Tuesday, 22 April 2014


Gordon Brown is not a stupid man. He knows that what he is saying today on pensions is nonsense and he has specifically selected his statistics to present a picture that is wildly far from reality. That is a clear and deliberate choice. It is the cheapest sort of negative campaigning, twisting the truth with the sole aim of frightening people.

Mr Brown knows that pensions and benefits are paid out of general taxation and that national insurance contributions are just part of that mix and, yet, according to the New Statesman he will say today that Scotland “will increasingly benefit from a system under which it pays 8 per cent of national insurance contributions but receives 8.8 per cent of the benefits”. However, what Mr Brown knows is that Scotland’s actual contribution, the total of all tax revenues, has been 9.5 per cent, on average, over the past 5 years. So, rather than receiving 8.8 per cent of the benefits and contributing just 8 per cent, as Mr Brown appears to be claiming, we actually contribute 9.5 per cent. He is trying to pretend that Scotland is dependent when the opposite, by far, is the case. 

According to the reports in the media today, later in the speech he makes a similar point, this time suggesting that we can’t afford our pensions and benefits payments because they equal 3 times oil revenues. But again, he knows that these payments are made out of total revenues, otherwise the UK wouldn’t be able to afford its welfare system given that the costs for the UK as a whole are 25 times oil revenues.

It takes a particular mindset to try and pull this sort of political trick, especially as Mr Brown will know that the cost of welfare provision in Scotland takes up a smaller percentage of total tax revenues than in the rest of the UK. The actual numbers show that 42% of Scotland’s tax revenues were required to fund social protection (pensions and welfare spending) compared with 43% for the UK.  That means we are better able to afford to support the most vulnerable in society.

I can’t help wondering, if the Union is so good, why do its supporters have to resort to such twisted claims based on a deliberate misrepresentation of the reality? Mr Brown is trying to take advantage of the fact that some people may not know how the welfare and pensions systems are paid for. But, he does. His misrepresentation, therefore, is jaw-dropping and ill-serves him.

At its root, Mr Brown wants us to believe two things. First, that Scotland is not capable of affording to look after our pensioners and, second, that we should, instead, trust the Westminster Tories (at least half the time) with our pension. He is absolutely wrong with the first, as demonstrated above, and spectacularly out of touch on the latter.

I believe most people in Scotland will trust our parliament - which introduced free personal care and the free bus pass - to do more to look out for and look after older Scots than Westminster. We wouldn’t waste billions on nuclear bombs while thousands of older Scots struggle to heat their homes. Those are the priorities of a Westminster system that is badly and dangerously on the wrong track.

And yet, tonight Mr Brown won’t have much to say (if anything) on the growing state of inequality. Instead, he will base his case on a truly warped presentation of the numbers and a glib description of the status quo of George Osborne’s austerity agenda and welfare plundering as the ‘best of both worlds’.

If this is the best the No campaign can do, they really are in trouble.

Monday, 21 April 2014

No basis in reality

No matter how hard they try, the No (thanks) campaign just can't escape their negativity. I almost feel sorry for them.

This week they've launched a big, nationwide poster campaign (although it seems to have only limited reach) and it makes three central claims, two of which are grim and wholly negative and each of which has a fatal flaw.

First, they say more powers are “guaranteed” after a No vote, but at this stage I don’t think the No campaign could tell us 5, or even 3, new powers that are “guaranteed” to come to Scotland if there is a No, which leaves a bit of a credibility gap to say the least. I’m perhaps also being over generous. Can they tell us a single guaranteed new power?

Second, they suggest we’d have to “give up the UK pound”, despite the currency confession from a senior UK government minister a few weeks ago which blew the gaffe on the No campaign’s rather blatant currency tactics: “of course”, the minister said, we would continue to share the pound. That’s without even going into the fact that the pound is a fully-tradeable currency, which means Westminster politicians couldn’t stop us from using it (despite the impression they are desperately trying to create). Being able to use the pound is another reason there will be agreement on sharing the pound in a sterling area.

