Saturday, 25 May 2013

Why democracy will be stronger in an independent Scotland

The above statement will appear strange to some people.

Many will say that we live in a stable democracy; the prospect of an army general orchestrating a coup d'etat, a mad monarch declaring themselves absolute ruler or even a Prime Minister refusing to leave office all seem pretty remote, and the ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ that underpins our society, despite being a poor substitute to a written constitution, do enough to ensure that elections will continue for the foreseeable future.

But these issues aren’t the purpose of this entry.  We want to highlight that not all democracies are created equal, and that Westminster fails us in comparison to Holyrood.

Yes, there will be some math involved, but please keep reading!
In 2010, there was a general election to determine the make up of the UK parliament.  Let’s look at the results in Scotland.

42% of voters picked the Labour Party
20% of voters picked the SNP
19% of voters picked the Liberal Democrats
17% of voters picked the Conservative party
2% of voters picked other candidates

The subsequent proportion of Scotland’s 59 seats was:

69% Labour
10% SNP
19% Liberal Democrats
2% Conservatives

This doesn’t appear to be a very fair distribution of power.  The second most popular party received almost half as many seats as the party in third, and the forth most popular (which was just 2.2% behind third) received ten fewer representatives.  And while Labour supporters may at first be content, there is no guarantee that the system will keep favouring them forever.  Indeed they stand to lose the most if reforms don't take place, as a small drop in their share of the vote could result in a massive reduction in MPs.

These numbers highlight the problem with Westminster.  Parliaments are supposed to reflect the wishes of the people and the above proves that this isn’t the case.  ‘First past the post’ isn’t working.  The argument that voters pick a local representative to champion their issues looks weak when we consider that across England, only one out of 533 seats was won by a candidate outside the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties (this being in Brighton Pavilion where Green Party candidate Caroline Lucas was elected).

Are we to believe that the best individual candidate in 532 out of 533 seats represented the Conservatives, Labour or the Liberal Democrats?  Or put another way, did the Conservative Party coincidently find 100 better candidates than before in each of the seats that they won while Labour could only improve on 3?

The detail of the House of Commons is even worse.  There are 56 independent countries with higher proportions of women representatives in their primary parliaments than the UK (which scores a lowly 22.3%).  Regardless of how you look at it, these numbers are shocking.

But what about the Scottish Parliament?
Adding up all votes from Scotland’s 2011 election (that is, both Constituency and Regional) the results were as follows:

SNP received 45% support
Labour received 29% support
Conservatives received 13% support
Liberal Democrats received 7% support
Scottish Greens received 2% support
Independent Candidates received 1% support
Others received roughly 3% support

Instantly, we see a broader range of groups winning votes.  This is because people believe that the party/candidate that they want to win has a real chance of gaining representation into the Scottish Parliament, and thus they vote positively for them, rather than against who they want to lose.

Let’s look at the distribution of power:

SNP received 53% of seats
Labour received 29% of seats
Conservatives received 12% of seats
Liberal Democrats received 4% of seats
Scottish Greens received 2% of seats
Independent candidates received 1% of seats

Although it isn’t perfect, the balance between what the people want and what the people got is much better in Scotland.  This gives the electorate the confidence that their vote actually matters, regardless of whether they are in a ‘safe seat’ or not.

There are other aspects to consider.  The number of female MSPs elected was 45, or 34.8% of the parliament.  This is still too low for what I’d like, but an awful lot better than Westminster, where Women only Shortlists artificially prop up their very low total.  Coincidently, an independent Scotland would be approximately 20th in the world for women representatives in Government.

The disproportionate number of millionaires in the Conservative lead UK Cabinet is also worth mentioning, and the ‘Opposition’ at Westminster aren't exactly in a better position in this regard.

This statement is true (congratulations to the three people who get this joke)

After independence, when there are a greater number of issues to debate and room for more innovative ideas, the choices available to the Scottish people will increase further, giving minority parties a better platform to work from.  So let’s follow the numbers and support a stronger, more representative democracy, and say ‘Yes’ to independence.

Oh and here are two final graphs.  The first shows how many representatives we directly elect between the two houses of parliament at the moment.  The second is what Yes Scotland is offering.  You can decide which one is better.

This is the actual make up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  We get to pick 59 people, which is equal to around 4% of Westminster.  Expected boundary reforms are likely to reduce this number down to 52.

A 'Yes' Vote means that we pick all of our government all of the time.  That, to me at least, is a stronger form of democracy.

