Monday, 31 July 2017

Breaking News!

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The Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) has just released the formal decision in connection with my appeal against Glasgow City Council's refusal to provide information about the discretionary pension benefits paid to a senior council official.

I am pleased to say that the City Council lost the argument - yet again.

More details to follow soon including the full SIC decision, but my immediate reaction is: "When will these people ever learn?" and/or "Why are they paid such handsome salaries when they get things so badly wrong?"

In the meantime here are two posts from the blog site archive which explain the background to this important judgement.


Glasgow's Low Paid Workers Get 'Capped' - Council Boss Cops £250,000 Pay 'Bonus' (24/06/17)

Glasgow City Council have suddenly backtracked on the previous decision to refuse my FoI request regarding the payment of 'added years' to boost a senior official's leaving package. 

After registering an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner, the City Council wrote to me in the following terms:  

Mr Irvine,

I refer to your recent Freedom of Information request to the Council regarding Mr Drummond’s leaving package. We have received correspondence from the Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner advising us that you have requested a decision from them on this matter.

Your request for review stated that you were looking for “a review of the City Council's refusal to answer Part 3 of my original FOI request in which I asked whether Mr Drummond's remuneration package included any discretionary benefits such as 'added years' in respect of the Local Government Pension Scheme”. We advised you in our letter of 7th April 2017 that we considered the information that you were looking for constituted personal data and as such, was exempt in terms of s38(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. For the reasons set out in the Council’s review decision letter, we did not consider that you had a legitimate interest in obtaining the data.

Although Mr Drummond no longer works for the Council, we have been able to contact him to ask whether he would prepared to give consent to the release of the information you have requested. The Council recognises that personal data may be released if consent is provided by the data subject to do so. Mr Drummond has now consented to release of the information requested to you. 

Accordingly, please note that Ian Drummond received added years to his pension. Due to his age and length of service, this was on the basis of 6 and 2/3rds “added years” to his pension, in line with the Committee Report calculation (attached). 

This calculation was applied to all staff who left at this time. The Annual accounts previously sent to you show that Mr Drummond received £109,000 “compensation for loss of office”. This figure comprises a £33,000 enhanced lump sum from the added years plus £76,000 redundancy payment. 

There is an £11,000 per annum addition to Mr Drummond’s pension arising from the added years calculation. No payments for loss of office were made to Mr Drummond beyond the standard formula set out in the policy, i.e. maximum 6 2/3 added years (applied to the calculation of both the lump sum and the annual pension) plus maximum 30 weeks’ pay as a redundancy lump sum as Mr Drummond was aged over 50 and had access to his pension.  

Please note that election payments (made to Mr Drummond as a result of the then chief executive being on long term sickness absence following a heart attack) are not pensionable and did not give rise to any additional payment of either pension, lump sum, or redundancy payment.

I trust this answers the query posed in your request for review.


FOI Review Team

So the upshot is that Mr Drummond did receive a big boost to his pension plan - in the shape of an extra £33,000 by way of a lump sum plus another £11,000 a year on top of his annual pension payment.

Now this is an extra, 'discretionary' payment remember - and it should be compared to the way low paid council employees are treated, often after a lifetime's work in Glasgow's essential front-line services.

In fact, if you make the not reasonable assumption that Mr Drummond will draw his pension for another 20 years, the extra boost to his pension is worth at least £253,000 - i.e. 20 years x £11,000 (£220,000) + £33,000 = £253,000.

But what really gets my goat is that this Labour-run council placed a 'cap' or ceiling on the equal pay settlements of the Council's lowest paid workers back in 2005 - the most anyone received was just £9,000 which meant thousands of people were 'duped' into accepting much less than their claims were really worth.

As regular readers know, the local trade unions were involved in negotiating this unfair cap on people's settlements, yet they now try to claim credit for fighting the 'good fight' over equal pay. 

Shameless to the end, the unions then made light of of their terrible track record and tried to tempt A4ES clients to go back to them once the Court of Session ruled that Glasgow's equal pay claimants had been unfairly treated and badly let down. 

Give me a break, please! 

Because the reality is that Glasgow City Council and the local trade unions worked together to ensure that '1st Wave' equal pay settlements were much lower than the real value of people's claims in the run-up to Christmas 2005.

In 2006 they also agreed to give special treatment to all of the 'red circled', former bonus earning, traditional male jobs when the Workforce Pay and Benefits Review was introduced - without first of all bringing women's pay into line with the men, a hugely significant point that was highlighted in the recent judgment from the Court of Session.

So if you ask me, the Labour Council bosses and the spineless Labour trade unions should all be thoroughly ashamed of their behaviour.


Glasgow and Equal Pay (26/05/17)

The Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) invited me to make a further submission in respect of my appeal against Glasgow City Council's refusal to explain whether one of its senior officials had his leaving package boosted with 'added years'.

Here's what I had to say along with a previous post explaining the background to my original FoI request.

Dear SIC

Thank you for your letter dated 10 May 2017.

In my view Glasgow City Council does not have a valid reason for refusing my request, not least because much of this information has already been released with the disclosure that Mr Drummond received a remuneration package worth £462,555 in the year ended 31 March 2011.

According to the Council the figure of £462,555 comprised of £211,000 in accrued pension benefits plus £251,555 in Salary Fees and Allowances, Compensation for Loss of Office and Election Duties.

My FoI request in respect of 'added years' does not affect the figures already released into the public domain and the issue comes down to whether or not the Council used its powers to provide Mr Drummond's leaving package with a further financial boost using public funds.      

I believe I have a legitimate interest in the City Council's use of public money as a taxpayer, especially when government at all levels (both local and national) have been operating on tight budgets.

