Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Good Word for the Leadership

I've never seen my role on this Blog to be to act as a cheerleader.

One of the privileges of having been in the Labour Party for so long is that no matter what you say you can't be accused of disloyalty to the cause even if you might from time to time be legitimately accused of being less than enamoured of some of its fellow adherents.

So, when I say that I unconditionally welcome Johann's speech on Tuesday nobody could say that this is but yet another example of sycophancy on my part. I've been very critical of the direction of travel of the Party since Wendy's fall and I am still sufficiently cautious to say that for Tuesday's speech to have a real impact on Scottish politics it will, over the next few months, need to prove to be more than words.

But, in the first blog I ever wrote here Ten Reasons Labour Lost , the very first reason I gave was that Labour had nothing relevant to say about why we should be running, particularly, the Scottish Parliament. Johann's speech on Tuesday was finally an attempt to start answering that question.

For too long our whole appeal to the electorate as to why they should choose us to govern at Holyrood has been that "If it's not us, it will be the SNP" and that's been it. It's not much of an argument and indeed it has had a steadily declining echo of support.

It has however been largely reciprocated by our principal opponents: "Vote for us and nothing much will change". That sentence used to go on "until we get Independence" but increasingly it appears to finish: "even if we get Independence!"

The problem is that things are changing whether either the Labour Party of the SNP like that fact.

We have a crisis in the public finances. For what its worth that originally at least was undoubtedly the fault of the Labour Party. Not because our pre-crash levels of public expenditure were unsustainable; indeed pre-crash, the Tories were committed to matching them, but because the crash was caused by our failure, as the governing Party, to properly regulate the banks. It is no excuse that our principal opponents, both in Scotland and Britain, actually complained at the time that the banks were over-regulated. We were in power and we cocked up.

But, real life is not a computer game where, when disaster strikes, you can go back in time to an earlier saved version and start again. We are where we are and any British Government (or, for what it's worth, independent Scottish Government) would need to address the current gap between expenditure and income. And while, macro-economically, that need not  be at the current speed of reduction of public expenditure (where I stand); or as dismissive of increasing government income by higher taxation (again where I stand); or, least of all, whether it should be as dismissive of growth as a key part of the equation (above all, where I stand), even accepting all these other possibilities, public expenditure is going to shrink. And Scotland cannot magically escape that. At current levels of expenditure, over the next sixteen years there is a £39bn funding gap (not my figures, John Swinney's) Therefore if we here in Scotland want to look at where we might wish to increase public expenditure, or even defend particular expenditure from an across the board cut, then we need to look at what might be cut instead or where additional income might be raised within the current powers of the Scottish Parliament.

In terms of the current challenges facing Scotland, any Constitutional change is irrelevant to this. Even if the Nationalists succeed to the extent of their wildest dreams, Scotland will not be Independent till 2016. And, even then, if that does lead to some miraculous explosion of growth, any additional income will not filter through for at least another two years beyond that. If anybody thinks that period can be managed by slashing local government expenditure and expecting that in turn to be managed by "efficiency savings" then they are living in cloud cuckoo land. Yet that is precisely John Swinney's current strategy.

So choices, proper choices, should be being made. And that is what Johann was saying, no more and no less.

The idea that universal benefits, once awarded, can never be taken away is an absurd one. Free bus travel for the over sixties dates from 2006, before which Scotland was hardly in a state of barbarism or indeed, the over sixties even notoriously housebound. Free prescriptions date from 2007, since when the country hardly seems obviously more adequately medicated. There seems no evidence at all that the abolition of the Graduate Endowment has improved willingness to participate in higher education and while no one is more keen on free personal care than I, everybody truly accepts that the current funding model is unsustainable against the anticipated 61% increase in people aged over 75 in the 25 year period from 2002 to 2027.

And finally, on the other side of the ledger, there is, how shall one put it politely, an inconsistency between asserting that Scots uniquely value these public services while at the same time ruling out any of the means available under the current system to raise revenue to continue to fund them: not just local government taxation but the variation of income tax rates or even modification of the small business exemption from non-domestic rates! That again however is Swinney's position.

Now the Nationalists are crowing that Labour is making a terrible mistake. No-one will ever vote to give a perk up. I'm not so sure. The electorate aren't stupid. They know as well as anybody the realities of the age. And, anyway, the current budgetary orthodoxy is unsustainable. So when it falls apart who's likely to get the credit: the woman who predicted that as inevitable or the people who accused her of talking rubbish at the time?

Well done Johann. Right call. And that's not something you hear me say every day.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Madonna del Parto

I promised on twitter earlier this week that my blog tonight would not be about politics. And it's not. Really.

But it would be right if I started with a bit of context.

This will be a big weekend for "the women". Tomorrow sees the Labour Party Women's Conference which now attaches itself to the main event in a sort of "paralympic" relationship, albeit in reverse. And then on Sunday, in Stirling, we will see the launch of "Women for Indy".

When I was much younger, thanks principally to a book, "Beyond the fragments" by Sheila Rowbotham and others, it was very much flavour of the age that women's politics and traditional left politics could learn much from each other. The sisters could bring their experience of collective, non hierarchical  decision making to the table while the left (i.e. the men) could teach lessons as to the importance of organisation. All such trends have a long term significance and there is now doubt that the Stella Creasys, Rachel Reeves and the like are long term beneficiaries of these ideas, albeit developed while they personally were still at school. The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

But, in the end, it was the politics of organisation that won out over the politics of co-operation. Our own "Women's Conference" will, I suspect,  be no more "off-message" than the main event, although perhaps more engaged with candidate selection processes. Equally, Sunday's event is unlikely to be more than the usual "seen the light" type occasion that categorises current Nationalist politics, although at least not featuring Dougie McLean singing Caledonia; that being left to.............a woman.

Maybe if people really wanted to see what lessons of the women's movement might bring to Scottish politics they should be looking at neither of these events and instead at what happened in Portobello a week past tonight. But that is another story.

Anyway, on to my main topic, The Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca..

This is one of my most favourite paintings.

It is located in Monterchi, a very small village between Arezzo and San Sepolcro. Wikipedia describes it as the town's "most famous cultural attraction" but in reality it is the town's only attraction of any sort. When I first saw it it, the painting was still located in a rather decrepit Church but it has since been moved to a more antiseptic, if less perilous, environment in a converted primary school. And, in the process, it has attracted an entrance fee. But it is, in my experience, the only entrance fee which is waived in favour of one particular category; pregnant women. For that, for those of you not possessed of sufficient Italian, is the subject of the painting. The Madonna del Parto means the pregnant Madonna.