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Monday, 20 May 2013

The Goldilocks Axiom

An axiom is a premise or starting point of reasoning.  This can apply to something which is self evident, such as ‘the internet hosts a lot of information’ or to assumptions, such as ‘the internet is the best source of information’.  The first statement is clearly true while the second is much more open to debate and interpretation.

This concept applies to the referendum debate on Scottish Independence.  For many pro-independence supporters, the axiom is ‘representative democracy is the best form of government’.  As Scotland has a more proportional electoral system which yields results much closer to the wishes of the Scottish people than Westminster, independence will offer us a more representative democracy (and thus give us better governments).  Another reason why an independent Scotland would be more representative is that our parliament would be 100% elected by the people of Scotland, as opposed to the 4% offered by Westminster.

"The 'Westminster' bowl was just not right," Goldilocks, from her privitised hospital bed.

Many unionists on the other hand follow the ‘Goldilocks Axiom’.  To put it simply; Europe is too big, Scotland is too small, but a Westminster dominated Britain is just right.  The easiest way to demonstrate this belief is through examples:
“I think its right for Britain to say: ‘Well, which bits of Europe most benefit us as a nation?’ and to focus on those things and I’m not frightened of the fact sometimes you might not be included in some things.” David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, speaking about Europe.
“The UN Security Council seat, our membership of the European Union, our leadership in Nato, our nuclear deterrent, our strong armed forces, they are all things that belong to the whole of the United Kingdom.  Clearly you can’t break them in bits, as the defence secretary put it, you can’t snap parts of our defence industry off like a bar of chocolate if Scotland was to go its own way.” David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, speaking about Scotland.
 "I think Britain is brilliant, or broken, it depends on who I'm talking to," David Cameron (probably) 

Centralising government within the EU is bad, allowing decisions that affect the people of Scotland being made in Scotland is bad, but maintaining the maximum amount of control at Westminster is just right.  This might seem strange to some, yet because the UK Prime Minister follows the ‘Goldilocks Axiom’, and therefore believes that only Westminster should have control, it makes perfect sense.  Arguments used against one form of change are automatically reversed to argue against another, all to make the ‘Goldilocks Axiom’ work, because it must be considered self evidently true.

This type of thinking isn’t isolated:
“We have no wish to be told that we should lose our democracy in the cause of advancing America’s.” John Redwood MP, speaking about American wishes for the UK to remain part of the EU.
“A couple of learned Scots told us that Scottish nationalism was defined by dislike of the English in general, and the dislike of English Tories in particular. Scottish nationalists do not like London making decisions for them.” John Redwood MP, speaking about Scotland.
Mr Redwood nominally agrees with pro-independence supporters, in that he believes that representative democracy is the best form of government, but this is over-ruled by the ‘Goldilocks Axiom’.  Making decisions based upon what is convenient for America is bad, preventing interference from Westminster into Scottish affairs is bad, but maintaining the maximum amount of political power at Westminster is just right.

We know from above that an independent Scotland would have a more representative democracy than the UK, yet this is dismissed by Mr Redwood.  He claims that the defining characteristic of those who want decisions affecting Scotland being made in Scotland is their ‘dislike of the English in general’.  Countries like Canada and New Zealand, which have gained their independence from Westminster and cannot be derided as ‘anti English’, are either ignored or dismissed to make sure that nothing breaks the axiom.  Let’s look at another one:
“What’s going on?  At one level, it’s straightforward: the G8 are putting the squeeze on London because they don’t want Mr Cameron to upset their cozy arrangements.  They certainly aren’t concerned about the views of the British people.” Benedict Brogan, Daily Telegraph Deputy Editor.
“Mr Salmond, helped by the Scottish media and political classes, has defined this as a debate in which England does not have a legitimate voice.  Independence may be a choice solely for Scots to make, but on what terms they are then granted independence is very much a matter for the rest of the UK.  That is why Mr Cameron was right to force the issue” Benedict Brogan, Daily Telegraph Deputy Editor.
Interference in Scotland by the EU is bad because the EU doesn’t consider what’s best for Scotland, no outside interference in the Scottish Independence referendum is bad because we can’t be trusted to make an intelligent decision, but maintaining political interference by Westminster is just right.  The ‘Goldilocks Axiom’ works again, and anyone who can’t see that either doesn’t understand or is blinded by [Scottish] nationalism.

Some things which appear self evident are true, but some are not.  I believe that the ‘Goldilocks Axiom’ is an example of the latter.  No explanation is given as to why a country containing over 62 million people is inherently better than those with a greater or smaller population.