In 2005 Glasgow City Council 'capped' equal pay settlement offers to thousands of low paid women workers at a maximum of £9,000 even though their employees claims were worth considerably more than £9,000. Mr Drummond was the City Council's chief legal officer at that time.

In my view the public has a right to know whether or not the City Council was especially generous to one of its senior officials and if so, the reasons for someone at the top of the organisation receiving more favourable treatment than the 'foot-soldiers' at the bottom of the pay ladder. 

I cannot see how the release of this information can be detrimental to Mr Drummond in any way since the decision to award 'added years' or not lay with the City Council - not Mr Drummond himself.

For these reasons and those detailed in my original submission I would ask the Scottish Information Commissioner to uphold my appeal.  

Kind regards

Mark Irvine


Glasgow, FoI and Equal Pay

Glasgow City Council is behaving very badly if you ask me, by refusing to provide me with details of its controversial EDC (Employee Development Commitment) scheme.

So I have decided to ask the City Council to review its decision to decline my request on the grounds of cost - see letter below.

Carole Forrest
Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council
Glasgow City Council

Dear Ms Forrest

FoI Review Request

I refer to the letter from Glasgow City Council dated 7 July 2017 rejecting my earlier FoI request on the grounds that the cost involved exceeds £600.

I am asking for a review of the City Council's initial decision for the following reasons:

1 In my view the cost of providing the information I have requested is minimal and requires only an hour or two of someone's time.

The information must be contained in Council Committee reports and, as such, is capable of being readily and easily retrieved from digital or paper records.

3 By my reckoning the Council's chief executive is paid around £75 an hour which would allow even Annemarie O'Donnell a full 8 hours to complete this relatively simple task without exceeding the £600 figure set out in Section 12 (1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

4 By way of comparison an employee earning a lower and more typical rate of pay of £8.50 an hour, for example, would have over 70 hours or two full working weeks to complete the task.

5 If on reflection the City Council is still not prepared to provide this information, I would ask you to explain the basis of your cost calculations in responding to my FoI Review Request, as I intend to register an immediate appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner.
I look forward to your response and would be grateful if you could reply to me by email at:

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

If the City Council does not quickly come to its senses, I will take the matter to the independent Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC). 


Glasgow and Equal Pay (29/07/17)

A number of readers have commented on yesterday's post about Freedom of Information and the fight for equal pay in  Glasgow City Council - here's what they had to say.

City council should realease details and just get this over and done with its a shambles from the council


I noticed Mark, that you put this FOI request in on March, so that would have been under the labor leadership, so is the refusal from the old labor leadership or the new SNP leadership, and is there anything we can do to get this issue addressed quickly, I for one don't mind contributing to this to move this forward.


Hi Mark had a wee chuckle about latest Glasgow post.Funny how there seems to be unlimited funds to fight indefensible appeals but they can't find £600 for an f.o.i request. How's about a wee crowd funding.


I have now decided to ask Glasgow City Council to 'review' its initial decision as I do not believe that the cost of answering my FoI request is more than £600. 

If necessary, I will also appeal the decision to the Scottish Information Commissioner. 

I'll share my Review Request on the blog site as soon as it's finished. 


Glasgow and Equal Pay (248/07/17)

Here's a good example of Glasgow officials doing their level best to hide and obscure details of the City Council's WPBR pay arrangements.
Back in March I asked the City Council to provide a breakdown of the number of employees who benefited from its controversial Employee Development Scheme (EDC) which gave a guarantee (in response to the threat of union strike action) that the earnings of former bonus earners would be maintained and preserved beyond 2009 - when the agreed protection period was was due to end.
Having taken weeks to respond my FOI request the City Council's says it will cost more than £600 to provide this information, so they are refusing to do so under Section 12 (1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Now this is the first FOI request (from me) that the City Council has refused to answer on the grounds of cost and I have to say I think it's highly significant that they should play this card in relation to the Employee Development Commitment.

Because the EDC, as regular readers know, effectively gave traditional male jobs more favourable treatment than their female colleagues.

So maybe the fight's not over in Glasgow - maybe there are still senior officials in Glasgow who reject my argument that Scotland's largest council should be open, honest and transparent over its WPBR pay arrangements

Dear Mr Irvine
Request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

I refer to your request received on 20 March 2017 requesting that the following information be provided to you:

‘Please provide me with following anonymised information regarding the operation of the City Council's Employee Development Commitment (EDC) programme which was introduced alongside the Workforce Pay and Benefits Review (WPBR) in 2007:

 1.  The total number of council employees involved in the EDC programme in each year from 2007 onwards - until the EDC programme was finally closed

 2.  The gender breakdown of council employees involved in the EDC programme each year from 2007 onwards - until the EDC programme was finally closed 

Glasgow City Council ‘The Council’ is treating your request as a request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

The response to your questions are given below.

This particular request will cost the Council more than the upper limit allowed by section 12 (1) of the Act and the fees regulations made under the Act (this limit is currently £600). The Council has the option of complying with requests where costs exceed £600.00. However, on this occasion we have decided not to due to resources (both financial and human) which voluntary compliance with this request would divert away from our core business. Accordingly we are unable to comply with your request.

The Council accordingly has complied with your request. 

So watch this space.


Glasgow and Equal Pay (27/07/17)

As we approach the end of July and with the holiday season drawing to a close, lots of readers are asking me what is going behind the scenes with Glasgow City Council regarding a settlement of all the outstanding equal pay claims.

Now I explained the formal position back at the beginning of June right after the big appeal hearing in Court of Session in Edinburgh which found in favour of the claimants - see post below dated 01/06/17.