And, third, they want people to believe that voting to put Scotland's future in Scotland's hands would “put our pensions at risk” even though a letter from the UK government’s own Department of Work and Pensions has made clear: “if Scotland does become independent, this will have no effect on your state pension - you will continue to receive it just as you do at present." Even the uber-Unionist Daily Mail’s own private pension provider has confirmed to scheme members that “should there be a Yes vote in the 2014 Scotland Referendum the benefit you have accrued in the scheme would be unaffected”. So, with letters from the UK government's pensions department and the No campaign’s biggest cheerleader in the press completely undermining the pension scares, why should anyone believe them?

I’ve written before that it is easy to frighten people, but that the impact of fear lessens the more information people take in. Have no doubt, Yes campaigners will be making sure voters have the full picture about pensions, the pound and more powers. Just as they’ve done before, the No campaign’s over-cooked claims, given pride of place in their posters, will ring hollow. It shouldn't come as a surprise (although given the approach adopted by the No campaign I'm not sure they do realise this simple fact), but people in Scotland won’t be taken for fools.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A very (un)British intervention

I thought we lived in a country where the military didn’t tell us how to vote or who should govern us. And, yet, that is what has just happened in the independence referendum debate and I’m surprised it has not been commented on.

These past few days the No campaign has focused on defence, and shot itself in the foot numerous times, from Philip Hammond’s threat of attack from outer space and his dressing down by an angry defence worker yesterday, to Lord Robertson’s simply bizarre contribution in the United States last week.

But these can be dismissed as more of the same, tired old scares, which the No camp don’t seem to realise are a big part of the reason the polls are narrowing, as shown rather dramatically in the Financial Times:

However, in the mix was an intervention from a serving senior member of our military, the First Sea Lord Sir George Zambellas, someone whose wages are paid by taxpayers in Scotland. He began his article in the Telegraph with a clear reference to the referendum vote in September. That was the absolute context for his remarks which were designed to encourage people to vote No.

The serving military aren’t here to get involved in politics or the democratic process; they are paid to put into effect the democratic will of the people. I always thought that was an absolute and central principle of our democracy. We aren’t a country where the generals (or the admirals) hold sway or have a role in democratic decision making.

As worrying is the suggestion in the FT that Sir George’s intervention was part of a campaign “orchestrated” by the Defence Secretary. I wonder if the Scottish media have pressed the MoD about the role of the political special advisers in the MoD in arranging, suggesting or contributing to the Sea Lord’s comments?

Is there a precedent for this sort of intervention in a democratic election process by a serving member of the armed forces? I can’t think of any parallel. It should also never be allowed to happen again.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Yes: the best result for UK Labour

Vote Yes and ditch David Cameron as Prime Minister, not just for Scotland but, in the ultimate act of solidarity, for the rest of the UK. What a wonderful statement and thought!

According to Benedict Brogan in the Telegraph “David Cameron will resign if he loses Scotland. A Prime Minister who allows the break-up of the United Kingdom cannot suffer such a statement of no confidence and continue in office.”

Mr Brogan then adds, “[t]hat much is understood in Downing Street”.

What this means is that a Yes vote can deliver a critical blow to Tory re-election chances, plunging them into a leadership crisis just months before the next UK general election. If Mr Cameron is not fit to remain PM if he “allows the break up” of the country, then Labour will clearly be able to argue that the Tories, as a whole, are not fit to return to government. It gives Mr Miliband and his party a new ace card and could be the difference between winning and losing in the rest of the UK.

Of course, if a Yes vote is bad news for the Tories and Mr Cameron, then a No vote would be like manna from heaven. A triumphant saviour of Britain could expect to add a few extra, crucial percentage points of support. I can already imagine the Tory narrative and pitch: if even Scotland, anti-Tory Scotland, has given a vote of confidence in Mr Cameron’s Britain, then that is a big deal. All the No votes would be corralled behind the ongoing austerity agenda and welfare changes, because that, after all, is what people knew they were voting for: vote No = vote for Westminster’s policies, whatever they turn out to be - that's one very large blank cheque.

Even worse, the Tories will happily remind all those Labour politicians of their description of the current arrangements, with Mr Cameron as Prime Minister, as offering “the best of both worlds”: why, they might add, would anyone want to change a winning formula? With their defence of the status quo, Scottish Labour’s leaders have tied themselves in knots.

