Monthly Archives: January 2017

Did Bella really help secure a pro-indy majority?

Over the weekend there has been yet another nasty social media spat among the pro-indy movement. Kevin Williamson of Bella Caledonia has jumped on some report to claim vindication for his and Bella urging SNP voters to use their List vote to vote Green or RISE. According to Williamson if it was not for his prescience in calling for 2ndVoteGreen there would not now be a pro-indy majority at Holyrood.

This seems to be a very strange claim. For a start the number of pro-indy MSPs has gone down from 72 to 69. So if this counts as success then maybe we need a few more failures. As regards the detail of the vote in 2016 Williamson’s claim does not stand up to much scrutiny.

Before going further I want to make it clear that I am a member of the Scottish Green party and campaigned in 2016 for the Greens. However I did not do so out of some misguided notion of tactical voting, but because I supported the policies of the Green party and I also supported our candidate, Maggie Chapman. So, I have no complaints about Kevin Williamson or Bella or anyone else urging people to use their second vote to vote Green or indeed RISE.

Provided that you did so on the basis that you agreed with what these other parties were offering. But that was not primarily what Kevin and Bella did. They pretty much relentlessly advocated 2nd vote Green or RISE on the basis that a List vote for the SNP would inevitably be a wasted vote. They were so sure that the SNP were on course to clean upthe constituency seats that the List vote for the SNP would achieve nothing.

Alas this was not the case.As many others had pointed out it was by no means a certainty that the SNP would win almost all the constituency seats. Which turned out to be the case. Where Kevin and Bella’s thesis should have had most impact was in the North East region. There in 2011 the SNP did win all ten constituencies. Yet they still managed to win an additional MSP courtesy of the second List vote. However in 2016 they did not win all the constituencies, losing one to the revived Conservatives. Furthermore on the regional count the SNP lost their one List MSP. And to cap it all, despite the regular promptings from Kevin and Bella, the Greens failed to win a List seat.

So the net result in the North East was the loss of two pro-indy MSPs. With this kind of actual outcome on the ground you might think Kevin and co would be a bit more reticent about claiming success for their 2nd vote strategy. It sure as hell did not work in the North East. Now in fairness this may be because the main advocates of this strategy live in either Glasgow or Edinburgh and probably knew next to nothing about what was happening on the ground in the North East. All the more reason for them to have been less strident in their assertions.

Another example of how their predictions took no account of what was happening on the ground was the results in the Lothian region. There the Greens were successful and won an additional List seat, to bring their total to two. However, unfortunately for Kevin’s thesis this was not down to increasing the Green’s 2nd vote in the region.What secured the Green’s second seat was the success of Ruth Davidson in defeating the SNP in Edinburgh Central constituency.

Ruth Davidson won this constituency by 610 votes. It is perhaps not incidental to note that Alison Johnstone of the Greens also stood in this constituency and won 4,644 votes. Could the presence of Alison on the ballot have swung the seat away from the SNP to the Conservatives? We can never know, but what is certain is that by winning a constituency seat the Conservatives were only entitled three further List seats. Thus ensuring that the seventh and final List seat went to Andy Wightman of the Greens.

If on the other hand the SNP had retained Edinburgh Central, then the Conservatives would have won four of the List seats and Andy Wightman would still be primarily a land reform campaigner. So overall in the Lothians, as in the North East, there was a reduction in the number of pro-indy MSPs, down from ten to eight.

So in two of the electoral regions the net effect of Kevin and Bella’s strategy was a loss of four pro-indy MSPs. And this is a vindication?

 

 

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Some comments on Robin McAlpine’s latest article on Common Space

Robin McAlpine has a new article on the Common Space site. Entitled The indy movement needs a story – here’s one that can win.  You can read it all here. It is well worth reading and I agree with much in the piece. There are solid grounds for optimism  and the Better Together story is pretty much in tatters. I also agree that it is important to have a good, resonant story to tell about why independence is the way forward. Robin’s suggestion – Scotland as a “safe haven” – is good and certainly a very good start.

