Margo MacDonald: Change would pay dividends

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At present, we all pay through the nose for our politics. That may come as a surprise to people who don’t take a great interest in the posturing and posing of politicians, but who are vaguely aware that there’s a suggestion they should be paid out of general taxation.

The parties claim they don’t have enough money to run campaigns between elections and at general election time itself. Certainly, there are now more elections and many fewer activists to work in them so, the parties say, to protect democracy, the money for campaigning must come from general taxation.

But that’s where the money comes from to pay the additional researchers and assistants for the greater numbers of councillors, MPs, MSPs, MEPs, etc. I personally think there’s nothing wrong with this provided those concerned are giving their constituents the best quality service they can achieve.

The amount assigned to each party is based on the percentage of the vote it achieved at the last election – independents get nothing, but I’m not bitter – and this is the basis on which any further public money would be given to the parties to make up for the money the lost activists used to raise at whist drives, coffee mornings, etc.

If they know they can count on funding from the public purse, less, or no, effort will be made to recruit activists and politics will become just another quasi-profession, instead of a forum for the expression of public concerns, ideas and accountability of those elected by those whose taxes pay their wages.

So why not have a system that directly reflects the support parties enjoy amongst voters? How about self-taxation, to be collected with income tax returns? It would be simple to put a box and a line on which the taxpayer would indicate how much she or he would like to donate to their party of choice.

That way the parties are funded by thousands of small donations, like Barack Obama was. This has two effects – more people identify with and actively support their party, and bigger contributors add their big bucks to the most likely looking campaign. I wouldn’t put a cap on donations, rather I would institute heavy- duty sentences for any candidates, donors or party officials who break the transparency rules.

Raging ‘region’

WHAT a cheek. Even those of us who acknowledge Scotland’s weaknesses as well as strengths won’t laugh at The Economist magazine’s front page, a smarty-pants portrayal of Scotland as a hopeless basket case.

“Edinborrow” is twinned with Athens, characterising our capital city as incompetent and feckless. The Economist journalists and designers who produced the front cover were obviously oblivious to the offence to Athens.

True, Edinburgh has been forced to borrow perhaps more than the council would have wanted, but the amount borrowed is directly linked to the shortfall of income from Westminster. Other councils across the UK are doing the same, so in what way does it become a sign of failure for Edinburgh?

The “Shutland islands” are in a box off the north-east coast. They’re described as being “leased to Norway”, in a cynical reference to the historical closeness of Shetland and the Norwegians.

This sneaky attempt to undermine the integrity of Scotland, and frighten Scots into abandoning their aspirations, is a cheap shot. The line was used, and failed in its purpose, in the 1979 referendum. The then convener of the islands’ council made it plain that when it came to dealing with the oil business, his council would deal with whoever had the power to make policy on the speed and amount of oil production, whether in London or Edinburgh.

Under the devolution offered in 1979, oil policy would have continued to be made in London so, quite understandably and pragmatically, the Northern Isles thought the promotion and protection of their best interests would not lie with a devolved government in Edinburgh. “But,” said the convener, “independence is another thing.”

Not only did The Economist’s front page betray a scant knowledge of the country it lampooned, it betrayed its own narrow nationalism. The producers characterise Scotland as a “region”, like Yorkshire or the north-east of England. Would they even think of producing a front page that insulted Geordies or Liverpudlians with impunity?

Football fever

IN hospital listening to matches on the radio, I nevertheless told anyone who would listen that Hibs would probably win the Scottish Cup. My second prediction was that if the team of my heart escaped relegation, they would be one of the best in season 2013-14. Some people thought my drugs should be reviewed.

But first the Scottish Cup. It’s a fairytale Edinburgh occasion, so let’s all enjoy it. The rivalry will be fierce but, afterwards, let’s go back to being Edinburghers first and Hibees and Jambos second.