In The Media

The Jimmy Reid Foundation today received coverage in the media for its new publication analysing the Smith Commission proposal.  Reports were carried in the  Times, Herald, Scotsman, Evening Times, Bella Caledonia, STV, the National, and the Extra. 

Robert McNeil

 Among all the excitement at the Common Weal, one of the creative ideas that caught my earlobe was “boring banking”.

UNDERNEATH the Arches, in Glasgow’s Argyle Street last weekend, hundreds of people (781, to be precise) gathered to debate, create, laugh and listen to music. There were folk of all ages at the Common Weal Festival, though it’s fair to say that most were young. They were nice, pleasant, enthusiastic, unthreatening people. Bit like an Orange walk, really, only the opposite.

Microphones were passed round discussion groups, talks were given and questions asked. The atmosphere was invigorating, no more so than when Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, spoke. He could make the stones at the Ring of Brodgar rouse themselves and dance.

If it wasn’t quite May ’68 (given the polls, we’re more in Maybe ’14) the feeling remained that change was in the air. And, however dispirited a No vote might leave the nation after September, it’s unlikely such creativity and hope will be entirely crushed. Among all the excitement, one of the creative ideas that caught my earlobe was “boring banking”. Turns out it’s not that new. Attempts have been made south of yon border by more conventional people to return banks to a more staid and responsible mode of operation.

We can all applaud that. But at this debate, chaired by Ric Lander of Friends of the Earth Scotland, the remit was wider and much more about empowering people and communities. Green MSP Patrick Harvie, Edinburgh University rector Peter McColl, and Newcastle University finance researcher Gemma Bone discussed ending “the tyranny of big”.

They looked with envy at Germany and its local, regional banks operating in an economy where the Mittelstand of small and medium-sized enterprises accounts for 70% of the workforce and 50% of GDP. Even the United States, global HQ of capitalism, has a more enviably varied banking system than the UK’s “three or four flavours”, as someone put it, and its stifling centralisation.

Back in our wee world, there were warm words for the Airdrie Savings Bank, and no discussion on ethical banking could fail to mention the Co-op. Alas, it appears to have lost its way. Some, like Patrick, had given up

Everyone, even the Prime Minister of Britain, applauds credit unions for keeping folk out of the clutches of payday lenders

on it but others, like Gemma, were sticking with it in the hope it could find some purpose again. Peter was likewise keen on mutuals, and everyone, even the Prime Minister of Britain, applauds credit unions for keeping folk out of the clutches of payday lenders.

But, beyond making the most of what already exists, everyone on the panel was eager for new arrangements that facilitated peer-to-peer finance, lateral business and community creativity, a system in which banks served, helped and encouraged instead of worked flankers with charges, casino investments and solely profitmaximising criteria for loans and start-up finance for projects and new enterprises.

None of which sounds boring at all. Indeed, it all sounds rather exciting, but not in the way that banks became, as their top executives gadded about in a glamorous world of helicopters, peculiar parties involving karaoke, and target-driven madness that destroyed many of the decent people who worked in such places.

Talking of decent people, none of these creative ideas is likely to be embraced by the bizarre crew of investment bankers, landowners and obscure English aristocrats revealed this week to be funding the Better No’ campaign. As for their friends, the Labour Party, its name hardly came up at Common Weal. Few are interested in it any more.

Mind you, though I daresay he may have come up elsewhere, Karl Marx wasn’t mentioned either at the banking discussion in this festival of the Left, a term that itself sounds inadequate for something bigger, wider and more embracing.

Patrick Harvie, indeed, quoted Adam Smith: “It is not by augmenting the capital of the country, but by rendering a greater part of that capital active and productive than would otherwise be so, that the most judicious operations of banking can increase the industry of the country.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself. In the meantime, I shall try to contain my excitement as I contemplate the possibility of a fabulously boring Scotland.


Independent, 3 July 2014


British people would be healthier if they worked a four-day week, an expert has said. And it could be just what the doctor ordered for the economy, too, says PHIL THORNTON

John Maynard Keynes mayhave been right when it came to showing how governments should intervene to prevent a recession turning into a depression, but he got one prediction wrong.

In 1930 he predicted that within a century we would live in “a new era of leisure”, when we work just 15 hours a week but are eight times richer, thanks to technological innovation.

We are 16 years short of his deadline and seem further away from that than ever. Britons work 43 hours a week, while one in 25 toils away for over 60. But help is on hand.

Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said this week that a four-day week would reduce stress levels and allow people to take more exercise and see more of their families. Leaving aside the health arguments, is it workable? On the face of it, it seems madness. If we work one day a week less, we get paid 20 per cent less and so have 20 per cent less money to spend on goods and services. As till receipts go down, businesses lay off workers.

If we unpick that argument, it looks a little threadbare. Not everyone is in work. Some work fewer hours than they would like, while many work too long – something Professor Ashton calls “maldistribution”.

People working a five-day week often spend longer in work, either because they fear that leaving on time would hurt their promotion prospects or simply because theyhave too much work to do. In otherwords, some are donating as many as 20 unpaid hours a week. That value is not going into the economy and in any event workers have less time to spend money. But many work fewer hours than theywould like.An index of underemployment by Professor David Blanchflower, an expert on the labour market, shows almost one in 10 works less than they would like.

By effectively redistributing work away from those who are working too hard towards those who would like more work, one can address one of the yawning inequality gaps in the UK.

The big question is how to achieve that without it leading to a lot of people getting 20 per cent poorer. One problem with economics is that it measures what is easy to measure but ignores what it cannot.

The late US Senator Robert Kennedy put it best when he said that economics counts “air pollution and cigarette advertising… but not the health of our children”.

Working fewer hours will, as Professor Ashton says, result in people leading more enjoyable lives with more time for leisure and family, something that is not currently accounted for. It will also lead to higher levels of happiness, which the Government is looking to measure.

There is evidence that shows economic benefits. The four-day week was actually tried out in the American state of Utah in 2008, when 18,000 of the state’s 25,000 public sector workforce were put on a four-day week.

Andrew Simms, a Fellowat the New Economics Foundations, says that most said it made them more productive. Workplaces reported higher staff morale and lower absenteeism. Citizens said the quality of service went up.

But the killer economic argument is about productivity– the amount each person produces every hour. As Nobel laureate Paul Krugman said, productivity “isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything”.

Employees may work hard, but they are not working well. The UK has among the lowest productivity rates in Europe. Moving to a fourday week would improve that for both those working too hard and those working too little.

But this change should not be attempted overnight. There are real concerns for people who are having to meet the rising cost of housing and living.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation think tank has suggested a 10-year transition to a 30-hour week that captures the benefits of changes in productivity and absenteeism. Over time, provisions of childcare and housing will adapt.

Or, as Keynes said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

Sunday Herald, 29 June 2014

Yestival kicks off

The Yestival tour organised by the artists for independence group National Collective. Promising evenings of music, film and spoken word performances, it begins tomorrow in Haddington before moving to Melrose on Tuesday, Sanquhar on Wednesday, Ayr on Thursday, and Glasgow’s Govanhill Baths on Saturday.

Among those taking part are actress and chairwoman of the Scottish Independence Convention Elaine C Smith, plus musician Dick Gaughan, poet Harry Giles and Zara Gladman, star of the cult Lady Gaga parody video, Lady Alba – Bad Romance. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and author Alan Bissett also take part in Glasgow. yestival

THE Sunday Herald is teaming up with some of Scotland’s leading t hinkers to f ur t her encourage the grassroots debate unleashed by the independence referendum.

Next weekend the paper will take part in a festival of culture and politics based on Common Weal, the left-wing blueprint for a new economy and a fairer society under independence.

The Sunday Herald has also become the media partner of Imagination, billed as Scotland’s first Festival of Ideas, which runs on Glasgow’s southside from September 5 to 7.

Sunday’s Common Weal event at the Arches in Glasgow will include music and comedy, as well as discussion sessions and a talk by Sunday Herald editor Richard Walker on the media and the referendum.

Developed by think- tank the Jimmy Reid Foundation, Common Weal advocates radical economic reform and a move away from what it sees as the broken UK model of low pay, low skills and over- reliance on the retail and finance sector.

Established last year by a group of academics and economists worried about the lack of vision in the referendum debate, the project has grown exponentially, and recently issued a manifesto for a new Scotland based on 50 academic papers. Robin McAlpine, the foundation’s director, is this weekend speaking about Common Weal at the Glastonbury festival.

The Imagination event is a partnership between the University of the West of Scotland and PAL Labs and will explore culture, history and politics in “dynamic and accessible public conversations”.

Among those taking part are economist Will Hutton, musician Billy Bragg, Sunday Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter, polling expert Professor John Curtice, playwright David Greig, and Alex Bell, former spindoctor to Alex Salmond.

Author Gerry Hassan, founding producer of the festival, said: “It brings together a stellar range of speakers, topics, films, live music and a range of perspectives across a number of venues at a pivotal moment in Scotland’s history.”

PAL Labs artistic director Roanne Dods said: “There could not be a better time to create a Festival of Ideas … We hope this will create a deep, lively and fun way to engage with ideas that can shape our worlds.”

Sunday Herald, 29 June 2014

Plans under way to create united party of the Left after referendum

TALKS are under way to create a new l eft- wing party in the wake of the independence referendum. Figures i n the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) and the Scottish Socialist Party ( SSP) have discussed uniting left- wing groups divided by nearly a decade of turmoil. Until 2004, the SSP had brought together disparate elements of the Left under a pro-independence and anti-capitalist banner.

The party’s high point was the 2003 Holyrood election, in which it got six MSPs returned and polled 15.2% of the List vote in Glasgow.

However, following ex-SSP leader Tommy Sheridan’s decision to sue a tabloid newspaper over allegations relating to his private life, the party split and faded away electorally.

Despite the l ack of electoral success north of the border recently, the referendum campaign has given the broader Left a shot in the arm.

The wider Yes campaign is dominated by left- wing g roups and i ndividuals, i ncluding RIC, the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the SSP and the Greens.

Other than the Greens, which has two MSPs, no electoral vehicle exists to bring all the groups together.

The informal talks – involving key players in a variety of organisations – have centred around creating a new Left party or umbrella group.

The discussions are at the exploratory stage and are likely to be stepped up after September 18.

A red line for many of those involved is that Sheridan, who is seen as a divisive and toxic figure, plays no part in any new group.

Another obstacle is that the RIC contains i ndividuals previously involved with the Socialist Workers Party, an outfit mistrusted by the SSP.

Colin Fox, the SSP co- convener, confirmed “informal” discussions had taken place but restated his commitment to the SSP. He added any umbrella group would have to have a clear focus on the working class.

Robin McAlpine, the director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said the creation of a new vehicle would depend on whether the SNP and Labour left open the space for such a new entity.

Vote for this storyWell Written

The Herald, 2 June 2014

Think tank backs independent Scotland

 NICOLA Sturgeon has welcomed a far-reaching policy document by a leftwing think tank that sets out a new vision for the country.

The 130-page book is the culmination of the 18-month Common Weal project started by the Jimmy ReidFoundation.

It says an independent Scotland can disengage from the UK’s “Me-First” politics and become a wealthier, healthier, more equal and more democratic country.

Proposals include a shift to a high-skill, high-pay economy supported by public loans and investment, a living wage, a 30-hour working week, worker reps on company boards, collective ownership of key assets such as National Grid, green energy projects and the railways, and a return to smallscale “boring banking” to prevent another crash.

An expanded welfare state would deliver universal public services, a massive expansion in affordable housing, and the conversion of benefits, tax credits and pensions into a universal Citizens’ Income guaranteeing a minimum income.

The book says the move to a high-skill economy with higher wages would produce the extra tax revenues to pay for the new policies.

The Deputy First Minister said: “As the Common Weal publication makes clear, Scotland is ready for change, and independence is the only way to secure a better future for the people of Scotland.

“Our vision is of a Scotland founded on the fundamental principles of equality and human rights and characterised by economic success and social justice, giving people control over the decisions which affect them.”

Economist Professor Mike Danson of Heriot-Watt University said: “We have the people, resources and opportunities to create a much better future.”

Scottish Daily Mail, 2 June 2014

Scots can’t afford to support the SNP

 IN government, the SNP likes to portray itself as a party that gets things done; but a closer look at its flagship policies too often throws up the same nagging problem – cost.

We report today that council leaders are alarmed at the ballooning bill for the SNP plan to ‘transform’ childcare.

Now councils are no strangers to shroudwaving and bemoaning their impoverished state – all the while still enjoying junkets, vanity projects and spending the general public can plainly see is not essential.

Yet the childcare figures are alarming. The capital costs alone of Alex Salmond’s proposals to widen childcare access – widely seen as a naked attempt to boost his flagging popularity with women – are nearly double the £31million earmarked by the Scottish Government when the policy was unveiled in January. There are the same ominous signs about all this as there were about the much-vaunted savings promised by the creation of the unitary Police Scotland force. In fact, as Holyrood found out too late, the police figures on savings were never properly calculated. Now Scottish Tory finance spokesman Gavin Brown says: ‘The SNP Government is rapidly gaining a reputation for rushing through legislation on the hoof, without putting in the necessary research on the costs involved.’

It is worrying for the taxpayer that this slipshod approach seems to permeate so much of SNP policy. Last week’s fiasco of ‘paperclip economics’, whereby hastily cobbled together figures were trotted out in a bid to make it look credible, seems less like a temporary aberration and more like standard procedure for a party posturing as competent.

Worrying, too, for the public are Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s warm words of welcome for the Common Weal plan put forward by the Left-wing Jimmy ReidFoundation.

It proposes paying for SNP profligacy and financial inexactitude with income tax rates that would see thousands of hard-working Scots hammered by a 50p rate and the well-off facing an eye-watering 60p rate. Weary Scottish taxpayers now look on Holyrood as a place where everyone is vying to spend more. Scottish Tory plans to hand these politicians more powers over income tax will do little to ease the financial concerns of families who work hard and want to reap the hard-won rewards of their own efforts.

Scottish Daily Mail, 2 June 2014

SNP praise for Left-wing agenda

THOUSANDS of middle- earners would be hammered by a 50p tax rate under a vision for a separate Scotland that has been welcomed by the SNP.

The richest Scots would be forced to pay a 60p top rate, while there would be a fourday working week, widespread renationalisation and a larger welfare state.

The Common Weal report by the Leftwing Jimmy ReidFoundation provides a telling foretaste of the Scandinavian-style agenda that could be adopted if Alex Salmond wins September’s referendum.

But rather than distance the SNP from the findings, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the report.

She said: ‘As the Common Weal publication makes clear, Scotland is ready for change – and independence is the only way to secure a better future for the people of Scotland.’

There are 2.65million taxpayers in Scotland and nearly 11 per cent pay the 40p income tax rate applied to earnings of at least £41,865. If the Common Weal project was adopted, anyone with a salary of £50,000 would pay an extra £850 a year, rising to nearly £3,000 for those earning £70,000. The 60p top rate, up from 45p now, would apply to earnings over £150,000.

Scottish Tory economy spokesman Murdo Fraser said: ‘An independent Scotland going down the social democratic route much loved of SNP politicians would mean whacking tax rises for middle-earners and additional burdens on Scottish business. The fact Nicola Sturgeon has welcomed this is a clear signal that the Yes campaign is endorsing these swingeing tax rises.’

Miss Sturgeon said: ‘Our vision is of a Scotland founded on the fundamental principles of equality and human rights and characterised by economic success and social justice, giving people control over the decisions which affect them.

‘With the full set of economic and fiscal levers, independence would unlock Scotland’s full potential as a vibrant and dynamic economy and a fairer society.

‘We welcome the contributions that Common Weal and other independent organisations are making to the debate.’

The Herald, 12 May 2014

Permanent city memorial to mark war impact on home front

GLASGOW is to create a permanent memorial to recognise the impact at home of the tumult of the First World War.

The city council is proposing placing a plaque in Glasgow Green recognising the contribution made by working people not only in the war effort, but also their campaigning for economic, social and political change.

Think-tank and advocacy group the Jimmy Reid Foundation made representations to the council last year on the subject of the creation of a Great War memorial, with the authority now expected to formally back the plans.

A report on the proposal said: “Events in Glasgow in this period led to lasting changes in sectors such as housing, but also more generally led to great shifts in the political and economic life of our land, well beyond our city’s boundaries”.

Councillor Matt Kerr, chairman of the council’s Memorials Working Group, said: “After much careful consideration on a crossparty basis, and deliberation with the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the Memorials Working Group is of the view that we, as a council, should support the creation of such a memorial.

“The purpose of such a memorial is clear; to complement the official commemoration by widening and deepening understanding of the impact of the war at home.”

The city will be a focal point for many across the globe during the commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of First World War in August.

Leaders from across the Commonwealth are expected to stay an additional day after the conclusion of the Glasgow 2014 Games to mark the event.

Meanwhile, the life stories of millions of people who served during the First World War are to be preserved in a permanent digital memorial run by Imperial War Museums (IWM).

Lives of the First World War will use information from the public over the next five years to piece together the stories of more than eight million people from across Britain and the former Empire who served abroad and on the home front.

The project is launched today with the records of more than 4.5 million men and 40,000 women who served with the British Army overseas.

While details are known about the lives of many, the IWM said it was still looking for various extra details about others. It said many people in the project were still just names, leaving organisers appealing to the public to help piece together their life stories.

Use of the site is free, including uploading pictures and adding family stories, and IWM said it was not looking for original copies or letters, photographs or diaries, but was encouraging people to keep them in family collections for future generations, instead uploading images on the site.

The Herald, 12 May 2014


EU directive feedback

A NEW European directive on procurement came into force on April 17. It encourages smaller contract lots, and also stresses the “overriding concept of economic advantage”.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “We need to be questioning what the Scottish Government are going to be doing in relation to the new EU directives, specifically their interpretation of what they regard as the most economically advantageous tender.-How are they going to measure this?.”

She asked what was needed for a “higher weighting” for local economic factors.

Stuart Mackinnon of the Federation of Small Businesses said: “Some buyers are making a real effort to squeeze every drop of value out of every pound they spend, others are focused narrowly on cash savings, and that can have unforeseen consequences for local economies. Councils, agencies and departments are terrified of being criticised for wasting money. But the most recent report from Audit Scotland suggests they are not going to criticise local authorities for taking a wider view.”

According to a report for the Jimmy Reid Foundation: “The potential wins are enormous – hundreds of millions of pounds could be injected into the Scottish economy.”

The Herald asks the Scottish Government: to toughen its bill, and its future guidance, to help all agencies prioritise the local economy.

Evening Times, 12 May 2014

City War Memorial Plan

Councillor Matt Kerr, chairman of the council’s Memorials Working Group, said: “After much careful consideration on a cross-party basis, and deliberation with the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the Memorials Working Group is of the view that we, as a council, should support the creation of such a memorial.“The purpose of such a memorial is clear; to complement the official commemoration by widening and deepening understanding of the impact of the war at home.”

Scottish Mail on Sunday, 11 May 2014

Hammer blow to hardorking Scots as key Salmond ally calls for massive new tax rises 


FAMILIES who inherit property and other assets from dead relatives should be forced to pay more tax if Scotland becomes independent, a close ally of Alex Salmond has claimed.

John Mason, an SNP backbencher who is part of a Nationalist pack which rarely opposes the party leadership at Holyrood, says that inheritance tax levels need to rise in order to help redistribute more wealth.

He also wants to see hardworking families hammered by higher levels of income tax if Scotland separates from the UK.

Bereaved families already have to pay 40 per cent of the value of estates passed on to them directly to the Treasury if they are worth more than £325,000.

But Mr Mason supports the idea of more people being forced to pay higher rates.

His comments give an insight into the approach the SNP may take following a Yes vote. He also called on his party’s leadership to lay out firm proposals for what it would do to taxes after separation.

Opponents say the First Minister should listen to his backbencher and come clean on how he would pay for his expensive White Paper promises.

Mr Mason, a former Nationalist MP who now represents Glasgow Shettleston at Holyrood, said: ‘I think we all agree that income tax can be used to redistribute income, but we should not forget also that taxes such as inheritance tax are necessary in redistributing wealth.’

Asked by The Scottish Mail on Sunday if he wanted a clearer policy on taxation from the SNP, he said: ‘Yes, we need to discuss taxation in an independent Scotland, but not only from one side.

‘Better Together should also be discussing it because UK tax is only set a year ahead as well, yet we’re expected to predict for ten years. People are wanting to see a lot of things changed, but a fairer and more equal society keeps coming up repeatedly.’

He said the Scottish Government endorsed a motion at Holyrood last week that referred to ‘wealth and income redistribution’, adding: ‘The Government was backing that concept of wealth and income tax redistribution.

‘I would hope personally that we would be going for a much fairer tax system, with more equality and more redistribution and better services.’

SNP ministers have previously dismissed claims that tax rises would be inevitable if Scotland became independent, despite costly promises to spend more on childcare, cut business taxation and air passenger duty and renationalise Royal Mail.

Mr Salmond has been keen to avoid spelling out what his party’s approach to taxation would be due to fears it would scare off potential voters.

But many within the Nationalist ranks have supported a more ‘progressive’ approach in order to fund higher levels of public services – seen as code for savage tax hikes.

At the SNP Conference in Perth last autumn, party members endorsed draconian plans to ramp up taxes by agreeing to consider a ‘ Nordic’ approach that is likely to mean people being forced to pay higher rates of tax in return for increased spending on public services.

A motion proposing that there be a full examination of suggestions by the Left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation was unanimously backed by delegates.

In Sweden, a country many within the party often point to as the type of ‘fairer’ society they want to replicate, workers have to pay both a local tax rate of between 28.9 per cent and 34.2 per cent and a national tax rate of between 20 per cent and 25 per cent. The combined tax burden means those earning more than 574,300 Swedish krona (£57,000) see more than half their earnings being swallowed by the state.

Scottish Tory finance spokesman Gavin Brown said: ‘John Mason is quite right when he says the SNP needs to be more upfront with its tax plans. It’s well-documented that, for the sums to add up, services would have to be cut dramatically, taxes increased or the rate of borrowing would have to rise. One of those would have to happen and the Scottish Government should tell us which.

‘However, we believe in lower taxes and certainly not a rise in inheritance tax – and by staying in the UK that can be achieved.’

Last year, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said ‘progressive’ principles would be ‘at the heart’ of the SNP’s approach to tax.

Joan McAlpine, a close Salmond aide, has previously advocated a ‘fair’ system of taxation, ‘as they have in Scandinavian countries’.

Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins has praised the Scandinavian countries as a good example of the ‘fairer society’ an independent Scotland would aspire to.

Labour Shadow Business Minister and Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray said: ‘John Mason is absolutely right that there needs to be an honest discussion about what would happen to our taxes if we leave the UK.

‘The SNP’s White Paper manifesto for breaking up the UK is nothing more than a wish list without a price list. It promises the Earth without giving any detail about how we would pay for things. Scandinavian public services on American levels of taxation doesn’t add up.

‘Alex Salmond should listen to this intervention from his own backbenches and be open with Scots about whether or not our taxes would go up if we leave the UK.’

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘Independence will allow all key decisions on taxation to be made in Scotland by those who have Scotland’s best interests at heart and who have a direct stake in the country’s success.

‘We have set out our early taxation priorities to reform the UK system which Scotland will inherit on independence, including a focus on fairness and economic growth and a commitment to increasing personal allowances and tax credits to support the lowest paid workers in our economy.

‘There will be no need for tax increases to pay for current levels of public services.’

The Guardian, 15 April 2014

When even the bohemians have gone, it’s time to worry

London’s isolation from the rest of Britain is almost complete. Sooner or later, the political implications will explode

As in Manhattan, soaring living costs have killed old sources of cultural excitement, sealing off politics, law and the rest

Last week, an empty if sizable garage in Camberwell – somewhere to put a car, that is, not a repair business or petrol station – was sold at auction for £550,000, having been put on the market by Southwark council as a “development opportunity”. A man from property website Zoopla told the Financial Times that “the buyer could create a significant return despite paying what seems like an extortionate premium today”. In other words: bring us your sheds, kennels and cupboards, and watch the capital’s globalised alchemy turn them to gold.

This much we know: even if George Osborne’s property bubble is lifting prices all over the UK, London has long since left everywhere else behind. Over the past year, property values in the capital have risen by 18% and the gap between prices there and the rest of the UK is the biggest since records began. The average monthly London rent is now £1,126. Having moved out in 2004, I know what this means: unless you are an international plutocrat, a highly paid City type or someone either clinging on in social housing or putting up with life in a shared hovel, it is an increasingly impossible place to live.

Although the inequality London embodies is felt just as keenly inside its boundaries as outside them, the obstacles to living in the capital harden a view of it as a cut-off citadel – somewhere that not only fixes economic policy in its own interests but hoovers up public investment. The dire political consequences of this are all around us, though a capital-focused media often fails to see them. Nevertheless, London’s mixture of economic isolation and huge political power are integral to the two biggest domestic stories of the year.

First, Scotland. At the core of the momentous debate that has seized that country is a justified resentment of how much power has been amassed by the distant UK capital. Alex Salmond recently spoke of London as the “dark star of the economy, inexorably sucking in resources, people and energy”; the influential Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project contrasts many Scots’ ingrained belief in an essentially social-democratic society with what it calls “London orthodoxy”.

And then there is Ukip – an antimetropolitan revolt rooted in parts of southern and eastern England that often feel peripheral relative to London. Such divides are always favourable to the populism of the right, as evidenced by Paris’s place in the demonology of the 1950s’ French Poujadistes, and the latter-day National Front. Here, although he was educated in Dulwich and cut his teeth in the City, what is Nigel Farage’s entire act if not a huge raspberry blown at the values and privileges of the more elevated parts of the capital, and most loudly heard from counties such as Sussex, Kent, Norfolk, Hampshire and Lincolnshire? Plenty of numbers suggest that people there are right to be angry. In Ukip’s heartland of the east of England, for instance, people talk endlessly about the state of the roads and railways and how difficult it is to get around. At the last count annual transport spending there was put at £30 per head; in London it was £2,600.

Think about all this and you begin to arrive at a political theory of everything. In Peter Oborne’s prescient book The Triumph of the Political Class (2007), he nailed the cliques that have taken over the three main political parties as follows: “Their outlook is often metropolitan and London-based. They perceive life through the eyes of an affluent member of London’s middle and uppermiddle classes. This converts them into a separate, privileged elite, isolated from the aspirations and problems of provincial, rural and suburban Britain.” Quite so, and if its insane cost of living makes London a closed shop to all but the most privileged, this will only get worse.

Only one thing could counter it: moving the machinery of government elsewhere – a step that would count as one of the most democratic reforms in British history. The prickly feeling of futility as I wrote that last bit was unavoidable: fat chance, obviously.

Like all the best political questions, this one has a strong cultural aspect. Maybe, as long as London was open to Britons who wanted to move there, the rest of the country could forgive its overweening dominance and understand the capital as a turbocharged Britain in microcosm, where there was a constant creative ferment and regional accents could be heard loud and clear. As with Manhattan, though, soaring living costs seem to have killed old sources of cultural excitement while also sealing off politics, law and the rest. What hope for the provincial hotshot when London life will load them with yet more debt? Even if they somehow make it, what will they do when the time comes to start a family?

A few things usually strike me when I come to the city I left a decade ago. I like its futuristic flash and amazing diversity but I miss its old bohemia. I marvel at its power but wonder about any accountability. I think about whether there are plenty of industries beyond financial services that will have to move out. And I sense a fundamental tension that will sooner or later explode – between London’s place in the same swath of the world economy as New York and Shanghai, and the fact that even its most elevated corners are part of the same country as Leith, Skegness and Pontypridd. What is economically lucrative need not be politically sustainable and when the two begin to clash, things start to get interesting.

Scottish Daily Mail, 14 April 2014


PUBLIC sector workers in an independent Scotland would switch to a four-day working week under bizarre proposals from a Left-wing think-tank.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation, which has close links with the SNP, claims a 30- hour week would provide ‘greater life satisfaction’ for Scots.

But business leaders last night said the suggestion would cut productivity, while politicians said it was a proposal from ‘cloud cuckoo land’.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation wants an independent Scotland with a larger welfare state. Under its plan, public sector workers would have three-day weekends within ten years of independence. In the following decade, ‘most workers’ in all sectors would be on four-day, 30-hour contracts, and no one would be allowed to work more than 35 hours.

Tory economic spokesman Murdo Fraser said: ‘This is just more cloud cuckoo land thinking.’

The Scotsman, 14 April 2014

Four-day week ‘key to lower stress’

SCOTS should switch to a fourday working week to reduce stress levels while boosting the economy, a new report said.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation paper published today is expected to detail plans of how the Scottish Government can improve the quality of life for hardworking Scots.

The Time for Life report suggests the introduction of a 30-hour week – phased in over the next ten years if Scotland becomes independent – in a bid to reduce welfare spending.

And it also says that a minimum living wage should be implemented to ensure low-paid workers do not fall below the poverty line.

There are around 30,000 registered cases of work-related stress in Scotland each year.

But Conservative economy spokesman Murdo Fraser has accused the group of “more cloud cuckoo-land thinking”, saying that only “a minority” of people would find this option attractive.

Sunday Herald, 13 April 2014

Report urges four-day week in indy Scotland to end culture of overwork

SWITCHING to a fourday working week c ould help c r eate j obs, l ower welfare spending, increase tax revenues, cut stress and improve the quality of life, according to a new report. The paper recommends phasing in a standard 30-hour working week over 10 years in the event of Scottish independence, with a legal limit to ensure no one works more than 35 hours a week.

The radical redistribution of work would begin with the Scottish Government imposing a shorter week on public-sector staff to show it was feasible.

The goal would be an end to the culture of overwork which results in the UK having some of the longest hours in Europe, leading to stress, poor productivity resulting from fatigue, absenteeism and “social and psychological harm”.

A recent survey of UK workers found 57% believed their personal lives had been adversely affected by overwork.

There are around 30,000 registered cases of work-related stress in Scotland each year.

“No-one would build a system like this,” the report says of the UK’s work culture.

“Our intention is for a four-day, 30- hour week to be one part of building a more equal society and a stronger economy that utilises human resources effectively.”

Published tomorrow by the leftwing Jimmy ReidFoundation, “Time for Life” is the latest paper in a series on the Common Weal, the idea that Scotland can be a wealthier, healthier and fairer society by adapting progressive economic and social policies from the Nordic nations.

Its authors include Isobel Lindsay, a former industrial sociologist at Strathclyde University and the musician and broadcaster Pat Kane.

The report advocates a package of wide-ranging measures to support a shorter working week, including land each year as more people enter work.

“A four-day, 30-hour week should not put anyone into poverty as wages should be high enough so that a normal working week is a socially and economically secure working week for the worker,” the report says.

“Indeed, a four-day week should be, at a minimum, income neutral, as productivity increases when optimal hours are worked.”

In Europe, 12 countries have lower average working hours than the UK, yet 11 of these have higher rates of worker productivity, including Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and France.

The US state of Utah introduced a standard working week of four 10-hour days and a three-day weekend in 2008.

A year later, 75% of citizens said they approved and 50% said they were more productive as a result.

A new governor let the scheme drop in 2009, although some Utah cities continued it.

Research on voluntary UK ‘downshifters’ who cut their hours to improve their family lives found 90% were happy with the change, though 55% missed the money they had lost.

The report acknowledges change would not be simple, and would depend on a series of connected measures.  However, it says a shorter working week “is not entirely possible, it is entirely viable”.

Government labour market policy “should not just be assessed on GDP, employment and pay; equity in working hours should be a barometer of policy success too”, it concludes.

Reid Foundation director Robin McAlpine said: “In France or Holland or Sweden quality of life is at the centre of their politics while in Britain it is treated as a luxury item.  Do we even realize that we work the third-longest hours in Europe with the fewest holidays?

“We should be angry at how little political priority is given to time with our families.”

However, Iain McMillan, director of CBI Scotland, said fewer working hours would reduce productivity rather than raise it, and said productivity rates in Europe reflected higher capital investment there.

“It’s not something that we would support,” he said.

Tory economy spokesman Murdo Fraser added: “This is just more cloud-cuckoo land thinking from Common weal.  Only a very small minority of the country would find the prospect of an independent Scotland in which we’re all poorer and attractive one.”

The Courier & Advertiser, 3 April 2014

SNP MSPS accused of ‘mob rule’

SNP MSPs have been accused of “mob rule” amid angry clashes with business leaders at a Holyrood.

One member of the Scottish Parliament’s economy committee had to be told to stop “badgering” CBI director Iain McMillan, while another was pulled up for accusing him of engaging in a “polemic” against independence.

The ill-tempered exchanges came at the start of a committee hearing into Scotland’s economic future.

Mr McMillan, who publicly opposes independence, ran through a list of key issues including currency, EU membership, the deficit and what he called the “fragmentation” of the UK market.

He said: “This (independence) would not be a land of milk and honey. It would be extremely difficult with many painful decisions to be taken.”

After almost 10 minutes of his statement, SNP member Mike MacKenzie cut Mr McMillan off, asking: “Have you any idea how long this polemic is going to continue for, because we do have questions?”

Mr McMillan, who continued for another couple of minutes, was then pressed by SNP member Chic Brodie on his previous criticism of devolution.

“You were wrong then, weren’t you?” Mr Brodie asked. As the two men began to noisily speak over each other, committee convener Murdo Fraser was forced to intervene.

After the meeting, Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said the incident was an “attempt at ganging up and mob rule in a committee”.

Labour’s Margaret McDougall said: “When even the most senior members of the SNP behave like school ground bullies in parliament, we know we have reached a very sorry state of affairs.”

An SNP spokeswoman said: “Scottish Parliament committee proceedings are matters for the committees and their members.

“This looks like Tory and Labour MSPs ganging up to manufacture a row.”

The committee later heard from Jimmy Reid Foundation director Robin McAlpine, who said the risks of independence have probably been overstated and are “largely temporary”.

Stephen Boyd, assistant secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, also used the later session to say that constitutional change would help achieve a “rebalancing” of the economy.

But he stressed taxation would need to rise for Scotland to achieve a more Scandinavian society, with greater levels of public services.

The Herald, 26 March 2014

Many bravely objected to conflict. They should be remembered too

THE First World War was certainly welcomed in much of Britain. All but a few MPs backed it. Most major newspapers were heavily biased in favour. Yet there was opposition. As Adam Hochschild explains in his superb book To End All Wars (Pan Books, 2010): “The working class showed less zeal than the better-off, volunteering for the army at a noticeably lower rate than professionals and white collar workers.”

Few places were more working class than Glasgow. And none had a more working class leader than Keir Hardie. As a poverty-striken boy, he worked in the docks. He helped form the Scottish Labour Party and ran his paper The Labour Leader in the city.

By 1892, he was an MP and a strong opponent of wars. In August, 1914, he was cheered by a vast crowd in Trafalgar Square when he warned war would enrich the arms dealers and slaughter the poor. But, when Germany invaded Belgium, war was inevitable. Bravely, he continued to address anti-war meetings and was attacked in the streets.

A Christian socialist, he despairingly cried: “I understand what Christ suffered in Gethsemane as well as any man living.” He died aged 59, on September 26, 1915.

Also on September 26, at Loos in Belgium, about 10,000 British troops in 10 columns walked towards the enemy line. German machine gun nests remained undisturbed in bunkers behind barbed wire. As soon as the British were a close target, the guns slaughtered them. It was this kind of needless massacre which broke Hardie’s heart.

He was not the only critic in Glasgow. James Maxton was a conscientious objector who was tried for sedition with James MacDougall in 1916. They went to the primitive Calton Jail in Edinburgh where initially they slept on boards, sewed mail bags and had inadequate food. MacDougall suffered a mental breakdown. Maxton’s health was undermined but he became a Glasgow hero and an MP.

John Maclean, a pacifist and Marxist, was tried for sedition leading to one year in jail. In 1918 he got five years (reduced after the war). Willie Gallacher (later a Communist MP) and John Muir strongly opposed the Munitions of War Act which forbade engineers leaving their jobs. They too were imprisoned.

The famous Glasgow Rent Strike against private landlords hiking rents in wartime was led by Mary Barbour, later Glasgow’s first woman councillor. She, along with Helen Crawfurd, Agnes Dolan and others, formed the Women’s Peace Crusade, with one rally on Glasgow Green drawing 12 to 14,000.

During the war, more than 20,000 men refused to enter the military. More than 6000 were imprisoned. The press dismissed them as cowards. On the contrary, they displayed enormous courage. They were badly treated in prisons.

In 1916, 34 men were taken to Boulogne to await trial and execution. Waiting entailed being trussed crucifixion style and left in the cold over night. The news leaked out and the government was lobbied. Frederick Meyer, a well-known Baptist minister, rushed out. He was a keen supporter of the war and his grandson was killed at the front. Yet he also believed people should have the option not to fight. He saw every prisoner and addressed the top officers. The men were sentenced to death then, after a long pause, their sentences were commuted to 10 years hard labour. Many died in jail but they stuck to their principles.

A group linked to the Jimmy Reid Foundation is not opposed to the tributes to those who died as soldiers. Yet it also wants Glasgow City Council to erect a small plaque to those who stood for peace. Two meetings with the council have proved disheartening: no way that a plaque could go in George Square: if allowed, the group would have to pay for it themselves.

Fortunately, Councillor Matt Kerr (Labour) has been helpful and a cross-party motion will be put to the council on April 3. We hope those who campaigned for peace will also be officially remembered.

Bob Holman is the author of Keir Hardie: Labour’s Greatest Hero, Lion Hudson, 2010.

Evening Times, 22 March 2014

Call for welfare system to end ‘ fear-based approach’

SCOTLAND’S welfare system should abandon its fear-based approach to forcing people into low-paid work, a new report suggests.

‘In Place of Anxiety – Social Security for the Common Weal’, published by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, puts forward proposals on how Scotland should move towards a new welfare system.

The report was penned by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Professor Ailsa McKay – who died days after submitting the report – and Convenor of Compass Scotland, Willie Sullivan.

Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said: “We should not be using fear to try and control vulnerable groups like disabled people and the unemployed.

“Using poverty to force people into low-paid work isn’t good for our economy or our society. People deserve security and a chance to build a decent life.”

Mr McAlpine added that research carried out for the report reveals people see three things as vital to a happy life.

He said: “What people want is meaningful work, somewhere nice to live and the security of knowing that their family is going to be okay.”

The report describes two views of how a welfare system should work.

The first, it says, pushes “people towards work by creating an environment of fear, anxiety and insecurity.”

It continues: “This view is taken by the UK Government which actively promotes benefit withdrawal, aggressive means-testing and continual downward pressure on levels of benefit payment to ‘incentivise’ people to work.”

It adds that this view ignores the fact that most people in poverty are already working.

The second view, championed by the report, draws from the evidence which shows “that people are better able to participate in the economy from a base of individual security than from collective anxiety.”

The Jimmy Reid Foundation is a think tank founded in the late union leader’s memory to continue his legacy of radical political thinking.

The Guardian, 12 March 2014

Which way now for public services in Scotland?

In six months, Scottish residents will vote whether to stay in the UK. We asked housing, local authority, charity and public health experts what impact a yes vote could have on social policy

Mary Taylor, Chief Executive, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations

Housing policy has been devolved for years. The Scottish government controls budgets for investment and capital subsidy. The austerity axe has fallen heavily on social housing. We would welcome reinvestment to provide much needed affordable housing, at a lower cost to the public purse. The most effective way to remedy the bedroom tax is full repeal. We welcome cross-party support in the Scottish parliament to mitigate the impact of the tax with additional spending. The tax underlines the tensions between social security and housing policy; just over half of all social rents payable in Scotland are sourced from housing benefit, but housing benefit expenditure is much lower per capita because rents are lower here. Policymakers have no control over the means by which people are supported to pay rental costs. In the event of a no vote, we would look for further devolution of powers to enable Scotland to exercise control over how to support housing costs. But if there’s a yes vote, we would expect a social security system to meet Scottish needs and policy goals.

 Graham Brown, Director, Shelter, Scotland

Enhanced homelessness rights, the abolition of right to buy and fuller rights for tenants are a sample of the measures that signify the divergence between housing policy in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Whatever the vote, housing policy will continue to evolve. That’s not to diminish the significance of a yes vote. Taking complete control of welfare and taxation are the two greatest policy levers on offer. With benefits and taxation powers firmly held at Westminster, landlords still dance to those tunes more than those of Holyrood. Whatever the outcome of the vote, there are two certainties – Scotland’s immediate need for a new longterm plan on homelessness and to build at least 10,000 new affordable homes each year for the foreseeable future.

John Wilkes, Chief Executive, Scottish Refugee Council

The current UK approach to dealing with asylum and refugees is not fit for purpose. It’s being dealt with in the broader immigration system, which is another area of public policy that is a toxic debate. Asylum is swept up in that when it is a separate issue that needs to be done in a different way to border control and determining who gets to work here. We’re pleased that a number of the suggestions we put forward [for how the asylum and refugee system would work in an independent Scotland] have been included in the white paper on independence. Principally, the idea of establishing a separate agency just to deal with asylum and refugee issues – free from day-to-day political interference. A specific agency separate from immigration, means we will have decisions that will be more based on evidence. It’s about restating the fact that claiming asylum isn’t a crime – it’s part of the international human rights framework.

Pat Elsmie, Director, Migrants’ Rights, Scotland

At a personal level, I am quite fearful that if the vote is yes, all the other issues such as currency, debt and political welfare systems will take precedence, and there will be nothing happening [in migrant rights] for a few years. I know the Scottish government feels that the immigration and asylum situation is all about integration. I believe that integration is a two-way process. In the UK, it’s also one sided – “how can migrants fit in?”. Integration smacks of “tolerance” and I would much prefer “acceptance”.

David O’Neill, President, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities

When you speak to people in local communities, the real story is not about the internal workings of Holyrood or Westminster. It is about the local services that communities need, and giving people a say about what matters locally to them. Effective local democracy is fundamental to the kind of country we want to live in. The opportunities and challenges that we face in different parts of the country require local choices and local accountability. More services are run by distant bureaucracies, and often those services are being done to people rather than delivered with them. Making Scotland a fairer, healthier and wealthier place will not be achieved from the top down. The reality is that improving lives means empowering local democracy and letting local people decide on their priorities, their services, and their spending.

Trisha Hall, Manager, Scottish Association of Social Work

Social work legislation has been separate from England for many years. Although the 32 councils decide on specific social work funding, much recent policy is perceived as increasingly centralised, for example, adult support and protection. It’s yet to be seen how social care partnerships may be influenced by the vote. Some very specialist resources are accessed in England such as detox, therapeutic residential care, and secure care – although councils try to avoid this, sometimes there are no facilities here. Also, some charities providing care, such as Barnardo’s and Action for Children that are UK-wide with Scottish offices, may review their position in an independent Scotland.

Social work delivery in Scotland has been significantly affected by the impact of welfare reform imposed by Westminster. Our members have to deal with people’s confusion about universal benefits and the resulting penalties that can leave children and families in increased poverty. There is a view that a yes vote could help repeal some of this legislation. Many of our members want social workers to be freed up to return to their direct role as change agents within communities. A smaller country, either independent or with increased devolved powers, may allow for that debate.

Martin Sime, Chief Executive, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

Our roles as campaigners, service providers and community builders will not disappear. There will always be a need to mobilise citizens, whether to help in hospices or put an end to poverty and inequality. Independence will neither help nor hinder the development of the right approaches to keep older people out of hospital, youngsters off the dole or offenders out of prison. What will change for us is the leverage to challenge more and to build the kind of inclusive value-based society and sustainable economy that some of us dream of. With the criminal welfare cuts and the austerity policies of the UK government, the big question is: would high levels of poverty and inequality stand a better chance of being addressed in an independent country? Would it pave the way to build an economic system that works for the majority? With independence, we would expect an immediate turnaround in approaches to welfare – from belligerent harassment to support and empowerment. Voluntary organisations would play a big part in the immediate task of nation building, but whether it’s a yes or no vote, there will always be more to do to create a better, fairer society.

Bill Scott, Policy Director, Inclusion Scotland

Among disabled people in Scotland there is a huge amount of fear about the new personal independent payment (PiP), universal credit and the impact of bedroom tax. Although large [policy] areas are devolved in Scotland, there is a mismatch at policy level. For example, Inclusion Scotland favours homes for life [designed to accommodate people’s changing care needs] but the bedroom tax undermines that [as it forces people to move to smaller properties]. We can now meet with key policy and decision makers and give them our account of what is needed – they don’t always act but we can talk and get a hearing. There is a challenge in going down to Westminster and getting access to ministers. It is physically possible to lobby [members of the Scottish parliament], which makes achieving political change easier.

Mhairi Aitken,  Research Fellow, Centre for Population Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh

Public health is a serious matter for Scotland. Since devolution, the Scottish government has brought in bold initiatives, including the abolition of prescription charges and the provision of free eye tests for all. And let’s not forget that we were the first UK country to introduce the smoking ban. Now the Scottish government is pushing ahead with plans for plain packaging on cigarettes and minimum unit pricing on alcohol. These point to a different set of government priorities than those of Westminster. The Scottish government points to cuts in welfare spending brought in by Westminster exacerbating poor health. Independence would give Scotland the power to focus on improving health by seeing health, social care and wider social issues as all part of the same picture.

Robin McAlpine, Director, The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Devolution has led Scotland down a different path from the rest of the UK with commitments to universal public services, no privatisation and free education. But “mitigating Britain” can’t be our future. We are stuck with the unbalanced UK economy and every time Westminster cuts funding from public services, our budgets fall. You saw this recently where Scotland diverted money from other budgets to lessen the impact of the bedroom tax. Scotland is already halfway towards being a different kind of nation. Independence is an opportunity to try and complete the job.

John Scott QC, Chairman, Howard League Scotland

Civil and criminal courts are already within the competence of the Scottish parliament, and Scotland’s prison service is separate from England’s, so there’s no reason for much to change immediately in the realm of criminal justice. However, if we acquire wider powers in relation to social security this might have an impact on criminal justice issues. The reason many people end up in Scottish prisons is tied to poverty. Decisions about how people on benefits are dealt with – benefits being suspended or stopped, for example – affect offending rates. Independence offers greater scope for joined-up government, for welfare policy decisions to be taken in a specific Scottish context rather than being decided by Westminster.

The Herald, 7 March 2014

Is it time to put our exam system to the test?

YOU can’t fatten a pig by weighing it. So goes the mantra of educationalists who believe too many exams spoil the pupil. Earlier this week, The Herald published a report by left-of-centre think-tank The Reid Foundation which called for the current system of Scottish school exams to be scrapped.

Instead, the report argues, a single exit qualification, perhaps along the lines of the international baccalaureate, should be introduced.

Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, who wrote the paper, made the suggestion because he believes an over-reliance on testing is undermining the education system – with university entry requirements just as culpable as schools for the exams “treadmill” faced by pupils.

“Examinations dominate secondary schools. They influence the shape of the school day, they are the starting point of the timetable and … they dictate how many subjects a pupil may study,” his report states. “They distort the curriculum, they narrow the focus of learning and, as the exam diet draws closer … the stress is often palpable.”

His report comes at a time of significant change in Scottish school education with the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

Part of the rationale for CfE was to reduce assessment for pupils and ensure they learn a broader range of skills, but many schools have proved resistant.

Rather than giving greater flexibility to pupils to sit exams over a longer period of time or to skip some altogether, schools have largely replaced one set of qualifications with another – with pupils sitting Nationals at exactly the same time as they would have sat Standard Grades last year.

In a large part that is because many schools and teachers have a vested interest in the status quo. They are seen as successful because of their ability to get pupils to pass exams, so why should they change?

Parents are also painted as supporters of the status quo because they flock to schools in middle-class areas which top the exam league tables – even though that is often because of the affluent catchment areas they serve.

In a society where exams are seen as the passport to higher education or a good job such attitudes are hard to argue with, but so often universities and businesses complain that the pupils who arrive with fistfuls of Highers are lacking the real skills they require.

In fact, Mr Boyd argues the commonly held idea that parents are resistant to change is not played out by the facts.

“Do they want education to help create a fairer, more just society … or are they motivated only by narrow self-interest?” he asks.

“When parents are asked for their views, they are capable of taking a broad view of education and are capable of participating in debate about fundamental issues affecting not simply their own child, but children as a whole.”

If it is true, as Mr Boyd suggests, that pupils can currently achieve success in Highers with the minimum of understanding, then surely parents would want something better?

The Scotsman, 4 March 2014

Single exit exam and ‘holistic‘ approach backed by think tank

A SINGLE exit exam should replace all other assessments in Scotland’s schools, according to a new report.

In a study for the Jimmy Reid Foundation, a think tank, Professor Brian Boyd of Strathclyde University argues Scotland needs to move closer to the Finnish education model and away from a system “dominated by formal exams”.

His report says: “The choice is clear: a comprehensive system with the highest expectations of all children, taught by the best teachers with a mission to educate the whole child in a system which is not dominated by formal exams; or one which is elitist, discriminatory and focused on examination success as the main measure of effectiveness.”

It argues for an exit exam in the final year of school, which could be used by universities to assess candidates. “Many of the ingredients required for transformational change are already in place,” it says. “A highly qualified workforce dedicated to their job, an aspirational curriculum which promotes deep learning and parents who value education.

“The wider policy framework needs to be put in place to create a more equal society and there needs to be a shift away from an exam-driven culture to one which is holistic and has the whole child at the heart of the learning process.”

The Herald, 4 March 2014

Teachers say pupils are given too many exams

TEACHERS’ leaders have warned that pupils are sitting too many school exams.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said changes intended to reduce assessment under the new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) had failed to have an impact.

The warning comes after a report from a left-of-centre Scottish think tank called for the current system of exams to be scrapped and replaced with a single exit qualification.

The Reid Foundation report said an over-reliance on tests – partly driven by the university sector – was undermining the education system.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said: “The report raises key questions about the purpose of education and we are sympathetic to many of its conclusions. The EIS is clear there has been significant over-assessment in the first year of the CfE programme in secondary and exit-only exams would be an idea worth considering in any review of CfE implementation.”

Parent groups also warned against a system overly driven by exams. Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: “The report… seems likely to chime with many people who want to see greater pace and momentum in the direction of travel already established in our education system.”

Joanna Murphy, vice-chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, added: “We agree that too much emphasis on exams does not benefit all children and we would hope that, as CfE becomes more familiar to all, a better balance that results in young people’s achievements, skills and successes being better recognised will be one of the benefits.

“However, society as a whole still places a big emphasis on exam results which puts schools, parents and young people under pressure to focus on this more than other areas.”

A spokesman for the Reid Foundation said: “There is a risk that education policy in Scotland is trapped in a feedback loop.

“Children are put into an exam competition and parents are scared their children will lose the competition so they encourage them to compete. This is then taken as consent from parents for a competitive system.

“Actually, it would be better for both the development and the general happiness of pupils if we just let them learn and stopped testing them to death.”

A Common Weal: Education was written by Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University, in Glasgow. It states: “The present national assessment programme, with its heavy emphasis on timed, pencil-and-paper exams, is no longer fit for purpose.”

Instead, the report calls for a single qualification in the last year of school.

Evening Times, 3 March 2014

 Call to stop ‘treadmill’ of school tests

THE current system of Scottish school exams should be scrapped and replaced with a single exit qualification, a think tank has claimed.

Over-reliance on tests is undermining the education system, it says.

The claim is made by Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, in a research paper for the Jimmy ReidFoundation.

He blames university entry requirements for the exams “treadmill” faced by students.

The Herald, 3 March 2014

Call to replace exams with single school qualification

Expert says pupils should only face formal assessment in final year

THE current system of Scottish school exams should be scrapped and replaced with a single exit qualification, a think tank has claimed.

Over-reliance on tests is undermining the education system, it says.

The claim is made by Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, in a research paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation. He blames university entry requirements for the exams “treadmill” faced by students.

His report comes at a time of significant change in Scottish school education with the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). Part of the rationale for CfE was to reduce assessment for pupils and ensure they learn a broader range of skills, but many schools have proved resistant.

The new report, A Common Weal: Education, states: “Examinations dominate secondary schools. They influence the shape of the school day, they are the starting point of the timetable and … they dictate how many subjects a pupil may study.

“They distort the curriculum; they narrow the focus of learning and, as the exam diet draws closer, deep learning becomes a luxury. The goal is to get through the syllabus and second-guess what the examination paper will contain. The stress is often palpable as the exams approach.

“If this case is accepted, it follows that the present national assessment programme, with its heavy emphasis on timed, pencil-and-paper exams, is no longer fit for purpose.”

Instead, the report calls for a single qualification – which could be designed along the lines of the international baccalaureate.

It calls for an “exit exam” system, only in the last year of school. The report said this would “assess how well a pupil has learned and how well they are able to apply their learning in new and different contexts.”

The report added: “These could be different exams for different purposes, taking into account the proposed destinations of the student.” It describes universities as the “tail which wags the dog” – with qualifications remaining rigid along traditional subject boundaries to suit higher education.

“Exams, largely to serve the needs of universities and possibly employers, are subject-focused and so the curriculum has to follow suit,” the report states. “Students can achieve success in Highers with the minimum of understanding of the defining characteristics of, say, physics, or mathematics, or history.”

However, a spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said there had been significant reforms to university admissions in the past couple of years.

She said: “Positively engaging with CfE has meant adapting to suit the new kind of school-leaver and universities have moved to make greater use of contextual admissions. Both changes will bring about greater recognition of extra-curricular achievement and enhanced flexibility in the routes pupils can take to achieve their exams.

“However, a university degree is a significant undertaking and universities have a responsibility to ensure they are admitting students that have the ability to meet the academic demands that will be placed on them.”

Overall, the report calls for the Scottish system to more closely follow the Finnish model, where children start formal learning at seven, where pupils are not streamed on the basis of ability and where formal examinations do not take place until they are aged 18. Finland recently came top of the international Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) ranking.

Last week, it emerged the Scottish Qualifications Authority has provided schools with only a single specimen paper for each National qualification.

Pupils are having to rely on relevant sections of previous exams, such as Standard Grade, to give them more examples of the likely questions.

The Scottish Parliament’s education committee is looking at the rollout of the CfE and its associated exams. The Jimmy Reid Foundation is a left-wing think tank and advocacy group which was established in memory of the prominent trade unionist.

Leader Comment

THE ReidFoundation, the radical left-wing think-tank, and Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University, have chosen an interesting time to enter the debate about exams in Scottish schools. This summer, thousands of pupils will sit the new National Exams for the first time. It is a period of great change, and great concern for some, particularly those parents who are worried that their children may end up with fewer qualifications than they would have achieved under the old system.

However, in his paper for the foundation, Professor Boyd has suggested the reforms could go further and the current structure should be replaced with a single exam in the final year. It is an idea modelled on the system in Finland, which has enjoyed conspicuous success – the country was recently top of the PISA rankings, which measure students’ abilities in reading, maths and science.

According to Professor Boyd, this Finnish success could be emulated in Scotland with a regime less focused on exams and more focused on broad education. There would be one exam in the last year which could be different for different pupils depending on their interests and abilities. This would remove what Professor Boyd calls the distorting effect that constant exams have on the curriculum.

To a large extent, what the professor suggests is in line with the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and the new National Exams. From the start, the architects of CfE have said they wanted to move from a mechanical focus on exams to encouraging an education that sets a child up for life after school, which is broadly speaking a good idea. As Professor Boyd says, pupils can often pass a Higher while only having a minimum understanding of the subject and its applications.

Whether CfE can deliver on these ambitions remains to be seen as schools are currently in a state of flux, with Standard Grades being replaced with the new Nationals but Highers remaining the same. Many schools also appear to be operating in much the same way as they did before CfE, which may be partly because they are in a transitional period and partly because of resistance among teachers.

Schools will have to be given time before the success of the new curriculum can be judged but the intervention of Professor Boyd should be remembered when it comes to assessing whether CfE has achieved its goals. The professor is on the right lines when he suggests exams should be designed to assess how well a pupil has learned and how well they are able to apply their learning in new contexts. And it is worth asking ourselves: if we were constructing a new education system from scratch, would exams really be the be-all and end-all for pupils from the age of 12 onwards?

Even if the answer is no, however, exams remain an important measure of progress and some such measure will always be required, as Universities Scotland pointed out in its response to the ReidFoundation’s paper. In his important contribution to the debate, Professor Boyd suggests the balance is still too much towards exams; there is a good chance that CfE, given time, will correct that.

The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition), 1 March 2014

Village to debate independence, past and present

THE NEXT two Comrie Conversations events will focus on the independence referendum.

On Thursday, Dr Ann Petrie will host a fringe meeting in the WRI Hall from 7.30pm, where she will look at the relevance of the 1707Act of Union in the current debate.

A local resident and historian, she was inspired by broadcaster Iain Macwhirter’s talk at the last Comrie Conversation event, where he spoke about his book, The Road to Referendum.

This meeting will explore the origins of the 1707 union and members of the audience are invited to bring along a bottle.

The main Comrie Conversation takes place on March 21 in the White Church from 7.30pm.

It will break with the usual format by inviting political guests to take part.

Those attending include Roseanna Cunningham MSP, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie MSP, leader of the Scottish Greens Partrick Harvie MSP, and deputy leader of the Scottish Conser vatives Murdo Fraser MSP. Other guests include Robin McAlpine from the Jimmy Reid Foundation, journalist and broadcaster Ruth Wishart and Jeremy Peat, former chief economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

BBC, Newsnight Scotland, 11 February 2014

Discussion of the JRF energy storage paper with author Brian Richardson talking about the options.

The Herald, 3 February 2014

Report calls for energy storage system

HOLYROOD ministers are coming under pressure to launch a £1.5 billion scheme to store energy using “liquid air” batteries and other technologies to help meet future power needs.

An expert report due out this week by the left-leaning Jimmy Reid Foundation calls for a radical rethink by the Scottish Government.

It should adopt “a much more ambitious strategy” on energy storage to create jobs, wealth and exports, it says.

The idea has been backed by a leading Scottish Nationalist, the renewables industry and environmentalists.

Electricity supply and demand fluctuate, and one of the challenges for managers of the national grid is to try and keep them matched.

One solution is to store more power that can be tapped when needed.

The new report proposes a £1.5bn investment to create 5000 jobs in a major new energy storage industry. “In the medium term, energy storage will be a fundamental component of our energy system,” it says. “Delaying the transition to that energy system would appear to be both short-sighted and lacking in ambition.”

The most promising new energy storage technology involves using surplus power to extract nitrogen from the air. The gas is cooled to below -190°C to turn it into a liquid. The liquid, which is smaller in volume than the gas, is stored in a large vacuum flask. When power is needed, it is allowed to warm up and the expanding gas drives a turbine to generate electricity.

According to the report’s author, Brian Richardson, director of sustainability at Glasgow firm GreeningtheMarket, liquid air is the “leading contender” of several emerging energy storage technologies.

BBC Radio Scotland, Good Morning Scotland, 1 February 2014

Robin McAlpine talking about currency in an independent Scotland.

Glasgow Now, 29 January - 4 February 2014

Clear the Working Class Heroes

Call to pardon dispute leaders

Two of Glasgow’s working class heroes should be pardoned for their part in the city’s labour fight 95 years ago, experts insisted this week. A leading historian says the anniversary of the Battle of George Square and 40-hour strike is the perfect opportunity to pardon William Gallacher and Manny Shinwell. The calls have been backed by the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

Gallacher and Shinwell were key figures in what became known as Bloody Friday when, on January 31, 1919, 60,000 people demonstrating in George Square for better working conditions were met with police violence.

 C l y d e  Wo r k e r s ’ Committee (CWC) men Gallacher and Shinwell were arrested, charged with incitement to riot and sentenced to five months in jail. 

Sociology lecturer Neil Davidson, from Glasgow University, said: “There have been many people sentenced for all sorts of things they haven’t done or we now think are right,so it would be a good thing to recognise them. Beyond anything else, it’s not thought they were inciting the crowd. It was a case of, ‘Let’s get some ringleaders and make an example’.

The demonstrators – who were calling for a reduction of the working week to 40 hours– fell victim to a police baton charge while their leaders, the CWC, were in negotiations inside the City Chambers. 

When the CWC’s David Kirkwood left upon hearing the riot, he was hit with a truncheon and charged with incitement to riot – though later acquitted. 

Running battles ensued between police and protestors, with the government bringing in soldiers, tanks and artillery from across the country to restore order. 

The strike that followed was unsuccessful in obtaining the 40-hour week, though it did achieve a reduction. 

Prof Davidson added: “The events of George Square were incredibly symbolic, and an important landmark in working class history. 

“This was an important first step in terms of getting more workers’ rights.” 

Robin McAlpine, of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, added: “Glasgow men like Kirkwood, Gallacher and Shinwell who fought for the rights of working people were jailed by the British State who brought the tanks into George Square.

These attempts to write working class heroes out of Scotland’s history and its current debate must be fought.

 “A pardon for the heroes of Red Clydeside would be a good start.”

Sunday Herald, 19 January 2014

Mature debate needed on debt

THE argument t hat “we wuz robbed” of the North Sea’s black gold is not a new one. The SNP have reminded voters it is Scotland’s oil since it started flowing 40 years ago. But today’s JimmyReid Foundation paper from economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert manages to bring a fresh twist to a familiar tale.

Not only do the Cuthberts calculate how much Scotland could have saved for the future had it been independent since the oil boom, they also point out that if the rest of the UK hadn’t been able to spend the oil revenue to support the economy it would have soon gone bust.

As things turned out, the UK stayed afloat but failed to address its longer term problems. Instead of Scotland having a £150 billion oil fund, a still dysfunctional UK has a £1.4 trillion debt. A clear case, the couple argue, of a shabby, bungling union that now owes some payback.

They also identify the forum to discuss this new take on North Sea oil – the negotiations between a newly independent Scotland and the rest of the UK on dividing debts and assets. Rather than let bygones be bygones, Scotland should demand compensation for the squandering of the North Sea’s riches and the UK’s failure to establish a Norwaystyle savings fund. The subtext is that Scotland should be bold and relentless in any such talks.

The Treasury could surprise us. Its announcement last week that the remainder UK would honour its debt in the event of a Yes vote was, on one level, fairly pedestrian. But on another it was intriguing. UK departments, notably the Ministry of Defence with its head-in-the-sand attitude to moving Trident, generally avoid discussing a post- Yes world for fear of lending it credibility. When the Treasury dipped its toe in the water it knew it would cause ripples, but it went ahead with a maturity missing elsewhere in Whitehall.

It shows commonsense can prevail even in the most heated of debates. The more both sides act like adults, weighing arguments rather than weighing into them, the heathier the process will be for the public.

Sunday Herald, 19 January 2014


IT is clear that, without Scotland and its oil revenues the rest of the UK would have been forced to confront its economic demons in the 1980s, and put its economy on a sustainable footing. Because the UK as a whole, cushioned by oil revenues, was able to survive temporarily, it did not face this discipline.

The benefits of North Sea oil were squandered on current spending, with the result that the UK has never achieved a sustainable economic model. This failure was inexcusable. Surely, some might argue, bygones are bygones: all that matters from the point of view of sharing out the UK’s current debt is where we are now, not how we got here?

That argument fails because of the principle of equity enshrined in the Vienna Convention [on dividing debt between states]. Imagine two possible scenarios. Under scenario one, which we might call the “properly functioning union”, a finite resource is discovered which lies largely within the territory of one part of the union. In a properly functioning union, it would be perfectly reasonable to imagine an unwritten but well-understood accord, whereby the fortunate area agrees that its resources should indeed be used for the greater good of the whole union: but naturally, the resource should be used wisely, and invested to help put the whole economy of the union on a sustainable long-term footing. In these circumstances, if in due course the area in question chose to exercise its right to self-determination, there would be some case for saying let bygones be bygones when sharing out any debt of the whole union.

The alternative scenario, however, represents an improperly functioning union. Under this scenario, there is no implicit accord that the new resources should be used wisely. Instead, the central government of the union unilaterally decides that the finite resources should be extracted as quickly as possible to prop up a malfunctioning economy.

Steps are taken to conceal from the area possessing most of the resource the true significance of the value of what was found.

Far from investing the revenues, they are used for current consumption, and help to put back the day when hard decisions have to be made.

And ultimately, having squandered a large part of the resource, and having backed a failed economic model, the union as a whole is left with crippling debts.

In these circumstances, the area exercising self- determination is perfectly entitled to state that, as a matter of equity, bygones are not bygones, and that, in negotiating what share of debt to take on, recognition should be made of the way in which the implicit pact governing a properly functioning union was breached.

This picture of an improperly functioning union fits only too well what happened to Scotland within the UK.

The way in which the UK handled the oil reserves was particularly perverse, since oil was used to prop up a system where the south-east of England grew disproportionately, as most other parts of the union declined.

It is particularly grotesque, for example, that during the 1980s, the peak years for oil production, Scotland suffered net out-migration of around 150,000 people.

There is no doubt that the UK is a classic example of an improperly functioning union. Fully examined, the issues surrounding debt represent strong additional arguments in favour of, rather than against, independence.

First, the union has proved itself incapable of exercising proper stewardship, either of an irreplaceable resource like North Sea oil, or of the UK economy.

Second, the union has failed to honour the kind of implicit bargain of good faith that should exist in any properly functioning union.

And finally, if the Scottish case in the debt-sharing negotiations is properly advanced, a newly independent Scotland would not find itself facing any particularly crippling debt burden.

Sunday Herald, 19 January 2014

Economists: Scotland deserves £bns in compensation for squandered oil money

AN independent Scotland should demand billions of pounds in “compensation” for Westminster’s mismanagement of North Sea oil revenue when negotiating its share of the UK’s national debt, two leading economists argue today.

Jim and Margaret Cuthbert say Scotland should push aggressively for a large discount on its share of UK debt due to losing out on the proceeds of the oil boom. Westminster, they say, left the country poorer by failing to set up a Norwegian-style savings fund.

In a new paper for the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation, the couple, both former Scotland Office economists, say Scotland should play hardball in negotiations because of past UK mistakes rather than “let bygones be bygones”.

These include the UK Government’s “inexcusable” failure to steward the fortunes from the North Sea, and Scotland’s resources being squandered to prop up an otherwise unsustainable UK economy.

Although this spared the UK from collapse, they argue that it also meant Westminster ducked the economic reforms needed to put the country on a stable footing, with the result that the UK now has a national debt of almost £1.4 trillion.

They say the SNP should drop the options for sharing this debt which were set out in November’s White Paper on the mechanics of independence.

The paper set out two ideas: Scotland agreeing to service a share of UK debt based on its share of the population, which would be roughly £130 billion; or a more sophisticated calculation based on Scotland’s historic share of the debt, roughly £100bn.

The Cuthberts say both these measures are “unsatisfactory” and riddled with weaknesses. Although they do not suggest a figure of their own, they say Scotland should try to drive down its debt share as far as possible

They say negotiations should focus on the “principle of equity” enshrined in the Vienna Convention on debt division between nations, and on the UK misusing oil revenues which, if Scotland had become independent in 1980, could have generated a savings fund of £150bn.

They point out that if the rest of the UK had not had North Sea oil revenue in the 1980s, its borrowing would have reached crisis levels.

“The way in which the UK has mishandled the revenues arising from the North Sea raises very important equity issues which need to be taken into account in debt-splitting negotiations.

“The benefits of North Sea oil were squandered on current spending with the result that the UK has never achieved a sustainable economic model. This failure was inexcusable,” they say.

They also say the SNP should consider that the Bank of England may yet write off the third of UK debt attributable to quantitative easing, under which the Bank printed money to buy Treasury bonds to save the economy after 2008.

If the Treasury managed to negotiate its way out of repaying the Bank of England, that could reduce national debt to nearer £800m, say the Cuthberts.

Reid Foundation director Robin McAlpine said: “London types have this week been virtually bragging about how they would cripple Scotland with debt if Scots vote for independence, implying we’re helpless and useless.

“They seem to assume that Scotland will kneel down and do what it’s told in the style of the UK Treasury. This paper simply aims to show that Scotland can easily produce a robust negotiating position on debt. Why a government in the dire economic and financial position of David Cameron’s thinks it holds all the cards is something of a mystery.”

The Tory spokesman on the economy, Murdo Fraser, said: “This sort of pie in the sky reasoning will do the nationalist cause no good whatsoever.

