The morning after

A despondent looking Scotsman holding a Lion Rampant flag.

I still haven’t quite managed to put down in words my thoughts, and feelings on the “No” vote. In the meantime, here’s Christine De Luca‘s The Morning After, written before the result was known.

Let none wake despondent: one way
or another we have talked plainly,
tested ourselves, weighed up the sum
of our knowing, ta’en tent o scholars,
checked the balance sheet of risk and
fearlessness, of wisdom and of folly.

Was it about the powers we gain or how
we use them? We aim for more equality;
and for tomorrow to be more peaceful
than today; for fairness, opportunity,
the common weal; a hand stretched out
in ready hospitality.         

It’s those unseen things that bind us,
not flag or battle-weary turf or tartan.
There are dragons to slay whatever happens:
poverty, false pride, snobbery, sectarian
schisms still hovering. But there’s
nothing broken that’s not repairable.

We’re a citizenry of bonnie fighters,
a gathered folk; a culture that imparts,
inspires, demands a rare devotion,
no back-tracking; that each should work
and play our several parts to bring about
the best in Scotland, an open heart.

Find your reason

Scottish independence referendum

Tomorrow, we  answer the question, Should Scotland be an independent country?

Do we want more power, more responsibility and the ability to tailor solutions to our particular needs? Or do we, ultimately, want powers removed from the Scottish Parliament?

Find your reason to vote Yes.

Maybe it’s the removal of 16000 kilotons of nuclear warhead that sit just a few miles from the centre of Glasgow.

Maybe you want to take full control of the huge energy resources we have.

Maybe it’s because of your preference of proportional representation over first-past-the-post.

Maybe you’d like a written constitution.

Maybe it’s just that you don’t want a Chancellor who is promising a further £60bn worth of cuts over the next few years; or maybe it’s the prospect of further job losses in Scotland, as a result.

Maybe you don’t want to be part of a country that wants austerity forever, or as David Cameron puts it, “more with less. Not just now, but permanently“.

Maybe you’d prefer to live in a country that invests in its future, and doesn’t rate 142nd of 154 nations in this category.

Maybe it’s your desire to secure the NHS from the private American market.

Maybe you’d rather have an opposing view to the right-wing message of the BNP, National Front, Britain First, Britannica Party, and UKIP.

Maybe it’s the food banks.

Or, maybe you want to kick-start a democratic revolution that would benefit the rest of the UK, instead of ensuring that we all suffer the same Eton-based governments for the foreseeable future.

Whatever your reason is, find it and help create a country that fits your needs. Not one that fits the needs of the rich and entitled.

Tomorrow, we make history. Let’s all be on the right side.

UK Food Banks

The UK has a problem. Despite its wealth, and since 2008, the number of people using food banks to receive emergency food rations has increased from around 26,000 to over 900,000.

The UK is the world’s six [sic] largest economy, yet 1 in 5 of the UK population live below our official poverty line. Oxfam

In Scotland alone, 2013 – 2014’s foodbank figure is 71,428, over 22000 of which are children. The forecast is bleak. In fact, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that the child poverty rate in Scotland will increase to 22.7 per cent by 2020, adding another 50,000 children to the living-below-the-poverty-line statistic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXexkSFW3xM, video no longer available.

Food banks are not new, but in the UK, they were virtually unknown prior to the election of the current Westminster government. Since the election, this government has worked to reform the welfare system, at some considerable cost to the taxpayer. Latest estimates are that the changes will cost £2.4bn, although you can write off £120m of that, or maybe £140m, or is it £200m? No, it’s £425m.

Changes to the welfare system, including the move from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment, the “bedroom tax”, and the introduction of a benefit cap, have adversely affected the lives of many old, poor, and disabled people throughout the UK. Additionally, the significant number of women who perform carer roles has meant that they too are a victim of any welfare changes.

With a continuous supply of misinformation about scroungers and dole cheats, it becomes easy to see how this culture is able to thrive. Recent surveys have suggested that the British public think claimants “lie about their circumstances in order to obtain higher welfare benefits or deliberately refuse to take work where suitable jobs are available”.

No wonder so many people think their own families are net losers from the tax and spend system: they believe a substantial chunk of their rising tax bill is being used to support people who are wrongly pocketing large amounts of welfare cash. Prospect, A Quiet Revolution

In truth, the figure the Department for Work & Pensions supplies as being attributable to “fraud and error” (note that it doesn’t declare whose) is “almost 3%“. A very small amount, indeed.

