Vote No Borders & Astroturfing: The Evidence

Vote No Borders

Ahead of the official campaigning period beginning tomorrow, the Vote No Borders campaign have called an end to the “first stage” of their referendum campaign. After 28 days, the controversial project, campaigning for a No vote in September’s referendum, dropped the “Donate” page from their website, and replaced it with another.

We know this because we’ve been keeping a VERY close eye on the Vote No Borders website.

During this time, we’ve found evidence that suggests a whopping 93% of received donations registered over £500 but below the £7500 limit required for declaration before the referendum.

Even more incredibly, more than 72% of the amount raised was attributed to donations between £7000 and £7500, allowing those donors to remain anonymous until after the vote.

What follows surely removes any remaining doubt that Vote No Borders is an astroturf campaign, funded by anonymous wealthy backers who are deliberately avoiding public scrutiny, to give the impression of a campaign that has popular grassroots support.

Background

Launched on the 1st May 2014, Vote No Borders claims to be a “non-party political campaign” seeking to build grassroots support for a No vote in September’s referendum. Unexpected and unknown, there was frenzied interest in what was the first serious group outside of Better Together campaigning for a No vote.

Despite being relatively unexpected and unknown, Vote No Borders somehow managed to go from a complete unknown one day, to enjoying media-wide coverage the next. That coverage led to criticisms that the mainstream media were offering unprecedented and uncritical coverage of Vote No Borders that has not been repeated, and likely never will, for any other group in this campaign.

During this time however, it was discovered that Malcolm Offord, principal founder of Vote No Borders, is a long time Tory donor based in London. Offord is joined by Fiona Gilmore, who just happens runs a London-based consultancy, Acanchi, which specialises in “country positioning strategies”. Before long, the Vote No Borders domain records also connected a Gary Waple from the campaign back to Acanchi, while evidence on professional networking site Linkedin, suggested Acanchi had been tasked with planning this campaign as far back as 2012.

From the very first days of this campaign, the profile of their backers meant it was highly questionable whether this really was a non-party political campaign never mind a “grassroots” one. We sought to investigate just how this campaign was being funded.

Web Scrape

Using some very basic software tools, we’ve been monitoring the Vote No Borders website every 5 minutes for the last 4 weeks using a very simple web scraper.

Put simply, web scraping is a means of extracting data from websites. Such a tool automates tasks we do on a daily basis: load a website, read some information, pick out certain data, etc. Assuming the structure of the page is pretty static and unchanging, loading the page automatically and extracting some basic data is simple.

In this instance, it took 10 minutes to write a simple tool that loads the Vote No Borders “Donate” page and extracts the total amount donated to their campaign. Furthermore, it’s equally simple to repeat this task every 5 minutes, all day, every day.

So we did.

vnb-web-scraperSince 2nd May, we’re been logging the amount donated to Vote No Borders via their website. Every five minutes, the date, time and the amount raised was logged.

We also logged how many “public interactions” were noted on the donation page – this included some information about people who were sharing the page on social media, donating, etc. This lasted 4 days before the feature was disabled so that it was no longer possible to view this information.vnb-raw-peek

While useful, the tool only detects changes in the total amount raised as displayed on the Vote No Borders website. As such, it can only give a rough indication of when and what donations were made.

So what did we find?

The Data: Grassroots or Astroturfing?

We found that between the 2nd May and 28th May, our tool only detected 121 changes to the total amount raised as declared on the Vote No Borders website. While it is almost certain that multiple donations were occasionally made in the same 5 minute period, the low rate of donations suggests this was rare.

Despite this, it looks certain that the Vote No Borders website received no more than 150 different donations. Yes, that’s one-hundred-and-fifty. A campaign that exploded into the referendum campaign in a blaze of publicity and nationwide coverage has averaged less than 7 donations for each day of the campaign to date.

daily-donations-numberRather than the number of donations to the campaign increasing as their message spreads to an increasing number of people – as would be the case in a true grassroots campaign – there is clear evidence that this has not happened. In fact, in the past week, there has been a decrease in the number of detected donations.

daily-donationsDespite this, in less than 4 weeks the campaign has managed to raise a staggering £106,683. That eye-watering sum equates to an average donation in the region of £881. There is also a clear contrast in the frequency of donations and the amount raised: Lows of £255 from 11 donations on 9th May, to highs of £24,609 from 5 donations on 7th May or £21,200 from just 4 donations on 18th May.

