Vote Yes, for Kirriemuir Gingerbread

When you’re a full time carer, managing to get out for an hour or so to the local branch of Morrisons to get the weekly shopping counts as ‘quality me time’.  It allows me to stock up on favourite munchies and comfort food.  I like a wee slice of Kirriemuir Gingerbread, slathered with butter.  The other half enjoys a thick slab of it in a bowl, covered in Devon Custard with a dollop of double cream.  Bugger the cholesterol.  But the other week there was none in the usual aisle, just a pile of Christmas cakes – and it was only bleedin October

I asked a guy stocking shelves where they’d moved it to. He apologised, and told me there wasn’t any in stock.  All the ordering is done by Head Office down in England he said, and they’d sent instructions that no more would be ordered until the New Year in order to make space for piles of Christmas cake.  In October.  Who eats Christmas cake in October anyway?

He added that the store manager had been on the phone to them, explaining that cholesterol laden grumpy auld gits throughout Scotland buy a lot of Kirriemuir Gingerbread, and they moan a lot when they can’t get it.  We sell a lot of it here, the shelf-stacking guy assured me.  But Head Office in England was insistent that we really want to eat Christmas cake for the next 3 months.  It’s a Union benefit to shake us out of our provincial Kirriemuir Gingerbread munching ways.

The phrase “Head Office in England” got me thinking.  Supermarkets account for a large chunk of weekly expenditure, especially in low income households, like those of the typical carer and cared for.  Money spent in a Scottish supermarket belonging to one of the large UK chains – like Morrisons, Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, or, if you’re posh, M&S – generates VAT and other tax revenue for the UK Treasury that is identified as originating from the company’s head office, which is most often in London or the South East of England.

Of course much of what we buy in supermarkets, like many foodstuffs, is zero-rated for VAT, but non-food items like deep clean skin cleanser and toilet duck are all liable for VAT at the standard rate of 20%, as are “luxury” food items like chocolate coated biscuits.

The same holds true for non-food retail chains.  None of the VAT collected on the flat screen telly you bought from Currys before it closed down counted as Scottish revenue, despite the fact it was a tax paid on sales in Scotland.  None of it could be used by a Scottish Government to protect Scottish workers against job losses.

Since it doesn’t count as Scottish revenue, taxes generated by the money Scottish residents spend in most large retail outlets is not credited to Scotland in the UK Government’s GERS (Government Expendture and Revenues Scotland) figures, the figures upon which much of the argument about Scotland’s economic viability is based, and which Westminster uses to tell us how poor we are.  Although on their own figures, Scotland generates 9.9% of UK tax revenues, with just 8.3% of the UK population.

Even on the UK’s skew-you statistics, Scotland is doing better than Better Together would like to acknowledge, but an independent Scotland’s finances would be even healthier, and by a considerable margin.  The truth is that the GERS figures are about as realistic as the financial forecasts Craig Whyte made for the Gers.

As a furrinstance, the sales of toilet duck and choccie biccies in supermarkets mean that the revenues of an independent Scotland would be rather higher than the UK’s GERS figures give us credit for.

In an independent Scotland, tax due on all sales or profits generated in Scotland would be paid to the Scottish Treasury.  The 50p VAT on your toilet duck from Morrisons supermarket is an additional 50p that would go to the Scottish budget over and above the official statistics currently being bandied about by the UK Treasury.  The 50p would no longer be tax income originating from a head office in London.  It would be tax income originating from the company’s offices in Scotland.

A bottle of toilet duck here and a packet of wet wipes there adds up.  So just how much is Scotland being shortchanged?  Finding out the exact figure would take a crack team of forensic accountants on speed, but we can get a rough idea.  Let’s have a wee look at the largest UK retail chain, Tesco.

During the last financial year, 2012/13, Tesco reported UK sales of £48,216,000,000.  Much of this is food which is not liable for VAT.  On my last trip to the supermarket, around 15% of the amount spent was on non-food items, and so liable for VAT.  That’s as good an estimate as any in order to work out some rough calculations.

I couldn’t be bothered adding in the chocolate biscuits.  In what universe is a McVities chocolate digestive a “luxury”?  It could only be in a country where a spare room for the wheelchair, the walking frame and bathroom equipment is a luxury for people on benefits …  Oh.

But let’s lean over backwards to give Georgie boy and the Treasury the benefit of any doubt.  With a standard VAT rate of 20%, and assuming zero-rated food items make up 85% of Tesco’s turnover, this means the company forwards roughly £1.44 billion annually in VAT to George Osborne’s account books.

This figure does not include other taxes paid by Tesco to the UK Treasury, such as corporation tax.  The company says that it paid a total of £1.5 billion in direct taxation to the Exchequer in 2012/13, a figure which includes corporation tax, property taxes etc., but doesn’t include VAT payments.

All this money is counted by the UK Treasury as revenue originating from Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, just beyond the boundary of Greater London, where the company’s head office is located and its tax returns are filed.

The revenues which the UK Treasury regards as originating from the company’s head office were generated by the company’s 3146 stores across the UK.  Tesco traditionally has a smaller presence in Scotland than in England, where the bulk of its stores are located.  However Tesco has many more “Express” and “Metro One Stop” outlets in England, these are much smaller than the company’s main supermarkets and therefore do not generate the same amount of revenue for the company or the taxman.

According to the company’s submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation on alcohol, it has “over” 126 stores in Scotland.  Let’s say 128 then.

Getting out the back of a fag packet so we can make some rough calculations, and with the additional assumption that Tesco’s Scottish stores each generate the same average revenue as stores elsewhere in the UK, this gives us a ballpark figure of £1.44 billion VAT + £1.5 billion direct taxation x (128 Scottish stores / 3146 UK stores) – working out at £119 million annually in tax payments to the UK Treasury from sales and profits generated by Tesco operations in Scotland.

Since a higher proportion of the Scottish stores are large supermarkets, and Tesco is also involved in non-food retailing such as financial services, this figure is probably a low estimate.

