Category Archives: Politics

Common Weal’s Renewal Proposals

CommonWeal has entered the post election fray by publishing a collection of proposals, Renew, which it wants the Scottish government to adopt. The rationale for this is that the election showed “some clear signs of discontent about the risk of stagnation and a perceived lack of ambition.”

While the authors no doubt want to be helpful, I am not so sure that this is the way to go about it. Firstly their stated reason – “some signs of discontent” – does not warrant such a drastic change of direction on part of the government. It is important to remember that this was a UK election and that just over a year ago the SNP won the largest number of seats and votes in the Scottish election. To ditch that manifesto on the basis of “some signs of discontent”, during another election for another parliament would seem to be a sign of panic and not renewal.

Secondly as the report acknowledges, “Common Weal has been publishing policy papers on domestic policy throughout this parliament”. Why should the Scottish government suddenly adopt this particular collection of six policies now? Publishing them now just seems to be a reckless publicity stunt by Common Weal. Major changes of direction in a democracy should come about as a result of public debate and voting in an election. Not at the behest of a think tank, however illustrious.

The six collections of polices seem a bit of a mishmash and very few can be implemented in the near future. The creation of a National Investment Bank (NIB) for example will take some time to become a reality and will require significant funding from the Scottish budget. The main difficulty though, in setting up a NIB is that it will require the consent of the UK Treasury to changes in the way the UK measures public debt and to changes in the budgetary rules for the Scottish government. Both of which may happen or may not. But the fact that the creation of a NIB for Scotland depends on UK government approval does demonstrate the extent to which Scottish government initiatives are constrained by our membership of the UK.

This also applies to the proposals on housing. The extra funding for housebuilding is to come from the newly established NIB. But as noted if this does not get UK government agreement to work in the way Common Weal want, these additional funds will not be available.

Changes to our democracy is high on Common Weal’s agenda. However their priorities for action amount to – setting up two commissions. One to design a new system of local democracy and the other to investigate the idea of creating a second ‘Citizen’s Chamber’ of the Scottish Parliament. Wow, this will have them jumping for joy up and down the country! Why do we need either commission? The report makes lots of assertions but nothing in the way of evidence that either would improve decision making in Scotland nor that either is wanted by more than a handful of policy wonks.

When it comes to local tax reform the report doesn’t mercifully want another commission, but just wants the government to adopt Common Weal’s proposals for replacing Council Tax with a property and land tax. A lot of merit in these proposals. Just a pity that they were not supported by the electorate last year.

The report includes a very strange section which isn’t about big initiatives, but rather about Sending the right signals. These signals are to cover land reform, fracking, education and the arts. Why these four and not others is nowhere explained. The recommendation on arts is almost a joke. The best that Common Weal can come up with is that, “the Scottish government should consider how investing in arts can create a sense of a confident Scotland.” Wow, another one to get them rocking in the aisles!

The serious bit in this section concerns education. Here the report calls for the government to downgrade or shelve its reforms and calls for a full review of the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence. So the current reforms are to stop and be replaced by ????? What is to happen with the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence while the full review is undertaken? Is the implementation to be halted? For how long? The report also calls for considerable additional money to be spent on teachers, teaching assistants, libraries and IT support, without any indication of where this money is to come from.

The proposal to fund extra childcare by scrapping the planned reduction in Air Passenger Duty is one of the few practical recommendations that could be implemented without delay. The same cannot be said of most of the others.

All in all I remain perplexed as to what Common Weal hope to achieve by publishing this report. For a democratically elected government to make so many radical changes to its manifesto just one year into its term of office, does not strike me as good governance. To do so at the behest of an unelected think tank would be just absurd and about as undemocratic as one can imagine.

Changes of the kind proposed by Common Weal, some of which I agree with, need to be properly debated and scrutinised in the public sphere and then voted on in a general election. For Common Weal to suggest otherwise is an affront to democracy.

