Albums on Loop, the 2019 Edition

A bit later than normal, but I’ve finally got to my album list for 2019.  As per the last few years, the albums listed and a whole load of others that I’ve been binging on are included in playlists on Apple Music and Spotify – possibly even a surprise or 2 in there for folks… but onward to my list of what made the top 20:

  1. Dominik Eulberg – Mannigfaltig: Epic electronic bliss with beats that can somehow serve to chill or make you want to dance – this album is a work of art!  The album is 87minutes long, and every track delivers.  I’ve put 3 of the tracks from it on to my playlist, !K7 Records posted a video of another which is ideal for animal lovers, and for good measure here’s one of the best tracks of the decade from his previous.
  2. MoMo Ready – Soft Hard Body: I have no idea how I stumbled upon this album, but once I found it I couldn’t stop listening to it (and so it continues)… it belongs alongside the classic Detroit Techno albums from the 90s.  He has a few albums and EPs on bandcamp that are worth checking and he has a range of styles in there – I hope there’s more to come on this techno tip because when on it, he’s up there with the very best…
  3. Coma – Voyage Voyage: My phone has a mystery setting that decides to play tracks that I’ve not lined up, and this year the tune my phone selected was Coma’s A-Train.  I’m grateful for whatever gremlin set this up, and this became a real soundtrack for 2019 and one that never failed to capture me.  I have absolutely no idea what genre this should be classed as… but it sounds like a regular band set-up (vocals, guitar, drums, electronics) producing something that goes from chill to dance throughout.
  4. Christian Loffler – Graal (Prologue): Similar vibes to Dominik Eulberg and the likes of Kiasmos, the sound served up here by Christian Loffler is spot on from start to finish.  It is a shame it is so short (30mins) but it is very easy to listen to on loop, and also his Cercle set is great to listen to (with cool background visuals, as is Cercle’s standard).
  5. Little Simz – Grey Area: Hip hop came right back into my listening rotation this year and Little Simz was up at the top of that, and it was a bonus to see her live show in Glasgow!  Such amazing energy, combined with super smooth delivery – the beats and vocals are on point.
  6. Blue Hawaii – Open Reduction Internal Fixation: I was late to the party with Blue Hawaii but given that I saw their live show along with ~30 others, I can only assume that I’m earlier than most… the vocalist Ra (also from Braids) is super talented and she is backed up by great electronic production – the same can be said for most bands from their record label Arbutus (Grimes being the best known).  This is their 3rd album, and I’d recommend it along with the rest (the 2013 album ‘Untogether’ is one of my highlights of the decade).  As a starting point to their sound, check out this mixtape that they put together back in 2015 – as per the rest, it is superb.
  7. Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe: The combination of The Cinematic Orchestra and Roots Manuva has set a very high bar in the past, and the track on this album comes up close to that classic.  The mix of guest vocalists across this album really make it come together to a form a beautiful thing – this album delivers melancholy and euphoria at the same time.
  8. Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima: There are parts of this album that sit up alongside Air’s Moon Safari. It isn’t all at that level, but it is all excellent and I don’t think I can pay much higher praise than that!
  9. Jacques Greene – Dawn Chorus: My introduction to anything from this album was a Night Service remix from this outstanding Cercle mix.  The tune was a highlight for me, but it wasn’t until listening to this album that I discovered the producer behind it… the album that floats nicely between chilled and more upbeat electronic sounds.
