The European Union: When Political Union is a Good Thing

Throughout the Scottish Independence referendum, along with most other Yes campaigners, I was campaigning for a modern form of political union to define our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom.  I hoped for a system that allowed Scotland’s democratic will to define our key political decisions whilst still working in partnership with our neighbouring countries on the economy, ensuring human rights are kept to a high standard (in the work place and in general social activity) and to work alongside them on energy and transport projects of common interest and also to move our efforts towards environmental sustainability forward in the most efficient manner.  The system that is already set-up to enable that is the European Union – and whether Scotland is within or out of the UK system, I’d like all British nations to be members of the EU.

For me, there are 2 fundamental differences that make the EU a good system of political union and the UK a bad one: the method of tax collection and Defence.

The EU raises its annual budget by allowing each member state to function independently and collect all of their own taxes – and then to pay a membership fee which is based on their ability to pay, or their Gross National Income (GNI).  Each member state contributes ~0.7% of their GNI and this then builds ~67% of the overall annual EU budget.  A further 12% of the budget is raised ~0.3% of all VAT collected being apportioned to the EU.  And the other ~20% is raised through custom duties, import taxes and – importantly – contributions from non-EU countries.

So the key aspect with the EU is that each member state is responsible for collecting their own taxes and managing the core aspects of their respective economies.  This is a much more democratic and accountable system than the convoluted system that we have in the UK – which, ironically, was the main thing that I took from the Smith Commission.

As for Defence – much of the media / campaign debate has been about Defence but this is more of a result of UK politics than EU politics… Hyperbole on Defence is standard for large states which is then used to justify obscene expenditure on Weapons of Mass Destruction. Thankfully the EU doesn’t have a centralised Defence policy – it allows each member state to determine its own Defence policy independently – so most of the debate on this topic has been wilfully misleading.

Should either of these factors ever change, the proposition of in or out of the EU would be far more complex for me but given what it is today – I think that remaining in the EU is by far the best option for the UK and each of its constituent nations.

One aspect of the EU that is very frustrating in the UK, is that our media largely ignores the role of the EU in our everyday lives – and as part of that our elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are absent from general media coverage with the one unfortunate exception.  Farage aside, this has even been true during the EU referendum debate which is a shame as the SNP MEPs deserve more air time.  Alyn Smith and Ian Hudghton have written a book that gives a great overview of the EU and how it benefits Scotland in their WEE BLEU BOOK. Here are some key points taken from that and Alyn Smith’s article in The National on why we are better to be in the EU:

  • Freedom to live, travel, work, study or retire in all Member States. EU legislation has been agreed on freedom of movement that guarantees access to social security and to healthcare systems.
  • European Health Insurance Card. As EU citizens we have a right to emergency treatment in any other EU country on the same conditions as locals, avoiding massive hospital fees, insurance costs and paperwork.
  • EU legislation is abolishing mobile phone roaming fees from June 2017 so you can use your mobile anywhere across the EU without fear of huge fees.
  • Tackling tax avoidance. The Commission has been tasked with cracking down on tax evasion. The Tax Avoidance Directive will be coming soon; only acting together will we win.
  • Financial services. EU single-market legislation creates the right to “passport” your services once you are authorised to market services in one Member State, you are authorised to market them in all. This creates huge opportunities for Scottish firms, creating real jobs in Scotland.
  • Cross-border transport and energy infrastructure through the Connecting Europe Facility. The EU is investing in infrastructure to join up our energy and transport sectors: €4.7billion for energy, €24bn for transport.  Some examples of where European Investment Bank (EIB) investments are being made in Scotland just now are:
    • Over £80m EIB investment into the new City of Glasgow College which is already under construction
    • Commitment of up to £100m of EIB cash to help finance construction of NHS Lothian’s new £155m Royal Hospital for Sick Children and the adjacent Department of Clinical Neurosciences
    • Commitment of a further £180m of EIB funding into Transport Scotland’s M8/M73/M74 Improvements project
    • The EIB has agreed to provide £500 million to support a major reinforcement of the electricity transmission network in the north of Scotland to improve connections between wind, wave and tidal renewable energy schemes and the national power network. The new power link will help secure the supply of electricity in the Highlands and beyond for generations to come and once operational the new transmission link will supply equivalent electricity to meet the needs of around 2 million Scottish residents.
    • EU funding is already ploughing millions of Euros into Scottish energy projects: for example, €20 million for the world’s largest tidal stream energy array in the Sound of Islay, and €40 million to help build an electricity interconnector between Scotland and Norway. A North Sea subsea electricity supergrid, to harness the renewable power of the North Sea, is finally moving forward because the European regulatory body of electricity transmission has created a framework for that co–operation. Upcoming work in Brussels on creating a genuine Energy Union, promoting indigenous European energy sources and boosting interconnections between member states, can only help Scotland’s ambition to be the EU’s green powerhouse.
    • The EU also funds environmental projects across Europe through the LIFE programme. Since 1992, LIFE has co–financed over 4000 projects with over €3.4 billion from the EU budget. This includes projects in the UK: up to €30 million being provided in January 2016 to help the UK implement River Basin Management Plans which should help to improve water quality and prevent flooding.
  • The EU single market rules are underpinned by a strong core of social rights, both for workers and for people in general: to promote their general welfare, to facilitate freedom of movement by ensuring that accrued rights are portable and can travel with you to another country, and to prevent unscrupulous employers from exploiting national differences to undercut working conditions and the standard of living.
  • Freedom from discrimination. EU legislation gave us the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of age, sexual orientation or religious belief for the first time. Those rights did not previously exist in UK law (UK law covered racial and gender discrimination).
  • Funding and enabling collaborative research. The Marie Curie programme gives grants to researchers to work across other countries, which helps innovation and is crucial for Scottish science. More than €6bn of funding helps to finance more than 25,000 PhDs.
  • Single market without barriers to trade. For example, a single EU law on food labelling means that our food exporters don’t have to design 28 different packet labels to meet 28 different sets of rules. You can trade in other countries just like you can at home. This creates 500 million potential customers for our products.
  • The Victims’ Rights Directive. As more EU citizens travel across the EU, so, sadly, are more people a victim of crime away from home. They now have rights in that process, to an interpreter, explanation of the process and clear information about what is happening. The Directive has Scottish fingerprints all over it. Scotland is acknowledged to lead the EU in treatment of victims.

