(Lack of) Food for thought

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Not a wholly original blog today – stats & video are taken from “The Canary”

The stats below all have links and at the bottom is the link to a gentleman called Peter Stefanovic who is a campaigner and lawyer. He makes arguments that most decent people would support but no-one seems to be fighting for them.

Regardless how you are thinking of voting, please don’t fall for the apathy that some media outlets are already peddling. Ever time we get a chance to vote we should use that democratic right to it’s fullest. This is an opportunity to make your voice heard. If we all moan that nothing ever changes it’s because too many people aren’t voting.

We need to encourage everyone to get out for both the local and Westminster elections and have an impact. If you don’t believe me just look at the Brexit vote – well over 10 million people didn’t vote. That’s madness! Those people could have easily changed the vote either to Remain or to securely stamp Leave rather than the paper-thin difference we ended with.

This is a real turning point for the UK – and not just about the EU. We have had a Tory led government since 2010 and an SNP led Government since 2007 and both north and south of the border things are getting worse for our valued public services and servants. We are looking the other way at Europe and wondering what will happen there while behind us Education, Health, Mental Health, support for Carers and the Disabled are being eroded. Not enough money is being provided and where money is coming in it’s not to the people who so desperately need it. The poorest in the UK are miles behind those at the top – we are one of the richest countries in the world yet we are failing too many people.

Vote – but think carefully before you do and ensure your vote is for a positive change and a strike for hope in a world where too many are being left behind.

  • 400,000 children are now living in poverty, a figure which rose 100,000 in 2015/16. 67% of those are from working families.
  • Food bank usage has risen, with over half a million people reliant on just the Trussell Trust for food packages.
  • In two reports, the UN heavily criticised the Tories for “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. The government, meanwhile, has severely cut their benefits.
  • The past year has seen strikes by junior doctors, rail workers, teaching assistants, library workers, and other public sector staff. Their pay increases have mostly been capped at 1%.
  • National debt has increased by more than 50%.
  • Homelessness has risen by 54%.
  • Corporations have seen tax cuts [pdf] while the tax gap is around £120bn per year.
  • The NHS has seen a real terms cut in the amount of money given to it per patient. While the amount of NHS money paid to ‘independent’ companies has more than doubled to £8bn a year.
  • The government has cut the number of people getting social care by 26%. And it has cut £50m from children’s mental health services.

JD

Omnishambles

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An utterly useless clusterfuck of a move today by Despicable May. I wonder at what point she decided, “Well the world’s on the brink of a nuclear winter, our traditional allies are putting distance between us because we asked for a divorce and the UK’s devolved administrations are all at loggerheads with Westminster – let’s have a General Election to bring us all back together!”

In which sane part of the land is that even an idea – never mind a good one? It comes of course with a huge amount of baggage and politically the public are confused to what to do. Do Labour Voters who support Brexit vote Tory or UKIP for the first time in their lives? Do the Remainers return to the Lib Dem fold even though Fallon is as wet as Corbyn during a wet t-shirt contest? Does it really matter how Scotland votes?

It appears to me that there is no positive outcome to this election. Starting with the Tories –  if they gain seats as predicted, then Brexit is not just Hard but Granite – a majority would leave backbenchers without the ability to frustrate and hold its own party to account. We would be looking at a possible exit without a deal as we know these things could take up to a decade to finalize and we have 23 months. May would be bolstered and would march into Brussels thinking she had a mandate – but the figures from the EU referendum don’t change because of a General Election, it’s a different vote altogether.

She assumes that because the other parties are weak that she’ll automatically be put back in, but she has to be careful. The 52% of the country who voted to Leave the EU are not all right wing voters. All other parties (apart from the SNP) have said they respect the decision but want checks and balances the other end of the negotiations. To many this seems like a fair thing to do and her hardened stance that she and her government have the final say may come across as dictatorial and unreflective of the uncertain mood in the country.

Labour must be both loving and dreading this. On one hand Corbyn could be out on his ear and we’d get a stronger leader. His ideas are good, he’s just not the man to deliver them. A more public service friendly, compassionate and thoughtful leader he has been – but his charisma is now on watchlists as it hasn’t been seen for years. The upside could be they pull back in the working class vote lost to UKIP but the mixed messages on Brexit could be their undoing.

