Who do you want to represent Scotland internationally - so-called "lords" or democratic representatives?
Who do you want to represent Scotland internationally - unelected peers or democratic representatives?
Who has the right to represent Scotland’s interests abroad? Is it elected representatives such as Angus Robertson - or unelected Conservative donors such as ‘lord’ Malcolm Offord? Many will ask - what possible right does Malcolm Offord have to represent Scotland internationally? And yet he does.
The UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said that all meetings between Scottish Government ministers and overseas governments must be organised through the UK Government and attended by its own officials. The latest move represents a step up from reports that UK officials had been asked to hold follow-up meetings with any foreign dignitaries who meet with Scottish ministers.
According to polling analysed by Professor John Curtice on “What Scotland Thinks” - more Scots say they want Holyrood to have power and responsibility over foreign policy than say Westminster (where many more members are now unelected than are elected).
A new attempt to undermine devolution
This is new. It is an attempt to delegitimize and undermine Scottish Government efforts to promote Scotland abroad. In the past, Scotland’s elected representatives have worked along with the UK’s network of embassies and consulates to promote Scottish businesses, tourism, education and so on. Before the Parliament came along, Scottish business and trade organisations did the same - because the UK has never promoted Scotland effectively internationally. This is a clear role of the devolved Parliament - which has not been questioned before.
But the UK Government is stepping in to constrain and curtail elected representatives’ work. Recently, Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee heard how at an event in Paris, the Scotland Office intervened at the last moment to disrupt the Scottish Government’s event to promote Scotland’s food and drink sector, causing embarrassment to both the Government and businesses.
Scotland has its own identity and needs its own representation internationally
Scotland has its own identity and needs separate representation on the world stage - it isn’t helpful to subsume it in UK-wide promotions. That should be done by the people Scotland elects at the ballot box. External Affairs Minister Angus Robertson, who has been undermined in his efforts to do this, is an elected MSP.
In contrast, Malcolm Offord was rejected at the ballot box when he stood for election to Holyrood in 2021. Offord believes that Scotland is too poor and its people are too incapable to survive and thrive as an independent country - hardly a positive message to send internationally.
But whatever Offord says and does when he is abroad is up to him and his Conservative cronies - he can never, ever be voted out at the ballot box. He is not democratically accountable in Scotland.
An unelected Conservative crony now represents Scotland on important trade missions
At the end of 2022, Offord represented Scotland and the UK on a trip to the Arctic Circle where he met many leading Icelandic business figures and politicians and may have taken the opportunity to brief against Scotland.
In 2021, Offord travelled to India with Liz Truss to represent Scotland at events again involving politicians, business people and leaders of civic society, where again he is likely to have briefed that Scotland is an insignificant region of the UK that could not survive as an independent country.
Offord’s propagandist past
‘Lord’ Malcolm Offord has a history as an anti-independence propagandist. He is not accountable to any voter.
Offord was the director of Acanchi, a PR firm, that set up what purported to be a “grassroots” No campaign group in 2014, called “Vote No Borders”. They made a glossy propaganda video that was shown extensively on the BBC in the run up to the 2014 referendum as a news item. Acanchi also made scare videos for the cinema using the name “Vote No Borders” - which did not exist as a real group. Grassroots campaigning groups for a “Yes” vote - such as Business for Scotland - did not get their campaigning material shown without comment on BBC News channels.
Offord also donated £147,000 to the Conservative Party and he donated to fund Michael Gove’s personal election expenses. He was then awarded a permanent seat at Westminster by scandal-hit PM Boris Johnson.
Only independence can give Scotland control of its international profile
Under devolution, Scotland should have the right to work with the UK’s embassies and consulates to promote Scottish interests. Scotland has a separate identity and its own brands.
But the UK Government is moving in to aggressively undermine that.
The Scottish electorate has no say over what “peers” like Malcolm Offord choose to do or say when abroad. He can never, ever lose his seat in the UK Parliament as long as he lives. It has been awarded to him permanently - against the direct wishes of the Scottish electorate as expressed at the ballot box.
And yet Offord is regarded by the UK Government as having more right to represent Scotland abroad than democratic representatives.
Only with independence can Scotland ensure democratic accountability for its representatives and the right to promote Scotland’s interests internationally.
Watch a video about Offord’s ‘Vote No Borders” campaign
Those who have been warning that the UK government is planning to undermine and attack the powers of the Scottish Parliament got further confirmation this week from “lord” David Frost in a column in the Daily Telegraph.
Frost is an unelected member of the Westminster Parliament who has held several ministerial posts including that of Brexit Minister. Writing in the Telegraph, he said the time has come to “reverse” the process of devolution.
Scotland cannot protect its Parliament without independence
Despite never being elected, Frost has more power as a member of the UK Government to decide Scotland’s affairs than Scotland’s democratic representatives.
There is nothing Scotland can do to protect the power of the Parliament without independence.
Some democratic mandates are more equal than others
Frost and other Westminster Parliamentarians - including members of the Labour Party - often trumpet their belief that a narrow victory in the Brexit referendum in England was a mandate for forcing a damaging hard Brexit on Scotland and the UK.
Yet, they do not acknowledge that devolution was brought into being by a huge majority at the referendum of 1997, when an astonishing 75% of voters voted “Yes” to the creation of a Scottish Parliament.
Holyrood is important to Scotland. Polling analysed by Professor John Curtice on “What Scotland Thinks” shows that a consistent 75% of Scots want Holyrood to control how Scotland is run. Only 14% think Westminster - where many more members are unelected than are elected - should control how Scotland is run.