“If you are going to look at Scotland’s historic share of national debt it needs to be on the basis of a beneficial 300-year-old union, not just a convenient snapshot of recent decades.”

Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “The two examples, of a population share of debt and a historic share of debt, show however Scotland’s share of the UK’s debt is calculated, Scotland is in a far stronger position than the UK with debt taking up a smaller portion of our economy. Calculating debt on a historic basis would take account of the 30 years of higher tax revenues per head paid by Scotland as part of the UK.”

Daily Record, 18 January 2014

Daily Record, 11 January 2014

BBC Radio Scotland, 9 January 2014

Robin McAlpine on Call Kaye on ‘are conscientious objectors the real heroes of WW1’.

BBC Radio Scotland, 9 January 2014

Isobel Lindsay and Robin McAlpine Good Morning Scotland on why we can’t allow WW1 commemorations to become jingoistic.

BBC Newsnight Scotland, 9 January 2014

Isobel Lindsay and Robin McAlpine on why we can’t allow WW1 commemorations to become jingoistic.

The Scotsman, 10 December 2013

Swedish model looks less glamorous

Much-mooted Scandinavian welfare state has much going for it, but could Scotland afford to adopt it, writes Peter Jones

MENTION Milton Friedman in any Scottish political debate and people start reaching for cloves of garlic and making signs of the cross. Professor Friedman was, you may recall, the academic guru behind Margaret Thatcher’s monetarist economic policy, which cured inflation but, many Scots believe, destroyed Scottish industry. So how come Sweden, a bastion of social democracy, has embraced what in Scotland is seen as an idea at the semi-crazed end of the Friedmanite crack-pottery spectrum?

Scandinavia is now in vogue among progressive thinkers north of the Border. Yesterday the CommonWeal project, run by the Jimmy ReidFoundation, launched an “All of Us First” website-based campaign. To cite a Sunday newspaper encapsulation, it seeks to make a “historic shift” away from low-tax neo-liberalism and “looks to Scandinavian countries for inspiration, particularly in moving to a high-wage economy based on a well-skilled workforce”.

Interest in the Nordic model is not confined to the left.  In February, the Economist, an economically free-market but socially progressive journal, published a survey lauding Scandinavia as “The Next Supermodel – Why the world should look at the Nordic countries”.

Well I’m all in favour of looking at other countries to see what they do differently, whether there are lessons to be learned and perhaps copied.  But we need to have a critical eye.  Somethings look superficially attractive, but turn out to be not importable – often because they re based on deep-seated cultural attributes that we don’t have.

Above all, we need to avoid what seems to be a growing curse of internet-based searches and discussions – the seeking out only of things that confirm a particular viewpoint or prejudice (which is then hailed as evidential “proof” of an argument), while simultaneously sweeping aside other evidence that questions or even disproves a particular claim.

This point is particularly relevant when looking at Scandinavian social democracy, for it has changed a lot over the years. Rather strikingly, academic studies identify the high point of the model – a well-funded welfare state and public services, plus secure employment – as being in the past, about 1970-75.

Lennart Schön, professor of economic history at Lund University, writes of the 1950-75 period in Swedish history as a “golden age”. By the early 1970s, Swedish governments were spending more than 60 per cent of GDP (the UK now spends about 45 per cent) on public services. Then Sweden was hit by the same deindustrialisation (despite left-wing governments) as was Scotland and the industrial pillars of the Swedish model crumbled.

Prof Schön writes: “At the same time, the disadvantages of the old model became more apparent. It put obstacles to flexibility and to entrepreneurial initiatives and it reduced individual incentives for mobility.” The high taxes needed to pay for lavish social policies were also an increasing disadvantage.

“Centralised negotiations and solidaristic wage policy disappeared. Regulations in the capital market were dismantled under the pressure of increasing international capital flows simultaneously with a forceful revival of the stock market. The expansion of public sector services came to an end and the taxation system was reformed with a reduction of marginal tax rates,” says Prof Schön.

With variations, much the same story can be told of Norway, Finland, and Denmark. Each country had some sort of economic crisis in the 1970-95 period, and each changed the prevailing social democratic model. The change is most dramatic in Sweden, where public spending as a proportion of GDP has been cut from 67 per cent of GDP in 1993 to 49 per cent in 2012.

One of the most extraordinary manifestations of this trend was the introduction in 1991 of vouchers to pay for school education. This idea, conceived by Prof Friedman, is that instead of funding state schools, either directly or via a local education authority, the state gives every parent of a school-child an annual voucher equivalent to the value of a state education. The parent then chooses the school, gives it the voucher, and the school cashes it with the government.

Prof Friedman reasoned that by exercising choice, parents would favour good schools over bad, and the bad schools would either have to improve or close. In Sweden in the late 1980s, according to one academic account: “Education was often cited as a glaring example of all that was wrong with Sweden’s welfare system: it was too rigid, too expensive, and horribly inefficient.”

A right-wing government elected in 1990 introduced vouchers and allowed private schools to be set up to compete with state schools. The change, it has to be said, is not a glorious success. It doesn’t work in the way economic theory said it would. Poorer people don’t exercise their choice as effectively as richer people, resulting in sink schools, and in many rural areas there is no effective choice.

Though there is also a growing view that the system is creating greater inequality (abhorrent to Swedish thinking) and, rather surprisingly, no political party proposes to abolish vouchers. Instead, the policy emphasis is on tweaking the system, for example by paying gifted teachers more to work in the worst schools.

You can find these departures from the idealised model of Scandinavian social democracy in all of the four Nordic countries. In each, you can find things to admire. Extensive childcare, advocated by the Scottish Government as a post-independence prize to be grasped, does allow for high female participation rate in the workforce.

But, in all the Nordic countries, public spending as a proportion of GDP is on the way down. Pension ages are being increased and welfare payments are being pruned back. As the survey quoted Gunnar Viby Morgensen, a Danish historian, as saying: “The welfare state we have is excellent in most ways. We only have this little problem. We can’t afford it.”

Could an independent Scotland afford it? Maybe. If you include North Sea GDP, Scottish public spending in 2011-12 was 42.7 per cent of GDP. But if North Sea taxes are to go into a sovereign wealth fund as proposed, you should really look at spending as a proportion of onshore GDP. That turns out to be 51.7 per cent. Perhaps it isn’t so affordable after all.

The Herald, 9 December 2013

CommonWeal movement is launched

THE Common Weal project, the offshoot of the Jimmy Reid Foundation examining policies which could make an independent Scotland a fairer society, attracted more than 800 supporters to a party in Glasgow to launch its new website and identity.

A logo was donated by design agency Tangent, representing a more balanced society and in rejecting a “me first” approach to politics. Common Weal’s new slogan will be the name of its website,

The changes were launched at a function at The Arches in Glasgow, compered by comedian Janey Godley with music by Karine Polwart, a reading by Tam Dean Burn, comedy from Bruce Morton and an outline of Common Weal plans by foundation director Robin McAlpine.

He said: “We wanted to find a way to communicate an idea of a politics which work for all the people who those politics seek to govern, not just a few of them. People don’t understand or recognise the language of politics any more, so we want to change that language.

“We’ve packed out a major city centre venue on a Sunday afternoon for the launch of a think-tank logo. If mainstream politics fails to recognise what is really going on in Scotland just now then that is its problem.

“Someone is going to offer ordinary people what they want, and when they do, everything will change.”

Sunday Herald, 8 December 2013

Common Weal’s ‘revolution’ … with T-shirts and dancing

A PROJECT based on the idea that an independent Scotland could be a progressive Nordic-style state is to unveil a new slogan and website today. The Common Weal, run by the left-wing Jimmy ReidFoundation, has come up with “All of Us First” as its new clarion call.

Writers including Alan Bissett and Liz Lochhead have also contributed ideas to the cause.

The Common Weal is based on making a historic shift away from what the Foundation believes to be the UK’s low- tax, neo- liberal economic model.

The project instead looks to Scandinavian countries for inspiration, particularly in moving to a high-wage economy based on a wellskilled workforce.

Today’s launch party will be held at the Arches in Glasgow, where over 700 people have registered to attend.

Quotes have also been produced for Common Weal T-shirts.

Tangent, a design studio based in Glasgow, took the lead on the branding exercise, while Scottish web design co-operative Atomised created the website.

Robin McAlpine, the director of the Foundation, said: “We need to create a popular politics which people feel speaks to them about the issues they care about in words they understand. And we need a politics which inspires. After all, a revolution without dancing and great T-shirts is a missed opportunity.”

David Whyte, f rom Tangent, said: “It’s been a great project for us to get involved in, and something the whole studio was very much behind. We want the new look and feel to engage as many people as possible, especially those who find politics remote and not relevant to them.”

Today’s event will be compered by Glasgow comedian Janey Godley. Comedian Bruce Morton will be appearing with singer Karine Polwart, and Tam Dean Burn will be reading from the Satire Of The Three Estates. Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai will be DJ-ing.

Sunday Herald, 8 December 2013

Better businesses create better jobs and those create motivated staff

ONE of the most interesting aspects of the work being done under the banner of the Common Weal is seeing how much common ground there is between what might be considered a trade union/workers/employee perspective and t he outlook of business, commerce and industry. Of course, there will be different priorities, but there is much more common interest than diverging ideology.

In simple terms, better businesses create better jobs, better jobs attract more motivated staff and motivated staff make for better businesses. Good jobs are in the interests of employees and their unions, better businesses are in the interests of entrepreneurs and investors. A genuinely successful economy is in all our interests.

In the Working Together report we look at the industrial relations models found across Europe, particularly Germany and Denmark. The comparison between these countries and the UK could not be more stark.

In Germany, household names such as Volkswagen, Bayer Chemicals Group, Deutsche Bank and Allianz insurance company have management boards half of which are elected by their employees. They have co-ordinating committees at plant level which manage the shop floor jointly between management and staff. They are hardly unsuccessful.

In Britain, Thatcher’s anti-union laws were not only retained but strengthened through the Blair and Brown years. This appears to have damaged not only the unions but also the industrial performance of the UK, and in part will explain why UK productivity is 16% behind that of other advanced economies.

In terms of worker participation Britain scores second lowest across Europe, coming 26th out of 27th, above only Lithuania. When those nations are scored in relation to such things as GDP per head, labour productivity, research and development, greenhouse gas reduction and other measures, the countries with strong worker participation rights all score better than those without.

By alienatingandexcludingworkers and trades unions from workplace decision-making, the UK is actually damaging the very industrial base that the anti- trade union legislation purports to protect. We do not advocate a switch to unbridled trade union control but wish to emphasise the advantages of working in an environment where the interests of the parties can be used to develop mutually beneficial solutions and produce a symbiotic relationship.

The report highlights the very real benefits of a more collegiate and collaborative approach and shows that this can be done and can be successful.

The fact that Scotland as a nation is currently considering how it might approach its future makes this an ideal time to move both unions and business out of their current positions and have them both, along with Scottish Government support, take on more of the responsibility for creating a more engaging, more positive and more productive form of industrial relations.

John Duffy is Scottish secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, and works with the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Sunday Herald, 8 December 2013


Angela Constance, Scotland’s Minister for Youth Employment, said: “Independence creates a real opportunity to build on our strong track record in supporting the union role within Government and workers’ rights and to secure the economic benefits for business and society that come from that.

“Last week, we published our guide to independence, Scotland’s Future, and set out plans to establish a Fair Work Commission which would guarantee that the minimum wage rises – at the very least – in line with inflation to ensure that work is a route out of poverty.

“We would also establish a larger Convention on Employment and Labour Relations bringing employers and employees together to build a more responsive labour market, and we welcome the interest of the Jimmy Reid Foundation in these ideas.

“While some of the Jimmy Reid Foundation proposals go beyond those we have set out in Scotland’s Future, the powers of independence would also allow us to consider the appropriate way to encourage employee representation on company boards and to increase the diversity of board membership, as well as to reverse recent changes introduced at Westminster that could diminish workers’ rights.”

Sunday Herald, 8 December 2013

Think tank: give workers seats on boards to avoid another Grangemouth

STAFF should have a place on the boards of companies and help run firms on a day-to-day basis, according to a left-wing Scottish think thank.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation says in a new paper that employees should also have the right to “full disclosure” of company accounts and executive pay.

However, the ideas have been attacked by the Tories.

Although the paper does not explicitly link the plan to separating Scotland from the UK, the authors – former SNP MSP Jim Mather, academic Gregor Gall and trade unionist John Duffy – all support independence. It is also framed as an industrial relations policy for Scotland, rather than the UK.

The report states that the UK is near the bottom of a European league table for industrial relations, and has the “worst” record for employment rights.

The authors also argue that the recent dispute at Grangemouth, where union activists protested outside directors’ home and employer Ineos enforced reduced terms and conditions for staff, showed the current approach is failing.

“We cannot allow the national failures in industrial relations that we have recently seen in Grangemouth repeated,” they note.

The paper backs a “new model” of industrial democracy, based on co-operation and a greater staff role.

As an example, the trio call for “collective bargaining recognition” of all unions in the workplace. This would be in contrast to the status quo, where many large workforces are not unionised.

More radically, the Foundation backs the introduction of “co-operation committees” for firms with more than 35 employees. These committees would help run firms and be made up of an equal number of employer and staff representatives.

These committees would make decisions on issues relating to hours, holidays, contracts and training. At a higher level, there would also be staff representation in the boardroom.

The paper argues: “Making company governance more transparent through industrial democracy enables better and more effective scrutiny of decision-making. And when problem-solving is approached from a mutual perspective, greater efficiency is achieved.”

As with much of the Foundation’s thinking, Scandinavian countries are held as the gold standard. In Denmark, the authors estimate, 80% of workplaces have collective bargaining agreements and 67% of workers are in a trade union.

They note: “The basis for this trade-union strength is a clearly established framework that ensures trades unions are integrated into industrial relations from top to bottom: built on a tradition of mutuality between workers and employers which has lasted over a century.”

Dave Watson, of the Unison trade union, said: “There are many cosmetic attempts by poor employers to pass off their works councils and similar bodies as meaningful staff engagement. Unison would welcome proposals that put collective bargaining at the heart of industrial relations. ”

Richard Leonard, of GMB Scotland, said: “Employment contracts are still built on the outdated concept of a master-servant relationship. Steps that start to close this democratic deficit and right this wrong are welcome. But any reforms should be founded on the firm cornerstone of trade union organisation and representation, not some compromised employee representative model.

“And as the Scottish Government’s own figures show 34% of all private sector employees work for companies owned outside Scotland, and for larger enterprises this leaps to 64%, the question is bound to be asked whether this could be better done at a UK rather than a Scottish level.”

Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw dismissed the plan: “This report represents nothing more than a small, self-regarding cabal flogging some long-expired horses.

“The inevitable consequence of these proposals would be large-scale industrial unrest, international investment fleeing our shores and unrepresentative trade union officials holding elected governments to ransom.”


Volkswagen is the third largest automobile manufacturer in the world. It has over 190,000 employees and is headquartered in Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony, Germany.

Like all German companies of 500 employees or more, staff are entitled to 50% of representation on the management board and a works council, a committee which deals with company-related staff issues and takes these to the management board.

Hans-Peter Fischer is the management representative on the Volkswagen board: “Employees ask the best questions as they have direct knowledge about running the company. How do shareholders know what is going on in the factory? They have to rely on reports from the executive directors.”

Hartmutt Meine, staff representative on the board, said: “It’s not just about profit, there is a general understanding at VW that we don’t shut plants: job security and profitability are the two goals of this company.”

In December 2011, Volkswagen agreed to implement a rule passed by the works council aimed at improving work-life balance. Every day from 6.30pm-7.30am, staff would not receive e-mails to their company BlackBerry smartphones.

The works council proposed the change because of evidence of increasingly high stress levels and excessive out-of-work demands on time from management. About 1150 employees were affected by the change.

Staff representatives on the management board also successfully negotiated a significant cut in pay for the chief executive, who had previously been the highest paid executive in Germany.

The Independent, 4 December 2013

People power

Should we nationalise the Big Six?

Taking energy back into public ownership is vital to ensure customers do not die from the effects of fuel poverty

When Ofgem head Andrew Wright identified a “deep mistrust of anything the energy companies do or say” last week, the chief executive of Britain’s gas and electricity regulator wasn’t exaggerating.

GETTYPower play: the control room of Hunterston B Power station in West Kilbride, Scotland, which is operated by EDF EnergyAfter four years of inflation-busting price hikes that have increased their average profit per household more than ten-fold, the popularity of the “big six” appears to have sunk to an all-time low. So much so, that 68 per cent of the population wants to see the big energy companies renationalised, according to a poll by YouGov last month. Returning the energy sector to state ownership may be a comforting thought after those bill hikes increased the average big six profit per household from £8 in 2009 to £105 now, leaving ever-larger numbers of people struggling – and in millions of cases failing – to heat their homes.

To kick off the debate, energy expert Ann Robinson, of the uSwitch price comparison website, is unequivocal. Nationalising the big six’s power stations and their retail divisions – which sell it on to households and businesses – is a terrible idea. “Renationalisation would stifle innovation, remove any incentives to improve customer service and efficiency – I don’t think it is the answer. Fiddling around with detailed regulation won’t work,” she says.

Stephen Fitzpatrick, head of the independent gas and electricity supplier, Ovo Energy, agrees. He may have told Parliament last month that “a lot of the energy companies are charging the maximum price they feel they can get away with” but he has told The Independent he doesn’t think nationalisation will fix the problem.

“I don’t think the government is likely to be any better at running the energy sector than private companies. If you asked people how they would feel about nationalisation if it meant higher bills and more red tape, then I don’t think they would be so keen,” Mr Fitzpatrick says.

These are traditional criticisms against state ownership, that the government is much less effective at promoting innovation than a private company operating in a competitive market (though some question how competitive the market is at the moment, more on which later) and that it would generally run the business less efficiently, resulting in even higher prices. Unsurprisingly, that’s also what Energy UK, the industry association, believes.

“A healthy and profitable private energy sector is essential if the nation is to ensure security of supply in the long run. There is a massive amount of investment in infrastructure required, around £110bn in the next seven years, and the onlyway that is going to be funded is if the industry is able to make a profit and attract investors,” a spokesperson tells me.

But what about the case for nationalisation? “The government could prevent any excess profits, while borrowing money to invest in the system could become cheaper,” says Dr Robert Gross, director of the Centre of Energy and Technology at Imperial College London.

The government would be able to borrow money more cheaply than the big six because it has a much stronger credit rating and because its monopoly status would make it more financially secure and therefore more likely to repay its debts. And it would not have to pay a large portion of its profits out to shareholders in the form of dividends.

“The newly created energy company could plan the system more effectively and potentially take strategic decisions for the good of the country,” Dr Gross says – a point that couldn’t be made for the four members of the big six that are foreign-owned. A focus on what was good for the country – rather than the big six’s profits and shareholders – would make it easier to drive through policy goals such as greening Britain’s electricity supply, and could bring bills down, he added.

Gordon Morgan, a researcher at the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the left-wing Scottish thinktank, is among the strongest advocates of energy nationalisation.

“Taking energy back into public ownership and control is vital to ensure businesses can be supplied affordable energy and thousands of customers do not die from the effects of fuel poverty,” he says.

Mr Morgan doesn’t want to renationalise the big six existing power stations, or their retail divisions that supplyhouseholds and businesses. Rather, he wants all major new power stations to be publiclyowned (although hewould encourage individuals or communities to set up smaller privately-owned generators), a process that would see energy generation largely returned to state ownership gradually over a period of two decades orso, as the main existing powerstations reached the end of their lives.

Meanwhile, the retail arms would be given a service contract to supply, but at a set price, and in time they would probably become publicly owned, says Mr Morgan.

He calculates that a large state-owned renewable power plant would be able to generate electricity 20 per cent more cheaply than if privately owned, using the same contractors. This is because private companies have to pay about 6 per cent interest on loans to fund these kinds of projects, compared to between 3 per cent and 4 per cent for local authorities. Furthermore, the private company needs to make a 15 per cent rate of return on its investment, which the local authority does not, Mr Morgan contends.

Nigel Robinson, head of power at Investec, the City investment bank, also believes there is much to be said for a nationally owned monopoly. “Why is it that our big six power companies all look, sound and behave the same, particularly when it comes to charging us for our power and gas? They seem to be acting as one homogeneous provider of a commodity product operating behind different-coloured logos,” he says.

Mr Robinson says that the competition and choice that privatising the industry in the 1990s was meant to unleash has clearly not happened, with prices rising more or less in tandem and many acting like local monopolies. But he thinks breaking up the big six into smaller pieces would make the problem even worse.

“A lot of politicians say the only way to deal with the big six is to smash them to little pieces. But actually, when you come to think of it, the problem is the reverse. Their balance sheets are too small. Ever conscious of credit ratings, earnings ratings and a massive investment programme, they cannot deal with a storm surge of market disruption,” Mr Robinson says.

He is attracted to the idea of a national public-energy monopoly. “You could have the ‘big one’, owned by the government, which could regulate prices and use its big balance sheet and state guarantee to borrow money cheaply,” he says.

Not that he thinks that could happen. “That sounds great in theory, but in reality the EU wouldn’t allow it on competition grounds and the government couldn’t afford to buy the big six,” Mr Robinson says, pointing out that just two of the big six – British Gas-owner Centrica and SSE, formerly known as Scottish & Southern Energy – have a combined market value of £30bn.

This argument, echoed by others, appears to knock on the head quite decisively any prospect of a return to the old state-owned Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), which dominated Britain’s energy generation and supply from the 1950s to privatisation in the 1990s.

But is there scope for a more modern version of the CEGB, which incorporates a much greater degree of state control?

“I propose we allow a period of mergers, coupled with price regulation. Let the big six become the Bigger Three. Minimise customers’ choice but provide price stability through regulation. Let’s acknowledge that the market model has run its course. Just as the political experiment of communism ultimately ran its course, so our experiment in liberalised, non-regulated power markets is coming to an end,” says Mr Robinson.

Meanwhile, although uSwitch’s Ann Robinson is adamant that a full-scale renationalisation would be a bad move, she believes some kind of partnership between the state and the private sector could be effective.

“Maybe it’s time to think the unthinkable. As an interim measure to take some pressure off medium-term security of supply issues, maybe the government should use infrastructure funds to build a new power generation for either sale or lease to the private sector,” she says.

Ms Robinson’s proposal could be financed through taxes or a government-controlled pension fund, she says.

Will Straw, associate director of the centre-left IPPR think-tank, also thinks the state could work effectively alongside the private sector in the form of local authority involvement – in a market that is far more competitive and transparent than the one we have now.

“We need a series of market reforms to improve transparency, reduce the market power of the big six and encourage new competitors to enter the market. This could include an important role for local authorities and community groups competing at a local level by generating, offering energy-efficiency services to bring down demand and even providing local supply consortiums to get the best deal for consumers,” he says.

Archie Thomas, energy spokesman for the Green Party, also thinks local energy generation is the key – and that it supercedes the issue of whether the power giants are publicly or privately owned. “The real future for energy is not private or nationalised energy companies but low-carbon energy owned and managed by local communities. People need power over their own heat and power and not to be at the mercy of energy company cartels.”

Greenpeace’s chief UK scientist, Doug Parr, agrees that “public or private ownership is no guarantor of good environmental behaviour or otherwise”. “There are certain models of governance that militate against certain modes of operation. Our current arrangements are very unfriendly to local ownership and operation, which tend to work towards utilisation of local resources and thus far more renewables from wind, solar and hydro,” Mr Parr adds.

Energy generation could be decentralised more easily if local authorities were given more power to finance local energy generation and district heating schemes where a community heating system supplies nearby households and businesses, Mr Parr believes. The government’s Green Investment Bank could also help with low-cost loans.

As Will Straw points out, the energy market is already fairly tightly regulated, if not in terms of the price the big six charge or profits they make, but in terms of government subsidies for renewable and nuclear power. The deal EDF struck to build a new power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset guarantees it a price for the electricity it generates that is twice the current market price, and for 35 years, and assumes some of the construction risk. There are also various other charges, such as a scheme that forces the big six to install insulation in the homes of some of Britain’s poorest households.

But, while most experts stop short of recommending full renationalisation, many agree that the market could be a good deal more regulated. Mr Straw says: “We have a regulated market but it could be even more so, for example with controls on prices and costs. Or maybe we could introduce government competitors, as with the railways.”

The fact that Ed Miliband felt able to propose a price freeze shows how attitudes to the big six and regulation have changed. Even six months ago, it would be difficult to imagine the leader of the opposition making such a proposal. Even the head of Ofgem didn’t pooh-pooh the idea, saying Ofgem would look at Labour’s price-freeze proposals to see whether they were “practical”, but would also raise questions over what effect they would have.

The answer to those questions is likely to be debated for some time. On the basis that full renationalisation seems financially and politically unfeasible, we would nonetheless argue there is a need for an energy revolution. This would see the generation businesses of the big six merging into the big three and remaining private but in a heavily regulated market.

Meanwhile much greater competition would be encouraged among the suppliers of gas and electricity to households and businesses, where size is much less important because they don’t need to make nearly as much investment as the generators and where increased competition could help drive down prices for customers. They would also remain private but be subject to increased regulation, especially in price.

However the big six – indeed the government – proceed from here, it is clear their most pressing issue is to regain at least some trust with the public. Last month, the boss of British Gas owner Centrica, Sam Laidlaw, admitted that trust in the energy companies was at “an all-time low” and said he would waive his bonus this year as anger continued to grow about household bills. Readers may baulk to hear that he made nearly £5m in salary, bonuses and other benefits last year, but the gesture is a good one. Better still would be to give a proper breakdown of what British Gas and the other companies make and where.

Daily Record, 2 December 2013

SNP urged: Give unions more power

EMPLOYEES would sit on the boards of big companies and unions have their powers strengthened under a new radical vision for an independent Scotland.  A report by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, in the aftermath of the bitter Grangemouth dispute, says factories should be run by committees of management and workers – a move they claim would boost work rate and profitability.  The Scottish Government have said many of the measures could be set up in an independent Scotland.  Employment minister Angela Constance said: “Policies like this will help make Scotland a better place to live and work.”

Daily Record, 27 November 2013

I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the Scottish Government’s White Paper. I am pleasantly surprised.

It proposes we should radically change economic policy to create a high-pay economy, make the primary purpose of government greater equality among citizens, place dignity and respect at the heart of welfare policy, renationalise Royal Mail, offer free childcare for every family, give employees a right to sit on the boards of their companies, see trade unions as a partner, remove nuclear weapons in four years, have a written constitution, end tax evasion by corporations, focus on growing Scottish industrial base and much more.

If a UK political party was offering this it would be called the most radical and people-focussed manifesto since the Atlee Government set up the welfare state and the NHS. Ed Milliband has been praised highly by some for offering much less.

What I was looking for was a promise that between a Yes vote and the first democratic election in 2016, the SNP wouldn’t behave like it had the right to design a new country all by itself. The paper promises we will all get to play a part in writing a constitution and that its opponents will be included in the negotiating team that agrees the deal we get when leaving the UK. So I am reassured.

That does not mean the Scottish Government has got everything right. It is wrong on cutting corporation tax, it is wrong on keeping the UK’s terrible banking regulation and in my opinion it is wrong to join NATO. But these are all issues that will only be decided after a democratic election so I and everyone else in Scotland will get to have a say about it.

Has it answered every question? Well, the thing is the size of a doorstep and a genuine effort has been made.

Will you be convinced? That’s up to you. The Scottish Government is in the position where if it tries to answer questions that have no definite answers it will be accused of lying and if it doesn’t it will be accused of hiding. With this report it is certainly not hiding.


And that is where Better Together looks weak to me. Alastair Darling has just been on TV suggesting that since he thinks Alex Salmond is a liar, no-one should trust him or his answers. But does Darling honestly think we trust him, that we’ll take his word for it?

I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. Whatever you think of it, this White Paper sets out a vision for a high-pay society with a strong welfare state. That is a leap forward from anything we’re being offered by the UK.


I and many other experts believe this vision is realistic. I don’t think shouting ‘liar’ will be enough to get Better Together off the hook if it rejects it.


If you want certainty, get a digital watch. If you want a better country, judge people on what they are offering.

Yesterday a big gulf opened up between the two futures we are being asked to choose between.

Will working people have enough confidence to jump that gulf and take a chance on a new future?

You’ve got about nine months to decide.

BBC Radio Five Live, 26 November 2013

Foundation Director Robin McAlpine debates the imminent publication of the White Paper

BBC Radio Sussex, 26 November 2013

Foundation Director Robin McAlpine debates the imminent publication of the White Paper

BBC Radio Scotland, 26 November 2013

Foundation Director Robin McAlpine debates the imminent publication of the White Paper

Herald, 25 November 2013

NHS whistleblower’s plea

A WHISTLEBLOWER who exposed a catalogue of errors surrounding the deaths of 20 patients in a health board area is taking his campaign to scrap NHS gagging orders to the Scottish Parliament.

Former psychiatric nurse Rab Wilson, who revealed the mistakes at his former employer NHS Ayrshire and Arran, will appear before the petitions committee tomorrow to challenge what he describes as a “culture of fear” in the health service.

He will urge MSPs to support his campaign to axe confidentiality clauses from the compromise agreements paid out to departing NHS staff which prevent them from airing concerns about patient care or potential wrongdoing.

Some 697 compromise agreements have been paid out to former NHS employees over the past five years, at an average cost of £29,000 per payout, or £20.2 million in total. Most come with built-in gagging orders.

Mr Wilson said: “There shouldn’t be gagging clauses at all. Workers should be free to talk about anything they like as long as it’s true. Workers are supposed to be able to speak out despite gagging clauses under ‘protected disclosure’ rules, which apply in circumstances such as where patient safety may be at risk or if they believe the organisation would cover something up, but in the last five years there have been only four cases where the ‘protected disclosure’ has been applied. That’s not right.

“You have to ask, why are people being gagged? A gag only protects the employer.

“But people are terrified of raising concerns because they then become the victim.”

Mr Wilson added that recent initiatives such as anonymous whistleblowing helpline for NHS staff had been “pretty useless”.

He said: “From what I’ve heard, anyone who phones up usually finds they are referred back to their employer. It’s a bit like Mrs Hen phoning up to complain that her chicks are being eaten by foxes raiding the coup, and she gets referred on to Mr Fox.”

Mr Wilson, of New Cumnock, won a five-year battle in February last year for Ayrshire and Arran to release all its serious incident reports back to January 2005.

He had first requested them via Freedom of Information in late 2006 following an incident where a patient absconded from the hospital where Mr Wilson worked. The health board initially said there were no reports but a successful appeal to Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion revealed 56 such documents on the disk drive of a member of staff who had been absent from work, leading to the disclosure of the circumstances surrounding 20 patients’ deaths.

Robin McAlpine, director of the left-wing think tank, the Jimmy Reid Foundation, is backing Mr Wilson’s petition which recently highlighted the hostility to public sector whistleblowers. He said: “People don’t feel there is sufficient support for whistleblowers. The thing about large, centralised public sector organisations is there’s tendency for them to want to protect themselves instead of what they should be doing – to prioritise protecting citizens.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is vitally important that all NHS workers feel that they can raise any concerns they may have safely and confidentially.”

Scottish Mail on Sunday, 24 November 2013

Salmond set to wreck 300 years of Union… in the space of 18 months

ALEX Salmond will give himself 18 months to set up a new state if he wins next year’s referendum.

The SNP leader will announce later this week that March 24, 2016 will be Scotland’s Independence Day if voters back his bid to break up Britain.

It would leave just over 18 months to dismantle every aspect of the British state and unveil a new country.

Legal experts have branded the timetable ‘impossible’ due to the range of negotiations which would have to be carried out with a wide range of bodies, including the UK Government, the EU and Nato.

The choice of March 24 is deeply symbolic – as it was the date Elizabeth I died in 1603, prompting the Union of the Crowns, and also the date the Act of Union was signed in 1707.

Full details will be unveiled by Mr Salmond when he launches the White Paper on independence in Glasgow on Tuesday.

But critics say Scots will be voting for the ‘unknown’ because many of the key details would only be decided after post-referendum negotiations.

Of the White Paper, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: ‘This guide to an independent Scotland will be the most comprehensive and detailed blueprint of its kind ever published, not just for Scotland but for any prospective independent country.

‘It is a landmark document which sets out the economic, social and democratic case for independence.

‘It demonstrates Scotland’s financial strengths and details how we will become independent – the negotiations, preparations and agreements that will be required in the transition period from a vote for independence in September next year to our proposed Independence Day of March 24, 2016 – in time for the first elections to an independent Scottish parliament in May of that year.

‘The guide describes what a newly independent Scotland will look like. It illustrates how the powers of independence can be used to benefit individuals, families, communities and the nation as a whole – and it answers a range of detailed questions we have been asked.’

The White Paper will confirm that, following a Yes vote, Scotland would remain a part of the UK, with the Scottish parliament continuing in its current form, until midnight on March 23, 2016.

The White Paper will contain two categories of ‘policy choices’ – one set which the SNP would intend to negotiate during the ‘transition’ period while Scotland remained in the UK and another set which it would implement if it wins the first election in an independent Scotland in May 2016.

But the SNP’s timetable would be likely to come under severe pressure, given the negotiations that would be required.

Adam Tomkins, Professor of Public Law at Glasgow University, said it would be ‘impossible’ to finish all negotiations in 18 months, adding: ‘Most objective, neutral people think it would take between two and three years, with a fair wind.

‘Within a few weeks of any Yes vote, we will be in a UK general election campaign. What government at the fag end of a five-year, fixed-term parliament has the mandate to negotiate something like this? That fact alone is going to slow things down.

‘I think 18 months is extremely ambitious, unrealistic and fails to take into account the complexity of this issue.’

Professor Tomkins said the White Paper ‘cannot answer all the questions’ because of the extent of negotiation that would be needed.

He added: The process set out by the Nationalists is referendum first, negotiation after. Inevitably, those who vote Yes next year will be voting for the unknown because so many issues will depend on the outcome of negotiations.’

A Better Together spokesman said: ‘This is the worst negotiating tactic possible.

‘What the Nationalists have done is announce to everybody who they would have to enter into talks with if we go it alone the date where everything must be settled by.

‘It doesn’t exactly put them in a strong bargaining position.’

Lib Dem MP Michael Moore, who was Scottish Secretary until last month, said: ‘What would be refreshing would be a clear acknowledgement that not all of what is wished for by the SNP and others is in Scotland’s collective gift to deliver if we vote to separate from the rest of the UK.

‘This is a clear test of the White Paper’s credibility; we need to hear the Nationalists’ case made straightforwardly, distinguishing between what would be under an independent country’s control and what would be subject to serious negotiation, not just assertion, with the rest of the UK and our international partners.’

Higher taxes, an end to the monarchy…is this the true face of Nationalism?

It wasn’t far from where Alex Salmond will launch his White Paper on Independence but the vision of a separate Scotland portrayed at yesterday’s Radical Independence conference was a world away from the proposals the SNP leader wants to pitch to voters.

Nearly 1,000 students, Green campaigners and assorted socialists descended on the unlikely setting of the plush Marriott Hotel in Glasgow city centre to outline the ‘revolution’ they want to happen in Scotland following a Yes vote.

They outlined a startling vision of a Scotland where hard workers are hammered with tax rises, the Royal Family is overthrown and the main industries – including the entire North Sea oil sector – are nationalised.

The SNP’s economic blueprint for an independent Scotland also took a battering, with a warning it would lead to a £17 billion annual funding gap.

The proposals will startle Mr Salmond, who is keen to assure voters that little would change in an independent Scotland and has insisted we would still keep such British institutions as the pound, the monarchy and the BBC.

But Unionists claimed the Radical Independence movement is the ‘true face’ of Nationalism.

The keynote speaker at yesterday’s event was Cat Boyd, the scarlet-haired trade union activist who provoked outrage earlier this year by taking part in a party celebrating Margaret Thatcher’s death. The official merchandise stall at the conference featured T-shirts proclaiming: ‘I still hate Thatcher.’

In her speech to close the conference, Miss Boyd said: ‘After 2014, we need to make sure that politics does not belong to the capitalists and shadowy lobbyists who lurk in the corridors of power.’

After urging her gathered comrades to ‘cut the country loose from the City of London’ she also called for the creation of a nationalised banking system.

During yesterday’s proceedings, Scottish actor David Hayman read out a pre-written ‘Message of the Conference’, which branded the UK as the ‘kingdom of greed’ and pledged to ‘let prosperous people sustain a great welfare state’ in an independent Scotland.

He also said a separate Scotland would be a nation of ‘shared wealth and shared wellbeing’.

Pro-independence lawyer Aamer Anwar said he would want ‘the abolition of the monarchy’ if Scotland became independent, which was greeted by a raucous cheer from the audience.

Scottish Green co-convener and Yes Scotland director Patrick Harvie said the Union had been responsible for ‘300 years of economic failure’.

Nationalist MSP Christina McKelvie said she wanted large parts of the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal proposals – a hightax vision of an independent Scotland – to be ‘enshrined in a written constitution’.

But one of the most radical proposals came from Scottish financial analyst Raphie de Santos, a former head of research and strategy at Goldman Sachs International.

He warned Mr Salmond that his existing economic blueprint for an independent Scotland – which relies heavily on oil revenues – wold face a funding gap of £17 billion a year.

He claimed the only way to make an independent Scotland’s economy viable would be to nationalise the entire oil industry.  He said: ‘It would not be possible to build a stable economy based on 30 per cent of oil revenues – that’s how much we’d get in terms of taxation.  We would have to go for the full nationalism of the oil industry.  That would give us a revenue of £55 billion a year for 20 years.  We could decide how to spread that around.’

Last week, a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said an independent Scotland would have to raise taxes or cut spending over the next 50 years to fill a ‘fiscal black hole’.

To huge cheers from the audience, Mr de Santos said:’The IFS are right about one thing: we are going to raise taxes on the rich and wealthy, we are going to close down tax avoidance and there is one thing we are going to cut – that is Trident.’  He also said  a separate Scotland should set up trade links with ‘radical movements in South America’ as part of a ‘progressive trade alliance’.

A Better Together spokesman said:’Unlike Alex Salmond’s vision for independence, at least the radical members of the Yes campaign admit that taxes would have to go up and we wouldn’t keep the pound in a separate Scotland.  This is the true face of the independent movement.’

Sunday Herald, 24 November 2013


THE campaign to reshape the economy of an independent Scotland along Nordic lines is to undergo a celebrity makeover.

The Common Weal project, the brainchild of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, is to be relaunched next month with a fresh design and a series of supportive quotes from leading Scottish authors.

To symbolise its central message, that the economy needs to be rebalanced to generate a wealthier and fairer society, a new logo will be a stylised pair of scales.

The image will appear on T-shirts and posters with quotes from writers including Liz Lochhead, James Robertson and Louise Welsh.

Robertson’s quote is: “Keep pushing forward, not with certainty but with determination, and you will eventually come to a place you recognise.”

The project’s new slogan, All Of Us First, will differentiate the Common Weal’s philosophy from ‘Me First’ politics.

Common Weal advocates a break with a UK economic model based on low wages and an over-reliance on the retail and financial sectors, and a switch to a more diverse economy of high-skill, high-wage jobs to help reduce inequality.

The rebranding is launched on December 8 in Glasgow’s Arches, when indie band Mogwai will DJ.

Sunday Herald, 24 November 2013

Radical conference calls for more public ownership of key services and the banking system after Yes vote

THE i ndependence referendum is “a class conflict” in which the rich are promoting a No vote to maintain their p r i v i l e g e s, more than 1000 delegates to the left-wing Radical Independence Conference heard yesterday.

Closing the event at the Marriott Hotel in Glasgow, Robin McAlpine, the director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said the key to securing independence was to convince the less well-off that a Yes vote would change their lives.

He said: “We do not win this unless we work, unless we knock the doors, unless we articulate. This is a class conflict, this election. Rich people are voting No. So we’ve got to get everybody that’s not rich out, and that takes work. It’s going to happen through knuckles rapping on doors and saying, ‘Do you know what this means to you, and are you coming out?’”

Activist Cat Boyd also told delegates: “Independence is a class issue. Independence is not just about currencies or constitutional questions. It’s about people.”

Under t he banner “Another Scotland is Possible”, the conference called for independence to lead to greater public ownership of key utilities and the banking system, so that the needs of the people were put before “the interests of the super-rich”.

I n one of the highlights of the day, actor David Hayman received a standing ovation after reading a “Radical Independence Declaration” about vested interests talking down Scotland’s prospects because they feared independence.

He said: “This despair has a name. Its name is No. It is a despair that believes poverty inevitable and the decline and destruction of public service necessary. It is a cry of people who believe that wealth should belong to whomever has the sharpest elbows and the meanest hearts. Our poverty, our decline. Their wealth, their No.”

There was also cheering for an emotional speech by 16- year- old Saffron Dickson about a Britain that failed to inspire people and kept them in their place instead. “If Britain was doing its job, we wouldn’t be having this conference,” she said.

Edinburgh Green councillor Maggie Chapman said the British state’s failings included “a crippling devotion to corporate power; an unbending commitment to an economic model that collapsed, not for the first time, in 2008; and a ceaseless drive to blame foreigners, the poor and the vulnerable for problems created by the rich.”

Former Socialist MSP Colin Fox, a member of the Yes Scotland board, said independence offered people “a route around British rule”.

He said: “It’s the key that allows us to break free of the handcuffs of the British ruling class and their political prison. They’re steadfastly opposed to independence because it shakes the very foundations of their power structure, influence and control.”

The chair of the Yes Scotland campaign urged independence supporters to put reservations to one side and rally behind the Scottish Government’s White Paper when it is published on Tuesday.

Dennis Canavan warned delegates not to dwell on their own disagreements with the SNP over currency, defence and the monarchy.

He said: “I’m not a spokesman for the Scottish Government. I’m not a member of the SNP.

“But I believe that all supporters of independence should give a very warm welcome to the publications of the White Paper.

“It’s the only realistic road map on the table that we have towards independence.

“Now, we may not agree with every single detail in that plan. We may disagree with the Scottish Government on the head of state, whether we should have sterling as our currency, or whether we should be members of Nato, but do not be sidetracked. Keep your eye on the ball. Concentrate on winning the prize.”

The discipline message was in sharp contrast to last year’s conference, when Canavan and others flagged up policy differences with the SNP.

The comments were well received, although the conference later applauded lawyer Aamer Anwar when he attacked the wealth of the royal family and called for the abolition of the monarchy.

Irish republican Bernadette McAliskey also appeared at the conference. A former leader of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland, McAliskey went on to become the youngest MP to take a seat in the House of Commons.

A witness to Bloody Sunday, she was later the victim of an assassination attempt by the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Scotsman, 16 November 2013

Hague: social mobility in Britain has worsened in last 30 years

Britain has seen a “disturbing” decline in social mobility over the past three decades, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

The formal uniform of Harrow public schoolboys is not the only thing that has always set them apartHe was speaking after Sir John Major, the ex-prime minister, warned of the “shocking” dominance of privately educated and affluent individuals in powerful positions.

Prime Minister David Cameron suggested this week that social mobility is being held back because people from outside the white middle-class can lack the “aspiration” to make it into top jobs.

and a leading think-tank yesterday suggested it is becoming “impossible” for working class Scots to achieve an elite lifestyle.

Mr Hague, who attended a state school in Wath-uponDearne, put the blame on shortcomings in the education system, which he said were being tackled by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Mr Hague said: “i did go to a comprehensive school and i’ve become the foreign secretary, so not everything goes to privately educated people.

“the disturbing thing, i would say, is that in the 30-odd years since i was at a comprehensive school, it probably, in those intervening decades, will have become a bit harder for somebody from a comprehensive school to become the foreign secretary, or whatever position they aspire to.

“that reflects on a long period of this country falling too far behind in the world in state education, and thankfully we now have the best education secretary in living memory – or longer – who is trying to put that right.”

Mr Hague played down the suggestion that his state-school background left him feeling “socially inferior” to Eton-educated Mr Cameron.

“i can tell you, having grown up in South Yorkshire, in rotherham, and been to a comprehensive school, i’ve never felt socially inferior to anybody. and i have met most of the kings, presidents, queens and princes of the world,” he said.

the issue has come into the spotlight in the past week after Sir John criticised the “truly shocking” dominance of the affluent and privately educated in public life.

it prompted Mr Cameron, himself Eton and Oxfordeducated to concede that there was insufficient social mobility in British society. the Prime Minister said it was the job of the government to raise the aspirations of people from poor backgrounds to get top jobs in public life.

robin Mcalpine, of left-wing think-tank the Jimmy reid Foundation, said yesterday that society is now more unequal and the domination of those at the top has increased.

the demise of organisations such as trade unions, which were once pivotal in helping “working class people get a shot”, has been central to this decline, he added.

“if you want social mobility, we have to flatten society – if you’re coming from a workingclass background, it’s got to be a gentle walk up a slope, not a massive hike up a sheer cliff.

“that’s the problem we’ve got. if you come from a workingclass background in Scotland, the distance you have to travel if you wanted to have a prosperous life is so great that it’s almost impossible.”

But Scotland is far less dominated by privately educated individuals and the Oxbridge elite, according to Mr Mcalpine.

Herald, 15 November 2013

INSIDE TRACK: Trouble at the top of universities has yet to be resolved

FOR the great and the good of the Scottish university hierarchy it made for uncomfortable reading. A report last week warned that higher education north of the Border was increasingly controlled by small cliques of senior managers with little input from staff and students.

The paper by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, a left-wing think tank, said institutions were controlled by a “professional class” who expected decisions to be rubber-stamped.

“At its worst … the governing body of a university is made up of the principal, members of academic staff appointed by the principal, lay members proposed by the principal and the senior management team and an elected student representative,” it said.

What gave the paper even greater piquancy was that one of its authors was Robin McAlpine, the foundation’s director and a former deputy director of Universities Scotland, the body that represents the very university principals under fire.

The official response from Universities Scotland was suitably po-faced, with a spokeswoman expressing “disappointment” that no mention was made of a new code of conduct for universities, which she said would increase transparency and accountability. In fact, the suspicion remains that the formulation of the code was as much an attempt to preserve the status quo as it was to usher in a new era of democracy.

Drawn up by a group of experts chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin, the chancellor of the University of the West of Scotland, the code followed an earlier review of higher education governance overseen by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, the principal of Robert Gordon University.

The von Prondzynski review called for direct staff and student involvement in the appointment, appraisal and salary setting of principals. It also called for the election of chairs of university governing bodies and more involvement of students, academics and trade unions.

Instead, the code suggested a much looser agreement to consult students and staff over the appointment and monitoring of a principal’s performance. It also said principal pay should continue to be decided by a remuneration committee with no mention of staff or students.

Importantly, the current debate around university governance is not taking place in a vacuum. In recent years there has been unrest over the managerial approach of universities with particular concern over the way institutions such as Glasgow and Strathclyde consulted on proposed cuts to courses and jobs.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation report seeks to address this gulf between academics and management by placing universities back at the heart of their communities. “University courts should become bodies wholly elected by the wider university community of staff and students and the role of the university principal and the senior management team should be to advise that body and to enact its will,” it concludes.

Sunday Herald, 10 November 2013

Top economists lambast new procurement law

Public spending change is weak, says husband-and-wife team By Colin Donald

NEW law proposed by the Scottish Government to regulate over £ 9 billion a year of public spending procurement in Scotland is “extremely weak”, “nebulous”, and “unlikely to achieve much”, according to a pair of influential economists. The damning critique of the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill by Jim and Margaret Cuthbert came in a session of the Scottish Parliament’s Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee last week, providing an unexpectedly contentious start to the expected three-month parliamentary scrutiny process. Introduced to the Parliament in October, the bill is expected to be voted on by the Scottish Parliament by February.

Committee members were visibly taken aback as the husband- and- wife team, respectively a former Scottish Office chief statistician and an academic economist, lambasted the bill as a “dreadfully missed opportunity” to ensure public spending in Scotland is geared to promoting the development of Scottish SMEs. They also warned the drafting of the bill “has so much fluidity and flexibility that it can mean all things to all men.”

The couple’s forceful attack, expanding on their 2012 paper on procurement f or the l eft- wing Jimmy Reid Foundation, contrasted sharply with the rosy introductory depiction of the bill by the Scottish Government’s head of procurement, Alastair Merrill.

He described it as: “Maximis[ing] the contribution that public procurement can make to Scotland’s economic recovery [and seeking] value for money as the best balance of cost with sustainability, seen through lenses of social, economic and environmental sustainability.”

However, the Cuthberts, whose previous research has lent support to Scottish independence and an independent Scottish currency, lambasted the bill as “missing a golden opportunity … to right the wrongs of the past 30 years”, a reference to a perceived procurement bias towards large companies, often outside Scotland, which they claim has thwarted Scottish business in the construction and other sectors.

Dismissing accusations that they were “protectionist”, they claimed their research into European competitors suggested Scotland as a “small, peripheral European country” should devise a system that favoured small company growth and the promotion of research and development.

Jim Cuthbert said: “The provisions [of the bill] are fairly general, and I was surprised that specific things that could be done weren’t done. There could have been a requirement to split down contracts as is done in other European countries. That was not done. There is an ambiguity in the bill about the duties to be laid down to central purchasing bodies.”

Margaret Cuthbert said: “Procurement is [worth] over £9 billion, and can be estimated up to £11bn. [The bill] is a golden opportunity to address the problem of how can we use it to improve the economy, promote R&D and innovation, and address the gap between Scotland and other competitor states out there.

“I think it’s a dreadfully missed opportunity. The bill is light, it doesn’t address the fact of different types of procurement, like PFI and its successor [NPD], the Scottish Futures Trust, Scottish Water as well as central government bodies and universities. Each of these is contributing in their own way in holding back growth in Scotland.”

She continued: “At least since 2006 the policy on procurement has been to chase ‘value’, meaning lowest price … [in] a race to the bottom. If you look through some of the contracts through … over the last four years, you will see that although there is an nod and wink to economy and training, this is a small percentage [of the requirement].

“We have to be doing things to encourage innovative forms, and small businesses, we need to right the wrongs of the last 30 years.”

In the same session the committee also heard from Barry White, chief executive of the Scottish Futures Trust, who registered support for the bill and distanced himself from the “negative” view of the Cuthberts.

ALSO giving evidence was Duncan Osler, a partner with lawyer MacRoberts and an expert on EU procurement law. Scottish legislation is meant to “dovetail” with the EU overhaul, with new directives expected from Brussels in January 2014. Speaking after the meeting, committee member Alex Johnstone, a Scottish Conservative MSP, said: “What we heard from Government officials was sound common sense. I like evolution rather than evolution and the aim of this bill is to institutionalise the good practice we have seen over the last five years and clean up that which has less successful.”

“Procurement has to be a dynamic process and I think that the kind of changes the Cuthberts were talking about would lead to a process that would be more rigid and probably less likely to produce what we want from it.

“While I respect and learned a great deal from the Cuthberts, I suspect they will not have as much influence as they would like in the direction of the bill.”

The committee will hear more evidence and make fact- finding tours during November and December, before a stage one debate in the Chamber by February 6.

BBC Sunday Politics, 10 November 2013

Chair of Foundation Influence Commission Larry Flanagan launches the final report of the Commission. Foundation Director also contributes.

Herald, 7 November 2013

University managers have too much power, warns think tank

Call to make‘cliques’ in charge of institutions more accountable

A governance model which is based on internal managerial control does not appear appropriate

SCOTTISH universities are increasingly controlled by small cliques of senior managers with little input from staff and students, a left-wing think tank has warned.

PROCESSION: Glasgow University principal Anton Muscatelli, centre, with rector Charles Kennedy, left, and chancellor Kenneth Calman, right, during a commemoration parade. The Jimmy Reid Foundation wants the people in charge to allow more involvement from students and staff. Picture: Colin MearnsA paper on the governance of universities by the Jimmy Reid Foundation says institutions are controlled by a “professional class” who expect decisions to be rubber-stamped. The paper goes on to call for an overhaul of the sector to ensure ruling bodies are elected democratically.

The foundation’s report, The Democratic University, comes in the wake of a new code of governance introduced this summer.

The code was drawn up after a review of the sector announced by Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, in 2011 following concerns over the way some institutions had been taking decisions.

However, staff unions and student leaders criticised the code, arguing it did not go far enough.

The report by the foundation states: “At its worst … the governing body of a university is made up of the principal, members of academic staff appointed by the principal, lay members proposed by the principal and the senior management team and an elected student representative. This governance model appears to allocate to the university principal a status similar to that of an owner of an enterprise.”

The report says universities are national civic institutions with a primary responsibility to their own community of academics and learners.

It concludes: “Since universities must be seen to be owned by their wider community, a governance model which is based on internal managerial control does not appear appropriate. University courts should become bodies wholly elected by the wider university community of staff and students and the role of the university principal and the senior management team should be to advise that body and to enact its will.”

Gordon Maloney, president of NUS Scotland, welcomed the report. He said: “The report is right to highlight the lack of genuine involvement of staff and students in the running of their institutions and that’s something we should all want to see changed. As bodies in receipt of over £1 billion of public funding every year we have long argued that we need to see real change in the democracy, transparency and accountability of our universities.”

However, a spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said elements of the report were “disappointing”.

“Scotland’s universities are highly effective organisations and perform well on all measures including student satisfaction,” she said. “Even starting from this strong base, higher education institutions are committed to continuous improvement in all areas, including their governance, and a new code introduces a raft of measures that will increase transparency and accountability.

“It is a shame the authors of this paper make no acknowledgment of the new code and it is also disappointing they chose not to contribute constructively to the lengthy and extensive period of consultation that was built in to the development of the new code.”

The review of higher education governance announced by the Scottish Government followed criticism by lecturers at the universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow that consultations on proposed cuts to courses and jobs were flawed.

wThere have also been longrunning concerns over the spiralling salaries of principals and the increasing autonomy of their management teams.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation is a left-wing think tank and advocacy group operating in Scotland which was established in memory of the prominent trade unionist.

The report was written by Craig Murray, former rector of Dundee University, Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation and former deputy director of Universities Scotland, Allyson Pollock, a senior academic at London University, and Adam Ramsay, former student president of Edinburgh University.

The college has about 10,000 fewer students enrolled over the period, she said, but added: “In terms of the quality, actually our performance indicators are increasing and that remains our absolute key focus.”

Susan Walsh, principal of Glasgow Clyde College, said 14,700 fewer students were enrolled than would have been at the former Cardonald, Langside and Anniesland colleges in 2009.

“Like Audrey has alluded to, the quality has actually improved in the last year,” she said.

Daily Record, 26 October 2013

Grangemouth: Jimmy Reid Foundation director Robin McAlpine reflects on a huge week for Scottish industry

ROBIN McALPINE argues that Scotland has been treated with contempt by one man over the Grangemouth crisis and asks: Who now believes they are safe in their job?

WHAT’S the best position for working men and women if they are going to help to build a decent economy in Scotland? On their knees? In the gutter? Begging for their jobs?

Grangemouth workers, their union and the country have been humiliated and treated with contempt. By one man.

Who now believes they are safe and secure in their job?

A writer this week advised the union, “know when you’re beat”. If things keep going on like this, they’ll tattoo that on our children.

Among advanced nations, Britain is the second lowest-paid economy and is fourth most unequal. Among 27 European countries, only Lithuania is worse for giving working people any voice in how their economy is run. One causes the other.

This week, it feels like all of Scotland is looking down at its feet, afraid to hope it could ever be better than this.

Don’t be afraid. Lift your head back up. Look beyond the fear and the propaganda that have rained down on us. We can end this nightmare of poverty and insecurity.

We only need two things – a plan and the will to make it happen.

All over Europe there are economies much more successful than ours that not only treat their workers with respect but see them as crucial allies in achieving that success.

In Denmark, two out of three companies who employ more than 500 people allow staff to elect a third of the board of directors. Workers aren’t cowering in fear, they’re running the firm with owners and managers.

These employee directors are the norm all over Europe. So are widespread union membership and proper employment rights.

And guess what? There are no strikes. When people work together, they resolve disputes before they begin.

Giving workers a say in how the businesses they work for are run is good for everyone. All the European countries in the top half of the league table for union membership and workers’ rights are also in the top half of the league table for better economic and social performance.

All the countries with the worst treatment of workers have the worst economic performance.

A study shows when two businesses are identical in every other way, the one that is unionised is 20 per cent more productive. Why? Because decent treatment gives staff a reason to care.

In Germany or Sweden or Finland, when workers have a good idea about how to improve the way a firm work, they take it to their employee directors who take it to the board.

In Britain, too much of the economy is run by people like Jim Ratcliffe, who cares no more about the good ideas of his workers than a farmer cares about the thoughts of his cattle.

So let’s rebuild Scotland’s economy based on real, productive businesses creating real value through their high-quality workforce.

Let’s end the legacy of Thatcher who set workers and bosses against each other. Let’s chase from our shores money men who do nothing but buy and sell businesses and treat workers like furniture.

Let’s get owners and employees working together again. Let’s respect unions – they’ve come a long way since the 70s.

We know how to fix this because we know who HAS fixed it and how they did it. The Jimmy Reid Foundation will soon publish detailed plans.

The last few days must make us determined to be stronger in the face of tyrants who seem to care nothing for ordinary people and our lives.

So enough now. This is still a democracy, which means it’s up to you. Demand a Scotland fit for workers.

Guardian, 24 October 2013

Grangemouth could help shape the Scottish referendum

The SNP has cast itself as defender of the economy from the icy wind of global markets. What’s icier than closure on the Forth? Martin Kettle

Only one UK voter in 11 lives in Scotland. So if you are one of the large majority of British people who do not have a vote next year on whether Scotland should be an independent country, you may be tempted to think that the Scottish referendum does not, in the end, affect you. Such detachment may be particularly tempting for a media class who think nothing important ever happens outside London. On either count, it is very wrong.

There are two principal reasons why the Scottish referendum matters for everyone in the present UK. The first can be dubbed the constitutional argument. If the Scots vote yes to independence on 18 September 2014, everyone else is affected willy-nilly, not just the Scots themselves. The rest of the UK will have to adjust and change. New rules of all kinds will be needed on both sides of the border. The international position of the rest of the UK (rUK) will change too.

So far so obvious. Rather less attention has been given, though, to the way the constitutional argument may evolve after a no vote. Rejection of independence will not kill the constitutional debate stone dead. It will merely change the context in which it resumes. Depending on whether the majority is large or small, it may not even kill off the independence issue for long. Either way, a whole range of issues about devolution, local government and the workings of UK institutions will have to be addressed after 2014. These arguments won’t be ended by the no vote that too many complacently expect. Better to address them now, asAdam Price argued in the Guardian on Tuesday.

But there is a second principal reason why the whole of Britain should take the Scottish referendum more seriously. This one can be dubbed the societal argument about independence. It is about the kind of economy and society that the Scots want an independent Scotland to embody and nurture.

Listen to the debate now taking place in Scotland, and it is clear that this societal argument for independence is at least as important as the constitutional one. Yet this should not be a private conversation for Scots alone. With very little alteration Scotland’s societal argument is one which applies in the rUK too – England in particular – and across much of the European Union.

Certainly, no one who listened to the debates at last weekend’s Scottish National party conference in Perth could have been in much doubt that the SNP is now putting a societal critique of the UK’s embrace of inadequately regulated market capitalism at the heart of its independence argument. Naturally, the constitutional argument remains crucial – independence as an expression of nationhood. But the SNP is increasingly making a louder argument based on societal objectives.

That’s one reason why the Grangemouth petrochemical plant closure yesterday matters so much. The SNP has cast itself as the defender of the Scottish economy and Scottish society from the icy winds of global markets. But what could be icier than the abrupt shutdown and now the closure on the Forth. Grangemouth is therefore a crucial test of the Scottish government’s credibility in promoting a different set of societal values. There is a lot of political capital at stake here. It could help shape the referendum campaign.

After six years in power at Holyrood there were already many totemic policies in the SNP’s societal locker. These include the free prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly, no tuition fees and a freeze of the council tax which have been the mainstay of the SNP’s popularity with the voters. Put it all together and it sometimes looks as though the SNP is making a last-ditch stand in defence of the postwar UK welfare state which the rUK is deemed by many to have abandoned.

Yes, the SNP is lucky that devolution gives the Scottish government the chance to make popular spending decisions without having to make many unpopular revenue-raising decisions to pay for them. But there is a larger and explicit appeal here too. Alex Salmond summed this up at Perth as the SNP’s choice of “a path that reflects Scotland’s social democratic consensus, our shared progressive values – our priorities as a society”.

Whether this distinctly Scottish social democratic consensus really exists is debatable. The polling guru John Curtice is very sceptical, pointing out that Scottish and English attitudes are more similar than they are markedly divergent. But it is difficult to challenge the fact that a lot of Scots believe their political culture is very different. The SNP’s embrace last week of the Common Weal approach to Scotland’s future drafted by the Jimmy Reid Foundation on the basis of Nordic socialist models reflects that. And with the SNP also beginning to make overtures towards Labour as fellow progressives, there is undoubtedly something afoot in Scottish politics.

Scotland’s progressive societal moment may all end in tears at the polls next September. But the Common Weal proposal has an ambition and a set of rooted priorities which should nevertheless be taken seriously. There is nothing that is very distinctively Scottish about it, however. Its interest in economic balance, social solidarity, mutualist models, co-determination of companies, sustainable growth, a marginally higher tax-to-GDP ratio and limits to inequality is based on continental roots.

Such an agenda needs serious work not just in Scotland but in England, Wales and elsewhere in Europe. The issues it raises go to the heart of the future of the centre-left generally. The only reason it can be presented as distinctly Scottish is because the referendum has provided an opportunity to tie the SNP’s desire for independence and the Scottish left’s wish to defend the postwar settlement more closely.

At a time when centre-left parties are struggling all across Europe, with the German social democrats reduced to a mere 26% of the vote and Norway’s social democratic government pushed into opposition less than two months ago (in spite of a massive oil-based sovereign wealth fund that has Scottish nationalists drooling with envy), Scotland’s progressive societal argument based on Nordic and continental models may seem too fanciful for comfort.

But this search for alternatives is not a debate taking place on another planet. It’s about here and now and the Europe we all inhabit – and it matters just as much in England and Wales as it does in Scotland.

Scottish Mail on Sunday, 20 October 2013


ALEX Salmond yesterday unveiled spending plans worth billions of pounds in a bid to win next year’s referendum – while his party backed draconian plans to drive up taxes for middle-class Scots.

The First Minister used his keynote speech at the SNP conference in Perth to announce a set of Left-wing giveaways, including pledges to increase the minimum wage by at least the rate of inflation every year, renationalise the Royal Mail and axe the so-called ‘bedroom tax’.

Although the SNP leader’s address failed to mention how such expensive populist policies would be funded, his party had earlier voted unanimously to consider proposals that could see the introduction of a Scandinavian-style tax regime whereby even middle-income families could see half their pay swallowed by the state.

It is the clearest sign yet that families will see their tax bill rocket if Scotland becomes independent.

In his final annual conference speech before the independence referendum, Mr Salmond bullishly told delegates that Scotland can become independent – and set his sights on securing the votes of low-paid workers by promising to increase the minimum wage every year.

The move will come at a huge cost for companies in both the public and private sectors.

Mr Salmond said: ‘If elected, on independence, this Scottish Government will establish a Fair Work Commission. The central pillar of that commission will be to set a minimum wage guarantee. I can announce that this guarantee will ensure a minimum wage that rises – at the very least – in line with inflation.

‘Let us pledge that never again will wages of the lowest paid in Scotland fail to keep up with the cost of living.’

He said the proposal would make work pay and would have been worth £675 to the lowest-paid Scots if it had been in force for the past five years.

In a speech designed to appeal to those on the Left, where pro-independence campaigners think they have the best chance of winning new votes, Mr Salmond also said he would scrap the so-called bedroom tax. It would mean that people would no longer see their housing benefit cut even if they have unused spare rooms in their council house.

He confirmed that Royal Mail would be renationalised in an independent Scotland and strongly hinted at further nationalisation, saying he wanted a country where ‘key public services remain in public hands’.

He also announced that £60 million would be invested in 43 projects across the country which could support 3,000 jobs.

‘We will not wake up on the morning of September 19 next year and think to ourselves what might have been,’ said Mr Salmond.

‘We will wake up on that morning filled with hope and expectation – ready to build a new nation both prosperous and just. We are Scotland’s independence generation.’

At the conference yesterday, Health Secretary Alex Neil reaffirmed a commitment to give pay rises to NHS workers, despite moves to implement a freeze south of the Border.

He also reaffirmed his commitment to universal free services, saying that charging for prescriptions was ‘a tax on ill health’.

On Friday, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had promised to cut energy bills in an independent Scotland.

Last night, Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar said: ‘Scotland remains on pause while the Nationalists dream up goodies for the referendum campaign they know they won’t have to deliver on.

‘At the start of his conference, the First Minister asked the people of Scotland who they trust. After days of uncosted promises and baseless assertions, the answer won’t be Alex Salmond and the SNP.’

Earlier yesterday, conference delegates backed a motion to consider a Nordic approach to social policy if Scotland becomes independent. This is likely to mean people being forced to pay higher rates of tax in return for increased spending on public services.

The motion, which called for a full examination of proposals by the Left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation, said these ‘bring together the best-practice elements of, amongst others, the Nordic social and economic models which an independent Scotland may wish to adopt’.

The approach backed by the Jimmy Reid Foundation is based on countries such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden, where some workers see more than half of their earnings being swallowed by the State.

In Sweden, workers have to pay both a local tax rate of between 28.9 per cent and 34.2 per cent and a national tax rate of between 20 per cent and 25 per cent. The combined tax burden means that those earning upwards of 574,300 Swedish Krona – around £57,000 – see more than half of their earnings being swallowed by the state.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: ‘The Yes campaign, which is funded and directed by the SNP, has already let the cat out of the bag by saying that it favours the Scandinavian model of public services under separation. ‘What they are less honest about is the fact that this would go hand-in-hand with high taxes for everyone in Scotland.

‘With several SNP backbenchers favouring this approach, Alex Salmond should come clean and admit that he, too, backs taking more money off hardworking taxpayers.’

Miss Sturgeon has previously said that ‘progressive’ principles would be ‘at the heart’ of an independent Scotland’s approach, with people ‘paying according to their means’.

Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins has also praised the Scandinavian countries as a good example of the ‘fairer society’ that an independent Scotland would aspire to, saying that they have ‘some of the least wellpaid CEOs and best well-paid manual labourers’.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation has branded its proposals the Common Weal. It points out that three in five working Scots earn less than £25,000 a year, so tax rises would be focused on anyone earning above that sum.

During yesterday’s debate, Sandra White, Nationalist MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, said: ‘You look at the Nordic countries and we are on the verge of that. We can give people a fantastic quality of life. We are on the verge of something fantastic after independence. We can offer something different. We have an opportunity to take forward everything in the Common Weal.’

But it is understood that some senior figures within the SNP have expressed concerns about the detail within the Common Weal because of concerns that it might put off voters. James Dornan, Nationalist MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, claimed that better social justice ‘could never come about while we are part of the Union’ and that poor people are being ‘made to feel like parasites’.

He said: ‘It is important that we take an opportunity to look at things. Not everything is going to be supported, but we should be looking at it very closely.’ The UK Government yesterday confirmed it has already asked its Low Pay Commission to reassess the minimum wage, with proposals expected next year.

Sunday Herald, 20 October 2013



DELEGATES at the SNP conference backed further work on the Common Weal concept promoted by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation.

Common Weal advocates importing economic and social policies from Scandinavia and Germany to make Scotland wealthier and fairer.

It supports a break with a UK economic model based on low wages, low skills and over-reliance on the retail and financial sectors, and a change to a more diverse economy in which the state fosters high-skill, high-wage jobs to help reduce inequality.

Common Weal also supports an enlarged welfare state, with cradle-to-grave public services, paid for through a higher overall tax take raised from a more buoyant economy.

Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, who will brief Labour MSPs on Common Weal later this month, said: “The warmth and enthusiasm of the response we’ve had to Common Weal at the SNP conference has been amazing.

‘‘There is now a very strong consensus across the whole independence movement that the goal is to build a Scotland along Common Weal principles of equality, industry and compassion. Our job now is to widen that consensus wider still. Whatever the referendum result, Scotland is ready for change.”

