Scotland’s Future


I re-read the Scottish Government’s white paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ while researching my previous article ‘W(h)ither Independence?’. At 650 pages it’s a hefty document and there probably aren’t many people who’ve read it cover to cover, which is in itself a criticism of the document. Mhairi Black said recently that she ‘hated’ it. I wouldn’t go that far, indeed I believe it serves a useful purpose, however I am critical of its format.

Essentially ‘Scotland’s Future’ falls into two parts. One part deals with the nuts and bolts of extricating Scotland from the UK and covers things like the timetable of withdrawal, the role of the Civil Service, pensions and the division of assets. All of these matters will be the responsibility of the Scottish Government, hence it’s official status as a ‘white paper’

The other part is much more party political in nature and makes numerous proposals, for example on welfare and tax reform, increased child support and of course that we dump Trident.  Incidentally, on tax, Scotland’s Future suggests raising about £250 million extra in the first tax year, pretty much what the recent budget is expected to raise.

Many Unionists have poured scorn on Scotland’s Future, saying it is full of uncosted promises and vague assertions. Yet they never felt the need to produce their own counter proposal. I may have a solution to that anomaly. In retrospect I think it would have been better to have separated these two parts; the first part covering the mechanics of separation, quite rightly being produced by the Scottish Government as a white paper and part two as an SNP post independence declaration of what they would do if elected as the first Government of an independent Scotland.

The advantages of this approach are that it’s a lot simpler. Constitutional geeks can pore over the minutiae of Part one, while Part two could be produced as an easy to read manifesto for the general public. Doing this would also provide the opportunity for the SNP to challenge other political parties to produce their own manifestos – highlighting their proposals for an independent Scotland or for those of a Unionist persuasion, detailing their vision of Scotland within the Union.


W(h)ither Independence?


Pete Wishart has generated a great deal of coverage in both the MSM and blogosphere by suggesting that the SNP should allow its current mandate for a second independence referendum to expire. He points out that after two close losses, the Quebec independence movement has now been in the wilderness for 20 years. I believe the comparison with Quebec is inappropriate. The Quebec independence referenda were culturally based. Quebecois felt alienated by the Anglocentric majority in Canada and wanted to express their French roots more fully. However, Canada has a federal system of Government and provinces enjoy a great deal of autonomy (including fiscal autonomy); by contrast, Scotland has nowhere near as much autonomy and is in many ways something of a vassal state.

So whilst celebrating their cultural heritage and how they see themselves is clearly important to many Quebecois, unlike Scotland’s place in the UK, being part of Canada doesn’t pose an existential threat. Scottish independence is driven by much more fundamental needs, to gain control of the fiscal mechanisms necessary for economic development and social policy. These needs will not go away after another No vote, indeed while we are tied to the UK post Brexit they will come ever more sharply into focus, exacerbated over time as nearby small, independent nations prosper whilst we are stuck in the slow lane, forever subordinate to Westminster’s priorities. So conditions for Scottish independence are unlikely to be diminished. The Quebecois on the other hand were more likely to ask whether the disruption was worth it, for something so ephemeral?

So my view is that of the old saying ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ If the SNP uses its mandate and we lose, we’re unlikely to lose core support and the reason for Scottish independence won’t recede. Allowing the mandate to expire on the other hand is highly likely to lead to a loss of support for the SNP – in particular back to Labour. Pete Wishart states that nobody has told him they would stop voting SNP if they don’t exercise the mandate, however I would have thought that the vehemently hostile response to his comments might cause him to think otherwise.  As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing in the UK constitution that dictates how often we can hold an independence referendum, so as long as we keep electing Scottish Governments with a commitment to independence in their manifestos, we are still in the game.

The likely outcome of a loss of support however, is that come the next Holyrood elections, the SNP won’t be able to form a Government, opening the door for a Unionist coalition of some sort. That would make it a lot easier for a Tory administration in Westminster to impose new constitutional restrictions on the Scottish Parliament, making a further independence referendum virtually impossible.

Wishart says that Independence is the most hotly debated issue in Scottish politics. Again I disagree. Most debate is currently within the Independence and Unionist bubbles. The case for independence hasn’t really been presented to the electorate since 2014, when we started on 28% and finished on 45%. Next time we’d be starting in the mid forties and serious debate of the issues on TV would allow voters a much better comparison of the relative merits of the two choices than at present where Unionist tropes of Scottish ‘debt’, UK single market, low growth and currency go virtually unchallenged in the MSM. We will also be able to question the UK Government on its vision for Scotland in a highly uncertain post-Brexit future. In 2014 we started from a choice between the status-quo or what was presented as risky independence. The latter now looks a lot less risky, particularly if Scotland remains in the EU or EEA while the UK is outside. Meanwhile the status quo simply isn’t on offer.

Which leads me to the nature of the independence campaign. Much heat and not much light has been expended on whether to follow the Norway, Irish or New Zealand economic models. Interesting but irrelevant in my view. The goal is independence – self-determination. After independence is the time to debate such practicalities, when political parties can set out in their Manifestos their vision for Scotland; high tax, low tax, how to grow the economy etc. What I believe we need to do during the campaign is to highlight the many many small, prosperous, independent countries that surround us, the differing economic models they follow and to stress that we the electorate will choose how we are governed post independence.


A Letter to ‘NO’ Voters


As Naomi Klein wrote in her book ‘No is not enough’, the goal (of an argument) is rarely to change minds but too often to win. With this in mind and with some humility, therefore, I’d like to set out a case for Scottish Independence. My assumption is that the vast majority on both sides want what’s best for Scotland. Those on the pro-Union side believe that Scotland’s interests are best served by some or all of: solidarity with the rest of the UK in good times and bad; that we benefit from the support we receive from the UK (best of both worlds) as our economy isn’t robust enough to sustain independence; that we’ve shared so much that to break our ties would be to alienate ourselves from a family of Nations; or a belief that the SNP is a malign influence which is unlikely to build a better Scotland .

Addressing these reasons in reverse order; an independent Scotland should reanimate politics which at present is stuck in a constitutional stand-off. With the constitutional issue settled, politics can get back to normal, in fact better than normal since the SNP are committed to introducing a written constitution and Proportional Representation electoral system for General Elections, which will enhance democracy and ensure fair political representation at Holyrood.

In the 2014 Referendum much was made of the view that independence would turn family and friends living elsewhere in the UK into foreigners. Many of us have family who live in a foreign country. I have a sister who married a Norwegian and has lived in Norway for decades. She’s still my sister and to regard her as a foreigner would seem very strange to me. I would guess that the same is true for those of you with family members living abroad, some of whom may have emigrated. I also have family living in England and I don’t expect my feelings towards them to change post-independence or visa versa.

Yes, there is a deep, shared history between Scotland and the rest of the UK and that history will remain. What will change with independence are our future histories. Even in a Scotland that remains part of the UK however there will be significant changes, not least because of Brexit. The status quo is, therefore, not on offer. Take Ireland for example, where there is an even deeper and more fraught history between it and the UK (and with England before that), yet the bonds still endure and in many ways are more positive than in the past as Ireland and the UK now interact as equals.

