The Mackie Commission

30 09 2012

Brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.  I stand before you today on my feet.  My feet, hewed in the very fires of toil, and sculpted by Clarks.  Feet which have survived the cold, hard nights of the last five years of our cold, separatist regime.  Feet for whom the time has come to say ‘enough is enough’.

In towns and cities across our nation, a spectre haunts us all.  A spectre draining us of our vitality, stripping us of our humanity, forcing us to cease our happy talky talky happy talk.  Talk about things you’d like to do.  In their tens of thousands, the people have spoken – to me, to you, to me, to you.  Speaking with one voice.  And they are saying: ‘remove these Chanel-clad gazillionaires from our corpy buses’.

I am not one to shirk the tough decisions.  I have agonised night after night on the path we must take.  And I have come to one conclusion – when Strictly comes back on, I’m ditching the X-Factor.  And in the same way Tulisa’s bon mots will never grace my screen again, the hordes of cat-petting megalomaniacal Bond villians filling up top decks around our nation must be banished from our public transport network.

But I won’t stop there.  Why should ill folk get their treatment for free?  When I look at the shambles the sinister, secretive, and Solero-loving separatist SNP Scottish Scovernment has created in our National Health Service – with thousands of people forced by Salmond’s seditionist junta to collect life-saving medications, paid for through taxation and National Insurance – I am reminded of the timeless words of my political hero: “I am, the one and only.  Nobody I’d rather be.”

And we must take the debate on our region’s constitution to the Scottish Nose Pickers as well.  For too long, we have been silent on reforming the Union, apart from that Calman Commission we set up a few years back, and the other stuff we transferred in 2005.  And that time Wendy decided she wanted an independence referendum within a week.  And the Act resulting from the Calman Commission with the powers that won’t come into effect for a few years anyway.  But the time for silence is over.  I am today announcing a Commission on Things We Would Like To Appear As If We’re Thinking About, But Are Actually Doing No Such Thing. CTWWLTAAIFWTABAADNST will have wide-ranging powers, and a remit to examine behind my couch for the ten-bob bit I lost the other week.  It will be a powerhouse of dynamic dynamism, a collossus of challenge, a Peter Kay of panaceas, rising above narrow partisan interest, opting instead for a nice Gorgonzola.

CTWWLTAAIFWTABAADNST will require the best minds at its head.  That is why, despite my numerous responsibilities elsewhere, I shall lead the Commission from the start.  I shall do so with little prejudice, and precious few facts.  In my quest, I shall be ably assisted by modern thinkers, like The Fonz and Billy the Fish.

CTWWLTAAIFWTABAADNST – or the Mackie Commission – will be the choice of a new generation.  The choice of an old generation.  And the choice of regeneration, like when Doctor Who carks it.  It will propose the changes our country – Scotland – so urgently requires.

And it will do so in 2 years time.  Maybe 3.  We’ll see how it goes.


Johann’s Toll Road to Damascus

26 09 2012

If nothing else, Johann Lamont’s speech on Tuesday at least lit up my Twitter feed.  No slow news day there.  At least a few reported resignations from the Labour party, including Owen Jones’ parents, and some supportive words from Murdo Fraser.  All in a day’s work for the woman we were told last year was the most left-wing candidate for Scottish Labour leader.  Seriously, it’s been a strange couple of years.  Boiling it down, Lamont was repudiating the legacy of Beveridge & Bevan, and embracing the metrics of Mandelson & Blair.

The original Beveridge, summed up his Report and its attitude to Social Security as follows:

19. The main provisions of the plan may be summarised as follows:

(i) The plan covers all citizens without upper income limit, but. has regard to their different ways of life; it is a plan all-embracing in scope of persons and of needs, but is classified in application.

Johann, when questioned by John MacKay on Scotland Tonight, used the other Beveridge Report as a foundation of her retorts.  Here’s his inspirational words:

5.9  Limiting or targeting free entitlement, tightening of eligibility criteria,
introducing or increasing charges (or reducing subsidies) and introducing means testing all appear to have the potential to reduce public costs.  The choice of these or any other similar options should be based on the relative importance of activities and robust evidence-based assessments of the effectiveness of services.