If Scotland is too small, then Norway, Croatia, Jamaica, Singapore and so many others aren’t worthy of self representation either, which, if I can be so bold, is self evidently not true.

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Friday, 10 May 2013

I read it in the paper

Earlier this year, a Sunday newspaper (and we use the term ‘newspaper’ very loosely) created and published an image which twisted the Saltire into a Nazi symbol.  This came alongside the headline ‘Klan Alba’, an attempt, which to the best of our knowledge has not been denied, to associate Scottish Independence movements to the American fascist group, the Klu Klux Klan.  This act (which would have been illegal in Hungary, Poland, Germany, Brazil and many other nations) was met with widespread disgust.  With hopes that this would not happen again, many turned towards the Press Complaints Commission for assistance.  After weeks of waiting we finally have their view on the issue.
“The image (swastika) had been used to illustrate the article in a provocative manner. Viewed in the context of the coverage as a whole, the Commission took the view that the use of the picture and the headline had not been significantly misleading.”
This came as a surprise to us.  If twisting the flag of a nation into a universally despised symbol of evil without a single piece of evidence to suggest that this had been done previously is not ‘misleading’, then what are the conditions required for a media outlet to breach the PCC’s rules of conduct?  Let’s see what the Press Complaints Commission had to say:
“Complainants had suggested that the article had included misleading information about nationalist attitudes in Scotland. Whilst the Commission acknowledged this concern, it was clear from the article that the author had been presenting his own opinion and commentary on the subject. The author had been entitled to express his views under the terms of Clause 1 (iii) which says that journalists are entitled to express their personal views and comments – however robust or controversial they might be – provided that they are clearly distinguished from fact.”
“A number of complainants had expressed concern that the article had been discriminatory. Clause 12 (Discrimination) states that “the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.” Complainants said that the coverage had been discriminatory towards Scottish people and, in particular, members of the Scottish Nationalist Party. While the Commission understood these concerns, it made clear that Clause 12 does not cover references or generalised remarks about groups or categories of people. The article had not made discriminatory reference towards an individual. In the absence of reference to a particular individual, the Commission did not establish a breach of Clause 12.”
We can draw three conclusions from the above statements:
  1. First, you can print any comment you want, even as far as suggesting that those who believe Scotland should be a sovereign nation show more ‘receptiveness’ towards fascism, as long as it is comment and has no basis in fact.
  2. Second, you can’t make discriminatory references towards a specific individual, but you can against a large group of people based on nothing more than their membership of a legal and legitimate political party or their support for a legitimate political viewpoint.
  3. Third, you can create and publish any image, regardless of taste and decency, provided that it relates in some way to the article in question.
We at Sign for Scotland would never do or support such acts, and believe that something is wrong here.

For many people, the image which the newspaper created and published broke sections 4, 4a and/or 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act ( and thus should have received at least a warning over future content.  This viewpoint is strengthened when we consider the chosen publication date was Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).

How many Yes supporters have received abuse and accusations of racism as a result of this image?  How many have been intimidated into keeping silent about their views on independence for fear of repercussions?  How many more newspapers and media outlets will see this case and believe that they can now do the same, secure in the knowledge that they will face no penalties from regulators?

The Press Complaints Commission maintains that “there has been no breach of the Code in this case” and will do nothing more than pass on the messages it received to the newspaper in question.  We don’t believe that this meets their stated desire of offering ‘a first class service to the public’ (, but then, who can we complain to?

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Monday, 6 May 2013

77,000,008 questions that the ‘no’ campaign hasn’t answered

Better Together, the official campaign for no sovereignty for Scotland, has come up with 500 (currently impossible to locate at the time of writing) questions for the Yes Campaign.  We at Sign for Scotland thought we could do better, so we have come up with 77 million (and eight) questions for the no campaign!

The head of Better Together's debate team

Let’s get started with Question 1:
Can you guarantee that the people of Scotland will get the government they vote for every year?  Voting ‘Yes’ makes this a certainty.

Question 2:
Can you guarantee that the people of Scotland will not be dragged unwillingly out of the EU following Westminster’s referendum?  Voting ‘Yes’ makes this a certainty.

Question 3:
Can you guarantee that the Scottish National Health Service will not face cuts to its budget due solely to privatisation by Westminster?  Voting ‘Yes’ makes this a certainty.

