Salmond v Robinson: Neither of them are wonderful people but in this instance Salmond is right.
Scotland’s former First Minister, Alex Salmond, has launched an attack on the BBC and its soon-to-be-ex-Political Editor Nick Robinson over their coverage of last year’s Scottish independence referendum, describing it as a “disgrace” – and he’s right.
Now, dear reader, you may have leapt up and cried, “What? Mike Sivier agreeing with the SNP? Has the world stopped turning?” But This Writer made no bones about it at the time and nothing has changed since then.
Robinson came under attack after he asked two, complicated, questions of Salmond at a press conference and then misrepresented the long answer that Salmond gave. This Writer was among those who complained but the BBC whitewashed the incident.
“The BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson asked Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond two questions at his press conference on Thursday 11th September. The first question centred on the tax implications of RBS moving its legal headquarters to London; the second on why voters should trust a politician rather than businessmen,” stated the BBC’s complaints website.
“Nick Robinson’s report showed the second question on trust, with a script line noting that Mr Salmond had not answered that point.
“Mr Salmond’s answer on tax was lengthy. Since it was not possible to use it in full in a short news report, a series of clips were included making his central points – the job implications of the re-location of RBS, the accusation that the Treasury broke rules by briefing market sensitive information and his request that the BBC should co-operate with an enquiry. In addition Nick Robinson’s script pointed out that the First Minister said there would be no loss of tax revenue.
“The BBC considers that the questions were valid and the overall report balanced and impartial, in line with our editorial guidelines.”
“Robinson’s report states, clearly, ‘He didn’t answer.’ If the BBC Complaints people are saying the answer was ‘lengthy’, this clearly conflicts with what Robinson stated in the report – yet the BBC’s judgement is that ‘the overall report [was] balanced and impartial’,” I wrote.
“What a lot of nonsense! No – it’s worse than nonsense. It’s a flat-out, blatant lie.”
The report fuelled the widely-held belief that the BBC’s news reporting under Robinson had turned it into the propaganda arm of the Conservative Party – a policy that we now know has done it no favours at all, as the Tories plan to disembowel the Corporation in order to give commercial television providers an unfair advantage.
It also led to a large protest outside BBC Scotland involving around 4,000 people – about which Robinson unwisely complained in an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
He said the protesters had forced “young men and women who are new to journalism [to] have, like they do in Putin’s Russia, to fight their way through crowds of protesters, frightened as to how they do their jobs”.
Not true. The protesters were exercising their right to make their opinions known. If anything, Robinson’s report was responsible for putting those reporters in fear.
The comparison with Putin’s Russia is, of course, ludicrous, but conforms to Right-Wing Robinson’s Tory thinking.
Salmond said he had avoided raising the issue while Robinson was recovering from cancer. He went on: “Now he is back. The BBC’s coverage of the Scottish referendum was a disgrace. It can be shown to be so, as was Nick’s own reporting of which he should be both embarrassed and ashamed.”
The Guardian‘s report put up a couple of quotes that attempted to show people on Salmond’s camp had agreed that Robinson’s report had been fair. But look at them:
“One read: ‘It was a good couple of questions, you got a good answer. You’re an old hand at this and know the score.'”
This, we are asked to accept, refers to the questions asked at the now-notorious press conference, and the answers provided. It says nothing about what Robinson did thereafter and should not, therefore, be claimed as any kind of endorsement.
“The other said: ‘We were upset about the package. Alex and my team regard you as a fair and professional journalist.'” This can clearly be taken as criticism – the author was “upset”, and clearly had considered Robinson to be fair and professional until his report aired.
Some might say it is better to let sleeping dogs lie – but in this case the lying dog is back on his feet and, at a time when the BBC is under attack from his Tory bosses, in a position to do serious harm to his own employer.
Salmond is not only right to raise the issue again – especially after Robinson’s own comments – but right to question Robinson’s fairness and impartiality. He’ll poison the BBC from within.
Rafał Trzaskowski, Poland’s secretary of state for European affairs, seems a little confused.
He seems to think that, before voting on whether the UK should stay in or leave the European Union, the electorate should be given fair and accurate information on the consequences.
Doesn’t he know that this simply is not how things are done here?
Look at the Scottish independence referendum. Scots are still complaining that the ‘Better Together’ campaign fed them false information. Some of these complaints are inaccurate but This Writer can’t say for certain that all of them are.
Look at the general election last month – won by a Conservative Party that manipulated Scottish people into believing that a vote for the SNP was the best possible outcome, while telling the English this meant the nationalists would team up with Labour to rob them blind.