The great irony is that Scottish Labour activists, at least those arguing for a No vote, will be working to deliver a result that will boost their party’s main opponent in the UK. And, they are arguing against the result that gives their colleagues in the rest of the UK the biggest chance of winning in 2015 at Westminster - a victory that would open a window of opportunity for progressives across the UK.

This understanding perhaps explains why Labour activists are not putting in the campaign hours we might have expected, a point also highlighted in Benedict Brogan’s piece.  It's bad enough campaigning, shoulder-to-shoulder, with the Westminster Tories never mind working to give them an electoral boost.

This has been an important revelation today, from someone who is very well connected with the upper echelons of the Tory party. A Yes vote will give the Labour Party in the rest of the UK an early Christmas present (to borrow Lord Robertson’s phrase), by delivering an end to David Cameron’s premiership and plunging the Tories into a crisis months before rUK voters go to the polls. And, what a wonderful no-holds-barred battle we can expect between George and Boris, with the fault lines within the Tory party over the EU and UKIP fully exposed.

All in all, surely further encouragement to increase the already steady stream of Labour members and supporters coming to Yes.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Making the independence case

Talking about independence, to our friends, family and colleagues, is a big part of the Yes campaign's approach in this referendum. And, independence conversations are no different from speaking about any other policy or idea.

As a Yes supporter or volunteer, you shouldn't be put off having these conversations, even though you can’t answer every question or are concerned about being caught out on a point of detail. For people who are used to political campaigning, it's the same as when we talk about education policy or health policy even though we may not have every fact or every detail in our head. The difference is, we have become comfortable talking about these policies as part of a wider narrative.

As an illustration, and one recognisable by SNP campaigners, in 2011 the SNP used the campaigning narrative ‘Record, Team and Vision’ and this short mantra allowed SNP activists to approach doorstep discussions with a bit of structure and some bits of information which could be moulded into a story about what the SNP had done and what it would look to do in the future. We should aim to make the independence case in a similar way.

Over the next 5 months, the Yes campaign message is focused on three core elements: Scotland can be, should be and must be independent. For each element, find the points that mean the most to you or are likely to chime most with the person you are speaking to, and use those as the centre piece of what you are saying.

A good starting point is often simply to find out what is on the other person's mind about independence and remember you don't have to persuade someone in one go, leaving them with new things to think about can often be the most effective approach.

Our case is a powerful and persuasive one:

Scotland can be independent 
Even David Cameron agrees that Scotland can be a successful independent nation, saying: “Supporters of independence will always cite examples of small, independent and thriving economies across Europe, such as Finland, Switzerland and Norway. It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country”.

We are the 14th richest country among the world's most developed nations: the UK is 18th. Even without oil and gas resources, our economic output per head is about the same as the UK's - with oil and gas, it is significantly higher. People are often surprised to hear that Scotland is richer per head than the UK, but that's why a Yes is so important, so people living in Scotland can feel more direct benefit from our wealth and resources.

Scotland has strong financial foundations for independence:

• We have paid more tax per head than UK as a whole in every one of last 33 years.
• Over the last 5 years, we have contributed 9.5% of UK spending and received 9.3% of public spending.
• Over these 5 years to 2012/13, Scotland's finances have been stronger than the UK's as a whole by £8.3 billion - or £1,600 per person.

After a Yes vote, negotiations with the UK government will take place in line with section 30 of the Edinburgh Agreement. Westminster's politically motivated campaign tactics will give way to what’s in the best interests of both Scotland and the rest of the UK. Alistair Darling will once again think that a currency union is 'logical' and 'desirable' just as the unnamed UK government minister, speaking to the Guardian, said ‘of course’ we would share the pound after a Yes, because that would ensure continuity for the benefit of both Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Scotland should be independent
Independence is about ensuring decisions are taken here in Scotland, not at Westminster by governments we don't vote for. The Scottish Parliament has shown that decision making in Scotland delivers for the people of Scotland - with powers over health, education and justice we have been able to protect the NHS, introduce free personal care, remove tuition fees and put more police on the streets.

