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The poison in Scotland’s heart

Posted on November 18, 2012 by

If Alex Salmond and Mike Russell only learned one thing this week, it’s surely this: the only thing that looks worse that being smugly complacent is being smugly complacent when it turns out you’re completely wrong. We’re sure it was a painful lesson. So if you’re a newspaper columnist with a high opinion of yourself who planned to take them to task for it, you’d think you’d try not to fall into the same trap.

Perhaps one of the most self-satisifed of all Scotland’s political commentators is Euan McColm, whose Twitter bio boasts proudly of “poor people skills” and who regularly writes barbed, acerbic little pieces for the Scotsman. Today, for example, he lets rip at Mike Russell in full flow, with no holds barred:

“Is there a more delightful sitcom archetype than the puffed-up-but-thwarted little man? I’m struggling to think of one. Harold Steptoe, Captain Mainwaring, Basil Fawlty, Del Boy, David Brent… a string of lead characters, repeatedly brought low by their own unrecognised limitations, these are the greats, surely?

We laugh as they remind us of the silliness of men, and touch us with the pathos of their masculine delusion. But maybe, like me, you’ve watched those episodes too many times and the freshness has gone. Maybe you crave a new buffoon.”

It’s stinging stuff. We imagine Mr McColm was pleased with his work.

But what does Mr McColm identify as the root of Russell’s buffoonery? It all comes down to his attack on Kirk Ramsay of Stow College for having the temerity to record a meeting with the Education Secretary without his knowledge.

“Ramsay had used a recording device – a “spy-pen” for added breathless drama – during a meeting between Russell and around 80 representatives of colleges ­invited to discuss reform of their sector. Skipping over the fact that the idea of a meeting between a Cabinet Secretary and 80 people might result in any coherent, meaningful progress seems fanciful, this could not possibly have been considered a private event.

(Our emphasis.) The last part in particular is a line that’s been used frequently to attack Russell over the affair in recent days – Gordon Brewer hammered away at it tenaciously on Newsnight Scotland, for example, mockingly asking how many people needed to be at a meeting before it no longer counted as “private”.

The picture at the top of this article is of the theatre inside the enormous and imposing Detroit Masonic Temple. While technically capable of hosting 5000 people, its capacity in practice is a still-impressive 4,404 – more than many Scottish football grounds can hold. Freemasonry is a section of society not particularly noted for its openness. Yet it seems we’re meant to accept that if the organisation were to assemble four-and-a-half thousand of its painstakingly-vetted adherents together in the room above to discuss mysterious matters Masonic, that gathering could not possibly be considered “private”, and indeed that the very idea is hilarious.

It is, of course, a fatuously stupid notion. Privacy is measured by exclusion, not inclusion. Private members’ clubs have no innate numerical limit on their membership. Yet the cream of Scotland’s media commentariat seems happy to glibly redefine the meanings of words however it suits it, particularly if an excuse to lambast the SNP results from the process. And we saw this week that their derisive lampoonery isn’t in the least bit discouraged by being based on a demonstrably idiotic premise.

Just a week ago, Euan McColm affected to proclaim his love of politicians, bemoaning the wide public contempt in which they’re held:

“But speckled through the chamber there are good, decent, even brilliant people. There are people trying to make a difference, people trying to understand complex problems, people who sacrifice a lot, driven to create some greater good. We could do with many more of them. But why would anyone bother? … Why step forward when complex ideas seem to be instinctively dismissed by a commentariat that seems unwilling to allow politicians time to grow?”

It’s a good question, isn’t it? If there’s anyone reading this who kent Mr McColm’s faither, maybe they could drop us a line and suggest an answer.

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71 to “The poison in Scotland’s heart”

  1. Peter A Bell says:

    Euan McColm again makes the mistake of imagining he speaks for the generality of people when in fact his is but the snide, petulant voice of an arrogant little clique. Far more than either Salmond or Russell, McColm is the very character he tries to lampoon.

  2. DougtheDug says:

    I have attended meetings which have been recorded but in those cases the information that the meeting was to be recorded was always made plain beforehand. The secret recording of a meeting would result in very unhappy participants at that meeting.

    For a College Chairman to record a meeting with a Government Minister and other College Heads without informing anyone what he is going to do marks Kirk Ramsay out as someone who has no judgment whatsoever. Especially as he then distributed that recording to others which resulted in both the fact that he had recorded the meeting being made public and the conversation in the meeting being made public.

    When Mike Russell said that he no longer had confidence in Kirk Ramsay that was the understatement of the year.

    Ramsay shouldn’t have resigned, Stow College should have fired him for gross misconduct. In times of tight spending and college mergers pissing off the responsible Government Minister by secretly, or as it turned out not so secretly, recording a fairly high level meeting was the mark of someone who is simply not up to the job and has damaged relationships between the college and the Government.

    Has anyone found out what the other attendees at that meeting thought about Kirk Ramsay’s conduct?

  3. Peter A Bell says:

    It is notable that the media have been at pains to avoid seeking or publicising the views of other attendees at the meeting which Kirk Ramsay surreptitiously recorded. But it really makes no difference. Secretly taping a private meeting is improper and unacceptable regardless of whether or not anybody objects after the fact.

  4. muttley79 says:

    Euan McColm is yet another Scottish political media commentator and journalist, whose bias is clear to see.  He joins a long list, including Kirsty Wark, Gardham, Peterkin, Douglas Fraser, Glenn Campbell, Cochrane, Kaye Adams etc, who seem to have difficulty with the very meaning of the words objective reporting, and who regularly treat the idea of Scottish independence with disdain and contempt.   

  5. Holebender says:

    It’s not so much the recording of the meeting as sharing that recording with non-attendees which was so reprehensible. If the man had recorded the meeting for his own personal use it would not have been an issue (he claims to have a hearing problem) but sharing the recording with others is what killed his career.

