Thursday 29 March 2012

More Unionist Doublespeak

Last week we were subjected to yet more nonsense from the Unionist camp.  This time around we got a near apocalyptic vision of how terrifying an Independent Scotland would be for all of us.  We will apparently suddenly become much more likely to suffer terrorist attacks, the rest of the UK might have to bomb Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, we could be faced with a flood of immigrants from the rest of the EU and as a result border controls might have to set up between Scotland and England.  Not quite sure how this latter claim fits in with the other two.  After all who would want to come to a country that was about to become a regular target for terrorist attacks?   Presumably all these immigrants from other EU countries would only come because Scotland, an independent Scotland remember, was a rich and successful country with plenty of job opportunities.  But I thought we were supposed to be too small and too poor?  Another little point about all this is that the threat of mass immigration is based on Scotland having to become part of the Schengen agreement on passport free travel.  But, weren’t we told that Scotland wouldn’t actually be in the EU and would have to re-apply?  Why can’t these Unionists get their story together?  It’s becoming a right hassle keeping up with their constantly changing claims.
What makes all these apocalyptic threats such nonsense is the existence of the Republic of Ireland.  Only a week before we got these threats against an Independent Scotland the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron was signing a new agreement with Enda Kenny, Taoiseach of the Republic.  This was entitled British Irish Relations - The Next Ten Years.  It is a most fascinating document and well worth reading - you can get the full text here.  It is an excellent example of how neighbouring countries work and co-operate together.  The joint statement begins:  “The relationship between our two countries has never been stronger or more settled, as complex or as important, as it is today.  Our citizens, uniquely linked by geography and history, are connected today as never before through business, politics, culture and sport, travel and technology, and of course family ties.”  Are we to believe that the rest of the UK(RUK) would not want to build a similar relationship with an Independent Scotland?  Just imagine a UK government minister threatening to bomb Dublin airport?  And as regards terrorist threats, well the statement notes that, “We acknowledge the excellent security cooperation between our two governments, and will continue to stand fast together in the face of those who resort to violence, which is abhorred by our people and has no place in our societies.”  There does not seem to any kind of panic about an open land border either as the statement emphasizes:  “We remain firmly committed to preserving and protecting the Common Travel Area, which allows ease of travel for our people. We will continue to work together on immigration issues, and to combat potential vulnerabilities from terrorism, illegal immigration and organised crime.”  Funny how all these doomsayers always manage to forget the UK already has a land border - between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Apart from some specifics as mentioned above the joint statement also contains this gem:  “2012 also marks the beginning of a decade of centenary commemorations of events that helped shape our political destinies. This series of commemorations offers us an opportunity to explore and reflect on key episodes of our past. We will do so in a spirit of historical accuracy, mutual respect, inclusiveness and reconciliation.  But we want to ensure that this is a decade not only of remembering but also of looking forward; a decade of renewed and strengthened co-operation between our two countries.”  Beautiful isn’t it?  Now why oh why cannot Unionists imagine such a joint statement with these great words - mutual respect, inclusiveness, renewed and strengthened co-operation - between an Independent Scotland and RUK?  After all the current crop of Unionist parties were against the independence of Ireland all those years ago.  What kind of threats were issued against the Irish back in the 1920s?  If the UK can develop a relationship with the Republic based on mutual respect and strengthened co-operation, then RUK will do so with an Independent Scotland.
It’s way past time for Unionists to apply some of their positive thinking about relationships with Ireland to Scotland.  Then again I’m still looking for a flying pig.

