Mike Vickers' Blog

April 8, 2015

Looking for a Labour Party Strategy

Filed under: Left Politics, Politics — derryvickers @ 8:57 pm

I find it very depressing that I can’t find a clear Labour Strategy – Miliband keeps pulling rabbits out of his hat – today its non-doms , last week it was regular contracts after 3 months – Why not regular contracts on employment and specific opted-outs if the case can be justified or the employee wanted it so; before that it was the Mansion Tax. But nothing coherent; I’m not even clear on Labour’s position on Immigration.

Where is the New Jerusalem – perhaps one might find it in Owen Jones’ article in today’s Guardian.

‘Partly it comes down to fairness for the professor [Anthony Atkinson]: the government’s universal credit scheme aims to cut the marginal tax rate on the poor to 65%. If that’s good enough for those scraping by, why not for those richer than ever before?’

 ‘In other European countries, it is taken as read that trade unions have a role in drafting social security legislation – why not here too? Another radical but attractive proposal is to grant all citizens an inheritance payment on reaching adulthood, funded by a 2% tax on personal wealth. With the return to precarious employment, the state could guarantee work, with a minimum wage that actually meets people’s living costs. A maximum pay ratio in businesses would stop shamelessly self-interested CEOs paying limitless salaries and bonuses while their cleaners languish on poverty wages’

‘We need a whole new way of thinking. The nation’s wealth is not the product of the genius of a few canny entrepreneurs. It is a collective endeavour, the product of the labour of millions and the support of the state. The hospital cleaner, the road-builder, the teacher training up both workers and the entrepreneurs of the future: all help generate wealth. The state builds and maintains the infrastructure, funds the research, educates the nation, protects property and tops up low wages. So much of our collectively produced wealth should not be locked away in a few bank accounts. The triumphalists will tell us that there is no other way. They are wrong, and it’s about time we called their bluff.’

April 5, 2015

In the Absence of War =- A Play for Today

Filed under: History in the making, Left Politics, Politics, Scotland, War — derryvickers @ 8:01 am

David Hare’s almost documentary play on Labour’s failure to take over power from John Major in 1992 – ‘In the Absence of War’ – is showing across the Country. Last week it was at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.

The play is about a charismatic politician (Kinnock) who is in front in the Polls but fails at the last hurdle. Follows the party policy instead of his gut feel (cf Borgen).

I was enthralled but  I can’t say I was ‘entertained’ – too much nearer the present truth.

As Joyce McMillan sets out in her article in yesterday’s Scotsman


Some critics say there is comedy in the play.

To me the play is Shakespearean tragedy or possibly Sophocles.

‘Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well’

A fuller piece by David Hare himself


Hare states:

‘It had long been evident that in any democratic society, whatever the current flux of ideology, there will always be two major parties, one protecting Money and the other representing Justice’.  We shall see whether still true in May!


To our local politics here in Scotland in the last paragraph of McMillan’s article re the SNP, she posits ‘and asking which of those huge, political-soul-destroying pressures it can resist, once it is drawn into the corrupt and charismatic world of serious Westminster politics’.


February 26, 2015

Nicola Sturgeon – An Educational System for Everyone- the Foundation of a Fairer Scotland

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Education, Left Politics, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 12:14 pm


Nicola Sturgeon at the David Hume Institute

The fifth and final lecture by Scottish Political Leaders

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, gave a very polished lecture and answered the questions with verve and composure.

But what did she say; well not that much.  Sturgeon focused, as her title suggested, on education in Scotland limiting her scope and the questions arising:

