Lies, damned lies, Johann Lamont and Gordon Brown.
I received a letter recently with “I’m voting NO” in a banner across the top, purporting to come from Scottish Labour Party Leader, Johann Lamont MSP, and former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown MP. Even in the past two years of the independence referendum debate, I have never seen such a tissue of lies encapsulated into one letter.
The first lie is that this letter was ever penned by Lamont and Brown in the first place. Apart from the fact that only a complete numpty is ever taken in by letters with printed signatures on them, apart from the factual inaccuracies, the very grammar of this letter alone leads me to believe that it was ghost-written by somebody of poor intelligence in either Labour or Better Together HQ. If I am wrong in that estimation, then given the extremely poor level of English in it should lead anyone to think carefully before supporting either or both of them.
The second lie is to continually make reference to the Scottish National Party (SNP) and not once mention the official campaign for Scottish independence, Yes Scotland. This is a typical unionist trick, to try and conflate the SNP and Yes as one and the same, when that is simply not the case. Yes Scotland are a grass-roots, non-partisan organisation. The SNP are but one of the many parties and individuals affiliated to and in support of Yes Scotland.
“The SNP have failed to answer even the most basic questions,” the letter claims, “they consistently refuse to explain what their plans are for a replacement currency, despite the fact the UK Treasury and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls have made it clear that leaving the UK means losing the £.”
This letter arrived on Wednesday 3 September 2014, well after the televised debate between SNP First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond MSP, and former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the anti-independence Better Together group, Alistair Darling. In that debate, televised live on 25 August 2014, Alistair Darling three times asked Alex Salmond what his plans for currency were, and Mr Salmond three times answered that an independent Scotland would be using the pound, Sterling being a fully tradeable currency, with or without the permission of Westminster. Furthermore however, when pressed on the matter Alistair Darling openly stated “Of course we could use the pound.”
Given the time between that debate and the arrival of the letter, if Lamont and Brown did not know that, they must have been living in a box. One can only surmise therefore that the above claims about the First Minister not making clear what the currency plans are and Scotland losing the pound are two further lies.
The main part of the letter has four points headed in bold. Each of which is full of yet more lies;
“There is a risk to pensions – we would lose both the financial support of the UK, along with the protection and safeguards provided by the UK pension fund.”
Compare that to an official statement from the Department for Work and Pensions, issued to Newsnet Scotland, almost a year ago in September 2013; “If Scotland does become independent, this will have no effect on your state pension – you will continue to receive it just as you do at present.”
The claim that there is a risk to pensions is therefore another lie.
But then, there is no safeguard under the UK pension fund. In February 2014 a leaked document revealed that the UK government was considering privatising the state pension. This was further mooted in July 2014.
To claim therefore that pensioners will continue to have protection and safeguards – on either side of the border – is another lie.
But then, there is no guarantee of governmental financial support either. Until recently I worked in the pensions industry for one of the UK’s best-known and oldest finance houses. As such I am aware that in 2012 the UK government made it mandatory for employers of five or more employees to place their workers in private workplace pensions. I am equally aware that it is the current government’s stated aim to place the vast majority of the UK workforce in these schemes by 2018. This move can only have one ultimate consequence; the abolition of the UK state pension. The DWP struggles as it is to pay the state pension, and with less and less money coming in, it eventually will not make economic sense to keep it going.
To pretend that there is going to be any guarantee of continuing government financial support for pensioners is therefore another lie.
“There is a risk to schools and hospitals – additional UK funding helps pay for our schools and hospitals.”
A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated that an independent Scotland would, based on 2012 figures, have a GDP per head of $39,642 and place us fourteenth in the league table of world nations. The UK has a GDP of $35,671 and is eighteenth in the league table. Another report stated that “An independent Scotland would be richer than the rest of the UK and in the top 20 countries globally.” And if anyone should think that report biased, I would make the point that it was published in the Financial Times on 3 February 2014.
On 16 December 2012 Johann Lamont, one of the signatories to this letter – and someone who got her university tuition free (but who accused the SNP of wanting a “something for nothing society”) – said that maintaining free higher education is “regressive” and “unsustainable” and stated that students should contribute to their education.
It is obvious that an independent Scotland could easily afford free education and healthcare and still have money to spare. And to claim otherwise and try to have others believe that it would be safer under the Union and in their hands, is therefore another lie.
And of course, the current piecemeal privatisation of the National Health Service (NHS) in England can only have a detrimental impact upon the funding NHS Scotland receives from Westminster. For every £10 lost in England through austerity, privatisation and public spending cuts, Scotland loses £1 from our annual budget. Given that this is set to continue, then that can only directly affect our hospitals and the rest of the NHS this side of the border.
To claim that Scottish hospitals are better off within the Union is therefore yet another lie.
“There is a risk to jobs and businesses – There are 1 million jobs linked to the UK many in the finance and defence industries.”
Leaving out the fact that no sources are given for this claim and these figures, as I said above, I have worked in finance, and in the global markets of the modern world, companies go where they wish. Bank of New York Merrill and another US giant, Citibank, have customer services centres in Edinburgh. Lloyd’s are currently engaged in a £1 million plus refurbishment of the Scottish Widows headquarters on Dalkeith Road in Edinburgh. At the start of the independence debate the unionists told us that even the prospect of an independence referendum would scare companies of from investing in Scotland and they would leave. The reality is that more and more companies, including some of the biggest names in finance, aren’t moving out of Scotland, they are moving into Scotland – and are showing no signs of going elsewhere..
