‘Stop sweating the small stuff and keep our eyes on the prize’

Do you freak out even when little things go wrong? There are other ways to cope with daily slights.
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By Alasdair Galloway

Today, one of the most frequent of the Unionist fan club on the Herald Letters page had another letter published, which I have copied in below.

DURING the Covid crisis the SNP government has relied totally on the UK government for funding to tackle its effects. According to the National Audit Office, as of last September , Covid-19 has cost the UK government £370bn. Pro rata Scotland’s share is some £37bn extra funding. Yet Nicola Sturgeon seems to think that the Treasury has a bottomless pit full of cash.

“Our public health response is curtailed by lack of finance” she said last month, after the UK government added another £440m of new money for Covid response. It doesn’t matter how much Westminster gives Holyrood – it will never be enough.

What the Covid crisis shows is how much better Scotland is as part of the Union rather than separated from the world’s fifth largest economy, with no central bank, no currency, no national grid, and with a government that wants to shut down North Sea gas and oil.

From the rapid and unique development of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, free from the constraints of the European Medical Agency, through the support of the British Army, the roll-out of millions of free lateral flow tests (each costing £8), to the sharing and pooling of medical science across the four nations, the case for the Union speaks for itself.

William Loneskie, Lauder.

Let’s take the calumnies one by one.

The first is more a sleight of hand, that “Covid-19 has cost the UK government £370bn”, followed up closely with “Pro rata Scotland’s share is some £37bn extra funding”. The first kind of suggests that the UK government is spending a lot of money keeping us as safe as we are from Covid, and has  given us a share of this. (actually our share on a population basis would be nearer £31 billion). Of course the reality is that the money spent by Westminster is a combination of UK taxpayer cash (ie ours as well) and borrowing (actually probably mostly the latter), for which we will be on the hook, as same as usual when interest and repayments become due.

This is followed up by “Yet Nicola Sturgeon seems to think that the Treasury has a bottomless pit full of cash.” Yet the fact is that Nicola is closer to the truth in saying this, than Mr L would ever care to admit. We can see this from how the interest and repayments work.

Sunak has borrowed vast sums of money – and has made himself a little unpopular with a strand of Tory opinion in the process. However, most (if not all) of this borrowing has been from the Bank of England. Sunak contacts Andrew Bailey (the Governor of the Bank) to ask for more money in exchange for debt instruments. Leaving aside that now is the time to borrow (at least for a government to do this) since interest rates are at a historic low, interest payments will go to the Bank, as, in due course, will repayments of the principle. But – here’s a question for us all – who owns the Bank of England? Well, having been nationalised in 1946, WE DO. Its our bank. In effect Sunak is borrowing from our bank and repaying to the same, and at some point, could ask for the money back – ie roundtrip. The whole thing is subterfuge.

In short spending more would not be a problem were it not for the obsession with deficit as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) points out. Any country with its own sovereign currency can introduce spending power into the economy at any time – it is one of the things that a government does. But if its role also includes maximising the welfare of its citizens then deficit is not the primary variable to watch over, but such as unemployment, which, as Keynes observed nearly a century ago, represents unused resources.

No doubt that argument would drive Loneskie and his fellow travellers to paroxysms of rage (or I hope it would), but even if it does should they not be made to justify the at least 10 years of needless austerity?

Next up is the old saw that “the Covid crisis shows .. how much better Scotland is as part of the Union” as we would have “no central bank, no currency”. Presumably unlike every other country in western Europe Covid would be running rampant here, bodies piling high in the street. Moreover, as there would be “no national grid” we would also have been in the dark! However, SNP policy at their last conference is for a central bank to be established between a Yes vote and independence, and a currency introduced as soon as possible.

Just why this dystopian fate should await Scotland – alone of any European state – is never justified. It just “is”. It is what would happen and if you deny this you are either a fool or don’t care about the people who would lose out. And this points to one of what for me, is an increasingly key issue.

In the leadup to the first referendum, the Yes side was always on the back foot. Remember the “warnings about Scottish independence” – back in 2013 Craig Murray did this blog about the variety of ways these were slipped in by the BBC (BBC the New Hammer of the Scots – Craig Murray). We really cannot afford this next time. Of course we still have the BBC, Nick Robinson and all (though not Brian Taylor, who struck me as less malign than Glenn Campbell). The BBC wont change – indeed we can only expect it – and all the other Unionist mouthpieces (more faces than the Town Hall clock?) – to be worse. What can we do?