Where the analysis of this campaign get’s really interesting is in the individual amounts donated. Less than 1% of the donations detected were valued at less than £50. In total, just over 6% of detected donations were of a value that were less than or equal to the £500 limit that requires regulation. This means that over 93% of the money donated to Vote No Borders will be regulated and require declaration to the Electoral Commission.

While this is true, only sums donated over £7500 must be registered before September’s referendum. To date, there have be no donations that meet this criteria meaning every donation we detected will avoid regulation until after the poll.

vnb-donate-set-valueHowever, the most alarming data in this study concerns the money donated to Vote No Borders that appears designed to avoid pre-poll regulation. The Vote No Borders has a maximum pre-configured donation value of £5000. If any donor wishes to donate more, they must manually enter that value before proceeding – paying attention to the following useful reminder on the same page:

Please note that whilst, under Electoral Commission rules, we have the responsibility to check the source of all donations over £500, only donations totalling over £7,500 have to be published publicly on their website. The £7,500 threshold is per campaign, therefore any donations to other campaigns are not taken into account.

With this in mind, we found that a full £78,508 (73.59%) of money donated fell in the £7000-£7500 range. That’s 11 5 minute periods over 4 weeks where the total amount donated via the Vote No Borders website suddenly jumped by over £7,000 but less than the £7,501 required for pre-poll regulation. This is surely a clear attempt to avoid declaration and scrutiny between now and September 18th.

donation-distributionFuthermore, two separate donations of £7,000, which were made within 30 minutes of each other on Sunday 18th May between 7am and 8am, are surely deserving of scrutiny from the Electoral Commission to determine whether they (amongst others) are from the same source and subject to regulation via pre-poll reporting.

The table below highlights the 11 donations detected between £7,000 and £7,500.

Date Time Amount Detected
05/05/2014 22:25:00 £7,500.00
07/05/2014 11:15:00 £7,010.00*
07/05/2014 13:50:00 £7,000.00
07/05/2014 23:05:00 £7,499.00
13/05/2014 17:45:00 £7,000.00
13/05/2014 22:55:00 £7,499.00
18/05/2014 07:15:00 £7,000.00
18/05/2014 07:40:00 £7,000.00
18/05/2014 19:45:00 £7,000.00
19/05/2014 16:40:00 £7,000.00
21/05/2014 16:05:00 £7,000.00

While it is possible that this is all above board, there is clearly a coordinated campaign of secrecy behind the funding of Vote No Borders and a clear risk that multiple donations from the same source may have breached the £7500 limit.

* The £7,010 amount is likely to be one of the raise occasions where two donations we’re made in the same 5 minute window (ie: one donation of £7,000 and one donation of £10).

Astroturfing

With no more than 150 detectable donations and a flat, or even declining, trend in the number of donations received per day, this is clear confirmation that Vote No Borders is anything but a grassroots campaign. Analysis of the actual amounts donated via the Vote No Borders website underlines that this is a wealthy campaign seeking to influence the independence referendum under the pretence of popular public support.

The data above highlights a campaign that is generously funded by a small group of wealthy individuals who wish to remain anonymous while hiding behind the manufactured perception of a grassroots campaign. By definition, there can be no doubt this is a blatant astroturf campaign.

Suspicious levels of donations give clear indication that donors are explicitly trying to avoid regulation before the referendum and the Electoral Commission must act to ensure that Vote No Borders are not receiving multiple donations from regulated donors that total more than £7500. The official campaign period may begin tomorrow, but it is clear that campaign funding to date requires far greater scrutiny.

The Campaign Continues…

With the first stage complete, the second stage has just begun and immediately more questions are raised. Within 15 minutes of their new “Donate” page going online and our modified web scraper being configured, the Vote No Borders website immediately indicated that £6000 had been raised toward their new target of £150,000.

That’s right. 15 minutes. £6000. Further donations of £250 and £50 today bring the current total to £6300.

The Vote No Borders campaign is clearly the very definition of astroturfing and the Scottish people deserve to know who is funding this campaign.

Posted in Astroturf, Campaign Funding, Electoral Commission, Grassroots, Independence Referendum, Vote No Borders | Tagged , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Activate Labour Vote 2014

After weeks of shamelessly kicking Yes Scotland of having a plurality of visions for an independent Scotland, Better Together unexpectedly and spectacularly split over the course of a few days with no apparent hypocrisy at all. Have Labour just stuck a red rosette on the independence referendum?

