Proposal to devolve all powers over broadcasting to the Scottish Parliament, and to establish a Scottish Broadcasting Service (submission to the Smith Commission)

1. The principles underpinning this proposal
This proposal is informed by three main considerations. First, it is consistent with the goal of reinforcing democratic accountability for the governance of Scotland. A national, publicly-funded broadcasting service needs to be genuinely accountable to the people of Scotland, and work in the interest of creating a better society. Second, a Scottish television and internet broadcasting will function as a stimulus to artistic and economic growth in Scotland, by supporting creative industries and by enabling the population as a whole, and sections of that population, to engage in dialogue around critical aspects of social life, in ways that will contribute to a sustainable and just future. It is only through full and inclusive national dialogue that meaningful long-term planning can take place. Third, the existence of a locally-accountable broadcasting service is necessary in order to maintain cultural traditions in the face of trends toward the globalization of cultural life. This is particularly important in an English-speaking country. In other small countries (Norway, Denmark, Slovakia) it is possible to maintain cultural identity on the basis of shared language.
2. Assessment of the current situation
At the present time, the BBC is a UK-wide body, with a regional branch office in Scotland. There is broad agreement in Scotland that BBC Scotland does not adequately serve the interests of the Scottish people. Given the history and structure of the BBC, its alignment with the UK establishment, and the basic fact that over 90% of its output needs to meet the needs of people who live in other parts of the UK, it would not be possible to reform the BBC in a manner that would satisfy the requirements of the people of Scotland.
3. The potential advantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving these powers to the Scottish Parliament
Scotland would gain a vital institution that would take a lead role in the renewal of Scottish society. The UK as a whole would have access to Scottish programmes that offered a different perspective on matters of shared interest. Creative industries in the UK as a whole would gain by the establishment of a new creative hub. One of the major advantages to Scotland would be that a new national broadcasting service could be designed in a way that was responsive to current technological and social developments. For example, during the referendum it became apparent that it was possible for a wide range of individuals and groups to make broadcast-quality documentaries that played a significant role in the national debate. It would be possible for a new national broadcaster to devote at least one channel to hosting such programmes, including payment of fees to programme-makers. Another area in which an innovative approach would pay dividends would be in the area of more effective and accessible archiving of programmes. At the present time, public dialogue is inhibited by the fact that many excellent informational programmes are hidden from view within a short time following transmission. There is a need for a internet-based TV ‘library’ that is open to all, along similar lines to book libraries. A Scottish broadcasting service could also form creative and productive links with similar services in other small countries with similar social values and traditions – for instance Nordic countries, Canada, New Zealand, and island communities. Such initiatives would unlikely to be given priority within the current structure of the BBC.
4. The potential disadvantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving these powers to the Scottish Parliament
There would be a risk that the reduced funding received by the BBC would compromise its capacity to make high quality programmes. However, the cut in overall funding of 9% (equivalent to the Scottish proportion of the overall UK population) is not dissimilar to recent cuts in BBC departmental funding arising from other factors, and should be manageable.
5. The extent to which the advantages outweigh the disadvantages
The short-term transition costs of this proposal would be outweighed by longer-term gains, as each part of the UK developed broadcasting services that were appropriate to their particular goals and values.
6. The interdependencies between this proposal and other key issues
7. Practical or legal barriers or difficulties to implementing the proposal
8. The financial advantages or costs involved in implementing the proposal
There would be transition costs, but these would not be substantial.

Proposal to devolve all tax-raising and spending authority to the Scottish Parliament (submission to the Smith Commission)