“It’s time to reverse the process [of devolution]”
Writing in the Telegraph, Frost said that the issues facing the SNP were an opportunity to roll back devolution. He added that he believes Labour leader Keir Starmer basically agrees with him, and will likely ignore Gordon Brown’s suggestions for greater devolution for Scotland.
Frost wrote: "Not only must no more powers be devolved to Scotland, it’s time to reverse the process... Ministers should make clear that, if re-elected, they will review and roll back some currently devolved powers. In particular, Scotland does not need to be an independent actor on the world stage; it should not be able to legislate to disrupt free trade within the UK; and it does not need to have most tax-raising powers currently available to it."
Frost also praised Scottish Secretary Alister Jack for using a Section 35 order to clamp down on devolved powers - and said the UK government must be more 'assertive' in its attacks on devolution, arguing the UK Internal Markets Act "has not been used assertively as it should".
The Scottish Government is being stripped of even its limited autonomy
The Scottish Parliament is already under attack - the Internal Markets Act strips it of powers in even minor areas. For example, Holyrood can’t ban single-use wet wipes despite their environmental damage; it can’t put a deposit on bottles; it may well be prevented from raising the minimum unit price on alcohol despite evidence that this reduces alcohol deaths.
Before Brexit, the Scottish Parliament had a great deal of say over how restructuring funds from the EU were spent. Since then, the UK government decides how to spend that money. It has also reneged on its promise to replace that money, providing less than half.
The UK government is coming in to fund projects as it sees fit without consultation - such as funding a bridge in Douglas Ross’ constituency. But how can Scotland develop a more coherent transport strategy - which is supposed to be entirely devolved - if Westminster is funding projects in Scotland based on its own, different, criteria?
The Scottish Parliament has also already been prevented from fully implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - essentially because the UK Government doesn’t want refugee children to have the same human rights as others.
The UK does not recognise any sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament or people
The Supreme Court has ruled that in the UK, all sovereignty resides at Westminster - contradicting Scotland’s long and proud tradition that sovereignty rests ultimately with the people.
They think that it does not matter that the Scottish people voted overwhelmingly to have a Scottish Parliament after long years of campaigning and struggle. It has no legal sovereignty - Westminster has only lent it powers that it can take back at any time.
Given that Frost and other members of the UK Parliament believe that unelected “peers” have the right to overrule the Scottish Parliament’s elected representatives, their commitment to democracy is questionable.
The choice is simple: independence protects Scottish democracy while remaining in this failing union will diminish our abilities to make decisions for the benefit of Scotland.
The UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has decided to extend the current cap on energy prices for another three months - but that is not enough to help Scottish families who have to pay over the odds to heat their homes.
The headline figure says that this will keep average bills at £2,500 a year instead of pushing them up to £3,000. But people living in Scotland, especially in rural areas, pay more while average incomes are lower - leading to soaring levels of fuel poverty. Energy Action Scotland calculates that the Scottish average bill is £1,000 more than England.
An analysis from February 2022, before the bulk of the fuel bill rises, showed that the levels of fuel poverty range were already running at 57% in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, 47% in Highland and 46% in Argyll and Bute.
The irony is that these are the very areas which produce energy, from oil and gas to wind and tidal power. When Scotland becomes independent, its elected government will be empowered to regulate and tax energy producers in a way that puts Scotland’s people at the heart of energy policy.
Too little too late
The gesture by the UK Government to freeze prices comes as falling energy prices on the global market has meant the cap has cost them less than predicted. The wholesale price of gas fell by 75% since its peak in Summer 2022. Given this drop in prices, the UK Government should have the capacity to reduce bills instead of freezing them, perhaps by extending the £400 Energy Bill Support Scheme payments which come to an end this month.
The freeze is obviously better than an egregious rise. But the people of Scotland are frustrated about how Westminster has seen fit to manage Scotland’s energy resources and want to take the levers of power into their own hands.
Scotland produces around as much energy as it uses from renewable sources that cost 9 times less than gas- we should pay less for energy, not more.
Scottish people are angry about energy rip off
The people of Scotland are increasingly angry that they have to dance to Westminster’s tune on energy. They live in an energy rich country but don’t see the benefits. They have seen how the UK Government’s pursuit of ideological privatisation has impacted the lives of ordinary people.
British Gas was once in public ownership. Under the Centrica name, in February it announced that last year, profits had tripled to a record £3.3 billion as energy prices and production soared, paving the way for a £300 million share buy-back - at the same time as it was sending debt collectors to forcibly install prepayment meters.
Why Scots are unfairly burdened when it comes to energy costs
- The much-quoted “average” of £2,500 a year hides the fact that, in much of Scotland, bills are higher.
- Many people living in Scotland outside of the Central Belt don’t have access to gas, which is still priced lower than electricity - despite the fact it is much cheaper to produce.
- Scotland pays higher standing charges than most of England.
- Temperatures tend to be lower in Scotland, so people need to use more energy.
- The UK is the only European country (except Portugal which was forced to do so after a financial crisis) to have privatised the national grid. This has led to additional problems with lack of investment and planning for the transition to renewables.
- The privatised National Grid operates across the UK as a whole - there is no opportunity for Scotland to make greater use of its own renewable energy or charge to export it to England.
- The National Grid also does not allow Scotland to set its own demand signals - for example making energy cheaper at weekends as some countries do.
- The amount that is charged in the fixed portion of bills includes clawing back money lost when 30 energy supply firms went bust due to regulatory failure that can be laid at the door of the UK Government.
- Household energy bills also include a levy for expensive nuclear power that Scotland doesn’t want or need.
