Initial Reflections on First World War

As the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War draws near, I am reposting this piece I wrote in 2013. It remains pretty much my considered views on that bloody conflict.

Alister Rutherford

PAIU1989_140_01_1Next year will see the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The UK and Scottish governments have already announced that plans are afoot to commemorate this tragic event. Though the specific events are nearly a year away, it seems appropriate to make a start now on reflecting on the war and in particular its causes and what we can learn from that terrible struggle.

My first thought is that there was nothing good about the First World War. It was a terrible, brutal and bloody conflict, which brought great suffering and destruction to all sides. There is nothing to celebrate about this war, except its end, which we can do in 2018. There will be no cause for celebrations in 2014.

My second thought is that the war was primarily caused by Empires. Though one small state, Serbia, was involved in the casus belli, the impetus…

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FC Barcelona – all change?

Now that the new season is upon us, time to revisit the progress of Barcelona. Perhaps that should read the lack of progress at Barcelona. Last season, coach Valverde’s first, was relatively successful. Winning the Spanish League and Cup double is always a welcome feat. However the calamitous loss to Roma in the quarter finals of the Champions League has left a feeling of failure hanging over last season.

This was the third time in a row that Barça have gone out at this stage, so there would appear to be something deep seated about this failure. For most onlookers this repeated failure is mainly due to the lack of genuine first team talent in the squad. The first eleven is possibly the best in the world. However the replacements are clearly not anywhere near this level.

So this summer the club has gone in for a pretty radical renovation of the squad. Many of the underperforming “B” team have left the club. This includes players such as André Gomes, Lucas Digne and Aleix Vidal. In addition, some who have never quite established themselves in the squad like Marlon, Yerry Mina and Deulofeu have also left the club. I expect one or two more will also leave before the end of the transfer window.

Unfortunately for Barça fans, and lovers of football everywhere, the team has also lost the great, irreplaceable Andrés Iniesta. To this must be added the departure of Paulinho, a key player, if not always first choice.

Will the new arrivals offer real competition to the current first eleven? Arturo Vidal looks like a straight replacement for Paulinho. Like Paulinho he will offer the coach something very different from the dominant Barça style – aggression, physicality and strength. Though he arrived in January, for Philippe Coutinho this will be his first full season at the Camp Nou. Most likely to be used in Iniesta’s position, he is about as good a replacement for Iniesta as possible.

Ousmane Dembélé is in a similar position to Coutinho. This will be his second season, but given the serious injuries during his first season, this will be, hopefully, his first full, injury free season.

So far nothing in the way of real competition for the current first choice players. Four other players have joined the squad during the summer. Will they provide the much longed for competition? Clément Lenglet is a young, 23 years old French central defender. He is used to playing in Spain with Sevilla, so should offer reliable cover as the third choice central defender behind Piqué and Umtiti. Can he displace either of the other two? We have to wait and see, but he does look like a very good addition to the squad.

In midfield, another young player, 21 year old Arthur Melo has arrived from Brazil. Another experienced player he has quickly adapted to Barcelona’s style of play, at least on his showing during the American tour. Initially he is likely to be used as cover for both Rakitić and Coutinho. If he continues with his early promise he may well push Ivan Rakitić for a starting place.

Up front yet another 21 year old Brazilian has come in the shape of Malcom. A wide attacking player, Malcom has come from Girondins in the French league, so has good experience of playing in Europe, if not in Spain. Looks like he will be in competition with Dembélé as the third striker to accompany Messi and Suárez in attack.

So far that gives us three very good additions to the squad from last season. (I am counting Coutinho and Vidal as replacements and not additions.) The fourth newcomer to the first team squad is Carles Aleñá who has been promoted from the B team. An attacking midfielder, Aleñá is very highly regarded by the club’s coaching staff. He will not be 21 until January 2019 and the club have high hopes for the player. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a serious hamstring injury in the early summer. He is currently recovering from surgery and of course has missed all the pre-season training and matches.

Just how much playing time he gets is a bit of a mystery at the moment. As Barça normally play with two attacking, creative midfielders, I reckon Aleñá will start as fifth choice for one of these places.

To further complicate matters it is as of writing unclear what will happen with Denis Suárez and Rafinha the two other attacking midfielders still  with the squad. This will be Denis’s third season with the club and so far has shown no signs of seriously competing for a starting place. Does the club really need a sixth choice midfielder?

Rafinha is is in a slightly different situation. The younger of the Alcántara brothers, he is another very highly rated attacking midfielder who can also play on the wing. However he has suffered badly from injuries and spent the last half of last season at Inter Milan on loan, helping the club to qualify for the Champions League. Inter would like to buy the player, but apparently do not want to pay what Barça feel the player is worth. He is back at the Camp Nou and has impressed during the pre-season matches in America. A fully fit Rafinha would be a very good addition to the squad, but at whose expense? Keeping Rafinha can only be to the detriment of Aleñá. Bit of a puzzle for Valverde and his team to sort out before the end of August.