I shed a tear borne of sheer awe at the poetry inherent in that paragraph, really I did.

So the publicly-declared basis for the Lamont Smash & Grab is a reintroduction of the means-test.  Good luck with that.  You’ll still find plenty of folk alive who remember the indignity of having their homes invaded by an inspector looking for evidence of wealth before awarding assistance.  The procedures may not be as invasive today, but the stigma remains, thus the disgrace of £19 billion of benefits remaining unclaimed last year.

(Incidentally, I share Lamont’s implied professed belief in the idea of a more progressive taxation system being introduced in order to ensure a greater level of social provision across society.  But simplifying that to “Wur gonnae have tae stick taxes on the rich up or you’ll never see the inside of a bus again”§ is the stuff of conversations held under the influence of too many pints of Cart Noir (A steal at £1.99 or less in Wetherspoons the now).  Any argument about fairer taxation has to include VAT and thresholds, and that is simply not on the agenda in Scotland this side of a Yes vote in 2014.)

But all this is irrelevant as far as the underlying reason for Labour’s volte-face.  Coming out with such electorally suicidal statements makes absolutely no sense if you’re in opposition – in an ordinary election cycle anyway.  The referendum in 2014 means we will have the most extra-ordinary election cycle in modern times.  Lamont’s Toll Road to Damascus conversion only makes sense if seen in that context.

I scratched my head most of the day trying to get a handle on the longer-term strategy Labour hope to hang on this (thus I can also indirectly blame Lamont for my increasing bald patch).  I figure it goes something like this: Use the next 2 years to warn of the dire consequences of universality without a corresponding increase in taxation – mainly on the well-off.  Put off any questions on the detail until after the referendum, when the commission is due to report.  Try and put the fear of god into those disproportionately reliant on universal services – the sick, the poor, and the old (see footnote below for the recent espousing of this from Labour).  When the SNP respond by saying “That’s something we can only change properly with independence/full fiscal autonomy/DevoMax, and anyway it’ll be up to whatever mandate an independent government receives in 2016”, Lamont and gang swing back with an attack on Salmond for being pals with billionaire galactic warlords or some such.  You know the drill.  Vote No and we’ll definitely give you something more progressive, cause Ed told us he absolutely would.

I don’t know if that’s right.  The advanced Kremlinology needed to look inside the Scottish Labour strategy mindset is beyond simple-minded dafties like me.  But if it’s true, it’s evidence of Labour being prepared to shove themselves under a bus for Union.  Because the risk of it backfiring quite spectacularly in the event of a Yes vote is substantial in the extreme.  Suppose the above tactics fail to inspire the fear and loathing of the SNP (and thus the Yes campaign) as desired.  Suppose the Yes camp gain a majority vote, and Scotland begins negotiations for full self-government.  Labour and Lamont will just have spent the last 2 years campaigning on a platform of cuts to universality, as an integral part of a campaign to stop the constitutional changes that would ultimately address the things they’ve been banging on about.

It’s a high-risk game for Labour.  If a Yes vote comes about, their options seem to be (a) repudiate the previous 2 years’ policies and revert to universalism under the guise of their commission finally reporting and coming up with the answers they need, or (b) carry on proposing the mass extension of means-testing with all the implications for public popularity implied.  In a dynamic, party realigning, post-independence world, the scope for a Left party to develop and knock a demoralised Labour machine into the middy could be sizable.  But such is the worry of the anti-self-government camp of a Yes vote, even at this early stage in the referendum campaign, that they’re prepared to take that risk to save Scotland from ourselves.

§ Incidentally, as someone who over recent years has chapped numerous doors behind which lived someone who had recently been told by Labour activists that the SNP were threatening to scrap the over-60s bus pass, and the “SNP Bus Cuts” guff at the council elections, and had to spend time reassuring them this wasn’t the case, you’ll forgive me for indulging in some schadenfreude at the expense of Lamont et al as they very publicly proposed to scrap not just the bus pass, but a whole range of services vital to pensioners.

