Roundtable – “What is your opinion of the moratorium on fracking and UCG?”

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This week, we put the topical question of “What is your opinion of the moratorium on fracking and UCG?” to our contributors, but before we get into their responses, a little background is necessary.

In January the SNP government announced a moratorium on the process of fossil fuel extraction known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, while around ten days ago they announced a similar moratorium on the similarly controversial process of offshore underground goal gasification (UCG).

A moratorium basically means that the processes are illegal in Scotland other than for research purposes until the government is satisfied that they are safe and of benefit to the country.

Earlier this weekend, the SNP conference debated the moratorium and a narrow vote was cast in favour of the current moratorium, which was initially reported as a vote against a full ban, although the truth is a little more complex and well covered here.

Both of these processes are strongly opposed by environmental and community groups because of a history of pollution and seismic instability associated with the practices when used overseas, with the fossil fuel lobby making the case for the legalization of the processes.

Siobhan Tolland: I am going to make this short. It is phenomenal that fracking and UCG can EVER be be portrayed as good for the environment and people unless your sole aim is profit. Pumping Hydrochloric Acid deep into the earth is poisoning it, for instance, pure and simple. Stop fannying around with a Moratorium and ban it. End of story! Anything less is ecological suicide.

Chris Napier: On one hand, having a moratorium on fracking and UCG is a good thing. However, it’s not close to as much of a good thing as an actual ban – as demanded by both public opinion and scientific evidence – would be.

I can’t help but think that the moratorium is essentially a way for the SNP to continue adopting the look of a progressive party which cares about the environment and public opinion until the election in May next year. After that near inevitable victory, I expect they will show their true colours as a pro-business party who are inextricably invested in the fossil fuel industry and announce that fracking & UCG is suddenly OK.

The fact that Ineos have bought up a chunk of North Sea oil, been allowed to start drilling for ‘investigative purposes’ under the moratorium (as if the weight of scientific evidence from overseas wasn’t sufficient) and paid a hefty sum for a stall at the SNP’s conference all indicate that they are investing heavily in the Scottish fossil fuel industry and they wouldn’t be doing this if they hadn’t been given some sign that they’ll get to frack us in the end.

This is another serious crack in the SNP’s image as a progressive party which has me seriously considering whether I can in all conscience vote for them in the constituency ballot in May.

Louise Wilson: Well, well, well. After numerous calls for a total ban, even from many of their own members, the SNP is still sat on the fence on fracking. I can’t help but worry that Chris is right.

The justification for this is that there needs to be full and extensive research into the impacts of fracking (which I’m sure will come out with “as long as it’s done right, THE MONEY”) – and completely ignores that non-Scottish literature out there already.

But aside from all the fracking-specific issues that have been raised (contamination, house prices decreasing, mini-earthquakes), this also completely ignores one blatantly obvious fact: shale gas is a fossil fuel.

Put simply, we cannot afford to allow fracking and UCG to go ahead because, even without the short-term impacts, we cannot keep renewing our reliance on finite resources. Most political parties in the UK accept this already – yet not many seen to actually understand what that means in terms of decisions needed now.

So to come back to the original question, my opinion is this: the moratorium needs to go. Bring on the full ban – and soon.

Alasdair Duke: The issues of climate change and unconventional fossil fuel extraction are too serious to have to compete for space in this piece against political point-scoring. There will be some criticism of the SNP later in this piece, but let’s start with what is wrong with fracking and so-called “unconventional gas extraction”.

Global warming is caused by a variety of gases of which the most significant is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is created in various ways, but burning stuff, especially stuff with a high carbon content such as fossil fuels, is a leading cause of carbon dioxide emissions and therefore global warming.

We are on course for the world’s temperature to increase by around four degrees celsius by 2100. Consequently, at some point within a few generations, polar ice deposits will melt completely. There will be widespread drought and flooding, sea level rise will obliterate low-lying areas, and food and water supplies will be in a state of total crisis.

So… burning fossil fuels is always bad news.

Fracking and so-called “unconventional gas extraction” are the latest, and among the more desperate, of humanity’s attempts to literally burn the contents of our planet.

Mankind has always burned stuff. Primitive early humans developed the ability to light fires using wood. Our more recent ancestors turned to wax, paraffin and other fuels. The fossil fuel industry took off in the 1800s, at first by extracting what might be called “conventional” fuels; those which were on land and were fairly easy to extract using the technology of the time. In the twentieth century, as the price and our demand for oil increased, less “conventional” fuel extraction methods began to emerge. These included drilling under the sea, paying despot overseas governments for the chance to burn their fossil fuels, and fracking. More recently, there is oil and gas exploration in previously inaccessible or unviable places such as the Arctic regions; perversely, the shrinking of the ice caps has only encouraged Russia, Canada, the USA and others to search for oil in the far North.

