Thursday, 27 June 2013

A Tale of Two Scotlands

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’

When Charles Dickens penned those famous words he probably wasn’t thinking much about Scotland in the 21st century, yet their timeless wisdom matches the situation we find ourselves in.  Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic but we are living in a unique time in Scotland’s history.

Here's a kind message from our Croatian friends at our recent World Cup Qualifier (although I suspect it might have been taken down after Snodgrass scored!)

Today there are two Scotlands; one characterised by a confident persona that is hopeful about the future, and one mired in self doubt and despair.  The referendum on Scottish Independence will go a long way towards deciding which one will become our true identity.

A ‘Yes’ vote is a vote of self confidence.  It is the belief that we can do better, that we have something to offer and that we can take responsibility for our actions.  ‘Yes’ means that we reap our own harvest and ring our own till.  The successes we achieve will be the result of our own efforts and the choices we make will be our own.

"Yes we Canavan!" is a lot better than "No we shouldn't Darling..."

A ‘No’ vote is a vote of self doubt.  It is the belief that we can’t care for ourselves, that we have nothing to offer and that we want others to take responsibility and tell us what to do.  ‘No’ means we receive pocket money for our labour and strife.  Any success we achieve will be credited to others and every real choice will be made from afar.

Sign for Scotland believes that we can enter the best of times.  A renewed focus upon the challenges facing Scotland will help to us to resolve our problems.  A renewed sense of purpose will lead to a boom in the arts and literature, and a renewed belief that things can change if the people want them to will lead to a more ethical and principled politics.

We are the authors of ‘A Tale of Two Scotlands’ and the ending will be up to us.
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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

He Who Pays The Piper (Part 1 – Party Donations)

One of the main reasons for supporting independence is the lack of any prospect of meaningful reform within the UK.  Regardless of which side gets in, there are certain aspects of Westminster governance that simply will not change.  As this blog could conceivably become the longest on this site we’re going to split it into three bite sized parts: donations, outside interests and honours.

"I can't see anything wrong with the current system," every Westminster MP (probably)

All political parties in the UK rely on private donations to fund their operations.  Many people believe that changing this will result in the public paying for negative political campaigns and mud slinging however we can see that the current system isn’t working.  Let’s look at where Westminster’s money is coming from.  These numbers are from 2011 and look at funding going to the Conservative Party – the party of power at Westminster (source -

£1,384,070 from Hedge Funds
£1,305,806 from Financiers
£1,158,000 from Fund and Asset Managers
£0,607,771 from Banking
£0,565,400 from Private Equity
£0,473,253 from Trading, Broking and Dealing
£0,193,157 from Financial Services
£0,189,400 from Insurance

This means that more than £5,876,000 was paid to the ruling party at Westminster from individuals and groups from the City of London.  Should we be surprised to see that those working in these industries are enjoying vast increases to their wealth whilst everyone else struggles?

"It's called 'London style trickle down economics'...our loose change makes the system work!" every Westminster donor (probably)

But there is big money to be found from those outside the city.  Donors linked to ATOS, the company which administers £3 billion worth of government contracts to carry out Work Capability Assessments, have given £1.3 million in donations to the Conservatives.  We’re sure this is just a co-incidence, however the perception that policies and contracts can be bought through donations is one of the reasons why so many people are put off politics.  This is the sort of thing that won’t change in the UK but could change with independence.

And our funding questions aren’t restricted to the Conservative Party.  We saw in June this year the details of a businessman being advised by the Labour Party on how to dramatically reduce tax payments by changing the way he made his donation.  And there are other aspects to how and when donations are made that deserve scrutiny.  And for those of you are new to this subject, here’s a reminder of when Labour were in power...

Many will argue that the examples we see above are not illegal.  We agree, and that is precisely the point.  These things will never be made illegal at Westminster unless a more convenient method of paying money to political parties is found.  And there’s a wider issue: are we expected to believe that these incredibly wealthy individuals and multi-national corporations are making these donations for purely altruistic reasons?

Mike Slade, Chief Executive of Helical Bar and significant donor to the Conservative Party, made this quote.  “You do run the thin line of someone saying: I’m only doing this to have access and influence, but that was what politics was always about.  It is a little unfair but there must be 20% truth in it”.