  10. HVOB – Rocco: Another album to slot into the category of chilled but upbeat electronics, and also another one that was spectacularly presented by Cercle.
  11. Michael Kiwanuka – KIWANUKA: Not too far from Paolo Nutini for me, Kiwanuka’s rasping vocals are backed up by the works here – superb guitar, choir, awesome drums.  High up on the list of acts that I’ve not seen live, but really want to see live…
  12. Gang Starr – One of the Best Yet: When I first saw this release I’d assumed it was a greatest hits, but it was quickly obvious that wasn’t the case and the sounds were new.  Unusual considering the main vocalist Guru died several years ago, but this review explains how the album was pieced together.  Outstanding work from DJ Premier and a great tribute to one of the best of all time.
  13. Maps – Colours. Reflect. Time. Lost: I’d lost track of Maps since his debut release We Can Create (Mercury nominated way back in 2007!), but thankfully his 2019 release came into view. Strings, soft vocals, horns, crescendo a-plenty…
  14. Bibio – Ribbons: I’m always really excited when I see a new release from Bibio, because I’m not sure what I’ll find. With Ribbons, it is an acoustic treat with a wide range of instruments introduced that at points make it feel like you’re listening to something ad-libbed in a celtic bar packed with talent.  The following track on the album will remind you that you’re actually listening to one of Warp Records finest talents from the last ~10 years.
  15. Thom Yorke – ANIMA: It is a sign of Thom Yorke’s genius that this album is sat back in 15th place – his ability to release albums that combine his vocals with a complex structure of electronic sounds has become par for the course.  It still blows my mind though.
  16. Leif Vollebekk – New Ways: When listening to this I had to check that this wasn’t one of The Barr Brothers releasing under an alias, but not this is just another really talented Canadian that happens to be on the same label, Secret City Records (Patrick Watson also had another excellent 2019 album too). Fitting that I was able to put a track called ‘Transatlantic Flight’ on my playlist this year – that flight has become all too familiar…
  17. Agoria – Drift: When I first listened to this album from Agoria I wasn’t sure about it, but when I found myself listening to it for the 20th time I realised that I actually loved it!
  18. Aleksi Perala – Resonance: Picking Aleksi Perala’s album of the year is a mission in its own right – he somehow managed to release 8 albums during 2019, all of them superb techno sounds.  Some very chilled, some more upbeat and the one I’ve picked is one of the more upbeat variety.
  19. French 79 – Joshua: YouTube introduced me to French 79‘s Hometown and I was quickly hooked – if you like JUSTICE then you should find that you’re onto a winner here… classic French electronic vibes.  His own story behind each song from the album here.
  20. Beck – Hyperspace: I made reference to albums of the decade earlier (Blue Hawaii) and Beck’s Morning Phase probably tops it all for me… this Hyperspace album feels like a sequel to Morning Phase that doesn’t quite hit the same mark, but the variation is a great listen too.
  21. Top 3 Mix Releases: I wasn’t sure how to place Kolsch’s Fabric mix, which is all entirely produced by him but here you go it can start my top 3 mix releases of 2019.  2nd spot goes to DJ Hell for his second mix for the Faze series – Faze #86 is superb! And the best mix release of 2019 for me is Bonobo’s Fabric.  So good we even managed to have it entertain the large family gathering for Christmas dinner at the end of the year…



