Category Archives: Politics

Richard Murphy’s Journey to Yes

Richard Murphy is a political economist. You  might have come across his blog TaxResearchUK which is much, much more interesting reading than you might guess from it’s title! For example “It’s time the BBC learned that all money is made out of thin air.” and “Has Carney taken leave of his sense?” Carney being the Chairman of the Bank of England.

Recently he wrote about the inadequacies of the GERS (Governement Expenditure & Revenue Scotland) figures. If you read my blog you’ll have spotted me trying to makes me sense of them and what they say about the Scottish economy. According to Richard, I shouldn’t waste my time as they are not fit for purpose. Or to be more precise not fit if your purpose is to make sense of the Scottish economy. On the other hand if your purpose is to obfuscate the likely state of an independent Scottish economy, they do an admirable job. He has written several posts about GERS, for example “Why economic data provided by London will not help the Scottish independence debate” and  “More on Why GERS might properly be called crap data” .

In this video he talks about he see sees leaving the UK as the only way for Scotland to reach its full economic and human potential.  The prize is a better Scotland. He takes about the economic forces powering the Yes movement, he dismantles the case for GERS and looks at the key issues of currency, investment and taxation that must be addressed to win the independence argument. Worth a listen….

Journey to Yes

In 2014 we Scots voted in a referendum. Either Yes! we wanted Scotland to be an independent nation once more after more than 300 years of political union with England. Or No, we wanted to remain in that union. At the beginning of the campaign opinion polls showed a Yes vote at about 25%. By 14 Sept 2014 the day of the vote it was 45%. That’s a big increase. But not a big enough increase. 

Since then the promises made to us by the Unionist politicians to get us to vote No have mostly been shown to be empty. In particular the No campaign took a strong line over EU: the only way to be sure of remaining in the EU was to stay in the Union; an independent Scotland wouldn’t be able to join the EU; Spain would veto us; we’d be out in the economic cold. Aye, right. It was not correct then and it sure as hell isn’t right now after England voted to leave the EU last June. Scotland voted to remain by 62% : 38%. That isn’t important apparently and we should just be quiet and let our kindly Westminster Government get on with sorting things out for us.

Not surprisingly, some people who supported the No campaign in 2014 have shifted their view and now support Yes. Here are some videos made by Phantom Power which tell the stories of those Journeys to Yes.

 

 

Electoral Calculus

I really like the Electoral Calculus website. It follows opinion polls and comes up with overall election predictions but also seat by seat predictions. It’s run by Martin Baxter. More about him here.

His current UK prediction is for a Tory majority of 74 seats. If she gets that, Mrs May will no doubt think it was worth all the stresses, strains, insults, lapses of memory, innumerable speeches to sparse hand-picked audiences, missed debates, etc etc and including the wee dash up to Crathes in Aberdeenshire to the local community centre where the event had been booked as a children’s party.

Current prediction for Scotland is an SNP majority of 41, i.e. 50 seats out of 59, which is six down on their currently held seats.

I don’t agree with the Scottish prediction. I know Angus Robertson is vulnerable to the Tories but I think his well deserved reputation and standing at Westminster as the leader of the SNP group will help him hold on. I hope the same happens in Perth for Pete Wishart. Oh and I so hope that we manage to get rid of Fluffy Mundell from Dumfriesshire. Also I’m not sure that this prediction takes into account the latest polling which has Labour and Tory at 25% each in Scotland. That will help SNP if it’s maintained.

Fingers crossed!!!

Tory Graphics Go Haywire

 

I was looking at a bit of Tory election campaign bumff that came through our door. It was the same as the one above except that it had the name and photo of the Tory candidate in my constituency. Now that’s fair enough. It makes sense to have a central campaigning theme with your local candidate added. You’ll see that it has the claim that “Labour and LibDems are now too weak to stand up to the SNP”. On the reverse it said “Tory Revival on Course to Foil Independence.” That’s standard for this Scottish Tory campaign – they are the champions of the Union holding their ground against hordes of divisive Nationalists. 

Now I usually just bin anything from the Conservatives immediately but the graphic which supposedly showed a Panelbase poll result from April to back up that first claim seemed a bit off to me. So I redrew the actual poll figures and compared them with the Tory leaflet version by measuring the height of the columns on the leaflet. The blue columns show the real spread of support as reported in the Panelbase poll and the green columns are what the Tories would have us see : the results are skewed to exaggerate the position of both SNP and Tory whilst under-representing Labour and LibDems. Now Labour is weak and LibDems are showing no signs of recovery but they’re not this weak!! 

