An end to homelessness in Scotland?

Hogmanay marks the abolition of the priority need test in homelessness law, and the crystallisation of the Scottish Government’s promise to 'end homelessness' in Scotland. Any individual who becomes homeless unintentionally has been promised the right to a home. What does this promise mean in practice? Will people really have the right to a permanent home in Scotland?

In practice, local authorities already side step statutory homelessness duties by turning single homeless people away, telling them there is no available temporary accommodation. This is unlawful but it happens every day in Scotland, and can be very difficult to detect or prove. Why don’t councils have sufficient temporary accommodation?

Ultimately, it’s the lack of a joined-up national housing policy, whereby the specific policy of large-scale stock transfer has meant that many local authorities have no houses at all. Add this to the fact the 2001 Housing (Scotland) Act contains no power for councils to require housing associations to accommodate homeless persons on a temporary or interim basis, and you have a bottle neck in a system where demand always outstrips supply.

Of course living in a temporary furnished flat, or more typically a homeless hotel or bed and breakfast room, is not the same thing as the promise of a permanent home. Much of Scotland’s private sector temporary accommodation ranges from low quality to shockingly bad, if you are lucky enough to get it. 

The reality is we don’t have enough good quality social housing in Scotland; we need to build more, and giving people legal rights to such homes is meaningless unless they are available to let. Indeed it could be argued that raising expectations of access to good quality, decent homes is unfair and unhelpful if many people may never get one.

Our homelessness laws look fantastic on paper but we have a stretched and broken system on the ground, with a lack of infrastructure. And that system will be unable to cope with the additional homelessness caused by the bedroom tax cuts from April, and thereafter the hideous problems created by the universal credit system in October.

If we want to end homelessness in Scotland there is no better starting point than doing much more to prevent it. The Scottish Government has the power to prevent increased homelessness from the bedroom tax cuts, which will adversely affect 95,000 Scottish households from April.

Govan Law Centre (GLC), the STUC and Shelter Scotland are calling for a change in the law to prevent evictions based on bedroom tax arrears, by instead treating such arrears as an ordinary debt. GLC has already drafted a simple solution which the Scottish Government has agreed to look at.

Local authorities must be allowed to build or acquire more homes, or at least be empowered to formally require housing associations to assist them in meeting their emergency homelessness duties, particularly so with the Homelessness (Abolition of Priority Need Test) (Scotland) Order 2012 coming into force on 31 December.

Unless we act now to prevent the expected evictions from next year’s welfare reform cuts, and recognise the need to improve our social housing infrastructure in Scotland, the right to a home may become nothing more than a promise which cannot be honoured.

GLC campaign for lenders to reimburse unfair mortgage fees in Scotland

Banks are facing compensation claims of up to £30m from Scottish mortgage customers hit by "unfair, immoral and unethical' fees and charges added to their mortgages after court actions were dismissed by lenders for technical reasons. Govan Law Centre's (GLC) campaign to stop Scottish consumers being 'double charged' for mortgage expenses has been reported in The Herald (Sat, 29 December 2012).

GLC believes that the issue here is fairness, and that incompetent or defective proceedings cannot be the fault of consumers; rather it is the responsibility of lenders and their Scottish solicitors. GLC considers it to be unfair, immoral, and unethical for Scottish solicitors and UK lenders to profit twice by 'double-charging' Scottish consumers who are in financial difficulties.

GLC has set up a simple self-help website for affected customers or their advisors to seek free refunds.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders told The Herald that if costs were not added to mortgage accounts "then all customers would effectively end up paying for them, which many would regard as unfair and inappropriate". The Herald's own editorial has argued that this approach "fails to recognise the only fair and appropriate way for the charge to be borne is by the institutions whose incompetence caused the actions to fail". The Herald goes on to argue that:

"Mike Dailly of Govan Law Centre, the solicitor who is leading the campaign to recover the charges levied for failed actions, is entirely justified in condemning the lenders and criticising their solicitors as "unfair, immoral, and unethical" in double-charging Scottish consumers who are in financial difficulties".
Repossession cases which were dismissed in Scotland centre on two significant legal rulings in the UK Supreme Court and the sheriff court that resulted in thousands of repossession cases being aborted: RBS v. Wilson; and NRAM v. Millar & RBS v. McConnell, respectively (GLC represented the defenders in NRAM v. Millar and RBS v. McConnell). 

Shelter Scotland and STUC endorse 'No eviction for bedroom tax' campaign

GLC is delighted that Shelter Scotland and the STUC have endorsed the principles of the 'No eviction for bedroom tax' campaign, which is already supported by local tenants and residents in Glasgow, following two public meetings in Govan.

