Pages tagged with "Westminster Mismanagement"

The cost of living crisis is driven by greed and the Union

WE have all become accustomed to Boris Johnson’s false “bumbling” manner in public appearances and interviews as he tries not to cement his place in history as the PM who made Britain the laughing stock of the world after “getting Brexit done”. However, his and the Chancellor’s woefully inadequate handling of the economy, which has been battered by the pandemic, catastrophic events in Ukraine and spiralling energy prices, are in danger of leaving the UK stuck with the tag, “the poor man of Europe”.

Inflation in the UK is currently as 6.1 per cent, with the Bank of England expecting it to top 8 per cent and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasting an 8.7 per cent rise in the third quarter of this year, a 40-year high.

But how much of the cost of living crisis has been caused by corporate greed, and could that unflattering soubriquet have been avoided had the Tories acted with some humility instead of keeping their big money backers onside?

Price hikes on basics are not confined to the UK. Worldwide oil and gas prices have been rising since the economy began to recover from its first bout of Covid in late 2020 – when the collapse in demand drove prices down. However, when Russia invaded Ukraine, prices shot up to unprecedented levels hitting the whole of Western Europe.

In the UK – which imports only 8% of its fuel products from Russia – around 22 million homes were facing energy prices rises of £700 per year from the beginning of this month, when the energy price cap rocketed by 54 per cent.

Rishi Sunak did announce a temporary 5p per litre reduction in the duty on petrol and diesel, down from 57.95 per litre; and a cut in income tax in two years’ time, prompting widespread criticism, including from the Resolution Foundation, which said only one in eight workers would see their tax bill fall.

The impending financial crisis has promoted hundreds of thousands of words of comment and many guides on how people can cope, so how are the governments of our European neighbours helping their populations?

France

In France, the government cut the cost of fuel by 15 cents a litre and gave six million households a €100 (£83.50) energy voucher to cope with soaring costs. Compare that to the £200 loan being given to UK households, which will be paid back in instalments on future bills

Germany

All taxpayers in Germany are being given a €300 (£250) payment to help with their cost of living rises, with a further €100 (£83.50) for each child and a similar amount for anyone on state benefits. A three-month public transport ticket has been slashed to €9 (£7.50) to encourage people to use low-carbon travel.

Ireland

The Irish government is giving every household a €200 (£167) energy rebate and public transport fares have been cut by a fifth until the end of the year to help people with rising travel costs.

In Northern Ireland, public transport fares have been frozen, while in the UK, rail fares rose by 3.8 per cent at the beginning of last month.

Spain

Spain has seen inflation rise to almost 10 per cent, but the government has still tried to ease the burden on its citizens. It is subsidising fuel by 20 cents until the end of June and pledging to tax excess profits. It has also capped rent rises at 2 per cent.

The UK

Sunak’s spring statement came nowhere close to helping lower income households, and the Institute for Public Policy Research said they still faced an average cash shortfall of £320 this year. The IPPR said his statement was biased towards higher earners – who, it estimated, received four times the support that lower-income households did.

Oil giants have reaped huge benefits from the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis – Shell’s and BP’s combined profits last year totalled $32bn (£24.5bn), triggering calls for a windfall tax to be levied.

Following the privatisation of our utility and transport companies, started by Maggie Thatcher, we have seen them make billions in profits as they push up the prices of energy, water and other commodities. The National Grid, for instance, pays out more than £1bn a year to its shareholders.

Pharma giant GSK, with sites at Irvine and Montrose, has been embroiled in a dispute with the Unite union over a pay offer of 2.75 per cent, while its chief executive Emma Walmsley, received a 17 per cent rise last year, taking her remuneration to over £8 million – prompting claims of “cast-iron corporate greed”.

If an entrepreneur becomes a millionaire, that's great, they took the risks, founded a business and created jobs. Large corporate salaries involve no real risk, as the economy has been restructured to ensure their success and often that they don’t even have to pay taxes.

There’s no getting away from such examples of apparent avarice and, despite the fact that similar claims are much more prevalent in the US, they deserve to be addressed in public on these shores.

But Johnson and Sunak etc are unwilling to do anything to upset their super-rich friends, family members and supporters. This leaves us with two key questions firstly, when exactly does the UK qualify as an oligarchy? And secondly, if Scotland can produce 100% of its energy requirements from renewables in 2022, which is the cheapest form of energy, when will people realise that the cost of living crisis is not only a cost of greed crisis but a cost of remaining in the UK crisis.