There are many more reasons to vote Remain on Thursday, and also a few valid complaints that can be made about the current system – but for a system which helps coordinate 28 member states, it does pretty well in my book.

Posted in Europe, Politics | 2 Comments

Albums of 2015 (1-35)

In keeping with tradition for my blog, January call on time to reflect on what albums have been on loop during the year just past. I also know there are some people like myself who simply can’t resist ‘albums of the year’ lists with Inverted Audio, Mixmag and Pitchfork a few choice lists for me, and I like the grouped lists Exclaim has (unlike mine, which has a wide range of styles in the one list…).  So here goes:

1: Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell.  Despite discovering that I like Nick Cave during 2015 (courtesy of an Alex Smoke XLR8R podcast), Sufjan Stevens album made up the bulk of my melancholy listening throughout the year. A stunning album which tells a personal tale with sublime production…


2: Vessels – Dilate. This is Vessels’ 3rd album, but the first I’d heard of them but I couldn’t stop listening to Dilate for months. I’m still gutted about missing their tour swing by Glasgow last March – hopefully they will visit again during 2016…

3: Four Tet – Morning / Evening. 2 tracks, >40mins of bliss from Four Tet, with a healthy nod to his Indian roots. His 2 hour Dekmantel podcast is well worth checking too…

4: Gonno – Remember the Life is Beautiful. This album needs listened to again and again – on first listen I thought it was good, but the more I got into it the more its beauty shone through… the Soundcloud link gives a sample, but if you like electronic music I can’t recommend its entirty this highly enough.  (As an aside, Gonno’s DJ set at Optimo in the Sub Club was a clubbing highlight of 2015 too)…

5: Fat Freddy’s Drop –  Bays. One of my all time favourite live bands – sadly their 2015 tour didn’t swing by Scotland, but their 4th studio album is the most solid yet…


6: Stephan Bodzin – Powers of Ten. It was Stephan Bodzin’s outstanding XLR8R podcast that alerted me to his new album. I loved his last album Liebe ist, this one is even better… (his live Boiler Room performance is also a highlight of the year for me)

7: Floating Points – Elaenia. Sadly Floating Points live performance at the opening of Dimensions festival was broadcast on Boiler Room but sadly doesn’t seem to be available any more… The genius that this guy possesses is unbelievable (but worth reading about).  Oh, and there’s also his DJ mix with Four Tet which is class.

8: St Germain – St Germain. St Germain’s albums Boulevard and Tourist are two of my favourite albums… this is another superb mix of Jazz, World Music and House.

9: Julio Bashmore – Knockin’ Boots. Any time I’ve felt like creating instant party in my head recently, I stuck on the Julio Bashmore album.

10: DJ Richard – Grind. Lush electronic sounds…

11: Jamie XX – In Colours. An outstanding album, even though it features ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ which is the worst song I heard during 2015.

12: !!! – As If. As if a new album from Chk Chk Chk (!!!) would be anything but awesome…

13: Nitin Sawhney – Dystopian Dream. Another musician with incredible talent – his  TED Talks at CERN on Quantum music and Einstein, Tagore & music are well worth a watch and this album is right up there with Beyond Skin, Prophesy & Human which are all classics in my book.