  6. patronsaintofcats says:

    Hmmmm…I heard this ‘hearing problem’ story somewhere else.  I work with a lot of people who are deaf and hard of hearing and not one uses this type of device in this type of meeting.  In order to get a proper quality recording for a person with a hearing disability from this pen, he would have practically have to have been in Mr Russell’s lap (I also work with assistive tech in HE).  Depending on the size of the room, much of the conversation from other speakers would probably be incoherent at best. 

    If he needed this accommodation for a hearing disability, it should have been requested in advance.  He would have had to ask to sit close to the main speaker to get the best quality recording. The fact is he didn’t (and he should know the rules as he is head of a college and there are pretty clear rules about using recording devices in classes). He then distributed the recording after the meeting.  That is certainly not allowed for class note etiquette.  I’d like to know just exactly in what way does that help with his hearing disability?

    I’m having trouble believing his version of events for some reason…

  7. patronsaintofcats says:

    I meant to say above that if you wanted to record a meeting and had permission, there are much better recorders/extended microphones for the job.  That is unless you just wanted it to look like you were innocuously taking notes with a regular pen that just happened to have a recording device built into it.  If you really had a hearing disability and had permission to record the event, this would not be the right device for the job.

  8. G. Campbell says:

    “I sincerely hope that it is a defining moment, actually, because in Scottish politics there is a huge problem with Internet trolls who target journalists who are perceived to be critical of Scottish independence – who hide under a cloak of anonymity and spread bile and hatred and abuse and intimidation, and if a precedent can be set in this case [Lord McAlpine] which shows that it’s not acceptable and there are sanctions then I think that will be entirely healthy.”

    Impartial journalist Magnus Gardham on Shereen, 17/11/2012, time: 18:23-ish

  9. Robbie says:

    Is this the same Mr McColm who hounded the blogger Wardog for swearing while working at a University ? Bringing the Uni into disrepute.
    Mr McColm was worried about the cheeeldren at University who didn’t know about sweary words (sic).
    Oh and he worked for the bastion of decency ‘The News of the World’ at the time.
    Whatever happened to that fine newspaper ? Not seen it recently.
    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow Uni: Are the Labour Party getting the scottish press to target SNP supporting Bloggers?

  10. Peter A Bell says:

    For the sake of your reputation, do not post links to THAT blog.

  11. Ronald Henderson says:

    According to a certain Mr. Simon Pia who wrote a snide purile piece in the Dundee Courier about Mr. Mike Russell, Mr. Kirk Ramsay suffers from a rare condition known as Tinnitus, generally defined as ‘A ringing in the ears.’
    Can we therefore presume that the other people to whom Mr. Ramsay distributed this recording also suffer from Tinnitus and that he was doing it merely out of the goodness of his heart? No, we cannot. This man Ramsay is quite obviously a fool and he’ll be lucky if he manages to get a job shelf stacking at his local Asda store because of his idiocy.

  12. Peter A Bell says:

    Tinnitus is not rare. Symptoms of the condition are reported by about 20% of people over 55 years of age. I suffer from tinnitus myself. While it can be hugely irritating, there is nothing about the condition which would induce me to make secret recordings of private meetings.

  13. velofello says:

    Would you offer Mr Kirk Ramsay a position of trust in your company?

  14. Marcia says:

    I have tinnitus too and don’t intend taking secret recordings of any meeting. It will be interesting to read of the Scotland on Sunday’s circulation figures when the next set of data is released.  I could be persuaded to secretly record the editorial meeting of that paper when the figures are known.

  15. DougtheDug says:


    I agree with what you say. If Kirk Ramsay has a hearing difficulty then he has a legal right to assistive technology to help him overcome that disability.

    If the meeting was unable to provide some way to help him by the use of a speaker system, wireless headphones or an inductive loop broadcast to his hearing aid then they would be breaking the Disability Discrimination Act.

    If he had requested a verbatim account of the meeting because there was no assistive technology available then it would be very difficult for them not to provide that under the act especially as they had failed to provide any assistive technology for him in the first place.

    What is known is that he made no request for the meeting to make accommodation for his disability beforehand and the fact that he recorded in secret makes it clear that he considered a request to openly record the meeting would fail. He then compounded his lack of judgment by distributing the recording which makes a mockery of his claim that it was for personal purposes. Schoolboy juvenile stuff from someone in a position of responsibility.

    I suggest that McColm, Gardham and Pia secretly record a meeting with their respective editors and then distribute it. We could run a book on how long it would be before they were each asked to collect their jotters and requested not to let the door hit them on the arse on the way out.

  16. Morag says:

    Tinnitus is not rare.  I have it mildly myself, although it responded extremely well to Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.  (I was at the inaugural Yes Scotland meeting for the Borders this afternoon, with about 60 people present, and it didn’t even occur to me to make a secret recording of that.)
    I heard that story from the man himself, on TV, and it sounded like a shifty excuse.  Anyone with a real hearing problem asks to be seated in an appropriate position, and if recording is required, asks permission.  They also don’t use recording devices disguised as pens, no matter how clunky.
    If he had a clear conscience, he should not have resigned.  The fact that he did so suggests to me that he anticipated trouble ahead as a result of this incident, so he retaliated first and got in with his pathetic excuse about a hearing problem to try to establish himself as a martyr.

  17. Jen says:

    I think the MSM have blown this whole thing out of proportion. It must be a slow news week thus an easy story for them, no real work to be done. They seem to scent a scalp to be had and want to keep going. 

