Accessibility Page Navigation
Style sheets must be enabled to view this page as it was intended.

Tuesday 12 March: A Buzz round the Media with Honey McBee


GERS was supposed to be the high spot of the week (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland- do try to keep up), but as we all yawned in anticipation, those naughty people from the Better Together campaign slipped out their own little blockbuster –a leaked ‘confidential memo’  John Swinney sent to his fellow cabinet members last year. In it, Mr Swinney did not appear to be over-optimistic about the chances of an independent Scotland becoming the new Eldorado.

He is, explained Alf Young in Saturday’s Scotsman, hyper-cautious about future public spending commitments, warning about the volatility of North Sea Oil and a doubling of Scotland’s net fiscal deficit. “We will”, says Young, “only discover how many of the assumptions in the Scottish government’s annual GERS analysis are wide of the mark, if we do become independent and have to match that analysis against future constitutional reality”.

Swinney himself told the Sunday Herald that Scotland is, in fact, a wealthy country and has “nothing to fear, and everything to gain”. But the memo is, says Better Together, the document they [the SNP] did not want the Scottish people to see.  Better Together has helpfully annotated the memo with mock post-its, so a quick flick through will give you an idea of what “the SNP say privately that they won’t tell us in public”.

George Kerevan in Friday’s Scotsman  issued a note of caution about Better Together’s  annotations – “When you log on you’ll find the front page of the document boldly proclaims “top secret – the truth about taxes, spending and oil in a separate Scotland”. Clearly this is not part of the internal memo but a mock-up supplied by the creative geniuses behind Better Together to put their own spin on the contents. You’ll also see they have redacted the first part of the paper. I wonder why? The Better Together editors insert comments throughout the document. Frequently these are at odds with the text”.

Eddie Barnes in Scotland on Sunday says it pricked the SNP’s bubble of optimism surrounding GERS and independence – “ Few of the issues presented within the report – from the declining taxes coming from the North Sea to the rising cost of the country’s ageing population – were in any way revelatory. However, the memo contained phrases and words – “deterioration”, “uncertainty”, “volatility” – that have not survived the SNP spin-doctors’ green pen since the independence debate began. Worse, from the perspective of the SNP government, the paper specifically discussed issues such as the “affordability of pensions” and welfare”.  

Iain McWhirter in the Sunday Herald  sprang to Mr Swinney’s defence… the memo wasn’t so much about cuts and deficits, he said, it’s about how much Scotland could reasonably put into an oil fund. Choices have to be made. You can't expect an independent Scotland to be immune from economic uncertainty, immune to the ageing population, immune to recession and fluctuating oil prices. But no credible economist seriously argues today that Scotland could not survive as an independent small nation like Norway, Denmark or Finland. Actually, in an age of economic uncertainty, John Swinney is a useful guy to have around…”

Needless to say, the First Minister did not take opposition criticism lying down – this is Thursday’s FMQs.  Alan Cochrane in the Telegraph called it one of his better-ever performances in the Holyrood bear-pit.”

Last word goes to our own Scot-Buzz editor Bill Jamieson writing in Scotland on Sunday“We owe Swinney gratitude for alerting his Cabinet colleagues to the reality of the debt constraint that would await them on independence. If the facts are good enough for his colleagues, they’re good enough for us. This is a moment of truth that truly needs to be shared”.

And lo, as the sun set over the horizon last night, we were swimming in the black stuff.  The Scottish government predicts an ‘oil boom’ said the BBC headlines and this morning’s Scotsman, as its first Oil and Gas Analytical Bulletin is published.  Two million barrels a day.  Bang on cue.


Battle lines are drawn…

Saturday’s Scotsman published the full text of the letter from the First Minister to Prime Minister Cameron, accusing him of breaking faith with the Scottish people over the latest round of defence cuts, whereby the number of troops based in Scotland will be severely depleted.  There was a commitment, Mr Salmond maintained, to base those returning from Germany in Scotland, which went some way towards balancing cutbacks announced in 2011.

“The announcement by Philip Hammond this week therefore breaks your government’s bond of trust with the people of Scotland…that fault is compounded by the dissembling that surrounds that betrayal… Philip Hammond should apologise to the people of Scotland for his misleading remarks. We can also get a clear sense of your government’s regard for the well-being of Scotland from these events…”  

The Sunday Mail also weighed in, as did Eddie Barnes in Scotland on Sunday.  Barnes said it sends relationships between London and Edinburgh to an all-time low – “he First Minister’s letter comes a few months after Salmond and Cameron pledged to work constructively together after signing the Edinburgh Agreement on the rules for the independence referendum campaign. But the row over defence appears to show that the gloves have now come off”.