Conservative northern branch, Zero to offer Scotland

Murdo Fraser accuses the Scottish Government of being a Potemkin Government but the increasingly Scotiaphobic Tory northern branch has nothing to offer Scotland. Scottish voters know it and Murdo knows it, which is why he was silent about his own party’s record in government. 

Just three months ago the Conservative northern branch leader Douglas Ross won some plaudits calling for Johnson’s resignation for attending boozy parties while the rest of the country was in lockdown and in February Tory MSP Russell Findlay was too busy painting his bathroom to meet the PM on his furtive foray into Fife. A recent poll shows that even Labour’s moribound northern branch has overtaken the Tories.

Now with the war in Ukraine muting rebelliousness in northern branch ranks, Murdo is hanging his party's meagre hopes on a depressed local election turnout in May, which underscores its vacuousness.

After 12 years of a UK Conservative government, the wreckage is pervasive. Public services have been starved of funding, poverty and inequality have risen, and the English NHS is being privatised by stealth, with Scotland’s next in line. The UK’s Covid death rate is among the highest in Europe, government corruption is rife and ministers routinely flout the law.

Then there’s Brexit, a disastrous own goal that will depress GDP by 4%, inflicting twice the damage done by Covid. UK economic growth lags behind Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Between 2019 and 2022, trade with Germany crashed 18%, and Germany’s exports to the UK are down nearly a quarter. The UK’s investment attractiveness took a 17% hit in 2020/21. Foreign investment in strategic growth sectors like software fell by a third while advanced engineering, the environment, infrastructure and transport plunged 25%.

Scotland’s export driven economy has lost billions. The Australia and New Zealand trade deals negotiated by the UK Government give beef and lamb exporters with lower costs and animal welfare standards unfettered access to the UK market, undercutting Scottish farmers, crofters and food producers. Exports of Scottish whisky and salmon are significantly down since 2019. For the first time since 1997, the UK now spends more on importing goods from the rest of the world than it does from the EU.

Inflation is at a 30-year high, interest rates and regressive taxes are up, National Insurance rates have risen punishing the working and not the wealthy and Sunak’s spring statement did nothing to alleviate the suffering of millions. Safe from a windfall tax, private energy companies profiteer while Scottish renewables producers’ pay ten times in grid connection charges than their southern counterparts and Scottish consumers pay among the highest electricity standing charges in the UK, an absurdity given Scotland’s status as a net energy exporter.

What Murdo Fraser fails to understand is that an independent Scotland won’t be dominated by a single political party, there will even probably be a true Scottish Conservative party to replace the London led unionist tory party and there will be several other parties to better reflect the nation’s political diversity. The difference is they will represent Scotland’s interests, not those of another country but that probably does mean there will be no room for politicians such as Fraser. 

The answer to Scotland's energy security question is independence

Michael Glackin in the Sunday Times says the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed UK energy security. The answer, he says, is to drill for more oil and gas, frack and build nuclear power plants.

He’s palpably excited about Boris’ new ‘energy supply strategy’ but when have the Conservatives ever come up with a strategy that benefited Scotland and not the City of London? Successive Westminster Governments of both colours have been reckless with the nation’s energy resources, having sold them off to the highest bidder decades ago to enrich private corporations and shareholders, and is the reason the UK has no energy security today. And the oil and gas the UK Government privatised belonged to Scotland, as does the vast majority of this island’s offshore wind, wave and tidal potential.  Nations like France and Norway were wiser, keeping control of their strategic energy resources so that today their governments are able to shield their citizens from the obscene profiteering by oil and gas companies, many of whom offshore their profits to avoid paying the full amount of tax owed on their operations here. 

Will Boris’ ‘energy supply strategy’ reinstate oil taxes the UK Government cut to zero in 2015, foregoing tens of billions in revenue and making the UK the most profitable place not only for Russian oligarchs to launder their money but also for Big Oil to operate? Doubtful. And you can forget fracking if you care at all for the environment. The US has discovered to its cost that fracking causes earthquakes and contaminates groundwater.

