Just how deep is this hole?

If you were worried about the uncertainty of the economics of an Independent Scotland, I suggest you have a strong drink beside you when you read the article linked in the Telegraph.  And remember it’s getting worse every day.  one day, someone will ask for their money back.  Then we’ll be in a spot of bother.

Just how big is Britain’s debt mountain? – Telegraph.

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The Last Post….

…………….before we all go and vote. This is intended to be my last blog post before the Referendum. (Unless something really new happens in the next few hours)

I’ve nailed my colours to the mast weeks ago. I’ve campaigned on the streets, in town halls, in hotels, in public meetings all over Perthshire. So there’s no dubiety about how I’ll be voting. If you’re reading this, you probably already know this. YES, just for the avoidance of any doubt.
My blogging and writing on Facebook (more the latter than the former) has been heartfelt. Sometimes, particularly on Facebook the head and the heart haven’t always been joined up. Sometimes the “send” or “share” button was just too easy to click. So, I apologise to everyone who felt hurt or offended by anything I’ve written. But I hope I made you sometimes stop and think, to read the articles I was sending onwards and just consider them. This has been a passionate debate about democracy, and what a debate we’ve had and movement it’s become. Scotland can stand tall tonight, proud of the way it has acted over the past two years. There have been flashpoints and unacceptable behaviour from both sides, but if you strip away the media glare from them there have, thankfully, been remarkably few incidents considering the number of people and the number of meetings involved. I respect your passion and hope that you respect mine. Regardless of the way things turn out, we still need to live and work together. Laughing together would be good too. I’ve learned so much from my friends on Facebook and other places during our “discussions”. Thanks to you all for participating.

Why?

I started on the YES side. Two years ago I was a YES voter because I believed the system of politics and democracy in the UK was broken beyond repair. Voting YES, was in my view the only way to get any type of change to that system. Westminster had become a byword for self-interest, cronyism and corruption. In recent times we’ve had scandal after scandal centring on that place – and still the MPs there are asking me to trust them. (cash for question/access, expenses and the now swept under the carpet paedophile rings being amongst them) I realised back in 2012 that my view was akin to firing a nuclear missile at the problem of Westminster, but I couldn’t see any other way to democratically get it to change. I still don’t.

You can critique my argument by saying that if Scotland’s independent then why should I care at all about Westminster? Fair point. My answer is that I fully expect Scotland to be successful and to thrive. In doing this, Scotland will show the people in England who have been so badly taken for granted by Westminster that there is another way to run a country. The Red/Blue “Buggins turn” way the country is run just now will be cracked. It will take time, but it will surely happen.

The independence referendum comes at a time when we are living with the consequences of decisions taken about 25 or 30 years ago. Back then, the UK went on a privatisation spree. Electricity, Gas, Telecoms, Rail being some of the first to be sold off. We were all encouraged to “tell Sid” and to be Sid. But that’s not how it’s turned out. We’re not Sid anymore – if we ever were. Ownership of much of the UKs vital national infrastructure is now in foreign hands. Indeed, if you look at the electricity industry almost two thirds of the ownership is in state hands – just not the UK state. Manufacturing and production were ignored and starved of political support. And we’re left with a vastly unequal society, increasing gaps between rich and poor, private monopolies and cartels, foodbanks, crazy property prices in London and the South East and a fear of the future driven by almost no political choice in the UK. It’s austerity or austerity at the next UK election in 2015. Where will that leave society in the UK by the next time we the people are next consulted in 2020?

Looking at these now, from a societal point of view – how good have these decisions been for all of UK society? We have people in energy poverty and a rapidly rising number of foodbanks. Yet we’re told we’re the 14th richest country in the world. How does that happen? Is there an alternative? It would seem not in the UK.

 

It’s the economy, stupid.