By way of comparison, Tesco Ireland has 137 stores in the Irish Republic.  The Irish arm of the business is roughly the same size as Tesco in Scotland. Tesco Ireland generates a total of €3.07 billion (£2.64 billion) in sales annually. The standard rate of VAT in Ireland is 23%. Assuming the same 85% figure for zero rated food items, this means that Tesco Ireland forwards around €105 million (£90.3 million) annually to the Irish Government in VAT alone. At the 20% VAT rate in force in Scotland, Tesco’s retail sales in Ireland would generate €92.1 million (£78.6 million) annually in VAT revenues for the Irish Government. This figure does not include the other taxes that the company pays to the Irish Treasury.

Our estimate of £119 million for the total potential Scottish revenues from Tesco is likely to considerably underestimate the true figure, it includes several other taxes as well as VAT.  More realistically, the total due in VAT alone to an independent Scottish Treasury from Tesco operations in Scotland would be similar to the Irish figure, probably greater than £78.6 million annually.

Since the total in other taxes paid by Tesco to the UK Government is greater than our deliberately low estimates for VAT, the true figure for the taxes Tesco would pay in an independent Scotland is certainly well over the £140 million mark.  At the moment, Scotland is not credited with a penny of this amount.

£140 million is a large sum of money, working out at 147 million packets of Kirriemuir Gingerbread at 95p per pack, or 582,758,206 tins of Tesco own brand baked beans at 29p per tin. The contents of the tins would be capable of producing more fart gas than a Better Together press release.  But only by a tiny wee margin.  If laid end to end a half billion tins of beans would wrap around the world almost one and a half times, or form a tower 34,600 miles tall stretching high into geostationary orbit. We could have our own space programme, and we could adapt Michelle Mone’s bras to make a slingshot to get our astronauts to the Moon.  Or possibly even Michelle herself as she’s not keen on living in an independent Scotland.

But remember £140 million is only the hidden Scottish revenue from just one supermarket chain.  What applies to Tesco applies equally to Morrisons, Asda and all the rest.  It also applies to M&S, TopShop, John Lewis, and the other retail chains on our high streets and in our shopping centres.  In these outlets the large majority of sales turnover is liable for VAT.

Few of these companies are headquartered in Scotland, yet together they make sales in Scotland worth billions of pounds annually, and the billions they generate for the UK Treasury are filed in tax returns from their head offices, which are usually in London.  This is how London “subsidises” us.

There are other ways in which Scottish revenues are invisible in the official statistics.  Much of the alcohol duty paid by our whisky industry is not counted as revenue from Scotland.  Alcohol produced in the UK which is exported abroad becomes subject to UK alcohol duty at the point of export, and a large proportion of Scotland’s multibillion whisky exports gets shipped out from ports in England.  The UK Treasury counts the duty levied on this whisky as income from the tax region in which the port is situated.

Billions of pounds of Scottish revenue is magicked away in the official statistics, and doesn’t count as Scottish revenue.  It masquerades as revenue from other parts of the UK, most commonly as revenue from London.  In total, the extra revenues which do not currently figure in the GERS statistics, but which would accrue to an independent Scottish Treasury, would be considerably larger than the entire annual income from the North Sea.  Who needs the yle when you’ve got Tesco own brand baked beans eh?

This is why Project Fear is ramping up the hysteria.  Scotland generates far more for the UK Government than it wants to admit to.

And so far I’ve not even mentioned how the expenditure part of the GERS statistics are likewise a skew-you to Scotland.  That’s a whole other rant.

Anyone who tells you Scotland cannae afford independence is farting verbally to the tune of half a billion tins of Tesco own brand baked beans.  We would in fact be considerably better off than the GERS figures suggest.  We could probably even afford the few extra pennies for the Kirriemuir Gingerbread with the icing topping.

No doubt in an independent Scotland the supermarkets would still insist on starting Christmas in September, but at least the revenues and taxation they generate would go to the Scottish budget, and count as income for the Scottish Government, to be spent in Scotland and on her population.  And we’d be able to buy Kirriemuir Gingerbread all year round.

Vote Yes, for Kirriemuir Gingerbread.

28th October 2013:  This is an amended and corrected version of the original article, after it was pointed out to me that like the Kirriemuir Gingerbread crazed eejit that I am, I had forgotten that food in the UK is not liable for VAT.  It was the withdrawal symptoms that made me do it.



Normal service

In the previous post I came over all furren, partly in order to put the shiters up the likes of Magrit Curran and other unionistas who seem to have an aversion to foreigners.  There are lots of folk in Catalunya, Galiza, and Spanish speaking Spain who take an active interest in the debate in Scotland, but they get very little in the way of direct comment from supporters of Scotland’s Yes campaign.  I’m going to try and post in Spanish at least once a week, so if you don’t speak Spanish, dinnae panic, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Unfortunately I’m not always able to update this blog every day.  When you’re a full-time carer, you often have other priorities that have to come first.  And sometimes you’re just too knackered.  This has been a trying week.

But back to ranting.

Although the Spanish language media carries almost as much about Scotland as the UK media, in other words not a great deal, it’s generally directly lifted from reports in the UK press so is the usual biased rubbish plus an extra layer of errors and misunderstandings and things that get lost in translation.

According to one recent report in La Vanguardia newspaper (now corrected after below the line commentators pointed out the error), Blair Jenkins is head of the SNP.  Who knew?  Possibly someone’s been taking Better Together’s claim that Yes Scotland is a branch of the SNP a bit too literally.  That’s what happens when you rely on the Daily Telegraph and the BBC for your information.  Mind you, if you’re a Partido Popular supporter or a reporter for Franco’s favourite newspaper the ABC, the Spanish translation of Yes Scotland is usually along the lines of los malvados rupturistas del SNP. (That’s ‘the evil SNP rupturists’, if like Magrit Curran you can’t do foreign.)