In one brutal day, the campaign tagline “Better Together” was finally ruined. No longer will they pretend we are Better Together when they can’t stomach to stand together. In truth, the strain has been showing for months – ever since Tory-donor Ian Taylor’s contributions to the campaign became public, campaigners have struggled to find a coherent narrative that justified accepting the money, nevermind continuing to stand alongside Tories who have no problem with such money. And with an increasingly chaotic Tory party south of the border boxing shadows with the UKIP wide-boy, Scottish Labour obviously recognise that not everything is Better Together. Without any sense of shame or acknowledgement of hypocrisy, Scottish Labour now appear to accept that it is OK to have competing visions within the independence campaigns. We are “United with Labour”… presumably unless you are a member of Labour for Independence! (Note: it is quite unclear just how much influence UK Labour have on this initiative so expect much confusion when the UK party are pulled right in the months ahead and Scottish Labour are further isolated in the UK context.)

The smart money says that Scottish Labour are realising that the Better Together umbrella doesn’t resonate with their core vote. The branding, the language, the standing alongside Tories – not a single red rosette in sight. Like a modern-day, electoral Bat Signal, how else can Labour trigger that deep-rooted and oft-abused loyalty if they cannot deploy the core Labour vote? My guess, and I accept it just a guess, is that Labour are nervous. While the SNP were winning an historic majority in 2011, the Labour vote actually held up well, but all it was doing was holding. And just. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that vote was unlikely to hold up as well after a several years justifying and excusing the Tories, nevermind sharing a platform with them and their donors. Beyond 2014, throwing everything at Better Together also does very little for their brand identity or electoral fortunes, and the launch of United for Labour allows Scottish Labour to do what they increasingly always do – look after Number 1. Say Labour; say it often. Give it a rosette. Colour it red. Say No. Do not ask questions.

Expect to also see their online presence thin (or rather, don’t expect it to improve). From @2014TruthTeam to #500Questions, it is clear they have problems understanding social media and the internet, or the behaviour of people online. And narrating their call to the Labour vote online only encourages people to analyse and expose what is a shallow and vague campaign. Many of the core Labour vote don’t necessarily use or even have social media so it’s a double win that they might forfeit something they clearly cannot do and attracts ridicule. That this is the 21st century seems to escape Labour but that’s what happens when you treat an electorate like it’s still the 80’s and 90’s. The absence of a deep “United with Labour” narrative on Scotland’s future within the UK has meant their campaigners on Twitter are having to fill the social media void with the usual meaningless guff and vacuous soundbites on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/2014TruthTeam/status/333993416054669312

https://twitter.com/AJ_Grant/status/333894176531963904

Are you “Labour”? Were you “Labour”? Are your parents “Labour”? If so, Labour are activating that vote – they aren’t taking it for granted by not actually giving you specifics or outlining how they’ll make things Better Together – but they hope, or even expect, you to fall in to line. Don’t ask too many questions, and trust Labour to do what they think is in their best interests. Ignore the debate, tick the box and do as Labour tell you in 2014.

Isn’t it about time Scotland asked why?

Posted in Better Together, Independence Referendum, Labour | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scottish Pound For Another Day

Today, there has been much discussion on the proposed monetary union of an independent Scotland, as the Treasury (and more specifically, George Osborne) look to dissuade, or even block, a Sterling monetary union should Yes Scotland win next year. The Yes campaign should encourage the UK to make this threat over and over again.

To understand why this is nothing more than a cold, hard pre-negotiation stance, you only have to imagine the days following a Yes vote in 2014. On securing a mandate to negotiate the transfer of powers to Holyrood and a carving up of the UK asset book, rUK are forced to confront the harsh realities of a political union that is ending. Can it be reversed in the short-term? No. Does it serve rUK well by being obstructive to a quick and stable independent Scottish state? No. Does it serve rUK well by encouraging undue fiscal pain on Scottish and rUK businesses? No. The safe money goes on rUK accepting that it’s best interests are served by promoting stability and confidence across rUK. For our part, it is clear a newly independent Scottish state will enter discussions to constrain certain fiscal policy decisions such that Sterling is not only stable, but strong. And there endeth today’s lesson in common sense.

