“I dinnae trust ANY of them!”

“I dinnae trust ANY of them!”

How many people do each of us know who have uttered those words, or similar? I bet it’s a few.

And who could blame them? Certainly not me.

We live in a society that seems to have grown almost blasé about political corruption: from MPs salaries spiralling through the roof while others see their quality of life plummet, through the expenses scandals [Hi there, Mr Murphy and Flipper!], to dodgy dossiers and Tony Blair’s government taking us into a war under false pretences – and these were supposed to be the GOOD guys!

It’s no surprise at all that many people simply refuse to believe a single word that comes out of any politicians mouth. I’m just surprised that so many still take politicians at their word at all.

But on Thursday, we have a unique opportunity to drastically – and that’s not hyperbole, it is drastically – improve our ability to hold politicians to account – to hold them to what they say, and to look them in the eye as they say it.

We simply don’t have that ability within the UK system. Just look at how many expenses-fiddling MPs are still at Westminster. Watch Tony Blair swan around the world, cashing in on his ‘expertise’ on the Middle East [no comment!].

That’s one of the core reasons to vote Yes – no matter what you think of the politicians on either side of the debate. We can give ourselves the power to boot them out if they fail us – and let’s not kid ourselves here, sometimes they will.

Independence doesn’t deliver us to a land where unicorns with gold horseshoes dance in cool streams of milk and honey – we never claimed that it would. I’m not a fan of honey anyway…

But it does put us in a place where we hold far more power over those we elect to govern for us.

There are many reasons to support independence, but for loads of us this whole thing comes down to three simple principles: democracy, responsibility and accountability.

Use your vote to improve those for everyone living in Scotland. Vote Yes.

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The Purging of Scottish Madness, by Ciaran Healy

I was lucky enough to have a hand in bringing the world down in 2008. 

Not a very big hand, of course.  I was a headhunter.  I found a certain kind of person for a certain kind of bank.  The kind of person I found could best be described as being like Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting.  The banks I found them for were all the ones which exploded.

I want to give you a very specific insight into something, some revelations that have recently surfaced about how the finance sector will react to Scottish Independence.  This seems a little abstract, but isn’t for the thousands of Scottish people who work in finance – it is vast here.  Vast.  Here’s my take on this, and this is informed by the intimate knowledge and privileged view I had of the culture, personalities, systems and insanity that led to the last crash, and what all this means for us.

Because there is a real simplicity to this.  Something very simple has just hoved into view.  No side that I’ve heard is talking about it.  I’m going to hit it as fast as I can, but we’re covering a lot of ground, so try to keep up.

The explosion of 2008 has not been communicated to the people.  It’s been broken down into little buzzwords.  ‘Risky bets’.  Stuff like that.  The kind of stuff that fits in a red-top headline.  But that’s not what happened. 

What happened is arrogance.  What happened is systemic arrogance buttressed by absolute faith in mathematics so complex that only a tiny few could ever understand them.  Mathematics of probability and chance so arcane that they could make anything seem like anything else.  They could make risk vanish.  And they did.  And then the madness began to truly spiral.

If you have a bet you have no risk on, the amount of profit you make is just the amount of money you can slap down on the table.  Banks have billions – but billions weren’t enough.  They didn’t bet the money they had, or even the money they managed.  They did something else.

They took all that money, and used it as collateral to borrow massively more at incredibly high interest rates.  From who? 

Well, from each other, of course.  From each other, because they all knew that the money would be earned back because it would be placed into riskless bets that could never fail.

Complexity onto complexity, abstraction onto abstraction, further and further down the rabbit hole of mathematics until the entire mental world these men (all men) occupied was so far away from reality that full noonday sunlight seemed to it like the twinkling of a distant star.

But there was simplicity too.  Real simplicity.  That if you borrow money to bet, and take all the profits of your betting, and put that down as collateral so you can borrow even bigger and even bigger sums of money, ALL of which you throw into these bets…..

….well.  You only need to lose once, don’t you?

And when you lose once, you don’t lose all the money you have.  You don’t lose all the money you manage.  You lose the massive amounts of money you’ve borrowed.  The average was between 20 and 40 times the amount these banks had.