Is that the type of democracy we can have faith in?  According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalists, the Conservative Party had a scheme in place which allowed those who donated £50,000 or more a year a face to face meeting with David Cameron.  Once again this isn’t illegal, but it can’t be in line with the spirit of democracy.  (source -

"I, uh, approve of this system," Mayor Joe Quimby

Westminster is in the minority when it comes to party funding.  In Germany, 50% of political funding comes from the state, limiting how much influence any individual can have over policy whilst allowing smaller parties a chance to compete.  Canada allows no donations from businesses or trade unions, meaning that parties are funded by their members, a system which appears to work quite well.

In Scotland, we have the chance to put in place a fairer, more transparent system of party financing.  We can enshrine, in a written constitution, the principles by which we expect our elected officials to operate within, and ensure that the biggest policy shapers and influencers are the voters of Scotland.  If this is what you believe, then you have to vote ‘Yes’ in 2014

And if you’re still not convinced yet, then stay tuned for Part 2!
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Friday, 14 June 2013

Who doesn't want independence

Who stands to gain and lose if Scotland becomes independent?  A ‘Yes’ vote will result in many changes over time, so let’s consider both sides, starting with the ‘winners’.

Having a more representative parliament that is closer to the people will result in better governance, more jobs, less poverty and efficient public services.  This is to the benefit of the vast majority of us in Scotland.  Those of us in minority groups (through language, ethnicity, etc) will enjoy greater protection from the presence of a written and easily understood constitution.  Archaic laws which only entrench the wealth of a few will be swept away by reforms, allowing the most dynamic and imaginative amongst us to become successful.

Independence offers a fairer share from a larger cake

A modern, progressive Scotland can also lead by example, and help support movements for reform in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  This would be much more effective than our meagre 4% stake in Westminster.  Having a more ethical foreign policy will allow us to be more influential abroad, as we won’t be dismissed as hypocrites. (this one is particularly poignant as the UK’s policy is not in relation to speaking ‘a’ national language, but English.  Once again, Westminster ignores Scots, Welsh, Gaelic, Cornish and Sign Language).

 "Standard's are great, there are so many to choose from!" British Foreign Office (probably)

So who stands to lose if Scotland becomes independent?  Let’s start with politicians at
Westminster.  Scotland is a net contributor to the UK.  We provide 9.9% of all tax revenues but receive only 9.3% of expenditure, and this is including £17 billion (that’s 17 with nine ‘0’s at the end of it) per year which is classified as ‘Scottish Expenditure’ but isn’t actually spent here.  That’s a lot of money and a lot of jobs.  Could Westminster successfully compete without this subsidy?  They don’t believe they can.

Those who use warfare to advance foreign policy aims stand to lose too.  Anti-war sentiment in Scotland will be reflected in her parties following a ‘Yes’ vote, making it less likely that we’ll be dragged into unwanted conflicts.  Could those who want the UK to export war successfully engage in conflicts around the world without our unquestioned and uninterrupted support?  They don’t believe they can.

Many of those based in the City of London aren’t keen either.  If Scotland were to adopt tougher regulation on banks and financial institutions, for example, then we’d be able to gain more trust from investors.  Edinburgh, Scotland’s financial capital, could avoid the AIG, Madoff, MF Global, London Whale, Libor, CDS miss-selling scandals which have plagued London over the last few years, and become a real competitor for the South East.  Could the City of London successfully compete with a freed Scottish Economy?  They don’t believe they can.

"I say, old chap, the current system works rather well..." Lord Rupert 'Pongo' Threepwood, 12th Lord of Mocksbury

So who wins if Scotland becomes independent?  Primarily it is the majority of the people who actually live in Scotland.  Those who work hard in their jobs, those who need a little help through tough times, and those who have a real talent and skill can all expect to see life incrementally improve as successive Governments become more focused on our needs and wishes.

