The Cameron / Milliband Not-Debate Review

I’ve spent this week fairly quiet due to work commitments but managed to find time this Thursday to watch the start of the mainstream televised election campaign beginning with the interviews and Q&A sessions with, separately, David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

If you haven’t yet watched the program and you wish to do so it can be viewed here

My Thoughts are below the fold.

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Dr Craig Dalzell: Candidate Statement – Holyrood 2016

CragprofBy now many Green members in the South of Scotland will have received their ballot papers for the candidate selection  for the Scottish Elections next year.

Here is my candidate statement as it appears in the ballot paper.

My political introduction came through the independence referendum when, early in the campaign, I joined Yes Clydesdale. Throughout the campaign I played an active role within the campaign team on the ground during canvassing, public events and street stalls as well as within the campaign literature regularly writing for Yes Clydesdale’s monthly magazine and helping to run the largest community page on Facebook outside of the official campaign pages.
(https://www.facebook.com/SaorAlbaGuBrath)

I particularly found a niche within the campaign on the topics of the economy, finance and energy policy and became a valued contributor through researching these topics and then sitting on panels during public meetings to take questions on them.

Having been convinced of the Green case and becoming part of the post-referendum surge it is a natural progression for me to help out in any way I can to further our goals.

As a Green MSP I shall strive to put my skills to work to help promote public engagement with and understanding in the important issues faced by our country. I am a great proponent of local and participatory democracy and would make it a goal to encourage as many people as possible to take an active part in the running of their area and to help people regularly stay in touch with their representatives so that the former can put their views across to us and make their concerns heard and so that the latter can keep people informed about ongoing debates and legislation.

If you’re a Green in the South of Scotland considering who to select for your representatives on next years list I hope that I meet your expectations. This is the largest  candidate ballot that the Scottish Greens have ever carried out in this region and the strength of the pool of candidates is incredible. It’s going to be a tough choice for all voters but the team which we select will doubtless do the party and the country very proud indeed.

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Why Democracy?

I’ve just listened to a very interesting discussion on The Public Philosopher program on Radio 4 asking just why do we use democracy to decide our politics and is it a fair and equal system?

TPP

(Click image for link to program or click: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02h91r3)

Some of the questions raised include:

What does it mean to be a “fair” and “equal” system?

We currently give every voter one vote in an election but some have suggested giving some people more than one (indeed, in some elections such as the Labour Party’s electoral college based leadership elections some people do receive multiple votes each “worth” a different weight). Is this “fair”? Who should decide who gets more and would, say, a merit based exam merely exacerbate class division?

How does this link in to non-proportional voting systems like First Past The Post? Clearly if you are a swing voter in a marginal constiuency your vote has a far greater impact on the final result than a minor party voter in a seat that another party considers “safe”. Is it really a democracy at all when you can win a seat on 30% of votes cast, especially when turnout itself is only around 50%? (For more: https://thecommongreen.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/under-fptp/).

Questions were raised on gender equality within parties. The Scottish Greens have a clear commitment to gender equality and have structural and procedural levers in place to ensure it. Here we could consider that favouring someone over another for gender reasons may not be equal or fair but if it is done to correct an imbalance which cannot otherwise be eliminated then it is clearly has to be. One could spend a maddening amount of time thinking about the distinctions within equality and fairness.

Or does Democracy mean something else entirely? Is it less about how everyone gets to have a voice and more about making your government accountable? The “benevolent dictator” may protect everyone’s rights and make good decisions this year but if he gets replaced or goes bad next year and you can’t get rid of them then is that a stable system?

On the other side, there is a movement at the moment pushing for participatory decision making where the general public all vote on each policy rather than delegating a relatively small group of people to represent them. Does this harness the power of collective decision or does it simply allow majority oppression of the majority and populist policy? Is a fair democracy sometimes about making an unpopular but right and just decision?

All in, a thought provoking discussion and well worth a listen.

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Scottish Greens D&G Hustings for Holyrood 2016

My contribution to the Dumfries and Galloway Hustings for the 2016 Scottish Elections.

The channel also has links to the videos of the other candidates there on the night. Each candidate was given (just!) two minutes to make their pitch.

It was a fun night and I look forward to the next one in Biggar tomorrow in front of Lanarkshire Branch.

A rough transcript of my speech (somewhat played with on the night) is below the fold:

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We need to talk about GERS

GERS

Much has already been said about the publication of the latest round of the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland report or GERS (http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0047/00472877.pdf). Much rammying done over what these figures mean for an independent Scotland.
Answer: Not much. They tell us nothing about future policy direction. GERS isn’t a prediction of different circumstances, merely a snapshot of how current policy is affecting us.

More rammies have broken out over whether Scotland is or is not “subsidised” by money from the rest of the UK. Answer: This year and last, probably. But it’s yet to make up for the decades of cash flowing the other way to the tune of around £220 billion over the past 35 years. Little is said during this about the state of the UK’s finances to which we are compared. As a percentage of revenue, the UK deficit is currently worse than that of Greece at 15.6% versus 10.4% respectively!

