The Single Market includes the free movement of people

As people scurry about trying to figure out just what Brexit might mean in reality, much of the focus has centred on the Single Market and the free movement of people. Most Remainers and probably a majority of Leavers seem to want the UK to stay in the Single Market. This makes a great deal of sense, as the EU will remain our largest trading partner. However the Single Market has never been just a free trade area, contrary to the myths propagated by eurosceptics. From its beginning in the 1950s, the Single Market (formerly known as the Common Market) has had at its heart the commitment to the Four Freedoms – the free movement of goods, services, money and people. This is what every country signed up to when they joined the EU. Even those countries, such as Norway, which are not in the EU, but are in the Single Market have to sign up for all of the four pillars, including the free movement of people.

Yet this did not stop many in the Leave campaign from claiming that with Brexit the UK could stay in the Single Market, yet somehow opt out of the free movement of people. Now, post referendum we have almost a bandwagon of people on the left joining in. The latest to do so includes Stephen Kinnock and Seema Malhotra from the Labour party. In an article for the New Statesmen they argue that somehow the UK can impose controls on immigration for EU states, yet remain in the Single Market.

It is rather disappointing that so many people from the left are so quick and willing to advocate limiting the free movement of people from the rest of the EU. So much for the great internationalist traditions of Labour.  It seems Labour will stoop as low as it can to appease voters in its former heartlands.  Nothing of benefit tends to come from appeasement. The undoubted hardships for many across the UK do not come from immigrants, but from the failures of successive UK governments, including Labour governments.  But this not something most Labour party members are willing to discuss. Much easier to just blame immigrants and the EU.

However at this moment the key question is whether restrictions on the free movement of people is even remotely possible. I would suggest it is not. This for the simple reason that the Single Market is a package and the moment you start to demand exceptions the whole thing will very quickly collapse.

The UK wants to keep three of the four pillars of the Single Market – the free movement of goods, services and money – but to establish restrictions on the other pillar, the free movement of people. Which is fine and dandy for the UK and any other member state that has similar concerns. But what about the other member states?

Let us take the free movement of services. For most commentators this seems to equate to protecting the financial sector and the City of London in particular. As Stephen Kinnock and Seem Malhotra put it: The UK should protect its financial services industry, including passporting rights, vital to our national prosperity. Leave aside for the moment just why the Labour party should have suddenly become the saviours and protectors of financial services. Instead ask, why would all the other 27 member states agree to this? If exceptions are to be made to the four  pillars, why not to the free movement of services? What if Germany and France for example were to demand restrictions on passporting rights? Or what if some member states wanted the right to impose restrictions on the free movement of goods or money?

I other words once you start demanding concessions on one pillar of the Single Market, you are effectively calling for the end of the Single Market. If the UK can demand and get concessions on what it wants, there will no argument for denying this right to all the other member states. If the Single Market is beneficial to the UK, which I believe it is, then you accept all its terms and conditions. You cannot expect to pick and choose and not expect others to do the same. As Angela Merkel has made clear the UK will not get to cherry pick the bits of the Single Market it likes.

The UK once again seems to be reduced to pleading for special treatment. At the same time ignoring the concerns of the other 27 member states. We should be given everything we want and they rest should just sign on the dotted line. This line of thinking seems to ignore that the EU has repeatedly made concessions to the UK. The opt outs on Schengen and the euro for example. David Cameron also managed to get some, admittedly minor, concessions for the recent referendum. All to no avail, a majority in England and Wales still voted to leave. So what incentive do the other 27 member state for offering further concessions? Appeasement does not seem to work. It is time to get real about this. Talk of ending free movement of people yet staying in the Single Market is just that – all talk and no substance.

 

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No justification for an early election

All Hail Theresa May, our soon to be new Prime Minister. Last one standing gets the job, no election needed. This is a shame for the members of the Conservative party. An election would also have added much needed mirth for the rest of us throughout the summer as May and Leadsom battled it out between them. However this is a purely internal Tory party matter. They have the right to elect their leader any way they like.

