Talking Politics
  • An independent Scotland's immigration nightmare

    By Dr Philip Wood

    Alex Salmond’s plans for an independent Scotland involve a number of leaps into the unknown. One of these is the escalation of Scottish migration to a target of 24,000 per year, almost double current levels.

    His policy is a reaction to Scotland’s ageing population, which would give an independent Scotland a dependency ratio much higher than the rest of the UK. This poses serious questions over Scotland’s ability to pay out pensions, a problem exacerbated by the uncertainty expressed in the markets over the prospect of independence, and by Salmond’s own promises to keep the age of retirement at current levels.

    The first minister’s notion that migration can cure the problems of an ageing society has supporters among much of the European elite. However, as Paul Demeny has argued, it is very unclear that the kinds of migration required to offset this kind of demographic change would actually leave any European state “fairer, stronger, richer or (in the long-term)

    Read More »from An independent Scotland's immigration nightmare
  • New polling out today reveals an old truth: that voters don’t like politicians much. But these numbers draw attention to a more pressing problem. Persuading the Scottish to vote ‘no’ next week isn’t much helped by the way Westminster politicians do business.

    Populus talked to 2,040 Brits this time last month for the Institute for Government, and the results aren’t good. It found the public generally don’t believe the parties keep their manifesto promises. Instead they prioritise getting re-elected, scoring political points and making big announcements. Voters would rather they work on fulfilling election promises, working to get taxpayers the best value for money and taking decisions in the country’s long-term interest.

    None of this is new. That doesn’t make it irrelevant to the crisis now engulfing the Better Together campaign.

    The anti-politics vote which propelled Ukip to an unprecedented victory in this year’s European elections could play a decisive role north of the border next

    Read More »from 'Westminster': The toxic word that could help Salmond to victory
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    Panic and intense anxiety don’t have a great effect on decision-making, a recent academic study by American psychologists found. Westminster’s leaders, facing a sudden and unexpected crisis in the Scottish independence referendum campaign, seem to have set out to prove their point.

    The researchers found that the anxious are much more likely to seek and follow advice. David Cameron, who last month admitted he feels “emotional and nervous” about the referendum, yesterday invited Ed Miliband into his office in the Palace of Westminster. The two men - both of whose records will be irretrievably stained if Scotland votes to leave the UK next week - talked over their options after fresh polls confirmed the ‘no’ campaign’s lead has evaporated. It wasn’t clear who suggested that they cancel tomorrow’s PMQs and rush up to Scotland instead. Whichever one it was, the other agreed wholeheartedly.

    For Cameron, Miliband and Nick Clegg too, the instinct to be seen to do something - anything at all -

    Read More »from Our panicked leaders need more than flagpole politics to save the union
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    For many of us, Britain was always the country. The fact it was actually a union of states never mattered. It was true, but irrelevant, like a friend’s middle name. England was a region with pretentions. Britain was the country.

    I know the constitutional definitions, but I don’t care. When I think of my country, I think of Britain. Millions feel as I do. Their voices have been almost entirely wiped out in the last few months. We’ve been made silent and irrelevant. We were written out by the terms of the debate itself.

    But for many people my age, and certainly the vast majority from immigrant families, that was the default setting. In truth, it wasn’t even Britain. I fell in love with the island, this remarkable island, which one could never say anything about without the opposite also being true. It’s reserved, but people down shots and flash their bum on a Saturday night. It’s arrogant, but popularity is based on self-mockery. It’s grotesquely unequal, but everyone always heads to the

    Read More »from Our Britain was never about Westminster
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    The Labour response to the Greens makes them sound like Tories. The Greens are soft on drugs, they say. They’ll bring in higher taxes and pay out more in benefits.

    It’s a telling response, because it vindicates the central argument Caroline Lucas will make at the party convention in Birmingham tomorrow: that the Greens are the only left-wing option available to British voters.

    She’ll say:

    "Labour has not only consistently failed to challenge the illiterate economics of George Osborne’s slash and burn approach to public spending, but Ed Balls has signed up to the same spending limits as the government itself. Secret courts as part of the justice and security bill? Labour refused to oppose [them]. On the appallingly illiberal immigration bill, they abstained. They support workfare sanctions. Even on the issue of bringing the railways back into public ownership – a hugely popular policy – Labour has flunked it."

