Scotland and the 2015 General Election

Two weeks from today, those who come under the designation of British will take to the polls to vote for the Members of the UK Westminster Parliament. There are exceptions to this of course, such as those who have already voted by post or by proxy, and those who won’t see the point in participating at all.

The number of people who end up lumped into the inaccurately labelled category of ‘apathetic voters’ is substantial, a phenomenon common in mature political democracies the world over. This often elicits protestations that the disengaged and disaffected should spoil their ballots rather than abstain, or that there is some sort of moral imperative to cast a ballot due to the sacrifices of those that have come before. These tired old arguments come around like the seasons, and have little discernible effect. The simple truth for many is that there is little point in taking even a symbolic stand if you don’t believe there is any real prospect of change.

This time may be different.

It can be easy to forget in amongst the laboriously prosaic campaigning, but this time we find ourselves at a genuinely exciting moment in British political history – whatever the outcome of the election may be. The old assumptions and expectations have been broken down in a way that few people would ever have predicted.

One of my earliest memories relating to the general election that didn’t just involve getting the day off school was when Tony Blair’s New Labour party were seeking to gain power from John Major’s Conservatives in 1997. The Daily Record displayed a headline that stated: ’18 Reasons We Need a Fresh Breath of Blair’, one for each year the Tories had been in power.

Back then it seemed like there might be real change afforded by voting for Labour, but of course, that seems almost laughable now. What was on offer was nothing more than the illusion of something different; a choice between two barely indistinguishable parties, cloaked in rhetoric and false promises. This was just the other side of the coin in a bleak partisan system where nothing really transformative ever took place. Nowhere else was this more keenly felt than in Scotland, where each successive election just seemed to confirm that voting had no impact upon the actual result.

Tony Blair and George Bush

Now, things seem fundamentally different. The far right has inevitably smartened up enough to present itself as a credible threat in the form of UKIP and Nigel Farage, simultaneously managing to make the Tories appear more rational, whilst also pulling them to promise more extreme action. The Lib Dems have all but completely extinguished their relevance as anything other than a party designed to prop up whoever is in power at any given time and needs a hand – the Parliamentary equivalent of a temp agency. Labour are having an existential crisis, faced with a complete meltdown in their traditionally safe heartlands… and not only do we now have televised debates, but the Greens and Plaid Cymru are represented on there as well (though why Patrick Harvie wasn’t included in Scotland is still a mystery).

Nigel Farage

Even the ever dependable First Past the Post system, so desperately lauded by the mainstream parties for its ability to produce sizeable majorities (and therefore allegedly ‘stable’ governments) has failed to achieve even that basic task. The irony of that is compounded by the fact that not only do we have a popular SNP government in Edinburgh, but that they have a majority under a proportional system designed specifically to prevent such a scenario from taking place. Ouch.

Nicola Sturgeon

It should not be underestimated how fascinating all of this is, especially when we remember the situation that our American friends are still trapped in. However, sadly the details are at risk of being nothing more than window dressing if it doesn’t actually have the potential to produce real change for people. Whether the Greens are getting on TV a bit more often is irrelevant if it remains the case that they cannot garner enough nationwide support to be in a position to actually make an impact. For many across the UK, this is still the reality they are faced with when deciding how to vote. This is not the case for those of us in Scotland.

Scotland Westminster

One of the main underlying issues around the debate over Scottish independence was a dissatisfaction with the status quo; a rejection of the helplessness of the Westminster system that favoured those already in positions of power. People were fed up of being stuck with the Hobson’s choice between red or blue – though it is extremely generous of me to imply that the Tories were ever actually really an option. For many who voted yes, there was a crushing resigned fear that the result would signify a return to the old situation, but it hasn’t. Rather than doggedly stick to supporting a single party in a system that offers no alternatives, for once we are able to vote in such a way that not only will it actually count, but in a way that could also bring about a genuine shift in politics across the UK. Hell, arguably it’s already happened.

For the first time, our ballot feels like it actually matters again, and that those in Westminster are having to sit up and take notice. You can’t tell the Scottish people that they will be better as part of the United Kingdom and then expect them to not want a seat at the head table.

Image of Tony Blair and George Bush is in the public domain.
Image of Nigel Farage from Euro Realist Newsletter used under Creative Commons licence.
Image of Nicola Sturgeon from the Scottish Government used under Creative Commons licence.
Image of ‘Scotland Place – Westminster’ by me.

The Scottish Government’s Plans for a National Identity Database

Over the past couple of weeks, it has come to light that the Scottish Government are holding a public consultation on changes to the National Health Service Central Register (Scotland) Regulations 2006. 

The NHSCR is essentially a database that holds records on every single person in Scotland who was either born – or registered with a GP – in the country. This is tied to a unique number called the UCRN. Since the bulk of us need to see the doctor now and then – and don’t have private healthcare – that means pretty much all of us is on there. The changes would allow the register to collect some additional information (in the form of postcodes), and then share that data with other public sector organisations.