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General Election 2019 – Let’s Vote

There’s an election this Thursday. Why vote? Here’s my take:

Your vote can definitely make the difference!  At the last General Election (2017), the winning party’s majority represented less than 10% of the vote in 46 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats; in 4 of them the difference was less than 100 votes, with 1 being determined by a margin of 2 votes!

In 2017 I wrote on why I was voting SNP here – and looking at the main topics, the requirement to Vote SNP is even clearer now:

  • Brexit, protecting Scotland’s economy & independence: The SNP have contributed massively to preventing a disastrous Brexit being passed – not only through their votes but also by helping drive court action that concluded that it is possible to stop Brexit.  Analysis has estimated that a No Deal Brexit would result in ~100,000 jobs being lost in Scotland. The SNP are looking to ensure that doesn’t happen for any of the UK but also looking to ensure that Scotland can avoid this scenario by another Scottish Independence referendum.
  • Progressive policies for the UK – vote SNP in Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon has been clear that she will not in any way back another Conservative Government – the SNP will work to form a progressive alliance to make Jeremy Corbyn PM. In Scotland we have an SNP government that is delivering on a range of policies (184 examples here), and this election is essentially to elect the equivalent government for England (a flaw of the UK political system – the 4 nations are represented in very different ways).
  • Austerity and killing all things on Earth:To follow on from the last point, the CBI estimate the cost of re-nationalising the Royal Mail, rail-operating companies and energy supply networks as £196bn – that’s £9bn less than the cost of new nuclear weapons! Yet on page 101 of 107 in the Labour manifesto they glibly state ‘Labour supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.’ The cost for the next generation Trident was last presented at £205bn (which for some perspective, is more than 6 times the annual Scottish Government budget) – the SNP are committed to scrapping Trident (this is an excellent article from Nicola Sturgeon on this topic).  During a hustings in my constituency I asked the candidates: “Given the austerity being pushed on society and also the global environmental crisis, how can any of you stand for a party that is committed to spending £205bn on new nuclear weapons?” The Labour candidate responded by saying she didn’t consider it to be an important issue as only 1 person had asked her about it during this campaign.  Quite how their most capital exhaustive project that could potentially kill all things on the planet doesn’t count as an important issue is beyond me.
  • The independence movement:No matter who gets into power in Westminster, it seems inevitable that the 2016 Brexit vote from England and Wales will be used to pull Scotland out of the EU.  There are many examples of where the UK’s political course is at odds with what the Scottish electorate want (67% of my life (39 years) have had Conservative UK governments, despite Scotland rejecting their prospectus on every occasion), and Brexit is a long term scenario that requires Scotland to have the chance to choose a different path.  The strongest possible way to ensure we can have another independence referendum is to Vote SNP on December 12th.

The best way to look at what party is suited to you is to read the manifestos which are hyperlinked here: SNP, Green, Labour, Lib Dem.  There’s a decent website that lays out different policy options in a multi choice that allows you to assess the manifestos in an objective way: (reassuringly this showed that my vote for the SNP’s policies match what I’d like to see represented in parliament).


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Albums on Loop, the 2018 Edition

Not sure whether I’m just getting more comfortable with Apple Music or if it’s actually getting better (?), but the combination of weekly new album recommendations and a view of ‘What Friends Are Listening To’ has really kept the options flowing for me this year.  End result has been a lot of new albums, and I decided to create a playlist in Apple Music at the start of the year and add to it along the way, which has resulted in a selection of 71 albums and 2 singles being added.  Here is the Apple Music playlist and I’ve also created a Spotify playlist for those that way inclined.

Before getting into my album list, a note on DJ mixes… my musical night of the year was seeing Nina Kraviz and Mount Kimbie DJ (touring their DJ Kicks which is well worth checking).  Nina Kraviz DJ’d at the Eiffel Tower for Cercle a couple of weeks later. Wow. Loads of Cercle sets worth checking but the 3 online mixes I’d say stood out for me were DJ Hell @ Funkhaus Berlin, The Hacker’s RA Podcast and the stand-out set (and party!) of the year was Peach @ Boiler Room in Manchester.

As I move on to my album ordering for the year, the Mixmag top 50 list is well worth checking and Pitchfork pretty good too (although not all to my taste there).  Here’s my selection:

  1. DJ Koze – Knock Knock: Every DJ Koze production to date has been superb, but this year’s album is pick of the bunch for me – it’s one of those albums that combines chill out sounds with a dancefloor beat.
  2. Erland Cooper – Solan Goose & Nightflight (single): I’m cheating my own system here, but it’s worth it – the Solan Goose album released by Erland Cooper is an amazingly beautiful contemporary classical / ambient album, but combining that with the Nightflight single meant this had to be up top. Nightflight is easily my most listened to release of the year, with 3 tracks that could be mistaken for Jon Hopkins at the very top of his game – I hope Erland Cooper builds a live set around this style…
  3. Marquis Hawkes – The Marquis of Hawkes: This came to me late in the year but instantly blew me away. When I saw guest appearances from Ursula Rucker and Jamie Liddell my expectations were set high, but this is an album that takes you from classic House to classic Techno sounds.  I’ll have this on loop through 2019.
  4. Otzeki – Binary Childhood: A debut album from Otzeki and I’m not too sure how I stumbled upon it but delighted that I did. A two-piece band, with nice electronic production given a huge weight by the vocalist and his guitar.  As an aside I had a chuckle at Rough Trade’s effort to pin their sound.
  5. Answer Code Request – Gens: This is intense, deep and dark techno – the album had me captivated throughout the year. So much going on for the mind to try and keep up with, but Answer Code Request plots a rhythm through it all so beautiful that you can just sit back and chill to it.
  6. George FitzGerald – All That Must Be: Bonobo collaborates on one of the tracks on this album and for me that sets the tone – easy for chilling to whilst also pretty upbeat.
  7. Robag Wruhme – Wuzzelbud FF: Robag Wruhme is one of the finest DJs and producers out there in my book (this Wighnomy Brothers mix is one of my favourite mix CDs, and his Mixmag DJ set from a Mexican festival this year also worth checking). This album jumps between trademark warped dancefloor sounds (Veddel Baav & Wuzzelbud FF) to more chilled techno (such as Tisma in the playlist).
  8. Everything is Recorded – Everything is Recorded by Richard Russell: Richard Russell has been a key influencer in my life – I just didn’t know it until this year! As the founder of XL Recordings, he’s been promoting sounds that have been floating my boat for as long as I can remember, and at some point he turned his hand to production (he co-produced Bobby Womack’s amazing final album).  For this, he’s assembled a collection of artists and it all works (but Sampha is the stand out for me).
  9. Jensen Interceptor – Mother: If you’re not familiar with it, The Other People Place’s album ‘Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café’ is one of the finest techno albums ever released. Any album that makes me think of it clearly has something special going on – and Mother took me there (this year’s Anthony Naples album also drew similar praise).
  10. Dabrye – Three/Three: high quality Hip Hop (stuff that could potentially stand up to some of the 90s stuff!) still isn’t as easy to find as I’d like, but 2018 felt like an improvement. None more so than the Dabrye album, where his production is absolutely top drawer, and a host of superb vocalist kept ‘Three/Three’ on loop for me this year.
  11. Phil France – Circle: This is the only album I’ve included in my list from Gondwana Records – and whilst Gogo Penguin and Portico Quartet could also feature, all I can say is that everything that comes out on this label is pure genius. Phil France (previously part of the Cinematic Orchestra) is my pick for 2018 though – a bit more electronic than most stuff on the label, but with a relaxed jazz vibe at the foundations.
  12. Donato Dozzy – Filo Loves The Acid: This is some pretty special acid… it is acid of the absolutely banging techno variety, and Filo isn’t the only one who loves it. I’d seriously love to experience this on a dance floor…
  13. GusGus – Lies Are More Flexible: GusGus were once a band of 10 and now down to just 2, but despite their smaller numbers they still continue to release albums that have me hooked. Their KEXP live sets are my most viewed on YouTube, and I’m looking forward to experiencing the performance in person when they come to Glasgow next April!
  14. Deadbeat – Wax Poetic For Our Great Resolve: Dub techno – mostly chilled with some spoken word.
  15. Niklas Paschburg – Oceanic: What an instrument the piano is! And Niklas Paschburg complements it perfectly with some lovely electronic production.
  16. Nightmares on Wax – Shape the Future: If you’re reading this, then you probably know all about the genius of Nightmares on Wax. This album delivers as always, and on the off chance that you don’t know of it – his Boiler Room is one of the best sets to chill to on the internet.
  17. How To Dress Well – The Anteroom: HTDW’s 2nd album ‘Total Loss’ blew me away in 2012 (& topped my album list that year) and The Anteroom is back up towards that standard. HTDW lands a unique sound that brings electronic and R&B together.
  18. dBridge – A Love I Can’t Explain: Mixmag made this ‘album of the month’ in November, and 10 years on from his superb D&B album I was expecting more of the same. Sure enough ‘A Love I Can’t Explain’ is superb, but it isn’t D&B – instead an awesome deep ambient techno journey is served up.
  19. Leon Vynehall – Nothing Is Still: This is beautiful, perfectly produced chilled album – nice wee review on it here.
  20. Rival Consoles – Persona: My only album in the list here from the Erased Tapes label (Nils Frahm also on the playlist), this Rival Consoles album charts a similar sound to label mates Kiasmos. ‘High-brow, avant-garde electronic music’ according to Pitchfork 🙂

I’ve been listening to playlist whilst writing this, and there are so many amazing sounds not featured in this list (I had to stop writing at some point though!).  As ever, would be great to know what others have been enjoying this year?