  1. The Education system in Scotland at present is not fair.  Opportunities for children favour the better off.  This is shown in children’s vocabularies – those from the poor schools are 13 months behind those from the well off.  The lower 20% do ½ as well as the well off.
  2. Education is not just for its own sake;  the economy is dependent on a qualified workforce.
  3. Scotland as part of the UK is suffering from the Coalition’s austerity programme –all three main parties in Westminster are equally culpable.  Against this, Scotland is doing its best to mitigate the effect of the austerity.
  4. Scotland has more university places per head of population save only for Finland
  5. Scotland has introduced its Curriculum for Excellence and this is going well.  Nevertheless Scotland is happy to learn from elsewhere – witness Sturgeon’s recent visit to Blue Gate Fields junior in Tower Hamlets.
  6. Head Teachers will be required to undergo retraining and achieve new qualifications; focus on ‘Doing rather than Being’
  7. Scotland is targeting from the early years and is introducing Child Care to get the Mums back to work
  8. Education is not just 5 to 18 but is life-long and adults also need to learn
  9. Scotland also recognises the need to bolster Apprenticeships and these have risen by 1/3 over the last 5 years.  The Government has taken on the Wood Report in full
  10. In questioning she emphasised that Councils are responsible for education in their regions and recognised that 2 Councils had reduced school hours and teachers employed.  The Government was in negotiation and in any case a Council’s educational budget is ring fenced.  Sturgeon stated that there is a balance of responsibility between Central Government and the Councils – and I got the impression that the point of balance could change!
  11. The Governments policy is free school meals for all – there should be no stigma to the less well off
  12. Sturgeon recognised the problem of private schools but the playing field has to become level.   I did not catch her solution
  13. Teaching is not just the prerogative of the school teachers but the parents need to play their part.  Communities need to help here and Sturgeon mentioned the Community Empowerment Bill going through Parliament at this time (though such help must tend to upset the level of the playing field)

Sturgeon finished by emphasising that she is passionate about education and  that the inequality in Education has to be sorted; in her view everyone needs to be brought up to the same level for Scotland to prosper economically and to flourish.

February 19, 2015

Scotland’s Future Sharing in Growth and Prosperity – Jim Murphy at the DHI

Filed under: DHI SPIF, Left Politics, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 8:36 am

Jim Murphy at the David Hume Institute

The fourth lecture by Scottish Political Leaders

Jim Murphy provided a somewhat erratic lecture; he would have been better if he had not had to refer to his notes so much; he was more relaxed in responding to the questions.

His central theme was ‘Inequality’ in Scotland and how Labour would change / mitigate it.

  1. Inequality is corrosive
  2. Inequality spans the whole life from school onwards.  In the poorest schools only 1 in 5 pupils gets more than 5 O grades.  Only 200 pupils in total  from the poorest families in Scotland get to University
  3. The poor live 9 years less than the richest
  4. The Pay of Glasgow workers is down £1,800 in real terms since the crash.  Families in work have to rely on food banks to survive
  5. We can’t afford so many jobless workers; their tax is needed to cover the growth in pensioners and to fund better schools for the poorest.  But it’s not just the money it’s to give people dignity.
  6. 74,000 workers in Scotland are on zero hours contracts
  7. Labour in power would tackle the 20 schools in the poorest areas – not only to bring on the pupils but also their mums so that they can help their children with their homework
  8. Politicians need to be honest and tough to come up with the money.  There’s the Mansion Tax for houses valued at 2million or more; 50p in the £ for the high earners; tax on bonus.  But the middle class though will not be affected – Murphy mention the middle class a number of times (whether he felt in talking to the DHI he was largely talking to ‘the middle class’)
  9. The cash from Taxation will flow from the South to the North and may be from the West of the Cities to the East but Murphy sees no real fight
  10. Scotland has to recognise that North Sea Oil is a dying commodity but we need to cash in on expertise such as Oil Platform decommissioning
  11. More generally science and technology needs boosting from primary school onwards.  It is essential that Scotland remains well educated – world competition is inexorably growing
  12. One 1% of university graduates set up their own business after graduation
  13. Social care needs to move from the hospitals to the home
  14. Democracy needs to be devolved to the Cities
  15. The Financial sector remains a key industry for Scotland – it was only the tiny section of the top executives that created the bank collapse.  In questioning Murphy said the Labour government had had no option but to bail out the banks.

Murphy summed up his ethics as Social Justice and growth in the economy, not only for us but for our children.

Inequality is the ‘flavour of the month’  of all political parties and not just in the UK but throughout the Western World; as Murphy says help for the poorest has to be funded from somewhere but whether Labour’s somewhat Robin Hood approach would deliver the funding remains unclear.

December 4, 2014

Education policy and Scottish autonomy: the end of a common British tradition?

Filed under: Education, Left Politics, Lesley Riddoch, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 11:26 am

I attended this Royal Society of Edinburgh event on Monday (1 Dec 14) to hear Professor Lindsay Paterson give an excellent lecture followed by very good questions and apposite answers.

