Work For Life

“Somewhere along the way we’ve gotten the message that the more we struggle and the more we suffer, the more valuable we will become and the more successful we’ll eventually be. And so we overwork ourselves, overschedule ourselves, and become “busier than thou” because we think there’s some sort of prize on the other side of the pain we cause ourselves. And you know what? There’s no prize. All you get from suffering is more suffering.” – Kate Northrup

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

We’re currently living through an era of great change – “Interesting Times”, as the old curse goes – and the way we work is changing with it. During these moments of change we often wonder what it would take to make things go “back to normal” even if there is no “normal” to go back to – or whether we should even try given the problems we all knew existed in that “old normal”.

During the Covid lockdowns of the last few years many of us were suddenly thrust into a new normal when it came to work as our offices were closed and we started working from home (and yes, I’m one of the lucky ones who were able to do this. Not every job can be worked from home. Not every home can be easily worked from).

For many, the transition was a difficult one. For many others though, the transition to home working brought many positives, including no longer having to spend several hours a day commuting. One of the advantages I’ve personally found is the increased flexibility to step away from my desk for a few moments to take a break or get something done around the house (even if it’s just to put a load of washing on) rather than having to wait till I’m home, knackered and would rather do anything else.

image_2022-09-05_103902942(Image Source: The Centre for Ageing Better)

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We Need To Talk About: GERS (2021-22 Edition)

“They were learning fast, or at least collecting data, which they considered to be the same as learning.” – Terry Pratchett

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

You can also read my previous work on GERS on this blog behind the following links: 2013-142014-152015-162016-172017-182018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Welcome to the second year of the Covid Discontinuity. As I noted last year, we’re in the middle of the worst possible thing that can happen to a statistician – a major event that throws out all of the carefully plotted trends and predictions. Last year I also used the phrase dreaded of every economic seer or scryer – “If things go back to normal next year…”

Well, they didn’t. Covid continued despite the best efforts of politicians in Scotland and the UK to ignore it, Brexit bit harder, the economic turmoil blamed on the escalating war in Ukraine caused a major fuel crisis that threatens to harm millions in the UK, inflation and interest rate spikes combined with continued wage repression raise the very real threat of a second Winter of Discontent and around Europe and the UK will be hosting Eurovision despite only coming second place.

In purely budgetary terms, this year’s GERS report suggests that Scotland’s finances do seem to be improving somewhat as the Covid support money slows down or stops completely (Don’t look at the ongoing pandemic, lost work and productivity due to illness or future increased health spending though…also don’t look at the massive looming catastrophe as cuts to social care are causing the NHS in England to grind to a halt and may be responsible for around 500 deaths a week in England alone…). The notional Scottish “deficit” is £23.7 billion – still higher than the pre-Covid trend of around £15 billion but down from last year’s exceptional £36.5 billion.

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It’s GERSmas!!

With apologies to Slade!

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Are you drawing up your spreadsheet on the wall?
The Economist is gazing into his ball.
Does he predict recession?
Or a sunlit upland session?
Do the numbers keep him blootered for the day?

So here it is, Merry GERSmas.
Nobody is having fun.
Look to the future now.
Try to see what is to come.

Are you waiting for the trendlines to all rise?
Are you sure that your assumptions are the right size?
Does the media always tell ya,
That your plans are just the worst?
When you fix them then their headlines just reversed.

So here it is, Merry GERSmas.
Nobody is having fun.
Look to the future now.
Try to see what is to come.

What will your budget do when it sees your taxes going to London-town?
A-ha

Are you balancing tax in with spending sprawl?
Are you hoping that deficits will start to fall?
Will you tax that grouse moor hillside
With the land reforms you’ve made?
Or subsidise the sector?
(you’ve bin played)

So here it is, Merry GERSmas
Nobody is having fun.
Look to the future now.
Try to see what is to come.
So here it is, Merry GERSmas
Nobody is having fun.
Look to the future now.
Try to see what is to come.
So here it is, Merry GERSmas
Nobody is having fun.
(It’s GERSmas!!!)
Look to the future now.
Try to see what is to come.


