Scottish Parliament Elections 2016

It’s now four days since the Scottish Parliamentary elections. It has taken this long for me to come to a proper understanding of all this. I have finally made sense of the convoluted voting system in Scotland – at least for the Holyrood Devolved Parliament elections. No one I have ever spoken to has been able to explain it to me and these 2016 election results have prompted me to make my own exploration into the political and voting machinations in this country.

The system(s) came into being in 1999. I should have done this exercise in 2011 which is when I first voted in the Scottish elections (ahem!! Not knowing enough to make really sensible choices). I come from a preferential system of voting where voters can vote for their own choices of candidates (not just parties) in order of preference. Of course, you can vote for the candidates selection of running partners but you don’t need to. It’s called voting above the line – for the candidate’s own preference of running mates, or you can vote below the line and select your own preferences. Sometimes – as in the bicameral Senate elections it can become unwieldy because of the number of minor parties standing for election. But it is a much better system. Also Australia has compulsory voting and that tends to mean that voters have to become familiar with those candidates standing for election. There is about a 7 to 8% of spoiled votes in any Australian election but that is better than a turnout of only 58.3% of voters in my region in Scotland. That’s 41.7% who didn’t vote at all. When I contemplate the amount of effort, angst, arrests and (some) deaths that have gone into the adoption of universal suffrage, I am appalled at the apathy that non-voters embrace as though not knowing anything or refusing to engage with those who hold power over us all is something to be proud of.

But, forgive my wee rant. Back to the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections. These are some salient points I have learned:

There are 129 seats in Holyrood. 73 are Constituency seats and 56 are Additional Member seats.
The Constituency seats are determined by the First Past the Post system and yields one member per constituency. Each member elected by either system has equal status within Holyrood.

Each person in Scotland is represented by 8 members of the Parliament – one constituency member and 7 additional members.
There are 8 Regions that represent larger areas and contain 9 or so constituencies. 7 members are elected from the Regional List vote. Those additional member elections make up the 56 additional members of the Holyrood Parliament.

Lists are closed lists and the selection of candidates for the list is made by the political party. The voter votes for the political party not individual candidates. Candidates can stand both as a constituency candidate and as a list candidate. However, if the candidate wins his/her constituency seat, then he/she is no longer available to stand as an additional member; the name is removed from the list which then moves up one. These list candidate names are announced just prior to elections.


1 John Swinney
2 Annabelle Ewing
3 Keith Brown
4 Shirley-Anne Somerville
5 David Torrance
6 Alycia Hayes
7 David Doogan
8 Roderick Campbell
9 Karen Marjoram
10 Rosemary Hunter
11 Maciej Wiczynski
12 Neale Hanvey – The first five on this regional list were voted in as constituency candidates and so were removed from the regional list. I think this was a silly use of regional list candidates and didn’t favour any new blood in the SNP.

It is easily seen how Labour diminished itself without even trying. It is also easy to see where the Conservatives picked up constituency votes – to my mind, partly because Labour self-immolated.

I am using Mid Scotland and Fife (region) as I live within the boundary and I have to use Mid Fife and Glenrothes (constituency) as that is where I live.

My regional area is securely SNP and of the 9 constituencies, 8 SNP members were elected and one Liberal Democrat. No other party got a show in the constituency vote.

Constituency results

Scottish Parliament election, 2016: Mid Scotland and Fife

Constituency Elected Member Result
Clackmannanshire and Dunblane Keith Brown SNP hold
Cowdenbeath Annabelle Ewing SNP gain from Labour
Dunfermline Shirley-Anne Somerville SNP hold
Kirkcaldy David Torrance SNP hold
Mid Fife and Glenrothes Jenny Gilruth SNP hold
North East Fife Willie Rennie Liberal Democrats gain from SNP
Perthshire North John Swinney SNP hold
Perthshire South and Kinross-shire Roseanna Cunningham SNP hold
Stirling Bruce Crawford SNP hold

Interestingly the SNP Regional List candidates ran thus:
John Swinney;  Annabelle Ewing;            Keith Brown;    Shirley-Anne Somerville;            David Torrance and three more candidates further down the list. All five of the SNP list candidates were elected as Constituency seats which left the last three swinging from pegs on the washing line. Not that it would have made any difference because so many voters wasted their second vote for the SNP. This becomes clear further down this blog post.
I will use the actual list voting figures. Voters in my region voted:

SNP                       120,128;              Conservative      73,293;              Labour                   51,373

Lib Dems              20,401;              Greens                    17,860;              UKIP                         5,345

Scottish Soc.          1,073;               Solidarity                1,049;               Libertarians              650

The additional members are elected taking into account the number of constituency members each party has won. There are 7 AMS (Additional Members) to be elected. A method using a divisor (the number of constituency seats already won +1) is used. The number of votes cast is divided firstly by the number of seats won +1. The SNP vote was initially divided by 8+1(9), 0+1(1) for all the rest except for the Lib Dems that won one constituency seat 1+1(2).

To all intents and purposes, we can ignore UKIP, Scottish Socialists, Solidarity and the Libertarians, none of which had any likelihood of gaining any seat in this Parliament from this region. After each division, the highest number of votes wins a seat. All divisions are made from the original votes cast with the new divisors reflecting any seat gained.

                          Initial Votes         Div.#1     Result          Div.#2      Result         Div.#3        Result

SNP                       120,128               9             13,348            9             13,348            9               13,348

Conservative      73,293                  1             73,293             2             36,647          2                36,647

Labour                  51,373                  1             51,373              1             51,373            2                25,687

Lib Dems            20,401                  2             10,201            2             10,201            2                10,201

Greens                  17,860                 1             17,860             1             17,860            1               17,860

After the first division the Conservatives have the highest number of votes and thus win their first additional member. This means that the next divisor for the conservatives will be 1+1(2). Labour picks up its first additional member after the second division which increases its divisor by 1 to 1+1(2). The Conservatives pick up their second additional member after the third division so their divisor becomes 2+1(3).

