Category Archives: Westminster

Scottish foreign aid and East Kilbride

Danida funded toilets in Parakou
Danida funded toilets in Parakou, a photo by profbury on Flickr.
One of the most recent scaremongering stories to come out of Westminster is Justine Greening’s threat to make the DFID’s employees in East Kilbride redundant: “Development Secretary Justine Greening told MPs on the international development select committee that the future of her department’s headquarters in Scotland which employed around 600 people and is worth £30 million to the East Kilbride economy, would need to be reviewed and would probably be moved if Scotland becomes a foreign country.”

While I agree that it would be odd for the rUK to keep a large part of their employees in Scotland after independence, the real question of course is whether the East Kilbride staff will be able to transfer into an equivalent job for the independent Scottish Government.

Fortunately, Humza Yousaf has promised to increase spending on aid: “With independence we will legislate to enshrine the UN’s 0.7 per cent aid target in law, effectively future-proofing the aid budget. That contrasts to the UK’s record on aid, which is one of missed targets.”

He has also promised to try to protect the jobs in East Kilbride:

The Department for International Development (DFID) currently employs just under 50% of its staff in East Kilbride.


Last month Mr Yousaf told the same committee the SNP would “look to preserve employment” for the 550 permanent and 50 contract staff who worked for DFID at Abercrombie House in East Kilbride.

It’s interesting to contemplate the details of this. If Scotland commits to spending 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid, and if we assume Scottish GDP is £27,732 per person (PDF), the yearly Scottish aid budget would be roughly £1028m.

According to Wikipedia, “[i]n 2009/10 DFID’s Gross Public Expenditure on Development was £6.65bn. Of this £3.96bn was spent on Bilateral Aid (including debt relief, humanitarian assistance and project funding) and £2.46bn was spent on Multilateral Aid (including support to the EU, World Bank, UN and other related agencies).”

The DFID seems to place the higher-paid jobs in London as a rule:

If you looked at Abercrombie House five to 10 years ago, it was dominated, probably 90+%, by corporate and transactional work. That’s changed quite a lot now. We’ve moved policy jobs, we’ve moved some of our bilateral aid programme management jobs, some research jobs; some of the multilateral work is done from there. The balance of work in East Kilbride has moved that office from what it was originally set up as—effectively a transactional and corporate support function—to one that’s much more part of the core headquarters of the Department. […]

However, although policy posts are being moved to East Kilbride, the majority of posts there are at Band B1 or below (295 out of 463). In contrast the majority of posts in the London office are at Band A2 and above (451 out of 756).

My guess is that this means that after independence, the job descriptions will change in East Kilbride. There will be more highly paid jobs, but probably fewer corporate and transactional jobs.

Of course, the UK’s aid budget is more than twice the size of what an independent Scotland will be spending, so it’s likely that we’ll need a slightly smaller foreign aid department. On the other hand, Scotland will also need many other government departments that are currently not devolved (foreign affairs, tax and benefits, etc.), so it should be easy to place enough of these jobs in East Kilbride to ensure nobody will face unemployment there as a consequence of independence, and many people will actually get a more important and better-paid role.

I really wish the Westminster politicians wouldn’t default to scaremongering so easily. Of course there’ll be changes in East Kilbride after independence, but obviously creating an independent government apparatus in Scotland will lead to more jobs in Scotland, not fewer, so why pretend these people will face redundancy when they’re more likely to get a promotion?

The Economist’s “domestic problem”

"Looking for a future".
“Looking for a future”.
The Economist’s special report this week is about “the big decisions ahead for Britain”, which is trying to conflate the Scottish independence referendum, the future EU referendum, the English attitude to immigrants and a couple of other issues. Perhaps tellingly, the cover photo shows three cricket players searching for a lost ball.

The Economist used to be an intelligent magazine with an internationalist outlook, but it seems recently to have become the local newspaper for the City of London, and their latest report is quite typical in that respect.

