Monthly Archives: November 2013

Mariano Rajoy – New Saviour of the Union?

Mariano-Rajo-GettyNewslines were all abuzz last night with the apparently breathtaking news that Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain, had stated that an independent Scotland would automatically be outwith the EU. This “news” was picked up with alacrity by assorted Unionists and blasted around the airwaves as yet another blow to Scottish independence. Now this might, just might have been newsworthy if it had in fact been new. This is after all the basis of news – something we didn’t know about before. However Sr Rajoy’s assertion is anything but new. He has made this claim for well over a year now. All he did in essence was repeat his view that a region which obtained independence would be outside of the EU, and would have to apply for membership.

However if we dig a little deeper and read or listen to what was said, things are not quite as straightforward as our Unionist friends would like to make them. The first point is that at no stage did Sr Rajoy say anything about vetoing Scottish membership of the EU. All he said was that a newly independent country would have to apply for membership. If he wanted to say he would oppose such an application he could have done so. And the press conference was the perfect opportunity for him to have done so.

Secondly, Sr Rajoy admitted that he knew nothing about the Scottish government’s White Paper on Independence. Starting from a position of ignorance is hardly a convincing or trustworthy place to start. He did recognize that the referendum in Scotland is taking place with the official and legal support of the UK government. Which effectively means that he will be in no position to challenge the outcome, particularly if it is Yes. The key point here is that in the White Paper the Scottish government makes it clear that the negotiations for Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU will take place during the period between the referendum and the date of independence, which will not be till March 2016. During this time Scotland will still be part of the UK. As such there would be no grounds for Sr Rajoy, or anyone else in the EU to refuse to participate in these negotiations. After all there will have to be negotiations, if for no other reason than to agree a new settlement for the rest of the UK. I would like someone to explain on what grounds the EU would negotiate the change in the rUK’s status during this period, but would refuse to negotiate Scotland’s changed status. It is also worth pointing out that Sr Rajoy was not asked about what he would do during this time period between a Yes vote and actual independence. No doubt because he has not read the White Paper.

Thirdly, there is the unreported deafening silence from François Hollande, the President of France. For this was a joint press conference after one the regular Franco-Hispano summits. M Hollande was asked to comment on Sr Rajoy’s claims and refused point blank to say anything. Well, to be precise, he said “this is an internal Spanish matter and I have nothing else to say.” Wow, I would have thought that this refusal by the President of France to back up Sr Rajoy’s assertions was “news”. After all this was a wonderful opportunity for M Hollande to show solidarity with the Spanish position. If Sr Rajoy’s claim is so sound and clear why would the French President not offer his support? One can only assume that the President of France does not agree with Sr Rajoy. I wonder why the news media in Scotland have not reported this fact?

Fourthly, let us ponder on the implications of the remarks by the President of France, namely that this is an internal Spanish matter. Now I do not for a moment think that M Hollande believes that Scotland is part of Spain or that Scottish independence is an internal Spanish matter. However by using these words – an internal Spanish matter, the President of France was giving Sr Rajoy a bit of a dressing down. In effect he was dismissing Sr Rajoy’s claims as merely internal politicking and not worthy of comment. Oh that out Unionist friends were so wise!

For this is the rub of the matter, Sr Rajoy and the rest of his Spanish Unionist allies are terrified of the prospect of Catalan independence. And just like their Unionist buddies in the UK their only weapon is fear and scaremongering. It is no surprise that Unionists here would grasp at anything that might conceivably stoke this fear factor. I am though just a little surprised at the glee with which so many Scottish Unionists welcome the prospect, however faint, that Scotland would be cast adrift from the EU. Should they not be advocating for Scotland? However it is pleasing to note that the President of France has refused to join in this particular bout of scaremongering. There may yet be life in the Auld Alliance. The Wee ginger Dug has another take on this little non-event which you can read here.