Now the Tories have secured power – albeit by a tiny margin – they are setting about their own agenda, which involves – you guessed it – robbing the people of the UK of the services and benefits for which they have paid, all their lives.
The media have been complicit in these deceptions.
It is unrealistic to think that anything will change for the EU referendum.
The Guardian reports:
The minister, who reiterates his country’s refusal to accept Cameron’s central demand – that social benefits should be denied to all EU migrants for at least four years after arriving in the UK – says Britain would no longer be an important player, in Europe or the world, if it left the EU. He warns that the ability of British people to travel as freely as they do now, and to work and buy homes in other EU countries, would also be lost, and that UK businesses would suddenly face new problems, as the country would no longer be able to influence the rules of the internal market.
Trzaskowski, reflecting growing fears in the EU that the UK government is setting itself unrealistic targets for reform which British people are being led to believe are achievable, says all European leaders want Britain to stay in the UK, but not if it means undermining EU principles, such as the free movement of labour.
Cameron is now urging fellow European leaders to reach an outline deal on the UK’s demands, which also include an opt-out from the EU commitment to “ever-closer union”, by the end of this year, in time for the referendum to be held next year.
Should he fail to secure reform on his terms, more than 50 Tory MPs are poised to lead the campaign for the UK to quit the EU.
“No left-wing account of this defeat will be complete without a reference to the Tory press (bonus drink for “Murdoch-controlled”) and its supposed inexorable hold over the political psyche of the nation. Funny: the day before the election everyone decided The Sun was a joke and nobody reads newspapers anyway.
“3. CLEVER TORIES
“It will be said that the Tories, in their ruthlessly efficient way, pinned the blame for austerity on Labour and Labour allowed it to stick. Clever Tories. Few will mention that the Tories were, for the most part, a hubristic and directionless shambles, divided amongst themselves, the authors of several howlingly stupid own goals that would certainly have sunk them had they not got so lucky with their opponent.
“5. THE SNP STOLE OUR VICTORY
“It is true that nobody, but nobody, foresaw the SNP tidal wave. But it’s not true that Labour would have won or even done OK without it. Labour saw a net gain of one seat from the Tories in England. One. Seat. One seat, in an election where everything favoured them. One seat, after five years of a shabby and meretricious government making unpopular decisions and a third party that virtually donated its voters to them. An epic failure.”
Firstly, nobody is blaming the media entirely for voters’ insistence on self-destructively supporting the Tories. The media helped hammer the Tory messages home, by amplifying Cameron’s statements and ignoring or vilifying Miliband’s. After a while – and in accordance with Goebbels’ (Cameron is a big fan of Goebbels) claims about The Big Lie – people start believing the claims they see most often.
This is why Conservative claims must be challenged at every opportunity from now on. Whenever a Tory puts forward a policy in the papers, on the Internet and social media or wherever, let’s try to put the questions in front of them that deflate their claims. It has been said that a lie can go around the world before the truth gets out of bed; let’s kill The Big Lie before it can get its shoes on.
Secondly, nobody This Writer knows is saying anything at all about “ruthlessly efficient” Tories. This lot are about as stupid as they come. It’s just a shame – and this was a constant problem for bloggers like Yr Obdt Srvt – that nobody in the Labour leadership saw fit to counter the silly Tory claims with a few ounces of fact. Therefore we must conclude that, not only are the Tories monumental imbeciles; most of Labour were, as well.
This is why the Conservative Party as a whole should be undermined at every opportunity. Whenever they make bold claims about their record – especially against that of the last Labour government – let’s put up a few embarrassing facts to pull the wool out from under them.
Finally, nobody but the SNP and its supporters is making any claim that the SNP’s “tidal wave” – alone – stopped Labour. As This Writer has already mentioned (and the election result was only known yesterday), the Conservative Party used the threat of an SNP surge to put fear into Middle England that “loonie-left” Labour would ally with these crazed Caledonians, to the detriment of the nation. Amazingly, people were gullible enough to believe it.
But you don’t have to take This Writer’s word for it. Here’s Professor Simon Wren-Lewis, from his latest Mainly Macroarticle [italics mine]:
“Why do I say Cameron is lucky? First, largely by chance (but also because other countries had been undertaking fiscal austerity), UK growth in 2014 was the highest among major economies. This statistic was played for all it was worth. Second, although (in reality) modest growth was not enough to raise real incomes, just in the nick of time oil prices fell, so real wages have now begun to rise. Third, playing the game of shutting down part of the economy so that you can boast when it starts up again is a dangerous game, and you need a bit of fortune to get it right. (Of course if there really was no plan, and the recovery was delayed through incompetence, then he is luckier still.)
