Re-Moaners and Trump’eters

Another few weeks drift past and yet the same issues which seem to have been in the news all year, remain.

The US never-ending election still has over 3 weeks to run and just when you think the behaviour and approach of both camps can’t get any worse they manage to achieve it. If it’s not sexual abuse allegations it’s more leaked emails. I pity the American voter. I thought our choice this side of the Atlantic was pretty bad but the candidates there look appalling.

I watched the clip of Gary Johnson who is apparently also standing as a Libertarian Party candidate – I mean really? Over five years into a civil war in Syria and this man who wants to be President of the most powerful nation on earth does not know what Aleppo is?

At least Trump and Clinton have managed to answer some questions on the subject. It’s not unusual for foreign affairs (not the sexual kind) to play little part in a US election, but one might have expected that confrontations with Russia over Syria, Ukraine and Crimea, to have some impact. Likewise relations with China over the Spratley Islands rather than ridiculous notions of simplistic arguments over manufacturing jobs in the US should have some policy. It remains completely unreported what either candidate’s plans for North Korea are. Better not ask Trump but his rhetoric can’t be worse than the accusations from US Security services that NK was behind the Sony attack.

What still amazes many commentators is that Trump is still popular with large swathes of the US electorate despite all the gaffes. It demonstrates how unpopular Clinton is but more importantly how upset many American voters are with the established political class which Clinton embodies.  Here we have some of the parallels with the UK EU debate despite the referendum.

Although there is an element of the moaning bad loser side in some of the pronouncements from what was the remain side, many did set out the risks to the economy an no-vote would bring. Several senior economists have stated that the currency changes that we have seen since end of June were a long overdue correction to Sterling’s position just exasperated by the vote for exit and on-going uncertainty of what that means. In the percentages shown everything is referred to the currency position post 23rd June, failing as usual to mention that Sterling’s value had risen significantly in the lead up to the vote.

Euro over 5 years from here shows a different story than the headlines might have you believe on 19th Oct 2011 the exchange rate was 1.14 and it closed on 14th Oct 2016 at 1.11. In particular, the rise of the pound in 2015 and the lead up to the vote is dramatic. US Dollar to Sterling is a significant fall over the same period 1.57 to 1.21 and the comments on reserve currencies should be concerning, but at the same time interest rates have been signaled upwards in the US and stay the same or lower in the UK which does not help Sterling investors. By the way Euro to US Dollar has gone down from 1.37 to 1.11 in the same time period.

I have picked an arbitrary period but some of us can remember much better and worse Pound to Dollar rates. It reached a low of 1.05 in February 1985 after the ERM fiasco and was as high as 2.11 in November 2007 as sub-prime crashed the dollar

What do we learn from that brief history- currencies fluctuate – sometimes a lot – thousands of traders around the world make money doing that.

Final discussion for today is on Credit Rating Agencies and their comments – yes the same folks that branded those sub-prime investment funds as AAA, are doing all their warnings on where the pound might go next. All the discussion is based on what the UK might do as if what might happen in the Euro (How is Greece by the way and Italy, Portugal, Spain?) will have no impact. Remember Euro zone and other EU exports to the UK, exceed UK Exports to the EU – we both have a lot to lose if we are stupid and put in unnecessary tariffs.  World trade will be damaged if Trump introduced tariffs to protect American jobs and cancels NAFTA. Likewise what will be the impact on the dollar if Trump wins and implements that piece of rhetoric.

Guess what the pound might go up or down or sideways.  Can we moan about currency traders instead?

Music and Musing – OK, The EU Referendum As Well

My first creative writing outside school work was actually music lyrics. The words were my first artistic adventures and continued for many years. The few poems on this site are really lyrics for various songs that I have written over the years. Music still inspires me and has the power to move me like no other art form. I like to think I have a wide taste in genres from classical (including some opera) through to modern pop, although rap is a real effort whilst appreciating the skill of the lyricist.

I appreciate art, as in painting and sculpture, in the same way but I do not find it moves me in the same way as music, likewise theatre. I did write a short story, Landscape, with art as the background attempting to convey my love of some paintings. Musical theatre does have that impact, whereas opera tends to get lost for me except the odd aria. Probably the language barrier but also the variations in the notes – a complaint I have with much Jazz.

