Thursday, 18 September 2014

Be Not Afraid

Here's a perfectly judged and beautifully written piece on the Scottish referendum by Alex Massie in The Spectator - his old friend Tommy Tonner would be proud of these fine words, the conduct of the Yes campaign and the way that so many people have rolled up their sleeves and got involved.

Yes or No, the little white rose of Scotland will bloom again

By Alex Massie - The Spectator

And so our watch is all but over. Who knows what comes tomorrow but at least and at last the final reckoning is upon us. It is choosing time and there’s no escape. Few people would wish the campaign any longer. Many voters tired of it some time ago. Their minds were made-up and would not change and they just wanted to move on to the next story. Whatever it may be.

But I can’t agree with the people who fret that this has been a nasty and divisive and awful experience. It hasn’t. I mean, of course it’s been divisive and of course passions have been running high but that’s because it matters. You can’t have a non-divisive referendum. This is a good thing I think and I think this is an argument we’ve needed to have. If not now, when? At some point certainly, for it could not be delayed forever.

Sure, tempers have frayed in recent days and there’s been an uptick in boorishness and bampottery but, look, it remains the case that this has been a good and decent and civilised campaign. The War of Murphy’s Egg was really barely a skirmish. It has been a carnival of a kind we’ve not seen in British politics for a long, long time.

And, gosh, I can’t count the number of times British hacks and politicos have wished our politics could have something, even just a tinge, of the epic confrontations we enjoy watching on the other side of the Atlantic. Why can’t we have a political circus like that? Well, guess what? We do. We’ve been having precisely that kind of circus in Scotland this year.

Perhaps you should be careful with your wishes. Because it seems to me that many people who admire the cut and thrust, the rough and tumble, of American politics seem faintly horrified when they discover this kind of politics closer to home. Oh my giddy aunt, isn’t it desperately divisive and squalid and ugly and stupid?

Of course it is. How could it be otherwise when the stakes – the fate of a nation, the future of four countries – are so high? What else do you expect when the future hangs in the balance? This is neither the time nor the place for simpering hand-wringing. In any case, it misses the wood for the trees. There has been something stirring about this argument as the people quietly, solemnly, consider their choice. Democracy, eh? Bloody hell.

It is true that only one side wanted this fight but, as I say, it’s a battle that could not be delayed forever, not least because even a No vote does not end the story. It merely opens another chapter, one in which the future and more sensible governance of the United Kingdom can, at last, be addressed.

Tomorrow, in a neat coincidence, is the centenary of poor John Redmond’s greatest achievement: the final passing of an Irish Home Rule bill. That accomplishment was crippled by the Kaiser’s War and there is a sense in which the impact of two world wars and the consequent post-war “settlement” froze British constitutional history for the best part of 80 years. As so often in Britain new things are just old things refreshed. Today’s conversations – and those that will follow a No vote – are variations on debates we had before the First World War. The future is multiform and infinite.

It is serious too. That’s the other thing about this debate: it is not flippant or done lightly. No-one who has been in Scotland these past few months, I think, can fail to have been impressed by the passions this debate has stirred. I know people who have taken leaves-of-absence from their work to devote themselves full-time, unpaid, to the campaign. I know people who are personally responsible for registering hundreds of new voters. I know of people who, though terminally ill, made sure they still cast their postal votes. Some of those people have not lived to see the outcome. It matters, all of it, and it has been quietly impressive.

And today, above all today, I’m reminded of those who never got the chance to vote. Today’s the anniversary of the death of a good friend whose absence from the debate has been a matter of some personal sorrow.

Tommy Tonner was a Lanarkshire man, born and bred. He had all the virtues of his native county. He was as cussed as he was loyal, as passionate as he was thrawn. Hard-edged and tender-hearted. His personal life was often chaotic, even shambolic, and if he had many of Lanarkshire’s virtues he had a healthy share of its traditional vices too.

We miss him greatly. He was a man who could scarcely hear an argument without needing to interject “Aye, but hang on a minute…” There was a lot of“That’s baws” with Tommy. That made him a stern critic of his own side as well as a fierce defender of his companeros’ common faith.

