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A few days ago we were blessed to have the umpteenth rehash of Gordon Brown’s plans for Scotland. Not much has changed since he was first writing about this in the 1970s. He wants Scotland to have just enough power to keep the natives quiet, but not enough to threaten the political establishment in London so beloved of Labour and Tory alike.
What does he want this time? He wants basically the same as he promised back in 2014 when arguing along with the Tories that Scotland should vote no. Do you remember? This was how we were going to stay in the European Union. It was how we were going to have decent pensions and how Scotland would benefit from the strength of the UK economy. He promised a lot more powers, including economic powers, to the Scottish Parliament. He even called it the VOW.
Of course, he never delivered any of it when Chancellor of the Exchequer, and later as Prime Minister his amnesia helped him forget about every promise to Scotland. He has been making and breaking promises to Scotland for almost 50 years.
But you might say, there are some new ideas this time. The biggest of which is Labour’s commitment to abolish the House of Lords at some unstated time in the future. You know, the same promise made as far back as 1887 by Keir Hardie. We have already waited 135 years for this promise to be fulfilled, so why not just promise it again? Can we trust Gordon Brown to get Keir Starmer to deliver this? If you think so, can you explain why the same Gordon Brown during his short period as Prime Minister appointed no fewer than an additional 34 Lords on top of the hundreds already there!
And what else can we deduce from Gordon Brown’s latest thoughts? Well, he does not want Scotland to have the power to re-enter the European Single Market, let alone re-enter the European Union. He doesn’t want Scotland to have full economic powers. He doesn’t want to allow Scotland to have control of its own immigration system to ensure we can attract the skilled people we very much need such as doctors, scientist, nurses, engineers and farm workers to name only a few.
And of course, he doesn’t want the Scottish people to be able to decide their future. In Gordon Brown’s world you have to be denied a vote on Scotland’s future.
In other news, the huge corruption that has alledgedly involved Tories from Baroness Michelle Mone to Michael Gove sheds further light on the need for Scotland to get away from the current political systems. Millions upon millions of pounds have been taken from taxpayers during the Covid 19 pandemic for the purchase of medical equipment that never worked but instead allowed Tories to enrich themselves at your expense. Unsurprisingly of course Michelle Mone, Michael Gove and others all campaigned for a No vote back in 2014. Why would they want Scotland to have the power to clean up the corrupt system, they benefit so much from?
Time for a change, and no wonder support for Scottish Independence is rising!
As a member of both the Finance and Economy committees in the Scottish Parliament I typically read over 100 pages of official economic and financial papers each week. I often read additional analysis to ensure I’m up to date.
Recently, I have been particularly interested in how to boost the economy. From a strictly economic point of view, the two most significant initiatives would be to rejoin the European Single Market and to encourage immigration, attracting those workers we so desperately need. In Falkirk East, many businesses have been badly affected by Brexit, and the ending of free movement with our European neighbours has prevented us from recruiting the many people we need to attract to come and work here.
Sadly, the Scottish Parliament lacks the powers to either rejoin the European Single market, or to attract workers from elsewhere. The powers to do so lie exclusively with Westminster. But the principal problem is a political one. Both the Tory and Labour Parties are committed to a hard Brexit and to blocking recruitment of people from overseas. Neither will take the action needed to improve the situation.
This attitude was brought home particularly strongly recently by an interview with Sir Keith Starmer, leader of the Labour Party. He made it clear the Labour Party is for Brexit and against attracting workers from abroad. Here is precisely what he said.
“We don't want open borders. Freedom of movement has gone and it's not coming back.
I think we're recruiting too many people from overseas into, for example, the health service.”
I want to make it abundantly clear I welcome all those who have come to work in Scotland including as doctors and nurses in our Scottish NHS. I find the attitude of Sir Keir Starmer insulting and deplorable.
Besides not wanting to support Scotland’s needs regarding the economy, he also made it clear he fully supports the Tory position of denying the Scottish people a referendum on our future. Worse still, when asked what democratic route the Scottish people should use to have their choice of future realized, he provided no answer. In other words, he denied we should have the right to determine our future.
However, I am committed to keep fighting for the cause of Scottish democracy and economic development. Falkirk East deserves nothing less.
We cannot allow the Tory and Labour Parties to get their way and continue to damage Scotland’s economy and deny our democratic rights.
