More examples today of how easy it is to manipulate the Scottish media. The first is a happy-clappy item in the Herald trumpeting the views of the house-vending industry on a recent ‘surge’ in activity (I think that means folk are buying and selling houses).
There is a rising chorus of optimism in this report which makes it sound as if the world has emerged from a dark place into the sunny uplands of cheap mortgages, paper profits and market upgrades into ‘more desirable properties.’ It could have been written by an estate agent.
Boom for Property Market After No Vote is the headline and those who make a living from this artificial pumping up of nominal values get a say including the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the barra boys of stately homes, Rettie and Co – all cock-a-hoop that the political nonsense is over and the right decision was reached and they can all get back to money-making.
I seem to remember Rettie issuing a statement during the campaign ‘warning’ Scots that the monied mafia had stopped scouring our country for shooting estate bargains while we weighed up independence. We made it inconvenient for them by playing our democratic games.
Now they’re roaring back into business after No voters cleared the way for them by ensuring there would be no tricky questions over taxes and money exchange. It’s odd though because Scotland still has, and is consulting on, powers over land ownership which I believe should be used to limit the number of acres any one person or entity can own and to charge them for unproductive use. It is time the Scots – rather than a self-selecting few – benefited from the wilderness that comprises our country and time we stopped pretending that rising house prices is anything other than the beginning of another inflationary bubble. If there is one area where Ms Sturgeon could legitimately burnish her supposed left wing credentials without damaging the SNP support base, it is land. And wouldn’t it be worth it to hear Ruth Davidson championing the landowners’ case?
But the Herald has no interest in wider land use issues and plays the consumer card by indicating industry satisfaction at an upturn as if it were universally welcomed. Interestingly, it touches on what may be the real reason most of the high-end property diggers are queuing up to buy now – the impending arrival of the land and building transaction tax which will hammer high value properties when it replaces stamp duty. Purchasers are rushing to beat the deadline.
The surveyors’ organisation merely needed to pass on a thin report based on assumptions about market activity and the media prints it, unchallenged. No scrutiny of underlying attitudes to the market or mortgages, families or inflation AND a free advert for Rettie.
No challenge either to the latest offering from the obscure and somewhat secretive Fiscal Affairs Scotland which commands column inches and broadcast appearances just by stating mostly the bleedin’ obvious. It is also in the Herald today to tell us our longer-term public budgets will be cut. Who’d have thought, eh? Seven years of austerity and counting…an ideologically committed party of small government in power…an opposition in agreement with them…declared additional cuts of £25billion now exposed as £48billion over the next parliament…Scotland voting to stay in the Union…Barnet under threat…and the economic experts can bravely predict budgets will be cut! Well, thank you, Professor.
This tiny outfit is given space to inform us that if you ring-fence budgets in, say health spending, it means more cuts fall on other areas. That’s the kind of blinding insight you need crack academics to reveal. Or are they just using these reports and their ready access to the media to advertise themselves as economic analysts to corporate Scotland and that’s where the real money is made – writing reports and forecasts for companies? They tell us ‘revolutionary’ thinking may be required to deal with future spending. What does that mean? What is their proposal? We are not told although I suspect it means stopping universalism which is what every soft left neo liberal (Labour) apologist goes for because cutting expenditure is the limit of their imagination, locked as they are in the mindset of conventional orthodoxy.
Here’s a thought for the pot of revolutionary thinking. We could grow our economy. One of the reasons I backed independence was to have strategic capacity – the ability to move all the levers at our disposal so they aligned in Scotland’s favour. That means we would control competition policy, public procurement, taxation, immigration, investment, land use, inward investment and every other tool which other countries adjust to produce the perfect mix for their own benefit. (It’s also a reason I didn’t back sharing the pound as it denies us money control and interest rates).
Independence would have provided the jolt our country needs to boost the economy. No more relying on policy and support from the south but finally it would all be in our own hands. All across the economy we could have made improvements. The North Sea needs a new dynamic regime as all sides agree. Do we really think the same people who took all the tax, sold off the national oil company and invested not one penny of the windfall are better at it than the Scots?