Of course there is the small matter that the leader of the Conservative party is also right now the Prime Minister of the UK. As such there have been some loud calls for an early general election, mostly from the usual suspects, i.e. the opposition parties. However there does not to my mind exist any justifiable reasons for another general election. Not on constitutional grounds, nor on precedent, nor on political grounds.

As regards the constitution, or what passes for one in our non constitutional democracy, we do not directly elect a PM. Only the voters in his or her constituency can actually for for him or her. In a parliamentary democracy we vote for parties and can only do so in our own constituency. 99.9% of voters never, ever, get the chance to directly vote for a Prime Minister. At the last election, if you wanted David Cameron as PM, you had to vote conservative, while if you wanted to vote conservative, you had to do so knowing that David Cameron would almost certainly be the PM. Choice there was none. The same applied to potential Labour party voters. Those who voted for other parties knew that none of their candidates was likely to become PM. So, it seems to me that Theresa May has as much democratic credentials as all other PMs.

Precedent, which is an important part of our non constitutional democracy, also confirms that Theresa May does not require an early election. None of the changes in PM between elections has resulted in an immediate election. At least not in the last 100 years or so. Gordon Brown, John Major, Jim Callaghan et al succeeded to the post of PM without an immediate election. The same has happened in Scotland, Northern Ireland and I am sure, in Wales. There have been three changes in First Minister in Scotland in less than 20 years and none of them felt obliged, or were seriously pressured into calling an early election. So, again, precedent favours Theresa May.

As regards the politics, this too does not warrant another election. What political purpose would an early election have?  The government has not lost a vote of confidence and still has a working majority at Westminster. The Brexit vote is hardly a reason for another election. Though parliament is notionally sovereign and the referendum was technically advisory and not binding, it would be difficult for parliament to just override the result.  Whilst anything is possible, it does not seem to me to be terribly wise for politicians to seek to ignore the result. As Theresa May says, Brexit means Brexit.

This however is where it all gets very interesting politically. Despite Theresa May’s repetitions, nobody, including May herself, knows just what Brexit means. The fine details of Brexiting will provide much scope for argument, disagreements, anger, bitterness, insults and just possibly, some serious negotiations. Once these negotiations or non negotiations get properly started anything become possible. Including an early election. If the government cannot get its preferred position through parliament then it would have no option but to lose a vote of confidence and call for another election. The Tories got us into this mess. It is up to them to get us out of it. Or fail in the process. We may get another election before 2020, but not immediately. Let’s give Theresa May and her merry band as much rope as they need to hang themselves.

 

 

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Switzerland and Brexit

All eyes have rightly focussed on the recent Brexit vote and what it will mean in practice, in particular for the UK’s continued membership of the Single Market.  The key to this is most likely to be the free movement of people. Since its inception in the 1950s, the free movement of people has been one of the cornerstones of the Single Market, and its predecessor, the Common Market.

What is important to note is that a country does not have to be a member of the EU to be in the Single Market. You just have to sign up to the four key conditions: the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. You also have to pay a fee. This is the case with both Iceland and Norway, who are full members of the Single Market.

Switzerland is slightly different, in that it is not a full member of the Single Market, but has full access to specific sectors, but not the financial sector for example. Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is covered by a series of Bilateral Agreements and these include the free movement of people. However in February 2014, the Swiss voted in a referendum, by 50.3% to impose quotas on migration from the EU. The referendum gave the Swiss government three years to meet this requirement. That is until February 9th, 2017. For this to happen a new agreement with the EU needs to be reached very soon, for Switzerland to have the time to pass the necessary legal changes in time to meet this February 2017 deadline.