“The Scottish independence referendum in September last year was close. 45% of Scots voted in September to leave the UK. One of the major push factors was the Conservative-led government. If Scotland had voted for independence in 2014, it would have been a disaster for Cameron: after all, the full title of his party is the Conservative and Unionist Party. That was his first piece of Scottish fortune. The second was that the referendum dealt a huge blow to Labour in Scotland. Labour are far from blameless here, and their support had been gradually declining, but there can be no doubt that the aftermath of the referendum lost them many Scottish seats, and therefore reduced their seat total in the UK.
“Yet that led to a third piece of luck. The SNP tidal wave in Scotland gave him one additional card he could play to his advantage: English nationalism. The wall of sound coming from the right wing press about how the SNP would hold Miliband to ransom was enough to get potential UKIP supporters to vote Conservative in sufficient numbers for him to win the election.”
While I’m not convinced about the UKIP claim (UKIP’s vote share enjoyed the largest increase of any of the parties in Thursday’s election) the rest rings true.
You have already heard an awful lot of hogwash about the reasons for the Conservative Party’s slim win. Don’t believe everything you hear.
It’s long past time that facts and evidence were reintroduced to politics.
If you thought you had it bad under the Coalition then, as someone once said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
The Conservative victory in last night’s election has left many of us reeling – not just because of its disastrous implications for the future of the UK and its citizens, but because nobody saw it coming.
Some have blamed ‘shy’ Tory voters. These are selfish little liars who skew the polls by denying any intention to vote for the Nasty Party. In the case of yesterday’s vote, many will have done so against their own best interests.
So why did they do it? The most likely reason being touted overnight is the success of the Conservative Party’s big scare tactic: The lie that Labour would go into a coalition with the Scottish National Party in the event of a hung Parliament. Cameron made vague claims that this would hit everybody in the wallet and Middle England – already burdened by a £4,000 per year loss of earnings thanks to Tory austerity – turned into a tribe of ‘shy’ Tories.
With the polls duly skewed, there was no way for Ed Miliband and Labour to know that their strategy wasn’t going to work for them, so they carried on. Britain fell into the Tory trap and now David Cameron has a slim majority.
And we are all in deep, deep trouble.
For supporters of the SNP, the disappointment must be the most bitter. Still, they supported a party with the most contradictory message of all – vote SNP in Scotland because Labour is bad, so that the SNP can go into coalition with Labour MPs from everywhere else because Labour is good.
It seems likely the most straightforward reason they voted SNP is because they had been whipped into a frenzy of righteous indignance about the independence referendum, believing the SNP propaganda that Labour was “in cahoots” with the Conservative Party – not just over the referendum but on general policy as well; ‘Red Tories’ was the SNP brand on Labour.
(Of course, others responded by labelling the SNP ‘Tartan Tories’. It is ironic that all this bickering resulted in the real Tories seizing power.)
So Scottish voters believed an SNP lie about Labour, and the knock-on effect was that English (and some Welsh) voters were convinced by a Conservative lie about Labour and the SNP. This created a domino effect which eventually meant that every single Scottish seat could have gone to the SNP, and the UK would still have ended up with a Tory government.
Is Nicola Sturgeon proud of herself? She seems to be. One is led to wonder how her party will respond to Tory legislation, when Parliament resumes.
Interestingly, Jon Craig (of Sky News) tweeted: “Tory at East Renfrewshire count: ‘Nicola Sturgeon has won more votes for the Conservatives in England than she has for the SNP in Scotland.'”
If anything, the election has demonstrated that Conservative/Coalition policy has created an atmosphere of division in the UK, greater than at any time in our history. Nationalism is on the rise, with Scotland keen to secede from the union and the UK as a whole heading for a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.
The SNP result should also signal the death-knell of the First Past The Post voting system in this country – although its demise is likely to be protracted (the Tories will fight tooth and nail to keep it). Where’s the fairness in a system that can deliver 56 seats to the SNP with 1.5 million votes, and only one seat to UKIP, with nearly four million votes?
(This Writer supports neither party, as previous articles on this blog make all-too-clear. Facts are facts.)
It will also be interesting to see what impact – if any – the Coalition’s ‘individual voter registration’ has had on the number of people who voted. Also, how many people didn’t bother to vote “because it never changes anything”?
Come to that, what about all those people who were forced to move out of affluent areas because they couldn’t pay the Bedroom Tax (which will, of course, continue)? Did they move into Labour constituencies?