Many people have been on a “journey” in Scotland recently. Tommy, in all the years I knew him, never made that kind of journey. He was always a Scottish Nationalist. Implacably, resolutely, nothing-will-change-my-mind, nationalist. And that was fine.

He kept a little list of 20 people whom he felt needed to be persuaded to vote Yes. If he got 12 of them, he said, he knew Yes would win. I was on the list. I feel a little guilty about letting Tommy down (but only a little). That’s the way it goes. Sometimes we must disappoint our friends, even if that means defying their final instructions. I wish Yes could win one more vote than it will tomorrow. I wish Tommy, who did his bit to haul the SNP uphill, could have seen the view from the mountaintop.

They remain our friends, you know. We are a house divided this week but still a house. I know of many families split down the middle and you will know many more too. Many marriages in which one party will vote Yes and the other No. Households in which tacit agreement has been reached that We will not talk any more of this. Places in which victory comes at a price and where defeat offers only flimsy consolation.

There will be a deep sadness in many places if Scotland votes Yes and, in other parts, some raging disbelief if she votes No. How could it be otherwise? This may be a wee country but the matter of Scotland is nothing small. Some folk will leave if we vote Yes and that, I think, will be a great pity. Others will react poorly to a No vote but at least cling to the consolation that losing a battle is not the same as losing a war. The nationalists have known defeat before and coped; they can do so again. Their faith will remain. It will be harder, I think, for Unionists to accept the song is over.

But hatred? Real hatred? How can we really hate our opponents? We may think them sorely mistaken but we can also agree – if we try to remember to do so – that they are not motivated by baser motives than we are ourselves. They are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters. Our neighbours too. To hate them is in some sense to deny a part of ourselves.

In that respect we really are all in it together. Today, tomorrow and Friday too. Come what may. Be not afraid. It is, probably, going to be fine. The little white rose of Scotland, so small and sharp and sweet, will still bloom.

Everything IS Different Now

Here's a post by an old friend of mine, John McTaggart, who has shared his thoughts on the Scottish referendum campaign on Facebook.

John was a modern studies teacher in Edinburgh where we first met and amongst other things he now runs a highly successful online teaching and learning facility at:

But his comments about why 'Everything IS Different Now' certainly struck a chord with me, especially the one about the Labour Party becoming an end in itself.

Everything IS Different Now

A pal of mine, who’s a Better Together supporter, contacted me the other week. ‘What’s happening where you are?’ he asked. ‘

I told him that in all honesty that I didn’t know. I could only go on a) the polls b) my family, friends, work colleagues and general chit chat in my wife’s cafe and c) what I read on my social media.

a) told me the same as my friend b) gave me about 50/50. The vast bulk of my friends are YES. I’ll leave my wife and family to speak for themselves but most of what I overhear in our cafe shows a mixed picture c) social media has some great stuff but some right heidbangers too.

So, who knows? What I do know is that I’ve never known anything like this in my life, outwith the 1984-85 miner’s strike. I know that Scottish society will never be the same again and Scottish politics, whatever the result will be completely changed.

I’m voting Yes. With no doubts and with a lot of hope that the majority of Scots vote the same.

I’m not trying to convince you if you’re undecided to do the same or to have a pop at you if you’re not. That old line about ‘some of my best friends are voting No’ is definitely true. Whoever wins, we’ll still play golf or go for a cycle, then put the world to rights together as always.

If this had happened 30 years ago I’d have been totally different. But Scotland was totally different 30 years ago. It just wouldn’t have happened. The time was not right.

In 1984 Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives had just found their mojo. Seeing off a desperate Argentinian dictator in the Falklands gave them the election win so unlikely a few months before. Now they were ready to take on the ‘enemy within’, the National Union of Miners, and were organised for it. They won again.

Scottish independence was pretty irrelevant to all this. In fact the SNP were a bit of a joke. The SNP were dubbed ‘tartan tories’. The party, in the central belt anyway, seemed to be comprised of strange old men in kilts with weird attitudes or no attitudes towards anything other than this mythical ‘independence’.

