Perry on Politics: Scottish independence would bring cultural change

Published by Mike Pound on .

A passerby argues with two Scottish independence referendum Yes supporters one holding a Scottish Saltire flag up and one not seen, outside the "Better Together" No campaign offices in Edinburgh, Scotland, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. (Matt Dunham/AP photo)

A passerby argues with two Scottish independence referendum Yes supporters one holding a Scottish Saltire flag up and one not seen, outside the "Better Together" No campaign offices in Edinburgh, Scotland, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014. (Matt Dunham/AP photo)

By James M. Perry

"I hope everyone thinks carefully about the (independence) referendum this week," Queen Elizabeth II said the other day.

Her comment doesn't mean the queen is taking sides, Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, said.

Not officially, maybe, but everyone knows where the queen stands. She doesn't want to break up a union that's lasted for 307 years. Losing Scotland would mean that the British monarchy, which once ruled what's now the United States, and India and Canada and Australia and New Zealand, would be left with England and Wales and Northern Ireland.

Unthinkable. But polls, most of them not very reliable, show that Scotland's 4.3 million registered voters are very closely divided on whether to say yes (for independence) or no (for staying with the union).

Putting aside the really big questions of what happens to Britain without Scotland in the European Union and what happens to the two economies, think for a moment of historical and cultural changes.

The largest regiment in the British army is, of all things, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. Famous old Scottish regiments have been downsized and assigned to the Royal Regiment as battalions. The Black Watch, for example, is now the regiment's 3d battalion, with its headquarters and brand-new museum at Balhousie Castle in Perth. Other old Scottish line regiments, now battalions, are based in Edinburgh, Penicuik, and Glasgow. The Queen is the regiment's colonel-in-chief. The mascot is Lance Corporal Cruachan IV, a Shetland pony.

This, of course, is all heavily Scottish. Troops are recruited and trained in Scotland (will an independent Scotland allow that?) The band plays familiar Scottish airs. From time to time, the troops even parade in kilts.

Will all this survive a break-up of the union?

What would happen to Balmoral Castle, a private fiefdom covering 50,000 acres (and as many as 150 separate properties) in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, a royal playground since Victoria and Albert? It's a 19th Century castle, and not very pretty, but Victoria loved it and this queen and her family seem to love it too. The royal family runs the place (though it's actually owned by a trust, employing 150 full and part-time employes.) There's even a malt distillery on the grounds.

Following Albert's death in1861, Victoria became a regular visitor, spending up to four months at Balmoral in the summers. It was during this time of mourning that she met and became enamored of John Brown, one of the estate's ghillies (a kind of gameskeeper). Writers and movie directors are still trying to make something of it.

Will the royal family really want to come back to Balmoral, if it's in a different country?

Every year, it seems, the queen spends a week in Edinburgh, Scotland's grand old city. She stays when she's there at Holyrood Palace, founded by David I, King of Scots, in 1128 and still owned by the crown. The palace contains the state apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived there in the 16th Century. Elizabeth entertains her subjects and holds a number of garden parties when she's in residence.

Independence would put an end to that.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.


What will short legislative session bring?

Published by Mike Pound on .

Gov. Tom Corbett. (AP Photo)

Gov. Tom Corbett. (AP Photo)

Ready for a month of fun?

Our state legislators return to Harrisburg today to begin a four-week session that probably won't produce much action on some of the biggest issues facing Pennsylvania – but could, at least, produce a fair amount of fodder for us.

What could happen: Our Karen Langley takes a look at the possible agenda for the session; among the issues that could make it through in the next four weeks are a cigarette tax to deliver extra funds to Philadelphia schools, improved monitoring of prescription drugs through an electronic database and new child-protection provisions.

What probably won't: It's rare that Mr. Corbett makes a public appearance these days without mentioning pension reform, but the more the governor talks, the less it seems anyone in Harrisburg is listening. And Mr. Corbett himself seems to understand that pension reform won't go anywhere this fall; he's already pledged to call a special session to address the issue if he's re-elected. And although house Majority Leader Mike Turzai is calling on the governor to renew his push for modernizing the state's system to sell beer, wine and booze, Mr. Corbett seems reluctant to jump back into that debate.

Election-year politics in the background: Mr. Corbett may find that even his Republican partners in Harrisburg are a bit uncooperative after he cut $72 million in operational funds for the Legislature from the 2014-15 budget, something Mr. Corbett said was a result of the Legislature's inaction on pension reform. And will Democrats work to give Mr. Corbett a boost with Election Day less than two months away? Not likely.

Lest we forget: We're probably going to see and hear plenty from Mr. Corbett while the General Assembly is in session, because he badly needs a legislative win of any kind between now and November. Why? Two more polls, both released last week, show healthy leads for Tom Wolf, Mr. Corbett's opponent. found Mr. Wolf with a 46-35 lead among likely voters – and those figures jump to 50 to 39 when those who are leaning towards a particular candidate are included -- and a new Quinnipiac University poll showed Mr. Wolf with a commanding 59-35 lead.


Toomey seeks student protection

Published by James O'Toole on .

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.,  was joined District Attorney Stephen Zappala and Allison Hall, the director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape at a Courthouse news conference calling for enactment of legislation designed to chiled students from sexual predators in schools.

The proposed law, The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act, is designed to bolster the effectiveness of background check on school personel.  The measure would prod schools to preform more effective scrutiny of the records of their employees, including checks on federal as well as state data on charges of sexual misconduct and violence.   It would also bar school districts from engaging in the practice of "passing the trash,'' _ a pattern conduct that's recurred across the country in which a school with a problematic employee, but one not charged or convicted of an actual crime, is persuaded to leave one district with the promise of a positive letter of recommenation to hellp them get employment elsewhere.