GLC had suggested the need for urgent minor law reform amendment to implement a 'No eviction for bedroom tax' policy in Scotland, upon the basis the bedroom tax cuts would be affecting tenants within 4 months or so, and Scotland needed a new safety net otherwise we would be unable to prevent evictions based on rent arrears caused by the bedroom tax.

Many defended eviction actions in court can often turn on £3.55 per week payments to arrears, and with £12 to £22 per week being deducted from housing benefit it could become almost impossible to defend such eviction actions in the near future.

GLC has suggested bedroom tax rent arrears could be pursued as an ordinary debt, and should not be founded upon as a ground of eviction or to establish the reasonableness of local authority and housing association evictions. Such a policy could either be considered on a permanent or transitional basis with a sunset clause.

The support from Shelter Scotland and the STUC to this proposal is very welcome and will help forge much wider civic Scottish support to the 'No eviction for bedroom tax' campaign.

The Fiscal Cliff, Healthcare, Housing and You

As we near the end of 2012 and the edge of the fiscal cliff, as usual the big debate is whether the Bush tax cuts should be extended or allowed to expire, and if they should be extended, for whom. As liberals and conservatives debate the impact on the economy, the focus of the media's coverage of the debate seems to focus mainly on the increases to the top income tax rate. After a two year reprieve on these extensions, most Americans seem to now believe that it is best to let the tax cuts expire for the top earners while ensuring that they are maintained for everyone else.

I think that framing the Bush tax cuts debate only in terms of income tax increases really minimizes the full effect of allowing the tax cuts to expire. Remember that the tax cuts did more than just lower the income tax rate; they also gave a hefty shot in the arm to the real estate market.

Under the Bush tax cuts, an individual could sell his or her primary residence and realize up to a $250,000 gain tax free. A couple could sell their primary residence and realize up to a $500,000 gain tax free. And this gain did not have to be reinvested in a new primary residence to reap the tax advantages; the sellers could choose just to put the money from the sale in an investment account and rent for the rest of their lives. The capital gains tax holiday gave a powerful boost to the real estate market because it allowed Americans to purchase a home and benefit in a very direct way from their properties' appreciation.

If all of the tax cuts are allowed to expire, next year the sales of primary residences will again be subject to capital gains tax. (Presumably the tax will revert back to the prior law before the tax cuts where no capital gains is owed if a new primary residence of equal or greater value is purchased within a set period of time.) But what if the tax cuts are extended to the middle class and only allowed to expire for taxpayers with incomes of $250,000 a year or more? What effect will that have on the housing market?

Remember that for the past couple of years Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's average borrower today has a credit score of 751 and a down payment of more than 30%. That means essentially that these two agencies, both of which have received hundreds of billions in tax dollar bailouts, are basically making loans to upper middle class borrowers--the ones who typically have higher incomes. A capital gains' tax on primary residences, combined with higher income taxes and a looming threat to discontinue the tax deduction for mortgage interest, may discourage these borrowers from investing in real estate. At the very minimum, it is going to discourage them from buying higher priced homes. Discouraging the very borrowers who are in the best position financially to purchase homes and pay the mortgages on them can only result in a further slowdown of the real estate market, and potentially greater declines in housing prices. Many of the taxpayers in the $250,000 bracket are actually small business owners. With increasing economic problems, and dropping market values, how comfortable are they going to feel going through the pain of purchasing a home knowing upon sale the gain will be subject to taxes because they earn over $250,000 a year?

I know that it can be argued that for many years primary residences were subject to capital gains tax upon sale, and that the tax did not stop people from buying or selling property. But I would counter that there is a strange phenomenon that comes into play when people are used to getting something (in this case a capital gains' tax holiday on their primary residence) and then see it taken away. We saw this with the home buyer tax credit. Buyers had bought and sold houses without an $8,000 tax credit since the beginning of civilization, but in the short time that it was implemented, buyers came to believe that they should expect a tax credit. Consequently, when the tax credit expired, buyers largely stopped putting in contracts on houses. The credit should not have provided all that much incentive--after all, the primary reward for purchasing a home is having a place to live--but once the inducement was offered and then removed, borrowers did not seem to see the point of buying a home for which they would not receive a tax credit.

Two years ago the tax cuts were extended for everyone. Now President Obama is adamant that they should be extended only for those earning less than $250,000. But this plan poses an additional set of challenges. The new health care law signed in March also contains a tax on real estate. The 3.8% tax on the sale of residential real estate applies to individuals with incomes higher than $200,000 and couples with combined incomes over $250,000. On a sale of a $300,000 home, the tax would be $11,400.00. This would be in additional to the capital gains tax. And since the health care tax is on the sales price and not on the gain, it would apply to any borrower in the income bracket being taxed. In other words, if you sell your house for enough to cover what you owe the bank plus the agent's commission and your costs as seller, you could still owe Uncle Sam a check.