I don’t have facts and figures detailing the economic performance of an independent Scotland as there are no future facts. What we do have, however, are precedents. Around Scotland are a number of small independent countries; Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark all of which are more prosperous than the UK, while also being fairer, more equal societies. Just to reinforce the point, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (started with earnings from oil in 1995), earned £131 billion pounds in 2017 – that’s in one year! (Financial Times. 1.3.18). On the plus side, Scotland compares very favourably with all these countries in terms of the necessary conditions for prosperity (democracy, rule of law, sound finance, an educated populace plus abundant natural resources). None of the above countries rely on the ‘broad shoulders’ of a larger State and any support Scotland receives from the UK comes with a price tag as we pay for it through our contribution to the national debt.

The final point, that just because our relationship is going through a sticky patch, we shouldn’t walk away from the Union, is perhaps the most emotionally compelling and it’s true that in times past, Scotland benefited greatly from the Union. However those days (of Empire) are long gone. I think it’s fair to say that Scotland’s well-being is an afterthought to the UK Government and probably only features at all because of the constitutional question and Brexit. Remove these and I doubt there would be much thought given to what goes on up here. Instead, resources will continue to be targeted towards London and the South East.

Investing in the South East makes sense in some ways as surpluses generated there currently subsidise the rest of the UK. However, this concentration of resources on the South East has created huge imbalances in the economy. No capital city anywhere in the developed world plays such a dominant role in the economy as that of London in the UK. According to Inequality Briefing, London is the wealthiest area in Northern Europe. However, the same report points out that 9 of the 10 poorest areas in Northern Europe are in England and Wales. That’s because, to quote Vince Cable, London has become the great suction engine of the British economy. While this continues, talent will inevitably migrate to the South East, thus further eroding the economic prospects elsewhere. And despite warm words and rhetoric about Northern Powerhouses, the vast majority of infrastructure projects, essential for stimulating economic health, continue to be concentrated in the South East.

I have two questions for you. What kind of country would you like Scotland to be and how confident are you that the current political settlement can deliver that country? My own vision is for a  prosperous Scotland that has the financial resources to place the environment at the heart of policy making; one that prioritises green, sustainable working practices in every sphere, not just energy, and puts public money into those areas rather than weapons of mass destruction. And one that really cares for all its citizens through fair taxation and redistribution. I see no prospect of the UK Government delivering on that vision and the current devolution settlement severely constrains any Scottish Government from doing so.

In summary, I believe that only Independence can unlock the long-term investment required to transform Scotland. However, I also believe an independent Scotland could be a role-model for the rest of the UK. Confronted with the reality of its mortality and given Scotland’s example would, I hope, lead to a serious overhaul of the political and economic structures of the remaining United Kingdom and a more realistic view of its role in the world.


Democracy – ‘a nice idea’


Asked for his views on democracy, Gerry  Adams, Sinn Fein President, said, ‘It’s a nice idea’.

There’s a delicious irony in the boast that Britain was the first modern democracy and that Westminster is the ‘mother of Parliaments’. I was reminded of this as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of (some) women gaining the right to vote. When it was built in 1870, the Palace of Westminster was designed as a men only establishment – so much for democracy. More than anything however, the suffragette movement reminded me that democracy is a journey rather than an event.

In his book ‘Democracy and its Crisis’, A.C.Grayling charts the history of democracy from its roots in pre-Christian Athens through to the present day. His thesis is that, while some European countries are fairly close to achieving democracy, it’s still a largely unfulfilled concept in most countries that claim to be democracies. He singles out both the UK and USA for particular criticism.

A recurrent theme in the book is the readiness of the electorate for democracy. In ancient Greece, Plato was very much against the idea of democracy, believing that the common man was unable to grasp the complexities of Government, the best form of which was via an Aristocracy. This word in its ancient usage meant a man (always a man), who was highly intelligent, wise and crucially, disinterested, so would be incorruptible, seeking no material gain from his power but simply wishing to do what was right for the populace. I tried to think who might fit such a tough CV and could only come up with Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Yoda and Gandalf.

Democracy continued to be a contentious issue after the ancient Greeks, through the Roman Empire and into medieval times. During the Peasants Revolt of 1381, the rebel priest John Ball caught the essence of the argument with the immortal question, ‘When Adam dug and Eve span, who then was the Gentleman?’, alluding to the fact that there was no aristocracy during the time of Adam and Eve, so the common man was presumably able to run his own affairs. Later, at the Putney Debates of 1647, when the Levellers met with Oliver Cromwell to press their case for the rights of the ‘common man’, they did so on the grounds that they had not fought to overthrow a King simply to be ruled by a new tyranny. Some of the Levellers were later jailed – so much for the free speech aspect of democracy!

The franchise was extended somewhat in 1832 with the Great Reform Act, when universal suffrage was declared, having been extended to property owning males over 21. However, the vast majority continued to be voiceless; in late 19th century Britain something like 85% of working men were manual labourers, none of whom had the vote and most were illiterate (compulsory public education only began in England in 1870). The ruling class were  wary of extending the franchise, as they felt that to give the vote to such an uneducated mass could lead to anarchy. Their fears were perhaps justified given the number of States that have introduced democratic institutions but have failed to deliver stable governments, for example Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Ukraine and Bolivia, partly because the voters were politically and in some cases, educationally illiterate.

It would seem that a necessary requirement for the effective exercise of democracy then is an educated electorate, both generally and politically. This seems crucial in the 21st century as the scope and scale of many of the issues of Government become ever more complex- Brexit and Scottish independence for instance, both of which require a deeper and wider understanding of the issues than a General Election which might provoke an emotional response – ‘I voted for ‘X’ because  I’ve always voted ‘X”, or voting simply for the Party promising tax cuts.

This leads me to observe that in Scotland, despite what former Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, said about ‘Scots not being  genetically programmed to make political decisions’ we have the most politically literate electorate in the UK. Consider this; we have two Governments, one in Holyrood and the other in Westminster, which share responsibility for Scottish affairs and whose Executives are drawn from differing political Parties. Our elections are conducted using three different election methods; first past the post (FPTP) for Westminster elections, the d’Hondt proportional system for Holyrood elections and the Single Transferable Vote (STV) proportional representation system for Scottish Council elections. We also have in the SNP a strong third party to break up the Tory, Labour hegemony that exists in England. The 2014 Independence Referendum then focussed the attention of the electorate on what kind of country they wanted Scotland to be. Finally, we had the EU Referendum in 2016. Given the volume of political education undergone by the Scottish electorate since the 1997 devolution referendum as just outlined, it’s perhaps no surprise that Scotland, bucked the general trend and voted 62% in favour of remaining.  Since then, attitudes towards the EU seem to have hardened North and South of the Border. Recent opinion polls suggest only 45% support for remaining in the EU in England while 68% support remain in Scotland – a political chasm.