Today’s (and probably tomorrow’s, and the day after’s) “debate” on currency is nothing more than political sabre-rattling. Both sides are publishing their own opinion’s skewed by their own political stance. It has been, and ever will be, thus. What is important, is how either side respond to the on-going debate.

For Better Together, their campaign is clearly built, not on The Positive Case for the Union <sup>TM</sup>, but on uncertainty and obfuscation of the Yes proposals. The latest currency contributions from UK parties don’t so much make the case that UK economic and monetary policy is great (because it quite clearly isn’t), but that the SNP (and by the usual extension, Yes Scotland), are in disarray on monetary policy. The fact that SNP are stubbornly resolute on currency seems not to matter – they more they repeat, the more they hope it sticks in the mind of the electorate. As today’s contribution from George Osborne demonstrates, it clearly isn’t a strategy that is working or one that they have confidence in: threatening Scotland that rUK are unlikely to enter a formal monetary union with Scotland is probably the most provocative and bold political move yet in the #indyref debate thus far. This goes somewhat further than previous attempts to introduce uncertainty to the debate – it’s not a far cry from indicating some certainly; that monetary union is not an option. For a campaign that wallows in uncertainly, why have the No campaign suddenly tried to assert some clarity in the monetary debate?

In actual fact, the underlying philosophy of the UK parties in this debate is alive and well. A monetary union is the one option that represents continuity and therefore confidence, and it is in the No campaign’s interest to undermine it, or remove it as an option which is the tactic George Osborne hinted at this morning. That respected economists have underlined a monetary union as being in the best interests of Scotland and rUK in the short term at least, suggests this is a clear political strategy and nothing more. Furthermore, such a blatant threat is designed to encourage and emphasise splits (of which, there clearly are) in the Yes campaign on monetary policy. We are Better Together if we are split, confused, uncertain and indecisive.

If these are the desired outcomes, what is the correct response? It would seem reasonable to surmise that the weight and noise coming from the UK parties indicates that they would like the perceived position of the Yes campaign to move somewhere they would much prefer it to be. If monetary union is a genuine weakness of the Yes campaign, there is absolutely no way the UK parties would be attempting to slam that door shut. It would be subtly encouraged and gently teased along with any other undesirable monetary policies that can easily be undermined and confused in the voter’s mind.

For these reasons, it is important to hold steady on monetary policy as it proposed by the SNP for the short term. It does the Yes campaign no good to increase calls for an independent Scottish currency, regardless of it’s merits. If anecdotal evidence is required, there are several key demographics that are proving sympathetic to a Yes vote but are burdened by the risk and lack of confidence in radical change, and any reasonable deviation from the current proposal is a disaster the No campaign wish to lure us toward. Our message must be simple and it must be coherent. If the UK government wish to reject monetary union as an option, they should be made to reiterate the threat over and over again. It is a political threat and political threats should be heard.

A case for a new Scottish currency is there to be made, but it must be made outside of the #indyref pressure-cooker along with Europe, the Monarchy and the Welfare State. To do otherwise, is exactly what George Osborne wants us to do.

Posted in Better Together, Conservatives, Independence, Independence Referendum, UK Government, Yes Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scottish Social Attitudes: 2013

I’m no psephologist, but there is much to be gained from exploring the latest “polling” data on the Scottish constitutional question. I say “polling”, but the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey is, as the title suggests, a survey. That won’t stop the #indyref campaigns calling it a poll and unsurprisingly, one campaign will milk these results along with the mainstream media. What is there to learn by scratching beneath the surface?

The Numbers

Shallow analysis of the survey paints the picture currently being painted by Better Together and the mainstream media: support for Independence sitting at a lowly 23%. Extrapolation (see notes on context below) of the other options summarise opposition to Independence at a whopping 72%, with 5% Undecided. Them’s the numbers; disappointing for Yes Scotland however you cut them.

However, further exploration does highlight some inconsistencies and contradictions when compared with the headline figures:

  • 64% think the Scottish Parliament should set the “levels of welfare benefits”.
  • 56% think the Scottish Parliament should set the “level of taxes”.
  • 67% think the Scottish Parliament should have all powers less defence and foreign affairs.

These figures clearly point to the ambition for a Scottish Parliament with far greater powers, most probably in line with DevoMax.

