Monday, 24 July 2017

NHS much healthier under the SNP than it ever was under Labour

Labour and the NHS campaign
Labour, being the mendacious and unprincipled bunch of self-seeking wannabes we all know of old (I love them really), has been talking a lot recently about 'saving' the NHS from the SNP.  I remembered, though, that all was not sweetness and light in the NHS while Labour was in power so I had a wee look back to see what things were like -

Death rates in the 15-44 age group have dropped from 118 per 100,000 people in Labour's last year in power to 101 per hundred thousand in 2015 - a 14% improvement.

Coronary heart disease incidences dropped from 498 to 362 per 100,000 over the same period and the death rate from CHD dropped from 302 to 220 - something is clearly going very right in coronary care.

Cancer diagnoses in men have dropped from 985 to 979 per 100,000 over those years but gone up in women from 713 to 757.  The death rate from cancer in both sexes has dropped, though - 434 down to 391 in men and 287 down to 272 in women.  Seems cancer outcomes are heading in the right direction, too.

One of the reasons behind the improved outcomes might be the improved staffing.  In 2006 NHS Scotland had 9,600 medical staff and this year it had 12,326.  Over the same period dental staff went up from 561 to 625, nursing and midwifery staff from 56,783 to 59,799, allied health professionals from 8,842 to 11,552 and support staff from 12,645 to 13,717.  Total NHS Scotland staff increased from 127,062 in 2006 to 139,431 this year - and that at a time of shrinking Scottish budgets.

Getting your medicine to make you better used to cost you money.  Under Labour it was £6.85 for each medicine (I think that's about £8.50 in today's prices but you'd have to check) so if Mrs Shuggie McDufflecoat had to get 3 prescription items she'd be paying £20.55 in 2006 (£25.50 today, maybe) but the SNP Scottish Government abolished the charges and now you don't get taxed for being sick.  Interestingly, Nye Bevan resigned from government in protest over prescription charges.

Paying the bills
Scotland's health spending now is £13,168.2 million and it was £9,499 million in Labour's last year in power.  I reckon the figure from Labour's time would come to around £11bn in today's money so that's increased investment of about £2 billion from the SNP Scottish Government.  To be fair, though, sport and food standards have been added to the health bill which accounts for a bit short of £58m.  Per head of population, health spending was £1,847 under Labour and is £2,487 now.

And so
Scotland's NHS isn't perfect but it's in pretty good nick and it's in better shape than it was when Labour was in power.  If you get a nyaff at your door telling you Labour will save the NHS, provide them with a flea for their ear and send them on their way - the very cheek of them!  Tell them the SNP is doing a simply splendid job and should carry on with it.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

When ye lay doon wi the De'il...

Yesterday (Wednesday) there was a division on the Queen's Speech (translation from Westminsterese - a vote on the Government's legislative programme) on getting rid of the pay cap on public sector workers.  It was good, sensible stuff, good opposition from Corbyn's team before they went back to fighting each other today (sacked for rebelling against Corbyn - that irony meter is going to have your eye out) and it nearly worked.  Theresa May's Government squeaked a win by 14 votes, including her 12 newbies from Scotland.

Twelve new Tory MPs in seats taken from the SNP thanks, in part, to a dodgy agreement between Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems that the SNP was the enemy in this election.  Incredibly, the one Labour MP at the time was reported in the Labour in-house magazine "The Granwad" thusly -
Labour’s sole surviving MP, Ian Murray, said he supported tactical voting to defeat the SNP
 Kez Dugdale, leader of the Scottish branch of Labour, said something similar, too, encouraging people to vote Labour where they were second place to the SNP and Tory where they were in second place.  The glorious revolution was celebrated at Labour HQ as they cheered Tory victories in Scotland.

Imagine if they had done the reverse and encouraged the electorate to vote tactically to defeat the Tories rather than the SNP, imagine if Labour and the Lib Dems had done a deal with the SNP to beat the Tories instead of the SNP - 12 votes away from the Tory Government and 12 more votes for the progressive side of the chamber; the 14 of a majority overturned.

Ach weel, Labour, when ye lay doon wi the De'il mind ye micht rise in the De'ils hoose...

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Did Cameron Save May's Bacon?

EVEL raises its head
David Cameron may have saved Theresa May's Government.  I'd been wondering why she was so fixated on getting a deal with the DUP that gave her confidence and supply but no other support and why she wasn't looking around for other options.  It made even less sense when you consider John Major's intervention noting that the DUP wouldn't bring her down while Corbyn was leading Labour - he knows a thing or two about tight majorities and how the DUP votes.  It might well be, though, that she doesn't need any other options, just support in any confidence motion and votes to get her Money Bills through, and she needs that tied up for any future sticky situation.  She might be in that strange situation and saved from oblivion thanks to a change that David Cameron brought in when he was Prime Minister.

Cameron needed to quiet his backbenchers who were harrumphing over more powers being vested in Holyrood and he introduced English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) which, in essence, stops Scots MPs, Welsh MPs and Northern Ireland MPs from voting on matters which only affect England.  Specifically, the Speaker issues a certificate on each piece of legislation that determines whether EVEL applies and, where it does apply, MPs who don't represent an English seat can't vote on it (there is a very simple explanation of the process on the UK Parliament website here if you fancy reading a bit about it).  This means that for great wodges of legislation the Prime Minister only needs a majority of English MPs to support it and she has a majority of 61 among English MPs and that's a working majority.  Where the EVEL certification is England and Wales she's in a tighter spot because the opposition has a 24 seat majority over the Tories in Wales - but that still leaves her with a 37 seat majority for England and Wales.