As I write this in 2015, we have passed the point where the industrial-scale extraction of fossil fuels should ever be described as “conventional”. I gather from scientific consensus that the only conventional, rational approach that could safeguard the future of humanity is to leave it in the ground.

So it’s fair to say that I am opposed to all fracking and unconventional fossil fuel extraction. I am opposed to it in Scotland and I am opposed to it everywhere. Of course Scotland must set an example and ban fracking. We are an educated and wealthy nation that can set an example on this issue. I would also contend that we should go much further in tackling climate change; tackling topics such as transport, home insulation and seasonal/vegan food consumption.

The SNP appears craven. There are numerous factors that have long pulled the party towards the fossil fuel industry: chiefly, the centrality of oil to their arguments for Scottish independence, and the party’s power base in the North East of Scotland where the oil industry has transformed the local economy. The party has always maintained close connections to the fossil fuel lobby and continues to do so, despite the influx of tens of thousands of younger, more idealistic members since the referendum.

The SNP leadership, and in particular Alex Salmond, have gone to great lengths in recent years to appear “statesmanlike”: unifying, populist, disciplined and yet pragmatic. Something for everyone; a recognisable brand that the whole country could trust. But, faced with a stand-off between their chums in the fossil fuel lobby and those who believe in sustainability, the party came down on the side of short term economic self-interest. To hell with the long term.

There are many SNP members who will be disgusted by their party’s gradual U-turn towards fracking. Maybe they will try to drag their party away from this horrendous mistake. But for the casual voter, and for what remains of the Radical Independence Campaign, the game may be up.
Other political parties are available.

What is your opinion of the moratorium and the prospect of fracking/UCG being legalized or banned in Scotland? Let us know!

The Conservatives have infiltrated Labour

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Liam Muir

Labour’s actions over the past eighteen months have led me to three possible conclusions. (1)They think the only path to a more equal and prosperous society is with a Labour majority Government (2)The party is full of sociopathic careerists, more interested in their own individual gain than the overall well being of the electorate whose votes they beg for every five years or (3)They are unaware UK citizens have internet access. I’m not willing to rule out any of them until Labour give me good reason to.

After the General Election, most Labour voters would probably have deemed the best course of action to be to incase Ed Miliband in concrete and dump him in the river Thames. In the run up to May 5th, political historian Tariq Ali, when asked how much of Ed Miliband’s Prime Ministerial campaign had drawn from his Marxist Father’s works, said, ‘Ralph Miliband would be spinning in his grave’. Some are of the opinion that Ed couldn’t distance himself enough from ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’, as the Daily Mail referred to him in 2013. Others think we needed him to be ‘Red Ed’. The problem was that he never actually seemed to make his own mind up. Corbyn faces a similar dilemma today concerning the division within the party. Stewart Hosie MP put it best recently when he said,

The Labour Party are leading him [Corbyn], he is not leading the Labour Party’.

Miliband tip-toed, tongue tied, stumbling off the Question Time stage as if Nigel Farage had sneakily tied his shoe laces together. A tactical error was made during the campaign when labour continually insisted on campaigning for a majority. It didn’t matter how much more socially progressive the SNP’s manifesto was or how appealing Sturgeon was to the English electorate, Labour hid behind Scotland’s national question with blind faith in the hope that Scotland would vote Labour to avoid the Tories.

When we really break down just what Labour’s campaign tactics in Scotland were, it is really little wonder they lost 40 MPs. We were being asked to put aside the numerous problems we had with Labour’s manifesto, pro Trident, pro austerity etc just so a Conservative Party, bearing a striking resemblance to Labour, could be avoided. After 5 years out of Government, all Labour could muster was a plea to vote for the lesser of two evils. Pathetic.

Osbourne’s failure to hit his target of eliminating the public sector deficit by 2015 and actually increasing our debt was apparently not enough ammunition for Miliband.

So what do we have on offer from Labour today then? That is a frustratingly difficult question to answer at this point. If Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Scotland in early October did anything, it surely only reaffirmed our fears. Regardless of how progressive his politics are, he is as out of touch with Scottish voters as the rest of his party. Someone should have told him that appearing on the same platform as Kezia Dugdale is the Kiss of Death. Mind you, he probably should have already known that.

In a piece I wrote on Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Dundee for The Scots Perspective in August(https://thescotsperspective.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/jeremy-corbyn-visits-dundee-2/), I made the point that the SNP need not be the enemy of Labour in the fight against Conservative rule.

