Monday, 29 September 2014

News, views & reviews - its time to talk all things Spanish again

I'm on my way again walking the camino to Santiago de Compostela. Quite comfortably the best pub crawl in Europe. I've already reviewed so many of the venues but this time around I'll stay in different towns and that means I can write new shite. Same words to describe a different venue.

Logrono is my starting point. Flying into Santander is very cheap from Edinburgh. I'm going for the princely sum of £37. The port of Santander is superb, lots of really good tapas bars and really chilled. I might get a few in before I jump the bus down to Logrono.

I'll be updating here with a few pictures, so if you are interested, ready away.

Buen Camino

Friday, 19 September 2014

Where did it all go? - bullshit bingo for the politicians when did you claim your biggest expenses

£ million
£ million
1. Source ONS Public Finance Statistics
These are big numbers - and for those who say Scotland doesnt pay it are right, the spreadsheet is run out of London. For those in London who say they pay too much, can I remind you London weighting means you all earn too much and as a result are likely to pay more tax. If London weighting did not exist then you wouldnt pay so much for property and you wouldnt inflate your prices. Try living on the yorkshire moors or up north in Scotland and there is no cheap transport and fuel costs for cars, heating and lighting are 35% of your income.

As socialists Scotland have been happy sharing the oil revenues with the rest of the UK, but recently we have just got really pissed off. London ministers have had the oil revenues for so long they genuinely believe they are Whitehall's oil revenues. I think that is where it goes a bit pear shaped and why at least 20% of that 45% who voted for independence will never trust a governing class based in Whitehall again.

Scrap the Barnet formula, split the oil revenues 50%/50% with Scottish and UK parliaments. As we were told all along it runs out soon so giving away half of something that runs out soon is a bargain.

Rip van Bee

I woke up this morning and had a brilliant dream. Thatcher did not get elected in 1979. Healey was still chancellor and had used the oil revenues in three different ways. 1/3 he gave to the mining industry and said you have a limited lifespan, but let's keep the communities going for the next 20 years. The money would be invested in safety, retraining and in new uses for mines, ie museums and long term storage. He figured quite cynically that Scargill was getting on a bit and that by 1999 there would be no Scargill and the people he was bribing were currently 38-45.

Callaghan had pointed out the steel business and shipbuilding were also in terminal decline but he accepted the next 1/3 was for investment in the future, primarily infrastructure. Being an energy tax, Healey argued vociferously that the steel based industries should re-invent themselves as part of the new manufacturers. New cleaner power was envisaged in the coming generations and harnessing its power profitably as it moved from the laboratories to the manufacturing plants was key. Ditching loss making activities at the early stage was crucial. Electricity was the new idea. The new national grid would run parallel with the railways and the massive transit systems. The pylons would be gone and the electrification of the railways would provide a grid the envy of the world. The primary resources of water would also be part of the national grid. In the Somerset flats, massive canals would sit either side of the raised railways. With the collapse of other steel business, we had a lot of manufacturing plants going empty. Huge grants were made available for any company transforming itself and their staff to fulfil elements of the national grid. British Steel wasted no time in availing itself of the largesse. The investment was not just for steel. Healey targeted the developing telecoms industry and one of its off shoots, something called the internet. He finished his budget speech to rowdy cheers as he set out plans radically transforming the water industry with his proclamation to create 100,000 new plumbers.

Having visited Scotland during the 1979 bid for devolution he was conscious how dreich it could be so  1/3 he suggested be put away for a rainy day.

During the early 80's he realised that the sale of council houses was a plan the public embraced and took note. He matched the tory policy on discounts and agreed to sell houses to any tenant however with a caveat that if they subsequently sold the house within 10 years the discount would be returned on a 10% sliding scale. All revenues were to be reinvested in new council houses and councils were obliged to ring fence infrastructure revenues which highlighted the tory plan to use the proceeds to reduce central government support of councils. Every council was asked to set aside an area to convert into new accommodation. 80% council housing 20% student housing where appropriate. Where council house sales exceeded certain levels new schools, libraries, recreation centres and hospitals were to be built as part of the infrastructure.

