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This Week in Scotland – Week 40

Pandora Papers

Following on from earlier revelations about the use of tax havens around the world, the so-called Pandora Papers recently revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) showed more than 330 politicians from 90 countries taking advantage of tax regimes to reduce their liability to domestic taxes, including stamp duty, for example by putting ownership into the hands of a trust, an offshore investment company or simply taking advantage of lax tax regulations.
Do not think, however, that HMRC is about to get a windfall of cash to spend on the things tax is supposed to fund.  Most of what has been revealed is completely legal.  The real enemy is the banks, law and accountancy firms who stand firm against any greater transparency or tougher enforcement.

Woe betide you, though, if you forget to declare a few pounds on a self-assessment form.  They’ll throw the book at you.

What Scottish Tories think of Scotland

Michael Gove says everyone should be able to choose their own future, apart from Scotland.  The UK will apparently NEVER allow Scotland to leave this voluntary union of two equal parts, this precious family of nations.

Of course, it does not worry all Scots.  Alister Jack does not believe the border is much more than a sign and worries about all the paperwork and bureaucracy which would hinder movement between Scotland and England if Scotland secedes, although strangely, the Tories didn’t think increased paperwork and bureaucracy were too onerous to leave the EU.  Jack also apparently believes a generation is now 25 years and opinion polls must be at 60% consistently over 12 months to even dream of another referendum.  This is despite the fact that the Good Friday Agreement allows a referendum every 7 years in Northern Ireland if they wish.
Douglas Ross has ‘no problem’ in the UK bypassing Holyrood, which is exactly what will happen under the Internal Market Act.  English Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden went so far as to say Scotland was lagging behind every other part of England in just about everything.

Internal Market Act

Not only can the UK parachute money for projects wherever it wants in Scotland, even if those projects go against Scottish Government policy, the IMA will also impose ‘lowest common denominator’ standards on consumer legislation, environmental protection and food standards.  Scots won’t have to buy what will probably be cheaper English produce made to lower standards (to keep it cheap) but we won’t be able to stop the cheaper stuff being on sale in Scotland. Works both ways, theoretically, but are English consumers really going to pay more for Scottish produce or just go for items plastered in the (British, not English) Union flag?  Anything the UK Parliament (legislating as the English Parliament) allows in, for example, American healthcare providers touting for business in England, Scotland will have to allow too.  Again, no compulsion to buy, but tempting to hard-up NHS trusts which will be looking for the best value.

Holyrood’s legislative limitations
This week two bills passed by the Scottish Parliament were deemed outwith their competence, one incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the other the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

Maggie Chapman of the Scottish Greens called it a ‘dark day for democracy’.  It will be an even darker day for democracy if our coalition government effectively ends the rights of women by bringing in self-identification, and an even darker day if the Greens ever get their way of taking sex descriptors off birth certificates altogether in favour of their 171 genders or however many it is now.

Speaking of which, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, was this week subject to a deal of unintended hilarity when trying to describe various genders as ‘2SLGBTQQIA+’. Someone asked whether his cat had walked over the keyboard.

It was particularly unfortunate as the virtue-signalling derailed his attempt to honour the over 500 indigenous women and girls missing or murdered in Canada, who due to the lack of transport in Canada’s vast hinterland are forced to hitch rides, sometimes with disastrous results.  Perhaps he should provide hard cash and/or viable transport options as a fitting memorial, rather than virtue signalling.

Routes to Independence

Joanna Cherry has called for a different way forward for independence. Saying that collecting mandates is not working and that there is no ‘purely’ legal route to independence, she welcomes Nicola Sturgeon’s restart of the work on a detailed prospectus to get the polls consistently to over 60% and make independence via referendum unstoppable.  She looks to the establishment of a constitutional convention involving grassroots, civic Scotland and MPs.  Ultimately, if no section 30 order is forthcoming, and a Holyrood referendum bill were to be struck down by the UK Supreme Court, a plebiscite election either to Holyrood or Westminster may be the only way to go.  Professor Ciaran Martin, one of the architects of the Edinburgh Agreement, has previously said that even if such a bill was struck down, the arguments the UK would need to make would show that Scotland is effectively a prisoner, not a partner, of the ‘union’.

