SNP calls for clarification on anti-terror bill
The SNP is demanding clarification from Scottish secretary Alistair Darling about the Scots law advice given for the anti-terror bill.
Party leader Alex Salmond claims he has received a letter from the lord advocate in which he makes clear that he was not asked and did not offer advice to the home secretary on the Scots Law implications of the bill. Home secretary Charles Clarke has said that the Scotland's top government legal adviser had not been consulted on the question of 90 days detention clause which resulted in the government¹s first defeat in the Commons.
The SNP now say it has now been confirmed that there was no consultation beyond official level on any aspect of the bill, including the controversy on the implications for free speech and civil liberties. Salmond said: "This is a sorry state of affairs for Scotland and Scots law. If the home secretary had not sought the advice of the attorney general on the terror bill, then he would have had to resign. "The UK has two distinct and equal legal systems, and the fact the Home Office did not ask for the view of any Scottish law officer on this crucial piece of legislation beggars belief. "However, it also seems that the advocate general, who is supposed to speak for Scots law in Westminster, was asleep at her post. "The secretary of state for Scotland doesn't know while the first minister isn't rated, leaving the lord advocate to pass the buck back to the advocate general. "The fact is that Scots law has been sidelined by the Home Office and our law officers were silent bystanders. What a sorry state of affairs. "The Scottish secretary needs to clarify exactly what happened over this important piece of legislation and to guarantee a full role for Scotland's law officers from this point on."
Monday, December 26, 2005
Friday, December 23, 2005
“And Be A Nation Again”?
The vast majority of people in Scotland, no matter how little they may know about history, will need no citation for the title of this piece. It will be instantly recognisable to them as being from what has become, in the past twenty years or so, the most famous of all Scottish patriotic songs – “Flower of Scotland”.
The reason that this line from a modern nationalistic song appears relevant to an essay about the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 in that to many people, then as now, it seemed that the choice lay between Union on the one hand and Independence on the other – with no real “halfway house”. The reason for expressing the quotations as a question is to emphasise that in the 1700s the Scots were facing a genuine dilemma.
The Treaty of Union of 1707 between Scotland and England is regarded very differently in these two countries. It scarcely disturbs the seamless flow of English History at all, but it looms very large indeed in Scottish History, this reflects the fact that, although in theory the Union abolished both the Scottish and the English parliaments, in practice Westminster carried on much as before.
The fact that Westminster remains, even to this day, so clearly the English parliament, is one of the reasons why so many Scots nowadays demand a parliament of their own. “The Treaty of Union may claim the status of fundamental law in Britain, but the actual union that it achieved is much more fragile than it appears”1. But, of course, Scotland had its own parliament, and, indeed, a handful of years before the Union that parliament was showing increasing independence.
So what happened? It has been suggested that the economic consequences of the Darien disaster led in part to the Union of 1707. To what extent is this true?
In seeking to answer this question I have consulted numerous sources. However, I will not be attempting to summarise the many – and sometimes heated – arguments amongst historians about the Union of 1707. To attempt such summaries in a necessarily brief essay would be to do an injustice to the historians concerned. Although I may quote from various sources, the arguments put forward are essentially my own.
………………………………………………………………………….1 Brian P. Levack, The Formation of the British State: England, Scotland and the Union 1603-1707 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987) 222.
Dave Coull “And Be A Nation Again” page 2
In order to set the scene for an examination of the extent to which the economic consequences of the Darien disaster led to the Union of 1707, we must first step back a century, to the Regal Union of 1603. Queen Elizabeth the First of England, the “Virgin Queen” after whom Virginia is called, had no children.
Powerful men in the Kingdom wanted her to name King James the Sixth of Scotland as her successor. It is debatable whether she ever actually did so, but, in any case, he was the nearest Protestant claimant, so, when Elizabeth died, he was promptly invited to come to London and become King. James had been waiting for this summons, and set out at once.
Although Scots had for centuries resisted the attempts of English kings to extend their rule over Scotland, this Union seemed acceptable because it was under a Scottish king. However, James the Sixth had long thought that his own claim to throne of England was better than that of Elizabeth; he had long looked forward to the day when he could at last claim the English crown; and when the opportunity finally came, he had no problem whatsoever with putting the larger kingdom first.
It was a time of expanding horizons, but “Obsession with domestic problems combined with shortage of capital to bar Scotland from any immediate participate in the widening commercial opportunities which stemmed from the discovery of the sea to the Far East and of the continent of America. When, by the early 1600s, she was somewhat better equipped, most of the accessible territories had been pre-empted by monopolistic imperial powers, whilst Scotland had lost her diplomatic independence.”2
This loss of diplomatic independence, and hence of independence in trade, cost Scotland dearly in the Seventieth Century. Scotland was not allowed to trade freely with the English colonies in America and elsewhere, yet got dragged into conflicts with other countries which were to some extent about England protecting its colonial trade.
“After the Restoration and particularly when parliament acquired greater freedom after 1686, Scotland was actively launched on a ‘mercantilist’ –type policy, fostering her own industries and seeking to expand overseas trade. But because of the conditions of the Union of 1603 she was embroiled in England’s foreign disputes, but could neither – in compensation – count on either diplomatic or armed support for Scots enterprises overseas nor could she legally engage in English plantation trade.”3
(Under the Navigation Acts passed by the English parliament, Scotland, despite having the same monarch, and despite having to get involved in war with England’s enemies, was treated as a foreign country which was excluded from trading with England’s colonies in America).
2 S.G.E. Lythe and J. Butt, An Economic History of Scotland 1100-1939 (Glasgow & London: Blackie, 1975) 64.3 S.G.E. Lythe and J. Butt, An Economic History of Scotland 1100-199(Glasgow & London: Blackie, 1975) 83.
Dave Coull “And Be A Nation Again” page 3
It was little wonder then that “There were few in Scotland who retained much faith in the regal union or in the way it worked. All thinking Scots had by the end of William’s reign more or less concluded that the existing connection between the two kingdoms was unsatisfactory and that it was slowly strangling the weaker partner. But what to do about it was the problem. There agreement ended and argument began…”4
In that argument, one alternative proposed was closer union; the other alternative proposed was that of greater independence.
To some extent, the Scots parliament did in fact seek to achieve greater independence. Parliament ordered an enquiry into the Massacre of Glencoe, something King William the Third could have done without. The “Wool Act” encouraged export of that commodity, while the “Wine Act” of 1703 was equivalent to a declaration of freedom to trade with France, with whom England was at war.”5
Furthermore, the “Act of Peace and War” asserted that, after Queen Anne’s death, no British monarch could declare war “without consent of the Scottish parliament, and no declaration of war without their consent was to be bending upon Scottish subjects”. 6
War with France was unpopular because France was a major trading partner. “The French wars, which lasted from 1688 to 1697, and from 1701 until after the Union… were in most respects much more serious in their economic consequences than the Dutch wars… there was the virtual loss of an important market – direct to France.” 7
The English Lord Treasurer (de facto “prime minister”) Godolphin wrote to his Scottish counterpart Seafield” If Scotland were in peace and consequently at liberty to trade with France, would not that immediately necessitate a war betwixt England and Scotland?’ “8
Capping all this was an act which could have ended the Union of the Crowns – the Act of Security of 1703. This pronounced the Scots parliament “hereby Authorized and Impowered to Nominate and Declare the Successor to the Imperial Crown of this Realm…”9
4 William Ferguson, Scotland’s Relations with England: A Survey to 1707(Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd, 1977) 185 – 186.
5 Thodora Keith, Commercial Relations of England and Scotland 1603 – 1707(Cambridge: University Press, 1910) 189.
6 Thodora Keith, Commercial Relations of England and Scotland 1603 – 1707(Cambridge: University Press, 1910) 190.
7 T.C. Smout, Scottish Trade on the Eve of Union 1660 – 1707(Edinburgh and London: Oliver & Boyd, 1963) 245.
8 Thodora Keith, Commercial Relations of England and Scotland 1603 – 1707(Cambridge: University Press, 1910) 190.
9 P.H. Scott, 1707: The Union of Scotland and England(Edinburgh: Chambers, 1979) 14.
Dave Coull “And Be A Nation Again” page 4
This, then, was the situation just a few years before Union: a Scottish parliament asserting its independence, and the English government – increasingly worried that the Scots would “rise and be a nation again” – issuing threats of reprisal. The atmosphere in Scotland at the time was one of crisis. A parallel which springs to mind (though of course not an exact parallel, but hopefully an illuminating one nevertheless) is with the Weimar Republic in Germany. In Weimar Germany, the Nazis and the Communists both appeared as credible alternatives, and it was possible for the same individuals to swing towards either national-socialism or Marxism. The one thing which was not credible was a continuation of the status quo.
Similarly, in Scotland in the 1700s the same individuals might consider either independence or closer union with England; again, the one possibility ruled out was continuation of the status quo. But – to what extent was this atmosphere of crisis due to the economic consequences of the Darien disaster?