However I am concerned that in order to justify the need for a new story, he has seriously misrepresented what happened during the 2014 referendum campaign. He does this by trying to construct a deep divide between what he calls the official SNP/YES Scotland story and another, alternative story created by “a much less risk-averse, wider movement.” By this other movement I take it Robin means the Radical Independence Campaign(RIC) and the groups and parties closely associated with RIC.

In the article the official story was “the best people to make a decision about a place are the people who live there”.According to Robin this story didn’t and couldn’t work because it wasn’t a story. On the other hand the alternative story was “Scots like a fairer, more equal society and Westminster doesn’t so if you want to live better, we have to escape.” Now this was apparently a real story with “a beginning, a middle and an end, a hero and a villain.”

Not only was this alternative story a good story it nearly worked, and according to Robin “if this had been the story we set out with in 2011 and we’d told it wholeheartedly, I think we could have made it over the line.”

Now the above is itself a nice little story, but to me, more of a caricature than an accurate story. It simply does not resonate with my own experience of the 2014 referendum. There are three points I would like to make.

In my view the whole rationale for independence is a democratic one. Decisions about the future of Scotland should be taken by the people who live here. No matter what story or stories you devise to persuade people of the merits of independence this is where you end up. Whatever kind of Scotland you want to see emerge, progress towards this will be in response to the votes of the people who live in Scotland. So for Robin to dismiss this as not a story is to miss the point.

Secondly, what Robin calls the official story was in fact much more than just the bald claim that ‘the best people to make a decision about a place are the people who live there’. I still have my copy of the2014 White Paper and on the very first page, i, it states “With independence we can make Scotland the fairer and more successful country we all know it should be. We can make Scotland’s vast wealth and resources work much better for everyone in our country, creating a society that reflects our hopes and ambition.”

Then, on page 01, under the heading – The case for Independence – we find, “Independence is not an end in itself. The Scottish Government wants us to have the powers of independence so that people who live here can build a different and better Scotland, where the many benefits of our rich and vibrant society are cherished and shared and where we work together to advance our nation as a whole.”

While the above quotes may not be as pithy a story as Robin’s, they are in essence not that different. Robin can only make his comparison work to his advantage by selectively quoting out of context. It is interesting to note that he further decontextualises the official story by omitting any reference to Scotland. The official story was not really about Scotland, but just about “a place”, by implication any place. Why didn’t he write that the official story was “the best people to make a decision about Scotland are the people who live in Scotland.” Perhaps this was because by talking specifically about Scotland this formulation does resonate with Scots.

It is also worth noting that when he comes to phrasing his alternative story, this is squarely placed in a specific context. This is Scots against Westminster. Just a pity he didn’t extend this courtesy to the official story.

There were differences in stories about why independence was needed for Scotland, and why it would benefit Scotland. There were in fact more than just two stories. It is just wrong to claim that there was anything like this sharp divide between the official story and the RIC inspired alternative.

My third point is that this description of a divide in the pro-indy campaign does not equate with my own experiences of what happened on the ground in 2014. I campaigned as part of the RIC team in Dundee. There we worked, planned and campaigned well with the SNP, YES Scotland, the Greens and many, many others.

There were of course differences of emphases and differences of visions for the future of Scotland. But we all united in campaigning on the basis that whatever kind of Scotland was to emerge post independence, it would be the choice of the people who lived in Scotland. It may not appeal to Robin, but at the end of the day this is what independence boils down to – who decides, not what the decisions will be.

It is important to re-iterate that I agree with Robin on the importance of developing a good, simple, but relevant story about why independence is the way forward. His idea of a “safe haven” is well worth exploring further. However I am rather disappointed that he ends his article with the following “So long as we are willing to accept that this story requires the kind of root-and-branch approach to nation-building we’re proposing in the White Paper Project, it is ripe for development in a whole host of ways.”

This sounds dangerously close to asserting a “them and us” dichotomy. While there is much to admire about the White Paper Project, I would hate to think that it has become a kind of litmus text for moving forward. Common Weal is not the only show in town and diversity should be regarded as one of the strengths of the independence movement, not a weakness.

