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Current location: Scotland
Member since: Sun Sep 6, 2009, 11:57 PM
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Mark Steel wades into the debate:

The Iraq War wasn't as a one-off - it was just one more episode in a story that's lasted 100 years

This looks simple enough then. We’ll bomb the same people as Putin is bombing, in the same places, co-ordinated with Putin. But we won’t actually be on the same side as Putin, and maybe we’ll make that clear by painting gay rainbow flags on our bombs.

And we’re backing Turkey – although we’re not backing Turkey when they sneakily align with Isis against the Kurds, but that’s easy to get round. We’ll arrange a job share. Isis can have them on Mondays to Wednesdays, then we’ll get them from Thursday until Saturday, and on Sundays they can have the day off or back someone else such as the Cornish nationalists.


David Cameron suggests our bombing will be in support of the moderate Free Syrian Army, but many of them are also jihadists. The American journalist Theo Padnos was kidnapped by them, working in an alliance with al-Qaeda. And when you’re looking to al-Qaeda as a moderate influence, you can be satisfied things are turning out extremely well. Who amongst us, when times look tricky, hasn’t thought: “I wish al-Qaeda would turn up and take over from the nutcases in charge at the moment?”


But it looks like we’re going ahead. And presumably, although the US, France and Russia have already been bombing, our bombs will make the crucial difference. Next I expect Hertfordshire County Council will say they’re sending the Hemel Hempstead Air Force as a vital addition to the coalition, and Guernsey will send its traffic wardens to clamp Isis surface-to-air missiles. Then Isis will be driven out of Raqqa, and there will be huge celebrations. But they’ll be replaced by a group called The Irrational Quar’anic Cult of Universal Evil and Destruction, and we’ll all think: “it makes you wish we had Isis back, this lot are even worse.”


Court finds Benefits Cap unlawfully discriminates against disabled people's carers

The High Court has today ruled that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has unjustifiably indirectly discriminated against unpaid carers for disabled family members by failing to exempt them from the Benefits Cap. The Court upheld the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s submission that carers’ Article 14 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights had been contravened by not considering the impact on disabled people.

Commenting in response to this ruling, Rebecca Hilsenrath, CEO at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

"We are pleased that the court has found the impact on disabled people of losing a family carer had not been properly considered. The effect could be profound and the loss of a trusted carer devastating."

"The substantial reduction of income could jeopardise the ability of those affected to continue to care for severely disabled relatives. The court noted that the Secretary of State did not provide any information to Parliament about the effect on disabled people if their family carer were unable to continue."

"The court also held that, rather than saving public money, it would cost considerably more for the care to be provided by local authorities or the NHS."


An inquiry into breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which saw a team of investigators visit the UK earlier this year has yet to report: http://www.democraticunderground.com/10888636

chipmunkson16speed: Marvin & The Chipmunks Go Trip-Hop

Brian Borcherdt, a musician from Toronto, has been playing around with old Marvin & The Chipmunks 45s and took the radical step of playing them back at 16 r.p.m. to reveal the vocals as they would have been sung - and contributions by some pretty high-quality session singers in the process.

The results are ... variable, and some songs work better than others.

The star appears to be the epic cover of the Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian":


though Tom Petty's "Refugee" has a certain woozy charm.

More here if you can take it: https://soundcloud.com/alvin-thechipmunkson16sp/sets/sludgefest

Stolen from Twitter

Crickhowell: Welsh town moves 'offshore' to avoid tax on local business

A BBC2 documentary due to be screened next year will describe how a whole town has decided to troll Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and hopes its "Powys tax rebellion" will spread to other conurbations:

... local businesses in Crickhowell are turning the tables on the likes of Google and Starbucks by employing the same accountancy practices used by the world’s biggest companies, to move their entire town "offshore".

Advised by experts and followed by a BBC crew, family-run shops in the Brecon Beacons town have submitted their own DIY tax plan to HMRC, copying the offshore arrangements used by global brands which pay little or no corporation tax.


Crickhowell residents want to share their tax avoidance plan with other towns, in a bid to force the Treasury into legislation to crack down on loopholes which allowed the likes of Amazon to pay just £11.9m of tax last year on £5.3bn of UK internet sales.