They didn’t understand this during the election campaign. The SNP said they were willing to offer some kind of vote by vote agreement with Labour to ‘lock’ the Conservatives out of Downing Street. How did Labour respond? Nothing short of political suicide as Miliband actually said on live television that he would be willing to let Cameron back in to Number 10 rather than form an anti-Tory alliance. I understand they had anxieties about England’s fear of the SNP but if that really were the case, it would have helped if Labour didn’t aid the Tories in their quest to vilify Sturgeon’s party at every turn.

They don’t understand this today either. Corbyn’s factually inaccurate comments on the SNP’s supposed privatisation of Scotrail and Caledonian Macbrayne, did him no favours whatsoever. Whether or not he was uneducated or just uninterested, you wouldn’t blame Scots for taking these comments as more political dirty tactics from a party who has already been written in to Scotland’s bad books in permanent marker.

Even if Corbyn had his facts straight when criticising the SNP, it still comes across as the ‘SNP bad’ mantra Labour have been spouting since the Scottish Parliament became operational in May of 1999. You only have to look at the subsequent election results in Holyrood to know that has never worked. Corbyn should have already known that too. Uneducated or uninterested? Labour’s Failure to grasp that victory in Scotland is unachievable is a set back for the anti-austerity movement.

Most recently, John McDonnell drew more unwanted attention to Labour’s hectic division when he publicly announced at the Labour party conference that they would back George Osbourne’s Fiscal Charter despite telling ‘Scotland’ that the SNP are not anti austerity and that Labour are the ‘true anti-austerity party’. They then made a perplexing U-turn by announcing that they were actually not going to back the charter after all due to “growing reaction” to spending cuts since his announcement. Growing Reaction? No Shit Sherlock! Finally, when 20 Labour MPs abstained from the Commons vote, showing public defiance of their new leader, the bill was passed.

It’s no huge shock.

We knew Corbyn was not representative of the parliamentary Labour party but it is a sizeable task to undo the Conservatives’ infiltration of Labour. It can only be a good thing that Labour did at least ‘change their mind’, but its the flipping and flopping Scotland has largely grown tired of.

Unless things change fairly drastically, a Labour majority in 2020 is unlikely. For the sake of the fight against the Conservatives class warfare (cutting inheritance tax and working tax credit simultaneously and so on), I hope Labour realise that their insistence on a majority Government has to end. Its time they thought about what is more important. Getting as many of their pals elected as possible or getting the Tories out. I fully accept if Corbyn is going to be an advocate for Labour’s transformation, it is going to take time. Cohesion is a necessity for any party, however, it’s like former US president George W Bush once said,

‘If you don’t stand for anything, you don’t stand for anything’.

One Year On

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Chris Napier

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .”

So begins A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens’ homage to duality, social justice and resurrection set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and it neatly encapsulates my memory of the period immediately around the independence referendum one year ago.

As I said to one of my best friends just before the referendum, it felt like something special, possibly the first thing to happen in our adult lifetimes that matched the significance of the Moon landings or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Before the day of the vote itself, it was a time of incredible hope, infused with a sense that genuine progressive change was possible and fuelled by the most widespread political awakening I’ve ever experienced. I spoke about the referendum, wider politics, what it meant to be Scottish or British to strangers and almost as importantly, to friends and family who I’d never have broached such subjects with in the past.

I remember being at the Yes rally in George Square the day before the referendum and feeling that this was the most excited I’d ever been about politics and the atmosphere was how I’d imagine it would be if Scotland won the world cup (or let’s be honest, just managed to qualify for a football finals…)

Of course, it wasn’t all good. There was conflict and I got into some blazing rows with workmates and friends (I have to admit that I didn’t always cover myself in glory in some of these debates) and there was also the fear that a chance at genuine, honest discussion was being stolen by the establishment and the media.

Then the time came to vote and I will always remember walking up to the polling station with my wife and my newborn son, accompanied by my mother in law (who lives in England but wanted to be in Scotland to experience the vote) and her English husband who insisted on winding me up by accepting and wearing a ‘No Thanks’ sticker.

Then some friends and I settled in with a few beers to watch the late night results show and it quickly became apparent as the results came in for each local authority, that it wasn’t going to go our way. Nonetheless, we saw it through to the end, feebly holding on to the usual Scottish sports fan hope that ‘it’s still mathematically possible if Edinburgh goes 80-20 for Yes’ and then we shuffled off to our beds (or got the first train home) as our hangovers and heartsick disappointment got the better of us.

That said, I remain massively proud that the city of my birth (Dundee) and the city I’ve lived in since the age of 18 (Glasgow) were two of the few parts of the country to cast their vote for change.

