Party Time!

Who won? Seems strange to be asking but even the Unionists are worrying that victory in the referendum was pyrrhic and that in the long run they are the losers.

I came across two new versions of this dreadful awakening, one from the increasingly strident John McTernan who is assuming territorial rights over Scottish Labour, and the other in Labour List by Peter Russell.

They argue that Labour has failed to press home the win and take command of Scotland again. This apparently is down to miserable leadership and must be corrected to stop Yessers striding around with grins on their faces while Labour quietly put away the banners.


But surely they miss the point – they DID lose. They lost the argument, they lost their soul and they lost their credibility. Now they’re losing their support.

Since the vote went their way, why aren’t they celebrating and bragging? Could it be that they didn’t know what the prize was? They didn’t understand what they were fighting for because they don’t really believe in Britain either, at least not its Tory government every 10 years and the rise of UKIP and dodgy wars and hopeless productivity and dismissive treatment of unions, not Ed’s creepy appeal to southern middle classes nor Balls’ lust for austerity. They were fighting against the SNP – that bit they understand – and the supposed prize of the Union holds only the grim knowledge that they keep their MPs at Westminster. It doesn’t deliver the joy of triumph because the reward is threadbare, broken old Britain and its intolerant right wing ascendancy.


Instead of celebrations on the streets, we had the Save Our NHS marches, pathetic in the counterpoint they provided to the lies told during the campaign. Labour folk know their side betrayed principle – wasn’t the grasping by Darling of Ian Taylor’s £500,000 donation from Vitol early proof that morality would play no part?

The cavorting with Tories –Darling at their conference getting a standing ovation – the threat from Balls over the pound (their Scottish pound) and the incessant insults about Scotland’s inability to run its own affairs, crushed many Labour voters and turned up to 40 per cent of them into voting Yes. This was a disaster for Labour and already the internal campaigning has begun to resurrect some kind of genuine working class movement…at the same time as McTernan (and Murphy) are pulling in the opposite Blairite direction of no universal benefits and keeping Trident. Celebrations? More like rats in a sack.

Labour people were also forced to see close up just how talentless their leadership is both in Scotland and London and they were embarrassed.


The trouble with victory is you need to know what to do with it. What was winning for? What policies, what new approaches, will now flow from it? How will Scotland be changed by Labour? Do their voters know their position on extra powers (sort of, and pretty weak they look), will they now implement some ground-breaking policy ideas and begin a massive recruitment drive and build towards winning the 2016 Holyrood election? Of course not. There is no prize. Even the departure of Salmond produced the even more popular Sturgeon…and the SNP is now massively bigger and more powerful than Labour as a party. In theory, no Labour seat is now safe.

The next few years could be dog days in which the failure to create a new invigorated democracy in Scotland will follow in their shadow. They are identified with hard right Conservatism (their partners when it suits them) in anti-European, anti-worker Britain. That is what they fought for and what they won. Not much to celebrate, is it?

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Star Letter…

Here I publish a message from my correspondent James Anderson following my blog on John McLaren and Fiscal Affairs Scotland. It raises some very good points.


I’m totally with you Derek that this was the politics story of the day. There have been many story’s in the MSM to raise my hackles in the past few weeks(!) but this one really pushed my buttons for many of the reasons you highlight. It is the veneer of impartial academic credibility John McLaren and Jo Armstrong are deploying; Scots-based, at respectable Glasgow University, with knowledge of oil economics, not Tories, and using ‘real’ evidence. Frankly John and Jo’s contribution is verging on the outrageous, at least in terms of the sheer volume of UNCHALLENGED coverage it received today. Below was my own contribution to the topic, which I posted on the Herald . More power to you Derek – stay aggrieved and focussed. You are doing the job only the Sunday Herald is doing on the public’s behalf in the mainstream.




Fiscal Affairs Scotland – that’s the Centre for Public Policy for Regions to you and me – and John McLaren appear intent on continuing to push ad-nauseum the Labour and Tory line that Scotland runs a perpetual deficit position within the UK. OBR figures? Really John? And if these figures are all accurate and in the public domain what is the point in your report? Why are you continually recycling public domain information? Rushing out a press release to coincide with the first full Smith Commission plenary session? With headline conclusions and projections based on a few months of dipped oil prices?? It is a tough gig being meaningful in terms of academic research value; challenging and testing norms. I’d love to know where the value-add is in this ‘latest report same as the last doomsday report’. Utterly ignoring, say, Scotland’s Westminster controlled fiscal position now compared to five years ago and where it’ll be five years hence. This is not a report based ‘over and above cuts’; this report, if anything, simply tells a story of what Scotland’s fiscal position might be if we didn’t send our cash directly to the Treasury.