Confidence, supply and reserved powers
That means that Theresa May needs cover for matters which won't be EVEL certified - the most important of which are votes of confidence and getting budgets passed (without cover here her Government is always vulnerable - emptied if it loses a confidence motion and unable to function properly if it can't pass a budget) so the DUP covers her back on those.  That leaves the items in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 which you can see here or get a rough idea of from the Scotland Office guidance from 2013 (but note that it hasn't been updates as powers transferred to Holyrood) or you can get an idea from the Scottish Parliament website (which also needs a wee update as powers transfer).  You get the general gist, though.

If you look through that list you'll see that Theresa May won't be worrying about much of it.  Defence?  The big issue is Trident and Labour is hand-in-glove with the Tories on this - Labour will vote to renew, and even made the commitment in the manifesto where it said "Labour supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent."

Immigration?  Remember Labour's immigration mug?
The manifesto has moved a little from a blunt closing of the gates but it's still in territory the Tories will feel comfortable with.  It's not so much "do this differently" as "we could do with different paint on the walls".

The constitution (they keep it unwritten, you know, much better that way) - on Scotland being able to take a decision on its constitutional direction of travel, Labour and Tories are dancing to the same tune, as the recent election showed.  On Brexit there is less difference between the positions of Labour and the Tories than there is considered thought in Boris Johnson's impromptu musings.

Foreign policy?  Long gone are the days when Labour ever aspired to an ethical foreign policy - the manifesto mentions it four times - three on page 116 where it says, repeatedly, that foreign policy should be guided by good intentions and once on page 122 where it says the same thing.  It's a conversation that goes "What's our policy on bad things?" " We're against them." "What about good things?" "We're for them."  In actual debate, though, you can't spot any real divergence between Labour and the Tories on foreign policy.

Welfare benefits is one area you would imagine there would be massive differences between Labour and the Tories but the evidence suggests otherwise - in July 2015 184 Labour MPs stood back and refused to oppose the Tories' welfare cuts - and claimed that it was fine because they'd said they were against it.  That wasn't the first time, either; two years earlier Labour MPs stood back and let the Tories and the Lib Dems change the law to avoid complying with a court order to give benefits claimants money that was withheld from them when they were sanctioned unfairly.  Earlier this year Labour Lords did the same thing on cuts to the benefits paid to disabled people, standing back and letting the Tories off the hook while passing a motion that said "we disapprove".

Nuclear energy?  Labour's manifesto has them supporting new nuclear power stations - just like the Tories.  On trade the Labour manifesto mimics current Tory policy, on employment there's little in the Labour manifesto (the Tory manifesto actually offers more action on employment than the Labour one), on broadcasting, consumer rights and data protection there's no remarkable difference between them.  They are, as the saying goes, like twa cheeks o the same bum!

Labour saves the Tories
So Labour will prop up the Tories on the issues which won't be EVEL certified, the Tories have a working majority on any issues which will get EVEL certified and all that's left to cover is confidence and supply.  Enter the DUP...

I don't know whether David Cameron likes Theresa May or what she's doing in government but I think he saved her bacon when he changed the rules and the irony is that it's Labour that will be saving the Tory Government where EVEL doesn't.  If you're waiting for another General Election you may be waiting for quite some time, unfortunately, and you may have to watch the Tories tap-dance through a whole parliament while Labour has to try to maintain discipline.  The wonders of an unwritten constitution, eh?  This may be excruciating.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Orwell and a Tory

Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Tories in Scotland, made a speech about Orwell (you can read the whole thing on the Tory website if you so desire but you don't have to) and what struck me is that no-one picked her up on what Orwell actually said.  The BBC covered it with a bit of a whizz-bang and quoted her saying
"Nationalism is about power, and its obsessive pursuit, and the dichotomisation of a population into the authentic and the inauthentic.
"Here in the second decade of the 20th century, despite his [George Orwell] efforts, nationalism is still confused with patriotism.
"That is because, too often, there are political movements that deliberately ensure that is the case."
She was referring to Orwell's essay Notes on Nationalism which is dragged up often by politicians trying to do in the SNP.  You can almost hear them say "Aha! Orwell said this and he wrote 1984!" and they frequently seem very pleased with themselves.  Firstly, here's a wee list of some of the 'nationalisms' that Orwell was critiquing - 

  • British Toryism
  • White supremacism
  • Semitism
  • Anti-semitism
  • Communism
  • Catholicism
  • Scottish nationalism
  • British jingoism
  • Neo-Toryism
  • Zionism
  • Pacifism
  • Class feeling
  • Colour feeling (almost the antithesis of white supremacy)
  • The feeling that you belong to the Proletariat
Orwell was writing while the Second World War was still being fought - the essay was first published in the month that Germany surrendered.  He gave an indication of some of the thinking that he was criticising in a section that referred to that war - 