Grayling insists that the UK as presently constituted, meets very few of the criteria necessary for an effective democracy and is in effect an Elective Dictatorship. His big beef is with the first-past-the-post electoral system which provides an unfettered mandate to the Governing Party, invariably on a minority of the vote. Grayling also singles out the Whip system, which he says is frequently abused by bullying (e.g. threatening exposure of an MP’s domestic peccadilloes), threats of de-selection and/or loss of potential promotion opportunities as a consequence of defying the Whips. All these factors, Grayling says, leads to an impotent opposition which, because it is unable to influence legislation, creates a great deal of sound and fury to give the appearance that it is holding Government to account – all of which Grayling suggests is highly unsettling to the general public, whose impression tends to be that the Government is in constant turmoil. In an effective Government, where the Governing parties genuinely represent the majority of the electorate, things tend to be much quieter (boring even) as Government is allowed to get on with the business of Governing because they have a genuine mandate. I would exclude Holyrood from this tranquil nirvana as the British Nationalist politicians and pro-Union press do their utmost to stir up unrest against the SNP interloper in their cosy consensus.

Grayling’s other requirements for an effective democracy includes a written constitution, STV proportional representation voting system extended to 16 – 18 year olds, an elected second chamber which can overturn Bills and a Supreme Court which can strike down any Bill which fails to abide by the constitution.  More contentiously, Grayling asserts that voting should be compulsory, because a non-vote always favours the winner. Peter Bell made a similar point recently in iScot Magazine. Bell used a simple example of 100 voters and just 2 candidates. While 51 votes are required to win the election when everyone votes, if we assume a typical General Election turnout of around 60%, then to win only requires 31 votes, a much lower threshold and crucially, one which is only supported by a minority of the electorate, thus creating the potential for dissent.

Looking back 100 years, votes for women is a no-brainer; it’s inconceivable that women should be denied the vote. At the time, however, the suffragette movement was not not popular, even among women, who saw it as a cause of strife between them and their menfolk, rather than liberating (an example perhaps of a lack of political education). In short, most men and many women thought women should ‘know their place’, to not get ideas above their station. This caused me to compare the suffragettes with the quest for Scottish independence. Both are steps along the democratic road and like the suffragettes before it, Scottish independence appears to be supported by a minority of the electorate. So how do we change minds? Will it need an extreme gesture like that of Emily Davison, who died when she stepped in front of the King’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby, or will the Scottish electorate finally wake up to the democratic deficit that exists in Scotland, so clearly illustrated by a British Government that continues to ignore Scottish aspirations regarding the EU?  And what will our successors 100 years hence think, as they view an independent Scotland? I strongly suspect that, just as we do now with votes for women, they’ll scratch their heads, wonder what all the fuss was about and agree it was also a no-brainer.





Is God a Unionist?


In his polemic ‘God is not Great’, Christopher Hitchens suggests a parallel between organised religion and fascism – both requiring an undisputed leader and absolute loyalty from the faithful. While Hitchens was perhaps being deliberately provocative, you don’t have to look far to find links between religion and (right wing) politics. Islamic fundamentalism is its most extreme manifestation; however the American religious right, the Church of England, AKA ‘the Tory Party at prayer’ and of course the Orange Order, a sectarian order created to protect the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland, is very supportive of Unionism and allegedly has a number of DUP and Scottish Tory politicians in its ranks. Even the Church of Scotland is not immune – in 1986, 45% of its members were Tory voters (Tom Devine, ‘Independence or Union?’ 2015). There seems therefore to be a correlation between the religiously devout and a desire for authoritarian leadership and adherence to the status quo (conservative with a small ‘c’ even if they don’t vote Tory).

Shortly after reading ‘God is not Great’, I had a visit from two Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were very pleasant and I engaged in a brief discussion about the likelihood of a supernatural deity. (For the record, I find it highly improbable). Towards the end of our chat, one of them asked me what I thought about the natural world?  When I said I found it amazing  she agreed, then pointing at the sea, asserted that, unlike every other substance, the sea never freezes completely and again unlike other substances, when water freezes it expands. Her conclusion seemed to be that these inconsistencies defied the laws of nature and were indicative of a ‘guiding hand’ A quick Google search after they’d left confirmed that there were perfectly logical explanations to her mysterious phenomena.

What I found extraordinary about this incident was that two apparently intelligent people, instead of carrying out the simple investigation that I did, seemed to prefer to believe in mythology and one has to ask why? Psychologist Jonas Kaplan observed that political beliefs are like religious beliefs in that both are part of who you are and are important for the social circle to which you belong. To consider an alternative view, you would have to consider an alternative view of yourself. Endorsing this apparent victory of tribalism over reason, the  Washington Post carried out a simple survey. They showed photographs of both the Trump and Obama Presidential inaugurations to Democrat and Republican supporters and asked which had the bigger crowd?  Despite clear evidence that the Obama crowd was larger, one in seven Trump supporters averred that the Trump inauguration drew the bigger crowd.

This tribalism is beautifully illustrated by Andrew Skinner. Writing in ‘Scotland in Union’, 25.7.2017 he asserts: ‘One of the things I find is not fully understood and not explained enough is “Scales of Economy”, providing services in a country the size of Scotland with a population of 5 million with lots of remote areas and islands etc, costs a lot more than providing the same services across a similar sized country with fewer Islands and a population of 60 million. So it’s clear we benefit greatly from being part of the United Kingdom’ (my emphasis)

All Skinner needed to do to understand the flaw in his argument was to look across the North Sea to Norway, which, like Scotland has a population of around 5 million. It also has ‘remote areas and islands’ in abundance throughout its 1200 kilometre length with a few fjords and major mountain ranges thrown in for good measure. Despite all these challenges, Norway seems to be doing ‘no bad’ economically as summed up by the recent headline  ‘Norway’s sovereign wealth fund hits $1 trillion’ (Independent 19.12. 2017) 

And yet, rather like Jehovah’s Witnesses, they don’t seem to want to do analysis. In an article (Herald 31.12.17, ‘Labour leader Leonard says an independent Scotland is perfectly feasible’) one reader made an unflattering comparison between the UK and Germany. In response, a  pro-Union blogger  stated: ‘Oh please. Give the rest of us a break. Random country comparison… something wrong with the UK … independence is the only answer…’

Random country, Germany! For over 100 years Germany has been the benchmark country of choice by the British state. Indeed, according to Hidden Histories, growing German economic hegemony, which was eating into Britain’s share of world industrial production, was a key factor in Britain going to war with Germany in 1914. Actually a more apt comparison for Scotland is the Scandinavian countries with which we share many similarities. All these countries are economically stronger than Scotland, while also having lower levels of inequality. Nor are they being propped up by any ‘broad shouldered’ larger Nation, so there is much we can learn from them. Even here however, staunch Unionists refuse to be drawn into serious investigation. One commentator sneered that Independistas never cite countries like Mozambique when making comparisons. Well, quite. Mozambique is as different as chalk from cheese to Scotland, gaining independence from Portugal in only 1975 after 200 years of colonial rule and zero experience of democracy. Today its GDP per head is about $1,200 compared to Scotland’s £40,000.

The ability to avoid serious enquiry therefore appears to be endemic not only in those of a strong religious persuasion, but also among staunch Unionists. But could I also be guilty of the same unquestioning myopia as staunch Unionists? I can say “no” with some confidence, because I was once a Unionist. Not a staunch Unionist it’s true but rather an unthinking Unionist. I blithely accepted what I was told, that I was incredibly lucky to live in such a tolerant, fair minded country, the mother of democracy. I was a patriot who bought my poppy, watched the pomp and circumstance of Remembrance Sunday with pride and believed the areas of the world ruled by the British Empire had been fortunate to have had such a benign protector.