Shortly afterwards the new SNP led administration in Glasgow stated publicly that the City Council would not be appealing the Court of Session judgement, the SNP Group having  pledged during the election campaign to resolve the long standing issue of equal pay.

Previous Labour councils had, of course, dragged things out for many years - since 2007 in fact.

In any event, the time limit for registering an appeal to the UK Supreme Court has now passed and so the 'new' City Council has to deliver on the manifesto on which the SNP (the largest group) fought the May 2017 local elections in Glasgow. 

Thankfully, the process involved in reading a settlement is not 'rocket science' - instead it's just a matter of the City Council being open and honest about the pay arrangements that were put in place following the introduction of the WPBR back in 2006/07.

We know from the recent Court of Session hearing in Edinburgh that Glasgow's pay protection arrangements extended well beyond 2009, due to the so-called Employee Development Commitment (EDC) which guaranteed that the earnings of traditional male jobs (e.g Gravediggers, Gardeners and so on) would be maintained into the future.

So as far as reaching a settlement is concerned all the City Council has to do is to 'open the books' and explain the detail of these pay arrangements to Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) and the other claimant organisations.

A4ES has asked the City Council to do so without delay so that serious settlement negotiations can get underway and set a realistic timetable for completion.

If this does not happen, another option is to go back to the Employment Tribunals to seek a remedies hearings and for the tribunal to issue orders compelling Glasgow City Council to release the required pay information.

But given the previous stance of the SNP which called for Glasgow to be open and transparent, I  suspect the new administration will prefer to get down to brass tacks in pursuit of a fair settlement of all the outstanding claim


Glasgow - The Next Steps (01/06/17)

Lots of readers have been in touch to ask about the 'next steps' in the fight for equal pay with Glasgow City Council which was given a huge boost with yesterday's victory in the Court of Session.

The City Council is now under new management following the local elections on 4 May 2017 and the new council leader, Cllr Susan Aitken, has already stated publicly that there will be no further appeals. 

So, presumably the City Council has finally realised that it's in a big hole and the first thing to do when you're in a hole is to 'stop digging'.

Next Steps

The Court of Session appeal hearings in Edinburgh considered two main issues:
  • the pay protection arrangements put in place by Glasgow City Council (GCC) following the introduction of its WPBR pay scheme in 2006/07
  • the job evaluation (JE) side of the WPBR and its component parts - Core Pay, WCD and NSWP - which has been challenged by A4ES
The judgment of the court on 'pay protection' has gone in favour of the claimants and the previous decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal has been upheld - a further decision is now awaited on the job evaluation (JE) aspects of Glasgow's WPBR pay arrangements.

A4ES is now preparing to seize the initiative and move things forward.

Protection Period Claims

Winning pay protection in the Court of Session means that a further entitlement is now triggered for all existing claimants for the period from 2006/07 onwards - and at least until 2009.

If you ask, it's also very possible that pay protection claims could extend well beyond 2009 because Glasgow’s arrangements did not stop after just 3 years, as a result of the Council's Employee Development Commitment (EDC).

The EDC gave a guarantee (to male workers only) that the higher earnings of former bonus earning jobs, e.g. Gravediggers, Gardeners etc would be maintained at their previous levels  and without limit of time.

The trade unions threatened strike action to gain this further EDC concession from the Council, but this applied only to the former bonus earning, male comparator jobs.

For all their brave talk about championing equal pay the trade unions in Glasgow never threatened a similar campaign of industrial action to bring women workers' pay into line with their male comparators.

So thousands of female dominated women jobs lost out including: Home Carers, Cooks, Cleaners, Catering Workers, Clerical Staff, Classroom Assistants etc.

Glasgow's JE Scheme

If the Court of Session upholds the challenge to the JE scheme (WPBR) existing claimants will have further 'second wave' entitlement from 2006/07 to date (i.e. 2017) and also going forward until these cases are finally resolved.

If the Court of Session finds the WPBR to be unsatisfactory and not ‘fit for purpose’, this will opens up a whole new raft of claims for employees who have not registered an equal pay claim up until now. For existing council employees, a newly registered claim would jump back 5 years, in time i.e. to 2012, but could still be very significant.

Former employees may also be able to register new claims by taking action in the Sheriff Court (instead of the Employment Tribunals) which would potentially help thousands of ex-GCC workers who left their employment over the past 5 years without registering an equal pay claim.

A4ES is now prepared to consider lodging new claims on the basis that these will be actively pursued in the event of a favourable judgement from the Court of Session in respect of the City Council's JE and WPBR pay arrangements. 

Waiting until the decision is actually released and its implications assessed will delay the starting date of any new claim, so it makes sense for potential claimants to act now and protect their interests.

Settlement Discussions with GCC

A4ES remains willing to enter into settlement discussions with the City Council, but the previous Labour-run administration failed to engage seriously on this issue between August 2016 and January 2017.

So before any serious negotiations could get underway, the City Council would need to ‘open the books', as it were, to allow the size and scale of any possible settlement to be fairly and properly assessed. 

Up until now the City Council has failed to deliver the pay information to explain fully the workings of the WPBR or, for example, its Employee Development Commitment to former bonus earning workers.

Enquiries and Further Information

If any readers in Glasgow would like to pursue this further, please contact Action 4 Equality Scotland at the following email address: - or ring A4ES on: 0131 659 9958. 

If you cannot get through by phone straight away (because of the volumes of calls), please leave a message and someone will get back to you as quickly as possible.


Driving Madness

Saudi Arabia is normally the target of jokes on the internet about women not being allowed to drive cars although this one aimed at Iran kills 'two birds' with one stone by poking fun at the need to observe a strict religious dress code in certain Muslim countries as well. 

Complete madness if you ask me, but in this case set to the perfect musical accompaniment.