We could be looking at interference in the electoral process on an industrial scale.
Feel free to disagree with the free pass this image gives to Scottish voters if you like; the claim about voters in England is absolutely on the button.
Overall, the situation is best summed up by ‘Grumpy David’ on Twitter: “Seriously, who’s looked at the last five years and gone yeah, more of that please?”
What of the future?
Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK tweeted that a Tory victory would mean neo-feudalism is on its way in England, the union will be broken (with Scotland seceding), and the UK will leave the EU. He also predicted an economic crisis within a year.
Europe will be a major issue for the Conservatives now. With no Liberal Democrat partners to blame for government decisions, Cameron will be exposed to attack from his own backbenchers – many of whom are raving Europhobes.
Everyone on benefits will suffer, including those in work. Rachel Martin tweeted: “If exit polls are accurate I advise you not to be poor, not to be ill, not to be old and not to be in need of a job.”
The Tory victory means the end of the welfare state as we know it: People who deserve compassion will get none. Instead they will suffer £12 billion of cuts. Many thousands will die for the sake of a few pennies.
And the NHS? Privatised. With the provisions in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that will lock that privatisation into international law. Here’s Jacob Richardson: “Imagine seeing rape crisis shelters being closed and children’s palliative care being sold off to Virgin Healthcare, and wanting more of it.”
Workers’ pay will take a hammering – and our ability to protest and get a fair deal will be removed, along with the rest of our rights according to the Human Rights Act. They will be replaced by a ‘Bill of Rights’ telling us more about what we can’t do than what we can.
The Labour Party will need to get its act together quickly. Probably the best thing to do is get right back out to the general public and get confirmation of why the vote went to the Tories. Was Labour policy too close to the party’s arch-rivals, as some have surmised? Did people feel Labour wasn’t offering a genuine alternative? There will be a conflict between the neoliberal Blairites and traditionalists, and it is important that traditional Labour wins. If there’s one thing to learn from the SNP victory, it’s that a genuinely left-wing, anti-austerity platform delivers a massive victory at the moment.
The Liberal Democrats have been destroyed as a Parliamentary political party – and rightly so. The message for others to take away is that any form of compliance with Conservatives is fatal. The Tories will shift blame for anything bad onto their partners and contrive to win more votes.
UKIP is also a spent force. Despite increasing its vote share, its representation in Parliament has been halved. Voters will see this and abandon.
The SNP has taken on the role that the Liberal Democrats enjoyed at the 2010 election. They were the darlings of the voters this year but will lose out when it becomes clear that they cannot deliver a single promise – and, in fact, their victory in Scotland ensured that they would not be able to do so.
Finally, what can we do – the public?
We need to watch the Conservatives – and any of their known collaborators – hawkishly. We need to build up information about them, their policies, and any other interests – including and especially those that are less than legal (and there will be a lot of this). They won because the public believed them. It is important to undermine that trust with the facts.
We need also to ensure that the Liberal Democrats do not stage a comeback. That party betrayed the people and must be consigned to history. Again, we need to monitor the behaviour of its members and work to make sure the public is not gulled into a false sense of trust.
And it would be good to start thinking about the kind of country we would create, if we had the chance – and what steps we could take to build it. This may seem like pie-in-the-sky at such a dark point in our nation’s history, but it is only with careful and clever planning that anybody achieves anything.
We are in a very dark pit at the moment – dug for us by the Conservative Party. At least we can take heart that, from here, the only way is up.
Ill-judged: Blue-scarved Chuka Umunna should remember that Michael Heseltine did much to destroy the UK’s communities as part of the Thatcher and Major governments.
After the story in The Guardianthere are only two things required of Chuka Umunna: Repudiation – or his resignation.
The article states that Blue Labour stalwart Umunna would call on Conservative heavyweight Michael Heseltine for advice if Labour wins the general election. If this is true, it is madness.
Heseltine was a leading member of the Thatcher and Major Conservative governments of the 1980s and 90s, pioneering the disastrous ‘Right to Buy’ initiative that sold off the majority of council houses without replacing them, leading to the current housing crisis and the Bedroom Tax.
More recently he authored the ‘No Stone Left Unturned’ plan which made 89 recommendations on ways of stimulating local growth – 81 of which were adopted by the Coalition Government, with little effect. The UK economy has been stagnant for many years, with productivity at around the same level as it was when the Coalition came into office; it seems any boost in GDP has come from other areas – possibly the reduction in wages brought about by the widespread abuse of zero-hours contracts to rob working people of their rights to a steady job and entitlements to holiday and sick pay.