With a Yes we’ll take responsibility for the economy, taxation, welfare and defence, we can access our own resources so we can make Scotland’s wealth work better for the people of Scotland. For Scotland, this means:

• Big savings of £600 million because we no longer pay for things like politicians at Westminster or nuclear weapons
• The ability to save some of our offshore energy wealth in a rainy day fund, giving us greater financial security for the future
• An economic policy designed for Scotland that allows us to make the most of our many strengths to create new jobs and opportunities

And for people in Scotland there are big gains too:

• For older people, the parliament that introduced free personal care will become responsible for making sure we have decent pensions too, for example, by protecting the value of the state pension year on year
• For hard-pressed households, we’ll be able to act on energy costs, deliver cost of living increases in tax credits and things like child benefit and ensure fair wages
• For young families, we can deliver a transformational increase in childcare with a near doubling of free nursery education for 3 & 4 year olds and, over time, this extended to every 1 & 2 year old too. 

These are just some of the potential gains from having Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.

Scotland must be independent 
The referendum is a choice between two futures. After the White Paper we have a clear picture of what a Yes vote will mean for Scotland and we are increasingly seeing the consequences of voting No too.

With a No vote we’re guaranteed more governments we absolutely reject and more damaging policies like the Bedroom Tax. In addition:

• there is no guarantee of any more powers for the Scottish Parliament and certainly not sufficient new powers - there is no agreement on more powers within the different No parties, let alone between them.
• up to 100,000 more children will be plunged into poverty as a result of cuts proposed by the Tories at the same time Westminster will waste billions on new nuclear weapons on the Clyde
• Scotland could be taken out of the EU against our will as a result of the proposed 2017 in/out referendum.

As Jim Sillars has pointed out, on September 18th the people of Scotland have absolute power in our own hands. We can decide to keep it, with a Yes, or choose to hand it back to Westminster with a No. 

Imagine how we will feel on the September 19th, with the eyes of the world upon us, if we hand control back to Westminster. As others have argued, voting Yes keeps us in the driving seat of our own destiny.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Small is beautiful

One of the key arguments Yes Scotland has presented to the Scottish Parliament's economy committee is that developed nations of Scotland’s size enjoy an independence bonus, which Scotland too should claim.

Big is not necessarily beautiful. Indeed, looking at the most successful nations on the planet, socially and economically, Scotland is pretty much the ideal size, and well placed to take full advantage, not only of our proximity to London (one of the world's great cities) but also our place in a European economic area and single market of half a billion people. I've long believed that rather than being subject to the giant London 'suction machine' that Vince Cable described (which he went on to say was draining the life out of the rest of the country - the inevitable consequence of the Westminster economic orthodoxy), we should be able to turn our prime location into one of our comparative advantages. Of course, we need new powers to give us the opportunity to make that happen.

As the Scottish Government's Fiscal Commission Working Group reported, “[i]t is widely accepted that, in terms of economic growth, Scotland has underperformed relative to both the UK and other small EU countries.” This underperformance is shown in the table below, with the 0.5 percentage point gap with the UK and the 0.4 percentage point gap with other small EU countries over the 30 years to 2007 highlighting a failure by the Westminster system to adequately support and encourage growth in Scotland, compared to London and the south-east.

Average Annual GDP Growth
Gap (Scotland minus UK/Small EU)

Small EU
Small EU
Source: Scottish Government, ONS, OECD (Note differences may be due to rounding)

This growth gap means that the size of Scotland’s economy is now half that of Norway’s, according to the UK government, even though both countries have similar populations and both are resource rich.

As Yes Scotland said in our written evidence to the Economy Committee, a Yes in September means we can finally get the targeted policies, designed to capture the unique strengths and address the relative weaknesses of Scotland’s economy – a step forward which is vital if we are to realise our full potential as a nation and deliver higher standards of living and greater financial security for the people of Scotland.

Scotland’s Future contains a good few options. It also points out that similar countries to Scotland have seen higher levels of economic growth for a generation and more. This is because 
they have the clear advantage of being independent and can make the right choices for their economy. If Scotland had matched the growth rates of similar, independent nations between 1977 and 2007, GDP per head in Scotland would now be 3.8 per cent higher, equivalent to an additional £900 per head.

Academic analysis points to the fact small countries (defined as having populations of less than 20 million) have been particularly successful in recent decades. Small countries make up 9 of the top 15 advanced economies by per capita income and a majority of the top 20 positions in the UN’s Human Development Index. Here's a few of the small countries ahead of the UK in the Index:

One of the most respected people in this field of study is David Skilling and he has identified a number of reasons why countries of Scotland’s size have been particularly successful. This includes a strong external focus on competing in the global economy and encouraging globalisation; a focus on areas of comparative advantage; strong emphasis on innovation and technology and, effective and efficient government.

