Monthly Archives: February 2014

In Praise of Panama

1948Panama's_flagOur friends in the Better Together campaign, the various Unionists and Britnats have a rather unfortunate tendency to denigrate other countries. Alistair Darling is particularly prone to this tendency. The most recent case is the prominence given to Panama as an example not to follow. As Unionists line up to assure us there will be no currency union between an independent Scotland and rUK, the option of Scotland just using the pound has surfaced as a possible alternative. Only to be dismissed in sneering terms by the likes of Alistair Darling. Just look at Panama he screams. Which has no currency of its own, but uses the American dollar. Who would want to be like Panama? It is just some poor, underdeveloped far away country. Or is it?

Well it is pretty far away, straddling the famous isthmus of Panama. But it has become a relatively successful country with much going for it. Panama only became an independent country in 1903, when it declared its independence from Columbia. Much of the pressure for the move to independence came from America, which wanted to build a canal across the isthmus. Which it duly did in 1914 – 100th anniversary coming up in August. Now of course the canal is back under the control and sovereignty of Panama. And the country has used its independence to further develop the canal. By 2015 the expansion of the canal is due to be completed. As both America and China have invested heavily in this project, the result is likely to be a further boost to an already growing economy.

According to the World Bank, Panama’s economic growth over the past decade has been one of the fastest in Latin America with real GDP growth averaging over 8%. This has had a beneficial impact on the well being of Panamanians.  GDP per capita has risen to $10,200, while the poverty rate fell from 48.5% to 27% and extreme poverty declined from 21% to 11%. As regards inequality, this remains relatively high, though it has now declined to 0.52. For comparison the UK stands at 0.40, still a long from the Nordic average of 0.25. So in terms of income, poverty and inequality, Panama is moving in the right direction while good old UK is moving in the wrong direction, with declining living standards and rising poverty and inequality. Unemployment, at 5.7%, is also lower than in the UK, as is the budget deficit, at 2.1% of GDP, while public debt is only 40% of  GDP. If only Alistair Darling could have matched these figures while he was in charge of our finances!

The economic future for Panama looks pretty good too. In addition to the growth that will come from the expansion of the canal, it seems that the country is sitting on top of substantial oil reserves in of all places Darién province. It is estimated that there could 900 million barrels of oil available for extraction, which could raise $20billion in royalties for the country over the next 20 years. So it may be that Scotland and Panama are not that different after all. Both countries are almost the same size in area, Scotland with 78,387 square km is slightly larger than Panama which is 75,599 square km. Scotland also has a slightly larger population with just over 5 million souls to Panama’s just under 4 million. We only need to wait for Alistair Darling to come out with some dire warnings to Panama about the economic disaster that awaits them from all that oil.

Of course the recent interest in Panama is all to do with its currency. Panama does have its own currency, the Balboa, but this is tied 1 to 1 with the dollar and the dollar is recognized as legal tender in the country. To all intents and purposes the dollar is Panama’s currency. There is no currency union, the Panamanians have just always, since independence, used the dollar. Whatever advantages and disadvantages there are to using some other country’s currency, in the case of Panama it does not seem to have held back the country’s economic growth. It is also worth noting that banking is one of the major service sectors in Panama. So perhaps just continuing to use the pound sterling may not be quite such a bad idea as Alistair Darling would like to make out.

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Making Sense of Johann Lamont

Making sense of Johann Lamont is a very trying task. I can imagine that in years to come there will be course units on Understanding Johann. Or at the very least some learned Phd theses on the subject. One hopes, so far in vain, to unearth something insightful or even sensible in Johann Lamont’s utterances. Perhaps it is just the way she tells them. She seems to have an unerring knack of not quite saying what she (apparently) means to say.

A classic example was on display last night during her TV debate with Nicola Sturgeon, when she, Lamont, came away with the now infamous line – We’re not genetically programmed in Scotland to make political decisions. Now in fairness to Johann I think that she just left out a few words here. Her point, as is clear from the context and the rest of her answer, is that no-one is programmed to make particular choices and decisions. Not just Scots, but English, French, Germans, whoever. If you want a particular political outcome you have to argue for it and win popular support. So far so good, at least for the beleaguered Johann. Alas this is as good as it gets for Johann.

For throughout last night’s debate, which was more of a rammy than a debate, Johann was pretty much incoherent most of the time. Unable or unwilling to provide any answers she was reduced to cries of I’m amazed! I’m astonished! Was this a pre-determined strategy? When she did try to give a reasoned answer, as in the response referred to above, her argument was badly let down by sloppy, incoherent delivery. Just a slip of the tongue? She seems to make rather too many of these to be a valid excuse. As her performances at First Minister’s Questions regularly show, she seems unable to hold back her anger and frustration at her opposite number. As a result she seems programmed to making a mess of the English language. She also does not show much evidence of being able to think on her feet and react to what the other person has said. She tends to just stick to her pre-arranged script. Not a good sign in the leader of a political party and makes one wonder, yet again, just why she won the Herald’s debater of the year award.