Yet it is in this area – revitalising the cities and regions – that Umunna wants Heseltine to advise. It would be an utterly pointless exercise.
For any stimulation policy to work, it has to put money where it can be most effective – in the hands of the people who actually need it to pay for things they need. But Heseltine is a Tory – they take money away from the proles; they don’t hand it out to them. He’ll devise something that makes towns look very pretty in order to hide the rot inside as local businesses and residents go to the wall.
Not only that, but it seems Umunna has not learned the overriding lesson of the Scottish referendum campaign: Voters will not tolerate a Labour alliance with the Conservatives on any level at all.
One of the main reasons the SNP is polling so well north of the border is because of a myth propagated by its candidates and supporters, that Labour and the Conservatives are “in bed”, “in cahoots”, “in alliance” – choose the phrase you prefer. It isn’t true – Better Together was an alliance of convenience because both parties wanted Scotland to remain in the union; they have very little else in common (although the SNP has exploited the very few examples of common ground to great effect, also).
Now along comes Chuka, thinking he’s clever with a plan to be inclusive and revive the “big tent” policies of Tony Blair – another figure who is now widely reviled by the electorate – and confirming everything the SNP whisperers have been saying!
Is he trying to stab Ed Miliband in the back?
If not, then now is the time to deny the Guardian story and put Heseltine back in his box.
Nicola Sturgeon says she doesn’t support Cameron, but she’s sending out mixed messages. This is the woman who claims she wants an alliance with Labour, while encouraging voters to support almost anybody else.
Is anybody else sick of hearing nothing from the SNP but claims about Labour that turn out to be false?
Why these constant claims that Labour created the Bedroom Tax (lie), Labour supported the Tory plan for £30 billion of cuts (lie), Labour are Red Tories because they were allied with the Tories over the independence referendum (lie)? What’s the point of saying Labour brought in Atos? Atos bought itself into government work by taking over another company, but when Labour renewed its contract, Atos had done nothing wrong, so there was no reason NOT to renew it.
Isn’t it more accurate to say, simply, that the nationalists have an axe to grind against Labour because Labour didn’t support independence in the Scottish referendum last year?
Have a look at this; it’s an argument that makes sense:
How much good will the SNP really do the United Kingdom? Think about it; that party’s very reason for being is the break-up of this country. And look at the voting advice it has given people. Here’s Ed Miliband, telling it straight to a rattled Nicola Sturgeon in last Thursday’s leader debate:
The saddest part of this chapter in our political history is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The SNP has policies of its own – but we never hear them because Ms Sturgeon is so busy pushing her negative campaign against Labour. Yet she claims the enemy is David Cameron. In that case, there’s one clear question to ask:
Say what you like about Gordon Brown, you have to give him a certain amount of credit for standing his ground.
Despite a constant campaign of vilification against him by the Scottish National Party and its supporters, he stood up and denounced them for failing the Scottish people yesterday.
In a speech in Glasgow, he accused the SNP of focusing on “the minutiae of Westminster insider politics” with Labour ahead of the general election, rather than “the big issues that matter such as ending poverty, unemployment, inequality and injustice in Scotland”.
He said: “Even if the SNP seem happy to spend their time talking about hung parliaments, post-election deals and coalitions, we [Labour] will spend our time talking about new Scottish jobs, new Scottish businesses and new Scottish technologies, and how we can benefit from leading a global economic revolution.”
These are arguments that hit home. The SNP is currently tying itself in knots on voters’ doorsteps, telling them that Labour in Scotland is a wasted vote, but they should support the SNP in order to see a coalition with Labour in Westminster – that most Labour MPs, candidates and supporters won’t accept anyway.
Still, the nationalist party’s deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, hit back, saying, “Given their toxic alliance with the Tories for the last two and a half years, people in Scotland would be forgiven for thinking that Labour’s focus is not what they can do for Scotland – but what they can do for their Tory allies.”
There is no alliance between Labour and the Conservative Party. Any politician saying that is lying to their electorate. Stewart Hosie is a liar.
As Labour and the Conservatives have been at daggers-drawn in the House of Commons since the ConDem Coalition was formed in 2010, and Labour MSPs are not in any kind of alliance with Scottish Tories in Holyrood, it seems Hosie was referring again to the SNP’s watery claim that the Better Together campaign – in which Labour and the Tories worked for the Unionist cause – is indicative of a closer relationship between the two parties.
It runs against history, logic and sanity, but the SNP is committed to this lie and they’re damn’ well sticking to it!