Thursday 22 March 2012

George Osborne - Friend of the Rich

A few comments on George Osborne’s latest budget.  Nothing earth shattering in the various measures.  Once again it confirms the age old priorities of this nasty Tory led Coalition.  At any and every opportunity favour the richest and punish the poorest.  While raising the personal tax threshold is very good news for those who pay tax, it does nothing for the poorest of all - the unemployed and those on very low incomes.  Not to mention the none too subtle stealth tax on pensioners.  At the other end of the scale come the real goodies - the lowering of the 50% tax rate to 45% and the reductions in corporation tax.
Both send a clear message for the future - the UK is on its way to becoming a low tax country.  Now this is all well and good if you earn enough or are otherwise rich enough to pay privately for education, health, care etc.  Unfortunately the vast majority of us cannot afford to pay for this out of our limited incomes.  We rely on good quality public services.  And of course the corollary of low taxes is less and less money for these public services.  Which is exactly what our nasty Tory led Coalition wants.  Favour the rich and let the poor sink or swim.
The measures themselves do not make much sense otherwise.  It is not all clear just what the planned reduction in corporation tax to 22% is supposed to achieve, other than making shareholders even richer.  It is worth noting in this context that small companies or at least companies that make less than £300,000 profit per year only pay 20% tax at the moment and this is not planned to change.  So the reductions will only benefit the biggest companies.   And at 22% it is still some 10 points higher than the Republic of Ireland, so it is unlikely to stop any company moving to Dublin.  While in France and Germany corporation tax or its equivalent is much higher and yet both countries have outperformed the UK over recent years if not decades.  Most significantly in terms of industry and manufacturing.  If George Osborne is really determined to rebalance the UK economy (which would be a good thing) then investment in education and infrastructure such as transport is likely to do much more in attracting home grown and inward investment.  But where is the money to come from to pay for this if he cuts corporation tax?
It is even worse with regards to the decision to reduce the 50% tax rate to 45%.  Remember this rate is only paid on income that is above £150,000 per year.  Which is something like five times the average salary.  And many more times above what most people earn.  Yet we are told that this group of very rich people are so averse to paying their dues that they will go to any lengths to avoid paying tax.  It is claimed that the 50% rate will only bring in £1million as opposed to the £3million estimated.  Now I would have thought that the correct response in this case would be to redouble or triple the efforts to catch tax avoiders, while also noting that £1million is still, well £1million.  If the prospect of paying extra tax is so frightening to our very rich citizens, and remember this is only an extra 10% as they are already taxed at 40% on most of their income, then a mere reduction to 5% is unlikely to lead to any change in behaviour.  The reality is George Osborne’s very rich chums don’t want to pay tax even at 40%.
What these measure demonstrate beyond any doubt is that for our nasty Tory led Coalition the notion that we are all in this together has disappeared for good.  Tax cuts for millionaires and nothing for the poorest.  Sums up the Tories.  Just what the LidDems are doing propping up this vicious nonsense, who knows?  Do they?

Sunday 18 March 2012

Referendum Questions

The Scottish government has earlier this year announced the wording of the question it would put to the Scottish electorate in the forthcoming Independence referendum.  Scots would be asked: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”  Whilst the various Unionist groups are now in favour of an independence referendum, they are not at all happy with this question.  Though at first most of them seemed to agree that it provided a clear and simple question.  However now there have been repeated suggestions that the proposed question is a leading question and that voters should somehow be given two options - both of which you can vote yes to!  Not immediately clear that this would provide precision and clarity.
Anyway, to help clarify matters a little, I have done a brief google search on questions used in independence referendums.  With the demise of the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, many newly independent countries have been created in Europe alone.  All within the past 20 years or so. Not all of them bothered with a referendum.  Slovakia and the Czech Republic agreed on dissolving the Federation at governmental level and just went ahead and negotiated the independence settlement. 
However, some of these newly independent countries have validated their independence via a referendum.  In my brief quest I came across four examples.  In two cases, the voters were asked to support an already declared state of independence.  For example in the Ukraine the question was:  “Do you support the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine?”  A similar question was used in Georgia, where the question was:  “Do you support the restoration of the independence of Georgia in accordance with the Act of Declaration of independence of Georgia?”   
Now neither the current Scottish government nor the Scottish Parliament are about to pass an Act declaring independence, so we can rule this particular type of question out.  Though it is worth noting in passing that no-one in the UK at the time of these referendums questioned the validity of this kind of question.  I have found two other referendum questions that are more in line with the SNP’s proposal.  In Slovenia the voters were asked this question:  “Should the Republic of Slovenia become an independent and sovereign state?”  Whilst in the most recent independence referendum in Europe, the voters in Montenegro were asked this question:  “Do you want the Republic of Montenegro to be an independent state with a full international and legal personality?”   While different in wording, these two questions are pretty similar in meaning to the one proposed by the SNP government.  Again it is worth emphasizing that nobody in the UK, not even those now prominent in the Unionist camp, seems to have questioned the validity of these referendums.  Not only that, the UK promptly recognized the status of these countries as independent states.
It is also worth noting that in all the above cases it was the government of the independence seeking states that organized the referendum, including the choice of question.  Given that there was no opposition then to this process, and noting that the Montenegro referendum was as recent as 2006, there is a whiff of hypocrisy about the current brouhaha over the wording to be used in Scotland.  Clearly the Unionist have so little faith in their own case that they need to resort to all kinds of diversionary tactics.   

