How Corrupt is the British Establishment?

There has been a great deal of indignation about the wicked behaviour of Jimmy Savile, that friend of ‘the great and the good’, but that now seems to be merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Allegations of widespread abuse of inmates of children’s homes have reached the newspapers and television. A little searching on the internet brings up claims that this abuse included sadistic rape, with some of the victims dying as result, or being killed to silence them.

How much of this is true, I have no idea; I am certainly very sceptical of dramatic allegations about Ted Heath, particularly as they seem to have come from an unreliable source who has made similar claims about two former American Presidents. It is just possible that the stories are all completely false, or all completely true, but much more likely that the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

Unless some effective form of mind control is developed (which is a scary idea), in any society there will always be individuals whose sexual desires will overpower their morality; the presence of such individuals within a society does not necessarily reflect badly on the society as a whole – unless that society protects the perpetrators instead of the victims.

One of the disturbing aspects of the Jimmy Savile case is that it appears that  a significant number of people were aware that Savile was a sexual predator, and yet he was able to act with impunity. On the internet, Savile is alleged to have procured victims for others to abuse; if this is true, then he was not just an evil individual, but part of an evil conspiracy, which may have operated for many years and have involved largely members of the British Establishment.

It has emerged that a dossier handed to Leon Brittan when he was Home Secretary somehow disappeared, and that 114 documents relating to alleged child sex abuse are unaccounted for. On the internet, it is alleged that Special Branch officers threatened people who were trying to investigate this abuse; one person claimed to have had a gun held against their head. As recently as 2011, an American journalist, who was investigating what happened at the Jersey children’s home Haut de la Garenne, was banned from entering the UK for more than a year by Home Secretary Theresa May. (leahmcgrathgoodman.com)

Two separate reviews have been announced by the Government. Whether these will be effective remains to be seen, but my cynical suspicion is that they will be allowed to drag on for years without being allowed the resources needed to have much chance of uncovering any real evidence. At the most, one or two people on the fringes of the Establishment will be thrown to the wolves, people who are perhaps closely associated with the Establishment but not truly part of it – rather like Jimmy Savile.

Was there indeed a particularly vicious group of paedophiles operating within the British Establishment over many years? Were they systematically protected by other members of the Establishment who were aware of their activities? At this stage there is no real proof available, but I think that, on balance of probabilities, the answer to both questions is yes. If one looks at the financial links between politicians and business, it is easy to conclude that the Establishment is financially corrupt. If the Establishment has indeed protected possibly murderous paedophiles within its midst, then it is not just corrupt but depraved.

At the start of this post, I said that Savile’s activities were the tip of an iceberg. It is tempting to think of the Establishment as the Titanic, headed at full speed towards that iceberg, but I fear that the Establishment really is unsinkable and will get away with only minor damage.

We need independence to distance ourselves from the stink of Westminster, with its archaic, rotten system of privilege as epitomised by the House of Lords. As an independent state, we will no doubt have our own Scottish Establishment, but as a smaller, and at least slightly more egalitarian, nation than the UK we should be better able to keep it in check.

Is Miliband the New Blair?

I was in Malawi when news of Tony Blair’s first general election victory arrived, and there was jubilation amongst the expats there. At last the Tories were out, and surely Britain would recover from Thatcherism. But the PPP/PFI scams continued, anti-trade union legislation was not repealed, and the rich kept getting even richer. Then Tony Blair told Parliament lies to justify participation in an illegal war. According to opinion polls, there are some people who will vote No to independence if they expect Labour to win the next UK government, in the belief that Labour will cure Britain’s ills. The lesson that should be learned from history is that a New Labour government will continue Tory policies, and its Prime Minister will be a liar.

Ed Balls has declared his opposition to a currency union, and Ed Miliband has threatened to impose border controls, in the event of Scotland becoming independent. Either of these measures would have negative consequences for the rUK as well as for Scotland, raising the question as to why they are being proposed.

One obvious answer is that these are merely empty threats, intended to scare timid voters out of voting Yes in the referendum, and that following a Yes vote they will be quietly forgotten about if Labour win the general election next year. Surely a Labour government at Westminster will have enough problems on its hands in any case; why would they want to create more by stirring up trouble with Scotland and damaging trade between the two countries? If Miliband and Balls are making empty threats, which they have no intention of ever carrying out, then they are liars. If so, they are not by any means unusual at Westminster.