                      Initial Votes         Div.#4           Result       Div.#5      Result    Div.#6           Result

SNP                      120,128            9                      13,348         9             13,348         9             13,348

Conservatives      73,293           3                       24,431         3              24,431        4             18,323

Labour                   51,373            2                       25,687         3              17,124        3             17,124

Lib Dems              20,401           2                        10,201        2              10,201        2             10,201

Greens                    17,680          1                         17,860       1             17,680          1             17,680

After the fourth division Labour has another additional member which increases its next divisor to 2+1(3). After the fifth division, the Conservatives pick up their third seat and their divisor increases by 1 to 3+1(4). The sixth division sees the Conservatives add their fourth additional member  taking their next divisor to 4+1(5).

                      Initial    Votes    Div.#7           Result

SNP                       120,128               9             13,348

Conservatives      73,293               5             14,659

Labour                     51,373              3             17,124

Lib Dems                20,401              2             10,201

Greens                    17,680               1             17,680

After the seventh division, the Greens pick up their first additional member. And, of course, there are 7 additional member seats allocated to Mid Scotland & Fife, so that’s the end folks.

The Conservatives gained 4 additional members; Labour gained 2 additional members and the Greens gained one.

Additional member results

Scottish Parliament election, 2016: Mid Scotland and Fife
Party Elected candidates Seats +/− Votes % +/−%
SNP 0 -1 120,128 41.3% -3.9%
Conservative Murdo Fraser
Elizabeth Smith
Alexander Stewart
Dean Lockhart
4 +2 73,293 25.2% +11.0%
Labour Claire Brennan-Baker
Alex Rowley
2 -1 51,373 17.6% -7.4%
Liberal Democrats 0 -1 20,401 7.0% +1.2%
Scottish Green Mark Ruskell 1 +1 17,860 6.1% +1.9%
UKIP 0 0 5,345 1.8% +0.7%
Scottish Socialist 0 0 1,073 0.4% +0.4%
Solidarity 0 0 1,049 0.4% +0.3%
Libertarian 0 0 650 0.2% +0.2%

What interested me was when the SNP started exhorting voters to vote SNP 1&2. I received this exhortation in the post and was bemused. I knew that the second vote (the regional list vote) would diminish the additional member vote for them and couldn’t understand why the SNP had done this across all of Scotland. They should have realised that their support in regions like Mid Scotland & Fife would be enough to get their constituency candidates up and running and that any second vote would be useless and better given to another pro-independence party.

I talked to several SNP people throughout this period leading up to the elections. One person told me that the second SNP vote – the regional vote – was seen as insurance. Well – that went drastically awry, didn’t it!

When I read Craig Murray’s blog on this that had to do with the Scottish Independence issue, I decided to do the whole exercise above to cement the mechanics in my brain. As you can see, Craig Murray was quite correct when he said that the 120,128 SNP list votes were wasted. Not one SNP list member was elected. But it did allow the Conservatives to get 4 additional members elected in an area that is not historically known for Tory support.

Murray cited these particular regions, none of which achieved an SNP List member because of the SNP’s directive to vote SNP 1&2. The list vote did them no favours but voters followed their directive without thinking for themselves. I am reprinting what he wrote in case you don’t click on the link and read his blog.

‘North East Scotland 137,086 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 137,086 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
Central Scotland 129,082 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 129,082 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
Lothian 118,546 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 118,546 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
Mid Scotland and Fife 120,128 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 120,128 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
West Scotland 135,827 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 135,827 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
Glasgow 111,101 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 111,101 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.

That is over 750,000 SNP pro-independence list votes completely wasted, electing nobody at all on the list.

By contrast in these regions the Tories got 376,000 – almost precisely 50% of the list votes the SNP received there – and got 19 MSPs for them!’
Mind you, I also think that disillusioned Labour supporters felt that their only option was to vote Conservative in the Regional vote. Why, I don’t know. There’s nothing as weird as folk. Take as given what a political party tells you to do, I guess. Thinking would be an advantage. Not seen, these elections.



Fracking – not a good idea.


Let's Frack!

Let’s Frack!

There has been much hype, misinformation, anti-fracking rallies, business bullshit and economic justification, desire for more fuels and pure greed – otherwise known as the gold rush mentality – surrounding the unconventional natural gas extraction technology that it is difficult to see the woods for the trees.
I have watched a PBS America documentary about ‘fracking’. I had started off anyway with a gut feeling that fracking was not a good idea – digging into the earth’s crust for any number of metres has never seemed like a good idea to me. This documentary has not changed my mind but has given me a greater understanding of why it is not a good idea. Sure, the doco is basically anti-fracking and has to do with the US and Canada but the US is the country that has had the gungho go ahead approach and, it would seem, without sufficient research in the environmental effects of thousands of wells in areas, some of which are residential and urban, suburban or small townships. The doco cited some women talking about the wells being completed and vented while they were pregnant. The effect on the kiddies who were subsequently born seems to possibly be correlated with fracking activity in their residential area. That needs a citation!

As I said, there is a lot of hype – fracking has not been regulated or monitored by government agencies but has been left to the industry itself to regulate – never a good idea where profits are to be made.

The first thing is air quality – no government agency monitors this. Apparently there is not enough available dosh to do this. Methane is a colourless, odourless gas, relatively non-toxic but is about 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide. Phew! That helps to heat the environment. And the albedo effect merely exacerbates this. And the air quality is not monitored. This is irresponsible. Edit: This is from Wikipedia and talks of the exemptions in America with regard to various government and quasi-government agencies that regulate the oil and gas industries.