But the Tories last night attacked the SNP’s chief whip for calling Coalition ministers “rats” in a conference speech on Common Weal.

Bill Kidd referred to Jimmy Reid’s famous 1972 speech about the rat race being for rats, not people. He said: “We know where the rats exist though. They’re the ones that are forcing people in a country that’s the sixth richest in the world into going to food banks. They’re the ones that are spending money on nuclear weapons. They’re the ones that are holding back society in the 19th century instead of leading it proudly into the 21st century.”

He later confirmed that by rats he had meant the Coalition Government.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said it was a sign of desperation.

“To describe those in favour of remaining part of the UK as ‘rats’ is nothing short of embarrassing and the language of a party running out of anything positive to say.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The coalition came together in the national interest to deal with the economic mess we inherited. While parties may disagree with policy choices, resorting to name-calling does the referendum debate a disservice.

“The public deserves better.”

Holyrood Magazine, 18 October 2013

Decision time

The emergence of the Common Weal offers the SNP a chance to define itself ahead of the referendum

In Perth this time last year, the SNP was engaged in the most public and divisive argument in its modern history. The question of whether the party should abandon its opposition to NATO membership split the membership down the middle and led to the resignation of two MSPs from the party. The trade off, Westminster defence spokesman Angus Robertson MP told party members, was that changing policy would send the right signal to Scotland and the rest of the world.

“This defence policy sends a very important message to people in Scotland and to friends, neighbours and allies,” Robertson told his colleagues after the vote – independence was a sober, credible and unthreatening prospect.
A year on from that vote and independence is no more credible to the majority of Scots than it was before. The SNP is almost unchallenged as the most popular party of devolved politics in Scotland, but that hasn’t helped it shift the polls on next year’s independence referendum.

There’s nothing quite as awkward as last year’s NATO debate on the horizon as the SNP returns to the Fair City. This year’s conference has been sterilized by the absence of the Scottish Government White Paper on independence, which won’t be published until November. Contrary to mischief making in parts of the press and the Labour Party, that was always going to be the case, but the ongoing wait for the biggest artillery piece to roll onto the battlefield means that Alex Salmond’s phoney war will continue a little longer.

Rather than divisive debates or set-piece announcements, therefore, the most important event at this year’s conference could take place quietly, on the fringes, with relatively little media coverage, and in a spirit of consensus. It could nonetheless help change the course of the referendum campaign and SNP policy.

That course has remained fixed despite the anger over the NATO debate – anger that remains even among party members happy to stay within the ‘big tent’ of the SNP. “I’m not going to turn around and say that I’m happy with the party’s current position on [NATO],” says activist and commentator Natalie McGarry. “There are people who are still unhappy, but political parties are made up of people of multiple persuasions with the same overall ambitions, so you can’t always get the policies that you want.”

NATO hasn’t been the only post-independence policy decision taken by the SNP at odds with its centre-left identity and the political sympathies of most of its members. In June, Salmond told the New Statesman that an independent Scotland would maintain the current university tuition fee regime for UK students as well as imposing an EU student maintenance fee, a plan which figures in the HE sector dismissed as a gaffe. In a Sunday Post interview in August, Salmond said he backed the idea of the £26,000 benefits cap being imposed by the UK Coalition Government. Finally, after a Jimmy Reid Foundation paper on public ownership of energy production was presented at the Green Party conference in September, a government spokesman told journalists that the plans weren’t being considered before the weekend was out.

There have also been surprise announcements with greater appeal to the SNP’s base of support – Salmond’s revelation that the SNP would renationalise the Royal Mail after independence, or Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that the retirement age could be reduced by a year. However, the off-the-cuff nature of all those interventions suggests a bunker mentality instilled by a constant barrage of negative headlines in the likes of the Daily Mail, the Express and the Daily Telegraph. It also speaks to the lack of an overall vision for an independent Scotland from either side of the independence debate, resulting in confusing and sometimes contradictory stand-alone policy announcements.

Criticism of the SNP’s safety-first approach has predominantly and regularly come from senior non-SNP figures within the Yes campaign, and from party elders like Jim Sillars and Gordon Wilson. More recently, however, it has come from the centre of the SNP hierarchy. Former Salmond special adviser and party strategist Alex Bell criticised the nationalist approach to the independence referendum in a Guardian blog post as yielding to the temptation to “focus on old songs and tired policies”. Speaking to Holyrood, he is even more critical of the lack of an overarching narrative from the SNP.

“The SNP is offering a safe version of a new state – a UK with polished hub caps and a full tank of fuel,” Bell says. “My argument is the UK, in common with other states in the developed world, is a broken model. The Institute of Fiscal Studies says by 2050 all UK tax will just cover pensions and NHS obligations alone – we are operating in a state which is about to break many of its promises with citizens.”

Bell suggests the SNP vision of an independent Scotland still closely linked to the rest of the UK economically ties Scots to “a state with a dangerous reliance on the volatile City of London – something which brings little benefit to the rest of the UK in the good times, and is actively harmful in the bad times. The South East has already separated from the rest of the UK – the question is, what do we do about that? Well, in Scotland we are lucky – we have the infrastructure and attitude of the state, and the opportunity to empower our parliament further. It would be much more use to the folk of the North of England if we built an alternative model than if we all kept on voting Labour and watching the UK fail.

“The referendum is not a question about independence – it is an opportunity to rethink the state so that in 100 years we will still be able to pay pensions, have a sustainable community, and eliminate the gross inequality of globalism. I get that the Yes people and SNP can’t take all this on board – but the rest of us should. We have a year to get our heads around the complexity of the modern world and the best ways to respond. If we have a good debate, then the SNP and Yes will naturally become less of the focus – because the focus is really what kind of world are you going to leave for your children.”

That challenge will be addressed directly at SNP conference when party members debate whether to endorse the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project. Begun by the left-leaning think tank as an exercise in explaining and popularising Nordic social democracy, Common Weal has grown into an effort to create the vision for a future Scotland that both referendum campaigns have so far failed to. Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, believes it is a potentially referendum-winning idea if the SNP adopts it as policy.

“To win this referendum you need to do two things – you need to pull people together, and you need to offer something inspirational,” says McAlpine. “This whole, vote Yes and don’t worry, it will all be the same, that’s brilliant if you want to shore up a vote, but it will not change minds. People need a reason to take a chance, and ‘it will all be the same afterwards’ is not a reason to take a chance.

“This idea of a Scotland that focuses on indigenous business to create good jobs for Scottish people to reduce inequality, this pitch has something for virtually everyone in Scotland. The only people it doesn’t play for are the chief executives of corporations that exploit – but there are not a lot of votes in that.”

Since its launch, McAlpine has been criss-crossing the Central Belt seeking to build grassroots support for Common Weal among SNP supporters, speaking at YesScotland meetings and local party associations. Rank-and-file members love it, he says – he was even made a marriage offer when he spoke to the local SNP group in West Calder. Support has been building through party organisations like the SNP Trade Union Group, and Common Weal has been unanimously endorsed in votes of the SNP Business Group and by the SNP councillors’ association.

East Lothian SNP councillor Paul McLennan, who leads the group, said that when McAlpine was invited to address them, “We didn’t have a view on it. It was something we were keen to hear more about.” The presentation impressed the group. “The session went on a lot longer than we thought. Everyone was quite enthused, and that’s why a motion was passed,” says McLennan. “For me, it’s about, how are we going to convince people to go out and vote on the day, because turnout in elections has been going down over time. We’re going to need to enthuse people to vote Yes for a reason. I have no doubts about why I’m voting Yes, but we need to convince the kind of people who don’t normally vote, and if we’re going to win that’s the type of people we need to turn around.”

The Common Weal vision is one that left-leaning nationalists find easy to support. “There’s definitely appetite within the SNP to have a look at different things,” says McGarry. “I think it’s done in an open and consultative manner – there’s no closing off of what independence means in the SNP.” Jean Urquhart MSP, who left the SNP after the NATO vote last year, is also a backer, and thinks it will find support among her former colleagues. “I think the Common Weal project articulates a scenario that a lot of us can identify with, and I’m sure there are members of the SNP and of the Scottish Government that it appeals to. It’s thinking out of the box.”

The message is also beginning to reach the top tier of SNP elected officials. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is understood to be sympathetic, and at an away day of SNP MSPs that he addressed, McAlpine says most of the questions were supportive.

“This is what the grassroots of the SNP came into politics for in the first place – a strong coherent vision of a Scotland which breaks away from low-wage, high poverty, high exploitation Britain,” says McAlpine. The only question is if senior members of the cabinet, including some high-profile doubters, can overcome their fear and realise the political potential of Common Weal. “If they can, I think they’ll win this referendum. This is the point where they have to start making those decisions.”

It may appeal to left-of-centre voters and it could set the referendum debate alight, but if the SNP embraced the Common Weal, would it move the polls? The evidence is contradictory. It’s clear that people in routine manual occupations and living in socio-economically deprived areas are already more likely to vote for independence. Elsewhere in this issue of Holyrood, IPSOS/Mori’s Mark Diffley argues that voters in social housing also make up a significant proportion of undecideds. John Curtice, the University of Strathclyde politics professor who manages polling website What Scotland Thinks, says that while supporters of all parties are likely to vote along party lines in the referendum, Labour Party voters are the softest target for pro-independence campaigners, with 83 per cent saying they are certain to vote No. Both those groups would be likely to respond positively to the Common Weal message.

However, Curtice sounds a note of caution. The idea that there is a silent, natural majority in Scotland for progressive Nordic policies is “the great myth” of Scottish politics: “Scotland is, broadly speaking, a reasonably socially democratic country – but it’s not much more socially democratic than England,” Curtice says. Commentators often mistake the weakness of the Conservative Party north of the border for an innate sympathy for the left. “The weakness of the Conservative Party isn’t because of a lack of right-wing people in Scotland, it’s because the Conservative Party can’t get right-wing people in Scotland to vote for it.”

Whether voters like the Common Weal message may not even matter, if they don’t believe that independence can deliver it. “Campaigning for a more left-wing Scotland and a more independent Scotland are not the same thing,” says Curtice, who says that data from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey shows that most people, when asked if an independent Scotland would be a more equal society, say that not much would change either way.

If that view is a product of not being presented with a vision of what a more equal Scotland would look like, there might be room for Common Weal to change minds. Curtice, however, believes that the cause is a more profound self-interest. Starting a debate over something that most voters feel independence couldn’t deliver would be of questionable value. “At the moment the link between people’s perceptions of an independent Scotland being a more equal society and support for independence is relatively weak. To put it more crudely, what the Yes campaign have to do is they have to persuade people in Scotland that independence will put £500 in their own pocket and not in the pocket of their next-door neighbour.”

The Herald, 17 October 2013

SNP should be bold and call pre-referendum convention

Iain McWhirter

IT looks like a hopeless cause. The opinion polls refuse to move. Professor John Curtice’s authoritative polling blog, What Scotland Thinks has been struggling to find anything new to say as survey after survey tells the same story: that Scotland thinks it should vote No. At best, only one-third of Scottish voters support independence – a figure that has barely changed in the last three decades.

“But at least that means the No campaign isn’t having much impact either,” remarked one supporter of independence. Well, yes, if you’re a devotee of positive thinking. As many in the SNP appear to be –because the remarkable thing is how upbeat the Nationalists remain, despite all evidence to the contrary. They don’t look like losers and they aren’t falling out with each other, as might have been expected in the past, over the lack of progress. Even Alex Salmond’s omni-critic, former deputy leader Jim Sillars, has been quiet recently –though no doubt someone will put a microphone under his mouth at some stage.

Last year’s division over the Nato U-turn, which led to the departure of two SNP MSPs, John Finnie and Jean Urquhart, seems to have left little lasting damage. There hasn’t even been a witch-hunt. In years past, a policy reversal of such magnitude – since it weakens the long-standing commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament – might have divided the SNP down the middle.

Top billing at this year’s conference fringe goes to the former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson’s defiantly-optimistic plan for a cross-party National Convention to map the way forward for independence after a Yes vote. Given the polls, this looks just a little previous. Moreover, the idea is borrowed from the Labour shadow minister Douglas Alexander, who last year called for just such a cross-party convention to map the future after a No vote. And even then, it received a pretty cool response from the Scottish leader, Johann Lamont. She doesn’t seem minded to offer any consolation prizes to the SNP after the referendum, which Labour is positive will be a resounding No. That the former Labour First Minister, Henry McLeish, has enthusiastically endorsed Mr Wilson’s initiative, probably guarantees that Labour will have nothing to do with it. And the Tories won’t either. The only possibility might be a convention with the tiny Scottish Liberal Democrats, who will do anything to get some attention.

The National Convention is, however, a very sound idea – but it only has any chance of happening if it is set up before, rather than after the referendum. Indeed, if I were Mr Salmond I would seriously consider convening just such a body early in the New Year to involve all parties in the constitutional process, and ensure they are stakeholders in whatever result the Scottish voters produce. It would be in the spirit of the 2007 minority government, when he promised a new form of co-operative politics.

The only way to test whether the Unionist parties are serious about new powers for Holyrood is to have them put their proposals on the table before the referendum campaign begins in earnest in nine months time. If they refuse, the voters will make up their own minds. Certainly, there is precious hope for any crossparty initiative – devolution max, plus or minus – that isn’t on the table before September 2014. If it is a No vote, all bets will be off, and the argument will be about repatriating powers to Westminster, not giving more to Holyrood.

But wouldn’t a pre-referendum convention look like defeatism by Salmond? Surely, the SNP cannot be seen to contemplate any other outcome than Yes? Well, it has to contemplate a No vote for the obvious reason that most Scots do not appear to want full independence. Anyway, for the SNP to join in a cross-party National Convention doesn’t mean it has to give up on independence. It merely shows that the SNP has been making the political weather and has been responsible for moving devolution on to the next stage.

Optimists in the Yes campaign insist that the battle isn’t lost and that the supporters of devolution max have yet to register their vote. The hope is that the “disenfranchised middle” as they’re called, will vote Yes in disgust at not being allowed to vote for their favoured option. There isn’t much scientific basis for this expectation since, according to Prof Curtice, there is not a great deal of cross-over. But the best way for the SNP to turn the disenfranchised towards a Yes would be for it to involve them in the process of nation building before the referendum. It would build confidence in the SNP’s open-mindedness and willingness to avoid sectarianism.

Paradoxically, the SNP is much more popular when it isn’t proposing independence than when it is. It could never have achieved the electoral success of recent years had it still been dedicated to “independence, nothing less”. Unfortunately, Mr Salmond became so popular in 2011 that he won a landslide at the last election and found himself having to launch a referendum which no-one – certainly not its voters – really wanted. At least not at this time. In a sense the SNP needs to find a way to sideline independence even as it is asking for a Yes vote.

The SNP can today claim the support of many the political Left in Scotland who are only tactical nationalists but see independence as the only way of resisting the relentless rightward march of Westminster politics. The Jimmy Reid Foundation doesn’t formally support independence (indeed one of its key supporters is listed as Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United who is a virulent opponent of the SNP) but it has been promoting a communitarian alternative to the economics of the Conservative-led Coalition in Westminster. The Common Weal is not a blueprint for independence, but it is a model for a very different Scotland. This would be an excellent foundation document for a truly non-sectarian cross-party convention.

The SNP must always be seen to be leading or at least moving in tandem with progressive thinking in Scotland. Perhaps, indeed, this is one explanation for the equanimity of party members in the face of what looks like certain defeat. They really do believe that they have won the argument, and in one crucial respect, they have. It is now accepted even by leading Unionists like Lord Robertson that Scotland could be a viable economic entity as an independent country. No-one argues any more that Scotland would be a tiny, impoverished statelet off the shores of Europe. We are talking Norway, not Greece.

The SNP can console itself that, whatever happens in the referendum, it has moved the debate in Scotland on to radical new territory that is incompatible with Westminster politics. Such a cross-party initiative can only strengthen voter support for the SNP in Holyrood. Labour hasn’t yet found a way of breaking Mr Salmond’s popularity and until it does, the Nationalists are likely to remain united and unnaturally relaxed. If the SNP is seen to bring together progressive forces in Scotland, and rise above party tribalism, it could inherit the future, whatever happens in September 2014.

Evening Times, 16 October 2013

One of the classic dividing lines in politics is about the role of the state, and whether people think it should hold things in public ownership, or let the private sector run everything. At the most extreme, some people would want to abolish private sector businesses altogether, while others would let markets dominate everything. Most people are somewhere in between.

But wherever you sit on that public-private spectrum, we’ve seen some pretty odd paradoxes recently.

First we had the UK Government hyping up its Royal Mail sell-off.

Back in the 80s, right-wingers used to argue that privatisation was necessary to turn lifeless state businesses into dynamic and successful ones, but the Royal Mail is one that’s already delivering (if you’ll forgive the pun).

In fact its profits jumped from £201 million to £324 million this year.

Owned by the public sector, run in the public interest, and returning all that profit to the public purse.

Then came the Scottish Government’s announcement of a public buy-out of Prestwick Airport.

Yes, the public sector will step in and take ownership of this loss-making business, specifically because no private buyer was willing to.

Now it’s possible that Prestwick could eventually get back into the black, and its scale is of course vastly less than the bail-out of the failed banks back in 2008.

But there’s something odd going on when the only assets the state will buy are those which promise to lose taxpayers’ money, and the ones which are paying us a tidy sum are handed back to the spivs and speculators.

Royal Mail and Prestwick aren’t the only current examples.

The East Coast rail line, which has been run in public hands since a string of private sector failures, just announced £209 million profit for taxpayers last year, yet the UK Government remains stubbornly committed to privatising it again.

And while political parties and the public alike complain about high energy prices, we’re missing out on the huge potential for the public sector to make profitable investments in renewable energy.

One report last week, Repossessing the Future by the Jimmy ReidFoundation, makes the case for an energy business which serves the public interest.

AS I write, the Royal Mail’s new shareholders have raked in almost 40% profit on Day One alone.

The rest of us, who used to own it collectively, are left hoping the moneymen will think our universal postal service is worth providing.

It’s time we struck a new balance in the public/private debate, and recognised that there’s an important place for economic activity which serves the public interest.

Title, Date 2013

Daily Mail, 7 September 2013

Report makes energy plea if Yes vote wins

SCOTLAND’S energy resources should be publicly-owned in the event of a Yes vote in next year’s referendum, a new report says.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation paper argues Scotland under either independence or devo-max should follow the example of countries such as Denmark and Germany by favouring greater state intervention in the sector.

The panel of academic authors calls for a new public body to be set up to oversee the sector if more powers are transferred to Holyrood.

The Scottish Energy Agency would be responsible for meeting climate change targets and reducing North Sea oil and gas production.

Daily Mail, 7 September 2013


WIND farms should be removed from private ownership and given to the state if there is a Yes vote in next year’s referendum, according to a new report.

The Left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation study argues Scotland should follow the example of countries such as Denmark and Germany by favouring greater state intervention in the sector.

It goes on to suggest nationalising the national grid and taking a stake in all new oil and gas fields.

The idea is part of the Common Weal project, which also supports a bigger welfare state.

Left-wingers in the SNP are attracted to the controversial proposals, which could be adopted after independence.

A Scottish Government spokesman said it was not proposing nationalisation of the assets of power companies, but added: ‘It’s good to have a lively debate about how Scotland’s enormous energy resources can be used to benefit consumers, communities and the wider economy.’

Press and Journal, 7 September 2013

Greens back energy reform report

Scotland’s energy r esources should be publiclyowned in the event of a Yes vote in next year’s referendum, a new report says.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation paper argues Scotland under either independence or devo-max should follow the example of countries such as Denmark and Germany by favouring greater state intervention in the sector.

The panel of academic authors calls for a new public body to be set up to oversee the sector if more powers are t ransferred to Holyrood.

The Scottish Energy Agency would be responsible for meeting climate change targets and reducing North Sea oil and gas production to develop “a more integrated and responsible approach to carbon emissions”, the report says.

A nationalised Scottish Electricity Generation Corporation would take over the grid and electricity distribution, running down existing coal, nuclear and gas power stations in favour of investment in renewables.

The report was backed by the Scottish Greens their party conference Inverness yesterday.

Alison Johnstone, Scottish Green MSP for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s economy and energy committee, said: “By taking responsibility Scotland could prioritise common ownership, create high quality jobs and move away from the fossil fuels wesimply cannot afford to burn.” at in

The Herald, 7 September 2013

Energy nationalisation urged

Scotland’s energy resources should be publicly owned in the event of a Yes vote in next year’s referendum, a report said.
The Jimmy Reid Foundation paper has argued that Scotland, under either independence or devo-max, should follow the example of countries such as Denmark and Germany by favouring greater state intervention in the sector.

The panel of academic authors calls for a new public body to be set up to oversee the sector if more powers are transferred to Holyrood.

Scotsman, 7 September 2013

Nationalisation call for Scottish energy industry

SCOTLAND should create a nationalised energy company if it becomes independent and quit the UK-wide energy market, a new report has claimed.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation says the move would pour billions of pounds into boosting the country’s green energy potential and reduce the reliance of North Sea oil.

The suggestion comes amid concern over soaring energy bills and Labour proposals to freeze these if the party wins power.

But a spokesman for the SNP Government on Sunday night insisted it is not proposing to “nationalise” assets of North Sea firms.

The report, launched at the Green Party Conference in Inverness yesterday (sun), argues that under either independence or devo-max, Scotland should follow the example of countries such as Denmark and Germany by favouring greater state intervention in the energy sector.

The Scottish Energy Agency would be responsible for meeting climate change targets and reducing North Sea oil and gas production to develop “a more integrated and responsible approach to carbon emissions”, the report says.

A nationalised Scottish Electricity Generation Corporation would take over the grid and electricity distribution, running down existing coal, nuclear and gas power stations in favour of investment in renewables.

The authors say a Scottish Renewable Energy Network, composed of local energy companies under community or council control, could generate and supply renewable energy throughout Scotland.

The current UK system based on “market-led and privatised solutions” and “not fit for purpose,” the report says.

“It delivers massive quasi-monopoly profits predominantly for private and foreign multinational corporations that represent largely ‘unearned’ profits.

“At the same time, it is failing to deliver on the key strategic policy goals of delivering the UK’s commitments on reducing CO² levels and tackling climate change, providing long-term security of supply, and affordable energy and tackling fuel poverty.

“Only by breaking out of this policy regime and developing an alternative agenda around new forms of strategic planning and public ownership can Scotland fulfil its true potential and wider obligations as an energy-rich nation.

“A much longer-term approach to Scotland’s energy is required where energy resources are owned, managed and distributed for the collective good, and on behalf of present and future generations rather than being appropriate for private and corporate interests.

“The massive levels of investment required to build Scotland’s post-carbon infrastructure will be much cheaper if paid for up front through public bodies (backed by sovereign governments) that can borrow at much lower lending rates than the private sector.”

The Scottish Greens yesterday agreed Scotland’s energy resources should be publicly owned in the event of a Yes vote.

Sunday Herald, 6 September 2013


Sunday Mail, 6 September 2013

A question deserving an answer

Then raise the scarlet standard high. Within its shade we’ll live and die, Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, We’ll keep the red flag flying here. -The Red Flag, 1889

There was a lot of sneering and not a lot of flinching last week as the Daily Mail unleashed the dogs on a dead man.

Ed Miliband has hailed his dad Ralph as an inspiration many times in public and the Mail had every right to chart the man’s life, scrutinise his writings and conclude that, despite all evidence to the contrary, he hated Britain.

That’s a free press and that means a press free to have strong opinions – even when the opinion is wrong from soup to nuts.

Miliband’s dad, Ralph, a Marxist Academic, was, according to the paper, one of Vladimir Lenin’s “useful idiots. So too, presumably, was fellow traveller Jimmy Reid.

Now, Reid was many things – a Communist, a thinker, an orator, a leader, a dad and a husband – but he was not an idiot. He cared about people, but the people he cared about mst were the ones who needed it most.

He championed a society where the political systems and economic structures were geared to help the jobless, the low-paid, the weak and the vulnerable.

Alienation, he famously told Glasgow University studentts in what has been hailed as one of the greatest speeches ever made, was “the cry of men who find themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making.”

The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they hae no real say in shaping or determing their destinies.”

The Common Weal blueprint for Scotland produced by the Foundation named after him has been shaped by Reid’s words and is a fitting tribute to the man.

Yes, it is left-wing. The Foundation, like Karl Marx, like Reid, still seem to believe in a simple idea – “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – while hoping that in their Scotland, we will have many, more abilities and much, less need.

Yes, it seems to be underpinned by the fanciful notion that Scots are somehow more compassionate and caring than the English. Just because we’re Scottish.

Yes, it will alarm many working Scots, who apparently can afford to pay higher taxes for a brighter tomorrow, despite already struggling to keep the wheels on until payday.

And, yes, it shoots the moon, mixin a dollop of wishful thinking with a splash of idealism. But so what?

If the interminable debate surrounding next year’s vote is about anything, it should be about imagining a better Scotland and discussing how we can build it, whether standing alone or as part of the Union

That should be the starting for every rally, speech, debate and pub discussion about the independence vote next year.

The Common Weal, as explained and described by the Foundation’s Director Robin McAlpine on this page, is only a proposal.

It is a starting point for discussion and poses a simple question. What about this, then?

Well, what about it?

Sunday Mail, 6 September 2013

Independence referendum: Jimmy Reid Foundation director explains the ideology behind the ‘Common Weal Project

ARE you tired of how the interests of big corporations are put ahead of the interests of the people?

Are you tired of grasping “me first” politics which left us all in second place?

Are you tired of the sense that government and politics are run for someone other than you?

Well, you’re not alone.

We’ve been lucky in Scotland. We have our own parliament and it has saved us from the worst of the “me first” politics that come out of Westminster. But it really is time that we had a better choice.

For 30 years politics in Britain has been run on the basis that the biggest and strongest can shove the rest of us out of the way.

We’ve ended up with one of the lowest-pay economies and one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

It has left almost all of us so much poorer than we should be.

There is an alternative. Countries such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark are no richer than
Scotland, but the people are much better off and have much better public services.

That’s because they share their wealth by creating good jobs, not rubbish jobs that don’t pay enough to feed and clothe a family.

Scotland is crying out for a politics that offers us the same thing. That’s why the Jimmy Reid Foundation has set up the Common Weal Project.

Common Weal is an old Scottish phrase that means both “to share wealth in common” and “for the wellbeing of all”.

It is a perfect description of what people say they want – a fair, equal and prosperous country without poverty, with good public services, where communities are strong and where people have a fighting chance of being happy.

Creating that society is not a fantasy. Other countries have done it and we can look and learn from what they did.

Instead of being happy to let big corporations dominate the economy and provide only low-pay jobs, these countries back home-grown businesses.

These businesses create good jobs – that’s how their people became wealthy.

We all want good public services – we rely on them, they take the worry and the fear out of our lives.

We know our kids will be educated, we know if we’re ill we’ll be looked after. But we need to pay for that, and the best way to do that is all together – with everyone wealthy enough to contribute.

People who earn say between £25,000 and £35,000 are not rich, but they can be comfortably off,
pay their taxes, not need benefits and be able to spend to help the economy.

The problem is that only one in five working Scots earns that wage. Three out of five earn less than £25,000 and half earn less than £21,000.

If we could make our economy more like those Scandinavian nations, moving people out of low pay and into decent pay, it would raise a whopping £4billion more in tax – without putting tax rates up.That’s how we could pay for
first-rate public services.

People also want the power back to make decisions about their own communities.

The best way to make sure that government is doing what people want is to give people the power to make the decisions.

The days when corporations and bankers tell us what we’re allowed have to come to an end.

And we need to bring the people of Scotland back together.

Thatcherism set citizen against citizen. Politics ever since has been about who can grab the most for themselves. It is no way to run a decent society.

We need to start putting all of us first. We are working very hard to create a whole range of policies
that will do just that.

And we have been getting an absolutely overwhelming amount of support – it seems the people of Scotland want a politics that puts them first too.

By 2015, the independence referendum will be over.

Whatever the outcome, we need to find a way forward for Scotland that ends the division and the
grasping and sets us out on a new direction which reflects Scottish values – the values of the Common Weal.

If you agree, make your voice heard. It is time our politicians all listened to what Scotland wants.

Sunday Times Scotland, 6 September 2013


Scotland on Sunday, 6 September 2013

Scottish independence: Split from UK energy market call

SCOTLAND should withdraw from the UK-wide energy market and put control over its own resources into public hands, a radical new report declares today.

Published by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation amid growing anger over the costs of Britain’s energy bills, the report says that, with either independence or devo-max, a new public corporation should be put in charge of running the grid, pricing electricity and investing in new energyinfrastructure.

It would then pour billions of pounds into boosting Scotland’s green energy potential, and also reduce the flow of oil coming from the North Sea, in a bid to cut CO2 ­emissions.

Backed by the Scottish Greens – who are hosting their conference in Inverness this weekend – the authors argue that in private hands the UK energy market is on the point of collapse, lacks investment and is pushing up bills for hard-pressed consumers.

But critics last night dismissed the proposals as “fanciful”, saying any plan which ended the UK-wide energy market would mean the vast cost of subsidising expensive green energy would fall on households in Scotland.

The paper, written by contributors from Glasgow, Heriot-Watt and Glasgow Caledonian universities, says that a Scottish Energy Authority (SEA) and a Scottish Electricity Generation Corporation should be created after ­powers are transferred to ­Holyrood to oversee the ­entire energy sector.

It would then run down nuclear, coal and gas-fired stations and plough massive investment into renewable energy by issuing billions of pounds worth of government bonds.

In return, it argues, wind farms and new renewable projects will all be owned by the government or community groups. The paper claims bills could be lower because government could borrow at a lower rate and would not have to make a profit.

It concludes that because of “inherent market failures” in the UK’s energy market, “only by breaking out of this policy regime and developing an alternative agenda around new forms of strategic planning and public ownership can Scotland fulfil its true potential and wider obligations as an energy-rich nation”.

It also calls for a completely different approach to the North Sea. “Rather than an over-focus on producing as much oil as possible – current UK and Scottish Government objectives coincide in trying to increase the rate of production – the SEA would seek to reduce production from the North Sea, developing a more integrated and responsible approach to carbon emissions”.

The call comes after reports on independence have shown that North Sea oil revenues will be required to pay for current spending in Scotland.

It also notes that most of Scotland’s privatised energy assets at present are foreign-owned. It adds: “It could plausibly be argued that French, Norwegian and Russian governments – through their state-owned corporations – have collectively far more control over UK (and Scottish) strategic energy ­interests than any British ­political actor.”

Alison Johnstone, Scottish Green MSP for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s economy and energy committee, said: “By taking responsibility, Scotland could prioritise common ownership, create high-quality jobs and move away from the fossil fuels we simply cannot afford to burn.”

The move would be best achieved through independence, the authors declare, although they say it could also be achieved by transferring responsibility for energy to a devolved Scottish Government.

But the plan met with little enthusiasm from the SNP government last night. A spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government does not propose the nationalisation of the assets of the power companies.

“But it’s good to have a lively debate about how Scotland’s enormous energy resources can be used to benefit consumers, communities and the wider economy, particularly as we know Westminster decisions have led to the squandering of billions of pounds of Scotland’s energy wealth.”

Sunday Post, 6 September 2013

The heat is on in battle with Big Six energy giants

HE lure of cheaper energy bills comes sharply into focus as winter draws closer and battles over thermostat settings get underway in homes across Britain.

Ed Miliband set the party conference season agenda with his promise of a two-year freeze on fuel bills.

The move, opposed by the SNP energy minister Fergus Ewing, is designed to give consumers some breathing space while a newly elected Labour government in 2015 — he hopes— reforms the energy market.

But the headline-grabbing initiative addresses the symptoms, not the cause of the problems with the UK energy market.

A compelling report by the Jimmy Reid Foundation ( JRF) laid bare the problems with the “worst of all possible worlds” energy market we have.

A model that continues to squeeze the family finances with price hikes without every seemingly denting the profits of the“Big Six” energy giants.

The left-wing think tank exposes the inconvenienttruththat, despitethehot air coming from Holyrood and Westminster, politicianshavelittleinfluence over our long-termenergy supply.

According to the JRF, foreign state or privately owned firms now own around a fifth of the total UK energy market, but it is higher in the case of nuclear (68%) and just over half of all new offshore wind farms are being built by non-British companies.

A survey of the power companies published last year estimated about three quarters of UK energy generating capacity is foreign owned.

This presents big headaches for any Scottish or UK Government trying to make changes to the market which involve less profit and cheaper bills.

The JRF report concludes:“It could be argued that French, Norwegian and Russian governments, through their state-owned corporations, have collectively far more control over UK (and Scottish) strategic energy interests than any British political actor.

“Both the UK and Scottish governments have been somewhat complacent in this regard, seeming to believe that it does not matter who owns the UK’s energy sector.”

The price paid for such little influence is an expensive one.

The Big Six have benefited from price hikes over the past decade which has left the UK with the fourth highest pre-tax energy prices in the 15 European Union countries excluding the new East and Central European

Sunday Herald, 29 September 2013

This week the Scottish Government published its vision for pensions in an independent Scotland. Whilst those proposals do add up to an overall improvement on the existing provisions within the UK, the available space for improving pension provision within the current pensions paradigm is limited. Much bolder changes are possible but it will require a new way of thinking about the model of pension provision and a new Common Weal model for investing pension assets.

Our proposal is to construct a new national pension scheme for Scotland based on the creation of a combined Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) and a pension fund. The SW&PF will serve as a major source of finance to support the transition to a new economy.

The SW&PF would be created by collectivising all the occupational pension schemes which have members employed in Scotland (whether the employer is headquartered in Scotland or not). This includes private and public sector as well as defined benefit schemes (which guarantees a pension related to salary) and defined contribution schemes (where the market dictates the pension to be paid).

The fund would be the source of pension payments to Scotland’s retired citizens. The scheme will be of a defined benefits type and would eventually seek to include all citizens whether they are currently in a pension scheme or not.

Employers and employees would pay contributions into the fund based on a fixed percentage of payroll. We envisage that employers would contribute the larger share of the contributions.

The fund will invest in accordance with strict principles which include the requirement to invest in a manner which supports the development of a fairer, environmentally sustainable economy and the facilitation of community enterprise.

The fund would be managed by a National Board of Trustees whose responsibilities would be to protect the long-term financial sustainability of the fund so that it both provides a decent level of pension provision for all into the future and fulfils its investment mandate.

The investment model adopted would be a stewardship model whereby the fund acts as a long-term committed investor in enterprise and infrastructure in exchange for contractually binding agreements on the cash flows returning to the fund under agreed conditions and over agreed time periods.

This model offers solutions to several major challenges. Firstly it provides a sovereign wealth fund which can support the development of a new economy, backing Scottish businesses but also allowing a rapid scaling up of renewable energy and the expansion of community-owned enterprise.

Secondly, it provides a defined benefit pension scheme for all citizens, thereby collectivising investment risk across the whole of society and removing that burden of risk from sponsoring employers of defined benefit pension schemes and from the beneficiaries themselves in defined contribution schemes.

Thirdly, it relieves businesses from the responsibility of funding pension deficits in defined benefit schemes, thereby freeing up their capital to be dedicated to the real purpose of the enterprise.

In the case of public sector ‘unfunded’ schemes, this model transfers the responsibility for funding any difference between contributions received and pension paid from the government to the SW&PF. This means that funding shortfalls are no longer paid for out of general taxation.

A deficit in a national, collectivised scheme is unlikely ever to become an insolvency issue because of the scale of the fund and because of the capacity of the state to bolster the fund if ever a large deficit were to present a risk to the pension system and/or the economy. However it will be essential to carefully design the contribution and benefit structure by use of actuarial methods and adjust the tax and National Insurance system to ensure affordability of contributions for employees and businesses

The design of the contributions and benefits structure and any changes to it will be a matter for public consultation, informed by expert actuarial advice.

The scheme would not be a ‘cross border’ scheme and the requirements under the EU IORP Directive requiring companies to fully fund cross border schemes would not arise.

The existence of a large fund for the payment of future pensions reduces the inter-generational burden of pension provision. In a state pay-as-you-go pension system funded out of current taxation the current working population funds the pensions of the retired generation of pensioners. That will not be the case in our model, except so far as the PAYG state scheme may be called upon as a ‘top up’ scheme where pensions paid from the SWF fall under a specified national minimum.

The model would produce a substantial simplification of Scotland’s pension system and a corresponding reduction in the level of regulation required. This would reduce the costs of regulation and prudential supervision significantly.

Of course, there would be much work required to get detailed design right and this would be a complex process which would not be achieved overnight. But Britain’s pensions industry is in a mess, the state pension is expected to come under greater strain and the financial investment model for Scottish businesses is clearly failing. We believe that this alternative model can provide Common Weal solutions to these problems.


Jim Osborne is a pensions campaigner and former pension fund trustee

Tim MacDonald is a tax lawyer and a theorist and practitioner of pension investing.

Michael Lloyd is an economist.

Together they are developing a report on pensions for the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Sunday Herald, 29 September 2013

Lamont’s Labour in Common Weal edict

MSPs and party researchers will be briefed on left-wing high-tax economic model Exclusive by Tom Gordon Scottish Political Editor

LABOUR leader Johann Lamont has arranged f or her MSPs to be briefed on how overhauling the Scottish economy on the Nordic model could help pay for universal public services. In a potentially significant move, Labour MSPs and party researchers will be drilled in the Common Weal concept by the l eft- wing Jimmy ReidFoundation at Holyrood next month.

As the Common Weal vision includes a greatly expanded welfare state with universal public services, the development appears to signal a softening of Lamont’s previous hard line on restricting or ending some universal services because Scotland could not be “the only something for nothing country in the world”.

That remark, delivered in a speech a year ago to the fury of many in her own party, has been used ever since by the SNP to accuse Lamont of wanting to end universal services such as free prescriptions, university tuition, personal care for the elderly and concessionary travel.

The Common Weal concept, which has rapidly gathered support within the SNP and Yes Scotland campaign since its launch in the spring, advocates reshaping the Scottish economy in order to create a wealthier, less divided society.

Rejecting the UK’s market- led economic and social model, which it says traps people in low-pay, lowskill jobs, it argues that Scotland could import proven policies from Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. A central element is an expanded welfare state with cradle-to-the-grave public services paid for through an overall higher tax take, with the aim of creating a less divided society.

Common Weal also advocates more state ownership of infrastructure and assets, such as renewable energy, and state lending to Scottish firms to help foster high- skill, high-pay jobs in a diverse economy which is no longer slavishly reliant on banks and financial services.

The Church of Scotland has formed a working group to examine the idea, and the SNP conference will debate it in three weeks’ time.

Until now, Common Weal has drawn its support largely from the pro- independence parties, as independence would offer the maximum scope for economic and social reform. However, the academics and economists behind Common Weal have always said some aspects could be applied under devolution, making it potentially attractive to Labour too.

In his speech to the UK Labour conference last week, party leader Ed Miliband illustrated potential areas of overlap when he denounced the “race to the bottom” on work and pay, announced plans for a massive housebuilding programme and confronted the privatised energy companies.

After t he Reid Foundation approached Labour about a possible briefing, it was Lamont personally who took up their offer. Labour head of policy Hazel Maciver told the Foundation her boss thought Common Weal “might be an interesting discussion” for her 37 MSPs.

It is understood the chairman of Scottish Labour, Jackson Cullinane, who is also the regional political officer for trade union Unite, had been urging the party to give Common Weal a fair hearing.

Robin McAlpine, director of the Reid Foundation, will deliver the hour-long session on October 29.

He said: “We very much hope that we can develop a cross-party consensus on a Common Weal approach to Scotland, whatever the constitutional outcome next year.

“I’m delighted to have been invited to talk to the Labour group of MSPs and it bodes well for Scotland’s future if we can build a consensus on delivering a fresh start for Scots.”

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “We identify with many of the values that inform the work of the Common Weal and are happy to hear, discuss and debate good ideas that will make Scotland a better, fairer place from any organisation.”

Scottish Conservative enterprise spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “It now seems it’s not just the SNP lurching to the left, and that Labour are following suit. I can’t imagine the taxpaying Scottish electorate nor the business community relishing the prospect of such high-tax, left-wing policies being foisted upon them. This is bad news for a dynamic and enterprising Scotland.”

Guardian, 14 September 2013

As we near the centenary of the first world war, the old narratives feel long gone

Contrary to the idea of its critics that it will do no more than promote a blinkered patriotism, the approaching centenary of the first world war promises memorials to those who abstained from or opposed the fighting; anti-war memorials, if you like. Earlier in the summer, the Jimmy Reid Foundation asked Glasgow’s council to erect a plaque that would “write back into history” the city’s revolutionary socialists and pacifists whose opposition to what they saw as a capitalist and imperialist conflict earned them jail sentences, illhealth and opprobrium. This week in London that old pacifist warhorse, the Peace Pledge Union, announced that, rather to its surprise, it had received £95,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help it celebrate the war’s 16,000 conscientious objectors. The “No Glory” campaign, which includes Jude Law, Brian Eno and the poet laureate among its signatories, intends via concerts and books to remind us that the war was “a total disaster” that should never be repeated (though of course it has been).

Who can doubt that all of this is to the good? Certainly in Glasgow’s case the surprise is that it has taken so long to recognise the anti-war stance of figures who later became almost mythical as the founders of Red Clydeside. But when the supporters of these worthwhile projects go on to hope that they will challenge what they call “the official narrative”, the wonder is that an official narrative still exists – if that means military bands and winged victory. What most of us have grown up with since the early 1960s is another narrative, the popular narrative, which features mud, useless slaughter and poetry. It may be, as the historians’ trade union is fond of complaining, that our knowledge of the war owes too much to imaginative literature, but that being the case and the pity of war being well established, how much of the counter-narrative on offer can be unexpected or revelatory?

Standing in front of two Scottish graves this month, I thought of how our popular perception of the first world war makes certain kinds of neglect easier to remedy than others. The graves were of two men who died in the 1920s, famous enough to prompt genuine mourning among people who had never known them. The first grave held the remains of John Maclean, now perhaps the most prominent member of the group that the Reid Foundation want to restore to history, which also includes the swashbuckling Independent Labour MP Jimmy Maxton and the pacifist/suffragette Helen Crawfurd. The second grave belonged to Field Marshal Douglas Haig.

Maclean is to be found in Eastwood cemetery in Glasgow’s southern suburbs, where he was taken in 1923 with a crowd of thousands following the cortege. The headstone is very plain; touchingly, his name is followed by the letters MA – evidence that his family took pride in his self-improvement – but there’s nothing to suggest that before 1914 his classes in Marxism drew the largest audiences of th their kind in Europe; or that the Bolsheviks vi appointed him the Soviet consul in Gl Glasgow, which Maclean imagined as th the revolution’s starting point; a British Pe Petrograd. Or that he twice went to jail fo for incitement and sedition, telling the co court, “I come here not as the accused bu but as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot.” According to Isobel Lindsay of the Reid Foundation, if Maclean and his fellow socialists had be been heeded, “one of the darkest periods in Scottish and British history could ha have been avoided”. On a wet afternoon in Eastwood cemetery how unlikely this ho hope seems: that a working-class movement m could have taken on the nation st states of Europe and defeat their crowns, bu bureaucracies, treaty obligations, propagandists ga and armies. Still, the feeling the gr grave evokes is fairly straightforward: M Maclean’s life shows that there was brave if limited political (rather than only moral) opposition to the war that ought to be better known and understood.

Haig’s grave, on the other hand, pr presents the visitor with the difficulty of knowing what to feel. It lies among the beautiful ruins of Dryburgh Abbey in a loop of the Tweed, only a few feet away from Sir Walter Scott and a mile or so from Bemersyde, the Haig country seat that a grateful nation bought from his cousin and gave to the field marshal in 1921. The headstone is as humble as Maclean’s – intentionally humble (“He trusted in God and tried to do the right”) with a bronze plaque nearby advertising its humility by pointing out that it no way differs from the hundreds of thousands of other headstones “placed in many lands over his comrades who fell in the Great War”. This is the equality of death, when a little more equality in life might have been welcome from the man who commanded the largest British army in history, whose blood-soaked strategy of “big pushes” and attrition succeeded (in the words of Blackadder) only in moving

My Father’s Son, which is a sadly titled memoir by Douglas Haig’s son, who was only nine when his father died and felt he could never live up to this legendary figure who had won the war and secured the empire. Being taken prisoner in the second world war proved a liberation: in a prison of war camp he could at last “shed the burden of … living up to my father’s great reputation as a soldier”. Even in Colditz, every cloud … the general’s drinks cabinet “six inches closer to Berlin”.

How many people come here? Perhaps not many. There were a few paper flowers at Maclean’s grave and here at the Haig family plot there are none. And yet, comparing British casualty rates with those of France, Germany and Italy, Haig’s reputation looks to have been disproportionately blackened. His supporters argue that his vilification began posthumously when his old enemy Lloyd George published his memoirs, in a climate already made receptive to hearing bad news about generals by the burst of literature – All Quiet on the Western Front, Journey’s End, Goodbye to All That – that appeared 10 years after the Armistice. The military theorist Basil Liddell Hart, who was inimical to Haig, helped Lloyd George with his memoirs and then did the same for Alan Clark, whose 1961 book The Donkeys inspired the musical Oh What a Lovely War! which in turn inspired Blackadder.

In this way, the decline of Haig’s reputation into a caricature of a stubborn, callous and unenlightened commander in chief can be attributed to a narrow cultural conspiracy. Until his death in 1928 Haig remained a remarkably popular figure. “We want Duggie … we want Duggie”, the students at Edinburgh chanted when he got his honorary degree in 1919. “In the immediate aftermath of victory Haig was seen as the instrument of a wonderful deliverance,” Gary Sheffield writes in the most recent pro-Haig biography, remembering that six months earlier the British army had seemed on the brink of defeat.

His coffin lay in state for two days in London and three in Edinburgh. Thousands of mourners, many war veterans, filed past it. An early live broadcast by the BBC made his funeral at Westminster Abbey into a national occasion. Nobody then could have imagined his reincarnation as Stephen Fry.

The “official” narrative of the first world war – that it had been a war worth fighting, worth “the sacrifice” – began to crumble soon after and can never now be resurrected. For all these reasons, Maclean’s grave is a less troubling thing to look upon than Haig’s; with him we know where we stand.

Ian Jack

Courier, 10 September 2013

STUC ‘undecided’ over future of the Union

TO THE surprise and frustration of many who are accustomed to us delivering clear and unequivocal views on major issues, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the large majority of our affiliated unions continue to deliberate rather than profess a preferred outcome for the referendum vote on 14 September, 2014.

The STUC’s historical position as the “Home Rule wing” of the labour movement led many to expect us to take what they see as the next natural step – a Yes vote. Others have assumed that the closeness of sections of the trade union movement to Labour, and our wider values of international solidarity, should lead us naturally to a No. Suffice to say, things are more complicated than that and a definitive position should not be expected anytime soon.

As with many other civic organisations, we have plenty of members on both sides of the debate who have passionately-held views, who have made their decision and are unlikely to change their minds.

In many cases, the drivers for these positions, particularly with respect to people’s sense of national identity, are not areas in which unions will be able to establish a singular view on behalf of the membership.

There is also a strong – and understandable – tendency for individual members to take a clear view based on their expectation of the impact of constitutional change on the specific industrial sectors in which they work – and the impact that will have on their jobs.

But it has also become increasingly clear, as we have gone about the job of consulting and discussing the issues within unions, that a substantial proportion of active members lie in the “undecided” category. Far from being apathetic or disinterested, these are the folk who are politically engaged, keen to be informed and also are likely to make their final decision based on which constitutional option is most likely to deliver social and economic justice in Scotland, whether as part of the United Kingdom or not.

Crucially, for these people, the answer to that question is not obvious, either because they distrust the quality of information they are currently receiving from the respective campaigns or because they are involved in a process of balancing the pros and cons of what they have heard.

It is with these people that the main political campaigns – understandably convinced of the absolute rightness of their respective cases – are continuing to fail to engage. There has certainly been a growing recognition that the debate on social justice is key to winning over the undecided. This is witnessed by the First Minister Alex Salmond’s statement that “only independence can protect the social fabric of Scotland” or Scottish Labour’s deputy Anas Sarwar saying: “We are excited about putting forward our case for Scotland in the United Kingdom based on Labour values of solidarity, community, fairness, equality and social justice.”

However, the fiscal evidence to support these claims and counter claims has not been reliable, with consequent cynicism that these aspirations will be achieved under either constitutional scenario.

The picture of the current UK state, presented by Gordon Brown and others, as an effective agent for redistribution and solidarity falls foul of the everyday experience of members faced with social insecurity, wage inequality and an inadequate welfare system. Scotland is certainly not the worst casualty of the geographical failures of the industrial and social policies of successive governments, but arguments that appear too comfortable with a system that has allowed the continuation of the current level of economic inequality are unlikely to resonate with our members.

Equally, the ideas that an independent Scotland could create an oil fund and significantly boost welfare spending at the same time as maintaining or reducing levels of taxation, or that it would enjoy full fiscal freedom while being a member of a single currency, tend to be greeted with incredulity.

The common weaknesses in these respective social justice narratives are two-fold.

First, neither challenges existing orthodoxies nor embraces new economic thinking in any meaningful way. Discussion of key issues, such as democratic ownership of the economy, wage inequality, and employment and trade union law – which are of key importance for many undecided members – have been considered by organisations such as the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the Red Paper Collective and, of course, the STUC, but thus far have not been dealt with in any depth by the mainstream campaigns.

Second, neither mainstream campaign has been prepared to accept that the likely reality of constitutional change is that it offers a trade-off of powers, bringing both advantages and disadvantages.

The increased fiscal powers which could come with independence might have to be balanced against reduced democratic influence over the setting of interest rates or financial regulation within a shared currency. A Scottish welfare system, independent and distinct from the rest of the UK would almost certainly loosen the extent to which social solidarity is delivered equally across these islands, but would most certainly enable future Scottish governments to better align employment, health and education policies with other social solidarity outcomes.

Unsurprisingly, trade unionists for whom the answer to the Yes or No question is not obvious also maintain a keen interest in further devolution. The option of an additional “devo-more” referendum question was favoured by many and the deliberations and outcome of the pro-Union parties, particularly Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission, are likely to have a significant impact on the ultimate choice of many who lean towards support for additional tax-raising powers, increased control of welfare and possibly areas of employment law.

Throughout the autumn, Scottish unions will continue to consult with members, the STUC will hold a range of one-day conferences on key issues such as welfare, employment and fiscal policy, as well as holding sector-specific discussions in key areas such as defence, the civil service, energy, post and telecommunications. Early in 2014, a further report will be published. But, even then, it can be expected that most Scottish trade unions will make full use of the 350 or so days that are left in this campaign to explore the issues which affect our members and their families.


• Dave Moxham is deputy general-secretary the STUC

Scotsman, 10 September 2013

Own money ‘would mean independence’

An independent Scotland could avoid tying its monetary policy to England or Germany by having its own currency, according to research led by a former Treasury and Scotland Office statistician.

Economic Policy Options for an Independent Scotland, a report by Dr Jim Cuthbert and his economist wife Margaret, takes “a radical look” at Scotland’s choices.

Commissioned by nationalist group Options for Scotland and think-tank The Jimmy Reid Foundation, the report said it is “a given” that Scotland could be a viable independent country.

It sets out economic options such as an independent currency and freedom to choose international alliances, and potential constraints such as the high degree of foreign ownership of land and businesses and international trade rules.

It rejects critics who say Scotland is too small to have a stable independent currency, pointing to international examples and arguing that using the pound or the euro would cede fiscal control to England or Germany.

“The basic choice for an independent Scotland as regards monetary policy would be whether it wanted to control its own monetary policy, in which case it would need to have its own currency, or whether to opt for some arrangement like membership of a currency union, or operating a currency peg, both of which would involve ceding control over monetary policy,” it says.

“Without its own currency, can Scotland escape from the drawbacks of having a monetary policy delivered primarily in the interests of the South East of England, or indeed of Germany, if Scotland chose to join the euro?

“On the other hand, it is sometimes objected that an economy of Scotland’s size, with its own currency, would have an inherently unstable exchange rate. This is not necessarily so: in fact, countries like Norway, Denmark, and Switzerland have managed their currencies historically in a more stable fashion than the UK.”

Around £16.7 billion of oil money flows out of Scotland and over half (55%) of oil jobs are located outside Scotland, the report states.

“A fundamental priority of an independent Scotland will be to change the terms in which the above resources are exploited, so that more of the benefit stays in Scotland.”

Scotland could raise oil taxes or wield “the ultimate power” of nationalisation but it is more likely to restructure tax incentives and licensing conditions to keep more money in Scotland , the authors said.

Scotland is “a feudal country where 432 families own half of non-public land”, the report states.

“Scotland, which is one of the few countries in Europe which allows wealthy foreigners to buy up unlimited amounts of land, contrasts, for example, with Norway where land can only be held by residents.”

There are “minimal barriers” to foreign takeovers, including in Scotland’s whisky industry which is now largely in foreign hands, according to the authors.

“A series of uncontrolled takeovers has meant that most of the whisky industry is now foreign controlled. Some estimates put outside control at 83% of the industry.”

The country would need to find a way to inhibit foreign takeovers without infringing EU competitiveness and state aid laws, damaging Scotland’s attractiveness to foreign companies and ” featherbedding” Scottish companies so that their relative productivity gets out of line with international competitors.

The authors suggest a corporate governance system similar to Germany where employees and shareholders can limit foreign takeovers.

An independent financial sector could avoid “the cultures of greed and excessive risk taking” that damaged the UK sector, the report states.

“It is just not conceivable that an independent Scotland would have let RBS build up the potential trillion pound exposure to the derivatives market which it was reported to have before the crash,” it said.

The country’s path to EU membership is “currently unclear” but it would have a strong hand in accession negotiations with its control of major natural resources and fisheries, it said.

“If the EU was seeking to impose too many burdensome requirements, then there are other options Scotland could explore, like membership of Efta (European Free Trade Association).”

Efta represents four European countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Robin McAlpine, director of The Jimmy Reid Foundation, said: “This is a vision for the Scottish economy which could be built on real enterprise backed by a wealth of natural resources and in which everybody benefits, not just the few.”

Gordon Wilson, former SNP leader and director of Options for Scotland, said: “Let no one say that those in favour of independence fear coming forward with constructive ideas for the running of Scotland after a Yes vote.”

Herald, 10 September 2013

New currency a ‘serious option’

NEW Scottish currency is a “serious option” if voters opt for independence next year, a panel of leading economists has found.

The group – including past and present members of Alex Salmond’s council of economic advisers and the Scottish Government’s chief economist – said a new currency would have to be the “default option” if a newly independent Scotland had currency talks with the rest of the UK.

They said the option would have to be pursued if an independent Scotland failed to secure the First Minister’s favoured arrangement of sharing the pound in a formal monetary union with the UK.

The conclusion emerged from a top- level seminar in July organised by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the British Academy. Their official report on the meeting is published today.

It comes as a separate report, commissioned by t he proindependence Options for Scotland think tank and the leftleaning Reid Foundation, concluded that a new currency would be viable and would avoid “ceding control over monetary policy” to London or Frankfurt.

Among the seven experts who gave presentations in the Royal Society of Edinburgh and British Academy seminar were Dr Gary Gillespie, the Scottish Government’s chief economist, Professor Frances Ruane, a member of the Mr Salmond’s council of economic advisers, and Professor John Kay, a former member of the same panel.

The official report of the meeting says: “It was suggested that having an independent currency is a serious option for an independent Scotland.

“On the subject of the negotiation of a monetary union with the UK, it was suggested that this would only be possible to conduct on the basis that the independent currency was the default option, which would be pursued if acceptable terms of the monetary union failed.”

Mr Salmond has insisted that a satisfactory currency union would be negotiated because it would be in the interests of both Scotland’s and the rest of the UK, despite claims such an arrangement – if it did prove acceptable to the UK – would severely restrict an independent Scottish Government’s economic policies.

He has resisted calls to outline a “Plan B” in case talks failed.

Today’s report dismisses other possible options – joining the euro or using the pound without agreement with Westminster – as “not credible”. But it warns of a “likelihood” the UK Government would use its large shareholding in RBS to order it to headquarter itself in London, as part of any currency union deal.

In the Options for Scotland/ Reid Foundation report, economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert back the idea of creating a new currency.

They wrote: “The basic choice for an independent Scotland as regards monetary policy would be whether it wanted to control its own monetary policy, in which case it would need to have its own currency, or whether to opt for some arrangement like membership of a currency union, or operating a currency peg, both of which would involve ceding control over monetary policy.” THE senior partner of a real estate fund manager backing a £60 million office block in central Glasgow believes there could be greater opportunity for investment in Scotland if the country votes for independence.

Press and Journal, 10 September 2013

Green power regulation ‘better’ after separation

BY CAMERON BROOKS Regulation of renewable energy would be managed “much better” in an independent Scotland, it has been claimed.

Economist Jim Cuthbert said constitutional reform would enable the country to change current UK Government subsidy arrangements. The ex-Treasury and Scotland Office statistician said private landowners were exploiting onshore wind power and estimated the wealthiest could earn about £1billion in rent over the next eight years.

A report published yesterday, Economic Policy Options f or Scotland, states: “Landowners are benefiting from a huge unearned economic rent while at the same time electricity consumers are paying for this in terms of higher energy costs.”

Mr Cuthbert said: “We have pointed to a potential problem and inequity that a large part of the subsidy goes to landowners. An independent Scotland has the ability to do it much better – it is an argument for independence.”

Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundationthink-tank, claimed the UK Government “bribed” private operators to build national infrastructure.

“The UK subsidy price reflects the capital investment price which is high because it is in effect a large Private Finance Initiative scheme,” he added.

Mr McAlpine said the solution was to ensure decentralised public bodies were responsible for renewing infrastructure in the future.

Mr Cuthbert said it is hard to envisage “full independence” without making the “difficult” transition towards a separate currency.

Greece’s problems in the eurozone are evidence of the “inherent restrictions” that the SNP’s plan to keep the pound in a monetary union with the remainder of the UK would place on Scotland, he said.

Courier, 10 September 2013

Report puts case for Scotland to have own currency

AN INDEPENDENT Scotland could avoid tying its monetary policy to England or Germany by having its own currency, according to research led by a former Treasury and Scotland Office statistician.

Economic Po l i cy Options for an Independent Scotland, a report by Dr Jim Cuthbert and his economist wife Margaret, takes “a radical look” at Scotland’s choices.

Commissioned by nationalist group Options for Scotland and think-tank The Jimmy Reid Foundation, the report said it is “a given” that Scotland could be a viable independent country.

It sets options out economic such as an independent currency and freedom to choose international alliances, and potential constraints such as the high degree of foreign ownership of land and businesses and international trade rules.

It rejects critics who say Scotland is too small to have a stable independent currency, pointing to international examples and arguing that using the pound or the euro would cede fiscal control to England or Germany.

“Wi t h o u t its ow n currency, can Scotland escape from the drawbacks of having a monetary policy delivered primarily in the interests of the South East of England, or indeed of Germany, if Scotland chose to join the euro?” it says.

“On the other hand, it is sometimes objected that an economy of Scotland’s size, with its own currency, would have an inherently unstable exchange rate.“This is not necessarily so — in fact, countries like Norway, Denmark, and Switzerland have managed their currencies historically in a more stable fashion than the UK.”

Scotsman, 30 August 2013

Fear and alarm reveals truth of tax

Despite the mantra that tax cuts resolve economic concerns, writes Robin McAlpine, it’s only the rich who ever benefit – Scotsman article from today

When I was young we played on moorland close to our house. If we strayed into the wrong place, a peewit would rise into the air and circle, letting out an agitated screech. This was not because we had stumbled across its nest, it was because we were getting too close to a place where we might possibly stumble across its nest. Its hysteria was preventative.

As a peewit to its nest, so the right-wing of politics to tax. It is of the utmost importance that we are not allowed to stray into the territory of a fact-based debate because it would start to turn the orthodoxies upside down. And so, if anyone even approaches the tax debate in an open-minded way it is essential that they are warned off through a display of the most hysterical sort possible. A Daily Mail front-page shocker about “ordinary people” being “thumped” for example.

I appreciate that this may strike you as a lot of heresy for a Friday morning, but people want better pay and better public services much more than lower taxes. And a higher tax-take makes a more efficient, effective and competitive economy and a much more equal and happy society. Let me explain.

Since 1983 the British Social Attitudes survey has every year asked a very substantial sample of people whether they’d like to raise taxes and invest more in public services, keep taxes and public services the same or reduce taxes and invest less in public services. In those 30 years there has not been a single occasion in which more than 11 per cent of the British public have supported cutting tax.

The fact is that tax is good for the vast majority of us and the more tax is taken the better. If you map rates of tax to economic and social outcomes, the pattern is undeniable. While markets are efficient at allocating resources in commercial areas, when it comes to the range of “social protection” – everything from education and health to infrastructure and policing – collective provision is much more efficient.

Take the following example. In Sweden they do indeed spend about 41 per cent of their income on social protection. But in the US they spend 40 per cent of their income on social protection. It’s just that the collective, tax-funded model used in Sweden is massively more efficient than the everyone-for-themselves commercial model in the US. Swedes and Americans pay the same. The Swedes get everything they pay for, the Americans get ripped off.

Brian Monteith wrote a critique of the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal ideas in this paper on Monday and to those of his persuasion I ask a simple question; where does all the “lost” fiscal revenue go? While in Sweden almost every penny spent on social protection goes into creating high-quality jobs, in the US the business model is to create as few jobs as possible and extract as much in corporate profits as you can.

So tax not only creates social wellbeing much more efficiently, it is way more efficient economically. Hoarded money has no impact on the economy; people in good jobs does. It makes everyone wealthier and creates a virtuous cycle with more and more money in the economy.

Doubt this? Look at the statistics again. All the countries with the highest rates of take-home pay have the highest tax rates. This is not in spite of tax, it is because of tax. The real impact of tax is to make all but the very top of society richer – think what society would look like with no tax.

Next you’ll be told that tax makes you uncompetitive internationally. Except even the most market-friendly of competitiveness indicators, such as those produced by the World Trade Organisation or the IMD international business school places high-tax nations such as Sweden, Norway, Germany or Denmark well above the UK. In fact, most of the most competitive countries economically have higher tax rates than the UK and almost all the Nordic nations are in the top ten. Once again, since higher tax favours productive and manufacturing enterprises over low-pay, low-productivity, low-margin businesses, this is exactly what you’d expect to happen.

And so to public finances, because it is here that the story of tax eventually leads. We are told relentlessly that we can no longer afford the public services that the population demands and so tough choices need to be made. And yet the reality is that we have a chronic low-pay economy which destabilises the tax base and leaves the public paying billions of pounds to subsidise in-work poverty.

Only one in five Scots earns between £25,000 and £35,000. Three out of five earn less; half less than £21,000. The Reid Foundation has modelled what would happen to Scotland’s finances if we had a labour market comparable to other economies at our state of development. If we moved even relatively modest numbers of people out of low pay into medium pay and reduced unemployment we could increase the tax take by over 30 per cent without raising tax rates at all.

The anti-tax lobby has been consistently dishonest. It has refused to accept the evidence, it refuses to look at internationally comparable data, it has refused to challenge a low-pay culture, it has refused to model the alternatives. But above all, it goes into every general election promising to protect public services in the full knowledge it is the only chance it has to get elected but with no intention of putting in place a credible tax regime or labour market policy. This lie is 40 years old. It is this lie and not public services that has made the UK the world’s second most indebted advanced economy.

We’ve got it all wrong about tax. We really have.

• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Sunday Herald, 25 August 2013


Britain’s tax phobia is stopping it from working out a fairer way of tackling our economic problems … but the cornerstone of the Common Weal project includes a plan to boost an independent Scotland’s balance sheet and create employment without asking in

SCOTLAND can be a richer, fairer, more progressive nation without having to increase income tax rates, according to a major new report from the Common Weal project. The state could collect one-third more income tax and transform public services if politicians only had the courage to fix the current system, it says.

The report argues that by helping more people into work and investing to create higher skilled, better paid jobs, Scotland could collect an extra £4 billion in income tax each year after a decade of Holyrood having full tax powers.

By effectively creating a larger middle class, the changes would reduce income inequality and cut the nation’s benefits bill, it claims.

Published jointly this week by the Jimmy Reid Foundation and Compass Scotland, the paper is intended to form the bedrock of the Common Weal concept, which advocates cherry-picking proven policies from the Nordic countries to alter Scotland’s economy and create a better, more equitable society.

It argues that independence – or full taxation powers known as fiscal autonomy – would let Scotland break with a dysfunctional UK economy characterised by low pay for millions and millionaire salaries for an elite.

“A climate has been carefully cultivated in Britain which treats talk of taxation as a dangerous and taboo subject,” it says. “Certain interest groups and parts of the media have been particularly keen to make the subject so toxic that people are afraid to discuss it.”

A key problem is the “massively unhealthy” assumption that taxes should only get lower, despite the harm to public services.

To kickstart the change, the paper recommends short- term wealth taxes on the rich and taxes on whisky and renewable energy. Barely £400 million ( or 2%) of the £ 25bn in annual worldwide whisky sales come from Scotland and, according to one study, a £1 production tax on each bottle could generate an extra £1bn.

The new monies would be used to realign Scotland’s labour market through job creation and training, leading to a shift from the low-pay, low-skill jobs that trap thousands in poverty.

As more workers enter the £25,000-£35,000 wage bracket, and employment rates rise, there would be a rise in the overall tax take.

The increased tax would be reinvested in public services, industry and infrastructure to stimulate the jobs market, as well as cutting spending on the tax credits and benefits which top up low pay.

This could “raise tax revenues effectively and painlessly”, without hiking tax rates, it says.

The report arrives amid growing support for the Common Weal concept among the SNP hierarchy, who see it as an attractive sales pitch for independence.

SNP MSPs will today be briefed on the idea by Jimmy Reid Foundation director Robin McAlpine. Titled Investing in the Good Society: a Tax Plan for the Common Weal, the new paper says Nordic countries benefit from collecting more of their GDP in tax than the UK. But that does not mean their citizens suffer from low pay, as the extra tax is invested in public services and state lending to industry which fosters better paid, higher skill jobs.

The paper includes computer modelling which suggests that if the Scottish employment rate were raised from the 69.5% seen in 2010-11 to 76.2% by 2017-18, the income tax take would rise by £2.2bn to £12.9bn, up 18% in real terms.

If employment then rose to 80% by 2025-26, the tax take would rise by £4.1bn, 35% up on 2010-11 in real terms, without a change to tax rates.

The paper also says tax should be radically simplified as part of measures to cut down on perfectly legal, if morally reprehensible, tax evasion by corporations and the rich. Other ideas include taxing multinationals on a percentage of their global income according to their turnover in Scotland.

Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, said Scotland had a chance to build a tax system which was good for its economy: “If it’s wise Scotland will penalise low pay and encourage fair rewards. Do this and Scotland could have a broad tax base, strong tax revenues and low tax rates all at the same time.

“If Scotland is to take control of its destiny it’s a challenge its politicians must embrace now, together, to build a common future for the people of Scotland as a whole.”

Howard Reed, director of consultancy firm Landman Economics, said British politics stifled discussion of tax. “The UK’s problem with tax is that we have a hopelessly lowpay economy. If the public could be exposed to a half-decent debate about tax, the whole nature of political debate would be utterly changed.

“Tax take is what counts and the way to increase tax take is to make people richer. If only we put people first in a high-wage economy our tax problems would fix themselves.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “This paper sounds like classic voodoo economics; the economic version of turning base metals into gold. There will not be many serious thinkers who would see such plans as credible or a platform for the finances of a future Scotland.

Sunday Herald, 25 August 2013

Scotland could become a beacon for a better future … I envy you

ILOOK north to Scotland with at least a tinge of envy. Away from the apathy and dejection spawned by the Westminster sluggers, politics seems to be coming alive in your country, as it must when big and meaningful decisions are entrusted to the people.

The referendum has ignited a political spark. So debate rages for and against the SNP who, along with Ukip, are alone among the political parties seeing their memberships increase, 600 people attend a leftwing gathering in Glasgow to debate independence ( a turnout that exceeds, per capita, any political gathering elsewhere in the UK) and think-tanks like the Jimmy ReidFoundation spark into life.