I wrote on this before. While there are big and maybe fundamental risks for Scotland in becoming an independent country, no-one has shone the same searchlight on the future of the UK economy. Most commentators would have us believe that the choice is “all the independence risks vs. the comfortable current status quo”. This is a deception and flawed comparison. I don’t see the UK economy recovering outside the M25 balloon. Along with the North of England, Scotland is still bumping along with very little real growth. So a more fair comparison of risk would take into account where the UK is heading. Currently the UK has about £1.4 Trillion of debt and it’s repaying this at £42Bn per year. The deficit is closing, but it will be many, many more years before the UK’s finances are in balance, let alone before the debt starts to get paid back. So when you think there are economic risks for iScotland, bear in mind the risks the UK faces. If interest rates move, as the Governor of the Bank of England says they will, then the UK repayments would rise to unsustainable levels. Seems to me this makes a fairer more level playing field for comparisons of the future risks. It’s obvious the UK is close to broke, close to bankruptcy. Any moves in interest rates will have consequences for the UK. And what happens when the property bubble in London deflates (again)? Who’ll be around to pick up the pieces of the broken banks then as people get locked in to negative equity? What happens if the Bank of England stops giving all the other banks money by Quantitive Easing? No-one’s looked at these risks in anything like the detail that’s been applied to the risks for Scotland. A few years ago I read a scary economic research report by Tullett Prebon. (click the name for the link. Properly unbiased, not a Government think tank or Government funded in any way) Doesn’t look like the UK has addressed many of the risks identified in that report.

Scotland will use the pound sterling. With or without a Lender of Last Resort. Will that make interest rates higher? Maybe it will, probably it will. But they are at historically low levels and sure to rise in the UK in the foreseeable future too. So maybe they’ll balance out. Is that a leap of faith? Probably. Other countries have managed to do this, admittedly with a less hostile neighbour.

Banks – the way they have been described during this campaign it seems that they are almost certain to fail again. God help us all if they do. It will make little difference if we’re an independent Scotland or the “broad shoulders” of the UK.

It’s the NHS, stupid.

Some links here, because other people describe the risk to NHS Scotland far better than I ever could.

Prof. Allyson Pollock giving a TEDx talk – which had nothing whatsoever to do with Scotland and Independence. (http://tedxexeter.com/2014/05/06/allyson-pollock-privatisation-of-the-nhs/)

A neat cartoon from The Kings Fund showing just how mind bogglingly complicated the Health & Social Care Act has made healthcare in England & Wales. (again, nothing to do with Independence, just background detail – http://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/nhs-65/alternative-guide-new-nhs-england)

Jeanne Freeman describing to Andrew Neil exactly how the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and the TTIP will destroy the NHS in England and the threat it poses to NHS Scotland. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23m6CukRUGM)

I’ve got friends in England who think the NHS is fine. All I ask is that they realise that it’s only 2 short years since the act that ripped it apart. When the power companies were sold off we thought they would be fine. Now we’ve got people in energy poverty and the money we pay for electricity is flowing to the Governments in other countries. (check the beneficial ownership of the privatised power companies) Where will the NHS be in another decade? ’nuff said on the two futures for NHS Scotland.

 

May you live in Interesting Times

We certainly do.
2014 – Our independence referendum Which way will the people vote?

2015 – the UK Parliamentary elections – Who will win? What’s in their manifesto (like that actually matters or mean anything)? My money’s on Boris Johnston and Nigel Farage.

2016 – The Scottish Parliamentary elections – Who will win? If it’s a YES vote then my money’s on the SNP losing out as another Rainbow Parliament with reps from The RIC, Generation Yes, The Green Party and others gaining seats. And that’s called democracy.

Who know who will be elected in any of these? Yet the media would have us believe the UK is stable, settled and safe. Really? No uncertainties there?

 

Tomorrow

I could go on about so much more. About the scandalous lack of impartiality in the media. About the wonderful leadership shown by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. So many things….. I’ve made new friends. I’ve spoken with people from Barons to bairns. I’ve never experienced anything like this before in my life. The snowball is still rolling. It’s probably unstoppable now, and the avalanche of enthusiasm, energy, excitement it’s created will give Scotland back what it needs to thrive in the future. I doubt if you can quite understand this if you haven’t been living through it here in Scotland. We’re building a country, not a spreadsheet. This is not about what happens in the rest of my lifetime. It’s about future generations. It’s about democracy. It’s about looking beyond the nose on your face.

Let’s do it.

 

Quo Vadis Democracy?

I wrote this earlier today in response to a post Tom Morton put on his blog. You can read Tom’s post here : http://beatcroft.blogspot.co.uk/ and I suggest you should before reading my reply, which he has published in his comments.