See my previous GERSmas Carols here.
2017
2018
2019
2020

TCG Logo 2019

Protecting Pensioners

“You’re mugging old ladies every bit as much if you pinch their pension fund” – Ben Elton

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

Last year, Bill Johnston and I published our book All of Our Futures – an exploration of ageism in Scotland, how it causes inappropriate policies regarding age and ageing and what Scotland could do instead to create a country that we can all safely, securely and proudly grow older in. In one of the chapters we discuss how an independent Scotland could improve policies around pensions.

This is one of the topics of great interest to everyone on all sides of the constitutional campaign but it’s also a topic that few attempt to tackle in any great detail. However the team here at Common Weal recently realised that while this chapter of the book represents our most up to date thinking on an independent Scotland’s policies towards pensions, we don’t actually have a dedicated Policy Paper on the topic beyond some higher level aspects such as in our 2017 paper on Social Security or discussions around debt and asset transfers found in our book How to Start a New Country or my paper for the Scottish Independence Convention, Parting Ways. This newsletter article will go some way to redressing this but it can only remain a short summary of what is laid out in much greater detail in the book. One thing in particular to bear in mind when discussing pensions is that there are two aspects of them which must be handled differently if not quite entirely separately. The state pension and private pensions.

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Our Land – Your Voice

“The people had to escape for their lives, some of them losing all their clothes except what they had on their backs. The people were told they could go where they liked, provided they did not encumber the land that was by rights their own. The people were driven away like dogs who deserved no better”. – Betsy Mackay (quoted by John Prebble in “The Highland Clearances”)

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

Last week, I took part in the Scottish Government’s virtual public meeting on their Land Reform for a Net Zero Scotland Consultation. This was the only virtual meeting of the series, with the remainder being held in various rural locations across Scotland. About 120 people were in attendance to hear Andrew Thin from the Scottish Land Commission, Janet Mountford-Smith, one of the Scottish Government civil servants charged with coordinating this consultation and the Land Reform Bill as well as Government Ministers Màiri McAllan and Lorna Slater whose remits lie within this Bill. After presentations by all four, the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions. Unfortunately, they chose not to record this virtual meeting though we were assured that the Scottish Government took notes throughout.

Our hosts said repeatedly throughout the evening that the Scottish Government was “entirely open” to suggestions on how to enact Land Reform – and repeatedly encouraged folk to respond to the Consultation – it’s clear that they’re not working from an entirely blank slate here. Several proposals are being made and some of them, we clearly must object to.

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Democrat, Renew Thyself!

“And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.” – The Bible, Luke 4:23

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

The second in the series of the Scottish Government’s Independence White Papers has been published. Renewing Democracy through Independence presents the Government’s view on the state of democracy in the UK, the limits of Scottish voters’ democratic voices within the UK and how Scottish independence could improve the situation.

The paper outlines the various democratic deficits of the UK. From the unelected House of Lords, through the unproportional voting system of the UK General Elections, the lack of accountability that comes with majority governments in that UK, the fact that devolution is granted essentially at the pleasure of the UK Government and can be withdrawn or overridden at any time and, most importantly for a document promoting Scottish independence, the fact that despite pro-independence parties winning several elections in the years since the last independence referendum it essentially comes down to the whim of the UK Prime Minister to “allow” another one. The central claim is that the UK is insufficiently prepared to correct these democratic deficits from within and only an independent Scotland would free itself from them.

There’s little on the pages of this paper that is outright objectionable, indeed I and others at Common Weal have made some of the very same points in our work over the years, but this paper stands in a strange place without, apparently, a clear idea of its target audience. It’s too long and detailed to be read by anyone who doesn’t have an interest in politics but it’s simultaneously too shallow and, frankly, bland for anyone who does. As Chapter 2 of a unified Independence White Paper it would read as an introductory preamble to later chapters but as Paper 2 in a series of individual papers it doesn’t really stand alone in its own right. It certainly does little to say precisely what an independent Scotland would do to fill the gaps left in Scottish democratic structures after the undemocratic sections of UK governance are excised by independence. To that end, what follows is a brief attempt to fill that gap with what I would like to see every level of Scottish politics look like.