We like to think that "rich" people, whom we as a society have defined as people with incomes over $200,000 or $250,000, have so much money that they don't feel these taxes at all and that any complaining that they do is only a result of greedy whining. But at what point do the more affluent people in our society decide that real estate is too heavily taxed and that they are better off renting rather buying? At what point do current homeowners who do have extra cash decide to offer their homes for rent rather than for sale because they are rebelling against a plethora of taxes which gobble up their equity? And what are the consequences of this shift in thinking for an already lethargic housing market?

In spite of reports that I have been reading all year, I personally have not seen a housing market recovery or improved housing prices. With one exception, none of the appraisals I ordered this year came in as well as expected. Properties that were purchased last year at lower than expected prices appraised this year for less than last year's purchase price. In my conversations with underwriters in other areas of the state, I have learned that this continued depreciation of the housing market is actually typical right now. Do we want to make a declining housing market worse than it already is by disincentivizing still more borrowers?

Raising taxes--even for the top income brackets--may generate a lot of money for the U.S. Treasury in the short term, but in the long term it will lead to increased unemployment which will lead to increased mortgage defaults and delinquencies at a cost to lenders, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and ultimately the American taxpayers. Taxing the life out of what is left of the housing industry is really just cooking and eating the goose that laid the golden egg.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at

Glasgow mortgage repossession action dismissed for failing to comply with Consumer Credit Act

A sheriff at Glasgow Sheriff Court has dismissed a mortgage repossession action concerning two 'second charge' secured loans for failing to comply with sections 87-88 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (CCA) and the Consumer Credit (Enforcement, Default and Termination Notices) Regulations 1983 as amended.

In the case of Citifinancial Europe plc v. Rice, Sheriff Deutsch pronounced a judgment which found that the section 87 default notice served under the CCA was defective and incompetent  because it failed to properly identify the loan agreements, the parties to the agreements, and failed to provide clear specification of the matters complained of.

The court distinguished the present case from American Express v. Brandon, where a defect in a default notice was overlooked as de minimus and non-prejudicial. While such arguments were possible in Sheriff Deutsch's opinion, in the present case the errors were 'fundamental' and the action for possession fell to be dismissed.

The pursuers were represented by Aberdein Considine & Co., Solicitors (Gordon), while the defender was represented by Govan Law Centre (Dailly).

Right to Work, Legalized Pot and the States vs. The Federal Government

The second week of December has been most interesting.  On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed Michigan's first right to work law, officially banning the practice of forcing workers to pay union dues in the state.  What Michigan did was not really revolutionary--almost half of the states currently have right to work laws. What is extraordinary is that Michigan would pass such a law considering the long history of unions in the state.  What is also extraordinary is the national attention that this law has gotten.  I don't remember seeing all of this attention focused on Indiana in February when they chose to become a right-to-work state.  But since Tuesday, the focus of cable news has been the Michigan right to work law. Distraught union members have protested loudly, and sometimes violently; and Jimmy Hoffa Jr. has promised civil war. 
Amid all of the weeping and gnashing of teeth that has followed Michigan's passage of the right-to-work law, what appears to have largely been lost is that states have a clear right to determine the labor laws within their own borders.  The primary impetus for this law is that Michigan is losing business opportunities to its right-to-work neighbor Indiana.  In order to attract jobs and business opportunities, states have to compete, and right-to-work laws allow such competition.

As someone who has worked in a right-to-work state my entire life, I can tell you for a certainty that right-to- work laws do not destroy the worker--in fact they open up a lot of new opportunities.  For instance, in Texas, the right-to-work laws mean, in part, that a non-compete clause from an employment contract cannot, in most cases, be enforced against an employee.  In practical terms this means that the worker who has an opportunity to go to work for his employer's competitor for a higher wage can take advantage of that opportunity without any real fear of reprisal.  It also means that a person who want to open his own business competing in the same field as his current employer has the opportunity to do so without waiting out the non-compete time of the contract.  That means that he can take his contacts with him while they are still fresh and while he can still grow the business.  Right-to-work helps employers, but it also makes life much easier for workers who now have a lot more options.  And right-to-work states grow.  Texas' right-to-work laws--coupled with no state income tax--account in large part for the state's maintaining a solid economy even in the current difficult times.

What I find most interesting about the current uproar about Michigan's new law is that the discussion by opponents of the new law is not being framed in terms of Michigan's right to regulate its own labor laws.  Rather, opponents seem to believe that Michigan's new law is the outgrowth of a national conspiracy by conservatives in Michigan and other parts of the country to undermine the unions and by extension the Obama Administration. President Obama even spoke against the passage of the Michigan law saying that this new law was not about economics; it was only about politics and the "right to work for less money." Rather than acknowledging that the state has the same right as any other state to pass laws for the perceived betterment of the lives of its citizens, liberals seem intent on furthering their assertion that this law is somehow aimed at undercutting the Administration and that Gov. Snyder was acting outside of his authority in signing it.