As for nuclear power, not only does Scotland not need it but also there are two big problems. There is no way to safely dispose of toxic nuclear waste. MPs have warned that the UK is storing an “extraordinary accumulation” of this hazardous waste in “outdated facilities” that will cost £70 billion to clean up. So it is a deal breaker, Mr. Glackin. Nuclear power is also uneconomic. A recent German study of nuclear power plants constructed around the world since 1951 found the average plant made a loss of 4.8 billion Euros. Small modular reactors (SMRs) like the ones Rolls Royce is pushing, won’t save the day. There’s just one SMR operating and it’s in Russia. The two SMRs in Wales and Cumbria have been mothballed. Because nuclear power is so expensive, not even private companies are willing to stick their necks out to finance these plants. That’s why the UK Government is forcing consumers to pay for the upfront costs of nuclear power plants with its Nuclear Energy Financing Bill. The number of politicians with commercial ties to the nuclear power industry may also explain the UK’s eagerness to have consumers bankroll this dangerous energy source.

Renewables are by far the cheapest, most abundant and cleanest source of energy. Even before the war in Ukraine, global oil and gas prices were higher than renewables and the price of wind, tidal and wave power hasn’t changed. Renewables generate nearly 100% of Scotland’s electricity and there’s capacity to develop far more, which England is going to need. Renewables projects can be developed quickly and are six times cheaper than gas generation. Yet the UK’s privatised Ofgem has stymied new renewables projects by its absurd charging regime whereby Scottish generators pay £7.36/MWh to connect to the grid but their English and Welsh counterparts pay just £0.49, and generators in southern England get a subsidy!

There’s also the small matter of cataclysmic climate change. Last month’s IPPC report excoriated the world’s governments for acting in a fragmented and incremental manner when transformational changes are needed to safeguard human wellbeing. If we fail to reduce emissions, the Ukrainian refugee crisis will be dwarfed by the exodus of people around the globe desperate to escape rising sea levels, devastating heat waves, wildfires, lack of food and water, illness and trauma from natural disasters. Increasing oil and gas production will only accelerate humanity’s suicide.

The facts are, Mr. Glackin, that Scotland doesn’t need a UK energy strategy that subsidises Big Oil and nuclear power. What Scotland needs is to restore its independence so it can forge its own energy strategy and provide its citizens with security, safety, affordability, jobs and a more sustainable and hopeful future.

What the UK Government have really done to Scotland

In yesterday’s Herald, Tory peer Lord Dunlop wrote the ‘UK Government are doing more for Scotland than the SNP ever will'. Perhaps that explains why Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross didn't meet with Johnson on his latest furtive foray into ‘North Britain.’

The most notable thing that the UK Government have done for Scotland is to forcibly eject it from the world’s largest free trade bloc and damage Scotland's economy. The post-Brexit reality is grim, and no amount of furious political spin can conceal it. Before Brexit, exports accounted for a fifth of Scottish GDP. In the year to June 2021, they had plunged 25% compared to 2019. James Withers, head of Scottish Food and Drink, said many firms have simply “given up” on trading with EU companies because of the “tsunami” of red tape and said the worst is yet to come.

The Australian trade deal, trumpeted by Liz Truss with such fanfare, won’t increase UK GDP by even a tenth of a percent over 15 years, while Brexit is projected to shrink GDP by 4.9%. The deal will raise maritime and aviation carbon emissions, allow in cheaper, inferior quality beef and lamb produced to lower animal welfare standards, and undercut Scottish farmers, threatening their livelihoods. This was all agreed without the involvement of Scotland.

As for replacing the annual £2.1 billion Scotland lost from EU structural funds for infrastructure improvement, poverty alleviation, skills enhancement and agricultural support, a Westminster cross-party report said the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will fall short by 40%.

The loss of free movement has hit the hospitality, care and road haulage sectors especially hard, resulting in widespread labour shortages. And Brexit has resulted in higher energy and food prices, compounding the cost of living crisis.

Scottish artists can no longer afford to travel and perform in Europe because the UK government rejected an offer of visa-free travel for touring musicians across the EU. Scottish students have lost the opportunity to live and study in the EU following the termination of the Erasmus scheme.

This is just some of what the UK Government have done for Scotland. Factor in epic corruption, from cash for peerages to billions wasted on Covid contracts for cronies, chronic underfunding of the NHS, cruel cuts to benefit payments and regressive tax increases, and it’s easy to understand why this unequal Union is close to collapse.