But change was happening. Scottish voting habits between Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979 and now have changed utterly. The Tories, once the most popular party in Scotland (in 1955) have just 1 MP now. The party which is the only one to have won over 50% of the vote in Scotland is lucky to get 15%. And that, arguably, is due to the AMS and STV voting systems, things the Tories have even now yet to admit they approve of. The SNP, not the Tories, Labour, is the most popular party in Scotland.

I still know my own scheme where I was brought up. A working class community which once comprised strong, hard working families has become the home of the 3rd generation unemployed. Instead of people enjoying the rewards of work, perhaps harbouring the hope of higher education for their kids, it now houses, among the terrified pensioners and decent people, the druggies and the alkies. Not just the long term unemployed but the unemployable. I know this sounds a cliché, especially to the middle classes who never knew these communities, but you could go out and leave your door unlocked. Kids were looked after by everyone in the scheme. Women, especially, took a pride in their ‘close’. Working class communities were good places to grow up.

Change probably had to happen. Globalism couldn’t be kept at bay. But the change could have been managed. Instead it was an excuse to atomise people. The resourceful escaped into the middle class. If you lived in a ‘good’ working class area you could buy your home. Then maybe sell it and move out to the burbs. If you think Scotland is Better Together walk the length of Kirkcaldy High Street. You might, if you’re imaginative enough, picture the ghosts of working people spending their wages and conceive of a town throbbing with people laughing and living. Go on Douglas Alexander, Alastair Darling, Ruth Davidson. I dare you. Not when you’re surrounded by your minders and fans. Do it on your own. You’ll see empty buildings. Charity shops. 99p shops. There’s any number of beggars and roaming, crazy people eyeing you up. And that’s during the day. Life expectancies lower than war zones in the middle east. You won’t hang about long. Better Together? Better than what exactly?

Its the legacy of Thatcherism that has driven the Scottish people to independence. Thatcherism was great for the winners but grim for the losers. Thatcherism was rejected by the vast majority of Scots but we had to put up with it then and we deal with it now.

I can understand why the Tories are against independence. They opposed the Scottish parliament and there is a logic in their British nationalism. Ironically it could be said that the Scottish Tories have fared better than Scottish Labour in the referendum. They have a strong leader who at least believes in what she says. Has the Scottish Labour leader played any part in this campaign? While the Tories normally poll 10-13% in Scottish elections, their vote suffers from the First Past the Post system we have in UK elections and part of the Scottish parliament elections. Is there really any point in getting off your backside and voting Tory in most Scottish seats? I’ll bet there’s quite a few Tories in East Renfrewshire who find Labour’s Jim Murphy perfectly acceptable. Given the chance in this referendum they can come out supporting traditional Tory values without having to nail their colours to the still toxic Tory mast. I suspect the real Tory support in Scotland is a fair bit higher than it normally is in elections.

So, to ‘the math’. David Cameron thought he had the referendum in the bag. It would be a skoosh (though I somehow doubt he and George Osborne referred to it in those terms!) So, no devo max on the ballot paper. A straight yes or no and put this Salmond guy to the sword. Better Together have the Tory vote in the bag. Scottish Labour was telt to deliver the Scottish Labour vote. The SNP might get their 30 odd per cent, a few Greens, some Trots and the odd disaffected Labour but that would be it. Game over and back to normal business. The Scottish Liberal Democrats. Did I forget about them?

But it just hasn’t worked out that way. Better Together kicked off first with the line that Scotland is just too wee and insignificant to be independent. Only ‘big’ nations can be prosperous enough to be independent. The oil’s nearly all gone as well. You don’t know what you’re talking about. And by the way, we’re Better Together. You can be Scottish and British. Doesn’t make you a bad person. Some of the smarter ones said, ‘of course Scotland could be independent but why would you want to be?’

