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Archive for August, 2012

Over the last few days I have been trying to decide what to write my next blog post on and then, out of the blue and with a little help from a certain fresh-faced Labour MSP, there it was.

Now, as some of you will no doubt be aware, Neil Bibby MSP was running a poll on his website asking whether people thought that Scotland should be independent. He is certainly not the first person to run this poll. It is, after all, the question that is on everybody’s lips. What was special about this poll was that it showed absolutely overwhelming support for Independence. Now I am sure that everyone accepts that an online poll is not the most scientific means to measure support. Nevertheless, when faced with a result of around 94% in favour of Independence (in fact, when I looked it was 94.4%), instead of laughing it off Mr Bibby and the Labour Party rather embarrassingly decided to take the whole site down.

At the time of writing this post the site is still down:

I have therefore decided, in the spirit of democracy, to revive the poll and I would even encourage Neil Bibby to be one of the first to log on and cast his vote.

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Now, as some of the more observant of those of you interested in the Independence debate may have spotted, there have been occasions, believe it or not, when the No campaign have attempted to scare the people of Scotland away from the idea of Independence.

Ever keen to avoid the specific terminology “too small, too weak and too poor” the message nevertheless looks strikingly similar. Quickly recapping over some of the “classics” we were told that passport controls would need to be put in place on the border between Scotland and England, that we would no longer have a National Health Service, mortgage rates would rise, we would lose our AAA credit rating and, on top of all of this England would have no choice to bomb Scottish airports in order to defend itself from attack.

Now whilst some of these may cause you to smile (I certainly find them amusing), there is a serious side to all this. Labour MSP, Patricia Ferguson herself acknowledged that the Labour campaign is based on playing on people’s fears. A growth in national self-confidence means a growth in support for Independence, a belief that we can move forward on the international stage. On the other hand damaging national self-confidence and making the Scottish people doubt themselves could have the opposite effect. Perhaps that is why, after the huge successes of Scotland’s Olympians last month, a Panelbase survey indicated that people were more likely, rather than less likely, to support Independence. The Olympics produced a groundswell of positivity, making it hard for Unionists to play a negative game.

Now one of my favourite negative stories from the No Campaign is that an Independent Scotland would put off big companies from investing in Scotland – all this constitutional “uncertainty” is damaging to Scotland’s economy. Yet despite these apparent fears, evidence for which, when challenged, the Unionists have failed to provide, another company has today confirmed that Scottish Independence would make absolutely no difference to their decision to invest. Paul Walsh, Chief Executive of Diageo, was keen to point out that a decision to invest in a country or a product, in this case whisky, would be made on purely economic grounds. Constitutional affairs have no bearing whatsoever. Indeed, when you are talking about such a huge company as Diageo why should it? They trade in approximately 180 markets and employ 20,000 people with offices in 80 countries. Why should Scottish Independence be a barrier to them?

The same can be said for GlaxoSmithKline. In March this year they announced an investment of £100 million in its two sites at Montrose and Irvine. Rather than welcoming the news the Unionist politicians chose to focus on the decision by GSK to also invest at Ulverston in Cumbria. It was claimed that Scotland lost out on this investment because of the Independence debate. Sir Andrew Witty, Chief Executive of GSK was quick to refute these claims on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland however stating:

“Obviously the very big investment we’re making in Montrose and Irvine signals our confidence in the future of Scotland. What we’ve done speaks louder than words.”

I remember listening to the interview in my car at the time, blood pressure rising at the notion that such a question would even be asked, that, in the face of such a positive news story there would be a desire to desperately seek out the negative.

Investments from Diageo and GSK are just the tip of the iceberg for Scotland in recent years. There have been recent significant investments from a host of other international companies including Taqa, Avaloq, Ineos and PetroChina, Dell, Gamesa, Amazon, Mitsubishi Power Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Mitsui, Life Technologies and many, many more.

Far from frightening away international investors Scotland tops the table for inward investment in the UK outside of London. This has been borne out by a study from Cardiff Business School, by the Ernst and Young UK Attractiveness Survey (PDF) and by Channel 4 News’ invaluable “Factcheck” blog – which I would encourage you to explore.

Confidence in the economic decisions of a Government are what attracts inward investment. Time and again the decisions of Scotland’s Finance Secretary, John Swinney MSP have proved to bear fruit, even with our currently limited powers. In contrast, George Osborne’s economic austerity policies show no sign of lifting the UK out of recession. Scotland is a nation that should be buoyed by self-confidence. Far from damaging Scotland’s economy, the Independence debate is putting us on the World stage as never before. International companies are taking note and are setting up shop here. Holywood is also noticing – and let’s not underestimate the benefits that could bring to Scotland’s tourism industry.

The rest of the World can see the immense value that is in Scotland. Don’t let us be the only ones who don’t.

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From Ian Davidson’s now infamous “Newsnat” spat to Willie Rennie’s bizarre claims that the SCVO and their Chief Executive, Martin Sime, are SNP stooges just because they happen to be in favour of a second question in the Independence Referendum it is clear that, with the end of the Olympics, the Unionist parties are trying to ramp up their attacks on those of us who support Independence for Scotland.