While union leaders were rioting in Michigan this week, in Colorado the state's new law legalizing marijuana went into effect.  Let me begin this by saying that I, personally, am opposed to drug legalization at every level as I believe that all recreational narcotic substances are damaging to the individual and to society at large.  But there are much greater issues at play here than just personal morality about whether drugs should be legal.

Washington State and Colorado, of course, legalized recreational marijuana usage by popular vote on November 6, in a move that many have called "historic."  Clearly, the signing of these laws actually was outside of the authority of the state governors who signed them.  Federal law does not allow recreational marijuana usage, and state laws are not allow to preempt federal laws.  However, on this issue, the left is remaining very quiet.  I saw a portion of an interview with former attorney general Alberto Gonzales about possible actions that the Administration can take as a result of the passage of these laws.  Gonzales said that basically the government has three options:

1. The Feds can arrest and prosecute citizens of the states under the current federal drug laws and then argue in court that federal laws always preempt state laws.

2. The Feds can sue the states in court for violating federal laws.

3. The Feds can withhold funding for local law enforcement since the local law enforcement is refusing to uphold Federal law.

There is also a fourth option which Gonzales did not mention but which many progessives and libertarians are demanding.  The federal government can do nothing.  Legalization of recreational marijuana is, after all, supported by a majority of the voters in Colorado and Washington--two states which voted for Obama in the 2012 elections. Additionally, big money backers including hedge fund billionaire George Soros and Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance support legalizing drugs. For the Administration to enforce the current drug laws would be very unpopular with both monied backers and the liberal voting blocks in those states, so it might be politically advantageous for the Obama Administration to not get involved.

Maybe.  Maybe not. Having two states pass laws legalizing drugs really is a clear affront to federal authority. As it turns out, Colorado and Washington's new laws violate not only federal law, but international United Nations' treaties--the 1961 International Convention on Narcotic Drugs outlaws marijuana and other drugs. That treaty is supported by two other treaties—the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Drugs and the 1988 Anti-Trafficking Convention.  Whether the Obama Administration privately agrees with these state laws is not the point; the point is that by refusing to take any action on these laws, the Administration is sending a message that in some cases, at least, state laws can preempt federal laws and even international treaties.  In speaking out against the Michigan law, the President and his Administration are interjecting themselves into a matter that is clearly the state's to decide.  In refusing to stand up against legalized marijuana--if that is ultimately the case--the President and the Administration are conceding authority that the federal government actually does have to enforce laws.  The only legal way around this is to back federal bills to legalize drugs nationally.  Any such legislation would undoubtedly prove extremely contentious and difficult to pass in a government as gridlocked as this one. 

It will be interesting to see how this issue of the state authority versus federal authority is ultimately resolved. After all, if the test of whether we have to obey federal laws is determined by whether a majority of citizens in a state agree with the laws or not, there are millions of citizens living in red states who do not agree with a lot of the laws that this Administration is passing.  Could what happens in Colorado and Washington set up a precedent for red states to eventually vote to reject Obamacare? If popular will can nullify international treaties, could states down the road vote to disregard UN treaties such as the UN Small Arms Treaty and could the courts rule with them?  Could courts rule that since the Administration has allowed two states to openly violate federal law, they have sent a message that state laws passed by popular vote have more authority than federal laws passed by the houses of Congress and signed by the President.  If the courts do eventually determine that this is the case, the outcome could be a rebellion against federal control unlike anything we have witnessed in the past.  The outcome should be fascinating to watch.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at

Jim DeMint, Sandra Fluke and the War of Ideas

Our nation is at war.  No I am not referring to the perennial war on terror or the constant threats that Middle Eastern dictators pose to America.  Rather we are engrossed in a civil war--a war of ideas.  The most recent battle in this war was the 2012 elections, a loss which conservatives are still grieving.  But 2012 was just a battleground--it was not the war itself. 

Through the events of 2012, many of us conservatives have come to really understand just how much ground we have lost in the culture wars over the last 40 or 50 years. All serious conservatives now acknowledge that we have totally lost broadcast television media--mainstream media outlets openly protected the Administration's errors and missteps while crucifying conservative opponents for relatively small infractions.  We have lost the school systems which are educating an army of socialist, liberal young people who support drug legalization, gay marriage and redistribution of wealth.  These losses are reflected in polls that show an increasing support for socialism and big government across the U.S. and, of course, they are reflected in the elections themselves.

