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.
Letter to The National, 02/11/16
I recently visited the battlefield at Culloden and was impressed both by the visitor centre and the memorial cairn and clan stones. It is an interesting presentation of the eight month campaign by the Jacobites to restore the Stuart monarchy and of the battle itself, which lasted just under an hour, and it is right that such a significant event is commemorated. What surprised me was when I discovered that there is no National Memorial to the Highland Clearances, an even more significant event the effects of which were far reaching and went on for years afterwards, being felt to the present day. John Sadler’s excellent book on the Battle of Culloden touches on the campaign of violence and rape and ethnic cleansing which was waged across Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, land reading left me aghast at some of the incidents which took place. To read of the Royal Navy sailing from one Scottish island to another, raping the women, killing indiscriminately and plundering what little these folk had made my blood boil. When we hear of “The Clearances” we think of people being moved on, and we have been presented a sanitised version of events, where excuses are made such as that the Clearances were brought about by a change from mixed farming to sheep farming, and this leaves us with no real picture of the horrors inflicted on these poor souls.
While there are a few monuments across the country to those who suffered transportation or forced emigration, nowhere do we have a have a single centre which remembers those murdered, raped, tortured, exiled and transported; which presents a full and frank account of why these people were treated as they were and just how vile that treatment was. Such a national memorial is long overdue and the Scottish Government must surely take the lead in creating what would be an important focal point in understanding Scotland’s history, both for people in Scotland and the international diaspora.
Letter to The National, 06/10/16
Letter to The National, 03/10/16
I’m old enough to remember when John Cleese was funny and I had perhaps thought that his tweet about the obsequious behaviour of some Scots was the product of some new character he was trying out. Unfortunately the character was his own and while he clarified his feelings about Scots in general and displayed a broader ignorance of Scottish affairs, in the process he touched on an interesting trait which is prevalent among the more senior British unionists in Scotland; where they try to demonstrate their loyalty by trying to “out-anglicise” their London masters. David Mundell is one such “Union Jock” who would be best starting his sentences with “Theresa says you can do…” as he is no more than her messenger boy. Powerless and pitied to such an extent that his nickname ‘Fluffy’ displays how inconsequential he is, that Toom-Tabard would be more fitting. Ruth Davidson on the other hand is more venomous. Her recent comments that ‘Scots were usually placed where nothing could be stolen or broken’ were a new low for her. This is the woman who wants to be First Minister for goodness sake! If she want’s to be seen as an actual alternative government rather than a Quisling style puppet government then she has to stop behaving in this manner. She has to stop demeaning Scotland at every turn so that she can get a pat on the head from London. She evokes an image of some Union Flag bedecked Mr Punch puppet who says to the puppetmaster “No, don’t you get your pretty hands dirty, I’m so compliant I’ll stick my own hand up my own rear end and work it for you- and still have a hand free to beat the Scotch with my austerity stick!”
What shocks me more than anything is how a compliant media which explodes at the slightest gaffe or verbal slip from anyone of a pro-indy bent suddenly becomes deaf, dumb and blind to this. Had Salmond or Sturgeon made such a remark I’d expect at the very least a large swathe of the front pages and a Call Kaye specially extended edition! In Ruth’s case, it’s “Look, squirrel” and the headlines once again focussed on those nasty immigrants and how bet “we British” can identify them, marginalise them and get rid of them, and Ruth, being a proud British nationalist surely has no problem with that.
Letter to The National 06/09/16
Letter to The National
Now that the Olympics are over and the medal totals have been calculated it has been estimated that on average the UK had spent £4.1 million for every medal it had won. It seems to me that a more accurate term than won would be bought, with money siphoned from the National Lottery, a clever move which robs charities and good causes, virtually creating a state funded sports programme while saving the UK government from having to put more of our own money in directly. I had viewed this as a horrific amount of money to spend to acquire gold, even more so when I discovered that gold medals haven’t been made of solid gold since 1912 and in actual fact only contain around 6 grams of the precious metal itself. But I’ve had a change of heart. Conservative MP Heather Wheeler took to Twitter to proclaim that the British Empire had outperformed the rest of the world with a grand total of 396 medals, and it shows the mentality of the British Nationalist in that they still believe they have an empire and that it’s a great reason to fly the flag. The fact is the empire is dead and reasons for mass displays of British nationalism are few and far between; these days being limited to either international sporting events or international conflict. So if throwing a few hundred million pounds at the Olympics every four years is enough to satisfy the British nationalists need to wave the Butcher’s Apron without having to resort to invading Iraq or bombing Syria then that’s probably a price worth paying. Alas, it probably isn’t that simple, and I guess that so long as we remain part of the UK we’ll continue to fund Britain’s need to strut on the big stage whether we like it or not.