 

The Electoral Commission have powers to oversee fair play in UK election. They have a section on making complaints but it says they don’t have authority over election campaign content : 

Political advertising or campaign election material:

We frequently receive complaints about political advertising or campaign material and the behaviour of candidates, especially in the period before an election. These are not within the scope of the complaints policy and will be referred to our Public Information Team.

While we have regulatory duties relating to campaign spending, including in relation to political advertising/election material, we have very few powers to deal with the content of material published by candidates and parties, or their general conduct. In most cases we will not be able to deal with such complaints, which should instead be made directly to the party or candidate responsible for the material.

So there didn’t seem much point in contacting them.  Instead I sent emails to the four candidates standing in my constituency containing a copy of the graph comparisons. Well I tried to. The email address given for my LibDems candidate returned undeliverable – which is about the same as his chances of being elected. The Tory candidate hasn’t replied – which is maybe to be expected. I did come clean and tell him that I was never going to vote for him anyway.

This is my email:

Dear ….
Yesterday the Conservative campaigners dropped a leaflet through my door. It has the claim that “Labour and LibDems are now too weak to stand up to the SNP” alongside “Tory Revival on Course to Foil Independence.” I usually just bin them immediately but the graphic which supposedly showed a poll result from April backing up that first claim seemed a bit off to me. 

So I redrew the actual poll figures and compared them with the Tory leaflet version. The blue columns show the real spread of support and the green columns are what the Tories would have you see : the results are skewed to exaggerate the position of both SNP and Tory whilst under-representing Labour and LibDems. Now Labour is weak and LibDems are showing no signs of recovery but they’re not this weak!! 

I suspect that they’ve chopped off the bottom section of the polling graph, possibly to fit it on their handout. Perhaps it’s more malicious than that. Either way it needs stopped. 

I’m sure you’d want to check my figures but I’m pretty confident in them. Maybe you can do something to halt this sort of deliberate misinformation. Or at least use it to oppose Ms Davidson’s cohorts 😈

My MP is Carol Monaghan SNP. Here’s her reply to my email:

Many thanks for getting in touch regarding the graphic on the Tory leaflet. You and I must have had the same thoughts when we saw that particular graphic! Of course in my former life as a physics teacher, any of my students producing a graph such as this would have been sent back to correct their errors. I am delighted that you have done this correction for the local Tory candidate. Unfortunately it is difficult to prevent a misleading message being spread. It is something in that I am becoming increasingly used to, and of course politicians love challenging each other on the particular way in which they choose to present information. I will of course refer to your correct graph at appropriate opportunities and I would suggest that you do likewise.

Thanks again for getting in touch and for displaying your un-Torylike numeracy skills.

I also got a reply from the Labour candidate though I’d inadvertently not included an attachment with my graph so he hadn’t seen the comparison. He took the time to reply even so which was good of him. 

Thanks very much for your email – lovely to hear from you. I can’t see anything attached but I can imagine the graph you are talking about. Of course it’s also based on a national projection and has no relevance to what is the possible outcome in this constituency – where the Conservatives have zero chance. I find the whole graphs on leaflets obsession a bit frustrating – especially when there are so many other issues we could be talking about.

For my part, I’ve been running a positive campaign about our plan to make Britain a fairer and more socially just country – an economy that works for all not just the wealthiest few. I work with children in the care system and I see day in day out the impact of austerity and cuts on families across this constituency – that’s what has motivated me to stand to be your MP.

Thanks again for getting in touch and I hope we see the end of the ‘fake graphs’ soon!

He doesn’t seem to mind the Tory skewing of his electoral position since they have zero chance of winning this seat. Of course that’s ignoring the fact  that this skewed information has been posted through letter boxes all over Scotland not just in this constituency. Still he is right that they have zero chance of winning in Glasgow NW. For Labour to win they’d need to overcome the SNP’s 24% lead after the 2015 election. Compare that to when I moved into this constituency: in 1978 this was the only Tory seat in Glasgow. It changed to Social Democrat when they split from Labour in 1980s and we had Roy Jenkins as our MP, then it went to Labour and George Galloway was MP. It stayed Labour under John Robertson until 2015 when Carol won for SNP. I don’t think Carol has much to worry about being returned for a second time.

 

 

 

An SNP Clean Sweep?

At present the SNP have a very healthy lead over the Scottish Tories in the opinion polls. Bigger than Mrs May’s lead over Labour in England. Labour are in third place. Their polling share halved since 2015 while the Tories’ share has doubled. The figures are taken from What Scotland Thinks. I’ve omitted some small party shares so the percentages don’t add up to exactly 100%.

