Ambulance chasing with Douglas Ross

I wasn’t planning to blog today as I’m wiped out from physiotherapy, but I am so angered by Douglas Ross that I have to say something.

Douglas Ross is a thoroughly odious individual who leads a thoroughly odious political party, a party which has no hesitation in pursuing cheap political points no matter how spurious, how devoid of context, or how misleading they may be.

At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday Ross attacked the First Minister on waiting times for ambulances, and shamelessly accused her of “hiding behind the pandemic” as though the pandemic isn’t really happening and isn’t really putting immense pressures on the ambulance service along with every other part of the health service. Likewise it is not “deflection” as Ross suggested, to point out that the Health Services in every other part of the UK are also struggling to cope with the extra strain imposed on them by the covid pandemic. It’s just reality. What is really deflection is to pretend that these issues are unique to Scotland in an attempt to score some SNPbad points with the Scottish media.

I have a very personal interest in ambulance waiting times. In October last year, before vaccines were available and with the NHS reeling under the impact of the pandemic, I suffered a massive stroke. In an ischaemic stroke such as the one I had, a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain, causing the part of the brain supplied by the affected artery to experience oxygen starvation. If the blood flow is blocked for more than a few minutes the affected part of the brain dies. Brain tissue that dies does not regenerate. The bodily functions controlled by the damaged part of the brain are impaired.

A stroke is a medical emergency second only to life and death situations when a patient is not breathing or is bleeding out. According to widely accepted response times, an ambulance should be on scene within an average of 18 minutes in response to a category-2 999 call reporting a suspected stroke. (See https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/resource/ambulance-response-times#background) A prompt response is critical, for every minute that a stroke patient is left untreated, 1.9 million neurons die, the chances of making a good recovery diminish, and the chances of being left with a lasting or permanent disability increase. The quicker the patient who has suffered an ischaemic stroke can be got to the hospital the greater the chance that they can be injected with a powerful clot busting drug which can prevent further damage to the brain. That’s why speed is vital.

I collapsed shortly after the onset of the stroke and started vomiting violently. Then I had a severe epileptic seizure as the stroke was making the electrical activity in my brain go haywire. After that I lost consciousness. My husband called 999 within seconds of the stroke starting, but due to staff shortages caused by the pandemic, it was almost an hour before the ambulance got to me, far longer than the recommended 18 minutes for response time to a suspected stroke.

By the time the ambulance got me to the hospital it was too late to treat me with the clot busting drugs that could have minimised the brain damage caused by the stroke. There’s nothing to be gained by dwelling on what ifs, but had the ambulance arrived within the recommended 18 minutes I might not have been left with some of the physical problems that are still an issue for me and which may be permanent. I have very poor motor control, lack of sensation, and significant muscle weakness all down the left of my body, in particular in my left hand and arm. I was left handed, but now I can’t even hold a pen or a knife and fork, far less participate in the artistic and creative pursuits I used to enjoy so much. It is unlikely that I’ll be drawing any more Gaelic maps. These issues are long term, and due to the extent of the brain damage caused by the stroke, I was warned that there’s a significant chance that they could be permanent.

Of course the biggest what if of all is what if there wasn’t a pandemic. Then the ambulance service might not have been short staffed and might have got to me sooner. But there is a pandemic. It can’t just be ignored or wished away. It could not be ignored or wished away all those long weeks when I lay semi paralysed in a hospital bed and couldn’t get any visitors. It certainly can’t be ignored or wished away by an unprincipled shyster of a Conservative politician in search of an SNP bad point.

Douglas Ross wants to pretend there is no pandemic because it gets in the way of him scoring a cheap political point. He wants to ignore the fact that the National Health Service in every part of the UK is struggling to cope with the additional stresses put on it by the pandemic, it is not deflection, as Ross and the Tories claim, to point out that simple reality. What is deflection is pretending that it’s only Scotland which is struggling, and that it’s struggling due to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

As I try to come to terms with my new reality, and learn to live with my disabilities, it’s some comfort to imagine that the ambulance was late getting to me because it was saving the life of someone with covid, someone who is now alive and well and making plans for the future just as I am.

Douglas Ross wants to deprive me of that comfort and make me and people like me believe that the health issues we face were unnecessary and avoidable and entirely the fault of the SNP – as though there is no pandemic. At the same time he is desperate to avoid any scrutiny of the manifest failures and shortcomings of the Conservatives in Westminster in their mishandling of this crisis.

Nicola Sturgeon accused Douglas Ross of insulting the intelligence of the public by trying to pretend the pandemic is not a factor in ambulance response times. I’d go further, he is personally insulting me and everyone else who has suffered the consequences of this pandemic. I am deeply offended that a man whose party has wrought such havoc on the health service in England and on public services in general is now trying to capitalise on the long term health issues and disabilities of me and those like me. I would say he should be ashamed of himself, but Douglas Ross is a Conservative and has no shame. His is the worst kind of unprincipled, unscrupulous ambulance chasing.

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Brexit means: being told what to do by Mexico

On a trip to the local mini supermarket the other day, the fruit and veg section was almost empty, there was nothing on the shelves that usually hold the ready made sandwiches and the ready meals section was devoid of the normal selection of food. This is not an isolated occurrence, all over the UK people report shortages in supermarkets and empty shelves which were once stuffed full of produce. The shortages are being caused due to a combination of the pandemic and the British Government’s ideologically driven decision to pursue the hardest Brexit it could get away with, driving away untold thousands of the EU citizens that the UK relied on to fill low paid jobs like delivery drivers. No other European country is currently facing empty supermarket shelves but in the UK we have a right wing media which colludes with the Conservatives in blaming it all on Covid as though the entirely avoidable chaos of the Tories’ hard Brexit had nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile energy prices are soaring just as the British government has cut Universal Credit,throwing thousands of the poorest households in the UK into penury,they have announced a hike in National Insurance which will be disproportionately be felt by those on the lowest wages. For thousands of people in the UK this winter, it will be a choice between heating their homes or putting food on the table. For many people already in poverty in a few days they have seen the end of furlough, the loss of £20 a week Universal Credit, food shortages and rising prices and now a huge jump in energy costs. UK electricity prices are now the highest in Europe. (https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/electric-power/091321-factbox-uk-electricity-prices-now-most-expensive-in-europe ) Red wall constituents in the North of England , now you know why your parents never voted Tory. To be fair the problems with the UK energy supply market are not entirely due to Brexit, Brexit has compounded problems that have built up over decades due to Conservative privatisation and deregulation and a lack of investment. The exact same thing has led to the UK having the most expensive railways in Europe.