Where the have an opportunity is by fighting on traditional Labour platforms – the Health Service which is in crisis, education being damaged across the whole UK, tax cuts for the rich, abolition of support for the most vulnerable and disabled – these could be winners if they get their message straight. Will they? I doubt it. £10 minimum wage seems unrealistic and considering that the front bench can’t agree on very much would see a very divided party pushed front and centre. Do we need that as a government at such a difficult time as we live in?

The Lib Dems are frustrating. Tim Fallon is a worse leader than Uncle Jeremy for me. Regardless of your opinion of Nick Clegg and his coalition with the Tories I think hindsight has shown us that actually he did a good job of keeping the rabid right-wingers at bay during his time as Deputy Prime Minister. They have sensible ideas just as Labour do, but I find it difficult to buy into them as they struggle to be heard above the noise.

UKIP are racist, misogynistic, sexist, thugs that don’t deserve the inflated the platform that they continue to get from the media. It’s an embarrassment to this country they have had the airtime they have considering their only MP is no longer in the party. But they could make an impact if the North of England tip to the right as they did in the EU referendum. Labour really are the only alternative for many voters, but with such a weak leadership many might look to UKIP to ensure money is taken from the EU and given back to the UK. In my humble opinion, I do think this is the end of the road for the party – what do they stand for now? They got their wish and unless the LIb Dems become the government the other two main parties agree that leaving the EU will happen.

SNP are in a strange position as well – they can only really lose in this election. Consider where we were last May compared to where we are now – leaving the EU and on the edge of the break-up of the UK. Around a third of SNP voters wanted to leave so that may well impact on their votes and the rise of Ruth Davidson as a sensible voice north of the border could see the Tories take away some of those yellow patches on the map. I can’t see Labour or the Lib Dems doing much damage in Scotland, but if they did it would start to bring into question Surgeon’s decision to demand a second Scottish Referendum.

So where does all that leave us? Potentially even more split than we were after the 23rd June 2016 and the EU referendum. With the country divided and uncertainty ahead will we stick with the shambles that is May, Boris, Hammond and Davis or bring in a potential coalition of Uncle Jeremy, Tim-liberal-but-bland and the SNP?

A rainbow coalition? No, just storm clouds ahead.

JD

Be careful what you wish for…

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So it’s done again until 2020…or 2017 probably after the EU referendum. As a liberal-minded unionist lefty it’s not a great result for me either way today: SNP up here wanting to separate the union and the Tories down there ready to screw everyone even more in the next five years. It’s the first election I’ve voted in that has left me with little to be pleased about.

SNP

The historic win has to be recognised and as long as we have the first past the post system. But there are a few things to remember here, the SNP are the opposition party in Scotland to Labour and finally they won – it’s been a long time coming. Also it’s not a vote for another independence referendum, although that will come, but it does shake up the system which is maybe not a bad thing. However Nicola Sturgeon has to be careful what she asks for – recently she’s moved from wanting “full fiscal autonomy” to “fiscal responsibility”. While it might seem like semantics the two are very different.

“Autonomy” means we are left to run our own money – raise it and spend it with no Barnett formula, whereas “Responsibility” gives Sturgeon a safety net. Why would she need it? Well with current oil prices and no grant from Westminster we’d be anything from eight to ten billion pounds short in our budget. Where the SNP have to be careful is if they ask for it, it’s in the interests of the Tories to give it to them just to see it fail and get rid of the SNP possibly for a generation. While some may like to see the SNP in real trouble, it would mean the poorest in Scotland would suffer most.

Labour

Where do you start? Well I’d start at the point where Ed Miliband got elected as leader of the party. No one outside the unions wanted him – the public was expecting his brother to get the job and he would have had a much better chance than Ed yesterday. The reason? The lurch to the left. A return to the tribalism that kept the party out of power for eighteen years through the eighties and nineties.

Labour under Blair – regardless what you think of him – were a party that a majority could get behind. While it had an eye on working for everyone, it could also work with business and the banks. As much as we hate the banks we have to accept that we live in a capitalist model and until we – as a country – change that centre left is the best position for the Labour party. Weak leadership, no presence on the world stage, ideas with no substance and a man who let’s be honest we’re pretty glad will be gone. There’s no space for “pity politics” when they are in charge of our money and lives.