The answer is that Darien certainly played a large part in bringing about this atmosphere of crisis. The failure of the Darien colony, and shortly afterwards the collapse of its sponsors the Company of Scotland (in which a very high proportion of the population of Scotland had invested so much both in terms of money and of hope) was indeed un unparalleled disaster. (It was a disaster, but it was not just misfortune, nor accident, nor bad luck. This writer has put forward before his view that “The Company of Scotland could have succeeded. That the Scheme did not in the end succeeded was due to the willful and deliberate destruction of the Company of Scotland, and thus of the economy of Scotland, by King William the Third and the East India Company.”10
10 Dave Coull, “The Case for the Prosecution” The people Vs King William III and the English East India Company, Tony Parker (ed.)(Dundee: Scotland and the Americas course, University of Dundee, 1997)
Dave Coull “And Be A Nation Again” page 5
Some have suggested that the scheme was flawed from the start: “The flaw in the scheme was the Scots’ inability to give military support to the Darien colonists; an intensely irritated William and an enraged London merchant community simply left the colonists to their fate…” 11
I would maintain that the roles of the monarch and of the English merchants were more actively destructive than simply leaving the Scots colonists to their fate; but that is a side issue to the question before us, so let us not be tempted into pursuing it.
We can all agree with John Robertson that “Nevertheless, the Scots’ commitment to the scheme was a strong indication that closer union of the British kingdoms would be hard to reconcile with an exclusively English empire of the sea.”12
We can also agree with Smout that the collapse of the Company of Scotland, “engineered, as many believed, but the malevolence of William III and his English ministers, awoke a fury of discontent against their political and economic inferiority. Although Darien did not ‘create’ a Union of Parliaments. It did more than anything else to provide an atmosphere in which the relative merits of the various schemes of constitutional alignment of separation would be hotly discussed.”13
As Smout says, Darien “did more than anything else” to create this atmosphere. That is an assessment which would be difficult to quarrel with. Certainly, those of us studying history under the course heading “Scotland and the Americas’ are clearly being invited to see Darien and westward enterprises generally as being of immense significance. However, it does have to be said that there were other factors. For example, “The first of a series of four major harvest failures occurred in 169.”14
Unlike Jacob in the Bible, the Scots authorities lacked any contingency plans for this. “As William Patterson acidly commented: ‘In Summer, 1695, they were very busie in giving rewards for having their Corn carried abroad, and a few Months after, as impatiently employed in buying it back again’.”15
11 John Robertson (ed.), A Union for Empire; Political Thought and the British Union of 1707 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) 32.
12 John Robertson (ed.), A Union for Empire: Political Thought and the British Union of 1707(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) 32.
13 T.C. Smout, Scottish Trade on the Eve of Union 1660 – 1707(Edinburgh and London: Oliver & Boyd, 1963) 253.
14 Christopher A. Whatley, “Bought and Sold For English Gold?”: Explaining the Union of 1707(Dundee: The Economic and Social History Society of Scotland, 1994) 29.
15 T.C. Smout, Scottish Trade on the Eve of Union 1660 – 1707(Edinburgh and London: Oliver & Boyd, 1963) 246.
Dave Coull “And Be A Nation Again” page 6
There was, also, an unpopular war with France, and the very real possibility of war with
England. “The English parliament were determined that the Scouts should settle the succession on the Hanover line, and that they should be completely united with England. ‘If we do not go into the Succession or an Union very soon, Conquest will certainly be upon the very first Peace’, wrote Roxbourgh at this time.”16
Roxbourgh was right to be concerned about an English invasion. At an early stage in the crisis, on 17th July 1703, Godolphin sent a gentlemanly and polite, but unmistakable, threat of military force to Seafield. “17
In other words, the English government threatened the Scottish government with a war of conquest. England could feel more certain of military success than had sometimes been the case in the past, because greater wealth, arising in particular from the American colonies, had transformed English military and naval power. Nor did England confine itself to “gentlemanly and polite, but unmistakable, threats if military force.”
Smooth but threatening words were backed up with action to show the English meant business. In 1706 three English regiments of foot were moved to the Scottish border. In December of that year these foot soldiers were reinforced on the border by 800 cavalry. In northern Ireland, five more regiments were made ready for the short sea crossing to Scotland.18
But despite economic disaster, famine, and English saber-rattling, Unionism remained deeply unpopular in Scotland. However, very few people had any say in running the country. Members of Parliament represented the “elite”. These Members could be promised royal appointment to lucrative positions; or, more crudely, they could be promised money. The evidence that Members were “bought for English gold” is overwhelming.
“There is excellent evidence that the Queen’s Ministers in Scotland, hand-in-glove with the English administration, learnt far more of the arts of Parliamentary ‘management’ between 1703 and 1706, and did not hesitate to use bribery and threats to attach the wavering to their side.”19
Some commentators - one might even say, some apologists for the Union – take a relaxed view of this corruption: “It was an instance of early modern realpolitik, a practical agreement between unequal partners, born and made of political, economic and strategic necessity, which served the needs of the politicians of both countries at the time.”20
Others say “This is latter-day cant. It is naïve in the extreme to regard management merely as a mechanism, and, as such, as innocent as a fly-wheel…”21
16 Thodora Keith, Commercial Relations of England and Scotland 1603-1707(Cambridge: University Press, 1910) 192.
17 P.H. Scott, 1707: The Union of Scotland and England in Contemporary Documentswith a Commentary (Edinburgh: Chambers, 1979) 47.
18 P. H. Scott, 1707: The Union of Scotland and England in Contemporary Documents with a Commentary(Edinburgh: Chambers, 1979) 48.
19 T.C. Smout, Scottish Trade on the Eve of Union 1660-1707(Edinburgh and London: Olivier & Boyd, 1963) 260.
20 Christopher A Whatley, ”Bought and Sold For English Gold”?; Explaining the Union of 1707(Dundee: The Economic and Social History Society of Scotland, 1994) 47.
Dave Coull “And Be A Nation Again” page 7
When Union did come, the people of Scotland, who had had no say in the matter, showed what they thought of it. There was prolonged rioting in Edinburgh and Glasgow and disturbances in many other towns. Dozen of petitions and addresses poured in to the authorities from every part of Scotland – all of them against Union. There was not a single one in favour.
Within a few years, many of those Members of the Scottish Parliament who had voted for the Union repented. “By the 1713 the Scottish members of all parties determined to make an effort to dissolve the Union… a motion for its dissolution in the House of Lords failed by four votes.”22
The economic consequences of the Darien disaster certainly played an important part in bringing about a situation in which the status quo was seen as no longer an option , and in which the choices were seen as being between a Union which would please the English or a hazardous attempt to restore independence.
However, besides Darien, other factors such as crop failure contributed to the feeling of economic catastrophe. For most of the Scots who reluctantly accepted it, the Union was not intended as a “Union for Empire” as suggested by John Robertson, not so much a way of gaining great riches, but rather more a way of seeking to escape from increasing impoverishment. But the factor which is too often overlooked is neither Darien nor crop failure, but the direct threat of war.
The rulers of England had decided that Union was necessary for reasons of military and naval strategy, They were prepared to invade Scotland if they did not get what they wanted. So yes, the economic consequences of the Darien disaster contributed to the atmosphere of crisis which led to the Union of 1707; but famine, bribery, and an invasion army camped on the border, also had something to do with it.
21 William Fergurson, Scotland’s Relations with England; A Survey to 1707(Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd., 1977) 185.
22 P.H. Scott,1707: The Union of Scotland and England in Contemporary Documents with a Commentary (Edinburgh: Chambers, 1979) 67.
Dave Coull “And Be A Nation Again” page 8
Ferguson, William Scotlands. Relations with England; A Survey to 1707Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd., 1777
Keith, TheodoraCommercial Relations of England and Scotland 1603 – 1707Cambridge: University Press, 1910.
Levack, Brian P.The Formation of the British State: England, Scotland and the Union 1603 – 1707Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.
Lythe, S. G. E. and Butt, J.An Economic History of Scotland 1100 – 1939Glasgow and London: Blackie, 1975.
Parker, A. (ed.) The People V King William III and the English East India CompanyDundee: “ Scotland and the Americas” course, University of Dundee, 1997.
Robertson, John (ed.) A Union for Empire: Political Thought and the British Union of 1707Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Scott, P. H.1707: The Union of Scotland and England in Contemporary Documents with a CommentaryEdinburgh: Chambers, 1979.
Smout, T. C.Scottish Trade on the Eve of Union 1660 – 1707 Edinburgh and London: Oliver & Boyd, 1963.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 5:28 PM
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Posted by Joe Middleton at 12:21 AM
A pity this guy didn't research our history better but an interesting article all the same JOE
In Edinburgh, an independent streak
The new Scottish Parliament building's free-flowing organic design mirrors a people's flowering pride.
By John Lee, Special to The Times
IT was 2 p.m. on one of those brooding, rain-soaked winter days when it's hard to even remember what sunlight looks like.
As I approached the doors of Edinburgh's new Scottish Parliament building, a crowd was milling around the main entrance, a few dozen were clearing airport-style security checks inside, and several hundred seemed to be hanging around in the building's cavernous lobby. If bad weather is supposed to keep people at home, someone had forgotten to tell these folks.