In attack it looks like Munir will be preferred to Paco Alcácer as the fifth striker. A bit of a luxury for the team to have five strikers. Presumably Alcácer will be transferred or loaned out.

In defence Vermaelen will probably remain as the fourth central defender. The real interest is in the full backs. With the departure of Digne, cover for Jordi Alba is likely to come from one of the young players at the club. At the moment 18 year old Juan Miranda looks the most likely to fill this position. Though he may also continue to play with the B team from time to time. Over at right back we await with interest to see if Semedo finally convinces Valverde that he should be first choice. Or will the coach continue to play Sergi Roberto in that role? Interesting to note that the club still do not have a top class reliable substitute for Sergio Busquets. Sergi Roberto has played there during the American tour and does well in this position. Though he is not quite in the same league as Busquets. But then who is?

Overall then it looks like Barça have reinforced their first team options in attack, midfield and central defence with three high quality players. If Aleñá or Rafinha stay fully fit, then there could be a fourth quality option for Valverde. We will get a glimpse of the future on Sunday when Barcelona play Sevilla in the Spanish Supercopa. Already getting excited.

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Independence is the radical, revolutionary choice

This post is my initial response to the recent article by Gerry Hassan on Bella Caledonia. Entitled “Time to Wake Up and Ask Some Difficult Questions about the SNP and Independence” . It is a very interesting piece and well worth reading, along with the comments, some of which are good and others, not so. You can access it here.

Gerry raises some very pertinent questions, but as many commentators have pointed out, very little in the way of answers. He does give a sort of answer to one of his own questions, but it is not one I can agree with at all.

Gerry raises what he considers to be “the big strategic question – what is independence the answer to?” He goes on to write that, “For some, this question has an obvious answer: independence is an end in itself to be a sovereign nation.” However this is not a satisfactory answer as far as Gerry is concerned. For he continues, “But that is the response of Nationalist Scotland (whether in or out of the SNP) and does not address how the majority of Scots who don’t see the world in these terms are motivated to sign up to the cause.”

To the extent that Gerry offers us an answer to the big strategic question, it is rather vague, to whit, “Independence has to be for something bigger and bolder, with a clear vision, if it is to cut through, to tell an engaging story, and to speak beyond true believers.”

I am a bit bemused by Gerry’s framing of the first answer he gives to his question. He opts for what he claims is the standard Nationalist Scotland response. Which is fair enough in a way, but does beg the question – what are the other non Nationalist Scotland responses? The failure to mention even one, would seem to indicate that Gerry thinks there are no other responses. Which must have come as a bit of a surprise to Greens, socialists and others. Presumably he just gives what he claims to be the standard “nationalist” response to that he can then dismiss it as inadequate.

Now I agree with Gerry that this is in many ways the big strategic question. But as such it deserves a bit more consideration than Gerry offers. For a start the answer can be framed in democratic terms. In which case the question that independence answers is, Who decides? With independence the key decisions about the kind of Scotland we will live in will be decided by the votes of the people who live in Scotland. And not as at present, by the votes of people who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Now Gerry might contend that this answers means that Scotland becomes a sovereign nation. Which would be true, but the framing and the emphasis is not longer a “nationalist” one, but a democratic one.

I was also struck by Gerry’s apparent penchant for seeing things in an either/or frame. This is clearly to be seen in his claim that “nationalists” see “independence is an end in itself.” Now this may well be the case and not just for those who might describe themselves as “nationalists”. However independence is also a beginning. Without independence we, the people who live in Scotland, don’t get to decide ourselves what kind of Scotland we want to live in. But with independence comes a new beginning, in which we can seek to convince a majority of our fellow citizens of our particular vision for the future of Scotland. Without having to rely on voters in the rest of the UK.

Gerry also seems to trapped in an either/or frame when he writes, “Independence has to be for something bigger and bolder.” As one commentator replied, “No, it doesn’t. I’m not after radical change. And I’m entitled to my own reasons.”  He is of course correct. It is perfectly possible and honourable for someone to want independence and at the same time not want radical change. The reason this is so, comes back again to the democratic justification, indeed necessity for independence. If Scotland is to remain more or less as she is now, with little or no radical change, then that should be result of choices made by the voters in Scotland. As opposed to something that is imposed or forced on us.

For those of us, like myself, who are in favour of some significant radical changes, then we will only achieve this when and if, we can persuade our fellow citizens that this is right way forward.

Which is why all of us, those who want radical change and those who do not, can work together to achieve independence. For only with independence can we ensure that choices about our future will depend on us. Independence in the context of the UK is in itself the most radical and revolutionary change we can aspire to.

 

 

 

 

 

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Is Denmark a small ethno state?

This is my first post on this blog for a very long time. I have finally felt impelled to write something after watching a live transmission of Carles Puigdemont’s appearance in Copenhagen university. It was an interesting event, all conducted in English. Sr Puigdemont was very impressive, especially in answering questions.  What most got me raging was the contribution of Marlene Wind, professor in European politics and law at the university. (thanks Marlene) Her presentation was one of the most ill-informed, ignorant and condescending speeches I have had the misfortune to hear. Even Donald Trump might have been a bit ashamed at her ignorance.