The bank jargon for that is ‘leveraging’ your position.  That’s what that word means if you come across it again.

When the banks lost, they all lost at the same time – and not by chance.  They lost because they were all locked together in the same betting system, laying the same ‘risk-free’ bets with money they’d borrowed from each other.  When it came down, that’s why it came down.

They’re still doing it.  Today.  They’re still doing this in Scotland.

This is not a caricature of what they’re doing.  It’s not an exaggeration.  I’m not fudging it so you can understand it better.  This is EXACTLY what they are doing. 

Bear that in mind.

RBS and a whole slew of massive banks are leaving Scotland, legally, in the event of independence.  This is real.  They’re going to do it, and they’re going to do it because they have to do it, because there’s a power in this world much, much greater than that of the people.  It’s that of the markets.

If a bank is engaging in this kind of betting, we all know that there’s the chance it can all detonate.  But even that’s not really fair.  Think of Edward Norton in Fight Club, that thing he said.  Over a long enough timeline, everyone’s survival chances drop to zero.

Sooner or later this is going to explode again.  It’s a system that is insane.  Nobody has stopped it.  Nobody has slowed it down.  The regulators are useless, and basically non-existent.  There’s a lot of press releases.  Actually that’s not even true these days.  There’s barely even that.

Even if this is stopped, what other madness can arise from this terrifying culture of ‘banking’?  Well I’ll tell you one thing – a mass scandal in systemic insider trading that scoops billions every day off the pension funds of the world, in which almost every major bank is complicit.  Michael Lewis’s book Flashboys just lays it out, clear as crystal.  Nobody cares though.

Point is this.  Scotland just received notice that a number of banking heavyweights will leave it if and when independence hits.  They’re not doing that because they want to.  They’d much rather do nothing – any ripples and uncertainty about any operations causes market ructures that are savagely expensive for these companies.  So why?

It’s one issue.  Just one, and you can probably guess.  What’s called (banking jargon alert) a ‘lender of last resort’.

Sounds sassy, don’t it?  Like the title of a John Grisham novel.  It is exactly what you think it is, if you think it means that the banks leaving are the ones who need to have the constant, eternal option of a publicly funded massive bailout in case they explode.

That’s what it means, by the way.  Again, that’s not a caricature.  I’m not fudging it to make it easier to understand.  This is literally what it is.  It’s not more complex than this.

But think.  Think.

What does this mean?  THINK.

What it means is that Scotland’s entire financial sector, on the day of independence, will be purged.

Every company that is doing this, EVERY company, will immediately leave Scotland.

ONLY those companies will leave. 

Do you see?  None of these guys are doing it because they want to.  They don’t want to do anything other than what they do all day. 

Now, look – some of the banking sector (and it’s crazy to remember this, but it is true) is actually good.  For real.  It’s a business that works to create and sustain other businesses.  That’s what banking is.  All this other betting stuff, what it has become, is lunacy.  But it’s a great industry, and an amazingly useful one if done with even a modicum of sanity and competence.

On top of that, there’s a lot of jobs here.  A lot.  A huge number of Scottish people are employed in the financial sector. 

But that’s the thing.  They don’t care about moving the jobs – nobody needs to physically be anywhere else, it’s a bank.  So they relocate head office to London.

Now.  It’s all not all sunshine and rainbows.  There is a real hit Scotland has to take here.  But that hit isn’t jobs.  Banks are very complex systems, if you start relocating whole departments of real people, massive logistical ruptures will happen – or at least they might, and that’s enough for the markets to crucify the company.  And they will.

So jobs stay.  That is true.  That’s not some wild speculation – you cannot move these people, with their existing skills, relationships, living arrangements, down to London, without the company being disembowelled on the exchanges.  So that’s just not going to happen, and it’s not.  It’s really not.

What will happen is that Scotland will lose the corporation tax (20% of profits after losses are taken out) of these companies.

Now, even if we put to one side the fact that some of these companies are still bleeding money, making vast losses from both the crash itself, and a whole host of other, deeply criminal activities they are being fined for… even putting that to one side….