Yes Scotland couldn’t win the air war. Only the Sunday Herald backed independence. And their readers are all trendy lefties who ‘ll vote Yes anyway. Better Together could rely on most of the papers that have any decent readership in Scotland; The Record, The Mail, the Express, The Scotsman and the churnalism of the freebies. The Scottish Sun was different. Murdoch doesn’t like Cameron any more and he quite likes Salmond, so it seems. But social media is a whole new ball game. No one yet knows the power of 3rd party referrals and virals in Facebook and social media. Yes Scotland can win the ground war; on the streets, in the schemes and the high streets. Yes Scotland has more activists. While the polls may well be inaccurate, they consistently show a demographic that it is the old and the comfortable who do not want change. The poorer you are and the younger you are the less you fear it. So Project Fear truly kicked in. We love you (honest) but you can’t leave us. Its our pound, not yours. We’ll get businesses to say we’ll leave the country. We’ll get supermarkets to say your prices will go up. Banks to say your mortgages will go up. Who cares how we win this. Winning ugly will do. Just scare enough of them.

I’m not saying Yes Scotland have fought a flawless campaign. I could go on about the White Paper. Alex Salmond did walk into an elephant trap in the first currency debate. But one by one the scare stories of Better Together have been rebutted. So Scotland can’t use the pound? There’s impartial economists who’ll tell you that is total bluff. The Tories put the banks and Asda up to their scare stories about moving and putting up prices. Douglas Alexander can go auto pilot on ‘risk and consequences of independence’ yet is anyone daft enough to think that there are no risks and consequences in voting No? That mortgages and prices won’t ever go up? That the UK wide referendum to leave the EU might go a way Scottish voters don’t want? That the powers promised to Scotland might just never materialise if Better Together get their win?

That Scotland might actually flourish under independence? For every doom merchant there’s plenty of economists saying there’s generations of oil left. Even without oil, Scotland is rich in renewable energies. We have established education and legal professions. We have an intelligent workforce. We have plenty of social problems, the legacy of Thatcherism to sort out but we will have the democratic mechanism, the will of the Scottish people to tackle these head on. No more un-elected peers in the House of Lords, on £300 a day to sign in and out running the country. You may not get the government you want but it will be our government. Like most MSPs, people from our communities, accountable on a daily basis for the decisions they make, not coming back at the weekends and hiding behind their safe opposition seats with most of the real work done by the MSPs.

Above all, for me, we might see an end to the Scottish cringe. That it’s always someone else’s responsibility. I’m not good enough. I know my place. I kent yer faither.

I’m not a ‘nationalist’. And the last thing I am is anti-English or anyone because of their national/ethnic origin. I’m a democrat. I don’t believe in ‘separation’. An independent Scotland, despite the bluster from Better Together, will, because sheer economic and political interests dictates that there will be a new, better union with the rest of the UK and with other nations in the world. Scotland is a rich country. It is just ridiculous to suggest that we could not be a prosperous nation. And people abroad love us! Scotland the brand is just an incredible selling point.

Labour in Scotland should be seizing this opportunity with both hands to set an example for the rest of the UK in how a just and equitable country goes about its business. But No. They confuse the means with the end. Labour has become an end in itself. And to maintain Labour as a going concern, the promise of a more equitable Scotland is to be sacrificed?

Well, a couple of days before we go to the polls the Scottish people have not buckled under the most incredible misinformation and propaganda. I’ve been amazed and heartened at discovering so many people who have thrown off the shackles of party tribalism to vote Yes and elect a new Scotland. There’s no reason why it can’t be a prosperous one. And unless the voting patterns of the last 30 years are reversed we will elect the government to make it a fairer one too.

'Gang Aft Agley'

Even before the ink has dried on their much vaunted 'Vow' over new powers or 'Devo Max' for the Scottish Parliament, the New Statesman (a Labour friendly magazine) is pouring scorn on the ability of the Westminster parties to deliver on their pledge. 

Seldom has politics been so interesting and, amongst other things, in an age of anti-politics isn't it remarkable that over 94% of people in Scotland have actively registered to vote in the independence referendum with the turnout on the day expected to be in excess of 80%.  