Not satisfied with this display of foolishness, Hosie carried on digging: “The general election is Scotland’s opportunity to hold real power at Westminster and to deliver on the priorities of the people who live here – ending austerity, protecting our public services and investing in jobs.”
Firstly, the SNP is unlikely to hold any “real power” at Westminster after May 7 because the great majority of the British voting public don’t want it to.
Would you really put your country in the hands of an organisation that wants to weaken it terminally and then split it up?
That doesn’t make sense at all.
Hosie’s claims about austerity, public services and jobs are interesting, if only because the SNP only ever pays lip-service to these subjects. Its main campaigning platform is always that it isn’t as bad as Labour, which is a poor way to seek election.
All Labour needs to do is keep challenging these nationalists – and then pick up on the claims they make. The SNP’s claims about Labour will disappear like smoke in the wind – all Labour has to do is let in some fresh air.
Bad figures: In July last year Alex Salmond claimed North Sea oil was worth “£300,000 for every man, woman and child in Scotland”. He may have been exaggerating – considerably. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/10198532/Alex-Salmond-North-Sea-oil-worth-300000-for-every-Scot.html)
What was Alex Salmond saying about oil revenues, again?
He said that oil would bring in revenues of £6.8billion – £7.9billion in 2016/17 (thanks to the Huffington Postfor the figures).
How likely does this seem, now that industry body Oil & Gas UK has reported that falling oil prices and rising costs meant the sector spent and invested £5.3bn more than it earned from sales during 2014?
That’s right – last year North Sea oil lost almost as much as the SNP said it would earn in 2016-17.
Operating costs are rising, investment is falling, the cost per barrel extracted has rocketed to a record high, and the price of oil internationally is at its lowest in years, according to the BBC.
While all this was taking place, Alex Salmond was telling Scottish people they could rely on oil generating £20.2billion in tax revenues in the first three years of an independent Scotland. Now – again according to the HuffPost – it seems unlikely to generate a quarter of that figure.
It is hard to believe that Mr Salmond did not know the facts about oil when he was offering the Scottish people all his rosy talk about future prosperity based on oil revenues.
Yet even today, many supporters of Scottish nationalism are adamant that Labour (above even the proven liars in the Tory and Liberal Democrat parties) misled them.
It’s certainly true that somebody has been lying to Scotland.
Is anybody brave enough to admit who it really was?
The Resolution Foundation’s predictions for government spending, based on the different parties’ declared plans.
Vox Political’s article on Nicola Sturgeon’s London speech provoked a disgruntled response from Jonathan Portes. The NIESR boss sent a message stating that the article’s fiscal arguments were out of whack.
He didn’t ask for this blog to straighten them out, but the information he sent, coupled with some other pieces he suggested – by Professor Simon Wren-Lewis and the Resolution Foundation – make it inevitable that another stab is required. If you support the SNP, you’re still not going to like it.
The first comment from Mr Portes is as follows: “1. SNP plan is slower deficit reduction than Lab/LDs, which in turn slower than Cons. All consistent with falling debt/GDP ratio. So all are sustainable. Haven’t looked at detail, but Simon WL & I both think Lab too cautious – so SNP not obviously crazy.”
Simon Wren-Lewis’s article states: “In reality what Sturgeon was proposing was still deficit and debt reduction, but just not at the pace currently proposed by Labour.”
And the Resolution Foundation adds: “The SNP would commit to delivering existing 2015-16 plans, as each of the Westminster parties have, before changing course.”
There’s a major point to make here, which all three of the sources above have missed. It’s that the SNP and its adherents have been cursing Labour from High Heaven to Low Hell for committing to Tory austerity policies because Ed Balls promised a Labour government would stick to Coalition spending – note that word, spending – limits for the first year after the general election.
Why have SNP adherents been slating Labour when the SNP has committed itself to the exact same Conservative spending limits, for the exact same period of time? Doesn’t this also make the SNP a party of austerity?
This leads us neatly to a point made by the Resolution Foundation. Ms Sturgeon wants to put a lot of space between SNP plans and those of Labour by claiming that Labour is committed to eliminating the UK’s structural deficit by 2017-18. They say Labour signed up to that when it voted to support the Charter for Budget Responsibility. You may recall there was another big fuss about Labour supporting Tory austerity, being just the same as the Tories, and there being only 17 MPs who oppose austerity (the number who voted against the CBR). Bunkum, according to the Resolution Foundation.
“The ‘Charter for Budget Responsibility’ is highly elastic: it’s not based on a firm commitment to reach balance in 2017-18,” states the Resolution Foundation article. “Instead it represents a rolling ‘aim’ of planning to reach current balance three years down the road.” The article adds: “Most economists are sceptical about how much difference it (the charter) will make.
