Saturday, 29 March 2008

As Detective Columbo would say...

- just one more thing...

I nearly laughed out loud at Gordon Brown's suggestion that the Labour Party is the first line of defence for the people of Scotland against the SNP Government.

Yes, that would be the same 'people of Scotland' who democratically elected the SNP Government last year! How patronising in the extreme. He is espousing the idea that somehow the citizens of this country need protection from the government they have democratically elected. Gordon Brown has forgotten that the SNP won the popular vote in the Scottish Parliament elections last May, and we had the highest number of MSPs elected.

This is just further evidence of the level of denial within Labour's ranks, and their belief that they somehow have a right to rule in Scotland. That kind of arrogance is exactly what turned so many people in Scotland away from Labour.

'Not the SNP' Conference

I have now lost count of the number of times that the SNP has merited a mention at Labour's Scottish conference. Somebody really should tell them that they are not actually attending an SNP conference!

I can hear no new ideas, or positive and constructive debate from the Labour Party. It's just the same old rhetoric that we have heard from the UK Labour Party for a decade now. Yes, the National Minimum Wage was a key achievement of the Labour Government, but government is not about continued self-congratulation for old achievements -it is about having the competence to run the country in the present day and the ideas and vision for the future.

Just calling the SNP nasty names might be making Labour delegates feel better, but it certainly isn't showing them in a very good light and more importantly, it is not contributing to making Scotland a better place to live.

Well done Brian Taylor

I've got the coverage of the Labour Party's Scottish conference on, while I get on with a few outstanding tasks.

I saw a little of Gordon Brown's speech, which I will come back to in another post, but I was impressed by Brian Taylor's commentary at the end. He referred to Gordon Brown's argument that Scotland can't be independent because issues like climate change cannot be tackled on an England-only or Scotland-only basis. Brian noted that climate change cannot be tackled on a Britain-only basis either, so if you were to take Gordon Brown's argument to its logical conclusion, then he is arguing for world government!

Well done Brian for highlighting some of the illogical and disingenuous arguments of the Labour Party for the continuation of the union.

I agree that there are many issues facing Scotland, such as climate change, that cannot be tackled on a national basis. But that's an argument for cooperation between the nations of the world, not an argument for the disintegration of national borders and governments. If Scotland cannot be independent because of climate change, then nor can France, Australia, Sweden, or even Gordon Brown's beloved Britain!

Independence, far from cutting Scotland off from the rest of the world, would allow Scotland to join the world community of nations and play a full and constructive role in tackling global issues like climate change.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Talking about Henry

Shock horror - somebody in the Labour Party (a former First Minister no less) has said something positive about the SNP and independence! The Labour Party in Scotland is shocked to its core!

Here's the story:

So, basically, Henry McLeish has stated that he believes that the National Conversation, launched by the SNP Government as a way of debating Scotland's constitutional future, is a positive thing and that independence should be seen as a positive option for Scotland. Hardly earth-shattering stuff you would think?

But the Labour Party has got its knickers in a twist about it. The Labour Party in Scotland may well believe that Scotland is best ruled by London, but even they must acknowledge that there are many people who do not hold that view - quite legitimately. The whole point of the National Conversation is just that - a conversation. It doesn't say that the only option is independence, and that anyone who thinks the union has any good points needn't bother engaging with it. Indeed, the National Conversation, considers further devolution of powers to Scotland, short of independence.

The Labour Party in Scotland can only stick their fingers in their ears for so long, and try to ignore the 'I' word. However, in doing so, they will become even more removed from the people they say they want to represent. If the SNP Government is mature enough to debate the favoured options of the other parties in Scotland, then surely the other parties should be mature enough to debate independence. It simply isn't credible to just deny it's an issue. What are they afraid of anyway? They say that independence would be terrible, and we should just not talk about it. I suspect they don't want to debate independence because they know that the more people who are exposed to informed debate about Scotland's future, then support for independence will grow and grow.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Impending Disaster or History Repeating Itself?

So, the latest scare story is that Scotland will see a mass exodus of rich people under a local income tax.

Does this ring any bells?

Before the New Labour victory in 1997, high profile high earners lined up to claim they would leave the UK if voters chose to kick out the Tories and elect Tony Blair's lot.