Iran is Now Allowing Women to Drive


Mad Mufti (06/12/13)

Mufti and the Monarch
The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia has proclaimed that the ban on women driving in this repressive  Islamic state protects society from “evil”.

What a plonker! - you have to say - while wondering why women are able to work other modern inventions such as washing machines without any of these men in beards batting an eyelid.

Anyway, the grand mufti - who is also known as - Shaikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Al Shaikh- said in recent a speech delivered that giving women the right to drive should not be “one of society’s major concerns”.

Well, of course not - because where would it lead - the next thing you know women would be demanding to be able to go out by themselves, unescorted by a male relative, choose whom to marry, if an when to have children - and what kind of education or career to pursue.

The mufti's comments came as women activists were assured by the Shura Council - and advisory body to the all powerful King - was still reassessing the controversial Saudi ban on women drivers.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving - and this backward attitude has drawn condemnation from the international community.

Saudi Arabia's all-appointed consultative Shura Council is an attempt by the monarchy to substitute for and elected parliament - the council makes recommendations to the government, but the King remains the only and absolute legislator.

At least 16 women were stopped by police during a driving protest day last month and were fined and forced - along with their male guardians - to promise to obey the kingdom’s laws.

In addition to the driving ban, Saudi women are forced to cover themselves from head to toe and need permission from a male guardian to travel, work and marry.

I wonder if the grand mufti can really in touch with his feminine side - especially as a recent scientific study has declared women to be better and safer drivers than men?

Shurah Council (29 June 2013)

I've been scouring the internet searching for news of the Saudi Shurah Council - to see if this body has finally decided whether women in one of the most conservative of Muslim countries in the world - are able to drive.

Not able to drive in a physical sense, of course, because women in Saudi Arabia are able to operate plenty of other mechanical devices - ones that came along long after the motor car - such washing machines, air conditioning devices and TVs. 

Yet the country's religious rulers don't seem to have a problem with women getting their 'hands dirty' on these domestic contraptions - so why do they get their knickers in such a twist about women being able drive a car.

It's a control thing, of course - whatever will these pesky women want next: the right to control  when and if they have children, perhaps, what clothes they want to wear or the right to a decent education - and a job with a career.         

But as soon as I know what the Shurah Council has decided - I'll share it right here. 

What's the Point? (18 March 2013)

What's the point of the Duchess of Cornwall?

Is the question I'm asking myself after reading her comments about the 'remarkable' social changes this royal personage has witnessed - since her last visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabi in 2006.

Now the Duchess - or Camilla Parker Bowles as she is more commonly known - was at the the Bab Rizq Jameel Nafisa Shams Female Academy for Arts and Crafts in Jeddah - and the Duchess and said, quite spontaneously, apparently:

“I’ve noticed that since the last time I was here there’s been a sea of change. Talking to people, they all tell me they think there’s a big difference and they are all so intelligent and sensible. I have had so many more chances to meet women.”

Before adding that the cakes on display were so good - that she would like to take some with her.

Now I'm not naive enough to believe that members of Britain's royal family should be going off abroad fomenting revolution in other countries - fun though that thought might be - but surely this woman could have thought of something slightly more intelligent and worthy to say than these banal comments.

Meanwhile women in Sudia Arabia continue to fight back against one of the most conservative and repressive regimes in the middle east - because Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to forbid its women citizens to drive.

The Saudi ban - which is a religious proclamation- is due to be debated again by the Shura Council - which advises King Abdullah (89) on such sensitive matters - the country being an absolute monarchy of course, as opposed to a democracy.

So the King's word is law - although he is open to argument from time to time, readers will be pleased to hear.

The Shura Council last debated the ban on women drivers in 2006 - and while at that time the King's advisory body rejected any changes out of hand - since then its 150 members include 30 women appointed by King Adbullah in January.

The Shurah Council has agreed to reconsider the issue after receiving a petition of more than 3,500 names - and its deliberation will be televised which is bound to reignite the public argument over women’s equality.

So here's hoping that women drivers in Saudi Arabia become a fact of everyday life soon - the only down side, I suppose, is that they'll have less time to make such famously good cakes.

No Woman No Drive (01/11/13)

A young Saudi comedian - a young man named Hisham Fageeh - has entered the fray by poking fun at his country's ban on women drivers.

Hisham's novel idea was to come up with his own version of the classic Bob Marley number - No Woman No Cry - by re-working the song as No Woman No Drive.

A bit of gentle fun it has to be said, but no doubt the Saudi authorities will heartily disapprove because they know that this sort of humour is subversive - and may strike a chord with men and women alike.

Political protest is forbidden in Saudi Arabia which operates as an absolute monarchy - but Hisham's No Woman No Drive has gone viral on the internet and has received almost 7 million hits on YouTube since it was launched last week. 

Labour Brexit

The Telegraph - Matt cartoons

Matt's cartoon in The Telegraph the other day certainly hit the nail on the head about Jeremy Corbyn and Labour's shenanigans over Brexit.


Labour on Brexit (27/07/17)

Labour policy on Brexit is turning into something of a pantomime as Jeremy Corbyn says 'all options are on the table' only days after ruling out continued membership of the Single Market.

One of Corbyn's key supporters in Labour's shadow cabinet (Barry Gardiner) also went out of his way this week to insist that a Labour would not support continued membership of the Customs Union.

In reality, the Conservative Government is all over the place on Brexit and the same goes for the official Labour opposition.

What a complete mess.