The eclectically Modernist complex at the foot of the Royal Mile — the inclined Edinburgh street between the hilltop castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse — was officially opened by a smiling, pink-outfitted Queen Elizabeth II in October 2004. Its matte silver exteriors, bamboo wall features and jigsaw-shaped windows seem a bit odd in an area known more for its ancient stone cottages and 17th century townhouses. (The parliament itself occupies land where a brewery once stood.)
Visiting the building is the Scots' equivalent of a U.S. citizen's trip to the Capitol. The site also has become an attraction for overseas visitors interested in history, architecture and grand public buildings. While locals and tourists begin to embrace Edinburgh's "new castle," the story of the building's creation — like the best Scottish tales — is fraught with intrigue and controversy.
Scotland had officially ruled its own affairs for almost 100 years when the Act of Union brought the country under English jurisdiction in 1707. The hostile legislation, still reviled by some Scots, marked the end of the nation's own parliament — it had been the first one in the British Isles — and the start of nearly 300 years of largely disinterested rule from London.
But when current British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised a north-of-the-border referendum on devolution, a kind of limited independence, as part of a package of mid-1990s electoral pledges, Scottish pride and the possibility of self-rule were rekindled. The referendum vote in 1997 delivered a resounding "yes" and plans were drawn up for Scotland to begin taking charge of its affairs once more.
As newly elected Members of the Scottish Parliament began meeting in a temporary hall space in Edinburgh, plans were drafted for a grand new building.
The project didn't go quite according to plan.
A few months after construction started, the media began reporting dramatic inefficiencies and blank-check-type cost overruns. And tragedy dogged the project. Donald Dewar, the Scottish First Minister and the project's biggest champion, and Enric Miralles, its renowned Spanish architect, died within a few months of each other in 2000.
With half-built, bizarre-looking structures emerging on the site, locals began wondering what was going on, and whispers suggested that the enterprise was jinxed.
But the project limped on, and when the world's newest parliament eventually opened its doors three years late, with a price tag of about $800 million, thousands lined the streets for a glimpse of the queen, the invited guests and, most of all, the building.
When I visited last December, the tide was turning away from the controversy toward a growing appreciation for the striking features of the new building, now being recognized as one of Britain's most important contemporary architectural treasures. I joined the jury of visitors passing through the parliament's doors in its first 12 months.
A striking sight
THE building's frontage is a frankly bizarre combination of bare, curving concrete; nondescript glass doors; and rows of crooked bamboo canes placed above eye level and pointing skyward. They recall Disneyland's Jungle Cruise ride, but Miralles intended them to symbolize that the building is growing out of the landscape around it. The grassy peaks of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags loom nearby, and the complex is wedged between these natural surroundings and the bustling cityscape.
After ducking inside out of the rain and clearing security, I headed into the main hall. The low ceiling here is in three barrel-vaulted sections. Small saltire crosses, echoing the Scottish flag, are recessed in the ceiling's smooth, gray concrete. With sparkling granite and regional Caithness stone covering the floors, which abut oak and sycamore walls, there seemed to be a Scandinavian design aesthetic.
I checked out some of the waist-level display cabinets intended to give historical context to the new parliament. Artifacts included a 2-foot-tall silver and gold sculpture symbolizing the crown, sword and scepter of the Scottish crown jewels and the official document recording the 1997 referendum. This was accompanied by a kind of "modern Scottish politics 101" display showing how committees work and what politicians do. Reflecting the country's official bilingualism, information panels were in English and Gaelic.
Realizing it was time to join my group for one of the behind-the-scenes public tours that operate throughout the day, I ambled toward a red-blazer-clad woman. She outlined our schedule. With military precision, we would visit a series of usually out-of-bounds areas of the building where photography was prohibited. With a warning to "stick close together to avoid activating security," we shuffled from the lobby and into a tiny side corridor.
Up a short flight of stairs, we arrived in what's known as the garden lobby. Without the crowds of the main hall, the quiet was noticeable. We talked in whispers, in deference to our surroundings. Through some picture windows, we could see the parliament's fledgling garden, with slender young apple trees and trim box hedges, and a wall of irregular windows no two of which were the same. They are the individual offices of the 129 members of parliament.
Our guide launched into the story behind the building, avoiding the controversial issues. We learned that the Barcelona-based architect Miralles was renowned for his civic buildings across Europe, especially in his Spanish homeland, but that the Scottish Parliament was his grandest vision.
Early in the project, he had made clear his determination to reach out to those millions of Scots who had left the country. His initial concept was inspired by the idea of upturned boats resting on the shore after a long voyage home. These shapes form the peaks of the building's four central towers.
All the buildings that make up the complex have a scattershot feel: Lines are rarely parallel, and potential patterns are often subverted. Our guide said the plan was deliberate: Miralles, in one of his earliest brainstorming sessions, had thrown some leaves and twigs on a piece of paper and said, "That's the new Scottish Parliament."
Dozens of original artworks have been placed throughout the complex, although most can be seen only by those who take the tour. I also saw the stunning thorn-shaped ceremonial mace, made of Scottish silver, that was presented to the parliament by Queen Elizabeth before the official opening. It contains an inlaid band of gold, panned from Scottish rivers, that's intended to symbolize the marriage of parliament, the land and the people.
Stopping briefly to thank our guide and noting that the rain was still streaming down the windows outside, I headed for the gift shop. I strolled over to the T-shirt section for a wearable souvenir. But only children's sizes remained. Visiting Scots, it seems, want to be seen in the country's latest fashion: a T-shirt proudly proclaiming "The Scottish Parliament." It's been a long time coming.
From LAX, connecting service (change of plane) is offered on Lufthansa, KLM, Aer Lingus and British. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $546.
WHERE IT IS:
The Scottish Parliament building is at the eastern end of the Royal Mile, across the street from the entrance to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It's a 15-minute walk from the Waverly train station.
TOURS OF PARLIAMENT:
Access to the Scottish Parliament building is free, but there is a charge for guided tours. These take place on Saturdays and Sundays, and on Mondays and Fridays and other weekdays when the parliament is in recess.
Advance booking for guided tours is advised, although this can be done on the day of the visit, subject to availability, at the information desk in the main hall. Tickets are $6.20 for adults; $3.10 for seniors, students and schoolchildren; and free for those 4 and younger. Free gallery tickets are available to those who want to watch parliamentary proceedings in the debating chamber. Debates are held on regular business days from Tuesdays to Thursdays. Booking in advance for these tickets is advised.
TO LEARN MORE:
For more information, call 011-44-131-348-5000 or visit http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/
— John Lee
Posted by Joe Middleton at 12:00 AM
Monday, December 19, 2005
Editorial from the Inverclyde Independent.
By Jim Riddell
When I was young, I used to go to the cinema to watch second feature westerns. Filmed in black and white, the issues were black and white too, and you could always tell the good guys who had white hats from the 'baddies' who wore black.
In those days too, Britain and America were considered to be the good guys, fighting fascism in the second world war. That image has now been shattered by Bush and Blair.
In America, international law and international opinion no longer matter. The Geneva Convention is ignored, people are held without trial for years, suspects are being tortured throughout the world on America's behalf, and an illegal war is mounted so that the US can get their hands on Iraqi oil. I could go on and on.
Britain, too, has much to be ashamed of. We have a government which allows US torture flights to refuel at our airfields, and
we took part in Bush's illegal war, despite massive opposition from
the population. We have a government that is quite prepared to lie to the people - and refuse to resign when they are found out.
We are sleep-walking into a police state. The government wanted
to hold suspected terrorists without charge for 90 days, senior police-men are pressing for all police to be armed, despite 30 people being shot dead by police since 1993 without a single police officer being convicted. Blair wants to introduce ID cards - and to charge us for them!
They even want to control what we think. Dr Goebbels couldn't do better. So what can we do about it?
We could vote for independence and remove ourselves from an increasingly right wing, anti-foreigner, racist, and greed-ridden country, in danger of becoming a dictatorship.
A small country like Scotland could not put the world to rights, but with independence we could at least avoid being part of the problem.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 7:32 PM
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Brilliant! Congratulations to Edinburgh tenants for seeing through the 6 million pound blitz of propaganda from the council and refusing to be threatened, cajoled or bribed into supporting the unjustified privatisation of their homes. Excellent news! JOE
Posted by Joe Middleton at 7:41 PM
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Edinburgh tenants 'Doormat' City Chambers
On Monday, 21st of November, tenants from across Edinburgh carried their doormats in protest to the City Chambers on the Royal Mile. On the day that most tenants received their postal ballot papers for the Council’s proposed ‘stock transfer’ of 23,000 council homes, the tenants struck a message that they will not be treated like doormats by the Council, and will reject Council plans to have their homes sold off at a scandalous £899 pounds each to a private company.
The tenant demo came as the City Council and Scottish Executive pushes a ballot for the proposed stock transfer of 23,000 homes from the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) to the City of Edinburgh Housing Association Limited (CEHA).
Johnny Gailey, a participating tenant from Dumbiedykes, and member of Edinburgh Against Stock Transfer (EAST) argued:
“This proposed transfer is nothing but privatization, this is part of a wider New Labour agenda to sell off public assets, but these are our homes, they aren’t just units to be sold off to the highest bidder. We want to show we won’t be trampled on like doormats by the Council and that’s why we’re here today."
