Archive for the ‘Scottish Politics’ Category

The Illusion of Conspiracy as Black Propaganda

September 25, 2014

I have been reading posts in various social media sites where individuals are vociferously claiming vote rigging in last week’s Scottish independence referendum.  I have watched videos that purport to show said rigging.  I have to say that I have not seen anything in these videos that cannot be explained by count procedures.  I say this as somebody that has attended election counts in both Dundee and Edinburgh, albeit a long time ago, and as someone who has served as a Polling Clerk in Lanarkshire.  Plus, as someone who would undoubtedly have voted Yes had I still been living in Scotland (see recent posts to this blog).

The human mind is fertile territory for conspiracy theorists. The propagation of elaborate vote rigging theories relies on that.  Also, conspiracy theories typically divert people from blatantly obvious explanations.  A terrific example is 9/11.  There are myriad conspiracy theories concerning what happened that day, these are usually given more air time than the real reason – the events around 9/11 were blowback from flawed foreign policy decisions.  The CIA recognizes blowback.  Paul Wolfowitz has talked about blowback.  But it seems to be off limits to bring this up, even though it is so glaringly obvious.  Those that talk about blowback are often lumped into the “Blame America Crowd”, only one step away from being a “Truther”.

Which takes me back to the vote rigging allegations.  They have the potential to be a form of black propaganda, or to evolve into such, where phony allegations are used that lead to division.  This is the value of the illusion of conspiracy to the Westminster political establishment.  Black propaganda can be amplified by a compliant media to sow discord between allies so people/ideas can be marginalized.  Those that are pushing these allegations really need to take a deep breathe and think about who benefits politically (or if I am engaging in my own conspiracy theory).  “No” won because of its scaremongering.  But the establishment was rattled and the world didn’t end.  Its time to focus on the future.


Blowback and Project Fear

September 10, 2014

One week left to go before the referendum. Two years ago I would have said 35-65. A year ago 40-60. Now the polls are close to 50-50. Ladbrokes odds of a “Yes” have rapidly halved, now at 5/2, “No” on 3/10 – the bookies firm favourite. But on the day, who knows how remaining “Undecideds” will break. What turnout will be? How effective the “Yes” ground game will be in getting their vote out. Will there be some “Black Swan” event in the final week that benefits either side?

Regardless of the result, the fact that this referendum is happening at all is a result of blowback against the political establishment. Westminster has failed to govern for the nations and regions of the UK as a whole for decades now; I would say going back to 1979. Rather, it is widely perceived as governing for the benefit of the City of London, as evidenced by loose financial regulation that eventually resulted in the bail-outs. The expenses scandals. Cronyism, with the perceived connections between financial donors and MPs that result in policies being enacted or decisions being made that financially benefit the former, particularly NHS privatization. Reckless foreign policy. The obscene waste of replacing Trident. The complete erosion of trust, a broken social compact. This has all lead to disaffection, and does not apply solely to Scotland. The rise of UKIP similarly mirrors how people feel so let down, and alienated, by the actions of central government.

What puzzles me is that as the polls have tightened the political establishment just don’t seem to get it. Key individuals in the “No” campaign, such as Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown get trotted out, individuals who were at the helm in the years leading to the crash in 2008. They were seriously at fault. Given their reputations they are not assets to a campaign that seeks to keep the UK together, they are seriously tarnished. I could never really understand why Mr Darling, in particular, was the front man for “Better Together”. Or should I really just call him “Flipper”?

“No” ran a terrible campaign. “Project Fear” dominated. The polls closed as people became scunnered and moved towards “Yes”. Panic began to set in, with Alec Douglas-Home ’79 style promises being made in recent days. Now, if Ladbrokes has it right, “No” will have guaranteed that their victory would eventually be seen as pyrrhic. Reconciliation will have been made harder. Yet more blowback will be guaranteed.

Vote “Yes” for Reindustrialization of Scotland

August 16, 2014

The following was published on August 28 2014 as a letter to the Lanark and Carluke Gazette, the local newspaper where I grew up, in the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence. 

As a child in the late ’60s/early ’70s, I well remember taking the train from Carluke up to Glasgow.  By the time Wishaw was reached, the signs of heavy industry were obvious.  Engineering and steelmaking were to the fore, with the Ravenscraig steelworks at the core.  Hallside was passed, then onto Glasgow with its rail yards and shipbuilding.  The scale of it all left a huge impression.  I could only imagine what was happening around the glowing furnaces.

