Saturday, January 4, 2014

England Ashes debacle - another blow for McDougall?

Believe it or not, I do genuinely have a passing interest in cricket, so I decided to have a little peek at the final Ashes test on Sky.  As I write this, England have collapsed to 14-3, and doubtless it will be 17-7 by the time I finish.  Now obviously this is a national sporting tragedy, but does it have wider ramifications?  The headline on this post was intended as a joke, but if our friends in the London media truly believe that absolutely everything that happened during the London Olympics was a "disaster for Alex Salmond" (another one?!), that Andy Murray winning Wimbledon was a "good day for the union" (surely every day is a good day for the union?), and that Murray's SPOTY triumph was somehow "good for the No campaign" (yes, Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson really did say that), then I'm afraid the logic is inescapable.  According to media mythology, the recent success of the England cricket team is supposed to be one of the sporting factors that have bound the UK together, in spite of the minor detail that Scotland hasn't actually been represented by that team since 1992 (before then the cricket authorities were arrogant enough to use the name 'England' for a team representing the whole of Great Britain).  So, unavoidably, as the England team are now toiling badly and heading for a 5-0 drubbing by the Aussies, it must be considered something of a calamity for Blair McDougall and the No camp.

If that claim strikes you as being a tad silly, then it probably says something rather profound about the unionist media's past attempts to exploit our athletes' sporting successes.  But stand by for more of the same if Eve Muirhead and co strike gold in Sochi on February 21st.  After all, there isn't a Scot alive who wouldn't much prefer that an all-Scottish team's Olympic triumph be placed in the "Great Britain" column, is there?  It's rather like the cricket philosophy of old, but inverted.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Answers At About Eight

So the moment you've all been waiting for - here are the eleven Labour MSPs (past and present) who were hiding behind yesterday's anagrams...

Hornet Hormones Job - JOHN HOME ROBERTSON

Talon Man John - JOHANN LAMONT


Earwax Lend Deny - WENDY ALEXANDER

Maniac Odd Swell - LEWIS MACDONALD

Cannabis Hmm Ooh - SIOBHAN MCMAHON

Manly Linger - MARILYN GLEN

Feared Whine Kilt - KAREN WHITEFIELD

Sardonic Shrimp - RICHARD SIMPSON

Congeal Horrid - CHARLIE GORDON

Brain Drool, Felonies or Cheekier Mugginess - HIS EMINENCE BARON SIR LORD GEORGIE FOULKES

*  *  *

OK, I now realise that I inserted a rogue 'i' into Marlyn Glen's name!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Anagrams At About Eight : Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer...

Happy New Year, everyone!  Well, isn't this exciting?  On this day three years ago I wrote something like "let's make sure 2011 isn't the Year of the Snarl" (meaning Iain "the Snarl" Gray).  This time I'm tempted to say "let's make sure 2014 isn't the Year of the Darl" - but that would just give succour to one of the No campaign's fundamental deceits.  It won't be Alistair Darling we'll be getting as Prime Minister if we vote No this year, but David Cameron.

Hot off the press, here are some "photos" I took before and during the Edinburgh street party last night. These will mainly serve as a monument to how stupid I was when I claimed that my mobile phone takes better photos than my actual camera (it turns out they're both hopeless).

(Click to enlarge, although you'll still be none the wiser.)

Anyway, down to business.  Your Christmas treat was a word-search, for New Year it's anagrams!  See how many of these eleven past and present Labour MSPs you can spot...

Hornet Hormones Job

Talon Man John

A Face Souring Trip

Earwax Lend Deny

Maniac Odd Swell

Cannabis Hmm Ooh

Manly Linger

Feared Whine Kilt

Sardonic Shrimp

Congeal Horrid

Brain Drool, Felonies or Cheekier Mugginess

Check back here tomorrow for the answers!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ten reasons to be optimistic about a Yes to independence in 2014

Unlike so many of our friends in the London media, I don't claim to have a crystal ball handy, and therefore I wouldn't be surprised by either a Yes or No outcome in September. We're in for a campaign that will be thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. But as we reach the eve of referendum year (crikey) it's time for strictly positive thinking only. So here are my top ten reasons for feeling optimistic about a Yes to independence in 2014...

1) The Tories are worried. Just a couple of days ago, the Sunday Times reported that David Cameron's campaign consultant Lynton Crosby believes that the polls are wrong and that a Yes vote is not only possible, but likely. OK, there's probably a bit of kidology at play here (like a rugby team coming to Murrayfield and saying that 'Scotland must be the favourites at home'), but there's also likely to be at least an element of truth in it, otherwise they wouldn't be taking the risk of talking the Yes campaign up.