The survey underlines this by highlighting the disparity between the level of government that HAS most influence over Scotland (34% ScotGov, 41% UKGov), and the level of government that SHOULD have most influence (63% ScotGov, 24% UKGov): a clear desire for the Scottish Government to have more influence, albeit with a curious reduction in support compared to previous years (which turns out to be a recurring theme).

In turning to the expectations of Independence, respondents suggested there may be a little more pride in Scotland, with a slighter stronger voice in the world, but were evenly split on the prospects for the Scottish economy. However, in all cases, confidence appears to have suffered in the context of year on year results.

One curious result, that appears to be a new question for 2012, was the response to whether the gap between the rich and poor in an Independent Scotland would be bigger, smaller or no different. The results suggest there would be no difference in the gap between rich and poor, and if anything, a slight leaning toward the gap increasing. This is very slight, and might fall into margin of error territory, but it does not agree with the Yes Scotland message of Independence bringing us a more even and fair society.

Context

Those are the numbers; what is the small print?

  • The survey was carried out between July and November 2012, so is now rather dated.
  • This was a survey, not a poll. There is a considerable difference.
  • There was no question close to that which might be asked in 2014.
  • There have been some significant changes since the poll, including the Benefits Uprating Bill at Westminster and major developments on the EU.

So what might this all mean for the respective campaigns?

Better Together

As with all polling data, when the going is good, campaign teams milk it for every penny it’s worth. If ever there was a poll that would be used to influence rather than reflect public opinion this is it. However, while the raw headline figures are uncomfortable reading for Yes Scotland, the wider results do pose some awkward questions for the Better Together team once they’ve finished celebrating. Results like this are only as good as the last poll, and this survey was old news before it was published with a more result poll reporting Yes: 28%; No: 48%; Undecided: 24%. On the actual survey findings, Better Together will need a concrete devolution proposal before the vote, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll agree on a proposal that comes close to satisfying the respondents. DevoMax will absolutely not happen, DevoPlus has struggled to find any clear support at all and the latest offering of DevoMore is well short of expectations, most notably in terms of the Welfare State. This survey was also before the capping of benefits in the recent Westminster Bill and the complete farce that has become the EU debate. Don’t be surprised if this survey encourages Better Together to expand their “scaremongering” programme – some figures do suggest confidence in the prospects for an Independent Scotland has taken a little hit, so  don’t be surprised if they look to take advantage of this fact.

Yes Scotland

For Yes Scotland, they should take the bitter pill and smile. The headline figures, while disappointing reading, offer nothing new, and to react or panic to a survey like this would be the worst possible move. 2012 was almost a perfect storm: year of the Olympics and the SNP under significant scrutiny. The campaign team will have their own polling data that will paint a more accurate picture, but a little digging does offer some encouragement. There is a still a desire for far greater powers, a level of which is nowhere near to being offered by UK parties. DevoMax looks like the winner in the survey, but in more precise terms, much greater power over taxation and control of welfare appear top priorities – expect the latter especially to be of increasing importance. As noted above, there have been significant developments since this poll was carried out and is quite clearly an outlier in terms of wider  polling, but there is some work to do in visualising what an Independent Scotland will look like and how it might prosper.

In summary, both campaigns would do well to avoid placing much faith in the headline figures. The nature of such a broad survey paints an extreme view when reduced to binary or tuple form. Wake me up when the Electoral Commission reports on the draft question, the Scottish Parliament respond, and we get consistent polling on the question that’s going to be ask.

Posted in Better Together, Independence, Independence Referendum, Polls, Yes Scotland | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Sectioned! Any 30 will do!

Quality debate is what we were promised; quality debate is generally not what we are getting, even when it is conducted entirely by one side. Having suffered a significant part of the “debate”, my judgement may be somewhat clouded, but if this was an example of why we are Better Together, end it now.

That the Section 30 Order was always likely to pass without much issue, meant we could have been spared the ordeal. The opportunity, however, was too good to resist, and what unfolded was an SNP hate-fest, who were largely innocent bystanders aside from an unnecessary walk-out stunt during Ian Davidson’s contribution.

It is worth noting that it wasn’t all bad. There were some lucid and thoughtful contributions, principally from Charles Kennedy, but this was dragged under by the over-whelming appetite for cheap political point scoring and more than a few completely ridiculous contributions, the best of which (that I can remember from when I tuned in) are summarised below.

Full Hansard report available here for those seeking an effective come-down or depressant.