Lord Dunlop says the drivers of Brexit and Scottish independence have common roots. They do insofar as both are rooted in Westminster malfeasance and mismanagement. But what he misses is that Scottish independence is driven more by both, a strong desire to have a government that is accountable to and interested in improving the wellbeing of the Scottish people and creating a nation that is inclusive, more equal and internally focussed. That is only possible with independence.

Daily Mail Fail: Paper published pensions story it now claims is false

The Daily Mail yesterday ran an article criticising Believe in Scotland as having made a false claim about pensions which Believe in Scotland then thoroughly debunked. We have now discovered that the Daily Mail previously published the same claim about the UK state pension being the worst in the developed world. We, (only half-jokingly) wonder if the paper should now report itself to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) admitting that it must have either misled its readers in 2018 or is misleading them now?

So why is the paper in such a muddle now, contradicting itself and creating an embarrassing Scottish Daily Mail Fail? 

First of all, they sourced their story from Twitter trolling by a biased unionist campaigner who lacked the expertise to understand the issue or simply wished to convince The Mail to mislead its readers, then the paper itself didn't check the facts - nor did it realise that its own UK Policy Editor previously broke the news about UK pensions being the worst in the developed world in the national edition of the paper.

Taking action

BiS Chief Executive Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp has written to the editor asking for a retraction and a right to reply which would be given the same amount of space in the paper and online as the original misleading story. There are four reasons that we have demanded the right to reply. 

  1. The story is incorrect, as we have proven already the statement that the UK pays the worst state pension in the developed world is a factual statement. We provided the evidence that the claim was factual prior to the article being published (quotes from the same email were used) thus proving that the paper was aware the story was false. 
  2. The Daily Mail itself ran the same story claiming the "UK had the worst state pension in the developed world" and the same headline in 2018 when the research was first published by the OECD. Thus, the paper is either misleading its readers now or was misleading them in 2018.
  3. The article headline states that Believe in Scotland claimed that the UK state pension was the 'worst in the world' we never have, we have always stated that the "UK Pension is the worst in the developed world". The former is untrue the latter is a fact, we have always used the factual statement. 
  4. For the Daily Mail to go ahead and publish a story that was based on unsubstantiated Twitter trolling based on misrepresentations of Believe in Scotland's actions is both biased and unprofessional. 

We await the Daily Mail's response to our request for a retraction and an equal right to reply.

The facts are not even disputed.

Links to other media outlets that claimed that the UK has on of the worst pensions in the developed world".

The Guardian - "UK has lowest state pension of any developed country" 

Crisis over, so Alex Massie gets back to putting Scotland down

One wonders if Alex Massie, a Scot, enjoys talking down his country. But then again, as a Spectator and Times journo, he’s paid to do so. It’s his confusion that’s more concerning. He writes “the present economic case for independence is non-existent” but in the next sentence says “Scotland is certainly not too poor to be independent.”

According to Alex, the reason there’s no economic case for us managing our own affairs – after all Westminster is doing such a smash-up job – is because we have such an enormous deficit. He then follows this with yet more confusion, saying Scotland is a wealthy part of Britain. Which is it, Alex?

Perhaps the IFS’ David Phillips, whom Alex selectively quotes, can assist. Phillips said that an independent Scotland’s economic growth “could more than offset the loss of fiscal transfers from the rest of the UK.” This is from a man whose research is funded by the UK Department for International Development. Phillips confirms that “despite devolution, the majority of Scotland’s tax revenues and a hefty part of its public spending is pooled with the rest of the UK,” adding that “there is no overall Scottish budget deficit or surplus, or accumulated debt.”

And that brings us to GERS, designed by Tories to show what an economic basket case Scotland is and how it couldn’t possibly survive outside the protective womb of the Union. David Simpson, founder of the Fraser of Allander Institute, not exactly a pro-independence think tank, has implored the Scottish Government to cease its publication. We understand David Simpson's reasoning but we think a better idea would be to publish the current UK-GERS report alongside a new report called i-GERs. This would be a projection of what Scotland's finances would look like as an independent nation, with a wellbeing economic approach. Then everyone could clearly see that all the economic arguments against Scotland's independence are just the UK Government's false accounting. 