The language barrier (not necessarily the artistic barrier – ignore the Eurovision song contest) of course applies to our European colleagues, the focus of much of the debate in the referendum. There is not just a language barrier but also a cultural and legal one. Many European countries have a legal system based on Roman/Napoleonic basis (France and other codified legal systems) or are federated states (UK has devolved power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not England) as opposed to common law based on precedent with juries. The EU is codified leading I believe to many of the clashes we have seen with the ECJ and the slow but creeping codification of the UK’s laws driven from the EU – a background driver for the sovereignty debate i.e. where UK precedent can be overruled by a codified European Court causing a codified change to UK law.

I remain undecided. I have written before about my concern with population growth. This issue is mixed up with immigration, asylum and the crisis facing the world (not just the EU) The increase in the world’s population is staggering

populationgrowthhistory2

As is the UK’s from Migration watch but using ONS numbers

bp9_31_chart

The future projections which are based on net migration levels plus the impact of the new population having children must be addressed. Regardless of what happens in the referendum, and associated immigration policy, the increases of the last ten years will have a major impact on schools, housing, healthcare, etc. for generations. More cars, more use of public transport, and it takes years to get infrastructure in place to cope from London airport runways to sewer mains.

I grew up at a time when the net birth rate was thought to be falling below 2, i.e. population decline. This has now reversed and we have added a massive increase in life expectancy which impacts the same things plus pensions but with a disproportionate impact on health and social care.

As with many undecided I am annoyed with the quality and tone of the debate making it very hard to decipher fact from fiction or forecasts or the real risks in either choice.

The In campaigners fail to talk about the impact of ever closer union (yes UK may have an opt out) when EU policy is pursued. Especially the efforts of Eurozone countries to support the currency. We will be outside (we already are) that decision process. i.e. if EU funds are used to support an in-crisis Eurozone country ahead of a non Eurozone country purely to help stabilise the Eurozone and prevent another crisis. I have just returned from Greece – that crisis has not gone away. The impact on the UK and the financial systems is there regardless of membership status. Outside the Eurozone the UK has zero ability to influence policy in or out. The only way we could would be to stay in and join the Euro! That is something that has been ruled out by most euro campaigners, which seems illogical if we really want to be at the table and have a say on the future of the EU.

The Out campaigners fail to address the risk and the economic forecasts, ignoring many supposedly qualified commentators. Albeit, being lectured by American bankers (Merrill Lynch) and other big businesses does not go down well. Of course economic forecasters are well known for their accuracy; from the IMF to the Treasury we can clearly believe everything they say. Growth rates, employment rates, financial products. That is sarcasm by the way, in case anyone thought that I think economic forecasting has a better success rate than weather forecasting beyond the next 24 hours.

The pleas from foreign leaders feel forced and in some cases (USA) hypocritical. Of course the USA wants the UK in the EU. It means there is some check from the UK on various EU proposals on trade, data and competition so that USA interests are protected.

For EU leaders, if you are so desperate for the UK to remain, Mrs Merkel, why did you not offer a better reform package to the UK when Cameron was running around Europe before the referendum was announced? Actually, why haven’t you reformed the EU thus making the changes needed before a referendum was called?

I cannot abstain. I believe in voting, there should be more of it. I just do not know what is the best decision, for me, my family, the generations to come and my country. I do believe that the EU would be a worse institution without the UK in it but would the UK be worse? I do not just mean economically, but worse in a generic sense. Would the UK be a worse place to live or better?  If someone can give me a clear answer to that and address the population growth issue (not just the immigration issue) I would be grateful.

Whatever the outcome of the vote, I can still write words and occasionally music. The paintings will remain in the galleries. Life will go on. The world will not stop and the 6.5 billion people who live outside the EU (with or without the UK) will continue to have their lives. The population will continue to increase, and the poor and scared will desperately seek a better life wherever that may be.

Mischief for Scotland Join My Petition

It is a year after the Scottish Referendum with a result with a clear majority in favour of staying in the UK. This was supposed to be a once in a generation decision, and the SNP leadership agreed that it was. Still if you don’t like the result you can always change your mind. Perfect EU principle as Ireland discovered.

