This Week In Scotland – Week 48

Scotland’s Finances

Speaking on Good Morning Scotland recently, Kate Forbes refuted the GERS
figures yet again. She pointed out that much of the data is estimates, that Scotland has 40% of the UK’s renewable potential, and 25% of Europe’s wave and tidal resources. She pointed out she must balance her budget.

But why not go for the jugular? Tell them that Scotland has little more than notional borrowing powers, so cannot possibly have a deficit or any accumulated
‘debt’. That over £300bn oil revenue went to the UK Treasury, or that something like £60bn taxes of various kinds is paid to the Treasury every year from Scotland, with little more than half coming back as a block grant. That’s a lot on shared services.

She did not ask how countries with a fraction of Scotland’s resources manage to be independent, or how the UK manages to stay independent with its massive debt, or why we are paying back the Covid Quantitative Easing money which the Bank of England paid the Treasury, created by a keystroke and not borrowed from any bank.
She said Scotland is a ‘rich nation in waiting’. Question is, what are we waiting for? Weren’t the SNP supposed to free Scotland from the UK?

Poverty

According to the Wise Group social enterprise vulnerable families made almost three times the energy advice enquiries in the covid pandemic. Some are so hard up that they ration or self-disconnect their energy supply. Almost 25% of Scots live in fuel poverty, choosing between heating and eating.

Pensioner poverty is a separate scandal, worse for women whose pension has been delayed by up to six years. The triple lock aimed to keep pensions rising yearly by the highest of three measures – the Consumer Price Index of inflation, increases in average earnings, or 2.5%. But it was suspended for 2022/23 as it would allegedly give pensioners an unfair advantage over other groups.

The Times estimates that pensioners will lose an average £2,600 each over 5 years, saving the Treasury £30.5bn. However, Richard Murphy of Tax Research Group, has pointed out that there is currently £39bn sitting in the National Insurance Fund, so why can’t that supplement pensions now? The British pensioner receives on average 29% of their previous earnings, compared to Netherlands and Italy which get 80%. It is already the lowest pension of any developed country, and the triple lock may never be restored.

Nationality and Borders Bill

Parliament’s Joint committee on Human Rights is holding an inquiry into the Nationality and Borders Bill, which plans to criminalise those who arrive in the UK by irregular routes and those who assist them, which may include those saving people from drowning. Various international refugee and maritime conventions oblige the UK to protect the right to life. The new bill would allow maritime enforcement including pushback of flimsy boats at sea. One possible solution is to allow asylum to be claimed via UK officials in France, an initial check conducted and a provisional acceptance given which would allow safe transport to the UK, rather than the dangerous use of dinghies.

A leading Edinburgh QC stated that parts of the bill would encroach on devolved powers, such as protecting trafficking victims and enabling age verification of children. Christine O’Neill says that legislative consent should be refused by Scotland. She also says that some parts of the bill would change how people access justice and secure rights in the Scottish courts, which also undermines the legal system (and therefore arguably the whole Act of Union).

There is a possibility that the UK may not just review the Human Rights Act but withdraw from it altogether, possibly replacing it with a British Bill of Rights. Justice Minister Dominic Raab is not keen on British “liberty” being undermined by the European Court of Human Rights with its alleged unaccountable judges and rights contagion. Scotland on the other hand is trying to strengthen its legislation on human rights, despite being limited by devolution.

The Economic Crime Bill will also be debated in the House of Commons in an effort to increase financial firms’ transparency, combat corruption and tax evasion, strengthen financial regulation and possibly make failure to prevent economic crime a criminal offence. That means money laundering but might also extend to failing to protect firms (and individuals?) being fleeced by sophisticated criminals with no recourse.

Cambo

Shell has opted not to be involved in the development of the Cambo oilfield.
To reinforce Scotland’s green credentials, NatureScot recently awarded a total of £5m funding to projects including rainforest restoration work (RSPB), improving habitats in the Cairngorms and restoring wetlands in Orkney. Black grouse habitats in South Ayrshire also benefit, as does St Andrews dune restoration programme.

