Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Year On – Still Yes

With the first anniversary of the referendum upon us, it is as a good a time as any for a bit of reflection. Like just about everyone who participated in the Yes campaign I found it an exhilarating, exciting and rewarding experience. We failed to convince a majority of our fellow citizens, but we did convert hundreds of thousands and the momentum was clearly with Yes. This momentum has continued and it is the pro independence side that remains the more buoyant, determined and optimistic.

I share in this determination and optimism. I remain convinced that independence is the right way forward for Scotland. My reasons remain the same. Basically that the key decisions about the future of Scotland should  be taken by the people who live here. It’s all about democracy and taking responsibility for our future.

I reckon that a majority of Scots also share this position. Alas, we did not convince enough of them that Scotland was economically viable as an independent country. Worries about our long term economic viability were expressed in many ways. Fears that an independent Scotland would not be able to afford the pensions for older people. The fear that many businesses would leave the country. Allied to this the fear that if Scotland was out of the EU this would damage our economy. The worry that Scotland was too dependent on (declining) revenues from the North Sea. Finally, fears about the currency of an independent Scotland – what if Westminster said no to us using the pound?

All of the above factors were influential in creating a climate of fear about the economic prospects of an independent Scotland. They were together the main weapon of the No campaign. In this they were ably abetted by our very biased media, who kept up a constant barrage of scare stories and fears throughout the referendum campaign. So I agree with those who believe that it was the failure to convince more people about the long term economic viability of an independent Scotland that lost us the referendum. It is many ways a wonder that we managed to convince so many, given the hostility to our campaign.

Where I part company with many on the economy factor is that I do not believe that the currency was in itself the crucial factor. A factor yes, but for me, no more important than the others mentioned above. From my perspective, currencies are just not that important. Just about all the independent countries in the world have their own currency. Yet the economic performance of these countries ranges from the abysmal to very good. Equally there is no clear pattern to discern from among the few countries that either share a currency or just use someone else’s currency. Greece, Ireland and Portugal have all had economic woes, but so have lots of other countries with their own currency, including our very own UK.

What was damaging in relation to the currency question was the uncertainty that surrounded it. Would Westminster agree? How strong or weak would an independent currency be? But this was the same with all the factors around the economy.  There was uncertainty about the EU, about just how rich and viable Scotland was. Uncertainty is the name of the game.  Uncertainty applied as much to the UK and staying in the UK. But nobody in the media was prepared to pose these questions or rigorously challenge the Unionists on the long term viability of the UK in either economic or social well being terms.

My central point is that we still have much work to do to convince No voters that Scotland has the resources to be a stable and successful country. I am disappointed that we did not do better on this score. I still feel that we should have done more about international comparisons. No two countries are the same, but Denmark and Scotland do have a lot in common in terms of geographic location, size and population. I am no economist and no expert on Denmark, but I find it impossible to work out just what natural advantages Denmark has over Scotland. Yet nobody, not even in the No campaign would suggest that Denmark is not one of the most successful countries in the world. Nobody ever suggests that Denmark should not be an independent country on the grounds that it is too small and too poor. So why did we not challenge Unionists to demonstrate with evidence why Scotland, unlike Denmark would not be similarly successful?

The economy has to be the key issue for winning a second referendum. Independence will only come when a clear majority of Scots have confidence in the wealth and resources of their country. The perilous state of the UK economy and its uncertain future should offer us fertile ground for building the general case that Scotland has all the resources needed to be a stable and successful country. This will not be about specific policies, but about the basics of the economy – the rich range of natural and human resources at our disposal.

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Corbyn and the EU

It is only to be expected that the new leadership of the Labour party will need a bit of time to flesh out their policies on the main issues facing the country. However the sloppiness of thinking on the issue of the prospective EU referendum is deeply worrying. Corbyn and his inner team will not commit to campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU and this line seems to be based on rather flimsy reasoning.

Corbin himself has stated that he cannot say how he will vote until the Tory government finalises the details of its reformed package. To do otherwise would be to give Cameron a “blank cheque”. A further reason for voting to come out of the EU has been put forward by others in the party, namely that Cameron may succeed in eroding workers rights as part of his deal with the other EU countries.

Both of these approaches seem to be to be not just flimsy, but counter productive. The argument that a possible erosion of workers rights should cause people to leave the EU is simply farcical. In this putative case leaving the EU does nothing, absolutely nothing, to stop this erosion of workers rights. Worse, by leaving the EU completely, it allows our nasty Tory government the space in which to legislate for even greater erosions of workers rights. Leaving the EU will not in itself make a  blind bit of difference to the actions of our current Tory government, which let us remember will remain in power till May 2020.

The “blank cheque” argument is superficially more reasoned, but only superficially. Campaigning to leave the EU is a major, major decision and leaving the EU will be a complex process with considerable consequences for the UK and its citizens. To contemplate doing so, simply on the basis of a disagreement over elements of a renegotiation package is just irresponsible. It must be emphasised that whatever Cameron manages to achieve, if anything, only lasts as long as the Tories remain in power. A future Labour government in 2020 could easily and quickly reverse these changes, assuming they have even been brought into force by then.