Now, if you think about it, this should be a common subject. What is known, even apocryphally, about the life of Our Lady? That she was born to Saint Anne (more than a few paintings); the beneficiary of an immaculate conception (many more); that she became the mother of God (even more still); that she received the body of Jesus at the foot of the Cross (yet more); and that she was eventually assumed up to Heaven (post Reformation, in virtually every Church in the peninsula). But that's about it. So you would have thought the panoply of Renaissance artists would have been looking for some variations on that theme. And none surely more obvious than what transpired between the immaculate conception and the point where she is resting the Christ child on her knee.

Yet, while not a unique example, Piero's painting is but one of a very few. And easily the most famous. And, within a few years of its composition, it had disappeared as a subject altogether.

Why? Well the answer is in Piero's picture itself. In Catholic doctrine, Mary was not only impregnated while remaining a virgin, she also, thereafter, in the face actually of significant biblical counter-authority, remained a perpetual virgin. Just as their was no grunting and groaning in the conception of the Christ child, equally there was no grunting and groaning in his delivery, or indeed at any point in between. And that's where Piero, doctrinally, goes wrong.

Now, this is early Renaissance Art. Fifty years before Rafael; a hundred before Caravaggio. So, technically, there is room for improvement but, nonetheless, this Madonna is a real woman. No innocent maid but someone bearing fully the trials of their "condition". A sore back; a tentative but not obviously affectionate hand resting on the belly; a facial expression that suggests that she just wishes  it was all over. If the technique of the age allowed its depiction. you would no doubt see her swollen ankles.

So this kind of depiction of a real woman. in the real later stages of pregnancy simply did not fit with the Church's belief in the semi-divine status of Mary and that's before you even start on the more general difficulty of coping with sexuality in general and women's sexuality in particular.

But is it sacrilegious?  Not at all. The key to that is the angels with the curtains. Now, if you look this up in the academic literature you are given big licks about whether all of this is allusion to the renewal of the Ark of the Covenant. Fair enough, what do I know? I do know that Piero liked painting drapery, indeed tents. And that we've all seen, in this age as surely than in the 1450s, that curtains part at the opening of an "event".

So what are the angels doing except performing such an opening? The drama is yet to come. But what a drama! And the woman on the stage? Every woman and any woman. Not "Stella Maris", as she became by miraculous mistranscription, but stilla maris (a drop in the ocean) as she was described originally by St Jerome. And the child? Any maybe it is sacrilegious after all.

Real women were as problematical to the Renaissance Church as they are too often to the demands of politics today. And, if that was true of so many of the early female Christian martyrs, so much more so was it true of the mother of God.

So pregnant Madonnas disappeared. And women's equality in politics became simply the chance to play the men's game on the men's rules. Never mind, there's nothing like a good Pieta.


You'll be expecting a restaurant recommendation. Locanda Il Castello di Sorci on the road to Anghiari. Set menu. Antipasto di prosciutto; two pasta  dishes; griglia mista; contorni di stagione; vino rosso. Buon Prezzo. That's all.

Monday, 24 September 2012

At Last! My weekend blog (It's a holiday Monday)

I start with a wee foreword.

I joked yesterday on Twitter that  the first draft of this blog had been stolen. I meant simply that the original draft had been pre-empted by two other pieces that appeared yesterday morning. Its topic is the fallout from changes that took place in the personnel at the top of the Scottish Labour Party last week. The first half of my original "copy" turned out to be summarised more expertly by Paul Hutcheon in yesterday's's Sunday Herald. And then, Kate Higgins, the estimable SNP blogger, effectively ran off with the other half in her most recent Burdz Eye View blog..

Needless to say, I don't agree with everything either of them write but I commend what each of them has to say as important to be considered by partisans of my own Party.

With that to my own effort.

The topic of this blog is the way forward for the Scottish Labour Party and it has been an exceptionally difficult one to write because it is a proposition to which there is no obvious answer. It is prompted by the fact that there is a vacancy for the post of Scottish General Secretary, a position to which, I suspect, I would have little hope of appointment. But, to be honest, were I to be, and then granted dictatorial powers, (in the Roman meaning of that word) and, as a latter day Coriolanus, invested with a benign autocracy over the whole of the Party's affairs: to choose my own lieutenants; to write the policy platform myself; to select every candidate myself and to appoint the leader myself. Even with these powers I'm not sure I could turn things round. External factors and errors past may simply be too overwhelming.

That having been said,  I certainly know what I would do in that circumstance, and so do those in charge of the appointments process, That's why I won't be wasting my time by applying!

And of course and in any event you can't make bricks without straw. In May 2011 we could have had Leo McGarry as General Secretary and Josh Lyman and C.J. Cregg doubling up to do Rami Okasha's job; even then there would have been no prospect of Iain Gray being elected as First Minister of Scotland. That's just the truth of it. David Plouffe in his masterful history of the succesful 2008 Presidential Campaign "The Audacity to Win" starts and ends by emphasising that it was not he or David Axelrod who won that Campaign. It was simply that they made it possible for Barack Obama to do so.

But, let's just assume we are back in Chicago deciding whether to run. What would need done if the contest was, say, for the Scottish Parliament Elections in 2016?

I want to start with something contributed by someone else earlier this week past week which fell right at the top of "Things I wished I'd said myself". Simon Pia, formerly Iain Gray's chief spin-doctor, appearing on Scotland Tonight, observed that the problem with the Scottish Labour Party was not simply that Scottish Parliamentary Elections were second in our order of importance, for many they were actually third, after retaining control of our Council strongholds, particularly Glasgow.

Let's be honest, there are many in the Labour Party who have never loved, or even learned to love, the Scottish Parliament. That's not a majority view but it remains a significant minority view. And that hesitation of commitment has been reflected most starkly in the Party's organisational commitment to elections for that Parliament.

You see it everywhere. Simply in terms of "effort", I defy anybody not to notice a difference in the atmosphere in a Labour Committee Room on the Saturday before a General Election as opposed to a Scottish Parliament Election. In the former circumstance there will be more Posters; more leaflets; more activists;  more activity. And, frankly, there will also be more money.

But it also applies to candidate selection. In various Machiavellian ways the Leadership finds ways of installing favourite sons and daughters in safe Westminster seats to ensure we have sufficient front bench talent while the whole Party commits to making sure that marginals are contested by those best placed to win them. Nobody at the top or bottom of the Party seems to care less who gets elected or (as it turned out) not elected to the Scottish Parliament.

