Saturday, January 03, 2015

Big Money, not the house of Lords, is the really big problem with our democracy - and it's not just a Westminster problem, it's an SNP problem too

I can see why Alex Salmond would suggest making the House of Lords elected, but on its own that will not fix the biggest problems with our democracy. The US has an elected upper house, and even more corruption in the system than the UK has. Nor will devolution, or even independence, fix the biggest problem with our democracy without other reforms (1).

That’s because the biggest problem is that we allow big banks, companies and the super-rich to buy up political influence. They do this partly by big donations to party funds and election campaigns.

The big political parties use the donations to pay advisers, advertisers, graphic designers and pollsters to design campaigns of leaflets, billboards and adverts to persuade people to vote for them. Then, when they’re in government, they pay the donors back many times over, with taxpayers’ money.

They do it with public contracts that massively over-pay companies and have no safeguards to ensure value for money for taxpayers, for instance with PFIs. They do it by permitting tax havens in UK dependencies like the City of London and the Channel Islands so the big donors can avoid taxes easily. They do it by letting them off with most of their evasion of tax even when they’re caught, through “sweetheart deals”. They do it by not enforcing anti-monopoly laws and de-regulating whole industries so a few large companies can dominate each economic sector and charge consumers what they like whether their own costs are going up or down. This de-regulation also led to the banking crisis.

In the last 5 years the Conservative party has got more than half its donations from the financial sector – mostly big banks and hedge funds. It has failed to bring in any proper regulation of the banks of the Glass-Steagall kind that would ban high street savings banks from also being “investment” (actually mostly stock market casino) banks (2).

To save on the millions every few years it would take to publicly fund the election campaigns of all candidates at a low and equal level, we end up losing tens to hundreds of billions every single year in big companies allowed to overcharge us for electricity, food and many other things ; in PFI contracts ; in lost tax revenues ; in companies allowed to grow too large so there is no longer real competition to reduce prices for consumers ; in de-regulation leading to everything from higher prices to banking crises.

The Revolving Door Between Government and Big Business

They also do it through the “revolving door” between government and the firms its meant to regulate. If government ministers, civil servants, MPs and advisers do favours for big donors to party funds, we allow them to leave government and go straight to work for firms they were regulating, deciding on taxation for, or giving contracts to.

For instance Sean Worth, an adviser to David Cameron on NHS “reforms” (largely contracting out services to private firms) left that job after just two years, to become an adviser to MHP Communications, which lobbies on behalf of the Priory Group, which runs mental health services for the NHS (3).

Labour in government were no different. Health Secretaries Alan Milburn and Patricia Hewitt both contracted out NHS services to the private sector, and both became paid advisers to private healthcare firms on leaving government (4) – (5).

 Many other former ministers and advisers, Labour and Conservative, have done the same (6).

And one of the ways the parties pay back donors to party funds is by allowing people employed by these firms to take up jobs in the same government departments, so that the biggest firms are able to scrap any regulations they don’t like, as well as avoid competition laws being enforced to break them up when they become too big.

Not just a Westminster problem – a Scottish and SNP problem too

And the problem is not just at Westminster. Even if Scotland was independent the same problem of big business and the super-rich buying up political influence would remain.

The SNP has already shown it can be bought by big donors too.

Within a month of receiving a £500,000 donation from Brian Souter, who owns much of Highland Transport group,  in January 2007, the SNP scrapped its policy of re-regulation of the bus network. And to this day the Scottish governments has no plans to renationalise or even seriously re-regulate bus services (7) – (8).

Legalised Corruption

All of this is political and government corruption by any other name. In legal terms it may not be corruption, because while there are laws against bribes in money, there are no laws against taking those bribes as big donations to party funds in return for favours at taxpayers’ expense, nor taking them in kind as paid employment, nor in letting representatives of the banks or companies into government to write their own regulations in return. But there should be laws against it. In moral terms, and in its effects on voters and taxpayers’ interests, isn’t it just as corrupt as taking a bribe?

The almost powerless House of Lords is a distraction from the big problems

The House of Lords has almost no power. The majority of what it does is to review bills sent to it by the Commons (often badly thought out laws rushed through by the government) and suggest amendments to them. It can do that twice. When it comes to the third time it has to approve them even if the commons has rejected all the Lords' amendments. That’s been the case for over 100 years since the 1911 Parliament Act.

Scrap it and don't replace it and the government can rush through half-arsed laws without any oversight or amendment and frequently no-one will even notice till it's too late.

Scrap it and replace it with an elected upper chamber, without having fixed all the other problems, and you end up like the US - with either a rubber stamp (if the same party or parties control both houses) or gridlock with almost no laws passed at all (if different parties control the two houses), and most laws only passed if they benefit big donors to election campaign funds.

I'm not saying there are no problems with the Lords - how Lords are appointed needs changed. Party leaders shouldn't just be able to hand seats to big donors to party funds, and there doesn’t seem much justification for hereditary peers.

Electing them is one possibility, but on it’s own will solve little and might well just hand the party machines and big donors to party funds as much influence in the upper house as they already have in the more powerful House of Commons.

Binning our votes unrepresented – First Past The Post Elections

Another problem is than the the First Past the Post electoral system used for UK General Elections, which often gives single parties big majorities on a minority of the votes and throws away any vote not cast for the winning candidate in a constituency unrepresented (and the winning candidate can win on the largest minority of the vote, doesn't even need 50%) .

In the 2010 General election more than half the votes cast were for losing candidates and were effectively binned unrepresented.  In 2005 and 2010 two-thirds of MPs didn’t even have a majority of the votes cast in their constituency. And it’s even worse than that, because of safe seats. The safer a seat the less voters bother voting at all  (9) – (10).

Lack of Democracy inside parties

A fourth problem is the lack of any written constitution or law requiring democracy inside political parties.
So for instance in the Labour party, the party leader can change policy to benefit big donors to party funds at any time, and ignore votes by party conference as “non-binding”.

Whether we are part of the UK or an independent country, private donations to political parties and the revolving door between government and big business are two of the biggest weaknesses in our democracy.

How to fix our democracy

Public funding of all candidates in elections at a low and equal level would allow the giving or receiving of any private political donation to be made a criminal offence. This would have to include any donation from any source, as otherwise companies could use phony “charities” or industry front groups.

Making it also a criminal offence with a stiff jail sentence to move between employment in a government department in any capacity and employment in any firm regulated by, given contracts by or whose taxes were decided by that department within a 10 year period would end the revolving door syndrome.

 Those two measures could take most of the big money influence out of politics and make politicians look to the people who elected them first.

We could end dodgy PFI contracts. It could end de-regulation of the kind that led to the financial crisis and allow the banks to be re-regulated to prevent another one (six years after the crisis there is still no law against high street savings banks also being “investment” banks). It could stop government letting big donors to party funds use government permitted tax havens in UK dependencies like the Channel Islands, and end “sweetheat deals” that let Goldman Sachs and others off with millions in tax at a time, even when they are caught evading it.

If we just have an elected House of lords, or get more devolution or independence, and think that’s democracy fixed though, business will continue as usual with the majority’s interests over-ridden by those of big donors to party funds.

