This Week in Scotland – Week 41

What is the point of university?

The University of Sussex is facing calls to sack Kathleen Stock from their Philosophy Department. Her crime is having gender-critical views which in the world of student politics translates as ‘transphobia’.  The protests have taken a more menacing tone with masked protesters apparently allowed to deface University of Sussex property at will.

Along with slogans calling for her to be sacked came the telling comment ‘We’re not paying £9250 a year for transphobia..’, which lays bare two glaring facts about life in the UK.  One is that merely voicing biological fact, that males cannot become females, is deemed to be wrong.

The other is that because the Tories and LibDems decided students would have to pay for their education, it opened universities up to criticism on what they teach.  Students pay their fees, often on loans, but they expect not to be intellectually challenged or even told the truth, but rather demand to be affirmed in what they already believe.  They’ll pay their fees but only if they hear what they want and get rid of people who don’t agree with them.

Facebook/Twitter

Don’t seem to have much to say about death threats against gender-critical feminists, but plenty to say about misgendering.  They also give a platform to the old tropes about trans people being the most discriminated against in society, neglecting to say that these assertions are often based on tiny self-completed surveys, and not actually validated by evidence. 

The US Senate has been hearing evidence of the influence of Facebook and other social media outlets, with some former employees asserting that platforms like Facebook guide users to harmful content, or to websites whose content promotes minority views as majority views or are used to promote cultural views which are currently in vogue  This is done via algorithms in the program being triggered by certain words in searches, which don’t give the search result you were looking for.

Is Polexit going to happen?

There are some musings that Poland may follow the UK out the EU exit door.  Last week Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that some EU treaty provisions and court rulings contravene Poland’s highest law and did not give the EU sovereignty over Poland, which would not consent to any outside limitation on its power.  Poland has also found itself clashing with the EU over its abortion ban and LGBT rights.  The European Court of Justice has been urged to fine Poland, with the European Parliament calling for a payment freeze to Poland, the largest recipient of EU funds.
Other countries like Hungary have blatantly ignored EU policies, for example by putting barbed wire up to keep refugees out, or bundling them on trains to other EU countries. Like Poland, Hungary is proving problematic for the EU.

Wheesht for Indy

Another day, another SNP MP urging softly softly on independence (‘Why we can’t risk firing the indyref2 starting gun at the wrong time’, National, October 13th).  Despite Ronnie Cowan saying that the SNP will be judged on independence, he proceeds to urge utter caution on actually progressing it.  He claims we would have lost a referendum between 2014 and now, and the chance would have gone for a lifetime (doesn’t define it though, much like the Tories and their ‘generation’).  He sees his role as moving Scotland towards a vote, and then a Yes result must be for the right reasons.  Personally, I would take all the wrong reasons if it was the right result.

He likens the indy movement to a group of fractious travelers in an airport on their last stopover before the promised land.  He cautions against people pursuing their own interests as it would destroy independence.  He thinks we must look at a wide range of policies and design a country, which will evolve but will take time, yet curiously he sees the danger in waiting too long by saying that we will look back and ask what took so long.  He seems to have a crystal ball that tells him we will act at the right time and that’s why we will win. 

But we don’t need to start from scratch.  There is already a wealth of material out there which we could use now.  The Scottish Banking and Finance Group, published a couple of times a week in the National, has great ideas on, er, banking and finance.  Ditto, Modern Money Scotland is full of ideas online.  And has he ever read the Common Weal’s ‘..Short Guide to Starting a New Country’ or the ideas for a Constitution for Scotland? ([email protected]scot).

Maybe he is waiting for the SNP’s ‘economic case for indy’ which was supposed to arrive in summer 2018, I believe.  Perhaps Kate Forbes is working on it right now and it will be on our doormats for Christmas.

Ronnie presupposes a referendum, but skirts around any possible refusal of a section 30 order.  His colleague Joanna Cherry ultimately favours using an election as a plebiscite, which is something the SNP refused to endorse when the ISP suggested it for last May’s election.

I think the following is more likely – no indyref in 2023, and much bluster about using May 2024 as a plebiscite election without any clear idea of what to do afterward.  Also, another advisory body or two to draw up ideas on banking, the economy, etc., but stuffed with right-wing economic advisers as hitherto.  We might even see a new incarnation of the Growth Commission.

