2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 53,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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We tried our best

As many of us continue to struggle with the result of the referendum and the accompanying loss of hope for a better future, some soothing words from Kevin Williamson might help us regroup.

From Complacency to Campaigning: My journey from No to Yes

 

So I was wrong, my previous post wasn’t to be my last! The response to that post has been incredible and beyond any expectation. When I set out to explain my reasons for voting Yes, I genuinely had no idea it would permeate beyond my Facebook circle. To date it has been read by over 50,000 people, sparked an informative and lively debate in the comments section and contributed (based on the messages I have received) to at least 20 people making the decision to vote Yes! I’m amazed that a blog post can have such a broad impact!

The unexpected, wide circulation of the post and the additional discussion it enveloped me in, served as the catalyst for the final part of my journey with regard to this referendum.

You see, I was late to the Yes party (and what a party it is turning out to be) having only caught on fully to the reality of why a yes vote is necessary over the last few months. There is a reason why the Yes camp has this late momentum behind it. It is because, for the majority of yes voters, it’s a decision that’s arrived at over time, as a result of thoroughly thinking through the implications and consequences and investigating the facts. It isn’t a decision to be made flippantly in 2 minutes over a cup of tea. 

Originally I was firmly in the ‘Better Together’ camp and had a string of justifications as to why Scotland is better served within the union (though I was never so delusional as to believe Scotland could not cope with going it alone). As I researched, considered and observed the questions surrounding Scottish independence more fully, I became increasingly doubtful of the validity of the arguments I used to justify my view. I became disillusioned with a political system, which I had always known was deeply flawed, but had somewhat obsequiously viewed as a necessary evil. I started to challenge and question my assumptions and quickly realised just how shallow the case for the union in the 21st century is. In short, I woke up.

That awakening (others have described it jokingly, yet appositely as similar to unplugging from the eponymous Matrix in the movie) led me to actively debate and discuss the issues with family, friends and colleagues and eventually to write a blog post. Everything that has happened since has simply hardened my resolve and strengthened my sense that we must take this opportunity before us (because we will not see another for many, many years if at all). I quickly found that I had become an audible voice in the campaign, however minor. This encouraged me to participate further via social media and attending public meetings. My lifetime activity on Twitter amounted to 200 tweets in 5 years prior to August. This has increased tenfold in the last couple of weeks to over 2,400 tweets and I have been able to reach and convince more undecided voters as a result. Twitter has also exposed me to so much information, fact, informed opinion, satire and conjecture (some credible, some less so) all of which is completely invisible to anyone relying on conventional media sources. 

Like so many members of the grassroots campaign for Yes, I’ve shocked myself with the intensity of my engagement in the campaign and the speed with which it has escalated. That’s been driven by an increasing awareness of the importance of securing independence and by urgency as the poll approaches. It owes nothing to the persuasion of any one individual or group. My personal views on how Scotland would best be shaped post-independence don’t tally with those of any of the ‘leadership’ figures within the campaign. I don’t identify personally with any one group within the Yes camp either – I agree with many of them some of the time, some of them most of the time, but none of them all of the time. Nor have I been carried away by a sense of belonging – due to the undoubted upswell of positivity which emanates abundantly from those involved in the Yes movement. I remain the fairly unsociable, cloistered individual I’ve always been; happily escaping the crowd after a meeting before the chit-chat begins! What I’ve become is energised, passionate and truly committed to a political cause for the first time in my life and I’ve never been more sure that I’m right.

It seems likely to me that others may be on a similar journey. Perhaps more importantly, with a gentle push to start them off, some may still be able to make one, even with only a fortnight to go until polling day. Therefore, I’ve decided to set out here how my journey manifested itself, with links and reference to some of the materials, facts, views and arguments which made a difference to me along the way (or which I’ve found subsequently but which put the case better than I ever could).

1. Head in the sand

I’ve always been (what I would have previously considered) engaged in politics. I vote in UK, Scottish, European and local elections, I keep abreast of current affairs through traditional media and I hold to certain values which are liberal, very slightly left of centre and which I have always identified as being best represented in the UK by the Liberal Democrats.

I have a relatively secure job and a decent income from it. But, with a family to support while my wife has been continuing her post-graduate education, we can only afford to rent a flat privately rather than own our home. And, like many others, we tend to struggle come the end of the month. Things could be a lot better for us, but they are very far from bad. Westminster politics seemed to speak to me. And I, in return, complacently accepted the status quo,  even after the huge disappointment that unfolded following the 2010 UK general election.