Of course, we at ISP started a plebiscite campaign back in January 2021 for the Holyrood May elections. We’ve known for a long time that going for a Section 30 is a dead duck. It gives us no pleasure to say we were ahead of the curve. We look forward to a time when we and the Scot Gov are going for an independence route that is actually achievable..

The Ferry saga

May have a happy ending after all.  The Scottish Government have just bought a £9 million ferry, the MV Utne, for the Oban to Mull route on the Clyde and Hebrides network.  As well as this, the government has committed £580 million for new ferries and port investments in the next five years.  The new ferry needs modifications but it is planned to deploy for next summer season.  The Glen Sannox and Hull 802 still under construction are due to be completed between April and September 2022.

Public Energy Agency

£500,000 had been spent on preparing for a National Energy Company before it was hastily abandoned at the start of this parliament, despite the majority of SNP members having voted for it.  Instead, we are promised a public energy agency which sounds like little more than an advice-giving body.  The change in tack was due to the emissions target having changed since the energy company was first mooted in 2017, although SNP leadership did not seem to notice this until parliament had reconvened. 
Michael Matheson, the splendidly named Net Zero, Energy and Transport Secretary said there may be ‘at some point going forward’ a role for a public energy company to meet some of the challenges in the existing energy market.  Presumably, those challenges include energy being run essentially by a cartel which makes energy too expensive for many people. The new remit is vague enough to be unaccountable.  Fuel poverty affects 25% of Scottish households (613,000) of which 311,000 are in extreme fuel poverty, and it is hard to see how this new body will help them. .  ‘Some point going forward’ does not help people unable to meet their bills today and in the year ahead. 

People’s Energy

People’s Energy was one of the new energy firms which went bust recently, but it asked the Scottish Government for £30 million as urgent help to avoid bankruptcy.  This was not forthcoming on the basis that energy is not a devolved matter and a subsidy would not be allowed.  How was it different for Ferguson Marine who obtained a loan of £30 million from the Scottish Government in 2018 to allow for diversification of the business, but which may instead have been used as general funding to stop it going under?

Violence against Women

Police Scotland have come up with the idea of allowing women to be stopped and checked by a lone police officer to phone the control room and verify their identity and the reason for the check.  That assumes a lot.  In Sarah Everard’s case, she was no match for a trained (and possibly armed) police officer.

The police need a culture change.  The locker room culture does not only affect the Metropolitan Police.  Most of the women police deal with are vulnerable, or victims.  Some are prostitutes.  Low-level misogyny and testosterone-fuelled banter create a culture that does not generally value women, particularly vulnerable women.  We need more female officers, although judging by the experience of Rhona Malone in the Firearms Unit, this will not on its own end testosterone-fuelled misogyny.  An employment tribunal found in her favour in a discrimination case she brought against Police Scotland, saying there was a ‘sexist boys’club’ in the armed response unit which seemed to value female officers less.

In the aftermath of the Sarah Everard kidnap, rape and murder, one Police Commissioner in England even said it was up to women to know what are arrestable offences and to be more streetwise, refusing to be arrested.  It is not just the police.  We need a cultural and societal shift from objectifying women sexually. 

Boris Johnson has not joined the fight, rejecting the idea of making misogyny a hate crime, as it would ‘overload the police’ who need to focus on ‘real crimes’.  These are real crimes and if the police would be overloaded, it shows how big the problem is.

Keith Brown, Scotland’s Justice Minister, promised to act swiftly but only if Baroness Helena Kennedy’s task force recommends making misogyny a hate crime.  What if she doesn’t?  And even if she does, is low-level misogyny the same as a hate crime with the same legal threshold?  Maybe it would have been better if Humza Yousaf had listened to women and included us in the hate crime legislation he passed.