It is only four months after the UK’s general election result. Despite this, we still have the SNP calling for another referendum or how the UK government has no democratic mandate to rule in Scotland. This is because 56 of the 58 regional MPs are from SNP. This opinion carefully ignores the views of the other 594 MPs representing other areas of the UK and in particular claiming that the 331 Conservative Party MPs have no democratic mandate to rule in the UK. Full result here. I make that a democratic majority just in the Conservative party without taking into consideration the views of other parties on the subject of the Union. I am unclear what the new Labour leadership believe.

Although I believe that the United Kingdom is better together, that does not mean I am not heartily sick of hearing the SNP moaning about how badly treated Scotland is. Still it keeps the public’s eyes away from their actual record as the governing party of Scotland, with the current devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament. How about a few questions about that BBC and the rest of the media.

So in the spirit of helping the SNP out, I want to start a petition, not for them to have a referendum, but to be expelled from the Union. This should be a much faster process and for once, the rest of the United Kingdom might get a say in the matter. You can sign up via the UK Governments petition web site.

Click this link to sign the petition:
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/108874/sponsors/MJjAp4IjbnqBhJ1kg8

My petition:

Expel Scotland from the United Kingdom

There are only 56 MPs from the SNP, but they believe the rest of the 650 should carry out their wishes, whatever the consequences for the rest of the UK or what the UK voted for in May this year.

The SNP continues to press for an new referendum on membership of the UK. The Scottish people voted less than 12 months ago to stay; however, the remainder of the UK has had no say. If Scotland continues to ignore the democratic wishes of the rest of the UK it should be expelled.

London’s Sights

Had a great day on Wednesday doing a river dinner cruise on the Thames. This was all to celebrate my daughter’s 21st birthday – where did those year’s go?

This trip allowed a wonderful perspective on the cityscape. I’ve included some photos below, but it also allows me a link back to books. The covers on my Demise series of spy thrillers: An Agent’s Demise, An Agent’s Rise and, in production, An An Agent’s Prize, use one of the buildings. We had an excellent view of the HQ of the Secret Intelligence Service from the river.

Some wonderful sights to be seen on a lovely evening after the weather cleared

P1020152P1020167P1020186P1020210P1020229P1020245

Post Election

I’ve put off commentating on the UK General Election for a few weeks. Firstly, because I was on holiday when the results were being counted and secondly, because I wanted time to collect my thoughts. I have written before, about the Scottish Referendum, and my thoughts on how this impacted democracy and now we have another set of results to ponder.

Let’s skip over the compete inability of the professional commentators and pollsters failure to predict results. There is a collective ignorance across much of mainstream media about how voters interact with pollsters and focus groups. You get this in all sorts of surveys and its hidden in the small print (not in this blog) when they say 8 out of 10 WHO RESPONDED, liked so and so. Political pollsters use their already collected results to distribute the don’t know and go away responses across the existing results i.e. if 35% is the rating for party x then they assume that 35% of the don’t knows or won’t tells will vote that way. In other words the extrapolate the results based on current and past numbers and therefore confirm their own prediction. Me I bet money on the result, for non-Conservative supporters, sorry yes I did bet on a Conservative win. Even I did not expect an overall majority via the first past the post system. Of course what the pollsters wanted was 650 surveys featuring a high number of respondents. They had to wait for the actual election to get an accurate forecast. Even the exit polls were incorrect. Now it is believed that the split in the don’t knows and won’t tells was actually heavily in favour (in England anyway) of the Conservatives. Who knows? The don’t knows and won’t tells will get another chance in five years for the general election. By which time we will have had another referendum, euro-elections, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections and numerous local elections. All of which will give the pollsters something to discuss.