2) The polls. Even if we assume that the polls are not understating the support for Yes (and that's a very big if, as already noted), they're still nowhere near as favourable for No as the London media have collectively convinced themselves. This is a truth that No campaigners on Twitter don't like to hear, so let's remind them of it once again - even on the current snapshot of opinion which could easily change, the polls are not actually showing a majority against independence. The average No vote is just 48.8%, meaning that the majority of voters in Scotland are either in favour of independence or are undecided. The Yes campaign have also undoubtedly closed the gap somewhat since the publication of the White Paper, as even Professor John Curtice has accepted.

3) The strength of Scottish national identity. There was some evidence in the two Quebec independence referendums that people's responses to questions relating to national identity were a better early predictor of how they would vote than their responses in polls to the actual referendum question. Most surveys suggest that a majority of the Scottish population regard themselves as either 'Scottish not British' or 'more Scottish than British'. (Admittedly, the preference for a Scottish identity seems to have fallen back a little over the last decade, but it's still a very clear majority.)

4) Alistair Carmichael isn't as good as they expected. Frankly he isn't as good as I expected either - I thought he would at least prove to be a marginal improvement on Michael "007" Moore, but if anything he's even less impressive. Realistically, they're stuck with him for the duration now, because yet another change would look like blind panic. But what do they do with him? Is it really credible to 'shield' your Secretary of State for Scotland during a referendum on Scottish independence? I doubt if allowing David Mundell to regularly deputise will be much of a help either.

5) Alistair Darling isn't as good as they expected. The bad news is that they aren't necessarily stuck with him, but don't worry, because...

6) Some of Darling's Tory critics think it would be a good idea to replace him with Jeremy Hunt. I'll just say that again to allow the enormity of it to sink in - they think the No campaign would have a better chance of winning if it was headed by JEREMY HUNT. Is there some kind of petition of encouragement that we can sign?

7) The number of prominent Labour figures supporting independence is increasing. With former Labour MP Dennis Canavan, former Labour leader of Strathclyde Regional Council Sir Charles Gray, and former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow Alex Mosson all openly campaigning for a Yes vote, the message is gradually getting through to traditional Labour voters that support for independence is not some kind of heresy against their political culture. In fact, it's the only means by which that political culture can possibly survive and flourish. Even if just 30% of Labour voters were to come to that obvious conclusion, it could prove sufficient.

8) There are also suddenly a few chinks in the hitherto monolithic Tory opposition to independence, with former Tory MSP Nick Johnston coming out for a Yes vote, and with the launch of the centre-right, pro-independence Wealthy Nation campaign headed by former Tory parliamentary candidate Michael Fry. Although the Conservative vote in Scotland is small, it's not non-existent, and up to now the Yes campaign have found it particularly difficult to win much support from that direction. Even if Wealthy Nation and their fellow travellers could attract a modest percentage of Tory voters, that might be worth as much as an extra 1% for Yes overall.

9) The No campaign seem to think they're fighting the AV referendum again. I can't think of any other plausible explanation for their self-styled 'Project Fear' approach of relentless negativity. But the scare stories in the 2011 referendum only worked as well as they did because the electorate didn't give a monkey's about electoral reform, and couldn't be bothered applying any critical thinking to the silly claims that were being made about babies dying so the Alternative Vote could live. This time, the No campaign's attack lines will be directed against the country that we all love, and its capacity to govern itself. So yes, voters will be offended and provoked into asking some very awkward questions, not least of which will be 'what is the No campaign's alternative prospectus?'

10) 'If you vote No you are voting for David Cameron and a Tory government' is a devastating line, because it's true. It's also a negative message, so may have to be used very sparingly, but nevertheless that could well be enough to get under people's skins.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The anti-independence campaign are insulting some of the world's leading economists

A guest contribution by Dorice

We shouldn't be remotely surprised by the results of yesterday's Panelbase poll on attitudes in the rest of the UK towards an independent Scotland remaining part of the sterling zone and the Common Travel Area. After all, it was four of the planet's most highly-acclaimed, trusted, and respected economists who first recommended that an independent Scotland use sterling and the Bank of England, create a monetary union with rUK, create TWO 'oil funds' and a radically new tax system, and much more.

Yet the media has effectively and efficiently suppressed the work of the completely independent Fiscal Commission Working Group, leaving Better Together, Westminster, Davidson, La Mont, Gray, and all the others free to ridicule those proposals and claim that they are the work of the Scottish Government and its civil servants.