“So what if Labour targets a current balance in 2019-20 instead? Based on current OBR assumptions this could be achieved with as little as £7 billion of fiscal consolidation in the four years to 2019-20 (including the cost of extra debt interest).”
Labour has made it clear that it plans to make only £7 billion of cuts. As this coincides exactly with the Resolution Foundation’s figures for a 2019-20 budget balance, logic suggests that this is most likely to be what Ed Balls is planning.
So SNP (and Green) adherents who crowed about Labour austerity being as bad as that of the Tories need to apologise – sharpish.
Now that these points are cleared up, let’s look at the substantive issue. Here’s the Resolution Foundation again: “The first minister’s headline was that she favours £180 billion of extra spending in the next parliament relative to current coalition plans… an increase in ‘departmental spending’ of 0.5 per cent a year in real terms over four years [we’ve established that the first year’s spending would adhere to Coalition-planned spending levels]. Our estimates suggest that raising departmental spending by 0.5 per cent in each of the four years after 2015-16 would indeed yield a cumulative increase in spending of around £180 billion (in 2019-20 prices, £160bn in today’s) compared to existing coalition plans. So that seems to fit.
“Another, more conventional, way of putting this is that in the final year of the next parliament, departmental spending would be around £60 billion higher in the SNP scenario than it would be under the coalition’s outline plans. This means that departmental spending would end up in roughly the same place in 2019-20 (in real terms) as it is now. We’d see £8 billion or so of departmental cuts in 2015-16 broadly cancelled out by a rise of around £7 billion across the following four years. It also means that, all else equal, there would still be a (small) UK-wide current deficit come the 2020 election.”
As you can see from the graph, the scenario that suggests a Labour balance in 2017-18 would imply a big difference with the SNP, particularly in the first half of the next Parliament – but, come 2019-20, “there would still be a £48 billion gap between Labour and the coalition plans; not that far short of the £60 billion gap that would exist between the SNP and the coalition”.
The scenario in which Labour balances its budget by 2019-20 “would in theory be consistent with spending roughly £140 billion more than coalition plans.
“The SNP proposal implies increases in total departmental spending of £1-2 billion per year over four years whereas Labour’s 2019-20 scenario implies cuts of £1-2 billion per year over the same period. This is against total departmental spending of around £350 billion. By 2019-20 this difference adds up to roughly a £14 billion gap between the two parties. Now, that’s a real difference but given the scale of the numbers involved, (and the fact that some of Labour’s consolidation may come from tax increases rather than spending cuts), it’s also a relatively modest one.”
It’s more or less the same amount the Coalition Government borrows every month, in fact.
Now let’s throw a spanner in the SNP’s works. The Resolution Foundation points out: “Fiscal discussions of this type tend to suffer from a severe case of false precision. None of the party leaders knows any better than you or I what will happen to productivity next year, never mind in 2020… Any difference between, say, the Labour and SNP spending plans would be dwarfed by the fiscal implications of even modest boosts (or dips) in productivity. Indeed, even the very large difference between the SNP (or Labour) and the coalition’s plans could be overshadowed by a significant shift in productivity trends. And, to Sturgeon’s credit, her remarks this week emphasised productivity.”
Yes – productivity. Does anybody remember that, prior to the referendum, the SNP wanted Scottish voters to believe that any borrowing that might be necessary in an independent Scotland would be offset by increased productivity? What did Simon Wren-Lewis have to say about that? Oh yes: “Governments that try to borrow today in the hope of a more optimistic future are not behaving very responsibly.”
But that is exactly what Ms Sturgeon was proposing for the whole of the UK; borrowing on the assumption of increased productivity.
Here’s a chance to put another SNP myth to bed, from the same writer. In his article about Ms Sturgeon’s speech, Professor Wren-Lewis states: “Of course this is the same person who, with Alex Salmond, was only six months ago proposing a policy that would have put the people of Scotland in a far worse fiscal position than they currently are, an argument that has been reinforced so dramatically by the falling oil price. You could say that it is a little hypocritical to argue against UK austerity on the one hand, and be prepared to impose much greater austerity on your own people with the other.”
The argument he mentions ran as follows: “Scotland’s fiscal position would be worse as a result of leaving the UK for two main reasons. First, demographic trends are less favourable. Second, revenues from the North Sea are expected to decline. This tells us that under current policies Scotland would be getting an increasingly good deal out of being part of the UK [and therefore independence would be detrimental].”