Scotland has very different needs from its southern neighbours. Its population is more geographically displaced; Scottish people die younger; it’s colder; cancer rates are higher; and there is lower growth in the working age population.

Just because you have a hammer, doesn’t mean every problem is a nail. With independence, it will be for the Scottish Parliament and future Scottish governments to determine the future direction of the welfare system in Scotland.

When the present welfare reforms have come into full effect they will take more than £1.6bn a year out of the Scottish economy. The Impact of Welfare Reform on Scotland

The Scottish Government’s white paper, Scotland’s Future states  its aims in Chapter 4 – Health, Wellbeing and Social Protection.

Independence will provide the opportunity to create a fairer, more equal society, built around the needs of citizens.

Independence will provide the opportunity“, is the key phrase. Scotland is not being handed anything on a plate. However, the Westminster alternative would not help Scotland move towards a position where it can

 [build] a welfare system, based on clear principles and values that: supports people who work; provides support for people who cannot work; and fosters a climate of social solidarity

The Welfare section of the most recent British Social Attitudes survey paints a pretty grim picture of the public’s views on welfare and seems to be in direct conflict with those aims outlined in Scotland’s Future, and on a downward trend.

In 2001 43% thought that the government should spend more on welfare benefits for the poor, even if it leads to higher taxes, compared to 32% in 2007 and 28% now.

Not only do we have a Conservative / Liberal Democrats government who are doing all they can to demonise the poor, and a shadow cabinet who plan to continue down the same path, but the majority of the cuts are still to come. Voting No guarantees the continued punishment of those most in need.

This is not about the current government and how Scotland hates Cameron and Clegg, but there’s no getting away from the fact that there is currently no Westminster solution to specific Scottish welfare needs. A vote against independence is a vote for the political framework which got us into this situation.

Scotland’s future is not guaranteed, whichever the result this week. But the trends are clear; there are distinct health and social benefits to voting Yes to Scottish independence.

On the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

When I was a kid, I lived next door to an elderly couple who were both members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). On occasional visits, I remember seeing the CND symbol dotted about their house. It wasn’t until years later that I understood what it symbolised.

Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB), also known as Faslane, is located 24 miles north-west of where I live with my wife and daughter. It’s home to 4 Vanguard-class submarines, each of which can carry 8 trident missiles. Each missile can carry 5 warheads, and each of these has an explosive power of up to 100 kilotons.

If you’re counting, that’s 16000 kilotons of nuclear warhead, located on the west coast of Scotland. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was around 16 kilotons in size.

Here’s what that would look like if there was to be a catastropic incident. The numbers halfway down the right-hand side are 19610 (estimated fatalities) and 83900 (estimated injuries).

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 22.45.59
Nuclear fallout in Scotland

The Scottish Government’s view on nuclear weapons is laid out in the white paper, published earlier this year.

This Scottish Government would make early agreement on the speediest safe removal of nuclear weapons a priority. Scotland’s Future, Chapter 6 International Relations and Defence

The Westminster Government plans on keeping it.

If there is more than a negligible chance that the possession of nuclear weapons might play a decisive future role in the defence of the United Kingdom and its allies in preventing nuclear blackmail or in affecting the wider security context with which the UK sits, then they should be retained. Guardian, Trident gets thumbs up in report that will dismay anti-nuclear campaigners

The use of the trident missile system would be illegal, under the 1868 Declaration of St Petersburg, 1907 Hague Convention, 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1949 Geneva Conventions, and the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions.

And it costs the UK around £2.4 billion per year.

Within a short distance of the centre of Scotland’s most populous city, we have a nuclear missile system which, although illegal to use, sits at the mouth of the River Clyde and costs over £2 billion a year to maintain. It’s subject to regular accidents and incidents, and could kill thousands of Scottish people in the event of something serious going wrong.

I’ve not even mentioned the recent middle-of-the-night transportation through the city.

If you have the time, I urge you to read If Britain fired Trident – The humanitarian consequences of a nuclear attack by a Trident submarine on Moscow. It describes how this system could be used, and the catastrophic results of doing so.

In the meantime, there’s only one way to get rid of the Trident missile system, and that’s by voting Yes at the Scottish Referendum next week.

When I do, I’ll remember my neighbours Mac, and Evelyn, and their wee CND badges.

Small is better

In offices around the World, small and flexible teams are being created to work on customer-focused projects. They’re following principles of Lean UX by building minimum viable products, gathering feedback from their user-base; iterating, improving, progressing.