The event was enlivened by the appearance of Councillor Sheila Gilmore, CEC's head of housing, and Chair of the CEHA's management board. (Unbelievably, the Council argue that Sheila Gilmore's position as the Head of the selling organisation, CEC, and also the Chair of the buying organisation, CEHA, does not represent a conflict of interest).
Councillor Gilmore was confronted by Leith tenant and member of EAST, Wendy Walton, who asked why all the literature the Council sent out promoting stock transfer made no mention of CEHA being a 'limited' company - yet the ballot paper did. Councillor Gilmore smugly refused to acknowledge that CEHA are a private organisation despite this evidence. Wendy Walton, commented afterwards:
"A similar deceitful tactic was used in Glasgow. They're clearly determined that tenants don't know that this stock transfer would mean privatisation if it goes through."
The tenants were also incensed by the one-sided nature of the Council information leading up to the ballot. Jenni Marrow, a tenant from Pennywell, said:
“The Scottish Executive have spent at least £5 million on propaganda to promote stock transfer but absolutely nothing on the arguments to retain public ownership of Council housing. They’ve refused to listen to tenants throughout the consultation period, yet they keep banging on about ‘tenant participation’ and ‘community ownership’. The truth is they don’t care about tenant opinion. This is top-down management at its worst. We’re calling for all tenants to vote no in the ballot."
Edinburgh Against Stock Transfer (EAST), a campaigning group composed of tenants and housing activists, have become a real thorn in the flesh for the City Council’s PR machine. EAST argue that the council is trying to railroad stock transfer through and have misled tenants on vital matters regarding the transfer.
Luke Henderson from EAST says that CEC are essentially bribing tenants:
“The Council says that if tenants vote yes, the Executive will wipe off £310 million of debt and ‘unlock’ £2 billion pounds of investment. They say this won't happen if transfer doesn't go through. What they don’t say is that if the money is there to wipe off the debt for a private company, it is there for retention and investment in council housing stock as well. They also neglect to mention that £1.3 of the £2billion investment will come from banks with much higher interest rates than at present, and the rest from huge Scottish Executive subsidies - which could just as easily be utilized while retaining council ownership of a vital public asset. It’s a total con, we urge all tenants to vote no."
The EAST campaign is playing to win. They point out that 93 local authorities have rejected stock transfer proposals, including Dundee and Aberdeen. Despite its meagre resources, since the start of the month, the campaign group have managed to get 50,000 leaflets and broadsheets through tenants letterboxes, hosted a score of public meetings, made several hits on the mainstream media, and generally challenged the Council's position that there is only one option - private investment, subsidised by the state - at every turn.
The ballot papers will be collected by December the 15th, and the results will be known before Christmas.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 12:08 AM
Monday, December 12, 2005
December 01 2005
The new era began for Jack McConnell with D-Day's 60th anniversary – a hard landing, even by his standards. It was a low point, but also a new start. Now 18 months behind him, and in light of this week's reflections on St Andrew's Day, it is acknowledged as a mistake, but it was also a valuable lesson and a substantial shift in devolution's evolution.
The calculation that the first minister should leave foreign policy, defence and Second World War graves to the Whitehall authorities whose turf they were – instead going to a golf club dinner in St Andrews – misjudged the public expectation of what a first minister should do. Even among those who, then and now, have a default "who does he think he is?" reaction to Jack McConnell's leadership pronouncements, his role had moved beyond the confines of devolutionary delineation.
From war veterans then, to asylum-seekers and their schoolgirl friends in Drumchapel now, the first minister is required to take a representative leadership role, even on issues over which he has no control. Westminster MPs may not much like it, but political power can be as much about such perception as about a strict interpretation of schedule five of the Scotland Act, listing devolved and reserved powers.
The challenge now is how to use that role – to leverage public expectations in the absence of the levers of power, by harnessing instead the power to persuade. Politics, after all, is usually more about persuasion than about the raw material of power. A self-confidence about his extraordinary persuasive power is the attribute that marks out Tony Blair, rather than the power he wields. Even the US president has constraints on all sides. Stripped down to the basics, the only real power in the Oval Office depends on the ability to change people's minds.That is now at the heart of defining Jack McConnell's relations with London.
On Monday, he was talking there at a conference about Britishness, arguing that metrocentric institutions still need to adjust to emerging diversities within Britain. The only such institution he named was the media, reflecting his frustration that Fleet Street/Canary Wharf does not offer him a conduit to London power-brokers' breakfast reading. Editionising of London papers means the stuff Scots might see in the Times or Telegraph is stripped out for English readers.
The Guardian and Independent don't produce Scottish editions, preferring an occasional Caledonian caricature for all readers. The Financial Times remains the New Labour ministers' paper of choice, which is why it attracts Jack McConnell.That is where he made the rash boast last year that his efficiency drive would out-perform Gordon Brown's – a claim since exposed as having no sound basis to it. The first minister returned to the pink last month with an interview trumpeting his role on the world stage and his "best small country in the world" mantra, along with a new, even less catchy slogan: "Edinburgh and Glasgow: two of the best middle-size cities anywhere in the world."
Given the contempt in which his administration is often held in Whitehall, establishing its credibility is vital to getting the leverage he needs if he is to move beyond rows about devolved and reserved powers. The first minister has learned this the hard way, by giving the impression that he could get the Home Office to give Scotland special status on airgun law, relaxed work permit conditions for immigrants and, most recently, softening the blow of dawn raids on failed asylum-seekers. The botching of all three issues required crisis management rather than persuasive skills.
Learning those lessons, both Westminster and Holyrood need to move on to a more mature level of lobbying and persuasion. In other countries with devolution and different layers of government, including European institutions in Brussels, politics is about use of such skills; deal-making, building alliances and consensus rather than shouting loudly from the parapets – a style of operating that is alien to too many British politicians. Applied in Britain, that could include more work between devolved authorities.
There is scope for better co-operation among Edinburgh, Cardiff, the London assembly, other English regional assemblies and, eventually, Belfast. Scotland is the natural leader. Such an approach might challenge the Westminster mindset of listening to Scotland only when there is a political threat, usually meaning a surge in support for the Scottish National Party. And in London they can afford to be underwhelmed by the independence convention launched yesterday, inadvertantly advertising just how disparate the movement has become.
In leading the largest, but no longer the only, pro-independence party, Alex Salmond has this week signalled a couple of small but significant shifts towards making it less of a threat to potential Scottish supporters.
One is that he is now presenting the move to independence as a negotiation by the Scottish Executive merely to amend the Scotland Act, as if no new legislation would be necessary.The other is that he is talking up an independent Scotland's role in the so-called British Isles Council, comprising representatives of Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, Cardiff and London.
It is now, quietly, becoming acceptable for the SNP to talk about Scotland being part of something British, whereas previous such talk saw free thinkers drummed out the parliamentary party for heresy.
That may be part of a growing incrementalism creeping into SNP thinking, as it seeks to position itself in the constitutional mainstream. It knows there is a growing consensus for extending the powers of Holyrood, a cause embraced last weekend by Rupert Murdoch's main Scottish mouthpiece, the Sunday Times.
He is not first into the debate, but Mr Murdoch has a reputation for an astute sniffing of the political wind before taking his papers in that direction. However, Mr Salmond is stretching it to pretend that opening up the debate means independence is an inevitability. Most of those engaged in the debate are using it to ensure the opposite is the case.
The SNP must signal if its intention is to confront Westminster by assertion of rights and powers, or to use Mr Salmond's persuasive skills for an amicable parting. If the latter, he has more going for him than the first minister, whose advocacy skills are not a strong point. Look at his treatment of Scottish Labour, and you find the politics of the fix and the deal, trusting only his loyalists, ruthlessly shutting down threats and minimising risk. It requires a different skillset to prosper in this new era for home rule.
The behind-closed-doors manifesto-planning and positioning for the 2007 election is now entering a crucial phase. Labour faces difficult timing, being mid-term at Westminster. Party strategists want to campaign on public services delivery, having been told from London there is no prospect of added devolution powers. But Jack McConnell cannot let others set and control the constitutional agenda. He has more persuading to do – starting with his Westminster colleagues, his party and his country – that he is the right man for the job.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 1:20 PM
By Angus Macleod, Scottish Political Editor
SCOTLAND needs to embrace a new culture of independence to replace the “dead weight of Westminster”, according to Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party.
Mr Salmond was addressing the launch in Edinburgh last night of a new Independence Convention that will see the Nationalists and two of Scotland’s smaller opposition parties — the Greens and the Socialists — join together to campaign for the country to separate from the rest of the UK and for the repeal of the 1707 Act of Union. The SNP leader, speaking on St Andrew’s Day, said that the founding of the convention would begin a process leading to “equality, freedom and national independence”.
“Independence is coming as sure as night follows day,” he said, “and only with independence will we have the power and opportunity to let Scotland flourish.” He added that it was vital to reassert what he described as “Scotland’s claim of right” — to acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.