1. The principles underpinning this proposal
This proposal is informed by two main considerations. First, it is consistent with the goal of reinforcing democratic accountability for the governance of Scotland. It is only when decisions around taxation and economic policy are made close to the people of Scotland, and in consultation with groups and organisations in Scotland, that the creative and productive potential of the Scottish population will be fully released, in ways that reflect national values and collective choices. Second, this proposal is intended as a means of ensuring the coherence of decision-making in Scotland. At the present time, some powers within this category are devolved, while others are retained to the London parliament.
2. Assessment of the current situation
At the present time, some of these decisions are made in London, while other decisions are made in Edinburgh. The Scottish government, over the past few years, has shown itself to be able to make budgetary decisions in a mature and considered manner, that has received broad support from across the population. The clear preferences of the majority of the Scottish people, in relation to taxation and spending, are different from those expressed in other parts of the UK. The current situation is therefore unstable and likely to inhibit the kind of consensual long-term planning that is necessary for the achievement of equality and prosperity.
3. The potential advantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving these powers to the Scottish Parliament
There are many constructive ideas circulating within Scottish society at the present time, regarding tangible ways in which the tax system, and spending patterns, could be altered in order to achieve equality and prosperity. Devolving these powers would therefore have considerable benefits to Scotland. The proposal would also enhance collaboration and harmony and other parts of the UK, because it would become clear to citizens in other parts of the UK that Scotland was not receiving hidden subsidies. The proposal would enable other parts of the UK to pursue micro-economic policies that were suitable to their local conditions.
4. The potential disadvantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving these powers to the Scottish Parliament
There main risk would be if Scotland and the rest of the UK were to develop divergent policies that resulted in destructive competition or possibilities for fraud. Effective means of cross-legislature co-ordination would need to be in place (see paragraph 7 below).
5. The extent to which the advantages outweigh the disadvantages
The short-term transition costs of these changes would be outweighed by longer-term gains, as each part of the UK developed policies that were appropriate to their particular goals and values, and enabled their specific areas of growth potential to be fulfilled.
6. The interdependencies between this proposal and other key issues
This proposal refers to the widest possible range of powers – only foreign and defence policy, and macro-economic policy would be excluded. The Scottish Parliament would have control of welfare and social services provision, oil and other energy revenues, and broadcasting.
7. Practical or legal barriers or difficulties to implementing the proposal
There would not be any legal barriers, since these powers are all currently under the control of the UK parliament, who can pass new laws as necessary. There would need to be a sufficient level of alignment between the taxation and spending policies of Scotland and the rest of the UK. This would require the establishment of a formal mechanism, perhaps similar in some respects to the inter-governmental mechanisms within the Eurozone, which involve regular meetings at Finance Minister and senior civil service level, and peer review of budgets. There would also need to be some Scottish representation on the Bank of England monetary policy committee. Each of these measures would have the advantage of increasing transparency and public engagement in relation to policy-making in the UK as a whole.
8. The financial advantages or costs involved in implementing the proposal
There would be transition costs. At the present time it is not possible to determine what these costs would be. However, the question of the level of transition costs did not emerge during the 2014 referendum as a major issue.

Asking Smith

My apologies to those who have been following this blog. I have not written anything for at least three weeks. Mainly this has been to do with demands of the day job. But also, like many people I suppose, I have had a difficult time coming to terms with the loss. I keep coming back to the idea that we could be living in different times, and have a different type of energy, if the vote had gone the other way.

I have found a focus for myself in composing submissions to the Smith Commission. The first of these is in the following blog post. Writing it was an odd experience. I tried to keep to the guidelines that were laid out by the Commission. Whatever I send in will be ignored anyway, but at least I won’t give them the excuse that it can be dismissed because it does not confirm to the guidelines. As you can see, I kept it quite short, and restricted myself to getting the main points across. Partly this was because any attempt to fulfil their guidelines in detail would have required an immense amount of documentation and detail. I am assuming that they don’t want that, because there is no indication that they are intending to employ expert assessors to evaluate the credibility of technical arguments and evidence.

Actually, writing that Smith Commission proposal made me feel sick. I had this underlying sense of being a little boy asking for something from elders and betters. Its not really a dialogue. There was a sense of buying a lottery ticket. I never buy lottery tickets.

I need to keep going with this project and see how I feel after I have got into my stride. Its not much, but at least if the Smith Commission receives thousands of serious submissions from ordinary citizens, that in itself is saying something.

Learning from the psychology of voter decision-making

As a psychologist and counsellor/psychotherapist, I realise that I have a tendency to make sense of political issues, such as the Scottish independence debate, in psychological terms. I am not sure that this is always a helpful thing to do. But its part of me, so I need to make the best of it.

Following the referendum outcome, I have been thinking about two theories of political psychology that come from the USA.

The first is Bill Clinton’s famous slogan: “it’s the economy, stupid”. Clinton was one of the political geniuses of the modern era, a hugely intelligent and widely-read man. The story goes that “it’s the economy, stupid” signs were erected on the walls of all of his campaign offices, to remind staff that what mattered most to voters was their sense of economic security. The result of the Scottish referendum confirm Clinton’s theory. It would appear that, in the end, the decision hinged on the belief of many voters, particularly older people on pensions, that independence would make them worse off.

“It’s the economy, stupid” is essentially a psychological theory, because it predicts motivation and decision-making. If you ask people, they might say that their referendum vote was based on many factors – identity, equality, nuclear weapons, belief in politicians, and so on. The Clinton theory suggests that, while all of these factors play some part, the key underlying driver of voter behaviour is economic self-interest.