Thursday 15 March 2012

25 Palestinians Killed - Where’s the Outrage?

Last weekend we witnessed yet another murderous onslaught by the Israeli military against defenceless Palestinians in Gaza.  25 Palestinians have been killed and around 80 wounded.   Yet very little has been said in condemnation of these killings anywhere. The ostensible justification for the killings is that the attack was to assassinate Zuhir al-Qaisi, a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC).  The other 24 deaths and the 80 wounded were presumably just unfortunate.  Or perhaps they also deserved to be killed by the Israelis.  That is clearly the view of the Israeli government and the IDF.  The dead, or at least 20 of them, four were admitted to be civilians, were all members of the PRC and thus in Israeli eyes, legitimate targets.  The Israeli claim is that the PRC were about to launch an attack against Israel.  However even this claim is somewhat disputed by Israel’s Defence Minister, who only claimed that the PRC “were apparently involved with preparing a large-scale attack.”   (Emphasis added)  He want to say, “I cannot say yet whether this attack has been thwarted.”
So what was the real reason behind this latest Israeli onslaught?  There are various possibilities, but all seem to come down to the likelihood that Israel wanted some kind of dress rehearsal for any retaliation in the event that it, Israel, does attack Iran.  In other words Israel deliberately provoked the rocket attacks from Gaza in order to test their new Iron Dome anti missile defence system and to prepare the population for further rocket attacks.  Sounds incredible, but then is Israel a rational actor anymore?  This is the provocative title of this article by Jerry Haber, on his Magnes Zionist blog.  Jeremiah (Jerry) Haber is the nom de plume of an orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor, who divides his time between Israel and the US.  In it he examines the question of whether the attack was deliberately designed to provoke a response.  Haber also has another post on the morality of extra-judicial killings, with specific reference to these most recent Israeli attacks.  You can read it here.
As regards the lack of response to these extra-judicial killings, in Israel they were a cause for celebration, if not gloating.  Below is a still from Israeli TV.   In it Channel 10’s military correspondent Alon Ben David shows the score:  “Death toll:  Israel 0, Gaza 25”.  Photo:  The photo comes from this blog post by Ami Kaufman on the Israeli group blog, +972.
Here in the UK, as in the USA, there has been the usual we must support Israel narrative.  When a US soldier killed 16 Afghanis recently, there was justifiable outrage and the soldier has been arrested.  He will probably face some kind of charge and imprisonment.  No such chance that the Israelis who killed the 25 Palestinians will face anything other than adulation.  And we claim the moral high ground!

Monday 12 March 2012

Afghanistan - Just Leave, Now!