Here’s the issue. Even if you accept McLaren and Armstrong’s worst case scenario – a £5bn deficit in Scotland’s finances right now or in six months if we’d had full fiscal control – our operating deficit remains no worse or remains better than that of rUK. But that is not the worst crime committed by this report. That honour is reserved for this line: “Our calculations suggest that, across a wide range of assumptions, full fiscal autonomy could lead to a significant shortfall in funding over what the current system delivers.” No John, your calculations do not show that at all. Your calculations are based on revenue and spending without borrowing: outputs without all the inputs to Barnett plus non-devolved spend. Scotland’s public finances and all UK public finances are presently already paid from an operating deficit. The UK Government operates a gargantuan fiscal black hole. So the “current system” cannot and does not pay out anywhere in the UK from a fiscally neutral, balanced books position. Nor does Treasury pay out as a benevolent benefactor; lavishing extra spending on Scotland as net beneficiary of Westminster’s benign commitment to ‘sharing and pooling’.

Yes this press release IS part of that exact same narrative. Yes you are being lead to conclude the UK is in serious surplus whilst Scotland is in serious deficit. Yes you are being lead to conclude that rUK is subsidising Scotland and providing a safety net (Barnett). Yes the report utterly ignores Scotland as a long-standing net contributor to UK finances, our lower debt-to-spend ratio, and that Barnett itself is only one part of a near bankrupt, eye-watering, debt-laden economy (£1.5trillion and counting).

The “current system” is, of course, based on running a chronic shortfall between tax and spend (at least till 2018 but we know Osborne and the OBR will get that wrong as well), which the UK Govt borrows to offset. In fact John might have wished to re-interrogate his conclusions following the news on Osborne’s tax receipt shortfalls yesterday (based on modeling he’d been receiving from, you guessed it, the OBR!). So even if Scotland did have a shortfall between revenue and spend; so does the current system!! With fiscal autonomy we’d borrow to maintain, or increase, or decrease our levels of public spending. And we’d do so from a healthier fiscal position than Westminster (either as a fiscally independent country or as a federated state enjoying fiscal autonomy within the UK).

Given John and Jo’s undoubted intellect I can only conclude that to present the fiscal position Scotland ‘enjoys’ under Westminster’s financial control in this way (that somehow Scotland, uniquely within the UK, experiences centrally approved levels of public spending beyond its current means), is not ‘non-aligned’ and is indeed a partial and politically-loaded view. Others on here might question the substantive nature and quality of the FAS intervention: is FAS really asking the Smith Commission to reflect on what fiscal powers accrue to Scotland based solely on some disputable evidence spanning only a few months around a single out-turn (O&G revenue forecasts)? FAS put the exact same proposition to the Scottish electorate prior to the Referendum.

I know Jo Armstrong is a former O&G economist so FAS might feel it has a degree of expertise and authority on this single issue but come on; this is our country’s shared future. Economic and policy choices are far more complex than repackaging some questionable short-run O&G stats!! Perhaps that is why John and Jo set-up FAS as a semi-autonomous ‘think-tank’ running parallel to their day jobs at the taxpayer-funded CPPR? More flexibility to influence political and public thought rather than straightforward interrogation of public policy choices? There is a fair chance one or both read the Herald online so it would be good to receive a rebuttal to the points I’ve made here

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Deja Vu

Just about the first thing I saw on Twitter this morning was the Scotsman front page with a lurid headline about Sturgeon’s £5 billion Devo Max Bombshell(add your own exclamations) and instantly felt deja vu creep over me.


Are we still in the campaign, I wondered. Are they still hammering home their relentlessly negative tabloid scary drivel or is the referendum over?

It followed this week’s piece in the same paper from Peter Jones warning that without the Union, Scotland would be facing ruin from falling oil prices as we would lack the equalising impact of the block grant which retains spending levels. He was quoting Brian Wilson who wrote in the same paper the previous day apparently on the same subject.