  18. Morag says:

    Yes Scotland Borders is up and running.  We probably have the hardest row to hoe of anyone, so all encouragement welcome.  One attendee reported having had a conversation with an opposition councillor who said that although he didn’t think there would be a yes vote, if there was, the Borders should “stay” in England.
    The organisers first said they were organising on a Local Authority basis, but then excused their omission of Peebles from the list of towns by saying they’d been told that people in Peebles didn’t really see themselves as part of the Borders!  Well, that’s as may be (personally, I’d been driving for quarter of an hour in a generally south-east direction before I even got to Peebles, but the logo on my bins still says “Scottish Borders Council”), but where were they planning on putting us?
    Lots of enthusiasm, but not that many people to cover a huge swathe of countryside.  We have work to do, people.
    (Oh, and the choice of Hope Street for the Yes campaign headquarters was deliberate!)

  19. Peter says:

    Oh dear how ill informed are some  .

  20. patronsaintofcats says:

    Morag says:
    18 November, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Yes Scotland Borders is up and running.  We probably have the hardest row to hoe of anyone, so all encouragement welcome.

     You definitely have encouragement from me, but I’ll ask the same in return – Dumfries and Galloway is much in the same boat as Borders.  Too much ground to cover, not as many people as we need.  I think there may have been around 70-80 people at our Yes meeting.  I know from my campaigning around these parts it’s a lot like herding cats.  I hope surely hope the Yes people have a plan in mind for us here in the South.

  21. Holebender says:

    Peter, it might be a good idea to bear in mind that not everyone is signed up to Faceplook, nor wants to be. Perhaps you could quote a wee snippet along with the link you have provided?

  22. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    Just your standard frothing BritNat cobblers, advocating “unity” by calling half the population of Scotland filthy separatist scum.

  23. Arbroath 1320 says:

    PSOC, I was at the YES Scotland launch in Dumfries and I reckoned there was around 80 folks there.  All we need now is for these fantastic ideas to start flowing forth from every one and the NO camp are toast! 😀

  24. Jeannie says:

    Was at the inaugural meeting for the Yes campaign in East Dunbartonshire on Saturday.  I would estimate around 50 or so in attendance, but didn’t do a head count.  Met some really nice, enthusiastic people with some very good ideas, so came away feeling quite encouraged.  And, of course, recommended Wings to them!

  25. Marian says:

    What the ex Head of Stow College did was to record a private meeting without consulting the participants as to whether they wanted to continue with the meeting on that basis.

    Given that he went ahead and did it covertly should have been regarded by his employers as gross misconduct and he should have been dismissed rather than being allowed to take the easy option of resigning.

    The stushie that Labour kicked up about the incident shows that they are prepared to ignore every normal rule of conduct and common decency in order to try and reinforce their openly transparent smear campaign to persuade voters that the SNP leadership is out of touch and not to be trusted.

    Labour have chosen to go after the SNP leadership and are also doing everything they can to undermine the self-confidence of Scots with scare stories because Labour do not want to engage in debating the reasons why the majority of Scots want Scotland to have full fiscal autonomy 

    The people of Scotland need to be awakened to the fact that we have in our midst a group of people running the Labour party who are putting their narrow self-interest of regaining power for powers sake above everything else including the wellbeing of Scotland and its people. 

  26. Iain says:

    Wow, that’s just a bit creepy, not least the proliferation of exclamation marks and their scifi, crypto-Fascist logo. In fact, it’s just given me a moment of revelation on all the Bettertogether bollox.
    ‘The symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity: a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is difficult to break.Similar symbols were developed by different fascist movements. For example the Falange symbol is five arrows joined together by a yoke.’
    British or Scottish nationalism?


  27. Peter says:

    Holebender sorry about that, I only came across the site
    Vote NO to Scottish independence and protect the union

    because two of my contacts on Faceplook liked it!! As the right Rev said full of the usual stuff.

  28. Jeannie says:

    Just had a look at that Facebook page and wondered if I’m living in the same universe as these people. I’m amazed that they would post such nasty and ignorant comments at all, but under their own names to boot? Their comments show their personalities in a very negative light.

  29. KOF says:

    Rev. Stuart Campbell says:18 November, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Just your standard frothing BritNat cobblers, advocating “unity” by calling half the population of Scotland filthy separatist scum.

    Quite, Rev. However, harking back to a previous thread about politicising of the War Dead, the most disturbing thing I saw on that was that PoppyScotland has “liked” it. I was so … stunned by this that I close the page. I couldn’t bear to look at it. I went back to re-check what I thought I saw, however the random “likes” selection had moved on and so was no longer listed. I saw there was a button to “see all” those “likes”, but you need to be on Facebook to access it. I ain’t on Facebook, I’d need to join.. (I’ll do many things for Scotland’s Independence, but I won’t do that. 🙂 )
    Anybody do that Facebook thingy? Did I really see what I think I saw? I’m kinda wondering, because I lost my red poppy today. I’ve had that poppy for seven years. ( I always have (had) it attached my hat day in, day out, every day of the year, rain, or shine.) I’ll miss that poppy. 🙁
    It’ll be one of those weird coincidences if PoppyScotland have “liked” this site.

  30. molly says:

    I totally agree Marian, it is getting to the stage that any debate is stifled.Gordon Brewer (or whoever ) constantly interrupt or demand answers until they achieve what ? The viewer is left wishing they’d just went with plan A and went to their bed.Here’s one viewer they’ve lost.
    Surely on Newsnight if this story was deemed so important the BBC should have said we’ll now speak to an expert in Human Resources or even an expert in Data protection but their star witness-Hugh Henry.
     As you said ,they are after the SG leadership so as I keep asking my fellow Scots ,when they comment on the SG, so who would you have in charge then ? Do you agree with Labours policies then or the Tories ?
     Scots really need to wake up and even if they wish to remain in the Union, at least be woken from their reverie of life will just carry on as before the Referendum -it wont,it can’t !