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Independence is not a product

Robin McAlpine has another very good and interesting article on Common Space. Entitled What the indy movement needs to do next, it is well worth reading. His piece outlines the recent work of the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC).

I am in agreement with much of what he writes, in particular the need for a non-party campaign, voter research, a solid messaging and targeting strategy and employing professionals who can help us get the job done.

However he loses me when he writes the following: “There is one final thing that needs to be done to get ready to campaign – you need to get your product finished. You can market a prototype car only for so long. Eventually you need to have finished cars ready for sale.

We can’t keep trying to sell a half-finished pitch for independence. We need to decide what the answers to the big questions are – currency, pensions and all the rest.”

I am sorry, but for me at least, independence is not a product. It is most certainly not like a car, which you can exchange every year or so. Independence is more of an idea and a state. You are either independent or you are not. Independence at its most basic is about the power to choose. In the case of Scotland it means that decisions about the future of the country will be taken by the people who live here. Nothing more.

I am also suspicious of this notion that before a referendum we must have decided what the answers to the big questions are. Whether it is pensions, currency, or whatever. Why? When the whole point of independence is that it will the voters in Scotland who will get to decide the answers to all these and other questions.

I rather think that Robin is missing the key point here. When people raise concerns about pensions, currency, social security or whatever in and independent Scotland their prime concern is, will an independent Scotland be able to afford these things? Whatever answer SIC come up with about pensions, Unionists will always say that an independent Scotland will be too poor to afford it.

As I see it there two groups who continue to oppose independence. The first is made up of those for whom the UK is the prime and most important framework for decision making. They may be portrayed as British nationalists, but whatever their motivation, they are unlikely to convert to supporting Scottish independence.

The other group is made up of people who have no great attachment to the UK, are attracted by the democratic case for independence, but remain unconvinced by the economic case for independence. They may focus on one aspect of the economy, pensions for example, but the answer has to be to convince them that an independent Scotland has the necessary resources – physical, natural and human – to be a successful and stable economy. It is this group that is most likely to be persuaded to vote Yes in a future referendum.

This is what I would like SIC to be doing more work on. Providing all of us with simple, easy to understand and easy to share evidence of the fundamental underlying strengths of Scotland. It is not enough to assert, as we did last time, that an independent Scotland would be a rich country. This time we need to able to evidence and illustrate it. This would be fine task for the researchers and professionals that SIC want to hire on our behalf.

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Initial reflections on the General Election

Well that was a bit of a surprise, which caught nearly everyone out. Unlike 2015 this time we do have a hung parliament, just. A well deserved mess for May and the Tories. No more strong and stable, just a shaky deal which relies on the DUP for any kind of majority.

The results in Scotland were also unexpected, at least in degree. Everyone expected the SNP to lose seats and the Tories to win some. But the extent of the changes caught most people out. What factors lie behind the voting in Scotland? Here are a few initial thoughts.