Meanwhile I can turn my attention to the major democratic deficiencies highlighted by the election. Lets start with facts. I’ll use the BBC’s results page for ease of look up, I’m not dismissing NI and Wales but concentrating on England and Scotland and I’ll gloss over the fact that only 66% bothered to vote at all

  • Con 331 seats from 36.9% of the vote
  • Lab 232 from 30.4%
  • SNP 56 from 4.7%
  • LibDem 8 from 7.9%
  • Green 1 from 3.8%
  • UKIP 1 from 12.6%

So democracy in action meant that with 37% of the people who voted for UKIP, the SNP ended up with 56 times the number of MPs. The Labour comparison is also interesting 6.5 times the number of votes for only 4.1 times the number of seats. The Conservatives won an outright majority with 36.9% of 66.1% or 24% of the possible voting public. Before the other parties get on their high horses only 20% voted for Labour and 3% for the SNP. We can then argue about combinations voting against i.e. which is a nice way of saying no outright majority voted for anybody. Yes I know SNP had 50% of the vote but that is actually 50% of the 71.1% that voted i.e. 35.5% of the eligible voters.

Aren’t numbers great! percentages are even better allowing all sorts of conclusions to be drawn or statistics manipulated depending on what headline the writer wants to create.

What is clear is that two parties are massively underrepresented in the UK Parliament UKIP and the Greens on shares of the vote they should have 81.9 and 24.7 MPs respectively. The Lib Dems should have 51 and the SNP 30.55. If we limited SNP to Scotland they should only have 50% of 59 i.e. 24.5.

Various proportional representation systems would have produced various different results. If single transferable votes were used then who knows where it would end up. Lists (like the Euro elections) would get a different outcome again.

What does this mean? If you don’t vote you can’t complain. If you do vote you can complain all you want but we had a referendum on changing the system from first past the post and barely anybody (OK 41%) bothered to vote and 67.9% voted to keep the current system. Can’t complain about that either.

Of course in this dirge I haven’t tried to answer why the vote went the way it did. To quote the Bill Clinton 1992 US Presidential campaign “The economy stupid”

Not An Election Post

Aside

I was making a major effort not to write about the election. With this I have just failed – sorry.

First rant on the way is about coverage. This is a vote for MPs standing in 650 constituencies across the UK. The MP once elected is supposed to represent all the constituents not just the minority that actually voted for the individual, whatever the rosette.

Second rant concerns who we can vote for. I cannot vote for David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg or any of the other party leaders. They are not standing in the constituency in which I live. They are not standing against each other either. The constant portrayal by the media of the battle between them is factually and practically wrong. Another reason why the TV debates were farcical. Yes, as leaders of their parties they may be involved, if re-elected by their constituencies, with one exception for one leader. Nicola Sturgeon is not actually standing for Westminster but she seems to be the only focus of much of the coverage. She is so convinced that she knows what is right for the UK she has decided to stay as an MSP. This fact has not even received any coverage – democratic deficit anyone? Her former boss Alex Salmond is standing (after allegedly retiring) this reminds me of Putin becoming Prime Minister so that he could comply with re-election rules in Russia before returning as President. Is there something the SNP is not telling us.

It was supposed to be a six week campaign leading up to the vote on the 7th May but thanks to the new fixed terms it seems we have gone straight from the Scottish referendum into the General election. As I have previously covered, when discussing the referendum, the media seem to be totally focused on the role of the SNP and the likely results in Scotland deciding what the rest of the United Kingdom should do. Whereas in the referendum we had over 6% of the electorate deciding whether to breakup the UK we now have the potential for the similar 5% deciding who governs. The lower percentage is due to the 16 and 17 year-olds who could vote in the referendum but cannot vote in the General Election.

At the end of the 2010 election we had the Liberal Democrats forming a formal coalition with the Conservatives who were by far the largest party and had the largest share of the UK vote. The Conservatives missed out on forming a non coalition government by 23 MPs. The SNP in its public statements has already ruled out any support for a Conservative led government (although in the Scottish Parliament the SNP has in the past relied on Conservative support). The public statements have been made by Nicola Sturgeon the SNP leader who is not even standing in the election! She next stands for election in 2016 in the Scottish Parliamentary elections. Therefore she is saying that regardless of the result in the rest of the UK she will not support potentially the largest democratic vote.

Of course combined with Labour the share of the vote may well exceed that of the Conservatives, but previous results have shown this not to be the case. Boundary changes were supposed to correct the anomaly. Scotland’s 5% of voters 9% of population equates in Westminster MPs to 9% of MPs (59 out of 650). Polls seem to indicate that the SNP may win over forty of these, predominantly from Labour. As with public sector spending per head Scotland seems to be batting above its position. UKIP proposes to change this position by reforming the Barnet formula for devolved spending. Of course UKIP may have some MPs itself to support or otherwise any planned coalition.