When I surfaced in the afternoon of the 19th to see the news coverage of the smug and derisory unionist response, with the debate swiftly shifted to being about EVEL and later the awful scenes in George Square, I was more disheartened than I’ve ever been in a long career of having hopes come to naught (Scottish sports fan, remember.)

So I did something I never thought I would do. I joined a political party and got politically active. I also started writing intensively about politics, rather than just arguing with people on social media. I knew that I couldn’t just lapse into the semi-apathetic state I’d occupied before… and neither did the rest of Scotland.

Fast forward to a year later and where are we?

With a majority Conservative government in Westminster who are openly opposed to revisiting the question of Scottish independence and have no intention of granting greater devolution as seemingly promised before the referendum. Five years and more of austerity cuts and warmongering at Westminster seems certain while the mainstream media stokes up fear and prejudice against refugees and benefits claimants.

Nonetheless (or perhaps because of this), support for independence only seems to grow, to the point where the SNP went from avoiding the topic of a second referendum to setting out a potential timeframe for one.

The worrying thing there is the general lack of self-reflection as to the reasons why Yes didn’t get over the line last year. Too many are too willing to assume that a victory is certain in a second independence referendum and the tendency of more than a few to insist blind compliance with the SNP party line is the only way to manifest support for independence or progressive change is concerning.

For me, independence was never about nationalism – I was Scottish when I was born and I will always be Scottish, regardless of the stamp on my passport or which government I pay my taxes to – but rather about making my country a fairer place with a more representative and responsible government.

I don’t think that can be achieved as an effective one party state or without continual self reflection as to why Scotland should be independent and what sort of independent country we’d want to be.

As such, with a year to get over the heartache of the No vote, a year spent raising my boys (now there’s two of them) and being more politically active than ever before, I’m still Yes because the economic, social and democratic reasons have only become more stark.

Now I’m a bit more cynical and very much settling in for the long haul rather than hoping for transformative change in the short term.

This will be the only year that I’ll dwell on this date as something to remember because I don’t believe in enshrining failure, rather in learning lessons and moving on.

The beauty of the Yes campaign was it’s diversity and inclusiveness, with supporters of almost all political hues, classes and ethnicities lending their voice to Yes. For a few sunny days last year, we had a glimpse of how positive, hopeful and dynamic Scotland’s future could be and that’s the memory I want to take forward.

Another Scotland is possible and even if it is delayed, we can still make it a reality, but only if we maintain all the energy, self awareness, diversity and above all, positivity which made last summer so memorable.

The Truth About Tactical Voting

A voter places a ballot paper in the ballot box at the polling station at Market Hall in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, as the General Election got underway across the UK.


Chris Napier

In the past I’ve written quite vociferously against the concept of tactical voting, specifically with reference to the First Past The Post system used in Westminster elections because it endorses a broken system and effectively keeps smaller parties that you might agree with more in their ‘small party’ box.

However, looking at the upcoming Holyrood elections in May, the different system used in Scotland means that the argument for and against tactical voting is quite different so the topic is well worth revisiting. First however, it is prudent to remind ourselves how the elections for Holyrood actually work…

How the Additional Member System Works

The Scottish Parliament is elected using a form of partial proportional representation called the additional member system which is intended to provide a more proportional parliament, giving smaller parties a greater chance of winning representation while still keeping the local link provided by constituency representatives.

It achieves this by using two votes, one to select a local constituency MSP and one to select your regional list MSPs.

The constituency vote uses the First Past the Post system as used in Westminster elections, with the candidate standing in the constituency who receives the most votes winning the seat. This effectively means that many seats are ‘safe’ and unlikely to change hands, while most others will only have one or two plausible winners, effectively robbing many voters of real choice but this is somewhat balanced by the second vote.

Scotland’s 79 constituencies are grouped into eight regions, each with between eight and ten constituencies and the ‘regional list’ votes are counted across a whole region. Each region has seven list seats which are allocated one after the other with every party (or independent candidates) total number of regional votes divided by the number of seats they have already one plus one (as you can’t divide by zero) including constituency seats.

This system allows parties who would have been underrepresented under First Past the Post rules to gain representation and should, in theory lead to a diverse and pluralistic parliament which is unlikely to produce a majority government. However, the wave of support for the SNP since 2011 has shown that a single party majority is still very possible under this system.

For more information you can check out Wikipedia and the Electoral Reform Society.

The Case For Tactical Voting

The nature of the election means that there are separate arguments for voting tactically with either of your two votes, so we’ll deal with them separately.

Constituency Vote
The constituency votes for Holyrood tend to only be contested by major parties or independent candidates (as the regional list is a far happier hunting ground for smaller parties) and with the polls almost universally predicting a near SNP wipeout, the question of tactical voting in the constituencies is very much one of unionist supporters being willing to hold their nose and vote for the party most likely to stop the SNP.

