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August 20th – August 26th, 2022 Week 34

20/08/22 – 26/08/22                                                              The Boris Canal, Energy, Euthanasia and is independence ‘morally wrong’? …..

‘It’s Scotland’s Water’

          The Great Boris Canal is the Tories’ latest transport wheeze.  Estimated eight years ago as costing £14 billion, it would connect southern Scotland (and Wales) to the parts of England suffering drought. The plan was first mooted in the 1940s.  Water would move over a gentle gradient to avoid pumping stations, following the Kielder Water reservoir south to the midlands and further, then extending north and west.

          Boris seems to favour grand vanity projects, which usually come to nothing. Witness his £53 million Garden Bridge project, £43 million of which was public money.  He also mooted a bridge to connect Scotland and Northern Ireland which could have cost £335 billion.  Both projects failed to materialise but wasted a fair bit of money in the process.

What majority would ever be enough? ….

          Former chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost ludicrously called the idea of Scottish independence ‘morally wrong’ and wants devolution rolled back.  Strangely he thought that independence from Europe was okay.  He wants independence to be made ‘impossible to achieve’. Cutting out  references to the four nations (more accurately three nations and the province of Northern Ireland), the UK would henceforth be branded a ‘unitary state’.

          It is accepted that Scotland has the right to decide the form of government best suited to its needs, so the attack has gone one step further back to manipulate how we find out what Scotland wants.  He favours setting the bar at 75% of Scottish parliamentary seats being won by pro-independence parties, over a 10-year period, to even get a referendum.  Dismissing the nations’ individual identities, he claims that being a citizen of the cobbled-together UK makes you British.

          It is hard to take lectures on democracy from Conservatives who have 36% overall UK support.  They seem to have no problem in governing Scotland without a mandate.

GERS figures or CRAP?

          Professor Richard Murphy has once again debunked the annual unionist GERS feeding frenzy, calling it a ‘Complete Rubbish Approximation of the Truth’ (CRAP).  The GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) figures yearly tell Scotland it is ‘too poor’ to survive outside the union.  That was the aim of these figures.

          The biggest problem with the GERS figures is that people just accept them. The second biggest problem is they are inaccurate nonsense.  There is no Scotland-only disaggregated data to show Scotland’s income and outgoings.  UK data is apportioned on a per capita basis, meaning UK-wide spending is just lumped onto Scotland’s account, whether the money is spent here or not (see HS2).  If tax is paid in Scotland but not then spent in Scotland it should rightly be credited as Scottish-income-being-spent-elsewhere, but it isn’t. 

          The GERS authors state (in small print) that the figures do not show how independent Scotland would fare.  Even when the UK government was cutting its yearly deficit (i.e. overspending by less than the year before) the overall UK debt was still growing, so Scotland’s “8% deficit” grew also.  This year the figure is almost £24 billion.

          Nearly £917 billion is the total North Sea income, which is ALL credited to the UK ledger, then only 8% is apportioned to Scotland, but shouldn’t there be a mechanism to apportion income/credits to where in the UK they are generated?  This year’s figures claim that all taxes raised in Scotland amount to £74 billion, including North Sea income.

          What hobbles the independence side most though is the Scottish government’s refusal to set up a National Statistics Agency which could prepare much more accurate estimates (and they will only be estimates until independence).  This despite promising to do so for the best part of a decade.

          Why would the UK subsidise Scotland if it was such a drain on UK resources? Particularly as UK governments are not very fond of Scotland, except for grouse-shooting holidays and carbon-offsetting.

          The best argument to counter GERS is of course that Scotland cannot legally be in debt, so whatever debt there is cannot be ours.

Levelling Up Funding

          About 50 Scottish bodies have applied for this cash direct to the UK government, bypassing Holyrood.  Understandable though this is, it further undermines Scottish devolution.  The first round of levelling-up funding brought £172 million to Scotland, but I wonder if the UK will add these costs to Scotland’s fictitious debt in years to come?

Rental Sector in Crisis

          The Scottish Tenants Organisation has called for both a rent freeze and a ban on evictions for two years following average rent rises of 10% a year, but as much as 25% in some places.  Dundee saw the biggest rise last year, 25%, taking a three-bedroom house to over £1,000 a month. 