Even less is said about how balanced Scotland’s economy is compared to the UK’s. If we are to be bound by (largely) the same economic rules and austerity agenda then we need to know if it is “working” for Scotland as well as for the UK as a whole.

Here is the table from the report breaking down the tax revenue from various sources.

GERSrevtable  Scotland, by population, makes up 8.1% of the UK total. We should, all things being equal, contribute 8.1% of each of those different tax sources. Several disparities stand out to me.

The largest one is income tax. There is a £1.2 billion shortfall in our income tax receipts. This is despite Scotland’s higher employment rate. In essence, Scots are taking on lower paid jobs thus paying less in tax. Correcting that shortfall is the equivalent of taking every single worker in Scotland, part time and full time, currently earning less than the Living Wage and paying them a £25,000 salary instead. The lack of decent employment in Scotland is having a devastating impact on our nation’s finances and our ability to sustain public services. Incidentally, increasing employee pay would also raise the amount of National Insurance paid by several billions of pounds.

Ruth Davidson suggested fixing the deficit by raising the income tax rate, I simply say have more people earn more money and use that to pay more tax.

Whilst we’re looking at income, it’s worth looking at the other end of the spectrum. The large corporations touted as the “job creators” in this economic climate are largely based in London and the South East and the very rich pay a greater fraction of their taxes via Capital Gains and other wealth related taxes. Again, here, we see a shortfall in the amount paid compared to rUK removes over half a billion from Scotland’s accounts. Another £660 million are “missing” from our accounts due to shortfalls in both council tax and stamp duties. Policies designed to further inflate the London housing bubble simply don’t fit in a nation where the house prices are consistently comparatively lower.

But where does Scotland “over contribute” to the national finances? Tobacco, alcohol and gambling duties all contribute far in excess of our UK “share”. Some £640 million per year is collected off the back of spending on these items. Time and time again, studies have shown that a population ground down by stress and inequality turn to vice and addiction to ease the pressure (http://www.gcph.co.uk/assets/0000/1080/GLA147851_Hypothesis_Report__2_.pdf) and that income inequality in particular is the single strongest correlator with a nation’s overall wellbeing.

inequality

(Image: http://inequality.org)

If the economic policies of Westminster are designed to improve the lot of the top 10% (who have seen their share of national wealth increase from 20% to 35% of the total within my lifetime) then here is direct evidence that this strategy is most certainly not designed to help Scotland.

So why is no-one talking about all of this? Why do we hear nothing more than the same old back-and-forth mud slinging? There are plenty of journalists and politicians who have spent hours poring over the same data presented here. They must have the ability to spot the same patterns as anyone else can. Is it possible that it’s simply easier to complain about a problem than to identify the causes of it, much less actually suggest a solution?

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Holyrood 2016 Candidate Selection – First Hustings

I’ve just returned from my first hustings as part of the candidate selection for the Scottish Greens Holyrood 2016 campaign in the South of Scotland.

First, my thanks to the good folk at Dumfries and Galloway Greens for running an excellent evening. You did an amazing job keeping all 12 of us strictly to time.
The videos of all of the talks by candidates will be available soon and I’ll post my own here when it is.

I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of all of the candidates. Each one coming to the Green movement from our own directions and each showing their own particular areas of interest and expertise. The party has a tough choice ahead in terms of top billing of the list next year but no matter who is up there we’ll be a strong and effective party for it. The very best of luck to all.

Can’t wait to see you all again at Biggar on the 14th and in Ayr on the 20th.Holyrood2016

Energy Potential

Scotland has enormous reserves of various types of energy. Which sources should we exploit and why?

Scotland’s resources are so vast that they far outstrip our own reasonable demands. Industrial estimates put Scotland’s total renewable electricity potential alone to be some five times greater than our domestic needs. Instead, we need to think about the kind of country we would be building around those resources.

We could leave our energy potential in the hands of others. We could see the last of the North Sea sucked dry with no plan of how to replace the jobs and industries currently relying on that resource. When the oil companies move on, what happens to the workers they leave behind?
We could buy our renewable hardware from the lowest bidder. German and Chinese companies could deliver the wind turbines owned by multinational corporations which take their profits from your utility bill.
We could allow ourselves to be utterly exploited by companies building the new generation of nuclear plants. I cannot justify the government allowing these companies to charge not less than double the current electricity rate as a pre-condition of merely building these plants when there are better ways already coming online. The extortionate profits from those plants will be channelled into public services…in France and China. Nationalised electricity companies are, apparently, only for “foreign” countries.

We could be content to allow very, very rich people with intimate links to the Westminster Government to frack shale gas out from under your house without your permission and with very limited recourse if things go wrong. If you have not seen the story of fracking in America laid out by Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland then please seek it out. Frankly, it scared me.

Or perhaps there is another way.
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