Sunday, 12 July 2015

All You Need Is Hate

The problem is I can't do it.

Many years ago a consultant surgeon hinted to me that I should consider taking up smoking. He couldn't say it directly of course - no medical practitioner could - but he offered the observation that many people with the chronic condition I have found that smoking helped. So I tried. I really did. But it became clear that I simply lacked the willpower to take up smoking.

When I left Islay to study in Glasgow, the first football match I went to was an Old Firm derby. I spent most of the match watching the crowd, the singing masses lyrically declaring their hatred for each across the pitch. My initial reaction was one of fascination and - I'm embarrassed to admit - a desire to be part of it. For a while I kept going to the games, I learned the songs and I too spat my hatred across the stands, singing songs referring to a history I knew nothing about. Then I grew up. I've never been back.

It appears that in Scottish politics today the ability to encourage that sort of hatred is more important than the ability to engage in (and win) rational debate. The victors are those who succeed in getting the masses to spit their hatred at "them" - at the Tories, at Westminster, at "Red Tories". It's not enough to disagree with those who have different political views; you must hate them.

Of course many in politics have long believed you have to disagree with everything your opponents say, but the SNP ratcheted it up to a whole new level during the independence referendum. Scottish Labour "stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories" in the Better Together campaign and must never be forgiven for it. This takes as given that to agree with a political opponent is something for which you should seek forgiveness, that to agree with someone on something implies you must agree with them on everything. It's an extraordinarily witless stance to adopt.

I happen to agree with much of the Tories macro-economic strategy but I think their instincts are "wrong" when it comes to how to distribute the resultant economic pain. I think the budget's "Living Wage" announcement is a cheap political trick - the reduction in tax credits redefines what would be required for the National Minimum Wage such that in fact the poorest will be net worse-off - but I applaud the principle of shifting some of the state's burden across to business. I think it's wrong to suggest reducing corporation tax is a compensatory measure for businesses impacted by the increase in the National Minimum Wage (it's not the "Living Wage" in any meaningful sense) because many of the beneficiaries will have few if any employees affected, whereas some of those businesses impacted will struggle to deliver any taxable profit. I applaud the moves to reduce the tax-avoidance opportunities available though "self-incorporation" or non-dom status, but taking some people out of higher-rate tax at the same time as reducing tax-credits for the poorest seems just wrong to me.

I could go on, but my intention here is not to critique this budget but to make a broader point: it should be possible to have an intelligent and nuanced debate about the pros and cons of policies from any party, but it's pretty hard to do that if you have to be seen to hate their every move.

It's not just the specific politics of this that should worry us. When some Scots declare their hatred for Tories they are declaring their hatred for millions of UK citizens - that should make us all uncomfortable. The same is of course true for anybody who declares their hatred for the SNP or Labour.

Surely Scots need to move away from a politics defined by visceral hatred for "them" and towards a politics driven by intelligent, nuanced and informed debate. The alternative is to go on playing this game of "hate-thy-neighbour"; I for one simply can't do that.

Maybe I lack the necessary will-power.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Chokkablog Videos

I thought I'd try to summarise what I've learnt through chokkablog in simple video format.

This summary vlog runs through all of the material as quickly as I could manage.  It's for those (like me) who get impatient with people presenting stuff slowly.

The vlogs below run present the same slides in the same order but at a pace that allows more explanation, caveat and commentary. Hopefully you can find bits that particularly interest you if you are left with questions having viewed the summary blog above.

This first vlog looks at relative per capita expenditure levels between Scotland and rUK, explains why we can trust GERS data, shows that there is a £9bn onshore deficit gap between Scotland and rUK and illustrates how offshore (oil & gas) revenues sometimes close that gap.

This second vlog looks at the oil & gas forecasts that were used in the Scottish Government White Paper and demonstrates why even at the time they were clearly misleadingly optimistic. It also looks at data on the North Sea's declining tax yield to explain why an oil price recovery alone is unlikely to be enough to see a return to historical offshore revenue levels

This third vlog looks at the absolute levels of revenue generated and money spent in Scotland over the last 15 years to allow us to put the £8bn defcit gap in context and asks what we'd need to believe to expect tax increases, spending reductions or superior growth to close that gap

Finally this fourth vlog puts the UK and Scottish deficit figures in the context of other EU countries' deficit levels and asks whether Scotland would be able to sustain the deficit level we'd start with if we were to be an independent country

None of these videos suggest that Scotland couldn't be fiscally autonomous or even independent - they simply show the scale of the challenge we'd face, they explain where we'd start from.