Afghanistan is once again high up in the news.  This time it was the incredible revelation that a US soldier had gone on the rampage and murdered 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children.  It seems that news from Afghanistan is one relentless tale of deaths.  If it is not NATO forces, usually unmanned drones, killing lots of people, most of whom are almost certainly civilians, then it is Afghans killing NATO forces.  Just last week it was announced that the death toll for UK soldiers had passed the 400 mark.  Not to mention the countless soldiers who have been maimed for life.  Not to mention the deaths and wounded of other NATO forces.  And of course topping all this by a margin, the thousands of Afghanis killed and maimed.
All for what? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Afghanistan, along with Iraq, ranks as one of the most misguided and reprehensible wars of choice of recent times.  There was never any justification for the war against Afghanistan.  It was also, as events have proved, and many experts foretold, a decidedly stupid decision.  Various powers in the past have tried to intervene in Afghanistan, including the British Empire, then the world’s greatest superpower.  And all have failed, failed miserably.  The latest, before the current disaster, was the Soviet Union.  And despite the inestimable advantage of sharing a border with Afghanistan, the Soviets too failed.  So what on earth persuaded the USA to think it could succeed where everyone else had failed?  Hubris?  A tame press, unwilling to question official assumptions no doubt contributed.  That the UK would slavishly join in was only to be expected from our poodle like leaders.  
And let there be no doubt, this US led mission has demonstrably failed.  This is the US’s longest running military, now in its 12th year.  With no sign of success whatsoever.  Which is hardly surprising given that there was no rational purpose to the war in the first place.  We want to get Bin Laden and these Taliban guys are in the way, so hey, let’s just take them out.  Easy, peasy, but what then?  No idea, seems the most plausible answer.  Countless deaths later the Taliban are still there, waiting in the wings for the soon to come NATO withdrawal.  Then what?  Back to square one, with a Taliban led government in Kabul?
The latest cover for this US led failure is the creation of the Afghan National Army (ANA) which is supposed to take over from NATO sometime soon.  Quite why it has taken almost 11 years to create and train the ANA has never been made clear.  It is certainly a very costly enterprise, at least for the US taxpayer, who is forking out some $12 billion annually just to train the ANA.  But do not place must faith in this somewhat mythical force.  A fine article by Ann Jones and published by uncovers in some detail the truth behind the current ANA and its predecessors.  And the key lesson is this: “Start with the simplest of all facts: in the country’s modern history, no Afghan national army has ever saved a government, or even tried.  More often, such an army has either sat on its hands during a coup d’état or actually helped to overthrow the incumbent ruler.”  What the ANA does seem to be good at is killing NATO soldiers.  Jones points out that since the military started recording them in May 2007, 76 NATO soldiers have been killed and an undisclosed number wounded in 46 recorded “deliberate attacks.”  So it is unlikely that the ANA will provide any kind of support to the current Afghan government.  I am also greatly surprised at the need to train and arm any Afghan army.  After all the Afghanis have proved their valour and steadfastness time and time again.  After all they keep winning and we keep losing.  And as Ann Jones reminds us all, this is achieved without our high tech support.  As she puts it:  “As for those Afghan guys who whipped the British three times and the Soviet’s Red Army, they were mostly freelancers, attached to the improvised militias of assorted warlords, fighting voluntarily against invaders who had occupied their country.  The Taliban, like the mujahidin of the anti-Soviet struggle before them, seem to fight quite successfully without any significant training, armor, or heavy equipment to speak of...”
We are losing and losing badly.  Time to get out and fast.

Thursday 8 March 2012

International Women’s Day 2012

Today, Thursday 8th March is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women everywhere.  The UN theme for International Women’s Day 2012 is Empower Women – End Hunger and Poverty.  This is a recognition that empowering women is the most effective way to combat hunger and poverty.  This has been shown by countless studies in many parts of the world.  Examples of programmes which focus on women include Bolsa Familia in Brazil and Oportunidades in Mexico, both of which are the subject of this article from the New York Times.
However, even in countries such as the UK, where hunger and poverty is not so widespread, empowering women is something we should all be promoting.  As the father of two daughters, I should declare a special interest in this issue.  But much though I love both my daughters and want them to do well, my interest in empowering women is thoroughly selfish.  My future wellbeing is much more likely to be assured if there were more women in top positions.  Whether it is politics, business, education, health, whatever, I want to see lots more women at the top.  The reason is quite simple.  All the evidence from study after study shows that important qualities and competences such as intelligence, drive, leadership, creativity etc are equally distributed between men and women.  Therefore it should follow that more or less half the positions at all levels should be held by women.  This includes the very top posts - the managing directors, chief executives, boards of directors etc.  If not, then the best qualified and most competent people are not occupying some of these vitally important positions.
We need look no further than the banking and financial sector.  This is a sector which at the top level is almost totally run by men.  And we are all having to suffer from the damage they been done.  A perfect example of what can happen when you exclude one half of the population from positions of power.    Most of the men who run our banks and financial companies have shown a degree of incompetence that is hard to equal.   It seems very hard to argue that having more women at the top could have resulted in anything worse.  While banking and finance is an obvious example of where we are all let down by the current gender imbalance at the top, other areas of life are pretty close seconds.  Government and parliament, especially Westminster are notorious bastions of male privilege.  We can and need to do better.
One approach to rectify this gender imbalance is to make it a legal requirement that public concerns have at least 40% of senior posts held by women.   This requirement would be introduced gradually, say over five or seven years.  The legal requirement could also apply to companies that receive public monies or bid for publicly financed contracts.  No doubt there will be howls of outrage at such a suggestion.  But all firms, whether public or private have to comply with the law.  And parliament has over the years put in place all kinds of legal requirements on all business - health and safety is a prime example.  Businesses always complain, but hey, just get on with it.  The world did not come to an end when the 10 hour working day was ended!  
The advantage of this kind of approach is that it would force companies and public services to introduce the necessary child care arrangements and facilities to enable large numbers of women to fill these senior posts.  It would also likely lead to a revaluation of the importance of child care and early years education and many other issues that currently get dismissed as women’s issues.  As if boys do not need good child care or men do not need good care and attention when ill or old.  It is not as if something like this has not been done already.  Norway introduced such a requirement some years ago.  By a Conservative minister in a Conservative led government.  The results have proved beneficial for all concerned.  So, what’s holding you back Mr Cameron?
International Women’s Day is not just about promoting women into positions of power, it is primarily about celebrating the contribution of women everywhere.  Here is a short video celebrating Scotland’s inspirational women.