Is the leaders' vow of power to Scotland already unravelling?

A right Barnett barny.


Devo-maxed out. Photo: Getty

Covering the rammies and stooshies of the Scottish referendum build-up, I find myself more and more trying to shoehorn in the popular, if hackneyed, Robert Burns line: “The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft agley”.

I hadn’t brought myself to quote it yet, but today’s most recent No campaign stumble has brought me closer.

This morning, the three main party leaders released a joint declarationpromising more power to Scotland in the event of a No vote.

It was illustrated on the Daily Record’s front page as a faux-yellowing piece of parchment with the headline: “The Vow”.

Well, it seems to be yellowing rather quicker than perhaps even the Record’s photo editor would have expected.

The leaders’ last-minute deal for Scots, in the hope of staving off a Yes vote on Thursday, has caused outrage among MPs.

The Evening Standard has done some reporting on politicians’ furious reactions to their party leadership’s apparently “panicky 11th-hour promises”, which is how I analysed this move this morning.

Some Tory MPs in particular are astonished that David Cameron has been so willing to further what they already saw as “unbalanced devolution”. They view the proposed new package as “unfair”, as it keeps in place the Barnett formula, a distribution of public spending that gives Scots around £1,400 more per person than the rest of the UK. There are also plans underway for Holyrood to have greater tax powers, the details of which the parties have yet to decide.

The Standard quotes two Tory MPs concerned at the PM apparently in danger of devo-maxing out the UK taxpayer:

Mark Field, the MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, said: “My constituents will be aghast if the unbalanced devolution from 1979 is made even worse.”

Tory MP Peter Bone added: “I don’t see why people in the East Midlands should be worse off to the tune of thousands of pounds than the people of Scotland.”

The Telegraph reports a female Tory MP calling Cameron's act "desperate": “There will be a bloodbath. Last night as I was listening to Cameron saying we are going to be providing all these additional benefits to Scotland, when we are struggling in so many areas of the UK. . . It’s all happening on the hoof, in cliquey conversations on telephones in Downing Street. It isn’t happening, and there are a number of us who are incensed who will make sure it isn’t going to happen. But let’s see what the results are first.”

The Standard's piece also hints that there will be plenty more open criticism of Cameron’s leadership on this following the referendum on Thursday. Labour MPs are also apparently disgruntled about how their party has neglected to canvass voters effectively in Scotland.

All this paints a very fraught future few months for British politics in the case of a No vote. Unlike the personal political impact of a simple, brutal Yes vote – after which it is most likely Cameron and maybe even Ed Miliband would have to resign – the No vote is not as simple.

If Scotland stays, there will be pressure on the pro-Union party leaders to thrash out and rush through their power pledges. However, Tory backbenchers opposing this speed and direction of change will be tugging at Cameron from the other side.

This could have two effects. The first would be for Cameron to be presiding over an even more divided party in the build-up to 2015, helping Ed Miliband – and his party’s rather well-timed “people-powered public services” devolution agenda – gain more popularity and credibility. The second effect could be the leaders flagging and forgetting the current pre-referendum momentum in the less life-and-death atmosphere of a No vote aftermath. As William Hague commented last week, the power pledge is “not a statement of government policy” and is more akin to statements made by party leaders in election campaigns.

What was it that Burns wrote? “The best-laid continuation of the Barnett allocation for resources o' mice an' men gang aft agley”.

Brand Speaks Up

Russell Brand is best known as a madcap comedian, but he also has strong views about politics which he shares here on the subject of Scottish independence.

North Lanarkshire Council

I have submitted another FoI request to North Lanarkshire Council asking for information about the Council's controversial 'bonus' scheme or 'performance pay' scheme which is reserved for its highest paid officials.

Now I'm pretty sure these payments are counted as part of 'normal pay' for chief officials in North Lanarkshire.

If so, this means the payments will get taken into account for pensions purposes as well as being paid as normal during holidays and periods of annual leave.    