This is why what happens with Switzerland is potentially crucial to the UK’s hopes of remaining in the Single Market without the free movement of people. The omens are not good.  After two and a half years of negotiations no meeting of minds, let alone a new agreement had been reached. The most that might have been agreed with Switzerland would have been something similar to the emergency brake on immigration, that David Cameron managed to negotiate with the EU. However after the Brexit vote that is no longer on offer. And having been rejected by the UK, it is very unlikely that the EU would be interested in offering a similar deal to Switzerland.

Switzerland is already suffering the consequences of the 2014 vote, as it is no longer part of the Erasmus programme, and the EU has stalled on any further bilateral agreements. No new deal is in the pipeline and the reality is that without a new deal, all the Bilateral Agreements will come to a shuddering end in February 2017. This is due to the inclusion of a so called guillotine clause. If any part of the agreements is abrogated, the whole thing ends.

Switzerland is beginning to seriously run out of time. The Brexit vote ended the emergency break option. This leaves Switzerland between a rock and a hard place. Either it tries to hold another referendum, perhaps on keeping the Bilateral Agreements, including the free movement of people, or it prepares for life outwith the Single Market.

The Swiss experience does not offer much hope for those Leavers who assumed that the UK could get its cake and eat it. If there is to be a deal on ending or limiting the free movement of people it will now have to be offered to both Switzerland and the UK. As the previous offer – an emergency brake – has been rejected by the UK, it is not clear that there will be much stomach in the other 27 member states for any further concessions. Any limit to this foundational principle effectively ends the EU. As any offer would have to applicable to the other 27 member states.

The blindness of the Leave campaign as to what was happening in Switzerland is yet another example of how irresponsible the whole campaign was. Unfortunately it is the rest of us who will have to suffer the consequences. Unless you live in Scotland, where independence offers a way out of this mess.

 

 

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Without Boris – some clarity, but more questions

Well, who saw that one coming? The rise and fall of Boris in just over a couple days. Boris must have an awful lot of enemies, both within and without the party for this to happen so quickly. From the words of Michael Gove and his wife, it seems that Boris was not reliably Brexit enough. After all Boris was always a bit of a reluctant Leaver, and his vision of a post Brexit UK sounded too close to the current position for many. Too many as it turned out.

The key divide, post Brexit, it seems to me, is between those who will reluctantly accept the result of the referendum, provided the UK stays in the Single Market, and those who want completely out. Without Boris it looks like the outers have won. All the four remaining candidates for the Tory leadership are committed to taking the UK out of the EU. Even Theresa May seems to have come down on the side of leaving the EU completely. The sticking point for her appears to have been the need to control immigration from the EU. Something that is incompatible with the Single Market.

This is potentially momentous. It does clear this aspect up quite considerably. The negotiations with the EU should be simpler, if not easier, and over sooner rather than later. Some arrangement will be needed to ensure access to the Single Market for goods, but it will be almost impossible to get more, access for services for example, without accepting the free movement of people. Which all the candidates have more or less ruled out.

This has made life a whole lot trickier for lots of people, including Scotland’s attempts to remain in the Single Market, let alone the EU. But not just Scotland, the two Irelands and even tiny Gibraltar will feel the impact of the UK leaving the Single Market.

In the case of Scotland this will both clarify and complicate matters. Staying in the Single Market, but leaving the EU, while not optimum, would nevertheless be an acceptable outcome for many. You get most of the benefits, trade and the free movement of people, which most Remainers value highly. It also and most importantly means that there will be no land border between Scotland and England in terms of trade. The downside for those in favour of independence is that this option might well make independence less appealing to some of those No voters who are reconsidering their position.

If, on the other hand, as now seems likely, the UK leaves the Single Market, this makes the choice very binary. The only way for Scotland to remain, not just in the EU, but in the Single Market, would be to become independent. However, with the rest of UK no longer in the Single Market, the trade and other links with rUK would become crucial. England will almost certainly remain Scotland’s most important trading partner. Can we ensure open access to England if Scotland remains in the EU? The question of a hard land border rears its ugly head again. Even those most in favour of remaining in the EU might baulk at independence if it meant restricted access to England.