The proposed aims of these changes are as follows:

i. Improve the quality of the data held within the NHSCR

ii. Assist the tracing of certain persons, for example, children who are missing within the education system and foreign individuals who received NHS treatment in Scotland and left the country with outstanding bills

iii. Enable the approach to secure and easy access to online services (myaccount) to extend beyond services of Scottish local authorities and health boards to a wider range of public services

iv. Enable the identification of Scottish tax payers to ensure the accurate allocation of tax receipts to Scotland associated with the Scottish Rate of Income Tax.

So hold on, how on earth will changes made to a register held by the NHS help trace missing people, or to sort income tax? I’m glad you asked!

Data Sharing

Despite being buried away in a seemingly minor consultation in an innocuous piece of legislation, the proposals are actually pretty significant. In essence, they are seeking to use NHS records as a central location for a whole manner of other organisations to track details about people resident in Scotland.

On the face of it, the sheer dishonesty involved in appropriating a database which has been collected through public trust for other purposes is dismaying enough. However, there are some legitimate aims in there. After all, who could argue with attempting to trace missing children more efficiently? Given the sensitive nature of the information involved, I’m sure that we can expect that the other organisations which would gain access to view and share these types of personal details would be small, and tightly controlled. Right?

Wrong.

In the proposed new schedule, there are 98 different organisations listed who would get access to a core set of records. Amongst them are:

  • The Scottish Ministers
  • The Scottish Parliament
  • Revenue Scotland

Well, okay… not great, but hard to really justify spitting the dummy out over.

But wait, there’s more:

  • The Foods Standard Agency in Scotland
  • The Drinking Water Quality Regulator in Scotland
  • The Queen’s Printer for Scotland

Err… what?

That’s not all though!

  • Glasgow Prestwick Airport
  • Cairngorms National Park Authority
  • Scottish Canals

and… possibly the best one of them all:

  • Quality Meat Scotland

Yep, that’s right. Quality Meat Scotland.

Don’t believe me? See the full list for yourself.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I see absolutely no reason for these people to have access to my private information:

Scotsheep 2012 Kings Arms 053

I’m sure they’re wonderful human beings that do a great job, but when I go to see the doctor about a private matter, I don’t expect that information to then be available to anybody else, especially not a seemingly arbitrary selection of other public organisations.

Here’s some other possible data exchanges that I find curious:

  • The Forestry Commission sharing information on people with the National Library of Scotland (to find out which books are pulped most, perhaps?)
  • SQA (the exams people) sharing information on people with The Crofters Commission (finding under-qualified Crofters?)
  • Scottish Canals sharing information on people with The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh (?!?!)

There are other, more serious potential implications though:

  • The address information of vulnerable people being discovered, or exposed to disgruntled or abusive ex-partners
  • Details of people’s personal medical records (including mental health issues such as depression) being laid bare for others to access – with the potential for discrimination on that basis markedly high

These possibilities are purely hypothetical at this point, and would arguably be outside of the scope of the proposals in their current form. However, they illustrate the risks that are presented by linking up disparate data-sets in this manner. Once the UCRN is deployed across the public sector, there is little to prevent the above examples from being enabled. The consultation does not the risks that are presented by this, and haven’t given the impression of any sort of detailed consideration about either the privacy implications, or general public interest of this move.

One would expect there should be detailed regulations in place to control the sort of information transfer being described, yet the consultation remains remarkably quiet on the matter, stating only the following:

In each of the proposed amendments outlined above the minimum amount of data would be shared for the specific purposes outlined. The organisation will provide information on the individual they wish to identify and will receive equivalent information from the NHSCR and the principal reference number which is the UCRN. Where an organisation wishes to take advantage of this legislation it will also require to have in place data sharing agreements to ensure that appropriate processes are put in place and followed and that the data is used for the specific purpose identified.

That’s all very well and good, but there is a worryingly scant supply of details on the framework that would ensure these protections would be afforded, or what these ‘appropriate processes’ might be to prevent extra data being shared between organisations without justification. There is also nothing to stop this limited, and disparate set of aims (tracking missing children, establishing a more efficient online user account system for public services, and ensuring Scottish people pay income tax) from expanding in the future to share much more data.

This is a far bigger issue than it is being presented as.

Here is a summary of the issues:

  • The proposed changes would create a single national identity database in Scotland
  • There have been no adequate considerations of the privacy or data implications outlined in the consultation
  • There is no way to guarantee that the scope of the data to be shared would not increase in future, once the mechanism is established
  • The changes would undermine the public’s trust in the NHS, by using it as a vehicle to deliver these proposals

The consultation is woefully inadequate for the significance of these proposals, and the questions framed as if their premise is already universally accepted as a good thing. Almost laughably, instead of leaving space for any potential concerns, the consultation asks about suggestions for other organisations who the data should be shared with. That’s in addition to Prestwick Airport and Quality Meat, for the record.

The Scottish Government should halt the proposals, and instead move to recognise these changes for what they are: a significant development in our relationship with public sector organisations, requiring a full debate in Parliament, with the chance for both MSPs and the public to scrutinise them.

Read more from the Open Rights Group on this here.