Regardless of the result of the referendum itself, this is nothing but good for the heart and soul of Scotland. The capacity of the Scottish people and their belief in themselves can only be enhanced.

The organisation I chair, Compass, doesn’t have a fixed view on the referendum. Instead we start with this question: what is the good society and the good life as it relates to Scotland? What is to be a fully formed human being in the 21st century? What should we expect for our lives and those we live with?

Just to be asking these questions suggests a problem. Life for most in Scotland is insecure and anxious. All along the income chain most live just one or two pay cheques from economic disaster. Even those lucky enough to be well paid are exhausted by the earn- to- spend treadmill of modern consumer society, where enough is never enough.

Those further down the social ladder have all the pressure to keep up, but have to work two shifts a day to keep their heads above water. No-one has enough time for their friends and family. It’s a life that is simply out of our control.

So the Reid Foundation’s work on the Common Weal strikes a real chord. It says that, despite all we are told by the advertisers, we can’t hope to buy the good society or the good life off the shelf in the

supermarket. We can only create it by working together in our communities, workplaces and political systems. It is a simple but compelling insight that our wellbeing must be common to us all – and that our fulfilment cannot be bought at the expense of others.

Will independence help or hinder the birth of a new common weal for Scotland and the shift to a good society that is much more equal, sustainable and democratic?

I see the referendum split political friendships and families north and south of the Border. I can see both sides. Why would other fellow progressives want to leave their comrades in England to the eternal mercy of the Tories? But equally, can’t Scotland show England and Wales what a progressive future looks like as an independent Nordicstyle social democracy?

The debate and the decision will reverberate. It is already rippling south as the English question unfolds in its wake. Quite rightly it is up to the Scottish people to decide.

For those running the campaigns it will feel like a life or death struggle, a once- in- history chance the settle the national issue. As someone who was at the forefront of the last national referendum, just 18 months ago on the AV voting system, let me tell you it isn’t.

Electoral reform, far from being dead, will be back on the agenda the day after the next general election if first past the post delivers another hung parliament or gives office to a party which came second in the popular vote. Likewise in Scotland, if the Tories fail to win a single Scottish seat and yet rule the country, the national question will be quickly back on the agenda even after a referendum defeat.

Democratic renewal tends to occur around big revolutionarystyle events like these, not gradually. Scotland is facing such a big event. Whatever the outcome, Scotland can become a beacon for a different and better future – a good society based in part on the notion of the common weal. But only if it embraces the power of the democratic surge that is being unleashed by the brave decision to let the people decide.

What will then be awoken may not just be a sense of Scottish national independence but something, dare I say, even more important. What will stir is the transformative capacity of the Scottish people to determine their collective fate in their communities, their workplaces, their public services – as consumers and citizens – to make their world together.

The common weal can only be created by daring more democracy and trusting the people to manage their lives together. Democracy is the means and ends of the good society. The light from the north flickers and we are drawn to it – but will it burst into life?

Neal Lawson is the Chair of Compass

The Scotsman, 20 August 2013

Yes supporters dismayed at being branded anti-english malcontents, claims left-winger

THE portrayal of Scots involved in the referendum debate as anti-English “malcontents” is a “caricature” that could damage the country’s reputation, a leading left-wing thinker said last night.

Robin McAlpine, the director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, spoke out following comments made last week by broadcaster Andrew Marr who said that “antiEnglish” feeling in Scotland was still “very strong”.

Marr pointed to the experience of Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who was hounded by protesters on a recent visit to Edinburgh and told to “go home”.

Mr McAlpine said that – whatever the outcome in next year’s vote – there was a danger that the country could be harmed if it is portrayed over the next 12 months as bearing a grievance against the rest of the UK.

“Many people, and not only independence supporters, are dismayed by the repeated assumption that Scotland’s constitutional debate is somehow being driven by anti-English sentiment,” he said last night.

“No-one who has been involved with the debate so far will recognise this caricature, no matter what side of the debate they are on.

“Whatever the outcome of the referendum it will do none of us any good if the English media persists in portraying Scots as malcontents rather than people who just want to build a better society,” he added.

The Foundation is hosting an event at the Festival entitled Common Weal, a light from the north, which is aimed at publicising its prospectus for a more left-wing future, including universal free childcare and nationalised energy.

It argues that such proposals being thrown up by the referendum debate could help shift the debate left-wards across the UK as well.

Mr McAlpine added: “We hope that this event can show how Scotland’s constitutional debate offers England a chance to rethink what kind of society it wants to be too.

“All the people of these islands need to be in a positive and constructive conversation about our futures. It’s not the people of Scotland who are turning their back on this.”

Pro-independence figures have acknowledged that there is a risk their argument is perceived to be anti-English.

A SNP spokesman last week said the party was disappointed by Mr Marr’s comments, in which he linked the party to “anglophobia”.

He told a book festival event: “There is a very strong antiEnglish feeling [in Scotland], everybody knows it, there always has been.”

He added: “If you go back to the origins of the SNP, the origins of home rule, anglophobia was as wellentrenched then as it is now.

“I don’t think it is serious most of the time. But it can become serious, it can become toxic.”

Sunday Herald, 18 August 2013

Counting the true cost of austerity

IT is difficult to find any positives in the financial crash that has left millions struggling – but one small benefit could be the chance to think again about how we live.

The much-mocked mantra of the Coalition in recent years has been that “we’re all in it together” when it comes to tightening our belts and cutting the nation’s deficit in a bid to get the public to accept some painful austerity.

New statistics, though, paint a depressing picture of how ordinary households are suffering, with bills rocketing over the last five years. Energy prices have risen by as much as 61%, according to figures published by the SNP.

Other essentials have also jumped in price, with the cost of petrol up by just over 44% and average food costs rising by 37.5%.

Yet wages have failed to keep pace with inflation, with weekly pay packets up by only around 9% over that time. Those lucky enough to have remained in work during the turbulent economic times have faced wage freezes and pay sacrifices, while “zero-hours” contracts – which offer no guarantee of a pay packet at the end of any week – have become common.

Other published figures show the UK has suffered the fourth-biggest drop in hourly wages across the whole of the EU since 2010, with a decline of 5.5% – more than countries which were plunged into a deeper financial crisis such as Spain and Cyprus.

But there are signs that not everyone is suffering. In April, it was reported that almost £4 billion was paid out in bonuses to bankers, up 82% compared with the year before. Critics pointed out this coincided with the Government’s cut in the top rate of tax, from 50p in the pound to 45p in that same month.

So, it is perhaps no surprise that “tax-shaming” has dominated the headlines, with increasing outrage at major corporations who avoid paying their fair share.

The opportunity to think again about how we live, it appears, has not been grasped. Next year’s independence debate could provide a key chance to think about how this could be done.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project, which is exploring ideas for a fairer and wealthier Scotland, is an important example of the type of discussion this nation has to have.

An example of the type of debate needed is the one reported today in the Sunday Herald: where the Foundation questions whether Glasgow’s focus on the retail sector as a route to prosperity has instead led to a low-paid, casualised workforce.

Even if it doesn’t lead to a “Yes” f or an i ndependent Scotland, perhaps such debate will provide crucial thinking for Scotland on what powers it needs to distance itself from the Westminster Coalition, whose pledge that the pain of austerity would be felt by all has an increasingly hollow ring to it.

Sunday Herald, 18 August 2013

Common Weal: more shopping won’t boost economy … just keep us poor

GLASGOW’S focus on shopping and the retail sector as a route to regeneration and prosperity is actually keeping many of its citizens poor and miserable, according to a new report.

Published today by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation, the report singles out Glasgow’s shopping mall boom as an example of how the Scottish economy has become over-reliant on insecure low-pay jobs in the service sector.

Rather than enabling a break from poverty, the reports argues, such jobs are part of the problem. Instead of the diverse “quality work” Glasgow needs, it says they are part of “an insecure working environment characterised by casualisation, low pay and deskilled work … with high levels of turnover”.

A big retail sector also means multinational chains taking profits out the city and undercutting local businesses, while people unable to afford the lifestyle on offer suffer “psychological insecurities”.

Criticising the council for focusing on ­”materialistic goals” and “shopping culture”, the report asks: “If a retail, leisure and tourism economy should address poverty through trickle-down economics as is often claimed, then why is Glasgow both one of the UK’s leading retail centres and the UK city with the most severe poverty problems?

“If Glasgow has developed a consumer-based economy with a retail sector now two-and-a-half times the size of Edinburgh’s, why have health gaps continued to increase between the two cities?”

The paper is a contribution to the Foundation’s Common Weal project, which advocates importing economic and social policies from the Nordic countries for a fairer and wealthier Scotland.

Titled Excuses Are Always With us: How a Common Weal Approach Can End Poverty, the report’s authors are Mike Danson, professor of enterprise policy at Heriot-Watt University and Katherine Trebeck, a policy manager for Oxfam UK, writing in a personal capacity.

It urges a move away from tax-avoiding global brands which export their profits, and recommends more state support for smaller, homegrown retailers whose sales and wages put money directly into the local economy.

With centres including St Enoch Square, Princes Square and Buchanan Galleries, Glasgow is the UK’s biggest shopping destination outside London, with 1500 shops in the city centre, attracting 2.2 million visitors each year.

Glasgow Chamber of Commerce says this generates £2.4 billion in sales and supports more than 150,000 jobs. In recent years, Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and the City Marketing Bureau have all strongly promoted Glasgow’s shopping “offer”, in part to lure conferences and other businesses to the city.

With 82% of Scottish jobs being in the service sector – which includes business services, finance, government, health and education as well as retail and catering – the Reid Foundation report says concerted action is needed to end poverty, as the current form of the labour market won’t do it. It says: “The existence of poverty amid considerable richness is testament to insufficent political will to date, testament to the failed economic model, and testament to the vested interests which undermine change.”

Citing the Nordic countries as proof that low wages need not be the basis of economic growth, it recommends job creation focused on quality jobs accessible to the poor, more flexible working, a shorter working week to stimulate job sharing, more diverse business ownership, and greater worker input in management.

Government should only give state support to firms which pay full taxes, and which narrow the gulf between their shop floor and boardroom pay, the report adds.

Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said it was wrong to equate Glasgow with shopping, and said malls were there because Glaswegians wanted them.

He said: “It’s not just because retailers have come in to soak up the profits, as the Jimmy Reid Foundation seem to be portraying it, it’s because Glaswegians are very enthusiastic shoppers.

“We also don’t have a disproportionately large share of employment in Glasgow in retail.

“So the suggestion that we have distorted the economy in Glasgow when we have been highlighting how good the retail offer is – I would like to see the evidence of that.”

A city council spokesman said: “Glasgow now has a far more resilient and diverse economy than it did a generation ago. Glasgow is one of the 10 biggest financial centres in Europe, and more people are currently employed in tourism than were ever employed in the city’s shipyards. The international financial services district has brought more than 15,000 well-paid jobs and £1bn of outside investment to the city over the past decade.

“Glasgow’s success over the past 20 years has been built on public and private investment in a number of sectors to deliver a diversity that has allowed us to perform relatively well during the economic problems of the last five years, something that was learned from an over-reliance on heavy industry in the generation before.”

The Scotsman, 17 August 2013

Radical Left gathers speed but will stick at 30

2016 vote is vital to the gameplan of socialists who see a roadmap beyond a Yes result, writes Gregor Gall

Mtold us that the answer to “life, the universe and everything” was 42. But, right now, for the majority of the radical Left in Scotland, the answer is, actually, 30. This is because it wants a Yes vote in the (20)14 referendum and representation in the parliament elected in (20)16. Hence, 14 plus 16 equals 30, and 30 is, thus, its magic number.

A Yes vote in 2014 is not the be-all and end-all for the radical Left because there are several competing versions of what an independent Scotland could look like. Essentially, there are i) the neo-liberal version; ii) the social democratic version; and iii) the socialist version. This means as much emphasis is put on securing independence as is put upon determining what form independence will then take.

That said, the radical Left – best epitomised by the Radical Independence Campaign and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) – wants people to vote Yes on 18 September 2014 with the intention of achieving a radical form of Scottish independence. This radical Left wants to make it patently clear that the corollary to voting Yes with radical intent is to also then vote Left come the May 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

So all is clear in theory but what of the practice? Having a gameplan – indeed, playing the long game – is all well and good but implementing the plan, much less achieving the ambition, is a different matter.

Of course, if the radical Left in 2013 was as healthy, vibrant and high-profile as it was in 2003, things would be relatively speaking much easier. Cast your minds back to 1 May, 2003. This was when the SSP went from being the one-man band of Tommy Sheridan to the socialist parliamentary collective … or the “joy of six” as the party’s newspaper, the Scottish Socialist Voice, put in a homage to the ground-breaking book on sexual practice.

Turn the clock forward and all that was solid melted into thin air after Tommy Sheridan created a cataclysm by suing the News of the World for libel for stories that were substantially true. It tore the SSP apart and all ANY moons ago, Douglas Adams in T he Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy six of the MSPs lost their seats in 2007. Sheridan was then convicted of perjury and lost his mantle as the tribune of the poor and oppressed.

Out of a split in the Socialist Workers’ Party (one of Sheridan’s backers), the International Socialist Group (ISG) emerged in early 2011. It was the key mover in organising the 800-strong Radical Independence Conference of November 2012. It is holding another such conference on 23 November this year.

The Radical Independence Campaign (as it is now called), along with the continuing SSP and the Greens, has become the mainstay of the organised movement for a socially progressive independent Scotland. While working with the Yes Scotland campaign, the Jimmy Reid Foundation and elements of the SNP, it is critical of Alex Salmond’s neo-liberal version of independence.

What are the prospects for this radical Left making the breakthrough it seeks? The Left voices within Yes Scotland such as Dennis Canavan, Colin Fox and Patrick Harvey feel the time has come to get mouthy about the lack of radicalism. The Common Weal initiative of the Jimmy Reid Foundation is getting a good airing.

But there is still some way to go for the 2014 side of the equation. The unions are more predisposed to independence have yet to start pushing for policy commitments from the SNP and, just as importantly, a majority of citizens still do not yet feel that independence speaks positively to their concerns about their standards of living and life chances. The case for independence does not yet connect with popular grievances and material concerns.

When it comes to the 2016 part of the equation, the challenges are greater still for the radical Left. If independence is won, the SNP is not likely to see a left-wing breakaway any time soon. This is because the attraction of being in power will keep the SNP together for some time even though its central goal has been achieved. Whether the Greens, the SSP and ISG can develop an effective electoral alliance in time for 2016 remains to be seen.

Credibility and recognition are the key issues for the radical Left. After the SSP meltdown and the Greens losing five of their seven MSPs in 2007, the radical Left is neither as well known nor as widely respected as it used to be.

Sheridan remains a divisive figure as the fortunes of the campaign against the bedroom tax in Glasgow testify. He has been excluded from Yes Scotland but will no doubt attempt to put together a coalition of leftwingers to allow him to stand for the parliament in 2016 in the Glasgow list seat.

Critically, the movement against austerity has not taken off. The radical Left is partly responsible for this while at the same time being held back by the absence of such a movement. And, the public sector unions have not made a good fist of their fight against the government on pensions, pay or job cuts. Again, the radical Left is partly responsible for this and held back by it too.

Against this, the prospect of the return of a Tory government at Westminster in 2015 on the back of a growing economy and a reduction in debt (due to increased tax revenues due to growth) may be the saving grace.

Of course, the SNP and a Yes vote will be the biggest winners from this. But another term of office for the Bullingdon Club boys and Tory toffs might just be enough to compel some not just to get angry but also to get even. Getting even might mean getting active for radical ends.

Gregor Gall is professor of industrial relations at the University of Bradford and a resident of Edinburgh.

The Herald, 8 August 2013

Preserving the right to a dignified retirement

Let us stand up for the right to an old age free from fear

THE Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has reported on the opportunities and challenges arising from future welfare spending in an independent Scotland. Its report complements the vision of a “common weal”, the Nordic– type social contract, floated by the Jimmy Reid Foundation. Both outline the stark choices that lie ahead.

A declaration of interest may be in order. I belong to the one group of benefit claimants that has escaped largely unscathed from the Coalition Government’s carpet-bombing of the welfare system. We pensioners should not leave the bunker just yet. A No vote in the 2014 referendum, followed by a Conservative victory in the UK General Election, would place pensioners in the front line. We would be the next workless claimants demonised as being subsidised by hard-working families.

A case can be made against universal benefits for better-off pensioners. However, that case should not be a Trojan horse for an assault on a fundamental principle of a fair and compassionate society – a dignified retirement.

Many years ago I remember urging my father, well beyond pension age, to retire from the physical job he had done for more than 50 years. I thought he was too old to get up before dawn for 48 weeks a year. I couldn’t understand why he was reluctant to put a noisy, dirty and, at times, dangerous working environment behind him. It came as something of a shock to realise that I am approaching my father’s age when I urged him to put his tools away for good.

He was driven by insecurity. His working life embraced the depression and mass unemployment of the 1920s and 1930s. He was an active participant in the General Strike of 1926. He was instrumental in establishing a sickness benefit scheme to ensure his workmates had some income if unable to work due to illness. It is scarcely surprising that someone whose life and personality were shaped by insecurity was reluctant to stop working; particularly when his enlightened employers of 50 years had overlooked the provision of an occupational pension.

Yet my father’s generation bequeathed to us a sense of economic and social security it did not enjoy and which is threatened by the Coalition’s onslaught on welfare. While it is possible to have a philosophical debate on the individual’s right to benefits, there can be no argument about the inalienable right to live free from fear. My parents’ and grandparents’ generations lived in constant fear of unemployment, sickness and poverty in old age; if, of course, they were fortunate to live that long.

For my grandparents and their six children, summer holidays were a nightmare. The “holidays” amounted to a two-week lockout. The factory owners, ensconced in their west end mansions, couldn’t afford holiday pay; it would make us uncompetitive and jobs would have to go. Now, where have I heard that before?

The UK Government is the most divisive I can recall. Its ideologically-driven regressive measures undermine concepts of social cohesion and security. A population fearful for jobs, homes and prospects in old age is more likely to be a compliant population. It is less likely to take to the streets.

Pensioners have been relatively immune from the sustained attempts to reverse progressive measures dating back to Lloyd George’s premiership. But the bus-pass generation must do more than complacently accept a free ride. We need to exert a moral force to ensure a direction of travel that does not terminate in our children and grandchildren being exposed to the fears that haunted hard-working families of the past. The 2014 referendum will provide an opportunity to register our belief in a society that does not see the weakest and most needy as unfortunate collateral damage. However, as both the IFS and the Jimmy Reid Foundation have pointed out, a “wraparound” system of welfare and social security for future generations would give rise to serious funding challenges in an independent Scotland. It’s probably true to say we all want world-class health and welfare systems as long as someone else pays for them. The fundamental question for us all, including we baby–boomers, is: what kind of Scotland do we want to live in and what is it worth?

Daily Mail, 8 August 2013

Don’t try to rewrite history. Just remember and respect the heroes of the Great War

THE Jimmy Reid Foundation – no, I’d never heard of it either – is demanding a memorial to those Scots who opposed the outbreak of the Great War, 99 years ago this week.

As an immediate goal, Glasgow City Council is being urged to install a plaque. Meanwhile, thefoundation has set up an Alternative World War One Commemoration Committee, describing the official plans for events to mark next year’s centenary as ‘militaristic and inappropriate’.

Isobel Lindsay, one of those right-on luvvies-for-Leftdom who has been whining around Scottish public life for as long as anyone can remember, is a woman with a mission.

‘Some of the finest people in Scotland in this period, and particularly in Glasgow, opposed the war,’ she panted on Tuesday. ‘It took great integrity and courage to do so in the face of the jingoism they faced. If they had been listened to, one of the darkest periods in Scottish and British history could have been avoided.

‘That there is nothing to mark their courage in public space in Scotland is a disgrace, these people must be written back into history.’

These historical figures i nclude John Wheatley, who would later serve as a minister in the first-ever Labour Government; Willie Gallacher, a longlived and rumbustious Communist; John Maclean, a short-lived Socialist windbag, a couple of token women and the Reverend James Barr, a sort of United Free premonition of Bishop Desmond Tutu.

There are two immediate, howling problems with this risible proposition. First, the reality is that, in the Scotland of 1914, our decision to go to war against the Kaiser’s Germany was opposed by very few people – largely of the sort Clement Attlee would later describe as ‘those who can be guaranteed to have the wrong opinion on any subject’.


Second, when we speak of ‘courage’ in the Great War – no doubt Miss Lindsay would think this point a tad oldfashioned – we think immediately of those who fought in it, the vast majority as volunteers. (Conscription was not introduced until the spring of 1916 and many called up, having come of age, would have volunteered anyway.)

It is a little hard to see words such as ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’ – which certainly befit those who daily faced shells, bullets and bayonets – applied to a handful of precious little souls who stayed safely in Blighty, holding committees and passing motions.

But, considered in detail, everything proposed by Miss Lindsay and chums is ill-founded and offensive.

You are immediately struck by the sheer arrogance. It is assumed by them that everyone agrees our part in the Great War was a self- evident national disgrace; that all right- thinking people now accept it was indefensible and a complete disaster for the country.

Today, these are widespread, if lazy, views. It was not always the case. In 1918, our victory was justly celebrated as one of the greatest feats in the history of British arms (which, indeed, it remains.)

It was only in the 1930s, as our economy remained stagnant and unemployment unacceptably high, that any regret crept in. This was magnified as it became evident that the 1919 peace had been botched and we were heading for a certain rematch with Germany.

But the real damage came in the satirical boom of the 1960s and what has proved an abiding assault on old values of duty, deference and decency – from the hit of ‘ Oh What A Lovely War!’ (cementing the lie about untold decent working chaps sent to certain slaughter by upper- class twits) to the subsequent endeavours of untold English teachers in distressed corduroy, inculcating generations in the whiny verse of Owen and Sassoon.

Oddly, though, the Jimmy Reid Foundation is a little behind the curve. In recent years there has been serious historical reassessment, and writers such as Gordon Corrigan and Gary Sheffield have increasingly shifted opinion. It was a just war, they assert, which was fought rather well, and – contrary to myth – there was no ‘lost generation’.

Well, Britain couldn’t, either honourably or safely, have sat out the Great War. We had clear moral and legal obligations to wee Belgium, a neutral country outrageously overrun by the Kaiser’s armies.

And, if not quite the demonic entity it became under Hitler, Germany was an extremely unpleasant country. This was but the latest occasion, the fifth in half a century, when Berlin had l aunched an aggressive war and there were well-documented atrocities.

That’s quite apart from what, through centuries, had been the central tenet of our national security: that the Continental Channel ports should never be allowed to fall to a hostile power. We forget, or perhaps Miss Lindsay needs to be reminded, just how close the Second Reich came to winning.

Germany did actually win the war on her eastern f ront, defeating Russia and gaining vast new t erritories and resources. As late as July 1918, the outcome in the west hung in the balance. If Miss Lindsay thinks winning the war was so awful, she might care to consider the consequences had we lost it.

Certainly, we sustained dreadful casualties – their impact all the greater as, in the age of ‘pals’ battalions’, all the young men of a given community could be lost in one action.


Our l osses were, i ndeed, frightful, typically outnumbering the dead of Hitler’s war by a ratio of three to one.

But there was no ‘lost generation’. Most British men who fought in the Great War survived and our casualties were proportionately fewer than those of France or Germany.

Indeed, the British Army was the only significant force in the conflict to suffer no mutiny or serious collapse in morale. The chances of a private soldier surviving actually exceeded those of the men who commanded him.

His superiors did head into battle. Of all British servicemen involved, 12 per cent of ‘other ranks’ were killed but a murderous 17 per cent of officers. As for the mass-executions of which we hear so much, of the five million British men who served, only 2,300 were sentenced to death by military courts between 1914 and 1918 – and 90 per cent of them were pardoned.

The continued clamour for posthumous pardons – of blatant deserters – insults the values of a much more robust age than our own.

Only one British household in 14 lost a family member and, by my own direct experience, most veterans looked back on their war service as a positive, most vivid experience.

We should not underestimate the attractions of camaraderie, three square meals a day and a felt sense of being part of a great national purpose for those raised in the darkest slums of the British cities or the patriarchal, stifling order of a small Highland village.

What now, from our comfortable, smug perspective a century on, seems unendurable, was so perceived by very, very few at the time.

Which is the most maddening thing about Miss Lindsay and the Jimmy Reid Foundation? Their sheer silliness? Their entire, tedious certitude?

Perhaps it is their evident contempt f or those whose sacrifice now allows them to make right asses of themselves in public.

Evening Times, 7 August 2013

1914 memorial proposal

SCOTLAND should have a memorial to those who opposed the outbreak of war in 1914, according to a group seeking to counteract the official centenary events next year.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation is asking Glasgow City Council to erect a plaque to honour “some of the finest people in Scotland” who opposed the outbreak of World War One.

The council has been urged to ensure that the city’s radical tradition of leading socialists and peace campaigners, many of whom suffered for their convictions, are included in the commemorations of the centenary.

Herald, 7 August 2013

City memorial call for those who opposed First World War

SCOTLAND should have a memorial to those who opposed the outbreak of war in 1914, according to a group seeking to counteract the official centenary events next year.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation is asking Glasgow City Council to erect a plaque to honour “some of the finest people in Scotland” who opposed the outbreak of World War One.

The council has been urged to ensure that the city’s radical tradition of leading socialists and peace campaigners, many of whom suffered for their convictions, are included in the proposed commemorations of the centenary next year.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation has established an “alternative World War One Commemoration Committee” to counteract the official centenary events next year which they see as militaristic and inappropriate.

A statement issued by the foundation said: “The request to Glasgow City Council for a proper recognition of the role of the antiwar movement is the first initiative of the Committee but is seen as an important symbolic step.

“As far as the Committee can ascertain, there is not a single commemoration to those who opposed the war anywhere in Scotland.”

The convener of the committee, Isobel Lindsay, said: “Some of the finest people in Scotland in this period, and particularly in Glasgow, opposed the war. It took great integrity and courage to do so in the face of the jingoism they faced.

“If they had been listened to, one of the darkest periods in Scottish and British history could have been avoided.

“That there is nothing to mark their courage in public space in Scotland is a disgrace – these people must be written back into history.”

She wrote to the council: “The Alternative World War One Commemoration Committee has been established to ensure that important aspects of the World War One anniversary are given appropriate attention.

“As well as producing educational material on the origins of the war and its devastating impact on Scotland, we are particularly concerned that the bravery, principles and judgement of those who opposed the war are given the credit they deserve.”

The group highlighted the cases of several “outstanding figures in the political history of the city” who were “prominent opponents” of the war.

The foundation’s list included John Wheatley, John Maclean, Mary Barbour, Helen Crawfurd, Jimmy Maxton, Agnes Dollan, Willie Gallagher and Rev James Barr, while others with strong

Scotsman, 29 July 2013

Lesley Riddoch: Norway’s monarchy a line to follow

Deciding whether the Queen remains our head of state should not be a footnote in a manifesto, writes Lesley Riddoch

Should the Scottish people vote on whether the Queen remains head of state in an independent Scotland? For Republicans like myself, it’s a no-brainer. Yes campaign chairman Dennis Canavan says the hereditary principle is an “affront to democracy”. Precisely. But I’ll concede Dennis and I are currently in a minority.

Support for the royalty runs at roughly four to one in opinion polls and with an almost foregone conclusion in the offing, many will conclude a vote on the role of the royals is hardly worth the candle in the complex aftermath of a Yes vote.

Such a view reflects only how far the importance of “due process” has fallen in the minds of the public since Margaret Thatcher changed the democratic terms of trade to ensure the ends matter more than the means and the views of prominent folk command more political attention than the underlying distribution of power.

Thus Alex Salmond likes the Queen, enjoyed theatrics in the Commons and happily (though selectively) rubs shoulders with high rollers like Donald Trump and Brian Souter. Dennis Canavan is more of a Spartan purist. There are Scots who admire Alex or Dennis or both. But should the personal stances of two personalities dictate the way Scotland decides its constitutional future?

Let’s not argue about the likely outcome, but about how this key aspect of Scotland’s future governance should be decided – by party manifesto or by referendum.

Two fears seem to have prompted the SNP leadership to oppose a referendum on the monarchy. One referendum might encourage others and any sniff of Republicanism would play into the expert hands of scaremongers.

But there is another fear amongst the voting public – that an independent Scotland will be Alex Salmond’s personal fiefdom with his preferences writ large and no countervailing force to check his rampant ego. Nationalists dismiss this kind of talk as ludicrous, insisting Alex will not be forever at the helm and the SNP is a democracy, as the close-run vote on Nato membership demonstrated.

Nicola Sturgeon’s hand is evidently on the tiller of some policies and many other strong personalities lurk within the Scottish Cabinet. Indeed, keeping so many ferrets in the sack has been the SNP’s great achievement.

Nonetheless, the great fear of many swithering voters is that independence will mean major disruption only to end up with business as usual. A post-2014 election will contain a multitude of important policy pledges. Should the Queen continuing as head of state be just another line in a manifesto? It’s not good enough to hear politicians make promises of “greater involvement”. Mature democracies trust the people to decide.

Democracy is not the production of a well-discussed deal within a party or a union – witness Labour’s Falkirk debacle. It is control by an educated, involved electorate who expect to do more than place a cross in the ballot box every four or five years. If the SNP thinks an old-fashioned, limited, dusted-down version of British democracy will suffice in an independent Scotland, they’ve spent too much time back-slapping in Yes campaign events and not enough in civic debates like those prompted by the Electoral Reform Society, Scottish Community Alliance and the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

Or indeed Nordic Horizons events, where speakers explain precisely how vigorous public control already operates in truly advanced democracies. Of course, many will point out that the radical, liberal Norwegians actually voted to retain the monarchy in 1905 and if they did, why should stuffy old Scots even consider a Republican arrangement? This observation actually cuts right to the chase. An unelected head of state is symbolic in Norway but totemic in Britain, because here the monarchy represents vested interests and unelected authorities which still wield massive power.

The Crown Estate still collects money from communities to access their own coastal waters, piers and foreshores, still owns large bits of Scotland and stands to gain millions when offshore wind and marine energy take off. That cash goes to the British Treasury because the absolute control once enjoyed by the sovereign was simply transferred to the central state. Granted, the SNP has questioned British control of these Scottish resources. But without questioning centralised power, “Crown” titles might just pass into central Scottish Government coffers after independence – not into needy coastal communities.

Equally, feudal landowners, post-Culloden, obtained massive landholdings from Hanoverian monarchs. The thousand folk who own 60 per cent of Scottish land are able to restrict the availability of land, stop the natural growth of communities and thus drive up house prices. Millionaire landowners are also becoming multi-millionaires thanks to agricultural subsidies (whose detailed payments we may not see) and wind-farm rentals.

That’s how powerful the hereditary principle still is in Scottish life. In Norway it has long been very different. Prince Carl of Denmark became King Haakon VII of Norway after winning a referendum he instigated. Smart man. But in 1905 Norway had long since abolished all vestige of the hereditary privilege which still stifles Scottish society.

In the course of researching a new book, I found the Norwegian Constitution of 1814 enfranchised 45 per cent of Norwegian men overnight. Only 0.173 per cent of Scots were thus enfranchised by the British Reform Bill of 1832. Why? The vote was given to adult male landowners in each country – but in Norway that meant tens of thousands of people, not just the select few. The breadth of the post-1814 Norwegian electorate meant “ordinary” Norwegians could flex their political muscle to force the creation of new, elected, representative municipal councils in 1837 which permanently restricted the ability of central “Danophile” elites and state officials to interfere in powerful, truly local municipalities. This paved the way for proportional representation, a political culture of compromise and the embrace of equality as the nation’s guiding social and economic policy objective.

This may seem a long way from the question of a referendum on the future of the monarchy in Scotland. Yet the hope of reforming our unexamined, hereditary hinterland is precisely why many voters plan to vote Yes next year. If we are simply kidding ourselves, it really would be kinder to say.

• Lesley Riddoch’s book, Blossom – what Scotland needs to flourish, will be published by Luath Press on 15 August

Scotsman, 29 July 2013

Scottish independence: Support for monarchy vote

Growing numbers of independence supporters are backing a call from the chairman of the Yes campaign for a referendum on the future of the monarchy after ­independence.


Prominent pro-independence figures have supported the anti-monarchist stance of former Labour MP Dennis ­Canavan, who said the hereditary principle was an “affront” to democracy.

SNP MSP John Wilson, ­independent Margo MacDonald and Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie have all said a national referendum should be held on who will be head of state in the event of a Yes vote.

The opposition to the monarchy is at odds with the SNP leadership’s position of keeping the Queen as head of state in an independent Scotland.

Senior pro-independence campaigners insisted that First Minister Alex Salmond would not be allowed to dictate the make-up of Scotland’s constitution, including the issue of the monarchy.

Robin McAlpine, director of the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation, and Jonathon Shafi, co-founder of the Radical ­Independence campaign, have backed Mr Canavan on the issue.

Mr Canavan, chairman of the Yes Scotland campaign’s advisory board, told The Scotsman’s sister newspaper Scotland on Sunday that Prince George should never be king of an independent Scotland in the wake of the birth of the royal baby.

Mr Wilson said that “clearly the issue is up for discussion” as he suggested an independent Scotland should replace the monarchy with an elected head of state. 
Mr Wilson added: “Dennis’s line is the correct one as it’s the right of Scottish people under independence to decide what type of Scotland they want.

“I have a similar position to Dennis, as in a ­democracy we should all be treated as equal citizens and there are ­issues about having a ­hereditary head of state. Clearly the issue is up for discussion and we could look at having an elected head of state.”

The SNP issued a statement claiming the Queen would ­remain as head of state if Scots vote for independence in the referendum on 18 September 2014.

An SNP spokesman said: “Dennis Canavan is perfectly entitled to believe in an elected head of state, and will be free to argue that case in an independent Scotland – just as Labour MPs who support an elected head of state in the UK argue for that ­position at present.”

However, Green MSP Mr Harvie, said the issue was not solely within the gift of the SNP as he backed a vote on the monarchy as part of moves towards a new constitution for an independent Scotland.

Mr Harvie said: “It seems ­bizarre that we are debating ­creating a new independent state without a discussion on how we appoint a head of state.

“It should be part of the process of drawing up a constitution in an independent Scotland not something that’s dictated by the current Scottish Government.”

Independent MSP Ms MacDonald said the monarchy was “undemocratic and a quirk in our range of beliefs” as she insisted that the issue of the head of state under independence had to be resolved.

She said: “Alex Salmond is at pains to say that there won’t be a burst of lightning after independence and that the strands of British life that people appreciate will continue. But people should decide and will decide on the monarchy and the head of state.”

Pro-independence campaigners Mr McAlpine and Mr Shafi both said a referendum on the monarchy should be held soon after a Yes vote.

Mr McAlpine said: “In the coverage of the monarchy in Scotland, it’s implied that it’s a decision for Alex Salmond to make on behalf of Scotland.

“But it’s for all of the people of Scotland to decide and if we went a year past a referendum, I’m not sure that people would vote to keep the Queen.”

Mr Shafi said: “If we win independence a whole range of questions have got to be addressed and the monarchy is one that would have to be dealt with fairly quickly.”

Sunday Herald, 28 July 2013

Labour for Independence group calls for Trident to be scrapped

The Labour for Independence Group (LfI) has made a call to ban the Trident nuclear deterrent from Scotland.

The group, which aims to “offer an alternative to the SNP”, made the statement at the opening of its first policy conference.

The potential disposal of nuclear weapons currently stored in Scotland was among those key ssues discussed at the start of a two-day event in Glasgow.

LfI, led by Labour member Allan Grogan, aims to highlight what the party could offer in the event of a Yes vote in next year’s independence referendum.

It has claimed support for the group is “rapidly growing” within the party.

Grogan said “We’re offering an alternative to the SNP”

“Eventually Labour is going to have to acknowledge there are voters in the party who will back independence.”

As well as debating the nuclear question, issues to be discussed at the conference include the group’s position on Nato and policies in education, health and infrastructure.

The event opened with a discussion on the Common Weal, a project led by the Jimmy ReidFoundation, which looks at possible changes to economic and social development.

Robin McAlpine from the foundation said: “Scotland needs an idea that brings people together. It needs an agenda that includes those living in poverty and those trying to run a decent, local business.”

Grogan expects about 100 people will have taken part in the conference by the time it closes at the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) in Glasgow today.

A Labour spokesman declined to comment.

Radio Scotland Good Morning Scotland, 27 July 2013

Jimmy Reid Foundation Director debates future of Scotland’s energy ownership with Brian Wilson

Radio Scotland Good Morning Scotland, 27 July 2013

Jimmy Reid Foundation Director debates future of Scotland’s energy ownership with Brian Wilson

Scotsmand, 24 July 2013

Let’s not revisit the oil con

Nationalising Scotland’s oil is not a priority – stopping multinationals and their pals in the Treasury fleecing us again in the renewables field as they did in oil is

Sitting in a pile of newspapers in the office here is a Financial Times from 13 April of this year. I kept it because of its front page headline, which reads “Investment Bonanza for North Sea Oil”. It has avoided the recycling, not because of my joy at the massive corporate profits it heralds but because Saturday, 13 April, was the end of another week of front page stories in Scottish newspapers warning us that oil production in Scotland is going into terminal decline.

This has been the story of North Sea oil; one story for financiers, another for the Scottish population. It is a reflection of just how far the British Establishment has been willing to go to ensure corporate and Treasury control of this national asset. And it is why Alex Salmond has little choice but to capitulate to the oil barons.

Because where the SNP’s misjudgments on corporation tax and devotion to sterling were optional, yesterday’s announcement on oil tax in an independent Scotland was virtually compulsory.

In the early years of an independent Scotland, it would be almost impossible to take on the power of the oil corporations. In a global industry with easy capacity to increase and decrease supply from different regions of the world, oil corporates have massive control over production rates and so the public finances of any host nation can be sabotaged virtually at will.

A few years ago, when Gordon Brown proposed a modest tax increase on oil, this is exactly what the oil companies threatened. Westminster backed down almost immediately. We have handed a monopoly right to exploit a British national asset to a big oil cartel. That cartel only pokes the gun into our back from time to time; but we know it is there. An independent Scotland would be particularly vulnerable to blackmail and sabotage by oil barons.

I have virtually no patience with the argument that Scotland’s relationship with Britain is a colonial one, primarily because it isn’t true. Oil is one of a small number of exceptions. There is now clear documentation and personal confirmation from senior people involved that Scotland was subjected to a black propaganda campaign on oil from the 1970s onwards. That there has not been a greater degree of outrage among Scots that Westminster knowingly and intentionally lied to them is a function of a news agenda that didn’t take it seriously enough.

But long-term misinformation designed to make Scots believe oil wasn’t an asset isn’t even the worst of it. What makes oil function like a colonial trade is that the profits of oil were used by the London elite to inflict harm on Scotland and much of the rest of the UK.

It is a question seldom properly discussed: what did we do with our oil reserves? People often believe that it was used to keep tax low. This isn’t really true. In the 1980s, the Thatcher government wanted to deindustrialise Britain for ideological reasons. Her problem was that in greatly reducing industrial production, she was also losing large amounts of tax revenue and had to fund the mass unemployment it caused. Oil was her saviour. It provided her with the fast cash needed to survive the devastation of the UK’s industrial base.

As of 2013, little has changed. Oil exports give Britain a false sense of competence. If it wasn’t for the oil, our balance of trade would be a source of national anxiety. Along with uncontrolled casino banking, it has let Britain off the hook of having a productive economy and propped up a low-pay economy.

And in Scotland it has been used to treat us like idiots. We have think-tanks which seem to exist solely for the purpose of talking down the value of Scottish oil and which are not challenged on consistent underestimation. We have people talking about the risk of relying on volatile industry sectors in a UK economy which is almost wholly reliant on the trade in complex financial derivatives to stay afloat. The nationalist case on oil is dispiriting; the unionist case is an insult to our intelligence.

This is a case study of where Common Weal – the mutual development of shared assets for collective benefit – is at its strongest. In Norway, 80 per cent of the petroleum production is in public hands and 85 per cent of the revenue from production goes to the nation. You really do need to be some kind of ideological zealot not to wish that Britain had developed oil as a nationalised industry like Norway did. We handed 80 per cent of the value of our oil to global corporations out of the kindness of our hearts while fretting about our public finances.

While nationalisation of oil in an independent Scotland should not be dismissed entirely, I doubt it should be our priority. Oil production genuinely is declining and it would be a mistake to see our future closely tied to hydrocarbons. Plus the money could be better used.

But we must bring to an end an era when the profits generated from large-scale national resources are taken from the wider population by a corrupt international financial hierarchy. Unaccountable financial interests should never be able to use assets belonging to the citizens of a nation to control and bully those citizens. Natural monopolies must not be used to extort profits from ordinary people. The development of energy production and distribution should be based on long-term planning of national need, not short-term punts on what will produce the fastest profits.

The Reid Foundation will soon publish a major report outlining how Scotland can develop its futureenergy supplies in such a way that energy generation will return into collective ownership, though in a radically decentralised form quite different from old centralised state enterprises. It will explain how we can return to the nationally-planned energy supply system which bequeathed us the remarkable National Grid.

These are realistic and achievable targets. Common Weal exploitation of other shared assets such as land and water should also be our priority.

Scotland needs to avoid playing the victim here – we were particularly targeted for lies and black propaganda but the deindustrialisation oil funded killed hope in great swathes of England and Wales as much as in Scotland. And the positive potential for the use of oil income was snatched from the grasp of ordinary people throughout Britain, too.

This, for me, is the irony of oil and independence. The strongest oil-related case for independence is not that Scotland has great oil wealth ahead, but that it has much less than it should. Scotland would have made different decisions than Thatcher. The development of the next generation of energysupply in collective ownership is a realistic proposition in Scotland. It is very hard to say the same at a UK level.

So, we have two futures. In one of them we repeat this whole sorry story again with foreign multinationals picking Scotland clean of its renewables wealth. In the other we share the wealth for national benefit. I have no doubt which would be the democratic will of citizens.

And so, on the pristine white walls of the Scottish Parliament, scrawled in the glistening black of North Sea crude, should be a simple message to those with the capacity to make the decisions about which of these futures we choose: we were defeated by the oil barons and their UK Treasury side-kicks. It must never happen again.

Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

BBC Newsnight Scotland, 18 July 2013

Package on Common Weal with Foundation Director discussing the project in studio with Ross Martin and David Torrence

Evening News, 18 July 2013

Union chief Len to give Reid lecture

UNION boss Len McCluskey is to give the second annual Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture.

The title of the presentation by the Unite general secretary is “We Are Not Rats: the role of workers and trade unions in politics”.

It is taken from the famous line in Jimmy Reid’s rectorial address to Glasgow University in the 1970s.

Mr McCluskey will deliver the lecture at Glasgow’s Govan Old Parish Church on Thursday October 10.

He said “I am privileged to commemorate a man who was inspirational to so many.

“A s a yo u n g s h o p steward on the Liverpool Docks, I will remember Jimmy coming to address us during the occupation. It lifted our spirits for our own fights.”

Tickets are available from the Reid Foundation website – www.reidfoundation. org, priced £10 and £4 for concessions

Scotsman, 17 July 2013

Labour must recapture common touch

Policies promoted by the Jimmy Reid Foundation provide Johann Lamont with a starting point writes Gregor Gall

In the hubbub of the debate about choosing independence or maintaining the status quo, the political direction of the Scottish Labour Party seems to have been rather overlooked. This is a critical oversight because if – as the polls currently suggest – the referendum will be lost by the pro-independence forces, the biggest victor and beneficiary will be Scottish Labour.

Should this happen, Labour will not only be back in a commanding political position, as it was before 2007, but what it does and says will really matter in a way that has not been true for many years.

The crucial components for assessing what this could mean are the leadership of Johann Lamont, the policy direction of Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission and the political influence of the British Labour Party.

And now, following the organisational changes after Scottish Labour’s rout in the Scottish Parliament elections of 2011, the Scottish Labour Party has a more fulsome form of autonomy from its sister party south of the Border and Ms Lamont is no longer just the leader of Scottish Labour in the Parliament but also Labour leader throughout Scotland

Instead of tail ending the offering of “British solutions to British problems” as she has done so far, Ms Lamont and Scottish Labour could remember what the rubric of their predecessors like Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish and Jack McConnell was about, namely, providing “Scottish solutions to Scottish problems”.

To use another phrase of old, Lamont could establish some “clear red water” between Labour in Holyrood and Labour in Westminster. In 2002, then Welsh Labour leader, Rhodri Morgan, coined the phrase “clear red water” and this was possible both under an Assembly without the powers of a (devolved) parliament and under an organisational framework of Welsh Labour still being part of British Labour. Ms Lamont does not face the same constraints and, therefore, could open up some “clear red water” of her own.

But this would mean moving away from her current political centre of gravity, as well as thinking outside her comfort box. The most obvious way to go would be to examine the Common Weal political initiative of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, based upon the political philosophy of mutuality, equality and solidarity.

Because the Common Weal is about the examining the principles that flow from the underlying philosophy and envisioning what this would look like when applied in practice to Scotland (as opposed to replicating any particular measures found in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), Ms Lamont and Scottish Labour have the luxury of putting their own stamp and interpretation on it.

Could this happen? Ms Lamont was the left-wing candidate in the election for Scottish Labour leader in late 2011 but she has not covered herself in glory with her now infamous “ending the something for nothing culture” speech of September 2012. Whether this was a frontal attack on the principle of universalism or a misguided attempt to begin a debate on current provision of welfare benefits, it was not what was expected from Ms Lamont. So the prospect of a necessary move to the left that would allow engaging with the Common Weal would not seem to be much of a starter as a result of her own political predilections.

This tendency is all the more reinforced by the influence of the British Labour Party under Mr Miliband and Mr Balls. The party’s response to Mr Osborne’s recent spending review and Mr Miliband’s “getting tough on welfare” speech of early last month showed Labour is too afraid to challenge the Tories. Neither gave much encouragement to kicking against the prevailing Tory orthodoxy or laying out a progressive alternative to it.

Moreover, the Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission seems, so far, to be more concerned with discussing the means of enhanced devolution and not what social ends they should be used for (as was the case with Labour’s support for the Calman Commission’s conclusions).

But could – irony of ironies – the SNP prove to be saviour for Ms Lamont and Labour in Scotland? Currently, the Common Weal is experiencing a growing level of support amongst the lower echelons of the SNP – and Nicola Sturgeon is known to sympathetic. Now former minster Jim Mather, a known right winger, has come out in support after re-assessing his perspective on the economic crash of 2007 onwards.

So it could be that the dynamics of party political competition take Lamont and Scottish Labour in an unexpected but welcome direction? The now conventional political strategy of triangulation has taken Labour in the direction of the Tories but, in the Scottish context, there is no reason to think that the SNP could not pull Labour to the political left.

Ultimately, this could be an unforeseen triumph for Ms Lamont and Scottish Labour because with one fell swoop, they could re-establish the basis for Labour in Scotland being the “people’s party”, increase their much-diminished stature and support, and make a convincing basis to their claim to offer an alternative to the SNP’s independence vision with enhanced devolution.

So far, what will happen after a No vote is unclear. Labour has a chance with the Common Weal to put flesh on the bones of what Scotland could look like after 2014 while remaining within the Union.

• Gregor Gall is professor of industrial relations at the University of Bradford and a resident of Edinburgh

Daily Mail, 15 July 2013

Nationalist MSPs are to hear proposals for an even larger welfare state in an independent Scotland.

The Left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation will address the party’s politicians next month on the so-called Common Weal model, which involves an expanded welfare state funded through an overall higher tax take.

That raises the prospect of middle-income families being hammered if the SNP wins next year’s referendum. Party leaders have said the 50p top income tax rate would have remained in a separate Scotland.

Excluding overseas pensions and benefits, welfare spending per head of population in 2011-12 was £3,285 in Scotland, compared with £3,200 in the rest of the UK.

Mail on Sunday, 14 July 2013

SNP plots secret tax rises to hit middle-class wage earners

WORKERS would have to pay soaring rates of tax under secret SNP plans for a separate Scotland.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said ‘those with the broadest shoulders’ would be expected to pay more for ‘the overall good of society’ in an independent nation.

It is the clearest indication yet from the SNP leadership that they will look to reshape the tax system if they secure a Yes vote – at the expense of modest and high earners.

A Scottish Mail on Sunday analysis of statements by leading Nationalists indicates they will look to Scandinavia for inspiration, where governments rely on higher taxes in order to fund greater levels of public services.

Based on Swedish tax rates, those on more than £57,000 a year would see over half their earnings swallowed by the state.

In an interview, Miss Sturgeon said more ‘progressive’ principles would be ‘at the heart’ of the way all taxes would be set after independence.

She added: ‘It means people paying according to their means: those with the broadest shoulders contributing more to the overall good of society. I think most people in Scotland would agree with that.’

Alex Salmond aide Joan McAlpine has said publicly that she advocates a ‘fair’ system of taxation, ‘as they have in Scandinavian countries’.

Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins has praised the Scandinavian nations as a good example of the ‘fairer society’ to which an independent Scotland would aspire.

Finance Secretary John Swinney put ‘progressive’ principles at the heart of his proposals for a tax to replace stamp duty – with people buying more expensive homes facing higher rates of tax – and said his approach ‘provides some clues’ to the way other taxes would be dealt with.

SNP officials and advisers are believed to have already started work on proposals for taxation following a Yes vote. The full plans are unlikely to be unveiled until after the referendum – as party chiefs insist it will be an issue for whoever wins the 2016 election. But critics say the plans are being kept secret because they would cost the SNP votes in the referendum. A blueprint by the Left-wing Jimmy ReidFoundation based on higher tax rates in the short term is said to be favoured by senior SNP figures. The blueprint’s authors point out that three in five working Scots earn less than £25,000 a year, so tax rises would be focused on anyone earning more.

Foundation director Robin McAlpine said: ‘Until we fix our economy, we are going to have to tax the wealthy more. But how would we fix it? The short-term answer is progressive taxes because Scotland’s economy is virtually on life support. But in the long term, the answer is not to have massive wealth inequalities and different rates of tax, but to make ordinary Scots wealthy.’

Scottish Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, convener of the economy committee, said: ‘The SNP has been very secretive about its tax plans for a separate Scotland and there’s a reason for that: the only way it could fund the vision it has would be to hike taxes and borrow more. That’s a vote loser and the Scottish Government doesn’t want to admit it before September 2014.’

Blair McDougall, director of the Better Together campaign, said: ‘Voters understand a promise with no price tag is not a promise at all. If you don’t have a price tag, it is either a false promise or you are storing up tax rises for people.’

A spokesman for Miss Sturgeon said: ‘An independent Scotland offers the prospect of a more prosperous and fairer society, which is why more and more people are telling us they are moving towards a Yes vote.’

Sunday Herald, 14 July 2013

Common Weal offers vision to Yes camp

IT is too early to say if the Common Weal is an idea whose time has come, but barely two months since its launch by the Jimmy Reid Foundation its progress has surely been remarkable.

In a short while it has moved from the margin to the mainstream of the referendum debate, and been embraced by growing numbers in the SNP.

As we report today, it is now being discussed at the apex of the party, with Alex Salmond and his 64 MSPs to be briefed on the concept at their final away day before the 2014 ballot.

The Foundation has demonstrated an ability to shape the agenda by weaving a coherent vision of a wealthier, fairer, more equal Scotland where previously there were disparate threads.

This is because, while its trajectory may be giddy, Common Weal’s feet are on the ground.

It does not advocate a Scottish Year Zero, with the country remade from scratch after a Yes vote.

Instead, it suggests importing economic and social policies which already work in the Nordic countries, but which have been ignored by the UK’s market-mad political class.

It is realistic about the higher overall tax take needed for better public services.

As we also show today, the idea is attracting growing interest overseas, with US economic professors Robin Hahnel and Gar Alperovitz writing for the Sunday Herald on its potential.

But its success begs a question: if Common Weal did not exist, what, if anything, would be inspirational about the Yes campaign?

More than a year since its launch, it has not yet had one good week of its own making.

It only comes alive when the No camp blunders – accepting £500,000 from Vitol boss Ian Taylor, calling itself Project Fear, or issuing scare stories. But that is reacting, not leading. And Better Together cannot be relied upon to continue making mistakes indefinitely.

The SNP’s recognition of Common Weal is a tacit acknowledgement that a shift is needed if the Yes side is to confound the polls.

The First Minister’s big picture speech on Friday about independence as an antidote to Westminster’s austerity fetish and egregious policies such as the bedroom tax was another.

His call for Scots to “fundamentally change the political and economic union as a matter of urgency” was Common Weal in all but name.

Handily for him, Common Weal also speaks to the Labour voters he needs to convert to a Yes vote.

But the main thing is that change is happening.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation was established in memory of the late Clydeside union leader, who used Common Weal to mean collective endeavour and a shared stake in society.

He would be proud of its status today.

Sunday Herald, 14 July 2013

Jimmy Reid’s legacy climbs up independence agenda

ALEX Salmond and his MSPs are to receive an unprecedented briefing on how an independent Scotland could thrive as a big-state, high-tax progressive country on the Nordic model, amid growing support for the idea throughout the SNP.

The so-called Common Weal plan, which has been injected into the referendum debate by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation, will be the first item on the agenda at the annual away day of the SNP’s parliamentary group next month.

The Foundation’s director, Robin McAlpine, has been invited to address the SNP’s 65 MSPs, including the First Minister, on the concept, and field questions on its policy implications.

He is expected to reassure them that the Common Weal is a hard-nosed and practical alternative to the status quo, and argue that the party should embrace it ahead of the referendum.

It is understood to be the first time that a think tank has addressed the SNP group.

The invite confirms growing interest in the idea among the SNP hierarchy, with Salmond said to be “very relaxed” about it after initial scepticism.

A senior SNP source said: “It’s a good debate to have. It sets out the potential and opportunity of independence and helps with the message that people who believe in progressive politics would be better served by a Yes vote than a No vote.”

The Common Weal model envisages a fundamental break with the UK’s market-led economic and social model, with Scotland importing policies from Germany and Scandinavia designed to make the country wealthier, fairer and more equal.

A key part would be an expanded welfare state providing “from-the-cradle-to-the-grave” services which are paid for through an overall higher tax take.

But the Common Weal model would also entail a diverse, high-skill, high-pay economy in which Scots firms are supported by lending from state banks and favoured in state procurement.

Since its launch by a group of around 30 academics and economists two months ago, Common Weal has rapidly gained momentum within the Yes campaign -– in large part because of a lack of a competing vision from the SNP.

Yes Scotland chair Dennis Canavan has given it his support, and the Church of Scotland has set up a working group to examine its principles.

Bill Kidd, the SNP chief whip, has also called for a main hall debate on the subject at the SNP annual conference in Perth in October, and last month former business minister Jim Mather emerged as a surprise convert to the cause.

On the right of the party, the self-made millionaire Mather was instrumental in making the SNP credible with the Scottish business community ahead of the 2007 Holyrood election.

The last such event for SNP MSPs before the 2014 referendum, this year’s away day will actually run over two days at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, when the group will also discuss legislation and policy ideas.

SNP group convener Gil Paterson said: “I can confirm that Common Weal is going to be discussed and there will be a question-and-answer session. The reason I’ve decided to put it on the agenda is that many of the group are interested in it and they want to participate.”

McAlpine added: “We’re delighted to have been invited to talk about the Common

Weal and I look forward to answering the many questions people will have.

“I hope we can persuade politicians of all parties that this really is the way forward for Scotland. I’m confident it reflects what a majority of Scots want for their future and that it can bring people together after years of cynicism and division.”

The Reid Foundation is also taking part in the Scottish Green Party conference later this year, and has put out feelers to Labour.

Its website is compiling a library of potential policies, with six papers on key areas due out in the autumn, starting with the critical issue of tax.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “It’s an indication of the trouble the Yes campaign is in that they’re having to find a new narrative for what independence means and embracing this.

“It would be very bad news for middle earners and the business community in Scotland to be subject to Scandinavian levels of taxation.”

Scotsman, 13 July 2013

Alex Massie: Time to think big on independence

THE independence debate should be about something grander than the details of constitutional process – it should be about what kind of a nation we aspire to be, writes Alex Massie

POLITICIANS are often obliged to spout nonsense. Waffle and balderdash are part of the game, the inevitable consequence of being expected to have solutions for every ailment afflicting the national body politic. Nevertheless there are times when even armour-plated cynics with low expectations are taken aback.

By way of illustrating this, consider that Fiona Hyslop last week told an American audience that “the great debates and exchanges of letters that formed your constitution may find a modern echo in the discussions on Scotland’s future as we decide what kind of nation we want to be”. Indeed so, for who among us has not been struck by the thought that historians will one day rank Alex Salmond and Blair Jenkins alongside Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison?

We may scoff, rightly, at such delusions of grandeur and yet even as we do so we might pause and reflect that the independence debate should, to adapt Alasdair Gray, require us to talk as though we lived in the early days of a better nation. The referendum campaign is a chance to reimagine Scotland. If it fails to spark new thinking and fresh approaches we may one day lament a squandered opportunity.

For that reason alone, even those folk who disagree with its conclusions should salute the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project. Like the Radical Independence movement with which it is allied, the Common Weal idea, outlined in these pages by Robin McAlpine last week, is “an attempt to describe the sort of social and economic model of the Nordic countries, but in a distinctively Scottish context”.

The chief virtue of this project is that it begins with the assumption that independence offers a chance for a fresh start – from education to local taxation to the structure of the labour market – and that a truly different Scotland means something more than simply changing passports.

This is all notably more ambitious than anything produced by the SNP. Indeed, one of the odder features of this independence debate is that the people notionally leading it – the SNP – offer a remarkably timid vision for the future. Poke beneath the bluff assurances that an independent Scotland will be a land transformed and you discover that, in reality, much of the SNP prospectus is built on continuity instead of change. As a political strategy this makes some sense: the people are wary, so why scare them with change? Yet without change, what is the point of independence? This is the box in which the SNP have locked themselves.

The Common Weal analysis begins from the proposition that 30 years of Anglo-American “orthodoxy” has failed. A market-based philosophy of “competition and conflict” has run its course. Citizens, according to McAlpine, “must be allowed a clear say on what economy they want” and “if they want better jobs, it is not for self-defining markets to tell them they can’t have them”. This sounds splendid but what does it actually mean? If markets – or, rather, the private sector – are not going to create a stronger economy, who will?

Moreover, to quote McAlpine again, “people want stronger and more extensive social services, but they are told they must pay higher taxes”. This, he says, “is just myopic UK political dogma”. Or, if you prefer, elementary mathematics and accountancy. Indeed, McAlpine admits as much when he adds that we “certainly” need to take “a higher proportion of the nation’s GDP in tax”. At least this is honest. The SNP prefer to suggest that spending will be higher and taxes will be lower after independence. That’s a position as cute as it is fanciful.

Left-wing Scotland is fond of imagining that the Scottish people are enthused by the prospect of paying higher taxes. I fancy that this is wishful thinking, a variation on the pundits’ favourite fallacy that their particular preferences are shared by the electorate at large. According to the most recent Social Attitudes Survey, 57 per cent of voters think taxes will rise after independence. It is difficult to resist the thought that this suppresses enthusiasm for independence.

Moreover, the SNP’s version of independence is a heavily qualified prospectus. It may be that the monetary policy pursued by successive UK governments has been based upon the particular needs of the City of London at the expense of the wider economy. If this has hindered economic growth in Scotland, it has had even worse consequences for the once-mighty north of England. And yet if this is the case at present it will, in large part, remain true after independence so long as Scotland shares a currency – and a central bank – with the remaining parts of the UK.

There are other problems too. In the current issue of the Scottish Left Review Jim Mather, the man most responsible for the SNP’s “boardroom offensive”, endorses large chunks of the Common Weal approach. According to Mather, “a Union applying the same rates of taxes to all parts of Scotland as were applied to London and the South East would leave us unable to overcome the tendency for wealth and talent to be drawn into London”.

If that was true before the crash, he argues, it is even more obviously true today. But if this is so, Scotland cannot afford to levy punitively high taxes on either individuals or businesses. Socialism in One Country failed the Soviet Union; there’s little reason to suppose it can save Scotland. Not least because decisions made in London – on regulation, tax and much else – will inevitably restrain a Scottish government’s capacity for independent manoeuvre.

Even if you accept that an independent Scotland’s position might be relatively less parlous than the overall UK situation it scarcely follows that Scotland would not grapple choices almost as unpalatable as those facing George Osborne and his successors. Wishing it might be otherwise is no substitute for reality.

Moreover, the left’s assertion that Scotland’s future is a choice between Nordic success and solidarity and Anglo-American failure and inequality is disingenuous. There are other alternatives. Indeed, as a small but resource-rich English-speaking country Scotland has at least as much – and probably more – in common with Australia, New Zealand and Canada than with Sweden or Norway. These countries, which respectively rank 3rd, 4th and 6th on the Heritage Foundation’s index of Economic Freedom (the UK is 14th), are low-tax, free-market, competitive nations that weathered the financial crisis more effectively than most. If we are to absorb foreign lessons we might look to Wellington (where the top rate of income tax is a mere 33 per cent) or Ottawa as often as we cast our gaze across the North Sea.

Nevertheless, at least the Jimmy Reid Foundation is showing that there is still life on the Scottish left. It is asking some of the right questions even if its answers are riddled with contradictions and heroic dollops of wishful thinking. The independence debate should be about something grander than the details of constitutional process. It would, in a better country, be about the kind of nation we aspire to be. In that respect the radical left challenges SNP orthodoxy and the radical right to lift their game. If that happens there may yet be “Independence Papers” that do actually offer some faint echo of the Federalist Papers written, in large part, by that “bastard son of a Scots peddler” Alexander Hamilton.

Scotsman, 11 July 2013

Blair Jenkins: Scots prepared for independence

I GET asked lots of questions about the independence referendum, and one that comes up regularly is: “Why are you so confident about winning?”

One part of the answer is that Yes Scotland knows from our research that people who regard themselves as well-informed about the independence debate are more likely to be voting Yes.

This direct correlation between feeling you have enough information and being more likely to vote for an independent Scotland will prove very important as we head into the final year of the campaign. We have enough time to have conversations in every part of the country, to present the full facts, to get the fictional roadblocks of the No campaign out of the way of the debate, and to explain that the people of Scotland are coming to a fork in the road where we have to choose one of two paths. There are two different futures on offer next year and voters in Scotland should examine both very closely.

As people move towards Yes, they begin to see themselves as part of something bigger – a Scotland-wide grassroots movement and community groundswell with a shared purpose, where individuals look typically not just to their own interests but also to what is right for the society of which they are a part.

When people (always in their own time) become more engaged with the debate, the two futures on offer will be compared side by side. Which will people prefer – a superficial “choice” between two UK parties in a 2015 General Election with little difference between them in terms of economic and social policy; or the wide-ranging debate with competing and compelling visions to be enjoyed and evaluated in the first elections to an independent Scottish parliament in 2016?

The first part of the campaign has been dominated by the mechanics of independence – how we get things set up after a Yes vote. In the weeks and months ahead we will see many new ideas about how an independent Scotland can build on its strong foundations and address its challenges, using our great economic strengths and tackling our legacy of social injustice and inequality. This fresh thinking will come not just from the political parties, but also from bodies like the Jimmy Reid Foundation with their emerging vision of Common Weal, from the imaginations of Scotland’s artistic and creative community, and from the many business figures who think the future looks brighter with independence. The Yes movement is much bigger and broader than the party political framework.

There is a consensus for economic and social development in Scotland that is markedly different from the divisive and socially unjust model that has dominated Westminster politics for more than 30 years. We need to move away from being a low-pay and high-anxiety economy, where people are disposable units of labour and the majority of Scots live with a constant sense of jeopardy and insecurity. We can do much better than this. We must do much better than this.

With independence we will enjoy the benefits of a written constitution with guaranteed rights, a commitment to the cradle-to-grave welfare state and much greater certainty on the continuation of high-quality public services. We can scrap Trident and the bedroom tax. For the first time in a long time, we can link housing supply to housing benefit and have a joined-up policy on decent homes for all our people. We can adjust business taxes and incentives to grow our existing industries and attract more inward investment.

Within the UK, voters in Scotland have very little influence on the choice of governments or policies. Our democracy will benefit from voters no longer feeling helpless and marginalised, from an end to the attacks on the living standards of working people and their families, and from a departure from the austerity agenda that stifles growth and destroys jobs. I have no doubt that any elected Scottish government in an independent parliament will have a stronger commitment to social justice than any UK government has had for several decades.

Westminster isn’t working. Going even further, it can also be argued that in some respects Westminster has for a generation been pursuing policies that are the antithesis of mainstream values, and are designed to serve the City of London at the expense of everybody else. These are policies which have seen inequality among working age adults increase faster in the UK than in any other developed country in the period since 1975.

A Yes vote is a rejection of Westminster politics and power and a preference for Scotland’s future being in Scotland’s hands. Scotland already has most of the structures in place for independent statehood. We are almost certainly better prepared for independence than any other European country pursuing self-determination in the last 100 years. We have the experience of devolution, great financial strengths and a clear transition process.

We have a great deal to gain from independence. And more and more people in Scotland are beginning to realise what we will lose if we don’t vote Yes next year. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create the kind of society that we would wish to have, an economy where there is enterprise and reward, but also a country where we support equality of opportunity. A No vote would lead to deep feelings of regret, the real sense of loss that follows a missed opportunity, and the painful awareness of the benefits and gains that we have squandered. I don’t believe Scotland will make that mistake.

• Blair Jenkins is chief executive of Yes Scotland

Scotsman, 8 July 2013

Labour cynicism is the real scandal

The party-versus-union row in Falkirk goes to show how power brokers are disconnected from the voters, writes Lesley Riddoch

Despite this snub to local sentiment, Labour lived to fight again in Falkirk

POOR old Falkirk. What have faithful Labour voters done to deserve their serial mistreatment by the People’s Party and how much longer will they wear it?

The debacle over Falkirk’s candidate selection has been styled as a power battle between Ed Miliband and Len McCluskey for the soul of the Labour Party. The suggestion is that neither Miliband nor the surprisingly silent Scottish leader Johann Lamont can claim control of Labour since both depend heavily on union support for their own election victories. It’s a valid concern but anti-union hysteria always plays badly north of the Border. The portrayal of the Unite leader as simultaneously a latter-day Arthur Scargill and a Svengali-like power behind the throne doesn’t quite stack up. If McCluskey does run the show, why not flex his muscles instead of making minions work hard to “join” hundreds of union members to “stitch up” selection contests as the union is accused of having done in Falkirk and was allegedly preparing to do in Paisley?

The answer seems to be that it was easier to pay for new members than persuade old ones. And that tired, tawdry reality informs the only really important battle going on – the battle facing voters who want to believe they are not merely cannon fodder in the eyes of Labour and mega-unions like Unite. A near-automatic tendency towards control, secrecy and brokerage is one of the main reasons supporters have drifted from unions and the Labour Party. But evidently, despite election defeats, internal reviews, new structures and new leaders, old instincts remain because vital debates about power, control and democracy are still being conducted behind closed doors with results presented as fait-accompli to sheeplike local voters.

Labour’s cynicism is the real scandal of Falkirk and it didn’t start last week or even last year (with Eric Joyce) but in 1999 when Dennis Canavan MP – long regarded as too left-wing and “off-message” by Blairites – was rejected as a Holyrood candidate by the party hierarchy. Canavan – supported by 97 per cent of local Labour members – stood as an independent and won the biggest majority of any MSP in the first Holyrood elections and more recently took that hard-won moral authority with him to front the Yes campaign.

Despite this snub to local sentiment, Labour lived to fight again in Falkirk with its new Westminster candidate — former squaddie Eric Joyce. He was seen as a bold figure with a bright future but by 2007 Joyce topped the MPs expenses league table with cumulative claims of more than £1 million. He remained defiant about his “liberal” use of taxpayer’s cash – damaging his prospects of a career within the party but not his ability to remain the official Labour candidate in 2010. After last year’s drunken brawl in the Commons, Joyce was fined £3,000, given a weekend curfew, banned from bars for three months and fined a further £600 for cutting off his security tag.