If Miliband and Balls are not liars, then the next question is why they would be prepared to act in a way which is likely to be harmful to both Scotland and the rUK. There are no border controls between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, which has its own immigration policy, nor have there been any calls to implement such controls. Why should Scotland be treated differently from Ireland in this respect? If an independent Scotland were to be excluded from the current British Isles common travel area, I can see no reason why Scotland should not sign up to Schengen; if so, would Ireland perhaps follow suit, leaving the rUK isolated within its own border controls? Also, as the Wee Ginger Dug has pointed out, the basis for the UK’s opt-out from Schengen (the lack of a land frontier with any state within Schengen) would be demolished – not that this would matter if (or rather when) the rUK flounces out of the EU because the rest of Europe will not do what Westminster demands.

The cost of of UK government borrowing – the interest rate on UK government bonds – has recently been edging upwards, while the UK national debt is also rising inexorably. This is a toxic combination. Scotland has a higher per capita GDP than the rest of the UK. If an independent Scotland leaves the sterling zone (basically the UK plus odds and end such as the Channel Islands), then the sterling zone’s debt to GDP ratio, which is already alarmingly high, will increase even if Scotland takes on a per capita share of the UK national debt. This is likely to affect confidence amongst foreign investors in the rUK’s ability to repay its debts. At the least, this will lead to a further increase in the cost of borrowing for the rUK; at its worst, this could trigger the kind of economic collapse that Greece has suffered. A currency union may be desirable for Scotland, but it would appear to be essential for the rUK.

If there is a Yes vote in September, there will not be enough time for negotiations over independence to be finalised before the UK general election next May, and so it is possible that the final deal will have to be agreed with a Labour government at Westminster. Perhaps that government will behave as Miliband and Balls are implying it will. However, if Westminster insists on border controls, refuses to negotiate a currency union, insists on being the continuator state of the present UK (perhaps essential if they are to keep their important – to them – permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and denies Scotland an equitable share of the UK’s assets, then Scotland will have no moral or legal reason to accept any responsibility for any part of the UK national debt. Could the rUK avoid a catastrophic loss of investor confidence if their national debt to GDP ratio jumps by several percentage points overnight?

Let us assume that the Labour leaders are not barking mad or complete imbeciles. Then surely they will recognise that it is in the best interests of the rUK to be a good neighbour to Scotland, and co-operate with the Scottish Government to the mutual benefit of the two countries. If they nevertheless choose not to co-operate, then presumably it will be because they are determined to punish Scotland for choosing independence. Why would they wish to be vindictive towards Scotland unless they hate not just Scottish independence, but Scotland itself? Perhaps they are pandering to the increasingly vocal xenophobic element in England – it is not just the Tories who have lost voters to UKIP, after all. Given the portrayal in some of the media of Scots as ungrateful, English-hating subsidy junkies, a bit of Scotland bashing could be a vote-winner down south.

One can therefore conclude that Labour’s leaders are liars who make threats they would not carry out, or vindictive people who will try to harm Scotland if we should dare to assert our right to govern ourselves, or selfish people who are willing to harm Scotland and the rUK to win votes, or idiots who do not understand the implications of what they are saying. I certainly would not like to live in a country governed by such people, which is one of the many reasons I will be voting Yes to give Scotland a chance of a decent future.

PS – I know that much of what I have written could very easily be modified to apply to the Tories and their junior branch, the LibDems. As has been said by others, at least with the Tories you know where you are, even if it is somewhere very unpleasant. With Labour, you may be in a marginally better place, but it will still be nowhere near as good as they have promised. I do not want to even think about where we would be with UKIP.

 

Why Do I Not Want to be British?

As I wrote in my last post, I consider myself to be Scottish rather than British, and have done so for as long as I can remember. I do not really know why this should be the case, given that I grew up at a time when Scotland had no Parliament, and independence seemed like a distant dream of a few people. Yet even then Scotland retained enough of its own identity to be a nation, not merely a region of the United Kingdom, and I must have accepted this from quite an early age. England has always seemed a bit foreign to me, albeit less so than other countries where I have lived and worked; it was always Scotland that was my true home.

There are two reasons why my reluctance to identify myself as being British (except reluctantly for official purposes) has increased. The first might be considered trivial by some, but the second is much more serious.