14: The Orb – Moonbuilding 2703 AD. The Orb’s outstanding back catalog got even better during 2015. Releasing a totally fresh techno album 24 years after their first release is no mean feat…

15: Dave DK – Val Maira.  Kompakt records – no more words needed…

16: BadBadNotGood and Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul. Hip-hop instrumentalists BadBadNotGood teamed up with my favourite Wu Tang rapper, and I liked it!

17: Junior Loves and Scientific Dreamz of U – The Dreamcode. I’m not sure why these 2 artists combined to share half an album each, but it works! And is worthy of 2 links…

18: Leftfield – Alternative Light Source. A man down, but still class…

19: Roots Manuva – Bleeds. Best album to date from Roots Manuva…

20: Tropics – Rapture.  I thought I was a fan of this album, but then I read this review and realised that anything I wrote would sell it short…

21: George FitzGerald – Fading Love. In many ways, this album reminds me of Maya Jane Coles album Comfort.

22: Damian Lazarus & The Ancient Moons – Message From The Other Side. Quality electronic sounds. Damian Lazarus’s Essential Mix shows he is still a top DJ too…

23: Khruangbin – The Universe Smiles Upon You. Good music from Houston, Texas – who knew!? Press play and you’ll instantly feel groovy.

24: Laurent Garnier – La HOME Box. Laurent Garnier’s album doesn’t have any stand-out moments like Crispy Bacon or The Man With The Red Face, but it is still solid. His 3 hour Boiler Room DJ set is well worth a listen also…

25: Terranova – Restless. More Kompakt:

26: Jamie Woon – Making Time. Sharp R&B:

27: Steve Hauschildt – Where All is Fled. Ambient electronic sounds:

28: Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra – Into Forever. Similarish sound to The Cinematic Orchestra (high praise!):

29: Bjork – Vulnicura. It gets a bit too abstract at times, but for the most part this album is sublime:

30: Max Richter – Sleep. With the arrival of twins at the end of 2015, Sleep is an concept that has radically changed for me. I’ll have more waking hours to listed to Max Richter’s 8 hour album now though…

31: Errors – Lease of Life. I’ve been listening to this album all through the year and never thought to compare it to the Pet Shop Boys, but this review does just that.

32: The Internet – Ego Death. The production on this whole album is perfect. Top quality R&B:

33: Tame Impala – Currents. Psychedelic rock, inspired by Caribou

34:Tomas Barford – Glory. A relatively simple album to be honest, which seemed to draw me to it repeatedly…

35: Hunee – Hunch Music. Quality House album… Hunee knows his music, and likes it (as broadcast by Boiler Room from Dekmantel)

And finally: My favourite mix of the year has to go to Nina Kraviz’s Boiler Room from Edinburgh… sums up techno perfectly for me – amazing energy from her and the dancefloor:

Posted in Music | 1 Comment

Smith Commission and the Rapid Fallout: Budget Cuts for Scotland

Analysis of the Smith Commission, and how the UK Government is using it to line up a £5.8bn budget cut for Scotland

As we move into 2015 the Smith Commission remains nothing more than a recommendation to the UK Government, and as noted previously it took 7 years for a selection of the recommendations from the equivalent Calman Commission to be implemented.  However it seems highly likely that each of the main UK parties will include ratification of the Smith Commission proposals in their 2015 election manifestos.  There will be different flavours of implementation I would imagine, so diligence from the electorate is highly recommended!  The UK Government’s financial Autumn Statement gave an indication of the precarious position that Scotland finds itself post-No vote.

The Smith Commission report is worth a read – with only 8,000 words it isn’t a heavy document.  Some of it is all too easy to read unfortunately:


There are some significant points in the report that will hopefully lead to progress in the democratic representation of Scotland’s citizens.  The most notable points are really aimed at formalising and improving the relations between the UK and Scottish Governments (points 28-30 on pages 14 & 15) and also Scottish Government representation of the UK to the European Union (point 31 on pages 15 & 16).  The mechanics of inter-governmental relations and representation have not sufficiently been addressed since devolution was established in 1999 and the Smith Commission represents a key opportunity to address these matters which are fundamental to the current constitutional arrangement.

Significant Additional Powers for Scotland?

In addressing aspects like inter-governmental relations, the Smith Commission could be considered worthwhile (assuming those recommendations aren’t ignored) but the expectations were there for some significant additional powers so more was needed to allow some loose association to Gordon Brown’s promise of a ‘federal solution’ following a No vote.  Federalism itself is a fairly loose term, but the No campaign itself stated that the Scottish parliament needed more tax raising powers to ‘make it more accountable’.  Indeed Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour Party at the time, wrote an article just weeks ahead of the referendum stating that ‘it is undeniable that the success of devolution has created a thirst for more, and the people of Scotland want a parliament which has greater power, accountability and flexibility.