Then something changed. I’m not sure exactly when; the Genesis was probably when I began questioning my own religious beliefs. It was certainly reinforced when I began reading more widely about the Northern Ireland ‘troubles’.  The more I delved the more I came to see a different picture than the one the British Establishment painted. And it turns out my increased scepticism was justified. According to recently released documents by the Irish Government under the 30 year rule, MI5 attempted to persuade the UVF to assassinate the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey (to their credit they declined), provided the bomb that was used to blow up ‘The Miami Showband’, an Irish cabaret band, and offered to supply foot and mouth  toxins to anyone who would plant them in the Irish Republic, all in the interests of destablising the Irish economy.

So if God is a Unionist, how can this knowledge be utilised to persuade Unionists towards independence? The short answer is that we probably can’t! To attempt to change the views of those with strong convictions based on faith and dogma tends simply to radicalise them. In Politics this is creating an ultra nationalism (AKA BritNats), whose behaviour is becoming increasingly hysterical, for instance when they ridicule the new Queensferry Crossing or the Baby Box;  jingoistic – seeking to politicise the Poppy Appeal, or xenophobic – Johnny Foreigner and migrants.  While such behaviour will no doubt appeal to the Ultras, it’s likely to repel more moderate No voters and give them cause to consider whether they want to be associated with such extremism or perhaps they prefer the inclusiveness and positivity of those on the Independence movement. As Joyce McMillan observed in  The Scotsman: ‘And this, for me, is a new experience in politics – to enter a debate with a strongish view on one side of the argument and to find myself so repelled by the tone and attitude of those who should be my allies that I am gradually forced into the other camp’ 

According to a BBC report (March 2017) the number of people who regularly attend church services in Scotland has fallen by more than half over the last 30 years (from 854000 to around 390,000 ) and 42% of churchgoers are aged over 65. This mirrors the trend  among Tory party members, where the average age is 62. Meanwhile, perhaps because they tend to be more open to new ideas and are less indoctrinated than I was about Britain’s ‘greatness’, younger voters are increasingly drawn towards independence. Time is on our side.



Wha’s Like Us?


In his documentary ‘Border Country: the Story of Britain’s Lost Middleland’, shown on BBC television shortly before the 2014 Independence Referendum, the presenter Rory Stewart (Tory MP for Penrith) suggested that the England-Scotland border has historically been very fluid, that in reality there was no cultural difference between the English and the Scots on either side of the border, thus demonstrating that borders are artificial constructs. On a similar theme in a 2017 General Election speech in Edinburgh, Theresa May suggested that in the United Kingdom ‘we are all one people’, seeming to also suggest that there is no difference between Scots and other Nations of the UK. While in no way endorsing any ‘blood and soil’ Nationalism, I think there is a difference. In this article I’d like to explore why that might be the case.

The differences seem to be due to a combination of history and geography. Historically, English culture has been shaped by the Romans, Anglo Saxons and Normans, who between them created the market economy, civic institutions, the nuclear family, hierarchical structures and the rule of law. Collectively these encouraged social and economic mobility. In his book ‘The Pinch’, David (Two Brains) Willets suggests that the driving force of all these characteristics in England was the nuclear family, a unique institution when it emerged over 1000 years ago as a result of migration by Germanic Angles. Contrasting the nuclear family with the extended family or tribal structure Willets observes: ‘Big Clan style families are better than nuclear ones at spreading advantage and pooling risks, but for them to be effective people have to stay close to each other, so there is less mobility’

Willetts use of the word Clan to describe the extended family is apt as the Clan tribal structure was the norm in the Scottish Highlands until the 19th century, where the notion of economic and social mobility was an alien concept. While there was a hierarchy in Clans, it was much flatter than in English society. So while the English were living in small family groups and moving both for economic and social reasons from the early Middle-ages, the extended family of the Clan wasn’t seriously disturbed until the Clearances of the 1800s.

The Romans introduced the concept of trade and civic institutions, through the creation of market towns and guilds where goods could be exchanged, imported and exported, taking advantage of Southern England’s proximity to continental Europe and Roman lines of commerce. In Caledonia by contrast, the Romans made little impact beyond the Borders. It’s often said that this was due to the wild people who lived further North and was perhaps true to some extent, though I suspect the main reason was the lack of trading opportunities.

The Normans brought with them the feudal hierarchy of Lords, vassals and fiefs, the remnants of which are still very much evident in present-day Britain (eg the House of Lords). Whilst the Normans had a greater influence in Scotland than either the Romans or Anglo Saxons (Robert the Bruce was of partial Norman stock), again the impact was less dominant than in England. In Scotland the process was more one of assimilation where Norman Knights married into Scottish nobility. In contrast to England and particularly in Wales, where a network of castles were built to quell the natives, few great Norman castles were built in Scotland.

All these incursions tended towards the South and East of Scotland (Stewart’s ‘Borderlands’), unsurprising, as this is where the best agricultural lands were to be found. Meanwhile the North and West of Scotland continued to be dominated first by the Celts then the Norsemen. Though the Industrial Revolution had a homogenising influence throughout Britain, the Celtic culture and the Clan structure still seems to resonate in Scottish society, with an emphasis on social justice.

English hierarchical structures and Scottish egalitarianism extended to the Church. While the Reformation saw the emergence of Anglicanism, replete with Bishops, ceremony and the Monarch at its head, in Scotland the Presbyterian Church adopted an altogether simpler, flatter structure  and sought to separate Church from State. The Church of Scotland also developed a policy of ‘a school in every parish’ which gave rise to the Scots becoming the best educated citizens in the British Isles, with more universities than England until the 19th century. It’s no surprise that  Scotland was the crucible of the European Enlightenment in the British Isles.

Scotland is approximately two thirds the size of England but has only 10% of the population. These simple facts of geography perhaps also help to explain any cultural difference between the English and the Scots. South of a line between Hull and Liverpool, the English are very much an urban population with little contact with country life. It’s said that whilst you must go back 3 generations to find any direct experience of agriculture in an English family, in Scotland it’s only 2 generations. Even that doesn’t make the distinction between England and Scotland. In England the migration from country to town was often driven by a desire to ‘get on’. While this was also the case in Scotland, the shift to the towns was also a consequence of the Clearances, so the shift was more existential and less aspirational. That more people in England have made the latter choice is indisputable and what that does is to create, or at least encourage, a different mind-set, one based on ambition  rather than survival.

While there are many shades in between, country life and city life could be said to occupy opposite ends of a spectrum. So while a city lover might be upwardly mobile and status conscious, country dwellers are much more likely to be content with their lot and take a ‘live and let live’ attitude. The greater concentration of people with little or no contact with country living then becomes both a cause and a result of different priorities, priorities which in the case of England and Scotland are magnified by their different histories.