However, following the general election results in May I can’t see many Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat voters being willing to vote for their former ‘Better Together’ colleagues, even in the name of stopping the SNP.

Regional List Vote

This is where it gets interesting. The nature of the AMS system and the likelihood that the SNP will dominate the constituency vote means that it becomes relatively difficult for the SNP to win additional members*.

As such, there is an argument that SNP voters could ‘lend’ their second votes to another pro-independence party such as the Scottish Greens, RISE or Solidarity, raising their chances of gaining more/some representation at the probable cost of a unionist MSP, thereby increasing the pro-indy representation in parliament.

* As if the SNP win all the constituency seats in a region, their regional vote will be divided by between nine and eleven before any additional seats are allocated, usually meaning them need at least 54-66% of the regional vote to be in with a chance of an additional list MSP.

However, there are a few problems with this theory.

Firstly, it is not a locked in certainty that the SNP will win all the constituencies – sure, the polls tend to indicate that they will at least come close, but the polls were predicting a hung parliament with Labour in with a shout of being the largest party in May, so you can only rely on polls so much.

Furthermore, in 2011 the SNP also won an additional list MSP in the North East Scotland region despite winning all the constituency seats, so it’s eminently possible that the same could happen again aross the country, especially with a fragmented vote for the other parties.

Secondly, it’s hard to be certain which pro-indy smaller party is best placed to benefit from your tactical vote.

On balance, the Scottish Greens are the obvious choice, already polling in line to win between 8-12 MSPs and another few % on the regional list could easily push that number higher to the point of making them the largest opposition party ahead of Labour and the Conservatives. Wouldn’t that be a thing to see?

That said, RISE are a bit of an x-factor in this equation, with the media profile and momentum of the new alliance making them a more compelling electoral force than the Scottish Socialist Party which is their immediate predecessor. With that in mind, a few tactical votes thrown in their direction might well be enough to push them over the line and win an MSP in a few regions which would be a great thing for the plurality of the Scottish parliament and a massive comeback for the left in Scotland.

Solidarity are of course the vanity project of a misogynist and convicted perjurer who threw his own party – and the whole of the Scottish left – under the bus to have his vainglorious day in court and as such, nobody should vote for them.

Conclusion

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend voting tactically, if only because it’s almost impossible to do so intelligently as the mathematics involved are complex and your calculations will always be based on polls which have been proven to be fallible.

Instead, I would counsel everyone to use their regional list vote to support the party which you most agree with. If you’re an unreserved fan of the SNP government then stick with them and if you’d prefer to see more progressive options represented in Holyrood, then cast your list vote for whichever from the Greens or RISE most appeals to you. The same applies to supporters of Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the plethora of other parties that might end up on the ballot.

By voting with your true beliefs, you ensure that the results of the election are a true reflection of where the country is at and even if your vote doesn’t result in an extra MSP for your chosen party, a ballot cast in honest support is never truly wasted.

Eight Months: A Brief Consideration of the New Bills

Credit: Scottish Government flickr

Credit: Scottish Government flickr

Louise Wilson

Eight new Bills in eight months – you have to hand it to the Scottish Government, they sure are ambitious. Especially considering they are pushing forward with this new legislation on top of work continuing from the previous Programmes for Government, including the controversial Land Reform Bill.

Nicola Sturgeon delivered the Programme for Government 2015-16 on Tuesday, which is just as jam packed as usual, but with this year the added pressure of elections in May. Scottish Parliament will officially break up in April, and whilst ministers must know fulfilling every commitment is not possible, that hasn’t stopped them. That said, given recent polls of voter intentions, it’s fair to say the SNP has a pretty good chance of continuing with this programme right up until 2021.

Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson have welcomed some announcements, but were highly critical of others. Meanwhile, Patrick Harvie labeled the Programme as “cautious”. So let’s take a closer look at the new announcements…

Scottish Elections (dates) Bill
This Bill is a simple mechanical one to move the next Scottish election, which should have occurred in 2020, back a year. This ensures it does not coincide with the General Election of that year. There had been some speculation as to whether the Scottish Government would choose 2019 or 2021, given that 2019 would still definitely be under Conservative rule and therefore likely easier won by the SNP. As far as legislation goes though, this will be fast-tracked to ensure certainty on how long we our voting our next MSPs in for.

Scottish Fiscal Commission Bill
The Scottish Fiscal Commission will be placed on a statutory footing with this piece of legislation, to give them a higher level of credibility when the body independently evaluates Scottish Government budgets and spending. It will essentially be the Scottish equivalent of the Office for Budget Responsibility, especially important given the new tax powers to come with the passage of the Scotland Bill. I imagine this one will be fairly easy to pass, once the final details are all smoothed out.

