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The New Day dawns : A Buzz round the Media with Honey McBee

It's a new dawn. The end of the phoney war.  You’ll have no doubt already noticed the raising of the level of debate? Thought not. Off we go again...

Early in the week the Treasury pledged to stand behind the UK’s £1.2trillion debt stock in the event we vote Yes. This does not necessarily absolve Scotland from paying its share – we’re told it was more a case of a measure to calm any jitters on international markets if Scotland’s post-independent economy is down-graded.

Alan Cochrane’s reaction in the Telegraph was no less than we expect of him. Peter Jones maintained in Tuesday’s Scotsman that financial institutions will be asking any number of questions if Scotland looks like voting Yes – “Which government is going to pay the interest and repay the principal on the debt you hold? Is your £1bn of debt going to be divided so that some gets paid by the Scottish Government and some by the (rest of) UK government? And if so, does that imply more or less risk than at present?”

Then, as Mure Dickie reported in Friday’s FT, clutching the latest paper in the Scotland Analysis series, Danny Alexander and William Hague returned to Scotland’s relationship with the EU. We do at least seem to have moved on from being kept out of the EU for years while tediously negotiating with Brussels; instead we are told we will have to pay more towards the EU budget, lose our part of the UK’s rebate, lose out on farm subsidies and be unable to charge students from rUK university fees (the Welsh are already threatening to sue us over this).

Rubbish, says La Sturgeon, and we all move on, though Ian bell in Saturday’s Herald wondered if the Mr Hague who was telling us that Scotland’s negotiation would be ‘beset with hellish difficulties’ was the same Mr Hague who seems so relaxed about the European elections and the negotiations with Brussels PM Cameron promises ahead of the 2017 EU referendum.

Saturday’s Daily Record  gleefully pointed out that Mr Hague has been wrong about devolution before… “Five years into a Scottish Parliament”, he said in 1997 when Tory leader,” Scots will be disappointed, disillusioned, depressed and living in a high-tax ghetto.” (Some might argue that three out of four ain’t bad, and the fourth may soon be upon us, but we couldn’t possibly comment).

Those ‘hellish difficulties’ surfaced again in a Sunday Herald piece by Tom Gordon.  He’s commenting on the paper economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert have written for  the Jimmy Reid Foundation, in which they argue in favour of dropping the proposals in the White Paper for sharing the UK debt and say that instead, Scotland should play hardball, demanding compensation for ‘squandered’ oil revenues that propped up an ‘otherwise unsustainable UK economy’.


Better late than never…

If you missed it, as a defence of the Union the ‘moral’ argument put forward last week by Chris Deerin in the Scottish Daily Mail, later reprinted in The Guardian, knocks others into the proverbial cocked hat. Here was the ‘emotional’ argument – the heart not head case for saying No that Better Together has not yet managed to get across.   He won justified support from Alex Massie in the SpectatorThe essence of Mr Deerin’s argument is simple: Britain is a great country and we should remember and pay attention to that more often than we do. Why would anyone wish to leave a great and successful country? This was less a moral argument for the Union than an emotional case for maintaining the ties that bind. And it was none the worse for that. There is something thin-blooded about an argument for independence that rests, at least in part, on the cartoon-villainy of George Osborne and the hated so-called bedroom tax. As unpalatable as these things may be… they are temporary inconveniences. These things too shall pass”.

But he got short shrift from the paper’s correspondents’ column and from Gerry Hassan in Friday’s Scotsman.  Mr Deerin has recently returned to Scotland from a long journalistic sojourn down south, which, as any fule kno, puts him well beyond the pale in certain quarters.

Meanwhile, constitutional expert Alan Trench has contributed to a forthcoming IPPR publication in which he looks at the powers that might be heading our way if we opt to remain in the UK.  A synopsis by Kate Devlin appeared in yesterday’s Herald but you can read the full text of Professor Trench’s chapter Devolution and the Future of the Union , which is previewed on the IPPR website before publication in early February.


Social Justice – really?

Thinking long and hard before voting seems to be the order of the day; two interesting views on the way Scotland perceives itself and the sort of society we want – first from Professor David Donnison in Scottish Review and then from David Torrance in yesterday’s Herald. Are we as fair and equitable as we like to think? Both rewarding reading.