One example of how the social hierarchy in England today differs from Scotland can be seen in professions like the media and law. In England it’s almost mandatory to speak with a Standard English accent. A regional accent, from say, Liverpool, Birmingham or Tyneside is professional suicide. In Scotland by contrast, no such snobbery exists and a Scottish accent is no barrier to advancement. Indeed judging by the large number of Scottish presenters on BBC TV and radio, a Scottish accent appears to be a positive advantage. Perhaps this is because, unlike an English regional accent, a Scottish accent doesn’t carry any status assumptions.

These cultural differences are reflected in politics, which in Scotland is dominated by left of centre parties. The last time the Tories won a majority of seats in Scotland was in 1955, in an altogether more deferential age. This left leaning bias in Scotland is the major reason why Jeremy Corbyn seems to believe he can make inroads here. Meanwhile the voters in England tend to vote more consistently right wing.

What I’m not saying is that the differences between the Scots and the English are massive, rather that they are individually quite subtle but, taken collectively, lead to a cultural and ultimately, a political divergence. On a recent TV programme, the owner of a swanky London boutique hotel mentioned that he employed all Australian front-of-house staff because in his view Australians don’t know how to be snobbish – it’s not in their nature. In my experience as an Englishman, the same is true of Scots.


Proportional Representation Update


In this essay I compare the merits of Proportional Representation (PR) and First  Past the Post (FPTP) electoral systems. In particular I look at the potential impact on our political landscape had we adopted PR in previous UK General Elections and finally at the impact PR has had in Scotland.

The success of the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) in the recent German elections was greeted with horror in the UK press. The AfD gained over 13% of the vote and 92 (from a total of 709) seats in the Bundestag, while the Christian Democrats of Chancellor Merkel suffered an 8% drop in vote share from 42% to 34%. As a result, the Christian Democrats have been unable to forge a workable coalition due it would seem to the inability to agree on immigration. So, there may well be fresh elections to resolve the matter. However, as Martin Kettle observes (Guardian 20.11.2017), while in the UK there’s panic if a Government isn’t formed within 48 hours of an election, the German electorate are much more relaxed about the idea that forming a workable coalition can take time.

Contrast that with the UK in which David Cameron (remember him?), in order to try to shoot the UKIP fox and quell dissent in his own Party, offered an In – Out referendum on the EU if he won the 2015 General Election (FPTP = winner takes all), this despite UKIP at the time having zero seats in Parliament. The result is that we appear to be heading out of Europe.

The argument in favour of FPTP is that they provide strong Governments. Unfortunately this ‘strength’ has all too often led to the unfettered pursuit of political ideology. After its initial success in creating the National Health Service in 1948, successive Labour Governments nationalised coal, steel, shipbuilding, railways the motor and energy industries, in fact almost anything that could move. In doing so they ceded enormous power to the Trade Unions which were then able to hold successive Governments to ransom (the Tory, Heath Government and subsequent Wilson and Callaghan Labour Governments) as a result of their joint bargaining power. The UK endured the 3 Day Week and was described as ‘the sick man of Europe’

When Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979, the ideological pendulum swung in the opposite direction with mass privatisations of some Nationalised industries (including Britoil – see Norway and Statoil), the closure of coal mines, shipyards and steel foundries which created wastelands of whole swathes of the country which have yet to recover. She also conducted a scorched-earth policy against the Trade Unions, in particular the National Union of Mineworkers and its leader Arthur Scargill, which reached its climax in the failed miners strike of 1984. Thatcher’s final political legacy, again enabled by the freedom to act bestowed by FPTP, was the Big Bang which dismantled much of the legislation that ensured the Financial sector’s integrity, thus paving the way for the Banking crash of 2007. More recently, Tony Blair’s strong Labour Government took us to war in Iraq. It should be no surprise really that two of the countries worst affected by the Banking crash and which were prepared to fly in the face of UN Resolutions to prosecute the Iraq war, were the UK and USA, two of only three advanced economies which still use a FPTP electoral system (the other is Canada).

So for over a century now we’ve had a constant battle of ideologies, first one way then the other, knocking down what went before, prior to building some new totem. From mass Nationalisation, to mass Privatisation and so on. By contrast, because PR makes it much more difficult for any single party to gain a majority of seats, in order to form a Government, political parties need to collaborate and to make compromises, thus greatly reducing the potential for ill-conceived legislation.

PR is sometimes criticised for leaving Countries in limbo while political parties indulge in horse trading, which takes time (e.g. Belgium). However, this is surely less time consuming than the repercussions of ill-considered legislation that can be bulldozed through as a result of FPTP. The process is similar to Japanese industrial consultation processes, which are exhaustive and tellingly, highly frustrating to British businesses. In the 1980’s, ICI developed identical manufacturing facilities in Japan and the UK for a new product. The British facility was built and into production faster than its Japanese counterpart. However the Japanese easily beat the British into full production due to thinking through the entire process more thoroughly at the outset.

The irony is that the UK Government has been at the forefront of introducing PR electoral systems elsewhere, notably in the devolution settlements of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland (of which more in a moment) but for UK General Elections PR is apparently a no-no as it will produce endless ‘hung Parliaments’ which, we are told, the British public don’t like and don’t understand. There’s also the argument that a Party’s manifesto has to be ditched when entering a coalition Government because it no longer has a mandate to pursue its policies. Since when has being elected with as little as 35% of the vote (which translates to about 25% of the total electorate) provided a secure mandate? The final argument is the loss of the link between a Constituency and its MP. In order to maintain this broken system therefore the Electoral Commission is charged with redrawing constituency boundaries to ensure a balance of constituency size and political persuasion to avoid potential gerrymandering!

One of the worst iniquities of the FPTP system is that of the wasted vote. A General Election in the UK usually boils down to a few hundred thousand votes in those ‘swing’ seats with a slim majority. Most of the rest are ‘safe’ seats in which it’s highly unlikely that the incumbent Party can be ousted. If you don’t vote for that Party then your vote is wasted. In PR every vote counts as was amply illustrated in the recent Scottish Local Elections which uses full-fat PR and where voters were encouraged to give each candidate a ranking irrespective of their politics on the ‘vote till you boak’ principle.

I’d like you to consider the political landscape after the 2015 General Election using PR, which would almost certainly have produced a coalition (most likely Labour /Lib Dems/Greens plus SNP confidence and supply) with say 20 UKIP MPs as part of the opposition. I think it’s safe to say there wouldn’t have been an EU Referendum. As with the AfD in Germany however, the baying of UKIP MPs on the opposition benches would almost certainly have led to tightening the EU free movement policy. This, I understand, allows anyone in the EU to stay for up to three months in another EU country after which, if they want to stay longer, they must either have a job, be a student or be able to support themselves. Successive Labour and Tory Governments never implemented the bureaucratic mechanisms required to police these rules in the belief that the costs outweighed the benefits. Immigration then became a major factor in the Brexit vote, aided by the rather strange insistence on counting overseas students as immigrants (when recent ONS statistics showed that 96% of overseas students return home after they graduate).

