Star Letter…

Here I publish a message from my correspondent James Anderson following my blog on John McLaren and Fiscal Affairs Scotland. It raises some very good points.


I’m totally with you Derek that this was the politics story of the day. There have been many story’s in the MSM to raise my hackles in the past few weeks(!) but this one really pushed my buttons for many of the reasons you highlight. It is the veneer of impartial academic credibility John McLaren and Jo Armstrong are deploying; Scots-based, at respectable Glasgow University, with knowledge of oil economics, not Tories, and using ‘real’ evidence. Frankly John and Jo’s contribution is verging on the outrageous, at least in terms of the sheer volume of UNCHALLENGED coverage it received today. Below was my own contribution to the topic, which I posted on the Herald . More power to you Derek – stay aggrieved and focussed. You are doing the job only the Sunday Herald is doing on the public’s behalf in the mainstream.




Fiscal Affairs Scotland – that’s the Centre for Public Policy for Regions to you and me – and John McLaren appear intent on continuing to push ad-nauseum the Labour and Tory line that Scotland runs a perpetual deficit position within the UK. OBR figures? Really John? And if these figures are all accurate and in the public domain what is the point in your report? Why are you continually recycling public domain information? Rushing out a press release to coincide with the first full Smith Commission plenary session? With headline conclusions and projections based on a few months of dipped oil prices?? It is a tough gig being meaningful in terms of academic research value; challenging and testing norms. I’d love to know where the value-add is in this ‘latest report same as the last doomsday report’. Utterly ignoring, say, Scotland’s Westminster controlled fiscal position now compared to five years ago and where it’ll be five years hence. This is not a report based ‘over and above cuts’; this report, if anything, simply tells a story of what Scotland’s fiscal position might be if we didn’t send our cash directly to the Treasury.

Here’s the issue. Even if you accept McLaren and Armstrong’s worst case scenario – a £5bn deficit in Scotland’s finances right now or in six months if we’d had full fiscal control – our operating deficit remains no worse or remains better than that of rUK. But that is not the worst crime committed by this report. That honour is reserved for this line: “Our calculations suggest that, across a wide range of assumptions, full fiscal autonomy could lead to a significant shortfall in funding over what the current system delivers.” No John, your calculations do not show that at all. Your calculations are based on revenue and spending without borrowing: outputs without all the inputs to Barnett plus non-devolved spend. Scotland’s public finances and all UK public finances are presently already paid from an operating deficit. The UK Government operates a gargantuan fiscal black hole. So the “current system” cannot and does not pay out anywhere in the UK from a fiscally neutral, balanced books position. Nor does Treasury pay out as a benevolent benefactor; lavishing extra spending on Scotland as net beneficiary of Westminster’s benign commitment to ‘sharing and pooling’.

Yes this press release IS part of that exact same narrative. Yes you are being lead to conclude the UK is in serious surplus whilst Scotland is in serious deficit. Yes you are being lead to conclude that rUK is subsidising Scotland and providing a safety net (Barnett). Yes the report utterly ignores Scotland as a long-standing net contributor to UK finances, our lower debt-to-spend ratio, and that Barnett itself is only one part of a near bankrupt, eye-watering, debt-laden economy (£1.5trillion and counting).

The “current system” is, of course, based on running a chronic shortfall between tax and spend (at least till 2018 but we know Osborne and the OBR will get that wrong as well), which the UK Govt borrows to offset. In fact John might have wished to re-interrogate his conclusions following the news on Osborne’s tax receipt shortfalls yesterday (based on modeling he’d been receiving from, you guessed it, the OBR!). So even if Scotland did have a shortfall between revenue and spend; so does the current system!! With fiscal autonomy we’d borrow to maintain, or increase, or decrease our levels of public spending. And we’d do so from a healthier fiscal position than Westminster (either as a fiscally independent country or as a federated state enjoying fiscal autonomy within the UK).