Our attitude to welfare reform – how it differs from England - looms large in the Indy debate; if you haven’t yet caught up with Channel 4’s Benefits Street, Fraser Nelson in Friday’s Telegraph  wrote an outstanding piece on why it actually pays not to work. Most sane people in the same financial position as those living in James Turner Street wouldn’t work either, he says.

Harry Mount in the Sunday Times (£) also dissected the programme. Welfare spending, he says, has risen faster in Britain since 2000 than anywhere else in Europe; something, somewhere, has got to give.

Rosemary Cuckston in last Friday’s Spiked  argues that it suits politicians of all parties to have us believe in one huge amorphous group of welfare claimants. The programme attracted 4million viewers on its first outing, but immediately, she says,  it was condemned – “Incredibly, it also prompted a petition signed by 25,000 people to have it taken off air on the grounds that it demonised welfare recipients, and a host of condemnatory articles in liberal broadsheets. The reaction is revealing: it shows that there is a gap between how ordinary people see benefits claimants and how the petition signers, commentariat and politicians see them”.


Ministerial snakes and ladders…

A nicely succinct yet informative piece in Wednesday’s For Argyll caught our eye.  Sliding down a snake of public estimation, says the blog, is Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who has been forced to delay any amendment to the requirement for corroborative evidence in Scots Law.

Climbing up is Transport and Veterans Secretary Keith Brown, who announced a new post of Veterans Commissioner to focus on “helping those leaving the forces to make what is in very many ways a difficult transition to civilian life. It will include aligning public services to veterans’ needs in areas like healthcare, housing and employment”.  For Argyll predicts further stardom for Mr Brown. Place your bets…


Philanthropists, megalomaniacs and serious sportsmen…

Land reform is controversial.  With a number of reviews underway it’s coming to a farm or an estate near you in the near future.  Andy Wightman has long campaigned for it, arguing that reform is right and fair; this is his blog in yesterday’s Herald.    If you missed it a couple of weeks ago, the latest round was sparked by a  BBC interview with environment minister Paul Wheelhouse, in which he argued for a fairer distribution of land. This was followed by David Calder in the Caledonian Mercury  giving the response of the landowners, gamekeepers and tenant farmers and - in what Calder  termed a ‘curious intervention’ - Charles Moore in his blog for the Spectator likened the First Minister to Robert Mugabe.


No show without Punch…

And on the subject of landowners, Scotland on Sunday reported that Mohammed Fayed (of Harrods and Fulham FC, not to mention a large chunk of Easter Ross), is so enamoured of Scottish independence that he wants to donate our own Statue of Liberty – modelled on the legend of Princess Scota. Mr Fayed says the scots are descended from an Egyptian princess and Egyptians introduced the kilt to Scotland.  Not many people know that.


Not welcomed in the hillside…

Two reports last week on misgivings about Wales having the power to raise a percentage of its own income tax, should the proposed referendum come down in favour. Not about the principle, but how it would work on the ground.  Similar sentiments have, of course, been raised over the limitations of our own 10p tax-raising power under the Scotland Act. Wales Online reported both the Welsh FSB and the IOD saying that the lack of flexibility in the lock-step that allows for no variation in bands would not work and is likely to make any referendum unwinnable.

In Click on Wales Gerry Holtham of the Holtham Commission echoes the unsuitability of the proposals. Welsh politicians”, he writes, “are being asked to run a politically risky referendum for a power that they cannot use that will make them more accountable but will open them up to justifiable revenue risk while another unjustifiable source of revenue risk is allowed to continue. I suggest that only believers in Father Christmas would expect them to do it”.

If you have an interest in local government, you may also like this piece from yesterday’s Click on Wales and the ensuing comment on the current restructuring proposals. There are many who argue that our own 32 authorities are far too many for a population of 5million - and probably an equal number who think much more should be devolved locally.


And finally, for something completely different…

If you thought the Tour de France and a skein of geese don’t have much in common, think again. It’s apparently all to do with a formation known as a peloton – fuel efficient aerodynamics that enables energy to be conserved over long distances.

Michael Habib of the University of Southern California explained the research in The Conversation this week. Birds, it appears, can do the maths required while on the wing. Most of us can’t do it sitting down, so we are, once again, in awe of nature…