I received the Scottish Governments response to my petition to make the Scottish parliament electoral system more democratic and accountable. It was, as I had long expected, a confirmation that the Scottish Government has no plans to act in this area in any meaningful fashion.
In their response they cited various reports from countries around the world which operate on a list system or variants thereof. One quote from a report produced in New Zealand encapsulated the reason why the SNP, nor to be fair, the other parties, wish to change the system:
The report states that there is “considerable advantage in allowing parties to both protect a limited number of their more valuable MPs in marginal seats and reward superior candidates in unwinnable seats”.
That’s right. The evidence the Scottish Government cites in defence of the status quo basically says that the political establishment has the right to protect itself from the judgement of the electorate! In the recent UK election there was the slightest of chances that Prime Minister Theresa May could have lost her seat. From the lowliest backbencher to the occupier of No10 Downing Street, every seat was up for grabs and the people had the right to decide who gets to stay and who is to be shown the door. That’s the essence of democratic government. Yet the same party who rail against the undemocratic House of Lords are quite comfortable with a system which sees the political parties manipulate pre-determined lists to ensure that some of them are immune to the judgement of the electorate.
In the process of creating and submiting my petition I’ve become convinced that the party list system must be consigned to the bin and that the Single Transferrable Vote system should be adopted, putting the decision as to who makes it into government into the hands of the people, not the cliques who run a tight circle of control within political parties.
The Scottish Governments response was in two parts, reproduced below.
Earlier this week Airdrie MP Neil Gray announced that the Scottish Government had announced that it had instructed NHS Lanarkshire to begin the process for replacement of Monklands Hospital. The SNP have repeatedly committed to keeping 3 A&E equipped hospitals in North Lanarkshire and his should silence all those who have said there are plans in place to completely close the hospital and the A&E, and should be good news for the town. I say should, but one thing did concern me about Neil Grays announcement, and that was the phrase “potential sites for the new hospital”. The people of Airdrie have fought long and hard to protect Airdrie’s hospital and the one commitment that must be made is that the hospital stays in Airdrie. A new build hospital on a greenfield site such as Newhouse would be a gross betrayal of the people of Airdrie. The current hospital has good public transport links and importantly is within walking distance from the town; indeed it’s part of the community. An out of town development would be as difficult to get to as Hairmyres or Wishaw and must be resisted by anyone with the towns best interest at heart. Somewhere within the town must be found, and I believe that Craigneuk Park is an ideal site for this. Often touted around as a potential site for another unnecessary supermarket, a hospital here would finally perhaps prompt the much needed and long promised road improvements which have failed to materialise here in the past. Such a move could perhaps even help relocate the football club to a smaller, more affordable stadium elsewhere back in the town. This venture would not only bring construction jobs directly to the town but would guarantee that there was long term employment in the Scottish health service in Airdrie for years to come.
This project is already looking as though it will fail to meet its initial 2023 delivery date, and it cannot be delayed any further as the current hospital is eating up millions of pounds in repair costs alone. I hope all our local politicians can put their differences aside and agree that whatever happens “It’s Airdrie’s Hospital” and that they fight tooth and nail to ensure that it remains that way.
Letter to the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, 15th November 2015 (This is an edited version of a fuller letter sent to RMT News, on the same date).
I see that Coatbridge MSP Elaine (Not C) Smith, a vocal cheerleader for Better Together, is now silent as the 2000 jobs which would have been secure running Scotlands tax system are lost to Croydon. She is silent now that Scotland is about to say ta-ta to the last of its steel industry. She is silent on the subject of her party siding with the Tories to deny Scotland the chance to operate it’s own tax credit system, and instead implementing a system where we can use our Westminster pocket money to top up the benefits they are about to cut. She has however not been silent on the alleged privatisation of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry contract. As people across the country who are not afforded the same airtime as Ms Smith have repeatedly pointed out, this is not privatisation. In fact it’s the same tendering process that the Labour/Lib-Dem Scottish Executive followed when the contract was awarded to Caledonian MacBrayne in 2006. Back then the SNP claimed this was privatisation by the back door, a charge denied by Labour then, yet employed by Labour now they are in opposition. So if we can take that hypocrisy away we are left with the argument as to whether Calmac or Serco should be awarded the contract. From a moral point of view you could say that Serco should be discounted, having as they do a horrendous record across the world in workplace relations. They are involved in almost every sphere of life, from office cleaners to atomic weapons, and at the end of it all the money they generate goes to private shareholders; they have the global financial clout to outbid anyone, anywhere, should they wish to do so. Calmac know that they must put a bid in which is sufficiently within the same ballpark that the Scottish Government can point to aspects of the bid which will compensate for what will undoubtedly be a poorer bid in strictly monetary terms. I hope they are successful in doing so because I feel that at present we are seeing the asset stripping of everything that a future independent Scotland will need and It would be far easier to nationalise a Calmac owned ferry service than a Serco owned one.