I will not bother to refute most of her distortions, Sr Puigdemont did a pretty good job of that. However I was particularly struck by Marlene Wind’s accusation that independence for Catalunya would be very bad as it would be a small state defined by ethnicity. This, according to Marlene Wind would be dangerous. I am not particularly in favour of states that are defined by ethnicity. Not quite sure why she singled out small states. Surely large states defined by ethnicity would be even worse? However even if we stick to small states, it would seem that Marlene is as ignorant of Danish society as she obviously is of Spain and Catalunya.

A brief comparison between Denmark and Catalunya would indicate that of the two countries, Denmark is incomparably a state defined by ethnicity, while Catalunya is clearly not.

Let us start with size, since this seems to be of some importance to Marlene Wind. Denmark is slightly larger in area – approximately 50,000 square km to 32,000 square km for Catalunya. On the other hand Catalunya is significantly more populous, with some 7,500,000 people, compared to 5,750,000 living in Denmark. Let us call it a draw and accept that both Denmark and Catalunya are relatively small countries.

With smallness not really a relevant factor, let us look for evidence or indications of ethnicity as the defining factor. Though Denmark is changing, it is still overwhelmingly a homogeneous country, with around 88% of the population of Danish origin. This is clearly not the case in Catalunya.  I do not have up to date figures, but people of Catalan origin are likely to make up no more than half the population, if that. Most of the rest come from other parts of Spain, while around 15% of the population is non Spanish. One thing seems to be very clear and that is that Catalunya is not in any sense a country defined by ethnicity. On the other hand it would seem that Denmark does fit that bill quite nicely.

If we turn to language, a similar picture emerges. While most Danish people will speak at least one other language, probably English, this is not the official position. The language of Denmark is Danish and I think that only Danish is used in Parliament. Public schools teach through the medium of Danish, even if they do teach other languages. Contrast this with Catalunya, where both Catalan and Castillian are official languages. MPs can speak in either language in Parliament.  Public schools in Catalunya are all bi-lingual. Though perhaps not quite as proficient as Danes, most Catalans will also speak a third and sometimes a fourth language. As is the case with Carles Puigdemont. On the language issue, if either country is to be accused of ethnic nationalism it would not be Catalunya.

When it comes to politics there is also a very clear divide between the two countries. While Denmark is rightly regarded as a progressive and welcoming country, it is also home to the far right Danish People’s Party. This is a party that is anti immigration, anti muslim and anti multi-culturalism. This far right party is not some minor aberration, but has 37 MPs in Parliament. Moreover the current centre-right government depends on these 37 MPs for its majority in Parliament. At the very least we have a bit of narrow, nasty ethnicity on the fringes of the government in Denmark.

In Catalunya by contrast none of the various parties that support independence fall into this far right, anti immigration, anti muslim, anti multi-culturalism so beloved of the Danish People’s Party. The exact opposite is the case. All the pro independence parties in Catalunya are actively in favour of an open, plural, pro-immigration society. It is not possible taint the pro independence parties with any kind of ethnic nationalism.

On the other hand some Spanish parties are more like the Danish People’s Party. Both the Partido Popular of Mariano Rajoy and Ciutadans are openly nationalist and anti immigration. It is just that they support Spanish nationalism and Spanish ethnicity.  They also seem to have the full support of Marlene Wind. Which somewhat tarnishes her apparently passionate opposition to ethnically defined states.

In her intervention Marlene clearly implied that small countries which were defined by ethnicity should not be independent. It is just as well that this injunction is not to be applied retrospectively. For then Denmark, as a country that is more clearly defined by ethnicity than Catalunya, would not deserve to continue as an independent country. It could apply to become part of the Federal Republic of Germany. And as Denmark would remain one of the richest parts of this expanded republic, with the highest possible degree of decentralisation, it would not regret having to give up its independence.

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Common Weal’s Renewal Proposals

CommonWeal has entered the post election fray by publishing a collection of proposals, Renew, which it wants the Scottish government to adopt. The rationale for this is that the election showed “some clear signs of discontent about the risk of stagnation and a perceived lack of ambition.”

While the authors no doubt want to be helpful, I am not so sure that this is the way to go about it. Firstly their stated reason – “some signs of discontent” – does not warrant such a drastic change of direction on part of the government. It is important to remember that this was a UK election and that just over a year ago the SNP won the largest number of seats and votes in the Scottish election. To ditch that manifesto on the basis of “some signs of discontent”, during another election for another parliament would seem to be a sign of panic and not renewal.

Secondly as the report acknowledges, “Common Weal has been publishing policy papers on domestic policy throughout this parliament”. Why should the Scottish government suddenly adopt this particular collection of six policies now? Publishing them now just seems to be a reckless publicity stunt by Common Weal. Major changes of direction in a democracy should come about as a result of public debate and voting in an election. Not at the behest of a think tank, however illustrious.