In spite of the high hopes when the devolved Scottish Parliament was created in 1999, Mr Salmond said, faith in the new body had been replaced by frustration. Expectations had been dulled by what he claimed was a Scottish Executive without leadership and a Parliament without real power.
The path to the formation of the Convention has been a rocky one for the SNP. When it was first mooted several years by Alex Neil, the left-wing SNP MSP, John Swinney, the then leader of the Nationalists, rejected it. Mr Salmond, who replaced Mr Swinney last year, has now taken up the idea, although some of his MSPs at Holyrood believe that it is unwise for the Nationalists to be seen joining forces with the hard-Left SSP. They also say that the two other parties in the Convention do not have the objective of Scottish independence as their top policy priority — unlike the SNP.
The Scottish Tories poured scorn on the setting up of the new convention. Murdo Fraser, MSP, the deputy leader, said that it was completely against the spirit of St Andrew’s Day, which, he added, should be a day to unite all Scots proud of their national identity, regardless of political persuasion. “If the main protagonists weren’t such an irrelevance to modern Scotland, I would be demanding an explanation from them,” Mr Fraser said. He accused the Nationalists of hijacking a day of national celebration to join with the other minor parties who shared their ambition of “turning Scotland into an independent socialist backwater”.
Salmond 'sure' of independence
SNP leader Alex Salmond has predicted independence for Scotland "as sure as night follows day".
He made the claim at the launch of a new body which hopes to become a cross-party "national catalyst" for achieving independence.
The body, the "independence convention", is supported by the SNP, the Greens, and the Scottish Socialist Party.
It also has the support of actress Elaine C Smith, and former Labour MSP John McAllion has offered his "full support".
In a message to the convention, Mr McAllion said: "Even within the anti-independence parties, there are stirrings of discontent over the devolution settlement.
"Outside the political parties, support for independence remains as high as ever, and is likely to grow rather than diminish in the future."
The idea of a convention dates back to a fringe meeting at the 2003 SNP annual conference.
It carries conscious echoes of the cross-party and unofficial Scottish Constitutional Convention which drew up much of the blueprint for Scottish devolution in advance of Labour's 1997 General Election victory.
The St Andrew's Day launch drew accusation from the Tories that the SNP was trying to hijack Scotland's national day.
The Tories gleefully quoted SNP MSP Kenny MacAskill, who told a newspaper: "Nationalists have to give an undertaking not to view the day as a Trojan horse and instead see it as an opportunity to promote our people and our culture."
Copyright Press Association Ltd 2005, All Rights Reserved.
Home rule is still on the agenda
ROBBIE DINWOODIE, Chief Scottish Political Correspondent
December 01 2005
THE language of the home rule campaigners of a decade ago was harnessed last night in the cause of a fully sovereign Scotland as the Independence Convention was launched in Edinburgh on St Andrew's Day.
Modelled unashamedly on the Scottish Constitutional Convention which led to devolution, the new bandwagon began rolling with a claim by Alex Salmond, the SNP leader: "We must create a new culture of independence, a spirit of freedom in Scotland."The leaders of the Greens and the Scottish Socialists were there to lend their weight to the campaign, as were representatives of business, showbusiness, and academe.
Mr Salmond said: "Independence is coming, as sure as night follows day, and only with independence will we have the power and opportunity to let Scotland flourish.
"Tonight I want to reassert Scotland's claim of right – to acknowledge and assert the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs."
For the Scottish Socialists, Colin Fox welcomed the convention and shared the advancing of the cause of independence, providing a forum for mapping out the route and... increasing the powers and procedures needed to establish an independent state.
Robin Harper, Scottish Greens co-convener, told the gathering: "For us, it's not about patriotism or national identity.Neither is it about a rejection of our neighbours, nor of the history we share. It's about trying to achieve a better society tomorrow – fairer, happier, more democratic."
Salmond predicts 'seven-year itch' for independence
SCOTS will develop a "seven-year itch" for independence, SNP leader Alex Salmond has predicted.
Speaking at a rally to launch the cross-party Independence Convention, which plans to draw up a blueprint for a go-it-alone Scotland, he said voters at the first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 had been reluctant to support independence without trying devolution first.
But he said: "By next year the Scottish Parliament will have been in existence for seven years and I think Scotland will have a seven-year itch in terms of how it regards the parliament because we have an Executive without vision and a parliament without power."
At a 250-strong rally at Dynamic Earth last night Mr Salmond claimed the unionist position in Scotland had never been weaker.
"The unionist position is that Scots are good enough to die in Iraq, but Scotland isn't good enough to decide whether we should get into an illegal war in the first place; the parliament is good enough to administer health and education, but not good enough to control the economy which is the buttress of these services; Scotland can host the G8 summit as some sort of tartan waiter, but isn't good enough to represent itself in the international community."
Scottish Green Party co-leader and Lothians MSP Robin Harper said his party's support for independence was not about patriotism or national identity.
"Neither is it about a rejection of our neighbours, nor of the history we share," Mr Harper said. "It's about trying to achieve a better society tomorrow."
Scottish Socialist leader and Lothians MSP Colin Fox said an independent Scotland could not be delivered by one political party. But he said: "As we run up to the 2007 Holyrood elections, 300 years since the betrayal of our nationhood, the significance of that occasion offers us a unique opportunity to tap into the growing mood for independence, particularly among young Scots."
Scottish stars in rallying call for St Andrew's Day
SIR SEAN CONNERY and comedienne Elaine C. Smith called for more power and profile for Scotland as St Andrew's Day celebrations kicked off across the country.
And First Minister Jack McConnell said the day was an ideal opportunity to take stock and celebrate Scotland's global prominence.
Mr McConnell said 2005 had been a good year for the country and added that it was an opportunity to consider Scotland's new place in the world.
He said: "Our landscape is still some of the most stunning anywhere, we continue to innovate in many fields, and our people are known the world over for their warmth, their humility and their respect of others. We are the best small country in the world."
Elsewhere, Elaine, along with figures from a number of political parties including the SNP, SSP and Greens, will launch the "independence convention" tonight in Edinburgh.
The convention is setting itself the task of becoming "a national catalyst" for achieving the goal of independence.
Last night Sir Sean, along with Scotland's poet laureate Edwin Morgan, gave his backing to the move which the Hollywood legend said would "do a real job for Scotland".
And calls to make the day day a national holiday have won the backing of one of the country's leading churchmen.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien leader of Scotland's Catholics, claimed "celebrations, commemorations and social functions fall far short of the national recognition our patron saint deserves".
He added: "Such recognition will only come when St Andrew's Day becomes a national holiday."
Ministers last month rebuffed a move by independent MSP Dennis Canavan to make November 30 a national public holiday.
Meanwhile, a number of major events were taking place across the country.
Top entertainer Rory McLeod is using the day to launch the Partick Folk Festival, while a full-scale ceilidh is being staged at Glasgow's art school, complete with pipe band, traditional dancing and DJs.
The landmark St Andrew's In The Square, just off the Saltmarket, is also celebrating both the national saint's day and its fifth birthday as a centre for traditional Scottish music, song and dance with a week-long festival.
Three Glasgow amateur songwriters, Alisdair Fleming, Scott Keenan and Stewart Hinshelwood, will hear their own music performed live on BBC Radio Scotland after beating 800 entrants in the national Burnsong competition.
Also, Glasgow ecumenical group Partick 2000+ is staging a multi-cultural St Andrew's Day celebration with a service held in the Church of Scotland on Dumbarton Road featuring music from a local Polish choir.
A free party to celebrate St Andrew's Day will be also held tonight on Edinburgh's Royal Mile.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 12:59 PM
Scotland may have a new blueprint for going it alone. But, argues a leading Nationalist, power will only be repatriated if we all sign up to independence as a political process
By Michael Russell
SOME 677 years ago, at the end of the first Scottish wars of independence, the treaty of Northampton confirmed Scotland as being, “separate in all things from the Kingdom of England, whole, free and undisturbed in perpetuity, without any kind of subjection, service, claim or demand”. There are still some hard-line independistas today who want to roll the clock back to just such a state, just as there are also those who remain completely tholed to the “boasted advantages” that they claim continue to flow from the Union of 1707.
Somewhere in the middle is the rest of Scotland, increasingly dissatisfied with its governance despite (perhaps because of) recent devolution, but uncertain as to whether granting still more powers to our rather lacklustre current set of politicians would solve those problems. They are the people – around 60% of voters – who regularly tell pollsters that they expect Scotland to become independent, but who place that event at a comfortably distant date. They are by no means hostile to radical change if it makes their country work better for them and their families, though they do not often make the connection between that position and political nationalism.
Of course much depends, as in any poll, on the question and independence is a difficult concept to explain on a flash card. There are many types of independent countries, and becoming like prosperous Ireland (the Nationalists’ favourite example) is very different from emulating poverty-stricken Bangladesh – always the comparison used by Labour and Tory politicians.
