Letter to The National (23/02/17)
Last weekend The Labour party (Scotland Branch) took to the streets of Airdrie to campaign against the recent rises in council tax which were imposed by the Scottish Government. Labour have been demanding an end to the council tax freeze since the SNP introduced it, except in the immediate run up to elections when they have flip-flopped and supported it just in case it cost them the election. In 2008 they helped to scupper the SNP minority governments Local Income Tax plan; now almost ten years later they are making the SNP’s failure to scrap the council tax a major thrust of their attack for the 2017 council elections, despite being instrumental in ensuring that didn’t happen.
The 2008 defeat for the SNP was a solid one and as we have come to expect, the unionist parties were strongly backed by the press and other media, meaning that any attempt to reintroduce a Local Income Tax would receive a hostile reception. The SNP in an attempt either at testing the waters for change or simply trying to be seen to do something formed the cross-party (sans Conservatives, who declined to contribute) Commission on Local Tax Reform in 2015, which was tasked to explore alternatives to the council tax. Part of their recommendations were to end the present system of council tax and to explore introducing an income based element alongside a property based element, however there were no hard and fast recommendations, and the report acknowledged that each party was liable to have a different answer to the problem. In the meantime, it recommended a transitional approach and acknowledged that a long term solution would not be done overnight. The recent end to the council tax freeze has possibly seen the first move towards that, with the higher rated bands (E-H) seeing rises of between £2 and £10 a week. That’s between 28p and £1.42 a day. Or if you are Labour that can be summarised as a 22% hike which will cost you £517 a year. Because what they are concentrating on is that top figure. Some council tax payers WILL pay an extra 22%, but I’m concerned that this is the only figure they’ll be using. Telling people on the doorstep that their council tax will rise by 28p a day doesn’t make people’s blood boil. Telling them that the Scottish Government is hiking their “council tax” by 22% (or £517) possibly will, even more so when you aren’t ascertaining if they are affected or not. According to Scottish Government statistics from 2011, 1% of householders in Scotland are in Band H homes which are valued (at 1991 rates) at over £212,001. For North Lanarkshire that was 120 homes, and unless there has been any great change, a spate of lottery wins for example, that figure isn’t going to be radically different, perhaps (and I’m being generous here) there are around 200 homes valued at over £212,001. That’s the reality. 1% of what may be broadly viewed as the wealthiest households will see a rise of £10 a week. Yet Labour are saying this figure so often that one might be mistaken for thinking that everyone is being hit with a 22% rise.
From the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 until 2007, Labour ran the Scottish Parliament. At the same time Labour were in charge at Westminster and controlled the majority of Scotland’s local authorities. In that time council tax rose year on year. In 2007 the average Band D council tax payer, on average income in a middle of the table house was paying 30% more council tax than they had in 1999, while some of the higher bands apparently saw as much as a 60% hike! We aren’t talking 120 homes here, we are talking about every council tax payer across the board, paying more every year to keep Labour local authorities in the manner to which they had become accustomed to. Had Labour remained in power that pattern of continual tax rises would have no doubt continued, hitting everyone, across the board, rich and poor alike. I’d say that a 22% rise after 10 years to 1% of council tax payers is pretty good going in comparison, and I wonder how Labour can complain about such a rise to the top rate, considering they spent years stating that the freeze only benefited the richest in society!
The term Doublethink was coined by George Orwell in his novel 1984, and it refers to the ability to hold and espouse two contradictory views at the same time. Scottish Labour are demanding that the general rate of income tax be raised for everyone in Scotland by 1p, while simultaneously complaining that the four highest council tax bands will see a rise of between 7.5% and 22%. So someone on a salary of about £30,000 a year would pay around than £4 a week (£208 a year) extra under its plan, and someone on the same wage as the First Minister would pay an extra £28 a week (£1,447 a year). So Labour are comfortable taking an extra £208 off someone earning about £30,000 a year, but are outraged if that same person has to pay an extra £2 on council tax? Or that someone earning £140,000 a year is paying an extra £10 a week council tax yet fail to mention that they would pay an extra £28 in income tax if Labour were in government? I wonder if their outrage is more at the fact that they see people not being squeezed for every last drop of cash they can get or if their outrage is because they simply aren’t in power and can’t effect change to the extent they would like.