Question 4:
Can you guarantee that Trident, its replacement, and other Weapons of Mass Destruction which the people of Scotland disapprove of will be removed from Scottish soil as soon as can be safely achieved?  Voting ‘Yes’ makes this a certainty.

This is how you are supposed to react to 500 questions.

Question 5:
Can you guarantee that at least one oil fund will be set up and used for the benefit of future generations of people who live in Scotland?  Voting ‘Yes’ makes this a certainty.

Question 6:
Can you guarantee a written constitution will be created which will enshrine the rights of everyone in Scotland, instead of Westminster’s invisible code of conduct?  Voting ‘Yes’ makes this a certainty.

Question 7:
Can you guarantee that measures which the majority of Scottish representatives oppose, such as the bedroom tax, will no longer be imposed on Scotland?  Voting ‘Yes’ makes this a certainty.

Question 8:
Can you guarantee that Scotland will no longer be dragged into unsanctioned, unwanted wars?  Voting ‘Yes’ makes this a certainty.

And Questions 9 to 77,000,008:
Can you guarantee that Scotland will not spend another penny on the House of Lords?  Many of them have vested interests in certain areas of policy, some are hereditary peers meaning that they are in that position through birthright alone, and none of them are elected by the people.  Can voting ‘no’ guarantee that not another penny of Scotland’s money is spent on this institution, and that none of their decisions will affect us, the way that voting Yes will achieve?

To create a fair debate, we want to know what the ‘no’ future holds.  Will we see the tangible benefits of Independence reflected in continuing with a Westminster dominated society?  Will we see reforms, and the prospect of reforms, taking place or just more of the same?  Will we see answers to any of these questions?

"We still haven't heard the benefits of Independence," better together statement

In truth, we’re a little disappointed that Better Together could only come up with 500 questions (assuming that they have come up with 500 as at the moment of their announcement they weren’t available for anyone to view outside their media pals).  We hope that they will come up with more in the near future and, perhaps, allow us to see them, instead of simply a sample which have already been answered and a number.

And if they can only tell us a number, then please don’t make it a puny 500, make it a big 77,000,008!

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Saturday, 4 May 2013

A fairer, greener Scotland

We at Sign for Scotland support independence for a number of reasons.  We believe that:
  1. Independence is the normal state of affairs for a country and to be anything else requires an extraordinary reason
  2. Independence is about taking responsibility for how we interact with the rest of the world
  3. Independence is the only way to meaningfully reform our domestic politics, as Westminster will not change or adapt
  4. Independence will bring our Government closer to the people
  5. Independence is the best way to guarantee the rights of the people of Scotland
There are more practical considerations, such as preventing poverty, tackling health issues, implementing land reform, tighter air gun control, diversifying our economy and ensuring that Scotland’s water belongs to her people and not private corporations.  But my personal reasons go beyond these.  At heart, I want Scotland to be independent because I believe we can make a difference.

 “I don’t care that it produces endless clean energy for a much lower price than nuclear power plants, I don’t like how it looks from 1.5 miles away!” – Said by no-one in 16th century Holland

Scotland is due to become one of the first nations on earth to generate all its own energy needs from renewable sources (wave, tidal, solar and wind).  This is a terrific achievement which is providing jobs and exports, as well as offering energy independence and a cap on energy costs for every generation that follows.

Developing this renewable energy technology gives us in Scotland many benefits, but it also advances causes around the world.  By creating affordable and clean energy generation equipment, we can help the African Dream to prosper.  We can prove to other nations that there is an alternative to fossil fuels and uranium, and lead debates across the world on how best to meet energy demands.

Yet we need independence to achieve this.  We cannot tell other nations of our success, if we cannot speak at the UN.  We cannot change EU policy, if we cannot represent ourselves at every meeting.  We cannot reform Scotland’s power grid, or level the disproportionate connection charges we suffer from, without the necessary powers being at our parliament.

We know the direction that Westminster is taking us.  Their desire for nuclear power plants has not diminished, despite their questionable safety standards, their harmful waste and their lack of economic sense (see here too).  For a country like England, which requires tremendous amounts of electricity within a small geographical location, nuclear may be the best option, but our needs are different in Scotland.  We have a vast renewable energy potential which we will be forced to use once the ever diminishing uranium is gone.  Let’s benefit from leading the way instead of sticking with the tried and failed.
Voting no will give us nothing.  It is only by saying ‘Yes’ that anything can change.  Most people in Scotland care about the environment both here and abroad.  If we want to really make a difference, then we need to support independence.

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