However these questions are just as important for the republic of Ireland, perhaps even more so. Ireland has always been closely tied to the UK. Ireland has effectively been part of the British Single Market for decades. The Common Travel area ensures hassle free travel across the British Isles. Ireland only joined the UK when the UK did, and may never have done so, if the UK had not. Now of course as an established member of the EU, Ireland will face some very difficult choices if the UK does leave the Single Market. Can the Common Travel Area survive? Will there have to be a hard land border between Northern Ireland and the republic?

Paradoxically, this could help Scotland. If Ireland manages to successfully adapt to the UK leaving the Single Market, while remaining in the EU, then there is no reason why Scotland could not also do so.

The withdrawal of Boris will also impact on the Tory party itself. It is most strange that the Tory party does not have even the option of electing a leader who is in favour of remaining in the Single Market. Remember, most of the cabinet were in favour of at the very least remaining in the Single Market. While some have clearly changed their mind on this, can the same be said for all Tory MPs? This must be dreadful for the likes of Ken Clarke, John Major et al. While they are the old guard, presumably some of the current crop of Tory MPs share their view that leaving the Single Market will be disastrous for the UK. After all around 40% of Tory voters voted Remain. if, even 30% of Tory MPs are opposed to leaving the Single Market, it may prove impossible for the new PM to get this through Parliament. Whilst most people, at least in England and Wales, accept that the UK has to leave the EU, it is less clear how many people will be prepared to accept leaving the Single Market. As the Chinese saying has it, we live in interesting times, and they only look like getting even more interesting!

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Brexit – Will it happen?

A week is a long time in politics, someone once said. Well that was ancient history, as it seems that now, even a day is a long time in politics. At least as far as Leavers are concerned. Barely had the result been announced before we had the hilarious spectacle of leading Leavers more or less confirming that their whole campaign had been a pack of lies. There will be no £350 million coming to the NHS, this was just campaign rhetoric. Even the central campaign claim that leaving was the only way to bring down immigration from the EU has been shown to be a big fat lie. Daniel Hannan on BBC Newsnight stated loud and clear that there would be no reduction in EU migration. Not only that but the free movement of labour within the EU would continue. Hannan told presenter Evan Davis: “Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.” Well, I think going to be disappointed will turn out to be a bit of an understatement.

However things might get even worse for all those who voted to leave the EU. Will it actually happen? Before the UK can leave, the UK government has to invoke article 50 of the EU treaty. Once invoked this sets off a two year timetable, at the end of which the UK will be out of the EU. Having just voted in a referendum to leave, why has the government not already invoked article 50? It seems that the government has no intention of invoking this article, perhaps ever. Even the leaders of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, have stated that the government should wait. For a new Prime Minister to be elected by the Tory party? Longer?

Why all this delay? Tom Short posted on Facebook this comment from the Guardian, which may explain why Boris et al are backing off from taking the UK out of the EU. “And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step (leaving the EU) started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legistlation to be torn up and rewritten … the list grew and grew.”

Faced with this prospect it is no wonder that the likes of Johnson and Gove prefer to do nothing and wait and wait. David Allen Green, who blogs as Jack of Kent, has an excellent post in which he details just how significant article 50 is to all this. Or rather, how the failure to invoke article 50 effectively means there will be no Brexit.
How will this go down with all those who did vote to leave, expecting that this would in fact mean leaving, and leaving as soon as possible, preferably immediately? Not very well I imagine. As Green notes, “This will not please Leave campaigners, and rightly so. It means the result of the referendum will be effectively ignored.”

Could something like this actually happen? I have my doubts. Firstly the other 27 member states may try and force the UK to either invoke article 50 or to publicly ignore the referendum result. I cannot see the 27 being willing to just sit around waiting for the UK government to make up its mind. I also do not see the 27 being willing to engage in informal negotiations prior to invoking article 50. I suspect they will want to get this over and done with as soon as possible.