- Scottish households pay the highest energy bills in Europe - where many governments have nationally-owned power companies.
Cheapskate gesture won’t buy off demands for independence
The UK Government’s cheapskate gesture is too little too late for Scotland. Falling gas and electricity prices mean the government has already made a saving – the scheme was forecast to cost £37bn in January. It does nothing to recognise that Scotland is suffering from higher levels of fuel poverty while its natural resources are plundered for profit.
Scotland is at the mercy of the UK government when it comes to regulating the energy market. It has become obvious that the pursuit of ideological privatisation has led to a situation where ordinary people pay much higher bills and that money ends up in the profits of energy companies, who have used it to fund share buybacks and dividends.
While the overall UK energy policy comes under question, an independent Scotland could consider whether to build back some public ownership and how to regulate the private sector in a way that puts people at the heart of energy policy. It could certainly charge less if it controlled its own renewable energy supply.
Scotland is sick of seeing successive Westminster governments exploit Scotland’s energy resources for profit without protecting the interests of Scotland’s people. It is time for independence.
The mainstream news media is reporting that fresh vegetable shortages in British supermarkets are caused by “bad weather in Spain and Morocco”. But Brexit is a big factor - it has disrupted Britain’s supply chains and is reducing food production in the UK.
Social media is awash with photos of groaning shelves in European supermarkets with arrays of tomatoes, red peppers, cucumbers and even cauliflowers - all largely absent from many UK shops. European newspapers such as the authoritative Der Spiegel are reporting on this as purely a British issue, confirming that this is not happening in EU countries.
10 reasons why Brexit is behind the UK’s food shortages
#1 It is harder and less attractive to trade with the UK
There has been bad weather in Spain and Morocco - but Brexit has played a part in disrupting supply chains, increasing the time and expense of importing fresh produce and making the UK a less attractive place to trade.
#2 When there isn’t enough to go around - the UK is at the back of the queue
After Brexit, Britain increased its dependence on imports from Morocco - which is not in the EU - especially for crops like winter tomatoes. The government trumpeted the roll-over trade deal it managed to sign with Morocco. But when there isn’t enough to go around, it is easier and more profitable for those suppliers to sell to the EU.
With no direct freight ferry, UK importers have to manage direct logistics from Morocco to UK retailers, crossing two EU borders en route. Moroccan farmers can sell produce to EU-wide wholesalers, rather than small, unprofitable UK export firms.
#3 The pound has lost ground against the Euro, making it harder to compete on price
The pound has lost 19% of its value against the Euro since the Brexit vote, making it harder for UK buyers to compete on price. Before the 2016 vote, one pound was worth €1.40. It is now worth €1.14. That means British buyers have to pay Brexit around 19% more just to stand still. Brexit has already been blamed for putting up the price of food bills in the UK significantly.
#4 Club members come first
Spain obviously prefers to trade within the single market “club”. Expat Euro TV journalist Alex Taylor who teaches journalism at the Sorbonne shared pictures from his local French supermarket and wrote on Twitter:
“When you're in a club and there are difficulties (of tomatoes, in winter, hello !) club members first help each other out before shipping off somewhat rarer tomatoes to a country which has been ranting about how it's priding itself on making it much harder to do trade with them ! So yes ! It IS a Brexit issue, despite what media and even Waitrose may be telling their customers"
Later, Alex Taylor tweeted this map to illustrate the point:
#5 Even in Kyiv in Ukraine, it is easier to get tomatoes
The veteran reporter John Sweeney shared on his war diary a video of a Kyiv supermarket amply supplied with tomatoes. In the clip he suggests that the Brexit campaign was partly funded by donations from Russia - donations that have never been adequately investigated.
Twitter users shared a clip from Talk TV Breakfast News incident where a reporter from Kyiv in Ukraine tried to say that it is easier to get tomatoes there than in London and that this is because of Brexit, but the presenter drowned him out by repeating "It's nothing to do with Brexit".
#6 Trade imbalance means many lorries return to the EU empty
The UK doesn't have import controls yet - they have been postponed (again) until the 1st of January 2024. But it has export controls and that has led to a slump in exports to the EU. The growing imbalance between imports and exports mean a lot of lorries go back to the EU empty - and that makes the journey less commercially attractive.
#7 Ireland is suffering too - because it is still partly supplied via the UK
Ireland is also affected by the shortage because a significant amount of its retailers are still supplied by UK wholesalers and a big percentage of exports still come across the UK ‘landbridge’. They are increasing ferry capacity direct from Europe but it takes longer and costs more than when both countries were in the EU.
#8 The UK wasn't part of an EU agreement to protect food producers from rising energy costs
Farmers are struggling with massive energy costs,
The New Statesman reported: "Had Brexit not happened, the British government would have been forced to go along with European Union decisions on how to help farmers through this situation, meaning that British growers might have had more support. The UK has decided not to include horticulturalists in its energy support scheme; in the EU a €500m support package has helped farmers to grow fruit and vegetables on fallow land.
Former Sainsbury's CEO Justin King said UK food production has been "hurt horribly by Brexit". He told Nick Ferrari At Breakfast on LBC that UK greenhouses, previously known to grow tomatoes, have suffered in recent years.
"These are products that we do produce, or in the past have produced year round in the UK. North Kent, in Thanet, [had] the largest greenhouses in Europe, which used to be full of peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. But those greenhouses have suffered, really, from two big things. I hate to say it, Nick, but it's a sector that's been hurt horribly by Brexit."