I take a casual interest in history, and as a result have read quite a few books and watched a fair number of television documentaries on a variety of historical topics, many of which have dealt with events since the creation of the UK in 1707. Having a somewhat pedantic nature, I have repeatedly been irritated by the use of ‘England’ or ‘English’ when it is clear from the context that it is ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ which is meant. For example, there might be references to English warships in an account of the Napoleonic wars, or to England declaring war on Germany in 1914 or 1939. Where these are quotations of something said or written by someone from outside Britain, it is perhaps forgivable, because they would just have been following the example set by many English people in the past. Even modern authors sometimes use the terms ‘English’ and ‘British’ as though they were synonyms and fully interchangeable. When I was abroad, if I had told someone that I was British, they might well have assumed that I was English.

In practice, the meaning of a word is not defined by any dictionary, but by how it is used by most people; dictionaries change to follow usage. I have a dictionary which defines a troop as a unit of cavalry or armoured vehicles; to my annoyance, the BBC and others now regularly use it as a synonym for a soldier. New dictionaries will no doubt include this new meaning. Thus, if many people treat ‘British’ as equivalent to ‘English’, I cannot bring myself to say that I am British. To me, this would be tantamount to accepting that Scotland was absorbed into England in 1707, and that Great Britain is really Greater England, an idea which I utterly reject.

The more serious reason is that I would be ashamed to call myself British. The first time I can remember feeling this way was in 1982 when I heard that the General Belgrano, a 44 year old light cruiser, had been sunk by a British nuclear submarine outside the exclusion zone declared by the British Government, with the loss of 323 lives. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Falklands Conflict, and accepting that there is an argument that the General Belgrano may have been a threat to British forces, it just did not seem right to me at the time.

However, that pales into insignificance compared with the invasion of Iraq, when Blair lied to Parliament to get approval for British participation in an illegal invasion which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and which has left Iraq racked by violence which still claims hundreds of lives each month. Overthrowing a dictator may be a good thing, but sometimes the price is far too high. Yet Britain intervened in Libya (which is also still plagued by violent feuds between different factions), and might have done so in Syria if things had worked out a bit differently.

Then there are the revelations of killings and torture by British forces in Kenya during the struggle for independence. Perhaps Britain was not as bad as other colonial powers, but her record is far from spotless, even if one considers only what has happened in my lifetime.

If there ever was a reason to be proud of being British, it was the creation of a welfare state, including free medical care, at a time when Britain was exhausted and nearly bankrupt after the Second World War. From then until the Thatcher era, living standards increased, and serious poverty decreased along with inequality in the distribution of wealth, even under Tory governments. But the rot set in with Thatcher.

The inequality of wealth distribution is rising again, and did so just as fast under New Labour as under the Tories. Even during a financial crisis, the rich seem somehow to have got even richer, at the expense of everyone else. The government has bailed out irresponsible banks, failed to take action against dishonest bankers, but acted to protect bankers’ bonuses from EU regulation.

At the other end of the financial spectrum, benefits are being slashed, not merely for the comparatively few genuinely work-shy but for the disabled, the chronically or seriously ill, and for the people for whom there are simply no jobs available; people on benefits are faced with these being stopped if the DWP can find any excuse to impose sanctions. Some Remploy factories, the only places where some disabled people had any chance of employment, have been closed because they did not make a profit. Atos declares people who are terminally ill to be fit to work. Disabled people can be forced out of their specially adapted homes by the bedroom tax. Unemployed people are forced into workfare, while unelected Lords can claim £300 tax-free, plus expenses and subsidised food and drink, for an hour or two of work or just sitting on a comfortable seat.

The NHS in England is being broken up and the pieces are being fed to companies, such as Serco, who will prioritise profits over patient care. In England, the legal obligation that the NHS provide free treatment has been removed, and it will probably not be long before anyone who does not have private health insurance will get only the most basic health care.

Of course there is a great deal of anger about this, but there has been a concerted campaign by the media to put the blame for many of Britain’s problems on immigrants who are supposedly flooding into the UK to take ‘our’ jobs, claim benefits or live a life of crime, and also on the supposed large number of benefit cheats, although these are actually a rather small percentage of claimants and cost the country far less than tax avoidance and evasion.