I soon began to appreciate the degree to which friends’ families were working in and around these, and related, industries.  The presence of Ravenscraig, an integrated steelworks, meant employment and job opportunities.  Oil and gas had just been discovered in the North Sea, the extraction of which would require vast quantities of steel for production platforms, pipeline transmission systems, processing facilities, and related infrastructure.  Entering my teens, with an admittedly abnormal interest in politics for my age, I felt the future looked bright for my generation – despite the ongoing malaise within the broader UK economy.  I doubt I wasn’t the only one to feel such optimism, a new dawn for Scotland; maybe wider complacency began to set in.  After all steel making would always be there and had been for generations.  Scottish steel had helped defeat the Nazis.  In the ’80s even BMW used Ravenscraig steel!  And now there was a new end user, requiring thousands of tons of steel largely destined for offshore.  When I left Lanark Grammar in 1979, days after the election of the Thatcher government, pessimism did not enter my head.  This soon changed.

The rest is history, scarring Lanarkshire.  Essentially, Ravenscraig was sacrificed.  There was no will to retain it, despite valiant efforts and its relative productivity.  After hundreds of years, iron and steel making was eliminated from Scotland.  An industry, generations in the making, essentially wiped out during the years of Thatcherism.  Simultaneous to the need for steel for developing North Sea oil and gas fields, too.  Such severe deindustrialization would not have happened in an independent Scotland.  Employment opportunities gone forever.  Personally, my reluctant emigration.

It is now 2014 and if I am accused of living in the past so be it.  I have heard it said that voting “No” in the coming referendum is tantamount to agreeing to the legacies of Thatcherism.  I think that is harsh as I recognize why, out of self-interest, nostalgia and/or fear, people would choose to vote “No”.  But make no mistake voting “No” has risks that economic potential will again fail to be realized, and that generations to come will again be failed.  That Scottish soldiers will be repeatedly committed to further acts of overseas adventurism masquerading as foreign policy.  That nuclear weapons will remain on the Clyde estuary.  That Scotland’s natural resources will continue to be squandered.  That the pound will continue to lose value.  That Westminster will continue to govern for the benefit of the City of London, rather than for the nations and regions of the UK as a whole.

Voting “Yes” to independence has risks, too.  Any action does.  But, make no mistake, many of the politicians focused on these risks would stick a proverbial knife in your back, their purpose is in manufacturing propaganda for “Project Fear”.  Their goal is to keep Scotland’s resources tied to Westminster and the City of London.  After all, the Bank of England is able to generate pounds out of thin air to maintain a debt-based economy.  Natural resources and energy, particularly oil in the North Sea and Atlantic Shelf, cannot so be created.  The political establishment at Westminster is terrified of the macroeconomic consequences of a “Yes” vote; no tactic will be too low for “No”.  But Lanarkshire and Scotland needs reindustrialized, long term the best way to achieve that is with a “Yes”.

Post ’79 Scotland as My Time Marker

August 16, 2014

When I write about Scottish politics I often use ’79 as my time marker. This was the year of the infamous devolution referendum, election of the Thatcher government, and when I left secondary school – great timing, huh? So much of what shaped my thinking happened in the period ’77 to ’82, particularly witnessing deindustrialization and the loss of opportunity, leading to my becoming politically active then eventual emigration in ’88. A rough decade that shaped me.

3 Legs of “No”: Sentimentality, Fear and Central Banking

August 16, 2014

I have been following the Scottish independence referendum campaign and regret to say that I have yet to hear or read much of a positive case for retaining the Union. The “No” campaign seems to stand on the 3 legs of sentimentality, fear and currency/central banking. Little in the way of positives has come from “Better Together”, just “Project Fear”. After all, many of the leading figures in “Better Together” stood by as Scotland, the West in particular, was deindustrialized. Its harder to say “better together” and address the evisceration of core industries, such as steel making in Lanarkshire or shipbuilding on the Clyde, that occurred under Westminster.

“Yes” has made propaganda, too. That I wouldn’t deny. But “Yes” has outlined a positive vision of the future. Generations to come would benefit from a reinvigorated, reindustrialized Scotland. There isn’t much to be sentimental about in post ’79 Scotland.