He added that the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which had independently analysed the SNP figures, had made a mistake on interest rates. The IFS analysis, he wrote, “assumes that Scotland would have to pay the same rate of interest on its debt as the rUK. This has to be wrong. Even under the most favourable assumption of a new Scottish currency, Scotland could easily have to pay around one per cent more to borrow than rUK. In their original analysis the IFS look at the implications of that (p35), and the numbers are large.”
The Resolution Foundation notes that “the flipside of higher spending, all else equal, would be higher debt and higher debt interest payments”.
So the SNP plan, as this blog pointed out, could create an interest-payment problem for the next government that bites into the extra money said to be for services.
Mr Portes made two other minor points, as follows: “2. Your stuff about Lab could spend more if economy does better wrong way round. If economy worse, we need higher deficit. Over time, as income goes up, so does/should spending. But short-term macro should be countercyclical.”
When I wrote the material about Labour spending more in a better-performing economy, I was thinking of the Labour government immediately after World War II. The current Labour Party has mentioned this period in recent speeches and releases, and it seems clear that Messrs Miliband, Balls et al consider their task, if elected in May, to be similar to that faced by Mr Attlee and his party – the reconstruction of the UK after a long period of destruction.
Are we to believe the economy is likely to worsen, in which case more borrowing will be needed? It’s certainly possible that major shocks are on the horizon. This writer is in no position to speculate.
“3. Finally, stuff about credit rating agencies/bond markets/Greece is absurd propaganda. I’ve written on this many times.” He’s right; it wouldn’t have been included it if Yr Obdt Srvt had stopped to think about it, but the article was up against a deadline and this writer was throwing in all the cautionary words he could find.
So let us forget about them. Here are a few more. Simon Wren-Lewis, at the end of his article, notes: “I read a blog post recently that suggested this was an election Labour would be better off losing… A Labour government dependent on SNP support would be abandoned by the SNP at the moment of greatest political advantage to the SNP and disadvantage to Labour. However if we assume that the oil price stays low there is no way a rational SNP would want to go for independence again within the next five years. It might be much more to its long term advantage to appear to be representing Scotland in a responsible way as part of a pact with Labour.”
Is the SNP rational? All the evidence available so far suggests it isn’t.
It put forward arguments that were deceptive about an independent Scotland’s economic future.
Its representatives and followers spread lies about Labour economic policy.
All indications suggest the SNP will try to create the conditions required for Scottish independence at the earliest opportunity, and then leave the rest of the UK hanging.
The original article on Ms Sturgeon’s speech ended by saying the SNP would be hard to trust.
After the findings of this one, it is nigh-on impossible to do so.
How humbling for the Scottish National Party that, after its Yes campaigners complained about vote-rigging in the Independence referendum, two SNP councillors have quit, citing undemocratic behaviour and – you guessed it – vote-rigging.
Cllr John Taggart (Murdostoun) walked out after a row over the selection process for Motherwell and Wishaw. His statement reads as follows: “The reason behind my resignation is that I feel that democracy within our party is under serious threat, when HQ in Edinburgh decided to refuse to reveal the breakdown of the votes cast for each candidate involved in the Westminster ballot for the Motherwell and Wishaw Westminster candidacy.” That’s vote-rigging, then.
“I am a committed democrat and I believe that when an election is carried out, people expect to see full and proper disclosure of the results, this is one of the fundamental tenets of a democratic society, and we all should all be extremely concerned of decisions taken at HQ in Edinburgh which allows the dark veil of secrecy to descend on our democratic processes.”
Cllr Alan Beveridge (Airdrie North) said in his statement: “I have been alarmed by the climate of fear, intimidation and false allegations which operates within the SNP locally.
“I have raised these matters directly with SNP headquarters but much to their shame and my disappointment, they have totally failed to address any of my concerns.
“Therefore I feel I have no alternative but to resign from the party.
“I have agonised over whether or not I should speak out in public, but I felt a sense of responsibility to my constituents that they should be made aware of the reasons behind my decision.
“I spent an entire career in the police force protecting the public and doing my very best to treat people with fairness.
“I joined the SNP fully expecting people to be treated the same way, however in the past few months I have been shocked at the way some members of the local branch have been treated and by the failure of SNP headquarters to respond to the concerns which I have raised.
“This is not the party I thought I had joined and I cannot continue to be a member of such an organisation.”
Both statements are published in the Scottish Daily Record(although not exclusively there). No doubt SNP supporters will try to attack this source; they would do well to note that this article quotes only the councillors’ words.
It seems the SNP may not be the standard-bearer for decency and morality in politics that its ill-mannered supporters claim.
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