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Radical Independence – Another Scotland is Possible

SAM_2592Tomorrow, Tuesday 26th sees the publication of the Scottish government’s long awaited white paper on Scottish Independence. It will outline in some detail the process of becoming independent and the SNP’s vision for an independent Scotland. However, the SNP is not the only party or group campaigning for independence. It was thus appropriate that last Saturday alternatives visions for an independent Scotland were articulated at the Radical Independence Conference, which was held in Glasgow. Over 1000 people from all over Scotland braved the cold and for many, the early start to participate in this gathering. I was one of them, and I can state that it was an enjoyable and inspiring day, all of it conducted in an atmosphere of comradeship and good humour.

Despite this being by far the largest conference to be held in Scotland, it was pretty much ignored by our mainstream media. If not ignored, it was denigrated with poor reporting filled with half truths. Nevertheless the messages from the conference will get out. I mention messages in the plural deliberately. For this was not a tame single party get together. Radical Independence brings together people from different parties and those, like me, from none. We were not there to agree an election manifesto, but to listen to and contribute to different visions of how Scotland can become a better nation.

If there was one key message from the conference it would be that Scotland will become the kind of country that we, the people who live in Scotland, want it to be. That is the whole point of Independence – the future of our country will be best served by the people who live here. We need independence because the British state is a lost cause. Mired in imperialist delusions, dominated financially and economically by the City of London, dominated politically by an elite nearly all from a wealthy and narrow privately educated background in which the three main political parties are more or less indistinguishable. The UK will not and cannot help in making Scotland a better nation. Only a clean break through independence offers us a route forward.

Commentators who accuse the conference of lacking specifics are missing the point. The conference did though begin to outline some of the key issues that we will need to address and turn into policies in the years ahead. These included, a green new deal; eliminating poverty; alternatives to the arms industry; industrial democracy and alternatives to never ending austerity. This is just the beginning. As Robin McAlpine from the Jimmy Reid Foundation put it in his speech, this year we are activists and next year, after a Yes vote, we need to become the architects of a new Scotland. First we need to motivate and mobilise a Yes vote.

During the conference, actor David Hayman read out a Declaration of Radical Independence which included the following lines:

We know a better economy is possible because we have seen it in other nations. We know greater equality among citizens is possible because we have seen that in other nations. We know that ending poverty, reviving democracy and respecting our environment are possible because we have seen these things too.
And we know how to bring these things to Scotland. We must abandon 30 years of the politics of exploitation, the damning, corrosive exploitation that makes a few rich from what the many lose. We must replace it with the politics of sharing, where we all gain from the riches of our land and the fruits of our labour.
It is a fine Scottish tradition; to find what works, to find out how it works and to make it work better. For centuries Scotland’s ingenuity has been a gift to the world. Now let it be a gift also to ourselves.

This is a fine summary of what Radical Independence is about. We know Scotland can become a better place for all who choose to live here. We have a thirst to meet and learn from others and then to work out our own ways forward – what will work for us. Another Scotland is possible! You can read the whole declaration here.

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Equal Marriage Bill passes in Scottish Parliament

Its-time-for-equal-marriageYesterday was a very good day for Scotland and for our parliament. There was by all accounts a very good and very civilized debate on the Equal Marriage Bill, aka Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill. The good news is that this bill passed its first reading by 98 votes to 15 with only five abstentions. This is probably an even larger majority than anticipated, which only adds to the good news. There were many good speeches in favour of the bill and I would like to single out one, that by Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Conservatives, who gave a particularly moving and eloquent speech, which you can see here. I do not often agree with Ms Davidson, but on this issue she spoke for most of us.

This decision is welcome, not just for those most directly affected by the measure, but for all of us, regardless of our sexuality or gender. For yesterday was a wonderful opportunity for our MSPs to send out a clear and unequivocal message about the kind of Scotland we want to live in. They did this with flying colours and the message is simple – Scotland will be a country which treats everyone equally. If we have to change the law to make equality a reality, then we will do so.