Small is better, because it enables groups of people to assume collective responsibility for the work they’re doing; allowing for simpler, more effective communication; making it easier to identify mistakes and process issues.

Flexible teams are able to react to their environment, changing as required. They gain or lose team members as per their requisite skills, and they’re more effectively equipped to respond to the changing needs and demands of their customers.

Mouse and elephant
Mouse and elephant

Scotland and its people will be more successful as a small, independent country, than as part of a larger one.

The Scottish Parliament is more visible and more answerable, than its Westminster counterpart. Its physical location, set among the central belt of Scotland’s most populous area means that communication is more effective; politicians making the decisions that affect our every day lives, are walking the same streets as us.

A smaller country, with full decision-making powers, will dynamically react to its internal and external environments.

Not enough people of working age? Loosen immigration requirements; do it iteratively, gathering feedback and dialogue, as the results are measured. Unemployment numbers rising? Lower corporation tax, promote Scotland as a ‘business-friendly’ nation. Energy costs prohibitively high? Lower onboarding costs at the far-reaches of the grid, where the natural resources are.

These are real examples of decisions we are currently unable to make.

Next week, we’ll be asked should Scotland be an independent country, and I would argue that it only makes sense to say Yes. To allow ourselves to make these – and many more – decisions.

Being smaller and more flexible allows Scotland to grow as it needs to. Our government is better positioned to react to the changing needs and demands of the people it was elected to represent.

As a nation, we are responsible for and able to make changes that benefit the people who live here, and their quality of life. Being part of a wider union, with a decision-making capital outwith our own country does not afford us this responsibility.

A thing about an independent Scotland, and Rangers

In 2 weeks’ time, the people of Scotland will vote in a referendum; they will travel to their nearest polling booth, and answer the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?

Although it seems that we’ve been talking about it for ever, it was really only this Summer that people began to come out of their shell, and proclaim either, “Yes”, or “No”. Some are still not sure how they’ll mark their polling card. The debates have raged in cities and towns across Scotland; books have been written; and online engagement has been key, with both Twitter and Facebook a hive of #indyref activity.

Rangers are a Scottish football club, that for many reasons are supported by fans that are – largely – very much pro-Union. The reasons for this are worthy of a book in itself (I recommend The Old Firm: Sectarianism, Sport And Society In Scotland by Bill Murray) but suffice to say that if you were to stereotype a traditional Rangers fan, you’d picture them waving a Union Flag, toasting the monarchy, and singing God Save the Queen.

Sky News presenter, Jeff Randall, once called Rangers “the quintessential British club“, and you won’t hear many fans arguing with that.

Rangers fans

As a Rangers fan myself, my Twitter timeline is full of like-minded individuals, bemoaning more financially troublesome news. Where we differ though, is that a lot of them have Better Together avatars and are promoting the “No” campaign.

This got me thinking about the parallels between the club and the campaign for an independent Scotland.

Earlier today, Andy McKellar wrote an excellent article for The Copland Road, in which he describes the horrors of recent years, and the need for the club to be owned by the fans.

True power lies with ownership. If one thing has been demonstrated above all else in the last couple of years then that is surely the lesson we must learn. We can shout, scream or withdraw our custom. That will have an impact, sure. But we’ll never be in control of the process and we’ll never be able to properly hold the board to account in the way that we should.

Just two days prior to this, Gordon Young, editor of the Glasgow-based marketing website, The Drum, posted the article, I love you too England, but I still intend to vote Yes in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

As one leading business figure put it; independence would be akin to a ‘management buyout’.

McKellar is absolutely right to say that Rangers should be owned and run by its fans. Responsibility for the club should be in the hands of those who know and love it. In recent years, the money that has poured in has found its way directly into the pockets of the owners, and the London financiers for whom they work, resulting in a less-than-healthy team, club, or bank balance.

One could argue that Scottish tax receipts suffer a similar fate. What’s not up for debate is that Rangers fans and the Scottish population are being short-changed, and both need to be run by the people who care most about them.

Scotland is a country in its own right, and should be an independent one at that. A referendum victory for the “Yes” campaign will allow us to take responsibility for our own actions, and join the rest of the World, as an equal partner. Like Graham Campbell, convenor for Africans for Independence says:

The journey to manhood begins only when a man leaves his father’s house to build his own homestead.

Let’s promote ‘management buyouts’ for Scotland, and for Rangers; there’s no way that those left in charge could leave either in a worse state.