Well first we need to put supporters of the Union on the spot not only on arguments about leaving the Union, just why we should stay. And secondly we have to swamp the media with positive arguments in favour of independence. When I say “media”, I am well aware of the prejudice of the main outlets – national newspapers, TV, radio etc – who, if they ever supported independence it would be game over for the Union. But there are other media – such as John’s Talking Up Scotland, and these need to be supported (and better coordinated, if I might say so Prof).

Otherwise, we leave the field open to clowns like Loneskie. His letter is risible and to those who wonder why didn’t reply it was confidence that someone else would and probably do a better job than I could (eg Gavin?). Interestingly he is followed by “Dr” (the guy is a dentist ffs seeking a wee bit of status on the cheap) Gerald Edwards – like two zombies.

Independence is there to be won, but it wont fall into our laps. We need to work for it, but – and this is one area that seems to me particularly lacking – we need organization. This doesn’t have to be an autocracy, and we certainly need to stop sweating the small stuff and keep our eyes on the prize (there you are two cliches, one after another), but we all need to be pulling in the same direction, and right now we aren’t. Why not, is a question for another day.

16 thoughts on “‘Stop sweating the small stuff and keep our eyes on the prize’

  1. “…free lateral flow tests (each costing £8),..”

    £8; where? Boots? Chumsco?

    They’re a lot cheaper wholesale, eveo cheaper at the scale he’s referring to.

    Liked by 1 person



    Liked by 2 people

  3. Very good article from Alasdair.
    As he says why exactly were those years of austerity unnecessarily imposed and who benefited? Mainly the tax-avoiders and wealthy who lined their pockets throughout.
    May I also highlight the good work of Dr Tim Rideout and colleagues in the Scottish Currency Group on FB and Scottish Reserve Bank website for all their good work progressing the case for a new Scottish Currency sooner than SNP have been advocating up till Dr Rideout was successful in getting the group motion passed at last conference

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Totally agree with you about Tim Rideout who has worked not only hard to take the idea forward. In particular though, he is to be congratulated for getting it through the last SNP conference, having spoken to goodness knows how many constituency groups to garner support. Now all we need is for the leadership to listen to the membership

      Liked by 5 people

  4. There is a fundamental flaw in the argument being made above. The currency owner and currency distributer is the UK government. The UK government can not be in debt to its self. To fund the Covid crisis meant the UK government created its own money, it does not borrow and does not pay interest. That is the advantage of having your own central bank.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Great article Alasdair.

    (eg Gavin?)*
    * Alas my “print” rate of letters sent is between 5% and 10%. I send one or two most days, either to refute a point in a “Those Islands” letter or to disagree with an “opinionator”.
    Sometimes another topic altogether–they are seldom printed.

    Not to complain, but………………
    EVERY PERSON with a positive view of Scotland and our prospects should be sending in polite, well argued, properly researched, to the point letters to the press.
    We are faced with a well co-ordinated, well funded opponent with lots of people writing many identical missives, often with fake news, misquotes and attributions, false facts and angles to them. I suspect they are in contact with the Scottish Office.
    Write in to the Herald (and all the rest), give facts, be reassuring, give suggestions to our Unionists “chums”, don’t be aggressive or abusive— just write as you would talk to a friend who has doubts.
    Do it.
    Do it now.
    Do it daily.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I wondered how long it would take the BritNats to use the pandemic as a (mytholigical) tool to use against Scottish independence. More fear mongering, subsidy junkie bunkum, but they know it works on some otherwise they wouldn’t deploy such tactics.

    I think you are correct Alasdair, about being organised and I think that’s all getting going soon. https://www.believeinscotland.org/

    One thing I would say, last time the ‘YES’ movement were often cornered by questions from the BritNats in the media and elsewhere, remember the ‘too many unanswered questions’ rubbish. This time independence folk should be asking the questions. When people hear a question asked, and get only gobbledeegook answers from the BritNats, they question more. I hope so anyway!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ArtyHetty writes: ‘.. last time the ‘YES’ movement were often cornered by questions ..’

      Thinking about this reminds me of the revealing book – ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate’ by George Lakoff.