Mr. Toomey said that more than 300 school employess had been arrested for sexual misconduct in the alst year, including 18 in Pennsylvania.

"Every one of these stories represents a tragedy,'' Mr. Toomey said.  

The Republican co-sponsored the legislation with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.  It was prompted by a case in which a Delaware County school district dismissed a teacher but helped him secure a new job in West Virginia.  Subsequently he was convicted of raping and murdering a student there. 

Noting that similar legislation has passed the U.S. House unanimously, Mr. Toomey urged the Senate to allow a vote on the bill.  Mr. Toomey and Mr. Manchin have asked for consent to bring it to the floor but they have yet ot convince thier colleagues, and the chamber's Democratic leadership to allow a vote to go forward.



Taking each other to school

Published by Mike Pound on .

Education has been identified as the most important issue to Pennsylvania voters this fall, so we should expect a lot of discussion of the issue by The Battling Toms between now and November. And SURPRISE – two new ads and two opposing takes on Gov. Tom Corbett's education budgets.

Did we say "surprise?" OK, maybe not so much.

Corbett: Statistics Class

What's new: Not much, except that Ed Rendell seems to be as much of a target here as Mr. Corbett's actual opponent, Tom Wolf. As we recall, Mr. Rendell was a pretty popular guy and we wonder if he's the best surrogate for Mr. Corbett to pick on.

What's not: The Corbett campaign employs happy musicians as well?

Bottom line: "And now you know the truth."

Random things we noticed: Given the recent ads by Mr. Corbett and the state Republican party, it seems likely we're going to see as many mentions of Mr. Rendell and President Obama as we will actual issues – or an actual candidate. Given the complexity of this issue – and that fact that both candidates can lay claim to being right – we wonder if the Corbett campaign will continue to focus on the funding issue or move on to something more palatable to his base, like, say, dismantling Common Core.

Tom Wolf: Education Facts

What's new: As was the case with Mr. Corbett's ad, not a whole lot. Although it does seem like Mr. Wolf is content to run against one guy.

What's not: Outside of the bit about the number of educators who have lost their jobs under Mr. Corbett's watch? It's all old hat, even down to using the same headlines for the claims about "taking the ax to education" and the number of districts considering property tax increases.

Bottom line: "Tom Corbett. Can't trust him on education. Can't trust him to be for us."

Random things we noticed: We wondered before whether Mr. Wolf himself has the personality to pull off an attack ad, so it's worth noting he doesn't appear in this one. And we really appreciate the addition of a new claim on Mr. Corbett's education record—that would be the one about teachers losing their jobs – because the old ones are feeling a little stale.


Toomey sets sights on corporate tax inversions

Published by Tracie Mauriello on .

20140718MWHhealthBiz06-5toomeysmallSen. Pat Toomey (Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette)

As Congress returns from its summer break, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., laid out his fall priorities, reiterated his criticism of the administration's reaction to ISIS, and said he has little confidence, but still a bit of hope, his colleagues will find a way to discourage American multi-national corporations from keeping revenue overseas to avoid U.S. taxes on foreign profits.

One priority for Mr. Toomey will be his legislation to require more extensive background checks for school personnel in order to keep students safer from violent and sexual predators. He has been working on the bill with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., with whom he also teamed up on last year's failed effort to require more extensive background checks for gun purchasers.

Mr. Toomey, who more typically throws his weight behind fiscal issues, also is hoping for Congressional action on tax reform to curb corporate tax inversions, maneuvers increasingly used by multinationals such as Cecil's Mylan Pharmaceuticals.

Immediate action appears unlikely, but the senator said the lame duck session will provide another opportunity to address inversions. That's when Congress will take up a series of expiring tax breaks.

"Am I optimistic we'll get it done? I'm really not ... but I'm going to continue to advocate for solution," he told Pennsylvania reporters on a conference call Monday.

Some Republicans insist on tackling inversions only as part of broader tax reform because they believe the real solution is to reduce the country's corporate tax rate. At 35 percent it is the highest in the industrialized world, although few pay that much because of tax loopholes and write-offs.

Mr. Toomey wants broad-based tax reform, too, but short of that he is more willing than some of his colleagues to address inversions separately.

"I want to fix this badly," he said. "My hope is that they would at least agree to changing the tax code so that an overseas subsidiaries ... can repatriate the money after paying taxes due in the jurisdiction" where it is located.

Currently, when U.S. multinationals bring profits home, they must pay the difference between the U.S. rate and the rate of the country where the profits were earned.

Meanwhile Monday, Mr. Toomey remained critical of the Obama administrations lack of transparency on its approach to ISIS. He said he looked forward to briefings this week.

"More fundamentally, we need to understand what the president's strategy is. Is the goal just to contain these guys? Is the goal to destroy their ability to act?" the senator asked.

"People would like stronger American leadership, and that very seldom means putting troops on the ground. There are a lot of ways,' he said.

President Obama isn't doing enough, Mr. Toomey said.

"ISIS is an extraordinary threat," he said. "Their goal is to kill as many Americans as they possibly can ... and now they have a country of their own and lots of money and lots of weapons."

He said the U.S. must find a way to eliminate the threat but that it should not require significant numbers of troops on the ground. Rather, he said, it might require air strikes and intelligence.

Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: 703-996-9292, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.