The other political-psychological theory from the USA is described in The Political Brain The Role Of Emotion In Deciding The Fate Of The Nation by Drew Westen (link to further information about this book is given below). Westen is a clinical psychologist, who has made major contributions to research and practice in counselling and psychotherapy. He is also an active supporter of the Democrat party, who was frustrated about the electoral success and popularity of Republicans such as Reagan and the Bushes.

In his book, Westen presents evidence from two main sources – experimental studies that he has carried out in his lab, on the decision-making processes of voters, and detailed analyses of effective and ineffective media campaigns run by presidential candidates in the USA. The findings of these studies are interpreted in relation to models of brain functioning.

The gist of Westen’s theory is that the decisions that people make on how to vote are primarily based on their emotional response to candidates and the media communications (e.g., TV performances and ads) of candidates. Westen argues that, in relation to big political choices, there is too much competing and conflicting information around to make it possible to arrive at a decision on rational, cognitive grounds. Instead, individuals rely on their emotional gut-feeling, using brain mechanisms that cut through cognitive complexity and simplify the choice.

I read Westen’s book toward the start of the referendum period, and did not believe that it would apply to Scotland. I thought that what he was writing about was only relevant to the kind of polarized, media-dominated, consumerist political system that exists in the USA. How wrong I was. It is easy to see, in hindsight, that referendum choices were all about emotion. Many of those who voted no would appear to have done so because of fear. (Westen’s book includes many powerful examples of how fear – of black people, of terrorists – has been used effectively in American elections). On the other side, recent pro-independence blogs have been full of stories about how emotionally involved yes voters have been in the referendum, and how emotionally devastated we were when the result was announced.

It is clear that the campaign to achieve an independent Scotland will continue. I think that is important for the campaign to give serious consideration to the psychology of voters’ decision-making. It seems clear that the Better Together campaign made use of these ideas. However, they did so in a cynical, manipulative and disrespectful way. That approach to using psychological insights would not be consistent with the values and aspirations of those of us who want to see a different kind of society, and different kind of political system, in a new Scotland. We need to learn how to take account of the emotional psychology of self-interest, so we can harness that energy in a positive way. We also need to learn how to counter the psychological tactics adopted by the mainstream political parties.

The paradox of the Labour attitude to Scottish independence

There is a fundamental paradox or contradiction at the heart of the stance toward independence taken by the Scottish branch of the UK Labour Party. This is a party that espouses equality. An independent Scotland would provide it with a population with a permanent left-of-centre majority. A place where all of Labour’s policy aspirations and ideas could come to fruition. A place where there would not be a constant battle to justify social democratic policies in the face of a right-leaning press. A place with sufficient financial, natural and human resources to turn their vision into reality.

Yet, from the outset, they turned their face against this opportunity. That is the paradox.

Why did they make this choice? The massive anger toward the Scottish regional branch of the Labour Party, that has emerged since the referendum result, seems to be based on two explanations. There is a view that the party in Scotland has lost sight of, and lost touch with Scotland – it is dominated by their leaders at Westminster, and by the need to position itself to be electable in England. This is the ‘taken for granted’ explanation. A second perspective is that those who run Labour have gone over to the dark side, and have been seduced by money, power and the hope of a seat in the House of Lords. This is the ‘noses in the trough’ explanation.

No doubt these explanations have some validity. However, impugning the motives of opponents is never entirely satisfactory, as political analysis.

I would like to try to go deeper.

I have been interested what things were like in British society in the 1950s (the world I was born into). What is clear from historical accounts of that era, is just how closely involved the Labour party was in running things – transport, mining, manufacturing, energy, media… Huge parts of the British economy were nationalised, and government ministers had direct responsibility for practical decision-making. Even a decade later, I can recall my first direct memories and interest in politics being stimulated by reading about the frequent need for ministers in the Wilson government to intervene in union-management disputes.

All this changed, and was swept away. The nationalised industries were sold off. Labour politicians ceased to be people with any experience or interest in practical decision-making. By the time of the Blair government, central government politics had been reduced to two things: (a) broad-brush policies that would be implemented through budgets and legislation, and (b) management of the media (spinning). This is the political world in which the leaders of the Scottish Regional Branch of the UK Labour Party have learned to operate. It is a world in which politicians function within a bubble, separate from the population as a whole.

But this approach is not what is needed in Scotland. Making things happen by sitting in a government office pulling the levers of power won’t cut it in a small country with a political system designed to make sure that parties work together for the common good. It won’t cut it, in fact, in any modern democracy with an educated population that has access to the internet. The deep metaphor for politics now is not Fat Controller. Instead, it is Borgen, it is ecology, it is flexible, creative problem-solving, it is politicians that you can bump into in the supermarket because they are part of your community.