As will those who voted Leave on the basis that leave meant leave. To try and ignore the result in any way would be an enormous affront to democracy. All coming from a group that claimed that the EU was undemocratic! The damage a delay or any attempt to circumvent the result would cause is likely be catastrophic. It would probably make most of those who voted to leave feel even more alienated.

The fact that leading members of the Leave campaign can even consider any of the above, whether it is postponing starting the leave process, or staying in the Common Market, which would include the free movement of people and all these regulations that they claimed were so damaging, just confirms that the Leave campaign was run by a bunch of charlatans, unwilling to take responsibility for what they have unleashed.

Luckily for us in Scotland it matters not a jot what they do or don’t do. If they try to somehow delay or circumvent the result they simply expose themselves as undemocratic and untrustworthy. A perfect reason for leaving the UK. If they go ahead and leave the EU, this provides another justification for Scottish independence. Well done guys!

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Brexit – another self-inflicted disaster for the left?

The EU referendum campaign was a pretty dismal and dispiriting affair. This was essentially a nasty cock fight between two wings of the Tory party, ably assisted and abetted by UKIP and some minor Labour MPs. It was also as people like Anthony Barnett pointed out very much an English affair. Little positive about the EU was heard from the Remain side. So it was hardly surprising that a majority voted to leave. Not in Scotland I am pleased to note. All local council areas in Scotland voted to remain. A very positive result.

However across most of England and Wales a clear majority voted to leave the EU. Much of this vote came in what were regarded as Labour heartlands, the north of England, the midlands and Wales. Which is why for me, this dreadful outcome is primarily a failure of the left.

Step forward the Labour party itself. I am not going to indulge in blaming Jeremy Corbyn or his team. The rot at the heart of Labour predates Corbyn by decades. In particular I charge the Labour party with two massive failures. The first was its failure to mount a serious and vigorous challenge to the austerity and the neoliberal economic policies relentlessly pursued by the Tories since 2010. Labour weakly and without a fight, accepted the false accusation that it was too much government spending by the previous Labour government that was to blame for the crash in 2008. By effectively admitting to this, Labour was unable to mount any kind of credible challenge to the ongoing austerity that the Tory government imposed on the country.

Austerity that impinged most on working class parts of the UK. The parts of the country that had traditionally looked to the Labour party to protect them. But Labour offered no real alternative to the wage stagnation, the rise of precarious, low wage employment, culminating in zero hours contracts. Nor to the swingeing cuts in public services that again impacted most severely in former Labour heartlands.

With nothing much in the way of a positive alternative from Labour, it is hardly surprising that more and more people began to listen to the siren voices from UKIP, blaming all their woes on the EU and immigration.

This leads to the second charge against Labour. Faced with the rise of UKIP and Tory eurosceptics blaming everything on immigrants and the EU, what did Labour do? Why, indulge in their own brand of immigrant bashing. Remember this highlight, or lowlight from the 2015 election?election_Labour_im_3249627b

Truly dreadful, with predictable consequences for us all. Brendan Cox, writing in the Guardian pointed out that mainstream politicians, “in most cases are clueless on how to deal with the public debate (on immigration). Petrified by the rise of the populists they try to neuter them by taking their ground and aping their rhetoric. Far from closing down the debates, these steps legitimise their views, reinforce their frames and pull the debate further to the extremes.” Thus when immigration was thrust to the fore during the referendum, Labour was left exposed and unable to suddenly mount a positive and credible defence of immigration and the free movement of people.

As the second largest party in the UK, Labour must take the lion’s share of responsibility for Brexit. However others have unwittingly contributed to this outcome. I refer to those on the progressive left who voted remain, but nevertheless made very public their hostility to the EU.