Joan McAlpine’s column in the Daily Record this week attracted the attention of Alex Massie in the Spectator who expressed discomfort at the language that Joan chose and her suggestion that Davidson and his fellow Labour MPs are delivering for the Tories with their opposition to Independence. When you examine the evidence though then it is hard not to reach the same conclusions as Joan.

Whilst I am 100% convinced that Independence would be the best option for Scotland I would never suggest that it is not possible to be a proud and patriotic Scot whilst at the same time arguing that Scotland is best off within the Union. Such a suggestion would be ridiculous and more than a little reminiscent of McCarthy. Scotland is a rich and diverse nation and it has a wide range of political views that are all valid. Indeed it is that very point that the Scottish Government acknowledged in their willingness to look at a 2nd question for the Referendum ballot paper, a recognition that there are those that would like to see constitutional reform for Scotland but who are not certain that Independence is the best way forward. Accepting the idea of a 2nd question doesn’t mean a lessening in the desire for Independence. It is a recognition that healthy debate is good and a sign of confidence that the case for Independence can be won.

When Scotland’s former First Minister, Henry McLeish, argued earlier this week that there was a danger that the Unionist parties could be seen as anti-Scottish he wasn’t doing so because they are arguing against Independence. What McLeish was warning about was a lack of vision from the Labour leadership and a lack of a willingness to engage on the constitutional question. Indeed there is an inability from any of the Unionist parties to provide a clear outline of what they think would be best for Scotland and why. This “vote no to Independence and then we may look at what other powers the Scottish Parliament could get” is simply not good enough.

If the Labour party wants to avoid the tag of being “Tory” or “in bed with the Tories” then they need to articulate a clear message of their own. They need to say why they believe in the Union and what their alternative to Independence would be. Gordon Brown’s vague statement this week in Edinburgh on being happy for “more powers” for the Scottish Parliament without articulating what these powers should be and why they should be transferred will just not cut it. The perception is that it means whatever powers they need to transfer in order to defeat the SNP, and nothing more. Therein lies the problem and that is why McLeish is arguing that Labour and the other Unionist parties are in danger of appearing anti-Scottish. They need to be putting forward a positive case based on actual political beliefs rather than just a panicked reaction to the SNP.

If they believe that things are best exactly they way they are then they should say so. If they believe that the latest Scotland Bill is the optimum solution for modern day Scotland then they should say that. If they think that Devolution was an error and power should be returned to Westminster then they should not be afraid to say that too.

Political beliefs should always be motivated by a positive vision of how you want the World to look. Each one of us should be interested in politics through a belief that we can make the world we live in a better place, that we can help those who need it and see our society and our culture thrive. That is not unique to Scotland. It is the same the World over. Politics is about making positive changes in society and arguing your own case. Unless the Labour Party regain a vision of their own then they will continue to risk being seen as “anti-Scottish”.

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Just when it was thought that there could be a hiatus in domestic politics until the conclusion of the Olympics the tensions in the Coalition once again come to the fore.

It has always been an uneasy alliance between the Tories and the Liberals as much as, by all accounts, the leadership of both parties are really close. Going into the Coalition Nick Clegg sold the deal to his party with the promise of real constitutional reform – changes in the voting system for Westminster and reform of the House of Lords.

On the first count the compromise of a referendum on the Alternative Vote was no real compromise at all. It was the least hated option of all the ones available and the option that no side actually wanted. Now I will admit to voting yes to AV in the Referendum but you will forgive me if I wasn’t overly exorcised about the issue either way. Quite predictably neither were the British public at large and the referendum wasn’t just lost, it disappeared into the ether never to be heard from again.

That was ok for Clegg though because he still had the major promise of reform of the Lords, apparent agreement in the UK Government for a majority elected second chamber. At this point I suppose we are meant to conveniently forget that one of the first acts of the Coalition Government when taking office was to stuff the House of Lords with political appointees (123 up to June 2012) in order to balance out the stuffing of the Lords by the previous Labour Government. 422 new peerages were created in the Labour years, 386 of them under Tony Blair’s premiership. The result of all of this is that the House of Lords has expanded and expanded to a mammoth 775 members.

In contrast it is the mission of Cameron’s Government to reduce the size of the Commons from 650 to 600, a reduction of 10%. Now that the proposals to reform the House of Lords have collapsed, due to the inability to get sufficient agreement from the Tory members, it appears the Liberal Democrats have decided to go tit-for-tat in withdrawing their support for the boundary changes with Simon Hughes MP displaying a distinct lack of subtlety in arguing the case.

Now I am not against the idea of reducing the size of the House of Commons in and of itself. There may very well be a case to be made for bringing forward the proposals, although I do question the motivations of the Conservatives where the net effect appears to be making it easier for them to secure a majority in the future. Ever one for a pithy and apropos cartoon Steve Bell in the Guardian has provided this offering.

The current situation does raise two prominent questions though. Firstly, is the Westminster system reformable at all? Lords reform is not a new topic of discussion. Indeed the Labour Government had consultation after consultation on the issue and, other than a reduction in the number of hereditary peers that were able to sit in the House, intended only as a temporary measure, a starting point, very little has changed.

The second question is one predominantly for Scotland. The Scottish Government is planning to introduce the Referendum Bill to the Scottish Parliament early in 2013. It will contain a lot more detail about the look of an Independent Scotland. What model of Government would you like to see outlined in it given the opportunity to start afresh?

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