If one harbours anywhere in one's mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:
BRITISH TORY: Britain will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.
COMMUNIST: If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.
IRISH NATIONALIST: Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.
TROTSKYIST: The Stalin regime is accepted by the Russian masses.
PACIFIST: Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.
He also said -
In England, if one simply considers the number of people involved, it is probable that the dominant form of nationalism is old-fashioned British jingoism.
 That sentence, though, if read in its place in the essay, doesn't mean what it seems to mean when it's taken out and laid on its own like that.  It's important to get things in context, just as Ms Davidson failed to do in her speech when she said
However, all those caveats aside, the truth is that the nationalist politics identified by Orwell – the attempt to classify and label human beings into groups marked “good” and “bad” – has become a key part of our political practice in Scotland.
Someone less generous than me might ask whether she means good like the family making a tax credit claim that only contains two children and bad like the family doing the same that has three (unless the third is as a result of rape in which case they can climb back into the good group after filling in an eight page form).  Is it the disabled who are being told they are fit for work who are bad and millionaires paying less now in capital gains tax who are good?  Are immigrants bad but people stashing their money in tax havens good?

I don't know what Orwell would have made of modern politics or of the constitutional debates and it doesn't really matter, Notes on Nationalism is an essay written at the end of a global conflict at a time when the atrocities committed during that conflict were just being discovered.  It was five years before the United Nations was created and six years before the fledgling trade agreements from which the EU grew.  Orwell had been an anarchist, a socialist, a combatant on the Republican side in the war against Franco before working for the BBC creating propaganda during the Second World War.  His essay is a decent old read, but it is an old read and it doesn't say that nationalism is bad and unionism is good - he says that unthinking and amoral judging of groups of other people is wrong and that politics should be a thinking past-time.  This is the final paragraph of the essay and is worth reading - 
The reason for the rise and spread of nationalism is far too big a question to be raised here. It is enough to say that, in the forms in which it appears among English intellectuals, it is a distorted reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external world, and that its worst follies have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief. If one follows up this train of thought, one is in danger of being led into a species of Conservatism, or into political quietism. It can be plausibly argued, for instance — it is even possibly true — that patriotism is an inoculation against nationalism, that monarchy is a guard against dictatorship, and that organised religion is a guard against superstition. Or again, it can be argued that no unbiased outlook is possible, that all creeds and causes involve the same lies, follies, and barbarities; and this is often advanced as a reason for keeping out of politics altogether. I do not accept this argument, if only because in the modern world no one describable as an intellectual can keep out of politics in the sense of not caring about them. I think one must engage in politics — using the word in a wide sense — and that one must have preferences: that is, one must recognise that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one's own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias. If you hate and fear Russia, if you are jealous of the wealth and power of America, if you despise Jews, if you have a sentiment of inferiority towards the British ruling class, you cannot get rid of those feelings simply by taking thought. But you can at least recognise that you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes. The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. But this, I repeat, needs a moral effort, and contemporary English literature, so far as it is alive at all to the major issues of our time, shows how few of us are prepared to make it.
It's a point of view, and an interesting one, but it's not the opinion that unionists would have you think he espoused.

Never trust a Tory - they're all bad ...

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Labour's train of thought is off the rails

Here's a thing - at First Minister's Questions in Holyrood today, Kezia Dugdale (Labour)(Lothian list)(Leader) claimed that a third of all rail routes in Scotland have services that are late more often than not.  Later, Neil Bibby (Labour)(West of Scotland list)(Transport and Town Centres) tweeted that it was a third of all trains.

That table comes from Scotrail's monitoring of its own performance and can be found here.  Let's first knock Mr Bibby off track - that's a list of stations, not trains.  To think that a third of stations equates to a third of trains means that Labour's transport wallah thinks that all stations in Scotland are as busy as all the others.  It means he thinks that Arbroath is as busy as Glasgow Central and Balloch as busy as Edinburgh Waverley - only an eejit would believe that.

Assuming that El Bibster simply mistweeted and meant to ape his boss, let's see about Kezia's take.  She said it was a third of all routes and you could see that that's a possibility but I spotted that Arbroath is the worst performing station and, since I come from Dundee, I know a little about the railway up that way and any train that stops at Arbroath also stops at Carnoustie which is also in the third getting less than 50% so that shrinks the number of routes by one.  Over on the west coast Glasgow High Street is listed but trains travelling through GHS serve Helensburgh Central, Balloch, Milngavie, Dalmuir, Springburn and Cumbernauld which are all also listed as being less than 50%.  The number of stations doesn't represent the number of trains or the number of routes.

Besides which, not all of Scotland's stations are listed (although Newcastle is) so there's no way of knowing how many services are affected by looking at those figures - Labour might have been better off if they'd looked up the National Timetable.

That's not all - you'll notice that those figures have a train being late if it it gets into the station more than 59 seconds after the time it was meant to.  59 seconds!  Seems quite stringent and it turns out it is - Network Rail uses the European standard definition of more than five minutes for commuter trains and ten minutes for longer distance.  You can see on that chart that the punctuality of ScotRail is currently at 90.6% against an England and Wales score of 87.4%.  It seems ScotRail is holding itself to a higher standard when measuring punctuality and it gets pelters from Labour for trying.

