I must admit to having been a wee bit surprised when news outlets began previewing this week’s visit to Belfast by Prime Minister Theresa May, and reporting hopeful noises about the prospects of the successful resolution of the current stalemate over power-sharing arrangements at Stormont.
By Steven Paterson, Former Stirling MP
It’s official: Scotland’s voice is finally being heard in the remotest corridors of power!
The BBC has finally presented the UK map in correct proportions ….but it is all a matter of perspective.
Yes, after a thirteen-year wait, the BBC’s Weather Forecast Department has finally relented to complaints from their distant licence-fee paying customers north of the border that Scotland is actually in reality somewhat bigger than Cornwall. In future, BBC weather forecasts will be presented on a map that accurately reflects the size of Scotland as compared to other parts of the British Isles, instead of being as a grossly-distorted virtual image of Britain as if filmed from a hot air balloon flying somewhere above Bordeaux, with Stirling appearing a billimetre above the Solway Firth in that wee speck at the top.
Every journey starts with a first step, I suppose.
Unfortunately, however, a mile or so down the road from Broadcasting House in Whitehall, the Tory UK Government continues to listen to nobody except itself.
This week, Number 10’s spin machine decided to bill special meetings of the Cabinet taking place to thrash out a common position on Brexit negotiations in the most valiant of terms, describing them as meetings of the “War Cabinet”. But it wasn’t long before expectations of what the “War Cabinet” might achieve were being drastically downgraded. As The Independent’s headline on Wednesday, revealed, “Brexit: Theresa May ‘War Cabinet’ unlikely to reach agreement on UK aims, admits Business Secretary Greg Clark”.
by Steven Paterson, former MP for Stirling
The frenzied speculation about how long Prime Minister Theresa May‘s ghostly apparition will haunt 10 Downing Street reached new heights this week, as Tory MPs engaged in increasingly bitter internecine warfare over the succession.
Mrs May herself must have been grateful to be jetting off to China in pursuit of trade deals, leaving the squabbling factions to tear one another apart in her absence instead of right in front of her. She cuts a lonely figure these days, convincing nobody she has any authority left or is in any realistic sense in charge.
Instead, we have governmental paralysis, despite vital Brexit negotiations restarting this week on which the future prosperity and trading status of the country depends. The hard-Brexit brigade, amongst whose esteemed members are such noted bigwigs as Boris Johnston, Michael Gove and the hyperactive Jacob Rees-Mogg, seem to spend more of their time slagging off members of the more pragmatic majority of the parliamentary Tory party, who were against Brexit to begin with but now feel compelled to follow through with it following the EU referendum. The hard-Brexit brigade is winning though, and no mistake.
by Grant Dunnery, President of the Stirling University Scottish Nationalist Association
While the rhetoric from Downing Street has alluded to a Hard Brexit, the reality will be very different. However, in order to understand why the UK will receive a weak deal, we must first uncover how we got here in the first place.
The vote to leave was deeply skewed, and based on a mistaken understanding of European integration. The vote to leave the EU was an attack against globalisation and all of its key traits.
It was an attack against free market principles however, voters really intended to attack the injustice of neoliberalism. It was an attack against immigrants and to those who spoke a different language, however, in reality, the UK is far more divided by wealth disparity and social class that it is nationality or race.
The misunderstanding of the virtues – and I believe necessity if you evaluate our bloody past – of European integration, have been masqueraded. A dangerous combination of misinformation, rising poverty, a lack of opportunities and voter frustration have led us to this point. In addition to this, the UK government’s plans are equally as flawed in nature.
How will 2017 be remembered insofar as political developments are concerned?
Naturally, it will depend on one’s perspective, and I make no claim to be any more neutral than the next person.
Those whose goal is to frustrate the progress of Scottish political institutions and structures will no doubt celebrate a successful year in politics.
After all, although the snap General Election was a complete disaster for the Tories UK-wide, the return of 13 Tories in Scotland is the reason we still ‘enjoy’ a Tory Government at Westminster. Without them, there would not even have been the £1 billion bung of our money to buy the support of the DUP, as their ten votes would not have achieved a majority.
2017 was a crucial year constitutionally, with Brexit looming ominously in the distance, and yet month after month is going by with no measurable progress of much extent on what post-Brexit Scotland or post-Brexit UK will look like. In a year where a snap election was called explicitly because of Brexit, it is remarkable that so little has been determined and that, over eighteen months on since the EU referendum, we are still largely guessing at exactly what it is the UK has decisively and irrevocably chosen.
Comment By Steven Paterson, former MP for Stirling
It was reported at the time that when the Exit Poll was revealed at the close of polls at the General Election in June, projecting (fairly accurately as it turned out) the result that would be confirmed in the hours to follow, Prime Minister Theresa May burst into tears.
Not only was the loss of the slim Tory majority a personal humiliation for the Prime Minister who, after all, hadn’t had any real need to call the election in the first place, but it also made the intensely difficult job of negotiating a favourable Brexit deal with the EU27 much, much tougher.