Government and institutions can be structured more effectively, making our size an advantage, with shorter lines of communication and the ability to bring together key decision makers, allowing a quicker response to changing economic conditions. Former Plaid Cymru MP, Adam Price, co-authored a useful analysis of the benefits of being a small, flexible economy, The Flotilla Effect, and his work drew on a range of studies. One that he quoted, suggested greater social cohesion in smaller countries can also mean “more effective governance and a smoother path to social change or economic adjustment”. Another, that they are “easier to run, and therefore better ruled: the smaller number of decision-makers and stakeholders lowers the transaction costs and coordination complexities of the policy-making process”.

These advantages, according to David Skilling, mean that, “small country performance has strengthened, relative to larger countries, over the past 15 years . . . Indeed, small developed countries will likely continue to be over-represented at the top of the various economic and social measures”.

As our evidence concluded, looking to the future, if Scotland simply matches the long-term growth rates of other, similar independent nations – nations like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland or Ireland (countries with no resource or population advantage over Scotland but with the ability to design policy for their specific economic and social needs) – we will see a substantial increase in our overall national wealth and living standards.

This is the independence bonus open to Scotland, with a Yes. Not only can we increase the wealth of the nation, we can make sure it delivers far more for the people living here. In two words, a country and society that is wealthier and fairer. Now isn't that something worth voting for?

Monday, 7 April 2014

Building a groundswell for Yes

This is an article I wrote for Discover Society, as part of a series on Scotland's referendum. You can read some of the other articles in the series here and here.

Right from the launch of Yes Scotland, almost two years ago, we knew our best chance of winning the referendum was to create the biggest grassroots movement in Scotland’s history. With only a few months to go, we are well on our way to achieving that aim, with an increasingly vibrant and diverse Yes movement in place and in action.

The core concept behind our social campaign is the idea of ‘conversion through conversation’, with our enthusiastic and informed volunteers and supporters becoming the primary advocates and ambassadors for a Yes. Each one holding a series of conversations with people in their social networks, breaking the issues around independence into manageable, bite sized chunks and then nudging people up the support scale from unconvinced or undecided to a clear Yes.

Our focus on engaging through people’s existing social networks, both on and off line, poses a real challenge to a No campaign whose dominance is solely in the traditional arenas of the Westminster parliament and establishment and elements of the old media, in particular the London based media.

Our belief is that out of the three communications channels – old media, social media and face-to-face – we will be well ahead in two of the three (social and face to face). So, never mind the headlines in some newspapers – the balance of those will give a false impression of what is actually going on – because Yes victories are taking place on a daily basis on dozens of Scottish doorsteps and around dining tables and in public meetings across the country.

There is no need for overnight conversions. The strategy is based on the belief that our volunteers will have three, five or even ten conversations about independence with people in their immediate circles between now and voting day. That means they can tackle people’s concerns issue by issue and can also provide very clear information about the benefits of a Yes vote, personalised to, and meaningful for, the individual they are talking too.

Alongside the overarching messages we deliver at a national level, we have real confidence that our volunteers and supporters, armed with the arguments, will make the best and most persuasive presentation of the case for the person they are engaging with face to face. We also know that what a person hears from a friend, colleague or family member is trusted way more than what they hear on the news, from a politician, or read in the newspapers.

Given our strength in numbers, this translates into our biggest advantage. Our aim, as part of building the groundswell, has been to ensure just one or two degrees of separation between an advocate for Yes and each and every undecided voter, so that there is that personal connection in place to supplement what is being heard in the wider national debate.

One of our most important tasks, centrally, is to provide our volunteers with the information they need to make the case and to do it in a format that is easily accessible and easily conveyed. We understand from our research that the primary barrier to a Yes vote is the misplaced idea that Scotland can’t actually afford to be independent and once this is overcome it is much easier to persuade someone that Scotland should be independent. This, therefore, gives us the structure for our presentation of the case: can, should and must.