A written constitution specifying internal democracy within parties (e.g constituency parties to have the sole right to select or deselect candidates ; votes of party conference must become party policy etc) would also be progress, but is similarly a minor issue as long as big money is allowed to controls our governments and opposition parties.

(1) = Guardian.com 20 Dec 2014 ‘Alex Salmond calls for ‘peasants’ revolt’ vote to abolish House of Lords’,
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/dec/20/alex-salmond-peasants-revolt-type-referendum-abolish-house-of-lords

(2) = BBC News 09 Feb 2011 ‘More than half of Conservative donors 'from the City'’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12401049

(3) = Guardian 23 Nov 2012 ‘David Cameron's former NHS privatisation adviser becomes lobbyist’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/nov/23/david-cameron-privatisation-adviser-health-lobbyist

(4) = Guardian 17 May 2011 ‘Former Labour ministers rushing to take private sector jobs, report finds’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/may/17/labour-ministers-consultancy-private-sector

(5) = Telegraph 12 Jun 2012 ‘Social mobility man Alan Milburn is on the way to a million’,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9324145/Social-mobility-man-Alan-Milburn-is-on-the-way-to-a-million.html

(6) = Lobbying Transparency – Revolving Door is Unhealthy, http://www.lobbyingtransparency.org/15-blog/general/62-revolving-door-is-unhealthy

(7) = Scotsman 22 Apr 2007 ‘SNP under attack after bus U-turn’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/scotland/top-stories/snp-under-attack-after-bus-u-turn-1-744256

(8) = Scotsman 12 Feb 2011 ‘£500,000 war chest for Alex Salmond’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/163_500_000_war_chest_for_alex_salmond_1_1493699

(9) = Electoral Reform Society 6 May 2010 ‘The UK General Election 2010 In-depth’, page 35,
http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/images/dynamicImages/file4e3ff1393b87a.pdf

(10) = IPPR 2011 ‘Worst of Both Worlds -Why First Past the Post no longer works’ , by Guy Lodge and Glenn Gottfried, http://www.ippr.org/assets/media/images/media/files/publication/2011/05/Worst%20of%20Both%20Worlds%20Jan2011_1820.pdf
and
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/first-past-the-post-no-longer-fit-for-purpose/

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The government, IDS and Katie Hopkins are all lying about food banks – the evidence that welfare “reforms” are causing poverty and hunger

Katie Hopkins is hardly renowned as a great intellect. In fact she’s famous for her stupidity, for example criticising people who named their children after countries on live TV when she called one of her own children India.

However there is more to her than just a brainless celeb. She’s also a brainless celeb who was handed everything on a plate from the age of 3 in an incredibly pampered upbringing as part of a smug establishment, but loves to condemn people so poor they rely on food banks to eat .

She has become a spokesperson for the rich and powerful, targeting the poor and the powerless on their behalf. That’s not exactly a hard position to get if you were born into the right family. There are thousands of the smug braying nobodies spilling nonsense at us from every newspaper from the tabloids to The Telegraph. They have these positions not because of any talent, but because they are part of the smug establishment, “one of us” , grew up with them, went to public school with them.

No wonder The Sun gave her a column and she goes out shooting with its editors. And The Sun pretends it’s the newspaper of ordinary people!

They share their prejudices and blind ideology, which is why Hopkins is so often stating her agreement with something tory government ministers like Michael Gove have said. In her ludicrous Huffington Post piece on food banks she quotes him on those who rely on food banks supposedly only having to do so because they mismanage their finances.

What a co-incidence that Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, condemns food banks too. And they both, like Hopkins, are tories who went to public school (1).

Hopkins claimed recently on twitter that only people who deliberately give up working could become poor.

She also tweeted that “Food banks are bridging the gap between income and the number of Sky, mobile, car finance contracts clueless individuals prioritised.”

And she keeps on posting links to her own 2013 comment article as supposed proof that food banks are “a complete con”. (2) – (3)

Hopkins’ idiotic witterings would be irrelevant on their own. But they’re part of a propaganda campaign against the poorest by the government, political parties and the establishment. So the lies have to be challenged.

Now let’s take a look at the facts – or more accurately the lack of them – in her piece on food banks.

Hopkins writes that

One food bank user commented: "We were given a food parcel. Me and my partner sat down and ate for four hours solid until it was all gone".

To get hold of this free food, users have to wangle a voucher from an agency worker at a job centre or drop in clinic, supposedly to a maximum of three. This limit is not enforced.

Oscar-winning performances of desperation are plenty. A recent BBC documentary showed one man lying that it was his son's birthday in order to procure a voucher.

Individuals like this have become vouchers tourists travelling between agencies, collecting vouchers quicker than genital warts on a student.’ (4)

No source for the “comment” from the food bank user. Googling the quote provides no sources for it. So basically her entire article is based on one BBC documentary.

Given the date of her article it has to be ‘Britain’s Hidden Hungry’ from November  2012. Either she didn’t watch it or else she just picked out the bits she liked, because even the summary on the BBC website page says:

Care-leaver Charlotte eats just one meal a day. It's all she can afford, so she starves herself till evening. Sandra, middle class mother of five, is embarrassed that all she can give her son for his school packed lunch is bread and butter. Middle manager Kelly, mother of two, hasn't eaten for two days. Meet Britain's hidden hungry.

As of 2012, more than 170,000 people are believed to be dependent on a chain of 300 foodbanks run by a Christian charity, the Trussell Trust. Bafta award winning film-maker David Modell has spent six months at the Coventry foodbank following the stories of Charlotte, Sandra and Kelly to find out how, in 2012, so many Britons are suffering genuine and prolonged bouts of real hunger.

Another BBC documentary on hunger and food banks this year ‘Hungry Britain’ came to similar conclusions. You can watch that documentary online here.

A report by Oxfam and Church Action Against Poverty in 2013 found that:

We estimate that over 500,000 people are now reliant on food aid – the use of food banks and receipt of food parcels ….Some of the increase…is caused by unemployment, increasing levels of underemployment, low and falling income, and rising food and fuel prices. The National Minimum Wage and benefits levels need to rise in line with inflation…

…up to half of all people turning to food banks are doing so as a direct result of having benefit payments delayed, reduced, or withdrawn altogether. Figures gathered by the Trussell Trust …show that changes to the benefit system are the most common reasons for people using food banks…

There is a real risk that the benefit cuts and the introduction of Universal Credit (which will require internet access and make payments less frequently) will lead to even larger numbers being forced to turn to food banks. Food banks may not have the capacity to cope with the increased level of demand.
’ (5)

A recent report of an inquiry into food banks and hunger by MPs of all parties had similar findings – that the main causes of food bank use were rising costs of food, energy bills, low wages, unemployment and welfare “reforms” (6)

So Hopkins, like IDS and Gove, is picking out a handful of examples of people exploiting food banks and ignoring the mountain of evidence that the majority of people going to food banks are in genuine poverty and would go hungry without them.

And now on the lie that most people in poverty are unemployed and unemployed because they don’t want to work.

First, large numbers of people going into work remain in poverty (under 60% of median income or £119 per week for an adult or £288 for a couple with two children) or in deep poverty (a third or less lower income than that). Since 2012 there have been more people in work and in poverty than out of work and in poverty in the UK (7) – (8).