Odd, isn’t it? My understanding was that Unionists were bleating that Yes was refusing to give up and yet here we are in ‘the national paper’ re-running old arguments after the event and based on the views of one or two campaigners disguised under the pseudonym of Think Tank.

Indeed, on reading the article, it turns out to be none other than former Labour economic adviser John McLaren* who has produced a paper timed to coincide with the Smith Commission talks and dutifully published on the front page of a national newspaper minus scrutiny or analysis in an attempt to derail the SNP’s proposals for extra powers.

john mclaren

If you thought this fight was over, you’re wrong. The Unionists can’t stop themselves from stamping all over Scottish aspirations and killing stone dead anything that smacks of real autonomy. Every single move has a downside that will damage Scotland and they will never tire of telling us. Only craven adherence to London policy – Labour or Tory – will satisfy these Britnats whose contempt for their own country is collective self-loathing on an epic scale.

Whenever there is a Scottish government statement due or a budget, expect Dr McLaren to have prepared a paper contradicting everything they have to say. The so-called think tank, now named Fiscal Affairs Scotland, is spun out of the Centre for Public Policy for Regions (CPPR) which previously provided cover for his Unionist expositions. You may recall three years ago, this story (reported here in Newsnet)

The row over claims that businesses in Scotland face a massive increase to their business rates of £849 million over three years looked set to escalate today after a CPPR source denied the organisation had produced such a figure.

Newsnet Scotland has been told that the press release and report sent out to media organisations on 22nd September made no such claim of an £849 figure.

The £849 million figure has been used by several Scottish newspapers and broadcasters in order to attack the Scottish government’s three year spending plans.   The headlines and reports led to Finance Secretary John Swinney writing to a Scottish national newspaper and issuing statements denying the claims.

In a letter to the Herald newspaper Mr Swinney called the figure of £849m “misleading” and went on to explain that the real figure is £493m. Around half of this is due to the annual poundage rate RPI increases that are introduced north and south of the border and which businesses know they have to plan for.

So the actual increase as a consequence of inflation totals £250m over the three-year cycle not the treble plus figure implied in the CPPR report.

That little affair was the direct result of a press briefing given by John McLaren at Glasgow University and which I attended. Contrary to what the CPPR said, he did mention the £849m figure and it was leapt on by Angus Macleod of the Times – with his usual relish – who demanded to know, in an incredulous voice, if the figure was correct. ‘Yes’, confirmed McLaren.


It was broadcast by Douglas Fraser and immediately brought objections and clarifications from the government. The result was the item was pulled from BBC coverage within the hour. McLaren had overshot himself in his haste to a) damage the SNP and b) to gain publicity.

At that time he and his former Labour colleague Jo Armstrong were paid by the taxpayer through the Funding Council and accommodated by the university but it isn’t clear where the funding is coming from for their new vehicle which has a raft of luminaries to provide respectability. Oddly, for a ‘prestigious’ organisation, their website appears not to be functioning.

I don’t believe that Scottish academics – any of them – make up answers or deliberately twist information but I do think that some with strong political affiliations highlight information that serves their political ends. It would be naïve to think otherwise. And if the referendum taught us anything, it is that we have an inter-connected establishment which values the Union above all else. The idea of impartiality and neutrality were torn apart as professors and doctors declared for one side or the other and in the midst of a national debate, that seems an appropriate response from the university sector which is both an iconic contributor to our country’s prestige and an underused resource.

But once that campaign is over, do we expect them still to be politicking at public expense? For example Adam Tomkins first advised the Tories on devolution – a reasonable use of an academic to a project of public interest –but should he now also be representing them in the Smith Commission? Has he not crossed a line from offering expert advice to assuming the mantle of identity of a political party and arguing their corner against other politicians? Should the taxpayer be paying his salary while he turns himself into a political party representative? (Perhaps he has surrendered his salary pro-tem. What do you think?)

At least Tomkins makes no effort to hide his affiliations so you can judge him and his work accordingly. (I know I do). But shouldn’t we expect the same declaration from other academics like John McLaren who, it seems to me, is a committed Unionist and anti-SNP voice but who states he is unaligned? If the think tank is also unaligned, as it claims, perhaps we’ll see some evidence of this soon…

Meantime, I recommend this from Bella for further reading.