Since losing power in Scotland, then in the UK, Labour have become the most petty of oppositions. While in Westminster they will happily support the Tories on many issues, or abstain when not wanting to appear to be openly supportive, they have no such trouble in Scotland. If the SNP propose it, we’ll oppose it is their mantra. Opposition for opposition’s sake is as bad as unrestrained majority government, and their opposition in 2008 to council tax reform killed off what was a real chance to radically change the system. Their hubris is a major stumbling block to reform, and if they could overcome that then it’s possible that we could see a more progressive and radical form of taxation introduced in Scotland. Unfortunately there appears to be no sign of that day coming any time soon, and it looks as though decoding Labour doublethink will be a necessity for some time to come.
Watching the news and analysis of Thursday’s election coming it would be easy to think that Ruth Davidson of the Ruth Davidson Novelty Photo-shoots and Fun (No, we aren’t Tories, honest!) Party had won a resounding victory over the SNP, and that that Scotland was back in the unionist fold. There’s only so much I can take from the BBC, luckily Russia Today reassured me that Ms Davidson’s party hadn’t actually won, and that the world was still spinning on it’s axis as before. What did happen was that the Unionist vote shifted within itself, with one faction merely taking votes from another faction. Hardly sensational stuff, and to be honest everyone but Kezia Dugdale saw it coming. Labour have now been punished by both sides of the electorate for their treachery; by Yes voters for siding with the Tories, and by unionists angry that she wobbled in her unionism by appearing to allow a free vote in a future referendum. On close analysis the unionist FPTP vote is pitiful. Of 73 FPTP constituencies the Tories won only 7, the Lib-Dems 4 and the Labour Party an embarrassing 3. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the union, is it?
Ruth Davidson is the new poster girl of the Unionist media, be it in print, television or indeed on BBC Radio Scotland, where Kaye Adams accidentally stated that “we’re up 8 point…” before remembering where she was and correcting herself by saying that the Conservatives were up 8.1%. Tank Girl, with the aid of her chums in the media, will call on Nicola Sturgeon to forever rule out another referendum, a call she will repeat every week, day and hour for the next five years. Davidson realised that there are people who value the union flag more than social justice, more than equality, more than the NHS, more than the welfare state, and who will endorse the Tories wholeheartedly to protect the union. Never mind the policies, look at the pretty flag. For many voters Thatcher is someone from the history books, and they do not share most right thinking Scots contempt of the woman and her policies. When Margaret Curran was asked if she would prefer a Tory run Scotland to an independent one she squirmed and twisted and struggled to answer. With the death of the Scottish branch of the Labour Party she may one day have the chance to see that scenario in action.
But to spend so much time talking about the unionist situation means that we ignore the failings or successes of the Yes side, if we can still refer to them in such a manner. While most of the Yes support has gone to the SNP, those supporters must remember where they came from. Tribalism within Yes will keep us down and divided, and we must get smarter if we are to have a Yes parliament, not simply an SNP dominated one. Reaffirmation of the Yes movement is needed and agreements should be made for the mutual benefit of the independence movement. Clearly the decision by the Greens to stand against Ruth Davidson cost the SNP that seat and allowed Davidson to claim victory as an endorsed constituency candidate. In some areas such as Glasgow or Central Scotland where polling showed it very likely that the SNP would sweep the board an official SNP 1, Green 2 campaign would have had a significant effect on reducing the unionist bloc. This would mean the Greens would have to agree not to stand in the constituencies and the SNP agreeing not standing on the list. Of course where this falls down is that this would mean some people putting the good of the cause of independence before their personal ambitions.
As for the minority parties such as Solidarity and Rise, I think that we need to accept that for now they are a diversion and despite some of their fine ideals are not a realistic proposal for the pro Indy voter on the national stage. Over exposure in the National and to some extent The Herald skewed the perception of RISE, and if the don’t completely fall then perhaps the council elections next year may be a more realistic platform for them, where they can help deliver real benefits at a local level.