Oh what a tangled web they weave when first they try to score cheap political points and get easy newspaper headlines - or something like that.  Labour is truly appalling at opposition, truly teeth-grindingly awful.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Benefit Scroungers

Peter Chapman MSP
Browsing through Holyrood's register of interests, I came across Peter Chapman MSP. 

There are these four farms listed under heritable property -
Until 14 July 2016 I owned a 50% share of a farm in Aberdeenshire with a total market value of between £400,001 and £500,000. The property yielded a gross annual income of between £40,001 and £50,000. [Amended interest 05 September 2016, Ceased interest 05 September 2016]  
Until 14 July 2016 I owned a 50% share of a farm in Aberdeenshire with a total market value of between £600,001 and £700,000. The property yielded a gross annual income of between £80,001 and £90,000. [Amended interest 05 September 2016, Ceased interest 05 September 2016] 
Until 14 July 2016 I owned a 50% share of a farm in Aberdeenshire with a total market value of between £1,000,001 and £1,100,000. The property yielded a gross annual income of between £80,001 and £90,000. [Amended interest 05 September 2016, Ceased interest 05 September 2016]  
Until 14 July 2016 I owned a 50% share of a farm in Aberdeenshire with a total market value of between £400,001 and £500,000. The property yielded a gross annual income of between £40,001 and £50,000. [Amended interest 05 September 2016, Ceased interest 05 September 2016] 
Seems a bit of a thing that; selling four farms in one day - surprising that no newspaper picked that story up, too; MSP sells four farms in one day - especially given that the market value is £2.4m to £2.8m and he managed to get the register amended on the day that the interest ceased.  It's possible to transfer your interests to another person and change the register because there's nothing in the legislation that says you have to declare your spouse's interests, for example, so you just transfer title and the £240k to £280k annual income from it to your wife and say no more about it.  Or you could transfer ownership and the attendant income to a company you own and neaten it all up - a shorter listing in your register.  Doing either would look like covering something up, though, and no politician wants to look like they're dodging the question, do they?

Anyway, that wasn't the important bit, it was just the bit that captured my attention.  There was this bit just dangling there, trying to look casual, chewing on a matchstick, looking at its fingernails, you know the kind of thing - 
Remuneration and related undertaking: I am a partner of Peter Chapman and Co. (of South Redbog, Strichen, Fraserburgh, AB43 6RP), a farming partnership. I receive remuneration in the form of utilities for my home, which are paid by the partnership to a value of between £5,001 and £10,000 per annum. I also receive interest payments on my stake in the partnership of between £5,0001 and £10,000 per annum. I expect to spend 2 days per month in this role. [Amended interest 05 September 2016] 
Until 9 August 2016 I was a director of Aberdeen and Northern Marts (of Thainstone Centre, Inverurie, AB51 5XZ), a livestock auction mart. I received the equivalent of £3,000 per annum and spent 2 days per month in this role. [Amended interest 05 September 2016] 
I am a director of Chapmans Chickens Ltd. (of South Redbog, Strichen, Fraserburgh, AB43 6RP), a poultry rearing company. Until 3 July 2016 I received £25,000 per annum and spent 2 days per month in this role. [Amended interest 05 September 2016] 
Now that's interesting because you can go to this DEFRA payments search page and put in the postcode and it'll tell you about taxpayer payments to this farm under the CAP schemes - a total o£101,669.44 last year and £99,320.66 in 2014 (those are the only two years available)  This journalist-run website (which doesn't seem to have been updated recently) indicates that about 900,000 was paid to this partnership between 2002 and 2008 it also shows Chapman Chickens (see that last bit above) getting €142,529 in 2012.  Now, it's a partnership so he doesn't trouser all that cash himself but I'm guessing that the other partner is probably this other Peter Chapman who seems to have interests in the same companies.

That other one in the middle there is a kind of cooperative (and isn't it nice to know that a Tory MSP is interested in cooperatives?) that does the obvious (livestock auctions) but also has other interests -
The Group is committed to its core business of livestock marketing, but is also highly diversified with interests in the land market, non-agricultural auctions, events and the catering/hospitality industry.
If you go back to the DEFRA page and put that postcode in you'll find that it got a bit shy of £50k  in public subsidy in each of the past two years.

It's that chicken thing, though - 
Interest in shares: Until 3 July 2016 I owned ordinary shares in Chapmans Chickens Ltd, a poultry rearing company, with a value of £36,450 which represented approximately 16% of the issued share capital. [Amended interest 05 September 2016, Ceased interest 05 September 2016]
I own ordinary shares in Redbogs Renewables Ltd, a wind energy company, with a value of £350,000 which represents 7% of the issued share capital. [Amended interest 05 September 2016]  
Voluntary: I am a member of NFU Scotland. 
I own 10 £1 shares in Chapman's Chickens, a poultry rearing company of Aberdeenshire. [Registered 05 September 2016] 
He's got rid of his shares so the value is down from £36,450 to £10 but it seems he remains a director of the company - that's an understanding and a half, especially since he got £25k last year for two days work a month.  That's less work than I do!

Then there's Redbogs Renewables with its two turbines generating a subsidy from the power companies.  You can try to work it out for yourself by getting the details of Redbogs and looking at the House of Commons research paper on renewable obligations.