Stop the press.  Stop the press.

This ‘damaging leak’ saying that RBS and all the rest are leaving Scotland – when you look at why that’s happening and what that means in real terms….

It means that, for the loss of basically no jobs and only the corporation tax of companies….

All these companies are leaving because their ENTIRE BUSINESS MODEL NECESSITATES THE POSSIBILITY THAT THEY ARE GOING TO EXPLODE.

I’m trying to be really clear.  I’m not dumbing it down.  I swear to God.  I’m not.  This is why.

Think.  This is why.  There’s no politics in this decision.  There is none.  They are shunting their corporation taxes down to London because the markets will kill them if they don’t.

And why?  Because at some point, someone’s going to have to pick up the tab for another explosion.

The loss of corporation tax from these companies will not destroy Scotland.  It will hurt.  Don’t flinch that.  Don’t belittle it.  When the going is good, these companies make vast profits.  Vast.

But the loss of those taxes will not destroy Scotland.

The detonation of these companies on Scotland’s doorstep will. 

It really will.  It will annihilate this nation’s capacity to make political decisions.  Like Greece, power will shunt to the German banks, or the London banks – whoever decides to make the power-play. 

This is real.  So what’s just happened… the ‘bad news’ that Downing Street leaked to destabilise the Yes campaign… is that ALL the banks who stand to explode and ONLY the banks that stand to explode are going to pay their corporation tax to London now, in exchange for London picking up the damage of their next explosion.

No jobs will be lost. 

That is the leak.  Look this in the eye.  And think of this – good GOD.  An independent Scotland would be a Scotland retaining it’s massive job-base in financial services, but freed of the danger of the toxic madness of modern banking in one day.

In one day. 

That, in and of itself, regardless of anything else that has been said, is reason enough to vote Yes, alone.

Think about it. 

Really do.

Then vote.

Ciaran Healy
www.ruthlesstruth.com

What’s it all about, Alfie…

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When all is said and done, what are we actually voting for?

Strip out the fluff from either side. Put aside the rhetoric.

Try to forget for a minute those politicians you hate with a passion, on either side of the debate… this is neither about them or for them – they’re movable, temporary figureheads. That’s what elections are for.

What’s actually there?

The referendum next week is not about Scotland vs UK, or Scotland vs England.

It’s not even really about Scotland – it’s incidental that that is where we happen to be.

It’s about taking our right to vote – a right earned by countless people in struggles all over the world, throughout history – and deciding whether or not we want to build on that right that we have at the moment: to give it greater meaning and depth, with a better quality of representation, and on a more direct and accountable basis.

If you vote Yes, that’s what you’ll be doing. You’ll be saying ‘Our votes – yours and mine – they are important’. You’ll be voting to help everyone who happens to live in Scotland – from all personal and political backgrounds – achieve that.

And you won’t be removing that from anyone else to enable that: it’s not a finite resource, democracy – unless you take it right down to the individual level.

In fact, you’ll actually be helping our friends and neighbours in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, by taking our MPs out of their equation, leaving theirs to focus on what’s deemed right for their constituents.

If you say ‘No Thanks’ next Thursday, you’re not saying it to the SNP.

You’re not saying it to Alex Salmond, or to Yes Scotland.

You’re saying it to everyone who lives here. And that includes yourself.

You’ll be saying ‘No thanks, I don’t think my vote – or that of anyone else here – is important enough to shake things up a bit’.

I value democracy very highly indeed, and I am voting Yes – not for flag,  ‘FREEDOM!!’, or any sense of ill-will towards people elsewhere in the UK – but so that our voices, all of them, are heard that bit louder, and with more clarity.

And I’m voting Yes to modernise our system of democracy itself, ridding ourselves once and for all of the archaic Westminster system, where half of the parliament is run on a ‘jobs for the boys’ basis, and because those we elect to Holyrood are put there using a version of proportional representation, meaning that people have a much better chance of both being and feeling represented.

That, to me, is the key gain of independence: the bettering of both our democratic system and our democratic rights as individuals.