The abdication of Liberal Democrat principles and policies during the coalition negotiations, left the party that I felt represented me, not so much a counterpoint to the Tory majority, as just making up the numbers.  I was quite angry about it, but I ate my cereal and soothed myself with the flimsy argument that they would at least smooth the rough edges of Conservative policy and drag the agenda from the right to somewhere slightly more towards the middle. I accepted it; perhaps because my circumstances are adequate enough and I don’t need change desperately. I’m sure other Lib Dem voters did too. Many Labour supporters I know similarly swallowed their objections with their cornflakes as their party was transformed beyond any semblance of its founding principles over the last 20 years. That’s politics; it’s just how the system works in the modern world…isn’t it?

So when this referendum came along I wasn’t particularly interested at first. UK politics might have been dirty and disappointing, but that, in my mind, was just how ‘important’ countries’ governments worked. By contrast Scottish politics had always been a bit ‘Mickey Mouse’. Surely we were better served as part of a bigger United Kingdom; a global player? Besides, I have always felt British and been proud of our shared history and achievements, so why would I want to move on from those past triumphs?

2. First stirrings

When I did begin to consider the question of independence more seriously, I firstly began to challenge just what my notion of Britishness was and precisely what I was holding dear about it. I started to wonder if it in anyway depended on the continuation of a political union. I really wasn’t sure that it did and when I read this brilliant piece (please note it is lengthy, but well worth the read) by Irvine Welsh it spoke directly to my view that actually the UK itself is damaging the cultural diversity that really encapsulates Britishness, by trying to falsely homogenise it. It resonated with me. Maybe Britain really could be better as an alliance of independent nations than a union of a single agenda.

3. Broken system

As my mind became more open to the idea that maybe the United Kingdom isn’t necessarily good for all of its members, I started to challenge my acceptance of Westminster failures. Are these simply down to the nature of politics or is the antiquated Westminster system now irreparably damaged? As I looked at the facts, I had to conclude the latter. The first past the post system has not worked well for Britain for some time. Because it elects one representative per geographical population centre, it ensures that a large element of the electorate in each area is not heard. It also ensures that for the majority of the UK, their vote really doesn’t count a great deal. Swathes of the UK always vote the same way (Scotland being a case in point). There is little point, therefore, in the traditional UK parties fighting for the votes of the people in those regions. Effectively this means that all 3 parties become entrenched in a battle for a relatively small number of seats, in what can reasonably be termed, both geographically and economically, as Middle England. Those are the seats which swing from election to election and which, therefore, make the difference. The people who live in those areas are the UK’s kingmakers. That leads inevitably to a convergence of policy as the parties try to win the support of this crucial minority. What this has resulted in over the last 10 years is a slow shift to the right for all 3 major parties. This has quickened pace in the last 18 months with the emergence of UKIP as a popular force in those regions. It has also led to the loss of any real representation for the majority of UK citizens.

The primary benefit of this political model has always been held up as being the fact that it gives us decisive elections and governments with clear mandates. However, as we saw in 2010, and as the polls predict again, the convergence of the parties has led to a stalemate, where no party is likely to win a clear majority for the foreseeable future. The system doesn’t work for the majority of the electorate, before you even begin to consider the elements of corruption and self-preservation (think of expenses scandals, child sex abuse cover ups etc.) or the lack of democratic process in having an unelected second chamber of our ‘betters’ holding broad powers of veto.  There is no progressive agenda in Westminster; the tentative motion from the Lib Dems to bring in a form of proportional representation was squashed and will not see the light of day again any time soon. Nor is it nearly radical enough to fully change the system. However, a vote for Scottish Independence would allow Scotland to follow a different, more modern European path. At the same time, it would deliver the kind of blow to Westminster that would rock it to its foundations and force far-reaching reforms. The thought was becoming increasingly appealing to me.

