Tag Archives: referendum

How do they rise up, rise up, rise up?

Abortion Rights ScotlandScotland is a pro-choice country.

About four-fifths of the population of Scotland would agree – this crosses gender-lines, voting-intention, religious belief, class/wealth, or locale – that abortion in Scotland should remain freely available on the NHS.

Only a minority think that pregnant patients who need access to abortion should have that access decreased. That minority can be loud and can be unkind – the ones who think it’s a good idea picketing clinics to hand anti-abortion leaflets to patients are particularly cruel – but they are, everywhere, only a minority.

Abortion Act 1967 - Happy 51st BirthdayOn 28th April this year in Edinburgh we held our annual celebration of the day the 1967 Abortion Act became law. (On the other side of the road are the sad people who think abortion in the UK should have remained illegal and dangerous.)

We asked people who stopped by our stall to have cake and sign our open letter:

“We stand with the people of Ireland who will be voting to repeal the Eighth Amendment on 25th May 2018: for healthcare in pregnancy to be freely and fully available for all patients. Abortion denial is lethal.”

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Filed under Healthcare, Human Rights, Scottish Culture, Women

Aberdeen: people power won

In quick summary: in November 2008 an oil billionaire, Sir Ian Wood, got an idea for a concrete Italian-style piazza in the centre of Aberdeen, to be achieved by transferring a public park into private ownership. He offered to spend £50M of his own money to part-pay for his stony vision. (He likes concrete and no trees: Union Terrace Gardens has lots of trees.) (Update: apparently some of the trees would have survived.)

Annie Lennox, November 2011:

If Sir Ian Wood wants to invest £50m into the centre of Aberdeen, that is fundamentally good, but I disagree with the way he’s going about it. It is not because I’m a reactionary, it is not because I’m against modernity or change. It is the way that this was done; it is short-termism, it is short-sighted.

From what I am gathering, he is not saying: “I have £50m, I want to talk to you, I want to hear what you guys want.” He’s telling the city this is what he will do with it. I think it’s very imperious. I think it is very, very important to listen to more people, the people who are living there, the citizens of the town.

This offer from Sir Ian Wood interrupted a long-term plan for developing Union Terrace Gardens. A consultation was carried out, which overall rejected Wood’s scheme, and then in November 2011 the SNP-controlled council had the Electoral Commission run a referendum across the whole City – in which Wood’s scheme won by a slight majority.
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Filed under Oil, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

I was wrong. The Conservatives really are that inept.

Okay. I was wrong.

When David Cameron declared that he could decide the date of the referendum on independence, claiming that a long delay is “very damaging for Scotland” and having Downing Street announce that a referendum carried out without Westminster backing would “only have advisory status” apparently he genuinely thought that an English Tory Prime Minister would be welcomed as a sort of hero riding to the rescue of the Scots.

Apparently the Conservative Press office genuinely believed that a message like this is conciliatory:

David Cameron will today seek to ban Alex Salmond from holding his referendum on breaking up Britain unless he agrees to a list of Coalition demands.

The Scottish First Minister would be forced to name the date for the vote and be restricted to a clear-cut question on whether Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom. The two men were on a constitutional collision-course last night as Mr Salmond signalled his outright rejection of the Prime Minister’s terms.

It is entirely possible to just not like Alex Salmond very much, and to be unsure of how you’ll vote in a referendum, and never in your life to have voted SNP, and still not care for the English Prime Minister bullshitting about how he’ll “force” the Scottish First Minister to come to heel, and that it will be Westminister, not Holyrood, that decides the date and content of the referendum.

Honestly, I really thought this must be some kind of cunning anti-Union scheme, probably set up by George Osborne, who may be ignorant of basic economics but who reputedly is quite smart and is no fan of the union, being able to do the electoral arithmetic that tells an English Tory that Scottish Labour voters could yet turf them out in 2015. Because it is so obvious to anyone who knows more of Scotland that roughly where to find it on a map, that if you want to get the Scots to vote for independence (currently only 29% of Scots are definitely for, though 53% against says there’s a big “undecided” vote to play for) the way to do it would be just this.

As Mary from Edinburgh said on Call Kaye yesterday morning:

“I’m not for independence at all. I worry that an intervention from Westminster may result in an anti-English kneejerk vote.”

But apparently Cameron genuinely thought that the Scottish people would like him for helping the referendum happen – with a few little conditions of course.

Nicola Sturgeon (BBC Radio 4’s Today) made the point clear: “It’s the attachment of conditions that gives the game away – this is Westminster trying to interfere. Perhaps I should be relaxed about that because the more a Tory government tries to interfere in Scottish democracy then I suspect the greater the support for independence will be, but there is a key issue of democratic principle here.”

I have to say that listening to Professor Tim Luckhurst of Kent University (on Call Kaye) explain that it’s ridiculous to suppose that the Scottish electorate should have the the deciding vote on a separation, and blandly ignore that if the whole of the UK is polled, effectively this gives the English the controlling vote to decide if Scotland ought to be allowed to separate from the UK, was enough to make a nationalist of me if only he’d gone on talking – so I switched off. Aidan O’Neil made this argument in the Guardian last November.

To Professor Luckhurst, apparently, it makes sense that you can’t have a divorce without mutual consent. He’s a professor of journalism, not of family law: apparently he genuinely doesn’t realise that it is entirely possible for a divorce to take place simply because one partner in the relationship has decided to end it.