Would they dare stand in front of Sir Crawford Beveridge (Chair), Professor Sir James Mirrlees (Nobel Laureate), Professor Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Laureate), Professor Frances Ruane, and Professor Andrew Hughes-Hallett and call THEM 'delusional', 'fantasists', and accuse them of creating all those and other proposals 'on the back of a cigarette packet'?

No, they wouldn't - but every time those things are said about the Scottish Government's proposals that's who they are ACTUALLY insulting and ridiculing.

It's high time the public were made aware of the Fiscal Commission - who its members are and what it's done and is doing.

It has published FOUR lengthy, detailed, and factual reports so far, but not a single newspaper has even mentioned them.

We all know why!

It was the Commission members who first discovered that Scotland has been paying more into the Treasury than we got back for over thirty years, and the opposition KNOW that.

But voters don't.

Please take a look at the Commission's combined CV, and then compare it to those who work for the IFS and Treasury. It's very much a case of 'master and pupil'.

Those esteemed economists have between them either run, advised, worked for, or consulted the World Bank, the OECD, the IMF, the US Federal Reserve, the EC, the UN, the IFS (yes - that 'IFS'), and dozens of governments, Central Banks, and leading financial institutions.

The IFS's two-volume taxation 'Bible' was the work of Professor Mirrlees, and the current IFS Director was his editor!!

Even arch-unionists agree that the 'Mirrlees Report' is an amazing piece of work. Innovative, radical, and forward-thinking, it condemns the current tax system, and proposes a radical, simplified, streamlined one.

How many of those unionists know it was Mirrlees who took the lead on the tax paper published by the Commission last month? It will be the basis of the forthcoming Scottish Government tax proposals, and we'll see the insults start again.

Please read those four reports (the Executive Summaries should be enough), and you'll realise why Better Together and Westminster don't actually say 'No' to anything. If they did, they'd have to challenge the Commission's findings directly - and, frankly, I'd like to see that happen.

You should also watch Professor Hughes-Hallett's BBC Scotland webcast, and note his responses. I was surprised that my (edited) question was put to him, but was delighted with his response. I asked what he thought of the Fiscal Commission's work being called 'delusional' by unionist politicians (they edited out the 'unionist'), and .... well, give it a look.

It's priceless, and should have been on the Herald and Hootsmon front pages.

I'm convinced that when the Scottish 'middle classes' - those who take more of an interest in the details - discover who is actually advising the Scottish Government, and what they have recommended and why, they'll move to 'Yes' in huge numbers.

They'll start asking why those leading economists are being insulted, and why their work is being suppressed by our media.

People NEED this information, and that's why the opposition is hiding it!

* * *

James said yesterday that he had a premonition about John Curtice. But in fact the Professor has already dropped that (also ignored) clanger.

During the summer he was a guest on Good Morning Scotland. The topic was increasing 'English' hostility towards Scotland. It was put to him that Scotland isn't being 'subsidised' by England - it's just spending its money differently. His reply was something along the lines of : "We now know that many polls operating in England start by making a misleading statement. Something like 'Did you know that Scotland gets more money to spend on services than England?', followed by the poll question : 'Do you think it's fair that Scotland gets more for services than England?'".

You do realise that Curtice is one of nine 'Fellows' being funded by Vince Cable's department to work with the (same funding) IFS 'Scottish Independence' programme? Those 'Fellows' are costing £1.2 million, on top of the many millions being poured into that 'independent' IFS programme by Westminster.

It's worth looking at those fourteen IFS reports - the parts the media avoids - the bits that say 'but an Independent Scotland can do things differently, and if it does, it will succeed'.

Of course the media always uses the average PESA (Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses) figures for the UK/England/rUK. It always has done, and the reason is obvious. Look at the Treasury figures for each of the nine English regions, plus Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and we see that on a per capita basis, Scotland isn't top of the list for public spending at all.

Number one is Northern Ireland, and number two is...London. Yes, the richest 'part' of the UK (with 'part' being defined by the Treasury as the nine regions plus Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland) also receives the highest per capita spend for all public services AND capital spending - by a lot!

And that's why the London-based media always compares Scotland to the AVERAGE figure for the nine English regions.

Remember that next time you see those comparisons being made.

As I write this, I'm listening to Neil Findlay (yes, I'm an anorak) claim that the proposals for oil funds are from the SNP's 'fantasy tree'! Yet those proposals come directly from the Fiscal Commission in its 85-page 'Stabilisation and Savings Funds For Scotland' published in October. Findlay either doesn't know about that report, or he hopes that we don't.

That has to change.