  1. The Corbyn bounce was real and Labour secured one of their best ever results, particularly in terms of their share of the popular vote in England. This was around 40%. The party did not do so well in Scotland, with hardly any increase in their vote. However the party did win six seats. Almost certainly as a result of Corbyn’s appeal to younger and radical voters. Many of whom support Scottish independence, but like the idea of a Corbyn government at Westminster.
  2. Though Brexit did not feature prominently in the debates during the campaign, it was undoubtedly a significant factor for many voters. Especially in those parts of the country where the leave vote was relatively strong – in the north east for example. As the only party to campaign on a hard Brexit platform, the Tories were the best placed to sweep up those leave voters for whom Brexit was the key issue.
  3. In Scotland independence and a second indyref was one of the dominant issues in the campaign. While opposition to indyref2 took most of the headlines, the real factor was opposition to independence itself. In practice this amounted to opposition to the SNP. All three Unionist parties co-operated on this. There was clearly an informal Unionist pact among Labour, the LibDems and the Tories. They vied among each other as to who was best placed to defeat the SNP. And quite effective it was too. Which makes the SNP success in holding on to 35 seats even more amazing.
  4. Though this was a UK election, most of the debates and campaigning in Scotland was about devolved issues. Education and the NHS came up in programmes again and again. Did this also happen in Wales?  Which is a bit strange as the outcome of a UK election has no practical bearing on what happens in the Scottish Parliament. The relentless focus on devolved issues was of course a deliberate tactic of the three Unionist parties. It clearly put the SNP, as the government in Scotland, on the defensive. This meant that the abysmal failures of the Tory government at Westminster – on the economy, defence, no Brexit plan etc – got pretty much a free pass. As with the independence issue we had the three Unionist parties all trying to make the election about the SNP and not about the Tory government at Westminster. In this of course they were ably assisted by the media, including the BBC.
  5. An intriguing question is why did the LibDems and Labour agree to this informal pact with the Tories. I could understand this if it was a Holyrood election, after all the SNP is the government and deserve rigorous scrutiny. But this was not a Scottish election, but a UK one. I can also see why the Tories would want to focus on the SNP as they would have had a harder time if they had had to spend more time defending the record of the Tory government in London. But what was in it for the LibDems and Labour?
  6. As regards the LibDems it may be that they realised that the Tories were going to win big in England and therefore they would have no influence at Westminster. So why not just attack the SNP and try and win back a few seats from them. If the Tories were going to be returned with an increased majority anyway, what difference would it make if the Tories also made gains in Scotland.
  7. In the case of Labour this may also have been what motivated them to indulge in an informal anti SNP pact. However if true it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Labour in Scotland. If, as seems likely, they did not believe in a Corbyn victory, that does not augur well for the future relations between Scottish Labour and the UK party. What is potentially worse may be the dawning realisation that if the SNP had held on to even six more seats then the prospect of a Labour minority government would be a reality.  If only Labour in Scotland had relentlessly exposed their real enemy, the Tories, and campaigned with a stop the Tories message!
  8. Returning to the UK results, it is worth remembering that these elections are conducted with the First Past the Post system (FPTP). This system is notoriously undemocratic and rarely, if ever, accurately reflects the votes cast. It was no different this time around, with both winners and losers. The winners were the Tories, DUP and SNP.  The Tories benefitted the most with fully 6.4% more seats than their share of the vote, which was only 42.4%. Yet they ended up with 48.4% of the seats. The SNP and DUP benefitted to a much lesser extent. The losers from FPTP were the LibDems, Greens and UKIP. The LibDems suffered the most, their 7.4% of the vote returning only 1.8% of the seats. Interesting to note that for both Labour and Plaid Cymru their share of seats matches almost exactly their share of the vote. FPTP can work in strange ways.

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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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Trump – a Pyrrhic victory?

Though Trump won a convincing victory in the Electoral College, nevertheless he did lose the popular vote. This will not in any way prevent him becoming President. However it may well make life for him as President a lot less smooth than many are assuming.

The votes show that there was no popular swing towards Trump. He barely won the same number of votes as Romney, four years ago. He won the electoral college because Clinton failed to mobilise the core Democrat voters in a few key states – Wisconsin, North Carolina etc. These voters did not swing to Trump, by and large they just didn’t vote.

With no popular mandate for his programme, Trump has potentially a lot to worry about, even with the support of a Republican majority in both houses. If Trump wants to win re-election in 2020, he knows that he faces a tough job. The Democrats are unlikely to pick such a divisive candidate again. Their next campaign will not ignore their core voters again. The Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the last Presidential elections. Barring some unexpected 9/11 event, Trump faces an uphill struggle to win again.

With the Republicans in control of just about everything, Trump will have no one to blame but either himself or the Republican Party if he fails to deliver on his key promises. Since he is not a stupid person, he will have realised this already. Which may in part explain why he has already begun to soften his language and start to talk about compromises. Even Obamacare may survive. However the key will as ever be the economy. To have any chance of re-election Trump needs to deliver on his promises of massive infrastructure spending and raise the incomes of working Americans. The worrying question for Trump is, can he get his own party to support this?

