Formula already takes into account levels of public spending in England – if cuts are made in England, they are made in Scotland’s grant too. Any other cuts, which is what these secret Thatcher government debates were about, would have been on top of any pre-existing cuts brought about by the pegging of Scottish grant monies to English spending. Figures talked about by senior Ministers were between £500 million to  £900 million per year. This from a block grant of around £6 billion/year at the time.

If this had been successful, just imagine the effect it would have had on Scotland. And this would have had longer repercussions – after all, which subsequent government would have bothered to correct the block grant and bump the figure back up to where it should be, when they could put that money either towards another department or what might be seen as cuts in taxation. The effect would not just last for those years of Thatcher government – they would be cumulative and devastating, and we’d still very much be able to see and feel the consequences today. 

That was thirty years ago, but what it shows is just how vulnerable Scottish public finances are when we continue to rely on being given back our own taxes by those behind the closed doors of Whitehall.

The Barnett Formula is already at huge risk from disgruntled politicians at Westminster, who are increasingly speaking out against what they perceive to be as a pandering to Scotland, despite the fact that Scotland has consistently provided more in HMRC tax receipts than it has received back or had spent on it’s behalf. And the Barnett Formula isn’t even contractual – it’s an agreement only, still wholly susceptible to the whimsy of the UK Government.

This all ties in with the independence white paper proposal regarding improved pre-school education. What guarantee would we have that any extra income tax generated by allowing parents to work more would come back to Scotland to fund this policy, bearing in mind that income tax goes directly to UK HMRC? Absolutely none at all – which is why it is a post-independence pledge, not one that can be acted upon within the devolution framework. 

As history has shown today, we’re at the mercy of UK Government politicians who can at times act like crooked accountants, pocketing wads of their client’s cash when they think nobody is looking.

Of course, it would be foolish to suggest that we will be invulnerable to dishonest politicians in an independent Scotland too, but they will be directly accountable to Holyrood and to us, the people – not hidden behind thirty years of secrecy, cobwebs and dust.

There is only one way to ensure that the people of Scotland have the tax revenues raised in Scotland, spent in Scotland. And there’s only one way to guarantee that no future government can again attempt to pull the wool over our eyes, as Thatcher’s government so nearly did. That way is to vote Yes in September, and bring full fiscal responsibility and accountability to Scotland.

Sooo sick of hearing it…

Aside

It’s just a stab in the dark this, but I’m guessing that most other independence supporters are getting a bit sick of the “if you leave, you condemn rUK to generations of Tory governments” line trotted out by Labour unionists?

It’s getting rather tired, isn’t it? We KNOW that of the eighteen UK General Elections since 1945, only TWO would have seen a very slim Labour majority become a very slim Tory majority (1964 and 1974), had Scotland been out of the equation. We know this to be true because we have such things as written records of the results.

But written facts aside, what is even more frustrating about these nonsensical claims is that those who make them seem to be trying to guilt-trip the people of Scotland into thinking that we are somehow the ethical guardians of our southern neighbours, and that it is we who are the UK’s social conscience – some sort of ‘Jimmy McCricket’.

Frankly, if the rest of the UK want to keep on voting for the self-centred Tories, they’ll keep on doing it. If Labour are struggling to get a decent foothold, perhaps rather than blaming a Scotland that wants to start afresh, they should be looking at themselves and why the voters of rUK seem unwilling to return to them. Just possibly, they should take a long hard look at THEMSELVES and what it is they actually stand for, rather than still trying to entice the middle-England vote at the expense of traditional Labour values. Simply saying “I’m a socialist”, doesn’t make it so.

But fundamentally, it is not Scotland’s place or job to dilute the impact of the Tories in rUK. We have our own country to run, and we’re making it pretty clear that we want to take Scotland in a new, fairer, more socially democratic direction than we have been coerced into taking by being in the union. If the majority of votes in rUK continue to go to the Tories, the Tories will win – that’s rUK’s lookout! A lot of left-wing independence supporters, from both inside and outside Scotland, actually see Scottish independence as an opportunity for real left-wing politics to start building up within rUK, not the opposite.

What Labour are trying to do here is tell the Scottish electorate that if they vote for independence, they’re selfish: “How dare you seek to improve democracy for yourselves! How very dare you!”

The Tories will continue in rUK. Labour will continue in rUK. The Lib Dem’s… well, let’s keep that fiver firmly tucked in the wallet for now! But our leaving will have no sizeable impact on who runs the rUK Government, and that’s a demonstrable, undeniable, provable fact.

And this thing about us ‘looking out’ for rUK… I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if Labour are really so concerned with their ‘borders are coming down, not going up’ line that they come out with, let’s see their proposals for anything like political unification with France, Angola, Denmark, China, Sudan, Ecuador, Somalia, etc. They’re just fantasy emotional blackmail lines which play absolutely no role in actual Labour policy.

We don’t need to share a parliament to care about or help other people around the world. Don’t fall for such meaningless drivel.