Simpson points out that since by law Scotland's Government must annually balance its budget, it can’t have a deficit. The deficit Massie is so worried about is fake, assigned to Scotland through UK Government accounting practices, and concocted from what Westminster says it spends “for our benefit.” Among these “benefits” are nukes on the Clyde, helping Saudi Arabia lay waste to Yemen, unemployment payments because Westminster is rubbish at managing the economy, Truss’s private plane to Oz (costing £500,000) to negotiate treaties that hurt Scottish farmers, and paying London £4.5 billion pa to service a UK debt we didn’t create and certainly don’t benefit from.

On top of that, because 85% of social spending is reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government has frantically tried to mitigate policies like the bedroom tax, miserly Universal Credit and state pension payments and chronic NHS underfunding.

GERS is what Scotland pays to remain in a Union that has failed us. It’s why the Tory and Labour parties are terrified we’ll leave. It’s why they will never concede that Scotland would prosper if we kept our own money, controlled our own resources and could make decisions in Scotland’s, not London’s, interests. And it’s why we must restore our independence.

Brian Wilson's Herald column demonstrates Labour's confused thinking on independence

Brian Wilson is right that gas and electricity are natural monopolies and at least some of that belongs in state, not private, hands. There are great examples across Europe of publicly owned and partially publicly owned energy companies, often working in parallel with public sector providers.

However, when serving as UK energy minister in Blair’s Labour government, he had his chance to bring British Gas and Britoil back into public ownership but didn’t.

On top of this, the Labour Government chose not to renationalise the National Grid, privatised by the Tories in 1990, but approved Ofgem’s 2003 grid transmission charges that penalised Scottish renewable providers and landed Scots with the highest transmission charges not only in the UK but in Europe. In the north of Scotland, charges are £7.36 per MWh but only £.49 in England and Wales.

This is especially galling since Scotland possesses a quarter of Europe’s wind resources and 60% of the UK’s offshore wind capacity.

And Mr. Wilson has nothing to say about Starmer’s reneging on Labour’s pledge to renationalise the Big Six energy companies, despite last autumn’s overwhelming party conference vote to take energy back into public ownership and Sir Keir’s own leadership campaign promises to do the same.

It’s clear that Labour would rather pacify private energy companies and their shareholders rather than ease the misery of millions facing ruinous energy bills.

So long as Scotland remains a UK region, its vast renewable resources won’t be harnessed for Scotland’s benefit but, like our oil and gas, will be sold off to private companies with the proceeds squandered on tax cuts for the wealthy and UK debt servicing.

For Scotland to have a state-owned energy company, as Brian Wilson says he wants, it must first become a state. The investment needed over several years isn’t possible with the limited borrowing and capital investment powers of a devolved region of the UK. Wilson should know that, which exposes the incoherence and or dishonesty of Labour's opposition to Scottish independence.

Restoring Scottish sovereignty is the only way out of this quagmire.

HOL report says “Anglocentric British nationalism” could end the union - We agree 

A House of Lords report on the Union published last week has gone further than any before in recognising the possibility of Scotland gaining independence. It also criticises the UK Government's “Anglocentric British nationalism”, which it says is undermining the UK’s legitimacy. 

The report says the UK Government has “undermined trust” by continually legislating without the consent of the devolved Parliaments. The committee’s recommendations to increase “respect and co-operation”, however, are general and unlikely to have much effect. 

Report ignores declining legitimacy of the Lords north of the border

The report does not discuss whether the House of Lords’ legitimacy in Scotland is in decline. Since 2007, a majority of Scottish MPs have been from the SNP and they do not sit in the Lords - or on committees such as this. The committee therefore has just three Scottish members  - former Labour MP Tommy McAvoy, former Conservative Andrew Dunlop and law Lord David Hope. The House of Lords is now the world’s second-largest unelected legislative body second-only to China’s - PM Boris Johnson has added around 100 "nobles" since taking office. 

The recent ennoblement of Tory donor Malcolm Offord who was appointed to the Scottish Office after failing to win election in Scotland was also ignored by the committee’s report, although it has a strong bearing on the subject under discussion. 

Growing support for Scottish independence is echoed in rest of UK

The committee notes that support for Scottish independence has increased significantly since their last report in 2016, now polling at about half or above in all parts of the UK. 