The UK and Scottish media’s coverage of Spain is equally poor.  Actually no, that’s a lie.  It’s a lot worse.  If it was an X Factor contestant it would be one of the ones who didn’t get as far as Boot Camp, because their granny is still alive and actually quite perky.  Instead we get a parade of screeching self-regarding airheads who only got through because their grannies died a slow horrible death after declaring independence.

However you would imagine that in a normal universe the fact that Catalunya is also currently home to an active campaign for independence within Europe might have some relevance to Scotland’s debate, even more so because there is a very real possibility that the Catalans may go to the polls just days before we do.  However the sparse reports in the Scottish media about Catalunya consist entirely of misreported claims from Spanish unionistas about los malvados rupturistas catalanes.  We get the negativity, but nothing that might encourage solidarity between Catalunya and Scotland, or heaven forfend, anything which might enable us to imagine we might both be successful independent states with friends in the world.

Since Scots have on the whole nae idea who any of the people involved in Catalunya’s debate are, nor whether their comments have any validity or trustworthiness, the Unionist media can publish pretty much what it likes.  And that’s what it does.  This is what allows Unionistas to blythely assert that “Spain would veto Scottish acccession to the EU”, a claim widely repeated by No supporters.  Thing is though, it’s not true.

Recently the Scotsman published a claim from “a senior European commissioner” who said that Catalonia would have to exit the EU and reapply for membership.  The Scotsman claimed that this would also hold for Scotland.  Yet nowhere did the article mention that the “senior European commissioner” is a Spanish Unionist politician who was speaking in a personal capacity.

It pissed me off so much I wrote an article about it for Newsnet Scotland.

The Scotsman also published a claim from Spanish MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras who asserted that Scotland would be evicted from Europe and strict border controls would have to be enforced at Berwick and Gretna.  It was solemnly reported that el señor Vidal-Quadras was of the opinion that Spain and France would both veto Scottish membership of the EU.  The paper made no attempt to put his claims into any sort of context.

So here’s some context.  The Partido Popular MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca is from an old and wealthy family of the Barcelona aristocracy and is castellaniores castellanis ipsis (more Castilian than the Castilians themselves) but even more he’s a figure of amusement than a man to be taken seriously.  He’s a Spanish version of that parody Tory MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg.  If you can imagine a politician somewhat to the right of Michael Forsyth, who is way posher than Tam Dalyell, and has the insight of Wullie Rennie combined with the articulacy of Johann Lamont, you wouldn’t be far wrong.  He gets, and deserves, about as much respect as Nigel Farage in an Embra pub.  Except in the pages of the Scotsman, whose reporting staff apparently believe that the Spanish word payaso (clown) means ‘respected elder statesman’.

Vidal-Quadras – who people refer to by the Catalan form of his name, Aleix, because it annoys him – is widely regarded in Catalonia, and in most of the rest of Spain, as a blustering and potentially dangerous fool.  This is a man who called on the Spanish government to send in the army to crush Catalan aspirations to independence and who compared the language policy of the Catalan government – which essentially boils down to immersion schools in the Catalan language for pupils in the public school system – to South African Apartheid.

Even his own party is embarrassed by him. After his call for Madrid to send in the Guardia Civil to crush the Catalan hernia-ists, the leader of the Catalan PP issued a statement making it clear he did not speak for the party.

In the Scotsman article, Vidal-Quadras told us that France “would surely” veto Scottish membership, like he’s speaking for the French as well now.  The French government, to my knowledge, have made no comments at all about the possible independence of Scotland.  Not being noted for its willingness to spare the Westminster government any possible embarrassment that’s going round, it’s hard to see why Paris would object to an independent Scotland, but that doesn’t stop Vidal-Quadras and the Scotsman from trying to invent some.

It was also asserted by the lovely Aleix that since Spain refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, naturally it’s not going to recognise Scotland either.

But that’s nonsense, and Sr Vidal Quadras knew it was nonsense even as he was uttering it.  He knows that the reason Spain refuses to recognise Kosovo is because Kosovo made a unilateral declaration of independence which was not recognised by Serbia.  Serbia claims that Kosovan independence is contrary to the Serbian constitution.  This is the exact same reason that Spain gives for refusing to allow Catalonia to hold an independence referendum.

But as is very well known, even in Spain, Scotland does have a constitutional right to an independence referendum.  Our referendum is legal, and is recognised as such by the Westminster Parliament which, as part of the Edinburgh Agreement, passed enabling legislation which recognised the authority of the Scottish Parliament to hold it.  Westminster also pledged itself to respect the outcome of the referendum, which naturally means that it would recognise an independent Scotland which resulted from a Yes vote.  There will be no unilateral Scottish declaration of independence.

The people at the Scotsman newspaper know this too.  They also know that the Spanish government, which isn’t exactly enthused about the prospect of a Catalan indy referendum, carefully distinguishes between Scotland and Catalunya, and constantly stresses that there can be no comparisons between the two.  They don’t want Scots and Catalans talking together either, and for similar reasons to our own Unionistas.

And the Scottish media should also know that people like the Spanish foreign minister, who unlike Aleix Vidal-Quadras actually does have power and influence, has said on more than one occasion that Spain would have no objections to a Scotland which becomes independent legally, democratically, and in accordance with what passes for a UK constitution.

No EU state has said that it would veto Scottish membership of the EU.  Because no EU state has any intention of vetoing it. Quite the contrary, several EU member states have made it clear that they would welcome Scottish membership.  But lies by omission, half-truths, and outright porkies are what passes for normal service in Scotland’s mainstream media.

There’s only one way forward for Scotland and for Catalunya.  Visca Escotalunya!

Al proyecto miedo le falta el viagra

Solía vivir en una zona castellanoparlant del Pais Valencià donde aprendí el castellano y el catalá – este último a la sorpresa enorme de mis vecinos madrileños y murcianos.  Me gustan los idiomas, y la verdad es si puedes soportar los laberintos de la gramática gaélica y su ortografía torturada que hace la inglesa aparece supersencilla, los idiomas latinos no son demasiado dificiles.