I was disappointed to see that Coatbridge MSP Elaine (Not C) Smith given considerable space in Novembers RMT news and I was more disappointed to see that Mrs Smith remains convenor of the RMT group of MSPs. Mrs Smith, a vocal cheerleader for the pro UK Better Together campaign, is strangely silent as the 2000 jobs which would have been secure running Scotlands tax system are lost to Croydon. She is silent now that Scotland is about to say ta-ta to the last of its steel industry. She is silent on the subject of her party siding with the Tories to deny Scotland the chance to operate it’s own tax credit system, and instead implementing a system where we can use our Westminster pocket money to top up the benefits they are about to cut.
In the Scottish Parliament she has however not been silent on the alleged privatisation of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry contract. As people across the country who are not afforded the same airtime as Mrs Smith have repeatedly pointed out, this is not privatisation. In fact it’s the same tendering process that the Labour/Lib-Dem Scottish Executive followed when the contract was awarded to Caledonian MacBrayne in 2007. Back then the SNP claimed this was privatisation by the back door, a charge denied by Labour then, yet employed by Labour now they are in opposition. So if we can take that hypocrisy away we are left with the argument as to whether Calmac or Serco should be awarded the contract. From a moral point of view you could say that Serco should be discounted, having as they do a horrendous record across the world in workplace relations. They are involved in almost every sphere of life, from office cleaners to atomic weapons, and at the end of it all the money they generate goes to private shareholders. They have the global financial clout to outbid anyone, anywhere, should they wish to do so. Calmac know that they must put a bid in which is sufficiently within the same ballpark that the Scottish Government can point to aspects of the bid which will compensate for what will undoubtedly be a poorer bid in strictly monetary terms in order to give them the contract, and I hope they are successful in doing so because I feel that at present we are seeing the asset stripping of everything that a future independent Scotland will need and in my view it would be far easier to renationalise a Calmac owned ferry service than a Serco owned one.
But I for one will not be standing alongside Mrs Smith and parroting her reasons for campaigning, which in the main are that anything the SNP does is bad, nor shall I share anything with a logo created by the treacherous Daily Record. The RMT, in aligning with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and the Daily Record appear to have chosen to ally itself with two organisations which are entirely out of step with the mood of, if not outright destested by a huge proportion of the Scottish electorate. I understand that the RMT has for the last few years campaigned on an anti EU stance, but I am sure it would not share a platform nor give a column to the odious UKIP politician Nigel Farage, even though his stated aim of a UK outside the EU is in line with this unions. Its apparent endorsement of the Labour Party’s Scottish branch is therefore viewed with equal distaste by this member.
I was surprised to read in the article on Wednesday’s National that the referendum was a ‘model for future campaigns’ and that 94% of voters and 98% of postal voters were happy with the process. It was however no surprise to see those figures came from a report commissioned by the Electoral Commission themselves, and I’d be interested to know just what group was polled as it doesn’t quite ring true. At present there is an ongoing criminal investigation into postal voting irregularities. I raised the issue of electoral fraud with the Scottish Government prior to the referendum who at the time were confident in the process. As a polling agent on the day and as a counting agent I was lucky enough to see first hand the count take place in North Lanarkshire. This has given me some insight into the process, certainly enough to discount some of the more ‘tinfoil hat’ variety of claims which were prominent on social media immediately after the referendum. But that is not to say there are no problems. I have submitted letters to Alex Neil MSP asking that the Scottish Government hold an inquiry into voting practices, and I have submitted freedom of information requests to the Electoral Commission at both local and national level. As yet the Scottish Government has no plans to hold any inquiry, but I am pleased to see that the Electoral Commission is looking at introducing the requirement for secondary identification for voters to prevent personification. This is for me too little, too late though. Transportation of uncounted ballot papers, allowing polling agents to also be counting agents, and the many cases of people turning up to vote in person who were told they had already voted by post, all of these point to a system riddled with scope for error and manipulation. Similarly the Commission’s reply to me regarding postal voting, stating that ease of voting was a higher priority than the integrity of the system, is one the Scottish Government should be challenging.
Whether for a local government election, Holyrood, Westminster or a referendum, our electoral system should be transparent, fair and secure. At present, despite the Electoral Commission’s self satisfaction, it clearly is not.