Newly created jobs have increasingly becoming part-time and/or low paid over the past two decades. This accelerated after the banking crisis with the number of people in the UK who want full-time work but can only get part-time having increased by 1 million between 2008 and 2012 alone (9).

Second the number of unemployed people continues to exceed the number of job vacancies even on the government’s figures of 1.96 million and 637,000 respectively, which fiddle the former down and the latter up (10) – (11).

So much for Katie Hopkins’, IDS and every other propagandist and useful idiot who claims food banks are “a con” and that anyone in hunger or poverty is there purely due to their own failings.

Sources

(1) = Independent 22 Dec 2013 ‘Iain Duncan Smith accuses food bank charity the Trussell Trust of scaremongering’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/iain-duncan-smith-accuses-food-bank-charity-the-trussell-trust-of-scaremongering-9021150.html

(2) = Huffington Post 18 Oct 2013 ‘The Real Reason Food Banks Have Trebled’,
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/katie-hopkins/food-bank-real-reason-use-has-trebled_b_4121733.html

(3) = Huffington Post 10 Jan 2014 ‘Katie Hopkins Calls Food Banks 'A Complete Con' And Defends Benefits Street (VIDEO)’, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/01/10/katie-hopkins-food-banks_n_4574311.html

(4) = See (2) above

(5) = Oxfam & Church Action Against Poverty 30 May 2013 ‘Walking the Breadline: The scandal of food poverty in 21st-century Britain’, http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/walking-the-breadline-the-scandal-of-food-poverty-in-21st-century-britain-292978

(6) = BBC News 08 Dec 2014 ‘'Pay benefits faster' to reduce hunger, MPs urge’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30346060

(7) = Joseph Rowntree Foundation 06 Dec 2010 ‘Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2010’,
http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/monitoring-poverty-2010

(8) = Joseph Rowntree Foundation 26 November 2012 ‘In-work poverty outstrips poverty in workless households’, http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2012/11/work-poverty-outstrips-poverty-workless-households

(9) = ONS 28 Nov 2012 ‘People in Work Wanting More Hours Increases by 1 million Since 2008’, http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/underemployed-workers-in-the-uk/2012/rpt-underemployed-workers.html

(10) = ONS Statistical bulletin: UK Labour Market, November 2014 ‘Vacancies Aug – Oct 2014’,
http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/november-2014/statistical-bulletin.html#tab-14--Vacancies

(11) = ONS Statistical bulletin: UK Labour Market, November 2014, ‘Key Points for July to September 2014’,
http://ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/november-2014/statistical-bulletin.html

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Smith Commission Report – a deal among parties, ignoring the greater powers that polls show most people want

The dispute over the Smith Commission report turns on whether additional powers should be decided by negotiations between political parties on what powers they are willing to concede, or the views of the majority of the people of Scotland (1).

The “vow” didn’t refer to Home Rule, Devo Max or federalism, but Gordon Brown did, in widely reported comments in the last few weeks of the referendum. Opinion polls show majorities for devolving far more powers than Smith recommends.

A recent ICM poll found 63% want all welfare powers and  taxes devolved to the Scottish parliament. This would have to exclude Scotland’s share of Defence and Foreign Policy funding, but goes far beyond Smith’s recommendations of only devolving disability and carers’ benefits and the bedroom tax (2) – (3) .

A poll just after the referendum reported by STV found that80% …supported Scotland having control over welfare, with 62% saying it should be in charge of pensions. Almost three quarters (71%) of people back the devolution of income tax while 62% want to see Scotland get control of corporation tax and 61% say Holyrood should be in charge of VAT.’ (4).

Smith only recommends devolving income tax, air passenger duty, the Aggregates levy and the first 10% of VAT. The UK government retains all corporation tax, capital gains tax , national insurance, oil and gas revenues, vehicle excise duty and other revenues raised in Scotland (5).

The UK parties’ argument that the power to set corporation and VAT tax rates couldn’t be devolved as it could lead to different parts of the UK competing to have lower rates was understandable. However their willingness to devolve income tax, which could similarly lead to competitive tax cutting, suggests their motives there are party political.

No UK government has raised the basic rate of income tax in decades because it’s political suicide to do so. It seems likely that, with the SNP having a majority in the Scottish parliament, the UK parties want to force the Scottish government into either income tax rises or spending cuts to try to lose it votes.

And there’s no reason why most of the revenues from income and corporation taxes raised in Scotland couldn’t be assigned to the Scottish government and parliament to decide on how to spend them, while leaving the power to set the rates  of these taxes set by the UK government, and so uniform across the UK.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge that there are a few other positives in the Smith commission. The report recommends the devolution of the power to issue or refuse onshore oil and gas (paragraph 69), which would give the Scottish government the power to block fracking (assuming the Scottish public put enough pressure on it – so far Scottish ministers’ responses on fracking have been very evasive). The power to scrap the bedroom tax and provide benefits for carers and the disabled are important, but they are not close to control over all welfare powers and the budget for them.

The power to allow the public sector to bid for rail franchises (paragraphs 25 to 26, page 21) is positive too, but a long way from allowing renationalisation.

However it’s equally wrong to pretend that the Smith recommendations are anything approaching the “home rule” , “devo max” or federalism which Brown talked of. The usual definition of these is that most domestic policy and most of the budget for it is devolved. Nor do the powers Smith offers come close to the ones polls show most Scots want.

And equally some of the recommended devolved powers are so limited as to be almost non-existent – see those over Crown Estates in Scotland for instance, which allow sweeping exceptions by the UK government on extremely vague and general terms (paragraphs 32 – 34, page 16). Similarly for those over Energy Efficiency and Fuel Poverty measures (paragraph 68).

One telling line is Paragraph 24,  page 13 ; ‘the Scottish Parliament will have no powers over the regulation of political parties (including donations)’.

This indicates a deal in the interest of parties, not voters. The major UK political parties rely heavily on donations from banks, hedge funds, big firms and the super-rich – particularly the Conservative party.

It also ensures no requirement for more internal democracy within all political parties in Scotland. So Miliband can keep imposing his policies on the Scottish branch of his party.

One month was long enough for horse-trading between the main UK parties on what level of devolution they’d tolerate. It wasn’t long enough to receive or read submissions from thousands of members of the public. Nor should we be presented with a take-it-or-leave-it package decided only by parties. Opinion polls and consultations, and/or a second elected constitutional convention, could be used to draw up a list of possible additional powers, with a multi-question referendum allowing voters to vote for or against each.

Brown might want Scottish politics “reset” with constitutional issues labelled “dealt with”, but opinion polls suggest many voters disagree (6).

Opinion polls suggesting a massive rise in the SNP vote in the next General election, combined with those on additional powers, may force the next UK government into offering considerably more devolved powers than the Smith negotiations resulted in (7).