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Common Weal White Paper 2

The second section of Common Weal’s White Paper considers the Key Institutions of an Independent Scotland. This apparently will include reforming our current Scottish Parliament. The White Paper calls for two specific changes: 1. increasing the number of MSPs and 2. creating a Citizens Chamber. What is notable about both suggested reforms is that no context for either is provided. Common Weal just asserts that they will be necessary.

As regards a Citizens Chamber the justification according to the White Paper is that Scotland does not have a revising chamber and would no longer have Westminster, the House of Lords or any other parliamentary body with the power to examine its work. While it is true that Scotland does not have a revising chamber, I am not sure that Westminster or the House of Lords offer much in the way of scrutiny. There is also the not insignificant matter of democratic legitimacy. Which I would suggest both bodies conspicuously lack in relation to Scotland. So losing their input is not much of a loss at all as far as I can see.

The unstated assumption behind this claim is that Scotland needs a revising chamber. But no evidence whatsoever is provided as to why this is so. In particular no reference is made to the actual experience of other independent countries. While many countries do have a revising or second chamber, nearly all of them are countries with much, much larger populations than Scotland.

For countries with a population similar to Scotland or less than Scotland’s, a unicameral parliament is the norm. For example of the 10 member states of the European Union with a population similar to or less than Scotland, eight manage successfully with just one chamber. Only Ireland and Slovenia have felt it necessary to have a revising chamber.  Outwith the EU, nine of the 10 countries with populations similar to or less than Scotland also manage with just one parliamentary chamber. The Exception is Bosnia and Herzegovina, which may have its recent bloody history as a reason for needing a second chamber.

Looking beyond Europe there does not appear to be much evidence that a revising chamber for small countries is needed. Our antipodean cousins in New Zealand also manage to run a successful country with just one chamber.

None of the above means that creating a revising chamber is not something worth considering. It should mean at the very least that someone explains why Scotland needs an additional chamber when just about every other country of similar size manages well without one.

The other claim is that we will need to increase the number of MSPs with independence. As the White Paper puts it: “Upon independence the Scottish Parliament shall take on all responsibilities currently reserved to Westminster as well as maintaining existing responsibilities, leading to a substantial increase in workload which cannot be performed by the existing Parliament. The number of members of the Scottish Parliament shall therefore be expanded to reflect the loss of Members of Parliament at Westminster.”

Notice that this is not a recommendation. The use of the word “shall” implies that an increase in the number of MSPs will happen. However once again no context for this is provided. For example how does the size of the Scottish Parliament compare with parliaments in other similar countries? At first glance this comparison does provide some grounds for a larger number of MSPs. Of the five EU countries with a population very much similar in size to Scotland, all five have a larger number of parliamentarians. However there is no pattern to this. The numbers range from 150 for Slovakia to 179 for Denmark, while Finland has 200 MPs.

It is not obvious why there is such a wide range. Which emphasises a key point – there does not appear to be any clear relationship between the population of a country and the number of MPs in parliament. This holds true for countries outwith the EU. Macedonia with a population of around two million has a parliament with 123 MPs, while Moldova with a three and a half million people manages with just 101 MPs.

The other important factor in all this is that irrespective of the size of the population of a country, its government and parliament will have to carry out pretty much the same functions. This applies to even very small countries such as Luxembourg, Malta etc. Estonia for example has a population of 1.3 million and a parliament with 101 members. Yet Estonia manages to sustain a government with 14 ministries in addition to the Prime Minister. The same is true for countries outwith Europe. Costa Rica with five million people somehow manages with just 57 MPs. Perhaps a more relevant example is our friends in the south pacific, New Zealand. With a population slightly smaller than Scotland, New Zealand manages to successfully run itself and promote the country internationally, with a parliament of 120 MPs.