The report notes: “In the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, the SNP won 48 percent of the vote... The Scottish Green Party, which also supports independence, won eight seats…The current level of support for Scottish independence and the SNP—which are not necessarily the same thing—has inevitably had a significant impact on discussions about the future of the Union.”

This support for independence is echoed in the rest of the UK. Professor Ailsa Henderson and Professor Richard Wyn Jones detect “a clear sense of ambivalence about the Union, particularly in England, where around 40% of respondents are happy for one or more other parts of the UK to go their own way. If this is added to the proportion who want independence or reunification, in the case of Northern Ireland and the proportion who hold this ambivalent attitude to the Union, then we reach half or more of the electorate in each of the four parts of the UK.

“Professor Wyn Jones went as far as describing this as the “tectonic plates shifting”, saying: “If you look at public attitudes and if you are a Unionist, you have cause for alarm.”

Insistence on Westminster’s absolute sovereignty has undermined trust in devolution

One view of devolution is that “Westminster has merely lent powers to the three devolved territories, which can be reclaimed at any time…. This view has been generally sustained by the courts, including the Supreme Court,” the report says. 

But “some witnesses” argue that because the devolved Parliaments - especially Scotland’s where 75% of voters said Yes in 1997 -  was established by a referendum with strong popular support, they should be recognised as sharing sovereignty with Westminster.

The Institute for Government warned that: “if the UK government decides to make a habit of legislating without consent in devolved areas, without making serious attempts to secure that consent, then the implications for the stability of the Union could be severe.”

Professor John Denham of Southampton University told the committee that “leadership depends crucially on respecting others within the system who have their own autonomy and their own legitimacy, and leadership becomes one of managing those relationships, not simply of saying that the Union Government decide and that is it.”

Professor Ciaran Martin, Philip Rycroft and Professor Denham referred to the Government’s approach to the UK Internal Market Bill and Northern Ireland Protocol as symptomatic of a predominantly ‘Anglocentric British nationalism’ ”.

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said the Government acted as ‘judge and jury’ on when they wanted to legislate without consent. He said the Government should be required to publish its justification for deciding to legislate without consent, with both Houses then invited to vote on this justification, with the relevant devolved legislature having the right to contribute

However, the report confined its recommendations to asking the UK Government to formally report its reasons for legislating without consent to the House of Commons before doing so. 

Internal Markets Act

One example of legislation without consent is the Internal Markets Act - before Brexit, the devolved parliaments had a lot of say over how restructuring money was spent, but the UK Government used this Bill to say it can decide how and when to spend that money. 

The report quotes the Scottish Government, which said the UK Government’s approach to the UK Internal Market Bill,  demonstrate it is “willing to reshape the devolution settlement, unilaterally and in the most fundamental way, setting aside any rules of the UK constitutional system that it finds inconvenient”

Report Recommends that Boris Johnson should be “the grown-up in the room” 

Jim Gallagher (a leading figure in the 2014 No campaign) who is a visiting Professor to Glasgow University, said the SNP and other independence supporting parties are looking to use disputes with the UK Government as a political platform. 

The report quotes Gallagher saying: “The obligation of the United Kingdom Government is to be the grown-up in the room. This is the Government of the Union … the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the Prime Minister of the Union, not just of Unionists.”

The report concludes: “We believe the Prime Minister has a critical role to play in making the new intergovernmental structures a success and maintaining strong relationships between the four administrations. Given its importance to the working of the Union, we recommend the Prime Minister and Heads of Devolved Governments Council should meet at least twice each year.”

Looking ahead to Scottish independence and Irish reunification

The report calls for more communication between the UK Government and the devolved Government at all levels, and does raise the possibility that these could be useful in the event of independence for Scotland or reunification of Ireland.

It quotes former Clerk to the Committee Paul Evans and former Chair of the Welsh Devolution Commission Paul Silk, who advocate a formal body to replace the InterParliamentary Forum on Brexit.

They said: “Mechanisms established now, while the Union continues, could form the basis of structures that would be needed if the constitutional position of its component nations were to change.”

Conclusion

The report is interesting largely because of its acceptance of the dominance of Anglocentric British nationalism in Westminster’s approach to Scotland and the other devolved nations. Sue Gray is also mentioned - among her other tasks, she is apparently to play a key role in saving the Union. 

