Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Wizard of Eck....

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the USA, famously stated during his inauguration speech that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself". Roosevelt spoke in relation to the great depression and the political dangers of the prevailing situation. Many films of that era tended to reflect the political and social issues of he time. One such is the 1939 children's classic The Wizard of Oz, in which Dorothy from Kansas, transported to the land of Oz, has to challenge the fearsome and all-powerful Wizard of Oz who can help her to return home.

After many adventures with, among others, the wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy discovers the Wizard to be a small man with a big megaphone, enforcing his will by outshouting everyone else. Behind the impressive front, the Wizard is revealed as a pompous and bombastic wimp. In Scottish terms, the great panjandrum is really a toom empty cloak.

Watching the events of last weekend unfold I could not help being struck by the parallels with current Scottish politics.

First, Alex Salmond claimed in a political magazine that only SNP politicians have the right to talk about "independence". His remarks were in the context of the decision by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee to investigate the implications to Scotland and the UK if Scottish "independence" was ever to be put in place. The FM declared that "there is no one on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee that has a mandate to say anything about a referendum, apart Eilidh Whiteford (SNP)....". The master of bombast and bluster shows a small part of his hand...... the SNP is legitimate, everyone else is illegitimate, therefore questioning "independence" is also illegitimate and the Nats aren't playing that game, thankyouverymuch.

On Friday Alex Salmond gives an interview to the BBC in which he promises to have a two-question referendum on "independence" and "devolution max", and in which he warns the Prime Minister to steer clear of calling his own referendum. "The time has passed when Westminster can dictate to the Scottish people", says the Great Eck, thus dismissing the Wicked Witch of Westminster.

The Great Leader's speech, to be delivered the following day at the SNP Rally in Inverness, was much trailed in the papers and on TV. Again, we were told, there would be warnings to Westminster to lay off and again there would be the commitment to a two-question referendum.

But come the speech itself: it had the usual nationalist tropes about wha's like us and hands of our oil and how they are "Scotland's Party" and nobody else counts and London's imagined baleful influence. There was a lot about "independence" and the promised referendum, but, interestingly, no direct mention of the second, "devo max", question. It's attractions were hinted at, but there was no open commitment by the SNP, the party which runs the Parliament and which wants the referendum, to actually formulating and including a question on "devo max" in their referendum.

So. What happened to the SNP's desire for a fallback, second question, on "devo max"?

Fast forward to Tuesday night. On Newsnight Scotland Alex Salmond, Alex Neill and Derek McKay of the SNP lined up to insist that there must be a second question but it must be set by the other parties! This bizarre argument is pursued with much illogic, by Mr McKay in particular, on this clip from the programme.

Now the Scottish Affairs Select Committee returns centre stage: Eilidh Whiteford resigns from the committee claiming that she was threatened with a "doing" by committee chair Ian Davidsom MP (Labour). She's so distressed that she cannot carry on. The SNP says it will not be represented on the committee until Mr Davidson resigns as chair. But Mr Davidson has apologised while denying any threat, and  other members of the committee who were present at the meeting cannot recall Ms Whiteford being threatened at all. Whatever the truth of the matter, the Nationalists are seizing on it to uncouple and distance themselves from any public discussion of the "independence" question. When the Scottish Affairs Select Committee reports on the problems it finds with the SNP's main policy, the Nats will hold their hands in the air and say "Ah but, we don't accept it because we weren't consulted". Because they chose not to take part.....

For years now we've been told that Eck was the wizard of Scottish politics. Everyone was afraid to take him on because no-one could stand up to his scorn or match his rhetoric: he could win every argument by sheer volume of voice and he could blow away all opposition. One result has been that nobody, particularly the Scottish media, has questioned his position, or his policies, such as they are. The Wizard of Eck has megaphoned his way to domination over a fawning media and a bamboozled political class.

But is the very real Wizard of Eck any different in essence from the fictional Wizard of Oz?  

The Wizard of Eck's strategy is revealed: bluster, bombast, megaphone politics, threats and warnings. If these don't work, then blame everyone else and, when cornered, run away or plead for special treatment. Just like the Wizard of Oz.

How very familiar.... the question now becomes....who is to be the Scottish peoples' Dorothy to prick the imposter's bubble?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


The SNP won a mandate in May for their referendum on "independence". Since then they have been toying with something they call "devo max".... should there be a second question on the referendum form offereing "devo max"?

Problem is, they have no definition of their "devo max" idea.

Now they are demanding that the other parties define "devio max" and put the second question on the ballot....!!!