I think Time Magazine's short list for Person of the Year may best reflect the ways in which liberal socialism is taking over our society.  On the short list were E.L. James, author of the mega-best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, JayZ, and Sandra Fluke.  Assuming that Person of the Year acknowledges the individual who has made the greatest impact in the year, this is an astonishing list.  Using the criteria of accomplishment, James probably does deserve to be considered.  While I personally find it horrifying that society's morals have eroded to the extent that a series on sado-masochism can become an all-time bestseller, I also acknowledge that James accomplished something else that no one ever has.  She used modern technologies and social media to take an unknown book and make it into an international best seller.  Whether or not you agree with the specific content of her work, she has demonstrated an extraordinary understanding of how to market in the digital age, and in the rapidly changing world of publishing I can understand why the editors of Time would consider her.

Likewise, with Jon Stewart and JayZ, while I do not think that they have done anything worthy of the title of Person of the Year, I acknowledge that both men have demonstrated a high degree of personal success. Although I disagree with their actions and their politics, I also acknowledge that to rise to national fame in media and to influence a generation of voters takes a lot of discipline and commitment. 

That leaves Sandra Fluke.  What makes Sandra Fluke an interesting choice for Person of the Year is that she is the one person on the list with no accomplishments whatsoever.  She is famous only because Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" on his radio show.  Her sole achievement consists of being insulted nationally by a famous personality.  She is a law student in her thirties who supports big government and insists that she is entitled to free birth control.  There is nothing exceptional about her in any way, and yet everyone in America knows her name.

Perhaps Time Magazine's thinking is that Sandra Fluke is a composite for the single young women of America.  In a way she is.  Sandra Fluke and her sisterhood of single, liberal women who overwhelmingly supported President Obama's re-election last month are the spiritual daughters of Hillary Clinton, and like their "mother" these women believe that it takes a village to do everything--including, apparently, prevent pregnancy.  The "Life of Julia" is these women's playbook--they expect and demand cradle to grave care from a huge federal government who will stand in the place of the husbands they choose not to have.  They become enraged if anyone takes exception to being forced to bankroll their promiscuous lifestyles.  I am certainly not saying that none of these women will ever marry--most of them undoubtedly will.  However, they plan to continue to look to the government as their protector and provider throughout their lives, so the government needs to be big and strong and generous so that it can meet their needs and those of whatever children they have.  They are life-long victims of mean, hateful, judgmental people who call them names in public.  But they don't aspire to elevate their status in the world; they just want to silence the voices criticizing them. For these women, conservatism is a foreign language they do not wish to learn; the ideas are hollow and offensive.

By even giving Sandra Fluke honorable mention as a contender for Person of the Year, Time Magazine is acknowledging that these women are the new future of our country.  They are also playing into the liberal, socialist mindset that accomplishment and achievement don't matter.  Hard work does not matter; success does not matter.  A person who has done nothing except demand government handouts and fend off insults is as worthy of recognition as the one who has worked hard and achieved something notable. 

In the face of this new mindset, where work and achievement are denigrated, where unaccomplished people demanding a free ride are celebrated, and where promiscuity and irresponsibility are rewarded, how do conservatives restore the voice of reason?  As I mentioned last week, liberals understand human nature much better than conservatives, and so they have done much better in this war of ideas than we have.  But as I also mentioned, conservatives have a much better grasp on reality than liberals, and we know that liberal ideas do not work over the long haul.  That is our strength--and our weakness.

With this in mind, I was initially very sad today to learn that SC Senator Jim DeMint is leaving the Senate and going to work as the head of the Heritage Foundation.  It was DeMint who blocked the ill-conceived and dangerous LOST Treaty from being ratified this summer; it was DeMint who virtually single-handedly prevented the unionization of the TSA.  DeMint has consistently stood for conservative principles--sometimes completely alone--and he has accomplished remarkable things in an often hostile environment. called him the most conservative member of the Senate--a title I think he deserves. When I heard the news, therefore, I thought, with a lot of sadness, that we are losing a strong, consistent advocate for freedom in the Senate.  But when I read DeMint's statement about why he is leaving now, I was heartened.  He wrote that his intention has always been to be a citizen legislator--never a career politician.  And then he added this:
"I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight. I’ve decided to join The Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas. No organization is better equipped to lead this fight and I believe my experience in public office as well as in the private sector as a business owner will help Heritage become even more effective in the years to come.”
He went on to say:
"This is an urgent time because we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections...We want to figure out what works at the local and state level."