Even among friends there are divergences. On St Andrew’s day, when the new Independence Convention – a loose alliance embracing the Scottish National Party (SNP), Greens, Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and individuals from civic Scotland – was launched last week, the public messages of support held out prospects as different as an old Labour nirvana (favoured by John McAllion), a statist social democracy (Alex Salmond’s vision) and a cultural powerhouse, the view espoused by Elaine C Smith in the most passionate contribution of the evening. Such a contrast tends to confirm that securing independence is really about finding the means to achieve desired ends, rather than an absolute end in itself.
Nonetheless, opinion polls indicate that presently around a third of Scots would vote positively in any referendum which sought to establish a fully independent country sitting in the UN between Saudi Arabia and Senegal. Two-thirds are as yet unconvinced, though as David McCrone and Lindsay Paterson showed in a seminal academic paper in 2002, individuals regularly switch between the two positions with only a small diehard group entrenched on either side .
In fact, most people move to favour independence as easily as they move against it depending on the political circumstances of the time. During the last 15 years support has been as high as 50% and as low as 25% though in recent times, backing for the principle party of independence, the SNP, has swung between a narrower, and lower, set of parameters perhaps because independence now appeals to those on the centre and right of Scottish politics as much as it does to those to the left of Labour, where the SNP are presently positioned.
These are changed days compared to the 1970s, when support for the SNP far outstripped support for full independence though there was a strong impetus towards some more limited degree of constitutional change. In fact, even the SNP were hard-pressed to describe what they wanted, having moved from seeking “dominion status” in the 1930s to talking vaguely in the 1970s about a variety of types of “home rule”.
What seems to have created the modern phenomenon of large scale, if not yet majority, support for the much more radical option which now exists across the political spectrum has been, paradoxically, not a feeling that Scotland is under siege but one which has been buoyed by the resurgence of Scottishness in all walks of life. In other words devolution may well have provided the slippery slope, or at least the potential take-off point. The decline in respect for and confidence in British institutions has been a large part of that process as has been the increasing visibility of Scottish ones. The rollercoaster of public support for independence continues to peak not at times of Scottish disadvantage, but when confidence is rising.
Presently, the problems of our parliament and the Labour failure to deliver on their promises are dragging down national optimism and with it, enthusiasm for further change. But if that situation were reversed, interest in new national possibilities would revive and it is perhaps in anticipation of such a moment that the Independence Convention has been formed – particularly as it sees its job as providing positive information in a way that rises above the ennui of Scottish party politics .
Such a role is needed, for up until now the key players have presented a slightly negative approach, often – as in last week’s publication of a new SNP blueprint for independence – defining national freedom by the opportunity it gives to stop things happening: things like illegal wars, dawn raids on immigrant families, and the building of new nuclear power stations. Desirable as such proscriptions may be, they can make the whole idea seem downbeat and dogmatic. Independence would be better presented as gaining the ability to do things – to implement more radical and competitive economic policies, to enshrine smaller government, to construct the world’s first post-oil society, to invest in our culture and create a participatory democracy. To liberate, in the best sense of that word, a people and country to create a more forward-looking, more prosperous place.
But how could Scotland become such a place? Pessimists point to the fact that major constitutional change seems to occur in Scotland only once every century. Moreover, the effects of such change always take much longer to show through than anticipated, thus delaying support for further progress.
The Union of 1707 – much hyped for its potential to solve economic and social problems – took about 50 year to bed in. In 1885 the post of secretary of state for Scotland was re-established. Yet, though much was expected – particularly in terms of prioritising legislation – little improved until the early 20th century . Not until 1997 did Scotland again make a major leap forward, after generations of debate, and our present disappointment at the result remains tangible.
However, such an analysis misses a vital point. Even given the initial difficulties of innovation, between these milestones much incremental change occurred and it is to that more subtle process that we should look. Just as between 1885 and 1997, there was a massive repatriation of powers from Westminster, so, progressive amendment to the Scotland Act to allow for fiscal autonomy, the assumption of broadcasting regulation and the power to make commercial treaties (as in devolved Flanders) would be the obvious next steps on which to seek consensus. There are already signs of cross-party and public support for such improvements.
A Scottish parliament armed with such powers would be a more independent institution which reflected a nation comfortable about treating independence as a process rather than as an event and more interested in what is best for its citizens rather than with sterile ideological shadow-boxing, political scaremongering and infantile name-calling.
None of this would prevent Scotland choosing, at any time, to go further and faster and the imperative of declining oil reserves and a worsening environment may well start to focus minds on the need for the more urgent application of our skills and resources to our own problems. Such additional impetus would most likely come from the election of a nationalist-led government required by its manifesto and its membership to make more rapid progress once the direction had been confirmed by the people of Scotland in a referendum. We may experience a frisson of remembered loss when we recall that the bells of Edinburgh rang out Why Should I Be Sad On My Wedding Day as the Act of Union came into force, but that is nostalgia. For those who want Scotland to move forward as sure-footedly as it can, the real task is to create a different emotion; one that blends confident anticipation of a more successful future with a clear-headed, accurate assessment of our own abilities.
So far that has not happened but perhaps the Independence Convention can find the way to do so, for only a sustainable nationwide surge of that emotion will persuade the great middle ground of Scottish life to choose full control of their own resources and an appropriate 21st century means to decide on their own individual and collective destinies. In other words, to choose independence.
Michael Russell is a former SNP MSP and former party chief executive
04 December 2005
Posted by Joe Middleton at 12:58 PM
Sunday, December 11, 2005
SNP welcomes increased powers call
Nationalists have welcomed a call by 13 economists for MSPs to be given greater powers over taxation.
The academics claimed Holyrood's lack of financial levers was damaging the country's economic prospects.
The call, in a letter to The Sunday Times, comes as academics at Edinburgh University said the ability of Scots to improve their position in society has declined.
The report by Cristina Iannelli and Lindsay Paterson also suggested that educational reform - a devolved responsibility - could not significantly affect social mobility without wider policies to promote equality of opportunity.
SNP enterprise spokesman Jim Mather said it was increasingly clear that Scotland must take control of tax and immigration policy.
He also pointed to a new UK-wide graduate incentive scheme which Scots universities warn could weaken the advantage they are supposed to have under the Fresh Talent scheme to boost Scotland's flagging population.
"Academics faced with a real challenge are always going to come up with a high integrity solution; that is Scotland controlling its destiny because from the experience of every other country on the planet that is what works," Mr Mather said.
"You either hold on to enlightened national self-interest and prosper or give it away and get mediocre results.
"Having given away our fiscal powers, our immigration policy and our resources, oil or renewables, it's time for Scotland to call that back in and run the country in the best interests of the Scottish people."
In their letter, the academics, led by Professor Ronald MacDonald of Glasgow University, argue for increased fiscal powers, especially over taxation, for Holyrood.
© Copyright Press Association Ltd 2005, All Rights Reserved.
Letters: Increased fiscal power essential
THE recent discussion in The Sunday Times of increased powers for the Scottish parliament is timely. As a group of university economists, with a wide range of political beliefs and backgrounds, we write to argue the case for increased fiscal powers, especially over taxation, for the Scottish parliament.
Increased fiscal responsibility is essential for the prudent management of Scottish government spending and, ultimately, of the Scottish economy. There are three aspects we would like to emphasise.
The kind of bloc grant fiscal settlement that Scotland currently has — in the form of “Barnett” — inevitably leads politicians to devote their time to spending the monies, and such spending is highly unlikely to take regard of fiscal efficiency or, indeed, the preferences of the electorate with respect to the appropriate level of government spending financed out of taxes.
Second, Scottish politicians under the current regime have no incentive to improve Scotland’s economic growth, since any extra tax revenue they may generate by improving growth performance would find its way into the coffers of the Treasury in Westminster.
Perhaps the most critical aspect of fiscal devolution that we would stress is that it gives politicians the opportunity to alter financial incentives facing companies and individuals.
For a small open economy on the periphery of Europe, an ability to alter the incentive structure is crucial. Although such incentives, by themselves, do not necessarily afford Scotland a silver bullet to improve its economic growth, their absence when much of the rest of the appropriate infrastructure is already in place is clearly damaging to Scotland’s economic prospects.
Ronald MacDonald, Glasgow; Neil Kay, Strathclyde; Angela Black, Aberdeen; Sheila Dow, Stirling; Anton Muscatelli, Glasgow; Robert Wright, Strathclyde; Farhad Noorbakhsh, Glasgow; Alex Kemp, Aberdeen; Paul Hallwood, Connecticut; Alistair Dow, Glasgow Caledonian; Martin Chalkley, Dundee; Richard Harris, Glasgow; John Struthers, Paisley
CULTURE OF BLAME: There may be some Scots who agree with James MacMillan’s view on the results of devolution for Scotland (Letters, last week), but still doubt the wisdom of a return to Westminster control.
As a composer who had some success in the years before Mr MacMillan was born, I have to disagree with him for placing all the blame on the Scottish parliament for the present state of the arts, and in particular that of music.
The blame lies elsewhere. The head of music post at BBC Scotland and in the various regions was abolished some years ago and London now dominates all control of national broadcasting. None of the so-called classical music which is still being created in Scotland now, nor many of the fine musicians who chose to live here and still play it, receive many broadcasts on Radio 3 any more — with the notable exception of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, which is in splendid form — and Radio Scotland itself is a total vacuum in that area.