Lats night's Newsnight Scotland we had a succesion of senior nats: Alex Neill, Alex Salmond and someone called Derek McKay demanding that the other parties tell him what his second question should be!

Watch it here...

It's bizzare.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Relaxed about the stinking rich....

When I was young the USA was viewed by one-and-all as the land of opportunity for the ordinary person. I knew a number of families, incuding relatives, who emigrated there in search of a better life: more jobs, better paid, a higher standard of living. And, importantly, a rising standard of living. If you worked you were better off every year, and there was no reason not to work. That was the promise of the USA to its citizens young and old, old and new.

And that was the message sent back but those who went there: a land of plenty where the working man could hold his head up and do as well as the next guy.

Which is why the graph below, (plucked from here) while not really a shock, carries a shocking message. 

It shows that the vast majority, 90%, of US citizens have had no real improvement in their wealth in 30 years. But the top 1% has increased its wealth by 224% and the top 0.1% has increased its wealth by a positively gargantuan 390%!

The promise of the USA to its citizens is, and as been for thirty years, a lie. The working man, and indeed that mythical American cadre, the "middle classes", gets stiffed in the wealth stakes. The bottom 90% have been betrayed and left behind while the top 1% have lapped up all the benefits of growth over that time.

The betrayal aligns exactly with the neo-con era, Thatcher/Regan voodoo economics and the sick joke of "trickle down", the theory that it's all right if the rich get richer because we all benefit from their greed. Well it isn't so and it never was. And all of this in a era when those same 1% of the extremely rich have paid a lot less tax. Something stinks, IMHO.

Peter Mandelson was famously "relaxed about some people being filthy rich".. Up to a point, Lord Copper, says I. But when the evidence for such a cash-grab is so stark and so prolonged, it's time to call a halt. No wonder there's the stirrings of a left-wing resistance movement building up in the USA. 

Don't get me wrong: I'm not jealous of rich people who work hard and who get rewards commensurate with their industry and their luck. Good for them I say, as long as the reward really is proportionate and as long as the rest of us do not get left behind. 

Would a similar analysis in the UK would show a similar result? I wouldn't be surprised: maybe someone will do the work....?

Monday, 17 October 2011

Headlines, history and hysterics

When is a story not really a story, and what do headlines tell us?

The Herald is running this story, under the headline;

"Independence warning after SNP ‘historic shift’"

The story starts....
"THE SNP Government is to renew calls for greater economic powers north of the Border after claiming there had been a historic shift in the public’s attitude towards the party. The Nationalists were given a further boost after a poll showed a rise in support across the UK for independence."

It goes on to report that a poll has 39% UK-wide "supporting" "independence" for Scotland.

But look again: is the result so astonishing? We've been here before with even notional majorities in Scotland telling pollsters that they would support "independence", an outcome not reflected in any subsequent electio result.

And who says that it is "historic"? Well nobody really. To quote;

"THE SNP Government is to renew calls for greater economic powers north of the Border after claiming there had been a historic shift in the public’s attitude towards the party."

And there's even more confusion. Even if more people across the UK support "independence", that's no reason to say they would support any specific new or enhanced "economic powers" for Holyrood. It is quite possible that people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland might support "independence" for Scotland for any number of reasons. That's no guarantee that they would support more (or even less) tax raising power for Holyrood. And even if they did, so what? Within the Devolution settlement, Holyrood is quite entitled to ask for more powers from Westminster, but Westminster isn't obliged to grant those powers, particularly without a manifesto commitment to do so, a commitment which none of the UK parties has made.

So. Do we have an "Independence warning"? No. We have a demand for more tax powers, the same demand that has been made often enough in the last few months.

Do we have a "historic shift". Not really. We have an opinion poll. The results are as interesting and important as most polls, but they are not in any way "historic".

So what's it all about? It's all about selling newspapers. Many a nat wandering into the newsagents and not yet decided which paper to buy will have his/her eye caught by this "historic" breakthrough and eagerly buy the Herald to lap it up. What they lap up, the content of the article, will be a lot less nutritious and falvourfull than the hysterical headline has promised.

But hey, that's showbiz, as Alex Salmond regularly responds at FMQs.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The reported £800 million the UK Government is spending to extend the Council Tax freeze in England is almost an exact match for the amount of fees support removed from universities, thus enforcing a £9000 annual fee on new undergraduates.

In effect grateful middle class parents and grandparents get a tax windfall from the Tories which they then immediately divert to a subsidy for their university bound offspring. In this manner university fees are privatised and council services are cut, and we willingly pay up. How cunning is that?

And what is the SNP Council Tax freeze costing us north of the border?