The Tory made crisis resulting from their mini budget explodes the myth that they are safe custodians of the economy. More importantly, it explodes the myth that Scotland is best to remain tied to a failing UK state.
Although most discussion has been about the U-turn on the 45p rate for those on incomes above (and often well above) £150,000 per year, we need to consider other issues that are even more damaging for the average citizen. There is not a single person in Scotland who will not feel the impact of the Tory mismanagement of the economy.
Consider this; to pay for interventions to “cap” the cost of energy for households and at the same time cut a variety of taxes the UK government are choosing to go down the route of massive borrowing. They seem to think borrowing is a good thing for the UK, except of course in Scotland where the Scottish Government is denied proper borrowing powers and must operate with a fixed budget.
The financial markets have been understandably unimpressed. It has led to a rise in the interest rate the UK must pay for money it borrows. We have seen volatility in the value of the pound and the prospect of more. This fuels inflation which affects everyone.
What is their reasoning for doing all this? Well, they claim it is in part to address what is known as the supply side of the economy. In Scotland, we know all about this. Take for example the supply of labour. Because of the Tory Brexit we have a severe shortage of people who in the past would have been able to come here to work in our NHS, as engineers in our factories, as seasonal farm workers and so on. So what did the Tories do? They removed the cap on bankers’ bonuses because, according to the Chancellor they needed to attract more highly paid bankers to the City of London. But they have done nothing to attract the workers we need for the real economy.
This one example explodes another myth repeated by Liz Truss in her speech to the Tory conference. This is the myth that the Tories are pro-growth. If they wanted to grow the economy they would be welcoming people to come and work here, not raising Brexit-barriers.
Furthermore, if they really wanted to grow the economy they would be encouraging much more investment in business. But their policies are going to lead, I predict, to further and higher interest rate rises from the Bank of England. This will make it more expensive for businesses to borrow money to invest in new technologies and other forms of investment that would help improve productivity and aid growth. So, rather than aid growth, it will put barriers in the way.
And of course, rising interest rates are already leading to rising mortgage costs. Even worse, in the aftermath of the mini budget, mortgage offerings were being removed, preventing countless number of young couples from getting on the housing ladder.
Perhaps of greatest concern, and particularly for those dependent upon support from the likes of Universal Credit, is the desire of the Tory government, if they can get away with it, to cut benefits and other forms of public expenditures. Put simply to balance the books when you are reducing taxes and borrowing more the Tory solution has always been to massively cut public expenditure.
In every direction, the mini budget is going to restrict growth, and make life more expensive for everyone. For some, it will be catastrophic.
The economic case for Independence has never been stronger.
The old UK parties, Tory, Labour and Lib Dems, have reconciled themselves to life outside the EU, regardless of any damage being inflicted. None are arguing for a future in the EU anymore. That is a huge contrast with the much more outward looking SNP. We want Independence in Europe.
Consider recent events. Just over three short months ago on Christmas Eve, 2020, the UK and the EU concluded a Trade and Cooperation Agreement regulating their future trading relationship. What have been the consequences? Here are a few highlights.
Exporters of goods now face a hard customs and regulatory border between the EU and the UK. A recent estimate suggests that the extra red tape could cost Scottish businesses well over £1 billion a year.
Those that follow the debate will know too that the Trade and Cooperation Agreement has created a customs border in the middle of the Irish sea, creating additional problems for businesses that trade with Northern Ireland.
The movement of people has been constrained. Scots and EU citizens no longer have the right to go to the other’s territory to work and live there on the same basis as before. Piecemeal visa-waiver arrangements and national right-to-work rules are now in force. UK professional services providers, such as doctors, engineers and architects, have lost their ability to automatically work in the EU; they must have their qualifications recognized in each EU member state where they want to work. Scotland needs to be open and attract many professional and skilled people. The UK is shutting the door.
Significantly, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement does not include meaningful provisions for trade in services, which make up some 80% of the economy. Scotland has a long history of providing financial services globally. It is now caught up in the UK’s Brexit mess. We are already losing jobs and investment to the EU. Even before January 2021, Ernst and Young estimated UK banks had shifted well over £1 trillion in assets and sovereign debt trading to cities such as Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Milan.
Thousands of jobs have already been moved to various EU cities such as Dublin, Luxembourg, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam.
The UK’s Office for Budget responsibility has claimed the immediate cost to the UK of lost access to the EU will be about 1% of national income. Over 15 years, it also estimates Brexit will leave us facing a further 4% loss of potential gross domestic product compared to what would have been by remaining an EU member. These official estimates are thought by some experts to be overly optimistic!