What next? Well for me Andy Burnham has always come across really well. Honest as Ed was but with more substance – and he’s not part of the political elite so he’d do well with the “working family” Labour claims to stand for.

Lib Dems

I have a soft spot for the Lib Dems, despite allowing tuition fees and the bedroom tax, they will be remembered for making the last five years almost bearable. If you don’t believe me write yourself a note saying “Remember the Lib Dems?”, stick it on your fridge and in about a year’s time you will be wishing someone was in the cabinet holding the Tories back from more cuts to the poorest in society, tax cuts for the richest and biggest businesses, and a lack of moral backbone of any kind.

Nick Clegg was not a monster but happened to fall foul of the “Black Widow” coalition – they were devoured by their mates after they screwed them. Should he have teamed up with the Tories? Well I don’t see how they could refuse in all honesty – a chance to implement their ideas and policies was too good a chance to miss. And they did deliver on raising the tax threshold by £5000 meaning most part-time workers or those on minimum wage didn’t pay any tax. I hope they bounce back stronger for the experience.

UKIP

Can fuck off

Tories 

It’s going to hurt. No two ways about it. For the next five years the belt-tightening will leave most of us with a permanent ingrained mark round our middles. Twelve billion pounds of cuts and a national debt that increased by half a trillion means no one will escape. And if track records are anything to go by we know that the worst off will face the biggest struggle. Foodbanks increased by a factor of more than ten in the last five years and around 900,000 people used them last year. Further cuts to benefits regardless of need, the removal of the Disability living allowance and reduced Child Benefit won’t bother the 1% super rich – but will impact on you and I.

Then there’s the biggest danger – Europe. This is the key to where we will be by 2020. Here are the two options:

1. Cameron negotiates a new deal and wins a referendum, decides to retire as Prime Minister and Boris steps up to the plate without the electorate getting a say.

or

2. Cameron negotiates a deal, but loses the referendum. This then will spark a second referendum in Scotland for Independence as we are Europhiles north of the border. With the prospect of fish, farming and oil being impacted it’s easy to see the Yes side winning.

And my fear is the latter is more likely.

Over the next five years I honestly think we could see a massive constitutional nightmare all because Cameron lurched right to call UKIP’s bluff. Redwood, Mitchell and other Eurosceptic Tories have already been on TV making warning noises.

While I will always respect the democratic process – and the shoddy first past the post system that left the Greens, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems ridiculously under represented according to share of vote – I do think that with polar opposites either side of the border, we could be looking at Cameron being the last PM of the UK, and being the man who broke it.

JD

Scott Commission vs The SNP

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So three days ahead of schedule the Scott Commission has published the final version of the new powers that the next UK Government will put into place for the devolved Scottish Parliament. It was based on a cross party group with those from both sides of the fence – but already Nicola Sturgeon is on the grump.

She claims that the proposals and powers have been watered down – maybe they have but in the world of grown up Nicola it’s called compromise. Having lost the referendum Sturgeon has done nothing but moan and bitch about everything since, a skill learnt from her predecessor. So compromise was the only option.  You can guarantee that everyone round that table had to give some in the negotiations otherwise nothing would have happened.

The other consideration here is that more power whilst still part of the UK as a whole is not a bad place to be for anyone of any political persuasion. The more the SNP can prove that Scotland could look after itself then the more likely Independence would be. Consider the current halving of the price of a barrel of oil and we can easily see the dangers of going it alone at this point in time. Also it suits the “Unionist” parties because they still have the UK as a whole but the more federal template that is emerging will allow a common sense approach to our national and local politics.

As much as the SNP will moan and complain about this Commission Report they have to realise that largely it represents the will of the people. We didn’t want independence so we’re not going to get anything like home rule and those demanding it need a reminder of the referendum result. Also the idea that the SNP are going to hold the balance of power in the next General election is a brave claim – one in which Alex Salmond sees himself as the new deputy Prime Minister. Don’t think so Eck! You need to get voted in first and you’re in my district of Gordon which is a traditionally Lib Dem constituency.