Anyway, the thing is that this MSP's business has sooked in a fair bit of public cash to bolster its earnings, which may explain why he gets so anxious about subsidies for farmers.  What it doesn't explain is how that bit about his house works - how does he get between £5,001 and £10,000 of utilities paid for his house from the company?  That's between £416.75 and £833.33 a month - what size is his house?  Is he running a small factory there?

Edward Mountain
Old Eddie here is the 4th Baronet of Oare Manor and Brendon (Oare Manor is in Somerset and Brendon is in Devon) and his company also pays for the leccy at his hoose rather than fling him a few quid (given that these people own these companies you'd think they'd get some coin out of it, no?) but it adds the insurance on as well that brings it up to between £35,001 and £40,000 a year or between £2,916.75 and £3,333.33 a month.  Now I'm no expert but I reckon that's a wee bit expensive for your average house...

Delfur Farms got £131,960.09 in 2015 and £133,745.23 in 2014 (for some reason you have to search on the name of the company rather than the postcode for this one) and there are a couple of entries for it on the older site, too.  He's a busy lad and someone wrote a song about him but it's clear that this wholesome Tory chap whose family fortune came from screwing the insurance market also takes a substantial wodge of cash from the public purse.

Burnett of Leys
He has a portfolio of interests well worth taking a look at but he still found the time while managing them to claim nearly £25k from DEFRA in 2014 and over £22k last year (search for Burnett and then look for Burnett of Leys).  You'll also find that he's had a pound or two in the past as well.  He at least pays his own gas bill, though.

I haven't gone through the whole Tory group so there may be others (although, to the best of my knowledge, RuDa hasn't claimed any CAP money) but my point is this - Tories are delighted to have money paid from public funds so long as they're benefitting so when the debates on social security payments start in Holyrood, keep yer lugs open for these whizzers decrying the poor and the sick and the infirm.  When they start questioning whether some family where no-one has a job is worth a few quid a week to survive on, maybe we should be asking them how they did with public subsidy in their 'time of need' and whether they ever had to wait until giro day to get the heating back on.

Social Security benefits won't be easy for Holyrood - no dosh over and above what Westminster was paying and cuts coming down the line from the UK Government - but when some politicians are actually trying to get something done (and I anticipate those coming from every party) don't let these people who have had a fortune from public funds say that the poor are not worthy.  There's going to be debate and there should be debate about how to serve the country well but if and when Tory MSPs get to their feet to bore the hell out of us with their social engineering theories that rely more on Darwin than on common human decency, let's tell them to get tae France and Freuchie and Farfar - and the same for any bawbag blawhards from other parties.  If anyone's getting called a benefit scrounger, let's make sure we know who's taking most public cash.

Friday, 12 August 2016

The big boys want all the sweeties

The Scottish Retail Consortium wants the Scottish Government to scrap the rates surcharge on large businesses.

The Scottish Retail Consortium doesn't actually exist, it's just a name that the British Retail Consortium uses to pretend it's Scottish sometimes.  The British Retail Consortium is just the big retailers getting together to try to get their own way (I've pointed this out before) and their Scottish address is this mailbox shop in Edinburgh.  They're quite willing to take all the services funded through business rates - like streetlighting, police, roads for their delivery vehicles and customers - but they don't want to pay for them.

Unfortunately for this particular scare story about Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons suffering terribly at the hands of the Scottish Government, retail sales are going up - according to a KPMG survey done for ... erm ... the British Retail Consortium.  They're up in Scotland, too, just in case you were wondering.

Mind how ye go!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Schooling the Tories

A few days ago the ruler of the Tory hordes in Scotland (one Ruth Davidson, for who else could it be?) answered a charge of Tory poshness from a posh lawyer (Mr Worrier, forename Peat) in an odd manner.  She tweeted "none of them went to Hutchies like you - maybe speak to Humza or Anas?" - she was referring to Mr Worrier's schooling and the fact that the painfully upper class* Minister for Transport and the Islands also attended Hutcheson's Grammar School, as did the Labour MSP (and former deputy leader of its Scottish branch) Anas Sarwar.  It should be noted that this school also processed Carol Smillie, John Buchan, Laura Keunssberg, James Maxton (yes, the Red Clydesider), Derry Irvine, Ken Bruce, Adair Turner and so on - the place has a lot to answer for!

Hutchie, as those of us who have learned our place call it, charges £11,082 a year in the senior years but £11,352 in earlier years for some reason.  I've no idea why anybody sends their kids to private school (well, there are the contacts they make for life, the preference they get from people who think that the old school tie matters and so on and so forth; and that some parents consider such schools to offer a better education, but hey, groove with me here) and I don't know much about which private schools have swisher things than others (although I do remember, as a schoolboy, going with the St Saviour's team to cuff Glenalmond at the cross-country running and the scran afterwards was utterly fabulous - and entirely scoffed by us oiks before the posh kids were showered and changed out of their running gear - us scruff were less pernickity)** so I'm not really a judge of what makes a private school good or bad or indifferent or comical***.  That said, I think that RuDa's point is "you're a posh boy, my troops haven't been to a posh school like wot you did, so shut yer trap Worrier."