And to policy development. Sure at Westminster we have to undertake the day to day grind of opposition but we are also working publicly and otherwise on developing our own policy initiatives, both in the immediate term and in what might form part of our future election manifesto. Chatham House terms meetings take place with policy experts; think tanks publish reports to greater or lesser acclamation; and official and unofficial seminars and conferences take place at which the Party's Parliamentary front bench are expected to play a significant part, to teach but to learn as well.

And then, finally, for UK Elections backroom "talent" is brought in specially for the period of the campaign. For Scottish Elections, while we might get some full time staff on secondment from South of the Border, that's it. Apart from that it's just another aspect of the normal staff's day job.

Now, here's something you might think that I'd be the last person to say. If the Party has to choose an Election to prioritise then common sense says that it should be UK Elections. Labour is a devolutionist Party. We believe that the most important decisions regarding the economy should (indeed, can only) be taken on a British basis and, if we were currently in power at Holyrood, we would still face many of the same problems as the Nationalists in coping with the current state of the UK's overall financial performance. And if we lose a UK Election, we lose to the Tories. If we lose a Scottish election it is only to the SNP who (whisper it) aren't truly as bad, particularly if actual Independence remains such a remote possibility.

But does that mean we are right to treat Scottish Elections as less important? Actually the central problem the Party faces is that some, at least, believe we need to make that choice. They are wrong.

It should not be beyond an organisation with such deep roots as the Scottish Labour Party to fight two major campaigns over five years. In 1974 we fought two General Elections in one year!

But of course it is not as simple as that. For of course, nobody, will ever be given the powers of benign autocracy I refer to above. Political Parties are living breathing organisms and the day one does defer to an all-powerful, all-knowing, leader is a day we'd all be very worried about. Even if it wasn't our own Party. So the best any Party can hope for is a modus vivendi between its leading figures and factional interests. And agreement on common objectives, the single most important of which must surely be to win elections.

The thing that Labour hasn't got its head round is that a devolved Parliament must mean a devolved Party. But the thing that those shouting that Scotland must be "in charge" within that devolved settlement haven't got their heads round is that this approach actually runs contrary to where we stand on the Constitutional position of the Country itself. If we want to be both Scottish and British in terms of our Government, then logically we should want to be Scottish and British in terms of our Party!

So that's where we need to start in filling the position of General Secretary. We do not need somebody whose first loyalty is to Johann, or her successor, any more than we need somebody whose first loyalty is to Jim Murphy or Douglas Alexander (or Gordon Matheson). It may sound trite but it is nonetheless true that we actually need somebody whose first loyalty is to the Labour Party. And that means they must be their own person: nobody's placeman or woman and somebody who is a big and confident enough figure to have the option of walking away if they are not listened to. Whose very job is not to favour one interest but to treat all with equal respect and be accepted by all as a neutral referee. Not a pawn but a player.

And as to who get's Rami's job? Nobody. The Party's job is, first and last, to organise. We do not need a "Head of Policy, Communications and Strategy". That's the job of Johann and Paul Sinclair at Holyrood and Ed and a whole phalanx of support troops at Westminster. What we need is a Scottish Organiser to go out there and put a rocket up the complacent, self serving and, too often minute in number Constituency Parties. No matter what the MP, MSP or would be MSP might think. And to do that immediately and with the unconditional support of the Leadership, Westminster and Holyrood.

A good start would be to suggest that in any constituency where there is, say, fewer than 400 members, the Candidate will simply be appointed by the Scottish Executive, If you don't want that you've got till January 2014 to sort it.

And then finally, for it seems to me that the money available would easily fund three jobs out of two, I'd make a third appointment. "Official intellectual stirrer up in chief" or , I don't know, "Head of external liason" if it needs a pompous official title. This person's job would just be to go out there and network. To speak to the research departments at the various professional bodies: The EIS;  The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland; the Royal Colleges; the Law Society etc...; and to the charities and special interest groups; Citizen's Advice; SCVO (there's always a place for a lost sheep); Children First; CPAG; Age Concern; Alzheimer's Scotland.........and to the business organisations......and to the Universities...........and, yes certainly and importantly the Trade Unions and to......stir them up. To tell them we're looking for ideas and invite them to provide offer them the record if desired  and with nothing off the table between them and our front bench team. To eat a lot of lunches and drink a lot of coffees. To agitate, in the proper sense of that word. And to head hunt for those whose ideas might be useful to encourage. Post Devolution in house policy development has been a disaster and since 2007 we've not even had the civil service. If we want to get back to being the rational voice of liberal civic society (as we were for ten years) then that's going to need to be a two way process. And it's not happening now.

So these are some of the things I would do if this was my call. Which it's not. In practice, none of this will happen. There are already candidates getting lined up for the two vacancies and there will probably be a factional trade off in their appointment. I'm sure somebody will be found to write a manifesto but otherwise the Party retains a heartfelt anti-intellectualism: "If someone wants input to policy they can go along to a Branch meeting". Anyway, new ideas inevitably imply the old ideas were wrong and that's not a concession this leadership is prepared to make. We still haven't moved beyond blaming the electorate and that evil Svengali, Alex Salmond, for our defeat. Strategy beyond that is that the SNP will either bottle or decisively lose a referendum and that will be enough to return us as a default option. Indeed, various dead beat councillors are already eyeing up the SNP Constituencies they believe they might inherit in that circumstance. Nothing is being done to disabuse them of that presumption because I suspect it's a view shared at the very top. Indeed, it appears to me to be the only hope held at the very top.

So, no matter how you slice and dice this you come back to David Plouffe's wise observation. Back room staff don't win elections, they only make it possible for viable candidates to do so. Until we face up to that everything else is academic.

So, as my various SNP readers keep getting annoyed about my predictions that Eck has no intention of holding a Referendum, here's something to cheer you up. No matter what happens on the Constitution between now and 2016, I currently see no reason that you will not be comfortably re-elected at that time. Unless, of course, there's a Tory revival!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Scotland in Europe

I have thought long and hard as to how to make this anything other than boring. That's the problem with the law. In the end, I have concluded that it is best to start with a basic legal tutorial. Lawyers can skip this bit.

"What is the law" is a question to which an entire academic discipline, jurisprudence, is devoted. Indeed, a very long time ago, I survived an oral exam on that very subject conducted by the very distinguished academic and Scottish Nationalist, Professor Sir Neil McCormick. I was rather discomfited that more than ten years later, when I was introduced to him on holiday by a mutual friend, within minutes he recalled the mess I had made in confusing positive and negative rules. I certainly remembered with a shudder his observation at the time of our first encounter that "Really, I would have thought it was the exact opposite of what you've just said!"