 

Sources

 

(1) = https://www.smith-commission.scot/ and https://www.smith-commission.scot/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The_Smith_Commission_Report-1.pdf

(2) = STV 30 Nov 2014 ‘Poll finds majority want Holyrood to control all taxes and benefits’,
http://news.stv.tv/scotland-decides/301542-icm-poll-finds-majority-want-holyrood-to-control-all-taxes-and-benefits/

(3) = https://www.smith-commission.scot/ and https://www.smith-commission.scot/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The_Smith_Commission_Report-1.pdf , paragraphs 42 – 54, pages 18 - 19

(4) = STV 21 Sep 2014 ‘SNP on course to win third Holyrood term, according to new poll’,  http://news.stv.tv/scotland/292917-snp-on-course-to-win-third-consecutive-holyrood-term-says-new-poll/

(5) = https://www.smith-commission.scot/ and https://www.smith-commission.scot/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The_Smith_Commission_Report-1.pdf , paragraphs 75 - 92, pages 23 - 25

(6) = BBC News 29 Nov ‘Gordon Brown calls for Scottish politics 'reset'’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-30256101

(7) = Guardian 30 Oct 2014 ‘Labour faces massive losses to SNP at UK general election, poll shows’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/30/scottish-labour-snp-general-election-poll

Sunday, November 30, 2014

McCann, Straw and Miliband’s Labour party – not for Trots, but too Stalinist, too Thatcherite, too British nationalist, and undoing much of what Atlee and Bevan Achieved

Summary : Michael McCann, the Labour MP for East Kilbride, denounced last week’s Radical Independence Convention in Glasgow as “trots” and “extremists”. Yet he comes from a party with more than a bit of Stalinism and Leninism in its leadership’s dismissal of the views of ordinary members, and lack of internal democracy. Some senior Labour MPs actually started out in politics as actual Stalinists and Leninists. Despite being a bit over the top sometimes, RIC stands for clear progressive policies, the way the first post-war Labour government of Atlee and Bevan did. In just 5 years Atlee and Bevan created the NHS, a comprehensive welfare state and universal access to education. The last Labour government under Blair and Brown, given 13 years, managed only a handful of progressive policies while adopting many Conservative ones, including covert privatisation and PFIs in the NHS  and “welfare reform”, both of which actually continued eroding the Atlee government’s creations. Ed Miliband’s leadership continues lack of democracy within the party and caving in to the agendas of the Conservative party and right wing elements in the media. Despite some decent people still being in the party, Labour has in practice long since ceased to be a party of progress and has become mostly about getting Labour representatives re-elected. As such it no longer deserves support – and polls suggest it will be almost wiped out in the 2015 General election in Scotland, even under an electoral system which favours it.

Labour MP Michael McCann denounced the Radical Independence convention in Glasgow as “trots” and “extremists”. His own party’s senior levels have mostly been purged of Trotskyists. Those would be far too close to democrats for the party leadership and machine’s liking. Instead Labour’s senior levels have been full of former Stalinists and Leninists for decades, with the party leader’s dominance in practice only exceeded in actual dictatorships like Stalin’s (1).

Jack Straw MP wrote in a letter to The Independent in 2004 that he had never been a “trot”, recommending a piece by Lenin denouncing trotskyists. As a student he frequently quoted Stalin. He’s had no problem with a Labour party in which votes by members on policy at conference have been considered “non-binding” – i.e ignorable by the leadership - since Kinnock in the 80s (2) – (3).

While Straw’s Stalin  and Lenin quotes may have been intended as a joke, he extended an apparently genuine lack of concern for democracy after the Scottish independence referendum, by suggesting  a US style law banning any part of the UK from seceding. His colleague John Reid (now retired) also began his career in student politics as a Leninist and Stalinist (4) – (5).

Some might object that Labour is not Communist. Stalin was more of a right wing Russian authoritarian nationalist from Georgia, dressed up in socialist rhetoric though.

Many Labour MPs seem, like Stalin, to be incapable of understanding democracy, whether inside their party or outside it. Or that their lack of democracy is the reason their party is losing more and more voters and members to the SNP, the Greens and others. Some Scottish Labour MPs also seem so obsessed with beating “the nats”, that they have become strident British nationalists themselves.

And many of them seem blind to the fact that many supporters of devo max, federalism or independence aren’t nationalists but former Labour voters sick of a Labour party which has adopted most of the policies of the Conservative party, from PFIs to “light touch regulation”

I was there when McCann was elected and ended a long tirade by quoting Tony Blair’s ludicrous final speech as PM about politics sometimes being about “noble purpose” .

In March this year McCann condemned the Scottish Labour party’s proposals to devolve income tax powers to the Scottish government as he was “ a member of the British Labour party”. So he’s one of the “dinosaurs” that Johann Lamont referred to when she resigned over London Labour’s refusal to give the Scottish party any autonomy (6) – (7).

Polls suggest their political extinction might happen soon (8). In 2010 many Scottish voters voted Labour “to keep the tories out”, and the tories still got in, so in 2015 that line is not going to carry the same weight.

I’m not denouncing all Labour party voters and members. Many of them are genuinely good people pushing for democracy , less inequality and for help for those in poverty.  There are even a minority of MPs who still put their constituents’ interests above those of elected representatives of the party and donors to party funds. The party leadership, most candidate selections, and the way party policy has been formulated for decades, are anything but democratic though.

Add party leaders who, as soon as there’s any criticism of the party in the media, cave in to it immediately, the way Ed Miliband did when Emily Thornberry MP tweeted a photo of a house in Rochester with three English flags on it. After wild claims in the media that Thornberry’s tweet was “snobbishness” against the working class,  Miliband immediately raised a single white flag and sacked her as a spokesperson. Labour MPs declared Miliband “the angriest I’ve ever seen him”, while MPs of the three main UK parties competed to show the greatest respect for Johnny three Flags– sorry, I mean, white van man – as if the two were always identical (9) – (11).

Thornberry actually grew up from the age of 7 in a council house, and her brother has worked as a builder (12).

A more reasonable interpretation might have been “Rochester has a fair number of right wing nationalists in it”, given the widespread adoption of England flags by the English nationalist right.

As one commenter asked, why did he need three England flags? Was there a house down the road that had two and he had to go one better? Was there a guy further down the street with four England flags who thought the other two guys were a couple of snobs?

Add party leaders who make policy not by even making any serious effort to influence public opinion through debate, but who let the tories and the newspapers and TV stations create public opinion almost unchallenged. They then relying on polls and focus groups to decide policy,  adopting the agenda their opponents have set.

Add party leaders and MPs who think their members and voters job is to support whatever line the party leadership takes unquestioningly, with any dissent being “disloyalty” or “betrayal”. Who think greater devolution has to be stopped because the SNP have a majority in the Scottish parliament. Who don’t  realise that devolving all domestic policy, and the revenues for it, is about the only way they might manage to slow or halt the rising support for independence in Scotland.

You have a recipe for a party whose senior ranks have mostly lost sight of any distinction between what’s good for them - the easiest way for them to get re-elected with the least effort - and what’s in the interests of the people they’re meant to represent.

You have a recipe for the Labour party to keep on slowly dying in Scotland as more supporters switch to the SNP, Greens and others ; and likely end up losing votes to both UKIP on the right and the Greens on the left in England.

And it’s not because of “indiscipline”, or “disloyalty” or “snobbishness”. It’s because of a Stalinist attitude towards internal democracy in their party; and Labour’s adoption of most of the Conservative party’s policies and rhetoric.