‘There are many exemptions for hydraulic fracturing under United States federal law: the oil and gas industries are exempt or excluded from several of the major federal environmental laws. These laws range from protecting clean water and air, to preventing the release of toxic substances and chemicals into the environment: the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as Superfund.’

What is most disturbing is the release of a mixture of organic compounds with the venting /flaming of methane. After 2015, new wells will be prevented from venting/flaming. The initial gas released will have to be collected and shipped where ?? Only 5 tonnes of organic compounds will be allowed to be wasted annually. It is a more expensive scenario (for the fracking company and its investors) than simply flaming the compounds into the atmosphere. But the restriction on new wells won’t extend to already existing wells. So they remain unmonitored and the public will have to rely on lobbying and demonstrating in an attempt to get companies to comply with emission standards. Edit: As time goes on and opposition to fracking starts to mount, there is bound to be regulatory bodies, not under the auspices of the oil and gas industries, that will develop better best practice codes including emissions and wastes. I should admit there are some regulations listed in Wikipedia here.

Cementing the pipes that are drilled down for about a couple of miles – maybe 10,000 feet – to try to halt any fracturing of those pipes has been partially successful in stopping leakage into the surrounding geological material. The stresses are caused by the weight of rock above and the disturbance of the fracturing process itself. According to the PBS doco, in Pennsylvania between 6.2% and 7% of wells are in violation of cementing standards and fracturing is apparent. This means leakage of the fracturing fluid, but more likely the methane and other components of the gases being collected are leaking through the shale into wherever – including water tables and natural water storage areas many metres above the horizontal pipeline. Once the well is completed, the injected fluids are withdrawn and the gas is allowed to travel up the pipes to the earth’s surface where it is initially vented and afterwards collected and compressed in pipelines for transport to distribution tanks. Well casing violations are dealt with in this article. Edit: There seems little reporting or monitoring is effected on wells. From another report:

‘For Pennsylvanians with natural gas wells on their land, chances are they won’t know if a safety violation occurs on their property. That’s because the state agency charged with regulating the wells — the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) — does not have to notify landowners if a violation is discovered. Even if landowners inquire about safety violations, DEP records are often too technical for the average person and incomplete.’

Now when I had a caesarean, it was because there was a 1.2% – 2% risk that my uterus would split under contractions and no doctor would allow me to have a natural birth. I would claim that 6.2% to 7% is far too high a risk to take with fracturing shale, potential earthquakes, subsidence, water and air pollution. The proper care of population is a lot more important than one woman being prevented from going into labour.

The other thing is that we know, or we should know, even though Scotland is rich in supplies of potable water, that this is a precious resource and we are fairly profligate in our usage. Fracking uses a massive amount of fresh water and its collection from water storage points is not regulated except by the fracking industry that needs it. This is not a good idea at all. Independent agencies ought to be monitoring water collection and usage. A fracking well, from beginning to completion, is going to use about 2 – 8 million litres of potable water. That potable water will be mixed with sand and chemicals including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. These compounds are not known as goodniks for humans and some are ‘known’ to be carcinogenic. Besides, wells can be fracked a number of times, thus increasing the water and chemical usage. The salient point is that none, repeat none, of the contaminated waste water can ever be re-introduced into the water cycle. So we will be using up a precious resource that we can’t replenish. Smart move, eh?

What to do with all that water once the fracturing has been achieved and the pressure is reduced? Well, it was originally pumped out into the sea and other water ways but it became environmentally untenable. So open evaporation ponds were employed and the sludge was left to the atmosphere and any being accessing the surface of the dried pond. It must have been obvious that as a secondary treatment plant that idea was insupportable. So now the contaminated waste water is carted away and injected back into the ground at a great depth in order to sequester it. Remember this is what ‘they’ were going to do with carbon dioxide waste from coal power plants?
The big problem with trying to machinate, ie fracture yet again, the earth’s crust to pump waste materials underground is that, by increasing the volume underground, you also increase the potential for earthquakes. And that is what has happened. See Pennsylvania.

When coal was being mined in Scotland, I am led to believe (I wasn’t here) that subsidence occurred around some underground pits, especially around Glasgow. Well – why wouldn’t that happen? Prop up the pits, box in the horizontal underground trenches and blast/dig away. It is bound to fail sometime – another analogy with gold mines.

I used to be involved in blasting and digging 60 feet vertical mines down to shale and then tunnelling along horizontally trying to locate seams through the shale that contained the chemical impurities embedded in the silica that made the opal. I have a working knowledge on a small scale of what subsidence is and what tunnel roof falls can be. Subsidence isn’t necessarily a problem, but if there are hundreds of fracking mines in any one area, burrowing down a kilometre or so and then horizontally tracking through shale; then pumping millions of chemically treated water under pressure to entice the fracturing of deep geological layers to release their trapped gas; that pressure exerting more pressure on the walls of the pipe – even though encased in cement – then there is a potential for massive problems. And we don’t need it. Wind power is far, far better and worthy of investment.

The argument that home owners will not have any recourse is a normal one. I do not know of a country that allows the property owner any rights to any minerals that may be discovered under the land he thinks he has bought. I believe the depth of the land to be about 6 feet depending on any particular country.

I think our best bet is to fund renewables to the max and forget the use and necessary extraction of fossil fuels. I agree with Lawrence Krauss that India should stomp on its proposed increase in coal mining and burning up to 1 billion tonnes and start funding renewable energy sources. It won’t be cheap but neither is pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. That is likely to be fatal at a species level. And we are just another species relying on the 28% oxygen in our breathable air. Nitrogen in abundance will kill us and all other oxygen breathing species. Methane and Carbon dioxide in abundance will cook us and all other species. The choice is hard for me to work out. But I will be dead in a decade or so. My grandkiddies have to live in the future.