The McLaren defence will doubtless be that he produces a balanced report and it’s the media that decides the storyline and the heading. But are we to assume that so media-savvy an individual with hours of television experience and direct media contact had no idea what line a journalist might take? Wasn’t he already preparing to appear on Radio Scotland in the morning? Did it not occur to him that it coincided with the Smith Commission meeting and would therefore sabotage that event and lead journalists to demand answers from the SNP? Put it another way – isn’t this exactly what Labour Party headquarters would want?

And is this what Robert Black and others in Fiscal Affairs Scotland want – to be front men for campaigners bent on disrupting even the low-level devolution process that all of Scotland wants to succeed now that independence is shelved? I suggest that John McLaren knows exactly what he is doing. To me this looks like cynically manipulating the media to present a case that damages the Sturgeon leadership, derails the more powers process and makes a name for John McLaren and his latest think tank. And, of course, it’s another triumph for the Scotsman, surely the most inappropriately-named newspaper in history.

*John McLaren was a civil servant at both H.M. Treasury (1985-1988) and at the Scottish Office (1989-1998). During this period he had no political affiliations.

John worked as a researcher for the Labour Party for a year leading up to the first election (1999) of the new Scottish Parliament, being subsequently appointed as a Special Adviser by Donald Dewar, and then by Henry McLeish, for the period up to 2001. John was a member of the Labour Party from 2000 to 2005. In 2006 John was hired by the Labour Party on a consultancy basis to undertake work leading up to the 2007 election. Since 2002 John has worked as an independent economic consultant and member of CPPR. Since 2005 he has had no political affiliations.


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Nurse! Hurry!

If we lost the referendum, I was going to change the name of this blog to I Told You So…

Well, we did lose but I’ve decided just to be smug instead. Sadly there isn’t even fun in being right after the vote since it’s all too late and I’m left feeling helpless as our future is kicked around by uncaring Unionists.


Still, somebody’s got to point out that the emerging narrative of the TTIP deal is that it seriously threatens the viability of the National Health Service…Unite is now campaigning on this point with widespread support. Yet, if you can muster the effort, drag yourself back to September.

Better Together released a press statement signed by 200 No-voting health professionals accusing Yes experts of breaking up the NHS and of ‘ constantly peddling lies.’ They were thanked by Jackie Baillie, no doubt for revealing ‘the truth’. Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS England popped up to warn that there was no threat to the Scottish service as it was entirely devolved.

Even after the referendum, the Labour strategist John McTernan was writing that one of the lessons learned from the campaign was that if you tell a big enough lie you can change opinion – ironically he meant the Yes case on the NHS, not the multitude of Unionist myth and smear.

Yet it does seem the transatlantic deal is designed to open up the NHS to American corporations. TTIP does not allow them to bid for contracts in any fully-public sphere – for example the protected Scottish NHS, particularly if we voted Yes. Yet the law affecting health services in England has been radically re-ordered by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 which allows doctors’ consortia to control about £60bn of the NHS budget and commission local services –which take place through competitive tendering. Contracts are open to the voluntary and private sectors, a process that is currently outsourcing hundreds of millions of pounds of services.


The Act actually ended a key aspect of the NHS by ending the Secretary of State’s duty to secure or provide health services throughout the country, a duty that has been in force since 1948 and is the key underpinning of a free at point-of-use, comprehensive and democratically accountable health service. That means it is no longer the job of the elected minister for health to take responsibility for health services. Remember that appearing in a manifesto?

The government will no longer be responsible for providing for all your health care needs free of charge. Instead, a range of bodies not accountable to parliament, including for-profit companies, will decide which services will be freely available and to whom.

This plays into TTIP because it is a deal signed by both the US and the EU – to which the UK, not a separate Scotland, is signatory. There is no Scotland opt-out and arguing that a region of the country (UK) has a different administrative system is hardly grounds for exclusion. A TTIP lawyer can simply argue that the UK Parliament is sovereign and has total jurisdiction over all Scottish affairs. As Scotland is not an independent country, TTIP encompasses the entire member state.

The UK has refused to apply for exemption of health services and would be doomed to fail in any case because the 2012 Act which paves the way for private provision, surrenders the case for a publicly-run service.

Scotland’s only serious hope of rescue from a system that privatizes health and allows companies to sue the government for loss of earnings, is that our services is too small in scale to be worth a multi-national competing for…a forlorn hope.


