I was asked if I had any suggestions for reading in Scottish politics. I thought I’d share the following non-exhaustive list of good articles from the last few months. Read more
Another of the Conservative manifesto proposals to appeal to “hard-working people” concerns the minimum wage. The Tories say they will legislate “so that nobody working 30 hours on the Minimum Wage pays Income Tax on what they earn”.
This sounds like a big deal. Is it?
The main national minimum wage is currently £6.50 per hour. At 30 hours per week, this equates to £10,140 per year. The Conservatives have said they want to see the minimum wage reach £8 per hour by the end of the decade. This would mean £12,480 per year for the worker on 30 hours per week. (£8*30*52 = £12,480.)
It is also a Conservative policy that the personal allowance – the amount one has to earn before paying any income tax – reach £12,500 by the end of the decade.
So, give or take £20, the new law won’t make any tangible difference at this point. Read more
On Tuesday the Conservatives announced what they see one of the most important new policies: extending Right to Buy to tenants in Housing Association properties.
When this idea was floated two months ago I wrote a Since You Asked column which tried to explain how it was emblematic of a 30-year approach to housing: less and less state support for housebuilding and more subsidies for renting and buying. I argued that, to put it kindly, it doesn’t address the problem of housing shortages.
It is hard not to conclude that the fog of nostalgia hangs over Tory policy discussions. Right to Buy is seen as the “aspirational” policy, so, like a faded Hollywood director, the Conservative party has tried again and again to tell the story in sequel form. Read more
I spent a few days in South Thanet last week trying to find out whether Nigel Farage might after all lose his campaign to become MP for the Kent constituency. Polls have the United Kingdom Independence party leader in a three-way tie with his Labour and Conservative opponents, though bookmakers still have him as the favourite.
A common complaint among local opponents of Mr Farage is that he is rarely in the constituency. When he does appear, he is cocooned in celebrity: the Ukip leader is surrounded by members of the media and security guards. When I visited the local Ukip office in Ramsgate on Thursday afternoon, it was shut. Not famed for his reticence, Mr Farage’s low profile might strike many people as surprising. Read more
Labour has announced that it willl drastically restrict non-dom status, writes John McDermott Read more
At the seven-way leaders debate last week, Nicola Sturgeon took full advantage of a simple fact: she knows much more about UK politics and policies than her opponents know about Scotland’s. A skilled and experienced politician, the Scottish National party leader took advantage of these information asymmetries. She made the most of her perceived underdog status; many commentators said that she “won”.
On Tuesday night, as the overdog rather than the underdog, and debating other Scottish party leaders in a mere four-way TV showdown, Ms Sturgeon was always going to be challenged more — on her government’s record and her policies for 2015. She was criticised for Scotland’s rising NHS waiting lists, its unequal access to higher education, her dubious pledge to increase spending while reducing public debts and for her government’s centralising reforms to policing and cuts to further education. And when she refused to rule out another independence referendum in the near future – a wholly sensible and legitimate choice – the audience had a wee heckle. Read more
The Scottish National party could, after all, wield power in an independent state. It just happens to be the state from which it wants to secede. Less than a year after the referendum in which Scots voted against independence, the SNP is projected to win more than 40 of Scotland’s 59 seats at the British general election. Such a bloc would make it the most formidable nationalist group since Charles Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary party of the 1880s. And since neither the Conservative nor the Labour party is forecast to win an overall majority at the polls on May 7, the new SNP MPs could be the most troublesome Westminster Scots since the Lords who took the then nascent union to within four votes of dissolution in 1713. Read more
Some supporters of Scottish independence believe in the conspiracy theory that MI5 was working against a Yes vote. Others have so much optimism bias about the economics of independence that I worry there is dopamine* in their Irn-Bru.
And let’s not mention the secret oil fields.
In the aftermath of the referendum Scotland feels beset by an asymmetric tribalism. Crudely, No voters, almost by definition, do not want the general election to be about independence. Yes voters, almost by definition, believe it’s still the defining issue.
The coverage of the SNP’s high poll ratings and what the party might do if it held the balance of power in Westminster often gives the impression that a madness has taken over Scotland and kilted Jacobites are set to invade from north of the border.
But in a very important sense, Scottish voters are behaving entirely rationally. Read more
The biggest macro implication of the Budget was the chancellor’s decision to ease the squeeze on public spending, a mostly political move to neutralise Labour’s best attack line on the Conservative party — that it doesn’t care about ordinary people.
But there are of course some interesting micro policies, not least the announcement of a “Help to Buy ISA” targeting people saving to buy their first home. The diagram below outlines how the policy is supposed to work. Savers can deposit up to £200 per month into a Help to Buy ISA, which the government will match with 25p for every £1 up to the total government contribution of £3,000. In other words, savers can deposit up to £12,000 and earn a maximum “bonus” taking it up to £15,000. (This doesn’t take into account any possible interest earned on the amount saved.)
Perhaps it’s because it’s Friday, but the big story of the day is related to kitchens. Sarah Vine, a Daily Mail columnist (and wife of Michael Gove, a leading Conservative politician), wrote a column about Justine Miliband, wife of Ed Miliband, Labour party leader, and the couple’s kitchen. Some attention was given to the revelation that the kitchen upon which Ms Vine opined was in fact a second kitchen(ette), even more pixels were generated about the nastiness of the column, especially once Michael Portillo, a former Tory minister, coolly criticised Ms Vine on television.