Details on the Consultation itself is here. If you’re looking to do so, make sure and get yours in quick, as the closing date is the 25th of February.

Scots Words

The Scots language. Something that comes naturally to us, but completely bewilders others when they hear us speak.

Lots of people (including many Scots) don’t realise that ‘Scots’ is a distinctly separate entity from English – more than just an accent or regional dialect. Just like many languages, there are types that vary both in level and in the time period that they are from. Ancient Greek differs substantially from the Greek that they speak in Athens today, for example. Acts of the first Scottish Parliament were in Auld Scots, and it was something that I had to read as part of my degree.

Licensed under CC, by demis.nl, via Wikipedia.
Licensed under CC, by demis.nl, via Wikipedia.

Unlike back then, the Scots we speak today is irrevocably tied up in English. The roots of many words are the same or similar, and it’s overwhelmingly a spoken language rather than one that would be written down. I’d be hard pressed to even spell half of the things correctly, and there’s no real formal standardisation that I’m aware of.

As I read recently, it’s probably the case that Scots speak a mash of Scots to each other, but English to others, automatically. It’s why it feels so good to chat to a fellow Scot when you’ve been abroad for a while… The patterns and words you use are completely different when you know the other person will understand you. If you’re not convinced, get even the most ‘well-spoken’ Glaswegian drunk with a group of pals and you’ll see how quickly things change.

That said, a lot of the words seem to fall out of common parlance, especially amongst those that consider themselves to be middle class, or who go through higher education. If you are constantly measured by your ability to use precise (and correct) language – whether in academia, personal life, or an increasingly globalised workplace – Scots gets pushed to the back of your mind. Some words are dismissed (wrongly) as being nothing more than an accent, or as an improper bastardisation of English… like ‘hoose’, ‘heid’, ‘widnae’, ‘naw’, ‘aye’, or ‘haun’…  whilst others simply become a chore to have to explain to people.

For me, having spent a lot of time out of Scotland over the past year, and even more time around non Scots, I’ve found myself wondering about these words; the words that I remember fondly from when I was younger. Scots words often fill gaps where English just can’t adequately express how you feel at certain times, and often have a deep emotional connection as a result. The more I am away from home, the more maintaining a cultural connection is important, and the more I want to make sure these words don’t just slip away.

So, as a result, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to bring more Scots back into my everyday vocabulary. Part of the whole problem has been that because these words just seem so natural, it’s not always easy to identify which words are actually Scots… or until you realise that you have been avoiding them instinctively around people who won’t be familiar with them.

To help jog the memory, I’ve started reading some books that are written in varying degrees of Scots, and been noting down some of the words that I remember and want to use more. I’ve listed them below, but haven’t bothered with those that are obvious due to their proximity to English, or that are widely known outside of Scotland (wee for small, gie for give, etc).

The definitions are my own. You should know that by their nature it’s hard to articulate exactly the feelings behind the words, or when you would use them, but it should give a good idea.

Birl – Spin around. Like ‘geez a birly‘ – where an adult would pick up a kid by the arms and spin them around really fast. Or when you are birling around at a ceilidh – a traditional Scottish party.

Close enough.
Close enough.

Bosie – This is really a Doric word – a dialect of Scots used in the North East of the country, so not all that common down in Glasgow where I’m from. However, it’s such a great word that I’d be a dafty not to include it. Imagine a hug. Nice, aye? Now imagine having one of your favourite people in the world wrap you up in their arms whilst wearing a huge fleece jumper. That’s a bosie. Warm, safe, and affectionate; the best kind of hug you’ll ever get.

This is as close as I could find to visually represent what a bosie feels like.
A bit like this.

Breeks – Trousers. ‘Yer breeks are fallin’ doon!‘.

Canny – Careful, smart, cunning. Being clever about how you act. ‘He was aye canny wae how he spent his cash.‘ Like him or not, Alex Salmond was often described as being a canny politician, due to the clever strategies he used to get what he really wanted from the Westminster Government.

Clype – To tell on somebody/dob them in/snitch on them. Both the act and the person. ‘Don’t clype on yer brother‘, or ‘she’s a wee clype‘. Not a good thing.

Coorie – Cuddle up, snuggle in. A warm, affectionate word. I associate this with a mouse coorying in to blankets for some reason. ‘Come here and coorie in tae me‘. Should note that this isn’t a sexual thing.

Crabbit – This is fairly well known, but it’s still great. It means to be in a bad (or ‘crabby’) mood. ‘Stoap bein so crabbit‘, ‘he’s just a crabbit faced git‘.

Dreep – Means ‘drip’, but I always knew this in relation to a certain way of lowering yourself down off of a wall, to avoid hurting yourself. You’d ‘dreep’ down till you were hanging off by your fingers to reduce the distance to the bottom from your feet. ‘Ahll huv tae dreep ower it‘.

Dreich – This is a great word, which gets used a lot. Probably unsurprisingly, given what it refers to. It describes the weather, and is for when it’s raining, but more than that; painting a picture of a day where it seems like everything is grey: the sky, the buildings… everything.