Before devolution, again stories appeared in the media arguing that businesses and individuals would flee Scotland at the prospect of us taking greater control over our own affairs. I remember, living in the Borders at the time, all the talk of Berwick-upon-Tweed becoming a haven for people who wanted to continue working in Scotland (primarily Edinburgh), but wanted to live in England to escape the 'dire consequences' of giving a Scottish Parliament control over services like the NHS and universities. It is somewhat ironic that a significant number of people of that town now want to be part of Scotland, for the opposite reasons!

An SNP victory, it was also suggested, would see people leaving Scotland to seek sanctuary over the border. Remember that noose emblazoned across one tabloid newspaper on the day of the last Scottish Parliament election?

Well, there was no mass exodus - at any of the points listed above, from either the UK or Scotland.

Opponents of a local income tax are becoming quite desperate in their attempts to find reasons to oppose it, and this latest attempt is more than a little pathetic. The people listed in the newspaper article above are super rich, and can clearly afford to pay more in local taxation. Has it ever occurred to any of those people who are commentating on this matter, than the rich individuals listed would be happy to pay more in local taxation if it meant that people who are really struggling to pay the Council Tax would have their bills cut? They really are assuming the worst of those people.

Last week, the critics were opposing a local income tax because it would only be levied on earned income, and not take into account those people in Scotland living off unearned income like dividends. A few points here. Firstly, are we really going to keep in place a discredited system like Council Tax, which is detrimental to so many people in this country because of how it will/will not impact on a handful of wealthy individuals? Secondly, if these wealthy individuals are not going to be liable for a local income tax, then they evidently aren't liable for income tax, which is reserved to Westminster. Perhaps people are pointing the fingers in the wrong direction on that one. Thirdly, the critics can't have it both ways. One week they are claiming that the local income tax will benefit the super rich, and the next the claim it will penalise them to the point that they will flee the country!

The people of this country will see through arguments that inconsistent - and can tell the difference between intelligent debate and opposition, and opposition for its own sake from a Labour Party, its cronies and other self-interested hangers-on bereft of any new ideas of their own, and certainly without any genuine drive to improve the lives of the people of Scotland.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Budgets of Contrast

The latest Budget offering from Westminster was once again lacking in ambition and damaging to Scotland.

The Chancellor announced a £50 increase in winter fuel allowance. That's better than nothing, but at less than £1 a week it doesn’t begin to cover rising fuel costs, and the increase is only for one year. How are pensioners going to deal with their rising fuel bills after that? And what about other vulnerable people who are struggling to pay their fuel bills, who aren’t even eligible for the winter fuel allowance?

Alastair Darling made a big song and dance about getting people on pre-paid meters a better deal, but he’s really only making a vague commitment to talk to the energy companies about the issue. That's not going to address the fundamental issues around fuel poverty.

People need warm homes, not warm words from the Chancellor. The measures announced in the Budget are sticking plaster solutions to much wider problems, caused by unacceptably high levels of poverty in this country and spiraling fuel prices.

This Budget once again highlights the poor deal that Scotland gets from the union. The figures demonstrate that the UK Treasury is being bankrolled by Scottish resources like oil revenues, yet we merited not one single mention in the Chancellor’s Budget. Scotland is not only being short-changed by Westminster, but we are being dragged down by continued poor management of the wider UK economy, which is being led into greater and greater debt by this discredited New Labour Government.

The SNP Government in Holyrood was able to deliver a far more ambitious budget for Scotland, despite the limited powers of devolution and a tight financial settlement from Westminster. The New Labour Government at Westminster has had over a decade to tackle issues like child poverty, and they are still tinkering around the edges. It’s time we started to take important decisions over tax and welfare here in Scotland, to ensure that the people of Scotland are not short-changed by yet another Westminster Government.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

What a weekend!

This weekend was a whirlwind of activity!

On Saturday, Jamie and I joined the Cumbernauld & Kilsyth YSI (that's the Young Scots for Independence) to campaign in Cumbernauld town centre. We are pictured, above, with a few of the stragglers :o) Those of you with an eagle eye will spot fellow blogger BellgroveBelle
Then, we had a campaign team meeting before my charming election agent (or more accurately his lovely wife) cooked Jamie and I dinner, before we headed off to an SNP quiz night in Abronhill. No, my team didn't win, but nor did Jamie's - so that was some consolation! I did win an Easter egg though, for my stunning victory in a game that involved pulling wooden horses along on a piece of string. I've obviously had this 'talent' all my live, yet it has only just been discovered.
Then, today we had a team of activists out chapping doors with surveys in Milton of Campsie. We managed to get caught in a bit of a hail storm, but after the Kilsyth by-election in January I was thankful to be caught in JUST one storm!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Making work pay...