#9 Production in the UK is down, partly due to the end of free movement
Production of fresh produce in the UK is down for several reasons - one of them being the lack of seasonal workers. Many growers have had to let crops rot in the ground due to labour shortages in recent harvests, and have planted less since. The shortage of cauliflowers and other brassicas is set to worsen. The number of seasonal visas granted by the UK government is far short of what is needed - and when these workers are in short supply, small Scottish farms that can't afford to pay the highest wages lose out.
Save British Farming chair Liz Webster said:
“The reason that we have food shortages in Britain, and that we don’t have food shortages in Spain – or anywhere else in the European Union – is because of Brexit, and also because of this disastrous Conservative Government that has no interest in food production, farming or even food supply.”
#10 The situation could worsen as the UK moves away from CAP and Brexit continues to bite
It looks unlikely that PM Rishi Sunak will be able to break the impasse over the Northern Ireland protocol which is worsening relations with the EU. Even the Labour party wants to continue with Brexit.
UK farming is being hit hard by energy bills, and by coming out of the Common Agricultural Policy. That is designed so that much of the cost of food production is borne by taxpayers not those who pay at the till. But the UK government is not likely to allocate the same degree of funding - and therefore Scotland will be short-changed through the "block grant".
Businesses face a “cliff edge” in support next month. They have to pay far higher energy costs than competitors in many EU countries. The NFUS wants to see food producers pay lower energy costs, as they are a critical industry.
The NFUS annual survey of farmers shows many Scottish farmers are affected by the disruption and lack of certainty caused by leaving the Common Agricultural Policy, which gives long-range stability and food security for countries within the European Union. Scottish farmers also feel betrayed by deals the UK has struck with Australia and New Zealand which threaten the commercial viability of their farms in the long term.
Yes, bad weather has reduced the supply of fresh produce. But the UK is losing out from not being part of the EU's single market which has always prioritised food security. Food production at home is also been damaged.
An independent Scotland back in the EU would be able to build a country where nutritious food is affordable and available to all, as it is across the European Union.
A poverty gap is opening between England and Scotland, in particular in child poverty rates, according to a new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. In its annual report: “UK Poverty 2023: The essential guide to understanding poverty in the UK”, the charity reports that rates of child poverty are diverging between the two countries.
The report found that Scotland has a lower rate of overall poverty (18 percent) than England (22 percent) and Wales (24 percent), partly because of lower housing costs. Scotland has seen the largest fall in poverty of any area in the UK - six percentage points below where it was 20 years ago. The report praised the Scottish Government’s move to limit rent increases, and the Scottish Child Payment scheme, whereby poorer households receive £25 a week for each child under 16.
Child poverty rate in Scotland comparable to the south of England
Child poverty in Scotland is amongst the lowest in the UK, at a similar level to the south of England, the report says. Across other areas of the UK, hard-won reductions in child poverty are “unravelling”, with child poverty in North East England up 12%.
The report said: “Divergence in policy across nations will probably drive greater disparity in poverty rates. Scotland has taken decisive action in defining child poverty targets in legislation and enhancing the benefits system with a Scottish child payment for those receiving qualifying benefits; this was introduced in February 2021 at £10 a week per child under the age of six; the value doubled in April 2022 to £20 a child and increased again in November 2022 to £25 when it was also rolled out to all eligible children under 16. In response to both the pandemic and cost of living crisis, both Scotland and Northern Ireland have taken steps to limit rent increases for social renters, while the Scottish Government is introducing more protections for private renters including greater rent controls and eviction bans.”
The Council Tax Reduction scheme is also unique to Scotland and helps people on low incomes save an average of £750 a year on their council tax bill. Those eligible can also save up to 35 percent on their water and waste charges.
The “rape clause” is driving more and more children into poverty in England
The Scottish Government mitigates the UK Government’s ‘rape clause’ which says that a low-income family can only get benefits for two children - unless they can prove that a subsequent child was the result of rape. The Scottish Government spends over £1.4 billion each year to mitigate this and other UK welfare benefit cuts.
The JRT report does not provide separate numbers for large-family poverty in Scotland and England. But it said that almost half of children in large families in the UK are now in poverty, up from 33% a decade ago. The JRT says that this two-child limit is increasingly important in driving up rates of child poverty in larger families.
The report said: “The latest data still does not show the full effect of the two-child limit policy, which explicitly targets larger families. This has withdrawn means-tested support from third and subsequent children born since April 2017. In the latest data, more than half of families containing three or more children have their youngest child born before this date so are unaffected by the benefits cap. As time goes on, more and more families will be affected by this and poverty rates in larger families are therefore likely to increase further.”
Poverty still a huge and growing issue - as Brexit shrinks the UK economy
Although it is worse in England, poverty is a serious and growing issue for too many families across Scotland. Brexit is turning the UK into the sick man of Europe and the economy is shrinking. An independent Scotland back in the EU could emulate Ireland’s growth rate - it grew more than 12% in 2022, compared to 4% for the UK - and fund better pensions and measures to support families.
The cost of energy bills in Scotland is also in part due to the UK Government's ideological decisions over how to tax oil and gas and their choices over privatisation of important infrastructure such as the national power grid. The JRT research doesn't yet reveal the effect of the energy crisis on low-income Scots - currently paying the highest bills in the UK despite living in an energy-rich country.
Conclusion - an independent Scotland could do better
This report shows the result of the political and ideological choices of a UK Government that Scotland didn’t vote for. A cruel policy to limit benefits to two children in a family forces many into deep poverty. The Scottish Government has to spend too much of its fixed budget on mitigating these choices.