The debate was also important in that it demonstrated to all that our MSPs are capable of debating sensitive issues in a civilized way. The opposing voices were heard and able to put their case. This is important for parliament needs to reflect the range of opinions in the country as a whole. MSPs tend to have a poor image and reputation. While some of it may be justified, when push came to shove, enough MPS were able to demonstrate their competence.

The debate was also important as it dealt with an issue which has always been separate in Scotland. The bill was about changing Scots Law, in many ways the cornerstone of Scotland as a separate entity. So it was good to hear people like Ruth Davidson acknowledging the independence that our country already has. Next up is to extend our independence to cover all of the key issues that affect us. Equality is more than the right to same sex marriage, important though that is. The fight against other forms of inequality – of income, of life expectancy, of health, of life chances – are just as important to making Scotland the kind of country we can all be proud to live in. For this we need full independence.

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Are Austria and Denmark Independent Countries?

Flag-Pins-Denmark-AustriaThe currency question has once again reared its ugly head during the past week. An assortment of Unionists have asserted that the rest of the UK would not, most definitely would not, agree to a currency union with an independent Scotland. There are arguments for and against such a currency union as proposed by the SNP. I have posted before on this matter, here, while Iain Macwhirter has a typically robust article on this issue here. This post will focus on a slightly different aspect of the currency debate – the link between currencies and independence.

The question posed above is really for those, mainly Unionists, who claim a Scotland that continued to use the pound sterling would not be fully independent. Particularly if Scotland were to form a currency union with the rest of the UK. The argument is that to secure the agreement of the rUK, Scotland would have to agree to very onerous conditions regarding borrowing, taxation and spending. These conditions would be so restrictive as to make independence worthless.

This whole claim of course is based on a very narrow, indeed restrictive view of what independence means. At one end of the spectrum independence can mean the complete freedom to do whatever you want, without any restraint whatsoever on the part of others. Now it is hard to find an example of any country in the world which has this degree of independence. Even the mighty USA has discovered limits to its freedom of action.

This is even more so in Europe, where just about all countries are either members of the EU, the EEA, or are planning to become members. Thus one could claim that no country in Europe is really independent, not even the UK. So to move the question from a theoretical level to a more practical one, I have posed the question at the top of this post. I would imagine that most people regard both Austria and Denmark as independent countries. Most people will realize that this independence is qualified but that qualified independence is what all countries have. So Austria and Denmark are neither more nor less independent than any other country in the EU/EEA.

I have chosen these two countries as both are medium sized countries and thus in many ways comparable to Scotland. The other reason is that one, Austria, is part of the Eurozone, while Denmark is not, and continues to have its own currency – the krone. Thus Austria provides some lessons on what can happen when part of a currency union, while Denmark provides some lesson on what we might expect if Scotland were to establish its own currency.

Now without getting into a detailed analysis of both countries, it is pretty clear that both are economically and financially strong and successful countries. As a member of the Eurozone, Austria is formally bound by all the conditions and restrictions that come with that membership. Interest rates are set in Frankfurt by the ECB, the exchange rate is fixed and of course there are the famous Maastricht conditions which limit the national debt and the budget deficit. Despite these restrictions, or perhaps because of them, the Austrian economy continues to do well. The latest OECD report, 2013, on Austria has this to say: “Austria has strong material well-being and quality of life. Steady growth in GDP per capita has been combined with low income inequality, high environmental standards and rising life expectancy. Supportive conditions for a dynamic business sector, generous cash benefits allowing families to provide extensive “in-house” services, a wide supply of public services and a well functioning social partnership system have helped achieve this performance. The Austrian population has therefore combined preferences for stability and work-life balance (“wealth in time”) with a thriving economy pursuing an active globalisation strategy.” So the apparently severe restrictions of a currency union do not seem to have had an adverse affect on Austria.