The leading article introducing the report demonstrates how parochial this publication has become:

On Scotland, Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband are on the side of Great Britain. But it is a decision for Scots. Although a Hibernian [sic!] state could more or less pay its way to begin with, assuming that it was able to hold on to most of the North Sea oil- and gas-fields, that resource is drying up. An independent Scotland would be too small to absorb shocks, whether to oil prices or to its banks. And the separatists cannot say how the country could run its affairs while keeping the pound. For their own sakes, Scottish voters should reject their political snake-oil.

I’m sure there are many people who are not aware of the difference between Hibernian and Caledonian, but if you want to give the impression that you’re highly knowledgeable about the Scottish independence referendum, it’s perhaps not the best start. (And the rest of this paragraph is of course poorly researched scaremongering sound-bites. As Business for Scotland recently wrote: “This is solid proof that oil price volatility isn’t a problem, for if it was, then at least once in 32 years Scotland’s revenues would have dropped below the average for the rest of the UK but it never did.”)

The rest of the leader isn’t much better. Bankers in London might think that “[i]n many ways Britain has a lot going for it right now. Whereas the euro zone’s economy is stagnant, Britain is emerging strongly from its slump. The government has used the crisis to trim the state”, but this is hardly the consensus view elsewhere.

Their provincial outlook is also making them see the prospect of Scottish independence purely from a London point of view. For instance, the leading article contains this:

The most straightforward way Britain could shrivel is through Scotland voting to leave the United Kingdom next September. At a stroke, the kingdom would become one-third smaller. Its influence in the world would be greatly reduced. A country that cannot hold itself together is scarcely in a position to lecture others on how to manage their affairs.

The Kingdom of Scotland wouldn’t become any smaller, and our influence in the world would be greatly increased. I’m not saying they should present it like this, but perhaps they should just once try to imagine how the referendum looks from the other side of the border.

It gets worse on page 4 of the report:

The country also needs to deal with a domestic problem. Ten years ago Scottish nationalism was in headlong retreat, but in a mere ten months from now Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent country. If it opts to leave, what remains of Britain will cut a greatly diminished figure on the world stage. Together with the referendum on EU membership, which may take place in 2017 or even sooner, the vote could set the country on a path to serious isolation.

A domestic problem? A domestic problem?!?! One of the two founding members of the Union leaving is now just a wee annoyance that needs to be dealt with?

Finally, on page 13 they write:

If Scotland votes for independence, what remains of Britain will be shaken. The state will be slimmed mathematically, as 8% of its economy and population disappears, together with 32% of its land and almost all of the North Sea oil- and gasfields. It will be diminished militarily. The Scots supply more than their fair share of uniformed men, and Britain’s nuclear-armed submarines are parked in a deep Scottish loch, with no decent alternative berth. It will also be humiliated. A country that cannot hold itself together is greatly diminished in the eyes of the world. Scottish independence would give succour to Welsh nationalists and would cause an existential crisis in Northern Ireland, where many unionists have Scottish roots.

I put this quote on Twitter two days ago together with this comment: “Is that supposed to be a reason to vote No?” and it got retweeted 68 times, so it must have touched a nerve. As Tweeter @CyberBrat1320 replied: “Stopping British militarism, encouraging Welsh nationalism, and creating an existential crisis in NI? Bring it on!” (I realise that it can sound a bit harsh to relish the prospect of causing an existential crisis there, but perhaps the disappearance of political Britishness could make them agree peacefully on a path for the future, either as part of a united Ireland or as an independent country in its own right, and surely that’d be a good thing.)

I really despair in The Economist. If they can only see Scotland from a London perspective, they shouldn’t be surprised if we complain that London isn’t representing us well on the world stage any more.

If they want to get their heads round what’s happening up here, they need to stop limiting their research to watching the BBC. Ideally, they should hire a Scottish journalist to explain the referendum campaign to their international audience. What they’re doing at the moment is frankly embarrassing.

What the new nuclear power station says about future oil prices

Nuclear Wetlands
Nuclear Wetlands, a photo by James Marvin Phelps on Flickr.
The unionist parties like to emphasise the uncertainty about future oil prices (e.g., “The tax we get from the North Sea is so volatile that the difference between the highest and lowest years is the equivalent of Scotland’s NHS budget”).