Letter to The National, 02/05/16
Am I the only person who thinks that the Leaders Debates have become tired, repetitive and uninformative? The same lines, delivered in the same fashion to the same response are beyond dull. Monday’s debate was a case in point. If we look beyond the BBC using the daughter of a former Labour Party leader as a presenter and an audience which clearly didn’t reflect recent voting or polling we are left with an otherwise predictable event. Kezia Dugdale pleads that we should put the referendum behind us, as that’s the only way that people will stop bringing up her toxic Bitter Together alliance with the Tories. Ruth Davidson won’t let us forget about the referendum, while Willie Rennie just wishes people would remember who he is. Nicola Sturgeon repeats the “will of the Scottish people” line without expanding on it and rolls her eyes when another leader tells a porky, and Patrick Harvie was memorable when given a chance to speak at length, but left on the sidelines by the presenter on more than one occasion when he tried to counter an argument.
While Kezia is almost crying when she says her party isn’t toxic, she shows that she has failed to recognise that, like it or not, Scotland is broadly still in two camps and that so long as she maintains her opposition to any further referendum at any time, then a very large portion of the electorate will not vote for her under any circumstances. Ruth Davidson on the other hand has grasped the situation far better, whipping up talk of further referendums and waving the union flag at every turn. She knows full well that she can’t convert people from the Yes side but can take votes from traditional Labour voters who now value the union above all else. In the Blair years Labour espoused Tory policies, Tory values, so it’s not a great jump for these people to throw the rest of their values out the window and unite behind the flag. Dugdales Labour have not realised this and until they adopt full on Neil Oliver unionist mode shall not recover. Even then they are drinking from the same trough as the Tories and the Fib-Dems, and 3 into 55% is always going to be second prize at best.
For me Patrick Harvie made the best point of the night. Yes, we lost the referendum but our values hold true. Because we lost doesn’t mean we abandon our principles and crawl away. For the unionists to continually cry out for us to do so is utterly wrong. Our arguments were not nullified by a No vote, all those problems remain, in some cases more so. So why would any sane person abandon those principles? That may be the unionist way, but not ours. It’s about time the Three Amigos faced up to that fact and stopped their whining.
The following is the full version of a letter that was sent to The Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, 22/11/15.
A few days ago I received in the mail North Lanarkshire Council’s “Our Budget Challenge” booklet. This glossy (and no doubt costly) rag is a mixture of misdirection and spin and it’s genuinely a wonder it can actually passed off as a council publication and not a Labour Party one. The booklet attempts to show that North Lanarkshire’s budget is being cut by Holyrood and is trying to lay the blame fairly and squarely at the door of the SNP government. It illustrates it’s claims with a graph showing funding being cut by £2.5 billion, hoping perhaps that people won’t notice that this refers to Scotland as a whole and this doesn’t reflect the fact that in the same time period the Scottish Government has taken over funding of police and fire services, so local authorities no longer have to fund these from their own budgets, and that their available funding has remained broadly the same. In September 2015 the Daily Record actually reported that impartial researchers have calculated that the Scottish Government have actually OVERFUNDED the council tax freeze and notes that the Scottish Government have put in £165 million to local authorities to compensate local authorities. Labour’s Jackie Baillie and Kezia Dugdale are no strangers to figures that don’t add up and I sense their input to the council’s booklet. In fact there’s barely a mention of Westminster cuts at all! These are the at the very root of austerity for goodness sakes!
The booklet then goes on to detail some options and invites you to go online and indicate which budget cuts you support. These are a mixture of the vague and the distasteful. For example removing 4 posts from the Chief Executives office would save £170,000. Which posts? It doesn’t say. Probably not the Chief Executive’s…
It states they could save £92,000 by forcing employees to pay for their own disclosure checks so they can do their own jobs! Or how about being asked to review community learning and development services to save over £3 million? Tick the box and see 85 souls hit the dole. Just click your mouse, it’s easy. Only it isn’t. The decisions to be made are horrific and will have an impact across North Lanarkshire. From nursery schools to pensioners, no one will be unaffected. But cynical North Lanarkshire Council have thought of a way to help spread the blame; they are asking YOU to make the decisions. When the cuts start to bite they can always turn round and claim that ‘you, the public endorsed these cuts’. The answer then is NOT to endorse the cuts, to go online and vote no to every last one and make these councillors do what they were elected to do, and what’s more to make them take responsibility for what they are about to do.
