All posts by thomas

Quis persuadebit ipsos persuasores?

Las manos
Las manos, a photo by tutescin on Flickr.

There was an interesting wee exchange of opinions on Twitter today:

Susan Stewart (ex-director of communications for Yes Scotland): Step away from your keyboards and talk to people! […]

Wings Over Scotland: Y’know, whenever people say that I take it personally 🙁

Susan Stewart: don’t. But winning the online debate won’t win the referendum. Necessary but not sufficient. #yesscot #indyref

Wings Over Scotland: Of course it won’t. But it’s still invariably worded in an incredibly dispiriting way. Wish folk would take more care.

National Collective: Truth is we need both. 🙂

I’m reluctant to criticise Yes Scotland, because they do a lot of great work, but I don’t think they’re being helpful when they criticise those of us who are engaged in the on-line debate.

It might well be the case that most people on-line who can be persuaded have already been so, and that it’s the off-line population that need convincing now. However, I think it’s naive to think that persuasion is a one-off process, as this seems to imply.

The army of Yes foot soldiers aiming to knock every door in Scotland over the next 14 months needs constant encouragement, information about new questions raised in the debate, as well as an opportunity to talk to like-minded people, all of which is best done on-line.

After reading an informative article on Wings over Scotland, National Collective or Business for Scotland, I just feel much more energised than before — I really don’t think I would do more or better door-knocking if I stopped reading those articles. I also tend to write blog postings when I need to get something off my chest, or when I’m in a pensive mood, and in neither situation would I be likely to go out canvassing instead.

Also, many people who have been convinced of the merits of a Yes still don’t feel ready to answer the potential questions that might arise on the doorstep, and where will they find the answers if not on-line?

When people criticise the time spent on-line, they need to ask themselves this question: Who will persuade the persuaders? (Or in Latin, Quis persuadebit ipsos persuasores?)

The Yes campaign is a genuine grassroots campaign because new ideas often originate on a blog, get disseminated on Twitter or on Facebook, and only eventually become official Yes Scotland policies. I think this is an immense strength, and it would be very harmful to the Yes side if somebody insisted that grassroots were only good for knocking doors, and ideas had to come from the top or from the (often biased) media.

I haven’t met a single person on-line who has called for a stop to doorstep canvassing. All we’re asking is that our on-line campaigning gets some respect, too. We’re all doing all we can, and there’s more than one way to do it!

Higher taxes, but more money in your pocket, too

Halftone, a photo by I’m George on Flickr.
When people discuss proposals such as the Common Weal, you often hear complaints that taxes would have to be sky-high to finance a Scandinavian-style welfare state.

Taxes are indeed a wee bit higher in Scandinavia (but not drastically so, once deductions are taken into account), but most Scandinavians nevertheless have more money coming into their bank account than their current Scots counterparts.

This is because salaries are typically higher in Scandinavia than here. (The exception is at the very top — if you make more than £100k a year, you might be better off under the current system.)

For instance, in Denmark the minimum wage is about £12 per hour, so almost twice as much as in the UK. I believe somebody on this salary would pay about 30% tax in Denmark, whereas they would pay nothing in the UK at the moment, so the take-home pay is still almost 50% higher for the Danish worker, although they’re paying much more tax, too.

Combined with subsidised child-care and other elements of the cradle-to-grave welfare state, most people would definitely be better off if an independent Scotland introduced the Common Weal proposals.

Celebrating a Scottish victory

Alex Salmond waving the Saltire.
Alex Salmond waving the Saltire.
I wasn’t going to write anything about Salmond waving the Saltire after Andy Murray’s victory, but the reactions — especially from unionist quarters — have been so strong that I decided to have a quick look at it.

I have seen four reasons given for being upset at Salmond’s wee stunt:

  1. It’s against the rules of Wimbledon’s All England Club.
  2. It would have been OK for normal people to wave a Saltire, but a First Minister should be above such plebeian antics.
  3. The Saltire is a symbol of the Yes campaign, and as such it shouldn’t be displayed at a non-political event.
  4. Doing it behind Cameron’s head was wrong.