Anyway, in the end I passed the exam, so I must know what I'm talking about.

The law is a set of rules agreed or at least enforced upon those subject to it. Most law remains stubbornly domestic whether civil  (e.g. The Children (Scotland) Act 1995) or criminal (e.g The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009). It can of course, under a devolved settlement also be "British" Law (e.g. The Employment Rights Act 1996 or the Misuse of Drugs Act 1972). Then there is the common law...........but that's not really necessary to explore here.

This domestic law falls to be distinguished from International Law, which is much more obviously entered into voluntarily by its participants and despite the best efforts of institutions such as the International Court of Justice, also subject in the end largely to observance for reasons of politics rather than the threat of meaningful enforcement, at least against major powers. Whether the Iraq War was "legal or "illegal", what difference did it actually make?

But you do get international law which does have meaningful domestic meaning and observance. I choose simply by way of illustration, the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction which seeks to determine which court should have jurisdiction (and thus the final say) in cross-border child custody disputes. Nonetheless, although the Hague Convention does form part of our law, it does not do so directly simply because the British Government signed the Convention. It does so because the Convention was then enacted into our law by the terms of the Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985.

All of that is however only by way of introduction, for the law I want to write about is supranational law or more specifically, European Union law, which is the only major functioning example of supranational law. Supranational law (hereinafter EU Law) is law made outwith the otherwise sovereign United Kingdom and potentially against our wishes but which, nonetheless, has direct applicability here. The fact that we have signed up to observe more and more EU Law since the original European Community Act of 1972 is what most outrages so many of the eurosceptics, or at least most outrages the rational ones. For what it's worth, that has never bothered me since I've always been in the ever closer Union camp. EU Law is however what the Scottish Government is relying on to justify their statement that an Independent Scotland would "be" (as opposed to "would wish to be") a part of the European Union. In that they are fundamentally, deliberately or otherwise, misinterpreting the sources on which they themselves seek to rely.

The lawyers are welcome back now.

I've simply never understood the principled commitment of the SNP to being part of the EU. There is simply no logic to being against laws being "imposed" on us from "England" and yet utterly relaxed about them being "imposed" on us from France or Germany. Indeed, you don't have to dig very far to find thinking nationalists who realise that themselves. For what it's worth however, those who see a possible solution in EFTA misunderstand the rules of that organisation.

In reality, the SNP's calculation is a short term political one. The assumption is that membership of the EU, like the now proposed membership of NATO, will provide further reassurance to the vast ranks of the unpersuaded that Independence can be achieved without anything very much changing on a day to day basis. And of course, if you read the small print, they slip this past their own activists on the basis that it can all be revisited "after independence".

The problem is that the same considerations of Party management have led the Nationalists into a bizarre insistence that Scotland would "automatically" be a member of the European Union. But, if we were to be automatically a member a number of reasonably obvious questions could be answered now. How many MEPs would Scotland have? How many votes under the Union's system of qualified majority voting? As the 5th richest country in the world (sic) what would the (presumably substantial) level of our net contribution? Would we still be entitled to a share of the "British" rebate? If so, why?

Now Eck's answer to this is that all of these things would be matters for negotiation and that the EU would want us to stay in. That might well be true, although, as with so much Eck says, it is surely a matter for others than him to dictate. But in any event, something which is "automatic" does not require negotiation. I have the automatic right to enter my own house. I might be more than welcome at my brother's house but it would still be a matter for him as to when it is convenient for me to visit or indeed as to how long I was welcome to stay.

So let's at least accept the possibility that Brussels might not be inclined to give Eck absolutely everything he wants from his negotiations. What happens then? The only logic is that, since this whole thing proceeds on the basis that we don't want to leave, indeed can't afford to leave, the only conclusion possible is that we'd just have to accept whatever terms Brussels offered. Some Independence that.

Nonetheless, the Nationalists and their hangers on continue to insist that Scotland would automatically be a member of the EU, so I've been forced to look at their supposed authority for that.

Two things happened last week that might be a guide to the sleight of hand they are attempting here:

First of all there was this exchange at First Ministers Questions. The full exchange is here but I have chosen the key passage for effect.

Johann Lamont:  "Yesterday, the President of 
the European Commission said clearly:
“A new state, if it wants to join the European Union, has 
to apply ... like any state.”
That means that the new state of Scotland would 
first have to apply to be a member of the 
European Union. If it succeeded, we would have 
to adopt the euro as our currency. 
The First Minister has no legal advice that contradicts the 
President of the European Commission, does he?"

The First Minister: Let me see whether I can 

help Johann Lamont on such matters, as I tried to 
help her predecessor. Scotland is not an 
accession state. We have been a member of the 
European Union for 40 years. Every single one of 
us is a citizen of the European Union  (My Emphasis)—even 
Conservative Party members, whether they like it 
or not. We are not in the position of a country that 
is not part of the European Union. [Interruption.]..
...............There must be 
negotiations, as I have said in the chamber 
before. However, the crucial point is that those 
negotiations would take place from within the 
context of the European Union."

The key is in the sentence that I have highlighted, for that is the straw that is being clung to.

That's clearer if you look at at the other statement from the SNP, In an initiative wholly unconnected to what the FM had said the day before, the completely independent (sic) YES Scotland Campaign published this article  on Friday, the day after the Holyrood exchange. It's opening sentence structure is interesting (!), as intially it appears to proceed on the basis of First Ministerial Infallibility.

It does however eventually come up with some sources other the Scottish Government. One is the much quoted remarks of Lord Mackenzie-Stuart Now, this may be news to some, but EU Law has moved on a long way since 1992, when Margaret Thatcher was still enthusiastically enacting the Single European Act. The second is Emile Noel, who is quoted without citation, and indeed, as far as I can discover, cannot be found saying this anywhere on the internet other than on various nationalist blogs. Still, since it is on the YES Scotland website, it must be true. When did he say it? Well he died in 1996 so I think we can assume it was before that. The third is Eamonn Gallacher, but the value of his contribution is rather undermined when you read it only to discover the authorities he is relying on are...............Lord Mackenzie-Stuart and Emile Noel!

Finally however there is Aidan O'Neill QC. Now he's a horse of a different stripe altogether. I myself previously described Aidan O'Neill, when he was maintaining that the Scottish Parliament did not currently have the power to hold an Independence Referendum, as our foremost practising public law lawyer. That may, on reflection have been unfair to Christine O'Neill (no relation) but he is certainly at the very top of that discipline. So let's look at what he has to say

First of all, you will see the piece is in fact a commentary on a longer piece of research which Mr O'Neill refers to but YES Scotland have, perhaps understandably, chosen to ignore. I would however encourage its reading.