When it comes to Denmark, we find that its economy too continues to do very well. The latest OECD report I could find for Denmark dates back to January 2012 and stated the following: “The economy displays a number of strengths. The fiscal position is relatively sound. The flexicurity system helps adjust to shocks while limiting the social cost of unemployment and the risk that it becomes entrenched. The welfare system ensures low poverty and inequality. However, competitiveness has deteriorated in the past decade and productivity growth has been weak, eroding potential growth.” So broadly similar to Austria, despite the supposed advantages of having the extra freedom that comes from having its own currency. The reality though is that Denmark has for decades voluntarily restricted its freedom for independent action on the economic and financial front. The main tool for this has been to tie the krone to the euro. The krone is part of the ERM-II mechanism, so its exchange rate is tied to within 2.25% of the euro. Prior to this the krone was tied to the Deutschmark. So in effect, Denmark is almost as bound by the eurozone conditions as Austria. Again without any obvious detrimental effect on its economic performance.

In fact I would contend most of the Unionist assertions on the currency are just a lot of hot air, with no basis in reality. In or out of a currency union all countries have to manage their economy and finances in a way which secures their long term stability. If both the national debt and the budget deficit get out of hand then it will be the global financial markets which will exert pressure on the governments of such countries. It might have been a good idea for the previous Labour government in Westminster to have followed some simple guidelines and to have stuck to them. An independent Scotland will want to pursue prudent financial policies whether it is in a currency union or not. Just like Austria and Denmark. Otherwise we face the prospect of another UK financial crisis.

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Shipbuilding on the Clyde – Going, going, gone?

03It is a sight quite amazing to behold – Unionists scrambling about to outbid each other on how poor Scotland will become if we dare to vote Yes to independence. The latest and still ongoing focus for this scaremongering is the future of the two naval shipyards on the Clyde – Govan and Scotstoun. The recent decision by BAE, the owners of the two yards, to close down their other shipbuilding yard in Portsmouth and in future to concentrate all shipbuilding on the Clyde would normally have been greeted as welcome news for Glasgow and for Scotland. Jobs secured and all that. But with the referendum in the offing, Unionists of all stripes are desperate for any excuse to roll out the warnings of disaster.

The basis for this warning was that in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country the rest of the UK would not or could not place future orders in what would be a foreign country. At first great play was made of EU laws on competitive tendering, but only a few diehards now trot this line out. Exposed as nonsense almost immediately in a post on Wings over Scotland, it has been subsequently confirmed by the UK minister for International Security Strategy that EU rules do not prevent the rest of the UK from placing orders for naval vessels wherever they want. You can read about it here.

The second line of argument was a historic one, the UK has never, except in war times, placed orders for naval ships outside the UK. While this is almost certainly true, it does nothing to tell us about what will happen in the future. I am pretty sure that all naval vessels were once upon a time built in the UK, but now some support vessels are currently being built in South Korea. So things do change. It is also very noticeable that Philip Hammond, the UK Secretary of State for Defence has repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of future naval ships being built in an independent Scotland, despite much prodding by Scottish MPs.

It is one of the minor curiosities of this fracas that it is Scottish MPs and MSPs who have been the most outspoken and most insistent on claiming that in an independent Scotland no naval orders would or could come from the rest of the UK. So desperate are they to frighten people into a no vote that they are willing to sacrifice the jobs of thousands of people in the Clyde.

In all this brouhaha, a couple of things have gone amiss, at least by Unionists. The first is that the UK government does not own any shipbuilding yards, anywhere. All shipbuilding yards are owned and run by private companies. In the case of naval ships, the only company which does this is BAE Systems. According to their website, BAE is a global provider of defence and security products. (my emphasis) As mentioned above, the basis for the current bout of scaremongering is the recent decision by BAE to reorganise its naval shipbuilding capacity. The Portsmouth yard will close down and all future work will be done on the Clyde. The significance of this is that the UK government awards contracts to companies, in this case BAE, and not to a specific yard.