So who loses if Scotland becomes independent?  Primarily it is those who believe they cannot succeed on a more level playing field. Do the privileged few who attend the House of Lords genuinely believe they can match their current levels of wealth and power with their current level of effort and talent?  Do those who long for Britain to wage war to prove it is still a global power genuinely believe that their military campaigns can continue on the same scale without Scotland’s wealth and people?  Do those who currently profit from inherited wealth and power genuinely believe that they can still succeed when confronted by reforming Scottish Governments who have the support of the people?

"Blast it, I cannot do with any more working.  I was full up on the stuff years ago."

It is impossible to say what the future holds, but for the privileged few, their chances of holding onto power are much greater in a stagnating, and inflexible Britain, than in a dynamic, more proactive Scotland.  Many of the no campaign’s leaders are currently benefiting from the UK Government’s policies, either directly or indirectly.  Is it surprising that they speak out against changes and reforms that could force them to compete?

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This blog first appeared on the Disabled People for Independence blog in April

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Independence

We would like to start this blog with the words ‘Dinnae Panic’.  This, we feel, will not only make you more relaxed about independence, but also about the ragtag characters who make up the ‘no’ campaign, thus turning any lingering frustration, anger, bemusement and/or desire to end it all at how hopelessly incompetent that shower at Westminster are, into the more positive act of actually doing something about it and helping Yes Scotland.  Just remember, Dinnae Panic.

The 'Hitchhiker's Guide to Independence' is available on all good planets.

Unlike the ‘Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Independence doesn’t begin with the construction of a hyperspace bypass; indeed vast capital projects, which conveniently fall outside the Barnett Formula and thus leads to no extra funding for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, tend to congregate within the M25 and rarely trouble anyone outside this bubble.  Everyone accepts this because they have no choice but to accept it, making everyone outside the bubble who isn't in Scotland angry at anyone who attempts to give themselves a choice through independence because they can’t go with them, and everyone inside the bubble angry because they don’t feel appreciated enough.  Dinnae Panic.  After independence all those people who feel angry at the people who want to fix the problem will become angry at the things that deserve their anger, making the world a better (and less angry) place.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Independence actually begins in the Vogon Parliament, which is broadcast every day at 6:30 by the Galactic State Broadcasting Corporation (northern regional office).  The Vogon’s are responsible for the despair of people in Scotland, primarily due to repeatedly subjecting them to ‘Vogon Speeches’, which are widely considered to be the third worst form of political speech in the known Universe.  For reference, the second worst speech makers are the Omni-Garblers of Alpha Centauri, with number 1 going to Johann Lamont.

Even Bablefish won't translate Vogon Speeches. 

Here are a few examples of Vogon Speeches:

The Vogons, realising that their speeches and state broadcaster were losing their effectiveness on the increasingly curious Scots, turned to their ultimate weapon, a device known as the ‘infinite improbability contrive’.  The timing for this switch was really improbable because until that very moment, the Vogons had been largely uninterested in Scotland and more concerned about whether other countries were worried about being beating up by them.

The infinite improbability contrive, which examines every conceivable contrived question in the universe simultaneously, is the single most important piece of technology available to the ‘no’ campaign, for it can calculate every fantastically improbable situation that could befall Scotland should the people who live here actually decide what they want to do.

The questions asked were so fantastical, that the ‘no’ campaign proved, beyond any doubt or argument, that no nation, including the Vogon nation, can ever possibly survive if their people get to decide what happens.  Realising the enormity of their mistake, the operators of the infinite improbability contrive switched the machine off at question 507, and promptly placed it in a small cupboard next to leaflets marked ‘you'll go bankrupt without a Triple A rating’.  Dinnae Panic.  The scientists who constructed the infinite improbability contrive were so careful and precise in their work that the chances of it ever being wrong are 2276709 to one, ironically making it certain that it is wrong.

Following the discovery that the infinite improbability contrive was wrong, those individuals amongst the heroes who couldn’t take any more headed for the Restaurant at the End of the Referendum and were served Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters (a specialty at all 7 bars and 19 alcohol selling restaurants within the Vogon Parliament) whilst muttering ‘I just want it all to end!’  Despite reports to the contrary, we can confirm that the passage of time will be consistent between now and the 18th of September 2014, regardless of the number of Gargle Blasters consumed, although a ‘no’ vote will set Scotland back 20 years.