I know you'll think less of me for it, but I didn't believe wee RuDa straight off and I thought I'd check whether her troops were entirely Hutchie-free.  I feel a burning shame for my lack of faith but it seems that it's true.  Here's what I found (in alphabetical order; dunno is where my research assistant, Mr Google, failed to find any evidence of derring-do or matters nefarious) - 

Jeremy Balfour – Edinburgh Academy fees are £13,248 per year (plus extras)
Miles Briggs – state school

Alexander Burnett, 4th great grandson of Tsar Nicholas 1st and heir to the Leys Estate – Eton fees are £37,062 (plus extras) and the heid bummer is appointed by the Queen

Donald Cameron, son of Cameron of Locheil – not clear where he went to school but it’s a family tradition to go to Harrow where fees are £36,150

Jackson Carlaw – Glasgow Academy fees are £11,063

Finlay Carson – state school

Peter Chapman – dunno

Maurice Corry - dunno

Ruth Davidson – state school

Murdo Fraser – state school

Maurice Golden – dunno

Jamie Greene – state school

Rachael Hamilton – dunno

Alison Harris – dunno

Alex Johnstone – state school

Liam Kerr – dunno

John Lamont – state school

Gordon Lindhurst – dunno

Dean Lockhart – state school

Margaret Mitchell – state school

Edward Mountain, 4th Baronet of Oare Manor and Brendon (Devon) – dunno

Oliver Mundell – state school

Douglas Ross – dunno

John Scott (good guy) – George Watson’s fees are £10,983

Graham Simpson – dunno

Liz Smith – like John Scott, she attended George Watson’s where fees are £10,983

Alexander Stewart – dunno

Ross Thomson – state school

Adam Tomkins – state school

Annie Wells – dunno

Brian Whittle – state school

*he's not really
** also, Fettes College had a hustings in 2010 when I was a candidate and the pupils were polite, well informed, thoughtful and prepared to consider other opinions.  Also, they gave me a bottle of school claret for taking part.
*** 30 words to a sentence?  Really?  Live a little.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Two votes? Two votes you say?

I thought I'd tell you how to use your regional list (second / Additional Member / what's this thing?) vote in the Scottish Parliament election to get the result you want if you're a supporter of independence.  If you're not a supporter of independence don't vote, whatever you do don't vote.

Your constituency (first / FPTP / traditional) vote should be for the SNP, of course; that goes without saying (don't ask why I'm saying it if it goes without saying - less of your troublemaking) and should be a tradition that you and all your family and friends should cleave to without question unless and until I change my mind.  Your regional vote, though, should be your flight of fancy, your love at first bite, the jam on your piece, your secret, dirty delight - just vote for the party that you like the most  - vote for whichever party you want to form the next Scottish Government (or whoever you feel sorry for or the party you actually support even though it's got no chance of taking power or for the party punting policies you believe in) and don't stress over it.

Except, except, except ...

Some people, who are, to all appearances, sensible and otherwise sober folks are considering voting Green with their regional vote.  That's excellent if you like that kind of thing - knock yersel oot; fill yer boots; light a candle at both ends and stick an organic sparkler in the middle.  Make sure you know what you're doing, though.  First things third, understand the system; I give you Cutbot which is run by James Mackenzie (one time media director for the Greens in Parliament) and Aaron Crane whom I dinna ken.  Cutbot has created a seat predictor that shows the working figures on the regional lists (I haven't read the methodology, I just trust James to get it right) and lets you fiddle about with them - marvellous fun.  Those working figures are what you need to look at to see how to affect the outcome of the election.

Ignore the 8th divisor and allocation - that's something that political anoraks like me find interesting; it's what would happen if there was an extra seat in each region.  What you want to know is what it would take to change the last seat  in each region to an independence supporting party (that's the first seat you can change and it works backwards up the table).  To work that out, multiply the difference between the allocation figure of the winner of the last seat and the next biggest allocation figure by the divisor of the runner-up and you can see how many extra votes are needed.  Or you can just fiddle about with the numbers you put into the thing and see what happens.

Here's what I saw when I last looked at it (29th of April, 2016) -

Central Scotland region - SNP wins the last seat so you don't want to change it, you want to reinforce it and no other indy party has a regional seat so indy supporters should vote SNP on the list to make sure it happens - Greens and RISE supporters should vote SNP on the list.

Glasgow region - Patrick Harvie is safely elected on the third round and no other indy supporter comes in on the regional vote.  For the SNP to beat Labour to the last seat needs us to get 27,911 extra votes, the Greens need a few hundred - a wee bit cheese would help them across the line.

Highlands and Islands region - the SNP needs 2,359 votes to take that last seat from Labour, the Greens would need 4,083

In Lothian, RISE is closest, needing just over 13,000 extra votes compared to the nearly 17,000 for the Greens and the 69,000 for the SNP.  In Mid Scotland and Fife, RISE is closest again.  In the North East it's RISE again.  In South of Scotland it's the Greens.  In the West of Scotland it's RISE.

So you know what to do now, yeah?  Except on the last poll all those regions were different and on the next poll they'll be different again.  Also, sometimes it's not an indy party that's closest and that makes the gap harder to close because you have to beat two.  Also, change the votes on the last seat and you change the seats further up the chain - sometimes all you do is change the order in which the seats are won, not how many seats each party gets.  Also - look at how many votes have to change to make a difference in most cases; thousands of people, thousands of votes.

