Show us the money!

At least, now we know.

If Scotland votes no in 2014, we face years, if not decades of austerity, of scrimping and scraping, of unemployment and under-employment and of cuts to public services.  No matter who wins the UK election in 2015, Conservative or Labour, we’re going to keep the current spending limits and aim to pay down the debt.  Westminster fiddles while we all burn.

For months, people have been clamouring for information in our constitutional debate and for certainty about what the future holds.  And if this kind of certainty isn’t a potential game-changer in the independence referendum campaign, I’m not sure what is.

For this isn’t exactly what folk had in mind.  The question being put by the undecideds and doubters has invariably been directed at the yes campaign; tell us what independence feels, smells and tastes like to help us make up our minds.  The challenge for Yes Scotland and the Scottish Government is to turn this around, to mess with everyone’s minds if you like and to make the certainty of our economic future a reason to embrace change.  It’s not the uncertainty of a future going it alone that should be vexing you, but the certain path being laid out which offers nothing but sackcloth and ashes.

And it’s time to make a mockery of the premise at the heart of the no campaign – that we are Better Together, because patently we are not going to be.

The Chancellor, ahead of the Spending Round statement for 2015-16 he will deliver this coming Wednesday, launched a natty wee video, to explain in simple terms what our current financial predicament means.  At least £13 billion of cuts, on top of the £11 billion or so already announced for next year.

It’s not clear what this means for Scotland until the actual budget allocations are announced, but given that we are not one of the Treasury’s ring-fenced budgets, we can hazard a guess that it means less money being handed to us to spend.  John Swinney has an article today in Scotland on Sunday which outlines how Westminster is eroding our economic powers:

Since 1999 Scotland’s freedom to allocate spending on Scotland’s priorities has been curbed, constrained and curtailed by creeping Treasury controls. Scotland’s money has been progressively divided into different pots with restricted uses, without any consultation.”

The argument has validity and should – rightly – spark indignation, particularly when UK budget statements start to interfere with democratic spending decisions already made here in Scotland.  As they did, this year.

Moreover, the grievance card has its place in the suit of options available to the Scottish Government in this debate:  it’s not been deployed nearly as much as it was in the first SNP Holyrood administration and we can expect it to appear more frequently as we grind towards the vote in September 2014.  Good.

But we need to start conducting this debate in a language that people can understand, which makes sense to their sense of everyday and which makes it patently clear what certainty means.  The Scottish Government needs to start showing us the money.

Thus, the response needs to be both political and micro-economic. The Scottish Government needs to spell out what this democratic deficit means, that every year that the Tories ring fence spending for schools south of the border makes it harder for us to do the same up here.  And to start setting out starkly what it means when the Chancellor puts austerity before growth in his economic strategy.  We might all nod blithely along when our Cabinet Secretary for Finance rails against this, but in truth we haven’t a clue what it means.

So tell us.  Get us a natty wee cartoon which shows what the cuts to the Scottish budget actually look like.  In terms of leaky roofs in schools, closed libraries, disappearing jobs, broken swings, potholes in pavements and roads.  And spell it out in terms of household finances.  Because cuts in spending mean increased bus fares to get to work or to go to the shops.

It means parents being expected to dig deeper for fundraising activity by schools.  It means your granny having to dig into her meagre pension to pay more for her emergency call service and meals on wheels.  It means your child losing their free swimming session on a Saturday.  And it means your wee cousin leaving university with a decent degree and having no job to go to.

Sure, Scotland already controls most of these policy areas but it really doesn’t matter what we want to provide for our people if we don’t have any money to pay for it.  And that’s what voting no in 2014 will deliver.  You might want to live in a country that does all of this and more, but you can only have a chance of doing so in your lifetime by voting yes.

Vote no in 2014 and you get Tory or Labour cuts in 2015.  Vote no in 2014 and you and your family can look forward to years of doing without.  Vote no in 2014 for a dismal future and for our children – your children – to have little to look forward to.

And while we can’t say definitely what voting yes will result in – that will be for us to decide in the first elections after independence – we can assure you of one thing, with absolute certainty and clarity.

That Scotland’s future can be different.  And if you want even the possibility of a different future, that doesn’t involve your family being force fed a diet of austerity by either the Tories or Labour, then vote yes.

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Who says it best when they say nothing at all?

I was a council candidate once.  I started out as someone else’s election agent.  Then became the paper candidate when that person couldn’t and we swapped roles.