In terms of the UK, there is no real democratic cure for this, as the Tories, New Labour and the LibDems all offer essentially the same policies with slightly different rhetoric. As for UKIP, their purposes is to attract voters who are disillusioned with the other parties and to channel their resentment away from the bankers and speculators of the City of London and towards the EU which might impose effect regulation on the financial sector.

How could I be proud to be British, when I see what Britain has become? I know that Scots have played their part, for both good and ill, in Britain and in its former Empire. Quite a few of the current crop of politicians whom I do not respect (to put it mildly) are Scottish. However, I do not believe that an independent Scotland will participate in illegal invasions, pursue such vindictive policies towards the most vulnerable of its people, or be as right-wing and xenophobic as the UK seems destined to become.

I know that even if Scotland becomes independent I will still be, legally, be British as well as Scottish, but I would dearly love to be Scottish, not British.

PS. I strongly recommend this article about UKIP

http://www.newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-opinion/9262-scotland-welcomes-their-first-tea-partier

 

What is the Referendum Really About?

The Scottish Secular Society, after consulting their members, have declared their support for independence.

http://scottishsecularsociety.com/sss-formally-supports-independence-for-scotland-and-the-yes-campaign/

I fully agree with their statement, except for one very minor quibble; in the last paragraph, they say “the referendum [is] not a choice between British and Scottish identities”. If this had been qualified, perhaps by the word ‘necessarily’ after ‘not’, I would not disagree with it. As it is, it provides the trigger for me to write about something which has been on my mind recently.

Various pundits on both sides of the debate have given their opinions as to what the referendum is really about, or in other words why so many people in Scotland wish to regain the independence that was lost over three centuries ago. Some of these are simplistic propaganda, such as the idea that Scots want independence because they hate the English. Others are of a more thoughtful, intellectual nature, but I might still not agree with them.

The fundamental difficulty with any such attempt to explain the independence movement is that opinions are personal; looking at a wide range of topics, it would be very difficult to find two people with essentially the same views on every one. In the independence debate, there are so many different issues involved that, if a large number of people intending to vote Yes were asked to list all the reasons why they support independence, and to rate the importance of each reason, they would give very varied answers.

Hence my one little quibble with the statement by the Scottish Secular Society. For some people, the issue of identity, Scottish versus British, will be an important factor in the their decision as to how they will vote. Of course, for many of these people their identity will have been decided long ago, and they will simply vote according to that identity, but there may well be some who regard themselves as both Scottish and British, and who do feel that, in deciding which way they will vote, they are indeed making a choice as to their identity.

A further complication is that there will be some people whose vote will, in effect, contradict their own idea of their national identity. Some who consider themselves to be Scottish will vote No, perhaps because they believe some of the unionist scare stories. Others will do so out of self-interest – I do not expect many Scottish Labour MPs will vote Yes to lose their current jobs.

On the other hand, I expect there will be people who have moved from England to Scotland, and who still consider themselves to be English/British, who will nevertheless vote Yes, because they believe that an independent, progressive Scotland will become a better place to live than the UK under the rule of a right-wing government, whether that is Tory, New Labour or even, just possibly in a few years time, UKIP. It is possible that some people in that situation might feel that a decision to vote Yes is also a decision to adopt a more Scottish identity.

Can I answer the question in the title? Yes, but only from a strictly personal point of view, and even then not fully.

I think of the main reasons why I intend voting Yes as falling into three categories which I label as emotional, financial and political, perhaps more for neatness than accuracy.

The emotional category is that I identify myself as Scottish, and not British (except very reluctantly, for official purposes; I might discuss the reasons for this in a future post.) Therefore I want my country, Scotland, to be run by a government elected by its own people.

The financial category is that Scotland will benefit economically from independence, for a number of reasons which will be familiar by now to anyone who is likely to be reading this blog.

The political category is that, whereas the UK has never been truly democratic, an independent Scotland will become more democratic, with a codified Constitution developed by ourselves, and this will lead to the development of a better, less unequal society. As a similarly-sized country, we can try to emulate the Nordic countries. We can get rid of nuclear weapons from our country and have a Defence Force which is not used for aggression.

If I were asked about the relative importance to me of these three categories, I would not be able to answer with any confidence. The most that I could say is that all three are important, but they are different, and I do not know how I could quantify their importance to allow me to rank them – and that is without considering all the arguments which make up each category.