    The £100,00 shenanigans over police commisioners has really brought to light how democracy is being undermined and I actually asked a real political geek how/what the people of Corby were voting for apart from a brand ,cos I am genuinely perplexed re policies but there is a bit of me wonders is this also part of the great plan- scunner folk enough the turnout will be so low as deemed to be invalid.
    Well as one of those contrary Scots ,they won’t scunner me ,just make me more determined and once my local branch is really established Morag,I ‘ll suggest we take a trip to the Borders for a bit of leafletting and Yes Campaigning.


  31. Good point by Robbie above, I’d forgotten that McColm was one of the baying mob of Scottish journos (including Peterkin) who went for Wardog after Murphy made a few calls to stir them into action. Quite a soor-nippy sweetie is Mr McColm, unbelievable that the zombie-corpse of the once decent Scotsman/SoS give reptiles like him any column inches. Nobody else would, not even The Herald, whose stable of columnists still outranks its Embra rival. And when I say “rival”, I mean of course the race to be the first big-name Scottish print-media suicide.

  32. McHaggis says:

    OK this is for Gardham and any other journalist who may happen upon this thread –

    This is a true art form and requires the ‘troller’ to be so subtle that the trollee(s) do not even realise it is happening until its too late. For example an idiot troller will wander into an internet forum on caravans and in its first post will pronounce all caravans should be banned from the road. They will be immediately identified and ridiculed.
    The real Troll will first join the group, reccy for a day or two before subtly inserting a few posts which do not announce an anti-caravan theme, but hint at a subversive view. At first, some people will reply and ever so slowly the troll reels them in until within a week or so, the whole group has disintegrated into online argument and the troll sits back watching his work with glee.

    Much shorter explanation. Someone who just posts rude, initimidatory or foul rubbish on the net to get a reaction

    I suspect Gardham has never been trolled, but possibly flamed a few times.
    However, what I REALLY think he is complaining about is the simple fact that his lies, spin and deceits are pretty much batted back at him with empirical information to undermine or totally disprove his grotesquely bias journalism.

    Sorry Magnus, but you are prize prick for thinking that the abuse you get is on a par with being defamed. I would also remind him that if someone posts something about him that is demonstrably true, such as – “Magnus Gardham is a unionist mug who will spin any story against independence and/or the SNP to suit his agenda and personal beliefs”, then that is a complete defence to any action he would think he could take.


  33. molly says:

    sorry that should have been one hundred million

  34. Morag says:

    Patronsaintofcats, I realise that Dumfriesshire is in the same boat.  I hope we’ll get support from the rest of Scotland, because we’re Scotland too.  Someone said, as I was leaving this afternoon, we need to show them all that the Borders is still Scotland.  Absolutely.  It shames the memory of all on this side of the border who held the front line against the Auld Enemy for so many years, and all those who fell at Flodden (the “forest” the flowers were lost from was Selkirk and surroundings, including Peeblesshire), and even the true intent of all these Border Ridings ceremonies they all have such fun with in the summer, when people talk of the Borders as part of England.

    Part of the problem is this Border TV malarkey, which doesn’t worry me as I’m in the tiny corner that gets STV, but it seems to be a big issue.  People say they get nothing but English news and Scottish issues and the referendum are just not covered.

    I don’t honestly think anyone would be so brain-dead stupid as to try to partition Scotland, not really, but as I have no desire to wake up one morning and find myself living in England (18 miles south of Edinburgh, as well), then I hope those in the north don’t forget those of us battling on the front line.

  35. patronsaintofcats says:

    Part of the problem is this Border TV malarkey, which doesn’t worry me as I’m in the tiny corner that gets STV, but it seems to be a big issue.  People say they get nothing but English news and Scottish issues and the referendum are just not covered.

    Got it in one.  Between the lack of Scottish media down here and the truly dire local newspapers (lol I had to hold my nose while typing that for wont of calling them rags!) I’m very very concerned.  In past SNP campaigning we had to go around the media as there was no way we could get any positive treatment in the local press. I hope we can motivate enough people to get the word out.  The South is treated as an afterthought on so many issues – I truly hope that won’t be the case with the Yes campaign.   

  36. Arbroath 1320 says:

    We may have to put up with a lot of lies, deceit and misinformation but at least there is one thing for sure, the nukes in Scotland have their days numbered. 😆

  37. pa_broon says:


    I think we can expect a lot more of this, the press is going to latch on to anything if they think it’ll discredit the SNP and by extension the idea of independence.

    More and more its becoming apparent that since they have no defence of the union and no coherent criticism of independence, all that is left for them to do is smear as best they can the people and organisations around that idea.

    The Kirk Ramsay thing is just weird, I think he resigned because he knew it would cause Mike Russel problems and that the press would leap upon it like bunch of starved chihuahuas round a pork chop.

    I mean, is it not telling that not one member  or organisation in the MSM is taking a contrary view, that perhaps Kirk Ramsay was in the wrong?

    Frankly, they’re doing our job for us by continually patronising the Scottish voting public with this sort of thing.

    PS: definitely don’t quote from the campaign for human rights blah blah blah, the guy is strange.

  38. Bill C says:


    I agree on all three counts:

    1. The unionist black ops. are now fully operational
    2. The resignation of the college head was a stitch up
    3. There is something very suspect re. the blogger purporting to be connected to Glasgow Univeristy and upholding human rights. One to be avoided.       

  39. Barney Thomson says:

    Morag/patronsaintofcats –

    It could be very awkward for you if you remain in the good ol’ UK if what I hear about the Northumbrian/Cumbrian interest in what’s happening to the north is true. The Geordies, Makems, etc. are not huge fans of the nobs who govern them from Westminster.