Today we discovered that the much heralded trade deal with the USA which was supposed to be one of the biggest benefits of Brexit won’t be happening any time soon. Back in 2017 Johnson boasted that the UK would be “first in line” for a post-Brexit trade deal with the USA. However now President Biden has said that a trade deal with the UK is not a priority for his administration. The Americans have no plans even to start talks with the UK about any possible future US-UK trade deal. It’s not even on their radar. About 30% of the USA’s international trade is with Canada and Mexico, a further 13% is with China. Just 2.5% of America’s international trade is with the UK, about the same as India, Taiwan, Vietnam. Agreeing a trade deal with the UK is simply not that important for the Americans. So not only is the UK not “first in line” for a trade deal with the USA, there isn’t even a line. Under international spotlight the so-called Global Britain has shown itself to be exposed and weak and lumbered with a leader who can only express himself in stuttering soundbites as he desperately tries to avoid answering simple questions.

Johnson has shown us the real benefits of an Eton education. It imbues members of the British upper middle class with a confident arrogance that makes them think they can keep on bumbling through even when they are hopelessly outclassed. When Scotland was told in 2014 that it needed the UK in order to keep punching above our weight Better Together never clarified that that would only be in the international laughing stock stakes.

Additionally Biden has made it clear that both he and the Republicans in Congress will not consider any trade deal with the UK if the British Government does not respect the commitments it made in the Good Friday Agreement to ensure that there would be no border checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland.

According to reports in the same right wing press that told us that the UK would have few problems quickly striking a post-Brexit trade deal with the USA, faced with the prospect of there being no trade deal with the USA for the foreseeable future, the British government is now looking at joining the USA’s existing Mexico-Canada trade deal as a junior partner. That would be the same Conservative government which insisted on leaving the EU customs union and single market after Brexit because it claimed that it couldn’t countenance the UK being a “rule taker” and not a “rule maker”. It now seems that it can after all accept the UK being a rule taker just as long as the rules are made by Canada, Mexico and the USA. The irony is that had the UK remained in the EU it would still have been a rule maker.

However British nationalism left the EU because it can’t contemplate the UK being an equal of other states and having to negotiate and compromise like a grown up. So in pursuit of the fantasy of British exceptionalism it threw away the UK’s place in the EU and its existing trading arrangements and now the British Government is left scrabbling around trying to rescue what it can from the wreckage of its own vanity. I don’t recall any Brexit supporters telling us that once the UK left the EU it would be free to do what it’s told by Mexico. But that’s what Brexit has turned out to mean in practice.

But still, we can always rely on the Scottish Conservatives to get straight to the heart of the really important issues that affect Scotland as a part of the UK. Douglas Ross spent most of his allotted time in the most recent Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee asking why there aren’t more Scottish families on Gogglebox.

Brexit is a disaster. The UK is facing the worst crisis since the end of WW2, an avoidable and unnecessary crisis which was created by the vanity and hubris of the right wing British nationalists of the Conservative party. Only independence can rescue Scotland from this British exceptionalist mess and put us on the path to becoming a normal north west European nation.

There won’t be a blog update tomorrow as I have a physiotherapy appointment in the morning and as usual I’ll be wiped out afterwards.

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The British Gaslighting Corporation

Ever since the issue of Scottish independence first began to dominate the Scottish political scene following the SNP’s narrow victory when it formed a minority government after the 2007 Holyrood elections, complaints about the anti-independence bias of the Scottish media have been a mainstay of discussions within the independence movement. Much as our British nationalist opponents would prefer to dismiss this as conspiracy theorising, it is nevertheless an objective fact that out of the 38 or so daily and Sunday newspapers published in Scotland or which have distinctively Scottish editions, only The National has an editorial line in favour of independence, this is despite the fact that ever since that election fourteen years ago, Scotland has consistently voted for pro-independence political parties and opinion polling has shown that a good half of the Scottish population if not more, consistently supports independence. This support for independence becomes overwhelming in the younger cohorts of voters.

The Scottish media disproportionately, and by quite some considerable margin, represents the views of older people, Conservative supporters, opponents of independence, and opponents of the SNP. Of course newspapers are commercial businesses and it’s entirely up to the companies which own them to take editorial decisions which appeal to the paper’s readership. It’s a fact that newspapers are disproportionately purchased by older people, so it’s not really surprising that newspapers tend to reflect the interests and concerns of that demographic.

No one is forced to buy a newspaper, no one is compelled to support a newspaper whose editorial line they disapprove of by clicking on that newspaper’s links and increasing its attractiveness to online advertisers.

However that does not apply to the BBC. According to the TV licencing authority, you need a TV licence if anyone on your premises watches or records live TV programmes on any channel, or downloads or watches BBC programmes on BBC iPlayer. Even if you don’t watch the BBC, you can still be legally compelled to pay for the BBC and risk a fine if you do not.

The reason that the BBC arouses the ire of so many in Scotland is the fact that we are legally compelled to pay for it but the BBC displays the same anti-independence bias as the rest of the Scottish media. It’s one thing to live in a country where the privately owned media is overwhelmingly biased against your interests and which actively seeks to thwart political goals which you strive for, however it’s another level of dystopia to be forced, on the pain of a fine, to pay for pro-British propaganda which actively seeks to prevent Scottish independence and which consistently attacks and undermines the parties which support it while at the same time giving a free ride to the Conservatives, no matter how corrupt or incompetent they are or how much havoc they wreak.