Final note: Rone’s album Mirapolis would have been in my top 10, but when compiling this I discovered it was released during 2017. Tracks left in the playlist though…

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Albums on Loop, the 2017 Edition

As per 2016, I’ve created another YouTube Playlist and have added an Apple Music Playlist which takes tracks from the 30 albums that I’ve selected here, and also adds tracks from the many albums that I’ve not listed but have listened to a lot during 2017.  There was a bit of debate about album lists that Resident Advisor kicked off when removing their polls, but they ended up giving a list of their top album picks anyway.  For me removing the polls was a good move as they didn’t really give any insight, but I’ve always viewed album lists as a route to finding albums that I’ve missed through the year.

My own list is to share some of what I’ve been listening to, but also to try and encourage others to share their own highlights with me… anyway, without further ado:

  1. Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens: This is one that I only discovered with the first 2017 album list of the year that I saw (Mojo’s electronic list tweeted out mid-Nov). On the first listen I thought it sat somewhere between Grimes and Daniel Avery, dreamy female vocals over a healthy mix of chill-out and upbeat electronic sounds… love it.
  2. UNKLE – The Road, Pt 1: This UNKLE album doesn’t have the same all-star line-up but deserves as much praise as the legendary Psyence Fiction album… again, there’s a great mix of vocals and sounds but I’d say the journey along The Road is a bit smoother than the 1998 classic.
  3. Four Tet – New Energy: This intricate work of art deserves your full attention and a good sound system. Layered to perfection.
  4. Vitalic – Voyager: Vitalic’s album was definitely a 2017 highlight from when I first heard it, but seeing it performed live in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum ensured it was always going to be up at the top of my list.
  5. Solar System – Planetarium: Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister came together from a mix of backgrounds but for me this felt like an amazing follow-on from Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell album, that topped my 2015 list.
  6. Bicep – Bicep: I was familiar with their DJ sets (this one being a stand out) and their debut album was every bit as awesome. Hopefully the first of many…
  7. Kolsch – 1989: The finale to Kolsch’s album trilogy has been as enjoyable as the 2 that preceded it… strings and trance-style beats that Kompakt reliably delivers.
  8. The XX – I See You: Their 3rd album is closer to the 1st than the 2nd in terms of quality, which earns it a slot in the top 10.
  9. Sampha – Process: While this is listed as Sampha’s debut, he has been familiar to me (and many others!) since his work on the SBTRKT album in 2011. Process is more chilled than the SBTRKT album, but another genius turn.
  10. Arcade Fire – Everything Now: This album has definitely been on loop for me, partly because the end flows into the start like no other album! Smart work given the way digital albums loop on themselves…
  11. Dapayk & Padberg – Harbour: Dapayk & Padberg were previously most familiar to me from Noze’s remix of Island (check it!). Harbour was pointed out to me as a similar vibe to Kelly Lee Owens – a fair shout and so worth checking.
  12. Special Request – Belief System: A superb 99 minute journey through electronic sounds from the last few decades… this will very much be part of my 2018 listening.