4. Scotland’s best interests at heart

I was beginning to see that no party in Westminster, holding any hope of power, could afford to cater to the desires of Scottish voters or the specific needs of the Scottish economy. But surely the Westminster system has always looked after Scotland’s best interests? The combination of a devolved parliament and the funding enshrined in the Barnett formula ensure we get the best of both worlds, don’t they? Well I’ll come to the economics shortly, however, the evidence is startlingly clear that the UK has held back Scotland’s potential in the past and continues to do so. For those unfamiliar with the McCrone Report, it was a UK government commissioned document written by Professor Gavin McCrone  in 1974 following the commencement of North Sea oil production the year before. It was shared with the Conservative government who commissioned it and subsequently, following 2 elections the same year, with the ensuing Labour government led by Harold Wilson. There was great concern about the rise of the SNP in Scotland at the time and the report was consequently classified as secret, for fear it would boost the case for Scottish independence. It re-emerged in 2005 following an SNP freedom of information request. The report outlined the huge tax surplus an independent Scotland would benefit from, given the revenues from Oil and Gas. It expressed concern that Scotland would be far richer than the UK and its currency would become the hardest in Europe. Further civil service discussions concluded that the average income in Scotland would have risen by 30%. The report was supressed and the rest is history. Would a movement for independence have gained traction if the information was made available? Quite possibly. Could the UK have averted this by making most of the tax intake from activity in Scottish Waters available to spend in Scotland, either through devolution or through the Scottish Office budget? Almost certainly. In reality, little of the income found its way from Scottish waters to Scottish land. None was saved in wealth funds (as all but one other nation with oil reserves  has done) for the future of Scotland or the wider UK. Instead it was used to fund major strategic infrastructure programmes in England. These included the M25 and M60 ringroads, the Channel Tunnel and the regeneration of the City of London, to encourage the development of London’s economy. That was a betrayal of Scotland’s interests in anyone’s language. BBC Alba produced an insightful documentary on the topic (Gaelic with subtitles) which can be viewed here.

The 11th hour amendment to the rules of the 1979 referendum on Scottish devolution continued the zeitgeist. This decision to insist that a minimum of 40% of the total electorate had to vote yes to secure devolution, ensured the will of the Scottish people and the 52% majority of those who voted, were ignored. The  promises made by all parties, of additional powers instead, never materialised. 

No Scot requires a history lesson on Thatcher’s battle with Scotland in the 1980s. Regardless of whether you believe, as many do, that she forcibly killed off Scottish industry to punish the Scots who did not support her reforms, the Conservative government did use it as a testing ground for policies such as the poll tax. Treating one area of the UK as a guinea pig for the others cannot be in that area’s best interests.

Tony Blair’s Labour government dealt a further blow to Scottish interests by approving the decimation of Scottish army regiments, reducing the number from 6 to 1.

The lack of concern for Scottish interests isn’t just historic, its ingrained in the UK system. It continues with the misleading rhetoric and misrepresented facts which the Better Together camp have used throughout the campaign. I was becoming convinced that independence was necessary for the people of Scotland.

5. The Economics

I won’t go over what I’ve said before on this topic, but even established no campaigners have agreed in pieces intended to attack the thoroughly researched, but occasionally flawed Wee Blue Book’, that based on (pessimistic) current oil predictions, Scotland is not subsidised by the rest of the UK. However, there is substantial evidence that Scotland would be considerably better off in the event of independence and based on Statistics from the UK government would rank 14th in the OECD table of the world’s richest countries – 4 places ahead of the rest of the UK. I was already persuaded of the economic case, however, further evidence has now come to light which suggests an even brighter future for an independent Scotland. Traditional North Sea oil revenues may or may not be over-estimated (no one denies production is in decline), however, there is very strong new evidence of huge untapped oil resources off the West Coast of Scotland potentially worth up to £1 trillion in tax revenues. Moreover, this video also lays out the details of a potential additional £300 million in tax revenues which could be derived from a new supply of unconventional oil and gas in the North Sea. The pro-union Scotsman newspaper reported the story today. These discoveries could transform the case for independence and make it irrefutable.