Monday 5 March 2012

Criticising Israel - is it allowed?

For years now in the USA it has been almost impossible for a major politician or even a commentator to utter any kind of criticism of Israel and survive.  It seems that the UK is once again about to slavishly follow where the USA leads.  At least that is what one must understand from the reaction to a recent speech by LibDem peer Lady Tonge.  This is part of what she said, "Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form. One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America's aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough."  She added: "Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown."  In response leading politicians from all parties condemned her and her comments and she has been expelled from the LibDem party.
So much for the notion of free speech and the prospects for some kind of rational debate about Israel/Palestine.  It seems that we in the UK are now to suffer from a stultifying praise and defend Israel at all costs mentality in our public discourse.  What is most fascinating about this eruption of support for Israel is that the one country in the world where comments such as those made by Lady Tonge are commonplace and freely made is Israel itself.  There are many Jewish Israelis, born and brought up and living in Israel who share Lady Tonge’s concerns.  You can find their views in many Israeli magazines and newspapers, including in the mainstream media.
In fact only a couple of days ago, the eminent Jewish Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy, wrote a piece for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in which he came to very similar conclusions to Lady Tonge.  The title of the piece gives a flavour of the argument - It’s just a matter of time before US tires of Israel.  In the article he comments on the excessive and unprecedented power that Israel has over the USA.  He even has the audacity to mention the power of rich Jews.  As Levy himself puts it, “Israel features in the American presidential campaign as no other foreign country does, with the candidates vying for the sobriquet of “biggest Israel-lover” to the point where it often seems to be the main issue. Rich Jews like Sheldon Adelson donate enormous war chests to candidates for the sole purpose of buying their support for Israel.......”   Levy goes on to ask some questions about the future, questions that are remarkably close to Lady Tonge’s.  He wrote,  “One day, perhaps, even in brainwashed America the questions may begin: another war? Is it right to put more American soldiers in harm’s way for an interest that is more Israeli than it is American?”  He concludes with this warning to Israel,  “ But one day the rope could snap and the whole thing could blow up in the face of power-drunk Israel: Israel doesn’t know when to stop, and it could pay dearly as a result.”  Just as well for Gideon Levy that he’s not a member of UK political party or was speaking in London.  You can read the whole piece here.
Uri Avnery is another distinguished Jewish Israeli journalist who is not afraid of exposing the realities of Israel.  In a recent article for AntiWar he wrote about the options facing Israel in the future and none were very attractive.  He too would probably subscribe to the view that Israel cannot survive for ever in its present form.  His article looks at possible scenarios for Israel in the near future.  One is a state that is non-democratic.  He is even willing to use the work apartheid to describes this option.  According to Avnery, “This needs no conscious decision, since it is the default situation that already exists de facto.  This means, to use the popular catchphrase, an apartheid state: a state in which every instrument of power is in the hands of the Jewish-Israeli majority (some 6.5 million people), with limited rights for the 1.5 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. The Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, some 4 million, are granted no rights whatsoever — national, human, or civil.”  In Avnery’s view this situation were it to continue would eventually lead to what he terms national suicide.  He goes on to outline other scenarios, all of which lead to the same outcome - national suicide.  However as an optimist, he believes things can change for the better and concludes, “I believe that the people of Israel — the Israeli nation — have the will to survive. But in order to survive, they must wake up from their apathetic stupor and change course — turning toward peace based on the two-state solution, separating the state from religion, and building a new social order.  In the Jewish religion, suicide is a sin. It would be ironic if future historians were to conclude that the “Jewish state” committed suicide.”  You can read the whole of Avnery’s piece here.
I have singled out two articles by leading Jewish Israeli journalists to highlight the appalling hypocrisy of those who would try to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.  If the same kind of comments and criticisms can be made public in Israel, by Jewish Israelis, on what grounds can they be dismissed here in the UK?  Only someone who is frightened of the power of the pro Israel lobby?