The Radical Independence Convention’s ‘people’s vow’ was more than a bit over the top with its claim to be “eternal” and on behalf of all future generations,  but at least RIC have some clear policy aims in clear opposition to Thatcherite – and beyond Thatcherite - policies. What has the Labour party stood for from Kinnock on? What does it aim at in practice?

Atlee and Bevan Versus Blair, Brown and Miliband

To me it seems to stand mostly for getting Labour representatives elected and re-elected and disciplining or expelling anyone who opposes leadership policies which most of the party’s members have had no input into.

There are exceptions, but compare the achievements of the first post-war Labour government under Atlee, with those of the last Labour government under Blair and Brown.

The first, in just 5 years, created the NHS from scratch, universal access to education and a comprehensive welfare. The last, given 13 years, brought in a national minimum wage, tax credits, some devolution, a peace process in Northern Ireland, and that’s about it for anything progressive. Most of the rest was adoption of Conservative policies .

The most glaring difference from Atlee’s government was Labour eroding the NHS through covert privatisation. PFIs draining the NHS and schools of funding and trained staff. Labour Health Secretaries contracting out as many NHS Services as possible in England to private firms  ;  and in the cases of Alan Milburn and Patricia Hewitt taking paid adviser-ships with some of those same firms when they left government (13) – (15).

 Privatised railways publicly subsidised at higher levels than British Rail got. A level of continued “light touch” regulation that ensured Britain and Scotland got the full force of a banking crisis which Norway and Canada avoided by regulating their banks and hedge funds more strictly.

An immigration policy of “detention centres” surrounded by barbed wire and deporting people who faced torture or death –  including Afghans back to the Taliban, and black Zimbabweans fleeing Mugabe’s dictatorship.

A foreign policy of doing whatever whoever is President of the US at the time wanted them to do.

Are the Conservatives’ policies in government still worse than Labour’s? Absolutely. But from Kinnock on Labour has always chosen the easiest route, mostly adopting Conservative policies and rhetoric rather than challenging them, so in the long run the tories still win even when “New Labour” wins some elections.

Even half the most notorious policies of the Conservative led coalition were already planned or begun under Labour – for instance many of the “welfare reforms” (including the ATOS contract) – again eroding Atlee and Bevan’s achievements.

And Miliband shows no signs of either allowing greater internal democracy in his party, or of caving in to the Conservative (and now UKIP) agendas any less.

Sadly Labour has long since ceased to be a party of progress and most of its elected representatives have become mostly focused just on winning elections the easiest way possible – by adopting most of their opponents’ rhetoric, policies and ideology.

 It looks to me like the SNP jibe that Labour are the “red tories”, while not true of everyone in the Labour party, nor all its policies, has far too much truth in it, at least for its leadership, many of its MPs and their policies.

Michael, McCann, MP, MPs, Labour, trots, Stalinist, Straw, internal, democracy, Scottish, party,
Leninist, Thornberry, snob, England, flags, Miliband, Atlee, Bevan

Sources

(1) = Herald 25 Nov 2014 ‘New home for those who feel left behind’,
http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/new-home-for-those-who-feel-left-behind.25934988

(2) = Independent letters 16 Nov 2004 ‘Not a Trot’, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/bbc-fights-for-the-arts-celebrity-help-for-starving-people-and-others-6157963.html

(3) = Observer 25 July 1999 ‘Jack Straw: Jack of all tirades’,
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/1999/jul/24/labour.jackstraw ; 18th paragraph, 3rd sentence ‘His election slogan was 'respect, but not respectability', and his favourite quotation was Stalin's dry epigram: 'Once the political line has been settled, organisation counts for all.'’ (paragraph begins ‘He was no long-haired hippy leftie’)

(4) = Times 20 Sep 2014 ‘Let’s preserve our Union in law to stop the SNP pulling it apart’,
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/article4212654.ece

(5) = Guardian 23 Sep 2006 ‘The dark horse’,
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2006/sep/23/labour.uk ; 12th paragraph, 4th sentence ‘Approaching Jim White, the secretary of the Young Communist League, Reid professed to be a convert seeking membership. "He told us he was a Leninist and Stalinist," White recalls.’ (paragraph begins ‘One year’s exposure’)

(6) = Herald 09 Mar 2014 ‘Labour split deepens as MP blasts Lamont's bid to devolve tax powers’, http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/labour-split-deepens-as-mp-blasts-lamonts-bid-to-devolve-tax-powers.23643212

(7) = Herald 25 Oct 2014 ‘The inside story of Lamont's downfall’,
http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/scottish-politics/the-inside-story-of-lamonts-downfall.25688852

(8) = Guardian 30 Oct 2014 ‘Labour faces massive losses to SNP at UK general election, poll shows’,
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/30/scottish-labour-snp-general-election-poll

(9) = Guardian 21 Nov 2014 ‘Emily Thornberry feels full force of Miliband’s ire after Rochester tweet’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/21/emily-thornberry-ed-miliband-rochester-tweet

(10) = ITV 20 Nov 2014 ‘Miliband 'absolutely furious' over Labour MP's England flag tweet’,
http://www.itv.com/news/2014-11-20/miliband-absolutely-furious-over-labour-mps-england-flag-tweet/

(11) = Independent 26 Nov 2014 ‘Donald Macintyre's Sketch: This blessed plot, this realm, this White Van Man...’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/donald-macintyres-sketch-this-blessed-plot-this-realm-this-white-van-man-9885775.html

(12) = Guardian 28 Nov 2014 ‘Emily Thornberry a snob? Don’t be daft, says van driver brother’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/28/emily-thornberry--van-driver-brother-ben

(13) =  Colin Leys & Stewart Player (2011) ‘The Plot Against the NHS’ Merlin Press Ltd, Pontypool, Wales

(14) = Guardian 17 May 2011 ‘Former Labour ministers rushing to take private sector jobs, report finds’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/may/17/labour-ministers-consultancy-private-sector

(15) = Telegraph 12 Jun 2012 ‘Social mobility man Alan Milburn is on the way to a million’,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9324145/Social-mobility-man-Alan-Milburn-is-on-the-way-to-a-million.html

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Scottish people must have their say on what additional devolved powers we choose from - not just to take or leave a package deal cut by big parties - Smith Commission on Additional Devolved Powers Submission

Thank You

First I’d like to thank you for giving the people of Scotland this opportunity to have a say on what additional devolved powers Scotland needs.

 

Need for additional devolved powers decisions not to be just a deal between party leaders
that the Scottish people can only take or leave

While I was a Yes campaigner, I recognise that the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2014 showed the majority of people in Scotland wanted additional devolution or “devo max” as an option in the vote, and always thought this should have been an option people could have voted for (1).

As Lord Ashcroft’s post referendum poll found 25% of No voters said they had voted No primarily because Scotland would get additional devolved powers, and assuming the vast majority of Yes voters will back additional powers too, a majority of Scottish voters of somewhere around 58% want more devolved powers (25% of the 55% who voted No would be 13.75% of all voters. The 45% of voters who voted Yes plus 13.75% would be 58.75%) (2).

While the various Scottish and British political parties, pro and anti-independence,  each have their own positions on what the additional powers should be, and clearly have to have input into the final decision, the Scottish people must also get a major part in making this decision.