The United Colour of Yes Goes On

25 09 2012

Like 10,000 11,000 5,000 7,000§ thousands of others last Saturday, I marched for independence.  Originally I’d intended to follow my usual Saturday routine of rest, rest, tea, and rest, but the warm nagging of some close friends and the generosity of giving me a lift there saw me trundle down to the Meadows in Edinburgh and end up through some bizarre circumstance walking holding a banner for an organisation of which it would be true to say am the definition of a ‘paper member’.  But truth be told, there where any number of banners representing a wad of people and organisations being held aloft on Saturday afternoon, followed by a speakers list at the rally of concept album proportions.

Just a trawl through my ever-failing memory banks brings to mind the Radical Independence Conference, Scottish Independence Convention, Labour for Independence and Women For Independence, as well as the obvious SNP, Green, SSP and individual non-aligned attendees like Ruth Wishart and Cameron McNeish.  And the noticeable applause for speakers like Margo MacDonald when they touched on their antipathy towards the EU demonstrated the different strands of thought on Scotland’s place in the world post-independence.

Such a spread of individuals and opinions reflect the historic development of the National Movement, going right back to the formation of the National Party of Scotland – a fusion of romantic cultural ideals and hard-headed economic determinism.  The modern-day SNP has reflected the mostly-dominant Social Democratic strand, and has come to dominate the movement by dint of its electoral success.  But the pro-independence wing has always been a wider tent than the canvass offered by the SNP – the difference is that now that diversity is almost front and centre of the ‘Yes’ camp.

The problem the anti-independence camp now face is the monotony of their image.  Those of us campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote can genuinely point to the spectrum of opinion Saturday’s march represented and argue that it’ll those among it who can effectively address the issues of an Independent Scotland that will lead the nation into the future – not necessarily the groupings and structures we have now.  Whatever else transpires in those days, it will undoubtedly represent real change in our political system, delivered by those campaigning for real change in our constitutional system.

The contrast with Better Together is striking.  Other than a few, so far limited in profile and publicity, groups such as One Dynamic Nation, and some reactionary types and rock-dwellers on Facebook, the biggest ‘external’ Unionist organisations to have spoken out seriously on the independence debate have been CBI Scotland (membership: 90) and the Orange Order.  I’m no pollster, but the latter two don’t strike me as presenting a particularly inspiring vision of a new Scotland.

A main frame of attack for the Union-minded souls has been the personality of Alex Salmond.  All those farcical digs at “President Salmond” and the like don’t all come out of the mouths and ideas of numpties.  They’re carefully calculated to move the debate away from ideals and vision, and onto the well-trodden ground of party politics and individual character.  If you don’t like the First Minister, goes the mantra, don’t give him what he wants; vote against independence.

But the range of talent and outlook loosely affiliating to the campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote – which is not the same thing as affiliating to the ‘Yes’ campaign – give those campaigners the riposte to such juvenile but perceptibly effective attacks.  Whisper it, but not everyone in attendance on Saturday are Alex Salmond fans.  And simultaneously allows the contrast to be drawn with the ‘No’ camp, caricatured as another mainly grey and patrician arm of the Establishment: defeated politicians, big business, laughable bowler-hats and all.

It gives us the tactical potential to argue the case for independence releasing the spectrum of opinion from a strait-jacket of sterility, forced on us by an economically ultra right-wing cabal in SW1A, and into the sort of tough, reasoned debates we need in this country as soon as possible.  It allows us independinistas to point to the colour and vigour of those alongside us, from right to left, federalist to sovereigntist, established to outsider, and ask people the question: Do you really want more generations of the same, of the grey, of the bland – or do you want to take a path that at least attempts to solve the intractable problems of our nation?

It means saying that we can’t, shouldn’t, and won’t agree on everything, and that that’s been the mantra from those leading the ‘No’ side for decades – that we must agree the market is king, we must agree on the need for WMDs on the Clyde, and we must agree that rule from a Westminster in the full grip of the spivs, crooks and criminals in the City of London is a good thing.  By saying we want a demonstrably different road, we strengthen the argument for independence we take to the doorsteps.