However, I can say that I have listed the categories in chronological order. The emotional argument (patriotism, you could call it) has been there for a very long time, certainly since my late teens. The financial arguments came next, perhaps encouraged by North Sea oil which made it clear that Scotland could easily afford to be independent. The political arguments have built up as my disillusionment with UK politics has deepened, starting with Thatcher, being maintained by New Labour, and intensifying with the current Coalition.

If I do not feel able to list, in order of importance, the main reasons why I support independence, then obviously I cannot say why people in general will choose to vote Yes or No. When some pundit on television, or writing in a newspaper, claims to have some insight into what has led us to having a referendum, or why the debate is going the way that it is, I will treat those claims with a very large pinch of salt.

My opinions, as expressed in this blog, are just opinions; feel free to be just as sceptical of them as I am of the opinions of newspaper columnists and the like.

 

A Free Press Revisited

First, I would like to apologise to anyone who might have wished to comment on my posts so far for my failure to include a comments form with each post. This blog started because I found myself going over and over some the arguments relating to independence, effectively composing possible articles in my head, while out walking with my dog. I thought I might as well get them out of my head by turning them into actual blog posts; if anyone found them interesting or in any way useful, that would be a bonus. There was never any intention of competing with any of the well-established pro-independence blogs, or even of being witty or entertaining. That is why I have not tried to customise my blog or introduce graphics; I would rather keep it simple. Unfortunately, that means I have not really put much effort into understanding how WordPress works.

A reader called Brenda tried to post a comment on the last post, “How would you define a free press? I don’t think a multinationally owned tabloid or an entirely capitalist owned press fulfills that term.”

I agree entirely with the second sentence, and so perhaps I would define a free press as something which should ideally exist, but which is in practice well-nigh impossible, except possibly for small-scale, community publications. If the press is not regulated by the state, then the press will almost certainly be used to advance the views of its owners, who are likely to be right wing capitalists. As long as they do this in a reasonably honest way, then this is not a threat to democracy. If the press deceive the public in order to promote their owners’ political agenda, then there is a case to be made for the state intervention, at least in the most blatant cases. But there is a fine line between the state preventing the press from lying on behalf of its owners, and the state controlling the press for its own purposes.

There is a particular difficulty in the case of a state broadcaster such as the BBC which may be coerced into slanting news in a way that suits the government. Who could regulate them?

There is also a question as to how important the press is going to be in the future. Increasingly, the future of printed newspapers and magazines is threatened by the Internet, but some kind of news-gathering organisations will have continue, and what they report will still influence the opinions of the people and hence how they vote. The Internet can expose lies, but it is part of the problem as well, given that there are many sites which are even less trustworthy than a tabloid newspaper. My guess is that any attempted regulation of the Internet will be either completely ineffective (largely because the Internet is not confined by national borders) or something quite totalitarian; I do not think that there is any intermediate option.

As I said in the previous post, this is a topic where I have questions but do not claim to have good answers.

Is a Free Press Good for Democracy?

In previous posts, I have asked a question in the title and then gone on to answer it with my opinions on the subject. This time, I do not claim to have an answer.

First, let me say that by ‘free’, I mean unregulated. There has been talk recently of the need for some regulation of the press recently, because of the scandal over phone tapping and the invasion of people’s privacy which led to the demise of the News of the World. However, what I am concerned with here is something quite different, namely the role of the press (including television and radio news programs as well as newspapers) in a supposedly democratic society. Of course, a press which is strictly controlled by the state is highly undesirable, being something which is normally associated with dictatorships, but is the opposite necessarily a good thing?

Yet again I will use an example from America, where the right-wing Fox News has such a poor reputation for veracity amongst liberals that it is often referred to as Faux News. One of their newsreaders was sacked for refusing to read on air a ‘news’ item which she knew to be untrue. She sued for unfair dismissal, but lost. Fox News’ successful defence was based on the fact that there is no law requiring broadcast news to be truthful. I presume that this is also the case in the UK.

In my previous post, which started as a preamble to this post but grew too big, I argued that the UK is a cross between a democracy and an oligarchy, with much of the power being exercised by a wealthy ‘elite’ who operate on an international scale. It is this elite who own and control the major newspapers and commercial television, and who therefore have the opportunity to use these media to influence public opinion in ways which will advance their own agenda.