The six collections of polices seem a bit of a mishmash and very few can be implemented in the near future. The creation of a National Investment Bank (NIB) for example will take some time to become a reality and will require significant funding from the Scottish budget. The main difficulty though, in setting up a NIB is that it will require the consent of the UK Treasury to changes in the way the UK measures public debt and to changes in the budgetary rules for the Scottish government. Both of which may happen or may not. But the fact that the creation of a NIB for Scotland depends on UK government approval does demonstrate the extent to which Scottish government initiatives are constrained by our membership of the UK.

This also applies to the proposals on housing. The extra funding for housebuilding is to come from the newly established NIB. But as noted if this does not get UK government agreement to work in the way Common Weal want, these additional funds will not be available.

Changes to our democracy is high on Common Weal’s agenda. However their priorities for action amount to – setting up two commissions. One to design a new system of local democracy and the other to investigate the idea of creating a second ‘Citizen’s Chamber’ of the Scottish Parliament. Wow, this will have them jumping for joy up and down the country! Why do we need either commission? The report makes lots of assertions but nothing in the way of evidence that either would improve decision making in Scotland nor that either is wanted by more than a handful of policy wonks.

When it comes to local tax reform the report doesn’t mercifully want another commission, but just wants the government to adopt Common Weal’s proposals for replacing Council Tax with a property and land tax. A lot of merit in these proposals. Just a pity that they were not supported by the electorate last year.

The report includes a very strange section which isn’t about big initiatives, but rather about Sending the right signals. These signals are to cover land reform, fracking, education and the arts. Why these four and not others is nowhere explained. The recommendation on arts is almost a joke. The best that Common Weal can come up with is that, “the Scottish government should consider how investing in arts can create a sense of a confident Scotland.” Wow, another one to get them rocking in the aisles!

The serious bit in this section concerns education. Here the report calls for the government to downgrade or shelve its reforms and calls for a full review of the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence. So the current reforms are to stop and be replaced by ????? What is to happen with the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence while the full review is undertaken? Is the implementation to be halted? For how long? The report also calls for considerable additional money to be spent on teachers, teaching assistants, libraries and IT support, without any indication of where this money is to come from.

The proposal to fund extra childcare by scrapping the planned reduction in Air Passenger Duty is one of the few practical recommendations that could be implemented without delay. The same cannot be said of most of the others.

All in all I remain perplexed as to what Common Weal hope to achieve by publishing this report. For a democratically elected government to make so many radical changes to its manifesto just one year into its term of office, does not strike me as good governance. To do so at the behest of an unelected think tank would be just absurd and about as undemocratic as one can imagine.

Changes of the kind proposed by Common Weal, some of which I agree with, need to be properly debated and scrutinised in the public sphere and then voted on in a general election. For Common Weal to suggest otherwise is an affront to democracy.

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Independence is not a product

Robin McAlpine has another very good and interesting article on Common Space. Entitled What the indy movement needs to do next, it is well worth reading. His piece outlines the recent work of the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC).

I am in agreement with much of what he writes, in particular the need for a non-party campaign, voter research, a solid messaging and targeting strategy and employing professionals who can help us get the job done.

However he loses me when he writes the following: “There is one final thing that needs to be done to get ready to campaign – you need to get your product finished. You can market a prototype car only for so long. Eventually you need to have finished cars ready for sale.

We can’t keep trying to sell a half-finished pitch for independence. We need to decide what the answers to the big questions are – currency, pensions and all the rest.”

I am sorry, but for me at least, independence is not a product. It is most certainly not like a car, which you can exchange every year or so. Independence is more of an idea and a state. You are either independent or you are not. Independence at its most basic is about the power to choose. In the case of Scotland it means that decisions about the future of the country will be taken by the people who live here. Nothing more.

I am also suspicious of this notion that before a referendum we must have decided what the answers to the big questions are. Whether it is pensions, currency, or whatever. Why? When the whole point of independence is that it will the voters in Scotland who will get to decide the answers to all these and other questions.

I rather think that Robin is missing the key point here. When people raise concerns about pensions, currency, social security or whatever in and independent Scotland their prime concern is, will an independent Scotland be able to afford these things? Whatever answer SIC come up with about pensions, Unionists will always say that an independent Scotland will be too poor to afford it.

As I see it there two groups who continue to oppose independence. The first is made up of those for whom the UK is the prime and most important framework for decision making. They may be portrayed as British nationalists, but whatever their motivation, they are unlikely to convert to supporting Scottish independence.

The other group is made up of people who have no great attachment to the UK, are attracted by the democratic case for independence, but remain unconvinced by the economic case for independence. They may focus on one aspect of the economy, pensions for example, but the answer has to be to convince them that an independent Scotland has the necessary resources – physical, natural and human – to be a successful and stable economy. It is this group that is most likely to be persuaded to vote Yes in a future referendum.