She went on to write that Labour ‘concluded that taxation is they key area for further devolution which can bring about a more accountable parliament and a more mature politics in Scotland. We decided not to devolve all of income tax. While we want more authority for Holyrood, we did not want to break our links with the UK income tax system because we believe Scotland, which raises proportionately less in income tax than England, would lose out.

Alastair Darling wrote an article in the Financial Times after the referendum outlining his views on the dangers of full devolution of income tax, and Gordon Brown was clear that such a move was a ‘Tory trap’.

The Smith Commission report ultimately recommended that Income Tax should be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament (points 75-79 on page 23).  However, if the Scottish Parliament alters the rates from those set at Westminster, ‘the Scottish Government will reimburse the UK Government for additional costs arising as a result of the implementation and administration of the Income Tax powers described’.  There is no indication in the report what these costs may amount to.

Since devolution was introduced the funding for the Scottish Parliament has been based on the Barnett Formula – a formula where the parameters are fundamentally set by all taxation being centrally collected in Westminster.

In addition to the Smith Commission recommending the full devolution of Income Tax, it also recommends that the first 10% of VAT is assigned to the Scottish Government’s budget.  The last Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland (GERS) report, released March 2014, provides an overview of the total tax receipts and government spending under the existing arrangement.  Table 3.1 in the report details the current revenue generated by the existing taxation system and during the financial year of 2012-13 income tax revenue was £10.87bn (7.4% of the UK total) and the VAT revenue was £9.3bn (8.3% of the UK total).  The UK VAT rate was 20% for this period, so if the Smith recommendations on VAT were in place £4.67bn would be pre-allocated to the Scottish Government.  Therefore if the Smith Commission recommendations had been in place at this time, and the income tax rates were not changed, the Scottish Government would have £15.5bn allocated ahead of the revised Barnett Formula allocation.

The nature of the Barnett Formula revision becomes critical to whether Scotland’s budget is affected from this direct allocation of income tax and VAT.  The Smith Commission attempts to address this with the following statement on page 4 of the report:

The Barnett Formula will continue to be used to determine the remaining block grant.  New rules to define how it will be adjusted at the point when powers are transferred and thereafter will be agreed by the Scottish and UK Governments and put in place prior to the powers coming into force. These rules will ensure that neither the Scottish nor UK Governments will lose or gain financially from the act of transferring a power.

Following the logic here the pre-allocated £15.5bn would be deducted from the existing Barnett Formula, ensuring that neither the Scottish nor UK Governments are financially impacted by this new constitutional arrangement.  You could rightly ask what on earth the point is then!?

The Autumn Statement: The Westminster trapdoor opens

Unfortunately the point of devolving the allocation of these taxes was revealed (briefly) when George Osborne gave his Autumn Statement, just 6 days after the Smith Commission report was made public.

Given the lengths that the Unionist parties have been going to in an effort to claim that the Barnett Formula will be preserved following the No vote, I was surprised to find the headline ‘Autumn statement: Scotland’s Barnett block grant ‘less important’ to Scotland’ on the BBC.  As you’ll see from the image below, the leading story was that the UK government block grant to Scotland will fall by two-thirds when Holyrood is given control over income tax.


The corresponding text in the Autumn Statement can be found on page 31 of the report:


Given that the block grant currently apportioned to Scotland via the Barnett Formula is roughly £32bn, a cut of 66.67% would equate to £21.3bn being removed from the Barnett block – significantly more than the £15.5bn generated via the Smith Commission recommendations.  Assuming the tax rates remain unchanged, this essentially announces a £5.8bn budget cut for Scotland (going further than the £4bn cut to Scotland’s budget that was recommended by the Westminster ‘All Parliamentary Taxation Group’ near the end of 2013).

The BBC website team must have been quickly informed that the headline on Barnett would result in alarmed readers about the impact of the Smith Commission to Scotland’s budget, and so the headline ‘Autumn statement: Scotland’s Barnett block grant ‘less important’ to Scotland’ was quickly changed to ‘Autumn statement: Extra £125m to be spent on NHS, Swinney confirms’ (see below and check the URL on both images).


This is the equivalent of your bank phoning to let you know that they are changing your bank account and will apply a changeover fee of £5,800 but that the new account comes with a £125 Amazon voucher.  If 100 people received such a phone call, I’d hope that 100 people would say ‘No thanks’ to the bank’s offer.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so compelling if the BBC ran a promotion of the new account with the focus placed firmly on the £125 Amazon voucher though…

The Scottish electorate’s opportunity to influence the budget that is allocated to Scotland’s public services will come in May’s General Election.  With the Conservatives and Labour both set on a consistent plan of austerity the SNP are standing against the attack on our public services, with a joint commitment from the Greens in England and Plaid Cymru in Wales (with the 3 parties also sharing the common ground of opposition to the next generation nuclear weapons program).