Anyone who has been following a few of the pro-independence blogs should be well aware by now that the British press is generally keen to publish stories that can be given a unionist slant, and less keen to publish any that are unequivocally favourable to the cause of independence. This is unsurprising, given the ownership of the press.

The Tories are determined to demonise the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, to justify cutting welfare payments and harassing those who claim benefits. One of their aims appears to be to set those who have something against those who have little or nothing – a classic case of divide and conquer – to stop the electorate ganging up and voting them out of power. In this they are being all too ably assisted by some of the gutter press.

It is a real danger to what democracy there is in the UK that slanted, unbalanced or downright untrue news items can be used to manipulate public opinion, and to persuade the electorate to vote for a political party which will look after the interests of the oligarchs. One could argue that, in the interests of democracy, there should be a legal requirement that the press should publish only news stories which they reasonably believe to be true, and that opinion and speculation should be clearly identifiable as such.

The current Press Complaints Council is a voluntary regulatory body for British printed newspapers and magazines, but it has no legal powers and has been criticised as being ineffectual. As a result of the Leveson Inquiry, it is to be replaced by the Independent Press Standards Organisation; just how effective this will be remains to be seen, but it will, like the PCC, be under the control of the industry which it will regulate. I wonder whether its main role will be to protect the rich and famous from invasions of their privacy by the press.

In principle, an official body could be given the job of policing the press for untruthful stories, and the legal authority to require newspapers to publish prominent retractions when a story is judged to be seriously inaccurate, or when the newspaper cannot provide evidence to support claims that it has made. However, I doubt whether this would work very well; my guess is that it would be swamped by complaints, that only a few complaints would be properly investigated, and that any retractions would only appear long after the original story was published. Such a system could be open to complaints that it was a form of censorship; indeed, it could too easily be misused by a government.

In any case, untrue stories are only one of the ways in which a biased press can push a particular agenda. Some stories may be published while others are ignored. Inconvenient facts may be left out of an account. Slanted language is often used – a ‘warning’ by one side sounds more authoritative than a ‘claim’ made in rebuttal by the other side. Dramatic headlines which are not justified by the article underneath them are a way of getting a message across, even to people who do not read the article. Quoting remarks out of context can be used to discredit someone. Even the way in which different articles or photographs are juxtaposed can convey a subliminal message. How could these tricks of the propagandist’s trade possibly be regulated?

Very few of our current newspapers and magazines are in Scottish ownership, raising the possibility that, even following a Yes vote in the referendum, their owners might choose to pursue an agenda which is hostile to an independent Scotland. Should the government of an independent Scotland seek to impose limits on the ownership of Scottish publication by people outside Scotland? It would probably be too fraught with difficulties, and in any case many English publications will continue to be sold in significant numbers in Scotland.

As far as the newspapers are concerned, I see a problem but no good solution to it. In the case of the BBC, my view is that they must not be allowed to continue operating in an independent Scotland. If they had taken a fair, unbiased approach to the independence debate, some arrangement to share the BBC with the rUK might have been considered, but their blatant partisanship on behalf of the Union has rendered this unacceptable. We will need a Scottish state broadcaster to replace them.

Who Really Runs the UK?

In an earlier post, I questioned whether the UK is really a democracy, from a constitutional point of view, and said that I suspect that Britain is an oligarchy with a veneer of democracy. I would like to expand on that, partly by looking at the situation in the USA.

There are some people who believe in an a gigantic conspiracy, perhaps with an occult element, by the rich and powerful to impose an authoritarian world government, the New World Order. I am not one of them. However, it is undeniable that there are a small number of people who have acquired almost unimaginable wealth, and wealth inevitably brings power with it.

It has been said that the personality traits which make someone likely to be particularly successful in business are much the same as those which characterise sociopaths. It is reasonable to assume that someone who has acquired vast personal wealth, or gained control of some multinational corporation, is likely to be greedy, selfish, ruthless and amoral, although there are no doubt exceptions. The very characteristics which may have helped such people to achieve their goals are ones which, in an ideal world, should mean that they should not be entrusted with power, although perhaps something similar could be said in connection with certain politicians. Let us not be fooled by the fact that some of the mega-rich give some of their money for charitable purposes, to gain the description of ‘philanthropist’; Andrew Carnegie gave some of his money to good causes, but he had become extremely wealthy by ruthlessly exploiting his workers.