It should not be reduced to just being given a Yes or No vote on  a package the parties agree among themselves to offer us. It should include the wider public getting to decide which options the whole country will choose from. Additional devolved powers are a more complicated issue than independence and cannot be reduced to a Yes or No without taking much of the say from the public.

Another Scottish Constitutional Convention? Elected this time?

One month is a very short period for such a consultation. I’d argue that the next stage should be a longer consultation period to a new Scottish Constitutional Convention elected by Single Transferrable Vote (STV) , allowing for candidates from smaller parties, and representatives of Scottish society who don’t represent any party, to be involved in drawing up the options (3) – (4).

STV allows voters rather than party officials to rank candidates in order of preference, and ensures that no one’s vote is “wasted” by going to a candidate who is not elected. It allows voters to vote positively for the candidate or party they support most, rather than just negatively to try to keep the large party they dislike most out of power (5).

While an elected constitutional convention would take longer to put proposals for additional devolved powers together, due to the time required to elect it, those options would be more likely to reflect the views of the whole population rather than just a deal cut between the leaders of the largest political parties.

While the Electoral Reform Society and the British Labour Party propose a UK Constitutional Convention this would risk become bogged down in disputes that can’t be resolved like English Votes for English Laws; as well as whether further devolution in England should happen at all, and, for those who want it, whether it should be to an English parliament or regional ones (6) – (8).

There is no reason why additional devolved or federated powers for Scotland should not be decided separately to ensure they are not delayed indefinitely.

 

How the Scottish people , rather than just political parties, can be given a real say on further devolved powers even if there isn’t another Scottish constitutional convention

Even if another Scottish Constitutional Convention is not formed though, the Scottish people’s views can still be taken into account. First through public consultations like this one. Second by looking at opinion poll results on what powers people in Scotland think should be devolved (though bodies accepted as neutral by all parties would have to be given a remit to conduct polls, as what results polls come up with depend on what questions are asked and how they’re phrased).

Finally by making the final referendum on the proposed additional powers a multi-question one with voters able to approve or reject each major additional power or group of them, rather than just a single Yes or No question to approve or reject all of them.

Opinion polls since the referendum already show majority support for devolution of welfare policy and budget to the Scottish parliament and government, as well as pensions, corporation tax and VAT (9).

These polls show that the public want far more powers devolved than the main two UK parties plan. Other polls during the referendum campaign showed that two-thirds of voters did not know what additional powers these parties were offering in the event of a No vote (10).

If the actual powers delivered are a disappointment to the majority of people in Scotland another independence referendum is likely within 5 to 6 years (or sooner if the UK leaves the EU).

Labour politicians have raised reasonable concerns about this leading to competitive reductions in corporation tax across the UK, reducing tax revenues. While such competition does already take place between countries, it is arguably unhelpful (11).

There is no reason, though, why the UK government could not continue to set the rates for these taxes, while the  majority of revenues from them went directly to the Scottish government, assuming the majority of domestic governmental powers were devolved to the Scottish government.

 

Each devolved power must include full control of the budget for that policy area – and devolving the politically sensitive income tax alone would be merely party political manoeuvring and unacceptable

All devolved powers must include power over the budget for that power, or else the power has been devolved in name but not in reality.

It also has to be emphasised that the plans for limited additional devolution amounting to little more than powers over income tax plus a “proportionate” cut in the devolved Scottish budget by the Labour and Conservative party leaderships are dubious and may well be motivated by an attempt to gain party political advantage over the SNP (12) - (14).

Income tax is the tax most reported on by the media, most noticed by the electorate and so most politically sensitive. As a result UK governments have for decades avoided any rise in the basic rate of income tax. A devolved budget cut plus income tax powers would seem to be a trap set for the Scottish government, forcing it either to raise the most unpopular of taxes or cut services.

(I’d add that I’m not an SNP member and have stood (and lost my deposit repeatedly) as an independent candidate in more than one election).

 

Why many No voters will have expected full federalism based on Brown’s statements.
Why full federalism is practical for Scotland in the UK.

Gordon Brown MP, the former UK Chancellor and Prime Minister, greatly influenced the result of the referendum and the establishment of your own commission. However his opinions should not over-ride the views of the majority of the people of Scotland any more than any other politician’s. The terms he used are also likely to have given most people the impression that he and the UK party leaders were offering considerably more devolution than he or those party leaders actually plan to.

During the referendum campaign Mr Brown claimed that a No vote would result in “as close to a federal state as you can be in a country where one nation is 85 per cent of the population” and “nothing less than a modern form of Scottish Home Rule” (15) – (16).

While ‘devo max’ has never been clearly defined and ‘Home Rule’ similarly has no universally accepted definition, it’s likely that most people would see these phrases as meaning the same as federalism - the devolution of almost all domestic policy – full control of the budget and policy making for domestic policy – i.e everything except foreign and defence policy. While the degree of devolution of powers in existing federal systems like the US, Germany and Switzerland varies, it is high in every case.

As close to a federal state as you can be in a country where one nation has 85% of the population” would imply the maximum level of devolution as in Germany and Switzerland. While there are some grey areas on what is foreign policy and what is domestic policy (international trade policy etc) which would be matters for negotiation, the majority is easy to define.

Mr Brown has implied that as Scotland has less than 10% of the population of the UK this precludes full federalism as “majority rule” must be maintained.

Earlier this month he stated thatYou see, in the United Kingdom, England is about 84% of the United Kingdom. Scotland’s 8%, Wales is 5%, Northern Ireland’s 3%. And you’ve got to find a fair distribution of power that recognises the majority rule but also recognises the minorities and that they have special needs that have to be met.” (17).

This concern with maintaining “majority rule” is doubtful for two reasons. First existing federal systems include states with massively different populations, of far greater orders of magnitude than the differences between Scotland and England.

In 2010 Perlis, the smallest state in Indonesia, has a population of under 250,000 people, while Selangor, the largest, has a population of over 5 million – a ratio of about 20 to 1 between the largest and smallest states, double the roughly 10 to 1 between England and Scotland (This does not include the smaller federal territories which are not states) (18).

Bremen, the smallest state in Germany has a population of around 660,000 compared to over 17 million for North-Rhine Westphalia, a ratio of 25 to 1  (19).

Eight states of the U.S had an estimated population of under 1 million in 2013 and another two populations of only just over 1 million, while California has a population of 38 million, a ratio of over 38 to 1 between smallest and largest (20).

In any case it is likely that if the UK became a federal state England would be split into several regions with populations of a similar size to Scotland’s, as Gordon Brown himself has suggested, making the relative populations of the different nations in the UK irrelevant, as the devolution would probably not be only on the basis of nations, but regions of England (21).

 

Why “majority rule” does not exist in the UK,
Would not be particularly democratic if it did,
And is not a barrier to full federalism

Second “majority rule” is a doubtful definition of democracy in the UK . First, due to the unrepresentative First-Past-The-Post voting system for UK General Elections, most UK governments have not had a majority of the votes cast. Most have had large majorities of seats in the UK parliament, sometimes even over 60% of the seats, while getting only 39 to 48 per cent of the vote (22) – (26).

The current Coalition government is the only one in the last 66 years which was elected by a majority of voters, but it has also failed to represent the majority of voters in many ways (e.g by Nick Clegg MP breaking his main election pledge on tuition fees and in letting private companies run more NHS services despite public opposition – and by e.g the fact that many Lib Dem voters would have preferred them to form a coalition with Labour, or leave the Conservatives to run a minority government by not forming any coalition).