An independent Scotland back in Europe and with full control of its huge energy resources would have much more power to change the current political landscape and emulate other small European countries where relative poverty is much lower.
When Shell announced the biggest profits in its history - £32.2 billion pounds for 2022 on Thursday - the BBC morning news flagship, the ‘Today’ programme gave listeners misleading information about how much tax it is paying in the UK compared to other countries.
The show’s journalists gave the erroneous impression that the UK is getting a similar amount of tax from Shell as elsewhere - but in fact, because of the UK’s tax regime, Shell made no ‘taxable profit’ in the UK in the first three quarters of the year 2022 and paid no windfall tax at all. It may pay a small amount of windfall tax to the UK for the last quarter but the figure is so far unclear.
Shell produces about 120,000 barrels of oil a day equivalent from the UK continental shelf, 90% of which is in Scottish waters - but it makes no taxable profit on that.
FT energy correspondent David Sheppard wrote: “A windfall tax that raises a big fat doughnut from one of the UK’s largest oil and gas producers at a time of record prices is, by its very definition, imperfect, even if Shell has indicated it expects to start paying tax in the UK... A system that taxed oil and gas production first rather than zeroing in on profits would ensure the government’s take from the exploitation of an irreplaceable natural resource was never zero.”
Robinson: “It’s a little bit higher in other countries” - hmm, no - it is SO much higher in other countries!
Presenter Nick Robinson said: “There is a lot of tax being paid by these companies already. Shell is paying 75% of its UK-based profits in tax - it is a little bit higher in other countries but not much. We are talking of companies that are paying a lot more in corporate taxes than most.”
Robinson did not mention that Shell, which moved its HQ from the Netherlands to London a year ago, has made no taxable profit in the UK since 2017. In contrast, Shell paid £3.7 billion to the Norwegian state in 2021 for example, far more than it paid in the UK. where since 2016, its subsidies have outweighed the tax it has paid.
Shell also distributed $26bn to shareholders in 2022 including $18bn in share buybacks. Tax expert Dan Neidle argues that it would be appropriate for the UK to levy a one-off tax on Shell’s UK-based global HQ. “Shell is crying out to be taxed more,” he told the Financial Times.
“It’s not easy to design a windfall tax”, Today’s business apologist - sorry, business editor - explained
Business editor Simon Jack implied that Shell should be allowed to keep its massive profits - the highest a UK headquartered company has ever made - because it “got no subsidy” when oil prices fell.
Simon Jack told listeners: “It’s not easy to design a windfall tax. Its not the highest in the world - its higher in Nigeria and Norway but it’s one of the highest in the world, and just a reminder that Shell makes 95% of its money and that is taxed elsewhere in the world not here in the UK"
Robinson asked Jack: “How do governments deal with these record energy profits which may be just short term?”
Jack said: “It's very volatile prices. For example, when the price of oil collapsed, Shell will say ‘No-one offered to subsidise our losses when we lost billions in those years so this is the flipside of that’. There is obvious outrage at these numbers, but, like I say, designing a windfall tax is not straightforward for a UK-domiciled company which makes 95% of its money elsewhere in the world and is taxed elsewhere in the world."
Not true - since the oil tax regime changed, Shell has benefited from taxpayer support!
If you look at GERS, the account of Scotland’s finances, you can see a change coming through after 2015/16, when the UK government started to tax the sector differently. The effect of the UK’s tax changes were that many private companies and their shareholders became net recipients of taxpayers’ money.
This was ostensibly done to increase investment and to protect jobs as the oil price fell – but Aberdeen was hit harder than Norway, which continued to tax energy firms at its usual high rate. Rebates were not specifically linked to any commitment to save jobs. In 2016 Shell, having benefitted from tax rebates from the UK Government and having made many thousands of workers redundant, went on to declare the world’s largest shareholder profit dividend that year.
Could there be a political reason for under-taxing oil production from Scotland?
The UK Government now takes much more tax on oil and gas at the pump or when heating oil is purchased. In 2022-23, fuel duties are expected to raise £25 billion. Very little of that is credited to Scotland’s accounts.
Some suspect that one reason for changing the North Sea tax regime is to lend weight to the Unionist argument that Scotland is too poor to become independent.
Energy taxation is reserved to Westminster
Shell is not doing anything illegal - it is the UK government's political and ideological choice to give Shell tax rebates and subsidies. This is reserved to the UK government - the Scottish Parliament has no say on it.
Westminster gives tax rebates to large oil companies to cover the cost of decommissioning rigs and fields and to explore for new oil fields. These tax deductions include an effective subsidy for any fossil fuel production - but not for green investment. Writing in the Financial Times, Professor Michael Devereux at the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation argues this has, in effect, created a subsidy for fossil fuel projects that otherwise would not go ahead.
Conclusion - BBC flagship news show sounds like propaganda
The BBC has come in for criticism recently for being too close to the Conservative Party, and to the world of big business. It has lost the trust of many in Scotland, where 1 in 7 people no longer pay the licence fee. Today’s misleading reporting of Shell’s historic profits, which in the UK came from exploiting Scotland’s energy resources, will do little to rebuild trust.
The UK Government has decided to block the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, despite the legislation falling under devolved competence. A move which Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said will almost certainly end up in court. As we have been predicting, this is a worrying intensification of Westminster’s efforts to undermine devolution and reduce Scotland’s political autonomy.
