This Week In Scotland – Week 37

The Queen’s Privilege

Not content with being exempted from laws which don’t suit the monarch’s aspirations, we learned this week that she is also in receipt of over £34,000 in taxpayer subsidies for her Balmoral estate via forestry grants, less favoured area support scheme (did this legislation envisage subsidising the property of one of the richest women in the world?) and the Scottish suckler beef support scheme. 

Her estates also received subsidies via single farm payments and basic payments through the Rural Payments Agency in England.  This is in addition to the rates rebate from the Scottish government which lowered Balmoral’s rateable value to a level less than many other local businesses. Maybe her Majesty might consider handing back some of the money she clearly doesn’t need, to those who do?

Banning Protests

The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body has banned demonstrations outside Holyrood via Statutory Instrument (not parliamentary vote).  The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) has refused to disclose the papers on which they based their decision, saying they involve security advice.

Although the SPCB give the impression that protest is now out, Joanna Cherry has clarified that Holyrood does not have the power to ban peaceful protests, protected by the incorporation into Scots Law of the European Convention of Human Rights. Maybe it rides now on what is considered ‘peaceful’.

The order notably appeared immediately after two protests; one pro- independence and one against gender self-ID. This follows hard on the heels of the Hate Crime act, the debacle around Mark Hirst the journalist who had his career ruined and is now pursuing a case of malicious prosecution and the Marion Millar case. There’s a distinct chilling effect going on in Scotland with regard to those not toeing the government line on their pet projects. We don’t like it. We would remind everyone that democracy is defined by allowing those you don’t agree with, to express their views. Being in the majority does not bestow the right to silence everyone else.

Universal Credit

The Government’s own analysis has shown that the cut to Universal Credit (UC) this autumn will do huge damage to families, increase homelessness and force people to use foodbanks.  Therese Coffey showed little understanding of the benefits system when she said ‘an extra 2 hours’ work’ would make up the £20, when it needs more than 7 or 8 hours’ work due to the way benefits interact with earnings.
On 15th September, an opposition day motion calling for a reversal to this cut passed by 253 votes to 0.  But most Tories, including all Scottish Tories, abstained, and in any case the vote is non-binding.
Just to put it into context, the UC uplift amounts to £80 a month.  Compare with MPs, who can claim many thousands a year in expenses, to cover London rent, office and staff costs, and food, sometimes adding an extra two-thirds onto their basic salary of nearly £82K a year.

Guys, it’s really, really time for Scotland to set up its own Social Security system and break away from this madness.

Electoral Reform and voter ID

Westminster is pressing ahead with voter ID.  This is the requirement for photographic identification in order to be able to vote.  Allegedly to prevent voter fraud, it is a sledgehammer to crack a peanut.  Out of 44.4 million votes cast in the 2017 General Election, 28 allegations of impersonation resulted in only 1 conviction and there were only 3 for impersonation at polling offices over 7 years. Hardly a pressing need, then.

The real reason is likely to be that those excluded by this measure would likely not vote Conservative anyway.  Disabled people may not be able to get photographic ID easily, particularly if they live alone, and those on benefits may simply not be able to afford it.

As Peter Geoghegan pointed out in the Sunday National 23rd May 2021 (‘UK election laws are broken – but voter ID will solve nothing’), the focus on voter ID hides the much bigger problems of fake party Twitter accounts containing misleading or wrong information, not to mention the sometimes dubious sources of party finance. 

Scotland’s 2020 legislation requiring more transparency and increasing fines only apply to donations in Scotland – those outside Scotland will not be subject to the same scrutiny.  In July the governmental Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended regulating donations and spending in a number of ways, but it is unclear whether its recommendations will be acted upon.

Also, the (now independent) Electoral Commission is to be put directly under government control, which will set its policies and direction. We’re left wondering if there is any arm of the Civil Service or government which has not been captured and which is still impartial? It’s not who votes that counts; it’s who counts the votes.. 

Trans rights and women’s sport

Trans MMA fighter Alana McLaughlin demolished her opponent Celine Provost last weekend.  Hardly surprising since Alana spent 33 years as a male, including serving six years in the US Special Forces.  Despite her skill and experience, Celine could not compete against the sheer body mass, strength and testosterone of her opponent. Also Alana’s t-shirt lambasted ‘trans genocide’ across it. This is where we’re at, folks..

Ferries

The ferry saga in Scotland rumbles on.  The two ferries currently at Ferguson Marine are nowhere near completion (the MV Glen Sannox and the gloriously named Hull 82 – maybe that should stay its official name if it is ever completed).  In light of this, it is hardly surprising that Ferguson didn’t even make the shortlist for two other ferries to be built for Islay and Jura.  The final tenders will come from Turkey, Romania and Poland.  When viewed with the Bifab debacle, where turbine jackets are being brought halfway round the world instead of built locally, there is a clear need for a thorough overhaul of governmental priorities when awarding contracts and a complete rethink on Scottish shipbuilding. We are going to need our own ports and our own ships for independence, so we need to start now.

And finally

St Andrew’s has been named the top university in the UK by the Times, beating Oxford and Cambridge. Two of the alumni mentioned from St Andrews in support of this claim were Prince William and Alex Salmond.  We’re very pleased for St Andrews, but this is a wee bit like sending out both football teams for the cup at the same time, so that the crowd don’t know whether to boo or cheer. You can take your pick.

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