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Here Comes The New Boss, Worse Than The Old Boss

“A president cannot defend a nation if he is not held accountable to its laws.” – DaShanne Stokes

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

Look. I’m not in any way going to defend Boris Johnson. The disastrous policies – from his disorganised Brexit to his Rwanda human trafficking scheme – are causing real harm, his Covid policies have killed over 200,000 people while enriching his cronies and his constant power grabbing have pulled power into the UK Executive (read: the PM) and have disrupted our ability to vote freely, destabilised the autonomy of the devolved Parliaments, the primacy of the UK Parliament and he has torn up the last tattered shreds of what passes for the UK Constitution. He should not go down in the annals of history as one of the UK’s “great” politicians.

And yet…who comes next is looking very likely to be even worse.

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The Demographics of Independence: 2022 Mini-Update

“In most polls there are always about 5 percent of the people who ‘don’t know.’ What isn’t generally understood is that it’s the same people in every poll.” – George Carlin

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

Since 2017, I’ve been collecting and deeply diving into Scottish polling data around independence. The last full report was published a little under a year ago but with the re-launch of the independence campaign ahead of the independence referendum that the Scottish Government hopes to hold next October, now is a good time to revisit that study. While I keep an eye on all polling from all polling companies in Scotland I tend to restrict my deeper analysis to those published by Panelbase as they tend to break up their dataset into more varied subsets than others like YouGov and thus provide a richer story for those trying to find out not just how many people support independence but who they are. Since August last year, there have only been five Panelbase polls asking Scotland about independence, including the one just released this week, so there isn’t yet enough data to publish another full Demographics of Indy report. However, given that this latest poll is the first since the First Minster’s indyref announcement and it returned a majority for support for independence I felt it was worth giving a mini-update in this news column. Please read the full policy paper series – comprising the 20212018 and 2017 editions – for my methodologies and all of the caveats involved in peering darkly through the lens of polling data.

OVERALL SUPPORT

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Let the Information be Free!

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

I have an update to my article from a few weeks back on Freedom of Information. In that article I made the case that our FOI laws are woefully insufficient. An FOI request allows you to bring Government information into the public domain simply by you asking for it. To look at it another way, all information that could be released by an FOI request is already potentially in the public domain but for the lack of the appropriate question being asked. This is a major limit in itself as to get at that information:- First we need to be able to ask that appropriate question.

However my wife Ellen and I discovered that what we mean by “public domain” and what the Scottish Government means by it may be two very different things. It appeared to us that while the Government regularly publishes the replies to FOI requests to its online archive, it does not appear to publish every reply there though they consider a private reply directly to the requester to be equivalent to posting the information into the public domain. Communication with the Information Commissioner revealed that there was no legal obligation for the Government to post replies to a public archive at all, merely that it was considered “best practice”. As we had personal experience of an FOI request not being posted to that archive and it got us wondering how often this happened. By examining the unique serial codes of the FOI requests that were published and making the assumption that they were assigned to requests sequentially as they arrived, I estimated that around 30% of replies made it to the public archive. But I thought I could do better than that so I decided to FOI some information about FOIs.

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Finally, the Campaign Continues

“The proverb warns that, ‘You should not bite the hand that feeds you.’ But maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself.” – Thomas Stephen Szasz

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

And so, after many years of false starts and being told to “hold, hold” it looks like we’re finally off and back into a new independence campaign, a little shy of a decade after the previous one kicked off.

On Tuesday Nicola Sturgeon announced an update to her plan to deliver an independence referendum in the first half of this Parliamentary term. “Plan A” had always been to seek a sanctioned referendum by way of a formal Section 30 order to the UK Government resulting in something akin to the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement. But with Boris Johnson now and Theresa May before him being consistent in denying such a request, pressure had been mounting to deliver some kind of “Plan B”.

This week, we saw what that would look like. Should a Section 30 order not be forthcoming then the Scottish Government shall bring forward a Referendum Bill anyway and ask the Parliament to approve it. Given the pro-indy majority between the SNP and the Scottish Greens, it would be a miracle and a scandal if it doesn’t pass though – assuming no other party comes out at least as pro-referendum – all eyes will be on those pro-referendum (and the handful of quietly pro-independence MSPs within the Unionist parties) to see if they argue for a free vote or break with any party whip to vote the Bill. Will there be a repeat of Wendy Alexander’s 2008 “Bring it on” moment from any of the parties? I doubt it. Indeed, the biggest challenge to the referendum process – particularly an unsanctioned referendum – is the other side not playing at all.

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