Here is Caroline Molloy of OurNHS… ‘privatisation of the English NHS accelerates towards the tipping point where it will be judged to be a fully-fledged market, no longer allowed to exclude the private sector even if it wanted to. Will it drag a non-independent Scotland with it, with or without the TTIP Trade Treaty? We won’t know until a court challenge comes along – and by then it could be too late.’

And Labour, she says, has been far too quiet on the issue – Andy Burnham apart – as Ed Balls looks desperately for ways to save money. Balls is advised free of charge by the accountancy firm PWC which helps companies seeking contracts.

Perhaps this is where Margaret Curran’s new Socialist Labour Party will take its first stand, standing up for the rights of all Scots to a fully public NHS whatever decisions are made by Labour in England? But surely it was Margaret and Labour who told us there was no danger – no threat – and there was nothing to worry about. Tricky reversion for Labour there. Still I told you so.

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‘The age of two-party politics is over. These televised debates should be a true reflection of the choice facing people.’

‘Broadcasters have shown themselves to be out of touch by clinging to notion that there is no alternative to a Westminster elite’


The quotes are from Leanne Wood, the impressive leader of Plaid, and I agree with both. The closeness between the executive level of journalism and the British state is incestuous and dangerous and don’t think the on-screen lot are any better.

Just because someone appears to be a fearless reporter, doesn’t mean they aren’t fully corporate-compliant when it comes to dealing with the powerful. The launch event for Andrew Marr’s latest book was held in Number 10. Now to Poppy and Venetia in Marketing that’s a bit of media luvvie flummery to buff his political credentials. But to the viewing public who pay Marr’s exorbitant wages it looks very different. It looks as if he’s close to the Prime Minister if not actually in his pocket. And the very fact that Number 10 agreed suggests a mantel of acceptability was thrown over the Marr project.

Incidentally, Marr, like many of the trusted faces and voices who bring us the News From London – as opposed to the parish pump drivel that passes for news Where You Are – is coining in thousands in extra earnings sucking up to any organisation with cash. He’ll come and speak to your local SNP branch for £10,000. Or go one better and ask for Jeremy Paxman and you’ll get a bill for £25,000.

The second Leanne quote reveals the real problem because the culture of both government and media is overwhelmingly metropolitan and simply fails to grasp that life and experience outside the M25 is so completely different. (Well, I suppose they do actually know that because most of the London-centric crowd are themselves from the regions of the UK, it’s just that once they walk through the doors at Millbank or Westminster, they are seduced into forsaking their background).


The broadcasters have done more than any voter to get UKIP elected. They have given exposure out of all proportion to Farage and presented his party as a threat to the main parties because they liked the story, but without ever analyzing the policies or the motivations. I have no doubt the BBC was principally responsible for the election in Scotland of the UKIP MEP. Their exclusion of news about the Greens in the election was striking and contrasts with the relentless UK news coverage of UKIP which gives Scottish voters a double dose of exposure.

The BBC has a problem when it comes to a UK election and televised leaders’ debates. The debates in other countries are essentially used in presidential systems where there are usually two contenders. In a non-presidential system with multi parties, this becomes problematic. The reason why the SNP is excluded in this case is that they don’t stand in the whole country, only in one part. They are therefore deemed not to be representative of the whole UK and not relevant to a large section, no matter how big they are in Scotland.

But with the SNP actually in power in Edinburgh and with a massive mass membership (and six MPs) it looks perverse to allow UKIP into a debate based on one (defector) MP and opinion polls. Also, what does it say that in part of the United Kingdom, Labour, Tory and Lib Dems don’t stand candidates at all. If the whole representation argument is to be consistent, why doesn’t it apply to Northern Ireland?

There is a rush in the broadcasters boardrooms for audience and for that they need Farage. He is box office so representative democracy can go hang. They have collectively turned the format of using potential Prime Ministers into a Channel Five ratings joke where Dave fights Ed and then Nick joins in. But in next week’s episode they’re joined by Nigel…

It becomes impossible to argue they aren’t doing a disservice to the Greens and to the SNP whose voices will go unheard in what is becoming a replacement for real politics. And here’s a thought. It is possible the SNP will have more MPs that UKIP and could hold the balance of power.

This latest tableau shows how little Scotland matters again and how the casual insult to the Scots comes so easily to them. But then, this is what we voted for. We said by majority we preferred London to look after our interests and here we are, being shown the contempt we deserve.

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