There is obviously more to this post – but I want to say what I want to say right now! I have problems trying to anticipate a future without us. But I am starting to accept that we have fucked it all up. And all other species will suffer and die because of our intransigence. That hurts. And it doesn’t endear me to my species. I could say ‘sorry’ but I think this planet is better off without us. We have not shown ourselves to be good and responsible caretakers of our environment. On the other hand we have shown ourselves to be greedy bastards and we deserve all we reap. No pity. I am sorry for other species. Vale.

Edit: I have probably not done enough research on this but it is an immense topic and becoming more contentious. Some bans are already in place. See this pdf.

Because of significant questions about health and pollution issues related to fracking, several countries have banned the use of fracking. Bulgaria [See: Photo I-16], France, Germany, and Ireland have banned all fracking operations. The Czech government is seriously considering a ban.’

There will be more.

Useful links – some are polemical. – This is current – ie. right now. Just how much was spewed into the atmosphere over the four days I don’t know. People have been allowed to return to their homes now.   – This is an informative and reasonably comprehensive article for those of us who are not technically trained.

This is new – reported from Ohio.


Wind Turbines and Renewable Electricity Generation

There are now three wind turbines to the south of where I live. They have been erected in the past few weeks. To the east there is a set of eight turbines, at Kinglassie there are four, at Mossmoran there are nine with an extension mooted.

At Mossmoran.

At Mossmoran.

There are a few single, smaller and residential turbines I see when I drive around my local area. The south west of Scotland has a large number of turbines that I noticed when travelling down to Cumbria. Lewis has a lot of turbines as well. There are offshore turbines in Solway Firth. Wind power is here and doing well.

Sand banks are great for offshore wind farms - Robin Rigg in Solway Firth

Sand banks are great for offshore wind farms – Robin Rigg in Solway Firth

There is possibly as much resistance to wind turbines as there is in favour of them. At the outset, I should declare that renewable energy makes the only sense to me and wind turbine technology makes even more sense to me. The other declaration I should make is purely personal – I find these structures to be quite majestic, very elegant and extremely efficient in the generation of power.

·         In November 2014, CEO Niall Stuart of Scottish Renewables released this statement (bolding is mine):

Historic milestone as new figures show renewables now Scotland’s largest source of power.
Renewables overtake nuclear to become largest source of electricity.
Renewable energy has become Scotland’s main source of power, new independent figures have revealed.
Records from the first half of 2014, the most recent period for which data is available, show renewables generated 32% more electricity than any other single source of power in Scotland.
In total, the renewables sector generated a record 10.3TWh (terawatt-hours), compared to 7.8TWh from nuclear generation – previously Scotland’s main source of electricity. The figures also show that coal and gas-fired electricity generation produced 5.6TWh and 1.4TWh respectively over the same six-month period. (Figures supplied by the National Grid)
Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, said: “The announcement that renewables have become Scotland’s main source of electricity is historic news for our country, and shows the investment made in the sector is helping to deliver more power than ever before to our homes and businesses.
“This important milestone is good news for anyone who cares about Scotland’s economy, our energy security and our efforts to tackle climate change.
“Every unit of power generated from renewables means less carbon emitted from the burning of fossil fuels, decreases our reliance on imported energy and supports jobs and investment in communities across Scotland.
“The renewables industry has come a long way in a short space of time, but there is still plenty of potential for further growth.
“Offshore wind and marine energy are still in the early stages of development but could make a big contribution to our future energy needs if they get the right support from government. That support includes the delivery of grid connections to the islands, home to the UK’s very best wind, wave and tidal sites.”

WWF Scotland’s response to the news release was:  “Renewables overtaking nuclear power to become the largest source of electricity is certainly historic, and represents a major step on the way to Scotland becoming a 100 per cent renewable nation.
“Last month, while nuclear reactors were forced to shut because of cracks, Scotland’s renewables were quietly and cleanly helping to keep the lights on in homes across the country. Wind turbines in Scotland alone generated enough electricity to supply three millions homes in the UK – equivalent to 126 per cent of the electricity needs of every home north of the border.
“Put simply, renewables work and are helping to cut climate change emissions and create jobs in Scotland.”

So here are the graphs based on data

So here are the graphs based on data

Now I have to be impressed with the renewables energy sector here in Scotland. Who wouldn’t be? I have difficulty tackling the negative naysayers and their unsubstantiated quasi-arguments against wind turbines. Rather than my going through these quasi-arguments, I will cite the answers to the myths that purport, in the mouths of those who don’t like the turbines, to be truth with a capital T!
These are the common myths according to WWF:

Myth 1: Building a wind farm takes more energy than it ever makes

Myth 2: Wind farms are inefficient and only work 30% of the time

Myth 3: Other countries are moving away from supporting wind power

Myth 4: Wind energy needs back-up to work, resulting in increased emissions

Myth 5: Wind farms are expensive ‘subsidy harvesters’

Myth 6: Renewables contribute to fuel poverty

Myth 7: Most people do not support wind farms

Myth 8: Wind farms have a negative impact on tourism A small point – Gran Canaria is full of wind farms and also full of tourists. In fact tourism and cochineal are important to the economy of that wee windy island. And most of their power comes from the wind turbines.

Myth 9: Wind power does not create jobs

What is interesting is that most of the anti-turbine lobby probably applauds the work of WWF and Greenpeace and charities of similar ilk. My only thought is that confirmation bias gets in the way of impartial and realistic enquiry on the part of naysayers.

These links that I have provided are worth while looking at. The information is available and substantiated.

