The Week In Scotland – Week 44

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Considerable doubt has been raised as to the likelihood of a referendum by the end of 2023, and as to how far even those claiming it actually believe it. Contrast with 2014, when work on the White Paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ began in 2011, culminating in a 650-page document which was published a full year before the vote. The present Scottish Government finally admitted this year that no work had been done on the case for independence for some considerable time, preoccupied as civil servants were with managing the pandemic.

And when will the decision be made that the pandemic is ‘over enough’ to hold a referendum. Some cynics might say that is an open-ended invitation to stall the referendum for ever, or at least until election time.

The First Minister stated she would not be pushing the question of Scotland’s independence with world leaders at COP26, as she is more intent on saving the planet (as she was once intent on saving the rUK from itself over Brexit). She has also been chosen as patron of the Constance Council prize awarded to those who promote Europe. Her ‘staunch European’ credentials qualified her for this and she will appoint this year’s prize winner. Earlier this month the EU ambassador to the UK thanked her for her assistance of EU citizens living in Scotland, particularly in ensuring they gain settled status.

But Patrick Harvie apparently is speaking about independence with his Green counterparts from other countries. He was not so clear on how to get round a continued refusal of a section 30 order, merely stating that a refusal would be ‘indefensible and shameless’. Apparently this will be enough to sway the present shameless UK prime minister.

Citizens Assembly for the Constitution

Who should draw up a constitution for the new Scotland? Should it be random citizens selected by an outside organisation or professional politicians or a mixture of both? If both, in what proportion? If professional politicians are chosen in proportion to those in government, it would lead many to dread what kind of Scotland we would end up with. What if the government has different priorities from the majority of the citizens, as now, over the gender wars currently raging? Would the majority find rights enacted which they were totally against and then have little means of changing them?

If it is to be confirmed by a referendum before enactment, would that referendum be able to reject parts of the proposed constitution or would it be an all-or-nothing deal?

Whatever form it may take, it is unlikely to see the light of day before the proposed referendum in 2023…..

A Scottish Service Tax was one alternative proposed to the hated poll tax, mooted by the Scottish Socialist Party at the start of devolution. (‘Was bold tax shake-up plan a big missed opportunity for Scotland?’ National, 30/10/21). The richest 20% of the population would have paid more, but the majority would have paid less. It would have been collected and kept by local authorities, but calculated to national regulations, thereby stopping enterprising councillors in higher tax paying areas opting out of it for their area and setting lower rates.

Funding for local services presently comes from the Scottish Government (60%), local authorities’ income including rates/poll tax/local income tax (12%), and non-domestic rates (14%). The Scottish Service Tax would have decreased the amount paid by Holyrood in proportion to an increase in higher local taxpayers in an area.

Various schemes have been mooted over the years, including the complete abolition of local tax in favour of Annual Ground Rent, set at varying rates, and paid by all who own or use land (‘land’ meaning the flat or house you live in, and anything up to a large estate) Lower rates would apply to agricultural land. This would appear to be the fairest system, as no-one would be able to escape it, and ought to be able to be managed through the threat of increasing fines for non-compliance (such as they will be doing for the Low Emissions Zone transgressors). At the moment, the system is as unfair as the one it replaced. A large house can have one inhabitant (who gets 25% rebate, but still may struggle to pay the council tax), and a moderate house may have 4 wage-earners, who will not find it as onerous to pay.

There are exceptions, though, even now, which sometimes appear arbitrary. Static caravans not a main residence are exempt from council tax; residents in halls of residence are exempt as are owners of empty properties, a thorn in the side of those who oppose the ownership of second homes.

Scottish Broadcasting

65% of respondents to a Panelbase poll commissioned by Scot Goes Pop thought that broadcasting should be controlled by Holyrood, but only 22% wanted Westminster in charge, a clear majority. Following the Serota review of BBC impartiality (!), training is to be extended and will include freelancers and all new recruits, and will extend to content and a fair spread of viewpoints in key areas of debate. So we won’t be getting largely unionist audiences any more on Question

Time from Yes cities like Dundee and Glasgow?? Don’t hold your breath.