In his article ‘Lessons from Scandinavia’ (iScot Magazine, Nov. 2017) , Calum Martin suggests that the Scandinavian countries have avoided the death-star embrace of Neoliberal Free Market Capitalism due to a strong Social Democratic political ethos. What he doesn’t say but which is undoubtedly a key factor is that the strength of Social Democracy in Scandinavian countries is due to PR  which curbs the excesses of both left and right wing parties and in the case of the latter, ensures that rampant  Neoliberalism is kept in check.

My final observation concerns the Scottish Government. When it was conceived in the 1990s, devolution was seen as a way to counter the apparently rising tide of Scottish Independence. The new Parliament (Scottish Executive as it then was) was to have a PR electoral system. Not just any old PR however but the d’Hondt system which it was believed would ensure the SNP could never achieve a majority. To quote George Robertson, Scottish devolution would ‘kill independence stone dead’ We now know that, irony of ironies, devolution and PR were the making of the SNP and the independence movement. While it’s true that PR makes it difficult for the SNP to form a Government, the same applies to all political parties. The hubris of the Labour Government of the time was that they saw Labour dominating elections forever. They failed to factor in the possibility that devolution and PR might stimulate the electorate to vote differently once they saw that every vote counted and that, unlike other parties whose allegiances were ultimately to Westminster, any SNP MSPs would have Scotland’s interests front and centre.

Having watched Jeremy Corbyn’s closing speech at the Labour Party’s 2017 Autumn Conference in Brighton, electoral reform clearly isn’t on his radar. Meanwhile the Tories have always preferred FPTP as it enables them to win elections on a minority of the vote due to the way it splits the opposition vote (which is ironically, how the SNP almost swept the board in the 2015 GE). When they look North at the transformation that devolution and PR has wrought in Scotland, their resolve against the introduction of PR in UK General Elections can only have hardened. In which case the sclerotic UK will continue to lurch, first one way, then the other, forever looking for some political holy grail when a key component is right under their noses.




It’s late October and I know we’re nearing Remembrance Sunday because every BBC presenter and studio guest has suddenly sprouted a poppy. Even Countryfile presenters are not immune; Adam Henson was filmed herding his sheep while wearing a poppy. Did he poke a pin through his waterproof jacket and will it now leak when it rains? The BBC must have a huge supply of poppies for studio guests – do the guests pay for them or do they give them back at the end of the broadcast? We need to know. An alien, taking the BBC as a yardstick of human behaviour would draw the conclusion that poppies are ubiquitous in human land.

It hasn’t always been this way. After British military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, public support for the Armed Services was at a low ebb. The promotion of the Poppy appeal by the BBC therefore appears to be part of a coordinated campaign to change public opinion. Latterly this campaign has included Princes William and Harry, whose military service has frequently been highlighted – the BBC have made much of Harry’s deployment to Afghanistan and subsequent championing of the Invictus Games for disabled ex-servicemen and women.

I have distinctly mixed feelings about the Poppy appeal; from its purpose, to the pressure placed on us to conform, to the way remembrance can spill over into jingoism. On the one hand I feel sad at the terrible suffering and loss of life, while on the other hand I’m angry at the waste of life and the enthusiasm with which many politicians propose armed conflict, often on quite spurious or tenuous grounds to ‘defend the realm’ On remembrance Sunday we’ll no doubt hear once again the phrase ‘lest we forget’ from politicians. It’s these same politicians who recently eulogised the maiden voyage of HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s biggest ever aircraft carrier as a projection of ‘British power on the world stage’

For the Royal British Legion, which organises the production and sale of poppies, the purpose of the Poppy appeal is to fund its charitable activities. The same goes for organisations such as Erskine Hospital, Help for Heroes and various military charities. However, the Military Covenant, drawn up in 2000 recognises that, in return for putting themselves in harms way, the UK has a duty of care towards military personnel who are injured, who fall ill in the line of duty (for example PTSD) or, in the event of their death, towards the families of those killed. The recent extension of the widows pension to those who remarry after losing a partner is a welcome addition to this duty of care.

So why then do we need to support all these other charitable organisations and their various fund-raising if there is this Military Covenant? Help for Heroes states that ‘funds raised are to provide services which can’t be provided by HM Govt’ Help for Heroes stresses that what it provides should not be seen as a substitute for Government support and will hold Government to account on that score. But surely it can’t be anything other than a substitute for Government funding? If ex-servicemen or their families are in want, then this suggests that HMG is not fulfilling its Covenant. By their very nature therefore, the existence of all these charities is both an indictment of Government failure to meet its obligation under the Military Covenant and must mitigate the financial commitment of HMG. It seems hypocritical that politicians who stand at the Remembrance Day commemoration at the cenotaph in Whitehall, all wear poppies which would not be necessary (except perhaps as a mark of respect) if Government funding was more generous. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Donald Trump threatens to ‘totally destroy North Korea if it moves against the U.S. or its allies’ It seems that ‘remembrance’ is just a one day event before politicians get back to business.

When it was introduced, the Military Covenant was described as “…an informal understanding, rather than a legally enforceable deal, but it is nevertheless treated with great seriousness within the services” The reason it is a promise rather than a statutory obligation appears to be to avoid litigation by military personnel in the event of seemingly inadequate reparations. One case cites an ex-soldier receiving £152K as a result of life disabling injuries which, had this been a civilian case would have resulted in an award at least 10 times as much.

Veterans finally win right to asbestos payment (i Newspaper 1.3.2016)
The announcement is a victory for the Royal British Legion and others, whose concerns over the unfair treatment of veterans – who had been denied the six figure compensation given to civilians with the same condition – were revealed by this newspaper last year. Service personnel suffering illness or injury before 1987 could not previously sue the MOD for compensation.

Some people wear a poppy to pay respect to those who died, others wear the poppy out of patriotism, a phenomenon that seems to be growing in inverse proportion to Britain’s prestige on the world stage. There is of course the desire to show compassion; however this is in the context of a society that seems less compassionate, quietly acquiescing to cuts in welfare benefits and the bedroom tax – which ironically sometimes hit disabled ex-servicemen. Wearing a poppy can also be controversial, for example when the footballer Roy Keane wore a poppy while appearing on a TV Champions League highlights programme in 2015. As an Irishman was he aware of the numerous atrocities committed by British troops in Ireland immediately prior to Irish independence, including those at Croke Park in Dublin and during the troubles in Northern Ireland when British troops deliberately fired on unarmed civilians (Bloody Sunday)?

One of the reasons I support Scottish independence is so that we can distance ourselves from what seems to be a British addiction to foreign wars. Apparently for the past 120 years, since the start of the Boer War, British troops have been continuously on active service somewhere around the world. Pro British propagandists tell us that British troops are fighting for freedom and democracy; all too often however, in countries such as Kenya, South Africa, India, Egypt (Suez), Aden (now part of Yemen) and Cyprus, British troops were used to deny the peoples of these places the right to self-determination.

Finally, though the wearing of a poppy commemorates the deaths of servicemen, we should remember that from WW2 onwards, civilian casualties far outstrip the casualties among servicemen. For these people there is no commemoration or honours. Are they to be regarded simply as ‘collateral damage’




Le Tour de BBC


I’m a life-long cyclist which, when I started in the late 1950s was more like being a member of a secret cult. It was virtually impossible to be out riding without some bystander shouting ‘your back wheel’s catching up with your front’ or ‘hey,  Reg Harris’  Beating dogs off with my pump was common-place. I remember vividly the sense of wonder when in 1965 I think it was, BBC Look North showed 30 seconds of the Milk Race (Tour of Britain) on the evening news as the stage finish that day was at Sunderland, my home town.