Scotland is the windiest country in Europe with around 25% of the continent’s wind source, according to Scottish Renewables

The other arguments propounded against wind turbines are pure silliness and smack of self-serving – property values diminish, an unscientific concept called ‘ultra-hearing’ means that even if you can’t hear anything, the sound the turbines make as the blades whizz around at 12 revolutions per minute (!) is doing your head in. Birds (who have been using the medium of air for thousands of years) can’t recognise blade movement and get killed. Excuse me!! The arguments pulled out of the hats of those who don’t want turbines really have no currency that stands up to any serious scrutiny. As my husband is fond of saying – Belief is meaningless to all but the believer; knowledge is meaningful and available to all. I guess I would add – ‘None so blind as those that will not see’ (Matthew Henry) – look him up.

Birds? How many are killed by cars? Over 100,000 The figures reported for bird strikes against windows are astonishing. It is often said that between 100 million and a billion birds die in the US each year after striking windows.
Hundreds of thousands are killed bashing their heads and breaking their necks against the colourless panes in our houses and offices. Birds don’t understand glass and are vulnerable to windows.

These are real dead birds. From window strikes.

These are real dead birds. From window strikes.

Bats?   Last week thousands of bats fell out of trees in Casino, New South Wales because the heat reached 44.1ºC (otherwise called an effect of climate change) and died.

Thousands of them dead from excessive heat wave

Thousands of them dead from excessive heat wave

A final point: what would the anti-turbiners suggest in place of renewable energy source(s) that is kind to the environment? Is there an alternative? I used to think that our energy requirements would need to be met by a combination of technologies – nuclear (fusion would be great but we haven’t been able to do that yet), wind, wave and geothermal. Whatever we end up with, fossil fuels have to be out of the mix. We have to decarbonise our electricity supply. That is what is non-negotiable. And that means no hydraulic fracturing for natural gas which is the next big thing in the central belt of Scotland.
And that’s another post that won’t be long in appearing.



English reflections on a Scottish referendum – a reblog

Looking through a distorted window: English reflections on a Scottish referendum

Seeing the Scottish referendum from outside Scotland, it was too easy to entirely misunderstand it.

Image: Maxim Edwards

Reading coverage and opinion from England on the Scottish independence referendum has been a strange experience. It has been like looking at someone you know and love through a distorted window: the image is contorted to the extent that you can barely recognise the person you’re looking at anymore. There is a sense in which people who have never lived in Scotland or been involved in the political debate in Scotland just don’t get it. This is what has become so abundantly clear reading and talking to people in England about the referendum. It’s not just that they disagree with those in Scotland campaigning for independence it’s that they don’t really understand the situation at all.

English observers have received most of their information through sources that are based in England and on the whole are against independence (only one newspaper the Sunday Herald backed independence, no UK newspaper did so). At best the information comes from people who don’t understand at worst it comes from people who have deliberately distorted the picture. Research from John Robertson suggests that in the coverage prior to this year pro independence views made up only 2/5 of the views covered on British TV. Furthermore, prominent BBC journalist Nick Robinson has been criticised for cutting footage so as to suggest that Alex Salmond did not respond to his questions. This does not make it easy for the English to grasp what has gone on in Scotland.

Many people in England just don’t get why many Scots would back independence. Some originally believed that it must be some sort of xenophobic anti-English sentiment or simplistic patriotism. According to this view the enthusiasm for Scottish independence is part of a dangerous sort of nationalism moving across Europe that comes with a hatred of outsiders: a form of dangerous fascism. Many with good political sentiments are wary of any form of nationalism and find the idea of pride in a particular nation deeply problematic. I was once one of those people. I didn’t recognise the fundamental difference between nationalism in a dominant country that wishes to celebrate and extend that domination and be seen as better than the rest of the world and the nationalism of a country that is currently ruled by a larger unit or outsiders and wishes for self-determination: a country that wishes to have power over its own affairs rather than to dominate others. It is also vital to recognise that nationalism does not have to be based on an idea that there is a particular race or culture that is special or should dominate a region. However, the first important truth to realise about the majority of those who support independence in Scotland is that it’s not really about nationalism at all. To explain what I think it is about and why it is so hard for those in England to understand I’m going to have to tell a bit of a story.

Photo: Maxim Edwards

I was born and brought up in England (where I now live) but spent 5 very formative years living in Glasgow. It was my first real home as an adult and by the time I had to leave for work I felt fully a part of that world. So much so that I find it almost impossible to support the England football team and after a few drinks I often find myself trying to claim a Scottish identity (much to the humour and confusion of the people I’m with). Whilst living in Scotland I got into politics: activism, campaigning and following events at Holyrood and Westminster. At that time independence was not really on the agenda. It was something I talked to people about and learnt to understand but it was not a major topic of debate like the Iraq war, student fees or privatisation. In those days even when people voted for the SNP at Holyrood elections this was not primarily because they supported independence. In fact at the time many SNP voters did not want full independence for Scotland. There was a majority against independence (calculated by the Sun at 58% compared with 22% in favour) even when the SNP got 44% of the popular vote and a majority in the largely proportional parliament. Whilst living in Scotland I learned to appreciate the fact that Scotland is another political world. The playing field is just fundamentally different compared to the rest of the UK. This is what explains why so many Scottish people voted for independence this year and why so many English people just don’t get it.

As a left leaning open minded person there was a wealth of real political choices in Scotland. There were plenty of leftist groups to choose from and there were radical parties that had even held seats in the parliament. The Greens had at one point held seven seats and a party called the Scottish Socialists had also had 6 representatives in Holyrood from 2003-2007. Meanwhile in the centre the SNP and the Scottish Labour party were battling to out social-democrat each other (and the SNP were winning). The SNP picked up policies from the Scottish Socialists including scrapping prescription charges, introducing free school meals and replacing council tax with a more equitable system in order to gain votes. Making a stand against privatisation and private public partnerships was a vote winner. Votes in parliament declared a majority against nuclear weapons of 71:16 with 39 abstentions.

