Response to the call for evidence and submissions to the Smith Commission

My name is Bill Fraser; I am a private citizen interested in the future of Scotland and this is my response to the call for submissions

  • Principles underpinning my proposals

Essentially power and responsibility should be devolved to the lowest point practicable. The basic principle should be to empower people to look after themselves and their community. We saw during the Independence Referendum campaign unprecedented levels of engagement of the electorate, I would contend that the reason for that engagement was that people felt empowered to take responsibility and that they could effect change by their own efforts.

  • Assessment of the current situation

1    Local Government

I am concerned that calls for more devolution to local councils from the Labour Party in particular are party political in nature and seek to emasculate Holyrood in favour of councils that they control. I believe that to be unacceptable but that does not mean that I do not want more devolution, indeed I believe that so called ‘Local’ Councils are anything but ‘local’.

People have become disengaged with politics as can be seen by the declining numbers of votes cast in local and national elections, with the notable exception of the Scottish Referendum. Local Government in Scotland is local in name only with one authority bigger than Belgium.  The following table from Leslie Riddoch’s book Blossom [1] shows the average size of local authorities across Europe and voter turnout and the following extract postulates (reasonably) that the disconnect from the electorate is the reason.

“Scottish council elections in 2011 had a 38 per cent turnout amongst 32 councils. Coincidence ? Local government across Europe means decision -making by people like your mum, neighbour or other ‘weel kent’ faces. In Scotland, it means control by people you don’t know. Could that be why Scots don’t vote?”[1]

Local Government

 

People cannot feel engaged at a ratio of one councillor to 4,270 people, they cannot feel that they have control over their own lives and it is this powerlessness that leads to apathy and resignation.

If people are empowered they can achieve great things, for example the Reidvale Housing Association (recently the subject of a major BBC Documentary, The Secret History of our Streets) demonstrates how strident community activism paved the way for the Housing Association movement across the UK[2]. Some of the poorest Glaswegians worked together to restore Govanhill Baths – a decade-long campaign to retain a swimming pool against the wishes of Glasgow Council.[3] These are examples of where local communities stood up against the bureaucratic and financial might of councils and succeeded in maintain and improving their local areas but others failed for lack of access to funds. It is for this reason that I believe that taxes should be raised (or at least allocated to) small economic areas (say the size of a village of 5000 people). Of course reallocations will be necessary from more affluent areas to deprived areas to aid in investment for jobs, food production and local energy schemes, some funds should go to regional areas for investment in roads and hospitals and some to national governments to pay for national schemes, defence and motorways and stimulation of economic activity where necessary.

2      National Governments

Westminster, whether by design or lack of design, has allowed the regions of Britain to stagnate economically and have relied on the City of London to bring in tax revenues with disastrous results due to lax regulation of the markets. The cuts made by the present UK Government are not working as the apparent growth in the economy has not translated into higher wages[4] resulting in lower than expected tax receipts.

Multinationals use transfer pricing schemes to avoid taxation and consumption has risen funded by borrowing based on rising house values. House prices are outstripping the ability for the next generation to buy leading to increased moves to a rentier economy.

Increases in the asset values of land and housing are harming our economy yet it is recorded as a rise in GDP. The UK Government have done little or nothing to depress this asset bubble by taxation and encouraging building of affordable housing.  In order to counter these destructive tendencies the constituent Nations and Regions (of England in particular) need to be empowered to develop policies that will stimulate productive economic growth which pays a good rate of return and shares those returns equitably between employees, investors, investment in the business and the state.

We need to replace casino style banking and borrowing for consumption based on rising asset values that have no positive economic value with local businesses that serve their communities and retain and invest the proceeds back into the community cutting imports and encouraging exports.

The failure of National and ‘Local’ government to improve the conditions of people are borne out by the fact that the Labour Party has been in control of the East end of Glasgow locally for fifty years and nationally for 23 of those years yet life expectancy or men in the Calton area at 54[5] is worse than some third world countries. These poor outcome have been linked directly to lack of life chances by Dr Harry Burns[6], the lack of control over their own destinies leads to destructive habits such as drinking and drugs which in turn deprives children of the opportunities that lead to a successful future for themselves and society as a whole as costs are placed on wider society supporting them rather than them contributing to society.

  • The advantages to Scotland and the UK of devolving power

By devolving power and control over taxation and welfare from State to National government and then onwards to real local government and regions, people can be empowered to build sustainable local economies saving money on welfare and health budgets and increasing the ability of government to provide relevant services and investment due to increased revenue from taxation. The costs of running Westminster will be reduced as there will be less need for the apparatus of state to be retained in London and the economic benefits of that activity will be transferred to the Nations, regions and local government.

  • Disadvantages to Scotland and the UK of devolving power

Given that Scotland has voted to retain the Union it is logical that Defence and foreign Affairs should be dealt with at state level. The State should also play a major part in negotiations with supra national organisations for example over international taxation rules with the UN and Europe. The principle should be that everything is devolved unless there are overriding reasons for State control and not simply to satisfy the personal aspirations of elected politicians or members of the House of Lords.