Dreich
Dreich

Drookit – Soaking wet. Completely drenched. Almost always due to the rain, or if it’s snowed and then melted… Usually in reference to your clothes when you literally couldn’t be any wetter.

Fankle – All tied up in a knot, like a tangled mess. ‘The cord’s aw fanklet‘.

Gallus – Daring, confident, bold, cheeky. I always imagine somebody doing something with a knowing grin on their face. It’s usually used in a positive rather than negative way. Being gallus isn’t a bad thing. Even if somebody is a bit of a ‘gallus prick‘. My pal Kerry loves this word.

Guddle – A mess. ‘He’s got himself aw in a guddle‘.

Keich – Not to be confused with the egg pie ‘quiche’, although if you dislike quiche, you could well describe it as keich. Keich means crap. ‘Hahahah you’ve got bird keich on ye!‘.

Quiche. Picture licensed under CC. By Micah Elizabeth Scott.
Quiche, not keich. Picture licensed under CC. By Micah Elizabeth Scott.

Lug – Ear. Often heard when a parent is threatening to give their kid a smack for doing something cheeky. ‘I’m gonnae skelp yer lug!‘.

Scunnered – Completely fed up, done in. When you’ve had enough and can’t be bothered with something or someone anymore. This word is great for when you’re really at the end of your tether, and nothing else quite expresses it adequately.

Swatch – If you hear something akin to ‘Haw, geez a swatch!‘ whilst traversing the streets of Glasgow, never fear. It does not mean that the other party wants to nick your over-priced designer watch from you. Rather, it means they want to have a look at whatever you’re looking at at the time.

Overpriced watches. Picture licensed under CC, by choo chin nian
Overpriced watches. Picture licensed under CC. By choo chin nian

Wheech – Onamatopaeic, in that it sounds like what it is when you say it. The only way I can explain this is through an example: ‘Just wheech it over the wall. Naebdae’ll know!‘.

Wheesht – A command to be quiet, to shooosht. When somebody keeps talking after you’ve said to stop, it’d be fair do’s to say: ‘Wheesht!‘. Also used in different ways though, like to tell someone to ‘Haud yer wheesht.’

There’s endless amounts more, but these are some of the best. If you’re Scottish, we should definitely make more of an effort to retain these words. Don’t be a walloper; they’re too expressive to let go.

For a bit more on Scots, check out this great post.

The ‘Scottish Independence Party’ Are Dangerous Idiots.

Tonight I became aware of the existence of the so called ‘Scottish Independence Party’. No, not the Scottish National Party, but the Scottish Independence Party – apparently set up by Martin Keatings and Deane Syme.

EDIT: I have received a legal threat from Martin Keane, claiming that he and Deane Syme had nothing to do with the ‘party’ except for its initial creation. At his request, I have clarified the above sentence, and added this notice. Read more about that here. 

Haven’t heard of them before now? Nah, me neither. Although going by their Facebook page, it appears that over 34,000 people have liked them previously – presumably for some of the messages they shared during the independence referendum in months gone past. Below is an image taken from their site, describing their mission in a typically self aggrandising manner.

Scottish Independence Party

There have been a whole number of groups springing up recently that are claiming to be stepping in to the void where Labour once stood; to be ‘for the people’ like no other organisation has; to ’empower local communities’ and so forth, so this isn’t really a big surprise. On the face of it, the Scottish Independence Party seems like just another group with big ideals who got a decent recognition for sharing some positive messages via social media. Idealistic, naive, and ultimately doomed to failure.

Tonight however, they revealed their real intentions.

In a post on Facebook, they set out a list of policy positions that they seemed to be considering as part of their push towards some sort of post-referendum step to formal establishment as a party.

The post itself seems to have disappeared from their timeline, but is still accessible here (since been removed).

Have a read for yourselves what they have in mind for a future independent Scotland.

These are IDEAS for POLICIES which our members have been debating on our website. In no way are these set in stone. We need YOUR help to decide which ideas are good and bad. If we’ve missed anything or if you’ve got an idea you’d like added to the list then please fire away!

1. Allow teenagers to get jobs at 15 as opposed to 16.

2. Lower the age to 16 to purchase beer & cider in pubs. (ID required) This will get the youngsters used to drinking so that when they come of age to purchase HARD alcohol from the shops/pubs & nightclubs etc, they won’t obliterate their insides.

3. All officers will be trained in the use of firearms. They will be required to carry them and will subsequently be armed officers who will the be protecting this country on the frontline.

4. Remove Police Community Support Officers as they’re a waste of money & require police backup whenever things go south.

5. Remove the TV licensing fee or lower it as it’s a nuisance and some people struggle to pay it each year.

6. Lower the retirement age. (Self explanatory really.)

7. Death Penalties for Murderers & Convicted Paedophiles. (We don’t need them clogging up the prisons.)

8. Improve the education system despite it being excellent already. (Hands on education/REAL life skills education) – Our education system needs an overhaul. Instead of kids sat looking at a board and being told what to learn and then repeat it in several exams. Learning should be more about on going assessment, asking questions, critical thinking etc and politics should be a part of the curriculum. That way we can take the power from the elite who baffle everyone with jargon and give it to the future generations. Employers are coming out in their droves to complain that kids are coming out of school with no real work place applicable skills. This drastically needs to change.