Make no mistake: this is a political crisis for the UK and it’s one of Westminster's own making because no Westminster party has ever truly been committed to making devolution work. Of course, they defined devolution working as stopping the inevitable rise in support for Scottish independence and in those terms, it has been an abject failure for the Union. Devolution has been immensely popular with voters and where devolution has worked is in the Scottish Government's acting to mitigate some of the worst impacts of Westminster austerity, spending more of its budget on social care and Scotland’s NHS (roughly £100 per head) and the abolition of student fees. Where it has been a failure for Scotland is the fact that devolution within the UK comes with the continued failed economic mantra of Laissez-faire capitalism, the recent watering down of anti-casino-banking rules, political corruption and of course, being able to do nothing about the unmitigated disaster that Brexit represents.
Devolution may have opened the door for the SNP to prove that they are able to run a country differently and with more soul and care for the people. Now that they are supported by the Greens in a majority Scottish Government, they have an unanswerable mandate for change and that is infuriating Wesminsters failing self appointed elites. In 2017, when giving evidence to the Westminster trade Committee, I (GMK) explained that ‘Devolution was incompatible with Brexit’. I have been proven right many times over and now as both the Tories and Labour have lurched to the right to fight over the xenophobic Brexit vote the Union has become incompatible with Scotland, incompatible with democracy and incompatible with the values of the ordinary Scottish people.
Whether you like it or not, a majority Scottish Government has the mandated right to call an independence referendum; whether you like it or not, it has a mandated right to pass its Gender Recognition Reform legislation. Blocking these moves amounts to nothing more than an assault on democratic principles.
Westminster enacted Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, a previously unused mechanic which has been described by political commentators as the ‘nuclear option’. Section 35 allows the Scottish Secretary of the UK Government to intervene with the passing of a devolved bill if it is believed to adversely affect the operation of reserved matters, that is, areas outside the remit of the devolved government. Despite having years to make amendments and consult with the Scottish Government, the current Conservative Scottish Secretary Alister Jack instead used Section 35 to block the GRR Bill. Translated - essentially, the UK Government is blocking this bill because they don’t like it, which sets a dangerously antidemocratic precedent.
This ruling comes hard on the heels of the UK Supreme Court’s recent move to block a second Scottish independence referendum, as well as an extension to challenges to devolved legislation such as the Rights of the Child Convention. Today the UK Government will push ahead with its regressive Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill which will remove all the mostly eminently sensible EU-derived legislation from the statute book by the end of the year. It's almost as if they thought Brexit isn't going as well as it should because there were still too many protections for exporters and that the food and drink industry needed a harder Brexit.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the first use of Section 35 is to limit a bill which had caused division in both the pro-independence camps. It is a clear divide and rule tactic with Westminster hoping for a muted response due to the nature of the policy involved. Regardless, the bill was approved by two-thirds of MSPs gaining votes from five different political parties. This included the current leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Anas Sarwar and former leader Richard Leonard, as well as the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Jackson Carlaw.
This move sets a worrying precedent for how Westminster responds to bills passed by Holyrood in the future. We have to ask what else a UK Government which is politically opposed, hostile even, to the majority elected current Scottish Government might also move to restrict. This does not just undermine devolution but also threatens the tenets of Scottish democracy.
Finally, regardless of anyone’s opinion of the GRR Bill, it is important to ask: will the UK Government really stop here? What happens if Wesminster blocks legislation on devolved healthcare? On education? On the environment? This ruling exposes a fundamental flaw of devolution as an expression of self-determination - one where it can be overridden when the central government feels like it, especially when they diverge from the devolved government.
Until Scotland is fully independent, its political autonomy will always be under threat. New Labour are back: Starmer has moved the UK party to the right of Thatcher and is big into Brexit and refuses to defend the blocking of a bill that was supported by 18 out of his party’s 22 elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament. He offers no alternative even for voters of Labour in Scotland. Independence is normal and completely compatible with democracy and the clear desire of the Scottish people to rejoin the EU.
The start of the year has seen keynote speeches from the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and a response from opposition leader Keir Starmer. Both proclaimed they were setting their visions and their priorities for UK governance. One glaring similarity between the two speeches is that they both largely ignored Scotland and the other devolved nations, even implying that Scotland as no more important than an English region. In particular Starmer's clumsy attempt to suggest similarities between Brexit and Scottish independence demonstrates that he and his New Labour Party have zero understanding of Scotland nor any interest in working in the interests of Scotland.
Sunak did not even manage to say the word “Scotland”
Sunak didn't even mention the words Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. He used the term “our Union” just once and talked about his priorities being enacted across the UK as a whole, implying that Scotland and the other two nations are no different to the English regions. Far from the previous 'family of nations' narrative or that 'Scotland should lead the UK not leave it', he failed to acknowledge the existence of devolution and ignored the different electoral priorities of the Scottish government.
Sunak did not acknowledge that the policy areas covered by many of his pledges are devolved and he did not discuss mending fences with the Scottish government.
Nor did he mention dealing with the Northern Irish protocol - surely one of the most pressing issues facing the UK Prime Minister. Getting this wrong could precipitate retaliation from the EU that could deepen the cost of living crisis. The Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont) is currently suspended and the people of Northern Ireland are engulfed in a constitutional crisis that is a direct result of Brexit.
Sunak’s priorities are anglocentric. He has no understanding or interest in the specific issues affecting Scotland and this speech confirms that he views Scotland merely as an unimportant region of England.
Stamer tried to conflate support for Scottish independence with support for Brexit
Meanwhile, Keir Starmer claimed both the Brexit vote and the Yes vote in the first independence referendum were motivated by the same political goals. He said that both would be addressed in a “Take Back Control” bill - a bill which has nothing to offer Scotland.