"Milky-way milk, Sunday Sun Sundaes and Betelgeuse Beetles are all tea," menu listing

We hope that this brief introduction to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Independence has been helpful to you.  If, for reasons  securing civil liberties, guaranteeing workers rights, refocusing the Scottish economy to extract the best performance possible, reforming the tax laws so that they work, having more choice, not having the youth of Scotland sent into wars all around the world that we don’t want to be part of, more control for local authorities, the creation of a wealth fund that ensures that future generations benefit from our fantastic natural resources, getting rid of David Cameron who would no longer tell us what to do, getting rid of Alex Salmond who would almost certainly retire after independence since that’s been his life’s goal, or not suffering Ed Miliband’s undoubtedly doubt-worthy leadership, then you should spend the remaining days before the referendum actually doing something positive and campaign with Yes Scotland.  Dinnae Panic, if we work hard enough, then we’ll get a Yes vote.

But if, for the reasons of boredom, love of Westminster, happiness at having Weapons of Mass Destruction at your doorstep, or just a deep longing for Tuition Fees and Prescription Charges, you believe that this blog has wasted your precious time and that you really don’t care who is in charge, then please visit the Restaurant at the End of the Referendum, enjoy your drink and be thankful for the cuts, wars and tax rises that are coming your way…unfortunately, unlike the infinite improbability contrive, they aren’t improbable.

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P.S. Our apologies to the late, great Douglas Adams, whose work we so much admire.  Also, check out 'The Hitch Hiker's Guide to Scottish Independence' by Andrew Pickering, available on Kindle!

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Axis of ‘non Devo’

'Better Together', the name for the no campaign for the Scottish Independence referendum, is officially supported by three groups: the Conservative and Unionist Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.  Let’s look at how each of them is contributing to the ‘better together’ campaign, as well as their individual views towards Scotland.

"Don't forget about me!" Nigel Farage after proving he cares about Scotland by launching his party's Aberdeen Donside by-election campaign from a pub in Edinburgh
The Conservative and Unionist Party
Despite being the senior partner in power, the Conservatives have decided to wait until after the referendum before enacting their policies.  We do know what their intentions will be however.  This article in the Telegraph is very clear:

The main quotes to note are as follows:
Gordon Henderson, the MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, said uneven public spending was fuelling English resentment at Scotland and undermining the Union the Conservatives are committed to preserving.
“There is increasing resentment within England about this – there is a feeling that we are treated less favourably,” he added.
“The Barnett Formula is well out of date and needs to be scrapped entirely. If we are a United Kingdom – and I hope we remain so – then we should all receive the same level of support from the Government.”
This MP is calling for the Barnett formula, which allocates funding to Scotland based upon spending in England, to be replaced.  Unfortunately, he isn’t calling for the money raised in Scotland to stay in Scotland, which would increase the power and funding available to our parliament.  His solution is for all ‘regional’ funding to be limited, whilst allowing ‘UK’ expenditure (which is primarily spent in the southeast of England) to be excluded.

Westminster's view on Scotland's wealth 

This option ignores Scotland’s additional income, as well as the different circumstances we face.  Having a less densely populated nation and poorer infrastructure due to years of underinvestment, we need certain expenditures that aren’t required in London.  Under the Barnett formula, we contribute more than we receive back; this would only be exaggerated further under Gordon Henderson’s plans.
David Mowat, the MP for Warrington South, said: “We should be looking at the Barnett Formula now, thinking about moving towards a more needs-based formula.” he added.
“I appreciate that the Government doesn’t want to be looking at these things at the moment, but we should be starting to think about this now. There is no reason for us not be starting to address this issue now.”
David Mowat MP agrees that the Barnett formula should be changed.  Once again, however, he ignores where the money that gets divided comes from.  He calls for a ‘needs-based’ formula.  Do you believe our 4% share in Westminster Politics will be enough to ensure our needs are met?
Mr Selous said: “I am very encouraged that two Cabinet ministers have gone on the record to say that the Barnett Formula will not be here for ever. This is something that people in England are concerned about.”
One Conservative source within the Government suggested that the party could fight the next general election on a clear promise to reform public spending rules for the UK’s member nations.
Official Tory Party Policy (probably)
It’s safe to say what voting no means if the Conservatives win; power will be centralised in London and the Scottish Parliament will be weakened.  But what about the Labour party, what plans do they have?  Let’s look at what Labour leader Ed Miliband thinks:
“One nation Labour is about reaching out to every part of Britain, it’s about a party that is as much the party of the private sector as the public sector, a party of south as well as north, a party determined to fight for the future of the United Kingdom, and a party rooted in every community of our land.
I’ve set out a vision of what this country can be, one nation, and in 2013 we will be setting out concrete steps on making that vision a reality from business to education to welfare.”
In this speech, given by Mr Miliband in his 2013 New Year’s address, we see Labour’s attitude towards the Scottish Parliament.  If we take these words as accurate, then decisions regarding ‘business to education to welfare’ will need to be made centrally (from London).