As I have thought about DeMint's statement today and how the Senate will look without him, I have realized that we now have other strong true conservative voices in the Senate--Senator Mike Lee of Utah, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and incoming Texas Senator Ted Cruz.  Each of these men understands that freedom is essential, that U.S sovereignty is not negotiable and that we must stand up for the Constitution of the U.S.  Perhaps DeMint knows that the Senate now has the principled, strong conservatives it needs in order to stand in the gap for our country in the short term.  He also seems to know that the real war is not in the Senate--it is in the minds of Americans who read Time Magazine and watch broadcast news and are influenced more by celebrities than think tanks.  The true war is in the thinking of the millions of women like Sandra Fluke who rejoiced at Obama's election as a victory for their futures, and in the thinking of Americans of all colors who routinely vote Democrat out of a sense that the Democrat party looks after the "little people" while the Republicans only look out for their own rich friends. If we cannot clearly communicate conservative ideas in a way that all Americans can understand, soon we will not able to elect enough people committed to the Constitution to any branches of our government to preserve our way of life, and then we will lose the country completely.  If we don't win the war of ideas, in a short time none of the other battles will even matter.

Welcome to the fight, Senator DeMint.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me A Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at

Glasgow University Law School Ethics Colloquium

GLC's Principal Solicitor has delivered a speech today at the University of Glasgow's Ethics Colloquium on behalf of the UK's Financial Services Consumer Panel.

Mike suggested that many of our financial scandals and problems can be traced back to a lack of professional ethics in our banking system, and that ethical failure was a causa causans of so many of the UK's and international communities recent financial problems.  Mike's speech is available here.  (Mike's evidence on behalf of the FSCP to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards is here).

For over four years now the UK has been hit, virtually weekly, by corporate scandals and failures attributable arguably to a lack of ethical behaviour at high levels. The Bank of Scotland, The Metropolitan Police, Arthur Andersen, Lloyds, South Yorkshire Police, BBC, Glasgow Rangers, HBOS, News International, MPs expenses and LIBOR rate fixing.

Glasgow University's colloquium has sought to analyse the causes of this culture and if this is now a permanent state of affairs or an issue which can be addressed. Can others learn from the medical and legal professions? Is there a role for education as well as regulation and sanction?

Held in the Court and Senate Suite of the University the event heard from high profile speakers from business, the professions and academia seeking to address the downward cycle of public and business behaviour. The speakers included:

· Sir Kenneth Calman, Chancellor, University of Glasgow, and former Chief Medical Officer for England; and Scotland
· Emeritus Professor Stewart Hamilton, IMD, Switzerland
· Harry Reid, The Herald
· Bruce Ritchie, Law Society of Scotland
· Mike Dailly, Financial Services Consumer Panel
· Tom Craig, Craig Corporate
· Douglas Mill, University of Glasgow, School of Law

GLC encourages Scottish homeowners to reclaim millions of pounds in unfair legal expenses

Many of the several thousand Scottish homeowners taken to court for mortgage repossession over the last few years, have had their cases dismissed and then re-raised for technical reasons.

Govan Law Centre believes they may have been unfairly charged twice for their lender's legal expenses along with additional administrative charges.

GLC will be launching a straight forward campaign and website to help consumers reclaim the 'repeat' legal expenses and charges added to their mortgage accounts, at a Scottish repossession conference hosted in Glasgow on Monday 3 December 2012 by Carrington Dean.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said: "Where a lender has raised incompetent proceedings, or deserts those proceedings to re-raise again, how can they reasonably expect their customers to pay for being taken to court twice?  We think passing on these repeat or double charges to Scottish consumers is clearly unfair in relation to the Financial Services Authority's (FSA) Principles of Business. The extra costs involved here add up to many millions of pounds which Scottish homeowners should not have to bear".

The reclaim mini-site is available online here.

Cross-party agreement to consider 'no bedroom tax eviction' policy in Scotland

Last night, a packed Mary Barbour Hall in Govan's Pearce Institute heard the heartfelt concerns from local tenants frightened for their families future with the 'bedroom tax' cuts, due next April.

The cuts will see those who are retired, working, or in receipt of benefits, receive housing benefit cuts of £48 per month from their rent, and in some cases £88 per month.

Humza Yousaf MSP
The meeting heard from a panel comprising of Johann Lamont MSP, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Humza Yousaf MSP, Scottish Minister for External Affairs and International Development, Cllr James Adams, Bailie Fariha Thomas, Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the STUC, Mike Dailly, Principal Solicitor, GLC, John Flanagan, Chair of Govan Housing Association, and Kenny McLeod, Deputy Director of Linthouse Housing Association.

There was a unanimous consensus from the panel and members of the public at the meeting, that the 'under-occupancy' housing benefit reforms were irrational and morally wrong, would unfairly force families to give up their homes of many years, and would ultimately lead to an increase in evictions and homelessness across Scotland.