Jo Carthew, who runs Crickhowell’s Black Mountain Smokery, which sells local artisan produce, with her family, said: "We were shocked to discover that the revenue generated by hard-working employees in these British high street chains isn’t declared. We do want to pay our taxes because we all use local schools and hospitals but we want a change of law so everyone pays their fair share."

Full article here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crickhowell-welsh-town-moves-offshore-to-avoid-tax-on-local-business-a6728971.html

bbbbbbut JOBS!!!!

Sorry. I'd assumed that was the priority we started from on defence spending, never mind any identified strategic requirements.

The rivalry between the forces has always been a terrible basis for setting priorities and planning ahead.

Mhairi Black: Ask why does TV attack benefit claimants – but not tax evasion?

IT seems like every mainstream television channel these days has indulged in “poverty porn”, where they produce programmes focusing on those who rely on benefits. Usually, but not always, the focus of such programmes is on those who are abusing the benefits system.


According to Age UK, pensioners are missing out on £5.5 billion of income-related benefits every year, vital income that could help many pensioners from facing the annual fear of winter and the choice whether to “eat or heat”. This includes 1.58 million pensioners failing to claim Pension Credit to which they are entitled and 2.23 million pensioners failing to claim the council tax benefit which they are due. Just imagine how many winter deaths could be avoided, particularly in this age group, if there was a real campaign to promote entitlement to all benefits.

The Ipsos Mori survey found that the take-up rate on some benefits was around 70 per cent. Compare that to the actual fraud of 0.7 per cent. The real issue isn’t so much benefit fraud – although that does need addressed – but the lack of any decent campaign to make sure that everyone who is on benefits gets all that they are entitled to.


The media prefer to make the public focus on those claiming benefits. Yet the scale of tax avoidance within the UK dwarfs the level of benefit fraud. According to the UK Government, tax evasion is around £35 billion per year but, according to a report commissioned by the union PCS and researched by Tax Research Associates, tax evasion in the UK in 2014 was around £119.4bn. This report complains that the UK Government’s figures massively underestimate the issue and use accounting sleight of hand to diminish the actual problem. However, the chances of collecting this money are diminishing as the UK Government are on schedule to decrease staffing within HMRC by 43 per cent over 10 years.

Full article here: http://www.thenational.scot/comment/mhairi-black-ask-why-does-tv-attack-benefit-claimants-but-not-tax-evasion.9705?

Let's look at just a few of those issues.

Milford Haven (what you refer to as Haverfordwest) has deepwater berthing, but is rather remote (good for isolation, but with poor road links), with extensive existing oil and gas installations and difficult topography (a problem also faced at Coulport, where the warheads have to be transported up and down a precipitously steep winding road to the explosives handling jetty, but where availability of 3,000 acres of what was once open moorland allowed the demarcation of a large buffer zone around the red area); accommodation for personnel would also be a significant problem; direct sea access would be to the south of the Irish Sea rather than to the Western Approaches, which is a strategic consideration; the MoD vetoed the idea of stationing Polaris there in the 1960s for "safety reasons" due to the newly built oil refinery; since then another refinery has been added and it's become home to two liquefied natural gas facilities and will soon host a new power station; the LNG facilities supply 30% of the UK's gas.

Barrow-in-Furness has a superficial appeal, but problems of tidality in the Walney Channel make its existing operations, which only require occasional access and egress, difficult (subs are very restricted in when they can gain access to and leave the existing facilities and have to make a break for it when the going's good, currently around once a month) and there's a shortage of land for expansion, especially to allow the safety clearance distances needed for any successor to Coulport; it's a long way to water deep enough for as sub to safely submerge, let alone reach operational sea areas.

Devonport has extensive dry dock and other facilities and with substantial investment would probably be able to duplicate what Faslane has to offer if the MoD were willing to write off the extensive recent investment as Faslane, but duplicating Coulport would pose major problems due to the proximity to a major population centre and again the issue of an adequate safety zone; again, it's a long way from the Atlantic patrolling areas, often through quite crowded sea lanes.