Once again this is not to say that an increase in the number of MSPs is out of the question. However it is incumbent on those proposing this increase to explain why it is necessary. Especially as this will inevitably involve some considerable expense and disruption. In particular they need to explain why this imperative has to form part of the prospective for independence. If New Zealand can manage as a successful independent country with 120 MPs I am convinced that Scotland can do so with 129MPs.

 

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Independence Negotiations – The Czech and Slovak Experience

This post is essentially a post I wrote in 2013 for a previous blog. I post it here as a follow up to my previous post on Common Weal’s White Paper. This included a section on Interim governance and recommended a three year period for negotiations and setting up the institutions of an independent Scotland.

As I mentioned in that post, this had not been the experience of the dozens of countries that had became independent in Europe since 1990. While it is clear that no two cases are the same, I see no reason why we cannot learn from these previous cases of moving to independence.

Of the dozens of countries in Europe that became independent in the past twenty years or so, perhaps the case most relevant for Scotland is that of the independence of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  This was a peaceful process and is often referred to as  “The Velvet Divorce”.  So what lessons can we learn form the Czech and Slovak experience?  In preparing this post I have made use of a study on The Breakup of Czechoslovakia by Robert Young, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, 1994.  The full study can be found here.

The first thing to note is that when independence did come, it all happened relatively quickly.  As Young points out, “Having accepted that separation would take place, the leaders quickly established a timetable and a basic framework for the event.”   Secondly, Young noted that, “Overall negotiations involved very few essential items.”

In the case of Scotland what might this look like?  As regards a timetable, at the time of the 2014 referendum the Scottish government allowed around 18 months for the negotiations. This seems to have been chosen in large measure to fit in with the timetable for elections to the Scottish Parliament, which were due to be held in May 2016.

In the case of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the negotiations took less than six months. Not to fully complete, but sufficiently to allow both countries to declare independence. Whatever timetable is agreed, I see no reason why after the next referendum we would need to plan for three years of negotiations before independence.

If there is a ‘Yes’ vote it will be in the interests of all parties, including the UK, to get the negotiations over with as soon as possible.  I imagine the business and financial sectors will be pushing for a quick resolution to the negotiations.  Uncertainty is bad for business we are repeatedly told.  As will various outside bodies, such as the IMF, the EU and no doubt the USA.  Each for their own particular reasons will not want the negotiations to drag on.

When it comes to the framework for the negotiations there will be two parts to this.  This could be termed the What and the How.  As regards what the negotiations will be about, according to Young, in Czechoslovakia the big issues were:

1 the military
2 succession to international treaties
3 level of post separation economic integration
4 currency
5 citizenship
6 division of assets and liabilities”

In the case of Scotland and the rest of the UK, a couple of other issues may merit specific negotiation:

1 demarcation of maritime boundary in North Sea
2 state pension
3 welfare benefits

This gives nine big issues to be negotiated.  There will be other issues to resolve such as diplomatic representation and the future of broadcasting and the BBC.  However these and other issues are more the stuff of political debate within an independent Scotland.

When it comes to how these issues will be resolved – the how of the negotiations – the key will be to agree on some general principles.  For example in the case of Czechoslovakia two principles were agreed on early in the process.  These were:

1 fixed property would be owned by the Republic in which it was located
2 movables would be divided on a per capita basis – this was agreed at 2:1 in favour of the Czech Republic.

In practice there were important exemptions to the first principle, as most of the Federal buildings and property were in Prague, the Federal capital, located in what was to become the Czech Republic.  In recognition of this imbalance Slovakia received financial compensation in lieu.  Something similar will probably be required here as the UK is one of the most centralized states in the world and most UK government buildings and property are located in London.  The second general principle was based on population.  It should not be beyond the wit of both the UK and Scottish governments to agree on something similar.

It would also be good and encouraging if the two governments could agree on some statement about the spirit in which any negotiations will be conducted.  They need not look further than the Queen’s visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011, another former part of the UK.  While in Dublin the Queen had this to say about UK-Irish relations:  “Together we have much to celebrate: the ties between our people, the shared values, and the economic, business and cultural links that make us so much more than just neighbours, that make us firm friends and equal partners.”  It is certainly the aim of the Scottish government that Scotland and the rest of the UK remain firm friends and equal partners.  Will the current UK government make such an explicit statement in regard to Scotland?