Spy Cops

Speaking of the police’s unfortunate attitude to women, the recent case of Kate Wilson should give everyone pause for thought.  Kate is an eco-activist, anti-war, pro-women campaigner, who began a relationship with a male called Mark Stone in 2003.  While she thought they were partners, his whole identity was revealed as a lie in 2010.  He was an undercover police officer with a different name, married with children, sent to infiltrate her organisation.  Using various romantic relationships, he mined information to send back to his bosses.  She recently won a case at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal on the grounds that her human rights had been violated.  The tribunal stated that the intrusive surveillance should never have been authorised and showed ‘disturbing and lamentable’ failings in the police service.

She is not the only female victim. Other women have had children with males who they thought were genuine but who then turned out to be undercover police and disappeared from their lives. One has called it ‘state-sponsored gaslighting’.  It is thought that senior officers turned a blind eye to the depth of what their officers were up to, and many lives have been ruined.  But it also seems clear that the officers concerned knew they were essentially unaccountable.

Police may be justified in infiltrating terror cells or paedophile groups, but this was an eco-activist group organised in a centre that was home to animal rights activists, anti-war and anti-globalisation groups.  How many other police officers or intelligence agents have infiltrated perfectly legitimate democratic groups campaigning for something the state does not want?

Abergeldie Estate

Abergeldie Estate in the Cairngorms has come onto the market for a cool £23 million.  The property includes 34 residential properties including farms and homes.  No community buyout is possible, given the vast price tag.  Legislation going through parliament this term may include a form of ‘public interest test’ when large areas are for sale to prevent concentration of ownership, as is advocated by the Scottish Land Commission.   This may also include a provision for part-transfer of land to local communities or the right to build housing, but it is woefully short of what is needed to redress the inequality of Scotland’s land ownership.  While it is a laudable attempt to redress matters, the effect of the government’s Scottish Land Fund is to give money to communities to pass on to already-wealthy landowners, a form of tax credit subsidising rich landowners.

Why is the government so afraid to enact legislation with real teeth?  A tax for hoarding land and doing nothing with it would discourage speculation.  What about a limit on how much land one person can own?  Or realistic taxes on sporting estates whose rates were slashed recently?  Or stopping tax havens owning land in Scotland?

NHS Gaslighting women

Dr Sinead Helyar blew the whistle on the NHS in a fringe group organised at the Conservative Party conference. (‘NHS gaslighting patients over trans women on female-only wards, nurse claims, Daily Telegraph, 5/10/2021). She says some NHS trusts including Greater Glasgow and Clyde tell nursing staff that if women question why there are male-bodied persons on a female-only hospital ward, they should simply be told there are none.  Women are supposed to ‘raise concerns with staff’ despite the guidance meaning staff can do nothing on the threat of disciplinary action or criminal charges. 

NHS guidance allows sex offenders self-identifying as women to be placed on female-only wards, and claimed some NHS trusts compared females questioning the policies with racists.  Other NHS documents apparently call women who ask for single-sex wards transphobic, offenders and perpetrators who should be given trans education sessions to improve their attitude.

Staff are told they will be in more trouble for excluding transwomen than for upholding the law on single-sex spaces.  The Nottinghamshire NHS Trust’s 2017 guidance puts the onus on hospitals to carry out risk assessments on women’s safety if including males on female-only wards, but on one occasion when a transwoman was placed on a ward under observation (to preserve women’s safety) the transwoman complained, the observation was ended and the patient later sexually assaulted two women. 

And finally

Spare a thought for the poor Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley, who this week claimed it was desperately difficult for new colleagues in the House of Commons to survive on their annual salary of £81,932 (plus modest expenses which can amount to an extra 2/3 of that amount).  He is now in a better financial position, he says, but still thinks an MP should be paid over £100K (while keeping the expenses).

We’re sure those on the average UK salary of £28,000 will not be shedding any tears.

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