O, would some gift…

We would not normally dwell for a third week on the misfortunes befalling the Catholic Church in Scotland, were we not somewhat startled to see, in last week’s Scottish Review, ubiquitous commentator Gerry Hassan  linking them with Rangers Football Club.  Gerry was, in fact, commenting on the way Scotland sometimes shrugs her collective shoulders and turns a blind eye to abuse of power.  We do not have a history of investigative journalism, he said, and the liberal elite has, in the past, circled the wagons.  But, “This isn’t just about the media, but about public culture, life and attitudes…There is a longer, deeper, probably irreversible set of changes going on in all of this that we seldom reflect upon. Scotland has been going through a long revolution, characterised by a crisis of traditional authority and institutional power. It can be seen in the current maelstrom within the Catholic Church, the downfall of Rangers FC, the state of the Scottish Labour Party, and of course, the unethical behaviour of banks such as RBS and HBOS”

Meanwhile, in the same edition, Katie Grant thinks there’s a touch of spin doctor Malcolm Tucker about the Pope, and Ken Roy said let the Church which is without sin, and lets fly at the Kirk. 

And there we close this particular thread…


But some are more equal than others…

In previous weeks we have looked at the UK government’s thoughts on privatising RBS (shares for everyone? Probably not).  Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute thinks he has found a way to do it. Sell the banks, he says, then distribute the proceeds to everyone.  A staged sale would mean everyone would get several cheques. And a popular privatisation bonanza just before the 2015 election could give Osborne and Cameron quite a boost – which I am sure enters their calculations.” Quite.

Meanwhile, if you were affected by the second glitch in the RBS money machines over the weekend, you’ll be tickled pink to read Terry Murden’s report in Saturday’s Scotsman that the bank paid 95 of its employees more than £1million last year.  Chief Exec. Stephen Hester didn’t get his bonus last year – but he did get £770,000 as a second instalment of his 2010 remuneration, and £1.6million under the long-term incentive plan. That’s all right then. Average salary for bank employees was £34,000.


Links that bind…

According to the Courier, an 11,000 signature petition, calling for a public inquiry into the way the Trump golf project was managed, was handed into Holyrood yesterday.  Could be especially embarrassing for the First Minister, but also for his predecessor Lord McConnell, and the officials at Aberdeenshire Council who were determined to see it went through, according to petition presenter David Milne.  He maintains, "This is not a party political matter, it's a systematic failure. At Holyrood and locally we have seen successive administrations of various colours cosy up to Mr Trump…it is now up to the MSPs who sit on the Public Petitions Committee to choose: do they want to find out what went wrong and ensure it never does again, or do they want to guarantee the whole story is never even told?”



Do penguins vote for Christmas?

The Falkland Islanders went to the polls yesterday for their referendum. We should be interested in the fortunes of the islanders, since many are of Scottish descent; apart from the immense distance between us and them, there are similarities in the way of life with our own island communities.  Yesterday’s Daily Mail had the pictures – queues outside, Union Jacks everywhere.  Alicia Castro in the Guardian says the referendum, organised by the British for the British, will end nothing; what Argentina wants – and the UN has called for - is dialogue. .. “The UK has to realise that the world has changed. All through Latin America there are well established democratic governments that act in unison. We are a community and a market of 600 million people with some of the world's fastest growing economies, while much of Europe is in economic stagnation. It simply isn't in Britain's interest to be seen as intransigent, and to alienate itself from this increasingly powerful and dynamic economic bloc”.  Stalemate, we fancy. No surprise that 98% voted to remain as they are...


And finally…

Welcome to Scotland…

One of the most romantic sights of the Scottish winter is that of skeins of geese arriving to take advantage of our grasslands when their own are frozen.  Now the RSPB warden on Tiree has reported that record numbers are on the island this year.  Geese head for the wetter coastal areas of Scotland and Ireland, where there is less likelihood of frost. 

There were 4,567 Barnacle geese on Tiree in February  - and 2,640 greylags, two pinkfeet, two Canada geese, 106 whooper swans, 2,235 lapwings as well as 2,780 golden plover. 

And yes, they are counted, field by field, goose by goose.