For example, the chief executive's salary in 2012/13 was effectively £136,473 plus a performance bonus of £11,039.20 or a grand total of £147,512.20 which would be paid, presumably, in 12 monthly payments throughout the year.

In other words £12,292.68 every month - or £2,836.77 for 52 weeks of the year.  

The key point being that if the chief executive's salary does not fluctuate during the working year, and go down during holidays periods, then surely the same should be true for the rest of the Council workforce?   

So let's see how the Council responds to my latest FoI request, but to be honest I'm amazed that the trade unions have allowed council employers to get away with this practice of not paying people for regular overtime, or shift working and so on.

Because that's certainly not how things used to be in my time and I don't recall any big union campaigns or threats of industrial action being made in recent years - to stop the employers in their tracks.   

15 September 2014
Gavin Whitefield
Chief Executive
North Lanarkshire Council

Dear Mr Whitefield

FOISA Request 

I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.

I enclose the following entry to the Council's web site by way of background and the my information request relates to the Council's 'performance pay' scheme for senior officials or managers. 
Please confirm whether the council's performance pay scheme resulted in payments to chief officials in the year 2013/2014.

2 If so, please confirm the amounts paid along with the names and job titles of the senior officials involved.

3 Please confirm if the payments made under the scheme are taken into account for superannuation or pension purposes.

Please confirm if the payments made under the scheme are regarded as 'normal pay' and paid as a proportion of salary during holidays and periods of annual leave.
I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond to me by e-mail to:
Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Extract from North Lanarkshire Council's web site
Gavin Whitefield
Gavin Whitefield CBE, Chief Executive
The Chief Executive within North Lanarkshire is the council's chief policy advisor. He is the main link between council officials and elected members. He is responsible for corporate governance and seeks to ensure the co-ordination of the organisation and all its functions. Of primary concern to the Chief Executive is the overall direction and performance of the council.
Salary 2012/13: £136,473 (plus performance-related pay of £11,039.20)

Holiday BackPay Claims

I've received a number of emails asking if the holiday backpay campaign applies only to council workers.

The answer is No. 

Because employees right across the public sector are likely to have a claim, if their holiday pay was less than their 'normal' pay throughout the rest of the year. 

So workers in the private sector may well have a claim - in large and small companies - as well as public sector employees in the NHS, universities, colleges and local councils.
The HBPC web site is now up and running which people can visit and find out more information for themselves at:

For more information you can also call 0800 024 6888 or 0141 343 8066.

So start spreading the word to fellow workers, friends and families and if people have any queries they can also drop me a note at:

Calling Glasgow

Letters are going out to A4ES clients in Glasgow this week regarding holiday pay claims and I've had lots of enquiries already from people in Glasgow asking whether they might have a claim.

Just like any other part of Scotland, the issue comes down to whether you regularly earn 'additions' to your basic pay.

So lots of Home Carers employed by Cordia these days work overtime and do shifts - so if these payments have not been included when people take holidays and annual leave, then it's very likely you have a valid claim.

What kind of jobs are involved? 

All kinds of public sector jobs potentially, both male and female dominated jobs, as well as workers in the private sector - people who receive various additions and 'top ups' to their pay via overtime, shift allowances etc. 

Here's a simple test from the blog site that can help you to work things out.  

Simple HBPC Test (12 September 2014)

Here's a simple test to help discover if you have a holiday backpay claim.
  1. Take your entire wages for 3 months without holiday pay and divide by 3 to give you your average pay for those 3 months.
  2. Then compare this average pay with your pay in the month you were on paid leave. 
  3. If your holiday pay is less than your average pay, then it is less then it is highly likely you have a claim. 
If in doubt make a claim. 
If you don’t make a claim you won’t get paid anything - as many people found out to their cost over equal pay. 
If you the sums don't work out for you, then pass the word on to your friends, family members and colleagues as they may have a claim, especially if they work shifts or regular overtime. 
If you would like a claim form please visit and fill in the ‘New Claim Pack’ request form.

Or contact HOLIDAY BACK PAY CLAIMS LIMITED on the following numbers: 0800 024 6888or 0141 343 8066