Any nuclear sub facility also needs the co-existence of Z-berths, and relocation of the fleet would need to expand that provision outside Scotland, where there are numerous deepwater lochs and other "suitable" locations; Z-berths are supposedly primarily to allow recreation and re-supplying of nuclear-powered subs, but subs have been known to use them in emergencies and when sufficient accommodation is unavailable at Faslane.

Contrary to your assertion, attack submarines don't just escort the boomers, they have other roles - some deploy Tomahawk cruise missiles, as used in attacks on Libya and elsewhere, and current doctrine sees them focusing more on integrated fleet defence operations and sonar surveillance. There would be strategic arguments for not putting all the UK's eggs in one basket by co-locating them along with the Trident successor.

The minesweepers (MCM Squadron) are widely deployed in the Gulf or wherever their services are required; their primary role is not, as you claim, to protect the "security of the bombers" - they could be stationed anywhere, but they have comparatively empty sea lanes up here in which to conduct their exercises (which they also often do outside my house!).

I don't underestimate the petulance a UK government might display by taking all its toys away if denied a base for the Trident successor, but finding a new home for that alone would be far from simple and would take a hell of a long time to get through design and planning, environmental impact assessment hearings etc., then the subsequent building, as the above explains, let alone relocating the facilities for the other submarines, the minesweeper squadron etc. etc., which could be dispersed, but have been concentrated where they are for a reason.

Faslane also regularly hosts ships and occasionally submarines from NATO and other forces, especially during annual exercises which focus on activities in the Atlantic. Its strategic location and necessity (whether one approves of it or not) would not change in that respect.

I doubt anyone would shed too many tears if we lost the Royal Marines. They're accommodated within the base, have access to NAAFI and other facilities that mean they don't support the local economy much anyway, and we generally only notice them when one of them runs amuck in a local bar and maims a resident or two or three.

Numerous voices among the armed forces have deplored the concentration on the "cuckoo in the nest" that is Trident, which has sucked up resources to the extent that we barely have a functioning surface fleet able to provide lower-level strategic responses (remember the scramble during the Falklands War?), and the debacles over the aircraft carriers and maritime surveillance capabilites have been widely reported. Staff recruitment and retention have also become serious problems. It's proving very hard to find people willing to serve on Trident, and what were once the elite among the submarine staff now see new raw recruits stationed on the subs, some of whom aren't psychologically suited to that role.

Like-for-like re-employment for those directly employed would be nigh impossible, but many within the navy retrain or develop their existing skills in civvy street or invest their payoffs in setting up new businesses unrelated to their MoD work on retirement anyway - I know some people locally who've done that.

As for the directly employed civilian workforce - the government's own figures put the numbers at 500-600 - given the employment issues we all face, the base unions risk taxing people's patience if they act as if they're entitled to incredibly expensive jobs for life (and longer!) when very few others have that luxury. We all have to adapt, and we've all contributed to keeping these folks employed over the years when many of us have been struggling along with little state support or concern when our circumstances change and we have to adapt. As a long-time local pointed out to me, when you sign up with the forces or military civil service, you'd be daft or very shortsighted not to realize that the future of your job hinges on purely political decisions. The unions have also been incredibly unresponsive over the years to any initiatives to explore alternative employment (I was involved with the Alternative Employment Study Group back in the 1980s, when we looked at all these issues)- it's been far easier to dig their heels in and try to hang on to the status quo, which has largely been a slow, losing battle anyway as contractorization has taken hold and conditions have deteriorated under cost-cutting. Being contractors, a fair proportion of the base workers don't have local roots, so the impact of any direct job losses would be spread around the country.

Nobody doubts that there would be an impact on indirect employment in the locality, but the most catastrophic predictions exaggerate its scale and assume that nothing would replace the current work on offer. Bear in mind the Faslane base has its own supply lines and extensive facilities on-site that restrict the amount of money pumped into the local economy.

There are also opportunity costs due to the location of the bases - the west of Scotland largely missed out on being able to service the oil industry because the navy didn't want the Clyde cluttered up with extra installations and traffic. On a more minor level, the area around Faslane and Coulport was excluded from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park when it was set up - some tourists might get a kick from seeing subs and other military hardware and miles of razorwire and weldmesh and watchtowers and armed guards and nuclear warhead convoys etc., but most of those I've spoken to have been disturbed.