I, as a private citizen, am not equipped to discuss the legal barriers (which I assume must relate to EU and International Law as it is within the power of Westminster to alter other laws as needs be. Nor am I equipped to give a detailed analysis of the financial costs of the various moves that I have proposed though care must be taken to ensure that duplication of effort is minimised. Some extra costs may be expected from devolving powers as duplication of functions will happen amongst National Governments and there will be initial set up costs but by allowing the National, Regional and Local organisations to direct their own future for their own benefit these costs may be seen as a necessary investment to stimulate the local and therefore the national and state economies whilst reducing costs for welfare and health organisations.

I hope that this submission will be taken into consideration.

Yours sincerely

Bill Fraser B.A.

[1] Riddoch, Lesley (2013-08-26). Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish (Viewpoints) (Kindle Locations 3485-3487). Luath Press Ltd. Kindle Edition

[2] http://www.scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/campaigning-residents-glasgows-famous-duke-3931469

[3] Riddoch, Lesley (2013-08-26). Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish (Viewpoints) (Kindle Locations 3542-3543). Luath Press Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[4] The New Economics Foundation, Why the Cuts Aren’t Working –  http://www.neweconomics.org/blog/entry/why-the-cuts-arent-working

[5] http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/men-in-glasgows-east-end-have-life-988632

[6] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/resource/0040/00403544.pdf, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/12/harry-burns-scotland-chief-medical-officer-health


The People’s Party (Again)

The Enemy Within

In case you missed this one at the time…

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The Union finally lost it last week. I’m voting yes.

Iain Macwhirter

Scotland stands on the edge of history. 4.2 million of us, the largest registered electorate in Scottish history, are weighing up the arguments, considering the implications, calibrating the risks.

There has never been a political debate like this in my lifetime and I’ve been covering politics in Westminster and Scotland professionally since 1979. The UK financial and political establishment has already been rocked to its foundations. A 22-point opinion poll lead evaporated and the referendum is now too close to call.

Last week, we saw an exercise in constitutional panic as UK party leaders, past and present, stumbled blinking across Scotland, making improbable promises of federalism and protestations of undying love, while behind the scenes the UK Treasury tried to engineer a state of financial crisis. Number 10 rounded up supermarket bosses and tried to get them to spread forecasts of inevitable price rises in the shops. UK civil servants…

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Press Conference: RIC canvassing evidence shows No campaign have lost working class Scotland


Commonwealth Calendar of Independence


The Will To Do Things

Great wee speech

Aside from the good sense and good policy here, there’s a couple of good jokes as well…

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The Mindset of a Colony


A day out with the boys.

selfie with Robin

 The obligatory selfie.

What started as a day out with the boys to plan a walking expedition morphed into a celebration of the Common Weal.

We had planned to meet up anyway but I had mentioned to my friends that it was a shame that we would miss this event so we decided to make a day of it and go along to the Festival. What a joy that we made it along. For those of you who don’t know what The Common Weal is, the “Common Weal is a vision of what Scotland can be if it rejects the failed Me-First politics that left us all in second place and instead builds a politics that puts All Of Us First.” in their own words. It is the brainchild of The Jimmy Reid Foundation and is a think tank which is left leaning but non aligned politically.

The Festival was a party for progressive thinkers and artists and for the public who are fed up with the failed politics and policies of the past. It was, and is NOT a protest group, it is a space to get people together to talk about and plan a realistic way forward that ensures that All of Us are First. It is predicated on the research that shows that more equal societies are more successful. More than a hundred exhibitors and participants turned up and 600 tickets were sold to the public all within two weeks of publicising the event. It is a testament to the changing nature of Scottish politics that the public are becoming engaged in the process more than I have ever experienced in my sixty one years on the planet. I believe that this is a result of the independence referendum which has involved more people in a more direct way in seeking a different future. Everyone is affected and engaged no mater whether they are pro or against independence. The process is bringing light into the dark arts of politics and the media and social media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogging tools have enlightened and engaged many who previously sat in silence. It has allowed people to educate themselves without receiving there news packaged by the elite groups who own and run broadcasting and the media and has allowed the public to critically scrutinise the output from interest groups be they political, financial or a mixture of both who package information in ways which promote their own self-interest above that of the public at large.

What is interesting about the Jimmy Reid Foundation and the Common Weal is that it has much in common with the economic philosophy of Business for Scotland. If we can draw people from such diverse backgrounds and work together to create a better future for all, this project has a real chance of success. What is even more encouraging is that they want real participative democracy where the public can get involved through ‘mini publics‘ which is a way of involving the public in a truly representative way in decision making. This is not the only way that the public can be involved as true democracy needs to get decisions and government closer to the communities it serves, in fact it should be these local groups who have much more power over developing services designed for themselves and paid for by resources that they own and control. This means getting local government to be truly local, not the huge bureaucracies that serve their own interests that currently exist. Prof Paddy Bort of Edinburgh University has pointed out that the average population that local authorities in France serve is 1,615 whereas in Scotland it is 163,200.( Reclaiming Local Democracy.)