Lo que más me sorpendió a mí era que mis vecinos me dijieron que no podían entender ni el catalán escrito, algo que me pareció todo ridículo. ¿Cómo que nó? Ya hablaban castellano mucho mejor que un extranjero como yo, debe haber sido fácil.  Naturalmente la verdad no era que no podían entenderlo, sino no lo querían.  Pero eso es otra historia …

Pero hay más personas que sí quieren entender, y sé que hay mucho interes en los paises de Iberia en lo que pasa en el debate escocés y el referendum de independencia de septiembre del año que viene.  Porque soy muy preguntón, y quiero saber lo que dicen los otros de nosotros, leo con interés los, pues, informes de los periódicos españoles sobre mi país.  Son los mismos informes de la prensa unionista británica, aunque con aun más errores – algo que no es nada fácil con la cantidad de errores, mentiras, y desinformaciones que hay en la prensa británica.

Así, de vez en cuando voy a escibir algo en el castellano en este blog, para examinar los mitos y las desinformaciones unionistas.

Desinformación uno:  Todos las encuestas apuntan una victoria del No, olvidate de la independencia escocesa.

“Pues sí … ¿y tu punto es?”  Es un referendum único.  No son los comicios normales.  Las reglas normales no se apliquen. El No es el voto de defecto, el voto de ell@s que aun no han pensado en el tema ni decidido su opinión final.  Solo una minoría, alrededor de 20%, ya han decidido definitivamente que no – más o menos el mismo porcentaje en el censado de 2011 que dijieron que su identidad nacional era “británica”.  La mayoría de los Nos están abiertos a la persuasión, incluso buscan motivos para votar que Sí.  Así el voto No es muy frágil, y cuando los votantes se comprometen con el tema, muchos cambian su opinión, y muchas veces pasan directamente del No al Sí sin pasar por “No lo sé” en ruta.  El cambio contrario, un Sí a un No, no existe.

Lo soprendente, al menos por los unionistas y la prensa británica, es que esto pasa incluso cuando la presentación menosprecia la independencia.  Los votantes se dan cuenta que no existe un caso positivo por la Unión.  Los unionistas no pueden explicar como Escocia puede progresar mejor en la Unión que lo puede como un país independiente.  Encima tienen que argumentar que es mejor tener gobiernos que no votamos que los gobiernos que sí votamos.  Y aun peor, los gobiernos que no votamos son de los Tories.  (Odiamos a los tories.  Aquí tenemos más pandas gigantes que diputados conservadores.)  Pero lo que hace esto surrealista es que son los llamados laboristas que nos dicen que es mejor tener un gobierno Tory.  Bienvenid@s al mundo revuelto del unionismo.

En falta de un caso positivo, ni incluso una promesa definitiva de más poderes dentro de la Unión al parliamento en Edimburgo, la campañía de No solo puede recurrir a las tácticas de miedo.  Pero una campañía negativa es como una erección sin las ayudas del Viagra.  Solo se puede mantener durante un tiempo cortito, antes de que deja de penetrar.

El mes pasado había un debate transmitido en la BBC2 en vivo del Puente de la Unión en la frontera entre Escocia e Inglaterra, con participantes que aun no habían decidido como van a votar.  Como es normal en la BBC, que por supuesto, es la British Broadcasting Corporation (y no lo olvides), la presentación fue muy sesgada a la Unión, incluso con graficos que nos informaron que Escocia era UNO DE LOS PAISES MAS PEQUEÑOS DEL MUNDO en todo mayusculas en caso que olvidaste las gafas.

Nos informaron que nuestros hijos que viven en Inglaterra se convertirán en extranjeros.  ¡Qué horror!  Quizas coman el ajo y todo.  Nos echarán de la UE, pero a la vez nos forzarán a usar el euro.  No tendremos defensas, y nos costará billiones para crear las fuerzas armadas que no comprendrán más que una línea 0800 y una voz grabada diciendo “nos rendimos” en el árabe, el ruso y el chino.  Oh, y vamos a morir de la peste negra, o algo, no sé, había dejado de escuchar por este punto – fui a hacerme un té antes de que me convertiera en extranjero.

Los dos independentistas del panel hablaron del futuro, de la esperanza de algo mejor, y como lograrlo.  No hay una visión por una Escocia independiente, sino hay miles.  Y la gente que vive en Escocia podremos decidir nuestro camino entre estas posibilidades emocionantes sin preocuparnos de los Tories o un partido laborista que basan su política en la necesidad de ganar los votos flotantes de conservadores del sur del Inglaterra.

Es sencillo.  Aqui estamos con el petroleo hasta las axilas, con el gas, con un montón de carbón, y con los recursos renovables de energía más potentes de Europa, y hay miles de personas que no pueden calentar sus casas.  Exportamos el pescado, el whisky, carnes, verduras, frutas, y hay gente que tienen que ir a los bancos de alimentacion para poder comer.  Somos un país rico, pero hay pobreza y una falta de infraestructuras.  Y las desigualdades van creciendo.

Esto no va a cambiar con la Unión.  Pero con independencia, por lo menos hay la posibilidad.  La decisión será nuestra.

Cuando votaron, los indecididos se habían convertido en una mayoría de Sí de 68%.  La presentadora se puso una cara.  “Naturalmente estos resultados no son cientificos,” dijo.  Y tampoco los argumentos unionistas.

Este no es el único ejemplar.  En el mes pasado había tres otros debates públicos.  En Dundee los estudiantes de la Universidad de Abertay eran 59% que No al principio del debate.  En este debate, el politico laborista George Robertson, ex-secretario general de la OTAN, informó a los estudientes que Escocia no necesita independencia, porque, al contrario a los catalanes, no tenemos idioma ni cultura.  Al final los estudiantes votaron 51% que Sí.  Mientras tanto, en Edimburgo un debate organizado por los PYMES resultó en un Sí de 73%.  Y en Clydebank en un debate de los sindicalistas la audiencia lo dejo muy claro que solo la independencia puede producir los cambios positivos que Escocia necesita.