  13. Thievery Corporation – The Temple of I & I: I was once obsessive about the Thievery Corporation – bought every single, re-release etc – but their last couple of albums hadn’t grabbed me. This one has me back on the hook.
  14. Slowdive – Slowdive: I missed the early 90s shoegaze scene, so wasn’t familiar with Slowdive until this album.  It had been 22 years since their last album, but they’ve come back with a superb fresh sound.
  15. DJ Hell – Zukunftsmusik: Not quite up there with his 2009 Teufelswerk album (one of the best albums over the last 10 years imo), but this is superb as well.
  16. Washed Out – Mister Mellow: Washed Out is listed on Wikipedia as chillwave, synth-pop, dream pop, bedroom pop – which probably helps no-one. Excellent easy listening electronic tunes with smooth vocals throughout.
  17. Dark Sky – Othona: They said that they were “incorporating  contemporary techno, classic electronica and their roots in British bass music” seemingly. They did it well.
  18. Dizzee Rascal – Raskit: Dizzee Rascal was probably the highlight of Glastonbury from my couch this year, and his album is so bass and beat heavy that I couldn’t fail to love it.
  19. Omar S – Thank You for Letting me be myself: Apple Music claims this album is from 2017, so it has made my list… but I think it is actually from years ago. Anyway, I’ve loved listening to it – classic Detroit techno.
  20. Carsten Jost – Perishable Tactics: The founder of Dial Records, and he sets the tone. Everything on this label is electronic music worth checking.
  21. Tom Adams – Silence: I stumbled upon Tom Adams via an early morning Mary-Anne Hobbs weekend show on Radio 6. Chilled piano and vocal sounds are welcome at any time for me.
  22. Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex: Dreamy ambient pop, that seemingly helps get people to sleep but I’ve enjoyed having this on at work and my associate commutes.
  23. Forest Swords – Compassion: When I was putting together my YouTube playlist, the track Raw Language did make me realise that it has been too long since I listened to this album… classic Ninja Tune.
  24. Portico Quartet – Art in the Age of Automation: Continuing on the record label tip, this is another gem from Gondwana Records – jazz musicians making electronic music with their jazzy instruments. More of that please.
  25. Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life: I’d never properly listened to Lana Del Rey before, but somehow ended up listening to her 2017 album on loop throughout the year. Superb pop.
  26. Blue Hawaii – Tenderness: Blue Hawaii aren’t afraid of a bit of pop either – as demonstrated by the track Versus Game that I put on the playlist – but this is good vibes from start to finish where everything seems to work.
  27. James Holden and The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits: The opposite of pop, this is some sort of jazz/post rock/electronic fusion… that works.  It really is impressive.
  28. Toro y Moi – Boo Boo: I’ve made not given his previous albums enough of a chance, but this is the first time that I’ve really enjoyed a Toro y Moi album. Chilled, groovy and a bit quirky.
  29. Goldie – The Journey Man: I still regularly listen to Timeless and Saturnz Return (‘Digital’ would be in my mind if listing my all-time favourite tunes), and The Journey Man will slot into the rotation loop nicely there.
  30. Murcof & Vanessa Wagner – Statea: Abstract electronic and contemporary classical are brought together here, and the fact that they reworked Aphex Twin’s stunning track Avril 14 as part of it shows that they were on a solid foundation when putting this album together.