    I believe it is called an enclave.     

  40. deewal says:

    Euan McColm is a newspaper hack therefore would have probably been awfully, awfully drunk at the time of writing.
    If i could not hear very well i would go to a doctor who would give me a modern hearing aid.
    They are very discrete and can hardly be seen at all. They can be used even if you have tinnitus (i have it and i was given a masking device which transmits a different frequency into your ear which is supposed to take your attention from the noise you are hearing from your tinnitus).
    Modern science is amazing. NASA put a dump truck on Mars just recently.

    A microphone disguised as a pen. Hmmmm.    

  41. deewal says:

    @Bill C
    I agree with
    1. The unionist black ops. are now fully operational
    2. The resignation of the college head was a stitch up

    So why do the SNP not ask Ken Macintosh(recently lied in Holyrood about financial costings), Jackie Baillie (recently lied about patients lying in hospital beds without any sheets) and Johann Lamont (fabricated rape case) to explain their lies to Scottish Parliament and also ask Margaret Curran why she blatantly, knowingly lied to the STUC women’s conference ?
    We all know but the General Public do not.
    We have NO Newspaper in Scotland that will print the truth. We have No TV or Radio that will screen or broadcast the truth.

    If the SNP do not fight back then this Referendum is dead in the water.

    The NO Campaign has a highly top down orchestrated, organised rolling, stream of hate going on.
    We have a few volunteers.
    The blue and red Tory’s will not stop. That other party that Nick Clegg has will say whatever the people who give them the most money to put in their offshore Accounts tell them to.

  42. Craig P says:

    I had not realised before that there were eighty other attendees at the meeting. This in fact makes it worse, especially if the other college heads had any reasons to keep the conversation private. If so, then I see why Ramsay had to go, far more than if it was just him and a politician. 
    Good luck in the borders Morag. I know Berwickshire reasonably well and outside Eyemouth see it as a lost cause for a yes vote. People get Newcastle TV and think that the SNP is for Anglophobes. 

  43. Erchie says:

    I was listening to Radio 5 Live this morning and firstly they were talking to someone from an Institute (usually means it’s just them) who had produced a new report that, well, maybe Scotland could afford 20 years of Independence, then the oil would run out and we’d be in crisis.
    Then RBS was brought out again.
    No challenge from the interviewer or anyone from “Yes Scotland”. So much for impartiality.
    Then, later on in a bit about Wales, they said that the Scottish Parliament had borrowing powers, which is news to me.
    I expect more of this and worse, especially from “the impartial BBC”

  44. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:


    “Then, later on in a bit about Wales, they said that the Scottish Parliament had borrowing powers, which is news to me.”

    Taxation – As part of devolution we get the “luxury” of being able to change the following:
    • Council Tax
    Let’s be clear here, Council Tax is one of the most regressive taxes imaginable with the rates being set not by the ability to pay, but by the value of the house you live in. This is wholly inadequate as it takes no account of if you can afford to own the house in the first place, or are you merely renting since you couldn’t afford the deposit. Are you a buy to let owner but your tenant picks up the tab of higher council tax because although they could only afford to buy a one bed flat, the fact they have 2 kids means they have to rent a property that classes them in a higher band than they can afford. Which wouldn’t be as incredibly bad a system as it currently is except that the super rich are also banded in with high earning professionals and paying significantly less as a percentage of take home pay than the poor.
    For arguments sake, let’s say Lamont wins a Holyrood election and increases Council Tax to pay for these services. “Don’t worry” she says, as she promises only to increase the rates of the highest bands. It sounds good to the man in the street until a flaw is pointed out. The government only sets the Band D rate and all other rates are worked out against a formula. Even if they were able to pass laws to allow individual bands to be altered what happens in councils that have very few of these people in upper council tax bands that are going to take up the slack? Well its back to raising this regressive tax for the lower bandings too i.e. the poor.
    • Land Fill Tax
    Although it is not yet in place, the Scottish Government will soon be able to run and collect a Land Fill Tax. So perhaps we could increase this tax to fill the gap? Well no, not really. Firstly, it would not raise anywhere near enough, and secondly, the purpose of the Tax is to reduce the utilisation of Landfill. If the Tax is increased it will end up forcing more recycling and the Tax take overall will reduce. It is a policy instrument rather than a serious revenue raising instrument. This is why Westminster felt happy to devolve control.
    • Stamp Duty
    As with Land Fill Tax, this is not yet devolved but will be soon. Scotland has lower levels of revenue from Stamp Duty than the UK average so devolving this allowed Westminster to cut the block grant by more than we will receive by running it ourselves. If we wish to alter the rates upwards this would deflate the housing market and have severe knock on effects. Downwards and we may help the property market and general economy, but the Scottish Government revenues will be reduced and any positive general economic impact through building, estate agents profits etc… etc… will have no bearing on the Scottish Block Grant. Indeed, if any positive effects did occur from a cut in stamp duty, it would be Westminster and not Scotland that benefited through increased tax revenues.
    • Business Rates
    Business rates are something that the Scottish Government has worked with previously in the outlining of the so called ‘Tesco Tax’, but it’s a two edge sword. If business taxes go up then you get more money in the short term but inward investment will fall and less jobs will be created. Cut business rates and more businesses may set up in the country, employing more people and paying more taxes, but these taxes go to Westminster and will have no effect on Scottish finances.
    • Income Tax (By +/-3p in the £1)
    And finally we have the supposed “jewel in the crown” of the Scottish devolved funding, the +/- 3p variable rate of Scottish Basic Rate Income Tax. We are continually told by Labour that the Scottish Government has the power to raise taxes so why don’t they? Never mind that Labour never used the powers when they were last in charge either… It was the SNP administration that let these powers lapse, and as such it is not possible to alter the rate of income tax at the moment. But why if these were really the best tax varying powers (remember we voted for these in the 97 referendum), why did the SNP let them lapse?
    Well there were actually a multitude of reasons so let me explain:
    1. As with most “gifts” from Westminster, the Scottish Variable Rate came with a sting in the tail. The variable part of the rate referred only to basic rate tax and as such if the Scottish Government wanted to reduce taxation on the poor, it would have also had to reduce taxation on the rich. The same applied the other way so that in order to increase taxes on the rich you had to tax the poor more. This meant that the tax varying powers were next to worthless.
    2. In order to maintain these powers the Scottish Government had to pay HMRC £50,000 per year just to keep a list of all the people that such a scheme would have affected (Originally compiled in 1998) on their database, while it was going further and further out of date every year.
    3. Upon changing their computer systems over in 2007, HMRC decided that to update the list for the Variable Rate would cost the Scottish Government a “contribution” to the software upgrade of £7 million from the Scottish Block Grant, and even then it would only be available for use once again in 2013-2014. The Scottish Government declined the offer.
    4. If the Scottish Government had indeed used the tax varying power then it had no way of accounting for the increase or decrease in taxation, a fact that was brushed under the carpet by Westminster with a response akin to “you can trust us… honest”.
    This system of the Scottish Variable rate is due to be replaced with the new Tax proposals under the new Scotland Bill. As above, they will be difficult to alter effectively and rely on trusting the Treasury that the values given are indeed correct. All in all, the old and the new systems are very unsatisfactory and would leave more questions than answers, hurting the very people you were trying to help by altering them.
    But these are the powers that we have in Scotland, since without independence the Scottish Government cannot alter the following:
    • Income Tax – Independently without restrictions
    • VAT
    • National Insurance
    • Fuel Duty
    • Alcohol Duty
    • Tobacco Duty
    • Corporation Tax
    • Capital Gains Tax
    • Excise Duties
    • Inheritance Tax
    • Climate Change Levy
    • Aggregates Levy
    • Vehicle Excise Duty
    • Betting and Gaming and Duties
    • Air Passenger Duty
    • Various other smaller Taxes