Eventually, we resolved to have a proper go at it, especially when we realised that the former district councillor of some 16 years standing was making a bid for the new unitary authority.  Particularly when we knew her as the Countess of Stair.

She clearly thought she was a shoo-in, especially as her main challenger – me – was a single parent on the dole.  Yep, class warfare alive and well in rural Scotland.

We thrashed her.  The best thing was finding out that lots of women voted for me, some of them for the first time, and folk I’d never have expected to vote for me, did.

So, on the eve of another council poll, this is a long way of saying to all 1600+ candidates (dummy included), I feel your pain.  In our four weeks of campaigning, we canvassed – me and the former candidate/election agent – in torrential rain, blizzards and a heat wave.  We delivered four pieces of literature, including an eve of poll card.  And I visited every single farm, steading, shop, business, council house, bungalow and flat in the ward.  At the end of it, I was exhausted.  I know how you are feeling right now and remember that sense of being too tired and exhilarated to sleep.

But I’m also pensive, if not a little bemused.  For this is the election lacking a sense of reality, where some words and issues have been rather missing from the fray.

First, Labour.  In some areas, particularly where longstanding councillors have been seeking re-election, the campaign strategy has been rather Fawlty Towers-esque.  Don’t mention the war?  Don’t mention the party!  And take that rosette off while you’re at it.

So feart have some been about the association with the erstwhile party of the people, the dominant force in Scottish elections since World War II, that the word “Labour” has been expunged from leaflets, posters and doorstep chats.  If some of its oldest and hardest working stalwarts see the party name as an electoral liability, then it has deep-seated problems to overcome.

It’s not been the case everywhere, mind.  In Edinburgh, Labour has fought a fairly vibrant campaign, largely on local issues and standing behind an imaginative and creative manifesto which offers a shift in mindset and approach.  Whoever wins would do well to study it and implement some of the measures, even if they weren’t theirs to begin with.  The party – simply for having put the effort in – deserves to do well, and while it will do okay, I doubt it will be enough to win.

And that’s because the strategy of the SNP in particular has been defined by what is missing from its offering, as much as what it contains.

Scotland is a country deeply divided.  We have more super-rich people than ever, and more who are simply filthy rich.  Despite us being back in recession, some folk are doing very nicely, thank you.

Then there’s the ones who are not.  Poverty and inequality mark this country and her people with their sores of violence, substance misuse, joblessness, low self-esteem, poor physical health and mental well-being, crime and neglect.  And it’s getting worse.  Yet, poverty – and parties’ proposals to tackle it – has scarcely been mentioned in this election.  Cos we’re all aspirational now and no one ever got elected laying bare the awful truth of the magnitude of the task ahead.  At least, not in this country.

People like promises of more in elections.  More money in your pocket, more and better schools, more police on the street, decent roads, improved bus services.  Except when it comes to the bad stuff, which of course, they’re going to make sure there is less of.

This election has been fought in a parallel universe, where budgets are not being slashed and local authorities are not about to enter the period of real cuts.  Year on year, councils will have less money to spend – in real terms.  What we’ve had until now has been little more than a dress rehearsal and we will not see spending back to pre-election levels until at least 2016, just in time (helpfully) for the next local elections.

Few have dared to mention the c-word in this campaign and we voters have colluded with the complicity.  Maybe if we pretend the word doesn’t exist, they – as in cuts – won’t really happen. And maybe Scottish voters prefer their politics served with a healthy dollop of dishonesty, preferring instead to indulge them and us in a game of make-believe.   That there really will be a council tax freeze until 2016;  that we can provide more and better care for a growing, ageing population;  that we can keep libraries and community centres open, and build more of them.

Or maybe – as in 2011 – we are working with known knowns and therefore unmentionables.  That Labour isn’t an electoral tag worth boasting about in some areas.  That poverty won’t be solved anytime soon.  That the cuts are coming and there isn’t anything we can do about them.

When I stood in 2005, folk told me they voted for me because I was one of them, that without having to say very much at all, they knew I’d be on their side, that they could trust me to speak up for their needs and interests.

Maybe that’s what’s going on in this election, that there’s an unspoken bond, of people knowing which party is on their side, which will do the best it can not to let them down and which will stand up for them and their families when it matters.

Maybe that’s why the SNP says it best, when it says nothing very much at all.

 

The BBC has lost the plot

First, it was BBC 6 music.  Then, it was the World Service.  More recently, it has threatened to cut the short story slot from three to one a week on Radio 4.  And now, they want to cut BBC 4’s budget.