9. Get rid of speed cameras & bring in a minimum speed limit, not a maximum speed limit.

10. Legalise prostitution. This would be done from registered facilities which pay tax. It would allow girls far more protection and could lower disease rates and drug issues linked to the “profession”.

11. Legalise Cannabis. This includes growing cannabis however DRUG DEALING will still be considered a criminal offence & may get you some time in jail. Honestly, smoking a plant without any added chemicals is considered illegal whereas cigarettes which are known to contain carcinogens are legal. In an ideal world, we’d ban cigarettes but obviously a lot of people would disagree with this. Weed is healthy and has been known to cure things. There have been no deaths from weed EVER yet we see people dying from smoking cigarettes each year.

12.The prison system needs toughened up. They ain’t in there as a reward so they should stop being treated as such. Strip out the pool tables, games consoles, tv’s etc. This would hopefully stop people reoffending & getting thrown back in jail as it’s an easier ride than everyday life. If we removed all the gear then they would be dreading going back to prison.

13. Voting for 16 year olds.

14. Set up an oil fund.

15. A number/licence plate system for cyclists as well as an insurance system for bike riders. We can identify all other vehicles on the road but there is no way of knowing who is riding a bike if they happen to do something they shouldn’t.

16. Allow terminally ill patients to have euthanasia as an option. It’s rather condescending that those without any conditions or terminal illness are the ones who make the decisions regarding those living in severe pain etc. Just as life is a human right then choosing to end your own should be a right also.

This would not be for those suffering depression or having a bad day at work. It would be for people medically diagnosed with terminal, progressive and/or debilitating diseases.

17. Publicly owned services. Public railway,public water, public energy, public oil etc.

18. A nationalised central bank with our own currency. (Suggested by someone in the comments below.)

19. All workers should get a single minimum wage. An 18 year old pays the exact same prices as a 30 year old so why should they not earn the same amount for the same job. Just as females should be paid the exact same as men for the same job. (Suggested by someone in the comments below.)

20. Reduce poverty with the eventual aim of no more food banks. ( Suggested by someone in the comments below.)

21. Legalise handguns, rifles etc. (Not semi-auto or fully auto rifles, only bolt action)

22. Possibly bring back National Service in the event of an Indy Scotland. (Have to serve between 6-12months in either the Army, Marines or Navy etc.)

23. Child benefit and all associated money capped at 2 children for people who ARE NOT working. (Families earning tens of thousands a year just for having several kids is not fair on working families or the system as a whole.)

24. Mandatory driving re-test for old age pensioners (Free of charge by the government) so that they understand all the current driving laws and don’t possess a risk to other motorists or themselves.

25. Segregated schools – What this means is that any pupil who is out of line or unwilling to learn gets three chances to show that they’ve been good in class. If they continue to disrupted then they’ll be placed into a completely different section of the School with the rest of the idiots and kids who think they can disrupt the learning of others. Basically, this would mean that the people who want to learn are able to do that in a controlled environment and those who wish to muck around can be sectioned off elsewhere. Once the kids who have been disruptive or not engaging in class work have improved their overall attitude to school & class work, they can be placed back in their previous class.

26. No Nuclear Weapons on Scottish Soil.

27. Protection for the sick, weak & vulnerable.

28. Better pension & state benefits.

29. No lords that govern Scotland.

30. Make sure that all school children are able to play a musical instrument for free as well as helping students with grants etc.

More policies are likely to be added & some will be improved on. This is just a very basic list of CONCEPT IDEAS for POLICIES so bear in mind that everything is subject to change.

That’s right. Should this bunch of lunatics ever manage to drag themselves up from the mud long enough to actually form some sort of coherent political force, it’s reassuring to note that they would primarily be fighting for those extremely important causes to the ‘needs of the people’ such as eh, bringing back the death penalty, enforcing a minimum speed limit, and who could forget… legalising rifles. (Not semi-automatic or automatics though; that would just be silly.)

The complete lunacy of what is contained above is so far beyond the grasp of any sane person that it’s not worth even considering in any further detail. Whilst one or two of these might seem controversial, yet acceptable, in isolation, the cumulative total of even a portion of the ‘concepts’ to be found within are enough to give fundamentalists on all sides of the political spectrum wet dreams and nervous glances.

So what’s the problem? They’re muppets. Big deal.

The real danger of the Scottish Independence Party is that they have managed to garner such a prima facie establishment of credibility through the high numbers that have ‘liked’ or ‘followed’ their page. On my own friend list there was about ten people who, upon seeing the list published above, immediately removed their connection – embarrassed at the association. Some of them didn’t even realise they had inadvertently liked the page at some point in the past, probably having done so after seeing a passing post related to the #indyref, and an overall positive surface message with which they could relate.

