Grown up politics

What a week.  Indeed, the sort of week in politics which requires everyone to go and lie in a darkened room for a while and recover.

If there is a discernible pattern, it is that everyone – to a greater or lesser degree – is “playing the man not the ball”.

Johann Lamont’s starting position for every First Minister’s Questions appears to be to snide and sneer at said First Minister – and if she can get a wee pop at his sidekick, the Depute First Minister, as she did this week, then that appears to count for double. It’s dispiriting and unedifying.

There was the expose of the cybernats by that bastion of taste and rectitude, the Daily Mail.  And a counterclaim by an SNP MSP of dirty tricks.  And ultimately the First Minister – who frankly has better things to be doing, like running a country and a referendum – having to come out and call for calm.  Play nicely was his plea, which was ignored, of course, by everyone engaging in the internet battle for hearts, minds and votes. 

Currency wars resulted in everyone rushing out to wave goodbye leaflets at commuters on Friday. Which must have puzzled them somewhat. But then engaging the voter wasn’t really the point.  The fun was in activists getting to fight a guerilla war with each other – and having done it myself, I know how fun it can be – but this is supposed to be about them not us.  And if all that sounds a little sanctimonious, I apologise.  The point is if this “biggest decision in a generation” debate has degenerated into a bunfight among ourselves, well, therein lies disaster.  A referendum is not an election after all.

And then we had that House of Lords’ debate on  the independence referendum. Of course, the headline-makers helped to obscure some thoughtful contributions but if you ever wanted to emphasise how anachronistic the concept of an unelected revising chamber can be, then you might want to put out an edited highlights on Youtube.  It wasn’t just Lord Lang insulting us , there were others at it too.  Mainly, these are yesterday’s men (and they are mostly men) who having made their way under the status quo are anxious to keep it that way. They are an argument for change all in themselves. 

So, having just played the men rather than the ball myself – we’re all at it and frankly, they’re an easy target – let’s turn to proper politics.  Grown up stuff which examines policy options.

As an academic institution, if both Yes and No claim that your research report helps their case, you’ve done your job well.  Thus, Stirling University’s report into tackling inequality found selective favour.  The whole thing is definitely worth a read, even if I was toiling with some of the economic constructs at times.  Making your brain hurt is good for you and we need more, not less of that in this debate.

What this report shows is that politics is actually very hard, if it is played as chess rather than tig. The research explored the effectiveness of a range of economic levers at tackling inequality.  They looked at the powers Scotland has, the powers coming to Holyrood through the Scotland Act 2012 and the powers Scotland would have if independent and modelled the impact of a range of options.  The conclusion is that no matter what fiscal and economic levers you have, tackling inequality  and closing the gap is a tough one, if you rely only on progressive, redistributive tax and benefit policies to do so. The report concludes that the reason Nordic countries – to which many aspire to emulate – has greater equality is because it has less inequality in earnings.  We need a more equitable starting point altogether, which make policies like the living wage almost irresistible.  

It’s all good, interesting stuff but the key aspect for me was the potential outcomes from either re-valuating the council tax or raising it in its current form.  A revaluation might address inequality but it would raise precious little income and a council tax rise actually increases inequality.  How?  Here’s the view of the report’s authors:

“The Council Tax revaluation specified here is virtually revenue neutral, raising an additional £8m in council tax revenues (relative to £2b total revenue from this source). This policy can achieve a high impact on inequality with minimal impact on overall government finances. However it can have large impacts at an individual level – there are a small number of households with low income but exposure to the top bands of council tax who are hit hard by this policy: compare the 5% loss in net household income for some households to the direct revenue raised of only £8m.

 The council tax rise scenario is unusual in that a tax increase actually increases the GINI. This result occurs because a rise in council tax disproportionately affects lower and middle income households: higher income households’ council tax liability is smaller as a proportion of their income than lower income households; so a flat percentage rise in the rate of council tax is more burdensome on the lower half of the income distribution.”

Which last point, Labour proponents of a rise – except when a by-election is on, of course – might want to ponder. 

The fact that this little nugget has been overlooked rather makes the case that we are all so obsessed with the future, we are ignoring the here and now.  Or maybe it’s been ignored because this analysis suggests that the only thing worth doing with the council tax is to abolish it and replace it with something more equitable and progressive.  What that might be is uncomfortable, difficult territory for all parties and requires grown up politics to even broach, never mind achieve.

In the current febrile atmosphere, don’t expect an outbreak of maturity anytime soon.


30 thoughts on “Grown up politics

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  2. I doubt that many people are in the slightest bit interested in cybernats, the house of lords, or research from someone in Sterling Uni.

    The council tax freeze is of great interest, and you almost verged on a grown-up conversation about what it entails – although that took seven years, and half a billion quid.

    • If the government in Edinburgh wanted to target relative poverty, one wonders what they could have achieved with half a billion pounds in a year.