Well, they can try.

A massive campaign by presenters and listeners saved 6 music.  And while the first batch of cuts to the World Service’s budget have started to bite, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select committee has called for its funding to be ring-fenced when it moves from being taxpayer-funded to licence fee funded in 2014.  All hope is not yet lost, especially when the vital role the World Service plays in reaching global and domestic audiences in its many broadcasting languages was underlined by the Arab Spring.

The short story commissioning is still under threat but has garnered powerful allies, led by the remarkable Susie Maguire, an author who tweets and blogs as @wrathofgod.  BBC Executives would have been wise to check this out before it started out with its plans, for Susie has waged a one-woman campaign to have the decision reversed.   She has launched a petition and a Twitter campaign, signing up big guns in the literary and arts world along the way.  Blogs and newspaper articles have been written condemning the move.  If the BBC thought it could usher through these proposals with the minimum of fuss, well they ken noo.  Beware the Wrath of God!

The latest misguided attempt to save money has just leaked out and already the lieges are revolting.  Earlier tonight, I was the 378th person to sign the online petition protesting at the budget cuts:  at the time of writing, signatories were up to 508.  A Facebook and Twitter campaign are underway.  Thanks to all who follow me @burdzeyeview who retweeted the sign the petition plea.  Keep doing it – and more importantly, please sign the petition!  This one has a long way to grow yet.

I can’t help but think the BBC has lost the plot.  Or more precisely its demographic compass.  For the one thing all these cuts have in common is that they are of concern to a particular demographic, the powerful and resourceful 35 – 54 year olds.  We’re the inbetweeners:  discerning customers who like their music, their current affairs, the spoken word and quality broadcasting.  Clearly we are not averse to change, else we’d never have embraced BBC 6 music and BBC 4 in the first place.  But it has to be change for good, change with a purpose, change that improves things.

And if the burd realises this, why on earth doesn’t the BBC?  I’m guessing the high heid yins are needing a little help in understanding why its proposals are short-sighted and why attacking the viewing/listening choices of the inbetweeners is not good business sense.  Allow me to enlighten them.

1.  We were weaned on the BBC.  One of my earliest memories is of cuddling up on the couch after lunch with my mum and little brother to Watch with Mother.  She got to doze, we lost ourselves in the delights of the Herb Garden, Bill and Ben, Andy Pandy and Fingerbob.  Consequently, the BBC is synonymous with my childhood, my adolescence and now my adulthood.  That matters.

2.  We are the generation of terrestrial television.  Our channels of choice largely remain the ones we grew up with and unlike the under 35s, we not only still watch TV and listen to the radio, but prefer our lifelong brands, only tentatively edging out our listening and viewing experiences into digital channels.

3.  We are not quite the technophobes our parents are.  Thus, we tweet, facebook, youtube, blog and game with as much panache as the younger generation.  We get i-player and digital radio.  In fact, we positively lurve these innovations.  It’s how we discovered Radio 6 and BBC 4 in the first place.  It’s why we are managing to launch these mainly successful “save” campaigns.  But we still like wir telly and wireless.  Our generation is the one with a TV and radio in practically every room in the house.

4.  We are all going to live until we are well into our 80s.  Well most of us are.  We are your loyal customers past, present and future.

5.  Unlike the baby boomers, we inbetweeners are not looking forward to wealthy retirements.  In fact, some of us are toiling now, and that will only get worse in the next few years.  We know you know this or else you wouldn’t be trying to make the cuts.  But get this, having less money to spend means the pleasures of the short story on Radio 4, of Swedish and Italian noir on BBC 4 are going to become more important to us.  Cheap thrills for the price of a licence fee.  The idea of families huddling round the wireless or the TV set might seem quaint but could be on the verge of a comeback.

6.  Quality matters.  Content matters.  We like the nostalgia fest that BBC 4 regularly serves up in music, but we also like the new drama, intelligent comedy and arty farty stuff too.  Who do you think is responsible for the success of Wallander, the Killing, Mad Men and the Thick of It?  You?  Sheesh.

7.  Protest is in our blood.  During the 80s many of us spent every other weekend marching for something or other.  Ban the bomb, save our water, support the miners, free Nelson Mandela, can pay won’t pay.  Check out your old VT.  That’s us, in the front row, biggest banners, silly hairstyles.  We know how to make a noise and we like to win.

8.  Apart from Family Guy, we don’t watch BBC 3.  There’s a clue there on where to cut without a fuss.

Sign the petition.  Save BBC 4!