While I was in Scotland the parliament introduced free care for the elderly. It became clear to me that things that south of the border we had been told were impossible were actually happening right here in Scotland. Whilst in Glasgow I witnessed the SNP take a majority in a proportional parliament (a very rare thing) on the basis of scrapping council tax and replacing it with a system based on earnings. I realised that Scotland was a world in which the post-Thatcherite consensus was not being followed. Political reality in Scotland is something that many left leaning England dwellers can only dream about (free old age care, free higher education, proportional representation in parliament, the protection of the NHS from privatization). While temping at the Scottish Government I witnessed some business present the case for a private sector measure to try to reduce absenteeism in the Scottish NHS through a system where ill employees must phone up a call centre who would give them medical advice and seek to identify whether they are really sick. The businessmen had been successful in selling the service to parts of the NHS in England.

However, I was delighted to hear from civil service superiors that although they liked the plan, outsourcing of this kind was politically impossible because the SNP government would never support paying a company to give medical advice to absent NHS staff. This shows how different things are in Scotland. However, the fact that much of the civil service in Scotland hires temps through agencies that take a large cut of the money and offer no benefits or guaranteed hours shows that Scotland is not yet an anti-neoliberal paradise. In this political world joining the Labour party was to support conservativism it was just not a viable option for someone with progressive politics. And all this was before the fall of the banks and the financial crisis.

Another difference about Scottish politics concerns participation and attitudes of working class people in Scotland. In Glasgow talking politics at the bus stop is not as taboo as it is in some parts of England. People express their views. Political discussion is not just for the intellectual middle class intelligentsia and the political elite. Even more importantly working class people have political options when it comes to the ballot box. If they are sick of the Labour party and the Tory party because they seem only to speak for the interests of big businesses and forget working people they have many options. Meanwhile in the North of England those who quite rightly see through the major parties have only UKIP to turn to. And many are willing to turn there to stick two fingers up at the political elite regardless of the fact UKIP contains plenty of that elite and does not support any of the things they are interested in.

Image: Maxim Edwards

What my time in Glasgow taught me was that the political situation in Scotland is different. What is not fully grasped down south is that what is possible politically is fundamentally different north of the border. It is this fact that has led so many left-leaning Scottish residents to back independence. Independence gives them a chance to have a society that is different to the neoliberal one that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are aggressively rolling out for the UK. The stepping up of neoliberal policy and the strict austerity that the coalition has imposed and the Labour party has only criticised in a limited manner is very different to what the majority of Scots support. It is a threat even to the devolved services because it can reduce their budget and force them to make cuts to public services. The fact that the Labour party has pledged to largely stick with conservative spending plans and not reverse cuts to services means that many left-leaning Scots see no hope whilst remaining in the UK. Meanwhile independence offers the chance to pursue an anti-austerity agenda through a proportional parliament and to promote these policies to an electorate committed to a strong public sector. Once this is understood it is no longer a mystery why so many left leaning Scotland residents are pro-independence. This is not about the SNP being a social democrat party. They are committed to neo-liberal economic policies like cutting corporation tax to attract foreign investment although they also support more Keynesian public investment in industry. Rather it is about having an electorate and a parliament open to ideas outside a neo-liberal consensus. It is this situation that makes protecting the NHS, getting rid of council tax, providing care for the elderly and not charging for university vote winners. The situation isn’t perfect. Scots are more in favour of abortion rights, less anti-EU, more against privatisation, but share similar views to the rest of the UK on questions like gay marriage. However, it remains true that debates and policies that are impossible in England can happen in Scotland.

Given the differences discussed above it is no wonder that there is a disconnect between Scotland and England that makes it difficult for those south of the border to understand what is going on. The political world is just different in Scotland. This means that when the Westminster political elite, London journalists and people living in England turn their attention to something going on in Scotland they are likely to misunderstand it. They have an understanding of politics in England: they know the constraints, they know the limits of reasonable opinion, they know what makes you ‘loony lefty’, unelectable or seem economically incompetent. However these limits and the spectrum are different in Scotland. Furthermore the parties they are observing have different platforms in Scotland, there are additional parties and the balance of power between those parties is different too. This can leave people at sea if they look at Scottish politics through an English frame.

All the experiences and understandings from my time living Scotland come from before the political earthquake that has been the build up to the referendum. I have not been a part of the society as the massive changes have taken place. I have only been able to look on from abroad (I was in Germany last year) and try to get snippets of what has happened. This means that there are now no doubt ways in which I don’t really ‘get’ what is going on. Furthermore, my experiences were predominantly Glasgow based and say nothing of society in Scotland in general. In fact the referendum results from rural areas show that Glasgow is not representative.

The referendum campaign has brought many young and working class people in to the debate and on to the voting registers than ever before. This is a huge development. While I was active in Scotland I saw the beginning of return of young people to politics. When I first started attending rallies it was the baby boomers who dominated. Young people of my generation weren’t particularly interested. But five years later this was changing and fast. The referendum campaign has seen an explosion in political participation by this generation as they rally round the chance to actually make a difference.