Imagine then my pleasure, bemusement, resentment (all three emotions actually) when in 2008, the BBC discovered cycling due to Team GB’s success at the Beijing Olympics in the velodrome. This success was followed up in 2012 with a similar medal haul on the track at the London Olympics plus the added  bonus of Bradley Wiggins becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France. Cycling, opined the BBC, was the new golf and to be a MAMIL (middle aged men in lycra) was de rigeur. Even Alan Sugar was declared to be a devotee, allegedly keeping a top-of-the-range bike at each of his many homes and a personal trainer to ensure he did it right. I’m sorry if I sound cynical, I’m not, really I’m not.

It seems however that the Beeb’s love affair with cycling was short-lived. Despite a huge increase in the number of regular cyclists, proliferation of cycling ‘sportives’ (mass participation bike rides with closed roads) and continued success in both track and road racing, the BBC’s enthusiasm seems half-hearted at best. Last month Chris Froome won the Tour de France for the fourth time and there have been a host of other successes. However if your name isn’t Brad (sorry Sir Bradley) Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, or Laura Kenny (nee Trott), or if it’s not an Olympic sport, it seems the BBC has decided that the British public really aren’t interested.

While it reported daily updates of the Tour de France on its website, the BBC only sporadically mentioned what was happening during its 21 stages.  By way of comparison, their coverage was a bit like reporting only some England matches or even just the first half in a major football tournament and not mentioning how other teams are progressing.  My impression is that the BBC is paying lip service to its cycling coverage, that if there hasn’t been a British stage winner, it’s not news.

I think BBC’s reporting of cycling speaks volumes about the nature of the BBC. It’s an extremely conservative organisation. It likes tradition which in sport means football, rugby (union), cricket, athletics and the Olympics and of course, the dwindling number of sports for which it still has the TV rights, e.g. snooker. The second reason comes down to personalities. The BBC loves creating iconic figures for the public to worship – think Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah and, dare I say it, Chris Hoy. How popular the sport is with the general public is neither here nor there, it’s simply that the chosen ones are potent and wholesome representations of British patriotism. And this is an area where British cycling simply doesn’t cut it now that Brad Wiggins with his rock star image has retired. Chris Froome has never been a contender on BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY). This is important to the BBC who like to promote popular figures. In fact the BBC website, commenting on Froome’s fourth Tour victory headlined the article, ‘‘Is Chris Froome Britain’s least popular sportsman?’  Born in Kenya to British parents, Froome grew up in South Africa and now lives in Monaco. Apart from the 2014 Tour de France which started in Yorkshire and the 2012 Olympic Games, I don’t think Froome has ever raced in Britain.  He certainly doesn’t demonstrate any great affiliation to the UK. Add all this baggage to a quiet, reserved demeanour and it’s easy to see how he simply doesn’t fit the BBC’s cut-and-paste image of the All-British hero.

This obsession with promoting Britishness has always been a part of the BBC’s agenda, whether through dramas or documentaries and pageantry. However, the trend seems to be increasingly jingoistic. Nick Clegg put his finger on the probable reasons when, writing about Brexit, he observed ‘The more you lose your grip, the more you hold on to what you know. It is a sure sign that an institution is in steady decline when it fixates on past glories. A belief in the traditions of the past often masks discomfort about the challenges of the present’

The BBC seems to be making a rallying cry to encourage a sense of patriotism, whether through sport, nostalgia for past glories or commemoration ceremonies. Perhaps because, like Nick Clegg, it sees that the best days of the UK are behind it.  One definition of fundamentalism is ‘radicalisation as a result of one’s beliefs being challenged’  As Britain’s status as a World Power is increasingly called into question, that sense of Britishness is being radicalised. In this new Britain we must support the flag, buy the Poppy, support Help for Heroes, dream of ‘Empire 2’ and watch the ‘Great British Bake Off’,  in fact the ‘Great British anything…’ And the BBC is their biggest cheerleader.

So there you have it, while my family were probably grumbling that I was spending far too much time watching the Tour de France on TV and not enough on the grandkids, I’m sure you’ll now agree I was actually doing serious political research.



Britannia Waives the Rules


‘Compared with other countries, corruption in the UK is relatively minor’

I originally wrote this article in response to the above comment made by Tom Bradby on ITV News at Ten (24.2.15). The article offers a historical appraisal of British corruption to provide context for where we appear to be today. I could also have included a lengthy analysis on the role of the press in influencing public opinion, a practice which has a long and disreputable history, from fomenting what became the Boer War (for gold, diamonds and to pursue Cecil Rhodes dream of a pan-African British Empire) to the First World War, when public opinion was swayed towards war in order to stifle rising German industrial power (7)  Or, currently, the deceitful tactics being used to tarnish the SNP and the Labour Party in the 2017 General Election. Or I could have written about the alleged fraudulent and certainly shadowy involvement of overseas cash in influencing the EU referendum Guardian Newspaper plus the Tory Election Expenses irregularities. So much material, it’s hard to know where to start.

The article points a finger firmly at the British political class. I should however point out that I see SNP MPs as an essential part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The Tom Bradby quote was in response to the breaking news of a Channel 4 / Daily Telegraph sting in which Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw fell for an offer of paid lobbying by a fake Chinese company. Damning phrases such as; ‘I can operate under the radar with a combination of charm and menace’ (Straw) and ‘I can arrange introductions with every Ambassador in the world’ (Rifkind) illustrated the insidious nature of political influence for financial gain from two of the UKs hitherto most highly respected politicians.

At face value corruption in many third world and Middle Eastern countries does appear to be more deep-seated than in the UK. Bribes for fast-tracking passport, planning or visa applications or for turning a blind eye to petty offences seem common-place. Leaders of Third World countries in receipt of International Aid are often accused of syphoning off funds for personal gain. Such countries often have a culture of barter and bargaining which no doubt also encourages corrupt practices. In the UK prices are fixed and underpinned by the rule of law. It’s rare to hear of any overt bribery at either a local or national level. However, far from being less corrupt than many other countries as Bradby claims, my contention is that the UK has institutionalised corruption on an industrial scale.

In their defence, Rifkind and Straw stated that they ‘didn’t break any House of Commons rules’ But it’s MPs themselves who make the rules and closer examination indicates that many dubious practices are enshrined in law. The practice of legitimising illegal activity with the rule of law goes back many centuries in Britain. From land grabs by the Normans in the 11th.- 13th. centuries in Britain and Ireland, to the 16th. century reformation when the assets of the Monasteries and the Catholic church were sequestered by the Crown. The seizure of land through the Enclosures Act in England and the Highland clearances in Scotland were all enshrined in law. Today 484 people own 50% of the private land in Scotland (easily the highest concentration in Europe) much of it having been inherited by dubious means (1/2).