Johann Lamont MSP
Both Johann Lamont  and Humza Yousaf agreed that the housing benefit proposals were irrational and would force families to make distressing and unfair choices. Cllrs Adams and Thomas were worried that the bedroom tax would cause misery for many local people and ultimately lead to greater homelessness, with the package of welfare cuts taking £115m out of the Glasgow economy. There was a need for local advice agencies to use the law and provide welfare rights support for those affected.

The STUC's Dave Moxham reflected on the need to look at rent capping in the private sector and much stronger rent regulation. He noted that levels of child poverty and equality of pay was actually better-off in 1979 than it was today, and how we needed a fightback in the spirit of those of the 1915 Glasgow rent strike, which included Govan's Mary Barbour.  Kenny McLeod explained that 75% of Scottish housing associations relied on housing benefit for more than half of their operational revenue, and that many tenants were already borrowing from high interest home credit lenders.

John Flanagan emphasised the need for all stakeholders and campaigners to come together to work with a united front. This was echoed by the chairman of the meeting, John Foster, and the meeting resolved to form a steering committee to take forward a united campaign on behalf of Glasgow tenants. Govan Law Centre (GLC) agreed to provide full support and backing to the steering committee.

Members of the public in Govan's Mary Barbour Hall
Mike Dailly talked to GLC's call for an urgent minor law reform amendment to implement a 'no eviction for bedroom tax' policy* in Scotland, upon the basis these cuts would be affecting tenants within 4 months or so, and we needed a new safety net otherwise we would be unable to prevent evictions based on the bedroom tax.

Mike explained that at the moment defended eviction actions in court can often turn on £3.55 per week payments to arrears, and with £12 to £22 per week being deducted from housing benefit it could become almost impossible to defend such eviction actions in future.

Both Humza Yousaf and Johann Lamont agreed to consider the feasibility of GLC's law reform proposal which was backed by those present at the public meeting. GLC has suggested bedroom tax rent arrears could be pursued as an ordinary debt, and should not be founded upon as a ground of eviction or to establish the reasonableness of local authority and housing association evictions. Such a policy could either be considered on a permanent or transitional basis with a sunset clause.

The meeting was organised by the tenants and residents associations of Govan and Linthouse, and the Govan Communnity Council.

* GLC's briefing paper and proposed statutory amendment is online here (opens as a PDF).

Code Red

It may come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog that I was not always as conservative as I am now.  My parents were very conservative, and I always had pro-life, pro-traditional family values, but when I was in my late teens and early twenties I was much more supportive of welfare and government assistance programs than I am today.  At that time, I held the views of many of the people who now seem to think that I am mean and unfeeling--I believed that the government needed to provide a hand up to people and that those recipients of this federal aid would go on to become grateful, producing members of society.  These views were shaped in part by the fact that when I was a teenager my father lost his job and over the years that followed our family became destitute.  We were never on any type of government assistance--including unemployment.  My father had money saved and after he lost his job, he cashed in his retirement savings which allowed us to live until my brothers and sisters and I were old enough to start contributing to the family's support. From that time on we worked and paid the bills as best we could.  I was deeply aware of how more affluent people looked down on us--and since virtually everyone was more affluent than we were I definitely sympathized with the underprivileged.

What changed?  Was it starting my own business and working the long hours and paying the taxes that are part of self-employment?  Not really.  Certainly, owning and running a business for close to 15 years has made me understand much about how jobs are created, how wealth is built and how excessive regulation stifles and smothers initiative and opportunity.  But the experience that really transformed my thinking about welfare and social programs occurred many years before I became a business owner.  What fundamentally transformed my thinking about government assistance was having up close and personal exposure to it.

Shortly before my nineteenth birthday I began teaching at the local community college, where I worked for years.  I was a part-time instructor in the history department but I also picked up additional classes in developmental education studies and English as a second language.  Since I have a Master of Arts in Humanities Degree with a history major and philosophy minor, I was eager to teach what I had learned in graduate school to students whom I was convinced would prove to be eager sponges ready to soak in knowledge.  I taught hundreds of students over the four years that I was at EPCC.  I opened each semester the same way--by introducing myself and then asking each student to introduce himself or herself and tell me what specifically they hoped to get out of the course I was teaching.  I learned over the years that these early introductions set the stage for the entire semester because in the twenty or thirty minutes that it took for me to meet the students and learn a little about them, I could predict who was going to succeed and who wasn't. I had many older students who had come back to school in an effort to earn a degree to improve their chances for promotion at work.  When I taught English as a second language I had quite a few students who were taking those classes because they needed better English skills for their jobs and several students who were the mothers of English speaking teenagers who wanted to be able to understand their children's conversations.  But every semester, in every class, I also had another type of student.  These were the students straight out of high school who were enrolled for only one reason--their parents had told them they had to either get a job or go to school, and they had decided that school was the better of the two options.