6. Importance on the Global Stage

Although I was very much persuaded of the case for independence by this point, one niggling doubt lingered. In the UK we have a global voice; we matter, we are important. Surely a small nation like Scotland will be insignificant in global affairs – where are Denmark or New Zealand’s contributions to global matters heralded? I struggled with this for a while. I researched, I looked into foreign policy, aid and influence. Then I began to see a frightening pattern emerge. The UK is a global force, but primarily not one for good anymore. The wars we have engaged in in recent years have been viewed by the world as often unjust and in the case of Iraq illegal. For me the most shocking testimony is that of Craig Murray, a former UK ambassador with 20 years of service to the Foreign Office.  In this video he explains how the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were indeed about oil and resources, the interests of big businesses and nothing else. He confirms the illegality of the Iraq war and that Britain was heavily involved and complicit in torture. In this second interview, he confirms in one case the UK had a prisoner boiled alive and engaged with the US in negotiations with the Taliban about access to oil, before declaring war on them when they refused. Aside from this testimony, it is clear that it is the UK’s foreign policy which puts it at risk from terrorism. The smaller states, which have not engaged in war in the Middle East, do not have a radical Islamic threat in spite of similar Western lifestyles. These countries tend to have a benign or positive impact on global affairs, acting as a small voice for positive action in the world. They are also non-nuclear, something which an independent Scotland has an opportunity to emulate and which, in addition to a less aggressive foreign policy, would naturally reduce the threat to our territory. I’ve now realised that this more minor role is far preferable to the louder but often corrupt voice that the UK speaks with. Let’s be less significant in size, but more significant in the positive impact we have.

7. Self determination

The strongest case for independence for many is that of being able to elect a government that the majority of the Scottish people want. For me, the promise of being able to shape a new system with new political parties, built on the new-found engagement of the population in political matters, is even more of a reward. We have an opportunity not just to elect a Labour or SNP government, as the prevailing majorities have voted in recent Scottish and UK elections, but to mobilise and elect a new party free from the baggage of the old political systems and capable , through the will of the people to deliver real social change. Whether we achieve that or not, the opportunity is tantalising

These are the significant factors that converted me to a yes voter and campaigner. So many more conversations, discussions, blogs, threads and debates have informed and influenced the nuances of my stance. Scotland is alive with political possibilities and hope in a way it can never have been before in its history. It can only be extinguished with a vote for the old, broken ways.  If you haven’t already, I urge you to join me on the journey and see that the leap into the unknown is an entirely necessary one. Standing still will only result in our rapid, withering decline.

Why voting ‘No’ is a huge mistake

This is my first blog post and more than likely my last. I’m not big on public declarations, political or otherwise, and hitherto I’ve always preferred to keep my views private. However, as the most important vote of my lifetime approaches, I’m disturbed by the tone of some of the rhetoric on both sides and I think the way some people are characterising the sides in the debate is unhelpful at best and malicious at worst. The sniping, misinformation and borderline bigotry will no doubt ramp up over the next few weeks and it will be easy to forget that this is not a decision about our history, our patriotism, our military and sporting allegiances, the personalities of political figures or any other topics which naturally inflame passions and obfuscate the real question. It is, pure and simply, a decision about the best way to manage public money for the maximum benefit of all in this corner of the world. That’s not to belittle the question or say it doesn’t matter, because it really, really does, but there seems to be an inclination on both sides to suggest that this single decision will cast in stone our political response to each and every future circumstance, which of course it won’t. That’s what we elect governments for and this isn’t an election. It’s a straightforward question of whether we want to be able to make those decisions for Scotland in the future or not. So I’ve decided to articulate now why I’ll be voting ‘Yes’ to that question and why I believe others should too.

I’ve always considered myself British. Scottish first, but still British. My pride in British achievements past, present and future is undiminished – It’s just that I’ve come to the realisation that these great British islands are just too big and too diverse for a political union ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to work anymore. An independent Scotland able to control its own policy and destiny would, in my opinion, make Britain (the Islands we share, rather than a United Kingdom) greater.

We are entering a new age of politics, post-globalisation; one that requires new approaches. Scotland is a country which has always been starkly different from its neighbours in the union geographically, economically, politically and culturally. It is time therefore, that Scotland was given the opportunity to respond to this new world in the most appropriate way given those unique attributes and the opportunities and challenges they present. No UK government could ever look after Scotland’s best interests without being criminally negligent, as this country and it’s 5.3 million people have quite different needs from the 10 million people in London, the 44 million people in the rest of England, the 3.1 million people in Wales or the 1.8 million people in Northern Ireland. Getting to make some of the decisions locally makes little difference when the overall political agenda is set on a scale on which Scotland is less than 10% of the picture (and a section which rarely makes a difference to the outcome of elections).