This is no way to promote live music which was done in the past by the BBC. The Scottish parliament has no control over broadcasting, which remains with Westminster.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 1:10 PM
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Reports on the launch of the Independence Convention from this weeks Scottish Socialist Voice:
A new force for change is born
by Eddie Truman
After months of organisation by representatives from all of Scotland's independence supporting parties, figures from civic Scotland and a range of independence supporting individuals, the Independence Convention was launched at a packed meeting in Edinburgh's Dynamic Earth on St Andrews Day, 30 November.
Alex Salmond opened the meeting and highlighted asylum, nuclear weapons and the Iraq war as reasons why Scotland should break the Union while Robin Harper spoke for the Green Party.
SSP national convenor Colin Fox welcomed the launch of the convention and when he pointed out that St Andrews Day, 30 November, was also the anniversary of the death of one of Scotland's greatest fighters for independence, John MacLean, there was spontaneous applause.Colin outlined MacLean's opposition to imperialist war and his jailing by the British state, saying that this was the tradition from which the SSP came to the Independence Convention.
"The SSP does not support the idea of the Queen as head of state", he said. "We see Scotland in terms of class, with a class war that far from having vanished is, in the modern world, more acute than it ever was before."Independence for us is a democratic right but it is only a first step to a better world, a better society, and we see that as a socialist Scotland."We believe that the break up of the British state is well underway and that a complete break up would be a thoroughly progressive development in the march for liberation and self determination for Scotland."The SSP wants to see a Scotland free from poverty and inequality, a Scotland free from nuclear weapons and militarism."
But the politicians were put in the shade by two remarkable performances from actress Joyce Falconer, 'Roisin Henderson' in River City, and actress and comedienne Elaine C Smith. Joyce held the audience transfixed with a performance that included A Man's A Man, proving that the Scots musical and literary tradition stretching back centuries remains a vital part of our political culture.
To end the evening Elaine C Smith turned in a masterful performance.She started off by gently teasing the "gentlemen of the press" but followed with a devastating critique of the Scottish media from the "cringing" Herald to the "appalling" quality of STV's football coverage."The Independence Convention is a sign that Scotland is a nation on the verge of growing up", Elaine said. "Independence; the movement that dare not speak its name.
"I was an active member of the left during the 70s and 80s but I could never understand that while I was out there marching for independence and self determination for El Salvador and Nicaragua or South Africa or wherever but when we said 'what about Scotland?' I was told I wasn't a true socialist!"Some people came to the launch sceptical to one degree or another but there is no doubt that the powerful theme of unity and the possibility of building the movement through Scotland's thriving cultural scene won over the waverers.
The rocky road to the St Andrew's day launch
On St Andrew's Day, the Scottish Independence Convention was finally launched after two years of stop-start discussions involving representatives of the SNP, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and various non-aligned individuals.
The idea of an independence convention was first floated in the aftermath of the 2003 election which saw the political geography of Scotland transformed.Before the Scottish Parliament was established, the SNP had for generations been virtually the sole standard bearer of the cause of independence.Even after the first election to the new parliament, the SNP remained the overwhelmingly dominant pro-independence force.
In 1999, out of 38 MSPs sympathetic to independence, 35 were members of the SNP.
After 2003, the number of SNP MSPs was reduced to 27. But the number of pro-independence MSPs outside the SNP rose from three to 17.In the past, the SNP's road map to independence involved winning an SNP majority of seats at Westminster or Holyrood.
That SNP majority would then open up negotiations with Westminster, and finally put a package before the Scottish people in a referendum.But been even when support for independence has soared above 50 per cent, as it did at times in the 1990s, it has never been possible for the SNP to come remotely close to winning a majority of Scottish seats.During the concentrated four weeks of a general Westminster election, Scottish parties are invariably marginalized as the media focuses on British parties and leaders.
Holyrood elections have proven to be more favourable terrain for Scottish-based parties and independent candidates. But the PR system was specifically designed to prevent any single party ever gaining an overall majority, at least in the foreseeable future.
The idea of an independence convention first emerged in the months following the 2003 election.
The SSP began to discuss seriously the idea of an independence convention in August 2003.
A month or so later, a group of SNP activists held a fringe meeting at the SNP conference in Inverness, addressed by Tommy Sheridan of the SSP, and Alex Neil, a dissident SNP MSP.
By the end of 2003, the SSP officially backed the Independence Convention.Within a few months the Greens and the SNP had also endorsed the general idea, though the SNP leadership appeared lukewarm.
Although regular discussions continued through 2004 and 2005, the initial momentum had begun to run out of steam, after several false starts when plans to publicly launch the convention were postponed.
Finally, a date was agreed: 30 November, St Andrew's Day.
With minimal advance publicity, 300 people packed into the conference centre of the Dynamic Earth, in Edinburgh, surpassing all expectations.
Raising the Scarlet Standard
An alternative road map to independence
by Alan McCombes
On the eve of the launch of the Independence Convention, the SNP published its own road map to independence, Raising The Standard.The 28-page document is described as the SNP's contribution to the discussions which will take place within convention.One part of the statement is headed 'What An Independent Parliament Can Do'. The paper acknowledges that "this section reflects SNP ideas, but other parties may wish to do things differently post-independence".
Much of this section is standard SNP policy, including higher pensions, the development of renewable and low carbon energy, a nuclear-free Scotland, troops out of Iraq and an end to dawn raids on asylum seekers.These are broadly progressive proposals which could be supported by other pro-independence forces, including the SSP, the Greens and various independents.
However, there are also vast areas of ideological disagreement. Raising The Standard suggests that a future government of an independent Scotland could, "if they so wish, reduce taxes for business to encourage investment in Scotland."
In contrast, the SSP stands for a socialist Scotland based on public ownership, decentralisation of power, and wealth redistribution.
It would be naïve to expect that the SSP's goal of an independent socialist republic could be achieved in one single leap.
There will be multiple battles en route to that goal. It is more than likely that independence and the break-up of the British state will be posed long before the forces of socialism are strong enough to defeat capitalism in Scotland.
At the same time, providing the left throws its weight behind the struggle for independence, socialism in Scotland would be massively strengthened as result of the breaking apart of the British state.
The part of the SNP paper of most immediate relevance for the Independence Convention is its strategy to achieve independence.
It sets out proposals for proceeding towards independence in the event of the SNP becoming the biggest single party in Holyrood after the 2007 Scottish election.
It states that "an SNP-led government will ask the people of Scotland to vote in a referendum within its first term".
In the event of a yes vote, the SNP-led Scottish Executive would "begin negotiations with the government of the UK on the details of the independence settlement and on the transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament".
It suggests that, after an independence vote, a new constitution should be drawn up by a "constitutional convention" which is "representative of Scottish society and shall include Scots of various origins and backgrounds."It does not spell out whether this constitutional convention should be elected or appointed.
Nor does it explain what mechanisms would be put in place to ensure that it is representative.
The SSP fully supports the referendum proposal. The establishment of an independent Scotland would be a revolutionary break with 300 years of history.
It would involve wresting control of Scotland's nuclear weapons, its energy grid, its oilfields and its economy out of the hands of Westminster.
There would be ferocious opposition from a powerful array of vested interests on both sides of the border and from abroad, not least from the palaces of global power in Washington DC.
Such a radical leap could only be taken with the full support of the people of Scotland expressed through a democratic referendum.
Given the weight of forces that would be mobilised against independence, it would be sensible to call a referendum swiftly, within 12 months of a pro-independence majority being elected in Holyrood.
Even New Labour was able to draw up a white paper on devolution and put it to a referendum within five months of coming to power in 1997.
A pro-independence majority in Holyrood after 2007 - including the SNP, the SSP, the Greens and non-aligned pro-independence MSPs - would be a decisive breakthrough and would clear the road for an early referendum.The SSP would be prepared to co-operate with other independence forces in Holyrood to bring about a referendum and to maximise the yes vote during the referendum campaign itself. That would not require entering a coalition government.
Even if there was no overall parliamentary majority for independence post-2007, the Independence Convention should still pile on the pressure for a referendum.
In 300 years, the people of Scotland have never been allowed a democratic vote on full self-determination.
Especially if the SNP were to become the biggest single party in the Scottish Parliament, the Lib Dems and even sections of the Labour Party could be forced, on democratic grounds, to support the calling of an independence referendum.
In the event of a yes vote, there is a powerful case for the establishment of a body independent of the political parties whose sole task would be to draw up a brand new constitution for an independent Scotland.
However, rather than an appointed gathering of the 'great and the good', this should be a directly elected constitutional assembly, with inbuilt mechanisms to ensure the assembly is representative of Scotland's geographical, gender and ethnic diversity.
It could, for example, consist of ten representatives from each of Scotland's eight regions, 50 per cent women, with additional places elected from Scotland's ethnic minority communities.
The assembly should be given a clear remit to draw up a constitution based on two essential principles.
The first is maximum democracy. A 21st century constitution should guarantee a fair and proportionate electoral system, with no institutions or individuals wielding hereditary power.
Raising The Standard suggests that the Queen should continue to be 'Head of State of Scotland' until a specific referendum is held to change that arrangement.