So majority rule is the exception rather than the rule in UK politics. It is usually largest minority rule, but with that minority behaving as if it had a huge majority of the votes cast for every policy it implements, when in fact it has the support only of the largest minority, and on some policies, which were not brought up in the party’s election campaign or its manifesto, not even that.

Second defining democracy as “majority rule” would lead to many undemocratic implications. In Northern Ireland “majority rule” under “Home Rule” led at one point to the Protestant, Unionist majority being given free reign implement policies that disadvantaged the Catholic minority.

Third “majority rule” is a dubious definition of democracy. Is it democratic if a small majority completely over-rule the wishes of a large minority, or even if, as more often happens in UK politics, the largest minority completely over-ride the wishes of the majority?

Surely real democracy involves everyone having an equal say, not winners and losers?

Finally defining “majority rule” as the defining democratic principle of the UK would mean that on every important matter the opinions, wishes and interests of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish minorities would remain irrelevant. On every issue the majority in England would over-rule them. Scotland has just 59 MPs out of 650 in the UK parliament. Frequently a majority of Scottish MPs will vote the opposite way to the majority of English MPs on an issue. As the Reverend Stuart Campbell has shown on his ‘Wings Over Scotland’ blog, MPs elected in Scotland have only changed the results of UK elections four times since 1945, and in each case only marginally (27).

The House of Commons Library blog has largely confirmed Campbell’s analysis, finding that the overall result of all but four of the 18 UK General elections since 1945 would have been the same with or without MPs elected in Scotland (28).

 

Need for the power to regulate banks and other financial firms in Scotland

Scotland desperately needs the powers to regulate banks, hedge firms and other financial sector firms operating here in order to avoid another financial crisis and recession. We also need to stop banks foreclosing mortgages on the homes of taxpayers who bailed them out, and letting viable businesses collapse through refusal to even provide bridging loans.

If the British government was willing to effectively regulate the financial sector this would not be a problem, but UK governments of all parties have failed to even institute any law banning high street savings banks from also being involved in dubious “investment” banking (often effectively high risk bets like the trading in futures). Even the US had such a law, the Glass Steagall Act, gradually repealed in the 1980s and 1990s, with disastrous results more recently (29).

The Conservative party gets more than half its funding from banks and hedge funds. Predictably Chancellor George Osborne has not instituted a full legal separation on the types of banking, instead referring to ‘Chinese walls’,  ‘firewalls’ and ‘ring fences’ between the two arms of the same bank, which amount to the lack of a legal ban that would prevent another crisis (30) – (32).

 

Need for power to establish a nationalised national bank for Scotland
and local ones for local authorities

For similar reasons Scotland needs the power to set up a nationalised bank to provide secure savings for savers and low interest loans and grants to small and medium sized businesses, as well as the power for local councils to set up local government banks similar to the regional and local ones in Germany. The UK Labour party has said that it intends to establish something similar, but is not guaranteed to get a majority in the UK parliament for this after the next election.

 

Going beyond devolution to the Scottish parliament – the principle of subsidiarity

Some have pointed to the sizeable minority vote for the Conservatives in the 2010 General election (16% of the vote) and the election of a UKIP MEP in Scotland in the last European Parliament elections as signs that unionism and conservatism are stronger in Scotland than has been assumed.

This may be true, but they remain a minority. The Eurosceptics and pro-Europeans share one principle though – the idea of subsidiarity, that decisions should be taken at the lowest level possible for that kind of decision (33).

This would imply that if they wish to have more decisions taken by the UK government rather than the EU, they would have to approve the maximum devolution of powers from the UK government to the Scottish government, from it to local councils, and from local councils to community councils, too, based on the same principle (34).

If they want to do the first but none of the rest then they are clearly basing their decision not on democracy or subsidiarity, but blind nationalism, merely blind British nationalism rather than blind Scottish nationalism – and that is not a principle worth upholding, it’s not a principle at all.

The SNP’s tendency to want to centralise all the powers devolved to Scotland in the Scottish parliament equally needs to be challenged by the principle of subsidiarity, with both more powers transferred from the UK parliament to the Scottish parliament, from it to local councils and from them to community councils. This should include budgets and revenue raising powers.

 

Power to decide electoral system for the Scottish parliament – need to avoid changes made purely to maintain position of dominant parties

While the principle of devolving the power to decide the electoral system for the Scottish parliament to the Scottish parliament is a good one, care has to be taken that it does not give the two largest parties in Scotland – Labour and the SNP – the power to change it to a purely First-Past-The-Post system that would benefit them but be as poor in terms of democracy as the Westminster voting system. Several Labour MSPs have suggested in the past that the Holyrood voting system be changed to the supposedly “fairer” FPTP and referred to SNP list MSPs as having been “defeated” and as “sneaking into the Scottish parliament through the back door”. There has to be some suspicion that the Labour party proposals to devolve this power might be about party political advantage.

While the SNP has not made similar suggestions on changing the voting system to FPTP for Scottish parliament elections so far, it’s possible that, if they win most seats in Scotland in the 2015 General Election under FPTP, as polls suggest they could, they might be tempted to do so.

The current voting system , designed by Labour to prevent the SNP ever getting a majority, failed to do so. So it will not prevent Labour or the SNP from pushing through changes to the voting system made purely for party political advantage either.

One way to reduce this risk would to require a 66% majority in the Scottish parliament, followed by a referendum, to make any change in the voting system. The referendum could be held on the same day as the subsequent Scottish parliament elections to avoid voter fatigue or low turnout, and to reduce costs. Any resulting change in the voting system would not be made until the Scottish parliament elections after those.

On the other hand some senior Scottish Labour and Lib Dem figures have in the past suggested changing the voting system to Single Transferrable Vote, which could be a step forward from the current Additional Member System, so a balance has to be struck between making electoral reform possible, and blocking backwards steps taken for party political advantage (35) – (36).

However when the Single Transferable Vote was used for council elections in Scotland in 2012 and Labour lost seats to the SNP, some Labour MSPs, and the largely pro-Labour Daily Record, began to criticise the voting system as “too complicated” and claiming that the “over complicated” voting system had resulted in a reduced voter turnout, despite the turnout actually having been higher than in the previous council elections, and higher than in the 2012 council elections in England (37) – (38).

 This underlines the risk of big parties given the power to change the electoral system using it to change it to their advantage even if this reduces choice for voters.

 

Need for written constitution and constitutional court to define the division of powers between the Scottish and British governments – but section relating to Scotland does not need to wait on other nations and/or regions

Almost every federal system in the world has a written constitution defining what powers are held by the different levels of government, and a constitutional court to adjudicate disputed and grey areas.

This would be beneficial for a Scotland with devolved federal powers, but the complications and earlier stages of devolution to the rest of the UK do not need to delay Scotland getting additional powers.

The section of a written constitution relating to Scotland could be written separately and before those relating to other nations and/or regions of the UK.

Federalism rather than Devolution?