The anger that this generates is only compounded by the refusal of the BBC to acknowledge that it is doing what we can all see that it is doing. Complaints about the Corporation’s bias disappear into the Byzantine maw of the BBC’s complaints process, and if ever answered the complainant will inevitably be informed that the BBC has done nothing wrong. It seems that in the eyes of the BBC, British bias isn’t bias at all, just as British nationalism isn’t nationalist at all. That’s what makes it not the British Broadcasting Corporation but the British Gaslighting Corporation.

Today The National has published fresh evidence of the BBC’s evident British nationalist bias. During the period from September 13 to September 17 not a single political story on BBC1’s flagship news programme the News at Six was framed in a way that was negative about or critical of the Conservative Government. 17 out of the 24 political stories during this period were framed in a studiedly neutral way. There was also one positively framed story about the UK Government, one neutral story about the Scottish Government and one negatively framed segment on Holyrood. Negative framing was defined as someone being “accused” of something or forced to defend an action. It is typical of the lines adopted by the opposition parties, primarily Labour and the SNP in the case of the British Government, mainly Labour and the Conservatives in the case of the Scottish Government.

Meanwhile the BBC’s flagship Scottish news programme Reporting Scotland had a very different set of priorities. The programme carried just six neutrally framed stories about the SNP government, compared to ten negative ones. Every UK Government story was framed in a neutral light, and there was just one positive Scottish Government piece. Typically BBC Scotland approaches political stories about the Scottish Government from the perspective of Labour and the Conservatives but will not present political stories about the Conservatives in Westminster from the perspective of Labour or the SNP.

This is the third time this year that The National has carried out this research, and this is the third time that the paper has found a marked disparity in the BBC’s coverage of political stories. For the third time in a row the BBC has shown itself loathe to criticise the Conservatives in Westminster but eager to attack the SNP in Holyrood. This is clearly no accident or fluke. It is obviously an editorial decision on the part of BBC news management, a deliberate policy to undermine any drive towards Scottish independence while pandering to the Conservative government which controls the BBC’s purse strings. Yet the stock response from the BBC to this latest evidence will be the same denial and deflection, the same Great British gaslighting as has characterised its response to all previous complaints about its bias.

When we have a Conservative Government as corrupt, chaotic and incompetent as the regime of Boris Johnson, moreover a government with decidedly authoritarian tendencies which is hell bent on undermining the devolution settlement, and whose reckless policies are risking lives and leading to empty supermarket shelves, this lack of oversight on the part of the BBC and the Scottish print media is dangerous. The campaign for Scottish independence has now become a campaign to secure democracy itself.

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The future with independence or stuck in the past with the UK

Saturday marked the seventh anniversary of the first Scottish independence referendum, or if you’re a British nationalist, the day that put the final unbreakable seal on Scottish democracy. Apparently that was the day when Scotland was allowed a say on its own future and would never be allowed a say on its future ever again, no matter how duplicitous or mendacious the promises and commitments that British nationalists made to Scotland turned out to be. Better Together never told us that when they were gushing on about how much Scotland was loved and wanted and how it was an equal and respected partner in a family of nations.

Times have changed radically since 2014. It’s not just that the UK has left the EU, taking remain voting Scotland with it. It’s also that the UK which Scotland was promised it could be a part of in 2014 has turned out to be a fantasy, a deliberate confection that its fervent advocates never had any intention of making a reality. The anti-independence prospectus that was sold to Scotland by the Better Together campaign has turned out to be a lie.

Far from devolution being strengthened and entrenched, the Conservatives are using Brexit as an excuse to put it into reverse. Instead of the pooling and sharing which Gordon Brown lauded as the only way to protect the poor and the vulnerable in Scotland we have a British Government which has just embarked upon the biggest single cut to social security payments in modern history with its withdrawal of the £20 per week uplift in universal credit, throwing thousands of families into penury. Meanwhile the Conservatives are hiking National Insurance, forcing low paid workers, including workers in Scotland, to pay for England’s soaring social care bill in order to protect the wealth of home owners in the affluent south east of England.

In no small measure it’s the fear of being held to account for their lies which explains the vehemence with which British nationalists in Scotland assert that the question Scotland asked itself in 2014 must never be revisited. They know, and are terrified of the truth that British nationalism has blown its credibility and none of the promises or commitments that they make in a future referendum campaign are going to be believed, and that’s without even taking into account that the British government is headed by the serial liar Boris Johnson and its leading Scot is the glibly mendacious Michael Gove.

It’s scarcely surprising that many prominent people who opposed independence in 2014 now say that they would vote for it, from Sharleen Spiteri of the rock group Texas, to the comedians Billy Connelly, and Rory Bremner, the writer Armando Ianucci, the actor Ewan McGregor and many more. Now the broadcaster Jeremy Paxman has become the latest to declare that he’d vote yes in a future independence referendum. The positive appeal and potential benefits of independence have increased as the attractions and supposed advantages of remaining a part of the UK have diminished.

Saturday also marked the launch of a new and invigorated grassroots campaign for independence aimed at reaching out to soft noes, undecided voters and the persuadable in order to present them with a new prospectus for independence in the post-Brexit and covid age in which the true urgency of the climate crisis is starting to be appreciated. The prospectus of 2014, which was based upon both Scotland and the rest of the UK remaining full participants in the EU and the European Single Market and customs union and which put considerable emphasis on Scotland’s huge potential as a producer of carbon emitting fossil fuels has already been consigned to the history books.

The fresh case for independence will only be fleshed out and firmed up in the months ahead, as the Scottish Government gets to work to produce the new financial prospectus for independence which has been promised.

The arguments put forward by the independence campaign will be very different the next time around. Now it’s independence which represents better integration with Europe, the chance to develop Scotland’s export markets and the only realistic and plausible route back to membership of the EU. Meanwhile many of the arguments which were presented by Better Together in 2014 have been blown up by the anti-independence parties themselves and particularly by the Conservatives. Now it’s opposition to Scottish independence and British nationalism which represent the narrow backward looking parochial nationalism which was so derided by Better Together in 2014. We have a British government which fetishises flags and the royal family, military parades, and which even seeks to reintroduce imperial weights and measures. The British state is increasingly obsessed with Britain’s imperial past because it has no plan for the future.