Since I was press ganged into writing this blog for KILTR I thought it might be a good idea to interview its director Robin McAlpine. Robin is a greying forty year old with an engaging manner and talks like a machine gun out of control. He is bursting with ideas and rattles them out at a speed that is astonishing. He is hugely passionate about the Common Weal and draws you in to his vision of a better Scotland infecting you with his enthusiasm.

Robin graduated from Glasgow University with a degree in Journalism and was exposed to the Westminster jungle by securing a post as Press Officer to George Robertson. I think it is fair to say that he was less than impressed with the qualities of the people that that institution attracted. In his words it was filled with chancers looking for a way to enhance their CV rather than bright young things that wanted to make things better. Having moved on and after spending 13 years as the Press Officer and Head of Public Affairs for the University Sector Robin was looking for a new challenge and a way to put to good use his talents and his passion for change. He wanted to “do left wing politics”. He got involved with the Scottish Left Review Editorial Board (www.scottishleftreview.org) and The Jimmy Reid Foundation has been set up by them but unfortunately Jimmy never got to see its launch. It was his last major political project.
All the work of The Reid Foundation is and will be based on a series of underpinning principles drawn from Jimmy’s own thinking:

That society should be based on equality and social justice

That people should have the democratic power to influence their workplace and social institutions

That quality of life should be at the forefront of political debate and not an afterthought

That justice can only come from peace and support for human rights

That ideas, learning, arts and culture have the power to transform society and individuals

That all these principles are underpinned by the importance of national identity and a vision for Scotland

The Jimmy Reid Foundation has been established in memory of Jimmy Reid and to continue the legacy of radical political thinking his life represented.

It is a think tank and advocacy group focussed on practical policy proposals for transforming Scotland which are based on analysis and investigation of the current Scottish and global political, cultural and social situation.

Robin is Director of the Foundation and the aim of the Common Weal project is to unite people through ideas, it exits to create ideas, not to set up a new structure but to drive change through ideas that people can engage with. They have succeeded in producing over 50 major papers from experts and academics which go into great detail about how things can be improved. Many will not agree with all of the proposals and may think that bits of papers that they read are not perfect but the point is not to produce perfect papers, it is to provide a starting point for change. Robin believes that you have to be committed to an idea before you do the numbers and since I and my two friends are accountants he was comprehensively grilled (by three grumpy old B’s I think was his good natured comment). He held his own though and I think it is fair to say that he impressed us with his drive and commitment.

Robin describes The Common Weal as “a way of describing a different type of government” It proposes a collaborative approach to government based on the theory that collaboration is more effective than conflict and the model that we have now is conflict based, the ‘me first society’.

I suggested to him that the public whether they have £5 a week for food or £4000 a week as a salary would want to know “what’s in it for me?” His response was that 95% of people will be better off in a more equal society. (The break-even point being at around a salary of £50,000 a year)He said “people who are happy being led round on a leash” would not be engaged and (because of his personal belief that we need independence to achieve real change) he placed people in three groups

He asks are you a BritNat, are you a Fearty or are you Ready.

BritNats People who believe we will be better off in the UK be that because they think that they need solidarity with their comrades in other parts of the UK or are ideologically wedded to the UK or even those that are just happy the way things are and see no need for change.

Fearties  People who are frightened of change (even though change will happen with or without independence) or are frightened of a backlash from England if we vote Yes or those who are frightened by the scare stories that the Better Together people called ‘Project Fear’.

People who are Ready, those who are engaged and willing to do the work that change requires.

He is quite clear that if you want change and want things to be better, a better future, you have to be prepared to work for it. There are no excuses and there is no one else to blame if we are not prepared to put the effort in. It doesn’t mean that you have to ignore the priorities in life that we all have such as earning a living and bringing up a family or even our leisure but it does mean that we have to be engaged in our collective future and our collective well-being.

All in all I left with a feeling of hope; it was a great day out, children running about playing with balloons, musicians performing their songs, comedians giving us a laugh, serious politicians, economist and journalists amongst others in discussion and artists adding their creative flair to the day. So from one grumpy old accountant to the inspiring idealist that is Robin McAlpine, thank you for a great day out, I left uplifted by your vision.

 

Bill Fraser

For those that want to learn more The Common Weal has produced a book which is an attempt to bring together the content of 50 major reports as a single programme for action. But with self-imposed rules – no jargon, no bullet-points, no footnotes, no graphs and charts, no italics, no language that could not be understood by any school-leaver. If you want these things they are in the reports; these pages are almost in an oral tradition, a story that takes us from the nation we are to the nation we can be. It can be purchased here – http://www.allofusfirst.org/


Team Scotland

Robin McAlpine, laying out a new future with the sovereignty of the people at its heart.


Don’t Take Your Foot off the Gas


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