Given John and Jo’s undoubted intellect I can only conclude that to present the fiscal position Scotland ‘enjoys’ under Westminster’s financial control in this way (that somehow Scotland, uniquely within the UK, experiences centrally approved levels of public spending beyond its current means), is not ‘non-aligned’ and is indeed a partial and politically-loaded view. Others on here might question the substantive nature and quality of the FAS intervention: is FAS really asking the Smith Commission to reflect on what fiscal powers accrue to Scotland based solely on some disputable evidence spanning only a few months around a single out-turn (O&G revenue forecasts)? FAS put the exact same proposition to the Scottish electorate prior to the Referendum.

I know Jo Armstrong is a former O&G economist so FAS might feel it has a degree of expertise and authority on this single issue but come on; this is our country’s shared future. Economic and policy choices are far more complex than repackaging some questionable short-run O&G stats!! Perhaps that is why John and Jo set-up FAS as a semi-autonomous ‘think-tank’ running parallel to their day jobs at the taxpayer-funded CPPR? More flexibility to influence political and public thought rather than straightforward interrogation of public policy choices? There is a fair chance one or both read the Herald online so it would be good to receive a rebuttal to the points I’ve made here

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27 thoughts on “Star Letter…

  1. Oh, that’s a keeper.

    I almost cheered. 🙂

  2. Ah, timing is everything. At least a good month post Referendum was allowed before release of the information on the newly discovered oilfield ( honestly I thought it would be the one south of Claire, but we’ll wait for that )

    • I saw this on BBC Scotland about new Oil Field, however, just listening to Newsdrive and nothing mentioned about it in their headlines. Wonder if it will disappear from their website soon if the Unionist parties get wind of it there.

  3. It’s impossible for the likes of us to imagine the thinking of the BritNat Unionists who put the good of London before the good of their own country- but if you had been a pressed down cog in the ancient propaganda machine that is the whole pomp & regalia of the British Establishment that props us the rotten panoply of aristocratic privilege then maybe our thinking would be in concord with its manifest destiny world view. The pompous elites at the top of the Legal, Political, Media, Educational world of the Scottish Establishment have more or less been manufactured in the likes of Glasgow/Edinburgh Academy, Fettes College, Gordonstoun etc & so the very narrow set from these high echelons all know each other & share a mutual world view of British Imperial Supremacy or the Britain First mentality- hence they reason there’s no conflict with betraying Scotland’s any power & propping up the UK power structures- you can always join a fiddle orchestra, wear a kilt, go shooting on a grouse moor, drink single malt & dance a jig occasionally to assuage your guilt & prove your Scottishness. It’s just depressing that these people are controlling, shaping & manipulating the very limits of the debate in the mainstream & at the same time closing down debate through such narrow definitions of what is possible- what can we do?

  4. What we are seeing here is a common application of inverse logic. It’s like a police detective who has a gut feel that a suspect is the murderer and who then goes on to seek out evidence to back up the theory. FAS are doing the same thing – they have a gut feel that the union is a good thing so they construct evidence to back up the theory. Only problem is that the “evidence” does not stack up. What they should be doing is gathering all available evidence, analysing it and reaching a logical conclusion – just like a competent detective would do. And John McLaren and Jo Armstrong know this – so they dress up their propaganda – or stitch-up – as “academic” research. They know they are lying, but the end (of preserving the union) justifies the means (lying, cheating, distorting).

    It really does make you question the morality of these people.

    • Your comments really struck a note! I was, still am part of the Yes Lochaber team and spent days and weeks campaigning, I attended highland and agricultural shows, took part in debates and open forums and knocked on hundreds of doors. And the attitude and contrived arguments you mention was apparent in almost every NO voter I encountered, it was at times incredibly frustrating, and that is if you could get them to engage in the first place. What did make it difficult at times and left the door open was the stance we took on the major issues. We were not strong enough on the currency and the EU to say we will get a CU after a yes vote because we know so, or we are pretty sure we will get quick membership of the EU will not be good enough next time. We need to show we have definite plans for an independent Scottish currency and definite plans fort either EU or EFTA membership even if it does break rules of talking to the EU without Westminster consent. I get a feeling though that we won’t have as much time to prepare as we think, the EU in/out referendum may be the trigger.

  5. HELP. How am I supposed to understand that when bits are missing? Is it my browser or what?

    our lower debt-to-spend ratio, and that Barnett


    The “current system” is, of course, based on running a chronic shortfall between

    as well), which the UK Govt borrows to offset. In fact John might have wished to

  6. OMG …We’re getting cluster bombed by so called impartial academics. Oh look here comes another one.
    They’re now reaching epidemic proportion.