Jeremy Corbyn upbraids Barry Gardiner for contradicting Labour customs union position

The Labour leader and the Shadow International Trade Secretary have set out completely different positions over the customs union

By Tom Peck - The Independent
The Labour leader's spokesperson said remaining in the customs union was still 'on the table' Reuters

Jeremy Corbyn has disagreed with his own Shadow International Trade Secretary, and said that the Labour party would keep membership of the customs union after Brexit "on the table."

Mr Gardiner had said in a newspaper article and repeated his comments in various television interviews, that remaining in the customs union after leaving th EU would render Britain a "vassal state" as it would be subject to rules it had no power to set or amend.

A spokesperson for Mr Corbyn said it was wrong to "sweep options off the table."

But Mr Corbyn has already ruled out continued membership of the single market. He said at the weekend that leaving the single market and leaving the EU were "inextricably linked", even though Liechtenstein and Norway remain a member of the single market but not the EU.

On Sunday night Mr Gardiner said remainining in the customs union would create an “asymmetrical relationship” between the UK and any nations the EU went on to strike trade agreements with, as the UK's interests in those deals would not be considered.

“The EU could do a deal with another country, let’s say America, which we would be bound by in the UK,” he explained.

“We would have to accept the liberalisation of our markets, we would have to accept their goods coming into our markets on the terms agreed by Europe, which could be prejudicial to us.

John McDonnell not ruling out single market membership

BBC UK Politics

Labour has not ruled out continued membership of the EU single market, John McDonnell has said, as he sought to play down divisions over Brexit.

Everyone wanted tariff-free access to EU markets, the shadow chancellor said.

But there was a debate on-going within the Labour Party about whether the best option was continued membership or a separate agreement, he added.

Jeremy Corbyn has suggested the single market is "inextricably linked" to EU membership and the UK cannot remain.

Speaking on Sunday, the Labour leader said leaving the EU meant leaving the EU's internal market - whose members must abide by rules on the free movement of goods, capital, services, and labour.

Jones calls on May to rethink Brexit
Cabinet 'united' over EU transition deal
Brexit: All you need to know

The party's international trade spokesman, Barry Gardiner, has gone further, saying the UK should also rule out remaining in the customs union beyond any transitional period, claiming that failing to do so would make the UK a "vassal state" unable to negotiate sovereign trade deals.

However, many Labour MPs disagree with both positions - arguing that it is in the UK's economic interests to remain in both. They point out there are non-EU members, like Norway, which have full access to the single market and countries such as Turkey which belong to the customs union.

And Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones is arguing Labour should be pushing for the UK to remain in the single market - even though it might mean not being able to impose any controls on immigration from the EU.

Mr McDonnell insisted Labour had a "straightforward" position on the type of access the UK needed to its largest market after it leaves the EU in March 2019.

"Our objective is tariff-free access to the market," he said. "That has been our objective since immediately after the referendum.

"The structures - whether we are in or out - are a secondary matter.

"We are not ruling anything out but what we are saying is that we are the fifth largest economy in the world and we have a special status in both our relationship with the EU and the rest of the globe and we feel we can get a deal that achieves tariff-free access."
'Special status'

Pressed on whether he and Mr Corbyn disagreed on the matter, he said: "I think we are all on the same page with regard to our objectives... there is a debate around whether it is full membership or a new relationship or a separate agreement.

"What we are saying is keep our eye on what is the most important objective, tariff-free access. We can achieve that."

The BBC's assistant political editor Norman Smith said there was a "deep internal divide" within the party and the shadow chancellor was seeking to "soften" the party's stance following a backlash by pro-EU MPs and trade unionists over Mr Corbyn and Mr Gardiner's remarks

Amid signs of growing internal strains over Brexit, the former shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander said she had never felt "more concerned" about her party's position.

"My colleague Barry Gardiner's contribution to the Brexit debate, in which he argues for the UK to come out of the single market and customs union to facilitate Brexit was, for me, depressing and disingenuous in equal measure," she wrote in the Guardian.

She accused her colleague of using arguments on sovereignty, immigration and the legal jurisdiction that "could have come straight out of Tory Central Office", Instead, she said Labour must focus on the damage posed to those on low and middle incomes of a so-called hard Brexit.

The government has said the UK will leave the single market and customs union but could maintain some existing arrangements for an interim period to help British business adjust.

Corbyn's Out of Step (25/07/17)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn keeps saying that the UK cannot leave the European Union and at the same time stay within the Single Market.

He's wrong of course, as this diagram shows, and he is also out of step with the majority of Labour supporters, especially the younger members who have most to lose and don't share the hang ups of Corbyn's leftist inner circle.


False Prospectus (24/07/17)

The New Statesman magazine reports on Jeremy Corbyn's latest bizarre claim that "wholesale" EU immigration destroyed conditions for British workers.

The man's a complete fool if you ask me, because he cited no evidence in support of his claim and the allegation is self-evidently untrue in areas such as the NHS and local government.

On this evidence there's nothing much to choose between Labour and the Tories - the march towards Brexit continues apace, but is based on a false prospectus.

Jeremy Corbyn: "wholesale" EU immigration has destroyed conditions for British workers



The Labour leader has told Andrew Marr that his party wants to leave the single market.

Mass immigration from the European Union has been used to "destroy" the conditions of British workers, Jeremy Corbyn said today.

The Labour leader was pressed on his party's attitude to immigration on the Andrew Marr programme. He reiterated his belief that Britain should leave the Single Market, claiming that "the single market is dependent on membership of the EU . . . the two things are inextricably linked."

Corbyn said that Labour would argue for "tarriff-free trade access" instead. However, other countries which enjoy this kind of deal, such as Norway, do so by accepting the "four freedoms" of the single market, which include freedom of movement for people. Labour MP Chuka Umunna has led a parliamentary attempt to keep Britain in the single market, arguing that 66 per cent of Labour members want to stay. The SNP's Nicola Sturgeon said that "Labour's failure to stand up for common sense on single market will make them as culpable as Tories for Brexit disaster".