Dithering Labour did finally expel him from the party. But despite much talk about giving voters the right to recall MPs, Westminster has given Falkirk voters no option but to thole Joyce till he chooses to go at the next election when they may also have to thole watching him get a sizeable “golden goodbye”.

The Commons Resettlement Grant helps with “costs of adjusting to non-parliamentary life” if the applicant “ceases to be an MP at a general election”. That’s why Eric is hanging on. The amount varies between 50 and 100 per cent of salary and the first £30,000 is tax free. There is also up to £42,000 to wind up staff contracts and a final-salary pension scheme. All the main Westminster parties have suggested the resettlement scheme needs reform – but again nothing has happened. Ironically, the only change MPs have made is an independent commission on MPs’ pay whose rumoured proposal to raise salaries to £70,000 may backfire later this week.

There is one fly in the ointment for Joyce, though. The resettlement grant is discretionary. So “fair play” for Falkirk’s MP will finally be decided at an indeterminate time by indeterminate people in their own indeterminate way. That counts for democracy in the UK. Indeed, highhanded, secretive decision-making by the very few has been a longrunning theme in Falkirk.

There were apparently just 200 members of the local Labour Party when Joyce announced his decision to quit – 200 folk to choose the (probable) next MP for tens of thousands of people over (perhaps) the next decade. Once again, you might think such tiny numbers would allow Unite to win support for its candidate by argument and to campaign openly for its cause – a Labour Party populated not by researchers and academics but by “working class” MPs.

The fact that such credentials are hard to discern in the Falkirk battle – putative candidate Karie Murphy worked in an MP’s office and McCluskey earns £122,000 – has clouded a very real issue. As the Jimmy Reid Foundation has demonstrated, 70 per cent of Scots live on less than £24,000 but only 3 per cent of “influencers” do.

So can parliamentarians really represent ordinary people? It’s an important debate – but one the public cannot have if unions such as Unite opt to “fix” it privately.

If Labour really seeks to govern it must credit the public with intelligence and involve, not exclude, voters from debates.

In the end, the Falkirk shenanigans will probably be deemed legal and above board. But democratic? Some European proportional voting systems operate “open lists” to get round the thorny problem of local party selectorates offering voters a choice of candidates from each party. In “high participation” electorates such as Iceland, “write-in” candidates also win – social obligation rather than parliamentary law encouraging most to accept their new jobs.

But in Britain, first-past-the-post Westminster voting, low turnout, low levels of political participation and even lower levels of candidate recognition in the over-sized “local” realm combine to block creative, democratic solutions.

If Labour continues to put selfinterest ahead of public interest and fails to end this vicious circle of “backroom” manipulation and local disempowerment, it will pay the price. Maybe in 2014 or 2015, maybe sooner – maybe later.

That at least is in the gift of Falkirk voters.

Sunday Herald, 39 June 2013

SNP millionaire’s conversion to Common Weal cause

THE millionaire credited with making the SNP acceptable to the business community has become a surprise convert to a big-state, high-tax vision of Scotland after independence. Former business minister Jim Mather has backed the left-wing Common Weal plan to import progressive economic and social policies from the Nordic countries as an alternative to a “London-centric future” within the Union and its “un-evolved, Stone Age” rat race.

Mather, whose prominent position on the right of the SNP saw him dubbed a neocon by some of his critics, unveils his new thinking in next week’s Scottish Left Review.

The brainchild of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the Common Weal plan would see Scotland adopt the best aspects of Scandinavia and Germany to create a wealthier, fairer country with a diverse economy and an expanded welfare state. With support for the idea growing among its MSPs, the SNP is to debate the Common Weal at its annual conference in October.

The Church of Scotland has also set up a working group on the concept.

In the early 2000s, Mather and Alex Salmond worked as a double-act to persuade businesses that the SNP was not a threat, and indeed that it would cut their taxes under independence.

A former accountant who made his fortune in IT, Mather’s sales patter helped transform the SNP’s reputation in the business community. Salmond rewarded him in 2007 by making him minister for enterprise, energy and tourism, a post he held throughout the SNP’s first term. He retired from Holyrood in 2011 and is now a visiting professor at Strathclyde University.

In his article, Mather says the crash of 2008 exposed the bankruptcy of the free market, “conflict and competition” model fostered by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US in the 1980s. What is needed now, he says, is a realignment of markets “with the real economy and real people” and an overhaul of how companies are run to end the “employer versus employees” attitude of many managers.

He writes: “This experience of recent years augments the Economic Case for Independence that I took to the boardrooms of Scotland in the period 2002-07 – proving that a Union applying the same rates of taxes to all parts of Scotland as were applied to London and the south-east would leave us unable to overcome the tendency for wealth and talent to be drawn into London.

“It was a proposition that held true when those in financial services played with a moderately straight bat – but it became shamelessly true with the widespread abandonment of ethical behaviour.

“I am up for a Common Weal approach as all this proves that ‘conflict and competition’ is a un-evolved Stone Age solution that is destined to produce many more losers than winners.”

Although some Common Weal policies could be applied with greater devolution, Mather adds: “I believe we will also need independence – for otherwise we face the prospect of being locked into a London-centric future that will look very much like the current unacceptable reality of relatively low living standards, low average life expectancy and emigration from a potentially wealthy nation.”

The pro-Union Better Together campaign said Mather’s shift showed the Yes camp’s confusion. A spokesman said: “The SNP are declaring war on the big business figures they have worked so hard to woo.”

Scotsman, 27 June 2013

Work for the Common Weal

We need a new economic philosophy, one where people come together for the benefit of all members of society

IF YOU have one uncontested political philosophy and it fails, what do you do? Get another. That’s what the idea of Common Weal is about. Since the work of Adam Smith was selectively reinterpreted in the 1970s, almost all political parties came round to a single belief that the best outcomes for all stem from “perfect competition”. The idea is simple: the outcome of a fair competition is always the best possible outcome and we have nothing to learn from the loser.

This idea that perpetual conflict on a battlefield free of obstructions is the ultimate means of filtering out anything that isn’t excellent underpins the British approach to everything. In the economy, we call this the free market. In education, we call it meritocracy. In first-past-the-post elections, we call it a majority. In the public services, it is called consumer choice. In the playground, we used to call it “winner takes all”.

This assumes that competition can be perfect, that victory is a sign of inherent merit and not the ability to play the game; that complexity can be measured through simplistic competitions, that there are two classes of people – leaders and followers – defined by how much money they have.

This is almost exactly what Adam Smith warned against. There is no such thing as perfect competition, especially when you let the victors define the rules of the game. In contemporary British capitalism, markets have become little more than mechanisms for the immensely powerful to crush competition – legally if they can, or illegally if they can’t.

The best way to win in the modern market is to take as much value out of an economy as you can while putting in as little as possible. It is why our economy is so dominated by high volume, low margin, low skill, low pay, low productivity, low investment industry sectors such as retail. Why make or build anything if you can buy cheap from China and sell it expensively, crushing indigenous industries in your wake?

There is an alternative philosophy to this. It is perhaps best summed up by Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, who said “to build more, we must share more”. Instinctively, all of us know this to be true. Modern Britain is like a nursery school in which the teachers thought the best bet was to allow the most aggressive child to hoard all the Lego. Nothing gets built; the goal becomes to get and keep the Lego, not to use it. Share the Lego more equitably and, far from losing productivity, you see a rapid rise in productivity as youngsters build things rather than fight.

This philosophy has bubbled around just under the surface of Scottish politics since devolution. An instinctive understanding that “winner takes all” isn’t going to produce the best outcomes has put a check on the wilder extremes of privatisation, marketisation and deregulation. But this is a constant struggle with the commercial lobbyists.

I believe a big majority of Scots want that alternative – ruthless competition has done nothing but condemn them to low pay and constant insecurity. To which end the Jimmy Reid Foundation sought to give that alternative philosophy a name; Common Weal, containing the meaning both of wealth shared in common and for the common wellbeing. It is an attempt to describe the sort of social and economicmodel of the Nordic countries, but in a distinctively Scottish context.

At the heart of the Common Weal vision is that reform must begin with the deeply-flawed Scottish economy. The dominance of low-skill, low-pay, low-productivity employment is the absolutely predictable outcome of an economic system that places “consumer confidence” and house prices above productivity or balance of trade (never mind human wellbeing) as a measure of success.

Why is this so important? Because almost every other problem we face in society can be traced to an atypical labour market that has a massive over-supply of jobs at the bottom end, massive over-remuneration at the top and far too little in between.

Common Weal seeks to replace the blatant profiteering that passes for enterprise with real enterprise. This means mutual working to pursue a better economy. And that in turn requires 30 years of orthodoxy to be overturned; citizens, through their government, must be allowed a clear say on what economy they want. If they want better jobs, it is not for self-defining markets tell them they can’t have them.

We need to replace the “Tesco economy” based on multinationals draining wealth from the economy with a domestic economy dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises engaged in really productive work such as manufacture, research and development and advanced services. These create wealth not through pillaging the pockets of the people, but by making people wealthy through quality jobs.

That single shift changes everything. People want stronger and more extensive social services, but they are told they must pay higher taxes. This is just myopic UK political dogma. What we certainly need to do is to take a higher proportion of the nation’s GDP in tax, but the first way to do that is to work towards an economy in which a higher proportion ofGDP is paid in wages. The more people are paid, the wealthier they become, the more tax they pay. This is not about high tax versus low tax, it is about high pay versus low pay. Fix employment and, along with proper collection, tax begins to fix itself.

We need a real industrial strategy. Government and its agencies must focus on helping Scottish firms to establish and succeed. Finance must be long term. Potential for fast growth should be dropped as a method of identifying enterprises for support in favour of long-term productivity and quality of employment. Scottish businesses should never have to pay higher rates of tax than their multinational competitors, which get away with paying little or nothing. Defeatism on development levers must be banished; all the assets of the public realm from procurement policy to university research must be marshalled behind indigenous industries that create good jobs and strong exports.

This is not a simple right-wing/left-wing issue – in the Nordic countries, the political Right would no more revert to a low productivity economy than would the Left. This is about admitting failure, learning lessons from those who have done better and moving forward in a co-ordinated way. The foundation is running a big project on this, inclusive and diverse. We’re asking everyone who is interested to submit their own thoughts on what a Common Weal approach would look like in practice – send your own thoughts by going to our website.

We’ve been taking these ideas to lots of meetings and events across Scotland. The response has been uniformly supportive. People are crying out for a new direction. They want well-paid, rewarding jobs, strong public services, social cohesion and economic security for them and their loved ones. The conflict model has singularly failed to deliver what they want; its time has passed. Until politics catches up with the people, disillusion will continue to dominate. The Common Weal is where the people, the politicians, the business sector and our public institutions can come together again.

Robin McAlpine is Director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Sunday Herald, 23 June 2013

SNP debate on Common Weal vision of Scotland after independence

Support grows for Nordic model set out by Jimmy Reid think tank

AVISION of Scotland as a big-state, high-tax independent nation on the Nordic model is to be debated at the SNP’s conference amid growing support for the idea at the top of the party. Dubbed the Common Weal, and promoted by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation, the concept will be the subject of the biggest fringe meeting at the SNP’s annual gathering in Perth.

Bill Kidd, the SNP chief whip at Holyrood, also called last night for the Common Weal to be debated formally by the full conference.

He said he would be tabling a motion through his Glasgow Anniesland branch to that effect, and with other SNP branches doing likewise, he said it would be near impossible for the party to avoid a main hall debate in October.

MSP Christina McKelvie, convener of the SNP Parliamentary Trade Union Group, also said she wanted Common Weal debated, provided the underlying motion was sound.

The Reid Foundation last week launched the scottishcommonweal. org website with a call for ideas from academics and the public which could be applied to a post-Yes Scotland, based on policies working in Germany and Scandinavia.

Its vision includes a bigger welfare state with lifelong universal services; a diverse economy with high-skill, high-wage jobs and firms fostered by state lending; and greater local democracy and gender equality.

The Church of Scotland has set up an in-house Common Weal group to analyse the idea.

Last week, Kidd tabled a Holyrood motion backing the Common Weal as “aspirational” – it was signed overnight by one-fifth of SNP MSPs.

It is understood Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is broadly supportive of Common Weal, though wary of its tax implications.

The First Minister is thought to be cooler about the idea, and is waiting to see how party activists react to it before taking a stance.

A Common Weal debate is potentially awkward for Salmond, as it could expose a left-right split, and link independence with high taxes.

The Nordic model is also a direct challenge to Salmond’s plan to attract big business to an independent Scotland, with the gimmick of slashing 3p off corporation tax.

Kidd said the Common Weal idea was already down for debate at the biggest fringe venue in Perth, the 300- seat Salutation Hotel, but he also wanted a main hall discussion.

He said: “I believe this is a good way forward. It’s the kind of thing we should be looking at as a political party to try to encourage people to vote yes in the referendum.”

McKelvie added: “The Common Weal is about creating a society where everybody is valued.

“We need to be working towards a manifesto for 2016. We need to have something in that manifesto that gives people a tangible difference from what they’ve got right now.

“I think the way to do it is to give people the rights they need to be protected and supported and nurtured through their lifetime.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said the SNP had to choose whether it was a party of Scandinavian high taxes or low taxes aimed at business.

He said: “Both these future visions can’t be right and the SNP will have to choose one or the other.”

An SNP spokesman said the party had a “proud tradition of open debate at conference” and that all elected branches were invited to select resolutions for debate. BY THE REVEREND SHUNA DICKS

WITH the referendum dominating the political landscape in Scotland, now is the time where we can all stop to think: “What kind of Scotland do we want to imagine could be possible in the future, regardless of the outcome?”

The day after the referendum poll, many people will be bitterly disappointed. How can we plan now to overcome that disappointment with a shared purpose so that, regardless of the constitutional arrangement we end up with, we can work together for the common good?

Tax and spending by governments, on society’s behalf, has always been an issue which divides political opinion. In recent years we have seen questions on the one hand about tax avoidance and evasion and, on the other, blatant inaccuracies are being used about people in poverty to justify reforms and cuts to social security.

Sunday Herald, 16 June 2013

An agenda for change

AGROUP of academics and economists will today launch an international project to flesh out their vision of an independent Scotland as a wealthier and more fair country on the Nordic model. The Common Weal group, which argues that an exit from the UK would free Scotland to adopt a Scandinavian economic and social blueprint, will open a dedicated website with a call for policy ideas large and small from the public, civic Scotland and scholars worldwide.

Scottishcommonweal. org is i ntended to become an online Speakers’ Corner where people can highlight their priorities for independence, with contributions building into a library of policy ideas that could be put into effect after a Yes vote next year.

Created by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundationto bring some overdue intellectual heft to the independence debate, the project will also publish six blueprints for reform, drawing on ideas from a pool of 30 academics and editors.

The first paper, due in September, will focus on tax and how Scotland would pay its bills without following the UK’s market-led, neo-liberal economic model. Early ideas include levying a wealth tax on super-rich companies and individuals to pay for universal childcare.

Other papers will cover the economy and industrial relations, the welfare state, the environment, international relations and equality and democracy.

Although it is not taking sides in the referendum, the Church of Scotland last night gave the project a major boost, confirming it was setting up a working group to research, explore and reflect on the fundamental principles “of what we mean about Common Weal – how we look after our neighbours”.

And Dennis Canavan, chairman of the Yes Scotland campaign, said Common Weal was the kind of “creative thinking” Scotland needed.

Bob Thomson, the Jimmy Reid Foundationconvener, said: “There are many more people in Scotland who want a change in how the country is run than want the market-driven mess we’re in now.

“The only reason politicians haven’t had to respond to this public demand for change is that there hasn’t been a big, wide and inclusive plan of action. This is a chance to bring people together, expert or not, to build up that programme.

“The volume and diversity of response we’ve had so far suggests this is not something politicians will be able to ignore.”

Designed to inject some gravitas into the knockabout of the referendum debate, the project argues that the powers of independence would let Scotland break with a failed UK economic system and import more enlightened policies from Scandinavia and Germany to tackle inequality and promote a more socially just and stronger society.

A Scottish Nordic model would include a welfare state with cradleto- g rave universal services; a diverse economy with high- tech, high-paying firms fostered by state lending rather than over-reliance on risk in the finance sector and lowpaying retail jobs and greater local democracy and gender equality.

It would require a bigger overall tax take but not necessarily higher individual taxes, with a wealth tax or land tax boosting exchequer coffers. Revenues would be used to improve public services and education, raise skills and bolster the economy, which in turn would lift wages and reduce wealth inequality.

Its proponents see a virtuous circle, though critics detect a neverending daydream.

In its inaugural Common Weal

paper, which was circulated among the SNP hierarchy, the Reid Foundation sketched out key areas for reform, but deliberately left the details out, as it wanted to provoke a debate without prescribing its limits. Today’s launch and appeal

for specifics is intended to take the project to the next level.

There is also an important political calculation in theCommonWeal. While those behind it will not run their own referendum campaign, they intend to put their ideas over to voters by embedding them in the messages of the SNP and Yes Scotland. The aim is to build the Common Weal drumbeat steadily over the summer and autumn, starting

with a pitch to business about a radically simplified tax system which would see all firms pay their fair share.

The CommonWeal concept would be debated by the Radical Independence Campaign at its annual gathering, then the Scottish Green conference, and finally the SNP conference in Perth. SNP local branches are already being encouraged

to put forward motions based around the idea.

While some in the SNP hierarchy might bridle at these tactics, the promoters of the Common Weal report a welcome from SNP activists eager to take forward the Nordic vision, and even from senior MSPs who would quietly like their conference to take on the Common Weal mantle.

The theory goes that, once absorbed into mainstream thinking, it would be impossible to put the Common Weal idea back in the bottle.

If there is a Yes vote next year, the policies of an independent Scotland would also, in many cases, be CommonWeal policies. If there is a No vote, the Common Weal would still be the Yes side’s legacy – a storehouse of policy ideas to feed into Scottish politics for future years.

Canavan said: “I strongly welcome the CommonWeal initiative. This is the kind of creative thinking which can ensure that an independent Scotland is based on sound economics, as well as sound principles of social justice.

I urge individuals and organisations to respond to the invitation to submit ideas which will contribute

to the CommonWeal vision, thereby helping to build a fairer Scotland, where wealth is not only created but is used to benefit all the people.”

A spokesman for the pro-Union Better Together campaign said: “The SNP’s vision for a separate Scotland is to hand over control of welfare, currency, savings, mortgages and much else to a foreign government without any Scottish representation at all. It’s little wonder that people across the political spectrum find the SNP’s plans

so unappealing.”

Scotsman, 4 June 2013

Innovate, inspire and create a better Scotland

The potential to generate a healthy independent economy is not just a romantic ideal, writes Alastair Reid

OnSIDER a northern European country of five million people with limited natural resources, a sparsely populated rural north, a few major exporting companies and a couple of research-intensive universities located in the cities of the south-central belt of the country. When a global financial crisis hits, the result is predictable. Or is it?

If politicians, business people, civil society and the scientific sector – not forgetting popular opinion – reach a consensus on a long-term vision of a future in which the public and private sectors commit to investing in education and innovation; where broad-based partnerships support the emergence of new innovative business models, the economic outcomes can be staggering. This was the case of Finland, circa 1990, but the Finnish economy has been transformed and is now in the global top five innovative nations.

Our nordic neighbours, like Finland, have sustained higher growth rates and lower poverty levels than the UK, thanks to a greater rate of investment in innovation. But they also succeed by being able to bring the full set of policy levers available to an independent state to bear on their “innovation system”. The evidence is that when it comes to innovation, small(er) is (definitely) beautiful.

Here in Scotland, in considering the future of the economy, most commentators assume that structural economic change, if it occurs, will be marginal and that productivity rates will not diverge significantly from current ones.

At first glance, these are reasonable assumptions. Scottish economic performance, after all, has not deviated significantly from the UK as a whole in recent decades. But even short-term projections can vary significantly depending on investment rate assumptions. Add a dose of innovation, and long-term trends can be boosted significantly.

By contrast, some people seem to believe that the rate of economic growth Scotland achieves within the UK is as good as it gets. To prosper, Scottish businesses must extend their horizons far beyond the low-growth rest of UK (rUK) market.

A second false assumption is that the Scottish innovation system requires rUK investment to prosper. In 2011, rUK-owned firms contributed less than 5 per cent to Scotland’s “innovation effort”. At the same time, thanks in part to the enterprise agencies, there has been an upward trend in absolute and relative R&D expenditure by Scottish-owned firms.

Moreover, in a 2012 study for Scottish Enterprise, we found no evidence that Scotland gets an innovation dividend from being part of the UK. Indeed, given that the UK spends comparatively more on defence related R&D, which contributes less to productivity growth than civilian R&D, an independent Scotland would receive an innovation bonus by re-orientating R&D investment towards new markets and societal needs.

We also found that, far from the popular myth that high-technology firms spun out of academic research are driving innovation, the growth of Scottish business R&D over the last decade has been driven by sectors often considered as low-tech. Major Scottish innovators include bus manufacturers, food and drink firms, engineering and service companies. Innovation is also flourishing in rural areas such as the digital health corridor between Inverness and Elgin or the Orkney marine energy “campus”.

Since 2007, the Scottish Government, in partnership with industry leaders, has driven forward an economic strategy based on a number of key sectors. The renewable energy investments attracted, or the sustained export growth of the Scottish food and drink sector, illustrate that when political vision and target setting is combined with business ambition, the scope for generating alternative economic futures is broad.

However, as a nation, we can and must do even more to foster innovation. The recent Common Weal paper from the Jimmy Reid Foundation calls for “more domestically owned medium-sized enterprises with a long-term ownership strategy” focussed on innovative and productive enterprise.

As I argued in a 2012 report on Scottish innovation policy for the European Commission, such companies of scale can be key players that allow smaller firms to take a first step on the innovation ladder. I also recommended a hands-on innovation policy to support ambitious enterprises (both for-profit and communityownership models) that sustain quality employment and generate wealth in rural and less advantaged urban areas.

In short, innovation needs to become a more collective and even more widespread endeavour in Scottish society.

We need to challenge regional partnerships of businesses, universities, local authorities, health services, etc. to become involved in open innovation where new products and services (public and private) are tested and developed by and for users.

In marine energy, for example, Scotland is already a test-bed for a large share of the global tidal and wave technologies. And from a socialinnovation perspective, the Inverness-Moray digital health cluster brings together local businesses and health and social care professionals to test new approaches to personalised care.

We need to multiply such examples, and we need to inspire people from all sectors of our economy, in all our communities, to become ambassadors for change. Scotland can prosper, if we put our collective creativity to work.

Alasdair Reid is a director of the Technopolis Group, based in Brussels.

Evening Times, 3 June 2013

‘ Staying with London wouldn’t help Scots’

Westminster government policies have been more suited to London at the expense of most other countries and regions in the UK and that Scotland has “suffered” in a climate where the UK has had “no effective industrial or regional policy for more than 30 years”.

The paper was published by the think tank the Jimmy Reid Foundation and analyses data covering three decades.

The research – which covers areas such as GDP, population, employment, manufacturing, expor ts, skills and income – is said to challenge an assertion made by pro-Union campaigners Better Together, which the report says “takes for granted that we have a strong and secure UK.”

The paper states: “By examining the performance of the different parts of the UK economy over the past 30 years, it shows how dysfunctional the UK economy has been and that it has not operated as an optimal currency area – a condition which is regarded as necessary for the successful working of a monetary union.”

Press and Journal, 3 June 2013

Money union ‘has no benefit’

Scotland would not benefit from continuing to form a monetary union with the rest of the UK in the long term, according to a study which concluded the UK economy is “dysfunctional”.

The Scottish Government’s preference is for an independent Scotland to retain the pound as part of a UK-wide currency union.

But in a detailed assessment, economist Margaret Cuthbert found that joining a currency union with the rest of the UK could “condemn” Scotland to “continuing to share in the chronic underperformance which the dysfunctional UK currency area has exhibited in the past”. In other findings, the study also concluded that successive Westminster government policies have been more suited to London at the expense of most other countries and regions in the UK and that Scotland has “suffered” in a climate where the UK has had “no effective industrial or regional policy for more than 30 years”.

The paper was published yesterday by the think tank the Jimmy Reid Foundation and analyses data covering three decades.

The research – which covers GDP, population, employment, manufacturing, exports, skills and income – is said to challenge an assertion made by proUnion campaigners Better Together, which the report says “takes for granted that we have a strong and secure UK”.

Pro-independence campaigners Yes Scotland welcomed the publication. SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said: “These findings illustrate the scale of the opportunity presented to Scotland next September – and highlights the reasons why we cannot let that opportunity slip from our grasp.

“For Scotland truly to prosper, we need a Yes vote to enable us to create the fairer and wealthier society we all want to live in.” charity, who are being given £250,000 from Scottish Government agencies, said campaigners would not be allowed stalls.

Aspokesmansaid: “It is a non-political event, full stop. We are talking about concessions for sale of produce, sale of merchandise, that sort of thing.

“We have a veto on the products and produce that are sold, so clearly any products or produce that we regard as unsuitable for Six out of 10 teenagers who will be able to vote in the referendum do not think Scotland should be an independent country, according to a survey.

Researchers from Edinburgh University questioned 1,018 people aged 14-17 for what is said to be the first representative survey of youngsters’ attitudes in that age bracket.

Dundee Courier, 3 June 2013

Study claims UK economy isn’t working

SCOTLAND WOULD not benefit from continuing to form a monetary union with the rest of the UK in the long-term, according to a study which concluded the UK economy is “dysfunctional”.

The Scottish Government’s stated preference is for an independent Scotland to retain the pound as part of a UK-wide currency union.

However, economist Margaret Cuthbert found joining a currency union with the rest of the UK could “condemn” Scotland to “continuing to share in the chronic underperformance which the dysfunctional UK currency area has exhibited in the past”.

In other findings, her study also concluded successive Westminster government policies have been more suited to London at the expense of most other countries and regions in the UK.

The new paper was published yesterday by the think tank the Jimmy Reid Foundation and analyses data covering three decades.

It says: “First, by examining the performance of the different parts of the UK economy over the past 30 years, it shows how dysfunctional the UK economy has been.

“Second, by comparing Scotland and the UK with other economies, it shows that the UK and Scotland have not been performing well and that in dynamic terms, the economy has been steered in a wrong direction.”

A Yes Scotland spokesman said: “Ms Cuthbert’s report supports what Yes Scotland has been saying — that Scotland is one the wealthiest countries in the world, that it consistently outperforms the rest of the UK and that Westminster is not working for us.”

Sunday Herald, 2 June 2013

London calling (the shots)

THE UK economy has become so “dysfunctional” through mismanagement, free market excess and policies skewed towards London that Scotland needs independence to avoid being harmed any more by it, according to a detailed assessment by a leading Scottish economist.

In a new paper for the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation which analyses 30 years of data, Margaret Cuthbert says the UK consistently performs badly against other European states on a range of economic indicators, with Scotland typically worse still. Her report covers GDP, employment, population, industrial output, manufacturing, business start-ups, household income and benefits.

Instead of actively protecting Scotland, she says the UK economy has become overwhelmingly geared to helping London, meaning Scotland and other UK regions suffer from being denied the specific, local policies they need.

She describes a vicious circle in which London sucks in people and investment and holds back growth elsewhere, which in turn makes London more attractive, feeding the problem. Rather than a warm, fraternal embrace, she portrays the Union’s offer to Scotland as more like the grip of a drowning man.

Cuthbert and her husband, Jim, are both former Government economists, and their work is regularly cited by all political parties.

Published today, her paper, entitled The UK Economy: a strong and secure UK?, is part of the Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project.

An attempt to inject some vision into the sterile back-and-forth of the independence debate, this project argues that a Yes vote would let Scotland escape the downward spiral of the UK’s low-wage, low-skill economic model and adopt the best practices of the Nordic countries to improve society, business, equality and the welfare state.

Cuthbert says her conclusions are a direct challenge to the Better Together campaign’s repeated assertion that Scotland would naturally be better off staying in the UK.

While Alex Salmond and the SNP can agree with much of Cuthbert’s assessment, her paper also presents the party with a problem, as she concludes that the UK economy is such a bad fit, an independent Scotland should abandon the pound and use its own currency.

The First Minister’s policy is for Scotland to stay with sterling as part of a UK-wide monetary union, an argument based on the UK being an “optimum currency area”.

But Cuthbert says the UK fails a key test for an optimum currency area: that monetary policy – meaning interest rates and money supply – should have a similar effect across the whole area.

This condition is “grossly violated” for the UK, she says, partly because the overheated London housing market reacts differently to that in other parts of the UK, and influences policy-makers’ decisions on interest rates.

Among the key points of Cuthbert’s report are that Scottish gross domestic product (GDP) has underperformed relative to the UK and similar EU countries for the past 50 years.

Since 1963, UK GDP has on average grown by 2.5% a year, but by 2% in Scotland: if Scotland’s growth had kept pace with the UK, its economy would be 25% larger today. The key factor is London, where GDP has been growing at twice the rate of that in Scotland and most other UK regions in recent years, leading to a huge gulf in regional prosperity, with welfare benefits inefficiently offsetting some of the differences in household income.

In France’s most prosperous region, GDP per head is twice that of its least prosperous.

But London GDP per head is 4.7 times the level found in struggling Wales and the valleys.

UK industrial production is also struggling relative to other Western countries, Cuthbert says, falling by 1.2% from 1990 to 2011, while it grew by 32.7% in Germany, 50% in the US, 100% in Austria and 361% in Ireland.

Cuthbert also identifies bad management of the pound, weak exports, excess borrowing, and a laissez-faire approach to takeovers which sees home companies consumed by foreign ones.

“Overall, the UK cannot be seen as a successful economic entity keeping up with its competitor countries,” she writes.

While some might think of industrial decline as a given in advanced economies, she says the data shows the UK has been “almost alone” in experiencing a sharp decline, adding: “Skill levels and higher education in Scotland do offer a labour resource and potential which is world class, but much of this potential has permanently moved south or emigrated: the long-term benefit to the Scottish economy has therefore been weakened.”

She said: “This shows how dysfunctional the UK economy has been and that it has not operated as an optimal currency area.

“Second, it shows that the UK and Scotland have not been performing well, and that the economy has been steered in a wrong direction. And third, it shows the failures of the neo-liberal model successive UK governments have followed since 1980.”

Mike Danson, professor of enterprise at Heriot-Watt University and another proponent of the Common Weal, said the resilience of Germany and the Nordic countries to the recession was “in stark contrast to the hollowed-out industries of the UK where the promotion and protection of business, finance and consumerism have imbalanced the economy to the detriment of the regions outwith London and the southeast”.

He said: “A strong manufacturing sector of medium-sized, independently-owned enterprises is the basis for a sound and sustainable economy. A proactive industrial policy where workers are active participants in innovation and management lies at the heart of successful economies. With no current appetite to learn these lessons among Westminster parties, Scotland needs to pursue its own course to resilience.”

A Better Together spokesman said: “Being a part of the United Kingdom is good for Scottish jobs, mortgages and pensions. We sell more goods to the rest of the UK than we do to all the other countries of the world combined. Tens of thousands of people in Scotland earn a living working for UK companies.

“The nationalists may want to turn our biggest economic market into our biggest economic competitor. However, the overwhelming majority of Scots think that this simply makes no sense.”

In a separate contribution to the independence debate last week, Margaret and Jim Cuthbert warned that Alex Salmond’s vision for Scotland within a sterling zone fell “far short of any meaningful concept of independence”.

Signing up to the pound would give the UK so much sway over Scotland’s tax and spending limits that it would amount to little more than a “token version” of independence, they argued, a claim fiercely rejected by the SNP.

Sunday Herald, 2 June 2013

Editorial: A welcome addition to economic debate

DESPITE the magnitude of the subject, the independence debate has been shrinking lately.

The Westminster Government and the Better Together campaign have sought to focus on a series of narrow issues – some important, some distinctly low order – as they try to paint independence as one hurdle after another. It has created a bubble in which Scotland’s strengths and weaknesses relative to the United Kingdom are endlessly discussed, but from which the bigger picture is excluded.

The new paper by economist Margaret Cuthbert, which we report today, is a welcome addition to the debate precisely because it steps outside the bubble to consider the merits of the UK economy relative to others in Europe.

It is also welcome for being rooted in data, not driven by emotion or nationalist mythology, even if it comes to a nationalist conclusion.

The paper is part of the Jimmy Reid Foundation’sCommon Weal project, which seeks to diagnose Scotland’s economic and social condition and propose solutions which can be administered under independence.

Cuthbert’s paper falls under the diagnosis half – drawing on 30 years of figures to argue that, rather than the safe harbour described by Better Together, the UK economy is deeply dysfunctional, and the rot points to long- term decline and worsening inequality.

A central problem for Scotland is London.

As a world city, a global financial hub, and home to one in eight of the UK population, London’s gravitational pull sucks in so much labour and capital it holds back the regional economies beyond the southeast, which are then unfairly labelled subsidy junkies.

It is hardly London’s fault, but it is, Cuthbert argues, a fact now impossible to ignore, especially as London’s sheer scale means economic and social policy are tailored to suit it, again at the expense of other parts of the UK, including Scotland.

In addition to t he London issue, Cuthbert says long- term comparisons show the UK economy is competing badly with other EU nations, with industrial production virtually stagnant since 1990 as others have raced ahead.

Add in neo- liberal free market experiments, a top-heavy financial sector, wild disparities in regional GDP, falling wages, skill shortages, pathetic research and development spending, banks that don’t lend, and crippling government debt, and the picture is of a broken economy that offers multiple reasons to spring for the exit.

Better Together’s strategy is for Scots to cling to nurse for fear of finding something worse, but what if nurse is the problem?

The Cuthbert paper suggests Scotland will never enjoy a full recovery as part of a mismanaged, Londoncentric economy.

If it can, Better Together’s job is now to say, with equal rigour, why nurse knows best.

Scotsman, 1 June 2013

Left must take more proactive stance

SCOTLAND has long prided itself on its radical and socialist traditions, from Red Clydeside and Upper Clyde Shipbuilders to rent strikes, occupations and the campaign that achieved the Scottish Parliament.

This week, Alex Salmond faced more criticism over his corporation tax policy from predictable quarters such as Johann Lamont and less predictable ones such as pro-independence supporters and economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, and Professor Joseph Stiglitz, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers.

This raises all sorts of questions about the nature and dynamics of the independence project, Labour-SNP competition, and the characteristics of the Scottish Left. Underneath this is the dilemma of who really speaks for and represents Scotland’s radical traditions? And who is looking at turning these into thinking and policies for today?

A gauge of this can be found in the recent publication Scotland’s Road to Socialism, edited by Gregor Gall. There are good things in this, such as the inclusion of pro-independence and pro-Union pieces illustrating the division of progressive opinion. But, mostly, it is a revealing collection illuminating the paucity of much of what passes for Left thinking. There is little awareness of the Left’s existential crisis across the West. This was once a project that was confident, outward-looking, sure that history was on its side and the future was theirs for the taking. That is no longer the case and it is surprising that a whole range of voices in a collection ignores such a reality.

Then there is the triumph of right-wing ideas these past 30 years. How are these to be explained, understood and countered? In many Left versions, this is either ignored or explained away in a caricatured account of history, centred around perfidious leadership and “betrayal”. Many on the Left, simply, do not do ideology at all, or very well.

Then, in the Gall book, there is the conflation of social justice and socialism. These are not the same: one is about more equality and could be attained in a variety of ways; the other is a systematic transformation of society. The latter has happened nowhere in the world, but some are under the illusion it might be possible in Scotland, independent or not.

The most challenging essay in the book – by Robin McAlpine, of the Jimmy Reid Foundation – addresses the problematic culture and language of much of the Scottish Left. He takes on what he calls the “anti-everything” attitude, which slams welfare cuts, illegal wars and injustice – which doesn’t connect or offer any resonance to most voters.

Too much of the Left, he observes, offers an unappealing menu of aggression, anger and narcissism. It entails a ritual of marching, demos, petitions and old-fashioned oratory that represent the hallmarks of a previous generation’s politics. McAlpine believes Scottish politics are shaped by “a giant political Berlin Wall” between Labour and SNP and other progressives, but the biggest division is between those in the tiny political bubble, whatever their persuasion, and the rest of Scotland.

There are creative signs of Left activity, the Radical Independence Conference and National Collective, both pro-independence, but so far more interested in positioning and posturing than ideas and policy work. The sole exception to this is the work of the Reid foundation, but it cannot change a culture of the Left and politics by itself.

The crisis is deeper and more historic than McAlpine’s analysis. Any belief that Scotland could make the transition to socialism has to be based on a set of assumptions about the state of the Left, public opinion, and the nature of society and democracy. However, Scotland is not and has never become a fully-fledged political democracy, and you cannot build socialism on the quicksand of elite power. A similar mistake was made by a previous generation of British left-wingers, who fell for the British Fabian and labourist myths that you could build socialism on the foundations of the British Empire state and its narrow, atrophied democracy.

Scottish autonomy and distinctiveness was built in an age of pre-democracy – from the Union and the managed society that emerged in Victorian times. The preservation and practice of Scottish identity was articulated through “the holy trinity” of education, law and the Kirk. To aid radical change in Scotland, there has to be an understanding of the history, institutions and limits of democracy in our society – up to and including the era of the Scottish Parliament.

Talking about socialism and independence as abstracts prevents people from seeing past the mythologies of Scotland, and of the Labour and nationalist movements as radical forces when both are cautious, conservative and timid.

A radical Scottish Left has to understand the institutional dominance of Scottish life, the power of elites and the encroaching centralisation across public policy. It would challenge the comfort zones of entitlement society and our very own civic Scotland chum-ocracy, which is as incestuous, narrow and lacking in self-criticism as David Cameron’s Chipping Norton social set.

A radical Left would talk about power and the strange lack of curiosity that Scots seem to have about who holds it. It would concern itself with the missing Scotland that doesn’t have a voice or influence in the politics and corridors of our nation. And it would challenge the mantra of free tuition fees when a generation of bright working-class children are excluded from university.

In short, a radical Scottish politics would not accept our economic and social status quo as good enough. The Scotland we live in fails too many people and leaves them behind. That isn’t progressive Scotland. Nor is selectively citing the likes of Stiglitz while invoking trickle down, tax competition and neo-liberal economics, and pretending all this can be squared with social justice and reducing inequality.

To change this, it requires the Scots Left to stop being anti-everything, defenders of past gains, and profoundly conservative, and instead embrace democratisation and a different culture, less Presbyterian, and more shaped by fun, humour, play and imagination. Who knows it might actually be enjoyable and offer an attractive way of doing politics; and we might just begin to change Scotland in the process.

Gerry Hassan

The Herald, 27 May 2013

Great War tribute ‘ignores courage of those who tried to stop carnage’

A ROW has broken out over official plans to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War, with claims the Scottish Government’s proposals are a “whitewash”.

Alternative plans are being drawn up by a leading thinktank amid concerns that the programme unveiled by First Minister Alex Salmond last week is dominated by “Establishment and military” figures.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation says not enough consideration is being given to the justification for the conflict and to the stance taken by conscientious objectors.

Mr Salmond insisted last week that the official plans, which begin with an event at Edinburgh Castle in August next year, would be a “commemoration not a celebration”.

But the foundation insists there are “widespread concerns” that it will not ask why the war was fought and address the needless loss of life in which more than 100,000 Scots were killed.

It is to establish its own committee, including historians Dr Neil Davidson and Professor Chris Harvie, which will focus instead on those who suffered and those who tried to stop it. Chair of the committee Isobel Lindsay said: “Some of Scotland’s finest had the foresight and courage to resist the fatal misjudgments of politicians and generals who sent millions to their death and created the conditions for the rise of Hitler.

“We want to ensure that these honourable opponents are given the great credit they deserve and that the true story of the war is presented. World War One was a disaster on a massive scale not an achievement.”

The Scottish Commemorations Panel announced by Mr Salmond last week is to be headed by former army chaplain Norman Drummond and includes professionals from the military and veterans’ communities, community leaders, clergy, media, historians and education specialists.

Mr Salmond said the programme would focus on how to ensure such a conflict must “never happen again”. But the Jimmy Reid Foundation is concerned there is little representation of groups such as conscientious objectors, the peace movement and the millions of working-class men were “sent to their deaths” in the conflict between 1914-18.

Its committee also includes trade unionists Jackson Cullinane and Richard Leonard; the former leader of the Iona community, Kathy Galloway; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom member Helen Kay; John Ainslie from Scottish CND; and community activist Bob Holman. A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland’s First World War commemorations will give the whole of the country the opportunity to reflect on Scotland’s significant role in that conflict.

“Reflecting on that conflict’s devastating events and losses, and the consequences for communities the length and breadth of Scotland, will help people of all ages in this country understand more about the futility of war.”

Scotsman, 27 May 2013

Jimmy Reid think-tank will commemorate 1914-18 conflict as a disaster

A LEFT-Wing think-tank is to draw up its own proposals for commemorating next year’s centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in a way that reflects “a disaster, not an achievement.”

The Jimmy Reid Foundation is to draw up proposals because of concern that the official commemoration will become a celebration of military glory rather than a reflection on the human cost of the war.

Chairing the committee drawing up the plans will be Isobel Lindsay. She said: “Some of Scotland’s finest had the foresight and courage to resist the fatal misjudgments of politicians and generals who sent millions to their death and created the conditions for the rise of Hitler.

“We want to ensure that these honourable opponents are given the great credit they deserve and that the true story of the war is presented. World War One was a disaster on a massive scale, not an achievement.”

The foundation, named in honour of the famous Glasgow trade unionist, said: “The commemoration can scarcely avoid discussing the human cost of the war, but many fear it will do so in a way that does not ask why the war was fought or whether it should have been fought at all.”

The committee, which will draw up plans by the end of the year, includes historians Dr Neil Davidson and Professor Chris Harvie, trade unionists Jackson Cullinane and Richard Leonard, the former leader of the Iona community Kathy Galloway, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom member Helen Kay andJohn Ainslie from Scottish CND.

The foundation convener, Bob Thomson, said: “The First World War was an inhumane act of madness which caused nothing but suffering and the idea that this might be used as the basis for some sort of national celebration is distasteful. It must be marked with dignity and inclusiveness and an honesty about what really happened.”

Scotsman, 24 May 2013

Economy plan chained by convention

The SNP’s plan, while recognising some of what not to do, seems to include repeating the mistakes that caused the economic crisis in the first place, writes Robin McAlpine

If YOU have any interest in Scotland’s economic development, the Scottish Government’s economic discussion paper, “Scotland’s Economy: The Case for Independence” published this week, is frustrating. Not because it’s terrible, but because half of it is good. It’s when you reach the other half that the heart sinks.

The paper gets Scotland’s strengths right – we have all the intellectual, human and natural assets necessary to build a first rate economy. It gets the UK’s economic failures right too. But it seems incapable of joining the dots.

For example, it is absolutely right to point out that successive UK governments have encouraged the UK to operate as a “debt economy” where the big money is borrowed at low interest rates for speculation. This “cheap money” monetary policy means only a madman would invest in productive industry where generating returns might take years, not minutes.

But it can’t say anything sensible about this because fear of talking about a life without sterling glues the party to precisely the monetary policy it rightly identifies as a mistake.

It points out that asymmetrical economic growth across the UK has meant a booming South-East has drained growth from elsewhere in Britain. This is absolutely right – and would usually be described in economics as a “sub optimal currency zone”. Sterling promotes growth where there are big centres of financial speculation and works against growth where there aren’t. Again, the SNP has opted to live with this.

The paper is right to emphasise that massive income inequality is an economic problem and not just a social one. But it then goes on to imply that a corporation tax cut could be an option, apparently blissfully unaware that it only attracts low wage employers, increasing inequality.

Again, the paper is right to point out that the UK mismanaged and squandered its oil wealth. So why within a couple of pages is the SNP proposing precisely to replicate this mistake for another generation in its model of the deployment of renewable energy? “Dear Chinese corporation, please take all the value of our wind for free and we might tax you if we can catch you, but not too much, we promise.”

Finally, while we can all agree that austerity is bad for the economy and a lack of capital investment is a major problem, in writing about these things the authors of this paper seem to take a “backwards with Keynes” approach. It implies that the role of public expenditure is to recover the very economic structure that caused the crisis in the first place.

The biggest problem the SNP faces is that there is nothing substantively different in its economic narrative now than in the crazy days of the first half of the last decade. If a sign of true intelligence is rapidly to absorb lessons of failure and adapt, how is it that we have come through what we can only hope is the worst economic disaster of our lifetimes with exactly the same policies as before?

A big part of the problem here is the architecture of mainstream political economics. Alex Salmond’s belief that a cut in corporation tax would generate economic growth comes from a complex computer model. But is he aware that this model is built on a series of assumptions of causality, one of which is that tax cuts always create growth?

So of course when you input a tax cut it predicts immediate growth; that’s what it’s designed to do. The problem is that in the real world outside of the model economists have been trying to find a causal link between corporation tax cuts and growth for 40 years. They simply haven’t been able to demonstrate it – and you would certainly have heard about it if they had.

But perhaps the real problem has become GDP. It makes sense as a way of measuring a productive economy but not if you’re just summing up financial market gambles won and lost. Just as a reminder, the P in GDP is meant to stand for product.

GDP isn’t Scotland’s real problem. Low productivity, low pay, inequality, inherent economic instability, weak real exports, lack of investment in research and development and all the rest are much more to do with the structure of the labour market. We have pointlessly high wages at the top, unacceptably low wages at the bottom, nothing much in between and no link between economic growth and individual prosperity. Just to remind you, the last ten pre-crash years of economic growth in the UK lifted average wages by zero.

We need to worry less about the notional size of the economy and more about its substance. We could rapidly reinflate the economy with financial speculation, house price rises and more private debt and it still wouldn’t produce good jobs, better pay, exports or adequate tax receipts.

The real failure of the UK economic policy is the failure to stimulate industrial production. Between 1990 and 2011, the following are the rates of change in industrial production: Austria 99 per cent, Canada 35 per cent, Finland 83 per cent, USA 50 per cent, Germany 32 per cent, Sweden 54 per cent, the UK -1.2 per cent. Could the UK’s economic failure be summed up more concisely?

These economies expanded industrial production largely because of highly productive, mainly indigenous, high-skill manufacturing Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. They have industrial policies that support and nurture those industries over the long term. They create proper jobs.

So we do have a corporation tax problem in Scotland; in effect we tax indigenous companies at a much higher rate than multinationals which treat tax as optional. And then we demand that they compete while giving even more subsidies to big corporations as a bribe to bring us their rubbish jobs.

We don’t need any more “China merchants” – business gurus who have done nothing more than buy cheap products from China to sell them here expensively. We can live without more property speculators – who have made themselves rich by making the next generation poor. And the last thing we need is to expand the trade in complex financial instruments which neither the seller nor the buyer understands.

We need a solid strategy for increasing median wages and expanding employment. That would be a much healthier measure of economic performance than GDP, at least from where we start now. But it needs a proper industrial policy, not the series of nudges and winks this paper keeps calling “economic levers”. And that means that for the first time in decades we must start to give a damn about domestic enterprises engaged in industrial production.

A diverse range of economists are currently addressing this problem, working under the loose heading “common weal”. A lot of that work is starting from the same analysis of the problems and opportunities that the Scottish Government identify in this paper. But the common weal approach takes it as a challenge to create something new, not just a new backdrop for the same old same old.

The SNP can continue to operate under the economic framework set out collectively by Gordon Brown, George Osborne and King Canute. It may even believe we’ll be eternally grateful for another thousand supermarket jobs. It just shouldn’t be surprised if we all just walk off in despair.

• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Radio Scotland, 18 May 2013

Director of the Foundation discusses Farage, UKIP and Scotland on Good Morning Scotland.

Scotsman, 17 May 2013

Justice and prosperity can go together

MONDAY this week saw the awakening of former prime minister, Gordon Brown, from political hibernation.

As one of Labour’s big guns, he entered the fray on the independence debate substantially for the first time by speaking at Labour’s own “save the Union” campaign called “United with Labour”.

Later the same day, Nicola Sturgeon, deputy First Minister and, in effective, minister for the Scottish government’s independence campaign also made a significant contribution to the debate.

In making the case for the Union, Brown argued: “There are equal social, political and economic rights for people no matter which community you live in, no matter whether you are in a poor area or a rich area of the country… pooling and sharing of resources [means we can be] in a position to tackle poverty, unemployment together.” He cited pensions, national insurance contributions, funding of health care and the minimum wage as examples of what is possible under the Union.

But he also warned about an independent Scotland competing with other parts of Britain and elsewhere in a “race to the bottom” on corporation tax and attracting overseas investment.

Addressing an SNP gathering, Sturgeon made the case for that the current welfare state in Scotland can only be saved by independence. In other words, Scotland could escape the clutches of Westminster and the Tories. She argued that a fairer and more prosperous Scotland could ensue whereby no tax rises would be needed because economic growth would – on its own – raise additional revenue to pay for welfare.

So, on one single day in the independence debate, it seemed that social democracy was alive and well. Indeed, no matter the outcome of the referendum on 18 September 2014, it would seem social democracy would win as both the main political parties, Labour and SNP, set out their social democratic stalls.

But looks can be deceptive. Neither Brown nor Sturgeon set out a social democratic perspective on Scotland’s future. What may seem like social democracy was, in fact, merely a tinkering around with a deregulated market system called a liberal market economy.

Social democracy is quintessentially defined by the state intervening in the processes of the market in order to ameliorate the inequalities of its outcomes . In addition to public ownership of natural monopolies like transport and utilities, the market would not be allowed to operate in education, health, and childcare.

This doesn’t mean there is no longer a market operating that produces the good and services that we consume. But it does mean that even here there is regulation.

Further instances of what social democracy could entail include maximum wages, for example. Even at John Lewis and Waitrose, where all employees are partners in a partnership, the chief executive earns 60 times more than the average employee. A maximum wage would see a ratio of, say, the top earner’s income being no more than 20 times that of the lowest. A wage policy based on solidarity would be another, where the tax system is used to redistribute wealth within society.

The return of mutuals like building societies and retail co-operatives could also play a big part in reconfiguring the economy away from domination by finance capital and the big supermarkets. Of course, supportive public policy would be needed to affect this change.

In other words, a myriad number of steps would be taken to socialise the economy in order to make it more civilised and democratic. These would comprise structural changes to processes and institutions.

What Mr Brown and Ms Sturgeon envisage – in their different own ways – is a means of making existing markets more competitive and productive so that the cream can be skimmed off the top and spread around to the less fortunate in society.

Laudable though that is, it fundamentally leaves powerful vested interests unchallenged. It is these very interests that determine the how and why of the economy we all live under as well as who benefits from it.

And there is nothing in Mr Brown’s or Ms Sturgeon’s ideas to stop the economy from operating like a casino with great highs and great lows. In the times of great lows like the current prolonged period of recession, the vested interests will not allow their wealth to be taxed in order to provide the means of reflating the economy. Instead, they will compel the worse off to make sacrifices.

Both Brown and Sturgeon have submitted to the managerialisation of politics on the economy. Issues of redistribution have been taken off the table and growth is now the only one left.

They are not alone in this. David Cameron’s “big society” was based on the same premise. Ed Miliband’s “responsible capitalism” was cut from the same cloth. Both came and went.

This is what makes the work of the Jimmy Reid Foundation so apposite and, potentially, influential. Since its launch in 2011 – a year after the death of Reid, it has set out a range of political and policy alternatives to those of the mainstream.

These have come together in its idea of a “Common Weal”. This is a model for the economic and social development in Scotland based on co-operation and mutual benefit and not competition and social exclusion.

The “Common Weal” seeks to look at the success of the Nordic countriesin balancing economic prosperity with social justice – or social justice with economic prosperity – and relate them to Scotland.

• Gregor Gall is a professor of industrial relations and a member of the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

Scotland on Sunday, 12 May 2013

Independence: Last-minute bid for prisoners’ vote

LEADING figures from the worlds of law, justice, academia and the arts have made a last-minute bid to persuade MSPs to allow thousands of prisoners in Scotland to vote in the independence referendum.

Many of the 35 signatories of an open letter, published today in Scotland on Sunday, believe inmates should be given voting rights for the first time to allow them to take part in next year’s ballot.

The plea comes in advance of a Holyrood debate this week on who should be allowed to have a vote in the 2014 referendum. The Scottish Government has made it clear that it does not believe that convicted prisoners should have vote while behind bars.

But the Howard League Scotland, which drafted the letter, backs a degree of prisoner voting, saying the UK is out of step with most of western Europe in upholding a blanket ban.

In a briefing note for MSPs, Howard League Scotland said: “We make this as a moral case, not a legal one. There is an opportunity for the Parliament to put down a marker about the value placed on democratic rights, social justice and effective rehabilitation in Scotland.”

They added: “The question of voting rights for prisoners in the referendum is more acute than in general elections. This vote will determine the constitutional future of their country and may not be repeated in their lifetime.”

Another signatory, Robin McAlpine, director of the ­Jimmy Reid Foundation, said: “Just because someone has committed a crime does not mean they are no longer a member of our society.

“They too have a right to some say in the future of the nation they belong to, that their children will grow up in.

“We should be very careful about some of the attitudes to people who have committed a crime which suggest they are in any way less than human. That is a dangerous path to take.”

Professor Alec Spencer, a former prison governor, director of Rehabilitation and Care, Scottish Prison Service, and honorary professor of criminology at Stirling University, said anyone serving less than four years should automatically be able to vote, while only life prisoners should be subject to a blanket ban.

“Scotland should take this opportunity to follow the example of most European democracies and if practically possible enable at least some convicted prisoners to vote in September 2014,” he said.

“In the longer term, we should consider this issue fully, and not necessarily follow what has happened in Westminster.”

Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, compared the issue to the lowering of the voting age, which the Scottish Government has backed.

“I welcome the opportunity for MSPs to have a proper and reasoned debate about who should have a say in Scotland’s constitutional future,” he said.

“Just as MSPs carefully considered the issues of 16 and 17-year-olds getting the vote – a vote the consequences of which those young people will live with – I hope they will take this opportunity to carefully consider the issue of prisoner voting.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Edinburgh Agreement confirmed that the franchise at the referendum will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament to determine when it considers the Referendum Bill.

“The Scottish Government does not agree that convicted prisoners should be able to vote while they are in prison.”

Herald, 10 May 2013

A glimmer of hope for life after 2014 vote

Robert McNeil

WARNING: may contain hope.

Yup, you have been warned. Indeed, you’re going to be warned daily for another 16 months. Rarely can any vote in modern history have been so imbued with fear as the independence referendum. True, Scotland isn’t one of those bad places with death squads running around reminding citizens of the consequences of voting “wrongly”. Here, we have the press to do that. Not waving guns just drowning us in scare stories. But the effect is the same: be afraid.

The fear seems to have affected even the BBC. Online monitors – fast becoming the great hope of democratic accountability – performed a quick, basic internet search of the BBC linking the words “Scottish independence” and “warning” in the same sentence. Prefaced by the dreaded i-word and a colon in each case, they found: “Pension shortfall warning”; “Warning over ‘weakened military'”; “‘Havoc’ warning from pensions firm”; “Luxembourg warns against ‘going separate ways'”; “Barroso warning on EU membership”; “Michael Moore issues warning over vote question”; “‘Border checks’ warning from Home Secretary”.

This isn’t necessarily the BBC’s fault. Apart from anything else, its agenda is largely driven by the print press and, even if it weren’t, it has to report the endless warnings and fear-mongering issued in press releases by ministers and other clots.

A bigwig from Westminster’s warning is real. It’s true that he said it. No getting round it. Except, the truth about truth is that it has many faces.

As a journalist, you can present one side’s truth or the other’s. If there’s space, and there should be on a big enough story, “Independence warning” can be “Independence warning dismissed”. “Fears raised” can just as easily be “Fears rejected”. Unless, of course, the reporter hasn’t contacted the other side with a chance to reject the fears.

The BBC almost always does. And, in Scotland, its political analysts in my view are very good. I don’t accept the personalised critiques of BBC figures by Nationalists so incensed at the overwhelming torrent of negativity that they see bias whenever any Yes or SNP spokesman is questioned rigorously. That way, paranoia lies.

But the fact remains that the BBC has become as much a conduit for warnings and fear as the worst tabloid-sized newspaper.

Surely, there must be another way, another dimension to this debate? Rain from its dark clouds has drenched everything. The whole debate is miserable. Or, at least, it was – until a group of economists and academics produced a blueprint of how a Yes vote could transform Scotland into a Nordic-style country with cradle-to-grave public services, better jobs, better wages, more shared ownership of industry, more local democracy, more gender equality and less social division.

This “Common Weal” model would take Scotland in a different direction from, as the Sunday Herald put it, “the UK’s decline into a low-wage, low-skill economy in which markets rule, public services dwindle and the gulf between rich and poor widens”. True, there’d be a bigger tax take, but from a fairer system and a larger pot of wages.

Bejasus, I almost wept when I read this. It was like a ray of sunshine breaking through what seemed like endless darkness. But I wasn’t becoming ludicrously lachrymose out of sheer uplifting joy. Nope, it was from recalling the likelihood that, if the polls are anything to go by, we’ll never get the chance to attempt this. Instead of an enlightened, progressive, Nordic-style model, we’ll remain thirled to the whole dreary, fear-filled, pomp-and-poverty Britain of Ukip, the City and the Little Englanders who so despise Scottish “separatism”.

Thanks to an unlikely hodgepodge that includes the Labour Party and the Northern Isles, a Nordic model of poverty-denying progress will be stymied. How nuts is that?

OK, maybe I’m over-egging the sunny uplands, as it were. But what’s wrong with enjoying a little May sunshine after all the gloom? What’s wrong with a little hope, creativity and vision, particularly when based on realistic examples?

As the saying goes, fear keeps you sitting, boldness helps you stand. And, once standing, let’s boot these will-sapping warnings back into the receding darkness.

Sunday Herald, 5 May 2013

At last, a vision for independence

FIVE hundreds days.

That is how long Scotland now has to wait until the independence referendum. If it sounds a long time, recall that Alex Salmond won his Holyrood majority more than 700 days ago and has been First Minister for more than 2000 days – while the SNP have been arguing doggedly for independence for almost 80 years. In that context, 500 days is not so very long.

And if the debate is stuck endlessly probing the detail of questions which many people find bewildering, 500 more days seems an unappealing prospect

They are not exactly the cavalry come to the rescue, but, as we report today, a group of academics and economists has now intervened in an increasingly sterile debate with a blueprint for an independent Scotland.

The SNP often nod to the idea of Scotland as another Nordic nation, but the “Common Weal” plan finally puts flesh on it.

Arguing that the UK economic model is broken, this group borrows gleefully from Scandinavia and Germany to paint a big picture of a post-Yes nation in which tax, welfare, finance, industry and democracy are changed using the powers of independence to advance the common good.

Rather than the dry statistical arguments that engage only a minority, it makes the case for independence being a breakthrough moment, the chance to transform society in the way the Attlee government remade the British system in 1945.

It is a vision of a society better off, more productive, more equal and more at ease. And, yes, it is a society which pays more tax – but what did you expect?

It’s a vision which deserves to come under proper scrutiny but which nevertheless is a welcome contribution: positive, tangible, wide-ranging, and long overdue. Many will scoff, but it should prompt serious discussion about the kind of society Scots want for themselves and their children.

With time flying past, it is curious that the SNP and Yes Scotland have yet to offer something similar. Indeed, there appears to be some disarray within the Yes camp

Yes Scotland’s chairman, Dennis Canavan, last week called for a separate Scottish currency instead of Alex Salmond’s sterling zone. It was not a difference in emphasis, but evidence of a fundamental divide on approach: hot-blooded change against tepid continuity.

Another handicap for the SNP is their disjointed pitch to voters, which offers a blizzard of random factoids instead of a lucid overview.

This weekend, Nicola Sturgeon is marking the 500-day milestone with a statement covering the bedroom tax, renewables, life sciences, pensions, food and drink, oil and university. That is not a vision; it’s a list.

The Yes campaign needs to take its lead from the ambition shown in the Common Weal plan, and lay out its own vision – fast.

Sunday Herald, 5 May 2013

A new blueprint for an independent Scotland

A group of economists and academics has stepped into the independence debate with their own vision of how Holyrood could transform Scottish society after a Yes vote in the referendum.

They argue Scotland can become a new Nordic-style country by cherry-picking the best bits from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Germany and implementing them under independence.

Instead of continuing the UK’s decline into a low-wage, low-skill economy in which markets rule, public services dwindle and the gulf between rich and poor widens, they say Scotland can choose a new direction of travel.

It wouldn’t be utopia, but it would, in theory, include expanded cradle-to-grave public services, better jobs, better wages, a more diverse economy with more shared ownership of industry, more local democracy, less social division and more gender equality. Instead of state intervention being seen as a humiliating act of last resort, it would be embraced as contributing to the common good.

The sting would be higher taxation – but not necessarily higher taxes for all – and the impact would be offset by those higher wages.

Its proponents call it the “Common Weal” model, after a favourite concept of the late Clydeside trades union leader Jimmy Reid, based around collective endeavour.

The blueprint runs counter to 30 years of free-market neo-liberalism in the UK, and many will dismiss it as the usual failed lefty pipedreams.

But its advocates point out the ideas are already part of the furniture in the Nordic countries – they’re just not being tried here, and perhaps our economy and society wouldn’t be in such a mess if they had been.

While the UK is one of the most indebted countries in the world, the Nordic countries are among the most solvent. Independence, they argue, offers the chance to swap our old, broken, brutal economic model for a more enlightened one and change our fundamental outlook as a society.

The intervention is more than academic fancy. In recent weeks, a private discussion paper about the Common Weal has been circulated by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation within the highest echelons of the SNP, the Yes movement, trades unions and business people.

The reception from non-politicians appears to have been a mix of gratitude and relief there is finally some joined-up thinking on offer.

Officially, the Yes Scotland campaign says it’s “an interesting contribution to the debate”, but privately its key players are far more positive and keen to push the concept. MSPs are interested too.

The paper is doubled-edged. On one level, it’s an indictment: its very existence implies that the SNP have failed to make a vivid, engaging, day-to-day case for independence.

But it is also aimed at catapulting the debate forward, away from the straight Yes/No arguments on separation and the distractions lobbed around by Better Together, to discussing various models of independence.

It puts forward a “spine” of six interlocking strands aimed at a “fundamentally new approach to the economy and public governance.”

The changes are:

l Tax reforms designed to reduce inequality;

l A better welfare state;

l Reform of the finance sector;

l More diverse ownership of industry;

l More variety in business types;

l Greater democracy at work and in communities.

Intended to attract cross-party support, the paper is not prescriptive, but suggests how an independent Scotland could become more like her Nordic neighbours.

According to Mike Danson, professor of enterprise policy at Heriot-Watt University, one of the paper’s authors, Nordic countries have higher standards of living because their economies are based on “smart specialisation”.

He said: “These are the most innovative and competitive nations in the EU, with a much better balance between manufacturing and financial services. Their highly productive enterprises pay some of the highest wages in the world by making much more effective use of workers’ skills and giving them the autonomy to participate in developing their companies.

“Sustainable and fair economic growth can be pursued in an industrial policy based on a virtuous cycle of investment in people, enterprises and research actively co-ordinated and promoted by the government.”

Another feature of a Nordic Scotland would be an expanded welfare state funded through a higher overall tax take, some of it derived from more publicly owned industry. Instead of dwindling benefits being used as a political football, as in the strivers versus shirkers debate, the Nordic Folkhemmet or People’s Home concept would be imported, which characterises welfare as mutual support delivered via the state not merely handouts.

“A Scottish welfare system should be framed around notions of security, justice and equality,” said Ailsa McKay, professor of economics at Glasgow Caledonian University.

The finance sector would also be overhauled, with a move away from the profit-mania of the RBS days, and a shift to lending by state banks to Scottish companies to foster local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) focused on exports and research. Germany’s SME base, the Mittelstand, accounts for 70% of the workforce and 50% of GDP.

The ownership of industry would change under the Common Weal as well as its form, with greater public and community involvement.

One of the things Norway did that the UK didn’t during the North Sea oil boom was to keep a publicly owned oil company, Statoil, which now earns a fortune for the country.

Andy Cumbers, professor in geographical political economy at Glasgow University, said an independent Scotland shouldn’t repeat the UK’s mistake with wind energy, and should have a direct stake in renewable companies. “Denmark’s emergence as a global leader in wind energy has been built around co-operative and localised forms of public ownership that have stimulated broader participation and spread the benefits across the nation,” he said.

The report comes as a volley of reports from the Unionist camp about defence, the currency and international affairs, as well as a very awkward paper on pension problems from Scotland’s top accountants, have led to navel-gazing in the Yes camp.

David Cameron’s intervention on defence, when he thumbed his nose at Alex Salmond by swaggering along the deck of a Trident submarine, led to a debate about the SNP’s position of wanting to shelter under the Nato nuclear umbrella while ousting nuclear weapons from Scotland. It is not a stance backed by the SNP’s Green or Scottish Socialist allies in Yes Scotland.

Likewise, George Osborne’s recent visit to Glasgow to warn Salmond’s goal of an independent Scotland keeping the pound in a currency union with sterling was “unlikely” to work, has generated internal bickering. Not because the Yes camp think Osborne is right – they’re sure he’s bluffing. But because the Chancellor inflamed the nationalist old guard, who came out and demanded a separate Scotland have its own currency.

Dennis Canavan, Yes Scotland chair, took to the airwaves to advocate a Scottish currency, joining former SNP leader Gordon Wilson, ex-SNP deputy Jim Fairlie and Scottish Socialist co-convener Colin Fox in rejecting Salmond’s approach.

More worrying for the Yes side, the split over the pound exposed deeper fears that Salmond’s cautious ‘don’t spook the voters’ pitch on independence, with its emphasis on continuity, is holding back the cause by failing to make an inspiring case for change.

The gripe has been made before: Green MSP Patrick Harvie has warned against offering voters a slightly more Scottish version of the status quo. But, in recent weeks, the feeling has been growing stronger and louder in the Yes camp. “It’s like the floodgates are about to open,” says one exasperated campaigner.

The new blueprint – and its mentions of nationalised industries, government running banks by design not in bailouts, a bigger welfare state, higher taxes, workers’ rights – may sound alien to voters after years of Thatcher, Blair, Brown and Cameron. But the point and potential attraction of the Common Weal lies precisely in being different. If its supporters can persuade people theirs is a vision for the future, not just an idealised past, the independence debate might start to get interesting.


How to switch to ‘Common Weal’ model:

Tax Reform and Inequality

Critical change is tax reform – a gradual shift in the balance of taxes, with the rich paying more, combined with a healthier economy in which more skilled workers earn higher salaries, moving away from low-skill, low-pay work. A higher minimum wage raises pay. More nationalised industries (Norway has a state oil company) contribute to taxes.


A bigger and better welfare state akin to the Nordic Folkhemmet or People’s Home concept, with universal cradle-to-grave benefits, and greater emphasis on childcare, social housing and local amenities. Instead of being seen as the state doling out cash, it is seen as people supporting each other via the state.


Less reliance on finance sector. A national investment bank offers long-term loans to grow Scottish firms, possibly drawing on the billions in council pension funds. This is linked to national strategy for industrial development. Also national lending to community enterprises and individuals, with less speculation. Mortgage lending designed to avoid housing booms.


Fewer low-pay, part-time jobs from large multinationals and more secure, higher paid work with small and medium-sized business along the lines of the family firms focused on exports and research contributing half of Germany’s GDP. State support for more mutual and co-operative enterprises to help buffer economy against downturns, as they will not pull out of areas during a recession.

Economic Diversification

Economy made more stable by moving away from over-reliance on finance sector, low-pay jobs and housing booms, and fostering small and medium-sized businesses and skills. State buys more goods and services from Scottish firms by invoking R&D opt-outs in EU rules. Example: publicly owned wind farms. Councils and government buy these from Scottish firms, helping them invest more in R&D and improve their export ability.