Hay cientos de estos debates por todo el pais.  La campañía de Sí tiene miles y miles de activistas con entusiasmo y energía, la campañía de No solo tiene los medios de comunicación en las que ya hemos perdidos la fe.

Acaban de empezar, persona por persona, y puerta por puerta, llevan el mensaje de Sí, y van cambiando Escocia.

Reasons a miserable auld git wants independence: Part 3

The telly’s shite innit, and Scottish telly has always been a special tartan shade of shite.  Those of us of a certain age will remember the BBC announcer informing us that we were about to be treated to a hauf daicent movie, before adding: “Except for viewers in Scotland.”  We’d be getting something involving Dougie Donnelly instead.  Even now, many decades later, the phrase “indoor bowling from Coatbridge” still provokes an automatic wee sigh of bored resignation.

The telly is still shite, despite the fact there are now dozens of digital free to air channels catering to such niche markets as god-botherers, tarot card readers, devotees of badly acted Brazilian soap operas, people who make their own jewellery with offcuts from plumbing wholesalers which they bought on a shopping channel for their weight in credit cards, and a whole lot of sad gits who are turned on by disinterested sex workers squeezing their tits with the same degree of sexual arousal normally found in pensioners checking the freshness of vegetables in Asda.  You can check out the courgettes, calls from a landline cost just £5.50 per minute.

Somewhere amongst the Pacific ocean sized soupbowl of pish which is being served up to us you’d think there might be a wee island of Scottish news and current affairs, what with us about to make the biggest decision in 300 years and everything. It doesn’t even have to be the size of Arran, or even Millport.  We’re Scottish remember, and if our media is anything to go by we have very low standards.  But they can’t even be bothered to fob us off with one of the wee ones in the duckpond in the park.

On the Parliament and news channels, Scottish politics is either non-existent, or confined to a ghetto timeslot when normal people are either working, sleeping off the previous night’s excess, or watching reruns of the Jerry Springer Show, which is easy to confuse with Johann Lamont at Furst Meenister’s Questions.  Same teeth and everything.

Every week it’s “Jist haud me back, Jackie” as Johann screams that Eck is a durty lyin’ dawg who’s squandering the Scottish budget on crystal meth Forth road bridges and gambling on independence referendums, before yelling at the audience: “You don’t know me.” Which is true, what with her being unavailable for real questions, as opposed to the accusations of FMQs and occasionally granting an audience to a deferential worshipper on BBC Scotland, who takes her tortured syntax and garbled equivocations as gnomic utterances containing deep truths.

Then there’s her deputy, Anas Sarwar hereditary MP – the title traditionally bestowed upon the heir to the Baron of Govan.  His speciality is to harangue listeners about the undemocratic nature of the SNP.  He’d know a lot about that then.  In his spare time, which he has a lot of, he boors for Britain, inventing smears as he goes along.  Anas debating is like compacted faecal matter being squeezed past a haemorrhoid.

If Anas was a crossword clue he’d be: Confounded Labour MP made a ran raw ass of himself (4, 6).  By a peculiar quirk of fate a ran raw ass is a good description of what was handed to him on a plate by an angry audience of trade unionists in Clydebank.

But more commonly not being exposed to any wider media audience than stoned people who’ve forgotten where they put the TV remote, there’s little pressure on either Johann or the Ran Raw Ass to up their game any. The media’s job is to keep Scottish politics and current affairs boring, so they can be displayed in a wee box for 20 minutes after Jeremy Paxman where they can be protected by plastic and the Union won’t suffer any lasting damage from exposure to the light.

And don’t start me on Reporting bloody Scotland.

Normal countries have their own news channels.  24 hours a day of news which is, occasionally, relevant and/or of interest to the viewing audience.  They have their own entertainment channels and sports channels.  By way of comparison they get a three course meal of of arts, culture and current affairs, prepared by top chefs and tastefully served up with proper cutlery to allow you to cut it up and digest it properly.  Scotland gets a fun sized Mars Bar, thickly coated in a batter of murrderr and deep fried in fitba, grumpily tossed at us by Gordon Brewer.

Countries don’t even have to be independent to have better media than Scotland.  Although admittedly we do set the bar pretty low.

Gagauzia has its own TV network.  It’s probably crap, but at least it exists.  For those who don’t know, which is most people, Gagauzia is a tiny scrap of self-governing territory in the poorest corner of Moldova, the poorest country in Europe.  The Gagauz are Turkish speaking Orthodox Christians, a minority consisting of around 150,000 souls.  Scotland isn’t being denied its own national TV network because we’re too wee or too poor.  It’s a political decision.

Catalunya does rather better.  In the blink-and-you’d-miss-it coverage of the recent Rally for Independence, it was of course pointed out that the turnout didn’t remotely compare to the 1.6 million who participated in the Via Catalana. What they didn’t tell you that Catalunya has an active and lively media sector, with several of its own TV channels, including a 24 hour news channel, which actually reported on the preparations for the event and told people about it in advance.  Because if there’s going to be a high profile public event attended by a significant number of people who are significant in their fields, in order to kick off a national campaign in the run up to a national referendum, that sort of counts as national news, irrespective of what way you are currently inclined to vote.

Scottish broadcasters won’t do that sort of thing because it might encourage ordinary people to challenge the status quo.  Informing the public about the realities of the country they live in might make them demand change.

And this is in the wee bit of distinctively Scottish broadcasting we’re actually allowed.  In the so-called national news we get rank ignorance passing for erudition.  We also get a whole lot of stuff which, while of passing interest, is not directly relevant to a Scottish viewing public.  The upshot is that the average Scottish TV viewer is far better informed about what’s going on in Sussex than they are about Scotland.