No grand scheme on the part of the Tories. They just really didn’t see that neither David Cameron nor his party nor his policies are appealling to the Scottish people – and that no matter what a Scot’s support for independence or liking for Alex Salmond, in Scotland we accept that the SNP made clear when they intended to hold a referendum if they won, and they won the elections, and now they’ve got a right to do what they said they’d do. That’s democracy.

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Filed under Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

I need a new boiler

If someone gave you, out of the blue, no strings attached, £1,773.96 – what would you spend it on?

I would probably get new kitchen cupboards. Or I might spend it on getting my house rewired. Or it would go (part-way) towards the cost of a new boiler. If I got it at this time of year, I’d likely spend at least part of it on Christmas presents and other winter goodies. Retrospectively, a couple of hundred would go to pay the plumber who fixed my bath and toilet last month, and who is still lingering in my overdraft – so technically, that part would go to the banks. But most of it would go to small businesses in my local area.

I asked a friend when the idea came to me what he would do, and he said he would probably blow it on eBay – so a large part would go to small businesses all over the UK, a part would go to the Post Office, and a part would go to the multinational corporation eBay.

What would you spend it on?

While you’re thinking about that, let me tell you where I got that from. I read on the news that the bailout package now planned for the eurozone – the money that’s going to be given to the banks – is about £870bn. The population of the EU is 490,426,060 – just under 500 million. Divide £870 billion by 490 million, you get £1,733 and change.

We already know from practical experience in 2008 and after, that giving billions to the banking world will do nothing to rescue the economy. The problems we have are due to bank failure: but the banks, given billions, simply go back to what they were doing that caused the crash.

Here’s how the economy works: consider it a year at a time. The government needs money to run the country. So it estimates how much money it will need, and borrows that amount. (In fact the UK’s loans are long-term and mostly internal – we’re a creditor nation, which means we loan more money to other countries than we borrow. Despite the Tory doomsaying, the UK’s national debt is not huge either compared to other similar countries nor in our country’s history.)

The government borrows the money, because it’s completely unfeasible simply to shut down the country and not spend anything to run it for a year – the government’s income comes from taxes, and if the country isn’t running, the government gets no taxes. This is not, despite what you’ve probably heard what the Tories say on TV, like an individual borrowing on their credit card. All governments borrow and lend: it’s how national economies work.

The government will be getting money in throughout the year by taxing us. We give them part of our income via what we earn and what we spend. Businesses – the small local kind that can’t afford to pay armies of tax lawyers – get taxed on their profits. (I’m simplifying enormously, yes.) The richer you are, the more tax you can evade, but most of us pay taxes and thus the government has an income.

At the end of the year, if more income has come in in taxes than the government borrowed, they have a surplus: if less, they have a deficit. Tory doomsayers will try to get you to panic about the deficit, but it’s not really a problem for a rich, stable country like the UK: the government’s security in borrowing is the national economy itself. But if significantly less has come in by taxes than the government expected, then they have a problem. The economy is shrinking. People aren’t earning. They aren’t spending. Businesses aren’t making profits, and so aren’t paying tax on them. The government is getting less money.

The right-wing solution at this point is to cut spending: to make public service workers jobless and to cut services. This is called “austerity”, and it doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work, because, as you can see for yourself, what the government needs is more money coming in. When people lose their jobs, the government loses the tax they paid on their income: people spend less when they’re worried about their jobs (I’ve been putting off buying a new boiler for the past two years because every year I’ve never been sure if I’ll still have a job in April) and perhaps worst of all, in this country, if you’re broke you will tend to spend a higher proportion of your money on the cut-price items in the supermarket – and that means more money for the supermarket (and the big-chain supermarkets are all excellent tax evaders) and less money for the supermarket’s suppliers and therefore ultimately for the government.

When the Tories decided to throw all those people who worked for the government out of a job, they made cheap, short-term “savings” – those people weren’t getting a salary from the government any more. But neither were they bringing in an income. Less tax for the government. Bigger deficit at the end of the year. The Tories thus dealt a serious blow to the economy in the guise of “saving money”.

People use public services to be able to work. Cuts in public services mean fewer people working. Less spending. Less tax. Bigger deficit at the end of the year.

But this isn’t a party rant, because no party is proposing what I’m about to suggest, and no one will. The people of Greece have been denied a referendum – they won’t get to decide if they want to endure two generations of utter poverty as the bankers get the billions, because the only other option that is said to be “realistic” is for them to leave the eurozone. And if Greece left the eurozone, other economically poor countries would leave it too. Soon there wouldn’t be a eurozone.

So here’s my utterly unrealistic, completely Keynsian solution.

Don’t give the money directly to the banks. Give it to the people of the European Union instead, and let each one of us decide how much of it we’re going to let the banks have.

Let every adult claim their seventeen hundred pounds and change. Let mothers claim it for their children. (Statistically speaking, as a general truth of development work, if you want money to be spent as a benefit for the whole family, you make sure the mothers get it.)

The economic benefit across Europe would be huge. Some people would opt to make an extra payment on their mortgage, pay back their overdraft or their credit cards – that part would go directly to the banks, and that would be up to the individual. A solid boost of spending in every part of Europe – a sudden jump in the economy – would bring in profits for businesses, income for individuals, tax for governments, everybody’s happy. If the banks can’t get enough to keep from failing, well, let the small savers (anyone with under £30,000 in savings) get their money back, and let the big savers crash.

We’ll never get this. Not because it wouldn’t work. Not because it would be too complicated.

But because it wouldn’t benefit the banks: and they’re really running the EU. As we see, when the birthplace of democracy doesn’t get to have a referendum because the people’s answer might not suit their real overlords, the banks who got them into this mess.

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Filed under Economics, European politics