Budget Bill
This one won’t take long at all – it is introduced each year to set out government spending. The difference this year is that the Scottish Government is due to take on responsibility for a Scottish rate of income tax from next April, which will have to be taken into account. Nicola Sturgeon has stated that the new rates of SRIT will be announced following George Osborne’s autumn statement.

It will be interesting to see which way the Government will choose to go on this – raising taxing just before an election is a risky political move, but lowering or keeping them the same as the UK Government could invite criticism that they are no different from the tartan Tory label they have successfully distanced themselves from. In my opinion, I think it’s likely that rates will stay the same for now – with the caveat that “things will change” once the outcome of the Scotland Bill becomes clear.

Bankruptcy Consolidation Bill
Previously announced earlier in the session, this Bill was pushed back until after the passage of the Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Act – which has now been in force since April. It’s very much a ‘does what it says on the tin’ job though, with tools to help manage debt, allow for ‘rehabilitation’ for those unconfident about finances, and particularly address payday loans which have been increasing over recent years.

Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill
Essentially, this is a Bill to combat revenge porn. It should be interesting to follow given it is a huge problem, but actually quite difficult to legislate against without having a detrimental impact on other freedoms. But it’s encouraging to see the Government getting behind action to prevent such behaviour – clear recognition that “just don’t do it in the first place” is a terrible argument.  

In addition, the Bill is to create a specific crime out of domestic abuse – currently a crime in the same way as other forms as violence are – which will also recognise the significant impacts on mental, as well as physical, health. It’s likely that the legislation will be highly technical in nature, and therefore potentially problematic to complete within the next eight months. However, one would hope that this is something that can receive cross party support to smooth out its passage.

Burial and Cremation Bill
This Bill follows the Bonomy Review on the cremation of babies, which reported to parliament in June this year. It will implement the 64 recommendations of the review to regulate an understably sensitive area. The legislation will have to be dealt with care as it passes through parliament, and due to its nature and the inevitably intricate elements, I question whether eight months will be long enough.

Lobbying Bill
Whilst this is more to do with how the Scottish Parliament itself functions, this will still be an important one by setting out MSPs can be lobbied on various issues. It will establish a register of public lobbying to make clearer the interests of MSPs beyond the current and less obvious mechanism.

Private Tenancies Bill
The (limited) rent controls to be introduced here are welcome. The momentum for better protection for tenants, improving the standard of rented housing and ensuring rents aren’t outrageously expensive has been building over the past few months. Shelter’s Make Renting Right campaign or the Living Rent campaign are perhaps the most high profile of these, but it has been bubbling under the surface for a while. In the last year we’ve seen rent controls introduced in cities across the West, including in Berlin. It’s great the Scotland looks set to follow suit, even if these are just baby steps at first whilst public opinion builds.

And the best thing is, it really will be a win-win situation for both tenants and landlords. It won’t put an honorous pressure on landlords to do anything beyond what any decent landlord would do – it will simply tackle sub-par landlords and those who abuse the rights of their tenants. This is something most people, I am sure, can get behind. Certainly, the safety deposit scheme has been warmly welcomed since its inception a few years ago and this should be no different.

These Bills are of course not the only thing of importance announced in the Programme for Government. It contained some controversial bits in relation to the reintroduction of standardised testing. Nicola Sturgeon also warned that the Scottish Government would recommend the rejection of the Scotland Bill changes (which would need to be passed at Holyrood after Westminster) if fiscal scrutiny issues were not satisfactory but the Bills are a good indicator for what the SNP would seek to do if (when) re-elected.

Is there a plural for Apocalypse? The Propaganda Campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, the SNP and well nearly everyone.

Zombie Telegraph

Image from an article on SNP/Labour pact from the Telegraph, April 2015.

Siobhan Tolland

Giles: “It’s the end of the world”
Xander and Willow: Again?” – ‘Doomed’, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

You got to love the Daily Mail, seriously. It is this complete fiction wrapped up in the idea of a newspaper. As old and greasy as the rotten fish wrapped up in it. And yet, there are 1.6 million people buying that thing. I’d rather have a deep fried mars bar quite frankly, it’s probably healthier and is less stereotyped. It is seriously not good for your health.

But, having an interest in propaganda, the Daily Mail is fascinating because its gross exaggeration and neglect for any facts is just an exaggeration of mainstream journalism these days. Look at their latest offering on Corbyn: ‘the thousand days that destroyed Britain.’ A dystopian future, with pictures of London set ablaze. A bankrupt economy, references to madness, and even Communist China. The apocalypse is coming and Corbyn is its nuclear warhead (though to be fair, for the Daily Mail nuclear weapons are as dangerous as a kid’s teddy bear).