Have to stop there because I need to get back to work!

There is no "plan to seperate Scottish Labour from UK Labour".

I give you all credit for making an honest effort to understand some of the dynamics at play in Scottish politics nowadays.

But such a separation as you mention can't be achieved as the structure of the party stands, and there's no evidence at all of any serious ambition by Shadow First Minister Kezia Dugdale or her shadow cabinet to do so, nor does Jeremy Corbyn show any sign of envisaging or sanctioning this - he's very much a unionist where Scotland's concerned, in contrast to his stance on Irish issues.

The tail of Scottish Labour will always be wagged by the dog of the UK Labour Party. Any politician who tries to tell you different is plain lying. All you're seeing right now is public scrutiny of tensions and conflicts that have been part of what Labour is for a long, long time, probably since its inception, just more glaringly obvious nowadays. It's always been a broad church. That's been a strength and a fatal weakness at different times.

Just look at the rapid pushback from Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle on the Trident successor if you want proof of what I'm saying: https://www.politicshome.com/foreign-and-defence/articles/story/maria-eagle-slaps-down-scottish-labour-trident

Even the Scottish Labour vote by around 70 per cent to 30 against the Trident replacement at the weekend was presaged the previous day by a vote that included the stipulation that "renewing Trident would support the steel industry". That's just opportunist politicking, and meaningless in real terms.

Today the Scottish Parliament voted 96-17 to oppose the successor to Trident. These MSPs voted in support of the successor:

Conservative MSPs

Ruth Davidson (Glasgow)

Jackson Carlaw (West Scotland)

Alex Fergusson (Galloway and West Dumfries)

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife)

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland)

John Lamont (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Annabel Goldie (West Scotland)

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife)

John Scott (Ayr)

Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands)

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland)

Nanette Milne (North East Scotland)

Liberal Democrat MSPs

Jim Hume (South Scotland)

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands)

Alison McInnes (North East Scotland)

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands)

Labour MSPs

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton)

Just one Labour MSP supported it publicly - Jackie Baillie, whose constituency includes the Faslane and Coulport bases (and where I happen to live), and who will make up any ridiculous porkies she feels she needs to about the number of jobs at stake (official figures released under FOI legislation put it at 500-600 direct jobs, Baillie's burbled on the record about anything between 9,000 jobs and 13,000 and counting, and never clarifies where she gets these figures or what they're actually measuring - Faslane services a whole lot more than Trident) in order to try to hang on to her seat at Holyrood, as that's the only argument she has - "Morality aside", she declared at a Hiroshima Day commemoration I attended one year, "it creates jobs." Oh, how we laughed.

Baillie's in the Scottish shadow cabinet. Even her party leader, Dugdale, a declared multilateralist, voted against the Trident replacement today. Scotland's lone MP, Ian Murray, although to the right of the party on a number of issues, is also solid on this, and there's been discussion of how his place in the UK shadow cabinet can stand if he were to defy the whip at Westminster on a Trident successor vote (the expectation is that he would tactically abstain).

The only way such a separation as you mentioned could be achieved is to abandon the formal and financial links between the UK Party and its Scottish subsidiary and set up a whole new party in Scotland, with lip service to fraternal co-operation on common priorities, as exists between other parties. Otherwise it's always going to result in the sort of ugly fudge we're seeing now on key issues, which actually just makes Labour look as chaotic and divided as it really is, and isn't going to win any votes of confidence from people who support one or the other view among the electorate either in Scotland or the rest of the UK.

As for Corbyn himself, I know the guy of old. He spoke eloquently at a fringe meeting at a Manchester CND Conference I attended back in the 1980s on the issue of nuclear disarmament, and I give him credit for consistency over the years. I know where he stands, and I also know he's never been a weathervane on this, always a signpost.

I can't say the same about the Scottish Labour Party (despite today's vote), nor the UK one.

I used to be a Labour activist, CLP delegate, the lot. I lived through the transition to Kinnock, whose scorched-earth disdainful policy towards those of us who campaigned on the ground (on the basis that we had nowhere else to go and weren't needed any more as there were other ways to reach the electorate) was completed by Blair, and whose legacy is at the root of the Labour Party's current unappealing schizophrenia on so many issues.