COP26

Polluters and lobbyists are to host 35 official COP26 events (The Ferret in the National, 31/10/21). They include global oil and gas trade associations, the meat and dairy industries, and nuclear energy representatives. The UN-managed Blue Zone has 10 permanent exhibits from companies linked to pollution, plus 16 events hosted by polluting companies, and 14 events hosted in the UK Government-managed Green Zone. The Wood Group oilfield services company is hosting a 13-day extravaganza at St Vincent Plaza away from the SECC.

Events include business partners such as Drax, Goldman Sachs, the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers which include BP, ExxonMobil and Shell, Australian mining company BHP Billiton, nuclear lobbying groups, agrochemical groups, banks who finance fossil fuel projects and the International Emissions Trading Association. Emissions trading essentially allows polluters to trade their emissions which exceed the allowed limit to the ‘emissions account’ of less polluting companies, which tends to mean little or no reduction overall.

Because of this, protesters have been out in force outside the Scottish Events Campus and in the city of Glasgow itself. On Wednesday this week, protesters in the city centre splintered throughout the streets, leading to some confrontation with police from all over the UK. Insulate Britain are continuing their campaign of blocking roads in cities around England, and attempted this week to close the M8. Police blocked off a bridge over the M8 on the second day of climate protests in Glasgow, and 300 Extinction rebellion activists gathered outside JP Morgan, Waterloo Street, moving on then to the Scottish Power premises.

COP26/ Bin Strikes

Despite some earlier confusion when it was believed the Glasgow cleansing strikes had been called off after agreement with COSLA, the strike is now on again for a week during the COP26 summit. Bins will not be emptied and streets not cleaned. The GMB union claims that new terms and pay were not communicated soon enough for it to adequately consult its members.

Crops rotting due to Brexit

A third of Scotland’s largest brassica crop is rotting in the field due to lack of seasonal workers, according to the East of Scotland Growers cooperative representing 16 farmers in Fife. Morrisons this summer closed a potato procurement and packing site in Carnoustie in Angus which it had only bought in 2017, so Angus tatties now go down to England and back up again for sale.

The UK Government is also under fire with its Australia deal as Protected Geographic Indicators will only attach to named brands if Australia introduces a similar scheme. This follows widespread reports of empty shelves and lack of fresh produce in supermarkets. There is also a warning that UK standards will increasingly diverge from EU standards in coming years, particularly in food and drink standards, exacerbating other problems such as a lack of HGV drivers to transport produce.

Levelling up Fund

SNP leader of Edinburgh City Council, Adam McVey, has called for the UK Government’s Levelling Up funds to be devolved to Holyrood. Edinburgh has just been awarded £16.5 million, and will use the funds to revamp one of the main waterfront areas and restore the gasholder tower in Granton. This was the only one of Edinburgh’s six applications to the fund which was successful. The other projects would have helped Wester Hailes, Craigmillar and Pennywell.

Aberdeen got funds for a new market place, and Inverness for a revamp of the castle. £387 million went to regenerate Paisley town centre and business area and to upgrade pedestrian and transport links.

While this funding is welcome, we can’t help thinking there is a deal of show in the projects chosen, something highly visible which the UK Government can then stick a union flag on and spin as ‘Better Together’. The funding may have better gone on local community projects to benefit people, upgrade schools, housing and inner-city schemes.

NHS and the Military

120+ members of the armed forces are helping with the Scottish vaccine rollout this week – 100 vaccinators; 15 nurses, across 11 health boards, on Covid and flu vaccinations; 6 command and support staff. The biggest contingent is going to

NHS Grampian

Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of British Medical Association Scotland, warns that the present NHS crisis will last until well into 2022. Staff shortages, sickness, burnout, and increased demand from covid and the backlog of undiagnosed illnesses are the main reasons. Many NHS boards have accessed or are considering accessing help from the UK military, and soldiers are continuing to aid the Scottish Ambulance Service. The Scottish Government has made £300mn available to increase NHS and social care capacity and reduce delayed discharges.