Most Republicans seem to live in a zombie land of voodoo economics, where you can cut taxes for the rich and bring down the deficit. The Republican base is also very hung up on some key issues – immigration, gay marriage, abortion for example. It is not clear that Trump can deliver on all or even any of these. Remember the Republicans are well short of the 60 votes they need in the Senate.

All this leaves the Democrats with a strong hand. The majority of the country supports them. America has not suddenly become a racist, misogynist country. At least it is no more racist or misogynist than last week.

In just two years time there will be another election for the House and for a third of the Senate. This offers the Democrats a crucial opportunity to wrest the initiative back from the Republicans. The post election statements of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren indicate the way forward. Can they and their supporters seize control of the party from the current Democrat establishment? Interesting times!

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President Trump – initial thoughts

Well, not many people saw this one coming. Pollsters and pundits have a lot to answer for. Still the American people have spoken and congratulations to Mr Trump. It may be that for Trump winning the election turns out to be the easiest part. His Presidency may be a lot more challenging than many, including the man himself, imagine.

Trump’s success of course has as its counterpart the failure of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. Though Clinton it seems has, very narrowly, won the popular vote, this is of no consolation or importance. In the USA the Presidency is decided by the Electoral College. Everyone knows this, including Clinton and the Democrat leadership. They failed, end of.

Not only did the Democrats fail to win the Presidency, they even failed to win back control of the Senate. It takes some degree of political incompetence to achieve this. Remember Clinton was running as the successor to one of the most respected and popular Presidents of all time. Obama still has very high ratings among Americans. Her opponent was one of the most unfit candidates of all time. Unpopular and even derided by many in his own party. This election should have been a shoo-in for the Democrats. One can only conclude that Clinton herself was the main reason she and Democrats generally did so badly.

Right from the beginning of the primary campaigns it was clear that Hilary Clinton was the wrong choice for Democrats. She just carries too much baggage. Some of it good, but much of it bad. She has always been a very divisive person in America. She is also very obviously a key paid up member of the Washington insider establishment. At a time when this establishment everywhere is under unprecedented challenge from outsiders, it simply made no sense to choose Clinton as the candidate.

Trump of course played on all this and presented himself not just as the outsider, but one who would bring change, particularly for those who have lost out economically over the past decade or so.  As President, Trump now has to deliver on all his promises. A pretty incoherent mishmash of promises it must be said. Massive tax cuts, massive investment in infrastructure –  to be paid for how?  How will President Trump keep his promises on immigration and what will/can he do about the millions of illegal immigrants already living in the country? A big issue for Trump was free trade deals – it would seem that he does not like them, regarding them as the reason for the decline of American manufacturing. Will he really impose swingeing tariffs on goods from China and Mexico?  Can he do this and keep America in the WTO? If he tries how will China respond?

Moving away from the economy, Trump is no friend of measures to combat climate change and has threatened to abrogate the recent Paris agreements on combatting this threat to the planet. Let us not even begin to try and make sense of Trump’s pronouncements on foreign affairs. Perhaps his friend Vladimir Putin will help him out here.

As was said in another context, lots and lots of unanswered questions. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Trump’s choices will affect not just America, but the world as a whole. Unfortunately for President Trump he will have no one to blame if he gets any of these decisions wrong. The Republicans are now in control of both houses of Congress and able to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court. So from now on the buck well and truly stops with them.

As the Chinese saying has it, be careful what you wish for. If Trump as President is the great deliverer he claims to be, then he and the Republicans can look forward to eight or more years of untrammelled power. However, it is not clear that everyone on the Republican side is fully on board all of Trump’s grandiose plans. If things turn out to be more complicated and messy than Trump’s rosy vision of the future, then politics could become very interesting indeed. Republicans in Congress blaming Trump and Trump trying to blame everybody. This election could be the high point for Republicans. Assuming the Democrats have the wit and determination to quickly put together a credible alternative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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