As unemployment fell from the 1million to 650,000 universities were seeing a greater proportion of overseas students who were happily filling the skills shortages, particularly in the new computer related industries.

Tax revenues from those employed rose as the government continued to see employment figures rise.

Then I woke up, a bit snarly having heard we get getting devo max minus the oil revenues clearly belong to London as that's where the spreadsheet is. We can have all the tax raising powers, except on the big things, as we need it for cross rail, HS2, another millenium dome....

back to sleep, it was all looking so rosy...zzzzzzzz

Its over - Mebbees aye, mebbees NAW!

Aye, Dundee might be known for jam jute and journalism but now it is the official capital of the Yes vote and  Glasgow, North Lanarkshire & West Dunbartonshire can also lay claim to having smelt the roses. I'd suggest future campaigns start there but I doubt there will be any. We are unlikely to be afforded another chance in the next 30 years. We must now find a way forward in the current set up.

Firstly though, Falkirk. What are they drinking out of the canal there. Ballot stations closing at 4pm because everyone had voted!! This is hysterical, it tops the imperial masters rickshaw. If we could get the rest of the population to follow that polling station in Falkirk these votes would cost peanuts. Like a self service bar. Open until 4pm thereafter, Joan, Elsie, Jimmy and Big Tam you'll find your ballot paper behind the bar. Just pop it in the box there. This is the democracy we strive for. The one where every vote counts and people feel they count. 88% in Falkirk and Clackmannanshire is a pretty tasty turnout.

As for the No campaign, I always thought the closer to the power the more likely you are to cling on. My home city voted overwhelmingly, No Tack! 

Caution is something we do well. Random decisions get made all around us but generally speaking we are a cautious lot. This is why the No campaign were well advised to tell us that we could'nae organise a piss up in a brewery. All of them should know as they have been running the UK for the whole of our lives.

But it is politics. This is why Gordon Brown could tell us how he knew best. The same guy that the rest of the UK told to walk along short plank. He was a good foil for them. England hated him so we had to listen. Everyone had their underdog, and every underdog has its day. I backed an 18/1 shot the other day and watched it scoot up.

The key to the No campaign for me early on was that they convinced me to vote No. I wanted to vote YES, but when I saw how inept their campaigning was, I realised we were going to be in trouble long term. I then heard the pack of lies coming out of London and relaxed and voted Yes. Long term the voter turn out suggests this country will have a lot more entrants into politics from different spheres, not just the Oxbridge graduates.

The best answer Salmond gave was if we cost the rest of the UK so much whiy do they want us. Like a one legged sheep dog they came up and showered love and platitudes on us that clearly had a few of us puking. The original vote was supposed to be 65% - 35%, so did the imperial masters help or hinder the cause.

My life has been sorting out messes made in haste by people in London. Highly pressurised, tired from long daily commutes and unable to make decisions on the hoof one lot racked up debts of £500m. Sorting it out was fun, but stopping them making the same mistakes again was not so easy. Others like me went down and sorted these types of messes out but the penny never dropped and my affinity with London is now primarily on the social side. Big metropolitan centres suck people and jobs in but when they cant get the best they take whatever is available locally. There is now a massive crisis in London as they suck people in but dont have the education or transport infrastructure.

I wondered what part the Trams would play. You can have Cross rail, HS2, Wembley stadium, the millenium dome or even a big fucking aircraft carrier that was the wrong size for the planes, to name a few miscalculations, but we were in Scotland and we were in Edinburgh, a decision that the council made and then found themselves over a barrel with. Hmmm, if we deliver nothing it costs £500m deliver something it cost £800m. This was a proper fuck up. The No campaign used it very successfully to scare the people of Edinburgh it couldnt govern, only London could. 