    • Sometimes I just despair at the amount of negativity heaped on our shoulders that I feel like screaming.

      We were promised devo max and if we don’t get it we are within our rights to demand a new indy ref ASAP.

    • Don’t worry about this one, it’s only that old labour apparatchik Arthur Midwinter, whose predictions even in the height of summer are usually as cold, dark and gloomy as his name – unless of course, Labour ar in power.

  7. Bugger (the Panda)

    I think this report starts with the answer desired and then fashions the arguments and selective data to achieve that end.

    The key to economics is that it is not a science. It is a work of art in progress based on a philosophical position or premise. How else could we have all these competing economic schools arguing about the same data.

    The result of any analysis will change according to the weighting or importance given to the available data, and the time at which it is examined. I say time at which it is examined, today, tomorrow or the day after.

    Who knows what the future will bring? Certainly not the economist whose strike record is marginally less than the weather man’s predictions; reasonably OK in the short term but correctish less than 50% of the time in the longer one (OK I made that statistic up but it is no less valid than many of the longer term economic predictions of these Greek Gods)

    Economic predicting is so filled with caveats and whatiffery that their only purpose would seem to be to advance the economic welbeing of those prognosting.

    It is as futile as trying to understand describe and predict mathematically the implantation and growth a forest by basing all that on the available data of a single tree. A waste of time except to garner more research money and self serve.

  8. The saddest point is the opportunity given to the media especially the BBC to peddle this one sided analysis. Where were the economists, SG or otherwise, doing the interrogation of this report. I suspect the BBC don’t even make the effort but why isn’t the SG or Kerevans not demanding a response the next day?
    As many of us have said from the start of the Indy campaign you need to win the economic argument. We failed in the first round If we fail in this round we deserve to get screwed

  9. It appears that all those Unionist academics operate in the “these are the conclusions on which I will base my facts” mode.

  10. Can someone confirm for me that James’s comment is still there on the Herald web-site?

  11. The SG can demand as many opportunities to respond as would fill the entire BBC schedule, but rarely are the demands listened to. And even when they are, we know the type of interviews that follow.

  12. New oil field mentioned on Reporting Scotland but in amongst “Other Stories from Across the Country” with upbeat music in the background to distract the viewer. Of course, it was not given the significance it should have given, questioning the Unionist’s position that the OIL is meant to be running out. Where is that useless BBC complaint form!!!

  13. Katrine Paterson

    I think I’ll post this on David Camerons facebook page, just to remind him that he’s up to his eyeballs in debt.

  14. Hi Derek

    I really appreciate the re-post. Style not as refined as your own but very much share your belief in the need to challenge and hold to account. Letting this stuff casually float into popular consciousness without any critique is just not an option. I don’t always get time to post as reflectively or as well researched as I’d want but since Salmond gave us a focus and self-belief post the 2011 election, I share in the sense of empowerment afforded by alternative media platforms. As an ‘ordinary citizen’ I kind of relish the opportunity to take part in the national political conversation we’ve been having; I embrace the idea that Scots are no longer bound by traditional sources of information , intelligence, or opinion. I like the idea we are beyond the control of shareholders on mogul owners. On the other hand…thoroughly depressed that the option of a self-determining Scotland is so very badly served and treated by the traditional media. The very idea remains marginal and dangerous to the Establishment. It therefore does not get objectively tested in public. That’s hard enough to stomach. But the extension of that ideological suppression – the untrammelled promotion of the status quo – is even harder to take at times. Cue GMS, Scotsman, Times, even the Herald’s soft-sell treatment of the FAS stuff. It seems almost surreal at times that a country – as old as Scotland, governed by an elected a party of self-determination, home to a population-majority in favour of full independence or maximum devolution – is treated in such a contemptuous, illogical, harmful and anti-intellectual way by the near entirety of its media! I know why that is case but it doesn’t stop it being bizarre and sickening!! It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that if it wasn’t for your blog, Newsnet, Wings, and Bella the country would be getting absolutely zero critical engagement with the political narrative of the day.