      • £500m used as the basis of Prudential Borrowing could have generated £5billlionfor capital spend. The SNP’s CT Freeze has wasted that opportunity……

      • You refer to it as “the SNP’s CT Freeze” rather dishonestly avoiding mention of the fact that the policy was supported by British Labour in Scotland. And still is, depending on which side of their mouth they are talking out of at the time.

  3. You’re right that the only sensible thing to do with the CT is to scrap it and replace it with something else. The CT freeze has been disastrous for LA funding and has hit the poorest hardest. That’s why COSLA has set up a commission to look at local governance including funding.

  4. Got to agree with Peter Bell’s comment – at times it’s almost as if the Burd is giving credence to the lies of the MSM, especially as regards the Mail.

    The BT leafleting yesterday was an unmitigated disaster – with barely half the stations manned that were intimated, and yet to read this post you would think that there had been widespread enthusiasm..

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  7. There are a couple of niggling points about this article which may be regarded as petty but for the fact that they highlight the oft-remarked tendency of the author to blithely accept the version of reality which represents the cosy consensus of the mainstream media.

    Firstly, there was no “exposé of the cybernats” by the Daily Mail. There was a prolonged exercise in bullying propaganda of the basest kind against online Yes campaigners that made outrageous claims of conspiracy without so much as a shred of evidence.

    And the point about the “currency wars” leafleting drive by Better Together was not that “everybody” rushed out to pester commuters at railway stations but that hardly anybody did. There were more Yes supporters out checking on the Better Together effort than there were No campaigners participating in it.

    The real story there is not the leafleting but the lies contained in the leaflet. Or the hysterical accusations of “spying” from the Daily Mail. Or Better Together’s dishonest claims about the size of the event.

    The stuff about Stirling University’s report on inequality is excellent. Everything before that serves only as a useful reminder that it is essential to question everything that appears in the mainstream media. Oh! And that it is a good idea to get somebody to proof-read your article before putting it online. There’s a couple of sentences in there on “Nordic countries” which look like a primary school exercise in correcting case and number agreement errors.

    • Peter,

      Which lies? Can you quote them?

      • The usual stuff about Scotland not being “allowed” to use the pound. Don’t have much time just now but I’ll happily go into more detail later if you wish. Although that might be considered off-topic.

      • I’ve got the leaflet in front of me. It doesn’t mention Scotland being “allowed” to do anything.

        Happy for you to expand any time.

      • Does the leaflet not say something like,

        “A vote to leave the UK, we leave the UK pound. That’s part of the choice people in Scotland are being asked to make.”

        How do you interpret that in any way other than that Scotland will not be allowed to use the pound? Which is complete nonsense, of course. Apart from the fact that the pound is our currency as much as it is rUK’s, it is also a fully tradeable currency. The British nationalists have yet to explain how they propose to go about making Scotland the only country in the world that can’t use its own currency.

        But I suspect you’re disinclined to ask them awkward questions on such matters.

      • I’m not about to pay for an FT subscription just to read the same stuff I can hear from any British nationalist. It is opinion, not fact. Opinion coloured by prejudice. It is the Financial Times, not some tablet of stone brought down from the mountain by the prophet.

      • Do you think this is a lie, from John Kay Eck’s ex-adviser,

        “If I represented the Scottish government in the extensive
        negotiations required by the creation of an independent
        state, I would try to secure a monetary union with England,
        and expect to fail … So Scotland might be driven towards the
        option of an independent Scottish currency.”
        “Alex Salmond has said I think rather stupidly that there is
        no plan B. The trouble with having no plan B is you don’t have
        any negotiating power if you don’t have a Plan B.”

      • You seem completely unable to distinguish between statements of opinion and statements of fact. You might want to address this issue.

        One thing John Kay says is untrue. There is a big difference between saying that there is no plan B and not saying what plan B is. Of course there is a plan B. Of course there are alternatives. Or are you going to argue that Scotland will somehow be the only modern, relatively wealthy nation in the world with no functional currency?

        See what happens when you follow the inane “thinking” of the increasingly hysterical British nationalists to its logical conclusion?

      • Peter if we break up the UK we have no currency, we are no longer part of the UK currency union, i.e. we lose the Pound. We could try to negotiate a new currency union with the UK but there would be costs. We could use the Pound without a formal union but on a less favourable basis as currently. In both cases we lose the substantial security of being part of the UK and have use of the Pound without strings.

        Whatever the wording of the leaflet, it’s a no-brainer… breaking up a currency union in order to negotiate a less favourable currency union? I mean, c’mooonnn??? it’s foolish in the extreme… Prof Kay and almost every other economist says.

      • Utter nonsense1 It is only British nationalists who are incapable of thinking of independence as anything other than total separation. They are prey to their own inane propaganda. More rational minds regard independence as a redefining of relationships rather than a severing of them.