For me the greatest thing about the referendum was the turnout. On average 84% of people got out of their bed, care homes and asylums to vote. Even if a lot of the older people were more cautious and swayed the result, I dont care. I'd rather they vote against my preference than not vote at all, I'm mad that way. Its quite funny that a turnout of 75% can be considered low. My own take is Glasgow got a high turn out and thats why it voted YES. In an ultra high turnout it is blind panic and caution to say No that wins the day. I've not done the sums but I figure if Falkirk had 88% turnout the 43% who voted no probably equates to the 50+% who voted yes in Glasgow. IE YES generally polled at 40% of the total possible and they squeezed every bit out. The unknown, status quo cant be arse converted to a No vote in many areas but in Glasgow it did stay in bed awaiting a conclusion. 75% is huge though and it shows that politicians have engaged the public better than ever before, even if the purple prose was at its most poetic.

Hysterically funny how many barrels of oil surfaced hours after the referendum vote closed. In case we didnt know its not just Salmond, all politicians present to us what they want. Some people call this lying, but they arent all lying bastards. They just forget things from time to time.

I feel its time to bring in SS Politician. Yes Whisky Galore. Yes all those barrels of oil had been hidden and when the good ship went down, up they popped!!

I think if the SNP missed a trick they needed to get UK Sport involved. Not for their votes but for the 0.2% here and there that they needed, one I thought was worth 0.3% was they could have suggested their future name. We knew we didnt want the SNP governing us as nationalists just want independence. If they keep the name afterwards it suggests, Franco, or  others who have continued to govern as nationalists. Had they suggested they would be opening up a democratic party to encourage membership and new representatives it might have shown more of the futre and how we'd participate. The vacuum was filled by fear from opposition parties who through the BBC proposed that Jim Sillars represented the only view likely to oppose Salmond. Jim Sillars and many others would undoubtedly have been hugely influential, but we would have had many more, the YES campaign never succeeded in selling them. Ironically Gordon Brown was positioning himself for prime minister of Scotland, it would've been a great trivial pursuit question in 2050. 

We do want a democracy in our country. We currently have not got a democracy. The UK is a busted flush. They are clinging on in the houses of parliament, but constitutional reform must come.

What will it look like?

The same, ride out the storm, get the general election over with and then do nothing. W had a bite at the cherry, hope everyone enjoyed it.

There are a few postscripts

Firstly - 97% of the electorate registered to vote. OK if we know its 97% how do we know the 3% didnt? We must know who they are, why did they not tell us throughout the campaign who the 3% are.

Secondly - It seems Lloyds are still moving the jobs. The referendum was a convenient opportunity and not one to miss.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Independence - YES or NO - its not just the end of British Summer Time

As the might of the westminster machine rolled into Scotland, eluding Alex Salmond's well positioned Panzer divisions it was clear that Vinny would go walkabout, and he did.

Alicante, then up to Barcelona where I had many discussions with the Spanish and Catalonians about our referendum. In homage to Catalonia George Orwell gave a simple account of the civil war 1936-39 and although I didnt re-read it, there are many themes that run through from 80 years ago. British Summer Time was not among them.

A guy in a rickshaw wearing a darth vader costume while shouting "bow down to your imperial masters, they've come a long way to Glasgow today" over the Sky wars soundtrack has probably been up the top of my top 10 comedic moments. There's been loads.

Cameron telling Salmond he can have his after school clubs already, while his researcher is shouting in his ear piece, yes but he wants the tax revenues from letting parents go back to work earlier to pay for it, YA DAFTY!

Salmond meantime meanders around a number of points as nimbly as I did at my wedding. Sore feet all round and a noticeably large number of women switched off by him. Given that the other side are shagging their way through Westminster, allegedly, it comes as no surprise that not being a womaniser loses votes. Its one of those oxymorons, although it is easy, to comprehend. If he had the charm, he would get the women out voting and he probably would be a shagger. Look at Hollande in France, although, he has taken it a bit too far and now looks like every woman in France is an ex. Salmond doesnt exude that charm, he's no Bill Clinton. He's a wee dumpy guy who went to St Andrews, backs a few horses, cracks bad jokes and probably enjoys the odd light ale. Sounds like me, definitely nae time for shaggin.

So what are the vote winners, what are the things that are getting us out of bed to vote, well except me as I posted mine before my travels.