The meat however is towards the end.

Interestingly you will see that Mr O'Neill's analysis is predicated on the proposition that the key issue is EU Citizenship. And what did Eck say above?

"Every single one of us is a citizen of the European Union"

Perhaps that's just a coincidence!

And what conclusion does Mr O'Neill then draw from this, quoted with approval by somebody writing for YES Scotland, who clearly misunderstood this article entirely?

"Seen from that angle, the question to ask is whether the CJEU would consider that the fact that Scotland became independent required that all (or any portion) of the previous UK citizenry thereby be deprived of their acquired rights as EU citizens?  Given the CJEU’s high theology of the primacy of EU law, and of EU citizenship as being “the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States”, it is suggested that the most likely position that the Luxembourg court would take, if faced with the question of Scottish independence, would be the second scenario – “separation”, as outlined by Thorp and Thompson above.  That is to say that the CJEU would rule that Scotland and EWNI should each succeed to the UK’s existing membership of the EU, but now as two States rather than as one.  Such a ruling by the Court would affirm the primacy of EU law over national and international law, confirm the role of the CJEU as the final arbiter on such weighty matters of State(s), and be presented as EU law re-connecting with, and protecting the acquired rights of, individual EU citizens."

This is obviously the bit YES Scotland (thought they) liked, misunderstanding the use of the phrase "it is suggested", not noticing the omission of the additional two words "by me"!

But read on! The next paragraph reads 

"The very form and structure of the EU Treaties might also lead the CJEU to refuse to countenance the possibility of any form of automatic secession from the EU, whether by the splitting of a Member State into two or more international persons or by any other mechanism not expressly provided for in the Treaties. (my emphasis)The EU Treaties have been concluded for an unlimited period (see Article 53 TEU).  Indeed, until the insertion of a new Article 50 TEU by the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, the Treaties contained no provision for the secession or unilateral withdrawal of Member States from the EU.  Before that, a State or part thereof might leave the EU not by unilateral act, but only after negotiation and agreement; thus, in 1985, Greenland left the EU after formal amendment of the Treaty. Article 50(3) TEU now provides that the Treaties shall cease to apply to a Member State from the date of entry into force of any withdrawal agreement; or failing which, two years from the date of notification of withdrawal has formally been given by the Member State to the European Council. In sum, a Member State can now lawfully get out of the EU, but only by timeously and expressly applying so to do."

Now, the right of Scotland to unilaterally secede from the UK has never been disputed domestically. But such a view is not held across other European States in relation to their own historic nations and regions. Specifically, the Spanish Constitution expressly prohibits the unilateral secession of (e.g.) Catalonia and the French have always given short shrift to Corsican separatism. The English might therefore be content, legally, to let Scotland go from the UK, but the Europeans might not! THAT is what Aidan O'Neill is saying. Not what YES Scotland hoped he was.

For additional support for that European mindset we need only look  back to what the First Minister said in the Chamber last Thursday, for he quoted with approval President Barroso: "I see no country leaving and ... many countries wanting to join"! These people don't so much not do secession as find it inconceivable.

Now finally, does this mean Scotland can never be Independent? No, for we could declare UDI and repudiate EU Supranational law in its entirety. International Law would allow that, I suggest. But that would not, for the avoidance of any doubt be "Independence in Europe"? Or we could, post referendum (sic) negotiate and see how we got on. But, for the avoidance of any doubt, nothing would be automatic. Don't ask me, ask Aidan O'Neill. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012


Tomorrow is my birthday and on that day I will reach an age denied to either of my parents.

Whether for that reason or others, I have been a rather melancholy and reflective mood all week.

Such a milestone would of course cause anybody to do a bit of looking back. At what they are happy has happened in their life and what, given the opportunity again, they would have done differently.

At a personal level, that's hardly the subject matter for a public airing but of course, for me, to dig out a slogan from my distant past, the personal is also political.

Last Saturday, the Parliament Channel ran again the BBC Coverage of the February 1974 General Election. That was the last election which I observed without actually being a member of the Labour Party. Even then, and certainly since then, politics, and particularly Labour Party politics, has been my life.

From the perspective of personal ambition I would certainly have done some things differently, not least in heeding the advice of those more predisposed to my own best interests than I, in the heat of battle, perceived them to be at the time. But in terms of the causes I have fought for, I have few regrets. Yet, in terms of the battle with which I am most associated, the struggle for a Scottish Parliament, I am increasingly coming round to the view that, in terms of the hope I, and many others had for it, it has been little short of an unconditional failure.

I want to examine, in turn, each of the arguments that I myself made from 1979 to 1997.

Firstly, there was the lawyers argument, that it was absurd that Scotland was the only place in the world with its own legal system without its own legislature. Of course what we have now is an improvement in theory but as you see the blundering about within that system, at the behest of special interest, by those who start and appear willing throughout the process to remain, in possession of only the most tenuous grasp of the issues they are meant to be considering, you really do wonder whether that theoretical improvement justifies the cost involved.

We saw this, for example, in the bizarre episode where warrant sales were abolished, leaving Scotland, for eighteen months as the only advanced democracy where there was no diligence against corporeal moveable assets. The consequence was of course that those with no other assets, the poor, couldn't get any (legal) credit. As the Parliamentarians were warned at the time. Far from helping the most disadvantaged, the only gainers were those who did not rely on legal process to recover their debts. The outcome?  Warrant sales were quietly brought back by a different title and all those involved in this lamentable episode sworn to a pact of silence. We're now seeing the same with mortgage repossessions.  It's all very well sympathising with those unable to pay their mortgage but if you make it almost impossible for the lenders to get their money back, as has been done by the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010, is it any wonder they'll be reluctant to lend to any "risky" cases in future? Who gains from that. Certainly not those trying to get a first mortgage. And who loses, certainly not the banks who will find safer investments elsewhere but rather those at the bottom intent on moving up. I confidently predict this is another piece of legislation that will quietly be reversed in the near future.

And as for what is now proposed for the Criminal Justice system? Corroboration, an essential and distinctive part of Scots Law since time immemorial, is to be swept away in its entirety by a momentary whim and without any evidence, other than a few loud voices, demanding such a radical step. Can I ask the simple question as to why, other than in relation to crimes where corroboration might be difficult to obtain, this is being even considered? We used to be proud of the fact that miscarriages of justice were much rarer in Scotland than in England & Wales. Has nobody paused to think why that might be the case?