This is what I would like SIC to be doing more work on. Providing all of us with simple, easy to understand and easy to share evidence of the fundamental underlying strengths of Scotland. It is not enough to assert, as we did last time, that an independent Scotland would be a rich country. This time we need to able to evidence and illustrate it. This would be fine task for the researchers and professionals that SIC want to hire on our behalf.

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Initial reflections on the General Election

Well that was a bit of a surprise, which caught nearly everyone out. Unlike 2015 this time we do have a hung parliament, just. A well deserved mess for May and the Tories. No more strong and stable, just a shaky deal which relies on the DUP for any kind of majority.

The results in Scotland were also unexpected, at least in degree. Everyone expected the SNP to lose seats and the Tories to win some. But the extent of the changes caught most people out. What factors lie behind the voting in Scotland? Here are a few initial thoughts.

  1. The Corbyn bounce was real and Labour secured one of their best ever results, particularly in terms of their share of the popular vote in England. This was around 40%. The party did not do so well in Scotland, with hardly any increase in their vote. However the party did win six seats. Almost certainly as a result of Corbyn’s appeal to younger and radical voters. Many of whom support Scottish independence, but like the idea of a Corbyn government at Westminster.
  2. Though Brexit did not feature prominently in the debates during the campaign, it was undoubtedly a significant factor for many voters. Especially in those parts of the country where the leave vote was relatively strong – in the north east for example. As the only party to campaign on a hard Brexit platform, the Tories were the best placed to sweep up those leave voters for whom Brexit was the key issue.
  3. In Scotland independence and a second indyref was one of the dominant issues in the campaign. While opposition to indyref2 took most of the headlines, the real factor was opposition to independence itself. In practice this amounted to opposition to the SNP. All three Unionist parties co-operated on this. There was clearly an informal Unionist pact among Labour, the LibDems and the Tories. They vied among each other as to who was best placed to defeat the SNP. And quite effective it was too. Which makes the SNP success in holding on to 35 seats even more amazing.
  4. Though this was a UK election, most of the debates and campaigning in Scotland was about devolved issues. Education and the NHS came up in programmes again and again. Did this also happen in Wales?  Which is a bit strange as the outcome of a UK election has no practical bearing on what happens in the Scottish Parliament. The relentless focus on devolved issues was of course a deliberate tactic of the three Unionist parties. It clearly put the SNP, as the government in Scotland, on the defensive. This meant that the abysmal failures of the Tory government at Westminster – on the economy, defence, no Brexit plan etc – got pretty much a free pass. As with the independence issue we had the three Unionist parties all trying to make the election about the SNP and not about the Tory government at Westminster. In this of course they were ably assisted by the media, including the BBC.
  5. An intriguing question is why did the LibDems and Labour agree to this informal pact with the Tories. I could understand this if it was a Holyrood election, after all the SNP is the government and deserve rigorous scrutiny. But this was not a Scottish election, but a UK one. I can also see why the Tories would want to focus on the SNP as they would have had a harder time if they had had to spend more time defending the record of the Tory government in London. But what was in it for the LibDems and Labour?
  6. As regards the LibDems it may be that they realised that the Tories were going to win big in England and therefore they would have no influence at Westminster. So why not just attack the SNP and try and win back a few seats from them. If the Tories were going to be returned with an increased majority anyway, what difference would it make if the Tories also made gains in Scotland.
  7. In the case of Labour this may also have been what motivated them to indulge in an informal anti SNP pact. However if true it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Labour in Scotland. If, as seems likely, they did not believe in a Corbyn victory, that does not augur well for the future relations between Scottish Labour and the UK party. What is potentially worse may be the dawning realisation that if the SNP had held on to even six more seats then the prospect of a Labour minority government would be a reality.  If only Labour in Scotland had relentlessly exposed their real enemy, the Tories, and campaigned with a stop the Tories message!
  8. Returning to the UK results, it is worth remembering that these elections are conducted with the First Past the Post system (FPTP). This system is notoriously undemocratic and rarely, if ever, accurately reflects the votes cast. It was no different this time around, with both winners and losers. The winners were the Tories, DUP and SNP.  The Tories benefitted the most with fully 6.4% more seats than their share of the vote, which was only 42.4%. Yet they ended up with 48.4% of the seats. The SNP and DUP benefitted to a much lesser extent. The losers from FPTP were the LibDems, Greens and UKIP. The LibDems suffered the most, their 7.4% of the vote returning only 1.8% of the seats. Interesting to note that for both Labour and Plaid Cymru their share of seats matches almost exactly their share of the vote. FPTP can work in strange ways.

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EFTA to the rescue?

Robin McAlpine has another article on Common Space on how to win indyref2.This time it is for an independent Scotland to join EFTA(European Free Trade Association]). Effectively this means joining, or staying in, the EU’s Single Market, but leaving the EU Customs Union.This could according to Robin “solve our trade problems, our Brexit problems, our ‘Europe’s bad for Scottish fishing and agriculture’ problems and more”. The other advantage according to Robin is that this  will help win indyref2 as this option would reassure those who voted to Leave the EU last summer.