The Scottish Independence Party will tell you that the policies above are merely suggestions by members to be discussed, and that they are giving an open platform for people to get involved in politics, rather than to have ideas shot down at the first hurdle based on ideology or controversy (Indeed, they have edited their statements multiple times to – at least attempt – to make this clearer). However, what they won’t tell you is that they are actively moderating the comments on their post to ensure that dissenting voices are not heard. If you wish to question why the suggestion that homosexuality should be re-criminalised won’t be added, for example, you would find yourself blocked, and the criticisms removed.

Everyone has the right to hold and express extreme ideas. That’s not the issue here. What’s dangerous about the Scottish Independence Party is that they are operating under a false veneer of credibility to peddle selectively chosen, ill-informed, non-sensical and fundamentalist positions; censoring those who call this into question; and doing so whilst claiming to give a voice to the voiceless.

Scottish Independence Party

and eh, who are these chumps? Some sort of edgy upstarts threatening to up-end the Scottish political apple cart? This comment on Reddit sums it up:

Scottish Independence Party

Check the list of pages you like. You might be surprised.

You can see which of your friends likes them by following this link:

https://www.facebook.com/browse/friended_fans_of/?page_id=292488674289406

You may wish to give them a heads up.

Ditch the dangerous idiots that are the Scottish Independence Party.

 

The Tories, Human Rights, and Scotland

Ever since they climbed into power on the shoulders of the Lib Dems, the Conservative Government has been threatening to do any number of the following:

  • Defy the judgements of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR)

  • Repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA)

  • Withdraw from the ECHR entirely

Aside from point one, where we saw the disgusting braying of mis-guided MPs as Westminster voted not to give (any) prisoners the ability to vote – thus racking up penalties against taxpayers in the process – these stated aims have so far been tempered by the unwillingness of the Lib Dems (or anybody else) to support them.

Now we hear that if the Conservatives win a majority in Parliament next year, that they will move to do some, or all of the above. Of course, we’re not entirely sure yet, as they haven’t seen fit over their entire term in power to begin to explain what a so-called ‘British Bill of Rights’ might look like. Plenty has been written on the lunacy of these plans by those far more able and influential than I, so I won’t spend time going over the same ground. However, one of the more interesting (and perplexing) possibilities that has been floated is the power and possibility of the Scottish Government blocking any removal of human rights obligations in Scotland, even if the situation is different in the rest of the UK. As the prolific blogger PeatWorrier commented:

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 11.59.45

A few people have been discussing this possibility already, so it’s worth having a look at this in a bit more detail. Firstly, it’s important to know why the Tories are so hell-bent on attacking the conception of human rights as we know it.

Why do the Tories hate human rights so much?

The newspaper headlines will paint a story of pragmatic and concerned Conservatives who wish to deport ‘murderers, terrorists and rapists’, or stop them from having the vote. The notion of human rights as some sort of whiny legal set of technicalities akin to the dreaded ‘health and safety’ or ‘political correctness gone mad’ is presented, and almost always accompanied by sensationalist examples of people claiming that perfectly reasonable behaviour is infringing upon their rights. That these arguments don’t actually fall under the gambit of the HRA or the ECHR is irrelevant, so long as the words ‘human rights’ are in there somewhere, it’s enough to send Daily Mail readers everywhere into a frenzy-induced spell of foaming at the mouth.

However, there are two real main reasons why the Tories hate human rights. These are:

  • A dogged, and overblown sense of British sovereignty (the word British is important)

  • The inability to push through decisions whilst in Government because of the restrictions imposed upon them by the HRA and ECHR

This isn’t about any one example that we have seen over the past few years.

It isn’t about giving the prisoners the vote, or not being able to deport ‘that guy with the hook’, or even Christian Bed & Breakfast owners. This is about the Conservative Government’s ideological position – a uniquely British sense of entitlement based on a fundamental Diceyan view that nobody can over-rule a decision of the Westminster Parliament – not even Parliament itself.

This view is not without merit, and the positives of which are regularly put forward in arguments posited against the ‘meddling’ of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. The theory is that Parliament is voted for by the British people, and so that Parliament should be sovereign at any one time, not bound by the decisions of any other body, including previous Parliaments.

However, whilst this idea of Parliamentary sovereignty sounds grand and principled, and no doubt served the Empire very well in times gone past (thank you very much), it is almost certainly no longer the case. As proponents of the Union were quick to declare during the debate on Scottish independence: ‘now is not the time to fragment communities and cause division, we are better together.’ What they failed to mention of course is that the British idea of Parliamentary sovereignty is incompatible with the idea of collective governance, or supranational jurisdiction. That is the real threat to the international bonds that tie us to other countries through trade and mutual obligations – not the independent status of a country itself.

Scotland Can’t Keep the HRA or ECHR Alone

The two possibilities opened up by the Conservatives lately are:

  • The UK would ‘negotiate’ changes to the relationship with the ECHR, so that decisions of the ECtHR would merely be ‘advisory’ rather than binding to Westminster and British courts

  • Failing the above, the UK would seek to withdraw from the ECHR completely, and establish a ‘British Bill of Rights’

It’s safe to say that the chance of the first scenario happening is slim to none, so we’ll focus on the second.