The objectivity of the report could be criticised because of the narrow range of witnesses it called. It also uses some partisan language - Scottish Cabinet Secretary Angus Roberston “claims” while journalist Alex Massie “urges” or “considers” his statements. 

Its recommendations are extremely weak and are likely to be ignored in any case - Boris Johnson is unlikely to meet Nicola Sturgeon as often as twice a year whatever the committee says. The UK Government, having established that it can legislate without consent at will, is unlikely to use “self-restraint”, as the report advises.

There is likely to be a referendum on Scottish independence in 2023 and so this report may be regarded as the committee waking up late only to smell the coffee boiling over. 

Fuel Poverty vs Fuel Security: A story of two countries

The headlines are dominated by the soaring price of energy that will impact all UK citizens, especially those who are already struggling to survive. Even before the current crisis, over 3 million households were having to choose between heating and eating.

What they are not telling us is that across the Channel, it’s a different story. French President Macron just ordered EDF, the state energy company, to cap electricity prices at 4% to shield consumers. He can do this because the state owns 80% of the shares in the company that supplies the majority of power to French consumers.

Contrast that with the UK. Since the 1980s the government has sold off our energy resources (as well as the national grid, water, rail, buses, ports, and telecoms) to private companies. EDF is one of the foreign companies that bought a chunk and now owns over 10% of UK electricity production. Another 30% is owned by German, Spanish and Dutch companies.

Privatisation of our national assets has been a colossal failure for consumers and the environment, but a huge boon to private shareholders and company CEOs. Oil and gas giants BP and Shell are expected to announce huge increases in gas revenue that is boosted further by paying zero taxes for the past 3 years. Bernard Looney, BP chief executive who received £1.75 million last year, crowed the company is a “cash machine.”

As a result, UK consumers are looking at increases of 50% once the price cap is lifted in April. Ofgem, the energy regulator, must by law pass on rising costs to consumers.

This will be especially painful for Scottish consumers who already pay the highest transmission charges in the UK while England and Wales are subsidised. Plus, with just 8% of the population, Scotland produces 82% of total UK gas. What would this gas be worth if Scotland had control over its own energy resources? At least £22.5 billion, the sales value of Scottish oil and gas production in 2019.

And London tells Scotland it’s too wee and too poor to go it alone. One need only to look to Norway. It has channelled its oil and gas revenues into the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund that is now being used to fund a renewables revolution. Independence can’t come soon enough.

Nuclear Energy Financing Bill to force consumers to pay for expensive and dangerous nuclear power

For the last few weeks the media has been transfixed by a series of sensational easy headline stories - 'partygate', Douglas Ross being outed as a lightweight, Prince Andrew losing his titles and court battle - and it's hard to blame them.  However they have, for the most part, taken their eye off the ball when it comes to the Nuclear Energy Financing bill, which had its final Westminster reading last Monday. If passed, which is likely, it will shift billions of pounds of additional costs onto consumers and force millions more into fuel poverty.

Sixteen years ago the Scottish Labour administration in Holyrood spurned the oportunity to construct any new nuclear power stations not only because they take years to construct and cost the earth, but also because they are dangerous. There is no safe way to dispose of toxic nuclear waste. Sellafield is officially the "most hazardous industrial building in western Europe". As a result, Scotland's Government, then and now, put its efforts into renewables, which currently supply nearly all our electricity.

Labour has since changed its tune. Brian Wilson, former UK Energy Minister and chair of the Scottish Energy Transition Commission, is Scottish Labour’s nuclear cheerleader. He’s also non-executive director of AMEC Nuclear Holdings Ltd, the UK’s largest nuclear services business.

Nuclear construction costs far exceed those of renewables and electricity generation is twice as expensive. The price for nuclear energy is £106/MWh, double the wholesale market price, whereas offshore wind power is £36.95/MWh. The Westminster bill will force consumers to finance this risky, costly and dangerous industry by buying more expensive nuclear electricity, just as household energy bills are soaring and casting more families into fuel poverty.

Investment in renewables also creates more jobs. The UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources found that “renewable electricity can stimulate six times higher long-term employment impact than an equally sized increase in nuclear electricity.”

Scotland’s future lies in developing its vast renewable energy potential, not following Labour and the Tories down the nuclear rabbit hole. Energy policy is reserved to Westminster - another compelling reason to restore our independence.