A ‘one nation’ approach to business means that the rates relief that over 89,000 small businesses in Scotland enjoy will be gone.  A ‘one nation’ approach to education means £9,000 per year tuition fees (with the probability that they will rapidly increase in future).  A ‘one nation’ approach to welfare means that every Westminster cut will have to be implemented in full in Scotland.

"I can make decisions from London which are best for everyone," Ed Miliband (probably)
The only other conclusion we can make is that Labour is ignoring Scotland.  Mr Miliband has a little form in this regard.  Let’s look at his initial ‘one nation’ speech:
"First, we should start with language. We all know that the beginning of any real connection with a neighbour or colleague, work-mate or friend is a conversation. But we can only converse if we can speak the same language.
So if we are going to build One Nation, our goal should be that everyone in Britain should know how to speak English. We should expect that of people that come here. The last Labour government raised the language requirements for people seeking to enter Britain on work and family visas, that was the right approach.
But of course there is a minority who have come here without being able to speak English. This makes life harder for them - those who don't speak English are less able to get a good job, less able to make the most of being in this country. And it is also bad for Britain as a whole, stopping us building the bond we need between newcomers and those who have been here for generations.”
Mr Miliband doesn’t appear to have much time for those who can’t speak English.  And this isn’t a quote taken out of context, as his speech made no mention of Welsh, Scots, Gaelic or Sign Language.  Perhaps ‘One Nation’ really means ‘One Language’.

What about the third party of ‘better together’, the Liberal Democrats.  Couldn’t those of us who want a strong Scottish parliament hope that they form the next Westminster government?  Unfortunately, under their current leadership, even this won’t help devolution.

Even if we ignore the hypocrisy of their current calls for greater devolution following months of campaigning for this option to be excluded from the referendum, we can see examples of them saying one thing, and voting differently.

Their 2006 Steel Commission called for ‘a specific tax sharing mechanism for North Sea oil revenues’, and yet now the Liberal Democrat leadership shares power in Westminster, they favour oil & gas revenues being managed on a UK basis.

Nick Clegg (for some reason this was the only image of him we could find...)
When contributing to the Calman Commission, the Liberal Democrats favoured devolving corporation tax to Scotland, but their leadership voted against this during the scrutiny process of the Scotland Bill.

Air passenger duty, another area the leadership of the Liberal Democrats used to want the Scottish Parliament to have authority over, is, now they are in power, something they oppose.  We can see from these examples that when given the opportunity, the Westminster based leadership of the Liberal Democrats are just like their unionist brothers in not wanting to strengthen the Scottish Parliament.  Getting into office has made them devout believers in the Goldilocks Axiom.

The different strands of the no campaign are all in sync with one another, epitomised by former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling's starring role at the Scottish Conservative conference today.  He will fit in perfectly because when it comes to Scotland, he, the Labour Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are all in agreement; no independence, no direct representation, no change to the status quo. 

An independent Scotland, owing to a more proportional electoral system and a greater choice of candidates, offers a future of far greater scope than the three nearly identical visions of Westminster.  It’s clear to see the plans that the Axis of ‘non Devo’ have for Scotland.  Do we really want to pin our hopes that the ‘least worst’ gets in?
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