Democracy and Governance



New Statesman, 1 May 2013

Scotland doesn’t benefit from British economic ‘strength’

But the SNP’s lack of radicalism makes it difficult for the Yes campaign to capitalise, writes Jamie Maxwell

Against expectations, the Chancellor’s visit to Glasgow last week was a success. Speaking to a gathering of Scottish business leaders, and armed with a hefty new Treasury report, George Osborne set-out a detailed critique of SNP plans for Scotland to retain the pound after independence, a key featureof the nationalists’ 2014 prospectus. But framing his specific warnings about the pitfalls of a “Eurozone-style” monetary union was a broader attack on the economics of separation: the size and scale of the UK’s economy shields Scots from the “rapids of globalisation” – leave it and Scotland could be exposed to ameltdown of Irish, Greek or Cypriot proportions. This is a powerful line, repeated with brutal efficiency by unionist campaigners. The problem, however, is that it simply doesn’t stack up. In fact, Scotland’s vulnerability to global economic shocks is amplified by its continued membership of the UK.

Two recent reports – The Mismanagement of Britain by the Jimmy Reid Foundation and The British Growth Crisis by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) – shatter the notion of British economic strength. The former, written by Scottish economist Jim Cuthbert, out-lines the long-term decline in the competitiveness of the UK economy. Cuthbert argues that the growing deficit in the UK’s trade in general goods and services from the 1970s onwards was disguised first, in the ‘80s, by high North Sea oil tax receipts and then, during the ‘90s, by revenues from an increasingly dominant financial services sector. The underlying deficit became more pronounced as successive Westminster governments, Conservative and Labour, allowed Britain’s manufacturing base to erode. Ultimately, this made the British economy over-reliant on a handful of large financial institutions operating at the heart of the international financial system.

In The British Growth Crisis, Professor Colin Hay explains how Britain, as one of a group of deregulated economies including the United States and Ireland, felt the effects of the 2008 crash earlier and more powerfully than other Western states with smaller and less globally integrated banking sectors. As the crisis developed, spreading out from its Anglo-American epicentre, international trade went into free-fall. This tightened the squeezeon British manufacturing, which by now was in no condition to prop-up the UK’s public finances as they grappled with recession. The subsequent loss of taxable economic activity, as well as the huge cost of the bank bail-outs, sent the economy into a prolonged slump and precipitated an explosion of British debt.

Coupled with Osborne’s austerity strategy, the structural imbalances in the British economic model described by Cuthbert and Hay account for theseverity of Britain’s downturn (the worst since the 1930s) and the weaknessof its recovery (the slowest on record). While growth is beginning to return to France, Germany and even the US, the UK remains more or less stagnant. None of this happened by accident. It was the result of decisions taken by two or three generations of British political leaders which viewed state intervention in the market as a barrier to prosperity. The consequences for Scotland, which has one of the worst social records in the developed world, have been profound. Scots might be entitled to feel doubly aggrieved given the origins of the current crisis lie, to some extent at least, in the liberalising policies of the Thatcher governments they repeatedly rejected. That Scotland’s oil wealth was used to fund the implementation of a number of those policies only adds insult to Scottish injury.

Yet, despite the efforts of the pro-independence left, the threat to Scotland’s economic security posed by British financial instability does not feature as heavily in the constitutional debate as it might. This is because the SNP, for both political and ideological reasons, accepts much of the neo-liberal settlement which has dominated British public life for more than three decades. The clearest illustration of this can be found in the party’s supportfor the current UK-wide system of financial regulation (described by SNP finance secretary John Swinney as a “solid framework”) to remain untouched following the break-up of the Union – a position which reflects the closenessof Alex Salmond to Scottish finance capitalism over recent years. The SNP’s controversial commitment to cut corporation tax provides further evidence of its free-market tendencies.

The political significance of the nationalists’ economic conservatism was laid bare last week, widely (and correctly) perceived as a particularly bad one for the Yes campaign. The economic case for independence should be among the SNP’s strongest cards: the British laissez-faire experiment has proved a spectacular failure, leaving ordinary Scots facinga futureof falling living standards and deteriorating working conditions. Moreover, what remains of the Scottish welfare state – protected from the most radical of New Labour’s reforms by devolution – has come under sustained assault by an unpopular Tory-led government determined to turn a crisis of neo-liberalism into one of social democracy. But, in its current state, the SNP can’t make any of this work to its advantage.It may require some awkward policy U-turns and a degree of ideological repositioning, but Salmond has to start explaining just how serious a hazard the UK represents to Scotland’s economic health.

Radio Two, the Jeremy Vine programme, 23 April 2013

Director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation interviewed about a Scottish currency after independence.

The Herald, 17 April 2013

Just why would Scotland trust the Bank of England?

Iain Bell

MONETARY policy is economic policy.

Economic policy is always, no matter what they tell you, an arm of political policy. What becomes of a currency and those who use it will sooner or later depend on decisions made by politicians. Sometimes politicians make bad decisions.

You might want some control over all of that. You might settle for just the minimum: a bit of democratic oversight, the occasional chance to throw out a politician whose decisions have done you no favours. But you would not, given the choice, hand over control of the stuff of economic life to strangers whose interests might not be your interests.

The SNP would call that a caricature of the party’s strategy for the pound in Scotland’s pocket after independence. They would direct you towards the theory of formal – the important word – currency union. Scotland would continue to use sterling after proper negotiations with the Bank of England and the English Treasury. Ground rules would be established. Personally, I don’t buy it, not for a moment. I don’t buy it along with several other SNP depictions of the promised land. That won’t affect my referendum vote, but there is still an argument to be had. The basic question is simple: who says we’ll be able to trust the Bank of England?

As I’ve mentioned before in this space, I once interviewed Eddie George when he was governor of the bank. My trick question was to ask if he could tell me Scotland’s inflation rate. Mr George said the data wasn’t gathered and indicated that the question was therefore irrelevant. He did accept, though, that there is such a thing as a Scottish economy.

If that was the attitude under devolution, why should anything change when Mark Carney takes over at the bank in June? Rules or no rules, his first responsibility will be to the taxpayers who meet his impressive wages, not to a foreign country. His first duty will be to the distinctive economy of the remaining UK (RUK). That’s his job description.

Jim Cuthbert’s report for the Jimmy Reid Foundation takes a different tack, but reaches much the same conclusion. He argues, impeccably, that RUK’s economic prospects are less than glittering. Rationally, you wouldn’t want to bet your future on them. Mr Cuthbert in effect restates one of the better arguments for independence. The UK, as it stands, has little to offer Scotland. The Coalition Government is busy proving the point. As Mr Cuthbert explains it, formalising a currency union with a country afflicted by long-term economic weakness and instability, one prey to poor management and financial speculation, is the last thing we should be contemplating. Besides, you can give such an arrangement any fancy name you like, but independence is not one of them.

Establishing a Scottish currency would not be easy. Speculative markets could well pick on a small country setting out on such an adventure. But wouldn’t the same arguments apply to the project the SNP offers when the debate turns to the borrowing and debt management abilities of an independent government?

Isn’t oil our guarantee, our letter of credit, the asset that would, to begin with, back a currency as well as it would support Scottish bonds? If Scotland is better placed than most to plan its economic future, as Nationalists always insist, then surely it is well placed to support its own currency.

Unionists make some of these points with their usual glee. They deserve rebuttal. For example, some ask what would become of any currency union if England’s Tories get their heart’s desire and stage a withdrawal from the Europe Union. It hardly counts as the best case you could make for remaining within the UK, but it contains a fair point.

You can guarantee that in such a circumstance Scotland’s needs and wishes would be ignored. You can guarantee, furthermore, that economic policy would become hostage to a Westminster government. Since any attempt to join the euro would amount to political suicide for a Scottish administration – all other arguments aside – an independent currency is the only solution.

What’s the purpose, in any case, of a currency union? Nationalists can talk about the interdependence of the Scottish and English economies, the vast amounts of trade at stake, transaction costs, or the overseas territories and Crown dependencies existing happily within the remnant sterling area. None of those is the real justification, even if you do fancy becoming the citizen of a dependency.

The idea, yet again, is to reassure the nervous and the undecided, to give the impression that nothing much will change with independence. For some of us, that’s the problem. Nationalist plans have come to resemble a very limited offer. Staying out of the clutches of Nato or the Bank of England are – or were – reasons to vote yes. Proposals to embrace such delights are now becoming reasons to vote against the SNP once independence is secured.

The First Minister says we might have room for a few American bases? That’s generous of him. He can guarantee that they will be non-nuclear bases? That’s superhuman of him. Someone should read up on New Zealand’s experiences in trying to deal with the US as a non-nuclear ally.

The ancient advice to politicians was that they should never confuse a country’s currency with patriotism. Policy should not be designed, in other words, for the sake of a status symbol. But if you surrender the currency entirely you have no status as an independent nation. This much is also certain: once locked into a deal with the Bank of England we would never extricate ourselves.

Scotland’s economy is at the mercy of George Osborne and a bank that has ventured a trillion pounds to shore up a crooked financial sector. How has the Chancellor been for Scotland, then? And how would Mr Osborne and his appointee at the bank behave if there was a direct conflict between Scottish interests and the interests of the RUK?

The SNP doesn’t want to face the question. That’s no way to design a programme for an independent country.

The Herald, 17 April 2013

Salmond sterling dilemma deepens

ALEX Salmond will face further questions over his plans to keep the pound, should Scots vote to leave the UK, in a second report from the Jimmy Reid Foundation later this year.

The left-wing think-tank will describe sterling as a “transitionary currency” for an independent Scotland, sources said.

The new report follows a study, also for the Jimmy Reid Foundation, by economist Jim Cuthbert, which called on the SNP to develop plans to create a new currency.

Mr Cuthbert argued the SNP’s strategy to rule out all options but a currency union with the UK should be “rethought and reversed” because keeping the pound would tie an independent Scotland too closely to an ailing British economy.

Sources said the conclusion would be echoed in a second report later this year.

One said: “It will almost certainly say that Sterling is a transitionary currency and no-one would argue with that. But equally, the chances that four or five years into independence that it is still the optimal currency for an independent nation are slim.”

The report will add to growing calls for the SNP to keep open the option of a separate currency.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP said: “The SNPs are stuck between an independent Scotland with an economy handcuffed to a foreign bank, or a new untested currency open to the will of the markets.

“The SNP need to take action and face up to the consensus developing.”

The Herald, 16 April 2013

Scotland ‘must have own currency’ after Yes vote

High risk of catastrophic crisis if pound is retained, warns report

THE SNP must develop plans to create a new currency if Scotland becomes independent, a leading economist has argued.

Jim Cuthbert said the Nationalists’ economic strategy should be rethought and reversed before the referendum.

In a report for the left-wing Jimmy ReidFoundation he argued that SNP plans to keep the pound by entering a currency union with the UK would expose Scotland to the “high likelihood of a potentially catastrophic crisis in the not-too-distant future”.

Mr Cuthbert said: “Far from implicitly accepting the strength of the UK economy, Nationalists should be adapting their thinking to the implications of the UK’s economic problems.

“They should be stressing the UK economy’s weakness and instability. They should be developing a strategy which points out the benefits of Scotland ultimately having its own currency.”

He also warned the Edinburgh Agreement – the deal between Alex Salmond and David Cameron paving the way for the poll – could “cost Scotland dearly” by preventing a re-run of the vote if Scots rejected independence.

Mr Cuthbert, whose work has been cited frequently by the SNP, set out his views in a report yesterday titled The Mismanagement of Britain.

It argues the UK economy has been badly run over the past 40 years, leading to long-term competitive decline compared with the rest of the world.

Through over-reliance on the financial services sector, the report says the UK economy has become like a large bank and faces a second, catastrophic crash.

Mr Cuthbert concluded that the independence debate should not be seen in terms of a stable UK economy and a risky decision to sever ties with it.

He added: “In the light of this analysis, nationalist strategy on the 2014 referendum needs to be rethought, and current tactics reversed.

“The UKwill always remain a primary trading partner for Scotland, so UK economic instability will always affect Scotland. But what nationalists should be pointing out is how independence could potentially insulate Scotland from the worst effects.

“It also strongly suggests that Scotland should not remain in a sub-optimal currency union which has sacrificed productive economy growth for conditions that suit financial speculation.”

Mr Cuthbert claimed meaningful independence was not attainable by joining a currency union with the UK.

He said the Edinburgh Agreement – which commits both sides to respecting the outcome – was nonsensical and that it should never have been signed, and he urged the Scottish Government to renounce it.

Commenting on the report, Mr Cuthbert said: “The debate should address the implications of the poor management, and instability, of the UK economy.”

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “The foundation’s conclusions raise very serious questions about how a separate Scotland’s economy would function.

“The entire economic policy of separation under the SNP is to rely upon oil and gas. The Scottish economy is dramatically weaker, compared to the rest of the UK, when you exclude North Sea production.”

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown said: “The criticism of SNP plans for separation, both economic and non-economic, is getting louder by the week.”

A spokeswoman for Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “Scotland will retain sterling after independence as part of a formal currency union with the rest of the UK, a position endorsed by the Fiscal Commission working group as the most sensible and practical currency option and described by Alastair Darling as logical and desirable.

“We agree with the Jimmy Reid Foundation that successive UK Governments have mismanaged the economy.

“It is only with independence that future Scottish parliaments will have the full range of social and economic levers … that will enable us to boost growth, address inequality and develop Scotland’s economy in Scotland’s best interests.”

BBC Radio Scotland, 16 April 2013

Jim Cuthbert on the John Beattie programme discussing his report The Mismanagement of Britain

The Scotsman, 9 April 2013

Thatcher’s tactics failed Britain

Margaret Thatcher, as a living being, ceased to exist yesterday. But politically she was buried in March 2008 by the financial crash.

Before considering her impact on British and Scottish life and politics, it is worth pausing for a minute to rule out some of the claims for her impact that do not hold water.

First, the belief that Thatcher transformed British politics of her own volition is deeply flawed. In fact, the likelihood is that had Thatcher never existed, things would have happened in much the same way.

It was Richard Nixon’s advisers who dismantled the post-war economic order in 1972, replacing it with a naïve and distorted view of markets. That placed the western economies on a trajectory it was hard to avoid and generated a sequence of other factors which made some sort of Thatcher inevitable.

The Chicago School of market economics, the proliferation of corporate lobbying, the Murdoch media revolution, the social stagnation of the 1970s – all meant the neoliberal era was almost certainly assured, Thatcher or no Thatcher. She was that era’s child, not its mother.

Second, we should take great care in ascribing to Thatcher the transformations of the 1980s. Her supporters compare 1977 Britain with 1997 Britain as evidence of her powers. Yet you can do exactly the same for any north-European nation, but without the massive social disruption Britain went through.

Thatcher’s acolytes have carefully curated her era, hoarding for her all the achievements of the 1980s while dismissing all that decade’s failures as “an inevitable price”. That does not stack up. But she does have three big legacies that must be taken seriously, one cultural, one political and one structural.

Her cultural legacy is her most important. Thatcher didn’t invent neoliberalism but she combined it with social conservatism and added to it a generous splash of individualistic self-interest. And, of course, she was an arch-populist in the proper sense – she controlled debate by setting a majority against a minority and by corralling us all against an external enemy.

So the “new” working class in the service sector who were “aspirational” were torn apart from the “old” working-class in the manual trade unions. And we were all set against the perfidious Argentines, Germans and French. These kinds of identity politics are crude but effective if you can live with the conflict. That is what really sets Thatcher apart from Tony Blair. He wanted to be loved by all; Thatcher wanted to be hated by some.

It is how Thatcher lost Scotland. Here, the polarisation that she settled on – non-unionised against unionised – worked in the other direction. And all that Union Jack stuff just failed.

If you imagine Thatcher’s strategy to be political, it makes no sense that Scotland’s middle classes hated her almost as much as its working-classes. If you recognise that her strategy was cultural, it makes perfect sense.

Her political legacy is equally strong. Her biggest political achievement was the creation of Tony Blair. Thatcher did more than beat the Labour Party: over 12 years she began to defeat the idea that a real labour movement was even possible. Through an almost seamless political merger between the private sector, the media, the state and large chunks of the working class, the political left fell to believing it had no space in which to fight.

The whole basis of New Labour was that the labour movement had already lost – and in Blair that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. He took Thatcher’s policies to places she never could, such as finally breaking open the NHS to private competition.

But her biggest legacy is structural. She redefined policy in Britain. And it sank us. She made people believe they could have good public services on low rates of tax by converting capital to revenue through privatisation and by drinking deeply from the North Sea oil boom. But she didn’t cut spending. She encouraged cheap imported consumer goods and a housing boom to make us feel richer while campaigning to kill off what she called the “smoke stack industries”. She instigated a consumer economy that created poor quality, insecure jobs. She made us believe that letting big business do whatever it wanted was in our interests and in 1986 instigated the “Big Bang” in the City of London. The shockwave of that bang arrived 22 years later.

Thatcher is the mother of structural fiscal deficit – had she been honest and matched tax cuts with spending cuts she’d have lost. So she cheated, and we’re left dealing with it. Thatcher killed manufacturing on the basis that it was “the past”. So now we have an unbalanced, unproductive economy.

In-work poverty is a Thatcherite invention, as is the dominance of mind-numbing low-quality service-sector jobs. And as for “innovation”? That turned out to be a euphemism for fraud and profiteering.

Most of the things we complain about – privatised energy companies ripping us off, expensive privatised trains running late, corruption among the super-rich, poor-quality jobs with low pay and so on – are complaints you don’t hear in Germany or the Nordic or Benelux countries. The difference between there and here is Maggie.

Margaret Thatcher is almost unique among politicians; she got everything she hoped for and more. Her enduring curse is that it failed so completely.

• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

The Scotsman, 26 March 2013

Why SNP must tap into their inner Borgen

ON THE day Alex Salmond announced the date of the referendum, Gordon Brewer on Newsnight Scotland neatly demonstrated the biggest barrier the SNP faces if it wants to win.

“You say you want a Nordic society” he said “but you don’t appear to have a single policy that would achieve it”.

In 1988, Alex Salmond had to make an existential choice for the SNP – did he throw his weight behind the pro-devolution gradualists in his party or the anti-devolution fundamentalists. Almost everyone now thinks he made the wrong choice in backing the fundamentalists.

The same thing is about to happen. He is going to have to choose between the Little Britainers and the Nordics – those who want to tinker with Scotland and those who want to change it. This time his choice may define not only the outcome of the referendum campaign but the very architecture of Scottish politics.

Currently, the SNP exists in a third-way fudge between two political philosophies. Critics have named this delusion “the myth of Scandimerica”, the belief that you can have Scandinavian social services with US-level taxes. Actually, there was no need since the delusion already had a name – the Arc of Prosperity.

The Arc of Prosperity was a knowing fantasy predicated on the belief that corrupt, housing-and-speculation-gone-mad Ireland was actually the other side of the coin of socially democratic Norway.

The opposite is the truth; economically and socially the politics of Ireland were diametrically opposed to Norway. The former followed unstable get-rich-quick doctrines with an unsustainable faith in short-term trickle-down. The latter emphasised productive growth, a balanced economy and long-term investment strategies where the equality and high standard of living these generate make higher taxes painless.

Let’s call these the neoliberal model and the European social model. There isn’t space here to detail their characteristics but very loosely one promotes progress-through-conflict (markets, competition, wealth-creators) and one promotes progress-through-mutuality (productivity, balanced economy, public services).

The truth that the centre left has struggled with is that they are more-or-less mutually exclusive. The things you do to increase real productivity work against short-term speculative gain. The things you do to encourage competition create unbalanced economies. The ideology of “wealth creators” is at odds with the ideal of a strong welfare state.

In Britain there is no political debate about this; in Scotland the polarising impact of Better Together means there is. That campaign is based on the assertion that we are all better off if in one Greater London political sphere living with its ingrained prejudices – nuclear weapons, low tax, welfare as a remedial policy and so on.

To the discomfort of many in the wider Labour movement, Scottish Labour has become trapped in the unrelenting logic of this situation. If we’re better together, how can we be critical of the politics of London?

The SNP, meanwhile, is waking up to the fact that it keeps scoring its hits from the left. Opposition to punitive welfare reforms, a stout defence of the principle of universal public services, opposition to Trident and wholehearted support (in rhetoric at least) for universal childcare are hurting Better Together precisely because they are very popular.

The reason the SNP is getting in jabs but no knock-out punch is because of that decade-old fudge the “Legend of the Penny for Scotland”. In that legend the SNP got its then-second highest vote in 1999 because it wanted to raise tax by a penny. When it dropped the policy in 2003 its vote declined significantly. No it doesn’t make sense, but there you go.

So the SNP is stuck trying to tell people that Scotland could be Norway without being able to voice any of the policies that would actually make Scotland like Norway.

In fact, the evidence is that if people can be persuaded of the transformational effect of taxation, they will accept tax rises. And the desire for social transformation is higher than at any time since the 1980s. People like the welfare state. They like it a lot. It tops every poll on political priorities. That’s almost certainly why opinion polls on independence have started to creep up since the SNP started talking seriously about a “Nordic Scotland”. The previous “Little Britain” approach had no impact at all.

Why can neither Labour or the SNP fully accept that most people in Scotland would rather live in a Nordic-style economy than a US-style one? The dividends go beyond redefining the referendum campaign. A firm decision rewires Scottish politics. Scottish electoral politics is dominated by a very large centre-left block of voters which will be looking for a home post-2014.

The assumption that that home will be Labour is undermined almost daily by Scottish Labour itself, which can hardly muster a token vote against Trident or punitive welfare reform and is far too comfortable in a political alliance with the Tories. People will be looking for a solidly social democratic project whatever happens in 2014. Scottish Labour may think the left will “have” to return, but that’s just its own delusion. If the SNP makes a wholehearted shift and Labour doesn’t, Labour could be finished.

Put simply, if the fudge continues, the SNP will continue to leak credibility when it tries to ‘talk Nordic’. But if Nicola Sturgeon can tap into her inner Borgen and take the SNP with her, it may not only change the referendum campaign, it could change everything.

• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

The Scotsman, 2 March 2013

A new enlightened political debate?

The possibility of independence is raising our horizons and improving the quality of political debate in Scotland, writes Robin McAlpine

Professor Ailsa McKay wrote a paper for the David Hume Institute – and recently wrote in these pages – on a citizen’s basic income. Set aside for a second whether you agree with such an idea or not and ask instead whether this is something you think would have happened three years ago. I suspect not.

Then think about shadow Scottish secretary Douglas Alexander’s speech last week on what he sees as the way forward for the intellectual heart of Labour in Scotland – and for Scotland itself. There was much to welcome in it.

His idea of a deep, wide and inclusive means of engaging a much wider chunk of Scotland in a debate about our collective future is to be supported. Likewise, his implication that politics is suffering from being too inwardly-focused, or being a pastime for a sort of political elite carries a lot of truth.

But I think there is one problem with the way that he has framed this argument, which is that he starts from a slightly mistaken premise. He argues that the constitutional debate is crowding out all other debates. I don’t think that is right. In fact, I think there is a strong case for suggesting that the opposite is true.

While politicians on both sides of the independence debate may indeed be caught in an unfortunate spiral of name-calling over the constitution, that is true mainly among the very political elite that Alexander identifies as part of the problem. Elsewhere, much more interesting things are happening.

Prof McKay’s arguments for a citizen’s basic income could not be further from abstract constitutional debate. They are proposals for a genuinely radical new approach to the relationship between state and individual, employer and employee. It has been stimulated by a debate about the constitutional future of Scotland.

Evidence of this is everywhere. Last week, the Unison union published a paper on further devolution, what and why it should be pursued. It is anything but a sterile bun-fight over arcane details of no interest to ordinary people.

Meanwhile, over the past year, the Scottish Greens have been developing a range of interesting policies, many clearly stimulated by thinking about the possibility of independence. Renewable energy strategies such as community ownership generating clean, cheap energy for towns and villages across Scotland becomes more viable if you can also talk about control of the national grid and having a proper national investment bank.

Before people read this as being purely an argument in favour of independence, it is important to make clear that many of the Greens’ proposals could be attempted under the existing devolution settlement. And many predate the realisation that there is going to be a referendum. But there is a renewed momentum, which should not be written off.

The Reid Foundation will publish five papers this year on what could be done with the powers of independence – to inform, not to advocate. Others too numerous to name-check are doing similar things.

Along with this are clear signs that it is also generating some greater policy maturity. Until recently, I seldom heard people in the Green movement in Scotland talking about issues such as monetary policy. That isn’t true any more. The same is true of a wide coalition of people (many not supporting independence) who through the “Just Banking” initiative are looking at what a banking system in Britain and in Scotland could look like. Not all of these are people you would traditionally have found debating issues of liquidity and fiscal rules.

That Scotland is talking about what a written constitution might look like is a debate that has raised its horizons well above the back-and-forth grind of day-to-day Holyrood politics. There are a lot of people with a lot to say about this.

Others are asking what Scotland could do in terms of international relations if it had the chance to act on its own behalf. The stale arguments of the “political elite” that smaller countries are insignificant make-weights on the world stage in the face of “great powers” is being challenged. If Norway can drive the international change in law on landmines, what else is possible?

And this is not coming only from the left. There has been a lot of debate about what a military might look like or how it might operate, which has come from a right perspective. This is a pleasant upgrade from the previous debate about the military in Scotland, which seldom stretched beyond “can we please keep our badges?”

Or look at the case MSP Murdo Fraser made on reform of the Scottish Conservatives, proposing a new right-of-centre party. I’m not suggesting it was only a response to the constitutional debate, but it is hard to see it outside of that context. Looking at it from my left vantage point, I can only conclude that the Scottish Tories made a very big mistake there in not pursuing his ideas.

And this rebirth in thinking is not just about the pro-independence parties. Which brings us neatly back round to Alexander. It is not in any way to detract from what he said to note that he is of course a member of the political elite he sees as part of the problem. It is not a criticism to note that he may well have missed much of the above, which is often taking place outside the traditional purview of party politics. But it should be put into a context. We should remember that it is less than three years since Alexander – when in the Labour government – could have done more than make a speech about the subject. He could have made this happen. Labour had eight years in power in Scotland and, other than the radical period under Henry McLeish, generally discouraged the kind of “big vision” that Alexander envisages.

There were some good reasons for that. It is equally fair to say that, in opposition at that time, the SNP wasn’t exactly producing sparkling nuggets of brilliant thinking. But it would be ironic if Alexander wasn’t at least aware that it was the constitutional debate that he derides that has led him to a valuable piece of thinking which in the ten preceding years of senior politics he did not advance.

This is all to be welcomed. It is sad that politics is a process of pretending that you gain and learn nothing from your opponents or the political climate they create. That isn’t true. Since the referendum campaign kicked off the Labour-linked Red Paper Collective has been producing high-quality thinking from inside the Labour movement. Scottish Labour is benefiting from a renewed intellectual climate that has resulted from the constitutional question. There is not a jot of shame in that.

I’d stop short of arguing that we’ve yet reached a golden age of political thinking in Scotland. But the signs of promise are there – simply look at the range of ideas that have been discussed in these pages in The Scotsman over the past year. In your head, filter out some of the cheap party-political point-scoring – and then tell me that debate is being closed down. It doesn’t look like it to me.

The possibility of independence is raising our horizons and it is improving the quality of debate in Scotland. My hope is that it doesn’t even matter if we end up independent or not. Rather, I put my faith in the words of 19th century writer Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

The Scotsman, 2 March 2013

Debate needs spirit of Communists

The Soviet Bloc may have been a disaster but we still need the far-left to challenge mainstream parties’ acceptance of free market dogma, writes Gerry Hassan 

Next Tuesday, a strange but important moment will be celebrated in a number of capitals and places in the world: the 60th anniversary of the death of Soviet leader and dictator Joseph Stalin.

Stalin’s death in 1953 was a cataclysmic event that sent ripples of uncertainty through the then monolithic Soviet bloc. Berlin workers came out in protest against Soviet rule, to be followed by the Hungarian and Polish springs of 1956. It resulted in Nikita Khrushchev’s famous speech denouncing Stalin’s “cult of the personality”; and the slow unravelling of the system, which led to Mikhail Gorbachev, 1989 and the end of Soviet Communism, and the Soviet Union itself.

The British Communist Party and domestic Stalinism was always a smaller, humbler force, but in both the UK and Scotland it had reach and influence well beyond its numbers.

The British party provided a cadre of activists, resources and organisation to the left, fought Mosley and the fascists in the 1930s, raised money for the Soviet war effort, and more. It produced a serious ideas journal, Marxism Today, which in the 1980s had enormous influence on Labour and the left.

The Scottish party nurtured an entire culture of working-class leaders and activists: trade union figures such as Mick McGahey, Jimmy Reid and Jimmy Airlie, and was a potent force in the STUC, trade union movement, and trades councils.

The Communist Party was, it was oft-said “in the Labour movement, but not the Labour Party”, and in Scotland, with a small-sized Labour membership, the Communists had a disproportionate influence.

This was famously evident in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) work-in of 1971-72, in its support for cross-party campaigns, and in particular on home rule.

In the years of Labour anti-devolution, from the Clement Attlee era to Labour’s about turn on the issue in 1974, it was Communists on the left who kept the home rule banner flying, and were its only supporters along with the Liberals.

In 1968, it was Mick McGahey, of the Scottish mineworkers union, who moved the motion at the STUC to commit Congress to support a Scottish parliament, which was remitted and agreed the following year, contributing to Labour coming back to the idea of home rule.

This isn’t a eulogy for the Communist Party. The ideology of Marxist-Leninism was fatally flawed; democratic centralism was a euphemism for anti-democratic authoritarianism; and pro-Sovietism became a blind embrace of Russian imperialism.

I should know, as my father, Eddie, was a member of the Communist Party in the 1970s, when the then Ted Heath government seemed to my parents to practise the most right-wing, uncaring Tory politics they could possibly imagine.

My father saw Russian tanks in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979, as the solution to world socialism. “Why would workers want to strike in a workers state?” my dad used to ask, not really looking for an answer.

The appeal of Stalinism extended beyond “the party”, for example to Labour’s Ernie Ross in Dundee and Ron Brown in Leith; part of this was borne by a belief that working class solidarity bred international solidarity with the Soviet state.

The Communist Party abolished itself in 1991, and became Democratic Left, a short-lived “new politics network”, before, south of the Border, morphing into a soft set of alliances. In Scotland, Democratic Left remains as a humbled, small force trying to do good through drawing together red, green and feminist ideas.

A Scottish politics without the contribution of a Communist Party shows the significant impact it made. In the vacuum it left came Tommy Sheridan and his caricature of revolutionary politics, which blew up in his and his party’s face. And without it, Labour and the trade union movement have missed the extra dimension of another perspective on left and radical ideas.

Soviet Communism was one of the disasters of the 20th century. There can be no nostalgia for a system that killed millions, suppressed many more, and contorted political reality to suit itself.

Yet a world without powerful communist parties has become one where the last dogmatic revolutionaries are those of the free market, where the ultimate utopia is reducing everyone to one-dimensional human beings at the narrow level of economic calculus.

Part of the post-war compact across the West was business and upper-class fear of the communist menace, and with it gone, the forces of power and privilege have gone on to tear up much of what millions thought precious and permanent. Something any good old-fashioned Marxist would have predicted.

Scotland’s centre-left politics are less rich for the absence of the ideas, energy, critical thinking and people of the Communist Party. Our political terrain is reduced to a contest between Labour and SNP, two catch-all parties of the near-left, which are not motivated by the contest of ideas.

The Scottish Communists would have demanded a more idealistic, radical and humanitarian content on independence than that before us. They would have produced pamphlets, organised debates and conferences, and got large numbers of people to them.

This is a challenge to those on the left in the next 18 months – to the Radical Independence Conference, Compass, Jimmy Reid Foundation, Scottish Greens and others.

They have to take the best from this philosophy of activism and idealism, while leaving behind the evasions, arrogance and elitism. And use it to educate, agitate and organise, and dream and demand of others a different and better future than the one currently on offer.

Their resources may be less than the Scottish Communists at their peak, but they have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to produce radical ideas and politics which could have an impact on the way Scotland votes and thinks in 2014 and after.

The Herald, 4 February 2013

Bid for more diverse Holyrood influences

VOTERS are to be consulted on access to political influence with the creation of a commission a i mi n g to secure more diverse participation in decision-making.

It follows research by the Jimmy Reid Foundation that found the 70% of the population who earn less than £24,000 make up just 3% of those who give evidence to Holyrood committees and only 11% of those appointed to public bodies.

The findings, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, found that, in contrast, the 13% of the population earning more than £34,000 made up 67% of those giving evidence to committees and 71% of those appointed to public bodies.

The creation of the Commission on Fair Access to Political Influence has won cross-party support. SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn said: “The findings starkly demonstrate that more has to be done towards involving a wider range of people. Any recommendations that can be made as to how to achieve that will be welcome.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “Sadly I am not surprised by these figures. Whether it is in public appointments, through evidence sessions, in employment or through those who access people in power through lobbying, the parliament appears to entrench rather than challenge the view that it works in the interest of a small few.”

BBC Radio Scotland, 3 February 2013

Sunday Morning Newspaper Review with Derek Bateman

Extended discussion of the Reid Foundation report Not By The People

Sunday Herald, 3 February 2013

A report by a leading think tank argues that the Scottish Parliament is a world
away from most Scots

HOLYROOD has become a privileged middle-class club, with t he voices of millions of Scots on low and average incomes rarely being heard, according to a report by a leading Scottish think tank.

A study by the left-leaning Jimmy Reid Foundation found that those making and influencing policy decisions are overwhelmingly higher-rate taxpayers and other top earners, while those struggling on lower incomes are virtually excluded from the system.

The imbalance is an invitation to “group think”, the report warned, under which a small, well-off elite shapes policy to fit its own preferences and prejudices rather than basing it on facts.

There is a risk the daily concerns of most Scots are overlooked, and that people feel increasingly disconnected from politics.

To help open up the decisionmaking process to a wider diversity of people, the Jimmy Reid Foundation will tomorrow launch a Commission on Fair Access to Political Influence chaired by Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teachers’ union, and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. The Trust also funded the Foundation’s current report.

The commission members also include Will Dinan, the academic behind the Spinwatch website which monitors lobbying and PR; Willie Sullivan, of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland; and the SNP-turned-Independent MSP Jean Urquhart.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation’s report, Not By The People, was based on an income analysis of the 750 people currently appointed to public bodies, and the 2000-plus witnesses who gave evidence to Holyrood’s committees over the past five years.

Although only 13% of Scots have incomes above £34,000, this group accounted for 67% of those giving evidence to committees and 71% of all appointments to public bodies.

In contrast, the 70% of Scots with incomes below the average salary of £24,500 accounted for 11% of publicsector appointments and just 3% of committee witnesses between 2007 and 2012.

The report concluded: “Scotland is run by people who pay higher-rate tax and they seek advice on how to run Scotland primarily from other people who pay higher-rate tax.”

The Foundation said it had deliberately erred on the side of caution in estimating incomes, and the true disconnect between income and influence was probably worse than the figures suggested.

The report said recent scandals over the police, media and the banks have heightened concern over who influences over the political process.

It said: “Unequal access to power is as old as civilisation. But that does not mean it is acceptable or that it should go unchallenged.

“Restraining the power of money is one half of the equation; creating routes to power for those without money must also be part of the solution.”

Bob Thomson, convener of the Foundation, said: “This really isn’t good enough. Something has to be done to bring the bulk of the Scottish people back into political debate.”

Larry Flanagan, chairman of the new fair access commission, said: “This report describes a Scotland of two peoples; one runs the country, the other just lives here.

“It is good for no-one if, as a nation, we put the opinions of the affluent, the powerful and the connected, above the voice of the majority. The Commission is eager to hear how people think we can improve this situation. Democracy is about more than simply voting twice a decade.”

Stephen Reicher, professor of psychology at St Andrews University, said the problem with elites making decisions was that even good ideas risked provoking a backlash if people felt they were being “parachuted” into their lives.

He said a classic example was the healthy school meals initiative created by TV chef Jamie Oliver.

Reicher said: “To many it seemed a comment on their stupidity and even their lack of concern for the children. So they passed chips to these children through the school gates.”

With regard to Holyrood, he said: “The skewed composition of quangos and those giving evidence to committees is wrong in practice as well as principle. It is unfair, it diminishes the quality of proposals. It makes good ideas less likely to succeed. It has no defence.”

What do you do when the people who ought to be fixing a problem are the problem?

By Robin McAlpine Director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

If you think you’re middle class, you’re almost certainly upper middle class.

Seventy per cent of the Scottish population lives on less than the average wage of £24,450. If any of you are earning 30-something salaries you probably think you’re sort of “normal”. Actually, that puts you in the wealthiest 15% of Scots. Above that, you’re the elite.

All parliamentarians and senior civil servants are in the top 5% by income. They invite people to “bring them information” about the world outside through public bodies, evidence sessions and inquiries. It turns out that overwhelmingly they seek advice from people on the same income as them.

Meanwhile, the rest of the population – the 70% – make up only about 3% of the people giving that advice. If we had accurate data (virtually none is collected) the picture would almost certainly be much, much worse.

Does this matter? Isn’t the best available expertise what we should be looking for? Not if we are conflating “expertise” with “vested interests”. Who has the real expertise on poverty, on patient care, on health and safety? It certainly isn’t the director of the CBI.

We think we know how other people live, but we don’t. The world looks different when the monthly margin of error in your family budget is £10 rather than £200, when you don’t “support” public services but need them.

For many years I had a well-paid career influencing policy. On a top-10% salary I listened to discussions in which promoting private profit, keeping tax on the wealthy low, privatising public assets and rolling back public services were assumed to be the unchallenged goals of government.

Back home with my friends in the other 90%, nothing could have been further from their concerns; economic security, good public services, enjoying their job.

In our report, a psychologist explains that leadership divorced from those being lead is prone to bias and results in poorer decision-making.

This is not about individuals. It is about diversity, difference of opinion, different perspectives and values. It is about representation.

So what do you do when those who ought to be fixing a problem are the problem? Look elsewhere for the answers. We are launching a Joseph Rowntree-funded commission to ask for ideas from groups and individuals who are not “insiders”.

What answers might there be? How about citizens’ juries. In Scotland, 15 randomly selected members of the public are trusted (with guidance and support) to make decisions about guilt or innocence in complex criminal trials.

Imagine if we had taken the same approach to the inquiries into the Iraq War, the financial crisis or media corruption. It is hard to imagine a citizens’ jury being so quick with its exonerations or so confident that inaction is the best way forward. They have been shown to be highly effective even in making complex policy decisions.

Another response would be a binding charter on committees and inquiries that requires them to take evidence in proportion to those affected. Allowing a group of finance directors to explain why public services “must” be cut without listening to the communities affected by those cuts is bound to produce a unbalanced picture. The same goes for making controversial decisions on the basis of lobbying from half a dozen well-funded employer organisations but only one token contribution from a representative of employees.

We are very interested to see what other ideas come in – tried and tested practice or completely new approaches. But whatever, there is one thing that we must do if we are to take this seriously. We need to start collecting data.

We now accept that monitoring equal opportunities is important to make sure we are not excluding large sections of society on grounds of gender or ethnicity.

We need to do the same with wealth. We need an audit of the socioeconomic position of our political insiders so we have a proper picture of how social class and political priorities interact. Excluding 70% of citizens from running society is not sustainable. It is time to make government of the people by the people for the people mean something again.

Scotsman, 31 January 2013

Big issues are too much for politics

Overawed by the sheer scale of the problems facing mankind, politicians appear consumed by the minutiae, writes Joyce Mcmillan

THE other week, the endlessly entertaining Thinking Allowed programme on Radio 4 – chaired by veteran sociologist Laurie Taylor – offered up a discussion on responses to climate change, and how they often seem to reflect the psychoanalytic idea of “denial”; the suggestion that the more people are troubled by something, the harder they work – consciously or unconsciously – to pretend that it does not exist.

It goes without saying that it was not a discussion which pleased every listener; many objected to the assumption that man-made climate change is a fact to be denied, rather than a theory to be debated. Yet still, the conversation did address what now often seems to be the elephant in the room of political debate; the strong suggestion that if the global economy and society simply continue on their present track, then we may be heading for a cataclysmic combination of climate change and resource crisis, which could result in mass starvation, huge population movements, and a new age of frightening resource wars.

It is a truly terrifying prospect; the vast majority of climate scientists now believe that we are unlikely to avoid a global temperature increase of around 4-5 degrees by the end of century, triggering changes far beyond the range of anything that has taken place within the span of human history. And it’s already clear, after more than 20 years of failed UN climate negotiations, that our human institutions – competitive, slow-moving, and at global level barely functioning – are not capable of gaining consent for any solutions that would be likely to make much difference.

As for the predicted resource wars – well, it’s arguable that they are happening already, in disguised form. Low-lying countries across the developing world are suffering everhigher levels of economic stress, as rising water deprives millions of homes and livelihoods; and although we are constantly invited to place a religious interpretation on the ever-escalating global conflict between the west and its allies on one hand, and “Islamic extremists” on the other – a conflict that now ranges across Afghanistan, Syria and North Africa, as well as IsraelPalestine – at the deepest level it simply represents a new face of old colonial resentments, and the fury of a generation of young men across the Arab and Muslim world who have been left without much hope of a secure and prosperous future, or of jobs to match their education.

So what do we do, in the face of all this? We seek distraction from the scale of the problem by turning our fire on the political structures around us, which we can change; and it therefore strikes me as no coincidence that at this moment of colossal global challenge, the UK finds itself locked into the process of not one, but two, constitutional referendums, which seem likely to absorb almost all the political energy of our governing class for the next half-decade.

The Scottish constitutional debate is, of course already full of well-established tensions between the kind of escapist nationalism which assumes that everything will just naturally be better, when Scots run their own affairs, and the more pragmatic nationalism which argues that under current global conditions, people living in Scotland have a better chance of dealing with the various crises we face, and of making a creative and positive contribution to the international response, if we shake ourselves free of the sclerotic structures of the British state.

Both the First Minister Alex Salmond, and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon, project themselves strongly as belonging to this pragmatic school of thought; so that in this week’s inaugural lecture to the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the First Minister based his argument entirely on the hope that an independent Scotland – with a more sustainable 21st century economy – would be better placed than the UK to offer the kind of social justice and equality of opportunity that Reidchampioned all his life.

And now, following David Cameron’s announcement last week, we face a five-year UK debate on Britain’s European Union membership which will no doubt display exactly the same tensions between practical argument on one hand, and nationalistic dreampolitics on the other.

On the surface, there will be robust business arguments about whether Britain would do better without EU “red tape” – the rightwing phrase, it seems, for basic employment rights – or would do worse without automatic access to the single market.

In the background, though, both David Cameron and Ed Milliband will be able to hear the baying backbeat of Daily-Express- style nationalism, the urge to stop this modern world of international cooperation and compromise because we want to get off, to tell Johnny Foreigner to get lost, and to retreat into dreams of the sceptred isle that once ruled the waves.

And meanwhile, out there where ordinary people struggle to pay their energy bills and to meet ever-rising food costs, the big questions of our age – about the global economic system we have developed, about its growing failure to distribute wealth and opportunity, about the pressures it brings to bear on governments, and about the failure of governments to combine to resist those pressures – are likely to remain unanswered, while politicians haggle over the distribution of powers between political structures that are already largely impotent.

I’m not suggesting, of course, that constitutional change can never be constructive, and is always irrelevant. I am glad that the Scottish Parliament exists today, proud to have been involved in the campaign for it; and my own political journey has taken me to a point where I find it so hard to detect any real signs of life in UK centre-left politics that continuing within the Union seems a frighteningly barren prospect.

Yet constitutional debate is always at its best when it puts itself at the service not of identity politics, but of democracy; when it focusses not on one nation and its myths, but of those wider hopes and values that, at street level, truly unite the human race – the hope of a living in a society that is both just and free, that offers security and the sense of a viable future, and that cares enough to empower its citizens to love, invent and create, rather than merely inciting us to hate, to conquer, and to destroy.

Scotsman, 31 January 2013

Welfare reforms threaten our dignity – Salmond

NEARLY a third of people receiving an incapacity benefit in Britain have been told they are capable of working, according to new figures.

The Department for Work and Pensions revealed that out of 603,000 people on incapacity benefits who have been reassessed since 2010, almost 180,000 have been told they are fit to take up a job and no longer eligible for support. They have instead been redirected on to the government’s back-to-work programmes.

UK ministers last night claimed such people had been “condemned” by the old system to a life on benefits and said they would now be pushing ahead with controversial efforts to place people into a job.

But the government’s welfare reform programme was fiercely criticised last night by Alex Salmond who used a speech in Glasgow to claim that it was now the “biggest threat to human dignity” in the country. At the inaugural Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture, the First Minister echoed the former union leader’s rectorial address to Glasgow University in 1971, saying the changes were creating a “new form of alienation”.

“He would be appalled by some of the brutal effects being felt on our doorstep here in Scotland thanks to the UK government’s process of welfare reform,” Mr Salmond said. His comments come with the Yes Scotland campaign planning to focus on the UK government’s welfare cuts in its bid to build support, sending a leaflet to 500,000 homes this week to warn that Britain is on track to become “the most unequal” developed country in the world.

The row revolves around a whole series of new welfare reforms being pushed through by the UK government. They include tests for people on disability allowances and incapacity benefit to see whether they are still eligible, a new scheme to find them jobs and a move to the new “universal benefit”.

At the same time, the coalition has agreed to set a cap on increases in benefits for the next three years.

UK ministers say the plans are necessary to cut the deficit and end the “benefit trap” which discourages people from taking up work because it pays less.

Publishing new figures on the reassessment of incapacity benefits yesterday, it said that 32 per cent of people had been cleared as fit for work and were no longer entitled to employment support allowance.

Only 27 per cent have been assessed as being so unwell that they are entitled to unconditional support, and the full £105 a week made available.

A further 41 per cent of people have been judged to be currently too unwell to work, but informed they must consider a return to work at a later date.

Officials are now halfway through reassessing all 1.5 million incapacity benefits claimants across Britain through the controversial work capability assessment.

It has already faced criticism with the government’s own appointed adviser, Professor Malcolm Harrington, who admitted last year that the test had been “patchy”, wrongly pushing some claimants who were genuinely unable to work into the labour market.

Earlier this week, reports revealed that one company contracted to help people back into work had referred to clients as “LTBs”, or “Lying Thieving Bastards”.

There were also claims that firms were simply “parking” people they were meant to help, claiming government money for their services, while setting clients to one side due to the lack of any work available.

Pro-independence supporters have insisted the plans are out of touch with “Scottish values”, saying an independent Scotland would help benefit claimants.

Speaking last night, Mr Salmond referred back to Mr Reid’s warning against “alienation” in society in his famous 1971 Glasgow University address.

“Forty years on, I’d argue that the biggest threat to human dignity is in a new kind of alienation. The alienation felt by those who need the help of benefits to survive and find themselves arguably being demonised by some sections of society,” Mr Salmond said.

He added: “Jimmy was a tireless campaigner for a better society and he would be appalled by some of the brutal effects being felt on our doorstep here in Scotland thanks to the UK government’s process of welfare reform.

“Many of us can think of human stories illustrating the misery being felt up and down the country.

“The person reduced to penury by removal of their disability living allowance, the working single parent made £30 a week worse off by the reduction in working tax credit, the sense of despair among the most vulnerable in our society as they bear the costs of an economic whirlwind not of their making – all human examples of people being alienated.”

However, Mr Salmond’s comments were dismissed by UK officials last night who insisted their plans were designed to pull people out of a life on benefits and into work.

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “Our reforms are about restoring dignity to people who for too long were left to a life on benefits. Repeated governments offered inadequate help and people had no hope or expectation of getting into work. That cannot be the mark of a welfare state that is fair to those who need it.”

On the incapacity benefit figures, employment minister Mark Hoban added: “Now we are over half way through the reassessment process it is clear that the old system condemned tens of thousands of people to a life on benefits with little help to move back to work.

“Now people who can work will be given help to find a job, while those who need unconditional support will get it.”

Daily Mail, 30 January 2013

Salmond looks to the Left

ALEX Salmond is bidding to attract more Left- wing supporters to his i ndependence crusade after a series of devastating polls for the ‘Yes’ campaign.

The First Minister last night launched a bitter attack on Tory welfare reforms to move people from benefits into work.

Speaking before delivering the Jimmy Reid memorial lecture in Govan, Glasgow, Mr Salmond said: ‘ Jimmy would be appalled by some of t he brutal effects being felt in Scotland thanks to the UK Government’s process of welfare reform.

‘ People are being reduced to penury and the vulnerable left with a sense of despair.’

Dundee Courier, 30 January 2013

Salmond hits out at ‘threat to dignity’

THE DEMONISING of people who rely on benef its is the biggest threat to human dignity, according to First Minister Alex Salmond.

He strongly criticised the UK Government’s approach to welfare reform during a tribute to late union leader JimmyReid, who died in 2010.

Born in Govan, Mr Reid rose to international prominence when he led the “work-in” of thousands of shipbuilders on the Clyde during 1971 and 1972, thwarting Government attempts to close the yards.

A memorable speech he made to students as rector of Glasgow University on “rejecting the rat race”, in 1972, appeared in full in the New York Times newspaper.

Mr Salmond made the comments in a national newspaper on the day he was due to deliver the inaugural JimmyReid Memorial Lecture in Glasgow.

“Forty years on, I’d argue that the biggest threat to human dignity is in a new kind of alienation felt by those who need the help of benefits to survive and find themselves, arguably, being demonised by some sections of society,” Mr Salmond wrote.

“Jimmy would be appalled by some of the brutal effects being felt in Scotland thanks to the UK Government’s process of welfare reform.”

Pe o p l e are being reduced to penury and the vulnerable are being left with a sense of despair, he wrote.

“I do not argue for one second that any of this is the intention of welfare reform, but these are its consequences here in Scotland.”

He described the union leader as a “great man”, adding: “As much as I miss Jimmy personally, what I miss more is the power of his voice speaking out against attacks on the most vulnerable members of our society.

Scotland Tonight, 29 January 2013

Memorial Lecture

First Minister Alex Salmond talks about welfare cuts and the Reid Foundation lecture.

Newsnight UK, 29 January 2013

Universal public services

First Minister Alex Salmond was interviewed on universal benefits at the Reid Foundation lecture.

Evening Times, 29 January 2013

Reid talk-in will be test for Salmond

ALEX SALMOND will tonight deliver the inaugural Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture and will be questioned on topics from tax to welfare policies in an independent Scotland.

The questions have been submitted by members of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, which is often described as Scotland’s left-wing think tank.

The First Minister will give the lecture at Govan Old Parish Church where the funer-al was held last year for the prominent trade unionist, orator, politician and journalist.

Scotsman, 29 January

Scottish Labour running scared

When Labour blocked the chance to discuss public services at Holyrood, they sold voters short, writes Robin McAlpine

IF THE warning lights on the dashboard of your car start flashing, the sensible response is to find out what’s wrong. The analogous standard political response is to cover them all up with tape so no-one can see them flashing.

No, it doesn’t make sense, but that’s the received wisdom; if I don’t look bad then that must mean I’m good. The perpetual hunt for “bear traps” into which the unwitting politician might step is a curse on modern policy.

Why? Because warning lights are there for a reason. Sometimes politicians get a hard time unfairly. But sometimes they are just wrong. If they expend their effort on covering up signs of error rather than fixing their errors, it is they who suffer. For example, had the SNP not been forced to face up to big flaws in its EU membership claims it would still be defending a clearly flawed stance.

The turn to avoid the warning signs has now passed to Scottish Labour. Last Thursday there would have been a Scottish Parliament debate on the Reid Foundation’s report The Case For Universalism, in which we set out the very good reasons why universal public services are an enormously effective way to manage society.

But when Labour, correctly, spotted a procedural error, it chose not to allow the debate to take place.

I can understand why. Warning lights have been going off all over the place since Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont made her two speeches on universal public services. It will be difficult for the party to go into the next election opposing policies that have enormous public support. More worryingly, the signs of deep unease within the grassroots of the party and the wider trade union movement are not hard to find. Many are in the Labour movement precisely because it is defined by its support for a universal welfare state. Concern and indeed some outright hostility are widespread.

But one of the biggest problems is that the policy line Labour has floated is untested – and has serious flaws. For example, it is all very well to say that a “modest contribution” to the cost of a university education is needed “to reinvest in excellence”. What is more of a problem is the numbers. The kind of small contribution suggested would generate no more than perhaps 1 or 2 per cent of the university sector’s turnover – in 15 years’ time.

Or what about bus passes for the elderly? “Millionaires shouldn’t get free bus passes” may be fine as a soundbite, but how much does anyone think will be saved by removing bus passes from millionaires? In reality, even to recover the cost of administering a means-tested bus pass, most people will have to start paying, not just the rich.

Or reintroducing prescription charges. Very roughly it costs society £45 million to provide everyone with free medicine. The cost to society of charging for medicine is more like £60m – the £45m the medicine costs and then the something like £15m it costs for someone to decide who gets it for free and who has to pay for it themselves.

So where does that £15m end up? Very possibly in the pocket of a “service company” like Secro or Atos Healthcare, which charge generously for carrying out the means test on our behalf. So those of you who grudge wealthy people getting free medicine, how do you feel about paying for the medicine yourself and then giving a multi-million pound bung to a rich multinational corporation for the pleasure? Thought not.

The big argument is that refocusing money to target the poor is needed to tackle poverty. The problem with this argument is that it has been tested repeatedly over the last 40 years and it doesn’t stand up. By far the best way to benefit the poor is not to target them but to draw them into services that target everybody but from which they benefit by far the most.

And who is going to justify the endless problems of means testing? As an example, there are currently two state pensions, one means-tested and one not. The level of fraud and error alone in the means-tested one is more than 40 times higher than in the universal one.

The reason bloggers and commentators sound so convincing when they conclude that rolling back universal public services is a “no-brainer” is because they don’t have to answer questions.

That’s why parliamentary debate should be so important. The universalism stance taken by Labour was not properly discussed within the parliamentary party, never mind at grassroots level. Putting forward your ideas for debate forces you, first, to have better arguments and secondly to revise them when you discover they’re not as watertight as you thought.

It’s a healthy process. Fighting only on ground you consider to be safe is not.

So Labour should welcome the debate, even if it proves uncomfortable. And of course Labour isn’t alone. Would Tory leader Ruth Davidson have said some of the things she said about Scotland being a “gangmaster state” of benefit spongers if she had to debate her flaky calculations, not just say it out loud and then go home for a cup of tea?

And how much stronger might the SNP be if it had to properly test its past-its-sell-by-date policy of a blanket corporation tax cut? Everyone – neoclassical economists included – knows this is a policy that looked sensible only at a time when letting banks go mad was also seen as sensible.

Ideas are like bricks fresh from the kiln; you don’t know how solid they are until you give them a decent whack. It’s time politicians gained the courage to debate arguments they fear they might lose. They will be the winners in the long term if they do.

• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Daily Record, 29 January 2013



STV Scortland Today, 28 January 2013

Preview of lecture

Five minute package on Reid Foundation and Scottish Left Review with interview with Convener.

STV Scortland Today, 28 January 2013

Salmond to face grilling at lecture

ALEX Salmond will be quizzed on his plans for independence after he gives the inaugural Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture at Govan Old Parish Church tomorrow. The event will see the First Minister field questions from the packed audience at the event where the former union leader’s funeral took place.

Sunday Herald, 27 January

Welfare cuts have brought a new alienation, says Samond

PEOPLE are suffering from a “new kind of alienation” because of the Coalition’s welfare reforms, Alex Salmond will claim this week in a speech meant to put fairness at the heart of the independence campaign.

Delivering the inaugural Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture on Tuesday, the First Minister will say the “brutal” cuts are a “threat to human dignity”.

A communist and trade unionist, Reid (right) achieved international fame during the Upper Clyde Shipyards Work-in of 1971.

He was elected rector of Glasgow University and his electoral speech described alienated workers as “victims of blind economic forces beyond their control”. Reid died in 2010, aged 78. Salmond will describe a new type of alienation felt by those who need benefits to live, but find themselves demonised, leading to despair among the most vulnerable.

The First Minister will say: “For me, independence is not just an end in its own right but a means to providing a fairer society that better looks after those who need it. We will have the power to choose what sort of nation we want to be – one where we live up to Jimmy Reid’s legacy, by using the powers of an independent nation, to fully address alienation.” The speech coincides with a Yes Scotland campaign drive based on the prospect of a fairer and less divided society under

Guardian, 21 January 2013

Who will speak up for the universal welfare state now?

With even some on the left calling for an end to winter fuel payments and the like, it is time to go back to first principles. John Harris.

ek, I ended a day in Newcastle with a meeting called to discuss the looming revolution in the benefits system. The atmosphere reflected a mix of anger and ashen-faced panic: with the cuts to benefits that will arrive in April and the arrival of universal credit in the autumn, the city council reckons around £83m a year will be sucked out of the local economy. Newcastle is facing a social crisis on an unprecedented scale: there, as in plenty of other places, food banks, rent arrears and family breakdown are soon going to grow to unimaginable proportions.

In response to such cruelties, a cacophony of voices gets louder by the week, largely in accord with a lot of what you hear from the government, but often traceable to people on the left. The argument is simple enough: that in such straitened times, the brief age of the universal welfare state must be brought to a close. Increasingly, to be anything other than poor but still in receipt of some help from the benefits system is a moral matter as much as it is a political one, and something modern opinion apparently cannot tolerate.

The argument about the end of universal child benefit was eventually reduced to moronic noises about a few people trousering the money for Tuscan holidays. Columnists and politicians are calling time on such catch-all post-retirement benefits as the winter fuel allowance, free bus travel and the paid-for TV licence. In Scotland, Labour leader Johann Lamont has commenced a party review of universal benefits, and declared war on what she calls a “something for nothing” culture – yes, that one again – supposedly embodied in the SNP government’s attachment to such totems as free prescriptions and state-funded tuition fees. [In response, the Jimmy Reid Foundation has just published an excellent paper titled The Case For Universalism, and last week saw the latest face-off between the SNP and Labour, over the latter’s role in a cancelled debate about the same issue.]

Meanwhile, some questions scream for an answer. Funny, isn’t it, how the Westminster government claims that help has to only be targeted at those most in need, while not only savagely cutting benefits for exactly those people, but sending out poisonous campaigning materials aimed at stirring up resentment among the more affluent, so they can cut even more? “The average working person pays a total of £3,100 per year to pay for benefits,” runs an online Tory document released a couple of weeks back, doing exactly what the universal principle was designed to avoid: cynically playing one part of the population against the other, and making out that “welfare” is something that happens to other people.

Funny, too, that such high-ups as George Osborne bemoans “taxing people on low incomes to pay for the child benefit of those earning so much more” when, as he must know, a progressive taxation system ensures that this has never actually happened. Strange, also, that so much noise is being made about the supposed iniquity of millionaires getting relatively trifling universal benefits when the government has just given them such a big tax cut.

This is the poisonous context in which the conversation about universalism is happening, and people on the left – nominally or otherwise – ought to be very careful indeed.

Last week, the Independent ran a piece by a former Labour staffer namedRob Marchant, who claimed that arguing for universal benefits “means you end up having government cash doled out to people who don’t need it”. In the most reductive sense, that’s true – but as even he must know, the argument is way more nuanced than that. This was a point subsequently made by a piece that appeared on the website run by Progress, written by Stephen Bush: “The age-old question, ‘How can Labour possibly defend benefits for the rich?’ has a crude answer: ‘How on earth does Labour think it will defend benefits for the poor if it doesn’t?'” Quite so: even if the “stay-at-home” mum denied her child benefit because her partner earns £61,000 a year lives in a different reality from the single parent fearfully chopping down their food budget, they are part of the same story.

Once again, we have to wearily go back to first principles. As the child benefit fiasco proves, means-testing and selectivity cost huge amounts of money and governmental effort. In stigmatising help and demanding engagement with a labyrinthine machine, selective benefits often fail to reach the people they are meant for (which is why over 25% of kids entitled to free school meals don’t get them, and the means-testing of winter fuel payment would be dangerous).

To use the language of the right, selective benefits also punish success. And yes: if nearly all pay in, most of us ought to get something out, and not just in the context of disability, unemployment, or old age. The idea that you can hack back the welfare state and everyone will altruistically pay to help only the poorest is an idiotic fantasy. History shows us what really happens: increasingly, even the most basic programmes come to depend on the rattle of tins.

Now, if anyone tells you that universalism can’t be afforded, think on this. The winter fuel payment costs an annual £2.2bn; free travel about £1bn; TV licences £600m. The child benefit cut will save £2bn a year. But the annual housing benefit bill, so much of which is a sticking-plaster for a private-rented sector that has spiralled out of control, stands at £22.4bn. Meanwhile, the cost of tax credits, which includes a vast de facto subsidy to poverty pay, runs to just under £30bn. These things denote the deep, structural issues that need to be addressed before any debate about universalism starts.

And yes, standard-issue points about the billions denied to the treasury by crafty individuals and corporations may be cliched, but only because they’re true. Why we are debating universalism when every month brings more news of vast tax avoidance and evasion is a question that goes to the heart of this bizarre situation.

We all know the reason: a project stretching back three decades, which has long had the universal welfare state in its cross hairs. “What I cannot stomach at any price is the argument … that the point of universal benefits is to knit society together,” said the increasingly unfunny Boris Johnson recently.

There’s your enemy: whatever you do, don’t help him.

Scotsman, 9 January 2013

Twelve-step guide to killing off a good idea

ONE of the questions I am asked most often by people who are interested in politics but who are not closely involved in the work of government is, “why does nothing happen?”.


For an outsider the process of government often seems like a sort of waste disposal unit into which you put good ideas and out of which emerges sludge.

But this is the wrong question. “Why” is easy – some vested interest somewhere doesn’t want something to happen and has the lobbying budget to make sure it doesn’t. The more important question is “how does nothing happen?”, the methods and mechanisms used to manufacture sludge out of decent thinking.

Because this isn’t a whodunnit – much as I support MSP Neil Findlay’s proposed bill on a register of lobbyists, naming names alone won’t change much – this is a practical problem with how we do the business of government.

I was a lobbyist for the university sector for more than a decade but increasingly have come to believe that for the sake of democracy we need greater public awareness of how decisions really get made. Set out below is a fairly arbitrary list of the sorts of techniques that prevent change although to understand this you need two quick pieces of context.

First, the majority of lobbying isn’t done by “lobbyists” but by senior managers and policy professionals in the public sector, by commercial managers in big companies and so on. And secondly, very little of this lobbying has anything much to do with politicians; it is largely an internal conversation between senior managers in the public and private sectors and civil servants and the staff of government agencies.

So: 12 steps to the death of a good idea.

• Set up a stakeholder or expert group, as long as all stakeholders are institutional; vested interests pulling in opposite directions encourage inertia.

• Try hard to do as little of your business in the stakeholder group as you can; work on the civil servants managing the group to make the agenda as bland as possible.

• Make the data the problem. Whatever the problem is, demand it be proved numerically. This not only takes a lot of time, as soon as you’ve managed to make it about the numbers you can argue about them indefinitely without doing anything. Evidence-based prevarication.

• Once you can’t make it about the data, make it about the process, never the content. As long as you’re talking about process, nothing substantive happens. Change comes from the content, so content is the enemy.

• Suck air through your teeth with the might of a garage mechanic. “Oh, that’s a risky idea” is the threat of choice if you want to put the fear of God into anyone who might change anything.

• Use the “weasel button”. This is a concept invented by a friend who believed half the civil service could be made redundant if Microsoft Word had a button you could tweak that would turn “must” into “should” into “could” into “might”. The weasel button is powered by the fear of “hostages to fortune”, an expression that bullies people into never trying anything.

• When you see the draft report of the group appear to be reasonable by making agreement a matter of percentages – as in “we agree with 70 per cent of this report”. After all, “I really love pickled gherkins” is 80 per cent the same as “I really hate pickled gherkins”.

• Do this by looking for “recommendations of the inevitable”, any recommendation that uses phrases such as “continue to”, “improve” or “raise awareness” which show the outcome is subjective. Agree with them because they don’t mean anything.

• Look for recommendations with numbers, agree with the recommendation, disagree with the number. Fight for targets and performance indicators that are proxies for something that is already happening. Don’t accept a target you aren’t certain to meet.

• Find policy proposals you can’t live with and invent changelings – alternatives that look the same but don’t work. Say, “we totally agree with the aim, here’s how we think it can best be achieved”.

• If you still have problems, adopt a Long Grass Strategy, anything that will delay things. You can use “bad babysitter”, where you give a key piece of work to an organisation that will water things down or can be undermined if it doesn’t. Or demand “one more year of data to be sure”. Or decide something new has happened that must be resolved before this.

• Finally, no-one must know about any of this. By this stage there will have been an almost complete media blackout. Papers will be marked “in confidence” for no particular reason, “political interference” (an elected politician taking an interest) will be prohibited while “work is ongoing”. By the time we get to public scrutiny, there should be little left to scrutinise.

This is often lazily called “cherry-picking”, the least accurate metaphor in the political lexicon. It would be much closer to the mark to call this “cherry-avoiding”, a process of filling everyone’s baskets with twigs and leaves and bark. Anything but cherries.

The proportion of the population that knows about this process is tiny. Perhaps 95 per cent of it takes place outside the purview of anyone who is elected and almost none of it is visible to an average backbench MSP. And no-one involved will earn anything like the average salary of a Scots worker; this is “professional work” for “professionals”.

Nothing changes because the the whole system is designed to serve the interests of the public and private sector elite, not the population as a whole. In truth, most lobbying isn’t about informing democracy but about finding ways round democracy.

None of this is an argument against listening to the views of people with real expertise or the importance of data and evidence in decision-making. But it is an argument against leaving decision-making exclusively in the hands of vested interests.

We already have an important means of evidence-based public decision-making; we call it the court system. If 15 men and women drawn from the Scottish population can listen to complex evidence and then decide on guilt or innocence, why is public policy beyond them? What is really so scary about open democracy? I have sat on one jury and countless governmental working groups. If you ask me, the “amateurs” seemed every bit as capable as the “professionals”.

• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Newsnight Scotland, 18 December 2012

The Director of the Foundation discussed universal welfare.

Dundee Courrier, 5 December 2012

Herald, 5 December 2012

Reid Foundation report hails universal benefits

UNIVERSAL benefits, such as free prescriptions and home care for the elderly, are fairer, easier to run, boost the economy and must be maintained if Scotland is to prosper, according to a new report.

The study, by left-wing think tank the Jimmy Reid Foundation comes as Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont challenged the sustainability of universalism.

The report said: “Universalism has produced the most effective society civilisation has yet achieved. We reduce that at our peril.”

On the economics, the report said: “Societies which embed universalism into their welfare systems are the most successful on whichever performance index is chosen, including economic growth, prosperity and competitiveness.

“There is a clear and established causal link between equality and sustainable and sustained economic development, and universal benefits are the bedrock of all the European societies who lead the rankings which measure economic success in particular.”

The Case for Universalism has been written by Mike Danson, professor of enterprise policy at Heriot-Watt University; Paul Spicker, professor of public policy at Robert Gordon University; Willie Sullivan, vice-chair of Labour think tank Compass; and Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

The report, which echoes many aspects of this week’s speech by Nicola Sturgeon, references Ms Lamont and her challenge to the SNP principle.

It said: “When Johann Lamont says we live in a ‘something for nothing’ society in which the rich benefit from ‘freebies’ she dismisses the principle of universalism entirely.

“For any politician in Scotland unaware of the implications of rejecting not the limits of universalism but the very principle, they should take some time to consider the philosophical and practical outcomes.”

The authors said a rejection of universalism rejects solidarity in favour of consumerism.

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “The debate Scottish Labour has called for is not one of universalism versus means-testing, rather what we can and can’t afford during this prolonged period of cuts to public spending.

“We have asked that there is a proper and informed debate and the choices the Scottish Government is making and the con-sequences of those choices.”

The SNP’s Bruce Crawford called the report “a repudiation” of Labour proposals, which were about abolishing free personal care for elderly people, no tuition fees for young people, and free prescriptions for ill people.

Dundee Courrier, 5 December 2012

Poor ‘will suffer most’

An influential left-wing thinktank has claimed poor people will suffer most if Labour’s plans to cut universal services go ahead.

A report by the Jimmy Reid Foundation said the worst-off would feel the biggest impact of any rollback of the public services.

Scotsman, 5 December 2012

Ending free services in Scotland would ‘create stigma and harm the poor’, argues think-tank

Published on Tuesday 4 December 2012 12:06

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to end universal free services in Scotland such as free prescriptions would harm the poor, a leading left wing think-tank has warned in a report published today.