There is now no one who can plausibly and convincingly front an anti independence campaign. Gordon Brown has no credibility left, and Ruth Davidson with her peerage has come to epitomise all that is wrong with the anti-democratic and unaccountable British establishment.

Whoever does finally get roped into heading the anti-independence campaign is going to be leading a campaign with nothing positive to offer, only a doubling down on the scare stories and fear mongering that characterised Better Together’s Project Fear. Absolutely nothing has been done to develop a revived case for this so-called Union in the post Brexit age. Having won the independence referendum in 2014, the Better Together parties complacently thought that they could return to business as usual, that Scotland had been successfully shut back in its shortbread tin and could safely be ignored and taken for granted. The historic failure of the UK will be seen to be that Scotland changed irrevocably following the referendum campaign of 2014 but the parties of the British establishment did not. Scotland gave them a chance to prove themselves in 2014, but they blew it badly with their arrogance, their ignorance, and their immutable British nationalist exceptionalism.

Fundamentally the campaign for Scottish independence is about the future, British nationalism has proven itself to be trapped in the past. The question facing Scotland is whether to look to the future with independence or remain stuck in the past with the failing British state

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Tories appeal to the past because they have nothing to offer the future

Over the past few days the news has been dominated by Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle in which one Conservative careerist fractionwit has been replaced by another careerist fractionwit, all of which has provided a very convenient distraction from the decision of this government of none of the talents to press ahead with clawing back the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit from the poorest families in the UK. This is a move which has been universally condemned by anti-poverty groups and which has been described as the biggest benefits cut in modern history. The loss of a significant chunk of their income risks pushing hundreds of thousands of struggling families over the edge. Contrary to the stereotypes so beloved of the right wing media and the poverty porn of Channel 5, these are not all feckless wastrels who refuse to work and squander all their benefits on fags, hash, and cheap booze. Almost 40% of households which claim universal credit are headed by working people struggling in low paid jobs.

Naturally that hasn’t prevented Scotland’s six Conservative MPs from refusing to speak out against the move. Not one of them saw fit to speak up in defence of the poorest and most vulnerable families in their constituencies. Scotland’s sole Labour MP spoke out against the cut. The cut was also opposed by Scotland’s Lib Dem MPs as well as all the SNP contingent and the two Alba MPs. Only the Conservatives have no problem with punishing the poor in order to avoid raising taxes on the rich. It would be nice to say this was surprising, but we all know it isn’t.

The Tories were far more occupied with their boss’s reshuffle. On Friday it was announced that Scottish Tory MP David Duguid had been sacked from his position as a junior minister in the Scotland office. This won’t make any meaningful difference as it’s not like anyone had ever noticed that David Duguid had been a junior minister in the first place.

Yesterday there was much scoffing at the news that the post of Culture Secretary had been given to Nadine Dorries, an MP whose claim to be in touch with the cultural Zeitgeist rests mainly upon the fact that she once ate an ostrich anus on I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here, in an episode which was most notable for proving that the definition of “celebrity” could be stretched considerably further than an ostrich’s anus. Naturally she didn’t bother to inform the House of Commons authorities or the Tory whip that she was buggering off from the job she was elected to do in order to appear on a reality show for a lucrative fee.

Nadine Dorries bears approximately the same relation to culture as a yeast infection. She once claimed that “lefties” had ruined comedy, because apparently the racist, sexist and homophobic jokes of Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning represent one of the high points of British culture. She once wrote a novel which the Telegraph reviewer described as the worst he’d read in ten years. She has approvingly retweeted the right wing extremist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, AKA “Tommy Robinson”. An opponent of gay marriage, in 2012 she claimed that she’d never met a gay couple who wanted to get married. It is thought by many that the only reason Nadine Dorries was promoted was because Priti Patel thought that it was only fair that someone else got a shot at being the most loathsome cabinet minister.

Less than twenty four hours in office and the Tory press was crowing that Dorries was planning a war on “crackpot” BBC programming. So we can expect a revival of the Black and White Minstrel Show and wall to wall Great British reality competitions in which contestants vie to prove who is the most patriotic based on how many ostrich anuses they can eat from a Royal wedding commemorative plate.

As if this government hasn’t already done enough to demonstrate that satire isn’t only dead but has been split into its constituent particles and shot into a black hole where it has effectively disappeared from this universe forever, on Thursday evening the Johnson administration published a list of those hitherto elusive Brexit benefits. Starring on the list is a return to imperial measurements. British state schools have exclusively taught the metric system since 1974 and in some cases even earlier so very few people under the age of 60 prefer imperial over metric. You have to be well over fifty to remember the time that the UK used imperial measures. And that is exactly the point. Still, don’t worry too much about the conversion between metric and imperial. An empty supermarket fruit and veg shelf is exactly the same whether you weigh it in metric or imperial.

The system of imperial measurements is hopelessly illogical. You might as well bring back Roman numerals. Still, now you can measure your car’s fuel consumption in firkins per furlong.

Many wouldn’t put it past Nadine Dorries to want to bring back the Roman Games too. Maybe throwing gay people to ravenous lions is one of the ideas she’s got for Great British programming on the BBC. It’s certainly what she’d want to do with any news or current affairs reporter who dares to criticise the Conservative government. The BBC will be well aware of that and the fact that the licence fee the BBC depends on now relies on the goodwill of Nadine Dorries, expect even more self-censorship and Great British propaganda from the BBC than we have seen already.

The only reason this is being done is to pander to the racist elderly English nationalist gammons who voted for Brexit and who are now the core demographic being courted by the Tory party. It’s not even necessary. There are no EU regulations preventing goods being labelled in imperial measurements, just as long as the equivalent in metric is also listed on the packaging. It’s the substitution of meaningless symbolism for the very real advantages of EU membership that Brexit has stripped from us all. Now that the Tories have taken us back to the 1970s perhaps Lord Lucan will be offered a government position in the next reshuffle.

Those who make policy in the present by appealing to the past only do so because they have nothing to offer the future. Blue passports, imperial measurements, empty supermarket shelves, Carry On movies on your Great British telly, and no freedom of movement, the Tories have taken us back to the 60s. So-called Global Britain is a sad, pathetic and insecure place harking nostalgically for a lost golden age that never was. There is no future in the UK, the Tories have demonstrated that themselves.