Meanwhile the polls tell us it is too close to call but that some informal or formal arrangement nay have to exist. Labour has said no to any formal coalition with SNP. Liberal Democrats have said they will work with anyone depending on the results. The Conservatives only talk about overall majorities. If the Conservatives do have an overall majority will the SNP respect the democratic decision of the majority of the voting population?

Enough politics I have books to write!

Ramblings

There has been a lot going on since my last commentary blog. The Paris attacks are a notable case in point. These have once again prompted the powers that be to insist that they need more powers to monitor communications as a way of preventing further attacks.

Once again no specificity is provided on how exactly the systems proposed would have prevented an attack, given that the purveyors of the UK’s 7/7/ and Lee Rigby attacks and the Paris attackers were already known to the security services and could therefore have had a warranted watch put on them.

In the House of Lords in the UK a small group of peers attempted to re-introduce the proposed “Snooper’s Charter” via a back door amendment into another bill. It failed but all the main political parties seem to be keen to re-introduce such legislation in the next Parliament. It may only be a temporary reprieve. I am torn between the need for the security and police services to have the tools they need against the wider civil liberties objections. It would really help if actual facts were provided rather than meaningless ascertains.

What was truly astonishing was the demonstrable lack of expertise exhibited by any of the speakers. By their questions they could not describe how the technology works, why current systems cannot do what they want, or how they can be circumvented? This against a back-drop of Post-Snowden cynicism. Itself created by the continuing release of so much information on how the 5 Eyes have already misused their powers. Then there is the misuse of existent legislation, like the use of RIPA to spy on everyone from journalists to dog fouling pedestrians. The bland statements of we acted within the law whilst pressing for changes to those same laws. Of course with CCTV on every corner even private face to face meetings can be monitored if only the pictures were not so rubbish – traffic enforcement does not seem to have the problem.

Frankly if the security services or police want to intercept get a warrant. This gives them all the power they need. Of course it may help their argument if tapped phone calls etc were admissible in UK courts; yet these same organizations do not want that. So what is the information for?

Even where full surveillance is in place in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack the security services and police managed to kill the wrong target (Mendes) or used their authority to investigate the family of innocent victims (Lawrence) Both of course actions under the stewardship of the then Met Police Commissioner Blair. The same Blair who tried to get the amendment through parliament.

Another Blair (ex PM this time) of course has stated how keen he is for the Chilcott inquiry to finally report on the actions leading up to the second Iraq war. The report has again been delayed until after the next election. Much like the Bloody Sunday Inquiry – good job if you can get it – unlimited budget, no delivery timescale and a no requirement to come up with interim or other conclusions. Even parliamentary scrutiny can be ignored or not answered. Independent judiciary or cover up for their mates? It is difficult to decide. Of course I would love to see the outcome in light of the background story to my own books (needed to get a plug in somewhere) An Agent’s Demise and An Agent’s Rise. One reviewer thought my story was far fetched – clearly they have not read about the machinations of the politicians and spy agencies to justify their actions.

Still another election is looming and the electorate are far more concerned with who will win Big Brother rather than who is behaving as Big Brother!

Ramblings on a Referendum

IMG_0169 I’ve just returned from a week in Las Palmas in The Canary Islands of Spain, don’t worry this is not trip advisor. Away from the UK my wife and I missed the Scottish referendum election and much of the ongoing horrors in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine alongside the Ebola crisis. Not that these events have gone away, even the referendum will have ramifications for months in the UK as the politicians will decide which of the bribes they proposed to the Scottish electorate will be fulfilled – oh and England, Wales and Northern Ireland may get some constitutional change too. How generous, although the argument now seems to be either: from Labour on what the impact will be on reducing the ability of Scottish Labour MPs to vote on English matters; the Conservatives need something to continue their fight with  UKIP.
Meanwhile another group of MPs continue to receive their salaries and benefits of MPs without ever attending Parliament or taking up their seats. Sinn Féin step forward no news there.