So, how might that play out on June 8th? I’ve been looking at how things stand in the 59 Scottish constituencies after the 2015 election. SNP: 56 Lab, Con & LibDems: one each 🙂 Can the SNP take a clean sweep? Probably not, is what I think. They may even lose a few seats. Mind you that would still give them a huge mandate in Scotland. Here’s why I think that:

Continue reading An SNP Clean Sweep?

Not another election :-/

By June 9th we’ll be puggled …. after all her adamance that no election was necessary and she’d just get on with the job, blah, blah, unlike those Scottish Nat who are always calling for another election about independence, blah, blah, when now is not the time, blah, blah, she’s gone and called another election. Mind you, if I was 20% ahead of my main opponents in the polls, I’d probably do it too. 

I’ve been taking a look at Labour’s chances. I don’t think much of them. This is roughly how things stand as regards the % difference between Tory and Labour at the last election.   Continue reading Not another election :-/

Citizens’ Assembly… a second chamber for Scottish parliament?

A few weeks back I read a CommonWeal policy proposal on the subject of whether we need a second chamber to complement Holyrood and if so what kind of chamber do we want? The proposal is to set up a Citizens’ Assembly. It’s written by Brett Heddig who set up the Sortition Foundation exploring how we can do democracy differently. 

Democracy is about elections isn’t it? Voters vote, give a group of people a mandate to govern and let those people get on with it for a few years. Those people are our representatives and if we’re not happy with they do in our name, we vote for someone else next time. That’s pretty well how I  would describe democracy. Mind you it also needs a raft of supporting institutions like a free press, an independent judiciary, freedom of speech, freedom of association (eg Trade Union rights), signing up to the UN Human Rights Charter, etc, etc. 

Continue reading Citizens’ Assembly… a second chamber for Scottish parliament?

Scottish Local Elections Coming Up At a Polling Station Near YOU!

Like I said in a previous post, I haven’t paid much attention to local elections apart from voting in them. But having had a look at how Glasgow is placed in the forthcoming local elections, I thought I’d have a look at how councils around Scotland stand at the moment. Happily for someone who likes spreadsheets, you can download the whole caboodle of the 2012 election results direct to your computer.  Then you can footer around pulling data together to your heart’s delight. Or not delight depending on your political preferences. 

I’m really surprised at the variety of local coalitions that have formed to create a working majority in a council. Even the LibDems and the Greens get a look in. It’s a right patchwork of red, gold, yellow, blue, and whatever colour Independents associate themselves with. I’ve used grey on the graphs below. Sorry, Independents. 

Continue reading Scottish Local Elections Coming Up At a Polling Station Near YOU!

Glasgow City Council Elections… coming up next month, 4th May

To be honest I’ve never paid much attention to local council elections. Since I was old enough to vote I was either in Edinburgh or in Glasgow. Well there was a break for some years in Shropshire. But especially in Glasgow, you knew what the outcome was going to be. One of our local councillors was a LibDem chap for a long time but everyone knew that it was going to be a Labour run council. Again. And again. And again. 

Oh well, apart from 1949-52 and 1968-71 when the council was run by Progressives and mostly without overall control.  Oh and 1977-79 when again there was no overall control and it was run by a Conservative. Apart from those years, for all the other years since 1934 – Wikipedia doesn’t venture further back than that – it’s been Labour run.

Continue reading Glasgow City Council Elections… coming up next month, 4th May

Article 50 Delivered to Brussels :-(

Today saw Article50 with Theresa May’s signature at the bottom of it wend its way over to Brussels and in to the hands of Donald Tusk. In the House of Commons, our PM gave a statement to that effect and called for the ‘nation’ to pull together. We already heard from her the other day up here in Scotland that Britain is an “unstoppable force”. 

Here is Angus Robertson’s, leader of the SNP in the Commons, response to her statement. Angus is getting better and better …..

Bercow, the Speaker, Speaking Some Welcome Home Truths

The Speaker of the Commons gets asked a point of information about the possibility of  Trump speaking at Westminster Hall. Speaker Bercow left no doubts about his view on that. As Dennis Skinner says at the end “Just two words, Mr Speaker. Well done.”

However since this happened Bercow is facing calls for him to resign. These calls come from Tory MPs. So no surprise there. The grounds for a resignation are said to be the Speakers make an agreement to be politically neutral while they hold the position of Speaker. 

You might say that Bercow’s words were not political neutral in that they go against the stated views of the PM in inviting him for a Royal State Visit as opposed to a Head Of Government visit. I prefer to think of Bercow giving the Commons the ethical argument for why Trump should get nowhere near Westminster Hall or the Royal Gallery.