Thatcher’s Ultimate Legacy

April 8, 2013

I grew up in Lanarkshire and left school within days of her being elected. Over the next few years, one by one, I saw friends’ fathers and brothers being laid off as, one by one, the steel plants all closed; I was active in the campaign to “Save Gartcosh” (a rolling mill serving Ravenscraig). As the steel industry was gutted, related businesses/industries went with them.
As did so many of my friends, I was constantly struggling to find work. After 9 years I emigrated. But I witnessed communities turning into shells, rampant youth unemployment and epidemic substance abuse; the products of the deindustrialisation that occurred during Thatcher’s administrations.
People of my generation took the brunt of her policies. I never felt she had the slightest concern as regards the ramifications of what she was doing.
She owed her reelection in 1983 to Galtieri, and the ineptitude of the Labour Party. But maybe her greatest legacy is the alienation of people such as myself that have zero faith in the governing institutions of the United Kingdom.

“Independence isn’t a constitutional nicety, it’s an economic necessity”

March 26, 2013

So it’s September 18th 2014 then. Would I vote “Yes”? Of course.
Maybe my memory has let me down here, but I think it was Jim Sillars that summed it up best for me in the 1980s. “Independence isn’t a constitutional nicety, it’s an economic necessity”.
As an adolescent, I did my first leaflet drop for the SNP in 1974 in Lanark for Tom McAlpine. I well remember the “It’s Scotland’s Oil” campaign theme and the optimism that was generated. I really couldn’t have imagined that only 14 years later, after combining a PhD in the physical sciences with an intense political activism, I would be packing my bags for work. After a spell in Canada I eventually settled in the United States and, in a quirk of fate, ended-up working on research topics related to oil. This experience has fully confirmed my old suspicions about eminent politicians peddling propaganda about the imminence of dwindling production and revenues. Sure, reservoirs are depleted. However, a great deal of the original oil in place in the North Sea remains, well, in place. Technologies for its production continue to be developed. Secondary and tertiary recovery becomes feasible for implementation. Oil, produced for the last four decades, can continue to flow for the next four decades.
However, continued development of North Sea oil will have to rely on competent decision making from Westminster. Comparison of the words and deeds of successive UK governments with those of the Norwegians gives a clear idea of the model that should be followed. Recall that in 2011 the Cameron government hiked tax rates on North Sea oil production, thus threatening future investments in the sector and local employment. In 2007, foot-dragging by Westminster lead to the abandonment of a carbon capture and storage (CCS) project centered at Peterhead. Successful implementation of CCS, with BP playing a major role, could have had the potential to develop as an enhanced oil recovery project utilizing anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the North Sea. But where was Westminster?
Given I grew up in Lanarkshire, I was always fully aware of the role of the steel industry in the local economy. A trip up to Glasgow on the train from Carluke took you past Ravenscraig, Hallside and the old Clyde Iron works. I knew plenty of steelworkers, from laborers to metallurgists. I also knew that the flourishing North Sea oil industry had a voracious appetite for steel, not just for platform construction but for pipeline transmission systems and related infrastructure. When the Ravenscraig steelworks was being threatened with closure, and Tom McAlpine was busy with the “Save Scottish Steel” campaign, I well remember feeling the ludicrousness of the entire situation. So many of my friends’ fathers, and elder brothers, were steelworkers; at one time I expected to maybe become a metallurgist, too. I saw the offshore industry demanding steel. Yet Ravenscraig and the Scottish steel industry were essentially euthanized. Had Scotland become independent in the 1970s then I am convinced that, to this day, domestically produced steel would be being used for North Sea infrastructure. Families and communities would not have been torn apart. If we really are “Better Together”, why was this deindustrialization allowed to happen?