• Leading think-tank argues that ending universal services such as free prescriptions would adversely affect the poor

• The end of universal services would “create stigma and reduce take-up rates”, the Jimmy Reid Foundation say

The Jimmy Reid Foundation said that the “group that will suffer by far most if we roll back universalism is the poor” in its report The Case for Universalism.

Ending free universal services and benefits would “create stigma and reduce take-up rates” and lead to a sharp rise in administrative costs, the think-tank said.

The stark warning will be seen as a direct challenge to Scottish Labour that has launched a party commission to look at whether to end support for policies such as free prescriptions, free university tuition and the council tax freeze

Convener of the Jimmy Reid foundation Bob Thomson, a former chair of Scottish Labour called on the party to closely examine the report as it reviews free services through the commission that is being advised by leading academic Prof Arthur Midwinter.

He said: “This is a detailed and serious look at the claims that have been made which suggest we need to move away from the principle of universalism. The conclusions show clearly that by a long way it is the poor that suffer most when we start targeting social services and benefits.

“We hope the Scottish Labour review being undertaken by Arthur Midwinter will look closely at this report and that the report will change minds. It is one thing to ask questions about how many universal social services we can afford because of the financial crash but it is quite another to attack the very principle of universalism. It is by far the most effective and just system of organising society we have achieved and must be defended, not attacked.”

Scotsman, 14 November 2012

I have seen the future – and it’s not that clear

The outcome of the referendum is only the first small step in significantly shaping the country that we will live in,
writes Robin McAlpine

Can we at least start off by agreeing on one thing; this isn’t the Middle Ages. Up until now the constitutional debate has been carried out as if this is the Crusades and that, after battle, the country that remains is the victor’s to do with as they please.

Since we all know this isn’t true could we put away our fake armour for a second and consider what would actually happen if there was a vote for independence? First there would be a series of negotiations, between Scotland and the remainder of Britain, between Scotland and the EU, between the rest of Britain and the EU and so on. Then there would need to be the development of some sort of Scottish constitution, if nothing else to identify who is a citizen, who can vote and the arrangements for electing and running a parliament. Then we will need to elect a parliament and let it get on with its job.

It is of the utmost importance to Scotland’s future that we have a simple, clear and unambiguous framework for understanding what independence means. Until people can think sensibly about what would actually happen in the event of a Yes vote we will all be trapped in the alternative universe which is passing for a debate just now.

In this alternative universe people who have not yet made up their mind about independence keep e-mailing me with questions. Could we not join the euro or have our own currency? How much harm do I think slashing corporation tax might do? Would abortion laws change?

Somehow we have managed to create a debate in which democracy has been written out altogether and we’ve all turned into astrologers. All three of these questions can be answered only by a democratically elected parliament. It is for neither independence negotiations nor a written constitution to make these decisions without reference to the democratic will of the people.

Surely this is self evident? Surely we would all be outraged if our laws were fundamentally changed without our permission? I have heard people say that these decisions might not be made by this SNP Government. Can we be clear on this – they will absolutely definitely and under no circumstances be made by this SNP Government. They can be made only by a democratically elected parliament elected by the people on the basis of manifestos written to explain how each party seeking election would use the powers of that parliament. Any other approach would be utterly abhorrent.

What is crucially important to me is that if Scotland did vote to be independent, these people who don’t agree with independence or the left-of-centre pitch are every bit as much a part of that new country as me or anyone else. I don’t really want to be part of a country that stitches up the constitution with no reference to them.

A paper published by the Scottish Independence Convention suggests that a “Team Scotland” approach should be taken to independence negotiations with all political parties and others such as employee and employer representatives included too. And then it calls for a democratically produced constitution. And it sets out the principle that each stage in this process should do as little as possible to constrain the next – negotiations should not limit the constitution, the constitution should not limit democracy.

Does this mean the people of Scotland would not be allowed to ask legitimate questions about what independence means in practice? No. In fact, it means that we could get much more clarity on the smaller number of necessary transitional arrangements and then we can put the future back into the future conditional tense where it belongs. If, could, might, or, would like to.

The No Campaign can still talk about the difficulty of the decision a little down the road where we will have to decide whether to leave sterling and if so what options there are. The Yes Campaign can keep talking about the sorts of things that could be achieved with independence. The SNP can still propose to stand on a platform of cutting corporation tax if it likes.

But the people of Scotland would no longer be treated like dafties. We wouldn’t have to pretend the future is certain when we know it isn’t. We would not have to pretend that either Scotland or the remainder of the UK would somehow skip over renegotiation with the EU when they will not.

We can reject the assertions either that independence will be anarchy with society falling apart or that the process of becoming independent is something we’ll barely notice. We know these things aren’t true.

There is no campaign – marketing, advertising, political – that is designed to “lead people to the truth”.

In any campaign there is bound to be an element of intentionally misleading the subject (I just changed my insurance and it really wasn’t simple). But everyone involved – including the media – has a responsibility to make sure that people have at least enough of a framework to make a good decision.

Bluntly, when people are e-mailing me asking me questions about the future that no-one can sensibly answer to help them come to a decision, I fear for the quality of that decision. After all, if the ability accurately to predict the future is fundamental to the legitimacy of a nation state, Westminster would have been abolished in 2007.

We have two years of this to go. If you are reading this and feel that just now neither side is really giving you what you need to make a good decision, make your voice heard.

Ask for a simple statement of what has to be decided when and by whom. Use it to understand what you’re voting for and what you’re not voting for. Good decisions come not from more and more information but from good information.

Let’s shift the debate out of the Middle Ages and into the Enlightenment. For all our sakes.


• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Sunday Herald, 30 September 2012

Remaining in Nato ‘would make terrorist attack more likely’

STAYING in Nato could increase the risk of a terror attack against an independent Scotland, according to the first expert assessment of the likely security threats following separation.

Titled No Need To Be Afraid, and published by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation, it weighs the risks from terrorism, cyberwar, climate change, social unrest and attacks on Scottish sovereignty over 30 years, and concludes there is little to fear in security terms from leaving the UK.

The only serious threat outside Scotland’s control is climate change and its attendant economic and social problems, it says.

Independence could even improve security if it led to the removal of nuclear weapons from the Clyde – which could suffer accidents or attacks from terrorists – and Scotland was more distant from controversial UK foreign policies.

However, the report also warns “membership of military alliances with policies of aggression or retaliation, such as Nato” could increase the threat to Scottish security.

It cites the 2004 al-Qaeda attacks on trains in Madrid that killed 200 people as an example of a junior Nato member being targeted in order to try to create splits in Nato over Iraq and Afghanistan.

The report is based on questionnaires completed by Dr Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy; Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University; William Walker, Professor of International Relations at St Andrews University; and Dr Bill Patterson of Stirling University’s politics department.

On the eve of a key debate on defence at the SNP conference this week, it argues that to date the discussion around the defence of an independent Scotland has been fundamentally flawed.

It says there has been no credible assessment of the most pressing security threats and no consideration of non-military responses.

“Realistically, Scotland does not face any direct territorial threats,” except as a result of collateral damage in the event of conflict between the US and Russian and China, it says.

“As long as Russia and Nato remain wedded to 20th-century military attitudes … there remain not insignificant risks that panic, miscalculation, inadvertence or military decisions may precipitate nuclear conflict, with or without other military engagement.

“If that were to happen, Scotland could be particularly vulnerable because of the nuclear warhead store at RNAD Coulport and the Trident homeport at Faslane.”

Reid Foundation director Robin McAlpine said: “What this report shows is that nothing could be more irrelevant to modern Scotland than this incessant chatter about Nato. Environmental change and austerity are a much bigger threat to the way of life of ordinary Scots than imaginary armies out to get us.

“It’s time there was a more serious debate about what security really means for the Scottish people.”

The Scotsman, 21 September 2012

Making a stand for real art

What we need is a new body for arts funding that is not run by businessmen and doesn’t dictate what must be created, writes Robin McAlpine

For quite a while I used to be of the opinion that the dominant government policy towards the arts should be Hippocratic – “first do no harm”. This stemmed from the observation that well-meaning politicians have a habit of causing dreadful art.

The moment when my opinion finally changed was in the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art. Its collection covers the period from the Second World War until now and for decades-worth of wall space I found myself entranced by wonderful, interesting, involving paintings. Until the section from the 1990s, which devolved into mediocre art-school-degree-show installation stuff.

I realised the reason. For most of the 20th century, Latvian artists had to work within the constraints of the propaganda model of art as dictated by the Soviet Union. It made them creative, subversive. When the restrictions were removed, when anything became possible, they seemed to lose their way.

So why could the Soviet Union intervene in art in the most intrusive and prescriptive of ways and not ruin the art? Because, whatever else can be said about the relationship between the Soviets and the artists, the Soviets knew that art mattered. They cared about art and what it meant for society. They were misguided, they got it wrong, the persecuted artists who didn’t conform, but they cared.

Oh for a Soviet dictatorship in the Scottish arts world. I’d be jailed for dissent, but it would still be better than Creative Scotland.

The most important thing a government can do for the arts is care, see it as important, as some kind of priority. No such government has existed in Britain in my lifetime. No such government has taken power in devolved Scotland. They all say they believe it to be true but then they all send bankers out to design arts policy for some ulterior motive.

Arts has become a sub-branch of tourism, or economic policy, or community regeneration, or educational outreach. At Holyrood, it became a ministerial portfolio that was there to be given to someone who was due a promotion as a result of loyalty but who couldn’t be trusted with a proper department (with apologies to a couple of decent occupants).

But above all, governments see the arts as a policy without a purpose. One of my lowest points since devolution was watching Jack McConnell set up a commission to tell him what “cultural entitlement” meant. That the idea was facile was bad enough; that the commission was filled with businessmen and a token artist was an unmissable message. It screamed “we need to find some sort of reason for you artists but we sure as hell don’t care what you think”.

When politicians don’t know what something is for they send in the bankers. In the arts they think bankers are qualified because they like opera. But they can only like opera because bankers die – artists live forever. Sometimes I think Creative Scotland was devised by the financial sector to make mortals out of artists in some vain hope that by so doing it is the bankers who will gain immortality.

Nietzsche wrote: “Just as the clouds tell us the direction of the wind high above our heads, so the lightest and freest spirits are in their tendencies foretellers of the weather that is coming. The wind in the valley and the opinions of the marketplace of today indicate nothing of that which is coming but only of that which has been.”

This is a neat encapsulation of a useful arts policy – markets do little but reflect themselves endlessly, art guesses at what is coming next. Markets think the national embarrassment of using the arts budget to fund a celebrity cookery programme is a great idea. Artists struggle to explain possible futures in application forms.

I have paid little attention to the chatter about how to reform Creative Scotland, including much of the parliamentary committee inquiry that ended yesterday. There are two reasons for this. The first is that sometimes something is so fundamentally flawed in its conception that reform won’t help. In my view, Creative Scotland,with its almost satirical commitment to the practices of the accountant’s office, is a case study of the sort.

The second reason is any real hope could therefore only come from a fresh start. That would require politicians who cared enough to take the exhausting and risky approach of burning down this paper kingdom and building anew. Which takes us back to the beginning of this awful feedback loop; uninterested politicians, self-certain accountants, angry artists, uninterested politicians, self-certain accountants, angry artists.

What might exist outside this feedback loop? First, a model where we stop trying to fund the arts and start funding artists. It is to be noted that bankers take a salary first and a bonus second. It is then to be noted that they expect artists and arts companies somehow to manage without the salary part.

Personally, I would create subsidised communities of artists across Scotland, allowing them to survive and then get on with things without having to generate a press release every half hour. The concept of “provisioning” – providing subsistence and infrastructure outside commercial markets – is perfectly suited to artists, especially in the earlier stages of their careers. A bit of infrastructure and subsistence seems a pitifully small ask for what we would get.

I would fund companies, groups, galleries and not worry that they are not all hitting performance indicators. The money wasted on the occasional bit of bad art would be recouped from the salaries of well-paid middle-managers currently monitoring the performance indicators.

I would democratise art, fight hard to entice the population out of the opium dens of retail malls and into theatres and galleries. The marginal cost would be tiny – we already have the art, we just need to get people to it.

A good start would be to tackle the class condescension of those that say the proles only want soap opera and game shows. How can we know that? Arts have a marketing budget a fraction of a per cent of the soap operas and game shows. I have taken many friends who have never been near an “arts venue” to everything from book readings to physical theatre to the opera. I don’t think I can remember once coming back out into the foyer without that friend bursting to talk, eyes wide, fascinated and thrilled.

People aren’t stupid, they’re made stupid by marketing and advertising. Dostoyevsky sold millions and millions of copies of Crime and Punishment across all social classes. It suits the markets to divide people from art because art isn’t really profitable. Policy should support artists and try to give them a public to engage with.

Simpler is usually better. If something that wasn’t Creative Scotland would do the least necessary to allow artists to survive and create and everything it possibly could to make the arts real for real people, Scotland and the world would be done a great service.

All we’d need is a few people in power who cared enough to put these decisions into the hands of others who cared enough. Instead, farce has become Scotland’s dominant art form, generously funded at public expense.

• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

The Scotsman, 30 August 2012

Politicians have no idea who we really are

MSPs are pandering to imaginary Scots, writes Robin McAlpine, based on polls about what people think


“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes).”

Do you complain about fast driving while occasionally breaking the speed limit? Do you support renewable energy but not turbines outside your house? Perhaps you complain about dying high streets while shopping in supermarkets. Possibly you may wish “someone” would “do something” about the conflict in Syria but you don’t want to provoke a full-blown civil war.

That’s OK, don’t worry. Walt Whitman is right: we all contradict ourselves but we are all large enough to contain those contradictions. The problem isn’t for us, it’s for those who want to know what we think and what we want. Those who govern need to understand those they govern, and that’s where it’s all going wrong.

These days, political strategists live in a different world from ordinary people – the Westminster Bubble is impenetrable, the Holyrood Bubble is becoming more impervious by the day. So they send out emissaries to Ordinaryville to bring back information which they then examine in their bunkers.

Their emissaries will return clutching opinion polls, tabloid newspapers, Twitter trends and other artefacts of normality which they will then decipher as if they were hieroglyphics. And right there, out of fragments of opinion and guesses, they will manufacture “ordinary, hard-working families”.

The problem, of course, is that you can’t build a person out of fragments of the things that they say. Contradictions have to be resolved, meanings must be extracted from statements.

The fact that Scotland is in the middle of a struggle over 
its very nature means the problem is particularly acute here. Both independence and unionism has become about “who we are”. So who do they think we are?

They think we describe ourselves as “Scottish first, British second”, because we say that in opinion polls. And yet I’ve been asking people for years and I have yet to find one person who has ever heard anyone describe themselves like this.

They think we cringe at cultural nationalism. Really? For better or worse, all my non-political friends still get teary at the end of Braveheart and they all sing sentimental songs when Scotland gets beat.

Some of them think we want to join Nato. And yet everything this entails – wars of aggression, depleted uranium weapons, rendition and torture, drone assassinations, first-strike nuclear policy – is highly unpopular.

What “really matters” to “ordinary Scots” are schools, the NHS and jobs. Yet my experience is that only people who have children talk about schools much, people talk about healthcare mainly when they need it and people talk almost exclusively about one job: their own.

At the top level, politics has become in part a sort of social anthropology. Mainly upper-middle-class people are employed to “figure out” mainly working and lower-middle-class people on behalf of other mainly upper-middle-class people.

The problem with anthropology is that unless it is done very well it often tells us more about the anthropologist than the natives. In London, at the turn of the millennium, New Labour strategists seem to have looked at their data and concluded that people are a bit stupid. They believed what people said: that Coronation Street matters more to them than economics.

But when the natives weren’t being watched, they didn’t really take Coronation Street very seriously at all.

What the natives do talk about almost endlessly is their experience of work, a topic I can barely remember a senior politician mentioning. Work-life balance, the amount of time they have with family, the tedium of their job, how they feel stuck in work because of a mortgage, how they miss their job, wish they had one, wish they didn’t. I don’t care what people pick out of a list of “hot topics” put to them in an opinion poll – this is what they really talk about.

And yet somehow the political classes think this big question can be resolved with a press release about a thousand new shelf-stacking jobs. But there is only one category of human who has ever wanted a thousand jobs: politicians. The rest really just want one good one.

The more political strategists listen to what people tell them, the less they seem to understand what they mean. They think we say “Schools and hospitals” when what we mean is “We want to live in a good society where we feel secure”. They think we say “Create as many jobs as possible” when what we mean is “I want a job that still lets me be me”. They think we say “Join Nato” when what we mean is “Persuade us we’re safe”. They think we say “Sentimentality is for losers” when what we mean is “It’s nice to feel part of something”.

Don’t believe anyone that tells you they have proof of what people think. The national identity poll asks “How would you describe yourself?” yet “How do you describe yourself?” is more important. The Nato poll makes unpopular wars disappear before your eyes. The priorities in political priorities polls are chosen and worded by strategists. The cultural identity assumptions are assumptions of one social class.

If one person contains multitudes, an entire population is more vast than we can summarise in a soundbite. The shortcut – to create an imaginary people and pander to them instead – is one important reason behind disillusionment with politics.

There is only one cure for this: politicians have to stop telling us what we mean and start telling us what they mean. Stop chasing us round the room asking us what we think and make a principled stand of your own. If you’re persuasive, we’ll come to you.

And as for political strategists themselves – and I used to be one, for a Labour politician and then for a universities body – I fear the only option is a care in the community programme to re-integrate them into society peacefully.

• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Scotland on Sunday, 26 August 2012

NATO Policy Must Serve the Nation, Not US Commercial Interests

In the SNP’s debate over NATO, two cases are being made. One is that an independent Scotland could have its biggest impact by joining NATO and working with some of the more progressive countries in that alliance towards removing nuclear weapons from European soil. The other argues that Scotland should remain outside NATO, remove nuclear weapons immediately and then work constructively with counties inside and outside of NATO on a host of international issues to set a positive example to the world.

It is to be celebrated that Scotland can have this debate. Both of these visions of a Scottish international role are streets ahead of Britain’s stances of “the only way you’ll get our nukes from us is to prize them from our cold, dead hands” and “we agree with whatever the US just said”.

But we need to be realistic. Scotland is small and NATO’s interest in us is heavily tied up with our role as landlord to weapons of mass destruction. All the experiences of bigger NATO countries in Europe are that you can certainly vote to remove nukes but voting doesn’t amount to much. Not a single country has managed it and three – including mighty Germany – has passed votes in their Parliament only to have them ignored.

But even if Scotland did join NATO and did manage to get rid of Trident from Scottish soil, what then? Is the best that we can hope for the fixed grin of the NATO group photo, us thinking we’re fighting the good fight, the rest of the world not noticing us in the shadows of US commercial interests?

Because on this I do agree with the pro-NATO side: NATO is not a cold war relic. As a defensive force it is obsolete, but as a mean of protecting commercial interests it has a very specific agenda.

The only conflict in the rough vicinity of Scotland which has been raised as a potential problem to which NATO might be the solution is a confrontation between the US and Russia over drilling rights for arctic oil. What this means is that Scotland would be trapped in a treaty which requires us to stand side by side with Exxon Mobile in a shooting war with Gazprom.

We need to be clear: tiny Scotland would spend a lot more time biting its tongue than speaking words of wisdom to the US. We would have picked one side in a geopolitical war for commercial access to global natural resources and strategic position, and once that side is picked there is no nuance.

Perhaps the day the first shot is fired over arctic snow by soldiers who flew there from Scottish air bases Russia and China will instigate a boycott of Scotch whisky. It will do no good then to say “but we tried”, because Scotland will have become a partisan nation which is engaged in wars of aggression. Scottish soldiers would be bombing Iran or blockading the arctic many moons before Scottish diplomats negotiate even one bomb out of existence.

And it will leave us discredited where it really matters. Wilbert van der Zeijden is a senior figure in the international conflict resolution community. He warns that because of NATO membership the rest of the global community is “less inclined to take countries like the Netherlands seriously in the Conference on Disarmament, the NPT and other non-proliferation and disarmament forums. It would be entirely unnecessary and quite a bad move if Scotland manoeuvred itself in a similar position.”

I once knew someone who would get to every meeting early to secure a chair as close as possible to whomever he believed to be the most important person in the room. He thought we were impressed; we thought he was a bit sad.

The thing about credibility and integrity is that you are judged by your actions and not your explanations. A Scotland in NATO will gain lip service from the US Generals – the very ones who refer to NATO as Snow White and the Twenty Seven Dwarves. Everyone else on the world stage would write Scotland off as an adjunct to the US. In effect, having just gained a credible voice in international negotiations on nuclear non-proliferation, Scotland would choose to give it up again. Which would be a crying shame because if Scotland removed Trident from its soil its international credibility would be sky-high.

Too many political insiders believe “grubby compromise” to be a synonym for “serious politics”. If Scotland became independent it would have plenty time to seek out its own grubby compromises. It doesn’t need to be born in one.

Scotland could become the nation leading the world in a fresh effort to get rid of nuclear weapons. The international repercussions of Scotland effectively disarming one of the globe’s eight nuclear powers would be enormous. It is not overblown to suggest that many in the international community would look to us for leadership, as evidence that a nuclear-free world is possible. To lose that voice for the sake of American corporate profits would be to squander a truly valuable prize.

Robin McAlpine is Director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

The Herald, 21 August 2012

Private operators ‘exploit funding formula’

FLAWS in the funding formula for private companies which have taken over public services explain why consumers of water, power and rail travel are paying the highest prices in Europe, a new report claims.

The report by Scots economist Jim Cuthbert, which says firms that have taken over public utilities have been allowed to profiteer on a grand scale as a result of “gross errors” in the formula covering their capital investment charges.

His complex analysis, published by think tank the Jimmy Reid Foundation, states that in an era of low inflation and cheap credit the utility companies have been allowed to charge 20% for their loan charges on capital work and pass this on to the customer.

Mr Cuthbert, a retired Government economist, has tracked the flaw back to the original formula used by the water industry regulator south of the Border, a formula used since then in the gas, electricity and rail industries.

Mr Cuthbert said of his findings: “The first thing to be done in sorting out this mess is to involve customers in rethinking the philosophy of customer charging: and then to make sure that the resulting charging model is applied correctly.”

Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said: “If people are wondering why the price of a rail ticket has soared yet again, this repor t explains it. They may not be surprised to discover that once again they are the victims of a profitable form of financial speculation.”


Scotsman, 21 August 2012

Marketing success is proof of freedom, not coercion

Advertisers are seen as scapegoats for society’s greed but that absurdly overestimates our power, writes Gerry Farrell

IT’S the Embra Festival again and the plywood hoardings are plastered with posters hyping comedia ns. As I’m figuring out which shows are worth the exorbitant admission money, I’m reminded of the most inflammatory comedian ever, the late Bill Hicks, brought to his self-predicted, untimely end by his addiction to Marlboro Red. Mr Hicks got some of his biggest laughs ripping into people like me.

“Does anyone here work in advertising or marketing? Well if you do, when you get home tonight, take a gun and shoot yourself, suck a tailpipe, whatever. No bullshit. I’m not joking. Just do it. You have no rationalisation for what you do. You are Satan’s little helpers.”

Only last week, in a passionately argued but pofaced polemic in this very newspaper, Robin MacAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation had something similar to say: “We need to start asking some very searching questions about the real social value of advertising and marketing that has thrived on making us believe that avarice is normal and acceptable.”

Frankly, advertising is such a perennial scapegoat that finding negative quotes about it is a doddle. My favourite is George Orwell’s: “Advertising is the rattling of a stick in a swill bucket.” It is immediately less one-sided than the usual kneejerk insults. For if advertising is the “rattling stick”, who has their snouts in the swill? Why, you and me, dear reader.

The most frequently flung clod of dung is that we “make people buy things they don’t want”. When you ask the (typically) middle-class intellectuals who peddle this half-baked pap whether an ad has ever made them ever buy something they didn’t want, they look flabbergasted and say: “Who, me? I never look at ads!”

In their heads, the people who are “made to buy stuff they don’t want” by evil manipulators like me, are the poor, ignorant working classes who don’t know any better. This isn’t just insulting to ordinary folk, it’s a ridiculous over-estimation of what advertising and marketing can and can’t do. Gray Joliffe, the famous cartoonist, was once a copywriter. At his first job interview he was asked if he had ever written an ad. He rummaged in his pocket and unfolded a full broadsheet page. In the middle of its white space was a tiny black dot with an arrow pointing to a handwritten headline that read: “Look at this dot. Now you are in my power. Go out and buy 17 Mars Bars.” Advertising is not mass hypnosis. It is the art of persuasion and it is doomed to failure unless it co-opts us into its conspiracies with humour, emotion and often useful not to mention legal, decent, honest and truthful information.

In Scotland BC (Before Ciabatta), there was precious little in the way of marketing to annoy self-appointed champions of the people. Retailers, in particular, found the whole idea of it rather disreputable. “What? Encourage people into our nice tidy emporium?!”

Jenners counter staff were particularly snooty in that respect. When I was growing up there was even a shop in Edinburgh’s Southside with a sign saying “No browsing”.

By the time I was 16, big brands had crept onto my radar. I wore Levis Sta-Prest trousers, Doc Marten boots and a Ben Sherman shirt. In my left hand was the latest Led Zeppelin LP in a red plastic carrier bag bearing the legend, “I found it at Bruce’s”. In my right hand was another plastic bag, clanking with tins of McEwan’s Export or pint bottles of Newcastle Brown.

Now, after 25 years working at the Leith Agency, I’ve realised that the most fool-proof way of getting folk on your brand’s side is to treat them like human beings, not “consumers”, using language you would never find in a strategy document or a Powerpoint presentation.

Scotland’s a small country with a big, self-deprecating sense of humour. When we deploy that in our work, we cut through much quicker than a London agency trying to reach the same market. We share a “tell-it-like-it-is” attitude that’s closer to Sydney than it is to Soho. It was the Australian Meat & Livestock Commission, after all, who were brave enough to run nationwide billboards that said “Eat more beef, you bastards”. My favourite irreverent Scottish equivalent is the current Edinburgh bus-back campaign that proudly declares “Our pies are pure mince”.

In Scotland today, advertising relies more than ever on the goodwill of its audience – and irreverence is a great way to win them over. If people love your product and the tone of voice of your ads, you barely need a media schedule. Our own Irn-Bru “Fanny” ad launched on Twitter and went viral overnight. Three weeks in, it was the second most popular online clip in the world.

In Scotland, we’re also much better than Soho at harnessing powerful human emotions to produce excellent public service advertising. The late Jimmy Reid was a great supporter of the worth of social issue marketing. I was lucky enough to work with him on a controversial anti-smoking campaign when he sat on the old Health Education Board for Scotland and he fought on my side to get the work made.

Advertising is the canary down the mine for any liberal democracy. It is living proof that we enjoy freedom of choice. In this digital age, dominated by social media, it is people, not companies, who decide whether or not a brand will prosper.

Gerry Farrell is creative director at the Leith Agency

Scotsman, 20 August 2012

Shall we stay in the past or create the future?

We live in a country that is changing; the big questions are who dictates change and what is change for? It’s time to decide, writes Gerry Hassan

THERE is a widespread assumption across most, if not all, of Scotland that this is a land of the centre-left; that we don’t vote Tory, didn’t buy into Thatcherism, and that we are all the children of social democracy.

Leaving aside the Scottish Social Attitudes Surveys on Scots/English differences (which show that differences aren’t that big), there is a prevalent belief that centre-left, left and collectivist values percolate through and define our society.

Some voices on the left believe that they speak for what they see as a wide and potentially powerful constituency. However, if this was the case would our politics and society not look very different?

This week, Henry McLeish, former Scottish first minister, talked of the possibilities of independence leading to the “cultural transformation” which he believes Scottish society desperately needs, while holding back from embracing it yet.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown, in a fascinating lecture, started to talk about equality again after a decade of New Labour self-denying ordinance. He noted the scale of inequality disfiguring Scotland andEngland, while claiming that the UK still worked.

The SNP, for all its centre-left aspiration, is about independence and statehood to which everything else comes second.

Alex Salmond a couple of years ago made deeply ambiguous remarks about his attitude to Thatcherism, saying Scots “didn’t mind the economic side so much but we didn’t like the social side at all”.

Mike Russell, just before he became a minister, wrote a book proposing to shrink the Scottish state by 40 per cent in the first four years after independence. The point about these remarks is that they reveal the SNP, like most successful parties in Western democracies, is trying to bend to economic liberalism while combining it with social justice.

The left does have small forces, such as the Reid Foundation and Bella Caledonia, but these exist without money and resources. Scotland seems to be a society whose politics are infused by the memories of a left without much of active left.

More seriously, the language and mantras of social democracy have been appropriated by the professional groups of Scotland: health, education, law, local government, for their own interests. A large part of Scotland seems to be happy to go along with this pretence.

Our public spending favours the most middle class people and groups, aided by the distributional decisions and consequences since the Scottish Parliament was established. We don’t seem to have a culture where we want to examine or question these choices.

A Scotland that was a social democracy would ask: to what extent are we becoming a more egalitarian society? Are we becoming more inclusive, reaching out to those left most behind and vulnerable? In what ways is this a place where the state and government shifts power away from vested interests?

It would ask what kind of partnerships are we creating between government, business and civic bodies which are widening opportunity and social justice. How are we nurturing the inter-generational compact which society is based on, supporting children and early years and not just the votes of the retired? And is all of this aiding a different kind of society and capitalism which points away from the Anglo-American model?

None of these things is happening in modern Scotland. We live in a society as divided and unequal as anywhere in the Western world. Where we choose to feel good about ourselves, blame Westminster or look for Nordic nirvanas, rather than come out our comfort zones.

Scotland isn’t a land of the left, but a deeply cautious, conservative nation. It is a society which has a propensity to not want to face up to some hard truths about itself, or take hard decisions which might involve taking on some vested interests. What passes for the remnants of Scotland’s left seems to be content to go along with this.

Here is the question. Is it enough for us – as some want us to do – to aspire to reheat social democracy from the supposed golden era of Britain 1945-75? Is that the high point of our aspirations and dreams: to turn the clock back to the world before Thatcherism? Instead, a different approach would draw on the difficult choices we are going to have to face, financially, demographically, economically and socially, and say that we can do better than the “old” conservatism of the managed society of elites, and the “new” conservatism of crony style, manipulated capitalism.

It would be good if we could bring this debate and its choices out into the open. The pro-union and pro-independence forces mostly talk about their abstractions, the former invoking a fantasyland Britain which has never existed, and the latter, seeming to invoke a faith-based politics that everything will come right after independence.

At the same time, the professional gatekeepers of large swathes of our society go on running education and health without major challenge or debate. In those areas, there are clear examples of change makers and innovators, but they are stifled by targets and safety-first caution alongside a deep seated fear of letting go, mistakes happening and the pull of short-termism.

This debate is going to come to Scotland due to the wider crises and it would be edifying if we began it ourselves. That would mean beginning to take a long hard look at ourselves, check some uncomfortable home truths, and recognise that the story we have told ourselves: of Scotland as this compassionate, egalitarian, warm, welcoming nation, doesn’t hold.

This requires leadership not just of the top-down nature, but from groups and movements. It means we have to have a more pluralist notion of what politics, change and being a political actor is. If we could begin making a start in this we could begin to have the kind of debate we need to have in the next few years.

Scotsman, 14 August 2012

Are You Having Fun Yet?

ROBIN McAlpine says Labour’s economic dream has turned into a nightmare of gambling, pay-day loans and rising debt

ARRIVE at work with a branded-coffee in your hand. Pop out at lunchtime to browse branded-shoes (women) or upscale children’s toys (men). Read a celebrity gossip mag (women) or a lad’s mag (men). Go home. Change. Get to the pub. Watch corporate football. Drink. Eat. Smile. You’re having fun. Put it on a credit card. Forget it happened. Get back to work. Don’t think about mortgages, think about the weekend. Play poker online – it’s just a bit of fun. Lost? Its only money. Treat yourself to something. That’ll cheer you up. Don’t worry, it’ll be OK. Life’s too short to worry. You’re worth it. This is the vocabulary of fun.

Ten years later you’re standing outside a pawn shop with a pay-day loan in your pocket. This is the economics of fun.

Last week, Harriet Harman expressed her regret over New Labour’s deregulation of gambling, implying she hadn’t appreciated the negative impacts that it would have. But as this policy was designed to transfer wealth from ordinary people to big business, negative impacts were the aim.

It was a variation of US-style “lifestyle politics”. This strategy encourages people to see themselves as “a collection of lifestyle choices” first and foremost and a member of society a distant second, if at all. Define yourself by your possessions, not your politics. “Go snowboarding – leave the governing to us” was the message of the 1990s, signalling the moment politics finally became an elite closed-shop.

In the US, democracy has long been seen as something politicians manage, not something that manages politicians. The more people can be persuaded that politics has little to do with them, the more the political elite can run the show undisturbed.

The debates about so-called political apathy miss the point; people are cynical about politics because they are encouraged to be and they are encouraged to be cynical so they disengage with politics. Political apathy is the great achievement of our political era; they made us give up on democracy voluntarily in favour of skin cream and haircuts.

In Blair’s version, everything was just a bit of fun – so long as three criteria were met. First, if a corporation wasn’t making a profit, it wasn’t deemed fun. Don’t take a 99p frisbee to the park with friends, go ten pin bowling. Don’t play football, watch corporate football on Sky. Don’t join a club, stay home and bet online. Fun was a political means of transferring money from ordinary people into the pockets of the elite.

The second criteria was that fun had to be anti-intellectual. The pornification of women, the infantilisation of men, the deification of celebrity, the sanctification of the pub; fun made morons of us all. Pleasure was best if it was “guilty”, facile, meaningless. Who asks difficult questions when tapping their feet to crap 1980s pop?

The third criteria was that it must only be for the non-elite class. Tony Blair didn’t gamble online, Jack Straw didn’t buy Loaded magazine, Harman didn’t watch English Premier League football in the pub on a Wednesday night, Peter Mandleson didn’t have a Top Man store card. This was fun as designed by the elite, but only for the plebs. It was a sort of social anthropology imposed on the majority by a governing class that would rather put a gun to its own head than join in.

All this fun has transformed how we see the economy. Retail became so pointlessly over-inflated that we still think continued growth in retail sales is an essential element of life, irrespective of what’s bought and sold. If the high street can’t keep on transferring wealth from plebs to the wealthy, the banks won’t like it. Nor will the advertising agencies, magazine publishers, property speculators and others who rely on this empty and vacuous trade in alienation. The real economic or social utility of much of the retail and the service sector is highly questionable, but we are in a trap of its construction. If we stop spending, shops close, people lose jobs, we all suffer. If we keep spending, the debts mount, the economy remains a sham, the next crash is inevitable, so still we suffer.

In our economic crisis it is not empty shops that depress me most, its the ones that are left. On one side of the street there is a string of corporate chains aggressively marketing lifestyle products as if the crisis never happened. On the other side of the street are the pawn shops, pay-day loan shops, pound shops and bookies.

The lifecycle of British capitalism is terrifying – buy rubbish you don’t need on credit you can’t afford and then take it to Cash Converters to get a small part of your pointless outlay back so you can augment it with more credit you can’t afford to buy more stuff you don’t need.

The high street looks ever-more like a machine for processing humans, liquidating their assets on one side so they can be stripped of them on the other.

New Labour was elected to bring social justice to the masses and instead fed them fun. Fun was the cover for an aggressive reorganising of capitalism. Everyone recognises that the outcome is a dangerously unbalanced economy resulting in widespread social and economic failure. But still we plough on. Even on the political left people suggest that getting more money into the pockets of the poor will help the economy because the poor are more likely to spend it, without much thought to where or how they will spend it or what will happen next.

Fun was just a narcotic applied for the political benefit of one social class. It bore no relation to enjoyment and no relation to economic wellbeing. The literature on the psychological and social impact of commercialised fun is widespread, but its link to economics remains less discussed. And with so much wealth transferred from so many people to so few corporations behind the celebration of the Olympics, nothing is changing.

But change it must because the credit-based retail economy, like the financial and property speculation economy, is not only unstable, it has already fallen over. We need a national strategy not to save retail, but to change it.

We need to roll back on the liberalisation of profitable but socially-damaging activities such as gambling and alcohol. We need to start asking some very searching questions about the real social value of advertising and marketing that has thrived on making us believe that endless avarice is normal and acceptable.

We need an entirely new attitude to the informal economy, the many interchanges of value-without-cash that make up the really rewarding parts of our life, such as time with friends and family and going for a walk in the park.

Then we need to rethink our attitudes and vocabulary. That empty feeling when the thrill of the purchase is over, that draining feeling of the crowd dragging you into one more expensive round you don’t want, that sick feeling when the bill comes, stop telling yourself “this is fun”.

Instead tell yourself the truth: “This is shit. I’m worth so much more than this.”

• Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Scotsman, 1 August 2012

SNP is likely to face ‘sell out’ claims over its muddled Nato policy

Eddie Barnes

AT other party conferences, it is a common sight. Whether it be over fox-hunting, Iraq or the NHS, a protest accusing delegates of betraying the public mood is usually present to greet them as they make their way inside. The SNP has rarely had to run such a gauntlet. This autumn, however, the placards look likely to be out in force.

The conference will play host to a powder keg debate on whether or not to change party policy so that an independent Scotland would remain part of the Nato alliance. Peace campaigners are already planning to ensure that when card-carrying members turn up, they get a noisy welcome.

The reasoning behind the SNP’s policy shift, proposed by the party’s defence spokesman Angus Robertson, has been set out at length. The Moray MP argues that Scotland needs to get on board to show fellow Nato members, like Denmark and Norway, that it can be a good and trustworthy neighbour. So long as Nato agrees that Scotland shouldn’t host nuclear weapons and will only take part in UN-sanctioned operations, it should sign on the dotted line.

For peace campaigners, the problem is that Nato membership would still put Scotland in the role of military aggressor. Opponents also point out the contradiction of the SNP insisting on removing the “obscenity” of nuclear weapons at home, at the same time as it joins a club which, just a few weeks ago, declared it should remain “a nuclear alliance”.

That is the detail. However, the Nato debate within the SNP hits at something much deeper and more personal. The SNP has a self-image rooted in its exceptionalism. It isn’t like other parties. It isn’t, in other words, the kind of party where you turn up, just like at Labour, and find placard-waving peace campaigners accusing you of selling out your principles.

Given this, the ingredients are there for the Nato debate to become a totem for a far wider row within the party over what kind of organisation it wants to be, and what kind of country it wants to give birth to ahead of the referendum in 2014.

Opponents are already casting the issue in these terms. “Don’t start out as a new country already as tainted and cynical as the old ones. Don’t start out fighting wars for American corporations,” writes Robin McAlpine, the director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation. As was reported in The Scotsman yesterday, a significant antiNato campaign will get underway at the end of this month determined to ram this message home prior to the Perth conference.

This appeal will hit the hearts of many in the Nationalist movement. Alex Salmond has appealed to those hearts by talking up Scotland as being a “progressive beacon” to the rest of the region. Somehow he must separate out that aim from what his opponents are already terming the “grubby compromise” of the Nato shift.

Scotsman, 27 July 2012

Lights, Camera, Action

THE most important first step towards making great films in Scotland is to make films – even if some of them are utter rubbish.

‘There’s only one casting call in Scotland for a paid acting job. And it’s for a dog.” The next time policy wonks develop another strategy for the Scottish film “industry” this Facebook comment from a friend would make for a good starting point.

My partner is a film-maker with international experience, and five years ago we started a small production company. I declare this not to present my credentials or to imply that we are “players”. Quite the opposite; my observations stem from my initial naïvety – film-making in Scotland is held together by enthusiasm in the face of the odds.

The film-makers training in Scottish universities largely expect to have to leave this country to find work. Those that stay will make their money out of high-volume cheap TV and some corporate work. If they’re under 30 they’ll very possibly have a second job.

Not that many are left after the age of 30. Actors make a living from corporate training gigs. If you want to make a film you generally accept that 
no-one will be paid properly – if at all. Make-up, costume, set design, grips, gaffers, sound recordists, cinematographers, editors; these are the workforce of a film industry. Few if any could survive in Scotland making only films. Many will never get close to high-quality drama.

Our film industry consists of a small number of independent film-makers working on 
low-budget movies and caterers providing tea and coffee to big productions which pop over for a couple of days. In commercial film-making, “low budget” means something like £2 million to £20m. Creative Scotland deals in the tens of thousands.

Having great film-makers and having a great film industry is not the same thing. We make a romantic comedy here, a horror movie there, the occasional great piece of arthouse cinema, all through the doggeddetermination of a small band of committed people. Without Ken Loach, the world would have forgotten we exist.

Scottish film-makers seem demoralised, and the real problem is Scotland’s economic development philosophy. At some point in the 1990s,
policy types shook off the 
post-industrial blues and decided that from now on everything in Scotland was going to be exciting, dynamic, world-beating. Everything took on the Rosy Hue of Unlimited Success. We are always just some marketing material short of inevitable world domination.

In this world, there are two kinds of new business; those that are only one basic factor away from utter brilliance and others that it’s not worth bothering with.

The end point of this delusion is the Scottish Enterprise strategy for 
high-growth start-ups; if you persuade them you’ll be worth £5m in five years they’ll help, not by investing or providing seed funding but by “developing your business plan” and “building your management and non-executive teams”. How could such a strategy possibly fail?

Meanwhile, over in Scandinavia they too were in the business of transformation. But they decided to be patient and saw their economy as a system of linked enterprises and institutions that could only grow if they grew up together. In this Nordic view, there was no point in a world-class bacon industry if you don’t produce any eggs. They put in place all-industry strategies from primary schools to corporate boards. Starting from an honest assessment of their state of development and free from the delusion of definite success, it worked.

In Scotland, we’re trying to skip over the “developing” bit straight to brilliance in the mistaken belief that one glorious failure can lead to five wonderful successes. In the real world, every success is predicated on lots and lots of mediocrity – Hollywood has a business model which assumes 75 per cent of its films will fail to make back their budget because it’s the only way to make the 25 per cent that does.

Meanwhile, Creative Scotland has created a pseudo science in which art is “content”, funding is “investment” and culture is “return”. Using this formula means no-one will ever make a bad film again as nervy middle managers are offered the illusory promise of inevitable success. Presumably the model would still work if no-one made films at all.

It’s nonsense, and it’s killing any chance of a Scottish film industry. No-one has a giant success every two years without a single dud. The most important first step towards making great films is to make films. The Equity Make it in Scotland campaign is an important step towards rescuing the industry we have, but we also need to take steps towards the film industry we want.

We need to build an environment where people working in the film industry can learn and grow up together over time. And before we can do that we need people working in film, not in Tesco. People have to be able to make a movie and survive to tell the tale. We need a critical mass of film-making.

Taking the cost out of 
film-making is much easier with developing technologies. Just build some industrial units in a couple of places away from too much noise and put in some kit – a couple of good digital cameras, some lighting, a room with a couple of decent computer and some software. Call them studios, put in a couple of technician-mentors and let people use them for nothing. Make location shooting easy and inexpensive. Back all this up with some modest grants to help cast
and crew get out of their 
shelf-stacking day jobs for a few months.

Then provide a showcase for these films. The ideal solution would be a Scottish digital channel commissioning perhaps 20 micro-budget feature films a year to be shown in a regular slot. A few will be great, a lot of them patchy, some utter rubbish. But that’s how the world works. At this stage for Scotland it is the learning that counts – while a couple of films might break through to gain wider exposure, the important thing is for the makers of all the rest to get a chance to understand why theirs didn’t. This time.

Offering free infrastructure with some new cheaper technologies and some fairly random bungs with no assumption of a great outcome never mind a business plan might cause an administrator to choke on his tea, but it is pretty close to how the French New Wave came to happen, a film movement that remains as powerful and influential today as it was 50 years ago.

It is a philosophy sometimes known as “provisioning”, providing elements necessary to the functioning of a society, community or industry sector where markets are not. It’s how we build roads.

Unfortunately policy-makers are still hung up on the idea of universal market discipline, a philosophy which just doesn’t work where markets are over-developed like the banking sector or under-developed like Scottish film. Getting to a viable market is the goal, not the solution.

Do we really want a film industry in Scotland? It creates a real buzz and creates lots of rewarding jobs. And the global impact of others seeing your nation on the big screen is enormous. This doesn’t have to be expensive; it would only take a few millions to get started. Or we could not bother. We could dump one more Scottish ambition into the pit signposted “didn’t tick sufficient administrative boxes”.

What we can’t continue with is the current approach – pretending there is an industry when there isn’t. This is simply sapping the life out of everyone. The hope of a real Scottish film industry lies in the hands of the next generation. It’s the kids. It’s always the kids. But they need to grow up with cameras in their hands, not business plans.

•  Robin McAlpine is director of the think tank, the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

Scotsman,11 July 2012

Our universities cannot be run like banks

SCOTLAND’S seats of learning are too important to be left in the hands of managers, writes Robin McAlpine, so let’s give academic staff and students a chance to run them. 

There are a lot of ways to describe the messes we’re in: credit crunch, liquidity crisis, bonus scandal, endemic corruption of public life, feral media – the list is extensive. But in fact there is a strong case to be made that this is all just one giant governance scandal.

Governance is simply the process of running organisations. It is about making decisions, allocating power, assessing performance and setting expectations. There are many forms of governance, each based on the structure and ownership of the organisations in question.

Governments are “owned” by the public, which allocates power and provides a mandate: a democratic model. Businesses are owned by the shareholders, who select the board of directors to mind their 
interests: a corporate model. Big charities work for interests which are represented on boards of governors: a stakeholder model. And big, important public institutions are “owned” by the nation, with people appointed to look after them for the sake of us all: a stewardship model.

So who owns a university?

This question matters. Contrary to their own propaganda, banks aren’t the most important institutions in society by a long way. If they had been allowed to collapse we’d have quickly found an alternative means of providing credit to the economy. But if we burnt our libraries, knocked down our schools, razed our art galleries and demolished our parliaments, the impact would still be felt a hundred years from now.

The human mind is infinitely more important to our society than the human wallet. This is why our universities matter so much, the places to which the mind goes when it seeks to grow. While bankers were selling duff mortgages, in universities people were discovering the building blocks of matter, finding new ways 
to heal people, uncovering 
the pasts which created us, 
and bringing to life the ideas which will recreate us for the future.

Universities are generational institutions; what they do now is not just for us but for the next generation. They are our legacy, a small recompense for the wreckage we are otherwise leaving behind. So why do we run them like banks?

Over the last decade there has been a very noticeable shift in the way Scottish universities are governed. A stewardship model has become a corporate model. Chairs of university courts talk about hard choices, rapid decision-making and restructuring, not custodianship.

It is unsurprising that they talk like bankers; financial services are heavily represented on university courts. Finance directors and other senior managers are recruited from the private sector. The tools of corporate governance are imposed on institutions of learning.

Meanwhile, public intervention is fought back with ferocity. Academic freedom – protecting academics from interference by managers – has become managerial autonomy. Now, apparently, managers must never face interference from government, even as they intervene in the work of their own academics. So long as minimal financial accountability and a handful of performance indicators are met, only a university court can prevent management doing as it pleases.

In a corporate model the court would have a vested financial interest and so would have an incentive to do just that; without that dynamic, corporate governance is just a kind of monarchy. But senior managers generally recommend the members of a court, so a majority of “lay members” is not so much a check on management power as a built-in majority.

Where academic members of a court used to be independent, now they often owe their appointment to senior managers. Student and trade union voices are seldom influential. Anyway, since management controls the agenda and analysis available to the court, and since there are no easy measures such as share price or operating surplus, the court relies heavily on that analysis.

All the indicators of a problem are there. Senior salaries soar – a sure sign that governance isn’t working. Academics report ever-greater interference with their work as financial and performance criteria are imposed. As one university principal put it to me, if universities of the recent past had been subject to the performance management frameworks endemic today, there is absolutely no chance that DNA would have been discovered. True genius does not dovetail with accounting practices.

Scottish universities are well administered in that they are run efficiently and with little corruption. But administering something well and running it well are not the same thing. It’s the decisions that count, not the implementation. Universities would point to a plethora of impressive-looking indicators; exactly like the banks did in 2007.

What’s the alternative? Returning to a stewardship model of governance is attractive but there is precious little evidence that Britain can do this successfully anymore. Much greater state control works well for many universities, but not many great ones.

But then, as another university principal pointed out to me, two of the world’s most successful universities are run almost entirely by their academic staff. “Who needs governing bodies if the academic community runs the uni?” he asks.

This is the way forward for Scottish higher education. The best way to protect Scottish universities for the future is to put their running in the hands of the community that properly understands its purpose in society: staff, students, local communities and key stakeholders. It is not the university principal that should be elected but the entire court. People should stand for election on the basis of their vision for the future of the university. “Vision” is not something students and academics should hear first in an e-mail weeks after decisions are made.

In the past, democratic universities might have been risky, as financial controls were weaker so hard decisions might have been avoided. Now the greater risk is that too many hard decisions are being made by a tiny group of people who expect us to take them on faith. Only when it is too late will the next generation discover their mistakes.

We have suffered enough from crises of governance, and our children will continue to suffer for our errors. If universities are to offer some small recompense to our children’s society it is imperative we don’t repeat those errors.

Universities matter in a 
way that banks never will. Anyone can lend money. The intellect and the soul of a 
nation require much, much more care.

Robin McAlpine is the director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Scotsman, 4 July 2012

Consultancy culture is bleeding us all dry

GOVERNMENT must take a stand against the financial sector which sees public funds as easy pickings, writes Robin McAlpine

Despite all the complexity of modern economic theory, the basic purpose of the economy is pretty simple. It is a system for social provisioning; just a means of ensuring that a society has all the things it needs, that goods are made and that services are delivered. Ever since humans evolved beyond subsistence, finance became an important part of that system.

Beyond subsistence, inputs and outputs don’t always match up – sometimes you need to buy seeds long before you can profit from their harvest. If the productive economy had to resolve this alone it would save for a year and delay sowing. Finance helps the productive economy develop more quickly; in this model the long-term financial health of the customer is paramount to everyone.

Then, starting about 30 years ago, finance began to create a new, more glamorous mythology around itself. In this mythology finance could do the productive growing without the inconvenience of people actually making and doing things. And then, fatally, it came to believe its own mythology. Ever since finance invented this alternative universe it has diversified and proliferated, its ecosystem now made up not just of banks but of big legal consultancies, restructuring consultancies, policy consultancies, accountancy consultancies, IT consultancies and many more. None of which make anything productive.

But if finance grows wealth without the bother of helping customers to do things, what is the point of customers? Herein lies many of our current problems – if it’s the financiers that are now running the farm, the customers come to look awfully like livestock. What they might do in the long term becomes less important than what you can get from them now. They become assets to be exploited, not customers to be supported.

But while Scotland is not in a position to do much to tackle the cause, the infection has reached us and it is time we addressed this head on as well. That infection takes the form of finance “farming” businesses and individuals through the public sector.

An example. A friend runs a solid and award-winning business in Glasgow but needed a short-term £10,000 cash-flow loan. Her bank administered a publicly-funded scheme and she was given £10,000, but on the proviso that she spent it on a consultant. The consultant concluded it was a good, solid business but needed a short-term £10,000 cash-flow loan. Unfortunately, because of the fees of the bank and the consultant there was no money left. She found the loan elsewhere and is thriving.

This process of farming individuals and enterprises in a way that makes money for the finance sector, often straight from the public purse, is routine. Financial interests – probably one of the big accountancy firms – will advise on the wisdom of public sector mergers. The mergers will thencost a lot of money in legal fees, accountancy fees, HR restructuring consultancy fees and so on. Most of this money will find its way straight into the network of finance and related service. As Audit Scotland recently pointed out, these are the only identifiable beneficiaries since its study of six recent mergers was unable to identify credible efficiency gains or performance improvements. Have you wondered who will benefit most from the creation of a single Scottish police force? Or who advised on its wisdom?

Hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been spent seeking to make the case for Scottish Water – which makes a profit for taxpayers – to be privatised. Not only would finance form the consortium that would take over this prized asset, it will charge handsomely to “manage the transition”. Notoriously, the Scottish Arts Council became its own biggest client through expenditure on consultants and Scottish Enterprise was not much better. An architect will design social housing but by the time the houses are built they will be 10 per cent smaller as consultants leach their share from the pot.

It is easy to forget the meaning of things in this surreal world. Everyone says small businesses are a key element in Scotland’s economic recovery. That is right – small businesses genuinely make and do things and they do it in Scotland’s real economy. They tend to take a long term view since few will expect to be the target of a lucrative buy-out. And they create a high proportion of jobs in relation to turnover and take modest amounts out in private profit. In other words, finance hates them. No assets to be stripped, few fees to be imposed, far too much patience is required and nobody gets really, really rich.

Big Finance is still trying to “make true” the myth that it is responsible for Scotland’s productive growth. But since it isn’t, and since its global casino is no longer paying out, it needs something else to farm for profit.

And so it has captured the upper echelons of Scotland’s public sector and is using it to convert us all into livestock – small businesses, the police, tenants, you, me, all just sources of profit. The civil service has to develop the courage to make its own decisions and stop outsourcing its thinking to KPMG, Ernst and Young, Deloitte and PwC. If it requires legal advice it must have the capacity to produce it internally, independent of conflicts of interest. And there should be a strong presumption against “permanent financial revolution” – no more mergers, no more restructuring, no giant IT projects, no more knocking down schools just to rebuild them again. Because if we keep letting them feed on us, they will continue to see us as livestock. These profits-for-nothing do little apart from allow big finance to live on in the shadow of its own mythology. That’s good for nobody.

Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation


BBC Radio Four Today Programme, 3 July2012

Reid Foundation Director comments on Scotland’s relationship to the Monarchy.

Scotsman, 21 June 2012

Flaw in the popular front

LINGUISTICS offer a crucial clue to the difference between the popular and the populist in politics, writes Robin McAlpine, and awareness of such is crucially important

In both Greek elections the populist far-right Golden Dawn party gained a higher proportion of votes than did the Lib Dems in the last Scottish Elections. When we see its party leader assault a female opponent on television and hear the usual vile tales of “immigrants bringing diseases” we should be very glad that Britain’s far-right has made little progress and that in Scotland the far-right has barely registered electorally.

But in the endless name-calling that is Scottish politics is to be found the suggestion that Scotland has its own populist despot in Alex Salmond. In this view Scottish nationalism is forever flirting with populism, uses populist policies to distract us from its real agenda and all this would only get worse if there was independence. Beware of Tartan Dawn.

In reality, if people properly understood the meanings of the terms populism and small-n nationalism they would realise that Scotland’s long-running constitutional debate has helped to protect us from the rise of the far-right.

Politicians of all parties in Scotland have played their part in this and we should be grateful for that irrespective of our views on independence. But they also have a responsibility to save allegations of populism for a time when we may really need them.

All of this is the result of confusion. If you follow Scottish politics you might reasonably think that populism was something to do with popularity. More specifically you might think it is the attempt to buy the affections of the electorate through “cheap and crude” political giveaways.

These may indeed be popular, and they might even be cheap and crude, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with populism. The linguistic root of populism is not “popular” but “populace”.

It is based on the idea of “a people”, a population which is in some way connected. The same is true of nationalism, but with an important difference. Nationalism defines “a people” as connected and defined geographically in contrast to an external “other”. What is different about populism is that this ideology defines the connected people in contrast to an internal “other”.

The difference is important. Despite misperceptions, nationalism has been a fairly benign form of global order, certainly in comparison to the brutalities of empire, kingdom and theocracy.

There are two important moderating factors the nation brings. First, because it defines itself territorially against “an other” it is in fact very inclusive. The “other” is distant and doesn’t need to be hated so becoming “a people” does not depend on ethnicity, religion or any other affiliation other than to the geographical and political nation.

And secondly, there is a defined geographical end-point inherent in the nation which inhibits expansionism. In fact, there are surprisingly few examples in the history of the nation state of nations seeking permanently to expand their territory through aggression.

Populism is much more insidious. Nations define the group on the basis of where they live; populism defines the group in terms of a shared and immediate enemy.

The ultimate example of this is of course the Nazi genocide of the Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies. The idea of the German “Reich” was not an idea of a nation but of the more accurate translation of “a Germanic realm”.

The Nazis used German cultural identity and so people often mistake its ideology as being a nationalist ideology. In fact, the Nazis wanted to unite “Christian” Europe beyond national boundaries and against the untermensch or “inferior people”. This is populism, not nationalism.

Similarly, people talk about the former Yugoslavia as a case study in “what happens when nationalism goes wrong”. In fact, the Balkans is really a case study in what happens when populism overtakes nationalism.

Rather than being defined in terms of a “shared land”, as peaceful Yugoslavia did for decades, the Balkan region came to define itself as a series of “shared ethnicities”. This is the root of the subsequent atrocities, not nationalism.

For decades populism was no more than an undercurrent in Western European politics, partly because of the horrors of the Second World War, partly because of the post-war growth years and partly because the Soviet Union offered a useful distant enemy on which to focus our anxieties.

You could make reasonable claims that the fall of the Soviet Union, or the Balkan wars, marked the end point of that period – but a more compellingfocus is the attack on the Twin Towers. This triggered the rise of Islamophobia that really reignited populism in Europe again, sweeping up with it a revival of persecution of the Roma community.

But it is important not to mistake populism with simple racism. Some curiosity or suspicion of people who are in some way not like us is an inherent trait of humans, as it is in all animals.

Only when the setting of the many against the few becomes part of a political programme designed to manage and control the many do we reach populism. It is when those who wield power tie populist sentiment to political programme that we see the emergence of populism.

Immigration control is a nationalist concept; promoting fear of black Muslim immigration to distract people from bank deregulation is nascent populism.

How do we draw a firm line between the politics of nationalism and the politics of populism? The answer is that we can’t, and that’s why vigilance is so important.

What we have to look for is not “them and us” which is de-personalised but “you and me, not him” which is personalised. So it seems to me that “Buy British” is straightforward nationalism, encouraging the group to support itself collectively.

But “British jobs for British workers” is populist since it clearly implies that some people standing in a dole queue are worth more than some others standing side by side in the same queue.

What does this mean for Scottish politics? The ironic thing is that because we have a big-N nationalist movement we have a political dynamic which restrains the rise of populism.

The SNP is desperate to disassociate itself from any kind of “ethnic nationalism” and the unionist parties want to present the status quo as being the antidote for that same “ethnic nationalism”.

So, all the mainstream parties are falling over themselves to espouse the politics of an inclusive Scotland, and we’re very much the better for it.

But Scotland is not “racism-free” and as the economy continues to stall the declining affluence of the many, that other great incubator of populist politics, is a constant presence.

When we see it, when we see spit-flecked shaved heads of the Scottish Defence League trying to persuade working people struggling with their bills that it is the blacks, the Muslim and the social workers who are to blame for their woes we need to shout it out.

But those who have half-understood a link between nationalism and populism and think it might be a handy insult to reach for should take much more care.

Whether or not you consider Alex Salmond to be arrogant and shallow, I do not think you will be able to find a single example of him trying to turn Scot against Scot, or even Scot against Englishman.

And even if you think providing free bus passes for the elderly is a waste of money, it is not the politics of setting one group against another and so is avowedly not populist.

Scottish opponents of “nationalism” are getting their capitalisation mixed up.

Remember, virtually every person in the developed world is a nationalist, with only Sharia theocrats, anarcho-syndicalists and European Central Bankers voicing any serious opposition to this dominant social order of our day.

We should take pride in the achievements of the inclusive nation state, imperfect but infinitely preferable to the alternative of black against white, Christian against Muslim, heterosexual against homosexual, worker against unemployed.

That is the true meaning of populism.

Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation


Scotsman, 9 June 2012

Sink the fear and open door to real debate

THE issue of defence as a priority in the campaigns for and against independence is missing the point. We need to focus on hopes , not worries, writes Robin McAlpine

Like the tabloid stereotype of a pensioner rushing home from the corner shop to triple-lock the door against imagined psychopaths who never come, there is a risk that Scotland is in the habit of seeing the world as if trembling behind its door and peering through its letterbox. Fear is becoming the only currency in Scottish politics – and it is infecting us all.

Both the pro- and anti-independence camps are mesmerised by any sense of weakness, their own or their opponents’. They just can’t stop themselves from returning over and over to the “fear issues” – debt and deficit, monetary policy and currency, war and terrorism. The outcome is the same as every outcome predicated on fear – bad decision-making.

In recent weeks the issue that has been at the forefront of these is war. The background was a mini-hysteria promoted by the defence industry and the military establishment about whether an independent Scotland could afford enough bombs. This was predicated on the assumption that in some way Scotland faces a real and imminent existential threat.

A sensible response to this would involve three steps. First, you would point out that these well-funded lobby groups have a strong financial interest and so some scepticism would be healthy. Second, you would make a calm assessment of what threats Scotland might really face. And third you would put all of this in the wider context of what sort of role Scotland, independent or not, might seek to play in the world.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, a few in and around the SNP made the argument that one of the “fear issues” where the case for independence is perceived to be weak could be closed off. “If only we could say that as Nato members Scotland would be protected”, went the reasoning, “no-one would need to be scared”. This runs counter to the instincts of most in the SNP leadership but it seems that some leeway was granted to see if the pro-Nato group could build a strong enough case to back its assertion that Nato offers a get-out-of-jail-free card on the defence issue. They failed.

You will have read otherwise, but the general SNP position on Nato was right. As a defensive organisation Nato is from and for a different era; as an offensive organisation it has been a disaster, unless you are a defence manufacturer or have an oil or “reconstruction” contract. A stream of civilians have been killed in recent Nato bombings, more than ten years since the Afghan war began, with not a hint of stability for that country or Iraq and not a single lesson learned, if the rhetoric on Iran is indicative. The costly PR deployed by Nato can’t cover up the fact that over and over it has failed, expensively, in its stated objectives.

Defence is in large part a faith-based policy – in most cases you just have to take both the threat and the effectiveness of the proposed response at face value. The prime example is the case for Trident renewal. Almost anyone, even in the defence business, if asked would concede that there is no foreseeable threat to Britain to which a nuclear attack is an effective response. By extension, if you can’t imagine a situation in which it could effectively be used, who is it deterring? Territorial attacks by nation states basically don’t happen any more – and nuclear weapons don’t solve civil wars, terrorist atrocity or cyber crime.

“But”, we are told, “what if?” By its very nature the security and defence debate has to be based on fear, rational or otherwise. If we did not fear bad things happening to us we wouldn’t spend large sums to protect ourselves. But as fear of the unknown has no logical end-point the debate is endlessly malleable. Imagine if the rest of the public sector was run on the same basis: budget meetings would open with someone asking “but you’re spending billions of pounds of NHS money on this medicine – what disease does it cure?” and someone else answering “who knows, but we’d better buy it just in case”.

The only mistake the SNP made was not to close down the issue of Nato earlier. It is hard for us Britons to accept but countries all over the world get by just fine with small and genuinely defensive armies. I can barely think of a developed country I have visited where people take the threat of imminent attack seriously or talk about “having” to drop bombs on someone else. Only Britain.

Fear makes us make bad decisions. It makes us think we need Nato. It stops us asking whether Britain needs a democratic monetary policy or whether an independent Scotland should have its own currency. It makes us talk about debt and deficit as if they are unusual and dangerous. It leaves us thinking we need a big business endorsement of any action (or “it must be wrong”). It is useful only for keeping us trembling behind our doors, doing as we are told.

But we’ve seen a chink of light. The launch of the Yes campaign was criticised by some because it was not dominated by the fear issues (“why aren’t they talking about debt and deficit?”), because it placed social and cultural issues centre stage (“they’re all social campaigners, artists and community groups!”) and because it did not fetishise corporate endorsement. Some described this as “shambolic”, but I wonder if that is because they have forgotten what hope looks like. Only fear is neat and orderly.

The Yes campaign needs to build on this much more inclusive story about our future and the No campaign has to respond in kind. We need to start focusing on our hopes and stop obsessing on our fears. Otherwise, by 2015 Scotland will be a country scared of its own shadow.

Robin McAlpine is director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation

Herald, 23 May 2012

Salmond in row over Nato

ALEX Salmond has been criticised by one of his MSPS for failing to end speculation the SNP will reverse its opposition to Nato.

In a rare display of public dissent from the Nationalist benches, John Finnie urged him on Twitter to do so or “pay the price”.

Mr Finnie tweeted his approval of a * “thought provoking” article on a left-wing * website, The Jimmy Reid Foundation, which demanded Mr Salmond stop those in the SNP leadership from continuing to brief about a possible U-turn on the policy.

Ahead of Friday’s launch of the ‘Yes’ campaign to independence, the Highlands & Islands MSP wrote: “Salmond must end this Nato speculation – or pay the price.”

Last month some within the leadership flagged up the possibility of Scotland remaining within the alliance on a nonnuclear basis, comparable to the role of Norway. A full debate on defence policy is now to be heard at conference in October rather than at the party’s smaller national council meeting next month.

The foundation’s ar ticle stated: “Whoever is briefing that the SNP is going to U-turn on its opposition to Nato must be stopped immediately by the party leader. If this speculation is allowed to continue, the inference that the left will draw may irreparably damage the party’s support.

It added: “Salmond must send a clear message … making clear the SNP is not selling out its principles and tacking to the right. The simplest way to do that is for Salmond to come out in public now and make an unequivocal statement to nip this pro-nato stuff in the bud.”

Mr Finnie said later: “I found the article topical, which is why I tweeted it but the sentiments used are not my own.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said its policy on Nato remains the same as that set out in the Your Scotland, Your Voice white paper on independence from 2009.

An SNP spokeswoman said: “The expectation is these matters will be debated at the SNP’S autumn conference.”

Press and Journal, 23 May 2012

SNP urged to end doubts

First Minister Alex Salmond must end speculation that the SNP will withdraw its opposition to Nato “or pay the price” – according to one of his own MSPS.

John Finnie used social networking site Twitter to highlight an article calling on Mr Salmond to personally rule out a U-turn on the party’s long-standing aim to take an independent Scotland out of the military alliance.

Echoing the article’s title, Mr Finnie tweeted: “Salmond must end this Nato speculation – or pay the price.”

He described the article as “thought-provoking”.

An SNP spokeswoman said the matters raised by Mr Finnie, a Highlands and islands MSP, were expected to be debated at the party conference in the autumn.

The ar t i c l e, f r om think-tank the Jimmy Reid Foundation, stated: “Whomever is briefing that the SNP is going to U-turn on its opposition to Nato must be stopped i mmediately by t he party leader.

“If this speculation is allowed to continue, the inference that the left will draw may irreparably damage the party’s support.”

The article cited recent quotes by SNP defence spokesman and Mo r a y M P A n g u s Robertson that the party was “looking at the policy options” on Nato.

It added: “After Trump, Murdoch and all the rest, Salmond must send a clear message to the constituency that put him in power, making clear the SNP is not selling out its principles a nd t a c ki ng to t he right.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said its policy on Nato remained the same as set out in the Your Scotland, Your Voice white paper on independence from 2009.

Evening Times, 23 May 2012

MSP in Twitter move over SNP policy on Nato

AN SNP MSP has used social networking site Twitter to highlight an article calling on Alex Salmond to personally rule out a U-turn on the party’s long-standing aim to take an independent Scotland out of Nato.

John Finnie described the article, from The JimmyReid Foundation, a political ideas group, as “thought provoking”.

But he said: “I found the article topical, which is why I Tweeted it, but the sentiments used are not my own. I link to many articles on my Twitter that do not necessarily reflect my views.”

An SNP spokeswoman said the matters raised by Mr Finnie were expected to be debated at the party’s autumn conference.

Scotsman, 10 May 2012

‘Power to the people’ must have meaning

It’s been 13 years since ‘MSP’ entered our lexicon, now ‘devo-local’ must become an everyday phrase, writes Trevor Davies

THIRTEEN years ago this week, the first MSPS arrived in the Scottish Parliament. I’m not sure we can yet list many big achievements. The Parliament’s budget doubled in the first ten years but, comparing ourselves then and now and with counterparts across Europe, we find our democracy is weaker and our public services still failing to deliver.