The Autumn Statement gives an indication of how the mechanism for funding Scotland’s public services could be manipulated in the years ahead.  The referendum may be over, but the need for democratic vigilance remains – it strikes me that only transparent and accountable solution that can be delivered for Scotland within the UK will be to devolve all taxes to the Scottish Government and establish a process for funding UK projects.

Note: the circumstances that led to Smith Commission and my own submission are available in my previous blog post.

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Smith Commission: Context and Personal Submission

Ahead of the referendum I had stated that a factor in my decision to vote Yes was the uncertainty of a No vote, and the risk that comes from having such limited democratic influence over our constitutional future, as determined by the UK Government.

In the final days of the referendum campaign Gordon Brown stated that the UK will quickly pass significant additional powers to create a ‘federal’ solution for Scotland within the UK.  Following some late polls that put the Yes campaign ahead, a sequence of high profile statements from Brown were then linked to a ‘promise’ from the main Westminster party leaders David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg which has become known as ‘The Vow’ (as printed by the Daily Record). The Vow guaranteed ‘new powers for the Scottish Parliament’, ‘fairness to Scotland’ and ‘the guarantee that with the continued Barnett allocation, based on need and with the power to raise its own funds, the final decisions on spending on public services in Scotland, including on the NHS, will be made by the Scottish Parliament’.

Given that the UK is listed as one of the most socially unequal countries in the developed world, we can take the guarantee of fairness with a pinch of salt, and you’d be advised to keep your salt dispenser handy for the rest of it.  Gordon Brown was the Prime Minister before David Cameron and during his term in Government he also promised to look at significant additional powers for Scotland , which begs the question: what happened when he was in power?  In 2009, the unionist parties responded to the increased popularity of the SNP by establishing the Calman Commission.  Despite the fact that the commission stopped far short of fiscal autonomy or anything close to federalism, Brown chose not to act on the proposed changes. Instead it was a considered foregone conclusion that whoever won the 2010 General Election, the UK Government would devolve some more powers – it didn’t seem to matter what – to allow them to state that they are working to build a ‘stronger Scottish Parliament’.  It followed that the Conservative / Lib Dem coalition approved some of the additional powers in the Scotland Act 2012 to be delivered in 2016 (7 years after the initial Calman Commission report).

Now, you may wonder what the relevance of all this is.  The unionist parties portrayed the Calman Commission as thorough analysis of the maximum devolution the Scottish Parliament could manage.  Yet somehow, before the proposed changes have even been implemented, they were now arguing that more powers could be devolved.  This represented a significant shifting of the goalposts from the No campaign, but they clearly felt that they could get away with it.  Perhaps the poor understanding of Scotland’s existing devolution settlement fuelled their confidence; I’ll analyse the Smith Commission report in my next blog but it states: ‘A challenge facing both Parliaments is the relatively weak understanding of the current devolution settlement. This is not surprising given what is a complex balance of powers.’

Knowing that not many people had looked at the detail of the Calman Commission, the idea of a repeat process was pitched as a eureka moment from the unionist parties – implying that the referendum process had made them realise that Scotland did need more powers after all.  Frankly, it was more effective for them to say that they will start a new process to look at further devolution than to say ‘look guys, we performed our assessment on what Scotland can handle and you’ll get your lot in 2016 when the Scotland Act 2012 comes into place’.  They must have noted that Alastair Darling’s repeated efforts to campaign on the latter pitch was clearly having no impact, so it was better to pretend it hadn’t happened at all.

To come back to the promises of more powers and ‘the guarantee that with the continued Barnett allocation, based on need and with the power to raise its own funds, the final decisions on spending on public services in Scotland, including on the NHS, will be made by the Scottish Parliament’.  More powers were already guaranteed by the Scotland Act 2012 and the devolution of some tax receipts (notably 10% of income tax receipts) was already set to lead to a change in the Barnett allocation.  Given that the Barnett allocation process is fundamentally defined by all taxes being centrally collected at Westminster the integrity of this was compromised ahead of the Smith Commission, therefore The Vow was flawed even ahead of the referendum.

With one of the key successes of the referendum campaign being public engagement and participation, it was stated that the Smith Commission would take submissionsfrom political parties, a wide range of business and civic organisations and the wider public to help guide its consideration of what further powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Commission welcomes all such submissions, and will give them due weight in arriving at its final conclusions.

Unfortunately, the arbitrary timetable that was set for the Smith Commission meant that they only had a matter of days to analyse the 407 submissions from civic institutions, organisations and groups, and 18, 381 from members of the public.  As the Wings Over Scotland site highlights, this gave the Commission a total of 47 seconds to read and thoughtfully consider each submission.