...a 'whopping' 21 pence an hour more.

Yes, the National Minimum Wage is to go up from £5.52 an hour to £5.73 on 1st October.

Yes, it is an increase and yes, at least we now have a minimum wage. But it is far from a decent wage. Working a 4o hour week on the minimum wage would still leave you on less than £12,000 a year.

I know the UK Government is under pressure from business organisations, who are constantly lobbying for mere inflationary rises to the minimum wage. And it's not just because they are big, bad employers who want to treat their staff badly. Many smaller businesses do struggle to make a profit because of high operating costs. For labour intensive businesses like cleaning and catering companies, an increase in the minimum wage is a very significant cost to them.

I used to work for an organisation that supported small businesses, and it gave me an interesting insight. I spoke to many employers who would be happy to pay their employees more than the minimum wage, but they felt their hands were tied because their competitors wouldn't do the same (one of the major arguments for a National Minimum Wage in the first place). If everyone has to pay a certain minimum by law, then nobody is put at a competitive disadvantage by paying this agreed amount to their employees.

A large part of the problem is that employers have so many other high operating costs, which swallow money that could otherwise be invested in their staff. Surely it is to the advantage of employers, employees and society as a whole that we reduce the costs of operating a business (like those associated with unnecessary red tape), so that employers have no excuses for not paying decent wages.

I think a new 'contract' between government and business is needed. Government must reduce business costs, but employers must also pay a higher minimum wage. I don't know what an appropriate figure would be, but it would be a heck of a lot more than a 21 pence rise!

Although I recognise the difficulties faced by some employers in trying to manage wage costs, I don't think that is an excuse for the government to shy away from this issue. For it may become more difficult for some employers to make a profit with a higher minimum wage, but it is difficult for ALL EMPLOYEES earning just the minimum wage to make ends meet.

As a society, we have some very difficult decisions to make and interests to reconcile. We are constantly told that many people who are currently in receipt of state benefits don't see work as a financially attractive prospect. I wonder why? The cynics would have you believe that benefits are too high. Very rarely do you hear people point out that maybe it's the wages that are too low...

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Control Freak

I don't have much time to blog today, but I think this article pretty much speaks for itself. I wonder what the Lib Dem and Labour MSPs make of this... I doubt this will be a surprise to anyone in the SNP though.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Putin's Russia

So, voting is underway in the Russian presidential elections, and no one is waiting with baited breath for the result. By all accounts, it is now just a matter of time before Dmitry Medvedev is elected the Russian President.

Not only is it a foregone conclusion for Mr Medvedev, given the unfair advantages he has had during this campaign, the Putin backing, and the inevitable voting irregularities, his election will ensure that Putin is still pulling the strings in Russia - as Medvedev has said he will make Putin his Prime Minister!

Vladimir Putin doesn't get as bad a press as he deserves in my opinion. He has presided over severe repression of Russian citizens, corruption and wide inequalities. For the minority of rich people in Russia, it's a great place to live. For everyone else, the future is bleak. The poverty that exists in Russia, for me, is very distinctive. Russia is not a developing country, and so people there aren't poor because there isn't industry and wealth in the country. They are poor because of corruption.

For all his faults, Yeltsin, at least started to take Russia in the right direction - he was at least interested in democracy. Putin's tenure as President demonstrates that he is not a democrat. His actions in Chechnya make him a war criminal. Those who speak out against Putin would not notice any difference from the way their voices were repressed under the Soviet regime. Young men are conscripted into the army, and kept in conditions in which it would be illegal to keep a dog in this country. The judiciary, although there are many people within it who are honest, is not independent of the Kremlin. If somebody in officialdom in Russia doesn't do what they are told, they are replaced by somebody who will. People often 'disappear'. The worlds of business and crime are inseparable. Not because everyone involved in business is corrupt, but because the only way to survive in the world of business is to be corrupt, or at the very least they have to pay off the crime lords. There are many documented cases of criminals buying up an operational factory, bleeding the business dry as a way of moving money around, the workers are never paid and they have no money for food. Young girls list prostitution as one of their top 'career choices' because they know that's about the only way they will be able to make money to scrape an existence out of this world. HIV rates in Russia are shockingly high. The prisons are bulging with young women with HIV, and they will receive no treatment.

I could go on, but it's far too depressing. And later on this evening, Russia will have 'elected' a new President who offers no hope of improvement. With Putin by his side as Prime Minister, what hope does Russia have?