Monthly Archives: August 2013

What is the Point of Willie Rennie?

scottish_independence_sticker-r3fe2b496a52b46e7a4985a9b3817d323_v9wxo_8byvr_324It is more in sorrow than anger that I write this post. As the leader of one of Scotland’s main parties and one with a distinguished history, I had expected better from Mr Rennie. A couple of months ago Alex Salmond gave a speech outlining quite clearly why some things would remain more or less the same post independence. He referred to these as the five unions – the European Union, a defence union through NATO, a currency union, the Union of the Crowns and the social union between the people of these isles. Mr Rennie almost immediately appeared in the media and clearly implied that the UK would not agree to these five unions.  I wrote about this in an earlier post, here.

Subsequent to that post I wrote by email to Mr Rennie asking him to provide some clarification for this claim. I pointed out that as the current coalition government will still be in power in the months following the referendum, it is this government which will have to take the initial steps in any negotiations following a Yes vote in the referendum.  I ended by asking him, as the leader of the LibDems in Scotland, a party that is part of the UK government, in the interests of clarity, to explain just how he would respond to each of Mr Salmond’s proposals and to how he would expect his government to respond. A month went by with no response. Following a reminder of my original request I received the following reply:

Mr Rutherford
Thank you for your comprehensive email. 
The concern I have about proposals for an independent Scotland is that Scotland’s place in the unions referred to is at the mercy of others.  It depends on good will of others when it may not be in their best interests to do so.  That is especially the case when Scotland will have recently rejected partnership with the rest of the UK.
I am sorry I cannot respond in any more detail as I have a meeting to go to.
Willie Rennie

Not much of a reply in truth. And no attempt whatsoever to answer any of my questions. So I wrote of yet again, pointing out that my questions referred only to the UK government, the one which contains LibDem ministers. To keep matters simple I ended by asking Mr Rennie: “could you please state on what evidence you base your claim that it would not be in the best interests of the current UK government to support the five unions referred to in my original email?”

At least this time I got a pretty swift reply. But alas is was just as empty as the previous one. Here is what Mr Rennie deemed to be a suitable reply:

Mr Rutherford
Thank you for your message.
The rUK government does not exist and therefore it is impossible to know exactly what it will decide or what will be in its interests.
Thank you for your interest in this issue.
Willie Rennie

Once again not the slightest interest in answering my questions. His blatant unwillingness to answer is clear from his reference to the rUK government. In none of my emails did I refer to this government. At all times I made it clear that I was referring to the current UK government. On the simple basis that it will be this current UK government which will have the responsibility of initiating negotiations in the event of a yes vote.

My sad conclusions from all of this correspondence is that Willie Rennie is not worthy to be the leader of a major political party. He is clearly much more comfortable in making unsupported scaremongering assertions than answering the legitimate questions of a fellow citizen. No doubt he is so used to our tame media letting him get away unchallenged with his wild assertions. However I had hoped that as an interested citizen and voter, Mr Rennie would be more willing to at least engage with my questions. No such luck. He repeatedly refused to engage with me on the basis of the most childish excuses.

Mr Rennie also seems to be unaware of the implications of his claim that he cannot know what rUK will decide or what will be in its interests as it does not exist. If the rUK does not exist, then neither does an independent Scotland. In which case can we presume that Mr Rennie will in future refrain from asking the SNP and other YES campaigners for certainty about this and that in an as yet non existing independent Scotland? I for one will not be holding my breath. For another thing that Mr Rennie has made clear is his basic hypocrisy when it comes to Scottish Independence. He is free to ask all kinds of questions and make all kinds of baseless claims, but on no account must he be asked for answers.

The final point from all this correspondence that is a bit surprising is how openly Mr Rennie admits his ignorance. I had assumed that as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats he would have some knowledge of what his party colleagues were thinking and proposing to do in the event of a yes vote.  Alas, I was clearly wrong and he has admitted to having no knowledge whatsoever.  Which surely begs the question of why he is so frequently invited to air his ignorance on our publicly funded airwaves.

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Egypt Burns and the West Remains Silent

skynews_897874The continuing violence in Egypt as the military dictatorship tries to eradicate all opposition is a terrible reminder of what can go wrong when democracy is overthrown. The current crisis in Egypt has also once again exposed the bankruptcy and hypocrisy of our Western governments. Where were the ringing denouncements of the military coup? Instead the most we got were some half hearted misgivings. One does not need to like or approve of President Morsi to oppose his violent overthrow. One does not need to like or approve of the Muslim Brotherhood to oppose the banning of their organization. One does not need to support or approve of the Morsi government to oppose what has happened. The claim that the Egyptian economy was badly mismanaged by the Morsi government must ring rather hollow in certain parts of Europe. Just how bad must things get in the likes of Greece, Spain and Portugal for the West to support a military takeover in these countries? Not liking your government is the norm for at least half the population in all countries. Often a large majority dislike or disapprove of their government. I do not have any time for our nasty coalition in Westminster. But no matter how much I abhor the government I do not call for our generals to intervene and lock up David Cameron et al. I, along with my fellow citizens will get our change to vote the buggers out.