For the record though, I provided a personal submission for the Smith Commission, which followed the stated guidelines:

  • Overview of my proposals:

I believe that the Scottish Parliament should be given full fiscal autonomy within the UK – with all taxes collected in Edinburgh and arrangement made between the parliaments to ensure appropriate levels of funding are provided to the central UK budget.  I believe that the EU model for national funding would be a good model for this.

A distinction between the UK and EU would be that the UK would retain a common Defence policy – but this should be formed by the UK’s commitment to the function of the UN in foreign affairs and peacekeeping missions.  It would be possible for the UK Defence Force to form a similar arrangement to that of NATO, allowing Scotland to form a distinct political approach to Defence (shifting focus from nuclear weapons and submarines to vessels that could patrol our waters in a more practical manner).

  • The principles underpinning my proposals are as follows:

The UK political system is failing too many and serving too few.  Successive UK governments have pursued flawed trickle-down economic policies to the detriment of the UK citizens at large.  All that can be seen from Westminster today is a series of short term solutions and a focus that is too narrow for the diverse challenges that exist throughout the British Isles. 

The process of First Past the Post has driven the UK political system to a two party system, where Conservative and Labour governments have followed similar agendas since I was born in 1980.  The outlook for the future looks much the same too, with both parties committing to a continuation of the austerity measures set rolling by George Osborne during this term.

The 2007 election demonstrated the weakness of accountability in the UK system – the Labour Government had taken the UK to war in Iraq during the previous term on the premise that they had Weapons of Mass Destruction.  Meanwhile at home we spend billions of pounds on Weapons of Mass Destruction based on the claim that they act as a deterrent.  This hypocrisy was mirrored by the opposition and so the electorate were impotent in any efforts to hold this abuse of power to account and Labour were returned to office.

I believe that significant change in the devolution settlement for Scotland will ensure that our political system is accountable to the people of Scotland.

  • My assessment of the current situation is as follows:

I believe that the current system of devolution has been progress from the pre-1999 arrangement. However, there are still many flaws.  The fact that the Scottish Parliament has policy control over the core public services in Scotland but does not control the financial budget for these makes the system unaccountable. 

The current form of devolution is so convoluted that very few people understand where certain powers lie (noting that the additional tiers of government at the EU and council level also add to the lack of clarity for the public).  Since devolution, the Scottish press put disproportionate focus on the Scottish Parliament, despite the majority of macro-economic powers residing at the UK level. 

Polls have shown that there is a desire for full fiscal autonomy to be brought to the Scottish Parliament. This will not only improve the accountability but also the economic performance within Scotland, enabling more effective progress is made on societal issues.

  • The advantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving the power in question to the Scottish Parliament are as follows:

I believe that decentralising the political power to the constituent nations within the UK will create an enhanced economic arrangement for all UK citizens.  The priorities currently set at Westminster do not reflect the diverse needs of the economy within the UK, and Scotland has suffered from this. 

As was reported during the referendum by the London School of Economics, the political system within the UK is antiquated and inefficient.  Decentralising this power and forming new systems around this creates the opportunity for enhancing economic efficiency across the UK, allowing our collective economy to compete effectively in the modern world.

  • The disadvantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving the power in question to the Scottish Parliament are as follows:

Introducing further levels of tax variation across the UK could be perceived as a negative, however this is actually a standard model for many economies today (from the United States of America to the cantons of Switzerland).  I believe that the benefits of more localised financial control will have a larger positive effect than the potential inconvenience of additional levels of tax variation.




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Albums of 2014 (10 – 1)

Following on from my run down of my top 27 – 11 albums from 2014, the top 10:

10: Paolo Nutini – Caustic Love.  For some reason I’d never truly listened to Paolo Nutini until Iron Sky was touted by Bella Caledonia as an anthem for the Yes campaign. I could tell it was special seconds in to the song.  Iron Sky is a stand-out track I’d say but the whole album is excellent.

9: Plastikman  – EX. Plastikman’s first album ‘Sheet One‘ is now 21 years old, but it still sounds fresh today – a true classic.  Richie Hawtin shows that he’s still one of the best producers on the planet with his album EX…

8: Future Sound Of London  – Environment Five. FSOL: my all time favourite producers.  The diversity of high quality sounds that FSOL have produced since releasing Accelerator in 1991 is unrivalled in my book.  The 1994 album Lifeforms is the pick of the bunch for me, but Environment Five adds more quality to the back catalog:

7: SOHN  – Tremors. The number one album of 2014 for SJ, Tremors has been on steady repeat in the Darling house. His live performance was certainly up there as a highlight of the year as well.