Ian Davidson MP, Glasgow South West (Labour) and Chair of the illustrious and not-at-all-biased Scottish Affairs Select Committee:

“The referendum will be timed to take place after the anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, which is celebrated mainly because Scots slew large numbers of English people.”

“The fact that those events will take place before the referendum gives people the opportunity to celebrate the politics of identity and ethnicity.”

Anas Sarwar, Glasgow Central (Labour):

“We have a majority SNP Government in the Scottish Parliament, but that is not a democratic place in the conventional sense; it is a dictatorship of one man.”

Jim McGovern, Dundee West (Labour):

“Does he find it somewhat odd that the former England football captain, Terry Butcher, will be entitled to vote in the referendum, but Sir Alex Ferguson will not?”

Ian Murray, Edinburgh South (Labour):

“What we have seen since 2007—although more so since 2011—is a party that has taken the wonderful institution that is the Scottish Parliament and turned it into little more than a talking shop for the ruling party.”

Eleanor Laing, Epping Forest (Conservative):

“If even I would answer yes, the facts speak for themselves: the question is enormously biased.”

“Scotland should be, is and always has been an independent country.”

Margaret Curran, Glasgow East (Labour):

“For many years I have argued with the SNP, which wants to say that the problem facing Scotland is the English.”

Rory Stewart, Penrith and The Border (Conservative):

“Independence will not cause the war between England and Scotland to start again. Those days of savagery, murder, pillage and rape—what we saw in Cumbria for 400 years—will not return, because the world has changed.”

Michael McCann, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Labour):

“Does my hon. Friend share my concerns about the head of the Scottish civil service? It has been accused in the past by many people of being native.”

Jim Sheridan, Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Labour):

“Is it just the general public view that they are just big fearties?”

David Mundell, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (Conservative):

“I say to Alex Salmond, ‘Ignore the advice of the Electoral Commission at your peril.'”

Final word to Lord Forsyth, Conservative, who had this to say ahead of the debate on agreeing the Section 30 Order:

“It’s like ‘giving the key to the bar to the alcoholics’.”

Quite. Better Together indeed.

Posted in Better Together, Independence Referendum, Labour, Tories, UK Government | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Time to Lead by Example

In the ongoing referendum debate, the facile argument swings back and forth between claims of a fabled land of milk and honey and a selfish nation abandoning fellow Brits to suffer the very worst of Toryism. As the Tory-LibDem coalition plunder the welfare state and society’s poorest, isn’t it about time guardians of the Union accepted that electoral solidarity in defence of the Union is protecting no-one, and allowing Toryism and LibDem impotence to inflict suffering UK wide.

In various debates, a common defence of preserving the Union posits that if Scotland prospers by leaving the UK, the rest of the UK will suffer:

If we would be better off, then the rest of the UK would be worse off. I’m not that selfish. I want to help the working and unemployed poor across the WHOLE of the UK.

It is not clear to me why this should be this case. The mythical argument that states Labour need Scotland in order to win a Westminster election has been roundly dismissed, so the suggestion that rUK needs Scotland to protect them from their own right-wing alter-ego is profoundly wrong and rather disrespectful. Of course, it will possibly result a in nudge to the right but it is a curiously Scottish arrogance that lacks the confidence to lead by example, yet somehow assert ourselves as more righteous and just.

There is also no barrier that prevents an independent Scotland and rUK from both flourishing in their own way that does not seem possible while we continue to bind ourselves in Union for nothing more than a symbolic gesture in ballot-box solidarity. As yesterday’s vote has shown, what has Scottish solidarity done for the poor in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? Nothing. We all suffer equally.

There are alternatives to blind and symbolic solidarity. Autonomy, and I mean proper revenue and power autonomy, lends itself to innovation and competition where autonomous regions can make political choices, accepting the risks and enjoying the rewards, in isolation. Independence offers this opportunity. Just as we look on with envy at Scandinavian public services, and with horror at resistance to public health care in the US, we analyse competing models to understand what works and what doesn’t. The monolithic British state, with it’s pseudo-devolved scaffolding, desperately clings to a conforming political system where the facade of autonomy is projected but is actually regularly discouraged, resisted or undermined. Devolution is widely accepted as the suitable and sustainable process to satisfy diverging political beliefs – only to forfeit responsibility and accountability thanks to the blank cheque that is the block grant. Fiscal autonomy should be right at the top of Johann Lamont’s debate on affordability, but you’ll find it completely absent in favour of more taxation on student’s in higher education and a prescription system that will cost as much as it’s likely to bring in. This re-arranging of the deck chairs is typical of the superficial tinkering that has come to define politics in the UK – anything is fair game, as long as it is resistive to radical reform and autonomy. The end result is a system that encourages greedy or irresponsible spending in Scotland, at the same time as engendering doubt and resentment throughout the UK about how we can possibly afford it all. Quite clearly, the responsibility to spend taxes should come with equal responsibility to collect those same taxes, but you’ll find little conviction for Devo-Plus, never mind Devo-Max amongst UK parties.