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Johnson’s bridge to nowhere

It’s hardly surprising that there are reports that the UK Treasury has cancelled Boris Johnson’s grandiose scheme to construct a fixed link, either a bridge or a tunnel, between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Just about any engineering project is possible if money and resources are unlimited. A fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland could potentially overcome the massive challenges of the great depths of the Beaufort Dyke, the rapid and dangerous currents and the frequent stormy weather which strikes the Sheuch in the winter. It could even potentially deal with the massive amounts of dangerous and unstable munitions which were dumped in the North Channel by the British Government in the decades following the First World War. However these issues could only be solved by throwing immense amounts of public money at the problem.

The Channel Tunnel between England and France cost £4.65 billion to build, approximately £12 billion in today’s money. The project took 13,000 workers six years to complete. Although the distance across the English Channel is greater than the distance between Scotland and Northern Ireland across the North Channel, the English Channel is far shallower than the North Channel. At its lowest point, the Channel Tunnel is 75 m (250 ft) deep below the sea bed and 115 m (380 ft) below sea level. The Beaufort Dyke in the North Channel, which any fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland would have to cross, is 50 km (30 miles) long, 3.5 km (2 miles) wide and 200 – 300 m (700 – 1,000 ft) deep. It is also a dumping site for munitions which could easily be disturbed by construction work.

A fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland would be far more expensive, most initial estimates range between £15 and £20 billion, with figures of up to £33 billion also being cited. It should also be noted that the final bill of £4.65 billion for the Channel Tunnel was 80% greater than the initial cost estimates.

Massive budget overruns are commonplace for huge civil engineering projects in the UK. London’s Crossrail project was originally budgeted at £14.8 billion but is now expected to cost over £18.6 billion and is still not open for regular rail services. The High Speed Rail project HS2 connecting London with Birmingham was originally forecast to cost £32.7 billion when the project was given the go ahead in 2012. Recent estimates put the likely cost at an eye watering £107.7 billion. Given the geological and logistical challenges of building a fixed link across a deep and stormy stretch of water between Scotland and Northern Ireland, any initial cost estimate is likely to balloon.

None of this factors in the costs of improving transport links to the site of the proposed fixed link , the A77 between Glasgow and Stranraer and the A75 from Dumfries can barely cope with the amount of traffic using them just now, never mind any increased traffic generated by the new crossing. Both these roads would require extensive upgrades to make them fit for purpose as connecting routes to a new fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If the new crossing was to be a railway tunnel, there would have to be major upgrades on the Glasgow to Stranraer line which is single track and not electrified south of Ayr. The line would have to be dualled and electrified. The old Stranraer to Dumfries line, closed in the 1960s, would have to be rebuilt. The Scottish Government has recently pledged to reopen the Stranraer to Dumfries rail line although the project is ranked lower in priority than reopening the railway line to Leven in Fife and extending the Borders Railway from its current terminus at Tweedbank all the way through to Carlisle.

Additionally there is the not insignificant problem that railway lines in Ireland are built to a different gauge from those in Great Britain and most of Europe. The rails on Irish railway tracks are 1600mm (5ft 3 inches) apart. The gauge on British and most European railway lines is 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in). This gauge difference would make it impossible for trains to run directly through from Ireland to Scotland and beyond unless extensive work was carried out to alter the gauge of Irish railways or to make the sections of Irish track connecting to the link dual gauge. Alternatively trains running straight through could be equipped with special variable gauge bogies. The gauge is altered by slowly driving the train through a gauge changer or gauge changing facility which would have to be built at either end of the fixed link.

Given all these issues, the costs of a fixed link between Scotland and Ireland would be exorbitant and unjustifiable given the volume of traffic which crosses between the two countries. The Channel Tunnel links the South East and Midlands of England,with a population approaching 30 million with the densely populated areas of Belgium, Northern France and the Dutch Randstad region, which also has a total population approaching 30 million. Additionally it provides direct high speed rail links between London, Paris, and Brussels, three major capital cities with a total population in excess of 20 million people. Approximately 26% of trade in goods between the UK and continental Europe goes through the Channel Tunnel each year, which represents a total value of £120 billion annually.

The total population of Scotland and Ireland combined is only around 11 million. Traffic between the two countries via a fixed link would never come close to that of the Channel Tunnel, yet it would be significantly more expensive and challenging to build. It is unlikely that it would ever come close to justifying its cost.

So it was only to be expected that the Treasury has cancelled the project. It is equally unsurprising that the Scottish Government reports that at no point in the process did the Conservative Government speak to the Scottish Government about the project or about what priorities the Scottish Government has identified for improving transport links in South West Scotland or between Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Tories were far too busy pontificating about the moral standards of the cast members of pantos in Aberdeen.

The plan for a fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland was never realistic. Johnson’s bridge to nowhere was never about the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland, it was always a vanity project about the desperate need of Boris Johnson for publicity and the chance for him to attach his name to something that will outlast his time in office and provide him with a legacy. He needn’t worry about that. Johnson’s legacy will be the end of the UK and an independent Scotland.

I have a physiotherapy appointment tomorrow so won’t be doing a piece for the blog as I am always wiped out afterwards.

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Time to cancel Gove’s panto gig

Recordings have come to light of Michael Gove making offensive comments during speeches he made to the Cambridge Union while he was a student there in his 20s. The comments are not just racist, sexist, and homophobic, they also cover several other offensiveness bases for good measure, including slurs directed at the royal family, which to be honest is fair enough. He also made jokes about child abuse, making light of the alleged paedophilia of a now deceased Conservative cabinet minister, whose widow was later paid substantial compensation by the Metropolitan police for police searches of her and her husband’s home because of allegations which the police have since accepted were baseless.

Gove also made fun of the economic devastation and job losses being visited upon the north of England and Scotland, referring to “the happy south” stamping over “the cruel, dirty, toothless face of the northerner.” The recordings of the offensive comments were published by the Independent newspaper. They’re probably the only time you’ll ever hear Michael Gove speaking truthfully and with conviction. Gove added that it’s pragmatic not to care what half of the population say because the richer half will keep you in power. That was when he was an honest sociopath instead of a lying sociopath.