      What follows are extracts from blog posts written by Lakoff in 2018, firstly from one entitled ‘A Modest Proposal: #ProtectTheTruth’ (See: georgelakoff.com/blog/ ) The blog is written in the context of US politics and Trumpian/Republican Party campaigning but seems to have wider relevance:

      Lakoff’s underlying thesis: ‘… repetition strengthens the synapses in the neural circuits that people use to think. First, repetition strengthens the synapses in the brain’s circuitry. Second, “framing first” provides an advantage. Third, negating a frame by saying it’s “not” true activates and strengthens the frame. That’s just how our brains work.’

      Arguably, the corporate media and BBC Scotland still have advantages here – through volume and reach of their repeated outputs – in delivering on the first two of these factors. This is especially so when it comes to a substantial proportion of older Scottish voters still uncertain about or presently opposed to independence.

      Lakoff adds: ‘Unfortunately, many intelligent people — including Democrats and journalists — ignore the findings of the cognitive and brain sciences. They put their faith in the outdated idea of Enlightenment Reason, which dates back to the 1650s.

      ‘As a result, they miss the often-implicit frames, metaphors and narratives that structure morally important truths. They wrongly believe that bare facts and logic alone win the moral debates.’

      Lakoff offers some insights on how to address this: ‘.. work together to redirect the energy, counteract rather than react, and reframe the conversation. …. : rather than argue against (him) directly or waste time refuting (his) attacks, let’s ignore (his) antics and make a positive, proactive argument.’

      “the key is to direct a ‘stream’ of pro-active, accurate messaging at the targeted audience. In other words, reframe to undermine the opposition’s frame, and repeat.’

      In January 2018, Lakoff wrote a piece on his blog called ‘The Power of Positive Persistence’. In this he noted: ‘.. the general concept here is more important than any specific tactic. This is about framing, and our need to get a better grasp on how framing works in politics and the media.

      ‘Framing is about reclaiming our power to decide what’s important. Framing is about making sure WE set the terms of the debate, using our language and our ideas. Conservatives have beaten progressives at this for decades. It’s time for a change.’

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I see the letter writer refers to the cost to the UK government of Covid-19 and then links this with how much better off Scotland must be as part of the Union. As well as the important counter to this based on how public finances work, there is also a complementary, strategic health investment perspective.

    The health think tank, the Nuffield Trust last November contributes to this other perspective in an article headed: ‘Health spending during Covid-19: how does the UK compare?’. It examines how health spending changed across different countries in response to the pandemic. It assess why the UK may have spent – had to spend – more comparatively.

    Source: https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/news-item/health-spending-during-covid-19-how-does-the-uk-compare

    It reports that in the UK, government health spending per head of population grew by 21.9% in 2020 compared to 2019 – second only to Estonia (23.5%) among European OECD countries reporting data up to that point. In Germany and Sweden spending only increased by 3.9%, and in Norway expenditure stayed about the same (0.3%).

    Importantly, it notes that those countries with the lower increases in the year still spent more overall on health as a share of their GDP and per head than the UK: ‘While the UK government spent $4,306 per capita in 2020 (up from $3,533 in 2019), historic and current investment of the highest spending countries ranged from over $4,000 in 2014 (Germany, Sweden and Norway) to $5,800 in 2020 (Germany and Norway).’

    The Nuffield researchers consider what might explain the UK’s large spending increase during the pandemic: is it a reflection of the variable experience of the crisis across countries, or were some better prepared to deal with the impact of Covid? It makes several observations:

    – a large proportion of the UK’s additional spend in the early phases of the pandemic went towards the Test and Trace programme. Germany, as an example, entered the pandemic with stronger public health infrastructure, made greater use of local laboratories, and so may not have had to make the same level of investment to build up capacity.

    – different health systems had varying levels of stocks of PPE with which to respond to the crisis. The volume purchased at the prices needing to be paid at the time will have affected health budgets differently.

    – countries have experienced different rates of Covid transmission, and waves of outbreaks hit at different times. The UK had higher rates of Covid hospitalisations in the first year of the pandemic than most other countries analysed.

    It acknowledges that the UK government had to increase spending as a matter of genuine urgency – ‘a positive action’. However, the need for this increase in spending may reflect the UK’s structural vulnerabilities going into the pandemic.