These contracts will be for the building of a new frigate, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship for the Royal Navy. A second point worth emphasizing here is that BAE is the only company with which the Royal Navy works for this type of ship. As BAE themselves put it: “A joint team of engineers from BAE Systems and UK Ministry of Defence is working to develop a detailed design and support solution for the ship ready for manufacture. The Type 26 will replace the UK’s Type 23 frigates, with the first set to enter service in the early 2020s and the last remaining in service beyond the middle of the century.” The bottom line is that if the Royal Navy is to get the new Type 26 frigate, then BAE is the only company that can build it. Following on from this, if BAE is going to build the new ships, then they will only build them on the Clyde. This is the only interpretation that can be made of BAE’s decision to retain only one shipbuilding facility and locate that on the Clyde. As the UK government has agreed to this commercial decision by BAE, one can only assume that the UK government is aware of the implications of this decision.

So, in brief, if the UK government decides place an order for the new Type 26 frigate, it can only do it with BAE, and they in turn can only build the ships on the Clyde. Now in theory the UK can attach conditions to an order. They could in theory, state that the ships must be built somewhere in the UK. However, if this were to happen then BAE would charge the UK government a pretty penny for all this extra bother and expense. At a time when the UK government is preaching the need for more austerity, spending all this extra money, just to punish Scotland, might be a bit of a hard sell to the tax payers in the rest of the UK.

For all the bluster about not building naval ships outwith the UK, the reality is that closer co-opoeration and partnerships have become the norm in the world of military construction. Back to the BAE website for their take on this aspect. Under the heading Partnerships, and still referring to the Type 26 Frigate, they write: “BAE Systems has a proven track-record in licencing warship designs and combat systems to international customers and partners, enabling local build which enhances skills and improves in-service support. The UK has committed to working with prospective international partners through a series of bilateral relationships to learn more about their requirements and ensure these can be met through the Global Combat Ship, with the potential to integrate systems specific to their individual requirements. Sufficient commonality will be retained to create opportunities for sharing training, operational experience and shipbuilding skills, each of which offers enormous value in bringing friendly maritime nations together”.(my emphasis) The key word here is friendly. Unless the rest of the UK wishes to treat Scotland as a hostile and unfriendly country, then they will build the ships on the Clyde. If we are to be treated as a hostile country, then I think in the interests of clarity and honesty, we should be told, now.

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UK = War-fighting state?

15_43_51-poppy_webThe UK’s Armed Forces have once again become a matter for terribly serious discussion in the media. Partly prompted by the forthcoming Armistice Day Remembrance events with the added topicality of the closure of naval shipbuilding at Portsmouth. Most of this discussion, it is hardly a debate, comes from the establishment and their friends in the media. A classic example was a recent article for the Telegraph by Fraser Nelson.

Mr Nelson does not believe in pulling his punches, nor in leaving his readers with any doubt. His article, which you can read here, is captioned, We must fund the Armed Forces properly – before disaster strikes. The addition of the phrase, before disaster strikes, is a non too subtle attempt to absolve Mr Nelson of the need for any analytical thinking or reasoning. In the face of disaster, what else can you do, but fund our Armed Forces properly.

The sub heading of the article is another give away – For years now, Britain has lacked the will and the means to finish the battles it has started. Mr Nelson’s real target is the British people and their political leaders. The Armed Forces are wonderful, but clearly lack a deserving public. It is not far short of the infamous stab in the back approach to military thinking. The final few words of the sub heading – the battles it has started – is also very revealing, no doubt in an unintentional way, of the UK’s fondness for starting wars. For even a cursory glance at the UK’s wars post WW11 show that almost all of them have been wars of choice.

Now for the likes of Mr Nelson and our establishment this is just fine and dandy. Starting wars is precisely what a great global power like the UK should be able to do. Britain is a war-fighting nation. Or at least it should be. For this is the rub, and the real worry for Mr Nelson and our military top brass. There are signs that Britain is losing its taste for war-fighting. And he doesn’t like it.