When we return to the substance of Johann Lamont’s response – that constitutional change does not in and of itself guarantee particular policies – she is also on rather shaky ground. While her claim is true in principle, when it comes to the reality on the ground, (a favourite Johann expression) then on a whole range of policies, the reality is that Scotland has already decided which way to go. On the bedroom tax, tuition fees, trident, opposing privatisation in the NHS etc, the arguments have already been won here in Scotland. We just need independence to turn them into real change on the ground. Furthermore on all these issues, the argument has been lost in England. Waiting, like Godot, for Ed Milliband to win over a majority of English voters is not much of a political strategy. Apart from the bedroom tax the Labour party at Westminster is just as committed to tuition fees, trident and privatisation of the NHS. After all it was Labour governments which started all of these policies.

The fundamental flaw in Johann Lamont’s position is that she is unwilling to admit that on many important issues Scotland is already on a different course from the rest of the UK. And on many other issues Scotland would like to be different – getting rid of nuclear weapons for example. While in theory the whole of the UK could vote to change course and adopt policies more in tune with opinion in Scotland, the reality is that it has hardly ever done so. Certainly never since 1979.  If Johann Lamont really wants to change Scotland for the better now, and not in some fairytale future, she needs to support independence.

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Ukraine – A couple of observations

The recent  events in Ukraine exemplify in a depressing and bloody way that old adage that a week is a long time in politics. As Ukraine enters into a new and still uncertain phase, only a fool would attempt to predict how things will develop. So I will resist the temptation to comment on the future of Ukraine. However I will venture forth to make a couple of observations about the reactions to these changes in the rest of Europe, including the UK.

Ukraine and EU – joining the club?

The new Ukrainian government has lost no time in announcing its ambition to join the EU. Immediately on her release from jail, former Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko was reported as saying that she is “sure that Ukraine will be a member of the European Union in the near future.” This has been followed up by the new  Interim government which has also signalled that it will push for European integration. It seems that Ukraine might get a warm welcome from the EU. The Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, Radoslaw Sikorksi, has already gone on record to declare that the European Union must make a clear commitment for the future membership of Ukraine.  While the EU’s economics commissioner, Olli Rehn, has commented favourably when he said, “We are at a historical juncture and Europe needs to live up to its historical moment and be able to provide Ukraine with an accession perspective in the medium to long term – if it can meet the conditions of accession.”

But, hey, hang on a minute. Isn’t joining the EU supposed to be extremely difficult, if not impossible? Where, oh where I wonder is our old friend José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission?  Apparently ready at the drop of a hat to fly over to London to warn us Scots that EU membership is virtually impossible, but seemingly silent in relation to the claims from Ukraine. Or is it only Scotland that will be rejected? Everyone else, including Ukraine, on the other hand will be warmly welcomed. I am a bit confused here. Perhaps Sr Barroso will enlighten us with some more of his pearls of wisdom.

I also note that no-one in the UK media seems to have challenged this assumption on the part of Ukraine that it can join the EU. Even more astonishingly no-one in the media seems to have made the slightest connection with their, and the EU’s warm reaction to recent developments in Ukraine with their apparent rejection of Scotland. Then again, what else could one expect from our betters in the media.

Ukraine and Russia – Better Together?

The Ukraine is clearly in an enormous economic and political mess. There also seems to be a gigantic hole in its finances – it appears that billions of dollars are needed to prevent bankruptcy. Surely this a clear example where one smaller state would be better off by uniting with its much larger and economically stronger neighbour? If the concept of Better Together is to mean anything more than a cover for scaremongering Scots into rejecting independence, then it must surely to goodness apply to the Ukraine and Russia?

Even more so than England and Scotland, Russia and Ukraine share a common history that goes back over a thousand years. Do not the origins of Russia begin in what is now Kiyiv?  Think of all that shared struggle in defeating Napoléon and overcoming Nazism. And given the mess that Ukraine has made of its brief experiment with independence, it clearly is not up to the task on its own. Yet these stubborn Ukrainians seem determined to refuse the kind offer from the Russian bear. Despite their current economic woes they appear to be in no mind to give up their independence.  They do it seems, want to join the EU, so they will not really be independent anyway, will they? Not sure how well that argument will go down in Kiyiv!  And to think that we in Scotland get mocked on a daily basis for daring to aspire to no more and no less independence than Ukrainians want for their country.  Independence in the EU is good enough not just for Ukraine, but for Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, France and even Germany. Yet somehow it is portrayed as either unattainable or bad for Scotland. Truly we must be an exceptional country – the rest of the UK desperately wants us to stay, while the rest of Europe, apparently, unanimously rejects us, while simultaneously welcoming Ukraine. Strange times we live in.