        Peer through the fog of disinformation and what do we find? We find that you’ve got it totally arse for elbow. The Scottish Government is talking in terms of retaining the currency union, albeit modified to take account of changed circumstances. It is only the UK Government, the British parties and the anti-independence campaign who are talking in terms of abolishing the currency union. But, we note, always taking care to avoid explicitly stating that it is their intention to abolish the currency union. Sharper minds will wonder why this is.

        I note too your assumption that the revised currency union would inevitably be “less favourable” to Scotland. It is difficult to see how this might be given that the present currency union doesn’t favour Scotland at all. But the interesting thing is the characteristic British nationalist contempt for Scotland. To the Britnat mind it is inconceivable that Scotland could ever be anything other than inferior to the British state. The assumption is that Scotland would bring nothing to the negotiations and would have to meekly accept whatever terms the rUK government wanted to impose.

        The reality is that Scotland’s negotiating team would have that most valuable of political commodities – options! There are alternatives to continuing the currency union. It just happens that maintaining a sterling zone is, on balance, the preferred option. It is the preferred option for entirely pragmatic reasons.

        The approaches to these issues taken by the Scottish Government and the UK Government/British parties/anti-independence campaign are entirely different. The Scottish Government looked at all the possible scenarios, assessing then against rational criteria, and decided which was the most realistic and credible. The British nationalists come to these issues looking only for ways to portray them as problematic. They don’t think things through. They get as far as the first ant-SNP/anti-Scottish Government/anti-independence line, and then they just stop thinking. For them, a good argument is not one that makes sense, but one which contradicts the position of the Scottish Government regardless of whether that argument makes any sense or not.

        This is why the anti-independence propaganda is unravelling as time goes on. If the media were function as they should in a democracy the “Better Together” case would have been torn to shreds months ago. It only survives because the mainstream media refuses to challenge it. They decline to ask the awkward questions. But they cannot prevent those questions being asked. They can’t stifle the alternative media. Increasingly, people are turning away from the traditional media and seeking information and analysis online. For many it is an eye-opener.

        You evidently would not think to question the Project Fear propaganda. Others are not so gullible.

    • Peter, you said “Utter nonsense! It is only British nationalists who are incapable of thinking of independence as anything other than total separation. ….. More rational minds regard independence as a redefining of relationships rather than a severing of them.”

      TBH, it’s difficult to respond to such a level of delusion.

      I thought we had been conversing for the last 80 years with a party called the SNP (Scottish National Party) about its aim of Scottish Independence. V surprised to hear that it was actually the SDMP (Scottish Devolution Max Party) or the BFP (British Federal Party).

      AFAIK the Libs have been in favour of federation forever. Why didn’t all the Nats join the Libs? And Devolution is a Labour policy. If that’s what you want, why not join Labour and push for more Devo?

      And why was Winnie Ewing so joyful at winning Hamilton East all those years ago? I can’t recall every word of her victory speech but I’m certain it didn’t include a cry of “Onward to Federation!”.

      As for all the PPBs of kilted youths, stirring bagpipes playing in the background, running through highland villages and climbing hills to exclaim “Freedom!”. What a waste of money they were. Unless we all misheard and they were actually exclaiming “Federation or Death! – but we’ll take Devo Max as a consolation prize!”.

      Shortened version…. from that well known political pundit, J McEnroe “You CANNOT be serious!”.

    • Peter sad “….The Scottish Government is talking in terms of retaining the currency union, albeit modified to take account of changed circumstances….”

      Just LOVE the phraseology :– ) Classic circumlocution… “modified to take account of changed circumstances….” Fabulous…

      What “changing circumstances” would that be?

      The SNP is talking in terms of breaking up the political, monetary and fiscal union and then demanding that the union they have just destroyed joins them in a currency union with all the Nats conditions met … The only thing admirable about it is the historically huge and shiny brass neck needed to even conceive of such daft notion and the lack of awareness of reality to begin to believe that it wouldn’t be laughed out of court.

      Peter, I was told that you were one of the more sensible Nationalists….

      All I can say to that is ….Help!!!

      • I’m truly sorry that you find yourself unable to comprehend the fact that Scotland’s independence will inevitably represent changed circumstances.

  8. Interesting on the council tax, but the Stirling analysis neglects to mention that now (since April 2013), Scotland has control over the rules for council tax support for people on low incomes, formally called council tax benefit, now called council tax reduction.

    In England, individual councils are responsible for their own schemes, and it is widely reported that budget pressures are forcing them to increase council tax bills for some of the poorest. People in similar circumstances in Scotland are meanwhile protected thanks to a deal between the Scottish Government, and councils (through COSLA) to make good the cuts imposed by the UK Government. Isn’t that a good example of the kind of grown up, cross party politics we need more of?

    But we could do even more. It would be perfectly possible to allow council tax to increase at the same time as adjusting the council tax reduction scheme to protect lower income households fron any increase.

    I’d personally prefer to see council tax scrapped altogether, but my point is, we have more options now than most seem to realise.

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