Dorice is a regular commenter at the Guardian website.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hammerblow for the anti-independence campaign as it turns out they can't even run a push-poll properly

I'm indebted to Marcia on the previous thread for pointing me in the direction of the anti-independence campaign's latest failed attempt at a push-poll, and the comic spectacle of them trying to put a brave face on it. Let's face it, we all know that voters generally say they disapprove of absolutely any government spending that isn't on health, education or (for viewers in the Tory shires) weapons of mass destruction, so you can almost tangibly feel the disappointment and frustration as Project Fear announce that they persuaded a mere 56% of respondents to say "Yes" to their doom-laden question about the SNP supposedly spending too much money on delivering information to the public about the independence referendum.

"In recent weeks people will have seen billboards, newspaper adverts and leaflets advertising the SNP's White Paper manifesto for breaking up the UK. This is all paid for by the Scottish taxpayer, rather than the money being spent on important things like schools, hospitals and childcare. Some reports put the amount as high as £800,000."

God, I see what you mean. And to hell with the schools and hospitals - in line with the UK's traditional "better together" priorities, we could have purchased 0.0000001 Trident missiles with that kind of money. It might not sound like much, but that's enough to wipe out at least three Iranian villages. Think of all the children we could have slaughtered if it hadn't been for those pesky separatists.

The moment of true comic genius comes later in the piece, however -

"In a further blow for the SNP just 9% of people in Scotland believe Alex Salmond is spending "too little" public money advertising his campaign to break up the UK."

Yeah, that really is a crushing blow, chaps - only a tenth of the population think that Alex Salmond should be doing something that, isn't doing.

On a more serious note, 9% is an astonishingly high figure. It means there are fewer people planning to vote Liberal Democrat at the next election than there are who think the SNP aren't spending enough money on information about independence! In the light of which, it's deliciously ironic that it was Willie Rennie's turn to conclude the article with the standard do-it-by-numbers "this poll is a wake-up call for Alex Salmond" quote.

Fascinating Panelbase poll suggests that English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters are firmly behind the SNP's plans for an independent Scotland to remain part of the sterling zone

I wasn't really expecting any referendum-flavoured opinion polls between Christmas and New Year, but one has arrived just the same, and it's proved to be something of a festive setback for McDougall's merry mob. Contrary to the anti-independence campaign's curious belief that England is exclusively composed of stroppy teenagers who will take their ball away and refuse to play anymore if Scotland dares to govern itself, it turns out that voters south of the border are actually rather adult, and are overwhelmingly in favour of the sensible proposals for an independent Scotland to remain part of both the sterling zone and the passport-free Common Travel Area (which currently comprises Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey).

Here are the full findings...

Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom are among each other's largest trading partners. Putting aside your own views on whether or not Scotland should become an independent country, if independence does happen do you think that Scotland and the rest of the UK should continue using the pound in an agreed sterling area?

Yes (either 'Yes, definitely' or 'Yes, I think so') - 71%
No (either 'Definitely not' or 'No, I don't think so') - 12%

A Common Travel Area has existed since the 1920s which provides for freedom of movement throughout the area for citizens of the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. Putting aside your own views on whether or not Scotland should become an independent country, if independence does happen do you think that there should continue to be freedom of movement with no passport controls between England and Scotland?

Yes (either 'Yes, definitely' or 'Yes, I think so') - 75%
No (either 'Definitely not' or 'No, I don't think so') - 12%

Now, I already have a premonition of John Curtice muttering something about 'leading questions', but the fact is that the vast majority of people in England are almost certainly unaware that the Common Travel Area even exists, and so until that is explained they cannot possibly give an informed opinion on whether Scotland should remain a part of it. Likewise, the little-known fact that Scotland is rUK's second-biggest trading partner is the most crucial piece of information for English voters in judging whether it would be in their own interests for Scotland to remain part of the sterling zone. Certainly the discovery that simply pointing this information out is sufficient to produce such huge majorities should be a warning sign for the No campaign and the UK government that their treasured little games have a very limited shelf life ahead of them.

Oh, and I presume this tweet from Ian Smart was intended as a response to the poll -

"So, the overwhelming majority in England is in favour of maintaining the union. Good. So is the overwhelming majority in Scotland."

Just two small objections here -

1) You seem to have unaccountably overlooked the rather crucial phrase 'if independence does happen' in the wording of the poll questions - ie. English voters were expressing a view on what should happen after the dissolution of the union, not on whether the union should be maintained.

2) There is not an 'overwhelming majority' in Scotland opposed to independence. In fact, there is not a majority of any sort in Scotland opposed to independence. According to the current poll average, the No vote stands at just 48.8% - meaning that most people in Scotland are either in favour of independence or are undecided.

But apart from that, what a truly fabulous point, Ian.