Of course it's not the theory but the practice that's the issue here. But that is going to be my recurring theme.

And with that I turn to the argument that devolution meant greater local democracy. Of course it is better that decisions, when that's appropriate, are made in Edinburgh than in London. But it would also be better, where that's appropriate, that decisions should be made in Glasgow, or Dundee, or Inverness rather than in Edinburgh. Instead, since devolution we have seen a steady move towards centralisation. Not just in the effective abolition of local revenue raising and in the abolition of local police and fire services but in the micro prescription of central Scottish Office/Executive/Government standards on local authorities through statutory provision, making things mandatory, rather than suggesting them in a manner which, on cause shown, can be adapted to local circumstance. And, at the same time, local government has remained totally unreformed by the additional layer of governance arising from devolution. Outwith the Cities, neither large enough to challenge Holyrood in any meaningful way, nor small enough to be truly local. Doing anything about this is however dismissed as "too difficult" so the easy option is to do nothing. It's not that the powers aren't there, it's that there is no enthusiasm for using them.

And then there's the question of the Parliament itself. It might be easier to get to Holyrood than to Westminster but the flummery and security that surrounds the Scottish Parliament itself runs wholly contrary to what was envisaged back in the days of the campaign. It seems almost designed to give the elected members a feeling that they might be above the common herd but since they designed it, or at least acquiesced in it, one can only assume that's how they feel. It certainly isn't the Citizens' Parliament that we envisaged back in the days of all these draughty halls.

And again, the problem is not the theory, it's the practice. All this could be swept away in an afternoon. Instead, our elected representatives have decided to build a new, more exclusive, "Security Canopy"!

Which leads me more generally on to the issue of public service reform. What, above all, was the Scottish Parliament allegedly created for? To find Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. Now, let's just think about this logically. The Parliament inherited a public sector landscape bequeathed to it by Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Michael Forsyth. While in England the period 97-99 saw various reforming initiatives by the incoming Labour Government, quite rightly, after the Referendum vote the feeling was that reform should await the actual arrival of the Scottish Parliament. But when it did arrive did it set about that task? Not for even a moment. Instead,  it was concerned primarily with protecting the institutional legacy inherited from the Tories, albeit with more money to spend. Suddenly the status quo, Michael Forsyth's status quo (!) was deemed to be the epitome of the Scottish social democratic consensus. It was nothing of the sort. It was just the status quo. But nonetheless the only thing that was to be done to it was that more money was to be spent on those who worked within it. Teachers were paid more without any meaningful commitment to changed working methods. So were Health Service workers. So were those working in Local Government. and the Universities.. Even the one meaningful change, in public sector housing, was only got through by creating the fiction that it was being forced upon us from outside. Tony Blair might have acquired scars on his back but nobody in the Scottish Government was of a mind to take that risk.

Now this, for the first eight years and for the avoidance of any doubt was entirely the fault of the Labour Party and its deference to vested interest. But when the SNP came along, sure, they offered one really big change. Pending its arrival however they offered little or nothing else. And now that the money's running out they cling ever tighter to that one big change. Increasingly however, even then, their argument is not that this change is needed  so that anything will be different but rather it is needed as a "guarantee" that it can all remain the same! As it was under Michael Forsyth.

In this regard it is only right that I should say something about welfare reform. I am in favour of the complete devolution of welfare expenditure. Always have been. It would greatly assist the economic initiatives I deal with below. But is there anybody who seriously thinks that Scotland does not have a welfare dependency problem? That too many people are content to live hopeless lives in hopeless circumstances and that this neither good for society nor, at least as importantly, good for these people themselves. The changes to medical eligibility for Employment Support Allowance (as opposed to it's means-testing) may be being implemented by the Tories and (thanks to ATOS)  implemented with an unacceptable combination of ruthlessness and incompetence but they are changes legislated for by the last Labour Government! The Universal Credit, Iain Duncan Smith's unique initiative, is in fact a change welcomed in principle if not in the manner of its proposed implementation, by most agencies working in the field of family poverty. The change from DLA to PIP actually anticipates an increase in expenditure albeit not always to the same recipients. Yet the position of the Nationalists and of Labour's Holyrood group at least, appears to be, that if the Scottish Parliament had control of welfare expenditure, not that these changes would be happening differently, but rather that they would not be happening at all! The SNP have at least got the fiction that, merits aside, at least money will be bubbling out of the North Sea to pay for this. But us? No idea.

But at least that's not something currently devolved. As regards everything else, look at how much the private sector experience has changed since 1999. Tesco doesn't sell the same products in the same looking stores; the internet has transformed buying everything from music, to flights, to car insurance; eating out is a much more diverse, if not neccessarily cheaper experience. Choice is everywhere. Certainly people in Scotland are, probably, more committed to direct public provision than those in England. But to suggest that they, uniquely, wish it delivered in  a totally monlithic manner defies logic. Indeed, it presumes they would welcome the nationalisation of Tesco or Ryanair or the Gulistan in Kilsyth.. Yet monolithic provision is still all that largely is on offer in the Scottish public sector. That's not a Scottish solution. It's no solution.

Which leads me on to the other side of the equation. Devolution was meant to help economic development. Well, that's not happened either. Again the blame can be spread around. In 2001, Wendy published a strategy document "Smart, Succesful, Scotland." And, eh, that's it. A year later she was gone from the front bench. She was initially replaced by Iain Gray, which was, in itself, an indication of the priority Labour gave to the issue. Then, post 2003, it was downgraded further by being handed as a sinecure to the Liberal Democrats. Post 2007 there was a brief chink of light when Jim Mather, the first person since Wendy with something to actually contribute,  arrived on the scene. However, although he toured the country strong on analysis, he was short on actual proposals this side of independence. Whether that was his doing or dictated by the need to stick to a script written by others, in 2011 he left the Parliament altogether. Whereupon entered Alex Neil, a man who didn't have a clue what to do this side of Independence or beyond but at least, in post, solved a Party management problem for Eck. And then, finally, last week, we got Nicola, who's been given the job but only as her second responsibility.

Here's what was meant to happen. Devolved Parliament's can't create economic growth. Indeed, small sovereign Parliaments can't do so either. In the global age, even large sovereign Parliaments struggle to do so in isolation. Ask Mitterand. And no Government, small, large sovereign or subsisduary has ever created a single private sector job. They can only create the conditions which enable others to do so.

Here, I want to talk about a city, Modena, in my favourite country, Italy.