It does make me wonder how many apocalypses are possible these days. We had the same apocalyptic vision during the referendum and a repeat of that during the general election. Where is Buffy when you need her? The Daily Mail is right, though. The world is going to shit, but not in the way they tell us.

The Daily Mail’s dystopian fantasy sums up the nature of political propaganda these days: it’s just more exaggerated. Those of us who looked even cursorily at the media during the referendum saw that. The supermarkets will close down, prices will rise, the economy will collapse, oil will destroy you, yir pensions! Salmond and the SNP were, and still are, vilified as dictators.

None of this information was based in fact and Prof. John Robertson notes the distinct lack of objective ‘evidence’ in much of the media. It is the issemination of fictional stories disguised as truth. The YES campaign didn’t lose the referendum because it lost the arguments. It lost the propaganda war. Indeed, when faced with the facts people moved to voting YES. But facts are not relevant. Propaganda is.

A very common form of propaganda is the repetition of positive or negative images of people, countries or political parties. Imagery is powerful. It evokes the senses, creates a strong emotional attachment to a the subject and helps consolidate strong feeling about a certain issue.

This strategy allows objects to be branded in the same way advertising brands.  Why do people start smoking? They know it gives them cancer. But James Dean with that cigarette in his mouth is soooo very cool. It is iconic. By producing short and fast moving images of things enter into the audience’s mind almost without us thinking about it. And it stays there.

Branding in propaganda is equally effective. I am mindful of a media researcher who studied the referendum. He began by thinking that Salmond was ‘arrogant’, he explained, but his research showed that his impression was not founded in anything solid. His impression was subconsciously guided by the repeated media branding of Salmond. Branding avoids facts and information. It gives us an impression and a feeling about a product that has no basis in fact.

Political propaganda works in a similar way to advertising then. It is not a factual report of events or people, but an image that initiates a feeling that seeps into our consciousness and stays there. And if you repeat it often enough, it becomes truth.  Like advertising it works in short, pithy bits of information such as headlines, pictures and bill posters. Exploring in detail is discouraged because the subconscious intake of the image is the aim, not learning about the topic.

Repeated images facilitate this branding. This is seen in how people on benefits or immigrants are viewed these days. Notions of ‘laziness’, ‘scrounging’ or ‘parasites’ pervade the media until the image sticks. The meme that does the regular rounds on social media is a case in point. Illegal immigrants and foreigners get more benefits than pensioners. The FACT that illegal immigrants get no benefits because they are illegal is not relevant. The image of them scrounging is key.

We also saw this with the SNP and Scotland during the general election. Sturgeon’s popularity with the English electorate was met with a barrage of images of Scotland and the SNP as one of aggression, terrorism, dictatorships and as a Neanderthal invasive force. We Scots knew there was no truth in these, but the constant imagery of this became more and more embedded within an English audience. Truth has no bearing, the image is all that matters.

‘SNP bad!’ is a constant mantra repeated across the media and the imagery of dictatorships is a popular theme that surrounds Scotland and the SNP. The Daily Mail, the Telegraph and even the Guardian presented the SNP with images of Putin’s Russia and only recently BBC’s Nick Robinson gave the same imagery to YES campaigners.

The Mugabe imagery of the SNP is also strong. This is persistent references to the Mugabe style ‘land grab’ that stretches across the government and media through Cameron’s step father as well as the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Commentator  and the BBC to name but a few. Dictatorship imagery is very popular with Scottish Labour revelling in this by their persistent reference to Scotland now being a one party state.

For those who are taking an interest in Corbyn will be experiencing a de ja vu of this imagery. How is the media branding him? Well, it’s a repeat of the imagery used against YES, the SNP and Scotland over the last year. Like the SNP, images of famous dictators and terrorists are surrounding Jeremy Corbyn.
He is linked with holocaust denier Paul Risen and Read Selah: an attempt to associate him as anti-Semite and racist. The Telegraph presented an image of Corbyn with Gerry Adams, with the clear IRA associations.

The repetition of imagery is actually somewhat embarrassing. As with the SNP, Corbyn is persistently imagined with Putin and Mugabe. International Business Times, the Telegraph and the BBC all took mileage from his interview with RT and propounded images of Corbyn in bed with the Russians.

They even brought the good old Mugabe reference that showed so little imagination that it was almost a cut and paste job: delete Salmond/ Sturgeon/ SNP and paste Corbyn. The Telegraph and the Daily Mail like this image a lot. Ruthless dictators and invasive forces surround Corbyn the way they surround the SNP.