If we ran energy policy, wouldn’t the dream of re-industrialisation through renewables have more chance of happening? The so-called think tank simply dismisses our constitutional status as irrelevant to the cuts needed – yet how could they know what deal Scotland might have struck on, for example, debt? Suppose there was a trade-off between sovereign debt servicing and Trident, seriously reducing Scotland’s share of UK indebtedness?
At least Professor Brian Ashcroft – elsewhere in the Herald – has the flair to come up with some answers and goes beyond the arid Fiscal report by pointing out that these relentless cuts are themselves damaging the economy and risking the recovery. We need in injection of investment to protect the signs of growth and that should be the Scottish government’s job to borrow. New beefed-up borrowing powers would mean extra economic control here in Scotland where it’s needed. (He might not like it, but that chimes broadly with my own view). In fact Ashcroft is a lot closer to the declared aim of Fiscal Affairs as stated on the website… ‘to understand the effectiveness of economic policies’. Clearly they have failed to do that in this case, merely accepting the diktat of Westminster policy-makers.
The authors at Fiscal Affairs sound like the Labour Party to me. ‘We’re a’ doomed,’ is their motto. There is nothing to do but suck it up and stop resisting, stop campaigning, stop trying. This is Britain. Just give up.
But who are Fiscal Affairs Scotland to command acres in the national Press with such ease when other organisation have to hire PR help just to get a mention? As discussed here previously, they are what used to be CPPR, the Centre for Public Policy for Regions (that’s Scotland, by the way) – semi detached from Glasgow University. They appear to have been spun out of that entity, a fact hard to deny when their own website points you to the work they did while at CPPR. The only staff appear to be John McLaren and Jo Armstrong.
What I always want to know with self-styled think tanks is Who’s paying? And the awkward truth here is that we don’t know. There is no public information on who is paying salaries and costs or under what contractual arrangements reports are produced.
Under Trustees on the website there are five individuals. Among them Robert Black was auditor general, Gavin McCrone is well known, Richard Harris was director of CPPR, and there is Lorna Jack of the Law Society. (She is also a trustee of Jack McConnell’s foundation against poverty in Africa.) The drop-down for Advisory Board is empty, as is the menu for News and Media, and Contact has only personal emails and mobiles for John and Jo which may mean there is no office. (The charity regulator has the principal office as a chartered accountants premises on an industrial estate in Glasgow which looks like an administrative nicety).
So two economic academics register as a charity ‘for the advancement of education, or citizenship or community development’ with no specific beneficiaries in mind, to ‘carry out activities or services itself,’ according to the regulator – all meaningless charity legalese – and on that basis are feted by the national media whenever they turn out a report whether it is informative, incisive and helpful, or not.
So far they’ve been pretty helpful to Labour. Their previous effort at independent, politically non-aligned analysis was welcomed by Jenny Marra when they warned that handing all tax powers to Scotland exposed us to falling oil prices, dovetailing with the Unionist case against Devo Max.
And when two years ago, at the CPPR, they previously made the case about falling oil forecasts, they were contradicted by the man they had quoted in their support, Professor Alex Kemp. http://www.newsnetscotland.scot/index.php/scottish-economy/6457-cppr-claims-on-oil-estimates-challenged-by-leading-academic
There is a tendency in our short-handed, Google-based newsrooms to buy whatever sugary line they are presented with and just to ‘bung it in’. There is in Scotland right now a profound debate about politics and government and how we improve peoples’ lives. Journalists like to claim a special role in for themselves in our society at such times but unless they can bring a deeper insight and wider understanding than the Herald today, they will increasingly be seen as part of the problem rather than the solution. All the conventional sources are on trial post-referendum as normally compliant citizens had their eyes opened to the institutional shortcomings of the society they knew and trusted.
We have learned not to believe them and it’s clear with the media they still don’t deserve to get back our trust.by