Italy's economic history is too broad a subject to discourse upon here. Suffice to say, beyond unification and through to the end of the Second World War, Italy was never in the first division of European economies. It lacked natural resources and although it had a number of major private sector employers, most notably Fiat and Olivetti, until the fifties, they, and even more Italy's SMEs, were targeted towards a domestic, or, in the case of the SMEs, local clientele. And then that all changed.

I want only to deal with one example of as to how. Modena.

Modena lies in the Emilia Romagna, the region of Italy lying between Lombardy and Milan to the North and Tuscany and Florence to the South. At the start of the fifties it was essentially an agrarian economy. But each of the large Cities had a local artisan community and in Modena these artisans were engaged primarily in the production of ceramic tiles. So, if you were in Bologna or Parma or Piacenza, you knew that. But if you were in Milan, or Rome or certainly in Palermo, you only had the vaguest idea. And if you were north of the Alps you had no idea at all.

And yet in the 1950s something remarkable happened. Modena became the principal supplier of ceramic tiles to all of Europe. How? Because the local authorities realised they had something they could take to market. They established, by generic marketing, throughout Italy and then throughout Europe, the idea of the excellence of their product; they anticipated the demand for skilled labour to meet demand by working with the local technical colleges and for white collar salespeople and the rest by working with the universities; they bypassed the sclerotic Italian legal system by creating a local system of arbitration; they provided on the ground, trusted and competent assistance in new markets; and they allowed the market to do it's work with innovation in design or manufacture delivering  temporary advantage for a particular producer before it was copied or leapfrogged by a  local competitor.

And because not of Modena but of twenty, fifty Modenas: In Parma, farm machinery; in Piacenza, pumps and storage equipment; in Milan, on a much larger scale, fashion and design. Because of their collective initiative, in the 1960s the European Country which enjoyed the greatest economic growth was not industrial powerhouse Germany, or ultra cool Sweden; nor, certainly, not, the "white heat" economy of Harold Wilson. It was Italy, albeit from a lower base.

Now the visionaries of Modena and elsewhere did not create that economic boom, they simply positioned themselves to exploit it. And they did not a single thing that could not have been done by a devolved Scottish Government. Yet hasn't been.

And before I move on, I need make one further observation. Today, you don't buy tiles from Modena. For in time they were undermined on price; first by the Spanish then by the Chinese. The solution however was not protectionism or simply grievance. It was to find a new product for a more affluent market: Balsamic vinegar. Go and have a wee look in your kitchen.

Wendy could see that Scotland's industrial future did not lie in trying to artificially preserve heavy lifting  labour intensive industries whose very first world labour costs would inevitably make them uncompetitive in world markets. It was in picking not individual companies but industrial sectors where Scotland already had an excellence and then helping them market to the world. And it lay in realising many of these sectors: bioscience;  vocational education; engineering design, coupled the simple ability to speak the world's language, English, could only be fully exploited by investment in superfast broadband, for the world wide web was as important a resource to the future economy as the new sub-alpine tunnels had proved to the tile exporters of 1950s Modena.

But, yet again, none of this ever happened. The problem was not the theory but the practice.

And (nearly finished) whatever happened to Wendy? She chucked it. Like Sam Galbraith, and Susan Deacon and Angus McKay and Cathy Jamieson and Margaret Curran and Brian Fitzpatrick. Sure, some of them lost their seats but they showed no interest in coming back. Any more than did Andrew Wilson or Duncan Hamilton or, dare I say it, Jim Mather. Or various other reasonably articulate Tories or Liberal Democrats. Even Eck, having come back after a sabbatical did so for the supposed purpose of securing an Independence Referendum, or at least of being First Minister. There is little reason to think he'd hang aboot once that was over, one way or the other, any more than did Jack.

I used to say that a Parliament in Edinburgh would attract a new generation of politicians looking to serve here and unattracted by Westminster. Instead we have an elected assembly of 129 of whom perhaps 50 can even make the sort of extempore speech expected of a first year trainee in my line of work. Again all the Parties are to blame to here and in the unlikely eventuality I was ever the leader of a Parliamentary Party I do not underestimate the value of lobby fodder. But back, again, in all the draughty halls of the 1980s, it wasn't intended to be like this. The committees were intended to be filled with people certainly of convinced Party allegiance but also of independent mind. Instead, it is difficult to think of a single example of a committee, in 13 years, requiring a serious rethink by the governing party, even on supposedly non-partisan legislation.

So, again the the problem is not the theory but the practice.

And that, before the witching hour arrives, leads to my final and most serious complaint.

I didn't get elected to the Scottish Parliament but I've been in the fortunate position of still having a decent day job. Not long after the 1999 Election I dealt with what had eventually become a freeing for adoption. It involved a wee boy who had gone to school aged five and palled up with another kid, as you do. One day, perhaps a month in, nobody turned up to pick this kid up from school but his pal's mum was there and after a bit of discussion it was established that he lived just round the corner. So the pal's mum took him back to his house. Only there was no-one to answer the door. So she took him back to her own house where, after checking there was still no answer at his door, she gave him his tea. By now, it was getting late so the woman phoned the Social Work department for advice but they advised her that since by now it was 7pm no social workers could reasonably be expected still to be at work at that ungodly hour and she would need to phone the Police. Which she did.

And they went to the wee boy's house and found both his parents insensible through smack. So the kid gets taken into care overnight although, the papers revealed, he was returned the next morning as the family social worker was "unavailable".

And later that same day the father of the wee boy went to the door of the woman who had taken in his child and given him his tea, and told her that if she ever brought the Police to his door again, her own, five year old, child would be sorry.

Now, that happened in, perhaps, 2001. But would it be any less likely to happen today? One suspects that in the meantime the only change would be that the unavailable social worker would have been given a substantial pay increase.That's the real failure of the Scottish Parliament.
And that's where, in the real world, the practice has not matched the theory.

Happy Birthday to me.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Heads of Oak

21st October is a famous day in British history. On that day in 1805, the British hegemony over naval warfare which was to last for the next one hundred years and privide the foundation for the (second) British Empire was established in a famous encounter off Cape Trafalgar. Each 21st October till today, that achievement is celebrated by the Royal Navy..

This year however it is also a date of modern significance, for it is the last day of the SNP Conference, supposedly the penultimate conference before an Independence Referendum. It is nonetheless probably too much to hope that, even if Eck and Angus Robertson  get their way, the SNP Conference will end with a resounding chorus of "Hearts of Oak".

Now, let's be honest, there would still surely be no better opportunity than 21st October to exhort the SNP faithful that the legal wrangling was over, that the campaign for Independence was underway, and that when they met again, two years hence, Scotland would have voted to have thrown off the English yoke forever. The standing ovation would certainly exceed even that which Eck enjoyed when he took it upon himself to impersonate Mel Gibson many years before.