Lots of people contributed in this way, but here are three who by their language, made a remain vote much more difficult to achieve. Here for example is Adam Ramsay writing an article headed in blood – I hate the EU. But I’ll vote to stay in it. His first sentence informs us that, The European Union is an undemocratic corporate stitch-up. Then we have George Monbiot boldly telling us that, The European Union is the worst choice – apart from the alternative. Finally, Paul Mason informs us that, The leftwing case for Brexit is strategic and clear. The EU is not – and cannot become – a democracy. Instead, it provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organised crime.

With friends like the above, who needs enemies? They may like to console themselves that theirs is a very sophisticated and hard headed analysis. Fair enough, but this is not the way to influence doubters. What they see is some prominent Remain campaigners confirming loud and clear exactly what Leave is saying – namely that they hate the EU, which is undemocratic and moreover unreformable. What on earth did they think would happen as a result of these comments? Reinforcing the key claims of your opponents does not seem to me to be a wise tactic.

The UK has become a nastier place as a result of this nasty referendum. The main responsibility rests with the right, both the Tory party and UKIP. However the left in large measure contributed greatly to this dreadful outcome. Thankfully, here in Scotland we have a way out of this mess. Onwards to indyref2!

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Why I will vote to remain in the EU

The EU referendum is almost upon us, and a pretty depressing affair it has been. It has proved difficult to get enthused as the whole referendum is primarily a nasty cock fight among the Tories. However the EU is important and my local Green party branch in Dundee is asking members their views on how they will vote. I submitted the following.

I will be voting to remain in the EU as the EU has been and continues to be the main promoter of peace and prosperity in Europe. From the beginning the key aim of the EU is to bring the countries and the peoples of Europe together, both to increase prosperity and to make war among EU members unthinkable. The way to bring countries and people together continues to be the Common Market, or Single Market as it is now known. This market covers goods, services, money and of course the free movement of people. The common market continues to work well, to the benefit of the overwhelming majority of people in the EU. Current economic woes have nothing to do with the common market. They are rather, due to the misguided, neoliberal austerity policies pursued by the member states. I find it hard to believe that George Osborne and David Cameron are really closet socialists and are only pursuing austerity under orders from Brussels.
The EU is primarily a successful common market. It is beginning to develop common policies in some other areas. The environment for example, which I would hope that all Greens would support. Only trans-national action has any hope of success in protecting the environment and countering climate change.
The EU remains in essence a community of independent countries. As such it is about as democratic a body as could be. Some of its procedures could be more transparent, but the decision making process is democratic. The Commission, so disliked by many, has no powers of decision making. The Commissioners do not get to vote on proposals. Decisions in the EU are taken jointly by the democratically elected European Parliament and the ministers of the democratically elected governments of the member states. I am not sure how this can be made more democratic.
To the extent that we are opposed to some of the current policies and actions within the EU – on refugees for example, this is not due to some inherent defect of the EU. Rather it is the result of the majority of voters across the EU democratically electing some very right wing and nasty governments. As the UK did just over a year ago. The fault for this, if we are to blame anyone, is the combined forces of the progressive left. We have failed conspicuously to convince our fellow citizens, whether in the UK or in the other 27 member states, to elect progressive parties. Blaming the EU for our failures is a distraction from the urgent need to campaign across the EU for progressive policies.

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And Denmark?

Today could have been Independence Day for Scotland if there had been a Yes vote in 2014. Alas there was not and we are still trapped within a sclerotic and ever nastier UK. However this has not stopped Unionists for using this (non)event as an excuse to yet again try to rubbish the whole notion of Scottish independence. Too wee and too poor. It seems that as an independent country there would be a black hole of £15n or £10bn, depending on who you read. Whatever the amount it is clearly something very, very bad. And without the generous largesse of England we up here would be facing disaster.