These are quite considerable claims, and I am immediately reminded of the old adage: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. It is interesting that in the article Robin makes this plea to the movement,”take tricky issues more seriously – borders, trade, tariffs and so on. These are real issues that won’t disappear through the power of rhetoric”. It is a very good plea. It is just a pity that Robin did not apply it to this article, which is long on rhetoric and remarkably free of evidence.

This lack of evidence is apparent in his comments on the EU. In order to make joining EFTA a better option, he clearly felt he needed to portray the EU in the worst possible light. According to Robin the EU is really, really bad.  Here are some of the things Robin has to say about the EU.  “I used to believe in the project when it was largely a social one. Now it has become a corporate project, I feel little commitment. The whole project is in crisis anyway and may not last. And with varying forms of extremist government in Poland, Hungary and Croatia and with France, Austria, Holland and others all being nip-and-tuck close to the same thing, it’s not anything like as attractive a project as it was.”

Robin also claims that the EU creates problems and imposes policies which harm Scottish interests. While remaining in the EU could result in Scotland being part of a political union with potential fascists.

All very disturbing if not downright nasty. But is any of it true? The claim that the EU has changed from a social project to a corporate one for example. Robin provides no clarification by what he means by a corporate project. Is this just the usual Lexit assertion that the EU is a bosses’ club. Or that the EU is dominated by business interests. It would help if Robin had provided us with some clarity as regards to what he means by this term, corporate project. It would also help if he had offered us some evidence to support this claim. It seems to betray some ignorance of how the EU came about. A clue can be found in the Treaty of Rome, way back in the mid 1950s. This treaty established the European Economic Community, popularly known as the Common Market. Subsequently this name has changed to the Single Market. But it is quite clear that from its inception the EU has always been about economics. For most member states, other than the UK under Tory rule, the Common or Single Market has always included social measures along with health and safety. So pace Robin there is no fundamental divide between the economic and the social in the EU.

What about the claim that the project is in crisis and may not last. Again no evidence is provided to back up this assertion. It is begs the question of why is Robin so keen on Scotland joining EFTA and the Single Market. If the EU does collapse, so will the Single Market. For Robin to spend so much time extolling the benefits of Scotland joining the Single Market, I can only assume that he does not expect the EU to collapse and only included this unfounded assertion in order to further denigrate the EU.

The same applies to his suggestion that extremists are on the verge of taking over many member states and that the EU could become a political union with potential fascists. Again no evidence is offered. I am surprised that Robin is peddling this line as his claim boils down to the following. It would be extremely bad for Scottish ministers to enter a room with extremists and potential fascists and get involved in discussing and voting on decisions affecting the Single Market. On the other hand it is just dandy for these same extremists and potential fascists to influence and vote on these decisions which Scotland would then have to just accept.  Doesn’t make much sense to me.

His other claim that the EU creates problems and imposes policies which harm Scottish interests is also evidence free. Only agriculture and fisheries are mentioned in his article. Does this mean that these are the only two sectors of the Scottish economy which have problems with the EU? Even with these two sectors no actual evidence is provided. We know that many, most? farmers and fishermen oppose the EU, but are we reduced to accepting at face value whatever any interest group asserts? What about some serious analysis Robin?

This sudden concern for farmers and fishermen also sits rather awkwardly with Robin’s earlier article on How to win indy2 with a new story. There Robin was insistent that “polling evidence also states clearly that if we don’t have a story that works for people who earn less than £25,000 a year, we lose.” Not sure how that squares with appealing or appeasing the mostly rich farmers and fishermen.

Having tried to establish that the EU is really bad and we should leave it, Robin goes on to recommend that Scotland stays in the Single Market by joining EFTA. Remaining in the Single Market would be beneficial for Scotland according to Robin, something I wholeheartedly agree with. However Robin also recommend that Scotland leaves the EU Customs Union. This would allow Scotland to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries.

There is one other country that Robin has in mind for a new trade deal, and this is the UK or what would by then have become rUK. Robin is much taken with the fact that rUK is the destination for most of Scotland’s exports and naturally does not want to damage this trade.  As Robin himself puts it, “Nevertheless, exports to the UK really are much more important to us at the moment than exports to the EU and we need to take that seriously.   There is a very straightforward solution to this which solves all these problems and that’s to agree a British Isles Trade Zone.”

Now, as a solution this does seem a bit on the grandiose side. Not to mention perhaps just a bit fantastical. Again it all depends on what Robin means by his use of the term ‘British Isles’. This is not a term much, if at all in current use. Older atlases of the vintage of my childhood did use the term British Isles to cover England, Wales, Scotland, all of Ireland and the many other smaller islands. However this term is hardly if ever used nowadays. If Robin intends his Trade Zone to include the Republic the term should have been a British and Irish Isles Trade Zone.  On the other hand if Robin simply means a Trade Zone between and independent Scotland and rUK, why not just say so. I cannot see how the Republic could sign such a deal as long as it remains in the EU.