Devolution in the UK has involved asymmetric division of powers in which some policy areas are Reserved, with only the UK government able to legislate or make decisions on them, while others are Devolved to the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and London parliaments or Assemblies. The UK government however retains the power to legislate or make decisions even on devolved matters, with the limit that it only do so with the consent of the devolved parliaments being a “convention” rather than an absolute restriction. So far the UK government has not broken this convention, but most people in the devolved areas do not realise that it retains the power to do so (39).

In a Federal system the central government would not retain this power, with the division between regional/national and central government powers being absolute and symmetrical (i.e neither could encroach into the other’s specified policy area), other than for a few grey areas of joint responsibility.

I would argue that Scotland’s devolved powers should become policy areas in which the UK government cannot act or legislate without a majority vote in the Scottish parliament permitting them to do so on a specific issue, and similarly for devolved or federally divided powers in other regional/national parliaments and assemblies.

 

Sources

(1) = Scotsman 18 Feb 2014 ‘Scottish independence: Most Scots back ‘devo max’’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/scottish-independence-most-scots-back-devo-max-1-3310342

(2) = theguardian.com 20 Sep 2014 ‘Scottish independence: poll reveals who voted, how and why’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/20/scottish-independence-lord-ashcroft-poll?CMP=fb_gu

(3) = Wikipedia - Constitutional convention (political meeting) , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitutional_convention_%28political_meeting%29

(4) = Wikipedia – Single Transferable Vote, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_transferable_vote

(5) = Electoral Reform Society – Single Transferable Vote,
http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/single-transferable-vote/

(6) = Electoral Reform Society Briefing 19 Sep 2014 ‘Time for a Constitutional Convention’, http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/images/dynamicImages/file/Briefing%20on%20a%20Constitutional%20Convention,%2019th%20Sep.pdf

(7) = Guardian 19/20 Sep (website/print edition)  ‘Labour proposes devolution settlement to 'shape own futures'’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/19/labour-ed-miliband-constitutional-convention

(8) = BBC 14 Oct 2014 ‘Hague and Brown clash over 'English votes for English laws'’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29606220

(9) = STV 21 Sep 2014 ‘SNP on course to win third Holyrood term, according to new poll’, http://news.stv.tv/scotland/292917-snp-on-course-to-win-third-consecutive-holyrood-term-says-new-poll/ , (see 2nd last paragraph ‘A total of 80% of people questioned supported Scotland having control over welfare, with 62% saying it should be in charge of pensions. Almost three quarters (71%) of people back the devolution of income tax while 62% want to see Scotland get control of corporation tax and 61% say Holyrood should be in charge of VAT.’)

(10) = Sky News 17 Sep 2014 ‘Sky Poll: Scots Unclear Over No Vote Powers’,
http://news.sky.com/story/1337107/sky-poll-scots-unclear-over-no-vote-powers

(11) = Scottish Labour Devolution Commission March 2014 ,  all of it, but especially page 6, http://b.3cdn.net/scotlab/26e0eb4bdf4c775d14_ram6b81bk.pdf

(12) = See (11) above

(13) = Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission Final Report March 2014 ‘Powers for a Purpose :

Strengthening Accountability and Empowering People’, http://b.3cdn.net/scotlab/277fe5eb9b114b9a3c_1pm6iir9r.pdf


(14) = BBC News 9 Sep 2014 ‘Scottish independence: What new powers might Scotland get?’,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-25626977

(15) = Scotsman 15 Aug 2014 ‘Gordon Brown backs federalism in event of No vote’,
http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/gordon-brown-backs-federalism-in-event-of-no-vote-1-3511291

(16) = Telegraph 08 Sep 2014 ‘Gordon Brown unveils cross-party deal on Scottish powers’,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/11082930/Gordon-Brown-unveils-cross-party-deal-on-Scottish-powers.html

(17) = Guardian 12 / 13 October ‘David Cameron ‘playing fast and loose’ with constitution, says Gordon Brown’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/12/david-cameron-fast-and-loose-constitution-gordon-brown

(18) = Wikipedia - States and federal territories of Malaysia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/States_and_federal_territories_of_Malaysia#The_states_and_federal_territories , (Wikipedia states source as "Laporan Kiraan Permulaan 2010". Jabatan Perangkaan Malaysia. p. iv. Retrieved 24 January 2011.)

(19) = Wikipedia - States of Germany,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/States_of_Germany#States

(20) = Wikipedia - List of U.S. states and territories by population
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territories_by_population#States_and_territories , based on US Census Bureau reports and statistics,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territories_by_population#References

(21) = Scotsman 15 Aug 2014 ‘Gordon Brown backs federalism in event of No vote’,
http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/gordon-brown-backs-federalism-in-event-of-no-vote-1-3511291

(22) = Electoral Reform Society – First Past the Post, http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/first-past-the-post/

(23) = Political Science Resources – ‘British Governments and Elections since 1945’, http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/uktable.htm

(24) = House of Commons Briefing Paper SN/SG/2632 (2010) ‘General Election results 1979 - 2010’, http://www. parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN02632.pdf

(25) = David Butler (1989) ‘British General Elections since 1945’ Blackwell, Institute of Contemporary British History, London, 1989 ; Appendix I Election Results 1945 – 1987, pages 121 to 123

(26) = David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh ‘The British General Election of 1997’ MacMillan Press, London , 1997,  Appendix I The Voting Statistics, pages 254 to 255 (includes 1992 and 1997 election results)

(27) = Wings Over Scotland 10 Jan 2012 ‘Why Labour doesn’t need Scotland’ by Rev Stuart Campbell,
http://wingsoverscotland.com/why-labour-doesnt-need-scotland/

(28) = Second Reading - House Of Commons Library Blog 19 Jan 2014 ‘General Elections without Scotland, Part 1: 1945-2010’, http://commonslibraryblog.com/2014/01/30/general-elections-without-scotland-part-1-1945-2010/

(29) = Wikipedia – Glass Steagall Legislation, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass%E2%80%93Steagall_Legislation

(30) = Bureau of Investigative Journalism 08 Feb 2011 ‘Tory Party funding from City doubles under Cameron’, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/02/08/city-financing-of-the-conservative-party-doubles-under-cameron/

(31) = BBC 15 Jun 2011 ‘Banks must ring-fence retail operations, Osborne to say’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13770746

(32) = Telegraph 21 Nov 2012 ‘Big banks are good for society, says George Osborne’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/9694634/Big-banks-are-good-for-society-says-George-Osborne.html

(33) = Wikipedia – Subsidiarity, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subsidiarity

(34) = The Scottish Government – Community Councils, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Government/PublicServiceReform/CommunityCouncils

(35) = BBC News 27 Aug 2003 ‘Voting system change mooted’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/3183401.stm

(36) = Electoral Reform Society – Additional Member System, http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/additional-member-system/

(37) = Daily Record 05 May 2012 ‘Local council elections 2012: Fears over turnout as numbers system puts off voters’, http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/local-council-elections-2012-fears-877195

(38) = Dr Alastair Clark, LSE Blog, 2012 ‘Scottish local elections in 2012 show that voters have understood the STV system and are not put-off by it’, http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/stv-scottish-local-elections-2012-clark/

(39) = The Scottish Parliament - Devolved and Reserved Matters, http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/visitandlearn/Education/18642.aspx