And so that is the top 30 that I’ll leave here. If I’d done it another day I’m sure Mogwai, Bjork, London Grammar, Lapalux, Bonobo, Tricky and various others would have featured as their albums were also superb. Tracks from other albums that I’ve been listening to will be added to my playlist…

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Snap Election: Break the Tory Agenda

I’m still not sure why we’re having a snap General Election – which will cost the UK taxpayer £115M – but let’s make sure it is worth it… the Tories called the election with an overall majority and they were racing through their agenda which has been a disaster for the UK on pretty much every level (30 clear examples are captured here if you’re unsure on that).  Removing their majority or even better, removing them from government has to be the objective.

This creates a scenario where it may seem that voting Labour is the obvious option – and although that is the best alternative that we can hope for (and for a nice change, it does look like a good alternative) – however that is definitely not the case, particularly in Scotland. Take a look at the UK wide Tactical2017 website – a site that takes your postcode and tells you who is best placed to ensure the Tories to do not win the seat – and you’ll see that for most Scottish postcodes, the SNP are the best option.

The reason to vote SNP goes beyond the potential to remove the Tories though, their policies and how they sit alongside Labour’s policies, are the reason that I really hope the SNP return as many or more MPs than they did in 2015 (56/59 seats).

Suki Sangha captured a dilemma that I’m sure many are going through (& if you take just the first 2 points I imagine a lot more people will be captured):

Angela Haggerty put a series of tweets together on why anyone pro-independence would really be advised against voting for Scottish Labour, and there are a few key points for me which go beyond that:

  • Protecting Scotland’s economy during Brexit: The different options that could be pursued following the Brexit vote have barely featured in the campaign, aside from Theresa May repeatedly lying that no deal is better than a bad deal. The SNP have been clear since the Brexit vote that they want the UK to remain in the Single Market and have set out in their manifesto that they will seek to be involved in the Brexit negotiations to ensure Scotland’s economy is accounted for in the future arrangement.  The importance of this to Scotland’s economy cannot be overstated.
  • The SNP will ensure Corbyn can deliver his more progressive ideas: Corbyn’s time as leader of the Labour party has endured continual attacks from within the party – and Scottish Labour have been at the forefront of that. Most certainly that will be because the Labour manifesto presents a number of policies for England that are common to SNP policy in Scotland (such as scrapping tuition fees).  Nicola Sturgeon has been clear that she would look to form a progressive alliance to make Corbyn PM if the Tories don’t have a majority.
  • The independence movement: The unionist parties continually claim that there is no appetite for independence, despite the polls being 50/50 and of course the fact that a majority of the Scottish Parliament voted for a 2nd independence referendum to be put to the Scottish electorate following the Brexit negotiations. Kezia Dugdale (Scottish Labour leader) has given a cast iron guarantee that she will oppose a 2nd referendum – personally I don’t see how anyone who respects the democratic process for triggering a referendum could vote for that.
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction: The cost for the next generation Trident was last presented at £205bn (which for some perspective, is more than 6 times the annual Scottish Government budget) – the SNP propose that we should scrap Trident.  The Labour party commit to supporting the next generation system, which is an appalling and immoral waste that I could never vote for.

As a closing point, I’d like to pay tribute to what goes down as the all time greatest audience intervention at a BBC Question Time – she highlights the madness of fomenting over mass murder perfectly and then went on to raise an important issue on how terrible Tory policy has been directly impacting her family life.  Hopefully a more compassionate government will be in place soon…

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Albums On Loop, the 2016 Edition

Partly due to the realisation that having twins is an expensive business, and partly because my CD collection was already running out of control – 2016 was the year that I switched over to the digital world – Apple Music being my provider of choice (convenience won the day). The shift has definitely impacted the way I’ve listened to music, with much more album listening – mostly at the expense of podcasts…

So what I’ve done this year is make a YouTube playlist of tracks from 60 albums that I’ve had on loop at various stages throughout 2016; you can start the playlist by clicking here.

However, I’ve not sorted my playlist with any sort of preference & it is customary to make lists – but there’s no way anyone would read through 60 of them, so here’s my top 21 (with a wee bit of text for the top 6):

  1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (electronics, strings, piano, guitars, drums and some healthy wailing – possibly their best album to date imo…)
  2. Romare – Love Songs Part 2 (reviews called it ‘experimental psychedelic‘ and ‘disco which incorporates traditional Irish folk music‘ – whatever is going on, it falls into my category of perfect House music)
  3. Aphex Twin – Cheetah EP (a perfect Aphex Twin release. No more words needed).
  4. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound (outstanding production and also a great diversity to this album, which is a rare feat for an R&B album)
  5. Lord of the Isles – In Waves (ambient techno – if you don’t know what that is then you need to check this out, if you do know then I’m sure you will check this out…)
  6. Lone – Levitate (this album captures the essence of 90s Breakbeat and sounds completely fresh / unique; I love it!)
  7. Moderat – 3
  8. Mogwai – Atomic
  9. The Range – Potential
  10. M Craft – Blood Moon
  11. Plaid – The Digging Remedy
  12. Tiga – No Fantasy Required
  13. James Blake – The Colour In Anything
  14. Youandewan – There Is No Right Time
  15. DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall
  16. Mark Pritchard – Under The Sun
  18. Bat For Lashes – The Bride
  19. Floorplan – Victorious
  20. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here…
  21. Bjarki – “B”

When you’re through with my album selections – I highly recommend the YouTube playlist that Resident Advisor put together of their top 50 tracks of 2016.

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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.

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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:

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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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