These are events of Knausgårdian dullness and yet no enlightenment comes from reading more about them. On one level, of course, the spitefulness shown by Ms Vine matters: it speaks to the corrosiveness and amplified OUTRAGE of too much of the political culture. But it’s worth (promise) reflecting on the bizarre world in which the number, size, and symbolism of politicians’ kitchens matters in the first place. Read more
In an interview with Trevor Philips, former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, to be broadcast by Channel 4 next week, Nigel Farage, argues that laws against racial discrimination are no longer necessary. He also insists that the United Kingdom Independence party, which he leads, is a “colour blind” political party.
I doubt it*. But here I want to query the assumptions behind his first point: that Britain has moved on, and there is no discrimination of any note in 2015.
Given the Scottish National Party’s imperious poll ratings it easy to conclude that, despite the Yes side’s defeat in last year’s referendum, independence is inevitable.
But the release on Wednesday of annual fiscal figures from the Scottish Government suggest that, at least when it comes to the economic case for independence, 2014 was an unusually good year for nationalists, one that may not repeat itself anytime soon.
The idea that a staunchly left-wing Scotland is ideologically different – and diverging – from England is among the arguments used by advocates of independence.
One of the ways this is supposedly expressed is via Scots’ more liberal attitudes to immigration. During the referendum campaign, the leaders of the Yes side called for a more open policy than the current UK government’s. And for the most part, they expressed a nationalism based on citizenship rather than on ethnic or family ties. Alex Salmond, then leader of the Scottish National party, contrasted a Scotland that welcomed immigrants with an England increasingly uneasy with its border policies.
So what to make of a poll published on Tuesday by the BBC, suggesting that Scottish attitudes to immigration are in fact similar to those of people in the rest of Britain?
Ahead of the general election there will be lots of people making claims about polls. I asked Chris Hanretty, Reader in politics at the University of East Anglia, and one-third of the team that puts together Election Forecast UK, some polling questions I was curious about. I’ve edited his answers lightly for clarity and house style, and then pasted them below. You can read more of his analysis here.
The independence referendum is still being fought in Scotland, but this time the nationalists are winning. This is one implication from 16 constituency polls commissioned by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft and released on Wednesday.
They support what has been increasingly obvious ever since Scots voted No on September 18: there is a new landscape in Scottish politics. The Scottish Nationalist party is projected to replace Labour as the dominant force north of the border.
Here are the headline results of Lord Ashcroft’s polls (click to expand):
On Tuesday, Members of Parliament will cast a free vote in the House of Commons on whether to allow the licensing of a procedure known variously as “mitochondrial donation”, “mitochondrial replacement therapy” (MRT) and “three-person IVF”.
A yes vote could lead to hundreds of babies born every year who would otherwise suffer from mitochondrial diseases such as Muscular Dystrophy. Mitochondria, often referred to as the “power stations” of our cells, contain maternal DNA which is passed from mother to child. When faulty mitochondria are passed on they can cause premature muscle wasting, brain damage and other ailments which sometimes only become apparent in later life. However, techniques developed at Newcastle university can remove healthy nuclei (from the embryo or the mother’s egg) from cells with defective mitochondria and place them in cells with healthy mitochondria. Read more
The universities reforms of 2012 did not shift the cost from taxpayers to graduates, as some of the rhetoric around them suggested, but amounted to an increase in the subsidy for universities that will be paid for via higher fees for graduates while the taxpayer costs stays roughly the same. Hence, perhaps, the letter from vice-chancellors about Labour’s supposed policy.
“[P]erhaps the biggest polling movement in recent UK history that almost no-one has heard of”, is how Professor Roger Scully, a leading authority on Welsh politics, describes the decline since 2012 in support for the Labour party in Wales.
I can’t speak for others’ knowledge of Welsh politics, but Prof Scully might be right:
Last year, the United Kingdom Independence party won more votes than any other party in Britain’s European elections. It bested the Liberal Democrats in the local elections that took place the same day. But Nigel Farage’s outfit performed poorly in England’s big cities. It won no council seats, for example, in inner London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Ukip’s urban tally was a sign of an increasingly important divide between cities and the rest of England.
That urban and rural areas have different politics isn’t of course a new observation. Tory-Whig parliamentary battles were often proxies for conflicting views between landed gentry and city dwellers. More recently, Labour has dominated northern cities and the Conservatives have won the rural south with similarly huge margins.
What is new is how big cities – especially their cores – are once again expanding and, in doing so, taking on a clearer liberal identity. Cities is where Britain’s open and cosmopolitan outlook is most apparent. But politics has so far failed to catch up. Read more
It is often the little things that, in the final instance, make people visit food banks. Earlier in the year, at two food banks in London, I spoke to several people who explained why they had sought help. Mohamed’s electricity had been cut off, meaning that he couldn’t charge his phone, leaving him unable to receive messages from the job centre, which docked him four weeks of jobseeker’s allowance for missing his appointment. Jack, a driver, had taken a small loan to renew his car tax, but when tax credits weren’t paid as planned, he missed a debt payment and his liabilities rose. Natalie had found a part-time job but there was a three-week gap between some of her benefits stopping and her receiving that first pay cheque.