Likewise the unionists continually try to claim big names in finance are saying they would pull out of an independent Scotland. When they tried this with Standard Life, the company issued a press release stating that they said no such thing. Similarly, the same is continually claimed for Lloyd’s. Yet apart from the above refurbishment of the Scottish Widows building, the CEO of Lloyd’s, Antonio Horta-Osório, has continually stated that they would use the interim period between the referendum and Scotland becoming independent in 2016 to consider their position.
More recently Better Together boasted that they had 130 businesses had backed them to stay in the Union. A few days later Yes Scotland announced that 200 businesses had backed them for independence.
To claim therefore that independence threatens jobs, particularly finance jobs, is another lie.
As to defence, I do not know where these figures have come from, as again, no sources or proof is given of this. One would assume however that they are trying to claim that these defence jobs are those surrounding the Royal Naval base at Faslane, which houses the Trident submarine fleet, carrying the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The Conservative Defence Secretary Philip Hammond once stated that the withdrawal of Trident and the closure of Faslane would cost Scotland 11,000 jobs. Under a Freedom of Information request by Scottish CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), the Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed that there are only 520 civilian jobs reliant upon Trident at Faslane. Plus, given the specialist natures of these jobs, those employed in them are not always resident in Scotland. An expert report commissioned by the Scottish Trade Unions Congress (STUC) and Scottish CND found that the eventual loss of employment if Trident were removed would be less than 1800, and that reduction would not take place until after 2022.
Nobody of course likes to think of anyone losing their job, even if it is just one job. However, the SNP has calculated that diverting £1 billion from the Trident replacement programme into infrastructure spending in the west of Scotland would generate around 15,000 jobs. And given the timescale, this would include apprenticeships; given young Scots in the west of Scotland the chance of a real start in life.
And if Labour wish to talk about defence jobs in Scotland, let us consider that due to downsizing of the British Army, all the former Scottish regiments have now been amalgamated into the one, vastly reduced, Royal Regiment of Scotland. Let’s bandy names about, such as Edzell, Lossiemouth, Kinloss, Rosyth, Pitreavie Castle, Kirkliston, Glencorse; these and many, many more MoD facilities have either been closed or vastly downsized in operations. The fact is, when it comes to keeping defence jobs in Scotland, the MoD has a frankly shameful track record of doing so.
To make any claim therefore that defence jobs are under threat and would be safer under the Union is yet one more lie.
“There is a major risk to the £ in our pocket and the economy – The impartial Institute of Fiscal Studies have stated that leaving the UK would mean an average increase for Scottish taxpayers of up to £1,000 per year.”
Hold on, didn’t they say above that we wouldn’t be able to use the pound? They have just contradicted themselves in the same letter, and that makes another lie.
To quote Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I would like Lamont and Brown, particularly the latter, to explain just how we got into the global recession in the first place? Just who was responsible for that, which led eventually to the increase in Income Tax from 17½% to 20%? See, to the best of my recollection, it was partially the fault of a Chancellor of the Exchequer who dithered while economic bubbles rose and burst and, far from coming down hard on financiers and regulating them, actively encouraged these bubbles. That Chancellor was Gordon Brown MP.
Impartial the Institute of Fiscal Studies very well may be. They have many times however been highly criticised for their neoliberal bias. Besides, being made up of London based financiers, who have a vested interest in Scottish oil and gas revenue continuing to pour into The City, one has to wonder just how impartial they truly are. And if Lamont and Brown are willing to quote a right-wing, dare I say anti-Scottish, economic think tank then that says more about their commitment to the ordinary person in the street than it does mine or any other Yes supporter.
Instead, I went to the website of Milne & Craig, Independent Financial Advisors, and this is what they had to say; “The reality we face is that the politicians on both sides are talking about more devolution of taxation powers even if we vote NO. If we get a NO vote we get one country with two tax systems. If we get a YES vote we get two countries with two tax systems.”
Taxes may rise in the interim of the first few years of independence. But then they may raise if we stay within the Union. See my point above about incompetent chancellors and Income Tax. Are we better off in the Union? Is there a financial incentive? I suggest that Johann Lamont and Gordon Brown ask those queuing at food banks, or even people with increasing shopping bills, their opinion on the state of the economy within the union.
The good news is that the long-term forecasts for an independent Scotland could not be brighter. I point the readers, and Lamont and Brown, to the two reports I mentioned above, both impartial. One which places an independent Scotland 14th in the world, while the UK is currently 18th, and just in case they missed it, I shall repeat the Financial Times statement here;
“An independent Scotland would be richer than the rest of the UK and in the top 20 countries globally.”
And that is before I even mention that apart from current revenues, the recent discovery of a new oil field off Shetland shall make Scotland even more prosperous still.
To try and claim therefore that an independent Scotland would be financially worse off simply does not hold water, and is therefore just one more lie, to add to a catalogue of them in one short letter.
As I said at the beginning, I doubt Johann Lamont and Gordon Brown wrote this letter, but given that they are happy to have their printed signatures to it can only mean they wholly endorse it. Frankly, they have more pork pies than Lidl’s cold meats section.