But the so-called liberal opposition to Morsi in Egypt was not prepared to wait for the next round of elections. I wonder why? Did they think they might lose? At any rate to call for a military overthrow of an elected government is a very dangerous route to embark on. After all if this becomes the game, anyone can play. If President Morsi had attempted to do away with elections or subvert the constitution then there would be a case for his overthrow. But he had not done so and as far as I am aware there is no evidence that he was planning to do so. The current crack down is unlikely to usher in some kind of liberal dawn for Egypt. The previous military regimes were not known for their respect for the law.

In all this it is up to the Egyptians to work out their future. What is in question for us in the West is how do we respond to a military coup against a democratically elected government? The answer it seems is that if we do not approve of the government in question then we do nothing. Even worse, we let it be known that we will co-operate with the military. What kind of message is this? Once again, if further evidence were needed, the West is exposed as a bunch of hypocrites. Preaching democracy and the rule of law and subverting it whenever it suits. The very least the West can do is to withhold all aid to the military regime until Morsi is released. Don’t hold your breath!

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Danish Lessons for Scotland?

danish_flagWhat can we in Scotland learn from Denmark? In particular does Denmark offer us any guide as we approach our referendum on Scottish Independence? Returning from a wonderful holiday in Denmark does not make me any kind of expert on things Danish. However, even a brief visit shows that there are some very positive lessons for us to learn from our Nordic neighbour.

Smaller is Better
Denmark is nowadays a rather small country. It is in fact smaller than Scotland in landmass. Its population is much the same as Scotland’s – just over 5 million souls. Yet this was not always the case. Visits to a few museums bring out just how big and powerful Denmark was once upon a time. As the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs puts it on its website:
“Between the 13th and 17th centuries, Denmark was a superpower whose influence was as powerful as that of the largest European countries.”

Denmark was in fact the hub of a vast empire that included Norway, southern Sweden and the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in northern Germany. It was one could say a kind of early United Kingdom. Yet over the centuries all of this empire was lost. Probably the most traumatic of these losses came in the 1860s with the loss of Schleswig and Holstein to Germany. At a stroke the nation had once again lost almost a third of its total area and population. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website points out:
With the loss of the duchies, Denmark had become smaller than ever. From this nadir the work of national regeneration started with the motto ‘outward losses must be compensated by inward gains’.”

Thus the starting point for the emergence of the Denmark we know today was it becoming smaller. No longer any kind of superpower Danish society began to make the most of what they had, in effect its people, as the country has little in the way of natural resources. Yet this has not stopped Denmark from becoming one of the most prosperous and influential countries in the world. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website is proud to point out:
“For a small country though, Denmark still punches above its weight in many different areas including design, architecture, farming, green technology and pharmaceuticals.”

And all this without the “benefits” of oil or nuclear weapons. This would seem to be a lesson, not just for Scotland, but for England too. The smaller and less military powerful Denmark became, the more prosperous she became.

Nationalist and Open
The losses of territory generated a profound debate among Danes about their country and led to a much more nationalist outlook. The National Museum for Art even has a room dedicated to this debate on Danish identity and nationalism. Though this at times took the form of hostility to foreigners, the majority of Danes have always rejected this form of nationalism.

For decades now Denmark has been one of the most open and co-operative countries in the world. The section in the National Museum which covers Danish art subsumes this within the wider frame of Danish and Nordic Art. Denmark also works closely with its neighbours through the Nordic Council.

20090115 oresundstag DSB ET 4528 (1) 700pxThis co-operation is not just at government level, but extends to business ventures. Most people will have heard of SAS, the jointly owned airline which operates on behalf of all three Scandinavian countries. With the building of the bridge linking Copenhagen with Malmö a new cross border rail company was set up. This service covers most of southern Sweden and the area to the north of Copenhagen.

The lesson here is that working jointly and co-operatively with your neighbours is the norm in Europe today. Nobody exists or wants to exist in splendid isolation. Yet Denmark retains and values its independence, as does Sweden and Norway. The people of these countries must be bemused by the scare stories from British Unionists as to how independence will mean the end of joint working and co-operation between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Pride in Denmark
From what we saw on our recent trip, Denmark is a very beautiful country. It is also clear that the Danes are immensely proud of their country and proud to be seen to be Danish. The national flag was to be seen flying everywhere. Across streets, in windows, in gardens and just about anywhere. It must have struck Danes as rather odd that some Scots could regard displaying the Scottish flag at sporting events as something to be frowned at.

The lesson here is that while Denmark has its own problems, Danes do not talk their country down. Nobody in Denmark is ever likely to suggest that their country would be better off by becoming a part of a larger country.

It can be the same for us in Scotland. We too can become a more prosperous and more equal society. Just like the Danes did, we can use our talents and our resources to build a better future for all. One we can all be proud of.

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