I arrived in Glasgow the weekend before the referendum to crowds of motivated, articulate and informed people talking about the referendum. There were songs and chants but there was also debate. The city was abuzz with referendum talk and campaigning. There was a movement. I arrived wishing to see what was going on and hoping to see a good campaign and a reasonable debate. I left with the shocking realization that Glasgow was going to vote yes and that a radical change to politics was actually possible. I have never before been able to see first-hand or been part of a campaign for radical change that has had a real chance of winning. Those on the left who have been part of the official yes campaign, Radical Independence Campaign, Green Yes, National Collective, Labour for Independence, Women for Independence, English Scots for Yes, Yes LGBT, Scots Asians for Yes and any other pro-independence networks should be immensely proud of what they have achieved. I am really in awe of them for creating such a strong and diverse movement. On the left we are used to being in the minority and facing an uphill battle. The yes campaign started with such a battle and made huge gains despite not having the backing of the media or the majority of elites. This is a huge positive development. It inspires me to think that there may be hope for radical political change in the UK yet. It suggests that it is not impossible to build a movement for positive change that is capable of winning.

In most elections people are asked to back one party or another: to select one group of elites to rule over them. However, the referendum was a directly democratic event: it asked people to make a choice themselves. This is part of why it had so much power to get those who dismiss politics as a farce to participate. The fact that people were voting not for some elites to rule was not fully grasped by the BBC who showed pictures of ‘campaign head quarters’ as the results came in and talked about votes for the yes campaign or for the better together campaign. These votes were not for a campaign. They were votes in favour of a particular decision. Talking of those video streams of campaign headquarters there was a stark difference between the young careerist political types shown at ‘Better Together’ headquarters with their smart dress and rosettes showing party allegiances and the rag tag collection of people at the media office for a part of the yes campaign that the BBC showed. Although these people looked predominantly middle class they did not look like wannabe prospective politicians from good universities and moneyed backgrounds (the type you usually see at campaign headquarters). Furthermore, they did not declare themselves as ‘the campaign’ but a part of a wider movement doing some media stuff. This showed how the yes campaign brought about a different kind of politics. It was not just the debating society types hoping for a career in politics that were involved in the campaigning.

The weekend before the referendum, where Sauchiehall Street meets Buchannan Street at the Donald Dewar statue, masses of friendly smiling people who turned up to support independence. Being in the crowd it felt to me like Scotland was becoming a democracy of the kind civil society champions like the Scottish Enlightenment thinker Adam Ferguson and communitarians like Michael Sandel endorse. It felt like a demos had emerged where people actively and loudly engaged with politics. Whilst outside the BBC protesting at the poor journalism mentioned earlier in this article a woman started to explain to me how single mothers were being imprisoned for not paying their license fee. Her enthusiasm and passion for political issues was clear as was her fearless discussion of them with anyone she came across. If Scotland can keep this up then there is a chance for a better future. I just hope that the energy, interest and commitment that the vote inspired can be maintained and used to make gains and improve life in Scotland and the wider UK. Already, there has been an ongoing debate as to how to move forwards and remain engaged. I hope that something beautiful can come out of this debate.

Dear Mr Speaker, concerning that Gordon Brown ‘Debate’

Gordon Brown has lied by slime to the voters is Scotland’s IndyRef – how unusual

Gordon Brown


Dear Mr Speaker,

I am writing to you, the Leader of the House, the Shadow Leader of the House and the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, concerning the debate secured by the Right Honourable Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on the 16th of October on the subject of the UK Government’s relationship with Scotland.

The Right Honourable Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath revealed to the press that he secured this debate with your kind permission and he has since described this debate as a substantial debate on the ‘vow’ made concerning the timetable on ‘more powers’ for Scotland. As you are aware, this debate is nothing other than an end of day adjournment debate, meaning that it will only last only half hour, is un-amendable and can not be voted on. These debates usually involve only the member who has secured the debate and the relevant Minister responding. In…

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Why I wish Everyone Else had voted Yes

There have been a lot of analyses since 18th September when Scotland decided to stay tied to the apron strings of Westminster. I think I shall re-post a number of these on this blog so I will have a record in one place. This one is self-explanatory and well said Ian Montgomery. More people should amass facts and figures.

This is Ian Montgomery writing…..on his wife’s Facebook page..because I don’t have my own, the reason being…… I’m pretty convinced that ‘social media’ is, for the most part, for twats….like you lot….!!!
However, this evening I had a casual scan through the endless and mostly mindless postings below (YES voters excepted) and concluded that this forum needed some informed and intelligent comment…….this is where I come in folks!!!
What follows is from me…. and me alone……….OK….!!!
Some facts and figures…………………….

1) There are 280,000 millionaires in the UK. 260,000 of them live in London.

2) There are currently, and have been for the last twenty years, more construction cranes working in London alone than there are throughout the rest of the UK in its entirety. There is NO recession in the South East!

3) Back in 1988, when the Channel Tunnel project was announced, we were all told that every city in the UK would soon have direct high-speed rail access, via Folkstone, to the continent. Today, twenty years after the Chunnel was commissioned, only one city has high-speed access to the tunnel……………Can you guess what city that is……????

4) In an average European country the economy of the nation is reflected in the metropolitan demographic. (Big words….Eeeh………….are you still with me?) In short……The largest city is approximately twice as big as the next city, three times as big as the third city and so on….etc……etc………Check this on Google if you like……I’m not lying.
But…..In the UK …London is eight times as big as Birmingham…….sixteen times big as Glasgow and Manchester….and the other cities are nowhere……… what’s happening?

5) Major projects in London now and pending: East/West Crosslink rail, followed by North/South Crosslink rail, followed by new hub airport…………..Elsewhere……not much!
A whole succession of Governments of differing persuasions have, passively or actively, contributed to the exponential expansion of London, at the expense of the Scotland, the Midlands and the North of England.

6) There are around 4.5 million voters in Scotland and around 20 million in London and the Home Counties….. If Ed Milliband wants to win the general election next year for Labour…..whose votes does he have to chase?……………. Tony Blair knew this in 1997 and re-aligned the Labour Party so that he could win…………so we ended up with Tory and Tory-Lite!!! and then…Iraq……… Afghanistan………….Banking Meltdown………etc….etc.
Ed Milliband will have no choice but to do the same….think about it..!!!