These comments are separate from the offensive remarks about Scottish people which Gove made for the short lived car crash of a topical current affairs alleged comedy show for Channel 4 in the 1990s. Gove hasn’t apologised for those comments and he’s refusing to respond to requests for a statement about the offensive so called jokes he made to the Cambridge Union.

Just last week Scottish Conservative MPs and MSPs were up in arms about some offensive tweets made many years ago by the comedian Janey Godley. Those same Scottish Conservatives are now strangely quiet about racist and misogynistic comments from their hero Michael Gove. You’d think that at the very least they’d be trying to get his pantomime gig with BawJaws the Clown cancelled.

There’s no defence for the offensive tweets made many years ago by Janey Godley, however after those tweets surfaced she made a fulsome and sincere apology for any offence that she’d caused.

There’s a clear pattern in what’s called “cancel culture”, which is basically people being called out for sexist, racist, or homophobic remarks they’d made in the past. The toxic fandom of RuPaul’s Drag Race is particularly adept at trawling through the social media accounts of contestants searching for offensive comments made many years previously. In the upcoming series of Drag Race UK one of the contestants has been called out for comments which they made when they were 16. These revelations are invariably followed by a teary apology video on social media in which the person apologises and assures us that they have learned and have grown and are no longer the same person that they were when they made the offensive or problematic remarks. Indeed if you haven’t learned and grown up from the person you were when you were 16 or a callow youth there’s something seriously wrong with you.

That’s essentially what Janey Godley did, and like those contestants on Drag Race, she’s an entertainer,whose public life begins and ends with providing amusing and entertaining content. Not only has Michael Gove never apologised, he is still very much the same person as he was when he made those vile comments. In fact if anything he’s got worse. Gove has merely learned to lie more fluently and glibly.  Far more seriously, Gove isn’t just an entertainer looking to perform in a pantomime in Aberdeen, as a cabinet minister in the British Government he has the power to influence legislation and government policies which affect all our lives. He is a senior figure in a corrupt government which weaponises xenophobia and demonises migrants and asylum seekers.

If, as seems likely given the large Conservative majority, the Conservatives’ Elections Bill is passed by the Commons, Gove will be given oversight of the Electoral Commission and will have the power to rule that campaigning activities he disapproves of are illegal. That’s a damn sight more serious than the pantomime “Oh no he isn’t!” “Oh yes he is!” and He’s behind you!” of a comedian that was getting the collective knickers of the Scottish Conservatives in a twist when it came to Janey Godley.

Likewise the Scottish Conservatives don’t seem overly bothered by the racist and homophobic comments of the serial liar in Downing Street, but when it comes to an independence supporting female comedian all of a sudden they transform into the net curtain twitching defenders of public morality and propriety. Johnson’s offensive comments would fill a script long enough to keep an entire theatre repertory company in business for years, never mind a single panto.

The really shocking thing here is that none of this is surprising. We’ve been shocked and appalled before by the crass contempt of the Conservatives, by their casual racism, naked class prejudice,their overweening entitlement, their corruption, and their hypocritical double standards. The student speeches of Michael Gove, the Spectator journalism of Boris Johnson, the deleted Tweets of Toby Young. It’s almost as if there’s a pattern emerging. It’s a pattern that if the Tories got it made into wallpaper it would cost £850 a roll and they’d expect the taxpayer to pay for it.

On this occasion the Scottish Conservatives will do exactly what they have done on all those previous occasions when the bigotry and prejudices of senior Conservatives has come to light. They’ll keep their heads down until they can find or manufacture an opportunity to castigate their opponents for some sin, real or imagined, and they will be aided and abetted in that by Scotland’s overwhelmingly anti-independence media, which is far more concerned about fending off independence than it is in holding the Conservatives to account.

This is what you get when a political party cannot be held to account by the electorate. Scotland hasn’t voted for a Conservative Government since the 1950s, but the Tories still enjoy power and privilege. Now they’re pauchling the electoral system to make it even harder to remove them from Westminster. The only way to cancel this panto is with Scottish independence.

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A Conference for independence

The SNP and Alba party conferences were held over the weekend and it’s now possible to assert with confidence to the doubters that a second independence referendum is most definitely on its way and will be delivered by the only people capable of delivering it. That would be the SNP and Scottish Green MSPs who together give the Scottish Government an unassailable majority in Holyrood. The SNP conference ends on Monday with a keynote speech from the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. On Sunday it was the turn of deputy First Minister John Swinney who said that the SNP-Green co-operation deal proved that the SNP is willing to collaborate and work constructively with other parties in order to deliver independence.

The deputy First Minister stressed that “by reaching agreement with the Greens, we are not closing the door to working with other parties.” However in what many will see as a veiled warning to the Alba party, several of whose main speakers used their conference speeches to attack the SNP and the First Minister, generating headlines which the anti-independence media gleefully seized on, he said that if other parties want to work with the Scottish Government they can, but if they want to “continue being negative naysayers” – they will be left behind.

Meanwhile the Sunday Times reported, and this is the exact text of their tweet so that you too can marvel at the mendacity of the British nationalist press in Scotland: “A new poll suggests just 17 per cent of voters who voice a preference want a referendum in the next year, while 36 per cent back it in the next two to five years and 47 per cent don’t want one at all in the next few years.” Which is very much a grudging attempt not to mention that a majority of voters in Scotland want an independence referendum within the term of this Parliament and a perfect example of how the British nationalist media frames any positive development for independence as a negative.

The figures in the poll break down as follows: 27% want the vote held in the next two years, 26% think it should be staged in 2023-24 and a further 9% say it should take place in 2025-26. That adds up to 62% who want another referendum before the next Holyrood elections, due in 2026. You can feel the Sunday Times’ pain,” 62% of voters in Scotland agree that there should be an independence referendum within the timescale proposed by the Scottish Government” is the kind of headline that’s going to get the Tory boys and girls of the Sunday Times spitting red white and blue feathers. 89% of SNP voters want the referendum to be held before 2026, as do 54% of Labour voters. Only Tory voters are (predictably) opposed, with just 19% wanting a referendum within the term of this Parliament. Was it not Alister Jack who suggested that the British Government would have to concede to another referendum if support for it was at 60%? The Sunday Times would rather we forgot about that.