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Why does Martin Kettle act like a spoilt child?

The battle over Scottish independence is well and truly hotting up. And it is becoming more and more like a battle rather than a campaign. Hardly a day goes by without some Unionist or Britnat venturing forth with assaults on independence. Assaults is the word chosen by Martin Kettle in his recent article in the Guardian – Alex Salmond and co are acting like spoilt children, available here.  Though ostensibly about Alex Salmond’s response to these assaults, the article in fact, unwittingly, tells us more about the mindset of Martin Kettle and his London based media buddies.

Kettle’s main thrust is that Osborne, Barroso and Brown have made serious arguments in the past few days on three of the biggest questions – the currency, Europe and pensions – and thus far they have had little besides huffing and puffing to respond with. Martin Kettle is obviously a very clever person as he modestly claims that, “I know a serious argument when I hear one.”  So there is no need to examine any of the claims made by Osborne and co.  Martin knows they are serious arguments, so that is that then.  I wonder in passing, why we bother with elections, when we could just let Martin use his superior brain power to work out who is serious and who is not?

But to return to these serious arguments, the only one huffing and puffing is Martin Kettle. Not only does he make no attempt to critically examine these alleged arguments, he makes no attempt to illustrate, let alone examine the counter arguments.  All that Alex Salmond or Wee Eck, as Kettle seems to prefer to call him, could come up with was Natspeak, some peculiarly Scottish version of Owell’s Newspeak – an appearance of solidity to pure wind. Remind me again Martin, just who is acting like a spoilt child?

It is not as if Kettle needed to look very far to get some idea of the range of counter arguments from people who manifestly did not think that Osborne and co were making serious arguments. When even the Guardian itself carried a couple of highly critical pieces on Barroso’s claims, both incidentally by Guardian journalists with direct experience of the EU. John Palmer, here, titled his piece, Barroso’s remarks on Scottish independence are as ludicrous as his record in office. While Angus Roxburgh’ piece, here, was entitled, Scotland’s EU bombshell? It’s bunkum from Barroso. Kettle also seems to be unaware of the arguments of the Fiscal Commission in favour of a currency union. Of course it may be that in Kettle’s view these journalists and Nobel laureate economists lack his (Kettle’s) ability to know a serious argument when they hear one.

In short it is not just ignorance that Kettle betrays in his article, but something much more worrying and disturbing – a wilful blindness. He, with his superior intellect, has decided that Scottish independence would be a bad thing. Thus anything that anyone says which discredits Scottish independence is welcomed and unthinkingly held to be a serious argument. On the other hand anyone who comes out with arguments in favour of independence is summarily dismissed as indulging in Natspeak or merely huffing and puffing.

This blindness on Kettle’s part is nowhere more apparent in his regarding the whole campaign for independence as something dreamed up by Alex Salmond and the SNP. Obviously unaware of the recent rise in the Yes vote Kettle concludes by asserting that, “the SNP has realized it is not going to win the referendum …..and instead has reverted to an SNP core vote strategy, designed not to persuade, but to maximise the anti-English, anti-British, anti-Tory vote that the nationalists have successfully corralled in the past.”  Now if this is what passes for a serious argument for the likes of Martin Kettle, no wonder the No vote is crumbling. The mixture of ignorance, blindness and condescension that pervades Kettle’s article is but further evidence of how distorted and ultimately empty the London based Unionist media has become.

This is a serious matter. The Guardian was a very good newspaper, and many people no doubt still consider it to be so. But the scorn and ignorance on what is happening in Scotland that comes from the paper is reducing its credibility day by day. If the likes of Martin Kettle can be so blind and biased about what is happening just a few hundred miles north of London, how on earth can we trust what they have to say about other matters. It seems that the Guardian, along with the BBC is either unaware of the damage they are doing to their reputation, or they both think it is fair game to insult a whole nation. For further comment on the counter productive effect of this blindness see the following two excellent articles here and here. The first is by Alex Bell in the Scottish Review, while the other is by Cath Ferguson and appeared in Bella Caledonia.

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The EU welcomes Montenegro, but rejects Scotland!

The above is not a headline you are likely to see anywhere today. Instead we are treated to almost blanket coverage of Barroso’s assertion that Scottish membership of the EU would be very difficult, if not impossible. Which merely confirms that most of our print journalists are just as biased and ignorant as their fellow journalists in the BBC. For even a moment’s reflection on Barroso’s rather weird assertion would expose it for the partisan scaremongering that it is.