Starmer says of Brexit: “As I went around the country, campaigning for Remain, I couldn’t disagree with the basic case so many Leave voters made to me. People who wanted public services they could rely on. High streets they could be proud of. Opportunities for the next generation. And all of this in their town or city. It was the same in the Scottish referendum in 2014 – many of those who voted ‘yes’ did so for similar reasons."
By likening Brexit to independence, Starmer hopes will put Scottish voters off - and he won't acknowledge that the 2014 'No" campaign told Scots that was the best way to retain EU membership, or that the vision of an independent Scotland in the EU is raising support for independence now. At the same time, he is committing his party to the impossible task of making Brexit work, while suggesting the UK has too many immigrants, in another attempt to curry favour with English right-wing voters.
Starmer’s “Take back Control” bill offers nothing to Scotland
Aping clarion calls of Brexiteers Farage and Johnson, he said his proposed “Take Back Control” bill would devolve powers over “employment support, transport, energy, climate change, housing, culture, childcare provision and how councils run their finances” - most of which are already devolved to Scotland - so either he doesn't know how the UK operates or he is announcing a full scale assault on devolution.
Starmer also did not mention how he would negotiate with Scotland over its desire for full autonomy and for control of policies such as immigration, foreign policy, energy regulation and borrowing powers.
Starmer talked about setting up a British energy company - “Great British Energy”. He talked about “clean British energy” being nine times cheaper than imported fossil fuels. He did not acknowledge what is becoming an increasingly sore point of many Scots - that Scotland is one of the most energy-rich countries in the world - yet we pay some of the highest energy bills in the world. Scotland produces a large proportion of all of the energy produced in the UK but sees little benefit from that.
The use of the sloganised name Great British Energy is based on his wish to distract people from the fact that a great deal of that cheaper renewable energy is actually Scottish. We also wonder if he is aware that there was a company called British Energy and it was the UK's largest electricity generation company by volume, before being taken over by EDF (Électricité de France) in 2009? Nothing says Great British energy than selling your biggest energy provider to the French governments publicly owned energy monopoly!
Starmer referred to Glasgow and Dundee in his speech, but only as part of a list of dynamic UK cities. He made no reference to Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales as separate countries with separate governments, different issues and electoral priorities.
Two sides of the same coin - the UK parties have nothing to offer Scotland
The priorities of both UK Unionist parties are policies for England that chime with the electorate south of the border. The leaders not discuss or acknowledge the growing rift with Scotland, the increased support for independence or the Scottish dimension to the energy crisis, where Scotland produces enough renewable energy to power itself and also exports 39% of our electricity to the rest of the UK and yet Scots pay higher bills.
Starmer addressed the fact that the UK’s economic problems are worse than comparable European countries but he failed to acknowledge the damaging reality of Brexit. It seems that no matter who the next UK Prime Minister is neither will govern for the benefit of Scotland’s economy, environment, or our communities.
Media Watch: by recognising Scotland is an "energy goldmine", the Daily Express boosts case for independence
The right-wing, ultra British nationalist Daily Express is not normally the first to make the case for Scottish independence - but an article calling Scotland “an energy goldmine” can only strengthen support for the country to run its own affairs. The headline “UK handed energy 'jackpot' as Scotland's huge goldmine could export £25bn a year to EU” was an own goal for the Unionist propaganda sheet.
It seems the cat is out of the Unionist bag. Scotland is hugely rich in energy resources boats the Express - although in truth Scots currently see little benefit. In fact, thanks to a combination of UK government privatisation, poor regulation and general mismanagement, Scots pay some of the highest energy bills in the world and that is fuelling support for independence. As an independent country, Scotland could manage its own resources and achieve levels of prosperity similar to other energy-rich countries like Norway.
“Scotland could soon lead the way in developing hydrogen”
The Daily Express reported that Scotland’s hydrogen exports will be worth a huge sum:
“The UK is set for a major energy boost, as Scotland's green hydrogen plans are set to be worth £25billion a year in exports alone by 2045. As the UK looks for ways to reach its legally binding commitment of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, while also ensuring its energy security, many have pointed to hydrogen as an answer.
“The gas - which can be split out of water by electrolysis - can be used for cooking and heating and when burnt only produces water as a byproduct, rather than fossil fuels. According to Angus Robertson, the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary, Scotland could soon lead the way in developing hydrogen.”
“Scotland gifted with abundant energy resources”
The newspaper admits for once that Scotland is exceptionally rich in energy - although the country has little to show for the huge reserves of oil and gas that have been harvested from its waters.
“Scotland has been historically gifted with abundant energy reserves in the form of North Sea fossil fuels and is regarded to be the largest producer of oil and the second largest producer of gas in Europe.”
Now Scotland is embarking on a new era of potential energy wealth, the Daily Express reports.
“But as the world shifts away from dirty fossil fuels, the region has also been developing renewable energy potential, which Mr Robertson notes is enough to "satisfy our own domestic requirements and also be exported".
“Given the vast potential for offshore wind, Scotland recently launched the world's biggest licensing round for floating offshore wind energy with the potential to deliver 27.6 gigawatts (GW). “He wrote in the Edinburgh Evening News: "The 'ScotWind' project opens up the exciting prospect of making Scotland a world leader in hydrogen production, which can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity or power and heat buildings."
Yet the Daily Express constantly paints Scotland as “too poor” to be independent
Despite reporting in Scotland’s vast potential energy wealth, the Scottish Daily Express frequently carries articles suggesting that Scotland is too poor to be an independent country
For example, in October under the headline “Nicola Sturgeon 'insulting our intelligence' say Scottish Express readers who'll not 'vote for poverty' with the SNP”, the Express was scathing about the Scottish government’s report detailing economic plans for an independent Scotland Building a New Scotland: A stronger economy with independence.