In America, there is a rather secretive organisation called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which pushes for right-wing, neo-liberal, pro-business legislation. Its members are mostly conservative state legislators and representatives of the private sectors, although the actual membership list is secret. It produces draft bills which members can customize and introduce for debate in their own state legislatures, generally without any mention of the connection to ALEC. One of these is the basis for the “ag-gag” laws in a number of states, which make it a crime to carry out clandestine photography or filming to expose mistreatment of animals by agricultural businesses; others are apparently designed to ensure that privatised prisons are kept full. Some of its funding has been provided by the multi-billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The Atlantic Bridge, a conservative atlanticist organisation in the United Kingdom and the United States set up and partly funded by ALEC, included several leading Tory politicians on its UK executive board. It was dissolved after its charitable status was questioned. In such ways the influence of American billionaires reaches into the UK political system.

In America, the first requirement for a politician is money to pay for campaigning. Those who are not themselves rich need to attract donations, leaving them with an obligation to their rich backers. In 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled (in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) that the Government cannot impose any limit on political donations by companies, potentially increasing the importance of campaign funding. There is a saying that America has the best politicians that money can buy, and it is certainly arguable that politicians who are dependent on large donations from wealthy individuals or corporations are well and truly bought, even if there are no cash-filled envelopes changing hands.

There is probably no New World Order conspiracy, but there is perhaps no need for an actual conspiracy. Rich people and multinational corporations will tend to have similar interests; they do not need some grand conspiracy to pull in much the same direction, which is to the right. Globalisation and free trade agreements weaken governments; some free trade agreements limit the right of governments to pass legislation which will adversely affect the profits of multinational corporations, even if the legislation is intended to protect the public or the environment. The people who would be part of the New World Order conspiracy, if it existed, have no need of their own World Government if they are stronger than national governments.

In Britain, there is a vaguely defined Establishment, associated with wealth and privilege. A couple of hundred years ago, this consisted largely of the hereditary aristocracy and wealthy merchants, industrialists and bankers who were able to buy estates, and sometimes even titles, as evidence of their status. These people were largely able to control who would be elected to the House of Commons, through their influence or even by bribing some of the few people entitled to vote; many of them sat in the House of Lords. Thus they controlled Britain. Since then the importance of the aristocracy has declined, and the importance of career politicians and senior civil servants has increased, but the Establishment persists, with a high proportion of people from wealthy backgrounds, educated at fee-paying schools and then either Oxford or Cambridge.

In Britain, money is much less of a factor in political campaigns than it is in America, because here campaign expenditure is limited by law. However, political parties still need to raise funds, and membership fees can never be sufficient. Wealthy donors making large donations may be suspected of seeking to influence policy, and it would be interesting to know how much is being spent by companies on political lobbying.

It would be nice if corruption amongst politicians was something that was only known in other countries, but scandals such as “cash for questions” show that not to be the case. If one is cynical (as I certainly am), one might suspect that such reported incidents are merely the small tip of a large proverbial iceberg. When a retired politician is given a directorship in a company, or paid £10,000 or more for a single speech, is this because the company expects to benefit from the politician’s contacts and influence, or is it payment for services already rendered?

America and the UK are similar in that their politics are dominated by two major parties which differ more in their rhetoric than in their policies when in power. For example, opinion polls show that in Britain there is strong public support for re-nationalisation of the railways, yet no major party offers it as a policy.  Such a policy would be anathema to the wealthy individuals who profit from the present setup, and so the electorate is denied the opportunity to make a choice. Labour have embraced, apparently enthusiastically, the Tory policies of cuts and austerity for all except the rich, who somehow just get richer still. The Tories are in favour of this; the best that can be said of New Labour is that they are not opposed to it.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few is also a concentration of power. It may be an exaggeration to say that the UK is an oligarchy, ruled by the rich, with Parliamentary democracy a pretence, serving merely to conceal its true nature, but I fear that it is much closer to the truth than the comforting fiction that we live in a true democracy.

Scottish independence is no panacea in this respect; there is no easy escape from the negative consequences of globalisation. But it will be a major shake-up of the system here, and it will bring government closer to the people. It could give us an opportunity to reduce the influence of the billionaires, American and otherwise, and look towards the Nordic countries where levels of financial inequality are much lower than in the UK and America. If we remain part of the UK, I am pessimistic about the outlook for democracy; with independence, I will be optimistic.