    It adds: ‘For example, during the first wave the UK experienced high rates of Covid infections acquired in hospital partly due to the lack of testing capacity, outdated building design, and high levels of bed occupancy that made it difficult to isolate Covid patients. This is in part a product of CONSISTENTLY LOW LEVELS OF INVESTMENT in health care capital as a proportion of GDP, which meant less flexibility in the earlier waves of the pandemic to cope with rising Covid cases.’ (with my emphasis)

    And for further perspective, the Nuffield article notes: ‘Countries that have spent a larger share of their economic wealth on health over time – like Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands – appeared to have more stable levels of funding in 2020. The inverse is true for countries with relatively lower levels of government health spending, such as Estonia, Slovenia, Poland and Ireland.’ And including the UK.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Scotland paying for illegal wars, Brexit, repayments on loans not borrowed or spent in Scotland. Hickley Point HS2. £Billions on white elephants from which Scotland does not benefit. Tax evasion losing Scotland £Billions. UK tax Laws not enforced by the Westminster Gov. Multinational getting away with tax evasion. Scotland cannot borrow to invest in the economy. It would pay with growth, Scotland paying too much for Defence.

    The disappearing Oil fund which went South to fund London S/E. £Billions bailing out banks. Total lack of proper regulation by Westminster. Loads of money bankers misappropriating public money and funding the Tory Party. The London HQ. The Gov Offices in the Mall. High salaries Scotland has to pay for them and the Westminster upkeep. Unelected HoL stuffed with retired politicians.

    Scotland would be better off Independent. Managing its own economy and the revenues and taxes raised. Scotland raises £66Billion. More pro rata than the rest of the UK.

    £13Billion is lost to Scotland. The so called deficit. Westminster misappropriate abc inefficiencies.

    £150Billion a year is spent on healthcare in the UK. Nearly 1/4 of all the tax revenues raised. On average £600Billion is raised in taxes & revenues in the UK.


  9. Graham Loneskie a retired geography teacher from Oxton in the Borders. He writes columns for the Scotsman. Google. ‘People have never had it so good under Austerity’, is the claim. A bit of a dunce. Eccentric.

    Compares post war era when he was born. To today. A false comparison.The world was devastated by WW2. Millions died and were left starving and ill. Exceptional circumstances. People should not be starving and ill in a wealthy country. The inequality in wealth should be address by Gov for a cohesive, happy society. The UK one of the most unequal places in the world.

    Having a relatively good salary and pension. Paid by public monies. Not experiencing poverty or turning a blind eye to it. Smacks of ignorance and arrogance not befitting a teacher. They should have knowledge of world society. The illegal wars bombing the world to bits. The poverty caused. Millions killed and £Trns wanted. Turning a blind eye is the height of ignorance and arrogance. Not altruistic.


  10. The Borders are exceptionally Tory/unionists, although it is changing. Some just seem to be stuck in their ways. Averse to change. Farming, Sheep. Chicken. Commuter land. Tourism.


  11. Excellent article, but I have to agree with @prjohnston on the MMT point.

    Although MMT was indeed mentioned, the point is that government spending happens first and puts money into the economy. Taxation, or tax revenue, removes some of that money and returns it to whence it came. Revenue is usually taken to mean income but the clue is in the name revenue – from the Old French, revenue meant “a return”. When the amount returned is less than what they spent, they have a deficit.

    The government is almost always left with a deficit – but deficits are normal and the reason we got austerity is that Osborne & Co aimed to reduce the deficit by cutting spending.

    The so-called borrowing is smoke and mirrors, and funds nothing. They just have a rule that says they must issue Gilts to numerically cancel the deficit.

    Despite this reality, we have to suffer Rishi Sunak and his predecessors wittering on about sustainable finances, which is code for more austerity.

    @stewartrb’s points about George Lakoff and framing the debate were very interesting. Lakoff is often quoted in the MMT literature. The mainstream economic frame is that the government is like a household, and Thatcher was correct when she said the government has no money of its own.

    This is also where TINA (there is no alternative) comes in, as it’s often used by the mainstream. In fact there is an alternative, and MMT is the correct description of how the monetary system works. Or in Lakoff speak, MMT is the correct frame. The MMT folk spend a lot of time discussing how to explain that frame to those who continue to be misled by mainstream economists – and by the media every time a politician is asked ‘how are you going to pay for it?’.

    Liked by 1 person

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