That’s why I could never bring myself to vote against independence. And that is why I urge you to think about what democracy really means, and to hopefully do the same.

Ruthless Facts… or Factless Ruths?

Ruth Davidson on Trident and nuclear weapons (about 55 minutes into last nights ‘Yes or No – The Debate’, on STV):

“…We now have half the number that we had in Britain, because of Tony Blair. There’s two-thirds less in Russia, because of the work he did. And there’s three-quarters less in the United States – because of working with other people.

The SNP’s plans for kicking Trident submarines 400 miles down the road do nothing to make the world a safer place, or to bring down nuclear weapons. And I think that what you need to do, is work with those partners.

And, I want to say, and put in context for people, what the cost of Trident is: it is 0.1% of the budget.

ZERO POINT ONE PER CENT of a UK budget.

So, I believe that you do have to defend a country. I believe you don’t encourage other people to give up their weapons by just giving your up and saying ‘You do what you want’. You work with other countries around the world, and that’s how you reduce nuclear stockpiles, and that’s what Britain has done.”

Bit angry there...

Bit angry there…

I’m going to skip right past the fact that Davidson believes that Blair getting rid of a far smaller proportion of nukes than either Russia or the USA was fantastic.

I’ll also skip past her suggestion that if Scotland rids itself of nukes, it won’t have any impact on rUK’s ability or desire to continue having them.

Instead, I want to talk about the figure she so generously offered us, to “put in context for people, what the cost of Trident is” – that “0.1% of a UK budget” that she was so adamant about asserting.

0.1% of the UK budget, or 1/1000th? That seemed odd to me. So I thought I’d check it out…

For 2013, the UK Treasury raised £612 billion, and the government had a total expenditure of £720 billion (increasing the deficit by £108 billion – nowt to worry about there…).

The defence budget for 2013 was £34.3 billion – either 5th or 6th highest in the world, depending whose figures you use.

Figures regarding the exact running costs of Trident and our nuclear ‘deterrent’ seem not too easy to come across, but here’s what David Cameron said on 4th April 2013, to The Telegraph:

“Of course, the deterrent is not cheap – no major equipment programme is. But our current nuclear weapons capability costs on average around 5-6 per cent of the current defence budget. That is less than 1.5 per cent of our annual benefits bill. And the successor submarines are, on average, expected to cost the same once they have entered service.”

[Let’s ignore that sly little dig at the benefits system, for now]

The one who SHOULD know the figures...

The one who SHOULD know the figures…

Note that Cameron doesn’t stipulate whether or not this “5-6%” covers the cost of the crews, the cost of refits, the cost of refuelling, etc. I don’t know if it does or not – it might be easier to figure out if we had slightly more transparent government.

Anyway, the £34.3 billion spent on defence in 2013, is 4.76% of the £720 billion total spent by the government.

Assuming that Cameron knows the figures better than Davidson – who has absolutely nothing to do with either defence or the budget allocated to it – and also assuming that he’s playing it safe by saying “5-6%”, let’s go with his own upper estimate of 6%.

6% of 34.3 billion is 2,058,000,000, or just a smidgen under £2.06 billion, per year.

Now let’s look at how that £2.06 billion relates to “the budget… a UK budget”.

100 x (2.058 ÷ 720) gives us the cost of “our current nuclear weapons capability”, as a percentage of the total UK budget, according to David Cameron.

Oddly enough, that figure is not “ZERO POINT ONE PER CENT”, as insisted upon by Davidson.

It’s not 0.15%.

It’s not 0.2%

It’s not even 0.25%.

What it is, is 0.286%.

“Oh, that’s still hardly anything!”, you might say – but it’s almost TREBLE what Davidson claimed in last night’s debate. And it’s still £2,058 million a year. £2,058,000,000 which could, myself and many others would argue, be put to much better use.

And that’s the running costs of the system we have now – it doesn’t include the purchasing of the upcoming Trident replacement, which is estimated by the UK Government to be £15-20 billion – a figure much debated by others (£34 billion estimated by Greenpeace).

So… where did Ruth pick her figure from? Was it the thin air that she breathes, way up there on her particularly long-legged horse?