As I discussed in a previous post the whole referendum process for Scotland was anything but democratic for the rest of the UK in the end 55% of those voting which was 85.5% (thanks for bothering, but what happened to the other 15%) of the 4.3m, or 3.6m decided the future of 64m. We had the unedifying view of all the main political parties disappearing to Scotland with vague promises on DevoMax which they had all decided previously should not have been on the ballot. Promises put forward by Gordon Brown, so we can all believe those!. I think the SNP were right to describe this as a pointless halfway house if Scotland really wanted control it had to vote yes. Further devolved powers do not make us more united. Of course the independence movement failed to mention the real problem – with so much legislation decided by Brussels or other treaty obligations even an independent Scotland would not have had that much control just like Westminster does not. That was if the EU (Spain may well have vetoed), NATO (would take defence commitments) and the UN (they will take anyone) accepted applications. What about the World Bank, IMF, World Health Organisation these international institutions are all part of legislative and economic power base of the world. Would an independent Scotland have joined the European Space Agency? Perhaps it was this and the currency uncertainties that tipped the balance in favour on a no. Who knows perhaps it was the colour of the flag that appealed.

The Liberal Democrats (remember them they are still in the Coalition) have proposed a federal organisation of the UK as part of the reform. My son who has studied this stuff likes the idea. If it creates another layer of bureaucracy which the previous Labour regional assembly proposals did then I would be against. Labour wants to follow the example of London for more power to big cities but then what about those of us that do not live in big cities? Whatever happens Parliamentary reform is long overdue we should have far fewer MPs given the devolved powers already and even fewer in the Lords. Perhaps 500 MPs with devolved powers to regional parliaments and 250 in the Lords – elected please.

Meanwhile the Pope thinks World War 3 is effectively under way due to the conflicts throughout the world. Not quite; however brutal and the number of conflicts. Clearly it makes no difference to the victims whether the Pope thinks it’s a World War or not but human history is full of mostly unreported conflict. The battles in Africa seem never ending mostly based on tribal divisions made worse by the colonial false borders. There seems no easy resolution of the Syria conflict without supporting Assad, the very man the Western powers (and others) wanted removed, in order to defeat the allegedly bigger threat of ISIS, IS or ISL.

The appalling beheading on video of hostages adds to the fear element in the West allowing/forcing the politicians to act as if that one death is worse than the death from Ebola, Malaria, AIDS, or cancer. Horrific yes but so is a bomb from a coalition aircraft or a shell from an ISIS fighter. Remember those wonderful pictures of precision bombing. Someone’s son, brother, father, daughter, sister or mother has just been publicly killed. No squeamishness from western media in showing that video, but of course the victims are not journalists or aid workers. Not that we know who was in the vehicle or building alongside the fighter. The famous unverified reports beloved of BBC speak especially when dealing with sensitive subjects, must not get in trouble with the government when the next license fee discussion is under way even to the point of not reporting a story about a famous tennis player in case his view influences (only during voting day) the Scottish Referendum – really? The BBC’s efforts not to fall foul or the Electoral Commission are sometimes laughable, just like the promises of constitutional reform which we will now have to sit through.

The West Lothian Question

I have refrained from blogging about the Scottish Independence referendum on the grounds that anything an English person living in England says on the subject will be ignored or treated as either patronising or irrelevant and probably both. Following last night’s debate, between Alex Salmond First Minister, SNP and leader of the campaign for a Yes vote and Alastair Darling former Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the campaign for a No vote, I felt it was high time I did write something.

Firstly, I am annoyed that I don’t have a vote. There was an act of Union between Scotland and England, Wales and then Ireland and yet only one part of the union is getting a say on the subject as to whether it should continue. This does not seem to be democratic to me. Of course there is no telling what the voting in the rest of the United Kingdom might deliver. Perhaps they might vote Yes!