§ For what it’s worth, myself and companions on the day reckon around 8 – 9,000 looked and sounded about right, but frankly it’s turned into a willy waving competition so why bother drilling right down.

Apologies for the awful pun headline, by the way. 

Quiet Dole People

23 09 2012

I don’t know how many of the UK Cabinet have spent any length of time unemployed and claiming benefit.  I’d guess the answer is less than 1.  They seem to think those of us in that position are to be denigrated, aided and abetted by their slimehounds in the right-wing media.  Unemployment to these goons is an extended holiday, a time to catch up on your box-sets and bookshelves, relaxing away at the hard-working, quiet bat people, British family’s expense.

Here’s the bit that never makes the Daily Express.  Here’s what unemployment actually means.  It means losing touch with your friends and social circle, as they carry on doing the things that require a working income like going to the pub, whilst you can’t.  It means constantly questioning your self-worth, as you send off application after application, with only a 10% chance you’ll even get the nodding courtesy of an acknowlegment email.  It means comparing yourself to those in work, and convincing yourself that they’re all better human beings than you, with their purpose and routine and income.  It means doing anything to make sure you don’t let day after day drift away in a miasma of pointlessness, like walking to random places 6 miles away and browsing charity shops.  At least you’re not vegetating in front of Doctors, you tell yourself as you reject yet another book in Oxfam as too expensive at two quid.

It’s kicking around in clothes that don’t fit, but you’re unable to replace.  It’s the contempt you receive from the media as a burden on the hard-working, God-fearing payers of tax.  It’s the times when you meet someone you’ve not seen in a while, and giving the answer, “bugger all” when you’re asked what you’ve been up to.  It’s contemptousness you start developing for every little thing you do, drained of your self-belief, worrying that every dinner you cook and every dish you wash isn’t up to the standard of ‘normal’ people.  It’s hearing Eton-educated twits refer to you in terms that would have PETA permaraging were they applied to dugs.  It’s keeping your mouth shut when you’re in a group of folk you don’t know, because they must be better than you; better you stay schtum and not make an arse of your doley self.
It’s the walking around 5 different supermarkets of an afternoon, because you’ve got the time, and because that’s how you save 15p on a jug of milk – and remembering to time your visits with the likelihood the out of date produce gets reduced in price.  It’s the times you know full well that the CV you’ve just submitted won’t get you anywhere near the job in question, but you put it in anyway because you just have to do something and if lottery winners can overcome massive odds, so can you.  It’s the entirely well-meaning advice from people that you’ve heard a thousand times before, and know won’t help.  It’s how your world gets reduced in size, unable to venture far from your neighbourhood for lack of the bus fare.

It’s how you start taking your frustrations with your situation out on others, getting snippy at the slightest thing, then berating yourself even more for being such a fud.  It’s when you start going without showers, because frankly what difference does it make when all you’re out for is a loaf of bread.  It’s the times when you go to the dole office and stare at the same loose fibre that’s been hanging off the seat for the entire 4 months you started signing on, and you wonder if there’ll ever be a fortnight you won’t have to come down here and feel pathetically grateful for the £70 a week you get.  It’s seeing one or two folk roll up at the dole who are undoubtedly fiddling it, and getting unaccountably angry at them for giving the Right the ammunition to besmirch everyone claiming benefit, making your life harder.

Fundamentally, not being able to earn a living destroys souls, and those who make policy ought to make that the centre of what they agitate about, not the bogeymen of “he’s on the dole and got Sky” or the seemingly ever-and-all-present ‘scroungers’.

Not everyone in such a predicament would recognise themselves from these descriptions; and neither should they.  Optimists and pessimists, introverts and extroverts, professionals and journeymen, all react differently when stuck in a horrible position.  But next time you hear a ‘leader’ of the country mouth off about benefit scrounges, the idle, the lazy, the feckless, think about the human beings they denigrate, their feelings, hopes, dreams, aspirations, all slowly being strangled by a life they desperately want to change.