Build Bridges Not Walls

Over in Washington, Trump is preparing for his inauguration as 45th President of the USA. Elsewhere in the world, people are making know their opposition to his divisive rhetoric. One such protest are the Build Bridges Not Walls events. Here are more photos are of Glasgow’s contribution:

Debunking Nigel Lawson

When I listened to the Climate change Denial 101 lectures on FLICC it seemed a pretty straightforward and reasonable set of criteria. However when I tried some of the examples, I soon found that it wasn’t!

It’s definitely easier to identify aspects of FLICC when it’s a subject that I have some background knowledge of but even then, I’m still finding myself rather baffled as to which part of FLICC is happening. I suspect that there are probably FLICC overlaps in what people say when they deny what’s happening.

I came across an article with a climate change denier in The Guardian the other week so I thought I’d try analysing it for FLICC content. It’s an interview with Lord Nigel Lawson who was Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (ie Finance Minister) and Energy Secretary in the 1980s. I posted about him in the MOOC forums because he heads up a climate change denial setup in UK called the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

I’ve extracted some of what he says about climate change. The full article is here : Second Coming of Nigel Lawson The “I” in the article is the interviewer, Jane Merrick. So here goes…

Extract 1:

When I ask him (ie Lawson) how he feels about the label of “climate-change sceptic” (although some environmental campaigners would choose the word “denier”), the peer, who was also Thatcher’s Energy Secretary, says:

“I would rather you call me a climate-change dissenter because my objection is to the policies that are being pursued. There is no global warming to speak of going on at the moment. If you look at the Met Office statistics, that’s quite clear. But there could be, there clearly could. If it does happen, there would be a much slower process than the alarmists pretend. But the important question is, what do you do about it? This is where I am in complete disagreement with the parties of the Establishment.”


Making reference to Met Office Statistics gives Lawson apparent credit as at least a well-informed layman. Really though this is cherry picking and/or a strawman argument. I think he’s referring to the hiatus in surface air temperature rise that’s been observed 1998-2012. But he’s not giving the whole picture and doesn’t acknowledge that his argument that therefore no warming is going on just now is weakened by other data. Observations of sea temperatures, ocean acidity observations, sea level rise and other measures, all of which show that global warming is continuing but in a different pattern just now than in preceding decades.

His acknowledgement that ‘global warming could happen but that if it did happen it would be much a slower process than alarmists present’… is clever, I think. He’s already established his apparent credentials by apparently knowing what the Met Office data shows. He is now avoiding being seen as an out-and-out loony climate change denier by acknowledging that it is possible for the climate to change. (UK Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher, who had a degree in chemistry, acknowledged the possible effects of increasing GHG gases concentrations back in the 1980s) Then he makes an assertion that any change would be slower than alarmists declare. So two things there. He doesn’t offer any backup data for that assertion. Would that be an unsubstantiated red herring? And then he uses the derogatory term ‘alarmist’ which comes under an ad hominem fallacy of reasoning where you attack your opponent personally rather than critiquing his data.

Extract 2:

Yet how can he justify his position when 97 per cent of scientists say that global warming is happening now? Lawson corrects me: “It wasn’t 97 per cent of scientists – but what they did was take a whole load of papers which they selected and then they said 97 per cent of the papers said, as I have, that it could well happen. The only people who are in the 3 per cent were people saying, ‘No way it could ever happen.’”

Again I think this is clever. It refers to the consensus building discussion we heard about in the week 1. The interviewer made a mistake by saying 97% of scientists. Lawson pounces on that and is correct in saying that it’s not 97% of scientists. It’s actually 97% of climate scientists and their research papers. But he doesn’t acknowledge the greater expertise of the selected scientists. In fact he uses ‘selection’ as a pejorative term implying that something was done to skew the results to what ‘they’ wanted. So although it’s not explicitly stated by Lawson, I think there’s an implied conspiracy theory accusation at the scientific community.

Extract 3:

But even David Cameron, who as prime minister has played down his green credentials, has linked the winter floods and last year’s devastating Typhoon Haiyan to global warming. “He’s talking through his hat,” says Lawson. “There’s been no increase in their number or intensity at all. All the experts are clear that you can’t link [these events] to warming, not surprisingly because there hasn’t been warming.”

Again an assertion is made by Lawson, this time about typhoon intensity, without any backup reference given. Winter floods in the south of England get ignored despite there being some evidence that the weather that brought them was linked to a blocking pattern due to a changed jet stream pattern over Europe. In his immediate next sentence he correctly states that individual events can’t be linked specifically to warming. This time he’s happy to quote that experts are clear about this. This is cherry picking in that he’s happy to quote these experts when they say something that apparently supports his view. And cleverly again, he links the experts’ open acknowledgement of the limits of what, as yet, can be confirmed about individual events into his assertion that no warming has occurred.