    We really need control over our own resources!

  45. Dcanmore says:

    @Erchie …
    It’s the main scare story on the BBC Scotland website today. The report is by the Institute of Fiscal Studies based in London (just around the corner from where I work funnily enough). Of course what has happened is the BBC has chosen to highlight the doom and gloom part of the report as the actual story and not in the context of the whole report. Cue the usual rhetoric from Flipper Darling … “we can’t do this, we can’t do that, Scotland will end up like Atlantis and sink into the ocean blah blah blah.”
    @Scott Minto …
    Tax Research UK have been heavily critical of the IFS saying that their research is mired in political dogma supporting regressive taxes. Also: “Institute for Fiscal Studies is a body that persistently recommends tax increases that benefit the wealthiest in society at cost to those who make their living from work and the poorest in society.”
    Labour, when in power, denounced IFS research on numerous occasions calling them ‘unrealistic’ and ‘misleading’. Flipper Darling may want to look all the way back to 2010 to see his very own department and government criticising the IFS.

  46. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:


    Yes its strange that they base their predictions on Scotlands non-oil economy remaining exactly as it is at present…

    Scotland will only be able to alter our economy if we control the levers of taxation to grow strategic industry and entice investment.

    If we remain in the Union and the Oil runs out in 70+ years what is the Unionist plans to replace the lost Oil jobs?

    The truth is they have NO vision of how to do this.

    Scotland needs independence to ensure that while we do have a relative advantage financially, that the funds are made available to transition to that new economy.

    The alternative doesnt bear thinking about, in a future where Scotland gets independence the day after the oil runs out and our entire domestic economy has been run to the ground in the name of “Solidarity” with the bulk of the population in the South East of England

  47. muttley79 says:

    Income Tax – Independently without restrictions
    • VAT
    • National Insurance
    • Fuel Duty
    • Alcohol Duty
    • Tobacco Duty
    • Corporation Tax
    • Capital Gains Tax
    • Excise Duties
    • Inheritance Tax
    • Climate Change Levy
    • Aggregates Levy
    • Vehicle Excise Duty
    • Betting and Gaming and Duties
    • Air Passenger Duty
    • Various other smaller Taxes
    We really need control over our own resources!

    I did not realise the tax powers under independence would be so extensive!  This is very good information.  Deserves a wider readership.  What are the most important for the economy, corporation tax, VAT?

  48. scottish_skier says:

    Institute for Fiscal Studies
    7 Ridgmount Street
    WC1E 7AE

    Is this the same right-wing think tank that clearly predicted well in advance the 2007-8 banking crisis, subsequent sovereign debt crisis and resulting major global economic downturn? 

    I’d have thought they’d be better off predicting the economic future of their own country given the economic mess it’s in rather than poking their nose into the affairs of a neighbouring country. Are we to expect reports on Scotland from right-wing think tanks in e.g. Germany, France, the USA etc too? Is this the new fad? What is it with London/Britain and it’s sense of superiority over every other nation on earth. 

  49. muttley79 says:

    Are we to expect reports on Scotland from right-wing think tanks in e.g. Germany, France, the USA etc too? Is this the new fad? What is it with London/Britain and it’s sense of superiority over every other nation on earth. 

    It is the old colonial attitude creeping in.  ‘We used to rule a quarter of the world’ syndrome.   

  50. dadsarmy says:

    I see your post in the Herald, about the medical reseearcher talking about the MRC. It’s interesting; I had one post removed. It was where I provided a URL to a Guardian article in 2007 by – yes – Severin Carrell. Pennington and others had written a letter saying how research would suffer in an independent Scotland.