We see election turnouts down. We see our people suffering some of the worst health in Europe and worsethan-average schooling. We see the places we build and live in called “mediocre”, even by the Scottish Government’s economic advisers. For the first few years you can put that paucity of achievement down, understandably, to Parliament and ministers finding their feet. Now it’s because SNP ministers, with full control, are dragging their feet.

That’s understandable, too. As nationalists seeking statehood for Scotland, they want to demonstrate that the Scottish Parliament, part of the UK but with almost the same powers over its domestic policy as those of any sovereign state, is inadequate and incapable of improving the lot of the Scottish people.

Thus, with not much else to talk about, the debate, as they want, is all about the boundaries of power of the Scottish state. If not about independence, it’s about devo-max or devo-plus. Maybe devo-less will appear soon. So the main political action from ministers is about getting more power out from the UK government or pulling more power in from Scottish local government. It’s all about the state, not the people. We’re having the wrong constitutional debate.

Although to be fair, that’s what our political thinkers, from the Jimmy reidFoundation on the left to reform Scotland on the right and the all-party Centre for Scottish Public Policy, have been doing for a while now.

read what they all have to say and see that our people’s well-being grows when power is local. Turn that on its head and we can surely say that when power is concentrated in the state, our well-being shrinks.

The big question they pose is, how can communities and people take control?

That’s where the real constitutional debate needs to be – around a radical constitutional option that puts Scotland back into the hands of its people: devo-local, if you like. If politics is to be about people, this devo-local idea, and not the statist notion, of independence is the next step. It is what a Scottish Labour true to its values and roots ought to be talking about.

Defining that vision of a locally-devolved Scotland is enough to fuel months of debate, as it should. But the guiding principle is this: that all public service provision should be devolved to the local, except those reserved to the centre. The same reserved powers principle is embedded in the Scotland Act which set up our Scottish Parliament and itself reflects the principle of subsidiarity upon which governance in most of the rest of Europe is based.

That principle means local NHS services being governed, provided and audited locally. It means education being governed and provided according to local needs and direction. It means roads and transport and regeneration being funded and determined locally.

And it must mean a far greater proportion of taxation to do all that being set and raised locally, leading even to different taxes in different places. A shocking thought in Scotland yet commonplace throughout Europe where people seem to do very well by it.

It is shocking to us because our local government, while judged “efficient” in management, is broken in reputation, denuded of powers and lacking in democratic accountability and support. It’s why most last week asked themselves – why vote?

In much of Europe it is local elections, not parliamentary elections, where turnout is highest. In Scotland, exacerbated by the foolish voting system we endured again last week, we see voter turnout down and competition to be elected at yet another low point, lower than anywhere else in Europe.

Devo-local is twin-track. It will be steady, not a big bang. But alongside wholesale transfer of money and powers from the central state to the local, there needs to be an almighty democratic reform of the way in which we do local politics and local government.

We need a new constitutional settlement within Scotland. We need a local democracy which is by law independent of Scottish ministers and which in its dayto-day operation, and not just in a once-in-five-years vote, answers to local people.

That means strong and competent local councils and, to some (but not me), directlyelected mayors or provosts. It also means devolution from the council to neighbourhood bodies, themselves elected, which govern the more local places in which people live. More elected local “politicians”? Of course – we have far fewer people elected from our communities to govern ourselves than any other European country. Electing our neighbours to help govern the place we live is a cornerstone of change.

It’s time to set out a new and relevant vision for Scotland’s people. Not more power for the state within new borders. But more day-to-day power for our cities, towns, communities and families together to make their own communal decisions for their own lives.

Trevor Davies is honorary professor in urban studies at the University of Glasgow

Scotsman, 7 May 2012

There’s nothing ‘local’ about it at all

Almost all parties claimed to be winners in the council elections, but democracy continues to be the loser, writes Lesley Riddoch

Everybody won. Somehow they always do. After each election – national, UK or local – politicians read the runes and discern victory in the final verdict of the electorate. or at least an “opportunity to learn”. Last week’s Scottish council elections have been no different.

Apart from the Lib dems, each party’s been able to claim its own unique measure of “success”.

The SNP had most first preferences and most councillors elected. Labour is the largest group in most councils and will (probably) control most big cities, including the threatened citadel of Glasgow. The Tories have snatched third place from the Lib dems in the municipal pecking order – their best showing since 1992. The Greens have a humble 14 councillors but that’s still a record – and in Glasgow they pipped the Tories and Lib dems for third place. The Lib dems simply got whupped.

The victor’s rostrum is crowded. but that should come as no surprise to Scots. Any nation whose football supporters can claim world champion status after beating a team which won the World Cup has a nuanced understanding of “victory”.

Having been denied the sweet taste of unambiguous winning for so long, Scots are now skilled in the art of equivalence. So there are many versions of electoral success on display this weekend. So far, so Scottish and so predictable.

but this time the politicians could just be right. (Almost) everyone has indeed won – thanks to Pr.

Even though Scottish council elections have used the single transferable vote and multi-member constituencies since 2007, the penny has still to drop. Westminsterstyle outright majorities are now unlikely. Coalitions are now the norm, not the exception. Pacts considered unthinkable at national level – SNP and Labour for example – are now being calmly discussed in council chambers across the land. The genuine diversity of Scots stands revealed. There is no single “result.” In truth, there never was.

The Labour default of Scotland’s biggest city isn’t matched by its M8 rival, Edinburgh. East coast neighbours dundee and Aberdeen are now as different as Nationalist chalk and Labour cheese. And no-one can force a party political template on the “independent” Highlands, Northern or Western Isles.

And yet despite the evident electoral diversity on display, one question is being asked over and over again: who really won?

It’s a first-past-the-post question in a proportionally representative world. Understandable, but largely irrelevant.

This insistence on finding non-existent “outright winners” in proportional voting systems may explain the atrocious record of Scottish pundits in predicting Scottish elections. Every poll since 2007 has produced a “surprise result” – any other profession with as little success would long since have been shown the door.

How power is shared in a Pr system is almost as important as how it is won. And yet, as soon as it can find no single outcome from the election results, no undisputed “winner”, no conveniently simple update to the complex, unfolding story of Scottish democracy, the press pack moves on.

There is, of course, an unprecedented referendum vote just around the corner. So naturally every opportunity to sample electoral opinion will be seized and results minutely examined for evidence of a “settled will” towards our constitutional future.

yet, last week’s elections prove next to nothing about the Scots’ current appetite for independence.

They do prove the big Two parties are jostling for the heart and soul of urban Scotland with varying degrees of success in each city. They demonstrate that most parties are politically indistinguishable at local level. They suggest most people vote along Westminster lines when there is prevailing Tv coverage of UK issues (like the recession and benefit cuts). They state bluntly that most Scots simply don’t vote.

If there is one meaningful outcome from last week’s elections, it is the uniformly dismal voter turnout of just 38 per cent, the lowest since devolution.

In the desperate rush to claim victory, that inconvenient truth has been over-looked. And yet – in the wake of last week’s Jimmy reid Foundation report, T he Silent Crisis – it could be read as a vital indicator of Scotland’s constitutional health.

Across Europe, voting turnout levels reach 70-85 per cent when real power is in the hands of community-sized councils with familiar names as candidates.

by contrast, Scotland’s “local” government is based on the largest council units in Europe – physically and socially remote from the places we lead our lives. So folk in St Andrews can’t run day-to-day affairs in the Home of Golf, whichever party controls Fife Council. The descendants of Andrew Carnegie and Adam Smith can’t mount a commemorative plaque to their famous forebears without permission from a distant council, however they vote. My mother’s home town of Wick is three hours’ drive from its “local” council headquarters – and that doesn’t get a centimetre shorter, whether Highland Council is Lib dem, SNP or Independent-led. Inverness itself lacks a council to concentrate exclusively on its own urban needs, and that’s true whoever sits in the council leader’s chair.

Meanwhile community councils are impotent – and deliberately so. What’s the average budget of a community council in Scotland? It’s £400. That’s says almost everything you need to know about the perceived importance of local empowerment.

of course, money can’t buy you democracy any more than it buys you love. but the near-zero budget for Scotland’s “community tier” of governance matches its near-zero powers and near-zero number of contested elections. This is not local democracy, and neither elected mayors nor compulsory voting will fix this underlying democratic deficit.

So well done to those who won seats after (generally) herculean efforts last week. Mammoth challenges await new councillors as they walk a delicate line between the reform of service delivery and electoral wipe-out.

but if a 38 per cent turnout is not seen as a mandate to transform local government, what is it except a huge, howling roar of dissatisfaction from two-thirds of Scots?

Local governance in Scotland is wrong-sized. debate in the next two years looks set to be dominated exclusively by the “national” issue of Scottish independence, and yet local and national sentiment are clearly related. It’s hard to see how people deemed incapable of running their own towns and villages – uniquely in Europe – can be confident enough to run their own country.

Scotsman, 5 May 2012

Our civic spirit needs re-energising

An open discussion is needed about what has gone wrong with local democracy, writes Alf Young

POLITICAL success is all about electoral momentum. And nowhere does that matter more than in prereferendum Scotland, where the crucial vote on our future constitutional relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom steadily approaches, now just some 30 months away.

Strictly speaking, this week’s ballot wasn’t about independence. Its purpose was to determine the shape of Scotland’s local democracy over the next five years. But it would be naive to think its complex outcome has no bearing on the political orchestration of that much bigger decision we all have to make, the one that looms in autumn 2014.

Yesterday, as the results flowed in, it became clear that the momentum, in the rest of the UK, now lies with Labour, at the expense of the Westminster coalition. Here in Scotland, thanks to the virtual demolition of Lib Dem support, the momentum released was shared by Labour and the SNP. Expect sustained squabbles in the days ahead over which of them won the lion’s share of the spoils.

While the votes were still being counted, Alex Salmond was already doing the rounds of radio microphones and TV cameras, insisting the SNP, in horse-racing parlance, still has its nose in front. Despite being in government in Edinburgh for the past five years, his party can boast more councillors than it had seen elected in 2007. And they’ve won seats in every corner of Scotland.

Despite another voting system, STV, designed to put one-party rule out of reach, the SNP now controls the councils in Angus and Dundee outright and has made strong gains in North and East Ayrshire, in Stirling, Aberdeenshire and Midlothian.

But their pre-election rhetoric had promised so much more. Even the capture of Glasgow City Chambers itself, the remaining symbol of West of Scotland Labour hegemony. It was not to be. Just a year ago, after Alex Salmond’s remarkable Holyrood triumph, the Scottish Labour Party looked doomed and demoralised, as it joined Labour in the UK staring into an electoral abyss. Few commentators, even in recent days, would have given Scottish Labour any chance of delivering the political equivalent of Lazarus it came up with yesterday.

Not only did it take back majority control of Glasgow, in the wake of a bruising internal party split, and retain its majority in North Lanarkshire. It re-emerged as the biggest party bloc in both Edinburgh and Aberdeen, where the SNP had been players in the previous administrations. Labour also took outright control of the Renfrewshire and West Dumbartonshire councils and gained seats in Fife and Inverclyde.

In the cold light of day, both the parties in Scotland that have emerged stronger from this vote will have to go beyond bickering about which of them has gained most. Labour is benefitting from a Uk-wide backlash against a Westminster coalition that promised we were all in this together but has lost the plot on how to chart a way back to growth and fairness. Labour has to say much more about how it would deliver what the coalition patently hasn’t.

And the SNP, for whom all votes like Thursday’s are a prelude to that big vote in 2014, needs to engage more openly about its case for independence with the majority of Scots who didn’t vote for its council candidates yesterday. If it doesn’t it will never secure that constitutional mandate.

Their squabbling about who gained most from this week’s poll in Scotland is inevitable. But it also masks other concerns that have nothing directly to do with austerity or independence. This week’s vote was supposed to be about the shape of local democracy across the UK. And on that count alone, the initial signals are troubling.

For the first stand-alone local elections in Scotland since 1995, turnouts have tumbled. Across Glasgow it was just 32.4%. Early indications of turnout across the UK, as a whole, are around 42%.

In the ballots on introducing elected mayors in English cities, only one, Bristol, came back with a yes vote. We don’t even debate these options in our devolved Scotland. But the councillors elected to all 32 of Scotland’s councils already know they face, over the next five years, the same council tax freeze their predecessors have had to enforce since May 2007.

Add in progressive real-terms cuts in central government funding, and local government is enduring, in the midst of wider economic austerity, a whole decade of diminishing resources and service delivery constraints, whoever’s in control. Small wonder then, that most Scots, when presented with an opportunity to exercise their local democratic mandate every five years, can’t be bothered.

How I wish our national political leaders, instead of using the outcomes of these local polls as a test of their national political virility, would try to think more imaginatively about how to re-energise the civic spirit in communities across this land. A report last month from the Jimmy Reid Foundation described this problem as “The Silent Crisis”.

“Scotland,” it suggested, “with its many diverse communities, is a nation with a rich and diverse local tradition. However, this thriving localism is not matched by a thriving local democracy. In fact, quite the opposite is the case.”

As supporting evidence, the report points out that, while in Scotland the number of people standing in local elections is one in 2,071, in Norway it is one in 81, in Finland one in 140 and in Sweden one in 145.

Even before we discovered how few of us voted this week, Scotland’s minister for local government was promising more legislation to boost public interest in the process. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to have an open discussion about what’s gone wrong with local democracy, before coming up with another well-meaning, top-down statute that, in the end, resolves nothing?

Politicians can always come up with explanations for why they are up or down in this poll or that. In the wake of yesterday’s results, all the Lib Dem and Conservative voices I heard were focusing on the mid-term travails governments always have to endure and clinging to the hope that, come the next election, they’d be forgiven and enough voters would grant them a second chance.

In contrast, the SNP was trumpeting its ability to both be in government and still win extra support. We all understand that politicians have to win votes to gain power. But all of them need to realise that, in the troubling times we are living through, they have no monopoly of wisdom on charting a sustainable way through.

Sunday Herald, 29 April 2012

Power to the people in ‘the least democratic nation in the developed world’

SCOTLAND is the least democratic nation in the developed world when it comes to local elections, claims a report published today by Scotland’s left-wing think-tank, the Jimmy Reid Foundation.
By comparison with other countries, Scotland has a lower voter turnout for council elections, fewer people putting themselves forward as candidates and fewer elected officials, The Silent Crisis report says.
A league of voter turnout shows Austria at the top with 73% and Scotland with 54 %. This year, because the local elections are not being teamed with a national poll, the turnout is expected to be even lower. Some predictions suggest it will be as low as 30%.
Scotland also has much bigger local councils than many other countries, with local government representing many more people and vastly more land area than in other countries. This leads to a situation where councils are, the report says, “in no really meaningful sense ‘local’, certainly not at community level”.
Dr Eberhard Bort, one of the report’s authors, is a German living in Scotland and says he has long been “puzzled by the situation.” He notes that often politicians will talk about Scotland being “overgoverned” as if we have too many elected officials working for us. In fact, across Scotland there are 1271 elected councillors. His home region in Germany, with a population twice the size of Scotland’s, has 20,000. There is also more interest in local democracy in other countries. In Scotland, 2947 candidates were fielded in the last poll; in BadenWurttemberg 60,000 candidates stood in the last local election.
The figures in the report are stark: “In France one in 125 people is an elected community politician. In Austria, one in 200. In Germany one in 400. In Finland one in 500. In Scotland it is one in 4270 (even England manages one in 2860).”
This lack of local democracy is of particular interest to the current crop of independent or small party candidates. Many of them have come to politics through community campaigns and are cynical about the current system.
Gordon Murdie is a quantity surveyor, who was prompted to stand as an independent candidate in Edinburgh’s Southside/Newington ward by his experiences helping the victims of Edinburgh Council’s statutory repairs scandal, which is alleged to have revealed corruption in the property conservation division. His provocative election leaflet states: “Your money is being haemorrhaged by institutional ineptitude and petty party politics”.
Eberhard Bort notes that in Germany there is a movement called the “free voters”. “The town hall should be free of party politics”, is their slogan. This view is echoed by many Scottish independents.
Several new parties are fielding candidates in this election for the first time. The Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition has candidates in areas of both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the Pirate Party – which surprised with its recent success by drawing 8.5% votes in the German elections – is standing two candidates in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh.
The Pirates stand on a ticket of reforming copyright laws, supporting privacy, reducing surveillance and freedom of speech. Rob Harris, a 24-year-old physics student standing in Anderston/City in Glasgow and campaigning for democratic transparency as well as digital rights, expresses the alienation often felt: “If you look at the turn-out, it’s clear there’s something wrong. Politicians don’t seem to be engaging with the majority of the population – young people under 30 like me.”
John McArdle, of the newly formed Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition, points out that for his party one of the problems is that Edinburgh City Council has banned all candidates from putting up posters. “There are 22,000 electors out there in my Leith Walk ward and its an utter impossibility to even let those people know that we exist. That’s blatantly unfair to people like ourselves.”
McArdle believes it is lack of publicity that hobbles most new parties and independents. “People don’t take them seriously because they don’t get enough exposure.” As a result many independents and small parties resort to stunts to amuse and get attention. In the Pentlands area of Edinburgh, for instance, Mike Ferrigan, an environmental activist, is dressing up as a penguin to win over voters. He has even vowed to wear the costume in council meetings. The purpose of this? “To bring some lightness and humour to the affair,” he said. “This may help to bring about a more consensual approach to politics within the chamber.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Labour put the blame for the problem identified in the Reid Foundation report
on the “deeply centralising agenda of the SNP”.
Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: “It is important that all political representatives recognise that voter apathy can be linked to an agenda for centralisation. The Silent Crisis raises a number of questions about the kind of democracy we want in Scotland.”
The Scottish Conservative local government spokeswoman, Margaret Mitchell, said: “The way to improve local democracy is to make local people feel as if they have a say. As it stands, people across Scotland are watching the SNP overturn planning applications on phone masts and wind farms -applications these people and their councils have fought against for a variety of reasons.”
The report does not suggest wholesale reorganisation of our current system. But, rather, it proposes a layer of democracy below local authority level.
The Scottish Green Party has greeted the report warmly. Chas Booth, currently standing for the party in Leith in Edinburgh, argues: “Greens have got lots of ideas about how we can reinvigorate local democracy and try to reconnect people with Scottish democracy.
“A lot of our candidates come from a community activist background. More than half of Green candidates have some involvement with their local community council or similar organisation.”
The SNP’s local government minister, Derek Mackay, said: “Community councils can play an important role as the voice for their community and as a focus for local energies. We recognise the role the community council can play and remain committed to supporting them.”
He added that the proposed Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill is meant to “support communities to achieve their goals and aspirations through taking independent action … this could be about taking ownership of land or buildings, tackling derelict property or strengthening the voice of communities in shaping public services.”

Scotland on Sunday, 29 April 2012

Democracy ‘strange and distant’ to Scots

SCOTLAND is the least democratic nation at a local level of any in Europe leading to widespread disinterest in regional politics across the country, according to a new report by a leading think-tank.

The study, by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, concludes that whereas voters in many countries in continental Europe will know friends, family or neighbours who routinely contest elections to represent their communities, local politics in Scotland is “strange and distant”. It warns that, with no reform, politics will become “the preserve of a tiny cadre of professional politicians who are separate from the rest of society.”

The report has been published ahead of Thursday’s local government elections in Scotland in which only one third of the electorate is expected to turn out to vote. The Foundation says it is no wonder that the electorate is switched off when they feel so “removed” from local politics, and suggests that a new layer of local democracy should be created, copying systems in Germany, where individuals are elected to represent smaller localities. The aim should then be to drive as much power down to this level as possible, giving communities far more say over how they organise local services.

Robin McAlpine, Director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation and one of the report authors, said: “At the local level in Scotland, the administration is basically fine, but the democracy is an absolute disaster. I don’t think anyone really believes they can use their vote to change their community any more. That just can’t be acceptable.”

The Foundation’s report compared Scotland to another nine other European countries, including the UK as a whole. Scots were found to be the least likely to have got involved in local politics. In Norway, one in 84 people stood for election, in Sweden one in 145, while in Scotland the figure is one in 2,071.

The ratio of people to councillors in Scotland is also higher than anywhere else, at one for every 4,270 people. In France, the report says, the figure is one for every 125 people. Even in the UK as a whole, the figure is far lower, at one for every 2,860.

Scotland’s 32 councils also, on average, are the largest geographically in Europe, and also serve the largest number of people, with a figure of 163,200 voters. The average EU council services 5,630 voters, the report declares.

The report comes amid long-standing claims that local government in Scotland has been largely overshadowed over the last decade as attention has turned to the Scottish Parliament. In England, referenda will be held this week on whether to introduce new directly elected mayors across the country – plans opposed by the Scottish Government in Edinburgh.

But the Foundation’s report does not believe that elected provosts or a major re-organisation of councils would be the panacea to solve the problems in councils. Rather, it suggests that new “local councils” should be created of varying sizes.

BBC Radio Scotland Newsweek Scotland, 8 April 2012

Reid Foundation Director discusses why there are so few working class politicians.

Scotsman, 7 April 2012

Building repairs scandal asks questions of tendering process

Scotland’s local authorities are by far the biggest public-sector spenders in terms of procuring goods and services from the private sector. according to the Reid Foundation, collectively they spend £4.8 billion a year on materials and work from private companies, nearly three times as much as the Scottish Government spends.

With such a vast budget, it would not be surprising if some money was being misspent. But in the case of Edinburgh council’s buildings repairs service, something appears to have gone drastically wrong. Criminal charges against council staff now seem probable, and lawsuits against the council and contractors by aggrieved householders are also on the horizon.

the problem is in the procedures adopted by the council when it became clear that many privately-owned city buildings were unsafe and needed repair. the council, quite properly in the interests of public safety, instituted a regime in which it was capable of compelling repairs on private buildings, with the bill being picked up by the owners and not the taxpayer.

But it has become apparent that this procedure has had the odious byproduct of people being ripped off. Contractors, authorised by the council to undertake work whether a building owner liked it or not, appear to have been over-charging, while officials seem to have been colluding in the practice, presumably to some private and illicit reward.

It is also clear that while the council’s own investigation into what has been happening has been less than transparent, the full rigour of the law is about to be applied. the illegal practices and the perpetrators will be exposed in legal proceedings, while many victims will have their day in court.

there are, however, wider questions which need answered. Many of the contractors who are alleged to have been involved in this practice are small businesses. In the building trade, many will rely on the public sector for a large part of their trade. the Edinburgh building repairs scandal raises the question, despite systems of competitive tendering, of how easy is it for an unhealthy relationship to develop between contractors and the relevant officials.

One area where there may well be a systemic problem is in the procedures which were designed to make it easier for small companies to bid for publicsector work. Firms had complained that a vast amount of tedious formfilling was required for each piece of work they wished to tender for. the solution was to allow companies to fill in one set of paperwork testifying to their stability and capacity, which would then put them on an approved supplier list.

In some cases, there is a suspicion that these lists have become closed. Suppliers on them collude to push up prices, defrauding either the taxpayer or the people paying for work. the investigation needs to go wider than just this particular Edinburgh case.

Holyrood Magazine Public Finance supplement, March 2012


Major public contracts will deliver training and employment opportunities (on Procurement report)

The Courrier and Advertiser, 8 March 2012

Why Scots firms missed out

SCOTTISH FIRMS would have been fit to bid for contracts to build the new Forth bridge if the procurement process had been handled differently, an economist has told MSPS.

Margaret Cuthbert, co-author of a report on public procurement in Scotland, said the way in which the major contracts for the £800 million project had been given out would be “inconceivable” in France or Germany. She said the large contracts could have been broken down into smaller lots, a move which would be permissible under EU law and would have allowed Scottish firms to compete.

Mrs Cuthbert was appearing at Holyrood’s Finance Committee to answer questions on the recently published report Using Our Buying Power to Benefit Scotland. The report, also authored by Jim Cuthbert, has identified concerns in the public procurement process in terms of the economic and social development of Scotland.

It said the process “is not working satisfactorily”, with “significant barriers to participation by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMES)”, and a “very large amount of public procurement” going to large firms headquartered outside Scotland. Commenting on Scottish firms and the Forth bridge contracts, Mrs Cuthbert said: “We have to give these companies opportunities to grow. one of these opportunities would be if the size of these contracts were broken down.

“If we had broken these projects down into lots, which is completely allowed within the European directive, then some of these jobs would have been fit for the Scottish firms we have got just now, and would have enabled them to grow. this policy is adopted very much in the United States and in many European countries.”

The Cuthberts’ report for the think-tank The Jimmy Reid Foundation found there were several difficulties surrounding the procurement process, such as an “over concentration” on large or general contracts.

The authors also stated that the figure of 75% of contracts going to Scottish SMES was not “soundly based”.

Mr Cuthbert said 99% of Scottish firms were classed as SMES under the EU definition of having 250 employees or less.

Meanwhile firms could be included in the statistic based on having a Scottish address, which may be a small branch or satellite office.

Mrs Cuthbert added: “When you look at some of the companies that are in here, you could almost call them carpetbaggers.

“It is well known that you are not likely to get a contract in the country unless you have a footprint somewhere in that country.

“What we are finding is some of these very large global companies are coming in here and instead of being what we would hope would be inward investors who would then help Scotland export to the rest of the world, they are, in fact, taking work which has a long-term implication for Scotland.”

The Herald, 8 March 2012

Economists’ call on contract award

IT would have been “inconceivable” for France or Germany not to have awarded major contracts for projects such as the Forth crossing or Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital to local companies, MSPS were told yesterday.

Independent economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert argued that not nearly enough was done in Scotland to make sure local companies could, by attaching legitimate conditions, bid for contracts against “overseas carpetbaggers”, compared to what is done in Europe.

The Cuthberts, retired civil servants who wrote a paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation on the procurement issue, were invited to give evidence to Holyrood’s Finance Committee on the issue. Mr Cuthbert insisted: “If you are giving the commanding heights of our economy over to large multinationals, you are holding back our indigenous firms.” He cited clauses such as research and development provision or swift availability of spare parts as the kind of rules used in Europe and America.”

Ms Cuthbert said: “We have got to give these companies the opportunities to grow.

“What we are finding is some of these very large global companies are coming in here and instead of being what we would hope would be inward investors who would then help Scotland export to the rest of the world, in fact they are taking work which has a long-term implication.”

Daily Record, 6 February 2012

Scottish economy missing out on ‘millions of pounds’ because public procurement favours big companies, warns report

HUNDREDS of millions of pounds are “leaking out” of the Scottish economy due to a public procurement system which “seems to load the dice in favour of big corporations”, according to a think-tank.

A report by The Jimmy Reid Foundation identifies “hundreds of millions of pounds which could be pumped into the Scottish economy if the way Scottish public procurement is done was reformed”.

The report, Using Our Buying Power To Benefit Scotland, by statisticians and economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert found that Scottish businesses “are being locked out of Scottish public procurement contracts, costing jobs in the Scottish economy”.

Contracts are “designed in the interests of big business, making it hard for Scotland’s small and medium-sized companies”.

The report added: “The overall effect of current practices seems to load the dice in favour of big corporations, often at the expense of small businesses but also regularly at the expense of the wider public interest.”

It continued: “If contracts can be designed in a way that gives Scottish businesses the best chance of winning them, hundreds of millions of pounds currently leaking out of the Scottish economy could be retained, a potentially massive sustained investment.”

Among the report’s key recommendations is a call for contracts to be split into small blocks to give small and medium-sized companies a chance of competing, and to exploit exemptions from EU rules to assist the local economy and social well-being in areas like research and development and skills training.

Authors Jim and Margaret Cuthbert said: “The report is intended to be a constructive and evidence-based critique of current procurement practices in Scotland. We hope that it will positively influence the Sustainable Procurement Bill which is shortly to come before the Scottish Parliament.”

Reid Foundation director Robin McAlpine said: “We are spending over £9 billion of public money but instead of using it to boost social and economic development, we’re actually doing harm to the Scottish economy.”

Henry McLeish, former First Minister and patron of the foundation, said: “I hope that everyone will look at this serious piece of work and think again about some of the ways in which we are spending public money.”

Andy Willox OBE, Scottish policy convener at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The FSB is right behind any moves to use the Scottish public sector’s buying power to benefit our local economies, and we’ve been expressing our dissatisfaction about the aggregation agenda for some time.”

Grahame Smith, general secretary of the STUC, said: “It is essential to ensure that as much economic value is retained in Scotland through the procurement process as possible.”

BBC Radio Scotland, Scotland At Ten, 6 February 2012

Jim and Margaret Cuthbert interviewed about the Reid Foundation procurement report

STV, Scotland Today, 6 February 2012

Robin McAlpine discussing the procurement report

BBC Radio Scotland, Good Morning Scotland, 6 February 2012

Jim and Margaret Cuthbert interviewed about the Reid Foundation procurement report

Scotsman, 6 February 2012 (front page lead)

Hundreds of millions ‘leaking out’ of Scotland


HUNDREDS of millions of pounds are “leaking out” of the Scottish economy, with contracts for major building and infrastructure projects being handed to firms outside Scotland, a new report has claimed.

Scottish businesses are being “locked out” of the contracts for major projects in the country’s public sector, with the dice “loaded” in favour of big corporations.

The stark warning is made today in the first report from the Jimmy Reid Foundation – a think-tank launched in memory of the former trade union leader.

The report – Using Our Buying Power to Benefit Scotland – by leading economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, said that “too much” of the £9 billion spent each year on procurement projects was allowed to leave the Scottish economy, with a “harmful” effect on jobs and business north of the Border.

Among the examples cited in the report were publicly-owned Scottish Water handing out the work for the bulk of its £500 million annual investment programme to a consortium of French, English and Californian firms.

Scotland’s £50m annual budget for waste containers was also highlighted in the report – just one of the 16 contracts it involved was awarded to a company north of the Border. Another 14 were handed to English companies, while one went to an Irish firm.

A deal worth up to £22m to supply Scotland’s library books saw contracts going to six wholesalers based in either England or Northern Ireland, with just one Scottish firm – a dedicated bookseller – involved in the procurement process.

Jimmy Reid Foundation director Robin McAlpine said the report’s evidence “should come as a bit of a shock”, as he called on the Scottish Government to back the recommendations of the study, such as splitting contracts into small blocks to make it easier for smaller firms to win contracts.

Meanwhile, former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish said the report showed the need to “think again” about the way public money was spent on building projects, while former SNP enterprise minister Jim Mather also welcomed the findings.

The 31-page report said that public- sector contracts “are still being designed in the interests of big business”, mainly located outside Scotland, with the country’s large small and medium-sized business sector largely squeezed out of the bidding process.

It went on to say Scotland had a “much more restricted view” on European Union law over the awarding of contracts than other nations, which meant Scottish firms were more likely to be disadvantaged.

The report comes days after it emerged that a Scottish steelworks may have lost out to China and Europe on a contract for the new Forth bridge.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont seized on the findings to call for a shake-up in the rules over the awarding of contracts for infrastructure projects.

Ms Lamont said: “The current controversy over the Forth road bridge is just one – enormous – illustration of how government has failed steelworkers here in Scotland.

“We need to change whatever rules prevent the public sector using its purchasing power for the public good.”

The report called for the bidding process for contracts to be “designed in a way that gives Scottish businesses the best chance of winning them”

The report said: “Hundreds of millions of pounds currently ‘leaking out’ of the Scottish economy could be retained, a potentially massive sustained investment.

“Contracts are still being designed in the interests of big business, making it hard for Scotland’s small and medium-sized companies.

“Procurement policies have been developed with little or no regard to economic or social development in Scotland.”

The report went on to claim that the current rules over procurement “load the dice in favour of big corporations, often at the expense of small businesses but also regularly at the expense of the wider public interest”.

It said: “The Scottish public sector spends more than £9bn per year on procurement. Too much of this money is allowed to leave the Scottish economy, with the cost to jobs and the business base this implies.

“Meanwhile, the money which does remain in our economy is almost wholly detached from wider economic development policies.”

Mr McAlpine also said Scottish ministers should look for “exemptions” from EU rules to give firms in Scotland an advantage in bidding for contracts.

He said: “We are spending over £9bn of public money, but instead of using it to boost social and economic development, we’re actually doing harm to the Scottish economy.

“We have to break the relationship between big corporations and procurement policy.

“Of course big business is an important supplier to the public sector, but it is using its influence to shut out Scottish businesses and to push aside the wider public interest.

“A narrow-sighted vision of what procurement is for and what it can achieve has set us off down the wrong track.

“We treated vast sums of public money as if we were just buying our messages and all that mattered was the bill. The result is that no-one can even tell us how much of our money stays in the Scottish economy.”

The report was published as Alex Neil, Scotland’s infrastructure and capital investment secretary, promised a review of procurement for public sector projects to look at increasing contract opportunities for firms north of the Border.

He said: “I believe the time is right to commission a root-and-branch review of construction procurement across the public sector, with a view to tackling industry concerns and ensuring that procurement practices deliver best value for Scotland’s economy.

“We have already announced our intention to introduce a Sustainable Procurement Bill during the life of this parliament and that the bill will seek to ensure that major public contracts deliver training and employment opportunities through the inclusion of community benefit clauses.

“Having listened to business concerns about procurement, I can announce that the bill will also seek to ensure that all public bodies in Scotland adopt transparent, streamlined and standardised procurement processes that are friendly to Scottish businesses.

“We will work up detailed proposals for the review and I will make a further announcement on this shortly.”

Former First Minister Mr McLeish praised the report for setting out “practical actions” to benefit Scotland’s economy and create jobs.

He said: “I welcome this first report from the Reid Foundation. When the foundation was launched, I said that we need to have some thinking in Scotland that questions whether the relationship between the public sector and big business was always delivering the best outcomes for the public.

“This report is a great example of how asking questions which don’t always get asked creates clear, practical actions which can benefit Scottish society and the Scottish economy.

“I hope that everyone will look at this serious piece of work and think again about some of the ways in which we are spending public money.”

Mr Mather said that the findings would help “improve outcomes” in the procurement process for Scotland’s public sector.

He said: “Jim and Margaret Cuthbert are to be congratulated on the rigour and clarity that they have brought to the subject of public procurement in Scotland.”

Andy Willox, Scottish Policy Convenor of the Federation of Small Businesses, also praised the report as making a “good contribution” to promoting smaller firms in Scotland.

He said: “The FSB’s right behind any moves to use the Scottish public sector’s buying power to benefit our local economies and we’ve been expressing our dissatisfaction about the aggregation agenda for some time.

“While we may not agree with every element of this report, we believe that it makes a good contribution to a debate Scotland needs to have.”

The report’s authors Jim and Margaret Cuthbert said: “The report is intended to be a constructive and evidence based critique of current procurement practices in Scotland.”

Scotsman, 6 February 2012 (editorial)

True value may lie in a wider view of public spending

IF a GOVERNMENT department was spending £9 billion a year and yet was unable to say what benefit taxpayers received from this spending, an outcry and ministerial resignations would follow. Though the parallel is not entirely apposite, it nonetheless appears to be the case that the Scottish Government has little idea what economic benefit flows from its annual £9bn spend on buying everything from new roads and buildings to school books and paper clips.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation, named after the legendary Clydeside trade unionist, thinks much more attention should be paid to using this huge annual spend to achieve more than just, say, the provision of a new school, by ensuring that more Scottish companies receive the work. This would help these companies to grow and by such things as demanding that workforce training be included, to become better equipped to win more contracts.

There is much to applaud in the foundation’s report. Small companies regularly complain that they find it hard to win public contracts, often because they are simply too large for them to cope with. against that, Scottish governments of all hues have tried to make it easier for small firms to compete. But one of the report’s valuable insights is that the statistics which say small firms are winning about three-quarters of public contracts may be misleading.

Nevertheless, it would also be wrong to rush to adopt the foundation’s proposals. For the past decade, ministerial and public pressure has been to reduce the cost of public works. aggregating small contracts from different public authorities and agencies into larger ones, such as the supply of computers, often result in savings to the taxpayer.

The question the report proposes is essentially whether the definition of “value for money” should be extended beyond simple monetary value to include a wider definition of economic benefit. This poses a dilemma, most clearly in the case of Scottish Water, which has contracted with a multinational, non-scottish consortium to deliver major infrastructure work.

The report notes this has entailed Scottish Water getting rid of its staff dealing with infrastructure design, research, development and procurement, resulting in a loss of these skills to the Scottish economy. But Scottish Water says this has made procurement cheaper, resulting in lower customer water bills. What would be the public’s preference – a more highly-skilled state-owned water company, or for cheaper bills?

The report is also mainly a statistical one and ignores some of the cultural issues that affect procurement. one reason contracts go to larger firms is that public officials believe, rightly or wrongly, that there is less chance of a contract going wrong, for which they would be blamed. This risk-averse culture may be one of the biggest barriers to small firm procurement success. But if the report generates clarification of these issues, it will have done its job.

Herald, 6 February 2012

Big firms favoured in award of public contracts


HUNDREDS of millions of pounds could be pumped into the Scottish economy if the Government changes the way it awards contracts, leading economists argue.

They said Scottish businesses were being locked out of public procurement contracts at an alarming rate and it was costing jobs.

The report, the first from the left-wing think tank, the Jimmy Reid Foundation, was conducted by economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert and is claimed to be the most detailed survey of Scottish public procurement ever undertaken.

Its publication coincides with a “root and branch” review of procurement rules launched by the Scottish Government yesterday with the aim of increasing opportunities for Scottish businesses.

Foundation director Robin McAlpine said the findings should come “as a bit of a shock”.

The findings s h ow contracts are designed in the interests of big business, maki n g it hard for Scotland’s s mall and medium-sized companies to compete.

Moreover, they show that procurement policies have been developed with little or no regard to economic or social development – notwithstanding that the Scottish Government has taken steps to improve its procurement process.

Mr McAlpine said: “We are spending over £9 billion of public money but instead of using it to boost social and economic development we’re actually doing harm to the Scottish economy.

“We have to ditch the big business dogma and create cleverer approaches.”

Daily Mail, 6 February 2012 (front page lead)

A betrayal of Scots Workers

Graham Grant and Alan Roden

Damning report reveals one company’s failure to land new Forth bridge steel contract is just the tip of the iceberg – and it’s costing us jobs

FIFTY-five manufacturing jobs are being lost to the Scottish economy every day.

Firms in Scotland are cutting their workforces after missing out on billions of pounds of lucrative public sector contracts because of ‘narrow-sighted’ Government policy.

A hard-hitting study reveals Scottish firms have been ‘shut out’ after losing a string of deals to foreign rivals – draining ‘vast sums’ from the economy.

It says two of the worst culprits for giving work to companies out-with Scotland include the country’s water quango and a body set up by the SNP to help fund large building projects.

The row comes after Tata Steel revealed last week that it had lost a bid to help build the new Forth crossing, sparking union claims that hundreds of Scottish jobs had been put at risk.

Last night, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: ‘We must radically rethink how Scotland’s public sector uses its massive purchasing power to support local jobs and communities.

‘The current controversy over the Forth road bridge is just one – enormous – illustration of how government has failed steelworkers here in Scotland.’

The report from the Office for National Statistics revealed there were 172,000 manufacturing jobs in September last year, a fall of 5,000 on the previous quarter – an average of 55 a day. Between September 2007 and September 2011, the number of manufacturing jobs fell from 223,000 to 172,000, a drop of 23 per cent.

Meanwhile, a separate report on Scottish firms losing out on public sector work is published today. It was produced by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, a new think-tank named after the trade union leader who campaigned against Clyde shipyard closures in the 1970s.

Written by economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, it identifies 122 public sector organisations that spend £9.2billion every year, including the Scottish Government, the NHS and councils. It then looks at how much of the work goes to indigenous firms and finds evidence to show they are being overlooked.

Contracts worth £50million for council waste containers were given to 16 suppliers – but only one was Scottish. Contracts for street lighting worth £23million were given to 11 companies, but only two were Scottish; while of 37 contracts to private firms to build schools, only six had HQs in Scotland.

The report says Scottish Water has contracted a large part of its £500million annual investment programme to a private sector partner which, ‘while Scottish sounding (Thistle) is a French, English and Californian consortium’.

For the part of its investment programme not covered by Thistle, Scottish Water has appointed ‘construction delivery partners’ – but of the 16 partners appointed, only three are Scottish companies.

Scottish Water insisted it follows ‘best practices for procurement set down in European and UK law’ and is ‘rigorous in ensuring we deliver the best possible value to our customers, the people of Scotland who pay water and waste water charges’.

It said 80 per cent of its spending ‘goes to a supply chain located in Scotland (although some may have the head offices elsewhere)’.

The Scottish Futures Trust (SFT), set up by the SNP, has divided Scotland into five ‘hubs’ to deliver public building projects such as schools, libraries, swimming pools and health centres.

Each hub involves a single private sec tor partner, appointed on ‘extraordinarily long contracts’ of 20 to 30 years’ duration despite EU guidelines suggesting lifespans of no more than four years. But three out of four appointed so far are consortia with no Scottish involvement.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation claims the arrangement is ‘of doubtful wisdom but also of questionable legality’.

An SFT spokesman said: ‘Where possible, we encourage Scottish companies to tender for work – it’s an open competition through EU law. It’s a very transparent process.’

The foundation also claims ‘no one knows the proportion of the £9.2billion retained in the Scottish economy’ – although Scottish Government officials last night insisted they do record where businesses bidding for work are based.

Foundation director Robin McAlpine said: ‘A narrow-sighted vision of what procurement is for and what it can achieve has set us off down the wrong track.

‘We treated vast sums of public money as if we were just buying our messages and all that mattered was the bill.

‘The result is that no one can tell us how much of our money stays in the Scottish economy.’

Scottish Tory finance spokesman Gavin Brown said: ‘This report flags up a number of important issues. Most Scottish companies are not looking for favours – they simply want to be able to compete on a level playing field.’

Meanwhile, Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil yesterday proposed legislation ‘to improve Scottish businesses’ access to contract opportunities’.

He said: ‘The Scottish Government has done a great deal to improve the way the procurement system operates in Scotland, but clearly there is still room for improvement.’

Daily Mail, 6 February 2012 (op-ed)

Salmond’s sell-out on Scots jobs

Kevin McKenna

WHEN referendum day dawns, few of us will not have be en branded ‘anti-Scottish’ by the SNP. Joan McAlpine, the First Minister’s parliamentary liaison officer, was criticised by Labour last month for casting this terrible slur upon it.

Education Secretary Mike Russell did the same last week. The SNP has armies of anonymous internet grotesques ready to smite anyone who doesn’t like kilts, claymores or dodgy face paint.

Yet instead of reacting like skelped cats and demanding resignations, Labour’s sensitive front bench ought instead to be seeking ways of retaliating with the same vile calumny.

Intellectual rigour and creative thinking do not come naturally to Scottish Labour. Surely though, even it can hurl the Nats’ anti-Scottish jibes back in their faces by highlighting their utter inertia and helplessness in protecting manufacturing jobs. Is there anything more anti-Scottish than this?

The revelation last week that a highly regarded, Lanarkshire-based steel firm had lost out on important work for the £1.6billion Forth road crossing is a real blow to our manufacturing industry. The news that the tens of thousands of tons of steel needed for this project will be manufactured in China, Poland and Spain simply added salt to the wounds. Yet few bosses of Scotland’s small to medium enterprises (SMEs) will have been surprised. They have been here many times before.

At present, the Indian owners of Tata steel and their Scottish managers will merely be favoured by a meeting this week with Transport Minister Keith Brown – a glorified traffic warden whose main responsibility is to keep our roads properly gritted each winter. Our First Minister ought to be at the meeting too. For it will raise serious issues about how willing and able is the SNP Government to protect manufacturing jobs in an economic climate that has made the industrial marketplace ferociously competitive.

The revelation in today’s Mail that 55 Scottish manufacturing jobs are being lost every day after five years of Nationalist administration should focus minds. The civil servants who will undoubtedly outnumber the elected officials and the wealth creators at the table ought not to have any shortage of ‘outcomes’ from the meeting.

‘Outcome’ number one: create more Scots jobs in the skilled manufacturing sector before 2014.

A few weeks ago it was similarly reported that a £200million construction project in Renfrewshire to build doctors’ surgeries and other public buildings had been awarded to an East Anglian consortium. The Scottish Futures Trust, a publicly funded body with a lamentable record of achievement since it appeared from nowhere a few years ago, awarded the contract.

SFT chief executive Barry White chirruped happily about the deal and threw us the morsel that some Scots firms would benefit from outsourcing.

In response, the SNP will point to the, as yet unquantified, tens of thousands of jobs that will be created when Scotland becomes a sustainable energy Xanadu for the western world. And certainly, with a coastline as big as ours, that ought to be more than just an environmental pipe dream.

But that will only work if Scottish workers and firms can participate in the manufacturing work and expertise in harnessing wind and wave energy. Few will need reminding of how many global firms have taken millions in tax breaks then walked away leaving impoverished communities twisting in the wind.

The devolved Welsh administration is already taking steps to ensure that local companies do not miss out on major national construction projects. This is not to circumvent the rules on European Procurement or to indulge in 19th century protectionism. It is simply to ensure that well-run local firms are not discriminated against when they have to compete with global entities which can disguise costs when the tendering process begins.

The Scottish Government’s retort to this was predictable, tired and downright insulting. ‘The (bridge) project is already providing a boost to the Scottish construction industry – 118 out of 155 sub-contracts have been awarded to Scottish firms, representing 76 per cent of the total awarded.

This is being deliberately disingenuous. It’s not the amount of contracts here that matters but the value of them. Seventy six per cent may yet only account for a small fraction of the project’s overall value.

Scottish Government spokesmen have deployed the same words from their lexicon of sophistry when replying to accusations that it doesn’t do enough to help SMEs. Despite SNP pledges to do all it can to support them in two successive manifestos, there has been little evidence so far of any meaningful support for this crucial sector in our economy. Instead, the SNP – like Labour before it – has allowed superannuated civil service mandarins to subvert the desire of the elected administration.

In our IT sector, a once thriving hub of successful SMEs with skilled workers and sharp entrepreneurs, dozens have sold out to foreign conglomerates over the past decade or so. This is because they are denied the chance to grow because civil servants making the key decisions discriminate against them when big public sector contracts are up for grabs.

Here is one way in which Scots firms lose out to foreign multinationals. Tender questions require to be balanced and meaningful. When asking a global business and an SME about health and safety policy, the procurement process always favours the global outfit.

This is simply because the multinational will possess a 300-page document and the SME may only have a two-page document. This will be more than adequate for delivering a local service such as painting a council house rather than dropping a man on an oil rig to do a painting job in the middle of the North Sea.

The question should simply be: do you have a serviceable Health and Safety policy? It does not break European procurement rules and it is not protectionist.

If given proper protection, Scotland’s SMEs could win a fair proportion of major contracts through partnerships with national or international players. And by inserting a qualification based on location of headquarters or proportion of staff who are local residents, smaller Scots firms can begin to compete.

Billions of pounds of public sector contracts are up for grabs every year. Yet too many competent Scottish firms find themselves dismissed by some faceless panjandrum.

The SNP wants Scotland to create export capability and growth but if it cannot create work at home then it is bound to fail.

I’m not normally in the business of giving the SNP free advice but, for the benefit of my country, I do so now. You can do yourself a favour, Mr Salmond, by using your fabled skill in political sleight of hand to circumvent the fell practices of the Civil Service in ensuring fair play for Scottish firms in public sector procurement processes. The Welsh, Irish, Spanish and French already do this.

The wind and the waves may become important to our economy. But just as important is a skilled, modern and sustainable manufacturing base.

Dundee Courier, 6 February 2012

Bid to help Scottish business

David Clegg, political editor

Scottish firms should be reaping more benefits form public construction work, the SNP Government admitted yesterday.

Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil made the admission just days after facing criticism over the revelation that no Scots workers would be involved in producing the 37,000 tonnes of steel needed for the new Forth crossing.

Steel workers’ union Community has called for a halt tot he work until a review is carried out into how the contracts were instead awarded to Spanish, Chinese and Polish firms.

Nr Neil said yesterday he intended to reform the public procurement process to make it easier for Scottish businesses to win contract opportunities.

“The Scottish Government has done a great deal to improve the way the procurement system operates in Scotland”, he said.

“But clearly there is still room for significant further improvement, both in relation to efficiency and the extent to which Scottish businesses are able to access contract opportunities.

“We have already announced a Sustainable Procurement Bill during the lifetime of this Parliament and that the Bill will seek to ensure that major public contracts deliver training and employment opportunities through the inclusion of community benefit clauses,” he said.

“Having listened to business concerns about procurement I can announce that the Bill will also seek to ensure that all public bodies in Scotland adopt transparent, streamlined and standardised procurement processes that are friendly to Scottish business.”

Although the Minister made no reference to the situation with the Forth bridge project, Scottish Labour said the timing of the announcement was particularly relevant.

It also came as a report from the Jimmy Reid Foundation found the economy is being damaged due to Scottish businesses being “locked out” of the public procurement process.

During the Forth crossing controversy officials said they have to follow EU rules on tendering which stipulate that any company across the single market can bid for contracts.

But the report from the Jimmy Reid Foundation, written by economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert and published today, said Scotland must do more to “exploit” exemptions from the EU law.

Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont commented: “The current controversy over the Forth Road Bridge is just one – enormous – illustration of how Government has failed steelworkers here in Scotland.

“We need to change whatever rules prevent the public sector using its purchasing power for the public good.”

Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Liz Cameron welcomed the Government initiative.

“The bottom line is that we want to see more small local businesses being able to compete and more importantly win contracts,” she said.

“We look forward to working with Government and others in this review to ensure the proposed bill contains and addresses the issues raised by business across Scotland.”

BBC Radio Scotland, Newsweek, 17/1/2012

Jimmy Reid Foundation Director Robin McAlpine interviewed on the Scottish Labour Party leadership election and what it means for the future of the Party.

Scotsman 17/8/2011

Rising GDP will never add up to a just society

Past emphasis on boosting output has shown policy-makers must address inequality if we are to create a more progressive Scotland, writes Robin McAlpine.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation was launched last week as a left wing think tank to inject fresh thinking into Scottish politics and to set an agenda which is people-focussed rather than profit-focussed.

But these are the same thing, are they not? What’s good for profit is good for people, right? Well no. The Foundation has set six core principles to guide its work but perhaps the most fundamental is that society should be based on equality and social justice.

The understanding of the concept of social justice has been greatly diluted through years of lazy usage but it should still be seen as the primary goal of a democratic government. And it is an objective ill served by ‘mainstream’ approaches to the economy.

For decades, at the core of western politics has been the belief that simple GDP growth is either in itself the solution to society’s problems or that from it, all solutions spring wholly-formed. But this just doesn’t seem to be true.

In the last 30 years the proportion of GDP which goes in wages has fallen from 58 per cent to 53 per cent. Which is to say that the more the economy has grown, the less ordinary people share in it. And of all the income growth in the last decade, four fifths of it has gone to those with above average salaries and two fifths to the richest ten per cent.

So for this generation, the richer Britain has become the more unequal it has become. But this is not inevitable – during the most impressive period of growth in the history of capitalism (the three decades leading up to the mid 1970s) inequality fell and social mobility increased. It’s all about how you grow.

But does this matter? By far the balance of evidence strongly suggests that it does. Pot-shots have been taken at the research which shows this because it so fundamentally undermines the philosophy of neoliberal capitalism but it remains compelling. Societies with lower levels of inequality have lower levels of crime, better records on health and higher levels of reported happiness. The same is broadly true of everything from educational attainment to teenage pregnancy to obesity.

And one of the most telling factors is that this is as true of poor countries with low level of inequality (such as Cuba) as it is of rich countries (such as the Nordic nations) and is as true for the wealthiest members of these societies as the poorest. Much more important than how rich we are is how much we feel that we share in society’s total wealth.

The limited economic powers we currently have in Scotland mean that the pressure from international money markets to show growth for its own sake is absent. Also absent is the old belief that growth ‘must’ automatically create jobs, undermined by the jobless growth of speculative financial markets. And many were nothing more than the cheapest jobs possible which simply outsources the problem to the taxpayer who has to top-up inadequate pay through benefits and tax credits.

So a major focus of the Foundation will be to convince politicians that they need to recalibrate their attitude to economic growth and its place in the family of political priorities.

This is not an anti-business agenda. Indeed, the majority of Scottish businesses should welcome such a recalibration. This is because the kinds of growth that do benefit the country are those where the scope for the expatriation of profit is minimised and the multiplier effect of economic activity in Scotland and for Scotland is maximised.

Let’s look at one example. If Scotland’s economy ‘grows’ because we allow foreign-owned multinationals to erect wind turbines on our prime sites, what does Scotland get? Some temporary jobs erecting them? Some technician jobs to keep them going? Whitehall gets the corporation tax, the Crown Estate Commission gets the rent (if they’re off-shore). And a Spanish conglomerate gets most of the profit.

But alternatively, if we manage to develop an industry based on Scotland’s leading position in wave and tidal electricity generating technologies we could have indigenous companies plugged into indigenous supply chains employing people in high-skill research and development and mass manufacturing with both significant amounts of domestic technology deployment and a serious export industry.

We need to move away from an outcomes-blind ‘growth is growth’ attitude towards a thinking, strategic and realistic vision-based approach. And this should be based on a quality test – will intervention create quality jobs, indigenous businesses, joined-up industry sectors, community benefit and long-term sustainability? It’s time for growth to ‘earn’ our support.

But there is more to be done. Government must look for ways to flex its muscles and encourage the kind of economy it wants to see rather than allow the big business sector to create the kind of government that it wants. We need to tackle social irresponsibility and wage inequality. And even with its existing powers the Scottish Government has two tools at its disposal with which to do this.

One is procurement policy. Currently this is based on the concept that if we have to cut off our own hands to save ten pence then that’s what we have to do. The misguided approach of amalgamating contracts into a size that may save a few quid but often makes it impossible for domestic businesses to bid for them has to end. In trying to save fairly small amounts of money we are expatriating even more Scottish wealth to overseas companies and putting small Scottish enterprises out of business. Simply by making procurement accessible by Scottish-based companies we would see more benefit than the money saved.

And then conditions should be added to procurement – such as wage ratios or community engagement criteria. This can gently change the nature of the relationship to fulfil the government’s responsibility to its ‘shareholders’ (or you and me) which is what the big suppliers have tried to do in the opposite direction.

Planning is another tool. Local authorities already put public interest conditions on planning applications. Again, let’s encourage businesses to treat all employees in a more equal manner because it is in the public interest. (Remember, people spend wages in local economies; multinationals expatriate profit and often we never see it again).

This is simply a starting-point for rethinking our attitude to growth with the focus put on the people of Scotland and not on corporate dogma. Growth has to earn its right to be supported. It has to be growth that brings greater equality or it will simply not strengthen the country.

There is an assumption that the business class knows best what is good for the Scottish economy, but its expertise is limited to creating economies that place profit before any real social responsibility. Thinking has been excessively dominated by those that stand to gain with a very limited voice for those that stand to lose. This has benefited neither the productive economy nor wider society.

A productive economy and a strong society are two sides of the same coin. The private sector has a very valuable role to play in improving social cohesion. But just like the rest of us, sometimes it needs to be encouraged to do the right thing.

BBC Radio Scotland, Newsweek, 13/8/2011

Jimmy Reid Foundation Director Robin McAlpine interviewed on the role and function of think tanks in modern politics.

Herald 11/8/2011

Think-tank inspired by Reid to give new voice to the left


A LEFT·WING think·tank inspired by hero of the shipyards Jimmy Reid has been launched in Glasgow – exactly a year to the day since the celebrated union leader’s death.

The team behind the Jimmy Reid Foundation hope the organisation will spark fresh political ideas and provide a rallying point for those who believe in left-wing ideas, whatever party they support.

The launch of the organisation at the Pearce Institute in Govan, just down the road from the shipyards which Reid helped save as one of the leaders of the work-in in 1971, was attended by Mr Reid’s daughter Julie and two of the patrons of the foundation, former first minister Henry McLeish and actress Elaine C Smith.

Mr McLeish said idea had disappeared from the politi al landscape and he hoped the foWl· dation would help revers that. “There is a lack of confidence in the left to discuss ideas,” he said. “We’ve allowed right-wing thinking to dominate the agenda. Where’s the voice saying what about the common good?

“Let’s have the confidence to debate the issues Scots want us to debate.”

Ms Smith said she had loved Mr Reid as a person, an intellectual and a commentator but that the foundation was not about just one person.

“I really hope that the foundation can bring together like-minded people in all the political parties so we can put a bit more emphasis on fighting together and a bit less on fighting each other,” she said.

The foundation ‘s director Robin McAlpine explained that the body would aim to produce new policy ideas, influence decision-makers, carry out investigative work and provide a central point of contact for left of centre thinkers. He said he also hoped it would act as a unifying influence.

“The left is spread widely,” he said. “We have put a lot of effort into fighting each other but we’ve lacked a space where we can come together.”

Evening Times 10/8/2011

Foundation will honour Clyde hero Jimmy

A year after his death, think tank will be his legacy


CLYDE trades union legend Jimmy Reid, who led the famous “work-in” at the Clyde shipyards in 1971, will be commemorated by the creation of a new foundation.

The first anniversary of his death has been marked by the launch of a think tank to look at the policies, principles and priorities that drive Scotland’s national agenda.

In 1971 Mr Reid made national headlines at the start of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) “work-in”.

Just a few days earlier, the government announced it would not intervene to prevent the company going into liquidation, which meant thousands of men would lose their jobs.

But Mr Reid told the men: “We are not even going to have a sit-in,” he said. “Nobody and nothing will come in or go out without our permission.”

The foundation will bring together those involved in left-wing politics to continue his legacy of radical political thinking.

The thinktank was launched by bi-monthly magazine Scottish Left Review, Mr Reid’s last political project.

Editor Robin McAlpine said: “We’re setting up the foundation because a lot of people are tired of turning on the TV or opening the papers only to read about things which are really only of interest to a small group of usually rich and powerful people.

“It’s time we were talking about things that matter to ordinary people. Forty years ago Jimmy Reid and others reclaimed a shipyard for the workers. We’d like to do the same thing for politics.”

The launch took place at The Pearce Institute in Govan, not far from the shipyard, and guests included entertainer Elaine C. Smith and former First Minister Henry McLeish.

Mr McLeish said: “I look forward to being one of the founding Patrons of the foundation. There is scope for much greater and more inspired debate on the political, economic and social issues facing out country.

“The foundation will provide a new focus for and rallying point for progressive politics in the 21st century. “The new politics of Scotland post-devolution requires a new sense of national self confidence and a fresh look at the policies, principles and priorities that drive our national agenda.”

Among others backing The Reid Foundation are Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar.

The think tank also has the backing of the Reid family. His daughter Julie said: “Dad believed we should have more say in the economic, social and political decision-making of our government. “He is still playing his part, and the foundation will help make his hopes and aspirations a reality.”

Scotsman 10/8/2011

Inside Politics

A foundation in memory of Jimmy Reid could herald a new chapter for the Left in Scotland, writes Eddie Barnes.

LEFTIES of the world, unite. So the call goes out this week, in Scotland at least. A year on from the death of Jimmy Reid, the famous Clydeside union organiser, a new think tank is being formed in his memory, backed up by luminaries including Sir Alex Ferguson, Alasdair Gray and lain Banks. The Reid Foundation begins without much money and a skeleton staff, but this new organisation might just be on to something.

Here is the problem for the Scottish Left, which the Reid Foundation may resolve: there’s just too much choice out there. First, there’s Scottish Labour, still the traditional home for many on the Left, but a home that has lost ground in recent years. Reid himself quit the “Thatcherite” party in 1997 over the Blairite reforms, and headed over to the SNP. That was in keeping with the mood of the times. Opposed the Iraq war? Thought PFI was a disgrace? Felt that the progress of the Scottish Left was tied to the ball and chain of middle England? The Nationalists were for you.

The Nationalists, of course, have now claimed ownership of Scotland’s centre left title deeds. But the suspicions remain, particularly as some of the party’s top brass swing avowedly to the right. That leaves open the space for the proper Left, for which a small but significant amount of support still exists in Scotland – if only Tommy Sheridan hadn’t screwed things up. Plus, there’s the Greens. Scotland drew a line only at George Galloway. The Left lives in all these homes and, as a result, in none. To illustrate, as one of those in the Reid Foundation pointed out to me last week, political debate in Scotland often revolves around a left-winger in the SNP arguing with a left-winger in Scottish Labour over an idea about which both agree, but about which they feel compelled to rage to maintain their tribal loyalties.

Party politics is a tribal business. Think-tankery is not So the Reid Foundation is setting itself up as a home for all these warring factions. Patrons have deliberately been picked from all sides: Henry Mcleish from Labour, Elaine C Smith and Winnie Ewing from the SNP. The Reid Foundation’s smart director, Robin McAlpine, has tipped his hat to the tribes by staying neutral on the constitution. The aim is that the foundation becomes a small left-wing “Green Zone” where the mortar fire of Scottish party politics is kept firmly distant .

The setting up of the Foundation could be a big moment for Scottish politics. It might expose the fact that the SNP and Labour basically agree about an awful lot – and who knows where that might end. The Foundation could also help voters get a better grip on where the parties really stand on the left-right axis. And the right in Scotland, if it’s to get a look-in on the debate, could do with a proper combatant. The Scottish political scene has long lacked a decent array of think tanks to help with all this work, Stirring things up and provoking thought sounds like an Ideal legacy for Jimmy Reid.

Sunday Herald, 7/8/2011

Reid inspiration for left-wing think thank

Former First Minister backs Foundation in memory of Clydeside work-in leader

EXCLUSIVE By Jasper Hamill

FORMER First Minister Henry McLeish has welcomed the setting up of a think-tank in memory of Jimmy Reid, the iconic Clydeside socialist, claiming it will revive left-wing thinking in Scotland.

McLeish will speak at its opening in Glasgow this week and will say he hopes the Jimmy Reid Foundation will provide a rallying point for the Left, now seen as fractured after 10 years of Blairite New Labour and the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial. The former First Minister will speak alongside Elaine C Smith at the Pearce Institute, Govan, on Wednesday, the first anniversary of Reid’s death, to launch the group.

Other supporters include Aamer Anwar, the human rights lawyer; author lain Banks; Campbell Christie, the former STUC general secretary; Richard Dixon. head of WWF Scotland; Winnie Ewing, former SNP MP and MSP: Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager; Alasdair Gray, the artist and writer; and Joan Reid, Jimmy Reid’s widow.

The foundation aims to serve as a left-wing counterbalance to well-funded right-wing ideas groups that shape Westminster policy. It will also act as an advocacy group educating left-leaning intellectuals and allowing them to form new policies and ideas that can be directly fed to politicians at Holyrood.

It hopes to become a permanent memorial to Reid, who shot to fame during the work-in at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders shipyards and became Scotland’s most famous left-wing politician.

McLeish, who was First Minister from May 1999 to October 2000, said: “I am delighted the foundation is being established.

“For far too long, centre-left and left politics in Scotland has, in my view, been in decline. This is surprising because there are huge issues in Scotland and huge priorities to discuss. After the bankers, politicians and Murdoch crises, people’s faith and trust in the political process is at its lowest possible ebb.

“We need to debate big issues to evaluate and defend concepts like the public good and expose the moral limits of marketplaces, for instance, in the care of elderly people. We must once again talk about tile ethical framework for politics, justice, fairness and principles.

“Scotland is sensitive to left-of-centre leanings, but that has not been evident in recent times. There is a unique potential in Scotland for people to support progressive agendas, but that’s not happening. The foundation can give a lead in talking about these issues.”

Robin McAlpine, director of the foundation, is a former journalist who went on to work with George Robertson when he acted as Shadow Scottish Secretary in the run-up to Blair’s election in 1997. He hopes the Reid Foundation will become an important lobbying group.

“London has high-profile lobbyists moving around and shaping policy, but Holyrood doesn’t have the same pressure of lobbying,” he said.

McAlpine believes the foundation can unite the various factions of the Scottish left that have been riven by internecine divisions and scandal.

He added: “The left is mainstream here, whilst the right does not fare well. An anti-Trident, pro-public services, pro-universalism government has been elected in Scotland and its closest opponents support most of the same policies. We are living in a political culture in which most of policy making has been affected and driven by the left.

“What many people in the south don’t realise is that there is a progressive social democracy just a few hours from London, where the people speak English, there are strong public services, support for human rights and an anti-war movement. England hasn’t noticed that Scotland is more like a Scandinavian progressive nation than the England that is emerging,”

Pat Kane, the former frontman of the Scottish band Hue and Cry who has become a commentator, traced the split in the left back to the Sheridan trial.

He said: “The Sheridan debacle was a disastrous setback to a strong left voice in Scottish poli tics and society. There needs to be a fresh new platform from which the Scottish left can make its critique. I hope the Reid Foundation leads the way for others to follow.”

Scotland on Sunday, 7/8/2011

Heavyweights back left-wing think tank

Foundation named after legendary union leader Jimmy Reid

Eddie Barnes, Political Editor

A LEFT-WING think tank with high·profile backers is to launched this week in the name of legendary Scottish union leader Jimmy Reid.

Supported by figures including Sir Alex Ferguson, Elaine C Smith and former first minister Henry McLeish – as well as widow Joan – the Reid Foundation will be launched on Wednesday, a year to the day that the trade union activist died after a long illness.

Reid remains a totemic figure for the Scottish Left, membered for his famous work-in in the Clyde shipyards in the early 1970s which led the Heath government to backtrack over plans to close the yards.

The new foundation will now seek to continue Reid’s legacy by seeking to bring together left-wingers in both the SNP and the Labour parties. A former communist and Labour party member, Reid had joined the SNP in his later years.

Organisers said a fund-raising appeal is to be launched to finance the new foundation’s output. They said it will correct what they argue is an imbalance towards the right among Scotland’s policy thinkers.

Other patrons include human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar; authors lain Banks and Alastair Gray; former STUC general secretary Campbell Christie former SNP MP Winnie Ewing; poet Jackie Kay: writer Tom Nairn, journalist Ruth Wishart; and environmentalist Richard Dixon.

Early topics likely to be raised by the new foundation include a study of SNP calls to cut corporation tax, and calls for reform in the government’s procurement policy, under which contractors would have to adopt certain standards for their workforce.

Reid’s philosophy is best remembered in his famous speech to Glasgow University in 1971. “A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings” he declared.

His funeral was attended by figures including Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson, comedian Billy Connolly, First Minister Alex Salmond and former prime minister Gordon Brown. Salmond described him as ‘Scotland’s great rallying figures over the last four decades’.

The idea for a foundation in his name came from supporters running the Scottish Left Review magazine, which Reid himself formed. Plans were already being laid to turn the magazine into a think tank, but after Reid’s death, organisers decided to adopt his name.

Director Robin McAlpine said: “Jimmy Reid’s life was a political life. And his legacy should be a political legacy. We hope that we will be able to do things with the foundation that he did with his political life.” McAlpine said the foundation was deliberately designed to appeal to figures across political patties, in keeping with Reid’s own legacy.

He added: “He was a figure who managed to unite a lot of people across party boundaries.” He added: “I’m not having a direct go at the right-wing think tanks, but there is no question that it is unbalanced and it is up to us to reset the agenda. We can hardly complain if we are not setting the agenda ourselves.”

The think tank is aimed at raising the public and political profile of alternatives to the profit-driven ideologies which have dominated” and “will reach out to the SNP and the Labour party”, as well as the green movement.

McLeish said last night: “It’s clear to me that we need a centre-left voice to shape the new politics in Scotland. There is such a lack of debate in Scotland about important issues, political priorities and political principles. In terms of issues like the moral limit of the market place, we need to look at these things with more attention.”

Shadow Scotland Office minister, Labour MP Tom Greatrex, said: “Too often constitutional issues dominate Scottish politics to the exclusion of important debates on health, housing, education, jobs and tackling poverty.

“There is a real dearth of think tanks in Scotland who provide a lot of intellectual fire-power to political debate in other countries.”

Born in Govan in 1932, Reid was an engineer by trade and became shop steward of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers on the Clyde at the time of the attempted shutdown.

As he urged workers to carry on at their posts, he famously added: “There will be no hooliganism, there will i no vandalism. there will be bevvying because the world watching us.”

He was a Communist councillor in Glasgow, subsequently became rector of Glasgow University, but despite standing for Westminster, never became an MP.