The Montenegro precedent
It is interesting that Barroso chose to talk, unchallenged, about the independence of Kosovo and Spain’s continued refusal to recognize this independence. However a much more relevant precedent is Montenegro, which unlike Kosovo, attained independence in almost exactly the same way as Scotland will, if there is a Yes vote.

After the break-up of Yugoslavia, Montenegro remained in a union with Serbia. However there was a growing demand for independence which led to a referendum which was held on 21st May 2006. This resulted in a Yes vote and Montenegro declared its independence on 3rd June 2006. Just 13 days after the referendum! Which surely must have resulted in all sorts of international problems. Getting stuck in a dark room, left in a limbo etc. But no, in a matter of weeks the newly independent country of Montenegro had been recognized by most countries around the world. The key to this was that Serbia accepted the result of the referendum. Which meant that there were no grounds for any other country to refuse to recognize Montenegro’s independence. This included Spain, which recognized Montenegro on 16th June 2006. Just 13 days after Montenegro’s declaration of independence! Now I wonder why Barroso failed to mention this example, and more importantly why Andrew Marr and all the other distinguished BBC journalists also failed to mention this. Ignorance or bias!

So, given the precedent of Montenegro, it is pretty much inconceivable that Spain or any other country would refuse to recognize Scotland as an independent country. There would simply be no grounds for them to do so. If Spain really was terrified of setting a precedent, it would not have recognized Montenegro.

Montenegro and the EU
Shortly after its independence Montenegro formally applied to join the EU. This application was unanimously accepted by all the then member states at a meeting of the European Council. In the case of Montenegro the application process is quite lengthy as the country is starting from scratch and has the additional burden of adapting its economy and laws to a market economy. Nevertheless the application is progressing. In passing it should be pointed out that Montenegro has no currency of its own. It has decided to unilaterally use the Euro as its currency. A point which Britnats and Unionists should note. An independent Scotland could continue to use sterling if we chose to do so.

Scotland and the EU
Barroso’s intervention was to assert that Scotland was most unlikely to be accepted as a full member of the EU. Some, unspecified countries would object. Yet as we have seen all members states have unanimously welcomed Montenegro, another newly independent state, into the EU family. Somehow, according to Barroso, the EU would welcome Montenegro, but reject Scotland. This is just plain nonsense. Membership of the EU since 1993 is based on an applicant country meeting a set of criteria, known as the Copenhagen Criteria. The criteria are:

  • the political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • the economic criteria: the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union;
  • the institutional criteria: the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

The European Council identified the above criteria as the economic and political requirements candidate countries will need to fulfil to join the EU. It also concluded that accession could take place as soon as they were capable of fulfilling them.

These criteria are to be found on the European Commission’s own website, which can be found here. Perhaps Sr Barroso would be better employed reading and understanding his own Commission instead of going around trying to bully Scotland. In particular he should note the phrase – as soon as they were capable of fulfilling these criteria. For Scotland already meets all the criteria, and has done so for more than 40 years. It will only take the Commission a few weeks to confirm this. Once independent Scotland will be warmly welcomed into the EU as a full member state. Just imagine the damage that would be done to the EU if they did come out with a headline that said EU welcomes Montenegro, but rejects Scotland!

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Barroso and the BBC – stuck in Groundhog Day?

It is quite fascinating to watch the alacrity with which the BBC gushes to accord semi prophetic status to the utterings of José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission. At least when he pronounces on Scottish independence and its future relationship with the EU. The BBC is not alone in this worshipping at the feet of the Barroso. Most journalists seem to lose their sense when Barroso appears in the guise of Guardian of the EU. But as the BBC is a publicly funded body, their dereliction of even the basic tenets of proper journalism and reporting when it comes to Scottish independence is a rightful matter of public concern.

For both the BBC and Barroso have previous in this regard. Way back in December 2013 Barroso could be found making the same kind of threats that he spouted to Andrew Marr on Sunday. I commented on that interview here. Basically Barroso’s claim is not only that an independent Scotland would somehow be cast out of the EU and have to apply or re-apply(there seems to be a bit of confusion here) to join, but that horror of horrors it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” to get all the other member states to agree to Scotland joining the EU. It seems according to the Barroso that the other EU states have a pathological objection to new members coming from one member state.

Now this is quite an assertion and one that is demonstrably nonsense, as I have previously posted about, here. Not that my scribblings are likely to count for much. However much more distinguished people than I have come to pretty much the same conclusion. For example Sir David Edward has written this excellent summary of both the legal and political position that would arise in the event of Scottish independence. And Sir David is no ordinary blogger, but the British Judge of the European Court of First Instance from 1989 to 1992, and of the European  Court of Justice from 1992 to 2004.  He is a Professor Emeritus of the University of Edinburgh, where he was Salvesen Professor of European Institutions and Director of the Europa Institute from 1985 to 1989. To give a flavour of his thinking, he contends, based on the existing EU treaties, that the EU institutions and all the Member States (including the UK as existing), would be obliged to enter into negotiations, before separation took effect, to determine the future relationship within the EU of the separate parts of the former UK and the other Member States. The outcome of such negotiations, unless they failed utterly, would be agreed amendment of the existing Treaties, not a new Accession Treaty. 