To quote from the Scotsman article mentioned above:

But if the opinion of Scotland’s elected representatives at Holyrood is to keep the Human Rights Act and its final court in Strasbourg, would Mr Cameron really be prepared to override that opinion?

The suggestion is that if the UK were to withdraw from the ECHR completely, that somehow Scotland could retain the current system separately. This ignores how the system actually works in practice.

Scotland and the ECHR: 

For the avoidance of any doubt, Scotland is not an internationally recognised state, nor a (separate) member of the European Council. It would be impossible for Scotland to remain part of the ECHR if the UK was to pull out. We had our chance for this to be a possibility, and we voted no. Equally, Scotland would have no special say over any other British region in whether or not the elected Westminster Government decided to remove the UK from the ECHR.

Scotland and the HRA: 

The Human Rights Act is written in to the fabric of the Scotland Act 1998 (which brought about the creation of the Scottish Parliament). As a creature of statute, the Scottish Parliament cannot pass laws that are incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998, and are required to make a statement effectively recognising this before a law is passed on for Royal Assent. This is part of the reason why it has been suggested that Scotland should be ‘consulted’ before doing away with the HRA. Whilst this makes for an interesting political confrontation between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster over the type of country we might want to live in, it doesn’t seem clear how exactly Scotland could be consulted, or have any sort of say in the possible repeal of the HRA.

Accountability: 

Technically, the obligations contained within the HRA could be transposed into an Act that only applied to Scotland. This would require Scottish public authorities to act in a manner which is compatible with the ECHR rights, and allow individuals to bring actions against them where their rights were breached. However, it is at this point that things begin to fall apart.

The force of the ECHR comes from the ECtHR in Strasbourg. This greater authority that exists at a level above member states is necessary to protect people from decisions of their governments. Whilst the conversation in Scotland isn’t framed this way at present, it would be difficult to see where this force would come from should Scotland retain some form of HRA separately to the rest of the UK.

For example, if a human rights claim was raised against a decision of the Scottish legal system, who would hear the case? As already explained, Scotland would not be a signatory, and so recourse to the ECtHR would not be possible. There would be no appeal to courts elsewhere in the UK either, as (god forbid) they don’t have jurisdiction, and they would be ill-equipped to do so in any event – given that they would be operating in a completely different rights based framework.

Whilst a commitment to the operation of human rights in Scotland could be adopted, and enforced by the Scottish Parliament, it would lack the necessary accountability to operate in anything but a shadow of the form that currently exists.

This renders the proposition completely unworkable.

I believe that it is right for the Scottish Government to defend the HRA, and our continued membership of the ECHR – this is something that we all need to do. However, to suggest that Scotland could somehow operate the European human rights framework separately from the rest of the UK is fanciful.

For a more detailed legal look at this topic, see this post on the UK Human Rights blog.

Why I Have Joined the SNP

SNP Logo

I have never even considered joining a political party before this past week, but today I became a member of the SNP.

Party political membership is always something that seemed unnecessary, and opposite to my principles. Why restrict your activism and ideology blindly to the views of the narrow? It seemed like it closed down the possibility for change and revolution rather than enabled it. Rightly or wrongly, party membership is something that is often looked down upon by those who consider themselves free thinkers – including myself.

The past two years has seen an incredible process take place, with more political engagement than ever before – something that was kicked off by the determination of the SNP. Whether you love or loathe Alex Salmond, under his leadership the SNP in Scotland has fought for a commitment to free education, a protection from arbitrary taxes introduced by Westminster (the bedroom tax), and overall a greater voice for Scottish people.

The result of the referendum has made me question in what ways my passion for social justice has been tempered over the past few years, and what I can do to do more in future. I’ve watched as other crestfallen Scots have signed up for membership of the SNP, and I have thought long and hard about whether I should do the same – analysing my own prejudices and fears.

These are the two listed aims in the constitution of the Scottish National Party:

(a) Independence for Scotland; that is the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament, so that its authority is limited only by the sovereign power of the Scottish People to bind it with a written constitution and by such agreements as it may freely enter into with other nations or states or international organisations for the purpose of furthering international cooperation, world peace and the protection of the environment.

(b) the furtherance of all Scottish interests.

In their code of conduct for members, there is a number of other statements, such as:

‘No member may make racist statements in any context’

and

‘Every member has a responsibility not to discriminate in his or her conduct on the ground of race, colour, gender, religious belief or non-belief or sexual orientation’.

It’s time to nail my colours to the mast. These are aims and values I am happy to sign up to.

If we are forced to participate in the party political process, I want to be aligned with one that will fight for real change. By joining the growing swell of people making their commitment to these aims this week (and creating the third biggest political party in the UK so far), I’m determined not to let the dream for a better country fall by the wayside. Membership will also allow me to more effectively challenge the policies of the SNP with which I disagree (like minimum alcohol pricing).

Next year in May we vote in a UK wide general election. It’s time to give Labour a hammering, and send a message that the way things are just now is unacceptable. This isn’t the end of the story.

Join us here.

Scotland’s loss of hope.