I am always bemused by these so called analysis and reports as they never seem to include any kind of a) international comparison, nor b) any kind of analysis as to why Scotland is in such economic poor shape. After all to the extent that the Scottish economy is in such a poor state, this must have something to do with the UK. There is no separate Scottish economy at the moment. We remain part of the UK. So any failings, economy wise, must be, at least in part, due to the incompetence of successive UK governments.

The lack of international comparisons has always seemed to me to be an ongoing weakness of the debate about independence. For this post I will concentrate on Denmark. Another relatively small north west European country. Slightly smaller in size than Scotland, with a slightly larger population. Hardly anyone disputes that Denmark continues to be an economic success story. It does not need to rely on anyone in order to pay its way in the world. Its GDP per capita remains higher than the UK’s. Its budget deficit is less than 3%, while its national debt represents just 47% of its GDP. All this without the blessing or curse of significant North Sea oil revenues!

So why is Denmark so consistently successful, while Scotland is apparently so consistently a basket case, unable to survive well on its own?  I can think of only two reasons that might account for Denmark’s success and Scotland’s relative failure. One is that Danes are simply genetically more intelligent, more enterprising and generally just better than Scots. A bit of a stretch this one, and not obviously true. Not sure that Unionists would want to push this line anyway. Not only are we too wee, too poor, but also too stupid!

The other possible explanation for Danish success it that Denmark, the land and its waters, is inherently more productive than Scottish land and seas. Now, not being either an economist, nor an expert on Denmark and its economy, this also seems a bit of a stretch. Not aware of any natural resources in Denmark that could even begin to explain its economic success.

The only other difference I can think of is that Denmark is an independent country and can thus tailor its policies, economic, financial, social etc to suit the needs of Denmark. While poor Scotland remains tied to the Westminster straightjacket, both in terms of overall taxation policy and spending decisions.

It would be helpful if some of our Unionist friends could explain to me just why Denmark is so successful and clearly manages very well as an independent country. What is it that Denmark has that Scotland has not? After all the whole thrust of the better together argument should mean that Scotland is economically more successful than Denmark. Why is it not?

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Democratise Europe! 
- More Sloganizing from the Left?

This Thursday, 9th February in Berlin, sees the launch of yet another reforming movement for the EU. DiEM25 hopes to build a broad based movement which will lead to a left wing reform of the EU. DiEM stands for Democracy in Europe Movement and their key message is that the EU will either be democratised or it will disintegrate! 
 Their snappy slogan is Democratise Europe! The main impulse for this new movement is our old friend Yanis Veroufakis, the former Syriza minister. We wish DiEM well, but fear that at this stage it is little more than a slogan.

You can find the DiEM website here, where you can download their manifesto. This is a bit long on assertions, especially about how bad and undemocratic the EU is. Their actual proposals for moving forward seem mostly a bit vague.  Anthony Barnett on Open Democracy has helpfully put together a shorter version, which you can read here.  The really short version seems to boil down to two immediate demands:

(A) full transparency in decision-making (e.g. live-streaming of European Council, Ecofin and Eurogroup meetings, full disclosure of trade negotiation documents, publication of ECB minutes etc.) and

(B) the urgent redeployment of existing EU institutions in the pursuit of innovative policies that genuinely address the crises of debt, banking, inadequate investment, rising poverty and migration.

Now A is long overdue and would be most welcome. Not clear though just why the various EU institutions would agree to do this right now. These are after all immediate priorities for DiEM. Somehow I do not think that the 28 governments of the members states are quivering in their boots at the prospect of DiEM meeting in Berlin. For any change to the way the EU works requires at the very least a large majority of the governments of the member states to agree. It may, possibly, require unanimity. A fact of the EU that DiEM seems to just ignore.

As regards B, these have little or nothing to do with democracy per se. This is a wish list of issues that DiEM would like to see tackled in a left wing, progressive way. However, these issues could be addressed in a left, progressive way just now. The only reason that this is not happening just now is the rather inconvenient fact that the overwhelming majority of democratically elected governments in the EU are pretty right wing in their approach to everything.