Broadcasting is one of those issues Westminster refuses to consider allowing Holyrood to get its paws on.  It’s hardly surprising really.  Westminster has spent the last 3 decades privatising all the institutions that formerly represented “Britishness” on some level or other.  British Rail, British Steel, British Coal, British Gas, they’ve all been broken up, closed down, and sold off to the highest bidder.  The BBC is all they have left.

The irony is that it’s Scottish independentistas who are accused of breaking up the Union, when really it’s Westminster politicians who have been doing that job.  We’re just bayoneting the wounded for them, isn’t that right Ian Davidson?

I don’t expect Scottish telly to be hugely better after independence.  We’ll still get wall to wall soap operas, reality shows, X Factors, and people who insist on making their own jewellery out of overpriced dried macaroni will still be catered for.  But people who do take an interest in the news and current affairs of Scotland will be catered for too, we will get a wee island of sanity amongst the dross.  And that’s got to be better than drowning in a sea of pish.

Nose pressed against the windae

Being a full time carer and so not getting out much, nor indeed having anything that might pass as a social life, I get a lot of time to peruse the online comments sections of newspapers.  Although I rarely comment myself, you get to recognise the regulars.  It’s a bit like people watching in a public space, only you can have a comfy chair, a decent cup of tea, smoke a fag without getting disapproving looks, and you’ll not get arrested for loitering.

The pro-indy posters are legion.  Some are erudite, witty, and incisive.  Most are informative, and the great majority demonstrate a positivity that demonstrates that Prozac manufacturers are in for a very tough sell in an independent Scotland.  Some are just irritating.  And a handful do appear to be certifiably batshit crazy.  But possibly that’s what comes of sitting on newspaper comments sections day after day, constantly rebutting the same auld pish from British nationalists who keep asking the same really dumb questions.

That’s a national movement for ye, it includes old Scots and new Scots of all shapes, sizes, colours, and sanity ratings.  What all have in common is that they have their own ideas about the sort of Scotland they’d like to see, and a belief that independence is the key that unlocks countless possibilities.  It’s an exciting time to be Scottish, and we don’t get to say that very often.  The Internet gives those of us who can’t get out and participate in the debate in person a chance to press our noses against the windae and see what’s going on.

But it’s the regular No posters who are far more interesting to observe.  Outside the zoo that passes for the comments section in the Hootsmon, regular No posters are far fewer in number. This is intriguing, for all that Project Fear carps on that a majority of Scots are proud to be British, damn few of them are proud enough to do something about it which doesn’t involve a great deal of physical effort, nor even require much in the way of joined up thinking.

Most of those who can be arsed enough about saving the Union to post frequently online are strikingly deficient in any sort of vision for Scotland, and a noticeably higher percentage appear to fall into the batshit crazy category.

There are lots of dire warnings that we’ll be evicted from the EU while at the same time having to adopt the Euro and sign up to Schengen.  They’ve got unanswered questions up tae their oxters, and a lot of la-la-la-ing when they’re given an answer.  There’s a positive joy in pointing out the supposed disadvantages of independence, which apparently will be as bad as experiencing the symptoms of dysentry while being forced to watch reruns of the Royal Wedding Party for Our Great British Olympic Heroes on continuous loop. So not that unlike the BBC’s telly output last year then.

But where we’re actually going as a country and a society, and how we’re going to get there.  Nuhin, not a word.

The Scots-who-live-in-England category is also somewhat overrepresented amongst the valiant defenders of all that is good true and red white and blue.  There’s a bit of an overlap with the batshit crazy category, but that’s probably coincidental.  I’m sure regular readers of the Herald will know what I mean.

I met a lot Scots with low opinions of Scotland when I lived in London.  They left Scotland, but now they’re complaining that Scotland might leave them.  For certain London Scots, it’s important that Scotland remains a shit hole.  It validates their reasons for leaving in the first place.  Scotland needs to stay as it was when they moved away, because it gives them something to mark their own personal progress against.

Sadly this view is common amongst gay Scots in London, many of whom are convinced that Scotland is a sink of homophobia.  This may very well have been true back in the 80s when the person concerned felt like the Smalltown Boy in the Bronski Beat single, but times have changed and Scotland has changed.  Now we can all find the love we need at home, gay or straight, no need to run away turn away run away. It’s the London Scots who’ve stayed the same.  Who’s the cry boy cry boy cry noo?

(I came out as gay to my straight friends in the 1980s when I was living in Easterhouse.  I never had any problems from anyone in Easterhouse because of my sexuality.  I later moved to London where I got gay-bashed twice.  Jist sayin, like.)

Scots-in-England also frequently post to express their displeasure that they’re not allowed a vote in the referendum, like that’s all the fault of Alex Salmond and the SNP.  So let’s break down the obvious for them.

You can’t have a vote because Scotland isn’t independent.  That means there is as yet no such thing as a Scottish citizen with a right to vote in Scottish elections.  There are only UK and EU citizens who are registered to vote in Scotland.  If you’re not registered to vote in Scotland, you can’t vote.

Defining who is a Scottish citizen is something that only an independent Scottish constitution can determine.  Since we do not as yet have an independent Scotland, granting the vote to “citizens of a hypothetically independent Scotland” resident in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must be administered and approved by the Westminster Parliament, and defining who those hypothetical citizens are means pre-negotiating Scottish independence.  The Westminster Government has repeatedly said it’s not going to pre-negotiate Scottish independence.  There’s yer problem right there.

So take it up with David Cameron, only you can’t because he’s refusing to debate the issue or provide any relevant answers.  What was that about unanswered questions?

Oh aye, it was “la-la-la”.

Reasons a miserable auld git wants Scottish independence: Part 2

Unionist politicians feel the need to preface their every statement with “I’m a proud Scot …” possibly because they realise that what’s about to follow demonstrates no real pride at all.  It’s what psychologists call a compensation strategy.  I could quote Wikipedia’s entry on the topic, but Wikipedia is a by-word for inaccuracy, at least amongst people who’ve never seen a BetterTogether press release.