The rule of law was extended to include Britain’s colonial conquests where, having taken control at the point of a gun, acquisitions were ring-fenced by statute. During the First World War, British officials discussed with Arab leaders how the Middle East might be ruled after the Ottoman Empire was expelled. While no official agreement was ever made, Arab leaders understood that they would have a major involvement in the future of the region in return for their support during the war. At the same time the Sykes-Picot agreement was secretly being thrashed out between the UK and France, who carved up the Middle East on the basis of self-interest and to the exclusion of the Arab community. Not for nothing was the term Perfidious Albion coined to describe the often machiavellian nature of British ‘negotiations’

In 1953 the democratically elected President of Persia, President Mohammad Mossadegh was overthrown in a coup masterminded by MI5 and the CIA after he threatened to nationalise British oil operations in Persia. The UK and USA installed the puppet dictator Mohhamad Reza Pahlavi as Shah of Persia which led to: Ayatollah Khomeini, the 1979 Iran – Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western Coalition forces and most recently ISIS and the civil war in Syria (3). This says much about Britain’s industrialisation of corruption. The rights of the free market are seen as sacrosanct and anything and everything that can be done will be done to safeguard these rights by the Establishment – something we should bear in mind as we gear up for another independence referendum.

Who or what is the Establishment? Formerly the preserve of the aristocracy, bankers and politicians, the Establishment now includes CEOs of major corporations, Senior Civil Service, the Media and Press, even the Police and Judiciary, who, often unwittingly, support the status-quo (the smashing of legitimate picketing during the miners strike by police in 1984 being one example). The English public schools system plays a pivotal role in encouraging the ‘old boy’ network – the glue which binds much of the Establishment (4).

Banking and tax laws have gone hand in glove for many years. The UK has one of the world’s largest banking sectors and has been at the forefront of the development of offshore banking in, for instance; the Channel Isles, Cayman Islands, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and the Turks & Caicos Islands and Gibraltar, the iniquities of which were exposed by the publication of the Panama Papers in 2015. The benefits of offshore banking is that it offers greater privacy as well as the facility to avoid tax. UK tax laws now run to nearly 20,000 pages, making it impossible for anyone to understand every nuance of tax regulation while at the same time allowing those with the financial clout to hire the very best tax advisers to run rings round HMRC. Many Scottish estates are now set up as Trusts in order to avoid inheritance tax, stamp duty and capital gains tax. It’s said that some estates pay less tax than the local shop. It’s politicians, often advised by bankers and accountancy firms (who, having advised MPs, then advise their wealthy clients on how to avoid tax) who make the rules.

Big business favours small Government. As well as lax tax laws they want as few regulations as possible on the grounds that regulation strangles enterprise and encourages the ‘dead hand’ of bureaucracy. The deregulation of the Banks was perhaps the most significant relaxation of business rules, which led to a massive expansion of the Banking sector in the UK but eventually led to the financial crash of 2008 through the sale of some very dodgy financial products. The Banks were then said to be ‘too big to fail’ and so were bailed out with public money. In effect the Government were guilty of encouraging Moral Hazard (acting irresponsibly without having to face the consequences). The overall impact was that ‘profit was privatised but losses were socialised’ The tax payer picked up the tab, wealthy Bankers and shareholders were protected and no-one was prosecuted. Meanwhile vulnerable people at the bottom of the economic order are now required to foot the bill. This is corruption on an epic scale which was approved by the UK Government.

Politicians are at the heart of the Establishment since it’s they who make the rules regarding financial and economic conduct. However the Straw/Rifkind debacle is just the latest in a whole series of questionable or downright illegal financial dealings involving politicians, from MPs expenses to cash for questions or for peerages which indicates the dishonourable, corrupt nature of some politicians. Yet the political class would have us believe that they are all ‘Honourable Members’ or ‘Right Honourable Members’ if they’re Privy Councillors. A more recent appellation is that of ‘Gallant Members’ for MPs who’ve previously served in the Armed Forces. Meanwhile in the House of Lords they are all ‘Noble Lords and Ladies’ This is all propaganda that seeks to portray the UK as a fair society with an illustrious history, governed by the rule of law, with the ‘mother of Parliaments’ at its heart. All of which encourages the belief that UK citizens live in a thoroughly civilised, law abiding country. This propaganda extends to the sports field where it’s frequently pointed out that Britain invented most modern sports and from which phrases such as ‘playing the game’ ‘not cricket’ and ‘good sport’ have come into common use and give the impression that fair play is a wholesome and ubiquitously British trait. Above all this propaganda keeps the British public quiescent – ‘never mind the inequality, just be thankful that you live in such a decent country with such a proud history’

The traditions and etiquette of the House of Commons are central to its running, indeed the main chamber is based on that of an English public school debating chamber, with many of the same conventions. Commenting on the recent BBC documentary ‘Inside the Commons’, Simon Jenkins noted:

‘The sense was of a down-at-heel public school……. Arcane customs and procedures baffled new MPs, until they were slowly drawn into the freemasonry. With parliament mostly an electoral college of candidates for government, there was no purchase in nonconformity. The only spark of life was from an occasional select committee…..The documentary showed how the government systematically precludes MPs from scrutinising its work…… As for the lords, their days are surely numbered. With 800 members and rising, Britain has the only parliament in the world whose membership is shamelessly, worthlessly sold by parties to tycoons. No British minister can uncritically accuse a foreign state of corruption’ (5)

My contention therefore is that the UK is run as a cabal by members of the Establishment, who, through our elected MPs ensure that laws and regulations favour business and make corruption, in the form of tax breaks, offshore accounts, subsidies and bail outs, possible on a massive scale and where many employer friendly pieces of legislation such as Working Peoples Tax Credits are in effect employer subsidies. Finally, that the nature of the House of Commons makes it virtually impossible to challenge these doctrines.

What to do? The current situation is largely the result of centralised Government decision making which encourages a ‘ruling class’ and the Establishment figures who both feed off and influence Government. The think tank Sustainable Government cites Denmark (a country with highly devolved Governance) as the “cleanest” country in the world. Apparently it is the only country where there is simply no corruption. Why? There is maximum disclosure and transparency, vigorous prosecution of wrongdoing; a free and vigilant press; clear rules on remuneration and expenses and a very strong ethic of public service. Another reason there is so little corruption in Denmark is that there isn’t a lot at stake. It’s a small country of five million people with a high standard of living but without huge amounts of money flowing through corrupt financial centres. It has relatively high taxes too so bankers and plutocrats tend not to dwell there (6). The Danish model sounds good to me and one which an independent Scotland should seek to emulate. Meanwhile independence appears to be the only way for us to get out of the corrupt system that now seems endemic in the UK.


1)   Andy Whiteman – ‘The Poor had no Lawyers, who owns Scotland (and how they got it)’
2) Tom Johnston – ‘Our Scots Noble Lords’
3) Robert Fisk – ‘The Great War for Civilisation’
4) Owen Jones – ‘The Establishment – and how they make us pay’
5) Simon Jenkins – Guardian 5.3.2015
6) Charter for a Free Parliament

7) Gerry Docherty & Jim McGregor – ‘Hidden History – the secret origins of the First World War’