Secondly, the talk is that if there is a No vote (current poll prediction is 56% for No), Scotland will be offered further devolved powers. In this scenario what about England? We have devolved powers from Westminster to the Northern Irish and Welsh Assemblies and a greater range of devolved powers to the Scottish Parliament. Scotland has always had it’s own legal system for example. Despite current devolved powers Scottish (and Welsh and Northern Irish) MPs and Peers have continued to vote in Parliament on matters that are devolved to the individual nations and principalities. This is the famous West Lothian question and has not been addressed by any of the political parties. As part of any further devolution settlement can we at least address this undemocratic system. As all MPs represent geographical constituencies having no votes on particular subject like NHS in England would only be fair in exchange for devolved powers. Given the ability of any TV programme to count and handle millions of votes in a TV talent contest in a few broadcast minutes it seems inconceivable that our elected representatives cannot agree out of 650 MPs who can vote on any given subject.

Thirdly, demographics matter and one of the comments I heard today was on the relative voting power of London and Scotland. London has 73 constituencies serving a population of 6.5 million living there, whilst Scotland has 59 MPs for 5.3 million. This is out of 650 MPs. The ratio is approximately the same 89,000 eligible voters per MP. Yet London MPs cannot vote on devolved matters but 59 Scottish MPs do when it does not impact their own constituents.

Relative economies are interesting as well. London as 22% of the UKs GDP of $2.5 Trillion dollars (approx $550 billion). Scotland has $214 billion of that. London’s share of the UK minus Scotland would therefore go up to nearly 24% and the runt of the UK would drop to $2.3 Trillion. These figure are I’m sure disputed by the SNP and Yes campaign.

In terms of a democratic and economic deficit it is London that is being ignored and on a wider scale England. Scotland has no prescription charges (nor does Wales) and no University tuition fees for residents. According to the ONS here, Scotland receives £10,152 per head of population of Public Sector spending compared to England’s £8,529. Again who has a democratic and economic deficit? It is not Scotland.

In the end as with all independence movements around the world the vote (at least there is one) will be down to the Scottish voters who turn out and tick a Yes or No vote. In the last Scottish Parliament election in 2011 turnout was 50.4%. I would hope that more than half of the Scottish residents on the electoral role would bother to vote in this referendum, after all the SNP has changed voting rules to allow persons over the age of 16 to vote. Let’s say that the turnout is 100% of the 4 million on the electoral roll; therefore, each campaign needs a minimum of 2,000,001 votes to win. Out of nearly 64 million people in the UK it’s future could be decided by less than 3.2% of the population. How’s that for democracy?

Spying and Oversight

As a relatively new author, I watched with interest the appearance of the UK’s Spy Chiefs in front of the Parliamentary Committee that is established to hold them to account. My first book published – An Agent’s Demise – had as a backdrop how the Iraqi Dossier might have been manipulated to lead the politicians to decide to go to war. I have started a sequel – An Agent’s Rise and I have another story underway another thriller about revolution. These tales are all triggered by a keen interest in what the spies might get up to, but just as importantly what the politicians and the spy’s bosses know. Plausible deniability is often used to cover tracks both by spies, their managers and the politicians.

The revelations from Edward Snowden a former American computer specialist who apparently worked as a CIA employee and NSA contractor, provided information to the press, some of which has been published, about classified operations by the USA, Israel, and the UK security services. From what little we know these mass surveillance operations have added to some of our knowledge as to what happens, but has concentrated on the technicalities of the programmes rather than what is done with the information.

The appearance of the UK’s spy chiefs in front of the Committee is a regular occurrence but this was the first with all three chiefs (Security Service, Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ) in public. You can watch the proceedings from the BBC here. Not mentioned but notable by his absence was the Chief of Defence Intelligence (DI) who’s task is to act as “the main provider of strategic defence intelligence to the department (Ministry of Defence) and the Armed Forces.” Apparently the actual strategic defence of the UK is not as important so his attendance at the committee was not called for. Fighting the terrorist war on the ground in Afghanistan is a military operation which GCHQ supports, when their resources are not diverted by the NSA to help monitor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone in the interests of commercial advantage National Security.

So what did we learn from the evidence? Very little; the media made a big deal of the admission by the head of GCHQ that monitored terrorist groups had been observed/heard/monitored discussing how to change their methods of communication in the light of Snowden’s published revelations. If GCHQ bothered to notice the discussion about Internet security has been a constant trend on technical forums for at least 15 years, where methods of encryption, monitoring, obfuscation and a whole host of techniques have been freely discussed. If the UK’s enemies (terrorist or other) were not aware of the techniques then they are either more stupid than we think or perhaps it was a good line to feed the media. Admitting that we have overheard such a discussion is also telling them exactly what Snowden told them, so Sir Iain Lobban (Head of GCHQ) haven’t you just given away that little secret, perhaps your passport should be removed.