Now it is not the purpose of this post to offer a detailed rebuttal of Barroso’s assertions, Sir David and many others have done a sterling job in doing this. What I would like to emphasize is the damaging complicity of the BBC, both in London and in Scotland, in conniving with this kind of blatant scaremongering. Firstly there is the quite staggering ignorance of the various BBC journalists involved in the reporting. Barroso first made his latest intervention on the Andrew Marr Show, where he asserted that it would be all but impossible for Scotland to be admitted to the EU, on the grounds that some of the current member states would object. Now Andrew Marr is an experienced and very respected BBC journalist and interviewer. So I would have expected that any journalist, let alone one as experienced as Mr Marr would have immediately asked Barroso to provide some evidence for this assertion. Which member states have stated that they would veto Scottish membership of the EU? And on what grounds? But no, not a peep. Sr Barroso then went on refer to Spain and raised Spain’s refusal to recognize the independence of Kosovo as a reason why Spain would veto Scotland. Now this is just blatant lying. Spain refuses to recognize Kosovo because its independence came about as a result of a unilateral declaration of independence and not as a result of an agreement with Serbia. This is what Spain objects to. Now of course Scottish independence will come about as a result of a referendum agreed to and legally facilitated by the UK government. Spain has always recognized this fundamental difference between the Kosovo and Scottish cases. Now Barroso must know this. So why did he lie? And more to the point why did Andrew Marr let him get away with it unchallenged. Either Andrew Marr is simply ignorant of a key fact in this argument or he is willfully conniving with Barroso in lying to the British public.

This interview with Barroso then became an important item on the Sunday Politics programme, hosted by Andrew Neil. Here again Barroso’s intervention was just simply accepted with no attempt to challenge any of his claims. The three guests on the programme were all London base journalists, Iain Martin from the Daily Telegraph, Helen Lewis from the New Statesman and Sam Coates from the Times. All Unionists and none of them were remotely interested in challenging Barroso’s assertions. All they wanted to do was joyfully proclaim that Barroso had further dynamited the SNP’s prospectus for independence. All eagerly egged on by the presenter, Andrew Neil.

Now it is inconceivable that these two flagship BBC programmes would have reacted so spinelessly if Barroso’s assertions had been directed at rUK instead of Scotland. After all since Scottish independence entails the dismantling of the 1707 Treaty of Union, the bit of the UK that remains, rUK, will also have to apply or re-apply for continuing membership of the EU. So let us imagine for a moment the reaction of the BBC if Barroso had said that rUK would have to apply and membership would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Just imagine the vitriol and scorn that would be heaped upon the hapless Barroso. He would have immediately ceased to be the distinguished and knowledgeable President of the European Commission to become an unelected bureaucratic upstart peddling nonsense at the behest of Brussels and Berlin. The BBC and the whole of the press would have a field day, vying for the most outrageous insult to bestow on Barroso. Even the Daily Mail and the usual anti EU suspects would round on Barroso for daring to interfere in an internal UK matter.

Yet this same Barroso can insult Scotland and our intelligences with nary a peep from the BBC. As far as I am aware, Scotland is still at present an integral part of the UK. So why is it acceptable for Barroso to pour scorn on Scottish aspirations? Barely hidden behind all this arrogance is both the disdain that the BBC shows for Scotland and the desperate lengths they will go to, all to ensure that Scotland remains in the UK. Collectively they have such little understanding of what is happening up here that they remain convinced that all it takes is a little bit of lying nonsense from a lame duck Commission President and we will dutifully fall back into line and become once again grateful for our luck to be part of this great and everlasting union. The other and more regrettable shame in all this is that the journalists at BBC Scotland are equally willing participants in this belittling of Scotland. No challenging questions from them either.

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Osborne’s Boomerang

They love us, they love us not…
I am getting more and more confused by all this coming and going from the Unionist camp. Only a week or so ago we had David Cameron assuring us that everybody loved us and really, really wanted us to stay in the UK. And now we have George Osborne up in Edinburgh to put us in our place. When the UK Treasury announced a few weeks ago that rUK would honour all UK debt, as they are legally obliged to do, I posted, here, that this made a currency union with an independent Scotland much more likely. So, what do I know about anything? Still there seems to be something very fishy going on.