One thing which has been avoided by everyone including the SNP opposition group, and this is the most important point of all this debate is the fact these £45 million of cuts follow hard on the heels of North Lanarkshire Council losing a £70 million court battle over equal pay. Surely this explains the black hole in the budget? In any other walk of life the people responsible would be sacked: in North Lanarkshire they retire with pensions which would sicken you. If this was Iceland the people responsible would heading for jail, not holiday homes, and we are forced to pick up the tab. It’s an utter scandal that his happens, the only scandal greater than this is that we accept it, we allow it, and do nothing about it. We deserve everything we get in that case.
The final and most cynical of all the questions on NLC’s budget challenge is a simple Yes or No tick the box one. Innocuously worded, it asks if you would be willing to pay more council tax to help protect public services. Who wouldn’t? But the question doesn’t say how much extra they want you to pay, or what these services are. This question is part of a co-ordinated effort by Labour as a bitter opposition to end the council tax freeze which has helped protect so many Scots over the last few years. None of us need reminded of the extravagant spending by NLC in the past, on folly after folly. Public sculptures and roadside decorations (1.5 million pound for Cumbernauld’s Waves for example), monuments to Labour’s own self indulgence. Labour have railed against this freeze for years, only to backtrack whenever we are in sniffing distance of an election. But the Tory cuts are getting deeper and it cannot last forever. Labour have supported austerity at UK level for years, yet have been trying to end it in Scotland through heavier taxation. This week Labour are sending a group of councillors to protest outside our national parliament calling on them to end the council tax freeze, and the arguments they shall use are those false ones I have mentioned above. They should hang their heads in shame because they will be there parroting Labour falsehoods and turning a blind eye to their own criminal loss of £70 million. It’s time the people of North Lanarkshire took the protest to their door in Motherwell and called on them to answer for the financial storm which is about to hit us all.
Letter to The Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, 22/11/15 (Edited at Editorial Request)
Last week I received North Lanarkshire Council’s “Our Budget Challenge” booklet; a mixture of misdirection and spin and it’s a wonder it can be passed off as a council publication, as it reads like a Labour Party one. It attempts to show that NLC’s budget is being cut and tries to lay the blame fairly and squarely at the door of the SNP government, while all but ignoring Westminsters role. It is illustrated with a graph showing funding being cut by £2.5 billion, hoping that people won’t notice that this refers to Scotland as a whole, not NLC, and this doesn’t reflect that in the same time period the Scottish Government has taken over funding of police and fire services, so local authorities no longer have to fund these from their budgets, and available funding has remained broadly the same. In September 2015 the Daily Record reported that impartial researchers stated the Scottish Government actually OVERFUNDED the council tax freeze and had put in £165 million to compensate local authorities. The booklet asks us to go online and indicate which budget cuts we support. Removing four posts from the Chief Executives office would save £170,000. Which posts? It doesn’t say. Approving a ‘review’ of community learning and development services saves over £3 million and sees 85 souls hit the dole. The list goes on and on but cynical NLC have thought of a way to help spread the blame; they are asking YOU to make these decisions. When the cuts start to bite they can turn round and claim that ‘the public endorsed these cuts’. The answer then is NOT to endorse the cuts. Go online and vote no to every last one and make these councillors take responsibility for what they are about to do. The most important point of all this debate goes almost unnoticed: these £45 million of cuts follow hard on the heels of North Lanarkshire Council losing a £70 million court battle over equal pay. Surely this explains the black hole in the budget? In any other walk of life the people responsible would be sacked, in Iceland they would be sent to jail; in North Lanarkshire they retire with huge pensions. The final and most cynical of all the questions on NLC’s budget challenge is a simple and innocuously worded one that asks if you would be willing to pay more council tax to help protect public services. Who wouldn’t? But the question doesn’t say how much extra they want you to pay, or which services would be protected. This is part of a co-ordinated effort against the council tax freeze by a bitter Labour opposition. This week a group of NLC Labour councillors are to protest outside Holyrood calling on them to end the council tax freeze, a move that would be completely unnecessary if they themselves had not lost £70 million! It’s the people of North Lanarkshire who should be protesting about NLC’s scandalous management and demanding that those incompetents be sacked instead.