Then there's the thing that it's based on polls and they're not always right; they didn't get 2007 or 2011 right and they got 2015 howlingly wrong - they might be wrong now.  Fiddle about with Cutbot's model; change the numbers, see what happens when you move a few percentage points.  In particular, shift votes between the unionist parties and you'll see that the effect of indy voting can change without indy voters changing their minds.  You'll also discover that if every spare SNP and Green vote on the regional list went to RISE there would be a lot more pro-indy MSPs - if you get everyone who's adding spare votes switches but no-one who's in the active vote category does (because that would lose pro-indy MSPs, of course).

Here's something else - don't assume we're winning the constituencies all of the models I've seen assume that the SNP is winning every constituency between Thurso and Ulaanbaatar.  I know we're at bizarre levels of support but winning seats doesn't come cheap and isn't guaranteed; a good incumbent, a crap SNP ground campaign, an unexpected event, a bad candidate, a daft comment at a hustings, something dropping from the media sky; each of them can change an election.  There are eleven constituencies where I think that at least one of these conditions applies and I don't know all of the constituencies.  So, ye know, if the SNP doesn't win those constituencies and we don't have the votes on the list we lose some MSPs but, hey, that's democracy.

Vote however the hell you want but know what you're doing.  This isn't a referendum; it's not a choice of one side or the other; this is an election and you're voting for candidates and parties.  You might like thinking about who would be First Minister- would you prefer Nicola Sturgeon or Patrick Harvie; Colin Fox or Kezia Dugdale; Willie Rennie or Ruth Davidson - and that's worth thinking about and so is who they would appoint to look after education, health, the polis, transport, and so on.

Of course, if your constituency candidate or the top candidate on the list is a dribbling donkey then it doesn't really matter who they'd support for First Minister; you're not gonna vote for them and nor am I.  Here's a radical idea - have a look at your constituency candidates and choose which one you think is best (I'm currently torn between Ash Denham and Kezia Dugdale) then vote for the sucker (they all think it's going to be fabulous and then they end up on the sub leg committee) - that should teach them.  Once you've screwed a constituency candidate, why not ruin the lives of a few more on the list?

You're voting for a slate on the list - one vote, many candidates - so you should have a look at the candidates on each list.  Unfortunately, parties don't give you much information about the candidates on their lists so you might want to investigate these people but life is too short and the candidates are far too boring.  Instead you have to fall back on the principle that these list candidate wallahs are servants of their party and treat them like that, voting for them on the understanding that they'll do whatever the party whips tell them to do so every MSP elected on the list strengthens the central power of each party.

I'd love to see Colin Fox back in Parliament and I'd like to see people like Cat Boyd elected so the temptation to vote RISE is there but I like Jil Murphy and Irshad Ahmed and I think they'd both be good MSPs.  I'll be voting SNP on the list as well as in the constituency - that's my flight of fancy.

Whatever you do and however you vote, though, don't try to game the election; you don't know what everyone else in your electoral region will do and you might end up working against what you want to do.  Keep it simple, vote for who you want and don't stress it.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Dancing with Labour's tax plan

Let's give Labour's tax policy another turn around the dance floor before we go for a buster on the way home.  It's a bit boring but worth looking at and you'll get a buster on the way home.  Labour's cunning wheeze is to increase the tax rate of everyone in Scotland by 1% from 20% to 21% - a 5% rise in tax paid for people who only pay basic rate tax (1 being 5% of 20) but less of a percentage rise in the tax paid for those who pay the higher rate of tax.  To be fair to Labour there was some attempt to undo the damage done by giving people back £100 if they earn less than £20,000 (of course, that £100 would be taxed at Labour's new 21% rate so it would only be worth £79) so if it worked it would at least be less awful than it appears at first.

'Independent' reports and the missing briefing

As the tax policy started falling apart in the days after it was launched we were pointed to an 'independent' report supporting the policy but there were some problems; it didn't take into account the tax on the £100 or the fact that it would have to be claimed from councils and it had the £100 bung as being paid twice to a family with two £20k earners while the legendary Duncan Hothersall had access to the original briefing and said it was per household.  He actually posted the section of the briefing that said it was per household (and I should have screengrabbed that) but later deleted that bit of his posting.  It's a pity; I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd like to have a wee look through the whole briefing.

I'd like to see, for example, how Labour judges between the HMRC estimate of what a 1% increase in Scottish tax would bring in and the Office of Budget Responsibility estimate because there's a £15m difference.  I'd also have liked to have seen how Labour intended to reimburse councils for handing out the cash - how far in arrears?

Before thinking about any of that, though, have a look at the biography of the guy who wrote the 'independent' report, Torsten Bell, as it's written on the Resolution Foundation website -
Torsten joined the Foundation in September 2015 as Director. Prior to this, Torsten was Director of Policy for the Labour Party and worked in the Treasury, both as a special adviser and a civil servant.
So you have a guy who left his employment as Director of Policy for the Labour Party in the same month as Corbyn became leader; joined a think-tank headed up by Tory David Willetts and 5 months later wrote a supposedly independent report backing Labour's plans.  Leaving aside the question of how we've come to a stage where a former Director of Policy for Labour can join cause with one of Thatcher's little helpers, how can we possibly believe that a position paper he's written about Labour policy can be an independent analysis since he was writing Labour policy just a few months ago?