Don’t panic! don’t panic!…
It may be just a coincidence, but Cameron’s lovebombing and Osborne’s currency bombing come shortly after the opinion polls are showing a clear rise in the Yes vote and a clear decline in the No vote. Osborne’s attack may be no more than the first signs of panic in the No camp. If the Unionists were still confident of a No vote, I doubt if any of this would have happened. Somebody has got the message – and the message is that Scotland may well indeed vote for independence in September. And, pace Mr Cameron, it seems that the Unionists have nothing positive to offer after all. They are veritably stuck in lies, negativity and fear.

To bluff, or not to bluff
As we are well and truly in the middle of a political campaign, it should come as no surprise that both sides will want to keep as many cards as close to their chest as possible. The UK government has consistently said that it will not pre-negotiate any independence settlement, so why have they come out so stridently against a currency union? The Scottish government is, so far, holding to its view that this is all bluff. Come a Yes vote and all will change. This may be difficult to sustain. After all this was not just George Osborne lecturing us. He brought along not only his tame LibDem side-kick, Danny Alexander, but even his arch enemy, Labour’s Ed Balls, joined in the Jock bashing. Why they even rolled out chief mandarin, Sir Nicholas MacPherson, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury to add his tuppence worth to the mix. Whatever UK government emerges after the 2015 election, it is now very publicly committed to rejecting a currency union. If this is a bluff, then it is a pretty convincing bluff. While a formal currency union may still happen, we might be advised to henceforth work on the assumption that it will not happen.

What’s in it for rUK?
This is the interesting bit. For in all George Osborne’s assertions and claims, there is very little about how rejecting a currency union would benefit rUK. The rejection seems to be based almost exclusively on the fear that an independent Scotland would be so economically unstable that rUK would have to bail it out. He was for example most explicit about this in relation to banks. He stated, “What would be in it (a banking union with Scotland) for the rest of the United Kingdom? Nothing but exposure, again, to the risk of a failing bank – this time not even in our own country, but in a foreign one.” He is presumably referring to the Royal Bank of Scotland here. But, hang on a minute. Did Vince Cable not assure us that in the event of Scottish independence RBS would have to relocate its HQ to London? So what is it chaps?

Mr Osborne also made the following rather odd claim, “We have fought hard to keep Britain out of a banking union in Europe – a union that includes Ireland, whose banking system is also integrated with ours.” What is odd about this is that despite not being in a banking union and with no legal obligation, the UK did make a substantial contribution to the Irish bailout. Why? Because George Osborne likes the Irish and dislikes Scots? Or perhaps because Ireland is a very important export market for UK business? This would seem to indicate that currency union or not, rUK would help sort out any banking crisis in Scotland. Out of their own self interest, as they did with Ireland. Unless of course they really do hate us and just want to punish us. Christine Bell from the University of Edinburgh explores this further in a very good article on the legal issues involved.

So we are left with the impression that rUK would reject a formal currency union out of fear that an independent Scotland would be economically and financially irresponsible (the words pot, kettle and black come to mind). On the other hand Scotland would, like Ireland, be such an important trading partner that rUK could not afford to let Scotland go to ruin. This is even more so the case with Scotland than with Ireland. Just remember all that mountain of rising UK national debt. Debt that will belong exclusively to rUK. An independent Scotland would have no legal obligation to take on any share of that UK debt. The Scottish government and all Yes campaigners have indicated a willingness to take on a fair share of this UK debt. In return of course for a fair share of UK assets. Does a currency count as a shared asset? Perhaps the Osborne, Balls and Alexander triumvirate are really bluffing after all. What they are most worried about is that Scotland could refuse to take on any of that UK debt. Sir Nicholas’ Treasury note certainly makes a great play about this possibility.

Whatever the real reason for Osborne’s currency intervention, and I am still somewhat confused as to its purpose, it is surely further confirmation that all of Westminster, Labour included, are now seriously worried about the prospect of a Yes vote.

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Why did Swiss vote to restrict immigration?

In Sunday’s referendum voters in Switzerland narrowly voted, 50.3%, in favour of imposing strict quotas for immigration from EU countries. It is not easy to make a great deal of sense about this vote. Previous attempts to restrict immigration, going back to 1968, have all failed. In particular the Swiss have voted four times since 2000 in favour of the free movement of people from the EU. So why the difference this time around? Though the referendum was sponsored by the right wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) the support for the proposal does not seem to fit into the usual right wing, anti-foreigner campaigns to be found elsewhere. To try and understand the vote, here is a bit of context.