A compensation strategy is what happens when major failures are covered up by seeking gratification in another achievement, real or imaginary.  Like prattling on about how the UK “punches above its weight, and Scotland’s a part of that” while ignoring annoying wee facts like the UK being one of the most unequal states in Europe and inequality is projected to get worse.  The growing numbers of people in poverty in Scotland, and in the UK as a whole, are not punching above their weight.  They’re being punched in the groin.

But what makes Unionist proud Scottery a behaviour in need of psychotheraputic remedy is that the claims made on Scotland’s behalf usually fall into the “imaginary” category.

Saying that Scotland achieves a higher international stature due to its membership of the UK is frankly delusional, as anyone who has ever lived in furren pairts and learned the language can testify.  Due to the economic policies of successive UK governments, Scotland probably has a larger population of furren dwelling furren speaking exiles than most.  So it’s doubly delusional to think that they’re not going to tell folk back home.  Especially after they’ve got home.

The Dug used to live in hot and dry Spain before discovering the joys of muddy puddles in Glesga pairks.  In Spanish speaking furren pairts the colloquial term for the UK is Inglaterra and its inhabitants are los ingleses.

Ah but, the more pedantic minded Unionista might say, the proper Spanish word is británico.  And if they mean “proper” as in “a word considered formal and literary and not widely current in colloquial speech, where it is in any case understood as a synonym for inglés” then they’d be correct.  Because I can do pedantry too.

On the other hand, the colloquial term for “my Scottish friend”, frequently heard when your Spanish speaking friends introduce you to other Spanish speaking people, is mi amigo escocés-no-le-llames-inglés-porque-le-cabrea. [my Scottish-don’t-call-him-English-because-it-pisses-him-off friend]  Very expressive language is Spanish.

So it’s the ejercito inglés that is fighting in Afghanistan, it’s Inglaterra that’s falling out with everyone else in Brussels, it’s la reina inglesa who’s got her face on stamps, Davie Cameron is the head of el gobierno inglés, and a certain former secretary general of NATO was a político inglés.

Can you spot a wee theme here?

Scotland does not “punch above its weight” in the international sphere, Scotland isn’t even in the game – not even as good natured losers who got put out in the qualifiers.  The moral of this story is, if you want an international presence, you actually have to be an independent nation first.

It’s true that in recent years, people in Spanish speaking countries have become far more aware of Escocia and los escoceses.  But that’s only because they know we are thinking about independencia, and we’re giving the Catalans, Basques and Galicians ideas.  They’re following our debate very closely indeed.  And we are giving them ideas.

There’s almost as much coverage of the Scottish debate in the Spanish language media in Spain as there is in the UK media.  Unfortunately it’s of much the same quality, but you can’t have everything.  The Catalan language media is a whole lot better.

If just the possibility that Scotland could soon become an independent state is enough to create a very real Scottish influence in the wider world, just imagine what we could do if we really were an independent state.  Sadly, Unionist politicians lack that imagination.

A case in point is George Robertson, the former secretary general of NATO who used to be a político inglés, who when appearing at an independence debate at Abertay University gave a long speil about what a proud Scot he was, before going on to tell the students that Scotland didn’t really require independence, because we have no distinctive culture or language.  Aye right.  Gaun dook fur chips ya muppet, agus pòg mo thòn while ye’re at it.

When Georgie and other soi-disant “proud Scots” are not being proud of imaginary things or confusing their own careers with the awareness of people in other countries of the existence of Scotland, they’re invariably expressing pride in the achievements of those who are long dead.  It’s dead easy to be proud of the achievements of dead people.  They’ve already done the hard work, so all that needs to be done is to mouth some platitudes while basking in the reflected glory.

But the best thing about being proud of dead people is that it doesn’t even cost the two coins to pay the ferryman over the Styx.  This is very handy when you’re a Westminster politician, as they can only justify expense to the public purse if it’s going to lead to a boost in the share price of ATOS.  Or if they want to, ahem, “commemorate” the start of WW1 in George’s Square in Glasgow with a red white and blue patriotfest the month before the referendum vote, entirely coincidentally of course.  How very dare you imagine they’re trying to influence the outcome.

The second best thing about being proud of dead people is that you don’t have to consider what the dead people themselves actually believed or what their motives really were, you can safely hang any auld Unionjackery on their achievements.  The dead are in no position to say: “It was for the right of small countries to decide their own fates.”  Which is exactly what Scotland is doing.

Proud Scots are also often proud of the achievements of professional sportspeople.  Running about really fast or having a killer serve in tennis is all very well and good, but in the wider scheme of things it doesn’t add any more to the sum total of human happiness than LOL kat pictures.  LOL kat pictures at least have the advantage of not generating about half of what passes for news on Reporting Scotland.  They only constitute about a quarter.  Anyway, more people would complain if you tied a kitten into a sack and threw it into a canal than if you did that to a sports commentator.

I’m not a proud Scot.  I’m not proud of being patronised and lied to by politicians who can’t tell the difference between their own careers and Scotland’s standing in the world.  I’m not proud of a media that patronises and infantilises the country it claims to serve.  I want something better.

I’m not at all proud that in a country which has energy resources coming out of its friggin ears there are people who can’t heat their homes.  I’m not proud that in one of the richest countries in the world there are people who depend upon food banks in order to fend off starvation.

And I’m positively sickened that one of those who caused the need for food banks in the first place posed for a photo-opportunity when a new food bank opened in his constituency.

Danny Alexander was very proud.  If he was capable of normal human emotional responses he’d have realised the appropriate reaction should have been to hide his miserable face under a large rock, where he could atone for his sins by repeatedly ramming a tin of Morrison’s own brand baked beans firmly up his Union-jacksie while repeating out loud: “Better Together with foodbanks, my arse.”