Paterson prefaced his lecture by stating that he wanted to cover three topics: free tertiary education, secondary schooling and the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence.

Starting with free tertiary education whilst the tuition fees are free in Scotland and continue to saw in England, as bursaries are available in each country he considered the difference is more than it is cracked up to be.

To Secondary education he pointed out that the difference between Scotland and England is one of degree – Scotland introduced what were grammar schools first; these took in many who were unable to pay their fees; these have become half of the private schools in Scotland. The later ones such as Fetters are the equivalent of the English public schools. But most children continue to be educated by council funded schools.

To the Curriculum of Excellence again Scotland has stuck to its old tradition of providing a broad education through schooling whilst England has moved to specialisation much earlier in the school life time. Scottish education follows more closely the broad base while English education is now more capitalist oriented.

Paterson relates education to the welfare state which dates back to 1948. Education has changed since then but it remains largely democratic and in this respect Paterson considers ‘democracy’ works pretty well.

In summary Paterson felt that if education between Scotland and England was ideologically different then Scotland would have been right to become independent; in contrast he considers that education between the two states is one of degree. Scotland and England are both party to European Liberalism.

In support of this view Paterson reviewed the differences the recent surveys have shown between Scotland and England and concludes that while Scotland is to the left of England it is hardly statistically significant.

However Paterson recognises that such academic views as his, had little to do with the outcome of the Referendum and he was happy to quote Hume to a RSE audience ‘reason is the slave of passion’.

More specifically to the Referendum Paterson is scathing about the quality of debate; the No campaign was bereft of any substance while the Yes campaign was intellectually dishonest. The only politicians he had any time for were Nicola Sturgeon and Gordon Brown – in his view if you were to transport them back in time to 1948 they would both have been on the same side. If there is to be another Referendum then he quotes Pat Kane as saying there must be some hard thinking.

To some of questions he felt that

  • nationalism was inculcated pre-school
  • knowledge is education
  • gender equality is good in education and the public office but less so in private industry. It will take 50 years to really become a reality and then only if it is globally acceptable
  • Scotland never gave up its educational stance following 1707 and has always recognised there is a path from the parish school to the university
  • Oh and there was a quote from Lesley Riddoch but I didn’t take it down.
  • We tell ourselves that we are fundamentally different from England even if we aren’t.

But please note that Paterson spoke at a machine run pace and I may well have missed some points or misheard others. There is to be an audio recording on the web in due course so I will try and update the above when it becomes available.

November 3, 2014

Post Scottish Referendum blues

Filed under: Left Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 3:43 pm

As I understand it the No vote carried the day in the recent Referendum.

Labour although being on the winning side appears to have lost the vote.

The SNP looks to have won – at lease their membership has trebled – so by the way has the Greens.

And the situation now is that the Smith Commission is tasked with defining what Home Rule means for Scotland. The members round the table need to come forward with a compromise – and this will be difficult enough – but what is surprising is that the two major parties in Scotland, Labour and SNP, rather than fighting for what both agree is for a centre left Scotland where social welfare and democracy is what most of us would like, are dissipate all their efforts attacking each other without mercy.  Indeed it could result in the Tories making a much more coherent  case to Lord Smith.

All this is more eloquently laid out in today’s Scotsman Leader.

Yes I had no problem with misssymartin (BlogSpot.com) providing a good format for mixing and matching the common person’s ‘have your say’ to the Smith Commission. However I commend to all readers the response to the Commission by the Scottish TUC (my thanks to Andy Wightman for pointing it out) http://www.stuc.org.uk/files/Smith%20Commission%202014/STUC%20submission%20to%20Smith%20Commission.pdf

But if I go back to my beginning – to me what got to the Yes voters was the thought that for once ‘we might be able to be part of the party in terms of democracy – not just having decisions thrust on us either by Westminster or dare I say Holyrood. Let’s hope that one side effect of the Referendum is that Smith enters a footnote into his recommendation that the governments in Westminster and Holyrood recognise that there are we down here at the grass roots and that we would like to have our say not just every five years but on an on-going basis as to what we want for ourselves.  May be the COSLA report might just catch one of their eyes in passing as they walk along the Corridors of Power.

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