What about the promise of new powers in the event of a ‘No’ vote? Well, putting aside the fact that a very similar promise was made before the 1979 referendum and then reneged upon, such powers will likely be unusable. The ability to make small, cursory changes to income tax, is in reality impracticable. Without the accompanying full control over spending, it is a power that only becomes advantageous in terms of public spending should a Scottish government choose to raise taxes above UK levels. That would surely be a politically suicidal move for any elected power in Holyrood. And make no mistake, any new powers for Scotland will come at a price; most likely a guarantee of no future referenda. That we never try this kind of upstart nonsense again, regardless of any future change in circumstances for the union.

Given the recent TV debate, you’d be forgiven for thinking the most important question in all of this was currency. That’s clearly misleading. Sterling without the additional support of Scottish money would naturally and quickly erode in value – no remaining UK government could allow that to happen by refusing to negotiate with a Scottish government. Nevertheless, an independent Scottish pound, if that was the route we were forced down (extremely unlikely as it is) will almost certainly be no more fragile than a newly weakened Sterling and therefore ensure a form of parity regardless. This simply isn’t a factor that should be a genuine cause for concern though – it is, however, a convenient and easily understandable (to us ‘little people’) way of creating some fear around change.

The real central issue of the referendum is whether Scotland would be economically better off managing its own revenues. And the answer when you cut through all of the nonsense to the fundamental facts is very clearly yes. Scotland is contributing more to the UK per head than the rest of the members . I’m no fan of Alex Salmond, nor, as a lifelong Liberal Democrat voter, of the SNP, but they’re NOT lying to you. In every one of the last 30 years, the amount of tax revenues generated per person in Scotland really was greater than for the UK as a whole. The only way in which that interpretation can be skewed is if you take our oil resources (which, by the way, any open minded internet trawl will tell you are likely to be about to increase greatly rather than diminish) and allocate them mainly to the rest of the UK. Whatever your views on independence are, I find it hard to believe anyone could reasonably argue that in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote we would have to redraw the map and hand the waters around our shores to rUK. Undeniably, oil-related taxable activity would take place in Scotland’s sovereign territory and such taxation would therefore be set and collected by Scotland’s Exchequer.

Our spending is also proportionally less than the rest of the UK at 44.2% of GDP over the last 5 years against a UK average of 45.4%. So assuming an austerity era UK level of spending is reasonable, then we could easily afford to spend more public money in Scotland post-independence with no net negative impact in relation to the rest of the UK. We would be richer immediately. But this is just the beginning, by making economic policy based on Scotland’s unique economic opportunities we stand to gain a great deal more and give ourselves the chance to build a truly prosperous country. Why would you vote no to having that chance?

So be proud of Britain, be proud of our shared history, our global achievements our impact in war and in peace. We’re not voting to eradicate these things. We still share these British Islands and will therefore remain British (if not part of the UK). We aren’t voting to become enemies; we’ll remain the closest friends and allies working together globally and domestically. Hate Salmond and Sturgeon if you like, vote them out at the next Scottish election – this isn’t about them even if they have a clear voice in it. Just don’t vote against Scotland and our last, best chance to change our fortunes.

To deliver a ‘No’ vote is to give up on this country. It’s saying

It doesn’t matter what we do, we’ll fail. So let’s let someone else worry about it

We won’t! We’re an incredible and tenacious nation and we have unique resources and opportunities which give us probably the greatest platform to prosperity that any small country has ever had at its outset. We just need to be able to make decisions tailored to maximising them. A ‘No’ vote guarantees forevermore that those same decisions will instead be tailored to a much larger country with an economy very much weighted to different sectors from those most advantageous to Scotland and the Scottish people. Scotland can never truly prosper in those circumstances. We’ll always depend, as we do now, on the success of our neighbours, while hoping they’ll share a slice with us. A ‘Yes’ vote is the only way we’ll have a real chance to succeed ourselves.

Some people worry that we aren’t ready. We’ll never be more ready – there aren’t rehearsals for independence. This is it, the opportunity of many lifetimes. We won’t get another. Conditions will never be better, our resources will never be more in demand our opportunities will never be greater. It’s too easy to just say ‘No’. But think about what you’re really refusing. The right to true self- determination, the chance to make a genuine positive difference for this and future generations and the very tangible prospect of ending poverty in Scotland. The key to our future happiness and prosperity lies in you and I learning to say ‘Yes’. We’ll never know until we try…

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