When it comes to our politicians, there is a distinct ambivalence between their words and deeds. The financial realities of the UK, its apparently irresistible decline as a major economic power, have forced successive governments to spend less and less on our Armed Forces. However these same politicians are desperate to hang on to the glory and kudos that they associate with military power. Mr Nelson neatly describes this fear when he writes this after parliament voted against military intervention in Syria: “In the aftermath of the Commons defeat, it was as if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had caught a glimpse of what the world would look like if they did not have such a strong military at their disposal. They were terrified. It would mean fewer one-to-one meetings with American presidents. Less clout at G20 summits.” Poor Britain, no long Great, but merely a middling sized country reduced to peacekeeping roles in the world. Oh how the mighty have fallen!

What is of course conspicuously missing from Mr Nelson’s article is any alternative view. Is he seriously suggesting that, for example, the leader of Germany does not have one-to-one meetings with American Presidents? And precisely what clout does the UK have at G20 summits. Russia still has a very large and varied military with a proven war-fighting capacity. Does this give Russia extra clout at G20 and other international meetings? If so, where is the evidence? If war-fighting capacity is the key to power and influence in the world, why is the UK so opposed to the military ambitions of other countries? Presumably the acquisition of nuclear weapons would increase Iran’s power and influence.

But, silly me, it is only the UK’s power and influence that matter. Other countries clearly do not count. As Mr Nelson puts it, “Britain is a globally minded nation, keen to shape the world rather than be shaped by it.” The mindlessness of such statements is quite breathtaking. It clearly never occurs to the likes of Mr Nelson that such arrogance increases feelings of hostility to the UK. The ability of any one country to “shape” the world is likely to be quite limited anyway. Co-operating with other countries is far more likely to achieve long lasting results in combatting climate change, security and economic development. War-fighting contributes little, if anything, to solving the real issues that face the world.

In fact war-fighting only serves to make things worse. Mr Nelson predicts various disasters if we do not spend more and more money on our Armed Forces – a major military defeat, an embassy overrun or a patrol wiped out. However the most effective way of preventing such disasters is to stop participating in the bombing, invading and occupying of other countries. All these wars of choice do not seem to have served any conceivable British interest. Other than preserving our place at the top table and getting our leaders one-to-one meetings with American Presidents. Too high, much too high a price has been paid for this illusion of power. The sooner we can get out of this mindset the better. In Scotland we can achieve this in next year’s referendum on Scottish independence. Vote YES to end British war-fighting.

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BAE Crisis due to UK government incompetence

WAVE_RULER_0321The recent news of job losses throughout the UK by BAE is wholly due to the endemic financial and management incompetence of successive UK governments. It has nothing to do with the forthcoming referendum. Nor does it have anything to do with the prospect of Scottish independence. BAE has a serious gap in their order book. As their main, almost sole customer is the UK government, it is up to the UK government to fix. But of course they cannot fix this. The UK government does not have the money to plug this gap. The reason is the serial incompetence of two UK government departments – the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence. In both cases this incompetence goes back decades and Labour must take its share of the blame.

The Treasury of course was the department that was supposed to manage the economy and in particular the financial sector. A responsibility which they spectacularly failed to exercise, leaving us all exposed by the 2007/08 crisis. This failure of course took place under the last Labour government. This crisis has led to the financial difficulties of the government, which finds itself badly short of funds. Unfortunately the Tory/LibDem coalition has managed to make a bad situation even worse. Their misguided policy of cut and slash has simply reduced the government coffers even further.

The UK Ministry of Defence has an almost unrivalled reputation for incompetence on a grand scale. They seem unable to plan, manage and contain costs. A history of failure which in this case goes back to the last Labour government. It was Labour who commissioned the aircraft carriers which we will have to mothball once built. We do not apparently have the planes for them. The cost for this disaster has risen from 3.7 Billion pounds to over 6 Billion pounds. Yes over 6 Billion pounds. No wonder the UK government has no money available for an emergency. Once this aircraft is finally built, there is an order gap before the UK government commissions the first of a new series of surface ships for the navy. It is this gap in the order book which has caused the current crisis. In normal circumstances the government would be able to bring forward the building of these new ships. But it cannot now, due to the past and current wasteful management by the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence.