I believe that this is why Labour Scotlandshire turned their faces against the golden opportunity of a leadership role in a freshly-minted social democratic political playground. They wouldn’t know what to do with it. They don’t understand how to make things happen any more. They would be found out.

Look at them – Lamont, Brown, Alexander – none of them seem capable of listening to other people, of working with people who they don’t control, of engaging in dialogue, of sorting things out in creative ways.

A call for a national dialogue to build a consensus before a referendum

What we have just been through, the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, was similar to a general election campaign. Each side laid out its position (as with an election manifesto) and argued their case before the electorate.

The ‘campaign’ model works – sort of – in terms of electing representatives to a parliament, within a party system. This is a form of democracy in which a set of people (a party) is elected to do the job of governing for a fixed period of time. After that period of time, the people have their chance to give their verdict.

This model is not ideal in terms of deciding on whether a country should become independent. For any individual voter (or orgamisation with a stake in the decision) there are a large number of inter-connected issues that may be relevant to them. In the 2014 referendum, these issues could only be debated within the context of the specific proposals (in effect a manifesto) laid out in the Scottish Government White Paper. In the end, the choice was to take it or leave it. The quality of the discussion that took place was also hugely constrained by the way that the British media operates – reducing complex issues to soundbites.

My suggestion is that it would be better to have a dialogue that leads to a consensus, which is then formally verified in a referendum. A national dialogue would need to continue until a point at which a set of agreed positions is arrived at, that are supported by a clear majority of the people. The referendum then becomes the legal confirmation of this consensus, which legitimises the government to declare independence and join the EU, UN, etc as a nation.

What would this process look like? It would be necessary to identify a set of questions that would need to be resolved, and initiate consultations and meetings on each of them. One of these questions would undoubtedly be ‘What currency will we use?’ Prior to the 2014 referendum, the Scottish government fiscal commission had clearly done a lot of work on this. But what then became clear that their arguments were not inclusive enough, and that further considerations needed to be taken into account. For example, during the referendum, various banks and businesses came out against the yes campaign position. But there was never any opportunity for them to explain their needs and preferences in detail, and for some kind of compromise or new position to be hammered out.

Another question that would be part of a national dialogue would be ‘How will health care be organised and funded?’ My guess would be that a consensus on this question would not be hard to achieve, but that the process of holding an open discussion on this topic would be interesting and worthwhile.

There are many other questions that would need to be explored within a genuine and inclusive national dialogue. The work of Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum and others, around basic human ‘capabilities’ (the pre-requisites for a satisfying and productive life) offer a starting point for thinking about the areas that would need to be addressed.

Some further thoughts:
1. It would be a mistake to define a national dialogue as merely a precursor to a further independence referendum. If done properly, a national dialogue should connect up with existing policy and citizen forums, and should generate ideas that feed into the on-going, routine political and administrative process.
2. It would be best to wait until sufficient consensus has emerged, before holding a referendum. In our society, the act of voting seems to bring dialogue to a halt, and inhibits people’s capacity to listen to each other.
3. Voters would have a chance to learn about issues over a period of time. The opportunity to be involved in dialogue will help to deepen everyone’s understanding of issues.
4. The dialogue would be largely taken out of the arena of the BBC and mainstream press, which at the present time are corrupt and not fit for purpose. Obviously, a national dialogue would have a strong presence on the internet. However, it would be wonderful if there could be a freeview TV channel that just broadcast discussions between people, and video blogs, relating to the national dialogue. This would be a new kind of reality TV. Raw, immediate and unpredictable – but meaningful.
5. When the time comes to vote, the act of deciding takes on a different significance. If the national dialogue has been effective, then each person should be able to identify maybe three or four key questions that are particularly important to them, and then be able to work out their own balance sheet.
6. Who will make this happen? I suggest that the universities of Scotland should be charged with collective responsibility for organising and facilitating a national dialogue. Universities have good meeting facilities, which are accessible to the population as a whole. They have outstanding skills in relation to on-line broadcasting and hosting, and publishing. Universities also comprise a repository of scientific and cultural knowledge that we need in order to make good decisions. In the 2014 referendum, the universities were largely silenced, because of the fear of being seen to take sides. A national dialogue would allow this major national asset to play a lead role in the renewal of our society.