Whenever I read Coatbridge MSP Elaine Smith’s contribution to the Advertiser I find myself double checking that it is not Elaine C Smith who has written it. It’s always full of unintentional (I hope) comedy. Last week Elaine (not C) Smith called on all the parties in Scotland to put the referendum behind them and work together for the good of the country. I’d love to say that would be fantastic, but actions speak louder than words. Only a few days previously the manager of the Scottish Labour branch Jim Murphy declined to join with all the other Scottish party leaders in signing a letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron protesting at the closure of the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre in Kinloss. Even Ruth Davidson of the Tories joined in to protest against Tory cuts, yet Jim Murphy cannot bring himself to unite for the common good and to save jobs and services in Scotland. Two years ago the Tories put Search and Rescue services into private hands and now the asset stripping and rationalisation that was warned of has arrived. Privatisation of anything which will raise a few bob was begun under Thatcher and has carried on under Labour. Labour have not reversed one privatisation initiative, and have even introduced a few themselves, so you would think it odd that Elaine Smith would hark back to the tale she told some time back that the SNP had privatised the railways. This tall tale was put to bed both in this paper and in the Rail Maritime and Transport Union news where Jeff Kirk of Edinburgh No1 Branch stated that he was “astonished” at Mrs Smith’s claims and pointed out that Labours pre-referendum proposals were “exactly what the Scottish Government had done”. He further pointed out that public ownership was outlawed by a 1993 act which Labour had never repealed during all their time in power. This is not likely to change either if a Labour does by some freak chance gain power at Westminster in May 2015 as they fully support the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which as it stands will allow multinational companies to sue governments who block their bids to run almost any public service they choose to. At present the Scottish Government who have no power in this carve up are asking for guarantees to exempt the NHS, but what chance is there against the power of the UK Government, whether controlled by Red Tory or Blue? The fact is that Labour will say one thing in opposition, but do the opposite when in power. The late, great Groucho Marx once said “Those are my principles, if you don’t like them I have others.” Jim Murphy looks to me like a true Marxist in that respect, but while Groucho was funny, Mr Murphy is anything but.
An edited version of this appeared in the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser
It seems that this will be my last letter to the advertiser on the subject of Scottish independence. Yesterday I sat outside the Scottish Parliament and watched the great and the good troop inside, where they announced that the Vow had been delivered, with Michael Moore MP describing it as “Home Rule for Scotland”. With home rule recommended by the Smith Commission I have nothing left to campaign for.
It’s a great pity that newspapers don’t include smiley’s on the letters page, as that first paragraph would have been accompanied by a sarcastic one. A really big one.
Home rule? It’s far from it. The list of reserved powers is substantial. The minimum wage, VAT, fuel duty, equality, pensions, child benefits, foreign policy, weapons of mass destruction, the list goes on and on. We were promised “Near Federalism” and “Devo-Max”. We have been palmed off with ‘Devo Hee-Haw’ and it has to be remembered that these are just proposals. They still have to go in front of our Imperial Masters in London where they will no doubt be picked apart and further reduced.
After all the noise coming from Jim Murphy as he flip-flopped on the subject of tax, the reality was disappointing to say the least: 70% of taxes and 85% of welfare spending remains under London’s control. Oh, and the Scottish Government will be allowed to bid for (not renationalise) the rail franchise in Scotland. Given that it isn’t allowed to raise extra money and everything it does raise will simply reduce the block grant of our own money that we get back anyway, I’m mystified as to how it could get the funding for this without stripping it from elsewhere.
The simple fact is we have been offered a few token changes to meet the so called Vow, which according to a Freedom of Information request made recently, the UK Cabinet Office has no record of. It would seem that with nae power comes great responsibility. We can gather in and distribute money on behalf of London and pretend it is power. But how can we do anything about poverty when we cannot even set a minimum wage? The simple answer is we cannot. We can tinker with the edges, fiddle here and there but the power to change anything in real, meaningful terms is not available to us. Former leader of the Labour Party (Scotland branch) Iain Grey said that “any politician seeing these powers coming to them should be excited about the possibilities…” I’d suggest that if that’s what excites him he should perhaps call it a day, like many other Labour high-heidyins.
On the upside, the Smith Commission has recommended that we are given control over road signs. Unsurprisingly I’d like them to be tartan…
Submitted to Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser and RMT News. Published in Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser.
I see that last weeks Advertiser column by Elaine Smith MSP was almost the same as that published in the October issue of the Rail Maritime and Transport union magazine where she complains that the Scottish Government awarded the Scotrail franchise to Abellio. The RMT article was accompanied by the headline “Scotrail Privatised By Scottish Government.“ Scotrail was privatised by the Tories in 1997, two years before the Scottish Parliament was even created and ten years before the SNP gained power, so why lie? Mrs Smith seeks to make political capital from the actions of the Scottish Government, and I was very disappointed to see the RMT joining in with her. Both the RMT and Elaine Smith called for the tendering process to be put on hold until the new devolution settlement was put in place. The question ‘how long is a piece of string’ comes to mind as there is nothing agreed and no date by which anything must be delivered by. Would one year be sufficient? Two perhaps?