Delegates to the SNP conference overwhelmingly approved a motion welcoming the draft referendum bill published before the Scottish Parliamentary election in May and the commitment to hold a referendum once the covid crisis has passed. In May’s Holyrood election voters had clearly and unambiguously issued instructions to elected representatives to hold a referendum by the end of this parliamentary term.

Chris Hanlon, SNP Policy Development Convener, who proposed the motion, said that the resolution wasn’t about *whether* to hold a referendum, but about setting a date, noting that it should be at a time when the average voter in Scotland would feel comfortable having one, as not everyone is ready to return to “normal”. He added: “That’s not kicking the can down the road, that’s sticking the ball in the penalty spot and waiting for the whistle to blow, and blow it will, all too soon.” According to the poll in the Sunday Times, carried out by a Conservative think tank, a clear and substantial majority of voters in Scotland agree with the Scottish Government’s timetable.

Both Alba and the SNP agree about the necessity of a second independence referendum, merely disagreeing on the timing of one. Likewise both parties agree that an independent Scotland must rid itself of the UK nuclear missiles and submarines on the Clyde, but disagree on the timescale for their removal. Alba delegates approved a motion calling for the removal of Trident on day one of independence. For their part the SNP delegates approved a motion calling for the removal of Trident within three years of independence.

SNP delegates also overwhelmingly backed a resolution offering Scottish citizenship in an independent Scotland to new Scots in a smooth and easy manner without any degrading “citizenship tests” or expensive preferential acccess. Citizenship will also be automatic for anyone born in Scotland, or who has at least one Scottish born parent. An independent Scotland categorically rejects the “hostile environment” for migrants so beloved of British Home Sectretaries.

In her closing speech to the SNP conference Nicola Sturgeon reminded the British Government: “By any standard of democracy” the SNP’s victory in the May Holyrood election “represents an unarguable mandate to implement the manifesto we put before the country. And that is what we intend to do. It is called democracy.” She told delegates that as long as the covid crisis is under control, there will be a second independence referendum before the end of 2023, a timetable which even an opinion poll carried out by a Conservative think tank showed is supported by a substantial majority of voters. She also announced that the Scottish Government will fund the COP Conference of Youth, after the UK Government failed to do so. In another major policy announcement, she used her speech to inform delegates that the Scottish Government will create a National Care Service.

Scotland is not only en route to another independence referendum, but the kinder, gentler, environmentally sustainable, more socially just and tolerant Scotland, which can only be fully realised with independence is hoving into view. It’s up to all of us to make it a reality.

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A new financial prospectus for an independent Scotland

The Deputy First Minister John Swinney has confirmed that the Scottish Government is to publish a “comprehensive financial plan” for independence. The plan aims to provide the public with “relevant and realistic” information about the financial prospects of an independent Scotland. This kind of information is sorely needed as until now the debate about Scotland’s finances have been dominated by discussions based on the annual GERS figures (Government Expenditure and Revenues Scotland) which even the most dedicated graph creating opponent of independence has been forced to admit tell us nothing useful about the finances of an independent Scotland. Informed critics of the figures insist that they tell us little that’s useful about the finances of Scotland, full stop.

The GERS figures were devised by the Conservative Scottish Secretary of State Ian Lang in the 1990s as he wanted a political tool to use against those arguing for the creation of a Scottish Parliament. Three decades later the GERS figures are still being deployed as a political weapon against those arguing for greater Scottish self government. As a source of realistic financial information about the Scottish economy the GERS figures are worse than useless, but as a campaigning tool for opponents of greater Scottish self government they have been highly effective. It’s hardly surprising that they are fetishised as being tantamount to holy writ in British nationalist circles and anyone who dares to criticise them is condemned as a heretic to be burned at the stake.

However a corrective to the inadequacies and manifest inaccuracies of the GERS figures is sorely needed. The fictitious narrative, so beloved of British nationalists, that Scotland is an economic basket case which is hopelessly dependent upon the largesse of UK Treasury and the English taxpayer is derived from the GERS figures. That is after all the picture that the designers of the GERS statistics set out to paint. Yet, as this blog has pointed out on numerous occasions, even if this tale of woe and penury was accurate, it’s scarcely something for opponents of independence to be proud of, far less to make the basis of their case against independence. It would merely illustrate that the Scottish economy has been shockingly mismanaged by successive British governments to the point that Scotland, uniquely amongst the nations of North Western Europe, has been rendered incapable by the economic policies of the British state of providing its citizens with the basic level of public services that all other countries in this part of the world take for granted.

That’s not an argument against independence, it’s an appalling indictment of British rule and a sign that escaping this criminal British mismanagement as quickly as possible is a moral, economic, and political imperative.

The entire point of independence is to do things differently from Westminster and to manage the Scottish economy and Scottish resources in a way which is beneficial for the people of Scotland and not the political and strategic interests of the British state. A set of figures which are based upon guesstimates derived from Westminster’s spending priorities are fundamentally unsuitable for providing a basis from which to discuss the financial prospects of an independent Scotland. You cannot make the financial case for independence by basing it on a set of statistics which were designed to demonstrate Scotland’s supposed financial dependency on Westminster.

We need to move away from the myths and misinformation of the GERS figures, which is the main reason why John Swinney’s announcement is so welcome. It’s not the only reason however, the announcement is also welcome because it is a much needed sign that the Scottish Government is serious about pursuing independence and is putting in the preparatory work which will be vital for winning the second independence referendum campaign.

The new prospectus is required because previous work has been rendered out of date by Brexit, the economic challenges of the covid pandemic, and the increased urgency of the climate crisis. Previous plans for the economy of an independent Scotland which placed a significant reliance on Scotland’s potential as a producer of oil and gas have now become historical documents. The motor for the future economy of an independent Scotland must be this country’s immense potential as a producer of renewable energy, resources which Scotland is blessed with an abundance of. Above all else the economy of an independent Scotland must be sustainable in the longer term in order to guarantee the public services and standard of living that we have come to expect.