Leadership vs Followership (19/07/17)

Tony Blair, the former Labour leader, published an interesting article the other day about the changing face of Brexit in which he argued that the 2017 general election result provides an opportunity for fundamentally reappraising the pros and cons of leaving the European Union (EU).


By Tony Blair

This was on any basis an extraordinary election, unique in recent British political experience and with major political consequence.

The country is deeply divided: between young and old; metropolitan and outside the cities; better off and worse off.

And the country is suffering from the state of its politics. This time last year we were the fastest growing economy in the G7. We are now the slowest. The international investment community is negative on us. The savings rate is at its lowest in 50 years. Incomes are stagnating. The international reputation of Britain is rapidly losing altitude. There is a daily drip of worrying news on Brexit. The Grenfell Tower tragedy sums up for many the sorry condition of our social cohesion.

There is a slightly anarchic feel to our politics intensified by the realisation that the Government is weak and drifting.

There is more followership than leadership.

We feel like a country which has lost its footing and is stumbling; but seemingly with no choice but to stagger on.

This is where everything has changed and nothing has changed.

The election result should enable a fundamental re-appraisal of Brexit. Large numbers of people voted to stop a Hard Brexit and rejected explicitly the mandate Theresa May was demanding.

Instead, both main parties remain wedded to leaving the Single Market.

Now we argue over long transitional periods, and complicated methods of re-creating new regulatory mechanisms with Europe, which essentially mean we will have to keep close to European regulation, when all such things do, is re-emphasise the inherent dangers of the whole venture.

I agree that if the will of the British people remains as it was last June, then Brexit will happen.

But, to state what in a less surreal world would be blindingly obvious, it is possible, that, as we know more about what Brexit means, our ‘will’ changes.

Our leaders should at least lead a proper debate about the options before us.

They should become the nation’s educators, engaging us, explaining to us, laying out every alternative and what it means.

Rational consideration of the options would sensibly include the option of negotiating for Britain to stay within a Europe itself prepared to reform and meet us half way.

The Macron victory changes the political dynamics of Europe. The members of the Euro zone will integrate economic decision-making. Inevitably, therefore, Europe will comprise an inner and outer circle. Reform is now on Europe’s agenda. The European leaders, certainly from my discussions, are willing to consider changes to accommodate Britain, including around freedom of movement.

Yet this option is excluded.

In the week before the election, my Institute along with Luntz Global Partners conducted a poll in France, Germany and the UK around attitudes to Europe, Brexit and politics.

The British people’s attitude to Europe is ambivalent.

They do think ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and for now there is no groundswell for a second referendum.

But, they want a strong relationship with Europe. A majority oppose Hard Brexit. The opposition to free movement of people, once you break it down, is much more nuanced. The French and Germans share some of the British worries, notably around immigration, and would compromise on freedom of movement.

There is no evidence that Britain wants to pay a high economic price for Brexit.

A majority would probably coalesce around a ‘Soft Brexit’.

However, the problem is that the difference between a Hard and a Soft Brexit has a very simple starting point: membership of the Single Market and Customs Union. If we stay within those rules of trade, where over 50 % of our exports go, then the economic damage of Brexit will be limited.

But, we will have to abide by the rules.

The political difficulties of this are evident. It would lead in short order to a scratching of the British collective head and feeling of ‘well, in that case, what's the point of leaving?’

On the other hand, if we do leave the Single Market and Customs Union, then it is also clear that the economic damage is potentially large. No one who has seriously examined these issues believes that a 3rd country FTA is remotely a substitute for membership of the Single Market.

A ‘Jobs First’ Brexit outside the Single Market is a contradiction in terms.

So when people blithely say ‘we will get roughly the same terms as we do now with the Single Market’, I literally know no one in the European system who believes this.

We have over-estimated, as ever, the weakness of Europe. Growth rates are recovering. Politics is stabilising. Yes many clouds remain – from Italian and Spanish banks to popular anger at cuts, low pay and immigration concerns. Europe is not out of the woods. But it thinks it sees a path out of those woods and our poll shows that French and Germans see Europe as a guide not an obstacle.

The 27 will basically stick together in defending the rules of the Single Market.

But we are all learning, as we proceed, the damage Brexit will do.

Europe knows it will be poorer and less powerful without us.

We know our currency is down around 12%; already jobs are going; there is not £350m a week more for the NHS; and we actually need most of the migrants who come to work in the UK.

On any basis, leaving is complex and will take years.

Brexit is the biggest political decision since the Second World War.

Given what is at stake, and what, daily, we are discovering about the costs of Brexit, how can it be right deliberately to take off the table the option of compromise between Britain and Europe so that Britain stays within a reformed Europe?

We are doing so because the Tories fear that if Brexit in some form does not happen, they will re-open the fissure within their Party.

For three decades this internal Conservative battle has wreaked havoc with the politics of the country rather as Empire Tariff debates did in the late 19th and early 20th C.

Meanwhile the true challenges of the country are unaddressed.

The legislative programme is dominated by Brexit to the virtual exclusion of anything else.

The Government may ask for ‘new ideas’ from all sides of politics but the reality is it has no bandwidth seriously to do anything other than Brexit.

It is not too late for the country to grip its own destiny, change the terms of the Brexit debate and turn its attention to the true challenges the nation faces.

This is where what happens to the Labour Party matters so much.

The ambiguity of Labour’s position on Europe may have helped us access both Remain and Leave votes, though I am dubious.

However, it can't last. If Labour continues to be for leaving the Single Market, and the signs are that it will, then we are essentially for the same policy as the Government.