This crisis is truly a Union dividend – a rather nasty one. It is sad that it will be workers and their families across the UK who will have to pay the price for this systemic incompetence. It is also worth remembering that the origins of this crisis goes back to when Labour where last in power. There is nothing to suggest that a future Labour government at Westminster would be any better.

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We’re all for One Nation – but which Nation?

one-nation-bThere seems to be an even greater than usual degree of confusion from the Unionist parties when it comes to the use of the word nation. David Cameron illustrated this in his keynote speech to the Tory party conference last month. When urging Scotland to stay in the UK he had this gem of a sentence. “We want us to stick together. Think of all we’ve achieved together, all the things we can do together. The nation, as one. Our Kingdom – united.” (my emphasis) Here it is quite clear that the one nation is the UK. Which sits a bit oddly with the notion, also favoured by many Unionists, that the UK is a multi-national country. We cannot really be both.

The term One Nation has recently been taken on board by the Labour party. A prominent part of that party now openly promotes Labour as the One Nation party. They have even produced a booklet – One Nation Labour. You can read it here. It is quite a fascinating read, more for what is left out, rather than for what it says. For nowhere in its 23 chapters is there any meaningful reference to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Which is particularly odd, given the extent to which policy in these three “nations” has diverged from England. It is even odder in light of the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence.

Labour’s version of One Nation seems to be contradictory at its very heart. While the articles in the booklet often use the term Britain or Great Britain, much of the content can only refer to England in our new devolution world. It is perhaps most revealing that the only chapter which is specifically about a nation is about England, in the chapter entitled, One Nation Labour needs to re-engage with the English question. (my emphasis)

It gets even more confusing when one gets away from the One Nation Labour faction. The New Statesman had a recent cover with the headline “Can Milliband speak for England?”. On the other hand we have Andy Burnham, the shadow Health secretary at Westminster, calling for common policies across the whole of the UK. This latter call is very strange indeed. It seems to betray an ignorance of the history of the NHS, which has since its inception always been different in Scotland. Andy Burnham also seems to be ignorant of the very strong support that Scottish people have repeatedly shown for our separate NHS.

The LibDems would appear to be the only UK party with a clear policy on constitutional matters. They are in favour of a federal UK. However, they have never sought to implement this policy, even when way back in the days they were the governing party. Recently they do not seem to have made any attempt whatsoever to put forward an actual proposal for a federal UK. For one of the major difficulties of federalism is how do you create a partnership of equals among the four very different component parts of the UK. There is also the not inconsiderable difficulty that a federal UK can only come about if one or other of Labour or the Tories were to support it. To date neither party has shown the slightest interest in federalism. So in effect the LibDems are left to propose something that they will never be in a position to deliver, at least not on their own.

The conflicting views from the three Unionist parties highlights one of the gravest weakness in the No campaign. There is no coherent vision of what kind of UK they want to preserve. Pretending that the UK is simply one nation is not likely to prove very appealing to the many Scots who regard Scotland as a nation. I imagine many people in Wales have a similar view of Wales as a nation. Even if they want Scotland to remain in the UK, they may not take too well with Cameron’s dismissal of Scotland as a nation.

Labour seems to be the most confused as their One Nation rhetoric suggests. The more Labour appears to be focussing all its efforts on winning back voters in England, with polices that are at odds with majority opinion in Scotland, the more they risk alienating their voters here. This is confirmed by the trends in opinion polls, which show Labour consistently behind the SNP.

There is also the small matter of what the future holds for the UK. Is it to be one with further devolution or is it to be one in which there will be less devolution. Some in both Labour and the Tory parties have already suggested that some powers could be handed back to Westminster. As the referendum date gets closer, all the Unionist parties will be under greater and greater pressure to spell out in detail just what kind of UK they want us to remain in. I look forward with keen anticipation to what they have to say.

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