I confess to being completely confused as to what Robin is advocating here. All the more so, as he offers no clarification as to how this would be agreed and exactly what it would cover. A couple of further points on this. Robin talks about a tariff free trade deal. However, given that tariffs on goods are generally very low, the main obstacles to trade are the non-tarrif barriers. These can include the standards and regulations that characterise the Single Market for example. The Single Market which rUK is committed to leaving. So there may be little scope for a deal which includes much in the way of non-tariff barriers. Secondly trade deals do not tend to include services. Something that is important to the Scottish economy. Thirdly by being in the Single Market, but not the Customs Union there will be additional costs on Scottish businesses. As one of the comments to Robin’s article puts it. “An additional difficulty is that under EFTA/EEA route, Scotland would be outside the customs union and therefore subject to EU rules of origin (which are often higher barriers than default WTO tariffs). This would harm Scottish manufacturing exporters, and moreover, make it less attractive to rUK firms seeking to relocate (who instead might just choose Ireland).”

All of which demonstrates that Robin’s solution may be much, much more complicated than he is prepared to admit, and may incur some serious downsides.

Finally Robin claims that this option – leaving the EU, but remaining in the Single Market – will help win the next independence referendum. The argument here is that, “We’re definitely losing people who previously supported independence but post-Brexit don’t.” By leaving the EU and joining EFTA instead we can win these voters back. As Robin puts it, “Admitting that on independence Scotland will be in EFTA and that we would then have to choose a route forward from there offers reassurance that Eurosceptics would still have some degree of agency on the EU issue if they vote for independence.”

I have to say this sound very much like clutching at straws. By staying in the Single Market, Scotland will have to agree to 1) the free movement of people; 2) implement all the rules, regulations and directives emanating from the EU; 3) accepting the primacy of the EU Court of Justice in settling disputes; 4) continue to pay a fee to the EU.  I would like Robin to explain which of these conditions Leavers agree with. All the evidence is that it was precisely to get out of these conditions (take back control, remember) that most Leavers voted the way they did.

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Did Bella really help secure a pro-indy majority?

Over the weekend there has been yet another nasty social media spat among the pro-indy movement. Kevin Williamson of Bella Caledonia has jumped on some report to claim vindication for his and Bella urging SNP voters to use their List vote to vote Green or RISE. According to Williamson if it was not for his prescience in calling for 2ndVoteGreen there would not now be a pro-indy majority at Holyrood.

This seems to be a very strange claim. For a start the number of pro-indy MSPs has gone down from 72 to 69. So if this counts as success then maybe we need a few more failures. As regards the detail of the vote in 2016 Williamson’s claim does not stand up to much scrutiny.

Before going further I want to make it clear that I am a member of the Scottish Green party and campaigned in 2016 for the Greens. However I did not do so out of some misguided notion of tactical voting, but because I supported the policies of the Green party and I also supported our candidate, Maggie Chapman. So, I have no complaints about Kevin Williamson or Bella or anyone else urging people to use their second vote to vote Green or indeed RISE.

Provided that you did so on the basis that you agreed with what these other parties were offering. But that was not primarily what Kevin and Bella did. They pretty much relentlessly advocated 2nd vote Green or RISE on the basis that a List vote for the SNP would inevitably be a wasted vote. They were so sure that the SNP were on course to clean upthe constituency seats that the List vote for the SNP would achieve nothing.

Alas this was not the case.As many others had pointed out it was by no means a certainty that the SNP would win almost all the constituency seats. Which turned out to be the case. Where Kevin and Bella’s thesis should have had most impact was in the North East region. There in 2011 the SNP did win all ten constituencies. Yet they still managed to win an additional MSP courtesy of the second List vote. However in 2016 they did not win all the constituencies, losing one to the revived Conservatives. Furthermore on the regional count the SNP lost their one List MSP. And to cap it all, despite the regular promptings from Kevin and Bella, the Greens failed to win a List seat.

So the net result in the North East was the loss of two pro-indy MSPs. With this kind of actual outcome on the ground you might think Kevin and co would be a bit more reticent about claiming success for their 2nd vote strategy. It sure as hell did not work in the North East. Now in fairness this may be because the main advocates of this strategy live in either Glasgow or Edinburgh and probably knew next to nothing about what was happening on the ground in the North East. All the more reason for them to have been less strident in their assertions.

Another example of how their predictions took no account of what was happening on the ground was the results in the Lothian region. There the Greens were successful and won an additional List seat, to bring their total to two. However, unfortunately for Kevin’s thesis this was not down to increasing the Green’s 2nd vote in the region.What secured the Green’s second seat was the success of Ruth Davidson in defeating the SNP in Edinburgh Central constituency.

Ruth Davidson won this constituency by 610 votes. It is perhaps not incidental to note that Alison Johnstone of the Greens also stood in this constituency and won 4,644 votes. Could the presence of Alison on the ballot have swung the seat away from the SNP to the Conservatives? We can never know, but what is certain is that by winning a constituency seat the Conservatives were only entitled three further List seats. Thus ensuring that the seventh and final List seat went to Andy Wightman of the Greens.