Thursday 1 March 2012

Scotland is already in the European Union!

One of the recurring arguments made against Scottish Independence is that an Independent Scotland would have to reapply for membership of the EU.   Now I have always found this a very strange argument as it seems to ignore the fact that Scotland is already part of the EU, and has been ever since the UK joined way back in 1973.  So I have always been rather confused as to why Scotland would have to apply to join the EU when we are already in!  
In this regard it is important to note a couple of legal points,  The first is that there is no procedure whereby the EU can expel a member state, or a part of a member state.  The existing treaties do not allow for this under any circumstances.  The second important point is that all residents in Scotland have certain rights as EU citizens.  These include the free movement of people, goods, services and money.    The European Central Bank has recently published a paper on Withdrawal and Expulsion from the EU and EMU. This paper outlines the current legal position and includes this summary of the current position - ‘participation in the European Union gives rise to a wide web of rights and obligations to citizens, companies and governments. To erase all those obligations at a stroke by expelling the member state would create huge confusion and penalise ordinary citizens.”
So Scotland is already in the EU and there is no mechanism for expelling anyone from the EU.  What would change though is Scotland’s status within the EU.  The Scottish government would negotiate with the EU to change its status from a region of a member state to one of a full member state in its own right.  Now it is clear that this has never happened before.  This will be a new experience for the EU.  But to suggest that the EU, including the current member states would somehow block this change in Scotland’s status is very much clutching at straws.  On what grounds would they do so?  
Another important aspect which Unionists fail to realize is that is Scottish Independence would alter the status of what remained of the UK, RUK for short.   The RUK would need to negotiate with its partners on a whole range of matters, from the size of the RUK’s delegation to the EU parliament, the votes that the RUK would have in the Council of Ministers to the financial contribution that the RUK would have to make to the EU.  This latter point is of great importance.  It includes the much vaunted UK rebate which may become subject to review.  In any case member states currently finance the EU via three main sources.  1.  Customs duties on imports from outside the EU;  2.  A standard percentage on the harmonised VAT base;  3.  A standard percentage of the Gross National Income (GNI).  See here for details.  If Scotland is denied membership, then the EU loses all of Scotland’s financial contributions.  Not something I would imagine the other member states would want.  This will also be a great incentive for the RUK to get Scotland recognized as a full member state.  For if Scotland cannot be expelled from the EU, yet is denied full member state status, then the RUK would probably be obliged to continue to contribute as before, but without Scotland’s money.  Would the RUK dare to use its veto?
Independence for Scotland and the parallel creation of a new RUK state will change things in the EU, but from within the EU.  Talk of reapplying seems to me misguided.  So why do the Unionist bang on so much about this?  Same old scare tactics I guess.    Of course one way to sort this out once and for all would be for the Scottish and UK governments to start now negotiating the details of Scottish Independence, including the status of both Scotland and RUK in the EU.  This would remove most of the uncertainties around the whole independence debate, and would enable Scots to make an informed choice come the referendum.  I have already argued for this here.