For my own part I would like to see the prospectus contain proposals for the rapid establishment of a Scottish Central Bank to be up and running as soon as possible after a Yes vote in the referendum, and a plan to move as soon as feasibly possible to the establishment of a new Scottish currency. While Scotland is fully entitled to continue to use Sterling for as long as it chooses to, and any British nationalist suggestions to the contrary must be robustly rebuffed, in the longer term the Scottish Government must not have its hands tied by the fiscal policies of the government of another country and must be able to create new money for investment in the economy, as any normal country with a fiat currency does.

Any new financial prospectus will have to strike a fine balance between providing the public with realistic and convincing answers to the questions they have about the currency of an independent Scotland, pensions, and the long term and sustainable funding of public services. On the other hand it needs to avoid merely providing opponents of independence with fresh targets to attack. It’s a tall order, but I have no doubt that John Swinney and his team are up to the job. If they succeed they can progress the case for independence beyond the sterile and pointless GERS-based arguments and put the independence campaign on a secure and robust footing for a campaign during which the British state is going to throw all its capacity for scaremongering, threats, and fomenting division against us.

There won’t be a new blog article tomorrow as I have a physiotherapy appointment in the morning and am likely to be wiped out and drained afterwards. This weekend it’s my birthday, so I’m taking a couple of days off.

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A programme for independence

The Scottish Government has set out its programme for government for the coming year. This is the Holyrood version of the Queen’s speech in Westminster only without the fancy costumes and the Mediaevalesque traditions that were really only made up in Victorian times in order to give the proceedings an aura of historical legitimacy so no one would complain about how ludicrous they were.

In Westminster today we had the spectacle of Boris Johnson describing as a “union benefit” a hike in National Insurance which Scottish workers will also have to pay in order to cover a shortfall in England’s social care budget. Johnson claimed that a portion of the money raised will be spent on health services in Scotland, either forgetting – or more likely not caring – that health services in Scotland are devolved. So this “union benefit” is really yet another assault on the devolution settlement. For those British nationalists who say that Scotland shouldn’t look a Westminster gift horse in the mouth, this is no gift horse. Any funds disbursed to Scotland will come from taxes paid by Scotland. We pay our taxation, we pay into a pot which our own government needs to ask permission for funds & then the British Government fiscal controls to allow us to look after the best interest of our nation. If Holyrood had full powers over taxation it certainly would not choose to fund health and social care with a regressive tax the burden of which falls disproportionately on the lower paid and the poor. What Scotland is being burdened with by this Conservative Government is, as SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said, effectively a new Tory poll tax.

Boris Johnson’s new poll tax will see a regressive tax hike unfairly penalising young people, low paid workers and families. The Tories want to tax Scottish workers twice, forcing them to pay the bill for social care in England, as well as Scotland. The Conservative proposals will protect the wealth of home owners in London and the South East of England where average property values are high at the expense of the low paid, and those living in areas where property is far less valuable. It’s a classic example of robbing the poor to pay the rich. The Tories are robbing Liverpool to pay Surrey.

Meanwhile back in the land of the grown ups, well, away from the Scottish Tory benches that is, and Tess White was being very quiet today. The Holyrood event is a much more business-like affair than the Queen’s speech or the yah-boo-sucks and gaslighting which passes for debate in the chamber of the House of Commons.

Independence was given top billing in the First Minister’s speech. Poor wee Douglas Ross was full of his entirely predictable manufactured outrage because independence was mentioned in the opening paragraphs of the twenty-seven page programme for government. You’d think that the man whose own party’s campaign centred entirely on preventing a pro-independence majority in Holyrood, and which signally failed to do so, should not be all of a sudden surprised that the parties which promised another independence referendum should be committing to bringing about that independence majority which the electorate of Scotland gave them a majority in Holyrood to deliver. It’s almost as though he does not realise that the reason we voted for both SNP and Greens is so that Scotland can become independent and get away from that shit show called Westminster.

Douglas more than anyone ought to know that when the voters of Scotland looked at his party’s opposition to another referendum and decided that they were still going to elect a Scottish Parliament with the strongest pro-independence majority ever, voting instead for parties which are committed to another referendum, that there was going to be another referendum. This is a programme for independence, not a programme for government, fulminated Douglas like that was a bad thing. Douglas so badly wants people not to talk about another independence referendum that he spent almost the entirety of his ten minute rant spitting feathers about nothing else.

But then Douglas represents a party which feels no need to be bound by its manifesto commitments, or indeed by basic honesty. His boss in London was today announcing a rise in National Insurance in order to pay for the rising costs of social care in England despite the Conservative manifesto in the December 2019 General Election explicitly promising that a Conservative government would not raise taxes, including National Insurance, in order to pay for social care in England. The SNP is actually committing itself to keeping a manifesto commitment, unlike the Tories who regard manifesto commitments as becoming expired the second that they get into power.

I have to confess that I switched off the telly when the self-important void that is Alex Cole-Hamilton got up to speak, figuring that I wasn’t going to miss anything relevant or interesting, or indeed coherent.

Much to the disgust of Douglas Ross, and probably the Alex-Cole -Hamilton shaped void if I had been listening the First Minister affirmed that there will be another independence referendum in the first half of this Parliament, which means it will take place before the end of 2023, She stressed that the “democratic mandate to decide the country’s future is beyond question”. It is a shocking indictment of the lack of respect for the electorate displayed by the Conservatives and their fellow travellers that the First Minister even needs to spell out what the entire country knows this Scottish Parliament was given its pro-independence majority to do.

She also said that the Scottish Government have restarted preparations for the detailed prospectus to be put forward in that second independence referendum campaign. This will not be a Brexit style referendum where the people are effectively being asked to sign a blank cheque. Brexit,the pandemic, and the urgency of the climate crisis have changed everything, that’s why the prospectus for independence must be built anew. The prospectus detailed in the White Paper in 2014 is now a historical document.

We can now look forward to detailed proposals which will undercut the favourite attack points of the British nationalists. When the next independence referendum takes place we will be campaigning from a position of strength and confidence. No wonder Douglas Ross is raging.

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