As always with the Nationalists you have to take them with a pinch of salt. What we saw in the campaigning of the referendum was that the people on the street, online and in town halls were the ones with the power and politicians need to remember that regardless which parliament they sit in and what colour their rosette is. While the SNP are in power at the moment in Holyrood we are still part of the UK and have to ensure we get the right result in May to keep out the extremes of UKIP from our political system first.

JD

Here’s a really good breakdown of the powers being proposed in a simple format:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-30215512

7 Months to save the Union?

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better together

 

I’ve never hidden the fact I’ll vote “No” in this September’s referendum on Scottish Independence – and despite the best efforts of David Cameron to double, double, double bluff us that we shouldn’t leave, I still feel the same. My big concern is that this is slowly becoming a debate that has slowly divided a country in such a way that will struggle to heal again.

There are several anecdotal accounts of verbal abuse from both sides on spying car stickers or during leaflet drops, and with another seven months of raised emotions and arguments this could be a dangerously divisive move by the SNP. There was a mixed message from the Scottish people at the last Holyrood elections giving the SNP a majority because it gave them the idea that the majority of the country supported their core policy. This wasn’t true, it was as much about having an alternative to the other three main UK parties alongside voting for the individual MSPs. The move to the referendum has become more and more about emotions than arguments – and that’s dangerous.

Having to make a decision about your country is always going to stir up emotions in you – it’s a primal thing you can’t escape. Liking or Disliking Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon; seeing London as a negative force sucking the positives out of the rest of the country; your position on defence and nuclear armament are all emotional things we will consider. The most emotional will be our family’s well-being – how will the NHS be affected? How will the pensions work? What happens to the money in my pocket?

For me all these decisions are simple ones – I’m not willing to risk all, the security and support being part of a bigger country provides. It’s the same reason I like the idea of the European Union and wider international unions and groups. I am not naive enough to think that everything is perfect at all these political levels – we all know they are flawed, but that’s because they have people running them – we suck at being our own masters. And an Independent Scotland would be badly run with errors and flaws too; the argument that it is better because it’s at least “our” mess is not one I can agree with.

I also have an issue with friends who live across the UK who are Scottish not being allowed a vote, but could find themselves suddenly living in a foreign land. A Scot who lives and works in London or Belfast would overnight be officially reclassified as an outsider when the day before they were one of the gang. It seems wrong to me. The reasons we had the Union of the crowns and then the Union of 1707 was to make us a stronger, better and more influential voice in the world.  In simple terms that has not changed and I can’t see the advantages of the additional layers of bureaucracy just to say were a stand alone country.

The days, weeks and months after the vote regardless of the outcome will see the country divided. If polls are to be believed we will still be part of the UK with around a third of the population unhappy about that. How does that make Scotland better Mr Salmond? What is the plan for this country from the 19th of September? A Yes vote would see the reverse problem of people living in a country they didn’t want. No one wins from this. We all lose one way or another, yet the once heralded “Devo Max” that the majority of Scots were happy with wasn’t even considered first as a “suck it and see” option.

Cameron’s intervention will probably see a temporary increase in support for the Yes vote, but long term the majority of the experts predict a No win overall. Either way there is only one loser: Scotland – a country divided by the same passion that brings it together.

JD

Cheers Alex & Nicola!

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Alex & Nicola

Well Mr Salmond and Miss Sturgeon, if I hadn’t made my mind up before the release of your 650 page White Paper I have now. The way you put forward your arguments and vision was so well-considered and organised…Not really! What a waste of paper and time. Mind you it was nice to see the Krankies back together on stage again. So what have they said? Nothing new is the sad answer.

On Finance: Retain the pound & Hold negotiations on Scotland’s share of public sector debt and UK assets.

This is my big issue with the whole thing because I’d have more respect for the SNP if they made a clean break, but there’s a clinging on to so much of the UK’s identity that I struggle to see the point. There seems to be an arrogance that we would automatically get to continue using the pound – but surely that’s only with the agreement of the other nations of the union, and even if they did agree then we wouldn’t have full control of our own money even though we were independent. Also the assumption that we would only inherit the same percentage of debt as we have percentage of population of the UK is a bit blinkered considering two of the biggest bail outs were to Scottish banks – a point non-Scots MPs will make very loudly.