I hope something I’m saying here will resonate or at the very least cause you to stop and think if you are planning to vote No. Donald Rumsfeld got slagged rotten for saying this:

“Reports that say there’s — that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

and you know what? He was dead right (in this case…. not much else I’ll agree with him on) We know there are unknowns, (who’s going to win the UK election in 2015? Will we still be in the EU?) we know there are unknown unknowns. (sorry can’t give an example of them). Yet we have to make a decision. And we ought to think about democracy and where that’s going when we make our decision. It’s an imperfect world full of imperfect information. But something we do know and can plot the likely direction of.

So here’s what I said to Tom Morton.

Morning Tom, That’s an excellent post and I totally get where you’re coming from. Maybe though, you’re not as far away from some of us Yessers as you think?

To me, the 18th of September will be the pinnacle of democracy in the United Kingdom. It’s the opportunity to let the people have their say in the most direct of ways. This is good, very good. No guns, no explosions. Plenty of heated and passionate discussions, but no guns or explosions.

If the vote is NO then where does democracy go? Back to a system of FPTP which is less representative of the will of most than the alternative, to a system which those who benefit most from it (FPTP) ensured wouldn’t change. To a system where two parties take “turns” at being in control, with little opportunity for change as the inertia in the system acts against this. To a system where it is becoming harder to find real differences between the two parties who take these turns. To a system where how people vote in this country really makes very little difference to the end result.

If the vote is YES then where does democracy go? To a different system. To a system where the proportional element of the system ensures that smaller voices can be heard and represented. To a system which is more democratic, to a system where how people vote in this country actually can make a difference. The first Scottish Parliament was a democratic wonder. A Rainbow Parliament they called it. Labour, Tory, LibDem, SNP – sure, but also Green and SSP were in that Parliament. (There may have been others too).

The only explosion there has been in the whole referendum campaign is the explosion of people getting involved. Even if their involvement is limited to attending a Town Hall meeting, all over Scotland people have been doing this. And that’s marvellous as it revitalises Scotland’s democracy. I spoke of the Rainbow Parliament, what’s happening on the ground today reflects that, in fact it probably takes it beyond the visible spectrum! Farmers for Yes, Women for Indy, The National Collective, English for Independence, Business for Scotland, Generation Yes, Radical Independence Campaign, Italians for Independence, etc. This list could go on and on. There’s way too many “groups” involved in pushing for Yes vote for it ever to be able to be defined as narrow nationalism, civic or otherwise. The YES campaign is possibly the biggest demonstration of people power we’ll see in our lifetimes. Maybe this is the ultimate demonstration of democracy in action? I’m certain that in the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections we’ll see a raft of new parties and people standing for election. Generation YES, RIC and others are sure to put up candidates. And that’s got to be good for democracy. Although it may seem bizarre, the SNP could be the biggest losers in the 2016 elections. They’ll have done their job, their time will have passed. Maybe. This can only happen following a YES vote. Vote NO and I’ll bet on an even stronger SNP come the 2015 and then the 2016 elections.

I truly hope we get a YES on the 18th September as it represents the best hope for democracy in the long run for whole of the UK. If it’s Yes, then it will be messy, it will be chaotic even. It will take a long time to settle down. Probably years. But it places democracy and power back in the hands of the people who live in Scotland. Future generations will benefit from this.

Through the democratic process of getting to where we are today the curtains have been pulled back on the Wizard of Oz in Westminster and half the population has recoiled in disgust. Together, they’re sure there is a better alternative. This genie is well and truly out of the bottle and isn’t going back in. I don’t know how a No result will be taken, but I suspect it will strengthen rather than weaken the SNP.

 

Just some thoughts Tom. I hope you don’t mind the debate. That’s what’s so good about this referendum. That we can talk and exchange points of view.

Voter Throughput – is that YES Achilles Heel?

While thinking about the referendum to come in a mere 18 days time I started to think about when I would actually cast my own vote. Would I do it in the morning or would I do it in the evening? And that got me thinking a little more about what problems I might have if I’m away from home on the day and the risks of not getting home on time to vote. What if there was a queue to vote? (I spent almost ten years working as a consultant in risk identification and contingency planning, maybe it shows?)