Coastal dredging
Trawlers are causing major problems for marine stocks and the undersea environment destroyed by “bottom dredging”. Some call for stricter regulation within the 12-mile fishing limit, but the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has rejected calls for a 3-mile fishing limit. Scottish creel fishers on the other hand say they are greatly hampered by the present system, and Marine Scotland is being urged to monitor and enforce existing activities better.

Tree Planting, Food Production and Conservation:

A Stirling University professor, Dr Paul Thomas, has found that inoculating native pine and oak trees with an edible blue mushroom produce more protein per hectare than pasture-raised beef. Land can therefore combine food production with carbon sequestration, biodiversity and conservation through forestry. Such initiatives may halt the wholesale cutting down of trees in favour of growing food.

Tourist Tax

The government is still delaying legislation that would allow councils to implement a tourist ‘tax’, with the ‘enabling bill’ necessary to implement it still not passed. They will not even confirm that it will go ahead during this parliament. Changes to land and building tax and income tax are also ruled out.

Edinburgh City Council estimated a £2 levy would raise £11m to go to local services, and Aberdeen, Glasgow and the Western Isles are also in favour, but the hospitality sector itself is not. The delay is apparently covid-related, but the loss of income due to covid means it is more needed than ever.

Scottish Welfare

In a UK first, every local authority area in Scotland now has a Local Delivery initiative to assist people in claiming devolved benefits. They will visit people at home or meet in the community, and help in filling out forms or giving advice, generally making the process much less stressful. Applicants will be respected, unlike the hostile, unhelpful regime often encountered by those trying to access UK benefits, or undergoing welfare benefit assessments.

The Union Division

The British Army is planning to cut 9000 posts but somehow become more efficient. Its ‘Future Soldier’ project aims to reorganise the army as a “deployable and lethal” “expeditionary fighting force”. It will be at the heart of the union, with a bigger presence in each devolved nation. That looks uncannily like stepping up your occupation forces, just in case those uppity Celts get the idea of actually governing themselves.

The SNP’s defence spokesman Stewart McDonald accused the UK of politicising service personnel, who need better pay and conditions. Weren’t the SNP supposed to get Scotland out of the British army into its own Defence Force?

As part of the reorganisation, 1 Scots will become 1st Battalion, Ranger Regiment, part of a new Army Special Operations Brigade, deployable to counter “extremist organisations and hostile state threats”. Could that be just anyone who “impugns the integrity of the British state”? That was how Nicholas McPherson, Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the time of indyref1, described the independence movement.

Major-General Bill Wright, Scotland’s senior general officer, sees immense opportunities for Scots to stay at home and be involved in a broader range of exciting roles, with a higher proportion of the British Army based in Scotland. That rather implies they see a threat at home rather than overseas.

Union Jackery

Complaints are growing about the growing presence of the union flag in our daily life, particularly in supermarkets, with a corresponding absence of Saltires on exclusively Scottish produce. This is without exporters deciding to label exclusively Scottish produce as British (Tunnock’s teacakes and Scotch whisky).

Morrisons have repackaged Scottish lamb and beef as just “Market Street”, with boxes outside stores plastered with union flags. Tesco seems to have union flags everywhere. From experience, the only big supermarket which has Saltires in any numbers is Lidl.Car number plates going abroad are allowed a Saltire/EU symbol provided there is also a UK sticker on the rear of the vehicle. Almost as if they are trying to erase Scotland.

Finally,

Boris does not disappoint. Today when challenged about last year’s Downing Street Christmas party when staff allegedly mingled despite covid restrictions on numbers from different households meeting, he managed not to answer that question at all but instead answered a different one of his own choosing, by saying he hoped Christmas would not be cancelled this year.

Ho, ho, ho!!

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