However, talking about Westminster’s decision to give the go-ahead for the UK’s first new nuclear station in a generation, and to guarantee the investors an electricity price that is almost twice the current wholesale cost of electricity, Energy Secretary Ed Davey said:

‘People won’t be paying this for ten years’ time and in ten years’ time we’ll be in a very different world – we’ll have had to replace all those nuclear power stations and coal power stations and we’re likely to see carbon prices going up and so on,’ he told BBC1’s Breakfast.

In other words, he’s implying that future energy prices will be much higher than they are at the moment, which is bad news for consumers everywhere, but excellent news for an independent Scotland. If Ed Davey expects energy prices to double over the next ten years, it means he must be expecting North Sea oil prices to rise by a similar amount, too.

Given the amounts of energy produced in Scotland, sky-high energy prices is an advantage for an independent Scotland, but this is not the case for the UK as a whole. Only in an independent Scotland can we use the increased revenue from rising oil and gas prices to make energy more affordable for the people living here.

The anglocentric media and the London Scots

Inequivocabilmente UK
Inequivocabilmente UK, a photo by lyonora on Flickr.
Yesterday the Herald published two articles that both contained interesting observations about the way Scotland and the independence referendum are perceived in London.

Iain Mcwhirther pointed out that the Scottish press is completely ignored in London: “The reason so many BBC network news programmes seem so anglocentric is because they tend to take their editorial agenda from the press, which doesn’t report Scotland in its London editions. This, rather that any anti-Scottish bias among editors of the 6pm news or Any Questions, accounts for the absence of Scottish stories.”

Andrew Marr noted that there is an assumption Scotland will vote No to independence: “Whenever London Scots get together and talk about independence, there is a general assumption the people back home will never actually vote for it — that a vote for the Scottish National Party in Holyrood is simply the latest wheeze to put pressure on London for financial favours is blandly repeated in bars and television studios. ‘They willnae.’ … I have become less certain: next September, they micht.”

Taken together, these two remarks make it clearer why the UK media have concluded that the referendum have already been decided (as I noted more than a year ago). If they don’t access Scottish media, they will out of necessity get their information primarily from Scots living in London, and if they in turn have decided it’ll be a No, that then becomes the established truth in the Westminster bubble.

It’s quite interesting to contemplate why the London Scots have already decided it will be a No. It has probably something to do with the widespread assumption that talent moves to London, and that the people who didn’t leave are too stupid to think for themselves.

I have a feeling the London Scots might get a big surprise in September 2014!

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.

Nobility in an independent Scotland

Passing of House of Lords Act 1999
Passing of House of Lords Act 1999, a photo by UK Parliament on Flickr.
The SNP and Yes Scotland don’t intend to abolish the monarchy immediately after independence. Hopefully a referendum on creating a republic will happen soon afterwards, but that’s a battle for another day.

However, a separate question is what will happen to the Scottish peers, both the hereditary ones and the life peers.

In general, republics tend to abolish all hereditary titles, and most monarchies tend to preserve the peerage. However, the Kingdom of Norway got rid of their nobility after independence, so there would be a precedent for abolishing it completely. However, my gut feeling is that this will have to wait until the Republic of Scotland is declared.

The life peers, on the other hand, are a unique UK invention (and a rather recent one, too), which basically came about because the House of Lords didn’t get replaced with something more democratic ages ago.

The main reason for making somebody a life peer is to allow them to sit in the House of Lords, so unless an independent Scotland creates a Hoose o Lairds — which I consider extremely improbable — their entire raison d’être disappears.

It therefore seems very unlikely that Scotland will be granting life peerages after independence.

However, what will happen to the UK’s current life peers from Scotland? This is not Scotland’s problem, of course, and I guess the rUK will have to make a decision on this in due course. The most likely scenario is that they’ll lose their seats, however, so I’m not surprised that many of the current Scottish life peers are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the union.