And then I got a bit worried because I remembered this : (sourced from Wikipedia)

UK Election 2010 Voting problems

Problems occurred with voting at 27 polling places in 16 constituencies, and affected approximately 1,200 people.[154] This situation which was condemned by politicians of various parties. Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, the independent body that oversees the electoral process, was forced on to television to defend preparations and procedures. The Electoral Commission has announced it will be carrying out a “thorough investigation”.[155] Under the law in force at the 2010 election, voters had to have been handed their ballots by the 10 pm deadline; people who were waiting in queues to vote at 10 pm were not allowed to vote.[156]

In Chester there were reports that 600 registered voters were unable to vote because the electoral roll had not been updated,[157] while in Hackney, Islington, Leeds, Lewisham, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield long queues led to many voters being turned away and unable to vote as the 10 pm deadline arrived.[155] Some dissatisfied voters staged sit-ins to protest against what some of them had called “disenfranchisement“.[155] In Liverpool, higher than expected turnout meant several polling stations ran out of ballot papers, with defeated council leader Warren Bradley stating that some residents were unable to cast their votes.[158] In Wyre and Preston North, a 14-year-old boy cast a vote after being sent a polling card.[159]

In parts of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg‘s Sheffield Hallam seat it was reported that students from the city’s two universities were placed in separate queues from ‘local’ residents, who were given priority, resulting in many students being unable to cast their votes.[160]

Just days after the election Clegg spoke at a Take Back Parliament rally saying the results showed the British system is broken and needs fixing, while vowing the voices of the protesters would be heard. The rally demanded Clegg affirm his promise to push for “democratic and proportional representation of the British public”.[161]

Because of closure of United Kingdom airspace as a result of the Iceland volcanic eruption, potential expat voters in New Zealand were denied a vote when postal voting papers arrived too late to be returned to the UK,[162] although Australian broadcaster SBS suggested that given the extremely tight timetabling of overseas votes, there is very little chance that voting papers [for voters outside Europe] will be received, let alone returned, in time to be counted.[163]

 

We’re at the most historic point in the UK for centuries. But we’ve never done exactly this before. We’re forecasting 80% plus turnout of people to vote. And now I’m worried. Can the system (i.e. marking people off on electoral roles, voter processing, putting votes into boxes) cope with the forecast high numbers? I know there’s been a large postal vote, but the turn-out forecast is still higher than any other election or public voting event.

When I vote in normal elections it’s usually in the evenings and there’s plenty of time for a little banter with the folk administering the process. Not this time there won’t be. Not if the high levels of turn out are achieved. Here’s a table showing the turn-outs at UK General Elections since 1945 :

Year 

UK

England

Wales

Scotland

N.Ireland

2010

65.1

65.5

64.7

63.8

57.6

2005

61.4

61.3

62.6

60.8

62.9

2001

59.4

59.2

61.6

58.2

68

1997

71.4

71.4

73.5

71.3

67.1

1992

77.7

78

79.7

75.5

69.8

1987

75.3

75.4

78.9

75.1

67

1983

72.7

72.5

76.1

72.7

72.9

1979

76

75.9

79.4

76.8

67.7

1974 Feb

78.8

79

80

79

69.9

1974 Oct

72.8

72.6

76.6

74.8

67.7

1970

72

71.4

77.4

74.1

76.6

1966

75.8

75.9

79

76

66.1

1964

77.1

77

80.1

77.6

71.7

1959

78.7

78.9

82.6

78.1

65.9

1955

76.8

76.9

79.6

75.1

74.1

1951

82.6

82.7

84.4

81.2

79.9

1950

83.9

84.4

84.8

80.9

77.4

1945

72.8

73.4

75.7

69

67.4

 

(source: http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm)

From this table, we can see that the forecast of 80% turn out is going to be as high as the turn-outs in the 1950’s and probably about 20% higher than we’ve had since the 1970’s. If we look at the turn-out for Scottish Parliamentary Elections the gap is probably going to be even wider:

Year

Turn Out

1999

59%

2003

49.4%

2007

51.8%

2011

50.4%

(source – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Scotland)

 

Have we got a problem in the making here? 30% more people going to vote might not be a problem – but it could be. So who can reassure me that this is all going to work smoothly on the 18th September and that changes have been implemented following the debacle in some of the 2010 UK elections? How do we find out? How do we check? How do we have confidence that all voters will get in to cast their vote?

Is this the Achilles heel of the YES campaign and YES voters? It’s looking to me like we need to be sure we get all our votes cast early in the day. I’ll be voting before I go to work. Can I encourage you to do the same?

Meanwhile, I’m going to call the Electoral Commission tomorrow and have a chat with them about this. I’d really like to know that they’ve done some kind of throughput assessments and calculations, particularly for city centre polling stations.