If on the other hand the SNP had retained Edinburgh Central, then the Conservatives would have won four of the List seats and Andy Wightman would still be primarily a land reform campaigner. So overall in the Lothians, as in the North East, there was a reduction in the number of pro-indy MSPs, down from ten to eight.

So in two of the electoral regions the net effect of Kevin and Bella’s strategy was a loss of four pro-indy MSPs. And this is a vindication?

 

 

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Some comments on Robin McAlpine’s latest article on Common Space

Robin McAlpine has a new article on the Common Space site. Entitled The indy movement needs a story – here’s one that can win.  You can read it all here. It is well worth reading and I agree with much in the piece. There are solid grounds for optimism  and the Better Together story is pretty much in tatters. I also agree that it is important to have a good, resonant story to tell about why independence is the way forward. Robin’s suggestion – Scotland as a “safe haven” – is good and certainly a very good start.

However I am concerned that in order to justify the need for a new story, he has seriously misrepresented what happened during the 2014 referendum campaign. He does this by trying to construct a deep divide between what he calls the official SNP/YES Scotland story and another, alternative story created by “a much less risk-averse, wider movement.” By this other movement I take it Robin means the Radical Independence Campaign(RIC) and the groups and parties closely associated with RIC.

In the article the official story was “the best people to make a decision about a place are the people who live there”.According to Robin this story didn’t and couldn’t work because it wasn’t a story. On the other hand the alternative story was “Scots like a fairer, more equal society and Westminster doesn’t so if you want to live better, we have to escape.” Now this was apparently a real story with “a beginning, a middle and an end, a hero and a villain.”

Not only was this alternative story a good story it nearly worked, and according to Robin “if this had been the story we set out with in 2011 and we’d told it wholeheartedly, I think we could have made it over the line.”

Now the above is itself a nice little story, but to me, more of a caricature than an accurate story. It simply does not resonate with my own experience of the 2014 referendum. There are three points I would like to make.

In my view the whole rationale for independence is a democratic one. Decisions about the future of Scotland should be taken by the people who live here. No matter what story or stories you devise to persuade people of the merits of independence this is where you end up. Whatever kind of Scotland you want to see emerge, progress towards this will be in response to the votes of the people who live in Scotland. So for Robin to dismiss this as not a story is to miss the point.

Secondly, what Robin calls the official story was in fact much more than just the bald claim that ‘the best people to make a decision about a place are the people who live there’. I still have my copy of the2014 White Paper and on the very first page, i, it states “With independence we can make Scotland the fairer and more successful country we all know it should be. We can make Scotland’s vast wealth and resources work much better for everyone in our country, creating a society that reflects our hopes and ambition.”

Then, on page 01, under the heading – The case for Independence – we find, “Independence is not an end in itself. The Scottish Government wants us to have the powers of independence so that people who live here can build a different and better Scotland, where the many benefits of our rich and vibrant society are cherished and shared and where we work together to advance our nation as a whole.”

While the above quotes may not be as pithy a story as Robin’s, they are in essence not that different. Robin can only make his comparison work to his advantage by selectively quoting out of context. It is interesting to note that he further decontextualises the official story by omitting any reference to Scotland. The official story was not really about Scotland, but just about “a place”, by implication any place. Why didn’t he write that the official story was “the best people to make a decision about Scotland are the people who live in Scotland.” Perhaps this was because by talking specifically about Scotland this formulation does resonate with Scots.

It is also worth noting that when he comes to phrasing his alternative story, this is squarely placed in a specific context. This is Scots against Westminster. Just a pity he didn’t extend this courtesy to the official story.

There were differences in stories about why independence was needed for Scotland, and why it would benefit Scotland. There were in fact more than just two stories. It is just wrong to claim that there was anything like this sharp divide between the official story and the RIC inspired alternative.

My third point is that this description of a divide in the pro-indy campaign does not equate with my own experiences of what happened on the ground in 2014. I campaigned as part of the RIC team in Dundee. There we worked, planned and campaigned well with the SNP, YES Scotland, the Greens and many, many others.

There were of course differences of emphases and differences of visions for the future of Scotland. But we all united in campaigning on the basis that whatever kind of Scotland was to emerge post independence, it would be the choice of the people who lived in Scotland. It may not appeal to Robin, but at the end of the day this is what independence boils down to – who decides, not what the decisions will be.

It is important to re-iterate that I agree with Robin on the importance of developing a good, simple, but relevant story about why independence is the way forward. His idea of a “safe haven” is well worth exploring further. However I am rather disappointed that he ends his article with the following “So long as we are willing to accept that this story requires the kind of root-and-branch approach to nation-building we’re proposing in the White Paper Project, it is ripe for development in a whole host of ways.”

This sounds dangerously close to asserting a “them and us” dichotomy. While there is much to admire about the White Paper Project, I would hate to think that it has become a kind of litmus text for moving forward. Common Weal is not the only show in town and diversity should be regarded as one of the strengths of the independence movement, not a weakness.

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