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Common Weal’s White Paper 1

Last Saturday along with around 800 others I attended the Scottish Independence Convention’s conference on preparing for the next indy referendum. A lot of very interesting and challenging points were raised and I thank SIC for organising the event. Thanks are also due to the indy live team and a special thank you goes to Shona McAlpine who seemed to single handedly be responsible for the event, which she did with charm and efficiency. I don’t want to say anything about the event itself as Thomas Widman has already written about this and I concur with all his points.

What I want to do here is move things on a bit by looking at the draft White Paper produced by Common Weal. This is a positive initiative which deserves a wide audience and constructive criticism. My first thought on reading the paper is that there appears to be very little in the way of international comparisons. This is rather strange as since 1990 we have witnessed the emergence of 12 newly independent states in Europe alone. More if you consider the Caucausian republics as part of Europe. There is therefore a considerable body of evidence and precedent about building a new state. The White Paper as it stands seems to have ignored this.

This lack of international experience is most evident in the first section, which is entitled Interim Governance Period. According to the White Paper, Scotland will need up to three years of interim governance before becoming independent. No reason is given for this long period. It cannot be based on the experience of other European countries, none of which needed anything like a three year waiting period. Most managed to become independent with hardly any waiting period at all. For example, Slovenia held a referendum on 23rd December 1990 and declared independence on 25th June 1991. Montenegro needed even less time. The referendum was held on 21st May 2006 and independence was declared on 3rd June of the same year. Some countries moved to independence without a referendum. Slovakia for example passed an act of independence in their parliament on 17th July 1992. There followed five months of negotiations which ended with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia on 31st December 1992. Slovakia then became formally independent on 1st January 1993.

There are two points from the above that are relevant here. The first is that it appears that no other country has needed anything like an extensive interim period prior to independence. Certainly nothing like three years. This does not mean that Scotland does not need such an extensive interim period. What it does mean though is that if you are advocating this interim period, you ought to proved some kind of coherent reason for it. Not just plough on regardless. The second point is that in the examples above, independence came without the full conclusions of negotiations. In some cases independence came before negotiations had even started.

This leads on to the specifics of the proposals in the White Paper. Even if, as I would argue, an extended interim period is not needed, there will still be a need for negotiations and a transition. The White Paper proposes a National Commission(NC) for the creation of a Scottish State. There is merit in this idea. However where I take issue with the White Paper is its proposal that the NC be governed by a Council, separate from the government. Not at all sure why we would need this Council. It would be in effect an additional, parallel government. This would be cumbersome, burocratic, undemocratic and likely to be confusing to the public.

The White Paper charges the NC with five specific tasks. These are:

  1. design the institutions of an independent Scotland
  2. implement these institutions
  3. negotiate the terms of separation from UK
  4. develop a constitution
  5. set a date for independence

These are in essence what needs to be done. However it is not at all clear why they all need to be done after a referendum and before a declaration of independence. Tasks 1, 4 and 5 can all be done well before the next referendum, never mind independence day. They may not all be completed, but most of the work can be done before another referendum. This is particularly the case with the first task. Again the experience of other countries will come in handy here.  Developing a constitution can be started this year. I am in favour of this, as developing a constitution could be a positive way of engaging members of the public.

The other two tasks clearly cannot be completed or even undertaken before the next referendum.  However much work on the third task can be begun now. It would in fact be very helpful if the parameters of the separation deal were established sooner rather than later. Again the experience of other countries will provide evidence on how these negotiations can be conducted and what they will cover. We can also state in advance the principles that we would want to underpin the negotiations.

Much of the work which the White Paper seeks to entrust to this NC after a referendum is already underway. Some of it by Common Weal itself. Which makes it all the more surprising why the White Paper is so wedded to this Interim governance period. What we do need more of is to look at the experience of other newly independent countries and learn from them. Something the White Paper does not seem to have done.

 

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