7) Last week the Unholy Triumverate, in a panic, swore that new powers would be devolved to Scotland…..if only, please please and pretty please……. we voted NO!………………So we did!
Points to ponder here:-
David Camerons back-benchers are already applying pressure………..Who gave you a mandate for increasing Scottish autonomy they cry….,,,and they’re right………….who did? England demands an input!!!………..probable outcome:- Fewer Scots MP’s at Westminster…….Will the Torys’ care about losing One MP…………………No!
As for Milliband……if he becomes PM and augments Scotlands fiscal autonomy, his English back-benchers and grass roots supporters will, as a bargaining condition, demand a cut in Scotland’s presence in Westminster…..most of these are Labour MP’s……..which means he would have to cut his own throat to meet his assurances of last week…………….A rock and a hard place?

8) In 1969 man put astronauts on the Moon..a wonderful technological achievement……… 45 years later…in the second decade of the twenty first century, UK subjects still toady to a Monarchy and aristocracy. We still have an unelected House of Lords, including Anglican Bishops, who can veto just about anything from the Commons. We still have Dukes, Earls and Lairds who own most of the Scottish land-mass. Our legal courts are populated by judges and lawyers dressed in gowns and wigs from the sixteenth century and who speak in a pseudo-biblical language.

Yesterday we were given an opportunity to begin a journey that would leave all that behind and begin a progress into the modern world occupied by our European partners…..We did not take it. And just to compound our decrepitude, this evening , on the television news, I watched Union Flag waving ‘Loyalists’ attack YES supporters in George Square ……..(We all know which football club they support…… surprise there…….utterly pathetic!)

What a sad broken little nation we are……..Those of you who voted ‘NO’ did so mostly as a matter of self interest rather than principal. You have no vision… imagination and no moral compass. What lies ahead is your legacy……

Religious Observance vs Comparative Religion

Ah well. One can hope they don't take it seriously, I guess.

One can only hope they don’t take it seriously, I guess.

This interesting and welcome article in the on-line BBC News will no doubt garner a heap of support. As it should. Whether or not the City of Edinburgh Council will have the gumption to take on the Church of Scotland and the other denominations that have their religious hooks into the (devolved) education system and curricula in Scotland is another matter entirely. And I can’t add my name because I live in Fife.

The Headline reads: Parent calls to remove ‘religious observance’ in non-denominational schools

‘A parent in Edinburgh has launched a petition calling on the city council to look at banning religious observance in non-denominational schools.’

The article does point out that parents are entitled to let their children ‘opt out’ of such religious observance, however that option tends to isolate and disadvantage the child. And, it appears, that parents are not being apprised of the right to opt out. Another BBC on-line News item several months ago

‘… only 20% of parents asked by YouGov on behalf of the Humanist Society of Scotland said they had picked up this information from schools.’

There has been a suggestion that if the damn thing is to stay, then the legislation or regulations need to change to allow the option of ‘opting in’. I can’t see that option flying though. I do remember opting out in the ‘50s and with a few others spent the weekly religious period in the library. I don’t recall being traumatised though or feeling victimised. I think we few, we happy few, felt we had escaped – whew!

My preference, like that of Veronica Wikman the parent, is to get rid of religion all together in schools. The only way to treat religion is through an historical perspective. Teach Comparative Religion. Teach that human beings have, from time immemorial, developed ideas of supernatural beings and events to explain what was, at the time, un-explainable. List and discuss various religions and why beliefs were held. Not a problem really. We teach history and the differing views held by different factions in wars, political movements, patriotic stances etc.

Ms Wikman’s point and that of the Edinburgh Secular Society that is backing this petition, is that the churches’ schools chaplains have unfettered access to vulnerable children. Indeed, the media contact for the ESS likened it to direct marketing and said it was inappropriate when he was on BBC Radio Scotland’s programme a couple of days ago.

The religious callers to the programme tried to rationalise their trenchant views in various ways. One said that because the streets were not safe anymore, that children were exposed to a sense of spiritual community and growth in the safety of the schools. Another tried to say that indoctrination was not the aim, but to grow up as healthy human beings children had to be taught about ‘light’ and ‘dark’ – I heard this woman on talk-back and the religious over and undertones were blazingly apparent. They are getting more clever at marketing the BS, that’s all.

School kiddies in thrall (I hope not)

School kiddies in thrall (I hope not)

I realise that in the western world, at least, religion is fading and a good thing too so far as the intellectual health of our societies is concerned.

With the churches targeting the poor of Africa and with Islam moving outwards into the further reaches from its home base in the middle east, we are seeing quite a battle being enjoined for the hearts and minds of ordinary people.

All religions are charged by their superstitious godhead through the holy books to proselytise. Islam is more violent than modern day Christianity but Judaism is more barricaded against the outside world. The slight resurgent hiccup in religious extremism being experienced in post industrial western cultures will fade fairly quickly, I would think – a generation maybe. But Islam is still a fierce wild eyed ideology that threatens and carries out murder for apostasy or conversion to another religion. It also has some deeply held belief that its particular brand of religious law needs to supplant the laws of any land it starts to populate. This, of course, is a problem with two cultures clashing in a single society and this is what is happening now in Britain and in some European countries.

I seriously think it is time to get religion out of everywhere in society except the churches premises. Out of education system, out of health and hospitals, out of the armed forces, out of the legislature and out of the judicial system.

It is time – to quote several politicians’ catch phrase. Maybe parents of other countries could try to eradicate the assumed arrogance of the religious to easy access to schools. To say they are not trying to indoctrinate is simply disingenuous and they need to be called out on that.