No, the best thing Scotland’s unionist parties could do is resign themselves from their nauseating self-importance and realise that the best antidote to Toryism is not their preservation of the Union, but more autonomy, more risk-taking and more local, agile government. It is surely better to lead by example and demonstrate that different choices can and do result in different outcomes. It is about time we matured as a nation and that comes from learning the lessons of mistakes as much as it comes from learning the lessons of successes, and rUK would certainly look toward Scotland for new ideas as much as we would look south and beyond in a similar exploration of the choices before us. If Scotland genuinely believed in the principles of the welfare state, more independence would allow us to resist a cap on benefits to the poorest in society, deciding to bridge funding gaps by other means and demonstrating a clear and tangible reminder that there are alternatives to Tory-imposed austerity for the lower classes. Instead, we are all in this together. Suffering.

Yesterday, the Tory/LibDem coalition gratuitously plundered the unemployed and working classes and unionist parties in Scotland excuse it as some kind of unselfish, symbolic solidarity with the UK left. Independence provides a prime opportunity to lead reform and exploration of an alternative political path that rejects the very worst of privileged, elitist Tory Britain. It’s time to lead by example by voting Yes in 2014 and demand a better politik for Scotland.

Footnote: One of the most depressing comments that sums up just how fucked up we’ve become in this country comes courtesy of Liberal Democrat MP, Greg Mulholland:

This is a temporary measure, he says. It “can and will be reversed as the economy improves”.

Hit the poor, and hit ‘em hard. Justified because it’s a temporary measure. The wealthy are presumably spared until the deficit becomes a real problem. The spectacular fall from grace of the LibDems is a never-ending car crash.

Posted in Better Together, Independence, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Tories, UK Government, Unionists | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

As Good As It Gets

Happy New Year one and all!

It might not have been unreasonable to hope that the Better Together campaign could aim high this New Year and look toward a more positive vision for Scotland within the United Kingdom. The ink is barely dry on this year’s resolutions, and yet Michael Kelly has managed to scrape the parody barrel in putting us in our rightful place – that’s right, we should be thankful for the Union because this is apparently “as good as it gets“.

In an article full of questionable analysis, Kelly offers no exploration of such a poverty of ambition, and instead talks up a buoyant and confident Labour Party who are apparently energised by Lamont’s performances at FMQs and beyond. Nevermind Independence, if this is as good as Scottish Labour and Better Together get, I fear for Scotland beyond 2014 if the electorate return a “No” vote. If they are unable to present a simple and coherent message for the campaign they believe, what hope of them addressing many of the problems facing Scottish communities with radical, ambitious and imaginative solutions? Increasingly, Better Together are allowing their mindset and campaign to be defined in terms of limitations; of constraints; of what we can’t do; of low expectations and inability. This is not a Scotland I want to be a member of.

Call me a hopeless optimist; an un-realist; a political fantacist; call me whatever you want: I believe things can and always will be better. Even when the going is good. Furthermore, anyone stupid enough to suggest we’ve got it as good as can be expected when times are bad doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. The welfare state is being dismantled and the Scottish Labour leader is advocating a return to tuition fees, prescription charges and a review of numerous universal policies – given the distance and speed with which we have regressed, it is quite clear this is nowhere near as good as it gets. We can and should expect better, and when it goes get better, we should expect it to keep getting better because we should aspire to a better and fairer society for everyone, not just some key voting demographic.

It is quite clear that this aspiration and hope is not evident in those who believe our future is best served in the United Kingdom. Michael Kelly and his ilk believe Johann Lamont and the United Kingdom are the best Scotland can achieve. I can think of nothing more demoralising. Independence is most certainly not as good as it can get, but it is surely the first step to correcting a debilitating and hopeless mindset in this country.

Scotland can and should expect far better.

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