I think the more dramatic and negative the imagery and the more repeated that imagery becomes, the more the state feels threatened. You can tell how scared the state is by the viciousness of the propaganda. We saw this with Corbyn. When he wasn’t taken seriously there was a jokey fly squatting type propaganda that flicked him away as they tried to deal with more important issues. Now he is a serious contender, the hyperbole is almost fantastical. It was the same during the referendum and the General Election.

Propaganda is seductive though. Imagery is easy to understand and because it taps into our senses and emotions, we can get caught up in the image so very completely. There is a reason poets use it so intensely.

But propaganda is deeply manipulative and its very function here is to retain established power: the neo liberal economic structure. I keep lamenting the loss of evidence based politics and journalism. It has little place in the modern state. My rule of thumb now is to assume articles are fiction unless I can prove otherwise. I fail in that a lot.

For the Daily Mail article see:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3207363/Prime-Minister-Corbyn-1-000-days-destroyed-Britain-brilliant-imagining-Corbyn-premiership-reveals-Tories-gloat-Labour-s-woe-careful-wish-for.html

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If you like what you read please check out some of our other articles.  If you don’t like what you read please give your own perspective and contribute! As a new venture we are always looking for talented writers with something to say about Scots politics and culture. Aand if you have never written before, give it a try. Please contact scotsperspective@gmail.com or message our Facebook page.

The Value of Opposition

parliament

Chris Napier

It goes without saying that most of the attention paid to parliament tends to be concentrated on the party (or coalition) in power because they are the ones capable of getting things done, changing laws, changing lives and in theory representing the majority of the nation’s voters.

However, like many things which are not appreciated until they are gone, the value of a functional opposition in a parliamentary democracy is often overlooked.

Parliament is not supposed to merely rubber stamp government policies but to dynamically debate, refine and reform them before being enacted into legislation by a vote.

A strong opposition can pressure a government into changing or at least mitigating their policy, they can press the government on details which expose unwelcome facets of their legislation and they can offer a genuine alternative to the populace, making elections a vital process by which the general public can choose between distinct political ideologies.

On the other hand, a weak opposition effectively leaves the government with free reign to do whatever they like, fails to pick holes in dubious legislation and reduces elections to a formality which results in voter disengagement, low turnout and a degradation of the whole concept of representative democracy.

In both the UK and Scottish parliaments, Labour are the second largest party and thus form the backbone of what should be the opposition* but the party’s inability to process the reasons for their fall from government over the last eight years, their ongoing leadership turmoil and seeming loss of identity has left them unable to perform that task.

* Indeed in Westminster, the Labour leader is the formal Leader of the Opposition, while Holyrood’s less adversarial format means that no such official analogue exists in the Scottish lexicon.

In both parliaments, Labour stand too close to the party in government, not wanting to seem too different lest they be deemed ‘unelectable’ while attempting to distinguish themselves from their opponents on evidently disingenuous ideological terms.

In Westminster, Labour feel they cannot oppose the right wing austerity agenda lest they be seen as economically irresponsible – effectively accepting the Conservative narrative rather than challenging it and offering an alternative. Since long before the recent general election they have repeatedly voted with the government or abstained on major votes, effectively negating their worth as an opposition – and in my eyes, making themselves unelectable in the process. After all, if you want a neoliberal, corporate sponsored government, why would you vote for the equivocating, vanilla version when the full throated Conservative version was right there?

In Holyrood, Labour suffer from being diametrically opposed to the SNP on one issue (independence), at odds on a few issues (notably how to deal with the ongoing financial crisis & austerity) and on most others, their manifestos could be copied and pasted from one another. This leaves them unable to tackle the SNP on most policy areas as they would not suggest wildly different approaches, they cannot wholeheartedly campaign for austerity knowing the mood of the Scottish electorate and are left picking at the edges and harping on about the SNP’s obsession with independence.

This leaves the SNP, with only 56 MPs to the Conservatives 330 as the main functional opposition in Westminster and they have set about doing their best despite the 6-1 odds (which are even worse when you consider that Labour, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the DUP are as likely to vote with the Conservatives as oppose them.)

What makes this even more frustrating is that the majorities enjoyed by the governing parties in the both parliaments are laughably small, meaning that a strong opposition would be ideally placed to affect government policy and take advantage of any dissension in the government ranks.

It is necessary in the name of democracy that the Conservatives and SNP are confronted by a strong opposition in both parliaments, either by Labour rediscovering their principles or by increased representation at the next election for parties who are actually willing to provide that opposition.

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If you like what you read please check out some of our other articles and if you don’t like what you read please give your own perspective and contribute! As a new venture we are always looking for talented writers with something to say about Scots politics and culture and if you have never written before, give it a try. Please contact scotsperspective@gmail.com or message our Facebook page.