Let’s examine these in turn:

The Queen of Denmark, the Crown Princess and the Crown Prince at a handball match.
The Queen, the Crown Princess and the Crown Prince of Denmark at a handball match. No stiff upper lip there.

  1. Against the rules: While it might be against the rules, it’s hardly a huge crime, and I somehow doubt anybody would have been mortally offended if Đoković had won and the Prime Minister of Serbia had pulled out a Serbian flag.
  2. Not something a First Minister should do: It appears to me to be part of the so-called “Scottish cringe” that important people should act like the English upper class, and such people would celebrate a tennis victory with a stiff upper lip. However, there’s no reason why this should be the case. In Denmark, the royals and important politicians don’t act like Englishmen, and neither did Scots before the union with England. As Michael Fry writes in The Union:

    [During] James VI’s journey south in 1603 to claim the throne of his late cousin, Elizabeth of England, the people swarmed to welcome him in almost intolerable numbers. […] He asked what all these people wanted, and smooth-talking Englishmen replied they came of love to see him. He cried in Scots: “I’ll pull doon ma breeks and they shall see ma erse.” When he had spoken like that at home, his people answered in kind. That was how Scots treated their kinds, worthy of loyalty but on a level with themselves.

  3. The Saltire is the symbol of the Yes campaign: If this is now the case, it follows that the Union Jack is now the symbol of the No campaign, and both should be banned from non-political events until the referendum has taken place. This would be rather perverse, given that both flags primarily are symbols of their countries, not of political movements.
  4. Not behind Cameron: I fail to see how waving a Saltire behind Cameron’s head can be seen as offensive. Downing Street were flying a Saltire that very same day, and Cameron is the Prime Minister responsible for Scotland, as well as being of part-Scottish descent. If I had been Cameron, I would have turned round and waved it together with Salmond.

To conclude, it doesn’t strike me that any of the reasons given for being outraged really hold water, so it’s more likely it’s simply the No campaign trying to throw mud at their opponents.

The powers we need

Jam Tomorrow
‘Tomorrow’ Jam
The unionists sometimes talk about the extra powers Scotland will get if we vote No. Apart from the fact that it will probably just be a case of jam tomorrow (given that there won’t be any political necessity to increase devolution), nobody has so far put forward a case for devolving any further policy areas to Scotland, just making Scotland responsible for raising more revenue.

However, which powers would the Scottish public actually like to see devolved to Scotland? Let’s have a look at some of the reserved matters:

  1. Social security: The strong reaction to the bedroom tax makes it clear that Scots would prefer to see the majority of the responsibilities of the Department of Work and Pensions devolved to Scotland. However, it’s one of the few remaining areas where Westminster still plays a massive role in the life of ordinary Scots so I doubt any UK government would be happy to transfer these powers.
  2. EU representation: It’s constantly a problem that Scotland doesn’t always get as good a deal in the EU as independent countries because Westminster ministers do the negotiating for us, even in fully devolved areas. However, even if Westminster agreed to this, the EU would probably veto it.
  3. Military and foreign affairs: The Scottish reaction to the Iraq war and to having the UK’s nuclear weapons stationed just outside Glasgow makes it clear that most people would prefer to devolve these areas to Scotland. However, this is one of the hallmarks of an independent country, so it really won’t happen without independence.
  4. Postal services: Given that Westminster are constantly talking about privatising the Royal Mail, it would probably be very popular to keep it state-owned in Scotland, but exactly because it’d be popular, there’s no way it will happen.
  5. Broadcasting: Many Scots are reasonably happy with the BBC, but at the same time it would be great to get more dedicated Scottish programming (such as the “Scottish Six”), which would be more likely if some broadcasting powers were devolved. However, Westminster would be worried at the prospect of the BBC turning into a pro-independence channel, so there’s no way they’d do this.
  6. Air transport: Scottish politicians often complain that Scotland needs a lower air passenger duty than England to keep the Highlands and islands inhabitable, but I have a feeling London-based politicians would fear that some international airlines would start flying to Scotland instead of London to take advantage of this, so again I doubt this would happen.
  7. Immigration: Whereas English politicians (who can feel UKIP breathing down their necks) are getting very wary of immigration, Scotland is a much more welcoming place, and we need some immigration to keep the country going. It would be very useful if immigration was devolved. However, Westminster would be worried that immigrants would enter through Scotland and then move down to London, so this is a non-starter.