Only, eh, that's not going to happen.

For today we saw the announcement of the Scottish Government Legislative Programme for 2012-13. And yet more obfuscation by the First Minister.

For what did he actually say? That the Scottish Government's response to the consultation on an Independence Referendum would now be announced "next month", a formulation that conveniently takes one, without a broken promise, successfully past Trafalgar Day and the unfortunate necessity of meeting up with a whole lot of people who genuinely want a Referendum. Even some deluded enough to think they might win.

Now let us be clear. This is a consultation for which there was no need in the first place. The SNP consulted the electorate on whether there should be an Independence Referendum on 6th May 2011. And they supposedly, by the rules of the game, got an overwhelming endorsement for that proposition. If they had announced that they proposed to steam full ahead none of the opposition parties could have objected to that with any credibility, even if they had been minded to do so.

Instead, the Nationalists announced they would launch a consultation, which itself wouldn't even start until the January of the following year and not close until May 11th. Nonetheless, by July 18th, the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was able to announce that "The full analysis will be completed and published by the end of the Summer."

Now, I am as optimistic about the weather as any Scot but if the Summer hasn't ended well before October I'll be more than pleasantly surprised. Actually, by most accepted measures, I'd regard it as over already. Yet 31st October is now the new deadline, without any explanation, for the publication of the SNP's response.

What the f**k is going on here?

Eck needs to get past Trafalgar Day. For it remains his intention, in time,  to assert that "the Scottish People" are demanding a second question, no matter if the evidence of that consists of little more than the opinion of a few public sector placemen put up to it by his own office. For that is the one guarantee that he will be legally prevented from having any Referendum at all. Which he would lose overwhelmingly, and in the process destroy his Party and end his career.

But he is conscious that there are many in the SNP who don't care about that. Who want what, potentially, might be a once in a lifetime shot at glory. A bit like Eddie the Eagle at the Winter Olympics.

So he has to find a way past the SNP Conference. And delaying the Consultation response is his solution.

If he gets away with that, the SNP rank and file will have exhibited not hearts of oak but heads of oak.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Home truths from abroad

There was a bizarre shock horror story in the US liberal press over the weekend written by a left leaning journalist who had gained access to a briefing given by Karl Rove to high value donors at the Republican Convention.

I both despise and respect Karl Rove, for he is very good at getting right wing candidates elected.

You can guarantee that Axelrod and Plouffe and the other brilliant strategists around the President will not have been surprised, far less horrified, at what Rove had to say, for they will already have wargamed what they believe are their own weak points (on this occasion it certainly can't (just) be the economy, stupid) and tried to work out a counter-strategy. For only losers start from the assumption that their opponents will play "fair". Politics is, after all, a blood sport.

Now I say this because, even at this early stage, there is something weird going on with the Independence Referendum campaign. More naive elements aligned to the SNP are assuming they can dictate the terms on which it is to be conducted. They propose to make a positive case for Independence, even one based largely on the fantasy of lower taxes and yet better public services that might have come straight out of the Karl Rove playbook. We, as their opponents, "must", they insist, make a positive case for the Union.

They further propose that it is taken as a given that the worst possible form of government for Scotland is a Tory Westminster Government. And nobody is to make any attempt to suggest otherwise.

Finally, they claim that their official policy is for civilised dialogue about the nature of nationalism and sovereignty in a modern world, as if we were engaged in an academic seminar conducted by Pat Kane and Gerry Hassan, rather than in war to the knife.

Well, here I propose to let them inside the briefing room. I expect the same "shocked and outraged" response from my SNP readers as some more naive Democrats expressed about Rove. But, while maybe not quite in the Axelrod and Plouffe class, the people around Eck are more street wise. They've already wargamed this and realise that they do not have the counter arguments. That's why they are desperately trying to avoid having a Referendum at all. The good news is that the Tories are apparently coming round to imposing it upon them.

Point One. We'll be doing little more than making a default case for the Union. Independence would mean mass unemployment at the Clyde shipyards. And at Faslane and Rosyth. And RBS will relocate to England (it will of course remain in the ownership of the British Government) as will Standard Life and indeed most of the rest of the Edinburgh financial services industry (for who would want to hold their investments, or their pension, in an unstable foreign country). Americans are highly unlikely to invest in, or even visit, a Country hostile to NATO and indeed all inward investment is likely to more or less come to an end. Worried about benefit cuts? At least you're still getting benefits. It's difficult to see how anything other than subsistence benefits could be paid against the background of the mass unemployment Independence would create. Receiving, or hoping to receive, a British State Pension or a public sector occupational pension? Hard lines.
Working in the public sector? Only if there is money to pay your wages.

And then there's the cultural and demographic effects. A National Broadcaster where you only see what Alex Salmond wants, and even then only if he can afford it. A National Cultural policy that in its promotion of Scottish literature and music makes De Valera's Ireland look like Renaissance Florence. A massive brain drain as any young person of ambition, having escaped compulsory Gaelic in every school, will still have the portable skill of speaking English, at least for the moment, and will, if they've any sense, leave the Country at the earliest opportunity. After all, that's precisely what happened in Ireland.

And when the oil runs out? For the handful of poor souls still here, perhaps cannabalism?

Outrageous? Read the #bettertogether leaflets. They are but an opening, still reasonably civilsed, salvo against a background that most people assume a Referendum is still little more than a theoretical possibility. And already the Nats are calling foul.

And never forget, the reason that negative advertising is so prevalent in American politics is because..............

Point Two. Of course a Tory Government is not ideal but it pays your wages if you're in the public sector. Maintains law and order. Guarantees your pension or state benefit. And even when it is making a mess of the economy, it can still afford to do so. Anyway, we've had Tory Governments before, even Mrs Thatcher, and we're not actually starving. Who can guarantee the same if we let our hearts rule our heads and take a leap in the dark? And, finally,  Tory Governments can always be voted out. Once freed from the restraints of "British" civilised norms who can be sure Eck would be prepared to take that risk? And who'd be there to stop him? The Queen?

Point three. I've already made that point.

Sure, you can say negative things about the Union. But the sales pitch of Scottish oppression, relative British economic decline, evil English Tories (from time to time), involvement in foreign wars. They only preach to the already converted. And that's no more than 20% of the population. With a bit of a "sod them all" add on, you get to the 28% that remains my prediction if there is ever a vote.

That's still an awful long way from 50%. Which is why Eck is up to what he's up to.