DiEM also has a medium-term goal. This is nothing less that the establishment by 2025 of a full-fledged European democracy. This goal will be achieved via a constitutional assembly. It seems that the key feature of this European democracy will be a sovereign Parliament that respects national self- determination and sharing power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils. 
(my emphasis)

This goal seems to be even more out of touch with reality that the two immediate goals. What decisions will this sovereign parliament take? Is it meant to replace the council of ministers? If this parliament is to be sovereign, what is meant by sharing power? Either you can take a decision, which is what sovereign usually means, or you cannot. If you need the approval of other parliaments, then you are not sovereign.

My main worry for DiEM is that its analysis of the EU is very weak and full of misconceptions. Another recent article in Open Democracy, by Lorenzo Marsili, offers an alternative view of the EU. As he puts it:

We need to stop portraying the EU as an all-powerful behemoth impeding any real change at national level. This rhetoric is false and only benefits supporters of the status quo. Failure to achieve progressive national policies is not due to the EU. It is due to the incapacity of the progressive field to win popular consent.

This cannot be said often enough, especially on the left. Much can be done to reform the working of the EU, but this will only happen in a progressive way, when and if, the left can once again win popular consent. It will not do so by diverting time and effort into grand sloganizing and attempting to bypass the current EU institutions. The Council of Ministers is where real power in the EU lies. To reform the EU means that the left needs to enter government in a clear majority of the member states.

I agree very much with Lorenzo Marsili when he writes that the attacks on the EU by the left have more to do with justifying their political failure nationally than opening up a new field of action for their countries. Grandstanding on the European stage is no doubt satisfying and good for the ego, but it misses the target. This remains as ever, the need for the left to win power in the various national parliaments. DiEM would do better to focus on this challenge rather than issue a grandiose manifesto.

 

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Labour’s 1p tax is not anti austerity

Labour’s latest wheeze, to increase income tax for Scots by 1p, has attracted a fair bit of attention. It has not been universally welcomed and I am as yet unpersuaded. Others have gone into some detail about the proposal and how it might work, or not work as the case may be. I want to raise some fundamental objections to the proposal.

Contrary to what many from Labour have said, this is not an anti austerity measure. Cuts to public services are not the only way to impose austerity. Austerity is essentially taking money out of the economy.  Cutting the income of workers has the same effect. And raising income tax does precisely this – reduce the income of working people. It does not raise the amount of disposable money in the economy. If this money is then given to local authorities, there has been no effective change in the economy at all. It is simply a variation of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Now you may think this is a just way to preserve public services, but it has nothing to do with challenging, let alone reversing austerity.

Missing from Labour’s announcement is any mention of who is responsible for the austerity and the cuts to public services – the Tory government at Westminster. As a Unionist party, Labour clearly does not want to blame the Westminster government too much, as it would raise some awkward questions as to why Labour supported the Union. Much easier to blame it all on the SNP, ably supported by the media.

Effectively what Labour are proposing is that Scottish workers pay extra tax in order to ameliorate the cuts imposed by Westminster. Remember this extra tax is only to try and reverse the Tory cuts from Westminster. It is not to raise additional money for public services. As working people in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, have already suffered years of frozen or stagnating wages, it is far from clear why we should be further burdened.

My final objection is that this proposal, if enacted, will set a very, very dangerous precedent. The one person rubbing his hands with glee about this will be George Osborne. If this goes through and Scots are willing to pay more just to offset Tory cuts, then why would he not make further cuts to the block grant? He will have had confirmation that his Unionist pals in Labour are only too willing to pass on the bill to working people in Scotland.

These cuts come from Westminster and any opposition to them must include opposition to Westminster.  Only independence ensures that we will have austerity imposed on us from elsewhere. Weren’t we supposed to be Better Together? Seems very much like Worse Together.

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Filed under Economics, Scotland