    Gordon Brown and someone used the letter 6 days before the 2007 Holyrood elections in an attempt to stop the SNP getting a majority. Whether Pennington – an advisor to the Labour party – did this deliberately for political reasons, we will never know. It’s going to be important though that full facts are available for such like “concerns” – answers maybe to the set of questions I posted on the Herald.

  51. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:


    “What are the most important for the economy”

    All of them. Its about getting the balance right.

    For instance you could increase direct taxation and reduce indirect taxation thereby reducing the burden of tax on the poor and increasing it on the better off.

    You could reduce Corporation Tax (which the SNP proposed down to 20%) in order to entice businesses to set up here. More businesses means more employees paying tax and less on welfare. 

    (NOTE: Corporation tax from Oil is allready ringfenced so there would be no reason to change that).

    You could offer tax breaks to certain industries (the ones that dont provide McJobs) so that the jobs that are created are valuable additions to the economy thereby further stimulating the domestic market for goods and services.

    Reducing APD could see more business going to Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports either directly or routing through, and also open up holiday destinations to more people. This would also help struggling families to afford a holiday, a luxury that many cannot at present with the punitative taxes applied by Westminster.

    You could zero rate healthy food for VAT while putting high fat processed foods on at 20%.

    You could close the loopholes for capital gains tax to maximise revenue and make the rich pay more into the pot just like Joe Bloggs PAYE victim…

    The truth is that the current set up doesnt fit with what Scotland needs.

    Some taxes will rise, some will fall, others will stay the same.

    The balance needs to be right, and at the moment it is most definately NOT!

  52. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:


    The Herald usually retrospectively deletes any links I post in comments but if people are fast they can get to them.

    Interesting that the figures for Medical Research funding used by pennington didnt include the three biggest facilities (all in England) or any of the Infrastructure budget???

    A bit like saying Man Uniteds biggest costs are the green keepers… if you dont include the footballers, management or stadium!

  53. dadsarmy says:

    Yes. The figures were skeletal. I happened to be up not long after the article went up so I got the first post in. I did make one mistake though, I should have totalled the other figures given and made them a proportion of the £3 billion, to show that we got £107 million out of £3 billion total funding – 3.6%, whereas we should get 8.6% – £258 million, a shortfall of £151 million.

    Not true probably, but then if “they” can’t come up with proper figures to make their point, “we” are entitled to use them any way we want to disprove them.

  54. scottish_skier says:

    @ muttley

    “It is the old colonial attitude creeping in”

    Yes, I propose we set up a Scottish Institute for Fiscal Studies and commission it to write reports on the future of the English economy and the effects of Scottish independence on this. Findings can then be published in various English newspapers. I’m sure those down south would be so grateful to have Scotland giving them it’s opinion on their country.

    Certainly, it seems the English IFS is a little worried about Scottish independence. However, I don’t think these concerns are for Scotland.

  55. muttley79 says:

    Thanks for the reply.  Have you ever thought about going into politics, you know your stuff fella? From the list you gave, what are the direct taxes, and which are the indirect one?  I am thinking that income tax, council tax, N.I., VAT are direct ones (unless you are unemployed that is) ?

  56. muttley79 says:

    Yes, I propose we set up a Scottish Institute for Fiscal Studies and commission it to write reports on the future of the English economy and the effects of Scottish independence on this. Findings can then be published in various English newspapers. I’m sure those down south would be so grateful to have Scotland giving them it’s opinion on their country.
    Certainly, it seems the English IFS is a little worried about Scottish independence. However, I don’t think these concerns are for Scotland.

    Yes, voters in Scotland need a resource where they can get information about the constitutional debate that is demonstrably impartial, and sourced.


  57. dadsarmy says:

    The IFS guy Paul Johnson was on BBC, and he did make it clear that the long-term there’ll be choices to make “but actually so will all countries”. So in fact, as he says “probably a bit better off”, the IFS report is nett positive. The presenter (Jo Coburn?) pulled Darling up saying “yes but others have tried to say that Scotland is susbsidised”, or something like that. Better coverage.

  58. dadsarmy says:

    Actually this is another “myth” that needs to be exploded:

    “Scotland will be too dependent on one source of revenue – oil. Up to 20%.”.

    Yet in the same breath Darling is saying we’re also too dependent on financial service (which I believe is around 10%). Now, when I was at school, 1 + 1 = 2 (maybe this is where Darling got the economy wrong). So it seems now that we’re too dependent on TWO sources of revenue. Mmmm. Let me see now.

    Tourism is about 10% of our revenue, and I think food and whisky (plus gin) is somewhere around 10% as well in total. So – we’ve got FOUR sources of revenue we’re too dependent on now. Oh dear, we’re all doomed, doomed, doomed, we’d better let Osborne look after us and wipe our bibs.

  59. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:


    Direct taxes are any takes that accrue proportionate to income.

    Income Tax
    National Insurance
    Capital Gains Tax
    Corporation Tax

    All other taxation is indirect. With direct taxation the more you earn the more you pay.

    Indirect taxation places a relatively similar tax on poor and rich alike, but the burden of taxation for the poor is higher as they have to pay a higher percentage of their pay towards these types of taxes.

    For instance if you pay £1,000 in fuel tax each year and earn £20,000 then you are paying 5% of your earnings to the taxman for this.

    If you pay £1,000 in fuel tax each year but instead you earn £100,000 then you are paying 1% of your earnings to the taxman instead.

    This means that the rich pay ‘relatively’ less as a percantage of money earned.

    Thats a VERY simplified example but it means that since most taxes are indirect it places a debilitating burden of taxation on the poorest in society (excaserbating poverty) and a heavy burden on the young, families and low wage workers.

    This wont vanish overnight but we can alleviate the worst aspects.