Extract 4:

Lawson’s strong personal views would be easily dismissed if he had no influence on the Government. Yet he has: George Osborne has become an enthusiast for shale gas, something Lawson has, through his Global Warming Policy Foundation, been advocating for a number of years; last year, the Chancellor announced tax breaks for fracking. Lawson has a “high regard” for Osborne, whom he says has “depth” and “thinks”, and the pair talk from time to time.

Fewer than half of voters support fracking, I point out, but Lawson is having none of it. “They don’t know anything about it, understandably, because it’s never happened in this country. There is a ridiculous campaign of misinformation by its opponents, which people can’t judge properly”. He says 99.5 per cent of what is used in drilling for shale is water and sand, and only 0.5 per cent is a “totally harmless” chemical, polyacrylamide, used in face creams.

I’ve put this extract in just so you seem how vociferously Lawson complains about a campaign of misinformation by people who can’t judge properly. He is himself a disseminator of climate change misinformation, of course, but in the case of fracking he wants the opposite of what the protesters want so they’re the ones who are misinforming people. I haven’t done any research to find out if what he says about the composition of shale drilling fluid is correct. Even if it is correct, he is keeping quiet about the other problems associated with fracking. I don’t know if the fracking procedure in UK is the same as in US but there are certainly problems arising in US with contaminated water supplies. So I’d bet there’s some cherry picking going on here too. As well as his sheer brash neck complaint about a campaign of misinformation! And of course no mention about the contribution to CO2 emissions that would arise from shale gas usage.

Conclusion: I never liked Lawson when he was an active politician. In the UK, I suppose he still has some standing left in some quarters and some credentials as a reputable and intelligent politician. He clearly trades on that to give his statements weight.

I like him even less now that he’s an active climate change denier. But he is clever. And he obviously knows how to use a range of linked statements to create an overall sense of apparent reasonableness. Some of his statements are true; some are false; some are cherry picking; some are misrepresetnations; some are unsubstantiated red herrings; some are attacks on the honesty of scientists.

This has been a very useful exercise. I usually just shout at Lawson when he’s on TV. I might now be able to explain a bit to other people what exactly he’s up to!!

 

 

AllOfUsFirst web from Common Weal on Vimeo.

Recently I set up a regular payment to Common Weal a  Scottish civic based group working on various projects to improve governance in Scotland, now and in an independent future. Here’s the email I received in response to setting up the bank order. All of Us First is their website address but also their political slogan.

Hi Marlene,

A happy new year to you! I’m getting in touch to say thank you so much for recently signing up as a regular investor to Common Weal. We returned to work yesterday, and started strategizing for 2017. There is so much work to be done – and since Brexit and Trump – the time for creating an alternative society, economy and politics, that works for all of us in a caring and compassionate way, has never been so crucial. So thank you for being a part of the Common Weal community. We will be working as hard as ever to make our voices heard.

I would be very grateful if you could take the time to let me know why you decided to start investing in Common Weal? What is it we do that is meaningful to you? And what would you like to see us focus on in 2017? Your opinion is of great value to us so please do keep in touch and let me know.

Very best for 2017 – All Of Us First.

Tiffany Kane

And my reply:

Hi Tiffany
Thanks for your email.

New Year is when I have a look at the various charities, people and groups I support with a bit of financial help. It’s almost always a small bit of help but hopefully I’m one of many doing that. It had been in my mind for a while to give some support to Common Weal so this time I added you in.

I came across Common Weal first during the IndyRef campaign. I was impressed. I got myself a copy of the Book of Ideas when it came out. I must admit I haven’t read it all even yet but it seems to me to epitomise the kind of approach we need to make sure that IndyRef2 succeeds.

Basically I think we should be acting and thinking things through now so that we’re ready for that Yes vote. I thought the SNP White Paper was good but it wasn’t thorough enough. No blame to SNP for that. But next time we need more developed policies for things like currency, banking, benefits, pensions, etc, so that we’re ready to counter the onslaught of arguments and disinformation that we know now will come flying from Unionist voices, media and vested interests. I’m sure both SNP and Green Parties will be working on those issues too but since one of the hallmarks of of the referendum was the involvement of civic groups alongside political parties, I’m keen that the strength of our civic based input is maintained.

A few weeks ago I came across reference to the Common Weal White Paper and I’ve read some of the online. That was probably the main lever that got me sending you some cash. And since I’m in the 65+ age group who apparently mostly voted No (not me obviously) it seems the least I can do to make amends for that, 🙂

Best wishes for the New Year to you,

Marlene Halliday