Banking in Scotland

Hot on the heels of taking over Clydesdale Bank, new owners Virgin money are now improving their service by closing bank branches. The predictable reasons for falling footfall and the rise of digital banking don’t quite hold this time, though, given that there were much-reduced opening times and people were effectively forced into internet banking by being stuck at home.  The bank closures appear to disproportionately affect Scotland and the north of England.

This will leave many customers in rural areas effectively without a Virgin money bank, and quite possibly without any bank at all for hundreds of miles.  Didn’t the banks promise no community would be left without a bank?  They probably had their fingers crossed behind their backs when they said it.

If you have no car and rely on public transport, this may be erratic at best.  No popping into the bank then staying in town for a coffee and some shopping.  You have to make a day of it just to get to the bank, and if you do any shopping at all or get a coffee, it won’t benefit your local area.

You could instead spend your life hanging on the line to a call centre, or visit one of the dwindling numbers of post offices.  It is not the same as a bank, though, where you can have private discussions about a mortgage or other finances, and often the post office is now reduced to an add-on in a grocery store.  Do you want to discuss your financial affairs in front of people doing their weekly shop?  Can you even do that or will you be just told to apply online?
In Scotland, the retail banking system is broken.  It is not interested in rural areas or ordinary customers and is only interested in selling ‘products’ to ‘consumers’, preferably without seeing them. Therefore if you are of limited or fixed means, or too old to get a mortgage or set up a business, forget it.

You may have thought the banks would try and rehabilitate themselves after the banking crash in 2008, but no.  The bank formerly known as RBS (now NatWest) got embroiled in the Global Restructuring Group which some saw as a blatant effort to asset-strip perfectly viable companies.  NatWest has again been in the news for failing to notice £365 million going into a Bradford jeweller’s account over five years, nearly 25 times its predicted turnover.  At its height, nearly £2 million was deposited per day.  NatWest will be sentenced in December, but probably fines only.  Certainly, no one is going to jail.

Clydesdale (again) is now facing down a class action in the Chancery Division of the High Court from over 1300 claimants including over 800 small and medium enterprises.  Allegations include persuading people to remortgage businesses without fully explaining new and exploitative terms to them, resulting in huge payments and eventually businesses and homes being lost.

Whatever happened to banks who lent to ordinary people to buy a house or set up a business, then helped them along as time went by, to ensure that the real economy actually worked?  Oh, yes, the banking crash and the government letting them take us for chumps by bailing them out with nothing in return.  The government may have got some of its cashback, but in the real world, neither people nor businesses can rely on any help from the banks.

The Police

Following the Sarah Everard case, a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation revealed this week that a Police Scotland officer was found guilty of subjecting his partner to years of domestic abuse. Despite being convicted, he was not jailed but got three years of community payback, 250 hours of unpaid work, and a six-year non-harassment order.  But a loophole has allowed him (and others guilty of serious crimes) to resign before being subject to disciplinary action and possible sacking and so he keeps his pension.

It also revealed that throughout the UK, there were over 370 accusations of sexual assault against police officers, special constables, and community support officers in the last 4 years, resulting in 8% of the perpetrators facing dismissal.

Drugs Policy

The decision to issue warnings to people found in possession of Class A drugs marks a major policy shift, prompted possibly by Scotland’s unenviable position as drugs deaths capital of Europe (over 1300 in 2020) and by the tireless work of drugs activist Peter Krykant who was arrested for running a mobile safe consumption room in Glasgow, although charges were later dropped.  His own drug consumption began before he was a teen, and his knowledge of the treatment of addicts has led him to campaign for the decriminalisation of all drugs and regulation and taxation of the drugs market.

Drugs policy is certainly in need of an overhaul.  At the moment, all it does is make dependant addicts, powerful and vicious drugs gangs, and blights the lives of all those caught up in it, particularly the children of addicts.  It effectively writes off those involved and condemns them to a life they cannot escape from except with an early death.  It was unfortunate for Joe Fitzpatrick, the previous minister responsible, that a change in the law did not come soon enough for him not to be sacked.  He as Minister for Public Health did not have the exclusive remit which Angela Constance now has as a drugs Czar, so it seems a bit unfair to sack him, particularly as the law change may improve the statistics. Until we have a comprehensive drugs policy that decriminalises users, disempowers gangs, and genuinely renews blighted estates, we will still see people die needlessly from drugs in Scotland.