I had a theory that what she should have said, was ‘0.1% of GDP, as that would have at least been nearer the ballpark. Even then, 0.1% of the UK’s 2013 GDP would only be around £1.49 billion, so still way out, going by Cameron’s own figure of “5-6%”.

But she didn’t. She clearly and repeatedly said “0.1% of the budget. I’m sure that anyone reading this will know that GDP and budget are two very different things. They don’t even sound or look alike.

But who knows… Perhaps Ruth Davidson knows what she was on about? Or, perhaps the Tooth Fairy’s less well known cousin, ‘Random Number Generating Fairy’ – so often consulted by the No camp – has an inkling.

Control

“Holyrood has full control of the Scottish NHS…”
– anyone in the No campaign

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: to have full control of anything is to have available all relevant powers associated with whatever it is you’re talking about, which in this instance, is the Scottish NHS.

The Scottish Government, of whatever political flavour it happens to be – and by extension, the people of Scotland – never has all of the available powers over any aspect of governance, and for a couple of reasons.

The first is the simple fact that the Scottish Government has no control over how much of a budget it is given by Westminster.

In the event of the scrapping or amending of the Barnett Formula to the detriment of the Scottish budget, there is no right of reply. There is no meeting of ministers from both governments to discuss the whys and wherefores. The block grant is simply delivered to the Scottish Government, like pocket money.

Even with the still very limited tax powers proposed by the various unionist parties, that’s not full control. There is nothing in their proposals to guarantee any set level of grant, and with voters in England expressing their dislike of the ‘vast sums’ Scotland gets (although less than we contribute), how long would it be before the remaining block grant was tightened? Probably as long as the time it takes to get to the next election – ie, a year and a half.

If the government of Scotland cannot have full control of the revenues generated, how can it possibly have full control of all the things dependent on that funding?

The second, and to me, more fundamental reason, is the ever present danger that Westminster can, at any time, pull back powers from Holyrood.

As with the referendum legislation itself, Holyrood is only effectively borrowing powers from Westminster. What sort of national legislating body has to rely on the goodwill of another to do its job?

Let’s flip this around – although not in a Darlingesque manner.

The No camp have made much of the Scottish Governments proposed currency union, stating that such an arrangement would leave Scotland with, at best, only a small say on interest rates.

Actually, that’s giving them too much credit – they usually neglect to mention that our government would have any say at all, when there would clearly be Scottish input in some form, most likely on the board of governed at the BoE.

So, neglecting to mention that last part, they criticise this idea, claiming that it can’t possibly mean ‘the best of both worlds’. “That’s not independent enough!”, they holler, as if they’d be supportive of any other option anyway!

So not having fully independent control of interest rates wouldn’t be independent enough, but not having real full control of any unreserved matter is? Hmm…

Not having the ability to raise/lower/amend/scrap/introduce taxes, and indeed not having the ability to legislate for anything without the constant possibility that another government or parliament could suddenly remove that ability… that’s good enough?

That’s the position that Holyrood is in every day: it doesn’t have any control at all over reserved matters, and it only has partial, borrowed control of all of the non-reserved matters.

For a parliament and government to work to the best of their ability, and with the responsibility that should come with representing the people of a nation, the buck must stop not with another parliament or set of ministers, not with a house of unelected and unaccountable ‘peers’, but with them themselves and, most importantly, the electorate who put them there in the first place. The sovereignty of the people must be of paramount importance.

This, to my mind, is one of the major flaws of devolution, even ‘though I would never choose a return to the pre-1999 system.

The Tories propose making Holyrood more accountable and responsible by giving over a handful of tax powers. No, that’s just superficial crap – it does not address the fact that Holyrood will still be ‘below’ Westminster, and still not fully accountable solely to the people of Scotland.

The Scottish NHS is not, by any means, fully controlled by Holyrood. And nor are any of the other areas it has ‘control’ over.

It is the duty manager of the shop to Westminster’s board of directors. And that’s not good enough for either the parliament or the people. And that’s why it must be Yes.