    The Greens are doing well. They won 6.6% of the vote in May’s local and

    Read More »from Are the Greens the only left-wing party left in Britain?
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    For the first time since the coalition came to power, there has been a rise in positive drug tests in prison. This week’s release of the Prison Performance Digest 2013/14 shows positive results jumped from seven per cent to 7.4%.

    HMP Brixton was the worst, with 19.6% of inmates testing positive, followed by Birmingham with 18.3% and Liverpool with 17.4%.

    The idea that one in fifteen prisoners is on drugs doesn’t seem too bad. And it comes as part of long-term decline in drug use, from 18.3% in 1998. But the mandatory drug tests used to provide the figures don’t tell the whole story. In fact, they are a part of the story themselves. These tests create a perverse incentive in the prison system, pushing users towards untraceable legal highs which are actually more dangerous than many of the illegal drugs they would otherwise use.

    The most popular drugs in jails are heroin and cannabis, which are both smoked. There is too much paraphernalia involved in injections for that to be a viable

    Read More »from Black Mamba: The truth about drugs in prison
  • The trouble with Wormwood Scrubs

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    Wormwood scrubs is in chaos. It is violent and understaffed, with prisoners spending all day in their cells and the number of suicides shooting up. But its failings were entirely foreseeable and preventable. They are the direct personal responsibility of Chris Grayling and his ministers.

    The reasons for the chaos at the Scrubs are two-fold: spending cuts and Grayling’s draconian new prison regime. These have created a perfect storm in which experienced staff were lost, existing staff were overstretched, and prisoners were put in brutalising conditions.

    Prison’s inspector Nick Hardwick, whose report was published this morning, said:

    "Major structural changes in late 2013 had led to a significant reduction of resources. We were told that one consequence of this was that a large tranche of experienced staff had left very quickly and that this had been destabilising, not least because the prison had found it difficult to recruit replacements."

    Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National

    Read More »from The trouble with Wormwood Scrubs
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    This was a demolition job. Today’s Airports Commission report on Boris Johnson’s estuary airport proposals does not so much dismiss his plans as put 3,000 tonnes of explosives under them.

    Commission chair Howard Davies describes the economic risks of Johnson’s proposals as “huge,” and the delivery risks as “very great”.  The environmental hurdles to building an airport in the Thames estuary are described as potentially “impossible” to overcome and the costs as astronomical.

    At a price tag of up to £120 billion, it would be the equivalent of building another eight Crossrails. An unimaginable price for any government.

    As Davies notes: “We cannot see that additional infrastructure investment in the South East, on the scale implied, with uncertain economic benefits, would be likely to appeal to the chancellor of the exchequer in a government of any political colour.”

    This is to put it mildly. There is no government, save one run by Johnson himself, that would even consider this project

    Read More »from A demolition job: Boris's credibility crashes in the Thames estuary
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    The security propaganda machine is spluttering into action. At the end of last week, the terror threat level was raised from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’, the fourth in a five-tier alert system. Was there any evidence an attack was imminent? No, the home secretary admitted.

    Then David Cameron announced a press conference on Friday afternoon. “What we’re facing in Iraq now with Isil [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before,” the prime minister said.

    This type of hyperbole is typical of the security response to potential terror threats. There is no sense that citizens should be given realistic and accurate appraisals of the actual threat level. Instead, they must be scared into relinquishing rights with Biblical rhetoric of existential threats to their country and home. Recently senior Pentagon officials describe Isil as an “apocalyptic” group which posed an “imminent threat” to the US. Defence secretary Chuck Hagel

    Read More »from Cameron is weak abroad and draconian at home
  • Truth is, Douglas Carswell didn't seem that interested in Europe. When he announced his defection to Ukip yesterday, the Clacton MP seemed far more concerned with the structure of internal party democracy.  He expressed it rather well:

    "All three of the older parties seem the same. They've swathes of safe seats. They're run by those who became MPs by working in the offices of MPs. They use pollsters to tell them what to tell us. Politics to them is about politicians like them. It's a game of spin and positioning. First under Tony Blair, then Gordon Brown, now David Cameron, it's all about the priorities of whichever tiny clique happens to be sitting on the sofa in Downing Street. Different clique, same sofa. Few are animated by principle or passion. Those that are soon get shuffled out of the way. Many are just in it for themselves. They seek every great office, yet believe in so little."

    Carswell singled out the marvellous Tory MP Sarah Wollaston as a case study. Wollaston was chosen

    Read More »from Ukip is full of racists and lunatics – but Carswell did us all a favour by defecting

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