Once you abandon principles on such key issues as nuclear weaponry for electoral gain (bear in mind this whole issue is more pressing for people in Scotland as we actually host the missiles and submarines - they sail past my front window!), you open the door to a situation where what's next? Clause 4. Public ownership. You don't seek to persuade others to accept your currently unpopular moral stands, you make yourself a slave to focus groups, and the fickle and often distracted and contradictory mishmash of opinions that a random bunch of people will come out with when fed leading questions by a pollster with receptive ear.

Scottish Labour needs to forget trying to vie with the SNP for votes all the time and look for some bloody principles and stick to them consistently for a considerable period, and stop doing what US Republican campaign strategists are so fond of by focusing only on winning each day's news cycle (people may be distracted by everyday concerns at times, but they're generally not stupid, and they can grow to deeply resent those who make it blatantly obvious that they assume they are for political gain). Then it may regain some ground in Scotland.

Unfortunately for Scottish Labour, I don't think this is possible under the current - and only recently elected - Scottish leadership. And I see nobody in the wings who could do better for them.

Basically, if it's ever to hold power in the UK again, Labour needs to focus on the rest of the UK beyond Scotland. It can't be all things to all people. It should stop trying to be. There are votes out there to be had among people who have been so disillusioned that they've disenfranchised themselves. Chasing Tory voters or Lib Dem voters or UKIP voters is a fool's errand. They'll maybe become Labour voters if they can figure out what the hell the party stands for, and feel like they can trust that this isn't going to change tomorrow or next week or when the next media onslaught or opinion poll shifts the goalposts.

PMQs verdict: Corbyn just hammered Cameron

"I'm fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster, the name calling, backbiting, point scoring, finger pointing."

So said David Cameron when he won the Tory leadership back in 2005.

It didn't take long for him to surrender that ambitious hostage to fortune - partly because of the adversarial structure of the House of Commons, and partly because of his own temperament, which is naturally closer to Flashman than Gandhi.

Among his many weaknesses is his patrician temper, as has been widely catalogued by the press from both left and right, and over the years has caused concern among his own advisers.

And so we come to today's Prime Minister's Questions, on the strength of which Politics.co.uk's Ian Dunt has awarded Jeremy Corbyn the ears and tail for sheer doggedness:

This was the PMQs defeat Jeremy Corbyn had been threatening to deliver to the prime minister since he became Labour leader. He found the right question to ask David Cameron, ignored his evasive tactics and hammered him with it, Paxman-style, over and over again. He took a subject which damaged his opponent and used the opportunities offered by PMQs to make it much worse for him. It was sturdy, convincing stuff.

The prime minister is not, at bottom, a very good debater. This is partly why he was so desperate to escape leaders' debates at the election. He really only has three tactics in response to difficult queries.

Usually, he answers a question on process with a statement on goals. If you ask how he is going to protect those who are having their tax credits cut, he answers by saying we need a high-pay, low-welfare economy. It is irrelevant, but it sounds like the kind of thing almost everyone would agree with.

Alternatively, he lists related government policies. You ask how he is going to protect those who are having their tax credits cut and he answers by citing changes to the income tax benchmark or rising employment figures. It is broadly relevant, but it does not answer the question.

Finally, when he's desperate, he falls back on the standard 'Labour will wreck the economy' line. So if you ask how he is going to protect those who are having tax credits cut, he just says you're a "deficit denier". It is irrelevant, childish and logically pernicious.


It's worth looking out for these habitual tactics of Cameron's in future.

As Dunt observes, this sort of spectacle - and the awarding of "wins", reducing our ambitions for party politics to a mere tribal spectator sport in an archaic and very expensive setting - may not shift polls or win elections or change the destructive trajectory of a hubristic government and the kneejerk reactions of the evasive PR man in charge, but if a Punch and Judy show's all that's on offer, we may as well all join in on the "That's the way to do it!"

ETA: Video of the exchange here: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/28/jeremy-corbyn-six-tax-credit-questions-david-cameron-straight-bat
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