Dear Scottish Labour…

It’s no accident that the prominent Labour figures who are coming out in support of independence tend to be former politicians and activists. These are, by and large, people who were part of what we now call ‘Old Labour’ – from a time when Labour could rightly claim to have socialist ideals.

With many of them now retired, they aren’t bound by the same necessity to toe the party line any more, unlike their current successors.

They are now free to say “You know what, I do believe that Scotland can, and should, become an independent nation.”. And the fact that so many are doing this now – along with an estimated 28% of Labour voters, according to the latest TNS survey – speaks volumes for the case for independence.

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Eleanor McLaughlin (former Labour Lord Provost of Edinburgh), Blair Jenkins and Dennis Canavan (photo from Yes Scotland)

So please, if you are an undecided or a No-voting Labour supporter, look at the case for independence with fresh eyes.

Look at the reasons these former politicians and activists have given for supporting it.

Look up ‘Labour for Independence’, read their website, follow their Twitter account, go to one of their events and listen to their arguments with an open mind. Challenge them, stimulate debate, listen.

This is so much more important than party politics, and this is our one shot at this. So please look at the pro argument with the objectivity and respect that such a crucial decision deserves – that all of the people who live in Scotland deserve.

That’s all we ask of you.

We do not live in a nanny state

Contrary to what might be taken from the words of [usually] Labour unionists, Scotland is not a nanny state.

I’m not talking about the concept of the ‘nanny state’ in the same way as the Tories often do. I for one am not offended when the government tells us when things are bad for us. The role of government is partly, as I see it, to protect and nurture those who it represents. I see nothing wrong with that at all.

Unfortunately, most Tories seem to see the role of government as being a means to dismantle the state for personal profit. But I digress…

The ‘nanny state’ I’m referring to is, specifically, Scotland. Or rather, the image that Labour unionists would have us believe is our role – that of the conscience of the UK.

I doubt very much that Labour politicians go to Yorkshire or Cardiff and tell the people there that Scotland is the moral saviour of the UK. I’m quite sure they give them just as many meaningless platitudes as they do us.

But that’s what they’ve been doing here, during this referendum campaign.

“Don’t go, lest the remaining UK be lost to the Tory hounds for eternity!”

“They know not know what they do! Please, don’t dessert them!”

Forgive me, but I hadn’t realised we’d even applied for the position of ‘National Jiminy Cricket’ to rUK’s Pinocchio. I didn’t even know that such a position was either required or advertised.

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By Jiminy!

But the rhetoric from many unionist Labourites has been that it is somehow our (Scotland’s) DUTY to make sure that rUK don’t vote themselves into decades of selfish, right-wing government, be that through the Tories, UKIP, a coalition of the two, or some as yet unknown party.

Apart from being grossly insulting to people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – who, believe it or not, are quite capable of making their own decisions – it’s as big a pile of equine excretion as we’ve heard in this whole debate.

We, as a nation, do not exist to keep tabs on our nearest neighbours. Such a notion is preposterous, and to suggest that it’s a reason at all, never mind a good one, to stay in the union is nothing short of absurd.

Don’t get me wrong – I would really rather not see rUK vote for more years of right-wing governments, whose primary motivation is ‘ME, ME, ME!’, the dismantling of the [supportive bits of the] state, the acquisition of personal wealth and the scapegoating of minorities.

But if the people of rUK want to do that, that is their choice – just as we are trying to win the right to have our choices matter.

The unionists will often point to the number of Labour MPs in Scotland too, citing that as evidence that those in rUK will never vote-in a Labour government again. Thankfully, most of us know that this is also to be filed somewhere in between ‘br’ and ‘bt’:

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graphic from Wings Over Scotland

If rUK does vote for increasingly right-wing governments for a while, they’ll soon enough see them for what they are, and the left will regroup. Perhaps Labour will even rejoin them, once they’re over ditching their principles to chase the votes of the gutter press readers.

But that will be up to them. And it will be down to them to change it.

Scotland is not a set of stabilisers for the UK’s first bike. We have a right to choose how best to run our country and care for our society, and the rest of the UK is perfectly capable of cycling along on the road without us to stop them falling off. And so are we. Let’s join them and ride alongside, on our own terms.