    I also enjoy reading the thoughts of many of your regular posters. Facebook can, at times, be a place where folk just vent an expletive-laden bullpoint or two (feel that way myself at times)! However, several of your regular posters should note that as well as the main dish(!) that you serve up, folk like me are absorbing and retelling many of the insightful, detailed, thoughtful, and often technical opinions that they take time to post. Folk on hear should not get too down and think that no-one is listening just because the MSM is doing the whole country a disservice and because, at times, it can feel like we are howling at the moon. No. People, like me, are paying attention, reading this stuff, and using it to influence others. It therefore has meaning and purpose.

    So to you Derek, and the good people who follow and contribute to your nail-on-the-head writings, please don’t stop. Keep up the good work. Your country actually does need you and the efforts you are making!!

    PS Douglas…yes it is still on the Herald.

    Thanks again,

  15. It’s clear that labour are in something of a panic here. Wrong footed by Cameron over devo-max, they’re are essentially briefing against their own proposals. Once again however, its clear that they have no emotive or solid economic case to make for it. So they are once again turning to fear and uncertainty to carry the day for them. They are actively working against Scotland, through collusion and omission of certain facts, that need to stay buried to maintain their legitimacy and social acceptance.

    I think what we are seeing is what labour did back in the 60s with the mccrone report. They are once again betraying Scotland’s political and economic freedom to maintain their position in Westminster. This is a very trick reversal for them. I think it safe to say that all yes voters, already know that they are effectively lying to Scotland. So this is intended for the 55% to consume and digest. That’s were the problems start for labour. Very difficult to start back tracking on this now after so much fanfare. There are also so many other issues which will make this difficult for them. Too many public pronouncements on devo-max. Too many scares on pensions. Too many denials about the fate of the NHS. Too many insults, sneers and smears to win over anyone who voted yes. As the general election draws near, the protection they had from elements of the mainstream media will cease as the the Tory supporting press will rip into labour and Scottish labour with glee.

    The Scottish conservatives clearly hope to profit from this, you can tell from the smug grin on wee ruthies face. Yet I am not so certain. This was the woman who put down 90% of Scots as being a burden on the UK. Thats not an insult labour are going to let pass without comment. Their own press will go after her. That 25% who came out for union, did not do it for the Tories, or labour, or indeed the union. They did it out of fear for the pensions, the NHS and their way of life. That is going to be torn to shreds between now and the next general election in 2019. So there is little prospect of those people switching to Tory or indeed labour. Its possible that the SNP will pick some up, but its just as possible that these people will simply choose not to vote, as they have done for so long. I discount the greens, as they still have not made a real break through in Scotland. I also discount the lib-dems – they are hopelessly tied up with the conservatives for better or worse.

    I don’t have the gift of prophecy, bu I am willing to venture an educated guess, and that is that we are seeing a fundamental shift in the Scottish political scene. The old false choice between labour and conservative is changing. The Tories think they will win without having to work for it, and labour are trying once again to work with the conservatives while desperately trying to convince folk that on they can keep the Tories out.

  16. Labour – a broken window to keep out a Tory draft?

    McLaren & Armstrong. Two Labour pains, trying to birth a political animal already brain dead.

  17. And so it goes on. The continual attempts at the full scale deceit of the people of Scotland. The not insignificant point of the double interests of these guys must surely raise a huge question mark against their integrity and impartiality.
    We all await a response.

  18. The BBC included Jo Armstromg on at least two supposed ‘objective’ pre Ref docs as an ‘Independent’ economist. I smelt a rat immediately on hearing her incessant down beat assessments of Indy Scotland’s economic prospects. And guess what. .. Your BBC…State propagandist and liar.

  19. Great analysis- if u hav the time and intellect. Us Indies are still living in a bubble – 700,000 anti-Indy newspapers sold everyday – dis anybody else feel impotent at the endless negative propaganda? We need an outlet beyond these self congratulatory websites

  20. “Theory is always by somebody for someone” Robert Cox I think. He was talking about the neo-realists, sponsored and churned out of the ideological battery farms of the ivy league in the states to push US foreign policy goals. To quote my favourite Masonic city cop, “the same rules apply”.

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