This will become apparent to those who voted Remain. But more than that, it puts us in the same damaging position for the economy as the Tories; and in circumstances where we are also trying to end austerity through spending programmes which, to be clear, are larger than any Labour Party has ever proposed.

I agree Labour had a remarkable result which I did not foresee. I pay tribute to Jeremy Corbyn’s temperament in the campaign, to the campaign’s mobilisation of younger voters and to the enthusiasm it generated.

His supporters shouldn't exaggerate it; but his critics including me shouldn't under-state it. He tapped into something real and powerful, as Bernie Sanders has in the USA and left groups have done all over Europe.

There is a genuine and widespread desire for change and for the politics of social justice.

This should alter the context in which we debate politics; and help influence the policy solutions.

But it doesn't alter the judgement about the risks of an unchanged Corbyn programme, if he became Prime Minister and tried to implement it at the same time as Brexit.

If a right wing populist punch in the form of Brexit was followed by a left wing populist punch in the form of unreconstructed hard left economics, Britain would hit the canvas, flat on our back and be out for a long count.

The conventional wisdom is that the centre ground in British politics is now marginalised.

It is true that the country didn't vote for centrist politics on June 8; but neither was it on offer.

The space for the centre may seem smaller; but the need for it is ever bigger.

The poll shows that a majority in all three countries still identify most with the centre of politics; and that the policies people want, are those which produce real change but from basically a centrist position.

Both Parties now face a fundamental choice of direction. The Tories could go back to the direction of David Cameron in the style of Ruth Davidson. Or they could stick with the politics of the last year, defined by Brexit and immigration.

Labour’s leadership could champion a position on Europe radically distinct from the Tories and reach out to those in the PLP with experience of Government to craft a programme of credibility as well as change.

Or they could dismiss the need for compromise and double down in their efforts to make their takeover of the Labour Party complete.

The Labour Party should be cautious in thinking ‘one more heave’ will deliver victory next time.

The Corbyn campaign was a positive factor in the election result; but the determining factor was the Tory campaign.

In all the elections since 1979, the result at the end was more or less what I expected at the beginning.

Not this time. There is no doubt in my mind that at the beginning of the campaign the public were indeed about to give the Tories a landslide. After all, we had just had a really poor local election result, a normally reliable predictor.

What happened is a perfect illustration of why the Greeks were right that hubris is always followed by nemesis.

Their error was less in calling the election than in the conduct of it.

The winning strategy was the one they started with: Theresa May is a Leader above party, asking for a strong negotiating hand to get the best Brexit deal.

But instead of keeping to it, they shattered it.

Brexit policy turned into Hard Brexit or ‘No Deal’ Brexit, rather than the ‘best deal for Britain’. The manifesto was not above party but absolutely of the Tory Party: austerity, typical tough Tory policy on social care and school meals, plus fox hunting.

The public recoiled.

The 16m who voted Remain realised they had to vote to defeat the Brexit mandate she was seeking. Anyone who cared about the public realm, and wished for an end to or an amelioration of austerity, understood this was their only opportunity to register that wish.

Not foreseeable; but on reflection completely explicable.

The Labour electoral performance was unexpected. But that is exactly why we have to be careful in interpreting it. Victories in Kensington and Canterbury were amazing. But losses in Middlesbrough and Stoke were equally alarming.

The Corbyn enthusiasm, especially amongst the young, is real, but I would hesitate before saying that all those who voted Labour voted to make him Prime Minister; or that they supported the body of the programme rather than its tone.

I think they thought that the likelihood was that the Tories would be the Government, but were determined to neuter the mandate.

This is why you could have – another unique dimension to the election – candidates standing for Labour overtly distancing from Jeremy Corbyn and yet still being elected, some with big majorities.

The common refrain amongst some Labour MPs is the policies were popular and if we retain them and unite we will win next time.

We should beware our own form of hubris.

The Tories are not going to run another campaign like that one.

Next time, Labour’s economic programme will come under vastly greater scrutiny. No one is going to believe that there is not a real possibility of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. The campaign mishaps which happened every time the spending figures were put under the spotlight won't pass so easily.

Understandably, some Labour MPs who, only weeks ago, thought their best hope of salvation rested on disassociation from the Leader, now feel disoriented.

But policies which were wrong in May didn't suddenly become right in June.

Many in this election voted with profound reluctance. There were an unusual number of voters making up their mind very late.

Ultimately neither Party won a majority.

It is true that politics has changed dramatically from 10 years ago.

Our poll shows people want change and by large numbers and in all three countries. Years of austerity and an acute sense of an elite separated from the rest has led to a belief that the promise of generational progress has ended. This generation believes it has done better than the last. But it does not believe the next generation will do better than them.

That is the market of anxiety in which the populists peddle quack solutions.

But the poll also shows that support for the centre stays strong. People will default to populism when a radical centre is not on offer; where it is, they will vote it in, as Macron has shown.

I am not advocating a new Party. Quite apart from the desirability of such a thing, our political system puts formidable barriers in its path.

In any event, as a member of the Labour Party of over 40 years standing, I want the Labour Party to capture this ground.

But there are millions of politically homeless in Britain. They are not going to wander the by-ways of politics, bedding down uncomfortably, forever, not with their country in the dire shape it is in.

The challenge for the centre is to be the place of changing the status quo not managing it.

If it does, it still beats everything else.

What the progressive centre lacks is a radical policy agenda. This is the most immediate task and the one to which my new Institute is devoted.

One of the most dispiriting aspects of the election campaign was the absence of serious debate about the real challenges Britain faces.