Scotland has a choice. Join me in making that choice for jobs and investment in Scotland. Make it Michelle Thomson for Falkirk East.
Politicians are regularly bombarded by requests to sign up for one cause or another, by a huge variety of campaigning groups. There are so many good causes, it is not possible to effectively support them all.
Although I have a particular interest in supporting causes in the local community, it does not mean my eyes are shut to more global issues. Some causes are very well known and attract lots of funding, but there are too less well known causes that are no less deserving.
In September 2015 I attended a short debate in the Westminster parliament. It wasn’t a debate brought forward by the government or any of the opposition parties, so the attendance was sparse: less that 10 MPs if memory serves me correctly. The Speaker had agreed to give a colleague a 90-minute debate on the topic of “The use of children as suicide bombers”.
It was a harrowing experience. I learned a lot about the scale of the problem worldwide, and I also learned about the aftermath of violence, and how little support was given to the humanitarian issues involved.
There is so much violence in the world. I eventually became involved in supporting an organisation that seeks to support victims of violence from the likes of landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Although western governments spend millions supporting the clear up explosive weapons, often there is nothing put in place to support the long terms impact on innocent individuals, families and communities. Often children are the most innocent of all the victims. I do what I can to provide support to those, like my former parliamentary colleague, who continue to raise these rarely seen causes and provide a voice for the innocent victims.
So although I can’t do everything, I find it helps to keep me grounded and aware of how lucky I am, to contribute what I can and give a voice of the most vulnerable and innocent people in our society. If I am elected as MSP for Falkirk East, I hope my voice can be raised in support of those most in need in our community.
There has been significant disruption to schools arising out of the pandemic.
Teachers have adapted quickly to home-based learning but it’s understandable that most parents, pupils and teachers look forward to a return to traditional schooling.
But is that enough? Have the debates fuelled by the pandemic about exams, online learning, blended learning, continuous assessment to be quickly forgotten as we return to pre-pandemic days? I hope not.
I would hope to see a national conversation about how we deliver education in the future. Amongst other things, we need to research and capture what can be learned from our experiences over the last year.
For example, did we have the most appropriate exams and assessment systems pre-pandemic, or have recent experiences taught us something new? What different needs have arisen from different subject areas dependent on the extent to which they are skills or text based?
Individual learners too have different preferences in terms of learning styles. Has the pandemic disruption been all negative, or have some pupils thrived? I don't know.
The point is we need to find out and learn.
And what about parents? Should more be done to support parents even once schools return to normal? Would some parents be interested in learning more about supporting home study?
Research into adult learners (a joint DEMOS-Google project) published in February 2020 just before the pandemic, revealed some very interesting findings about online learning. Based on a large survey of 10,000 adults in employment across the UK, it found the following:
If adults in work benefit greatly from online learning might some older pupils soon to be leaving school be assisted by having some continued experience of online learning?
As is clear, I don't have the answers. But hopefully I know some of the questions that need to be asked!
Education and skills are critical, and particularly for future generations.
I will be supporting moves for the further development of a whole system approach to education and training, from nursery school to school, to college and university.
I also support the development of different pathways through learning to provide greater choice and opportunity for learners and businesses.
I will say more about schools in a later blog, but I want here to focus on the skills sector, and in particular for young people about to enter the labour market.
Skills opportunities must take a variety of forms. For some young people who may have lagged behind at school, they will require well supported first steps into skills training. We are lucky in having colleges who already have developed the capacity and provision to provide such early support and opportunities. I will champion the role our colleges, such as Forth Valley College, can play.
I think we could do more to support the development of world leading skills provision. The competitive demands of the 21st century combined with the right of every Scottish citizen to have the best possible opportunities require further development. At present there is an understandable focus on “competence”. But as a recent report commissioned by the SNP Government highlighted, we need to target international excellence.
We need to build the qualifications that will allow us to do so. I will be arguing the we should move beyond benchmarking Scotland’s skills system against other nations of the UK, and refocus on international benchmarking against the best in the world. This would support the SNP Government’s ambitious international trade policies.
In my life outside politics, I have been involved in research that has begun to scope out some of the opportunities available to Scotland.
We need to grasp the international opportunities becoming available and raise our ambitions on behalf of both our young people and our economy.
Only the very best should ever be good enough.