“Nicola Sturgeon claims it is a “careful and responsible phased approach” but a Scottish Daily Express reader said: "Careful and responsible - That's Sturgy-speak for careless and irresponsible". That was just one in a series of articles similarly scoffing at Scotland’s ability to run its own affairs.
So why has this good news story about Scotland's renewable potential been published? Well, we wonder if the holiday season has meant that the political editor wasn't around to spike the economics editor's factual reporting and os the truth has slipped through the paper's propaganda firewall.
Scotland will be a prosperous independent country
Scotland has little to show for the huge fossil fuel resources harvested from the North Sea. Now that the renewable energy potential of Scotland is clear, many Scots see that as a second chance they do not want to see squandered by a UK government Scotland didn’t vote for.
Even the Daily Express admits that Scotland is an energy goldmine. Many Scots will question why, although some can look out of their windows at oil rigs and wind turbines, they can’t afford to heat their homes. Scotland has no ability to regulate, tax or otherwise manage the country’s vast energy resources at the moment.
Independence can’t come soon enough.
Rising star in the field of Scottish and UK law Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, who is a fellow at Princeton in the US, argues the UK government risks undermining the rule of law and should change its stance to allow a referendum on Scottish independence.
In a hard-hitting legal analysis in the current issue of Prospect magazine, Douglas-Scott writes: "The UK government’s refusal to negotiate the independence issue with Scotland (including to permit a referendum) is unreasonable". She goes on to argue that:
“By ignoring the mandate of a lawful government, the UK government’s conduct in this context also undermines the rule of law."
Douglas-Scott, who is also a chair of law at Queen Mary University in London, argues that democracy is a key constitutional principle. She writes:
“The UK government has undermined democracy by ignoring the SNP’s 2021 manifesto pledge to hold another referendum, the endorsement of that pledge by the Scottish people, as well as the vote in the Scottish parliament in January 2020 for a further referendum.”
Supreme Court wrong to dismiss the issue of self-determination
Douglas-Scott argues that the Supreme Court under its current President Lord Reed defined devolution too narrowly:
“The Reed Court inclines toward legal formalism—in that it takes a narrow reading of the rule of law, adopts a close reading of legal texts and eschews arguments which stray into broader issues (such as those relevant to Scottish independence which rest on the principle of democracy).”
Many Scots would have been surprised to read that the Supreme Court summarily dismissed the argument that Scotland has the right to self-determination under international law. It said that this right only belongs to a colony, that Scotland is clearly not a colony and has no right to “secede”.
That begs the question - what is Scotland then? Is it merely a region of the UK or is it an ancient country which entered by agreement into a voluntary union?
Douglas-Scott argues it is the latter. She writes that “time and time again” the UK government has indicated that Scotland is a voluntary partner in the Union and has the right to consider its future.
“Through its own conduct over many years, the UK government has generated an expectation allowing for independence in principle. If the UK government refuses to countenance any new independence referendum, it will undermine the characterisation of the Union as voluntary.
“Its behaviour will also fly in the face of history, reducing Scotland to the status of a colony or a region with no history of independent statehood, while undermining any claims (made by UK government ministers) for the exceptional, “family” nature of Union.”
The Union is an ongoing agreement between two independent nations
Douglas-Scott argues that the Treaty of Union was not a one-off act but the basis for an ongoing agreement between two nations.
“Constitutional relations between Scotland and England have existed for over 300 years, since the UK was established by a Treaty of Union between two sovereign states, which was then ratified by two Acts of Union in the respective parliaments.
“But this relationship, and the issue of consent of both parties to it, is an ongoing one, not something over and done with thanks to an Act of Union three centuries old. Since 1707, Scotland has maintained its own distinct civic institutions, legal system, church and cultural heritage—all factors which point to the Union as a continuing agreement between two independent nations.”
Scotland must demonstrate support for independence
Douglas-Scott argues that:
“All these arguments must be supported by evidence that the Scottish people desire to exercise their right to self-determination and leave the Union.”
Douglas-Scott acknowledges that Scots were misled in the 2014 referendum:
“During that campaign, the pro-UK Better Together alliance conspicuously argued that Scotland could only retain its EU membership by remaining in the UK. This was not so; and since then, Brexit has taken place. In the 2016 EU referendum, Scotland voted 62 percent in favour of Remain. Although the Scottish government protested that it was undemocratic for Scotland to be taken out of the EU against its will, this argument was ignored by the UK government, and the whole UK exited the EU on 31st January 2020.”
A referendum would be the clearest way to demonstrate the desire for independence, but there is precedent for using a general election to give voters a voice on a single issue.
“The 1910 general election was fought on the issue of the Liberal government’s “People’s Budget”. The 1918 general election was fought by Sinn Féin on a manifesto commitment to establish an Irish Republic.”
According to Douglas-Scott’s analysis, the UK government is acting unreasonably when it refuses to negotiate over a referendum on Scottish independence. The Supreme Court took a narrow, procedural view in its judgment and refused to consider the broader issue of democratic principles.
Denying Scotland the right to self-determination and to consider its future “flies in the face of history”. The Union is an ongoing agreement between two independent nations.
Douglas-Scott still argues that the UK government should change its mind and allow a referendum on independence. But if the referendum route continues to be blocked, the Scottish government can legitimately use the next general election to test support for independence.
The UK Supreme Court has not settled the Scottish independence question by Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Prospect Magazine