Labour then pointed us to "another expert group" backing its plans but that's problematic, too - IPPR Scotland is Russell "Rusty" Gunson and some ad-hoc help from IPPR North (that's North of England, of course, not North of the UK) and he is an old Labour hand.  Like Kezia he was an NUS employee and a researcher for a Labour MSP before scaling giddier heights.  On the plus side, though, here he is playing a set at the Barrowlands - at least he followed a dream once.

If you want to see how Russell arrived at his conclusion that Labour's plans are good the analysis is here - but don't expect much, it doesn't show any workings or explain assumptions.  You might also wonder how IPPR Scotland has got to different amounts for Labour's plans and the Lib Dems' plans for the wealthiest people in the country, given that the plans are identical for people earning more than £20,000 a year.

How the U-turn distorts the policy and the costs that don't add up

How are we doing so far?  Excellent.  So here's some more fun; Labour's volte-face on the households/individuals thing about who gets the £100 kickback makes for some interesting scenarios.  It means that a childless couple on combined earnings of £39,000 could be claiming a £200 handout while a couple with children with a household income from one earner of £20,001 gets zero.  Even more ridiculous is the possibility that a couple with a grown-up child in the house could have a combined income of £59,000 and get £300 back while the couple with school-age children get nothing.  The Broons, with five people in the household working, could be hauling in £99,000 a year and be getting £500 back and so on.

Then there the numbers - they really don't add up now.  The kickback thing was costed at £50m which was raised to £75m within hours as Labour realised that pensioners had been forgotten about.  That included the money for the administration with the heroic assumption that it could be done for £1m because a far simpler scheme handing much less money is done for around £1m - leaving £74m to pay kickbacks.

There are half a million pensioner taxpayers in Scotland (page 26) so at £100 each that's £50m a year.  There are 573,000 working age taxpayers in Scotland that fall into the under £20,000 bracket to qualify for the kickback so that's another £57.3m.  That means that total payments would be £107.3m and that is £33.3m more than Labour's budgeted for the scheme - even if it can get the admin costs in under £1m.  The figure for working age taxpayers comes from 2012-13 because that's the most recent figures the UK Government has published but wages haven't exactly rocketed since then.

You can dig the figures out from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) that show that about 40% of Scottish workers are paid £20,000 or less.  Given that the most recent ONS stats say that the Scottish workforce is around 2.6 million strong, that would be about a million who are paid £20k or less but since we don't know from those figures how many are taxpayers we should stick with the just over half a million that the HMRC figures give us.

So if HMRC is right and the take from raising the tax rate by 1% in Scotland is £475m and the kickback payments knock £107m out with the administration costs taking away another million quid (at least), we'd be left with £367m from the scheme and over a million people queueing up at their local council offices to claim their rebates.  For comparison, Scottish income tax rakes in between £11.2bn and £11.5bn for the Exchequer (page 66) so we'd go through all that pain to raise less than a third of one per cent of what London currently soaks up from Scottish income tax payers.

The scheme might not be legal

I'm not done quite yet, though, because the legislation that Labour wants to use to pay the £100 is The Local Government in Scotland Act 2003, specifically Section 20, the power to advance well-being.  Perhaps Labour's researchers should have read on to section 22, and subsection 4 in particular, which says
The power under section 20 above shall not be exercised in a way which unreasonably duplicates anything which may or must be done in pursuance of a function, under any enactment (whenever passed or made), of a person other than the local authority.
Since tax credits, rebates and allowances are the preserve of the Treasury (at the moment - one waits with baited breath for the results of the Smith negotiations) and operate through HMRC councils can't give a tax rebate.  Benefits come under the DWP (councils administer housing benefit and council tax benefits as agents of the DWP) so councils can't do it that way, either.

There would need to be new legislation passed through Holyrood specifically to allow the payments to be made but that is straying into reserved territory and takes us into the detail of the powers of Davie Mundell under the Scotland Act - would he allow such legislation, created specifically to change a reserved decision, to stand?  With Mr Osborne - a vindictive man at the best of times - at his back and raging about the impudence, would the Secretary of State not strike it down?

Tax would be raised for every income tax payer in Scotland (rich people living off the fat of shares, stock options and inherited wealth aren't affected) and there would be no kickback.  Scotland's median wage is around £27k so even if Labour's plan worked it would mean that people on less than the average wage would pay more tax than they would under Osborne's plans.  £20,000 is only just over a quid more per hour than the living wage - it's hardly living the life of Reilly.  If the kickback plan doesn't work - and it looks like it can't - then people on the minimum wage will be paying more tax and pensioners will be paying more tax.  Labour will be asking the lowest-paid and pensioners to pay more than even George Osborne wants them to.

The system is broken - and so is Labour

The moral of the story is that the tax system from Calman just doesn't work for us (you can decide for yourself whose fault that is), it can't be made to work in Scotland's interests.  If you want a tax system that works you need control of the whole system.  Of course, we could have taken that control with a Yes vote in September 2014 but I'm not going to bring that up - I wouldn't do such a thing.

Watching Labour do politics these days is like seeing someone staring at an Escher drawing and calling it an architect's plan for a bungalow.  There's really no need to be quite so incompetent.


Right then, get your coat, I'll buy you a buster, these shoes are kiling me, I don't know why I wear them to the dancing, I really don't, I swear I'll have bunions in the morning...