Yet the role of the monarch as head of state, and the associated royal prerogative, cannot be separated from the rest of the constitution.
It would be absurd to draw up the most democratic constitution in the world - then allow that constitution to be presided over by a feudal monarch who owes her position to ancestry and genetics.
The second of these principles should be tolerance. There should be full and equal citizenship for all who live and work in Scotland; and no discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexuality, age or disability.Any proposed constitution - or alternative constitutions - drawn up by a constitutional assembly could then be voted upon by the people of Scotland in a further referendum
When Hugo Chavez came to power in Venezuela in 1998, his central pledge was to tear up the old constitution and establish a constitutional assembly that would start with a blank slate.
A radical new 'Bolivarian Constitution' - named after the 19th century Latin American national liberation leader, Simon Bolivar - was eventually adopted after a bitterly-fought referendum.
The Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela outlaws discrimination. It refuses to recognise titles of heredity or nobility. It bans the death penalty.It prevents the establishment of foreign military bases or facilities within the borders of Venezuela. It upholds the values of freedom, equality, justice, peace, pluralism and decentralisation of power.
These are the kind of principles that could inspire mass support for an independent Scotland. Before and after independence the SSP will continue to fight on the side of the poor, the oppressed and exploited in Scotland and internationally.
We will continue to champion the cause of a socialist Scotland, a socialist Europe and a socialist world.
Independence in itself will not bring about socialism. But it can open up a gateway to a socialist Scotland, and help electrify the forces challenging capitalism in England, Wales, Ireland and other parts of Europe.
Posted by Joe Middleton at 2:51 PM
Friday, December 09, 2005
In 1975, the Government faced a dilemma: how to exploit the potential of its new oil fields without fuelling demands for Scottish independence. So it buried the evidence
By Ben Russell and Paul Kelbie
Published: 09 December 2005
It was a document that could have changed the course of Scottish history. Nineteen pages long, Written in an elegant, understated academic hand by the leading Scottish economist Gavin McCrone, presented to the Cabinet office in April 1975 and subsequently buried in a Westminster vault for thirty years. It revealed how North Sea oil could have made an independent Scotland as prosperous as Switzerland.
The Freedom of Information Act has yielded many insights and revelations into the working of the British government, but none so vivid as the contents of Professor McCrone's paper, written on request in the dog days of Ted Heath's Tory government and only just unearthed under the FOI rules.
Earlier this week, the Chancellor Gordon Brown underlined the vital revenue stream that North Sea oil still is in the context of British politics. In his pre-budget report, Mr Brown extracted an extra £6.5b in tax from North Sea oil and gas producers, to be taken over the next three years. Economists like the Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokesman Vince Cable say that high oil prices have already bailed out the Treasury to the tune of £1 billion this year.
Imagine then, what the oil could have done for a Scotland which chose independence in the mid 1970s and claimed ownership of the reserves.
Thirty years ago, Professor McCrone answered that very question and his conclusions shocked his political masters.
Although BP first discovered the giant Forties oilfield in 1970 - which by 1977 was producing 500,000 barrels of oil a day, equivalent to a quarter of Nigeria's entire daily production - the real rush for "black gold" had only begun around 1973, when the Yom Kippur War caused a crisis in the Middle East and forced prices up to around $16 a barrel.
By the time the oil companies realised that North Sea drilling was not only cost-effective but highly lucrative, and the British government realised it was sitting on a gold mine, the Scottish nationalists had already laid claim to the oil.
The "It's Scotland's Oil" campaign began in 1972. If only they had seen the professor's research.
An independent Scotland's budget surpluses as a result of the oil boom, wrote Professor McCrone, would be so large as to be "embarrassing".
Scotland's currency "would become the hardest in Europe, with the exception perhaps of the Norwegian Kronor." From being poorer than their southern neighbours, Scots would quite possibly become richer. Scotland would be in a position to lend heavily to England and "this situation could last for a very long time into the future."
In short, the oil would put the British boot, after centuries of resentment, firmly on the foot standing north of the border.
Within days of its receipt at Westminster in 1974, Professor McCrone's document was judged as incendiary and classified as secret. It would be sat upon for the next thirty years.
The mandarins demanded that Professor McCrone's 19-page analysis be given "only a most restricted circulation in the Scottish Office because of the extreme sensitivity of the subject." The subject was sensitive alright.
This is a story of Whitehall betrayal that will satisfy the pre-conceptions of the most extreme
It was the comparison with Norway that particularly worried the Westminster politicians. In the mid 1970s of course, Norway was fully independent and about to take advantage of an oil boom that has generated undreamed-of prosperity to the present day.
In Scotland, the situation was somewhat different, and potentially explosive. National pride had been hugely galvanised by the appearance of the Scotland Football Team in the 1974 World Cup, a competition for which the England side had failed to qualify.
But economically, the outlook was bleak. Heavy manufacturing, which had been the heart and soul of the Scottish economy for generations, was in deep trouble.
Between 1970 and 1974 the number of coal mines in Scotland fell by a third, while steel production plunged by a fifth.
Shipbuilding, the mainstay of the Clyde, was in particular trouble. After the Heath government refused to bail out four yards in Upper Clyde in 1971, trade unionists staged a work-in and occupied the yards.
Some 70,000 people marched calling for government help and a 48-hour strike by other workers brought out more than 100,000 in support.
Meanwhile, in politics, the nationalists were riding high as never before. The 1970 general election saw the SNP poll just 11.4 per cent of the vote and one seat. But in February 1974 they scored 21.9 per cent and won seven seats. Within eight months, by the October election of that year, their support had risen to the all-time high of 30.4 per cent of the vote, and 11 seats.
The party was also nipping at the heels of Labour in 34 other Labour-held seats. This was the high tide of Scottish nationalism.
Previously unheard of would-be terrorist cells began to emerge: The "Scottish Legion", "Jacobites", "Border Clan", 'Tartan Army" and the "100 Organisation", which took its name from the famous historic Declaration of Arbroath, stating: "So long as 100 of us remain alive we will never submit to English rule."
American companies based in Aberdeen became nervous that a Scottish breakaway, socialist in outlook, was threatening their interests. Pressure was exerted on the government to control the situation.
Professor McCrone's report, in such volatile circumstances, would almost certainly have provoked a turning point in the history of the United Kingdom.
Billy Wolfe, who was leader of the SNP at the time and the man credited with developing the nationalists as a clearly defined left-of-centre political party, is in no doubt of what the McCrone findings could have meant.
"If that information had been published before the October 1974 election," said Mr Wolfe, "we would have won Scotland and it would be a much wealthier and happier place.
"A whole lot of economic factors would be a lot different, especially in the fishing, steel and shipbuilding industries. It would have been a tremendous boost for Scotland."
Tam Dalyell, who served as Labour MP in West Lothian for 43 years, agrees that the document
could have led to independence. "In my view it might have done," he said. "It could have tipped the balance it a number of seats including mine. Oil was very much a totemic issue. It was new and it was dramatic. Politics at that time was very different. In 1974 my majority went from around 6,000 in February to around 2,000 after the October general election.
"It was most unpleasant. People were saying 'it's our oil'."
By the mid 1970s, international convention had already agreed that the North Sea north of the 55th parallel was under Scottish jurisdiction. That meant around 90 per cent of the UK's oil and gas reserves fell within Scottish waters. Such was the fear of the rise of Scottish nationalism that the document remained secret under the governments of Callaghan, Thatcher, Major and even Tony Blair.
Its very existence only emerged when Scottish National Party researchers, thought to be acting on a tip off from a former official, placed a carefully-worded request under the freedom of information legislation.
Next week the Scottish Executive is due to publish the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland analysis, which charts expenditure north of the border. Statistics for 2002- 03 showed expenditure per head of £6,579 in Scotland compared with £5,453 in England. It also showed that Scotland received £9.3 billion more than it took in taxes. It is an old English nationalist refrain that the Scots are both over-subsidised and over-represented in the British Parliament.
In response to the first of those charges, for the first time in thirty years the Scots now, in the form of Professor McClone's suppressed report, have hard evidence to suggest that it could have been Scotland, not England, sending money across the border. Yesterday Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, made it clear that the 31-year-old McClone papers were not just a dusty history lesson, but would form a central part of their campaigning for the future.
He said: "The impact of this would have been dynamite. It would have had great influence.
"I was astonished by how direct the paper was, and appalled at the extent of what has been hidden from the people. McCrone was saying that an independent Scotland would be Europe's Switzerland. The Labour party were saying that it would be like Bangladesh.
"This is hugely important. But it was not just important then. It is important now. Gordon Brown's black hole is being filled by black oil."
At the time of Professor McCrone's report to the cabinet office, the SNP claimed that North Sea Oil would yield £800 million a year for the government by 1980.
Professor McCrone's main criticism of their analysis was that their forecasts were "far too low". He put the sum at about £3 billion.
Scottish independence had become a mortal threat to the British exchequer. "The importance of North Sea oil" wrote, the Professor, "is that it raises just this issue in a more acute form than at any time."
Posted by Joe Middleton at 10:17 AM