Switzerland is and probably always has been a country with a high proportion of migrants. Even before the First World War the percentage of immigrants was around 15%. Today is stands at around 23%, defined as those who do not have a Swiss passport. This compares to the EU average of 10%. However even this apparently high figure may not tell the whole story. Some 35% of Swiss come from a migrant background and given the difficulties and cost of acquiring Swiss citizenship many people born in Switzerland to migrant parents never take out Swiss citizenship. I know this from personal experience. My son-in-law was born in Switzerland to Italian born parents, but he only acquired Swiss citizenship a few years ago, after the birth of his son. This son, my grandson has both an Italian and UK passport, but as yet, no Swiss passport. I am not sure where either of them now appear in the statistics, but it illustrates how difficult it can be to determine just how many foreigners are living in Switzerland. Almost certainly less than 23%.

As regards the opposition to further immigration it is unlikely to have been based on the fear of unemployment and the threat of losing jobs. Switzerland has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the world. Currently it stands at 3.5%. If anything Switzerland still needs immigrants to power its industries and tourism. It is also noticeable that, with the exception of Ticino, the Kantons with the lowest rate of unemployment, less than 2%, were the ones most in favour of quotas. On the other hand, the Kantons with the highest rate of unemployment, over 5%, voted against the proposal.

Though there has been a steady increase in immigration over the last decades, this has not translated into the kind of social and economic breakdown and violence that has from time to time disfigured countries such as the UK, France, the Netherlands for example. By and large the Swiss have managed to accommodate this large scale immigration quite remarkably well. Another curious aspect of the referendum vote is that, again with the exception of Ticino, on the whole Kantons with above average levels of immigration, Zürich, Geneva etc voted against restrictions. While Kantons such as Uri, Obwalden, Aargau etc with below average levels of immigration, all voted strongly in favour of quotas. An illustration of this voting pattern can be found here.

So what did cause the vote in favour of quotas for migrants from EU countries? One clue may come from the countries of origin of most immigrants. Two countries stand out as sources of immigrants – Italy and Germany. As noted above, the highest votes in favour of restrictions was found in Ticino, the one Italian speaking Kanton in Switzerland. While many Italians will have migrated to other parts of Switzerland, a significant number will have settled in Ticino, just across the border. Add in that Ticino has an above average level of unemployment and we may be discovering one of the factors in the vote. It is also worth noting that Ticino has always voted in favour of restricting immigration. The other fact to note is that apart from Zürich, Zug and Basel Stadt, all German speaking Kantons voted in favour of quotas. The reason for this may be similar to Ticino. The overwhelming majority of immigrants from Germany will have settled in German speaking Kantons. It is also a fact that in recent years the largest influx of migrants have come from Germany. This is a relatively recent, post 2000 experience for Switzerland and one that a lot of German speaking Swiss do not like. German language newspapers have regular articles on this issue. It has not gone unnoticed in Germany. The German online magazine Die Zeit entitled one of their reports on the referendum vote thus: Fuck you, Deutschland. It is a fascinating read which you can find here.

That headline perhaps best sums up the referendum result, though it should be matched by a smaller one reading Fuck you, Italy. Despite the best efforts of the anti EU brigade this was not in essence a vote about the EU. The result was massively influenced by anti German and anti Italian feeling. But, and this is the most fascinating aspect of the vote, the most anti German were Swiss Germans and the most anti Italian were Swiss Italians. For one reason or another a majority of Swiss Germans and Swiss Italians feel more threatened by their fellow language speakers than by other immigrants. This aspect of the result deserves a post on its own, but alas it will have to be by someone with more knowledge of this subject than I.

A few words about what will happen next. The short answer is nothing, as it seems there is a three year period before any changes to the current regulations need to be enacted. What these might be are completely unknown. Even the SVP had no answers to questions about how these quotas might be constructed. Will there be separate quotas for different sectors of the economy? for different regions of the country? Who will determine how high to set the quota? And most important of all, how can any quota system be compatible with the various Bilateral Agreements with the EU? By substantial majorities Swiss voters have approved these Bilateral Agreements, which enable Switzerland to participate in the Single Market. This includes the Free Movement of People. It is almost inconceivable that Switzerland can have one without the other. Perhaps someone should have pointed this out first. In any case I would not be surprised if a new Bilateral Agreement between Switzerland and the EU was to be negotiated, one which again included the Free Movement of People. This will then be put to the voters in another referendum in say two years time. It will be very interesting to see if those who voted to restrict immigration would do so again if it meant leaving the Single Market.

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Scotland – The Epicentre of Uncertainty?