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photo by my friend Neil Slorance. http://www.neilslorance.com

 

I truly believed that Scotland would vote for independence.

For the past few weeks, we had dared to dream about what sort of country Scotland should be. It felt like we had found the beginnings of a new identity based on our shared values. The atmosphere was electric; the hope intoxicating.

Today, I feel lost.

We had the chance to do something brave, and amazing. We had the chance to rid our country of nuclear weapons; to declare our commitment to human rights; to challenge the political establishment, and to finally have a real say in our future. Instead, Scotland voted to remain part of the UK.

Watching the results come in, I found tears streaming down my face.

That hope. Those dreams. The ones that my fellow Scots had articulated so passionately, along with the common bond that we had felt… all of it was crushed.

I fear that the Scotland that I have always believed in, might really be nothing more than a fantasy. Rather than the fiercely proud, open minded, and liberal nation, we have shown that we are actually the far more conservative version that rarely gets talked about. The one that we desperately don’t want to believe in. The one that chooses the safe option. The one that breeds Sectarianism.

Tonight I sit and watch the scenes that are unfolding in Glasgow. The sea of blue flags replaced by Union Jacks emblazoned with ‘No Surrender’. The nazi salutes. The gangs of thugs violently attacking people who have Saltires and Scotland tops.

Rightly or wrongly, I feel like I’ve lost my country.

I wish I could take comfort in the good that was expressed during this whole debate; vowing to double efforts to fight for a better future, against inequality… but I can’t. I feel defeated.

The spirit of the people around me made me feel intensely proud to be Scottish. Now, I’m not sure what that even means.

Scotland Will Vote Yes

As far back as I can remember, I have had an innate longing for the independence of Scotland. When the unthinkable happened, with the SNP gaining a majority in the Scottish Parliament (despite all explicit designs to the contrary), I was sure that the (small c) conservatism in Scotland would mean that it would inevitably be a ‘no’ vote. We might have big baws in some areas, but we’re actually incredibly feart of taking steps into the unknown in practical terms; independence was just some inconceivable notion, an ideal that may be achieved in 30 or so years… if ever.

It may well be my own bias that is driving my perspective on this, but for the first time in my life, Scottish people seem to have a purpose greater than just our own immediate concerns. Rather than spouting pish about inconsequential events that are local to only us Glaswegians, the city is on fire with debate. Instead of small talk about ‘how our night has been’, the conversation of club patriots, taxi drivers, and bystanders alike has been alive with discussions about the fallacies and promises of the so-called ‘Better Together’ campaign. Anecdotal though it may be, my experience has been that of Scots passionate about asserting their own voice in the future of the country in which they live.

Despite all of the odds, I believe that we are going to vote for independence.

It’s not been a straightforward journey. The debate has been fraught with mediocrity and nonsense. Up until recently, I have dismissed out of hand any claims about supposed bias from the BBC. As far as I’m concerned, impartiality from an institution is not demonstrated by their failure to give substantial time to your particular political view. Often, despite being pro independence, I would despair over such cries, vehemently defending the broadcaster’s reputation and stance. However, in the past week I have witnessed, with disgust, the blatant spin of desperate claims dug up by those who are in opposition to independence. To me, the BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson has never been a particularly likeable fellow, but is one who I’ve always had the utmost respect. Despite wanting to root for his defence, I couldn’t quite believe that he would have the audacity to give a bare-faced lie about the supposed failure of the First Minister to answer a question when the contrary was so clear. (Context here.) I am genuinely stunned at how clear the attempted manipulation of people has been displayed in general.

Anecdotal though it may be, the overwhelming majority of people that I have contact with are in favour of a vote for yes vote for independence. This isn’t about nationalism – something that people outside of the effects of the debate find hard to realise. This isn’t about some (yawn) Braveheart notion of Bannockburn and Scottish identity. Scots (adopted or otherwise) easily see through the token gestures offered by a desperate political elite. We easily dismiss the duplicity of career journalists like Nick Robinson, or the hypocrisy and cynicism of the tactical deployment of Gordon Brown in a failed campaign to stick with the status quo. We know that there are larger forces at play that twist news stories to confuse and manipulate feelings about everyday costs and job creation or maintenance such as that in the case of Asda, Standard Life, or RBS.

As was noted at the time of the SNP landslide in the Scottish Parliament a number of years ago – the Scots have proven to be amongst the most sophisticated, and unpredictable of voters in Europe (if not the world). I do not believe in polls, or the false comparisons between those with differing methodologies. I believe that the Scottish people are going to vote yes. Why? Because for once, Scotland feels alive.

I believe Scotland is going to do it. We are going to vote yes, and take responsibility for our own decisions, rather than blame successive Tory Westminster governments that we can easily claim not to have voted for.

As tough as it might have been at times, I just hope that we retain the same level of peaceful physical decorum and respect as we have afforded each other so far. We don’t need to look too far across the water to see how different it could well have ended up. I am proud to be Scottish, and excited to be part of this part of our history. All that said, I’m sticking my neck out to say: Aye, it’s going to be a Yes. I’m fascinated to see what happens next.