Sunday, July 5, 2015


"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace--business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. 
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me--and I welcome their hatred. 
I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Maiden Scotland

English MPs seem to have been genuinely stunned today by the quality of the maiden speeches given by some of the new SNP MPs. You can see the whole day's proceedings and the reactions here (Joanna Cherry at 12:15:00 and Tommy Sheppard at 15:22:10).

But here's Tommy Sheppard. No notes. Just honest, articulate compassion, humour and intellect. Wonderful stuff. And then this:

"You will make a bad situation much worse in some of the areas in my constituency. You will push people to the margins. You will push people, at times, over the edge and you will complete their alienation from the society in which they live.

And I would implore you not to do it."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pooling and sharing

There is, apparently, "no business case" for extending HS2 to Scotland. An HS2 "source" explains:
"There are two things to know about HS2. One, it will terminate at Euston; two, it will not link up with HS1 or Scotland. HS2 is now looking at enhancements and there may be the odd bit of new track here and there, to reduce journey times between Scotland and London. There’s no business case."
But even if that were true, were we not told that the benefit of the Union was specifically the "pooling and sharing" of resources across the nations of the UK? After all:
"When the then Transport secretary Lord Adonis launched HS2 in 2009, he claimed it would be 'the union railway, uniting England and Scotland, north and south, richer and poorer parts of our country, sharing wealth and opportunity.' "
(For the original, see Lord Adonis's speech reported at the time here).

A history of the future

Paxman: Your starter for 10. Who masterminded the two political campaigns, conducted between 2014 and 2015, the tone and content of which political scientists now generally agree were responsible for the death of the Labour Party in Scotland?

King's College: Bzzzzzt!

Disembodied voice: King's College, Smith!

Smith: Alex Salmond!

Paxman [incredulous, dismissive, weary]: Noooo.

Smith: I meant Nicola Sturgeon!

Paxman: Noooo. Anyone from LSE?

LSE: [Rhubarb, rhubarb, mutter, not a clue, Jocks]

Paxman: You may not confer!


Paxman: I'll have to hurry you.

LSE: Bzzzzzt!

Disembodied voice: LSE, Brown!

Brown: Was it...Blair Dougall?

Paxman: I'll accept that, in the circumstances. "Macdougall".

Kings: [Rhubarb, rhubarb, of course, should've got that, c'mon concentrate]

Paxman: Your questions are on other disastrously inept political strategists.

Kings College: Bzzzzzt!

Paxman: What?

Smith: John McTernan!

Paxman: Hang haven't...not like the film?

Smith: No no no. Just seemed the most obvious choice.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Tiber and the Thames
"I can foresee the Thames foaming with much blood...(...intending none of the racist malice Enoch Powell so famously lent [that phrase])"
(Allan Massie, Mail on Sunday, 8 March 2015)

Of course not.

The SNP is not calling for a re-run of the referendum. The perfectly and logically sensible position they take on that is that there won't be another one until the Scottish people want it. But further: the SNP is not even suggesting that as a possibility, for now. It is not calling for it. No-one is standing in May's election on a platform of a re-run of the referendum or immediate Scottish independence. That is not a possibility that's on the table, for now.

So, what DO the SNP want? They have five "red-lines" (at most: James Cook observes there may be a softening of position):

Now you may agree or disagree with any or all of these policies. But so what? Unless we aspire to the unanimity of a cult, healthy debate and disagreement is what democracy is all about. And yet what a furious, uncomprehending response. Of all the parties in the land, what precisely is it that makes the SNP uniquely disreputable? What makes a sensible journalist feel able to say that if Scotland has the temerity to elect SNP MPs, on that platform of reform, and if the English don't like it, then the Thames will run with metaphorical blood? Leaving aside as ridiculous hyperbole the violence of the imagery (though just imagine if an SNP politician used it) there's a very genuine question about this.

Is this not precisely the Union we were promised?

"Scottish AND British". Not just British. Are we in fact not to be allowed to express ourselves, to any extent at all? None of the SNP's red-lines are disreputable or unheard of. On the contrary. They are part of the political mainstream. Many people in the rest of Britain agree with them.

It seems, rather, that what is simply unimaginably preposterous is that in a finely balanced Westminster parliament, policy outcome might be determined by Scottish votes. And the inescapable logic of that is that we are allowed to express our views only when that will be of no consequence.

And if that is the reality of the Union, it is surely dead.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The world's worst insurance policy?

The price of a barrel of oil fluctuates.

An independent Scotland would not be a nirvana. A land of milk and honey. It would face the same economic challenges as all other countries from time to time.

There. I've said it.

For most of the last 35 years, North Sea oil was priced at below $40 a barrel. That's subject to inflation of course but it's been as low as $10. And here's the point: in every single one of those years, Scotland's tax revenue per head has been greater than the UK's. And the reason is clear: even without oil - if they were giving the bloody stuff away for nothing - our GDP per head is about 99% of the UK's. We have a rich and diverse economy without the oil. We're not Russia.  Oil and gas contributes over half of Russia's tax revenue. It contributes about 15% - 20% of ours. The price of oil fluctuates. But what do we think, honestly, medium to long term, is going to happen to the price of a finite resource for which the world thirsts and on which all modern economies are based?

In any event, and whatever the price, as part of the UK we get back the equivalent of about 10% of the oil revenue. The rest of the UK keeps the remaining 90%. Very roughly and not as direct as that, of course. But the arithmetic's pretty obvious: we'd be better off if we had control over 100% of even a much smaller total revenue.

Ah but what about the "broad shoulders" we were told about? The reward for handing over 90% of the oil revenue, year after year after year. The rest of the UK would, we were told, in a set of circumstances like this, pump money into the Scottish economy in the same way as the Scottish economy has to the rest of the UK for the last four decades. Since its discovery, Scottish oil and gas has contributed £300bn to the UK exchequer. A total of £0.00 of that was set aside by the British government as an insurance against times when the price dropped. It spent it all.

If you'd paid £300bn as premiums to an insurance company, you'd expect an ungrudging, bumper pay-out come the day, wouldn't you? Especially if that insurance company kept telling you to keep up the policy as you'd be stuffed without its "broad shoulders". And if you didn't get that pay-out (or, if you did and it was a tiny fraction of the premiums you'd paid) you might think "Hang on. What's the point of this again?" You might decide it made more sense to stop the policy and just save a bit of the premiums yourself.

Control over the revenue and the ability to plan, sensibly, to protect yourself by putting something aside for the perfectly foreseeable eventuality that the price falls. Rather than paying the money to others in the hope they'll do that for you (others who have, in fact, told you that they won't do any such thing) and that they'll keep to their promise to give you hand-outs when you say you need them.

The best of both worlds.

So. Could the unionist parties please once and for all just get over the referendum, accept the result, stop gloating over the fall in the price of oil and using it to try to persuade Yes voters they should have voted No, and concentrate on working with others to ameliorate the effects of the coming jobs catastrophe in the north-east?

That'd be good.