    Council Tax is the worst indirect tax as it is based on a banding for your home and not what you earn.

    That means that Joe Bloggs millionaire may well be paying the same as uber professionals in the same bracket of house.

    It also means that people who rent because they cant afford to buy a house thats big enough still wind up paying the tax on that house as if they could, while the owner receives the added benefit on top of rent of having the taxation on the property paid.

  60. AndrewFraeGovan says:

    And what about the other 50%? Does that not count somehow? No wonder Darling was such a disaster as chancellor!

  61. Peter says:

    I once read whisky is a third of all the UK food and drink exports, add to this the finest beef lamb pork and seafood, Walkers and Deans shortbread, Mackie’s ice cream and crisps, providing workers to oil installations and situations throughout the world, renewable energy, plus various other small industries who export their wares far and wide. Remember we only need to to support a population one tenth of the present UK, I think we will do ok!!

  62. scottish_skier says:

    O/T, but interesting all the same. AR poll on nuclear:

    Would you support or oppose building more nuclear power stations in the UK?

    Strongly support: 19%
    Moderately support: 14%
    Moderately oppose: 18%
    Strongly oppose: 26%
    Unsure: 23%

    Support: 33%
    Oppose: 45%

    Support: 45%
    Oppose: 33%

    Would suggest Scotland basically has the opposite view to the rUK. Just another little example of how different Scotland is socially and politically.

  63. Dcanmore says:

    @Scott Minto (aka Sneekyboy) …
    Just did a little bit of digging. The author of the Institute of Financial Studies report is Paul Johnson. He used to work at the HM Treasury and the Department of Education during the Blair years and apparently was quite close to Gordon Brown when was Chancellor. He replaced Robert Chote who was a member of Blair’s Prime Minister’s Policy Unit and the Department of International Development. Recently the IFS has been critical of Gideon Osbourne’s public sector cuts, saying that they are not radical enough. Before the IFS Paul Johnson worked for Frontier Economics, a Europe-wide version of the IFS who have Lord Gus O’Donnell and Andrew Turnbull (former cabinet secretary to Tony Blair) as Directors and Senior Advisers.

  64. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:


    Not surprising. These “Independent” institutes seem to be revolving doors to various parties and their supporters.


    I would wager that the 33% in support are unaware of the Insurance cover provided by government or the post closure clean up costs since these are never factored into nuclear power production costings.

  65. James McLaren says:

    I have never seen a business plan for a nuclear power plant where the cost of insurance and decommissioning are included. They also tend to put them near existing nuclear stations which have, despite being farish from London ( West country ones anyway) a lower feed in tariff.

  66. dadsarmy says:

    I’m one of the 33% who support nuclear power, living fairly near Hunterston, and most around here would be the same I think. Much cleaner than coal, and provides well paid jobs and apprenticeships, revenue to the area.

    My concern – and it may be technolgically unfounded – is that turning the back on nuclear plants, also turns the back on the future generation of fusion power, due to come on stream in a few decades. I don’t know whether this is classed as “nuclear” however, but if so, it would be a bad idea long-term for instance, to have anti-nuclear in the Constitution.

    As far as I know it’s not a case of nuclear enrichment so there’s no connection with weapons, and ultimately – maybe 100 years, maybe less, it’d clearly be a way of very clean, very green, and ultimately very economical, propulsion for shipping for instance. There are small fusion generators already working now, generating power, they’re getting scaled-up in a controlled fashion. Right now it costs more in energy than the energy that gets produced, but that will change of course with scaling up, and ultimately with better methods I guess.

    Just a – IFS-style – long-term strategy thought.

  67. dadsarmy says:

    Oops: Paul Johnson: “The problem for an independent Scotland is that we spend quite a lot more per head than in the rest of the UK; we raise the same amount in taxes as the rest of the UK. In the short term it’s made up by oil revenue; in the long run it probably won’t be”.

    Oops. I don’t think he’s quite got a grasp on the figures yet. Back to the slide rule.

    But it does clearly illustrate his bias, I’m afraid. At least the BBC news ending with Blair Jenkins, fairly even-handed coverage.

  68. muttley79 says:

    Thanks a lot for the information.

  69. Dcanmore says:

    @Dadsarmy …
    Fusion is the Holy Grail of future commercial energy creation and consumption. Currently £$€billions is being spent on research into it. Commercial reactors will probably go online in the middle of this century and will go hand in hand with the creation of a hydrogen economy (as deuterium will probably be the core fuel as there is an infinite supply). It is the future replacing the current fission power plants and is also the next logical step in nuclear development. Scotland does have role in this (not necessarily by having a fusion reactor) but being a net hydrogen fuel supplier (from seawater with electrolysis required from established wave and wind turbines) to the rest of Europe.

  70. Angus McLellan says:

    @Muttley: Don’t get carried away with the long list of taxes. Just four of them – income tax, corporation tax (inc. oil & gas), national insurance and VAT – account for three quarters of tax revenues. And taking out the oil revenues from both sides of the equation doesn’t really change the picture.

  71. dadsarmy says:

    Ah yes, good point. So as well as producing hydrogen, Scotland would produce deuterium, and potentially become a major European or even global supplier. And perhaps all with electricity generated at times of low demand, such as during the night – or the summer. That does make more sense of windfarms and wave power.

    I guess also there’s some potential for producing small amounts of tritium, even the odd Kg or two, which would be an extremely valuable commodity.

    Mmm, I wonder what suitable degrees are available in Scottish universities – I know Eindhoven does quite a lot with fusion. I would think it worth already getting a suitable course into one of our Unis, maybe an exchange one wtih Eindhoven.

    Mmm, I wonder how far ahead these NPF’s work – I believe NPF3 is underway at the moment – maybe preliminary investigation should be a part of that already.

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