AI, automation and Big Data will usher in a new workplace revolution. The NHS, our school and skills system, ‘early years’ education, welfare and retirement need to be re-designed fundamentally to take account of technology, scientific development, and changing demographics and lifestyle.

Communities and people left behind by globalisation need to be helped by specific measures which connect them to the mainstream economy.

The infrastructure of Britain has to be built anew to link up the regions of the country and take advantage of our assets – geography, history, language and a culture which, despite everything, the world still admires.

We need an ambitious affordable housing programme.

Austerity should end; but its’ ending should place an even greater responsibility on Government to seek solutions which change systems and not just pump money into them.

Britain has to escape the cul de sac of backward-looking pessimism with a programme of national renaissance, drawing on the best and most creative minds, to produce the new thinking which can shape our future; and can re-kindle optimism.

This is why Brexit matters so much. It is not merely damaging in itself; it is a massive distraction. Whilst other countries are moving down the fast lane of progress, we are stuck on the hard shoulder of nostalgia.

In this time of accelerating change, we are offered two different types of conservativism, one of the right and one of the left.

The election was fought like one from the 1980s, but with two competing visions of the 1960s.

Neither answers the call of the future.

Politics today are volatile and unpredictable. In these times, best hold to what you believe.

The centre may appear marginalised; but in the hearts and minds of many, it simply needs to be renewed.

Brexit makes this renewal urgent.

Buyer's Remorse and Brexit ((12/07/17)

Now this is interesting!

The Herald reports that a senior Conservative figure in Scotland is expressing 'buyer's remorse' over the way Brexit is working out.

If only Jeremy Corbyn could ste aside his personal prejudices and show some real political leadership, this whole leaving the EU  business 'come what may' would be up for grabs.

Because as I've said before no one voted for the nonsense of leaving the EU Single Market and the Customs Union in which case there is no logical reason to regard the result of the 2016 EU referendum as sacrosanct.

If the facts and circumstances change, people are perfectly entitled to change their views.

Top Scots Tory calls for an end to calamitous Brexit as Scottish farmers face post-EU wipe-out
By David Leask - The Herald

Struan Stevenson is one of the few Tories to make an outright call for the UK to remain in the EU and the single market. Picture: Fraser Bremner

A senior Conservative has called for a rethink of his own party's "calamitous" Brexit policy, warning a trade deal with Donald Trump's America would wipe out Scottish farmers.

Former MEP Struan Stevenson raised the spectre of falling subsidies and collapsing land prices while imports of cheap low-quality hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken destroyed domestic production.

Writing in The Herald, the veteran Tory echoed grave concerns expressed in this newspaper's Beyond Brexit series last month by both economists and farming analysts.

No One Voted For This Nonsense (04/07/17)

Morten Morland's cartoon for The Times has the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the ring fighting for 'Hard Brexit' - with Theresa May and Nigel Farage both urging him on as seconds.

Which begs the question that with everything that has happened since the June 2016 referendum - why is the Labour Party still going along with this nonsense?

Because no one actually voted to leave the EU's Single Market, or the Customs Union or a Brexit that looks like costing the country billions of pounds a year.


Corbyn Fans (03/07/16)

Nigel Farage rows in on Twitter to show his support for Jeremy Corbyn's 'have your cake and eat it' approach to Brexit. 


Not the Messiah (02/07/17)


The Times cartoonist Peter Brookes has some fun with Jeremy Corbyn's policy on Brexit because, if truth be told, the Labour leader is a left-wing 'ideologue' who has vehemently opposed the UK's membership of the European Union for many years, on the bogus grounds that the EU is a 'bosses club'. 

So while Chuka Umanna (in the background) tells the faithful that Jeremy Corbyn really isn't the 'Messiah', the Labour leader continues to pretend that the UK can leave the EU while at the same time preserving all benefits of remaining in the EU which is completely crazy, of course.

Freedom of movement within the EU is a great benefit to many UK citizens, younger and older alike, yet that is one of the reasons for Jeremy Corbyn setting his face against continued membership of the Single Market. 


Impossible Things (30/06/17)

Image result for having your cake and eating it

My understanding of Labour party policy on Brexit is that its leader firmly support the UK leaving the European Union (EU), so long as the country continues to enjoy all the benefits of being a member of the EU.

Which sounds like the political equivalent of being a little bit pregnant, if you ask me - it's the same as having your slice of cake and eating it at the same time.

In the first test of his leadership since the general election, Jeremy Corbyn yesterday ordered Labour MPs to abstain over a vote in the House of Commons to stay within the Single Market and the Customs Union, both of which have major implications for jobs and future growth in the UK economy.

Three shadow ministers (Ruth Cadbury, Andy Slaughter and Catherine West), were sacked for defying their leader's order and and a fourth (Daniel Zeichner) resigned before he could be shown the door.

UK politics has an 'Alice in Wonderland' feel to it these days with arch-rebel Jeremy Corbyn demanding loyalty from his troops and believing that 'six impossible things before breakfast' is perfectly realistic.

Which is complete nonsense, of course, as the UK's mad march towards Brexit will show us all in the weeks and months ahead.


A Question of Leadership (29/06/17)

The big political news on Twitter right now is that Jeremy Corbyn is to whip Labour MPs into 'abstaining' on an amendment which would commit to membership of the EU's single market.

Now given that the majority of Labour supporters voted to remain in the Europe, along with the majority of Scots and a majority of young voters, you would think Jezza would set aside his personal hostility towards the EU and support this amendment from one of his own backbenchers, Labour MP Chuka Umanna.

Because an awful lot of water has flowed under the bridge since the EU referendum in June 2016 which never specifically asked voters for their views on the pros and cons of leaving the Single Market and/or the Customs Union.