When you look at this list, two things strike me: Firstly there’s no chance in a lifetime that Westminster will actually consider devolving any of them, and secondly, most of them are attributes of an independent state.

The powers we need in Scotland are not those of a region with devolved powers, but those of an independent state.

Sweden in the north, Freeport Ho! in the south

The divided electorate in England and Wales
The divided electorate in England and Wales
In their book Going South: Why Britain will have a Third World Economy by 2014, Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson claim the UK needs to make a fundamental choice: Should it move in the direction of a Scandinavian welfare state (similar to the Common Weal ideas currently being discussed in Scotland), or should it become a low-tax state based on free trade (called “Freeport Ho!” and “Freeport Britain” in their book)?

They don’t really discuss Scottish independence in their book, and they seem to think that the UK must make the choice as a whole.

However, it appears to me that Scotland and London have already chosen. Scotland wants to go down the Common Weal path (and what we’re really discussing in the independence referendum campaign is whether we can convince the rUK to go down that road with us, or whether we should do so alone), and Greater London has practically decided to become a global free port (which is why so many people in the South-East want to leave the EU, dismantle the NHS, and all that).

It’s probably the case that a majority of people in Wales and Northern England actually agree more with Scotland than with London, but given that the Tories are essentially a Southern English party (see the map above), and that Labour are forever chasing the swing voters in Southern England, they have unfortunately handed over the power to make this decision to London.

Only in Scotland have we got a chance to choose a different route, which is why we have to vote Yes now, before the process of becoming Freeport Ho! makes it utterly impossible for Scotland to make a different choice.

Tories for Independence?

Conservative inspiration?
Conservative inspiration?, a photo by willumhg on Flickr.
In general, winning the independence referendum is about convincing the people who don’t support the SNP or the Green Party.

Because of this, Labour for Independence’s leaflets are extremely valuable when talking to Labour voters about independence.

However, here in East Renfrewshire many people tend to vote Conservative, so it’d be really useful if we had a Tories for Independence leaflet to give to them.

I’m not a Tory, so I don’t think I should be writing it, but I guess it might look something like this:

The Tories used to be Scotland’s largest party. However, after Thatcher’s necessary reforms we are now hated in Scotland. We got only one MP elected in the last general election.

All over the world, democratic countries tend to have at least one powerful centre-right party, typically either in power or providing the main opposition.

Why is Scotland unique in having only centre-left parties? Because the Scottish Parliament doesn’t raise its own revenues, so all the debate in Scotland is about how to spend money, which is not natural Conservative territory.

However, if Scotland becomes independent, voters will again react positively to a message about cutting taxes, helping our companies and growing the economy.

As the 8th richest country in the world we would take control of our own resources. We would benefit from the GDP per head being some 17% higher than the UK average and the deficit levels being about one third lower than the UK. The full 9.9% of UK taxes Scotland currently generates would be available for spending in Scotland. The £4.4bn extra revenue this represents would enable us to lower taxes and to invest more in our companies, creating jobs for hard-working Scots. We can also lower corporate tax to make it attractive for companies to relocate to Scotland, creating thousands of jobs here.

Vote Yes to independence to revive the Conservative party in Scotland!

It didn’t give me any pleasure writing the stuff above, but surely a message like that would appeal to many Scots of a Conservative persuasion?