It would also have been obvious to the Prime Minister at that moment that unless the Exit Poll was very wide of the mark, the remainder of her premiership would be in the gift of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. No wonder she cried.
However, there was little time to wallow on the election failure. With so much wasted time since the EU referendum, Brexit negotiations had to be the top priority for the weakened Prime Minister once the £1 billion bung of our money was agreed to buy the DUP’s ten votes. The most pressing agreement required was over the conundrum of reconciling having a soft border between the UK and the Irish Republic with a hard Brexit that meant the UK being out with the single market and the customs union.
By Stirling Constituency MSP, Bruce Crawford
Last week, the Tory Chancellor detailed a Budget with an economic forecast for the UK that, to say the least was gloomy in its outlook. UK growth is set to slow down considerably – meaning that, in terms of growth, the UK is lagging behind much of Europe and the rest of the economically developed world.
One major issue that emerged from the Budget that must be must be addressed, head on, is the phantom £2 billion of additional funding to be given to Scotland. After 10 years of cuts to Scotland’s budget totalling £2.9 billion, I would have welcomed any real increase in funding for our public services. That said, the Tory con of such a large amount of cash may have scored a couple of headlines, but the reality is quite stark and different on the ground.
For a start, by far the majority of money allocated by the Chancellor is specifically for financial transactions that must be paid back to the Treasury. This means that this money cannot be used for the day-to-day running of Scotland’s vital public services (e.g. Health, education, fire and rescue).
So far from being a funding increase, the money allocated from Westminster to Scotland is actually to be reduced by £213 billion, in real terms, and this will create additional real strain for Scotland’s public services. We should of course always remember this is our own money being returned to us with a cut.
By former Stirling MP, Steven Paterson
Police have issued the description of a man they want to speak to in connection with the brazen theft of £140 million from Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
He is white, around 6”2 in height, aged in his early sixties with grey hair, and is sometimes seen posing for photographs in the vicinity of Westminster with a red briefcase. Police have warned the public not to approach this individual, as he is extremely dangerous to household budgets.
The Tory climb down on VAT charged to Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. Philip Hammond, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that the deliberate and discriminate imposition of VAT on these emergency services is to end next April – but why was this unwarranted tax ever imposed by the UK Government in the first place?
At present, Scotland’s police and fire brigades are uniquely targeted for liability for this tax because they are funded directly by central government. Police forces and fire and rescue services in England and Wales are exempted on the grounds that they are funded through local authorities, although these local authorities themselves are funded primarily from central government. This is, then, a fairly obvious and deliberate bureaucratic mechanism being applied perniciously by the Tory UK Government as a method of imposing an unfair tax on Scottish emergency services, simply because they can.
By former Stirling MP, Steven Paterson
It’s a Kind of Magic
It occurs to me that magic may be involved in the remarkable political phenomenon we are presently living through, known by those with deep knowledge of the magic circle as ‘Brexit’.
Professional magicians call the technique being employed here ‘cognitive illusion’: a trick whereby mental illusions fool our subconscious to the extent that we incorrectly process the sensory information being gathered, and form an incorrect conclusion of what has been witnessed.
Coin tricks are a common example of this technique. A good exponent of the magic arts persuades you to pay close attention to the wrong things, usually after the subtle switch has already taken place, and the coin thus disappears, magically appearing somewhere else to the amazement of those watching.
Yet the scale of the current Brexit deception seems set to break all previous records in this regard. This is no cheap coin trick; rather it is an enormous swindle taking place in plain sight, so gargantuan that the Great British public shrug and conclude, contrary to all the evidence in front of their faces, that it couldn’t possibly be so catastrophic.
Even a cursory review of the Brexit story to date reveals all kinds of hocus-pocus.
Take the shameless claim about £350 million per week we would all save by voting to leave the world’s largest trading bloc and instead spend it on the NHS. Although it was only a small part of a nasty, bitter campaign dominated by anti-immigration undertones, it was obvious that this claim was ludicrous nonsense the instant it was plastered to the side of Vote Leave buses, yet at the time many of the supposed political big beasts who have led us down this garden path were happy to see this claim unchallenged.
Now it’s as if we’re being absurdly asked to simply erase all the promises and claims pulled out a hat from our memories, and get behind the Prime Minister and her Government as they deliver the Brexit divorce following that appalling referendum campaign in which we were clearly lied to.
by former Stirling MP Steven Paterson
The world of politics is never far away from the next scandal.
In 2009, I recall how surprised I was that most people in the country seemed not to know that some Members of Parliament were abusing the system of financial support meant to allow them to do their jobs and represent their constituents, in what would come to be known as the Expenses Scandal.
I’d worked in politics for a few years by then, and been elected to local government as a Stirling councillor two years previously, and I was regularly hearing stories about some of the brazen antics of certain Scottish Labour politicians at the time. As if I needed a reason to be cynical of a secretive Westminster club that operated with little, if any, serious scrutiny or accountability.