Nearly all of my students were attending school on some sort of financial aid. And I did have some very motivated students who actually worked hard and were eager to learn, but they were invariably the older students who had gone back to school because they had some personal motivation for self-improvement. They virtually never came from that young group of students who were the majority of the class.  In fact, after a few weeks, a good number of these would stop coming to class.  They were still physically going to the campus--I would see them hanging around the halls smoking and chatting with their friends. They might even attend the minimum amount that they had to in order to keep from having me drop them from the class.  But they weren't learning anything because they were not interested in working or studying or doing anything that they needed to do.  They were simply kicking the can down the road a few years on the taxpayer dime--using federal financial aid to give themselves a place to crash so that they could delay going to work and accepting adult responsibilities.  Seeing this colossal waste of opportunity in the form of grants and student loans handed to a group of people who did not appreciate them or take advantage of the education offered taught me the first simple principle of conservatism--what is obtained without effort is not valued.  People only appreciate those things that they work for and sacrifice to get; they never really appreciate anything that is just given to them.

Twenty years later, we have just gone through a horribly disappointing election in which a majority of Americans--though not a very big one--voted to give President Obama a second term.  Young people, minorities and women overwhelmingly voted for big government, more social programs, and more welfare.  In the wake of this election, we see the GOP now trying to figure out how to reinvent themselves to make our party more "relevant".  The GOP leadership appears to be bent on making our party more liberal so that its principles will more closely align with the desires of the electorate. 

I am very certain that the problems that the GOP faced in this election are not the result of being too conservative.  And I am equally certain that the solution is not to try to rebrand ourselves into a more marketable entity.  As long as we continue to make our elections about which candidate gets the most or best looking celebrity endorsements, we are never going to be able to address any of the real issues that are plaguing either the party or the country.

As I see it, we need to start addressing a couple of fundamental truths:

1. Liberals have a better understanding of human nature than conservatives.  As a result they are able to manipulate people using our basest instincts.  They also have a better understanding of the laws of physics as they apply to humans--specifically the law of inertia which says that an object in motion has a tendency to remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force while an object at rest has a tendency to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.  (This principle of inertia makes it difficult to transform welfare recipients into productive workers overnight since they have a tendency to want to remain at rest.)

Because of these truths, conservatives can never win public relations battles using political theory.  Liberalism simply sounds better.  The idea of a big, benevolent cash-rich government spreading wealth around to make sure that all citizens are happy, well educated, fed and fulfilled is too good a sales pitch.  It is certainly more appealing than a message that tells people to get up early in the morning, go to work, provide for themselves and their families and live as productive, contributing members of society.  As a theory, liberalism will always prevail.  But that leads me to the second truth:

2. Conservatives have a much better grasp on reality than liberals.  In reality, socialism produces sloth and poverty. Government handouts disincentivize individual effort and achievement and produce a society where no one is productive. And the big government that can meet your every need can also strip away every freedom--enslaving the people who looked to it for protection.  History teaches repeatedly that collectivism is a disaster and big, out of control governments become totalitarian and dictatorial. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."

Because of this truth, conservatives can win political battles by demonstrating the  real world differences between conservatism and liberalism.  Conservative principles produce prosperity, limited government and personal freedom.  Liberal principles produce poverty, and bloated bureaucracy and destroy personal freedom.  The question for us as conservatives now is not how we better market this message or how we rebrand ourselves.  The question is whether we are willing to stand up for our principles and live under them.

Unlike many Americans, I do not support secessionist movements, for two reasons. 

1.  As a student and teacher of American history, I know that the last secessionist movement in America ended with over half a million Americans dead and the secessionist states being forced back into the Union under less than favorable terms.  The southern states remained second-class states for many years after the Civil War.  That is not a model that any of us wants to follow.

2. We have enough conservatives states that we can demonstrate the superiority of conservative principles if we are willing to do it.  If we have the desire, and the will, we can prove in a real world setting that our principles still work and always will. But in order to do this, we have to be willing stop focusing on national politics for a time and instead we have to focus on what we can do within our own states.  By fostering conservatism on a state level, we can showcase its strengths while highlighting the weaknesses of liberalism.  This show and tell approach is going to be the best weapon against the growing popularity of socialism in the U.S. and I believe that it is our only real hope for turning the tide of American opinion.

The rest of my posts for this year will be devoted to some simple ways that I believe we can foster and grow conservatism on a local and state level.  None of the ideas is very radical, and many are currently being explored.  But I think that if all of us who believe in conservatism are willing to stand together and work towards our goals, we can make a big enough impact in our nation's thinking that when we do face liberalism again on a national stage, we can defeat it soundly.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me A Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at