I’m not a flag waver.  I don’t want to run around gushing about how proud I am of my country.  But it would help not to be ashamed of it.  It would be nice for people in other countries to know that it existed.  It would be great if it was governed by people who had the well being of its citizens and residents as their sole concern and who weren’t enthralled to the financial companies of the City of London.  It would be fabby if we didn’t have nuclear missiles just up the road from our biggest city.

It would be most fantastic of all if I was able to invite my Spanish speaking friends to visit the new tourist attraction in Nairn, the Screaming Rock of Alexander, but I don’t realistically expect a Yes vote to bring that about.  The rest, they’re a very real possibility, and that’s plenty to be going on with.

Then when people asked me if I was proud of my country I could say: Och, it’s no bad.

Gordon Brewer monsters himself

BBC Scotland’s coverage of Scottish politics continues to plumb new depths.  You’d scarcely have imagined that was possible, but they managed it on Thursday evening when Gordon Brewer on Newsnicht berated Fiona Hyslop for not having a time machine, not being Nicola Sturgeon, and for refusing to throw a gallon of Grangemouth refined petrol on the already heated dispute between the Unite union and Ineos.

Dunno what’s got into Gord of late.  He used to be one of BBC Scotland’s better presenters, who could be relied upon to produce a bit of gravitas instead of gravid arse.  But these days Gord’s gone more Jeremy McKyle than Jeremy McPaxman.  Pro-independence supporters get treated with a disdain usually reserved for a chain-smoking transvestite benefits claimant with an alcohol problem and fourteen kids by five  women.

Perhaps he’s seeking atonement for monstering Iain Gray and destroying what few shreds of credibility the hapless one possessed.  And that was long before his Subway moment.

Maybe in a wee part of Gordon’s brain there’s a guilt complex for destroying Iain’s chances of becoming Furst Meenister and inflicting an SNP majority government and an independence referendum upon the land.  Possibly Gord really believes he’s so influential he changed the course of Scottish political history. 

He’s got no need to worry there.  The SNP managed to win the 2011 election quite handsomely without any help from the BBC.  I’m sure the Yes campaign can manage to win the referendum without Gordon’s assistance.

Perhaps BBC Scotland’s top political interviewer is upset because he single handedly brought about the downfall of Iain Gray, at least in his own head, setting off the subsequent chain of events that’s got us all here, and then his bosses got that bastert James Naughtie to come up from exile in London to head the referendum coverage. 

And Naughtie got to have a bitch fest with Nicola Sturgeon on the radio that morning, while Gord gets papped off with Fiona Hyslop.  Who-slop? The very name taunts him.

But back to Fiona, who didn’t seem very sloppy or Waynetta-like at all really.  She was under the fond impression that she’d been invited onto the Gord show in order to big up big Eck’s big speech.  But no, Gord didn’t want to discuss Eck’s speech, the one Fiona had sat through all afternoon, carefully taking notes on. 

Instead Gord wanted to know whether Fiona would condemn Ineos for being evil money grasping capitalists, knowing full well that the Scottish government is currently engaged in some highly delicate negotiations which essentially boil down to trying to persuade an angry drunk ned who’s sprayed petrol all over your shed to put down the lighter.  You’re not going to tell him, live on telly, what you really think of him.  Sweetness and light is the order of the day, at least until he gives you the zippo, then you can get your shovel out the shed and lamp him with it.

Naturally Fiona demured from giving a direct answer, allowing Gord to award himself some of his imaginary “tough question” points.  The slippery politicians not giving direct answers box could be safely ticked.  He may well be developing Tough Question Points into a game show format, but he’s keeping the details close to his chest because Pacific Quay would only go and offer it to Paul Coia as a comeback vehicle.

We moved on to the speech.  But not that speech.  He wanted to ask about a speech Nicola Sturgeon was due to give the next day.  Gord was still smarting about the Naughtie interview.

Gord wanted to know if Fiona shared his derision at the very idea that benefits would be slashed in the event of a No vote, something Nicola was apparently going to allude to.  That’s just nonsense, cried the Gord.  It’s Project McFear!  At least this was a sideways acknowledgement that Project Fear’s claims are most notable for being baseless nonsense, although that’s not something that generally comes out in one of Gordon’s interviews.

Fiona, being neither Nicola Sturgeon nor in possession of a time machine, was unable to comment on a speech that someone else hasn’t given yet.  Instead she resorted to a parallel universe machine, and imagined she was really being asked a semi-sensible question about whether an independent Scotland could sustain current levels of benefits spending.  The answer to which is, Yes, and with bells on.

Gordon, being in a parallel universe of his own, continued to scoff at the very notion that benefits in the UK are under threat.  This is the guy that’s supposed to be one of BBC Scotland’s best political interviewers.  And he’s apparently unaware that the fiercest of the Coalition cuts are being saved up for after the 2015 General Election.  Labour has promised the same spending plans, the only difference being that Labour will slash budgets and beat up on benefits claimants with a sad emoticon at the end of their press releases.

Budgets are going to be slashed in ways far more cruelly inventive than the Bedroom Tax or Atos tests.  And cuts to the meagre allowances currently begrudged of the poorest and most vulnerable will be top of the to-do list.  This is what awaits us if we vote No. 

How can you not know that Gordon?  The dugs in the street – like yours truly – know it.  Call yourself one of the BBC’s top political interviewers?  With behaviour like this it’s scarcely surprising that his bosses looked elsewhere for someone to head the referendum coverage.

We can only guess at Gordon’s motives for trashing his own career.  But it’s safe to say that if he continues to subject pro-independence supporters to increasingly stupid and ridiculous barracking, the person who comes across as untrustworthy, stupid, and shortsighted is himself.

But whatever lies behind Gordon’s descent into petulance, the person he’s letting down the most is himself.  He’s capable of much better than this, and the viewers deserve much better.  Note to Gordon Brewer: getting yourself together doesn’t mean getting yourself Better Together.