Health & Wellbeing: Increase state pensions by inflation, earnings or 2.5%, whichever is higher; end the bedroom tax; continue free personal and nursing care and free bus passes for the elderly; increase the minimum wage in line with inflation.

Here there is one big question – How? I’d love to see all these things happen but there are sums being pulled out of thin air and based on huge unknowns in terms of the money we would have available. I know all governments and budgets are partly speculative, but to say you can do these specific things shows a lack of understanding that a negotiation is a two-way thing and the Scottish Government wouldn’t get everything they want. Also if you consider that the Scottish health issues and an aging population are getting worse all the time these problems will only get worse as time marches on. Who will pay for them without putting taxes up or cutting other areas of spending?

Education and Childcare: Roll out free childcare to all 3 and four-year olds and “vulnerable ” two-year olds to allow mothers to go back to work. Expand the policies of Education into communities to combat poverty.

According to Miss Sturgeon this will be paid for through tax revenues of the returning mothers – self financing effectively but it needs money to be set up in the first place and assumes that there are the jobs available to take these people on. Again it sounds good until you hear Nicola Sturgeon say that they would do it just now but they don’t want to be sending more money to the UK Treasury. How short-sighted is that? If it’s possible do it now and it would continue under an Independent Scotland – or are you afraid you’ll be found out that it’s not as perfect and easy as you are making out? Childcare is one of the biggest problems around for working parents so to play politics with it like this is disrespectful to everyone currently struggling.

In terms of Education they have screwed up the Schools with the roll out of Curriculum for Education and have already backtracked on the new Highers as they have finally realised that schools are not funded or equipped to handle all these changes. When will they come in? A year after the referendum so we’ll be voting at a time when people are none the wiser to the success (or lack of) the whole completed system. Shambles.

International issues and security: Set up a Scottish Defence Force; Scrap Trident; Join NATO & the EU.

Again the presumptions being made are astonishing – many of these things are to be negotiated and not guaranteed as the SNP seem to think, There’s a good chance that NATO wouldn’t allow them in if they were getting rid of Trident and we wouldn’t get an automatic seat at the EU table either as they are tightening up rules currently to stop breakaway countries and regions joining. Setting up a Defense force again costs money – these bills are fair mounting up and you can only stretch the oil money so far Mr Salmond. I’m no fan of Trident but Scotland can’t just say they aren’t having it anymore and it’ll disappear – it’s more complicated than that, but it doesn’t make such a good headline does it.

Also being an independent country means we will have to set up embassies around the world..£££££

Energy: Retain a single UK-wide market for electricity and gas and establish a Scottish Energy Fund.

Firstly we are relying on the rest of the UK to prop up Scotland in terms of price on fuel – why should they agree when it might be cheaper for them without us – again an arrogant presumption. Secondly this mythical Energy Fund that is modelled on the Norwegian model is hugely flawed because every independent financial expert has said we will need to use every penny of oil revenue to just keep the country going so there won’t be any spare.

This WHite paper is full of presumption, arrogance and uncosted (in the real world) promises. People talk about this being a new dawn for the country, a chance to start afresh – but to me there is much here that can be done as part of the union and I think Nicola Sturgeon’s remarks were telling today. To not enact policy that would help people because it wouldn’t bring money into Scotland, but would open up life for hundreds and thousands of families shows that the priority of the SNP and other Independent supporters is about a selfish and introspective view of the world. If we can make life better for people we should do it. Credit where it’s due the free care for the elderly is now a UK wide thing and that started here and we can lea on these issues and make life better for people not only here in Scotland but across the whole of the Union.

It’s this small mindedness and arrogant expectation that annoys me with Salmond and Sturgeon. They think that just because they get enough to sneak over the win line that the UK will nod and allow everything they want to happen – it will only happen if it benefits everyone in the UK. Until they understand that their job is to convince us that an Independent Scotland is a viable and sensible alternative then it’s not our job on the other side to argue for the status quo – if you want change show us how it’s better or shut up and stop wasting all this time and money on an ego trip.

JD