Given the parliamentary arithmetic, it may not be possible to vote down any package that Cameron succeeds in reaching with the other EU states. So, it may not be possible to stop these changes, including any erosion of workers rights. But they can be overturned after the 2020 election. They can only be overturned after that election. Leaving the EU in the meantime does nothing to alter that and if the only reason for leaving the EU was opposition to these specific changes in workers rights, does that mean that Corbyn and Labour will be campaigning in 2020 to rejoin the EU? It simply does not make sense.

Of course it may be that Corbyn and those publicly contemplating a No vote, actually want to leave the EU. Which is fine, but they should have the courage of their convictions, and come out openly and say why they want the UK to leave the EU and how this move would benefit British workers. The heart of Corbyn’s appeal was that he was not like the other contenders and would not hide behind meaningless spin. So it is time for Corbyn to come clean and stop hiding behind “blank cheques” and come clean and share with all of us what he really thinks about our membership of the EU.

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Corbyn – What next?

Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn and his team for their stunning and overwhelming victory in the Labour leadership election. The size of his victory was greater than expected. This makes it all the more pleasing that Corbyn won such a big victory on an anti-austerity and anti Trident platform. But how much can Corbyn achieve?

Winning the leadership election may turn out to have been the easiest part  of his challenges. Some of these face any non Tory leader. A uniformly hostile media, a nasty majority Tory government and the mass ranks of big business and finance. Still these can be overcome, just look at the success of the SNP here in Scotland. Performance in the Commons, especially at PMQs, will generate lots of media noise. However, outside the Westminster bubble, this will not count for much. To put it in boxing terms, Corbyn just needs to remain standing to achieve a victory of sorts.

The main challenges to a successful Corbyn leadership will come from within the party he now leads. He faces two substantial challenges and he needs to win both of them, if his project to transform the Labour party is to succeed. The first is perhaps the most difficult. This is what to do about his fellow MPs, almost all of them hostile to him as leader?. Most of the current front bench team have already resigned or made it clear they will not serve under Corbyn. This leaves Corbyn with an apparently insurmountable problem – how to form a credible Shadow team?

For even if some of his opponents do agree to enter the Shadow cabinet, what line will they take? Who among Corbyn’s opponents can now credibly front an anti-austerity economic programme? Or to fundamentally oppose the government’s whole approach to welfare? And what about Trident? If they are to now adopt a fundamentally different policy they will need to come up with some pretty convincing reasons for doing so, and soon. Otherwise we could find ourselves with the ridiculous prospect of senior members of the Shadow cabinet advocating a different set of policies from the leader.

A further difficulty may well come from the actions of those who continue to refuse to work with Corbyn.  Will they just retire gracefully into full time constituency work and keep their mouths shut when it comes to commenting on Corbyn’s leadership? Or will they be constantly sniping and attacking from the sidelines. There will be plenty of outlets in the media all too delighted at the prospect of the likes of Burnham, Cooper, Kendall et al trying to destroy Corbyn from within.

The biggest challenge facing Corbyn though will come from the general membership of the party. This is also his greatest chance of success. The hundreds of thousands of people who voted for him are his only route to long term success. Are they up to it? How many of the 180,000 people who paid their £3.00 to vote for Corbyn, will now become full members of the party and put in the work to make Corbyn’s victory the beginning of a process of fundamentally changing the party?

Without their continuing support Corbyn has no chance of changing Labour, let alone winning in 2020. But this is the really difficult part. It requires dozens and dozens of people in constituencies up and down England to become activists, attending branch meetings and standing for election for branch offices. Corbyn needs these people on the ground in every constituency reminding their Labour MPs or prospective MPs that the party has changed. In particular these new members and the old ones who voted for Corbyn need to be prepared to challenge and hassle and question those MPs who did not vote for Corbyn. They are after all the minority now. The clear majority of the party has spoken loudly and clearly in favour of major changes in policies. The membership now needs to make sure that the party’s current MPs respect this majority.

If Corbyn can persuade the majority of those who voted for him to become themselves activists in branches and constituencies, then he has a real chance of winning, not just within the Labour party, but in 2020. For all the talk about only winning from the centre ground is a bit of nonsense. It clearly ignores what has happened in Scotland and to a lesser extent in Wales.

More importantly it ignores what has happened in England. There the Tories have become about as nasty and right wing as it is possible to go. Yet the media somehow present them as representing the centre ground of opinion. In this of course they have been supported by a weak and supine Labour party which seems to have forgotten what it was about. Offering the public a Tory lite platform was never likely to win over disgruntled Tories, nor to enthuse potential Labour voters. Which is exactly what happened in England in the recent general election.

It is also worth noting that according to most surveys of opinion, on most economic issues Corbyn’s policies are more in touch with the general public than the Tory party. I wish Jeremy Corbyn all the best in his challenges. There is only a little that he can do himself, the rest depends on all those who voted for him in impressive numbers. Can they go the extra mile and begin the daunting task of transforming the Labour party?

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