Had the Scottish Government taken the steps of putting the process on hold both the Mrs Smiths Labour Party and the RMT would be complaining about the uncertainty which would be created, and would no doubt also complain at any compensation which was paid to the bidders. Incidentally where was this compensation to come from? The ever shrinking Scottish budget which is about to be cut by £4 Billion irrespective of which party gets in at Westminster, that’s where. Labours answer at every turn is that the Scottish Government should pay for others mistakes. The Labour proposed, Tory imposed bedroom tax saw the SNP strip £35 Million from other areas to pay for that debacle. Which area of the budget would be the next one to be stripped to pay for dithering? Health, education, housing? Do tell us Elaine.
Mrs Smith and her party have spent two years campaigning against the Scottish Government having full powers over Scotland. The Scottish Government in their white paper Scotland’s Future stated that with independence they could pursue public supported or not-for-profit models in future, after the new franchise is completed. She can hardly then complain that the Scottish Government has to abide by the restraints imposed upon it. She has even less cause to complain when it is revealed that the Labour Party’s own plan laid out in the document Powers For A Purpose stated that they would look at ‘a new approach after the end of the franchise which starts in 2015.’ This means they would have done exactly as the Scottish Government has done! What would they have done afterwards though? What would the new approach to railways in Scotland be? It would be whatever London tells them it will be, and if London Labour is still pursuing privatisation you can be damn sure the Labour branch in Scotland would be told to fall in line.
Profit now goes into private hands, irrespective of nationality. Whether those hands are Dutch, French or German, the effect is the same. The money does not go back in to the system. It goes to shareholders. Labour had 13 years to call a halt to that. Instead they dug themselves deeper into the trough. Whether it is energy companies or rail companies, the concept of foreign companies owning UK national assets is one that red and blue Tories both subscribe to. Labour will gripe about it when it suits them politically but when given the chance to change it do nothing. Her Party helped buy the rope to bind the SNP’s hands; she can hardly complain they are now tied tightly.
I was almost open mouthed as I read Roger Smith’s viewpoint in the November issue of TGO. Roger stated that the referendum result was the best option as Scotland would have been out of the EU for 5 years and revenue streams would have been lost. I cannot disagree more. For starters the figure of 5 years has been plucked from thin air. Why not say 15 years and make it a complete whopper? What is a fact is that Scotland is a member of the EU, and had 18 months in which to negotiate membership to an organisation of which it is already a member and already compliant. Another fact that was ignored is that the EU has no means to remove EU citizenship from its citizens. It bust a gut to ensure that the bankrupt Greek economy was retained, the idea that it would throw an energy and resource rich Scotland out is laughable. The real threat to continued EU membership is now looming on the horizon, with an in/out EU referendum and a possible Blue Tory/UKIP alliance. What is possible is not a mere blip in funding, but a complete end to it. In any case the point is now moot and a distraction from what is to come.
Roger is mistaken when he states the environment was rarely mentioned. Perhaps in the mainstream media it wasn’t, but at the public meetings I attended it certainly was. The Yes campaign was consistent in its message of wanting a cleaner, greener, nuclear free Scotland. This may be one reason why the Green Party in Scotland have seen their membership rise by over 4000 since the referendum.
I personally am no fan of windfarms and the industrialisation of our wild places, and Roger is correct when he says that the SNP’s record in this area is far from impressive. The present Scottish Government were however being pushed in the right direction, and while the overall battle against onshore windfarms has been lost, there have been successes, and the Scottish Wild Land Core Map was one. How successful this will be remains to be seen, but this will become apparent soon enough. While having a pop at the SNP, Roger fails to address the other parties and their intentions. The Tories and the Lib-Dems both support “respectful fracking”, the Lib Dems and Labour support more wind turbines, and the Conservatives are vowing to scrap onshore windfarms in future while supporting them today. It seems to me that the alternatives are more of the same, or slightly worse. There is no radical alternative out there, unless of course you consider UKIP, and they are radical in all the wrong areas.
Roger also asserts that the Scottish Government is set to receive more powers, while in the same issue of TGO he writes about the problems and benefits of fracking. Roger should know then that in December 2013 the unelected House of Lords voted to remove the Scottish Parliament’s powers over renewables by way of amendment 54 to the Energy Act 2013. This gave the UK Government a free hand to completely bypass the Scottish Government. Ten months later and there also seems to be a free for all on licences for fracking, something the Scottish Government was categorically against. Even national parks have not been kept off the target list. Westminster has stuck two fingers up to the people of Scotland, and said that if our legislation is a stumbling block to the UK national policy then they shall scrap it. “The Lords giveth and the Lords taketh away” would sum up the powers we may receive.
Scotland’s natural resources should be in Scotland’s hands, and I doubt very much if the new powers Roger speaks of will come anywhere near fulfilling his wish list, as they seem to be more about backtracking than backpacking. In any case they may be overtaken by the Westminster elections next year. One thing is for certain, there will be no conclusion anytime soon.