COP26

is not being universally welcomed by the people of Glasgow, who in addition to facing considerable travel restrictions for the duration of the climate jamboree, also have to contend with mounds of rubbish in the street due to their bin collection being extended to once every 3 weeks (from every two weeks) with the double whammy of the council charging £35 per bulk item, which has led to an unfortunate but probably predictable increase in flytipping.  An extra insult is the free bus transport from FirstBus for delegates to the conference while the city’s own bus service is being stripped.  And it isn’t that great a look to have people jetting in from all over the world to protest about, er, climate change, anyway, is it?

True to form, the UK Government awarded a £14 million security contract at COP26 to Atalian Servest of Suffolk, who were labeled greedy and inhumane by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain for refusing to furlough cleaning staff who were then left jobless or on reduced hours.

Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has questioned the Scottish Government’s green credentials, pointing to Holyrood’s 2016 signing of a memorandum of understanding which backed the building of a third Heathrow runway because it believed it would benefit Scotland.  Paradoxically, the Scottish government now seeks to limit air travel or its climate targets can’t be met.

Lorna Slater sympathises with the climate protesters, and according to Patrick Harvie, the Scottish government has no appetite to clamp down on climate protesters and activists at COP26, presumably unless they are simultaneously sporting the purple, white and green of the women’s protests.  Ribbons can be scary, after all.

The UK Government

failed to properly consult with the Scottish Government over its post-Brexit trade agreement with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, despite Scotland supplying a quarter of all the UK’s export of goods to Norway and Iceland, including fuel, iron, and steel, agriculture, and fish products. In animal feed, Scotland supplies 84% of the UK’s exports to these countries.  Despite this, Scotland was effectively sidelined, with at first only progress reports, then later some opportunity to add comments during the negotiations.  Who would have thought?

Short term lets

The Scottish Government’s planned licensing scheme for short-term lets is going to be dramatically watered down following lobbying by affected professional bodies.  Housing Secretary Shona Robison does not think there is any need for regulations designed to prevent overprovision of Airbnb-type properties as there will be powers given to local authorities to establish control areas.  This despite the fact that owners using the Airbnb system took over much of Edinburgh city centre before anyone noticed that Edinburgh was short of 12,000 rental properties which had previously been long-term lets.

What about when local councilors also own properties for let?  They are hardly likely to vote to limit their own power to let out their properties.  And local rules make for piecemeal provision nationwide, which is why national provision is better than local.  Robison’s response ironically sounds like a classic Tory fudge – the new rules will enable local authorities to respond to the needs of local communities ‘without imposing onerous bureaucracy on responsible tourism businesses’.

Even before this amendment, there was little to shout about in the proposals.  It is not clear whether tenants’ representative’s such Living Rent were also consulted on the amendments.  Merely registering short-term lets does not prevent major disruption to local communities or replace the significant amount of housing taken out of general circulation.  It does not disincentivise the acquisition of flats by a letting company who have no intention of leasing them to the people who actually need long-term housing.

And finally

Scots writer insulted ‘by men’

Emma Guinness has told how she was trolled on Twitter, not for anything controversial she said, but because she dared to write in Scots, and dared to be a woman.  Scots is often decried as ‘not a language, but slang English’, lower class, uneducated.  It is none of these but appears to have taken the place of Gaelic in being insulted as ‘irrelevant and dying out’, dramatically missing the point that Scots and Gaelic did not just wither on the vine, they were literally beaten out of use, not least in classrooms.

It is a good thing that Scots and Gaelic are getting more attention and more resources.  Welsh is not dying out.  The fact that it is now spoken by 20-29% of the population (depending on the figures you use) is due in no small part to the fact that it was made a compulsory subject in Welsh schools from the 1960s onwards. This rescued Welsh from its terminal decline and provided the springboard for a revival of the language in the years ahead.  Perhaps it is time for compulsory Scots and Gaelic lessons in all schools.

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