Scotland, Enhanced Oil Recovery & Carbon Capture and Storage

October 20, 2011

I am not even remotely surprised at the Longannet carbon capture and storage (CCS) project being killed. Westminster’s cost share for developing the proposed technology was £1 billion. I would wager that implementing the sort of CCS technology envisaged for the Longannet project, post-combustion CO2 capture, even if it could be successfully developed, would exceed ten times this amount. Additionally, another massive power plant would have to be constructed to offset the parasitic load to operate Longannet’s CCS, NOx, SO2 and particulate pollution control systems. There are alternatives that utilize coal such as IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) power plants, essentially pre-combustion CO2 capture systems, that present better choices (although they have technical challenges, too).
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, was critical of the decision and was quoted as saying, “Oil revenues are running at record levels, our offshore industry has a key role to play in generating jobs, skills and wealth for decades to come, we are leading the revolution in clean, green energy and we can and should be at the forefront of pioneering carbon capture technology.” True, I couldn’t agree more. Richard Dixon of WWF Scotland was reported as stating, “Lots of valuable research and planning has been done around the Longannet proposal, which could put Scotland in pole position to have a CCS scheme at the existing gas-fired power station at Peterhead or the recently-consented gas-fired power station at Cockenzie.” Agreement here, too, but with a twist.
Focus on carbon capture at Peterhead using IGCC; that power plant is already on a high pressure pipeline, too. Exploit this pre-existing pipeline infrastructure, with appropriate modifications and extensions, to transmit the generated CO2 to depleted oil reservoirs offshore – essentially a reversal of the previous flow. Inject the CO2 into these depleted fields for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Partner with BP or a smaller company like Apache. OK, they are not a “major” but they do CO2-EOR already, in Saskatchewan, and have a presence in the North Sea. Statoil have been storing CO2 under the North Sea for years at Sleipner. This can be done.
Rather than the expensively captured CO2 being injected solely for geologic sequestration, Peterhead’s CO2 would then be a bulk commodity used to extend the life of existing oil fields in the North Sea. Recoverable reserves would be massively expanded wherever CO2-EOR technology could be successfully applied, as has been demonstrated at SACROC (Texas) and the Weyburn-Midale (Saskatchewan) oil fields. Future production from already depleted fields could conceivably be more than doubled, as happened at SACROC after CO2 injection began. Although the CO2 would be recaptured for reuse, some will become trapped in the subsea pore space. Eventually, exhausted reservoirs can be devoted exclusively to CO2 geologic storage. So not only would Scotland derive the benefit from massively extended oil production through EOR, CCS will occur, too.
I well remember the ’70s and hearing the propaganda organs of the British state spewing nonsense about the oil being depleted before the end of the century. I was suspicious then, but I have the knowledge and experience now to know that their nonsense was in fact bare-faced lies. Given the advances in the science and engineering that underpins oil production, I have no doubt that at least the same volume of North Sea oil that has been produced up to 2011 can be extracted over the coming half century.
Some interesting links:

Downfall usually sprouts from the seeds of error sown in the flush of success.

May 10, 2011

As occurred in 2007, the Scottish Parliament elections of 2011 yet again bore out the old adage, “Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them”. The SNP governed competently, if not perfectly – no mean feat given they formed a minority administration. Unlike Labour in 2007, they were unburdened by the Iraq debacle and, fair or not, the image of Tony Blair in particular as George W. Bush’s poodle. This made shortcomings as a Holyrood administration more likely to be forgiven and a return to power more likely.
Recent events have clearly shown that Labour learned little after their defeat in 2007. Going negative, with the same failed strategy as 4 years ago, severely backfired. What is it that is said about people that do the same thing expecting a different outcome? Faced with a choice, the electorate went with the positive over the negative in droves. The unthinkable – a SNP majority at Holyrood – occurred.
The danger for the SNP is now overreach. Many that voted SNP want caution and could switch their vote as quickly as they did this time. Downfall usually sprouts from the seeds of error sown in the flush of success. It is easy to focus on the errors of others and be blind to your own. Softly, softly on a multi-option independence referendum, methodically work towards expanding devolved powers and, above all, don’t fixate on constitutional issues. Continued competence in government, expansion of renewable energy as a route to Scottish reindustrialization and prudent stewardship of public institutions should be the fixations. It will be a challenging five years in government.
The danger for Labour is that they will do the same as after the 2007 election, and that is willfully fail to recognize reality. An inquiry into their recent failed campaign overseen by current leader Iain Gray, or almost any sitting Labour MP or MSP for that matter, would have as much public credibility as Tony Hayward investigating the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Perhaps a call to Henry McLeish would be in order? And why limit any inquiry to only the recent campaign? The sad reality is that the Labour Party I knew growing up in Lanarkshire has drastically morphed over the last 40 years. Keir Hardie would be birling in his grave. In his quest to “modernize”, Tony Blair put the final nails in the coffin of the cohesiveness inherent in Labour tradition. If the Labour Party in Scotland is serious about addressing its shortcomings it must look to reestablish itself with a “new” identity, ironically based on its traditional, core values. Otherwise they could be a long time coming back, even planting additional seeds of their electoral destruction. With Alex Salmond as First Minister, I would not gamble on SNP government missteps as a route back to power.