In short, Scotland can be independent, because we are one of the wealthiest nations on the planet; we should be independent because the full benefit of that wealth isn’t currently felt by people living in Scotland and, we must be independent, because it is better to have Scotland’s future in our own hands, rather than in the hands of Westminster politicians.

Our volunteers have become increasingly adept at conveying the most appropriate can, should and must arguments and this three-pronged presentation of the case is also eminently understandable from a voter perspective and easily absorbed.

Alongside active conversations, there’s also a high level of engagement in other ways. As Professor James Mitchell of Edinburgh University has pointed out, we are seeing the return of the public meeting in a way that hasn’t been experienced for generations. For Yes, we have a public meeting in a different corner of the country most nights, with big turn outs – as many as 400 on occasion – and lots of questions, not about the supposed headline issues of currency or the EU but about what a Yes might mean for the things people care about in their day to day lives.

There is an enormous diversity of meeting styles, from Yes Cafes, where the chat is at small tables over coffee and cake, to the more formalised ‘Imagine Scotland’ tour, where some of Scotland’s best creative talent has been involved, designing a two hour programme of discussion and participation for undecided voters. There have been Q&As, traditional panel debates, head-to-heads and chat show style interviews and they are taking place in villages, towns and cities in all parts of Scotland.

To give a sense of the scale of public engagement, on 14th March for the month ahead, the No campaign had 72 events covering 14 of our 32 local authorities, while local Yes Scotland groups had organized 120 events covering 25 council areas. Of these, 4 of the No campaign events were public meetings (as opposed to campaign events like street stalls) while for Yes Scotland the comparable figure was 43.

One important finding in our research is that people who describe themselves as well informed about the referendum and independence are more likely to vote Yes and over the months we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of people who feel they know enough. We see this too at our public meetings, where the opportunity to think about the issues, and be part of debate and discussion, plays a big part in moving people from undecided to Yes. People leave the meetings, hopefully with their questions answered, and then they go back into their own social circles and share their experience, which in itself has a powerful, additional effect.

Our public meetings also tend to involve people representing the many different and varied parts of the Yes movement. So a Yes Scotland speaker will sit alongside someone from Labour for Independence or Business for Scotland or Women for Independence. This diversity of voices has also proved to be a big asset for the campaign.

The various Yes-supporting organisations have, largely, been self-starting and this has been another crucial part of building momentum and the groundswell of support. Alongside the Yes Scotland campaign and the Yes political parties, we have vibrant and growing groups – bringing different voices and perspectives. Once again, these different groups are able to speak to people within their particular environment, in the most appropriate way, about the issues that matter most.

Among the most exciting and effective is National Collective, with 2,000 members in the creative sector, many in their 20s and 30s. There’s the Radical Independence Convention, representing a wide range of the Scottish left, which is working in particular to engage with the “missing million” – people who haven’t voted for years or indeed have never voted – often living in peripheral housing schemes. Business for Scotland now has around 1,500 members across Scotland’s business community and has its own programme of business engagement meetings. Alongside these are numerous others: Women for Independence, Scots Asians for Yes, Labour for Independence, Yes Trade Unionists, Christians for Independence, Farmers for Yes and Academics for Yes to name just a few of 25 so-called sectoral groups and independent organisations.

In the aftermath of the referendum there will be much that deserves further analysis and study. From a purely constitutional perspective we are already hearing talk of the ‘Scottish model’. The Scottish independence movement has always been peaceful and democratic, it is also a civic movement and one that positions 21st century independence in a plural and inter-connected world: what is sought is not separation but a new, more modern partnership on these isles. Alongside this new model of co-operative independence, the agreement reached between the UK and Scottish governments to hold the referendum, which included confirmation that both sides would accept and implement the result, provides a new global standard and one that has been referred to already in relation to events in the Crimea.

But there is another aspect to the Scottish model that deserves particular attention. As a civic movement, the case for Yes is made by groups and individuals representing all parts of society. There are many voices speaking with every conceivable accent. This is, by definition, an inclusive approach and a truly networked campaign. And so, alongside the constitutional lessons, there is also a clear campaigning conclusion: in Scotland’s case success is most likely when society is fully engaged and moves forward together and this is a hugely powerful thought, and example, for areas of constitutional dispute across the globe.