When I reached Narbonne in France, we discussed the auld alliance, and whether the French would welcome us into the Euroland. "Mais oui, vous avez beaucoup d'argent, huille, whiskey, en France il'y'a rien". Well that's the euro and economic argument put to bed then. It seems we get into Europe as net contributors and part of the energy security, we also disprove the theory that we cant be a profitable nation. As well as education and tourism, computer games and golf we can also export some of our other things like oil and whiskey which may help the fledgling economy and if we dont get to keep the pound they'll throw the euro at us making it even easier to get tourists.

The big questions for the floating voter though are will it make much difference. How much control over our revenues do we need in order to max out on the economy. Let's face it, Clinton always said, its the economy stupid. This is the whole deal. The main and only argument those discussing YES & NO need to have.

Voting YES means that there will be a transitional phase and we will all be worse off initially, except the constitutional lawyers and accountancy firms employed to negotiate the separation. There is plenty reason to fear the size of the divorce bill as there is not going to be lot of love in this room after a YES vote. The ends will justify the means when 35 years down the road in 2049 we are looking at a successful development of the work that was started since the split.

At present we look back on the years since 1979 and are somewhat bewildered. All our tory MPs have left to get constituencies in safe seats down south. I wasnt a big fan of them and laughed when they left then and in 1983, but the real loser was democracy. These guys were parachuted in just as people from down south came further north to find a safe Labour seat. If representative democracy is to work, then civic volunteer, councillor to MP is surely the route we want most people to take. Let's face it, the civil service guide the hand anyway.

The measure as I say will be in 2049. Its 35 years ATE (after thatcher election) so 35 AYE (after YES eventually) that we can look each other in the eye and say we've migrated to a model closer to the Swedish one. Higher taxes, full employment, after school clubs.

Many voting NO will be saying, exactly. I dont want that. Its clear if Scotland on its own votes for a government it will be left leaning, like left used to be not Tony's Troskyite version.

Education education education was his mantra. We didnt realise it was the old school bully nonsense of I'll show him....I digress, we discuss the future not the past.

On balance I am pro-democracy, which meant I became a YES voter. There is no line that is a vote winner for me, on either side. It is a massive vote of faith.

In 1979 & 1997 there was a massive vote of faith and it was misplaced. One spent all our money on creating high and sustainable unemployment (for those wondering why Norway has a huge oil fund of £800bn and we have a £1trillion deficit ask Sherlock how much it cost per annum to keep 3 million unemployed never mind how could it grow if it could've been invested). 1997 is best left alone, its still too raw but the emphasis is on democracy.

2014 and another vote of faith. Keep with the union, leave home and start afresh. I think if we split up, we'll be closer together in the future, if we stay together we will disintegrate. I think our democracy on these islands will improve as we show the way forward. Scotland has taken the lead in the past and not just with the poll tax.

Its a lot of dough to get rid of trident, and will we have politicians who keep their noses from the trough. There are lots of places where we would choose to invest if we had control over the revenues. Its not just about providing free this and that. It is about investing in infrastructure industries. We led the way with the turbines but the Danes got the job manufacturing as we were so busy closing all our steel mills. Check the Proclaimers letter to America if you dont believe me! Will we choose to do that or will we acquire a taste for fine port?

Can we make whisky cheaper and therefore stimulate investment by the distilleries in the independent Scotland instead of Japan?

Nobody knows. Its a leap of faith that business leaders will continue to see that Edinburgh is the number 2 financial centre currently and in the top 10 in Europe. Will that change? Its up to them but the talent will not leave Edinburgh unilaterally. What makes these financial institutions migrate to Edinburgh and Glasgow is the pool of staff. For every Standard Life that makes noises about leaving there are Blackrocks, JP Morgans and the rest who view the cost and quality of the staff, its geographical positioning between Asian and North American markets as being pivotal.

Can Salmond and the successors in this new democracy fuck it up? Of course they can. They've been educated the same way as the screw balls I mentioned earlier did so for the whole of the UK, but with any luck our democracy will be more robust. Who knows, but we'll find out some answers soon and others we may not even find out at all.

Good luck whichever way you vote, we'll still be in the pub Friday night.