6: Kiasmos – Kiasmos. Ólafur Arnalds & Janus Rasmussen: Two artists who had been working on completely different projects come together to produce an album of absolute beauty. If I hadn’t only discovered this mid way through December it could well have been my number 1 pick. Stunning:

5: fatima  –Yellow Memories.  Floating Points on the production, fatima on the vocals. It works!

4: Caribou  – Our Love. Some personal nostalgia – one of the biggest annual conferences in the world of seismic exploration is the EAGE. In 2010 it was in Barcelona and the conference finished just as the Sonar festival was gearing up… as I switched an intense work environment for one of the greatest festivals I’ve ever been to, Caribou was coming on stage – SUN! – a lifelong goosebumps moment.  I thought Swim would be Caribou’s finest moment but I think Our Love may have surpassed it…

3: Clark  – Clark. I’d only had very brief exposure to Clark before this self-titled album and I don’t recall that being a pleasant experience. Perhaps I’m mistaken though as Clark is a work of absolute genius! This one definitely pushes a few boundaries, but it manages to move them in the right direction every time.

2: Dark Sky – Imagin.  I was first introduced to Dark Sky while sitting in The Drake bar in Glasgow.  I can’t remember the track that was played in the bar, but it could have been any one from the album as every track is a winner.

1: Beck  – Morning Phase. I think Morning Phase is Beck’s 12th album but it was the first that I’d ever really listened to – and then I listened to it about 100 times in succession.  It is one of those genre defying albums but I’m going to call it ‘psychedelic classical folk’ and hereby declare my love for psychedelic classical folk! If you know of any other psychedelic classical folk albums out there, please let me know.

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Albums of 2014 (27 – 11)

It is all too easy to play to the convention of sticking to multiples of 10 or 5 when creating lists, but I’m breaking from convention here with my top 27 albums of 2014.  There’s no science to it, these are simply the albums that have been floating my boat during a year that I’ll never forget.  Please feel free to leave a comment with any tips of your own… the Sun Kil Moon, Kelis, Moodymann and Andy Stott albums have recently found their way to me and I’ve been enjoying them.  Anyway, on with my 27:

27: Hercules and the Love Affair – The Feast of the Broken Heart.  Their 3rd studio album doesn’t match the very high standards set by the first 2 but I still really enjoyed it. Any hint of an acid squelch and I’m sold, and it’s always good to see some effort put into music videos – if all the songs felt the same as this I’m sure it would be higher in my list:

26: Efdemin – Decay.  Jeff Mills set off on a One Man Spaceship a few years ago, Efdemin is on a similar journey and Decay is what I’ve stuck on this year if looking to get lost in some nice techno:

25: Leon Vynehall – Music for the Uninvited. Good thing!

24: Simian Mobile Disco – Whorl. SMD seemed to drift below the radar following their high profile debut ‘Attack Decay Sustain Release’ but every album they’ve released has been of a high quality and their 4th studio album is well worth checking out:

23: How To Dress Well – What Is This Heart? I was blown away by HTDW’s 2nd album Total Loss topped my 2012 album list. The 3rd album doesn’t quite sustain the same standard but still an excellent album:

22: Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband.  I enjoyed seeing them perform this album live so much that I checked them out twice.  The live version of Only One is better than anything on the album, but the album is still good J:

21: The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream.  This album is up at the top of several 2014 album lists and deservedly so I reckon:

20: Steffi – Power of Anonymity. Her Essential Mix is superb and so is her album:

19: The Barr Brothers – Sleeping Operator.  If anyone can point me to more folk music like this then I’d be much obliged!  Love both of their albums and can’t wait to see them live at Celtic Connections this year!

18: Todd Terje – It’s Album Time. Inspector Norse is such a good tune that it deserved to be on an album, it is in good company with the rest of the tunes too:

17: GoGo Penguin – v2.0. A chance viewing of Later with Jools Holland introduced me to GoGo Penguin – their energy and live talent was captivating and it transfers to album nicely:

16: Taylor McFerrin – Early Riser. Son of the incredible Bobby McFerrin, Taylor McFerrin has set his own musical course with his superb debut album:

15: Mogwai – Rave Tapes.  Another superb album from Mogwai and during 2014 I managed to see them in the Glasgow Concert Hall, the Usher Hall and the highlight was seeing them follow on from James Holden and Fuck Buttons at the East End Social – an amazing night!