Friday 19th September 2014. The betrayal

There have always been good reasons for voting yes in the independence referendum, and for voting no. Personally, I wanted it to be a yes, but at the same time I was not at all confident that a majority of people in Scotland would make that choice. There are plenty of people who just want to be British, or who believed that would have had too much to lose, financially, in an independent Scotland. There are lots of angles on all of that, which will no doubt be dissected and discussed at length over the next few weeks.

But what I woke up with this morning, was the concept of betrayal.

I am not using betrayal in a loose sense, or as a casual emotive metaphor. I am talking about a literal, precise definition of the meaning of betrayal. An act of betrayal occurs when a person has the trust of others, knows that this trust has been invested in them, and then lies to these other people for the purpose of furthering their own narrow self-interest.

In the fullness of time, it will become apparent that some contributors to the referendum debate will turn out have been ill-informed, deluded, or quite simply wrong in their analysis and arguments. These politicians and commentators cannot be accused of betrayal, because their statements were made in good faith. Betrayal is different from this. Betrayal is a conscious act of bad faith.

I believe that the Scottish people have been betrayed by the leaders of the Labour Party. I am sure that there were many occasions in the referendum when the leaders of the Labour Party made statements that were ill-informed or exaggerated. That is regrettable, but it is not betrayal. There exists clear evidence of betrayal, in the form of the ‘vow’ that was published on the front page of the Daily Record (the newspaper with the widest Labour readership in Scotland) on 16th September. This document stated that ‘extensive new powers would be delivered to Scotland’, following a no vote, in accordance with a tight timetable.

The ‘vow’ is signed by Ed Milliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. It seems reasonable to assume that other leading members of the Labour Party in Scotland were closely involved in formulating this statement: Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, Douglas Alexander and Johann Lamont.

We can disregard David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Few people in Scotland would invest much trust in anything they said or wrote. But in Scotland there remains a powerful reservoir of trust in the Labour Party. Historically, the Labour Party has stood up for the working people of Scotland for 100 years. Gordon Brown was a leading figure in radical socialist politics in the 1960s, and in the renewal of Labour as a party of power (and hope) in the 1990s. Even among people who do not vote Labour, there is an underlying sense that the party is on the side of social justice, fairness, solidarity and equality – key values within Scottish culture.

So, these people, under the signature of Ed Milliband, solemnly and formally stated that substantial new powers would accrue to Scotland following a no vote.

This was a betrayal.

It was a betrayal because (a) they knew that what they were saying was not true; (b) they understood the trust that people had invested in them, and (c) they acted in their own self-interest (to save or serve their careers).

They knew that the promises in the vow could not be delivered. These are people who have spent a lifetime in Westminster politics. They knew what would need to be done to pass such legislation. They knew that there was not enough parliamentary time to get this through before the 2015 general election. They knew that there was not a parliamentary majority that would support and enact their proposals. They knew that, within the timescale, there was no possible mechanism for ensuring what was being proposed was supported by the Scottish electorate, or that the people of Scotland would have any meaningful input to the process of working out the details of the package.

All of these things, they knew. But the most important of all was that they knew that what they were saying would never be approved by the Westminster Parliament. It was a deliberate, calculated, non-trivial, act of deception.

The ‘vow’ could never have been published without the explicit support of the leaders of the Labour Party. Eventually, we will find out who else in the Labour party, outside the inner circle, was consulted, or objected to what was being done.

I call on these individuals to speak up.

I call on the rest of us not to forget this act of betrayal, and the many other betrayals that lie behind it and are associated with it. When these people appear at local meetings, on TV debates, in newspapers, asking for our support in the next general election and Scottish parliament election, let us remind them of their solemn vow. Let us ask them how they could say such things, in the full knowledge that they were not true. Let us ask them what it is like, as a person, to operate from such a depth of utter cynicism and disrespect for others.

I wondered why I felt so bad this morning. It was more than disappointment. Disappointment is when you take part in a fair contest and don’t win. It was more than powerless and frustration at the power of the mainstream media and the state. It was more than the wish and regret that I had not done more and worked harder to promote my beliefs. It was more than deep sadness – all the great things we could have done in the making of a new country.

As well as all these things, it was anger. Betrayal, trust lost, is never forgotten. Betrayal divides people in ways that take a very long time to heal, and may never heal. Betrayal makes it harder to trust again. The one who betrays is left with an awareness, inside, of being false and empty.

But this is the world that we live in. We are spoiling the world of nature. We casually poison that world with our waste. So much of the referendum was about creating and nurturing – learning how to talk to each other about the society we want to build for ourselves and for future generations. That kind of conversation sustains the many points of connection between us, no matter which political positions we espouse. Acts of betrayal spoil our cultural world, poison our relationships.