There have been some very clever uses of words in the USA and UK to describe the activities like PRSIM and why they are considered legal, under political scrutiny. Effectively the NSA can trawl the data on UK citizens given to it by GCHQ without a warrant and GCHQ can trawl the USA data given to it by NSA without a warrant. Both agencies may legally spy on foreigners without warrants. There is not a handover of a database. It’s the same systems in use just different access permissions. Both agencies can then report to their oversight representatives that they are operating within the law.

Then we have the testimony, not under oath by the way, that multiple terrorist operations have been prevented in the last few years. In Parliament the Head of the Secret Service said 34 operations had been disrupted but provided no evidence for this statement. In the USA General Alexander, head of the NSA, accompanied by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, stated in testimony to Congress that 54 operations had been prevented since 9th September 2011, again no details provided. He did admit that the use of the surveillance systems had not necessarily contributed to any of these operations.

So what do we know, in the UK there were the attacks of 7th July 2005. Several of the suicide bombers and their wider circle were known to the authorities – result 52 dead over 700 injured. That was four years after 9/11 and that attack was after Embassy bombings and attacks around the globe. This was followed by failed attacks two weeks later when the security authorities managed to kill an innocent Brazilian on a tube train after he had got on that tube train. I won’t list all the attacks Wikipedia has a comprehensive list, but please note the IRA ones over 30 years and yet Al-Qa’eda are considered a bigger threat?  The former head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, stated in December 2006 that

Al-Qa’eda poses a greater threat to civilian life than the Nazis did during the Second World War.

Sir Ian had clearly never researched The Blitz, which killed over 40,000 civilians in one 57-day period from September 1940. He may have been exaggerating a little but is this the mind set, or just a bad history education?

So returning to Parliament and the serious damage that Snowden is alleged to have done. It has been quoted that Snowden’s leaks are the greatest threat to UK Intelligence operations. Like Sir Ian Blair methinks they doth protest too much. They clearly have forgotten or would like us to forget about Blunt, Philby, McClean, Burgess, possibly Cairncross, often reffered to as The Cambridge Four/Five or how about the Profumo scandal when the then Minister of State for War (now the MoD) John Profumo shared a mistress with the Soviet Naval Attaché. Before our American friends get all clever about the British problem what about the Rosenburgs or John Walker.

According to reports Snowden shared access to the information he attained with nearly 1 million others, clearly this secret is not quite as secret as some might think. The fact he could leave the high security office with all this data is the security scandal and out security chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic seem hell bent on avoiding how Snowden got the information instead concentrating, as ever, on the messenger. Snowden did not hand the information to Al-Qa’eda, he may have been in China and now Russia but the security services have failed to demonstrate that the information is in the hands of the Russian or Chinese intelligence services. Stopping the partner of the journalist who was allegedly carrying a written down password to a USB stick does not mean that the stick has been accessed; in fact we are then told that the security services were unable to access the data or were they? So why mention the password at all, maybe it was his bank PIN? Maybe the current court case investigating his detention at Heathrow airport on suspicion of terrorism might shed some light?

As a would be author I have so many possible plot lines for a fictional story left by this mess I don’t know where to start. How much of the story and information that is in the public eye is disinformation or real, is impossible to guess. From what I have seen of our democratic institutions their lack of oversight, technological knowledge, and willingness to believe what the spy chiefs tell them, is not encouraging. After all Sir Malcolm Rifkind the head of the Parliamentary Committee former Foreign Secretary (responsible for the Secret Intelligence Service) has never explained why he claimed expenses for constituency flights to Scotland when his constituency is in London, all within the rules, all submitted with proper Government oversight. He was by no means the worst of the MP expenses scandal but… I haven’t commented on the lack of questions about torture, extraordinary rendition, or any of the other things that maybe we should know about being done in our name, after all the hounding of one, perhaps misguided, whistle-blower is so much better TV than asking a proper question or getting a proper answer.