14: Lone – Reality Testing. The track “2 is 8” has served as my alarm during 2014 but I still love it, and the rest of the album too…

13: TIN MAN – ODE.  TIN MAN had somehow managed to release 7 albums without me hearing of him, thankfully his Resident Advisor podcast set that straight.  Hours of quality acid techno listening:

12: Roman Flugel – Happiness Is Happening.  The album is simply sublime, as is his Boiler Room which opens with the album track ‘We Have A Nice Life’:

11: Cloud Boat – Model of You. I only stumbled upon the 2013 Cloud Boat album Book of Hours at the start of 2014 and was delighted to find them release Model of You in the following months.  A bonus was that when getting the link for Hallow below I stumbled upon a Ewan Pearson remix too:

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Article from Carolyn Leckie: The burning issue that is freedom of expression

Having the free space to challenge opinion and perceived convention is key to progress in politics, the movement for civil liberties, in business and generally in all aspects of life.  It is rare for articles on free speech to be given space in our media, so I was delighted to see Carolyn Leckie write on this topic in The National and both parties kindly allowed me to post the article to share with others.  The following text is as printed on the 8th of December:

I once had a fleeting run in with Quentin Tarantino. He had come to Glasgow to promote his film Death Proof and I was amongst a group of feminists protesting against what we considered to be glorification of misogyny.

Quentin wasn’t exactly pleased to see us. At one point he wagged his finger in my face, while angrily denouncing us.

He didn’t get the irony of defending his freedom of expression by denying ours.

Freedom of expression is an idea that almost everyone supports in principle. But as soon that principle is put to the test in the real world, the consensus falls apart and the arguments begin.

When three Renfrew SNP councillors last week demonstrated their contempt for the Smith Commission report by publicly burning a copy, reactions were polarised. They were also confused.

Thinking about whose freedom is being defended helps me make sense of it.

Some people might regard the actions of the three councillors as crass and tasteless. Others might see them it as harmless piece of political theatre designed to make a bold public statement, like tearing up a leaflet or walking out of a conference.

In my view, the only thing the councillors were guilty of is a lack of tactical nous. You don’t need to be around much in Scottish politics to recognise a scene ripe to be exploited by opportunistic, faux outrage.

What are the ‘outraged’ challenging exactly? You may not agree with protesting against Tarantino – but at least that demonstration was based on a coherent political analysis.  Our world systematically exploits, objectifies and kills women in their millions. Feminist protestors are challenging abuse of power and oppression of women.

Who were the maligned councillors oppressing? No one. They were making a point, however insensitively. When one Labour MP compared their actions with those of the Nazi regime, he spectacularly fails to understand power and tyranny. The Nazis were intent on systematically wiping out every trace of the ideas contained in the books he ordered to be burned. One charred copy of the Smith Commission report prevents no-one from reading it.

The real risk here is that the manufactured ‘offence’ of the nae-sayers has a chilling effect on the diverse, vibrant democratic discourse unleashed by the referendum.

Which is exactly what some politicians want. In a speech last week, Gordon Brown said – rather vaingloriously for a soon-to-retire backbench MP – that he was “pressing the reset button” because “it’s time to move on from two years of talk of constitutional change.”

And, conveniently, diverts attention from the really momentous news of the week – like truly radical land reform and conclusive fiscal proof that we’re far from ‘better together’.

But that doesn’t let us Yes voters off the hook. Supporting independence is not equivalent to supporting every policy that comes out of the SNP Government.

Take the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation which has led to political expression being criminalised. One Celtic fan was arrested last week at Tynecastle for wearing a ‘Free Palestine’ T-shirt. Under pressure to justify the arrest, SNP MSP John Mason bizarrely agreed that wearing a ‘Yes’ badge could have you up before the Sheriff. Seriously? That’d be a pretty scary precedent.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a few train journeys ruined by tanked-up football supporters. But it wasn’t the content of ‘The Sash’ or ‘The Boys of the Old Brigade’ that bugged me. It was the total lack of respect for other passengers, the volume and the aggression. The issue is men in tribes behaving badly.

There’s a few folk on Twitter who think the way to independence is to act like some monolithic ‘united’ bloc that should voluntarily suspend all critical faculties until Independence Day has been and gone.

This is not the way to a better country. I have disagreed fervently with SNP policies while sharing a friendly platform with SNP Ministers on the Yes trail. That is one of my abiding joyous memories of the campaign. Ideas – conflicting, contradictory, sometimes chaotic – were given a space. They were welcomed and nurtured. Lots of people disagreed with me. Brilliant.

Can we carry that on, please? It’s such a contrast to the petty point-scoring and political trivia that predated the referendum.

We all have a responsibility to create an environment where political ideas can thrive without an Arctic freeze descending on passionate flames. And to contribute to a democracy in which governments can make ‘U-turns’ and be praised rather than vilified. It’s difficult, though – especially when your opponents are entirely focused on ruthlessly exploiting the slightest mistake.

But I don’t think the right response is to batten down the hatches. If that happens, the hope, empowerment and energy unleashed by the referendum will be snuffed out. Sometimes flames don’t always spread in the direction you’d like them to. The price of a genuine movement is that you can’t control it.

But that’s preferable to the dank and dismal alternative of politics as they were. Good folk I know on the No side will recognise that.


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