Energy Crisis

          SNP MP Anne McLaughlin has pointed out the iniquity that those with pre-payment meters pay up to £200 a year in standing charges before paying for any energy.  She also criticises people being regarded as ‘self-disconnecting’ if they just cannot afford to top up and will introduce a 10-Minute Rule bill at Westminster to address these matters.  The price cap has just been raised to an average of over £3,500.

Poll tax rebate

          Make sure you are receiving your £150 council tax rebate.  This is being paid to most people as a reduction in their monthly direct debit, but if you do not pay council tax by direct debit, apply to your local council.  The deadline for applications is the end of September.   

What should government do?

          Many are calling for more government intervention.  The latest suggestion, by Scottish Power, is a £100 BILLION freeze on bills for the next two years, to be repaid over a number of years.  Other suggestions include freezing prices, scrapping VAT on energy bills, cutting green levies, taxing the energy giants, more cash handouts particularly to the poorest, or the nuclear option of re-nationalisation.

          The Thatcher privatisations of the 1980s were touted as the way to increase competition and cut prices.  The ‘invisible hand’ of the market would sort everything out.  But it reckoned without the Big 6 energy companies which have kept prices artificially high for decades.

Renationalisation?

          The most obvious solution would be renationalisation.  The SNP did promise a public energy company which they promptly dropped once elected.  

Euthanasia

          Scotland may become a world leader in euthanasia if it follows Canada, where assisted suicides have gone up by 355% since its 2016 inception, up over 32% on even the previous year.  In 2016 Canada limited ‘assisted dying’ to the terminally ill, but it has already been extended, and next year will extend further to include those who are mentally ill, sparking fears for the vulnerable and disabled.

          Over 10,000 Canadians died by euthanasia last year, and a hospice which refused to provide euthanasia had its funding withdrawn by the provincial health authority.  The law already incorporates not only the terminally ill but those with chronic illnesses and disabled people with years left to live.  Social isolation or loneliness were cited as the reasons for 1700 people being euthanised last year in Canada.

          One Toronto woman chose assisted dying due to abject poverty and the inability to get appropriate accommodation for a variety of chronic conditions, and one male had a history of depression and medical conditions, but none were life-threatening.  He had his life ended despite concerns from his family and a nurse practitioner, because he had signed a request form for assisted suicide, despite having been vehemently opposed to it when he was admitted less than a month earlier to the facility where he died.

          Scotland is currently considering legislation on euthanasia.  It should remember that Canada assured the doubters there would be adequate protections.  Instead it appears to have been the thin end of a wedge which has widened considerably over a scant 6 years.

The Law Society of Scotland (LSS)

          strongly disagrees with any move to replace jury trials with judge-only sexual offence trials, recommended by a cross-justice review group last year, who want to make justice easier and less traumatic to access.  The right to trial by jury for serious crimes is embedded in Scots law.

          The LSS also opposes the review’s recommendations for the creation of a new national specialist court for serious sexual offences.  This was proposed due to the low conviction rate for rape and attempted rape of 43%, compared with an overall 88% conviction rate for all crimes and offences. Anecdotal information from members of the judiciary to the Review Group suggests that juries sometimes do not convict in rape cases even where there is sufficient evidence to do so.

Gaelic Language

          Gaelic may have extended further in Scotland than first thought (The Big Read, Caroline Wilson, Herald, 30/07/22).  Most visible in place-names, many are not aware that English-sounding names are actually anglicised versions of the old Gaelic names.  Fife’s Markinch was originally Marc Innis (horse meadow), and Gaelic was strong in Galloway and South Ayrshire until the late 17th century.  The only Scottish places without any Gaelic place-names are Berwickshire, Orkney, Shetland and part of Caithness, according to Dr Simon Taylor, reader in Scottish Name Studies at the University of Glasgow.

          And it was not just English which pushed Gaelic out.  This happened in the Highlands, but in the Lowlands the Scots language displaced Gaelic. Worth remembering the next time Gaelic is called a foreign language.

Finally,

          Nicola Sturgeon has hinted at an exit from politics before the next Holyrood elections.   She also apparently told a Fringe audience that she ‘consider[s herself] British as well as Scottish, British being an identity existing by virtue of being part of the British Isles.

          An independent Scotland would still be part of the British Isles, she said.  So would an independent Scotland also still be British?

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