It seems that we are witnessing the birth of a new quasi scientific phenomenon, which in time may come to rival the famous Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Scotland has apparently become the new locus of uncertainty. The mere prospect of independence has unleashed a veritable tsunami of uncertainty, which if allowed to come to pass threatens to engulf us all in a downward spiral of destruction and despair. Though this new Scottish Uncertainty principle has yet to be tested in the real world, its advocates promote it with an almost religious fanaticism. We should in a way be proud that Scotland, apparently alone among the nations of the world, has created all this uncertainty. And it is not just us who will fall victim to this uncertainty. Why even the mighty BP, one of the world’s leading international oil and gas companies, is quivering with apprehension at the mere thought of Scottish independence. Though BP currently works in over 80 different countries, the prospect of having to deal with an independent Scotland has sent shockwaves through the company. Oh how powerful a country Scotland must be! Who else trembles before us in panic driven uncertainty?

I think we should in all honesty be told just what secret ingredient we Scots possess that impels such uncertainty throughout the world. I call upon the assorted Britnats, Unionists and Nosayers to explain to us all just what we in Scotland have that others do not. What magic potion lies beneath our land, or boils under our lochs or hovers in the air? What gives us, Scots, such almost magical powers that Norwegians, Slovakians, Czechs, Slovenians and sundry other nations lack? For it is a marvellous curiosity that the actual independence of eleven countries in Europe did not cause any of the dastardly consequences that it seems will come about as a result of Scottish independence. In fact in almost all cases the transition to independence seems to have passed off with remarkable ease.

Perhaps after all there is in reality no uncertainty about Scottish independence. But there does seem to be a great deal of Unionist Ignorance around, and there is little uncertainty about that.

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Who wants to leave the EU?

One of the key battlegrounds of the campaign for Scottish independence is the EU. Mostly this is about whether an independent Scotland would remain in the EU or somehow be forced out and have to re-apply. On the whole this issue has generated more fiction than fact, especially from the NO side. But one by one their scare stories dissolve into thin air. The latest is the confirmation, yet again, by the Spanish Foreign Minister that Spain would not oppose Scotland’s membership of the EU. However below the surface there is an interesting array of groups on both the right and the left advocating that either the UK as a whole or an independent Scotland should leave the EU. Though they come from widely different perspectives, they both agree that the EU is unreformable and that its regulations are an unsurmountable obstacle to progress.

The right has done most of the running on promoting an anti-EU agenda. They have operated primarily in England and advocate that the UK leave the EU. Though they will have some support in Scotland, this right wing opposition to the EU is based on UKIP and a significant part of the Tory party. Neither of which has much representation in Scotland. There seems to be two strands to their opposition. One is to oppose immigration, in large part due to a populist fear of foreigners, which is one of the key planks of UKIP. The other strand comes from a segment of the business community. Here the claim is that EU regulations are a millstone round the neck of British firms. According to a recent article by John Longworth of the British Chambers of Commerce in the Daily Mail, they want changes in employment law, health and safety, regional development, justice and home affairs. If not they would want the UK to leave the EU. Now it is not clear just why these unnamed EU regulations are holding back British firms. After all EU regulations apply to all 28 member states and German firms for example seem to have no problem in competing in world markets. The opposition to the EU from the right tends to be based on the desire to do away with what little safeguards the EU provides for workers. No doubt why they have relatively little support in Scotland.

On the other hand there is also significant opposition to the EU from the left, or perhaps more accurately the radical left. Last year’s Radical Independence Conference had a session devoted to the EU, with the general consensus that Scotland would be better off by leaving the EU. This has been followed up more recently by a paper from the Jimmy Reid Foundation on Common Weal approaches to international organizations and trade agreement. You can download the paper here. While this paper deals with all international organizations the key argument also applies to the EU. In summary this view is: “All of these underpin the approach to economic development known as neoliberalism. These are often in conflict with other models of economic development which favour social as well as economic outcomes (such as the Common Weal project in Scotland). While membership of these institutions may well be seen as necessary, it must be understood that they are also immediately limiting when it comes to pursuing a number of economic development strategies, strategies which might greatly benefit Scotland.” Now this is undoubtedly true. However a number of caveats need to be raised. Firstly as this report itself recognizes some progressive reforms are possible within the EU. The Common Weal project advocates many of the principles of what it describes as the Coordinated Market Economies found in Nordic countries. As all the Nordic countries are either full members of the EU or are in the Single Market, this approach at least is compatible with remaining in the EU. The second and to my mind more serious caveat is that what is immediately and most limiting to the pursuit of Common Weal type social and economic reforms is not the EU, but the electorate in Scotland. One does not need to be John Curtice to point out that the prospects for the radical left winning power in the Scottish Parliament are at the moment pretty slim. If we in the left can start creating in Scotland our own version of the Nordic model, many of us will be well pleased. Achieving this kind of transformation change will be hard enough and will take more than two parliamentary terms to embed. If we can then go on to develop a coherent set of policy proposals for further social and economic change, proposals which can then win majority support in a future general election, we can then, and only then, start to seriously think about whether leaving the EU is necessary or not.

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