Fallout from the Woke

Donors are abandoning Edinburgh University following the recent trans rows. Ann Henderson, former rector of the university feared for her safety after false accusations by students of transphobia, and senior lecturer Neil Thin has stepped back from teaching after agitation from trans activists who amongst other things claimed he marked them down when they challenged him, although he was eventually vindicated by the university.

Kathleen Stock bravely stuck it out at Sussex University, until the masked threats and police protection she needed, plus the fear of actually walking around her own university campus, finally made her resign.

Leeds University students are getting in on the act now, demanding that academic staff list their preferred pronouns. It isn’t enough to demand that others accept whatever labels people give to themselves of the nearly 200 genders they have to choose from. Others also have to adopt pronoun labels for themselves, and not just adopt it, but believe it. If you believe it with all your heart, it’s true.

Tax Justice UK reports that polls have found that 80% of respondents want tougher action against those guilty of even legal tax avoidance. This unexpectedly increases to 90% of Conservative voters who agree. But with the Tories ensuring that this week Owen Paterson was not suspended from Parliament for breaking rules on lobbying, and contracts-for-cronies during the pandemic, what are the chances of anything changing to become fairer?

Patrick Harvie, reiterating the Greens’ commitment to cutting transport costs, made the startling point that a person earning the Living wage would pay 38% of their gross salary just travelling to and from work between Glasgow to Edinburgh at peak times on the train. The Greens are pushing free bus travel for young people and the ‘fair fares review’ will include rural areas as part of a public transport strategy. This is long overdue, particularly if they are serious about green issues.

South of Scotland 5G technology

It is hoped that the Scotland 5G Centre opened on 29th October in the Crichton Centre in Dumfries will be the start of enhanced connectivity to accelerate the rollout of 5G throughout Scotland. ‘Holoportation’ will make meetings feel face to face even though miles apart, with further applications envisaged for interactive healthcare, or virtual visits to faraway places. The new hub will run alongside free IT workshops from Integrity IT solutions, based in Annan and Carlisle, to enable firms to enhance 5G technology to take their businesses forward. There will be another hub opened next month in Forth Valley.

According to the first Digital Connectivity Index, which analyses how individuals and organisations connect through high-quality internet access, digital enhancement could create over 41,000 new jobs in Scotland (over 500,000 in the UK) and add £5.3 billion to Scotland’s GDP by 2026, with regional boosts ranging from £161 million in South of Scotland to over £1bn each for Glasgow and Edinburgh. The projected GDP boost for the whole UK appears be proportionately slightly more than for Scotland, though, at nearly £70bn over the same period.

Police Scotland

. . .are under fire from rape survivor groups about the widespread dubious attitudes to the survivors of sexual violence. As well as ‘widely held problematic attitudes around sexual violence across Police Scotland’ (per the Survivor Reference Group report from Rape Crisis Scotland), police and staff are not immune from the attitudes that there are ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ victims. Chief Constable Iain Livingstone met with groups recently and pledged to work to improve treatment of victims. This ranges from possible enhanced training all the way from those taking initial reports right through the organisation, and the use of video statements to be more widespread.

Finally,

Stronger Together in Primark

Fashion store Primark apparently thought a range of exercise tops bearing the slogan ‘Stronger Together’ would sell well in Scotland. Their marketing department appears to have missed the recent several years of rising support for independence. They must also have believed the UK government hype that there is ‘no appetite for indyref 2’. Approached for comment on the matter, Primark’s head office in Dublin said this range was for all 14 markets they operate in. So much for targeted marketing, then, and respecting local sensitivities.

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